Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, October 25, 2020
Let me begin today by reading from Paul’s letter to the Galatians chapter 5, vs. 22-23:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
Let’s focus on self-control today since one of the hallmarks of what we call “possession” is the loss of it.
Our Holy Fathers and Mothers were not acquainted as we are today with depth psychology and the unconscious. However, some of them were excellent psychologists and were able to presage these modern discoveries in their teaching, speaking about the depths of the unconscious in non-scientific language. Evagrius of Pontus was one of them who wrote about the “two selves” each of us has: The True Self, the image of God being the first and definitive Self and the “legion of other selves” being the other. We could call that “depth spirituality” of the first order. And then we have Isaac of Syria who spoke of the soul or heart as a deep canyon filled with angels and demons. I dare to say that these “angels and demons” are metaphors for Evagrius’ “legion of other selves.”
Now listen to Carl Jung on the subject. “A man likes to believe that he is the master of his soul. But as long as he is unable to control his moods and emotions, or to be conscious of the myriad secret ways in which unconscious factors insinuate themselves into his arrangements and decisions, he is certainly not his own master.” I believe Evagrius and Isaac and Jung are saying the same thing.
For Isaac the secret to self-control is to bring peace to the soul. Here is his famous quote about this. “Be at peace with your own soul, then heaven and earth will be at peace with you.” It is notable that in our Gospel reading the result of the Lord’s work with the man from the country of the Gadarenes was that he was “in his right mind” and at peace. Whatever the cause of our dis-ease, the prescription is the same. “Make peace in your own heart” (Seraphim of Sarov) through love, repentance, and devotion to the Person and teachings of our Lord the Prince of Peace. A Cypriot bishop said it like this, “Make friends with yourself.” We can also point directly to the words of Lord, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” Making peace both inside and outside reveals us to be in mastery of ourselves and one with God, who is Lord and Master of all.
First, of course, we must courageously seek to know what in us is not at peace. Fr. Hopko used to say that we should uncover every rock and use every tool available, spiritual, psychological, and medical, to bring peace to the internal world. So, we must not be afraid to look deeply, to seek and to be open to what we discover and what the Lord reveals on the search.
Metropolitan ANTHONY Bloom noticed in this Gospel a wonderful and divine trait in our Lord. His ability to be completely present with the person or persons he encountered. With the Gadarene he seems wholly undistracted by the drama playing out before him. He hones in like a laser beam on the suffering man. It reminds me of the saying by C. S. Lewis that goes something like this, “God has an eternity to spend with each one of us alone.” I admit that that might be a fearful thought since under his gaze every secret will be revealed, and every one of our “legion of other selves,” our “parts” will meet him face-to-face. Perhaps that is why the townspeople beg Jesus to leave.
And yet, it is nothing but love that we will experience when we are with him. Isaac calls what we will experience “the strong and vehement mercy that grips the heart.” lt is Divine Love that will gently but inexorably remove the masks and disguises we wear. It is God’s love that reveals, and forgives, and heals. His glory is the light of transformation and will bring forth the fruit of holiness and peace in all who, as St. Paul writes, becomes a “co-worker” with Christ in their own salvation. This is what the metaphor of “the Day of Judgment” is really about. “Apocalypse” means “the unveiling” and it is happening even now in all who seek to follow the Truth. It is the unveiling of the glory of God in human vessels.
Our goal is union with God and one sure sign of this is the development of a merciful heart. St. Isaac describes defines it for us.
“What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.”
Reptiles? Yes, Even reptiles. Demons? Yes, even them. Nothing is left out of this equation.
~St. Mary Orthodox Church, Central Square, Cambridge, MA, https://www.stmaryorthodoxchurch.org/orthodoxy/sermons/2020/depth-spirituality.