Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, October 24, 2021.
Jesus asked the man his name. He answered, “Legion.” Legion was not his real name; it was what had become of him. He was fragmented, shattered, traumatized. He had lost sight of who he really was. His true identity had been hidden away. No matter what has happened to us, or what we have become, Christianity has Good News for us. There is a glorious secret hidden deep in our souls that has the power to heal our brokenness. Once again, I will quote from the Western mystic Thomas Merton:
“At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will.”
This is the truth of who we are. To find that place and learn how to live there is the antidote for our hurt-filled lives. It is the place of meditation, prayer and communion with God who dwells in that place of peace and freedom.
We all bear the marks of trauma. The wounds can be very deep. Often, they are so hidden that we don’t even know they are there. We all have been fragmented by life. I know that I often repeat myself, but I find Evagrius’ insight into the dual nature of the self, more and more relevant. He taught that we have a self that is just as Merton defined it, “the center of our being…untouched by sin and illusion.” And the second self he names “the Legion of other selves,” the fragments of our broken lives.
You may wonder if the second self is real. Try this. Look inside yourself for a moment. Observe your own internal dialogues. Now ask yourself, “Who is speaking to whom?” I find that little bit of evidence convincing. There is an interior dialogue and dialogue takes more than one.
The mind of this sad Gadarene man was filled with troubling thoughts and insane internal dialogues. His erratic and frightening behavior defined him in the eyes of his community as a man possessed. Therefore, they did not really know him, they could not see nor hear the truth that lay hidden beneath the darkness of his life. At least not until Jesus came.
Jesus saw him. Jesus knew him. Jesus freed him. And how does St. Luke describe the now liberated man? “Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.” In his right mind. The sign of his healing was that he was now sitting quietly at the Lord’s feet in his right mind.
You know, of course, that the real meaning of repentance is to change or go beyond one’s mind. Here in the Gospel, we see a remarkable example of repentance as a gift. Is repentance more a gift than an act? All the Gadarene did was to put himself in a place where Jesus would find him, and the Lord granted his unspoken request.
It reminds me of the Prodigal Son who recognized his self-imposed misery, stumbled back to his father and, before he could repeat his rehearsed apology, was embraced by his loving father who had been watching for him from afar and ran to embrace him. And then the exorbitant gifts came, unbidden and undeserved. The Prodigal Son put himself in a place where his father could see him.
Adam and Eve hid out of fear in the Garden. (Genesis 3:9-10) God found them, the Great Shepherd who goes looking for the lost sheep.
“Then the man and his wife heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the breeze of the day, and they hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called out to the man, ‘I heard Your voice in the garden,’ Adam replied, ‘and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.”’
Where do we hide? With what leaves are we covering our nakedness?
The first step takes extreme courage; to come out from where we are hiding and allow the Lord access to our pain. The second step requires faith and that is to let go of our insistence that we can figure it out by ourselves because we can’t. We must practice sitting at the feet of the Savior with still and open minds and hearts every day and consistently.
St. Hesychios the Priest tells us this:
“Just as someone who looks at the sun cannot avoid filling his eyes with light, so someone who always intently contemplates his own heart cannot fail to be illuminated.”
As we offer ourselves, the Lord Jesus will transform us for that is what he has promised. It is what the scriptures today have shown us, from Legion to freedom, from disunion to communion.
~St. Mary Orthodox Church, Central Square, Cambridge, MA, https://www.stmaryorthodoxchurch.org/orthodoxy/sermons/2021/the-end-of-our-brokenness