Sermon 7th Sunday After Pentecost

July 26, 2009

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,

two blind men iconMy dear brothers and sisters in Christ today’s Gospel concludes with” And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.” (Matthew 9:35)

In this verse of the Gospel the Evangelist Matthew makes it clear that Christ’s work is three fold to teach, to preach and to heal.

Saint Nikolaj Velimirovic says the following about this threefold work of Christ:

“He taught- He interpreted the spirit of the Old Creation and the Old Law.

He preached- He laid the foundations of the New Creation, the Kingdom of God, the Church of the Saints.

He healed- He gave testimony to His teaching and preaching by His acts.”

Our Lord did all of this out of His love for mankind. His love meets with our faith so that there may be the miracle of salvation.

Each time our Lord Jesus Christ performs the miracle of healing He asks “Do you believe? Do you believe that I am able to do this?” When our Lord asks these questions he is knocking at the door of the hearts of men. He is looking for an opening to be let in so that not only healing may occur but salvation may occur. This is described for us in the Evangelist John’s Book of Revelation where it says “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him” (Revelation 3:20)

While the Lord knocks at the door of our hearts it takes action or faith on our part to let Him in to our hearts. We must then also knock at His door and ask for salvation. This is confirmed in the words of our Lord when He says “And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” (Luke 11:9)

We see both of these aspects of knocking at the door in today’s Gospel. The first knock is in the two blind men calling after Jesus “Son of David, have mercy on us.” (Matthew 9:27) Saint Simeon the New Theologian describes this knock at the door by the blind men in the following manner “He who prays according to the flesh, and does not also have spiritual understanding is like the blind man that cried out ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ But another blind man when he received his sight and saw the Lord, no longer saw Him as the Son of David, but as the Son of God. (John 9:35-38)” Thus, any knock at the door must be to bring us to God. This is why Christ does not immediately respond to these men. Jesus does not respond because He wants their thirst for God to increase.

The second knock is when Jesus asks them “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” (Matthew 9:28) Our Lord does this so that they may publicly proclaim their action of faith when they say “Yes Lord.” This should remind us that our faith is not just a personnel thing that we keep to ourselves. Faith is something that must be proclaimed in order to bring others to faith.

When the men respond with the words “Yes Lord”, they leave their fleshly or earthly understanding behind and embrace the spiritual understanding. This is accomplished through their use of the word Lord. They no longer recognize Jesus as the Son of David but as the Lord, the Son of God, the God-Man, the Savior of the World. Thus, they are not only healed of their infirmity but they are brought to salvation. This is confirmed by Saint Paul in his epistle to the Romans when he says “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13)

All too often we seek after God through miraculous signs of His action in creation and fail to see the spiritual miracles that occur around us. Saint John Chrysostom speaks to this in the following manner “Do not therefore seek signs, but the soul’s health. Seek not to see one dead man raised; nay, for you have learned that the whole world is arising. Seek not to see a blind man healed, but behold all now restored unto that better and more profitable sight; and do you too learn to look chastely, and amend your eye.”

So my dear brothers and sisters in Christ seek not after miracles. Seek rather after salvation for Christ is knocking at the door of your heart. Open the door of your hearts to Him that you may enter into the New Creation and receive the spiritual miracles that will change you and the world around you. Though this change you will accomplishing Christ’s work to teach, preach and to heal.

Amen

Delivered by Fr. Milan Medakovic at Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Church on the 7th Sunday after Pentecost 2009.


Saint John Chrysostom on the Miracles, Homily 32 on Matthew 9

July 23, 2009

icon Matthew 9 27-35But the miracles, perhaps, are what ye seek after, such as they wrought when they entered in; the lepers cleansed, the devils driven out, and the dead raised? Nay, but this is the great indication of your high birth, and of your love, that you should believe God without pledges. And in fact this, and one other thing, were the reasons why God made miracles to cease. I mean, that if when miracles are not performed, they that plume themselves on other advantages,—for instance, either on the word of wisdom, or on show of piety,—grow vainglorious, are puffed up, are separated one from another; did miracles also take place, how could there but be violent rendings? And that what I say is not mere conjecture, the Corinthians bear witness, who from this cause were divided into many parties.

Do not thou therefore seek signs, but the soul’s health. Seek not to see one dead man raised; nay, for you have learned that the whole world is arising. Seek not to see a blind man healed, but behold all now restored unto that better and more profitable sight; and do thou too learn to look chastely, and amend your eye.

For in truth, if we all lived as we ought, workers of miracles would not be admired so much as we by the children of the heathen. For as to the signs, they often carry with them either a notion of mere fancy, or another evil suspicion, although ours be not such. But a pure life cannot admit of any such reproach; yea, all men’s mouths are stopped by the acquisition of virtue.

Let virtue then be our study: for abundant are her riches, and great the wonder wrought in her. She bestows the true freedom, and causes the same to be discerned even in slavery, not releasing from slavery, but while men continue slaves, exhibiting them more honorable than freemen; which is much more than giving them freedom: not making the poor man rich, but while he continues poor, exhibiting him wealthier than the rich.

But if you would work miracles also, be rid of transgressions, and you have quite accomplished it. Yea, for sin is a great demon, beloved; and if thou exterminate this, you have wrought a greater thing than they who drive out ten thousand demons. Do thou listen to Paul, how he speaks, and prefers virtue to miracles. “But covet earnestly,” says he, “the best gifts: and yet show I unto you a more excellent way.” 1 Corinthians 12:31 And when he was to declare this “way,” he spoke not of raising the dead, not of cleansing of lepers, not of any other such thing; but in place of all these he set charity. Hearken also unto Christ, saying, “Rejoice not that the demons obey you, but that your names are written in Heaven.” Luke 10:20 And again before this, “Many will say to me in that day, Have we not prophesied in Your name, and cast out devils, and done many mighty works, and then I will profess unto them, I know you not.” Matthew 7:22-23 And when He was about to be crucified, He called His disciples, and said unto them, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples,” not “if you cast out devils,” but “if you have love one to another.” John 13:35 And again, “Hereby shall all men know that You have sent me;” not “if these men raise the dead,” but, “if they be one.”

For, as to miracles, they oftentimes, while they profited another, have injured him who had the power, by lifting him up to pride and vainglory, or haply in some other way: but in our works there is no place for any such suspicion, but they profit both such as follow them, and many others.

These then let us perform with much diligence. For if thou change from inhumanity to almsgiving, you have stretched forth the hand that was withered. If thou withdraw from theatres and go to the church, you have cured the lame foot. If thou draw back your eyes from an harlot, and from beauty not your own, you have opened them when they were blind. If instead of satanical songs, you have learned spiritual psalms, being dumb, you have spoken.

These are the greatest miracles, these the wonderful signs. If we go on working these signs, we shall both ourselves be a great and admirable sort of persons through these, and shall win over all the wicked unto virtue, and shall enjoy the life to come; unto which may we all attain, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and might forever and ever. Amen.


Saint John Chrysostom on the Two Blind Men, Homily 32 on Matthew 9

July 21, 2009

“And when Jesus departed thence, two blind men followed Him, crying, and saying, Thou Son of David, have mercy on us. And when He was come into the house, the blind men came to Him: and Jesus says unto them, Believe ye that I am able to do this? They say unto Him, Yea, Lord. Then touched He their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it unto you. And their eyes were opened.”

chrysostomWherefore can it be that He puts them off, and they crying out? Here again teaching us utterly to repel the glory that comes from the multitude. For because the house was near, He leads them thither to heal them in private. And this is evident from the fact, that He charged them moreover to tell no man.

But this is no light charge against the Jews; when these men, though their eyes were struck out, receive the faith by hearing alone, but they beholding the miracles, and having their sight to witness what was happening, do all just contrary. And see their earnestness also, both by their cry, and by their prayer itself. For they did not merely approach Him, but with loud cries, and alleging nought else but “mercy.”

And they called Him “Son of David,” because the name was thought to be honorable. In many passages, for instance, did the prophets likewise so call the kings, whom they wished to honor, and to declare great.

And having brought them into the house, He puts to them a further question. For in many cases He made a point of healing on entreaty, lest any should suppose Him to be rushing upon these miracles through vainglory: and not on this account alone, but to indicate also that they deserve healing, and that no one should say, “If it was of mere mercy that He saved, all men ought to be saved.” For even His love to man has a kind of proportion; depending on the faith of them that are healed. But not for these causes only does He require faith of them, but forasmuch as they called Him “Son of David,” He to lead them up to what is higher, and to teach them to entertain the imaginations they ought of Himself, says, “Believe ye that I am able to do this?” He did not say, “Believe ye that I am able to entreat my Father, that I am able to pray” but, “that I am able to do this?”

What then is their word? “Yea, Lord.” They call Him no more Son of David, but soar higher, and acknowledge His dominion.

And then at last He for His part lays His hand upon them, saying, “According to your faith be it unto you.” And this He does to confirm their faith, and to show that they are participators in the good work, and to witness that their words were not words of flattery. For neither did He say, “Let your eyes be opened,” but, “According to your faith be it unto you;” which He says to many of them that came unto Him; before the healing of their bodies, hastening to proclaim the faith in their soul; so as both to make them more approved, and to render others more serious.

Thus with respect to the sick of the palsy also; for there too before giving nerve to the body, He raises up the fallen soul, saying, “Son, be of good cheer, your sins be forgiven you.” And the young damsel too, when He had raised her up, He detained, and by the food taught her her Benefactor; and in the case of the centurion also He did in like manner, leaving the whole to his faith; and as to His disciples again, when delivering them from the storm on the sea, He delivered them first from their want of faith. Just so likewise in this case: He knew indeed, even before their cry, the secrets of their mind; but that He might lead on others also to the same earnestness, He makes them known to the rest as well, by the result of their cure proclaiming their hidden faith.

Then after their cure He commands them to tell no man; neither does He merely command them, but with much strictness.

“For Jesus,” it is said, “straightly charged them, saying, See that no man know it. But they, when they were departed, spread abroad His fame in all that country.” Matthew 9:30-31

They however did not endure this, but became preachers, and evangelists; and when bidden to hide what had been done, they endured it not.

And if in another place we find Him saying, “Go your way, and declare the glory of God, “that is not contrary to this, but even highly in agreement herewith. For He instructs us to say nothing ourselves, concerning ourselves, but even to forbid them that would eulogize us: but if the glory be referred to God, then not only not to forbid, but to command men to do this.

“And as they went out,” it is said, “behold, they brought unto Him a dumb man possessed with a devil.”

For the affliction was not natural, but the device of the evil spirit; wherefore also he needs others to bring him. For he could neither make entreaty himself, being speechless, nor supplicate others, when the evil spirit had bound his tongue, and together with his tongue had fettered his soul.

For this cause neither does He require faith of him, but straightway heals the disease.

“For when the devil was cast out,” it says, “the dumb spoke: and the multitudes marveled, saying, It was never so seen in Israel.” Matthew 9:33

Now this especially vexed the Pharisees, that they preferred Him to all, not only that then were, but that had ever been. And they preferred Him, not for His healing, but for His doing it easily and quickly, and to diseases innumerable and incurable.

And thus the multitude; but the Pharisees quite contrariwise; not only disparaging the works, but saying things contradictory to themselves, and not ashamed. Such a thing is wickedness. For what say they?

“He casts out devils through the prince of the devils.”

What can be more foolish than this? For in the first place, as He also says further on, it is impossible that a devil should cast out a devil, for that being is wont to repair what belongs to himself, not to pull it down. But He did not cast out devils only, but also cleansed lepers, and raised the dead, and curbed the sea, and remitted sins, and preached the kingdom, and brought men unto the Father; things which a demon would never either choose, or at any time be able to effect. For the devils bring men to idols, and withdraw them from God, and persuade them to disbelieve the life to come. The devil does not bestow kindness when he is insulted; forasmuch as even when not insulted, he harms those that court and honor him.


Sermon 6th Sunday After Pentecost

July 19, 2009

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ our Lord says “be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you” (Matthew 9:2) in today’s Gospel.

healing paralytic matthewWhat are our sins that need to be forgiven? Our sins are our imperfections of character. They are the things about us where we miss the mark of what we were created to be by God. Sins take many forms but they are all rooted in our miss use of our created being. In particular we find that our God given needs for socialization and security are misused by are self will.

When we sin we place ourselves above God. We make ourselves are own God. When we sin we put ourselves in conflict with God. This conflict with God is often seen in our conflicts with our fellow man. This is because our fellow man, as well as we are, is created in the image and likeness of God as it says in Genesis “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26) Thus our conflicts in life are a result of our conflict with the image and likeness of God that exists within us and our fellow man as a result of placing our will in front of this image and likeness of God; or simply put our sin.

This conflict is not only with ourselves but with God because we were created to live in harmony with God. We were created to submit our will to his in order to have this harmony with Him. As we live our lives in conflict with God, others and the image and likeness of God within us our souls become sick.

The soul becomes sick because it is cut off from its Creator that nourishes it with the fruit of the tree of life. This lack of nourishment of the soul weakens the soul. In the worse cases it can no longer respond to God; it becomes paralyzed much like the man in today’s gospel.

When the soul is sick it is often accompanied by physical illness. We see this often in the Gospels with the healings of the blind, the epileptics, the deaf and dumb, and paralytics. In each of these healings we hear our Lord Jesus Christ say before the healing, as we heard in today’s Gospel, “your sins are forgiven you.” Thus, before there can be any physical healing there must be a spiritual healing.

In order to receive this spiritual healing the one that suffers must first come to believe in God and trust in Him. We see this need for belief in the healing of the epileptic child when the father says “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)

Once belief is achieved then action must be taken. The action of belief is faith. We see the belief in action or faith in today’s Gospel by those that brought the paralytic to Christ. However something we may not notice is the faith of the sick man. Saint Nikolaj Velimirovic describes the faith of the sick man in the following manner “anyone in his right mind, were he to have no faith, would scarcely allow others to drag him along the streets on his bed and – even more important- haul him up onto the roof and let him down into the house.”

When the action of faith is taken it is an outward sign of repentance or a change of mind. The change of mind that occurs for the sick soul is knowing that it cannot live without God. Repentance is the recognition of the brokenness of the soul, the recognition of its imperfection. Without this repentance there can be no forgiveness, no healing, no restoration.

Repentance is a sacrifice of the self will to God’s will. In reality it is bringing our imperfection before God and offering it to Him to forgive, to heal and to restore. This is made clear to us in Psalm 50 where it says “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 50(51):17)

We are further given an image of brokenness as sacrifice in the crucifixion of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ. We see His broken body offered on the Life Giving Cross for the sin of the world. This sacrifice of Christ resulted in the Resurrection that opened for all of mankind the gates of paradise. The Resurrection of Christ allowed mankind’s corrupted image, brokenness, or imperfection to be restored, to be healed by Christ’s sacrifice of Himself on the cross. It allowed mankind to be forgiven, healed and restored to its created nature as our Lord said in today’s be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you” (Matthew 9:2)

So my dear brothers and sisters and Christ be of Good Cheer so that you may come to believe that you may come to faith and repentance so that your brokenness may be healed by our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Amen

Delivered by Fr. Milan Medakovic at Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Church on the 6th Sunday after Pentecost 2009.


St. John Chrysostom on Paralytic II, Homily 29 on Matthew 9

July 16, 2009

In this case indeed He discloses also another sign, and that no small one, of His own Godhead, and of His equality in honor with the Father. For whereas they said, “To unbind sins pertains to God only,” He not only unbinds sins, but also before this He makes another kind of display in a thing which pertained to God only; the publishing the secrets in the heart. For neither had they uttered what they were thinking.

Paralytic MatthewFor “behold, certain of the scribes,” it says, “said within themselves, This man blasphemes. And Jesus knowing their thoughts, said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?” Matthew 9:3-4

But that it belongs to God only to know men’s secrets, hear what says the prophet, “Thou most entirely alone know the hearts;” 2 Chronicles 6:30 and again, “God tries the hearts and reins;” and Jeremiah too says, “The heart is deep above all things, and it is man, and who shall know him?”and, “Man shall look on the face, but God on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7 And by many things one may see, that to know what is in the mind belongs to God alone.

Implying therefore that He is God, equal to Him that begat Him; what things they were reasoning in themselves (for through fear of the multitude, they durst not utter their mind), this their opinion He unveils and makes manifest, evincing herein also His great gentleness.

“For wherefore,” says He, “think ye evil in your hearts?” Matthew 9:4

And yet if there were cause for displeasure, it was the sick man who should have been displeased, as being altogether deceived, and should have said “One thing I came to have healed, and amendest Thou another? Why, whence is it manifest that my sins are forgiven?”

But now he for his part utters no such word, but gives himself up to the power of the healer; but these being curious and envious, plot against the good deeds of others. Wherefore He rebukes them indeed, but with all gentleness. “Why, if you disbelieve,” says He, “what went before, and account my saying a boast; behold I add to it also another, the uncovering of your secrets; and after that again another.” What then is this? The giving tone to the body of the paralyzed.

And whereas, when He spoke unto the sick of the palsy, He spoke without clearly manifesting His own authority: for He said not, “I forgive you your sins,” but, “your sins be forgiven you:” upon their constraining, He discloses His authority more clearly, saying, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins.”

Do you see, how far He was from unwillingness to be thought equal to the Father? For He said not at all, “The Son of Man has need of another;” or, “He has given Him authority,” but, “He has authority.” Neither does He say it for love of honor, but “to convince you,” so He speaks, “that I do not blaspheme in making myself equal with God.”

Thus everywhere His will is to offer proofs clear and indisputable; as when He says, “Go your way, show yourself to the priest;” Matthew 8:4 and when He points to Peter’s wife’s mother ministering, and permits the swine to cast themselves down headlong. And in the same manner here also; first, for a certain token of the forgiveness of his sins, He provides the giving tone to his body: and of that again, his carrying his bed; to hinder the fact from being thought a mere fancy. And He does not this, before He had asked them a question. “For whether is easier,” says He, “to say, Your sins be forgiven you? or to say, Take up your bed, and go unto your house?” Matthew 9:5-6 Now what He says is like this, “Which seems to you easier, to bind up a disorganized body, or to undothe sins of a soul? It is quite manifest; to bind up a body. For by how much a soul is better than a body, by so much is the doing away sins a greater work than this; but because the one is unseen, the other in sight, I throw in that, which although an inferior thing, is yet more open to sense; that the greater also and the unseen may thereby receive its proof;” thus by His works anticipating even now the revelation of what had been said by John, that “He takes away the sins of the world.”

Well then, having raised him up, He sends him to his house; here again signifying His unboastfulness, and that the event was not a mere imagination; for He makes the same persons witnesses of his infirmity, and also of his health. For I indeed had desired, says He, through your calamity to heal those also, that seem to be in health, but are diseased in mind; but since they will not, depart thou home, to heal them that are there.

Do you see how He indicates Him to be Creator both of souls and bodies? He heals therefore the palsy in each of the two substances, and makes the invisible evident by that which is in sight. But nevertheless they still creep upon the earth.

“For when the multitudes saw it, they marveled, and glorified God, which” (it is said) “had given such power unto men:”for the flesh was an offense unto them. But He did not rebuke them, but proceeds by His works to arouse them, and exalt their thoughts. Since for the time it was no small thing for Him to be thought greater than all men, as having come from God. For had they well established these things in their own minds, going on orderly they would have known, that He was even the Son of God. But they did not retain these things clearly, wherefore neither were they able to approach Him. For they said again, “This man is not of God;” John 9:16 “how is this man of God?” And they were continually harping on these things, putting them forward as cloaks for their own passions.

Which thing many now also do; and thinking to avenge God, fulfill their own passions, when they ought to go about all with moderation. For even the God of all, having power to launch His thunderbolt against them that blaspheme Him, makes the sun to rise, and sends forth the showers, and affords them all other things in abundance; whom we ought to imitate, and so to entreat, advise, admonish, with meekness, not angry, not making ourselves wild beasts.

For no harm at all ensues unto God by their blasphemy, that you should be angered, but he who blasphemed has himself also received the wound. Wherefore groan, bewail, for the calamity indeed deserves tears. And the wounded man, again,—nothing can so heal him as gentleness: gentleness, I say, which is mightier than any force.

See, for example, how He Himself, the insulted one, discourses with us, both in the Old Testament, and in the New; in the one saying, “O my people, what have I done unto you?” Micah 6:3 in the other, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me.” Acts 9:4 And Paul too bids, “In meekness instruct those that oppose themselves.” 2 Timothy 2:25 And Christ again, when His disciples had come to Him, requiring fire to come down from heaven, strongly rebuked them, saying, “You know not what manner of spirit you are of.”

And here again He said not, “O accursed, and sorcerers as you are; O you envious, and enemies of men’s salvation;” but, “Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?”

We must, you see, use gentleness to eradicate the disease. Since he who is become better through the fear of man, will quickly return to wickedness again. For this cause He commanded also the tares to be left, giving an appointed day of repentance. Yea, and many of them in fact repented, and became good, who before were bad; as for instance, Paul, the Publican, the Thief; for these being really tares turned into kindly wheat. Because, although in the seeds this cannot be, yet in the human will it is both manageable and easy; for our will is bound by no limits of nature, but has freedom of choice for its privilege.

Accordingly, when you see an enemy of the truth, wait on him, take care of him, lead him back into virtue, by showing forth an excellent life, by applying “speech that cannot be condemned,” Titus 2:8 by bestowing attention and tender care, by trying every means of amendment, in imitation of the best physicians. For neither do they cure in one manner only, but when they see the wound not yield to the first remedy, they add another, and after that again another; and now they use the knife, and now bind up. And do thou accordingly, having become a physician of souls, put in practice every mode of cure according to Christ’s laws; that you may receive the reward both of saving yourself and of profiting others, doing all to the glory of God, and so being glorified also yourself. “For them that glorify me,” says He, “I will glorify; and they that despise me, shall be lightly esteemed.”

Let us, I say, do all things unto His glory; that we may attain unto that blessed portion, unto which God grant we may all attain, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and might forever and ever. Amen.


St. John Chrysostom on the Paralytic; Homily29 on Matthew 9

July 14, 2009

“And He entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into His own city. And, behold, they brought to Him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; your sins be forgiven you.”

By His own city here he means Capernaum. For that which gave Him birth was Bethlehem; that which brought Him up, Nazareth; that which had Him continually inhabiting it, Capernaum.

Johnchrysostom3This paralytic, however, was different from that one who is set forth in John. John 5:1 For he lay at the pool, but this at Capernaum; and that man had his infirmity thirty and eight years, but concerning this, no such thing is mentioned; and the other was in a state destitute of protectors, but this had some to take care of him, who also took him up, and carried him. And to this He says, “Son, your sins be forgiven you, “but to that He says, “Will you be made whole?” John 5:6 And the other He healed on a Sabbath day, but this not on a Sabbath, for else the Jews would have laid this also to His charge; and in the case of this man they were silent, but in that of the other they were instant in persecuting him.
And this I have said, not without purpose, lest any one should think there is a discrepancy from suspecting it to be one and the same paralytic.

But do thou, I pray you, mark the humility and meekness of our Lord. For He had also before this put away the multitudes from Him, and moreover when sent away by them at Gadara, He withstood not, but retired, not however to any great distance.

And again He entered into the ship and passed over, when He might have gone over afoot. For it was His will not to be always doing miracles, that He might not injure the doctrine of His humanity.
Now Matthew indeed says, that “they brought him,” but the others, that they also broke up the roof, and let him down. And they put the sick man before Christ, saying nothing, but committing the whole to Him. For though in the beginning He Himself went about, and did not require so much faith of them that came unto Him; yet in this case they both approached Him, and had faith required on their part. For, “Seeing,” it is said, “their faith;” that is, the faith of them that had let the man down. For He does not on all occasions require faith on the part of the sick only: as for instance, when they are insane, or in any other way, through their disease, are out of their own control. Or rather, in this case the sick man too had part in the faith; for he would not have suffered himself to be let down, unless he had believed.

Forasmuch then as they had evinced so great faith, He also evinces His own power, with all authority absolving his sins, and signifying in all ways that He is equal in honor with Him that begat Him. And mark; He implied it from the beginning, by His teaching, when He taught them as one having authority; by the leper, when He said, “I will, be thou clean,” Matthew 8:3 by the centurion, when upon his saying, “Speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed, He marvelled at him,” Matthew 8:8 and celebrated him above all men; by the sea, when He curbed it with a mere word; by the devils, when they acknowledged Him as their judge, and He cast them out with great authority.

Here again in another and a greater way He constrains His very enemies to confess His equality in honor, and by their own mouth He makes it manifest. For He, to signify His indifference to honor (for there stood a great company of spectators shutting up the entrance, wherefore also they let him down from above), did not straightway hasten to heal the visible body, but He takes His occasion from them; and He healed first that which is invisible, the soul, by forgiving his sins; which indeed saved the other, but brought no great glory to Himself. They themselves rather, troubled by their malice, and wishing to assail Him, caused even against their will what was done to be conspicuous. He, in fact, in His abundance of counsel, made use of their envy for the manifestation of the miracle.

Upon their murmuring, then, and saying, “This man blasphemes; who can forgive sins but God only?”let us see what He says. Did He indeed take away the suspicion? And yet if He were not equal, He should have said, “Why fix upon me a notion which is not convenient? I am far from this power.” But now has He said none of these things, but quite the contrary He has both affirmed and ratified, as well by His own voice, as by the performance of the miracle. Thus, it appearing that His saying certain things of Himself gave disgust to his hearers, He affirms what He had to say concerning Himself by the others; and what is truly marvelous, not by His friends only, but also by His enemies; for this is the excellency of His wisdom. By His friends on the one hand, when He said, “I will, be thou clean,” Matthew 8:3 and when He said, “I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel;” Matthew 8:10 but by His enemies, now. For because they had said, “No man can forgive sins but God only,” He subjoined,
“But that you may know that the Son of Man has power to forgive sins upon the earth (then says He to the sick of the palsy), Arise, and take up your bed, and go unto your house.”

And not here only, but also in another case again, when they were saying, “For a good work we stone you not, but for blasphemy, and because that thou, being a man, makest yourself God,” John 10:33 neither in that instance did He put down this opinion, but again confirmed it, saying, “If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not; but if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works.” John 10:37-38


Sermon 5th Sunday After Pentecost

July 12, 2009

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and the Holy Spirit,

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ in today’s Gospel we hear of our Lord Jesus Christ’s encounter with the two demon possessed men in the country side of the Gergesenes.

demoniacs026We do not know why these men are possessed by demons. We only know the results of the possession. We see their anger with God and their fellow man in the words of the Gospel saying “coming out from the tombs, exceedingly fierce, so that no one could pass that way.” (Matthew 8:28)

Saint Nikolaj Velimirovic observes that “Men work unrighteousness against God and so they are angry with God.” All too often people will sin against God or their fellow man and blame God for the consequences of their actions.

All sin is rooted in the inappropriate use of our self will. When we sin we either place ourselves above God or above our fellow man. In doing so, we enter into a dissonant state. We are out of harmony with God and creation. In the worst cases of a sinful life the person becomes so out of harmony with God and creation no one wants to be near that person or to use the words of the Gospel they become “exceedingly fierce.”

In the most severe cases the thought comes to the person to deny the existence of God. They say to themselves “If there was truly a God this would not have happened to me!” They do not see the consequences they are experiencing are a result of their own actions. In a sense they try to silence God in their lives and the lives of others.

However this does not work. They often reach a point of despair and cry out “God Help Me!!!” This is because in trying to silence God His truth is proclaimed. It says this in the Gospel of Saint Luke when the leaders of the Jewish people are trying to silence the children as our Lord is entering Jerusalem “I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.” (Luke 19:40) Or as it further says in the Psalms “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1)

If the soul does not reach this point of despair, crying out for God’s help, then sprits of evil will take possession of the soul to fill the void left by the lack of God. This is what happened in the case of these two men.

The demons or fallen angels have utter contempt for man. They wish to destroy the crown of God’s creation man because man is created in created in God’s image and likeness. This is because the demons were once close to God before their fall. Their leader was one of the brightest and closest angles to God. It describes his fall in the Prophecy of Isaiah “How are you fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How are you cut down to the ground…Yet you shall be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.” (Isaiah 14: 12,15) The demons want to bring man down so that he may suffer in the same manner as them. The demons are out to destroy every man. Saint Paul refers to his struggle with the demons as “a thorn in the flesh.” (II Corinthians 12:7)

We can see the lack of concern for God and the men by demons in today’s Gospel when they say “What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?” (Matthew 8:29)

In this response to Jesus we see two things. The first is the incompatibility of a life with God and that with evil. Saint Paul reminds us of this when he said to the Corinthians “what concord has Christ with Belial?” (II Corinthians 6:15)

The second is that the demons already know the results of their rebellion against God. They know the torment that awaits them. The prophet Isaiah describes this torment in the following way he, Lucifer, will be “cast out of your grave like an abominable branch,… that go down to the stones of the pit; as a carcass trodden under feet.” (Isaiah 14:19). Our Lord further testified to this when He said in the Gospel of Saint Luke “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.” (Luke 10:18)

This same end that awaits the demons will come to the man that is an unrepentant sinner. Our Lord tells us of this when he describes the awesome and fearful Last Judgment in the Gospel of Saint Matthew “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:41)

Saint Nikolaj Velimirovic points out in his commentary on this Gospel that that the demons never mention the men when they say “If you cast us out, suffer us to go away into the herd of swine.” (Matthew 8:31) because the men are dead to the demons. Saint Nikolaj goes on to say “They did not want to leave the man; they would have infinitely rather have stayed in him then go into the swine…While the demons can make men like swine, and far worse than swine, what can they make of swine?……They will through the swine, go on doing man harm; if in no other way then by drowning the swine and provoking men’s fury against God.”

Then why does our Lord allow the demons to enter the swine? Saint John Chrysostom answers this question in the following way “One, to teach them that are delivered from those wicked tyrants, how great the malice of their insidious enemies: another, that all might learn, how not even against swine are they bold, except He allow them; a third, that they would have treated those men more grievously than the swine, unless even in their calamity they had enjoyed much of God’s providential care. For that they hate us more than the brutes are surely evident to every man. So then they that spared not the swine, but in one moment of time cast them all down the precipice, much more would they have done so to the men whom they possessed, leading them towards the desert, and carrying them away, unless even in their very tyranny the guardian care of God had abounded, to curb and check the excess of their violence. Whence it is manifest that there is no one, who does not enjoy the benefit of God’s providence. And if not all alike, nor after one manner, this is itself a very great instance of providence; in that according to each man’s profit, the work also of providence is displayed.”

The result of casting out of these demons is that the town’s people see the two men in their right minds healed and their swine destroyed. They cannot see the miracle that just happened. All they can see is the destruction of the swine. They do not see how much God valued these men or any man. Our Lord reminds us of our value to Him when He says “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear you not therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:30-31)

So my dear brothers in sisters in Christ know that you are under attack by the demons that wish to drag you down with then into the abyss of hell which they created for themselves; know that you can create this same hell for yourself and know that God is there to save you from the abyss of hell because you are the crown of His creation created in His image and likeness.

Amen

Delivered by Fr. Milan Medakovic at Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Church on the 5th Sunday after Pentecost 2009.