St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

A Master of Oneself

 

Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, October 20, 2019

When it comes to the subject of demons, I see a bit of confusion in the dialogue that usually arises. Some, of course, are literalists and often are quite fearful of these invisible creatures. Some prefer to disavow their existence as part of the Christian mythology that arose from Zoroastrian myths that also gave rise to the theology of angels. I don’t want to be dragged into that discussion and prefer not to think much about it at all keeping Paul’s admonition to think about lovely things rather than dark ones.

I would rather point to the universal belief all Orthodox Christians share that sin, death, and the devil (and by extension his denizens) have been once and for all defeated by our Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross. On this point everyone agrees although for some this truth seems to get lost somewhere along the way. While believing in the victory over the devil, there are those who still see demons threatening us from behind every bush.

All in all, I think this discussion is a distraction from what we should be discussing. That is this. If God is everywhere and fills all things and the kingdom of heaven is within us and around us and among us at all times, then what is there to fear? I fail to see a place in Christianity for terror. And instead of blaming outside forces for our temptations and failures, we must instead look within to discover the true sources of our unease.

Here allow me to quote CG Jung. “Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside dreams; who looks within awakens.” So. Flip Wilson, the comedian, was wrong when he said, “The devil made me do it.” We cannot be made to do anything we are not already disposed to doing. In fact, we cannot be made to do anything at all. There must always be some part of us that agrees to behave in a certain way or we won’t.

There are forces within us of which we are largely unaware that we might mistake for personified evil. Once we see them and bring them to light, we learn that they are not foreign to us, but broken and damaged parts of us acting in ways that are unhelpful and inappropriate – not demons at all, but broken parts of ourselves. Remember Evagrius of Pontus called them “the legion of other selves” clearly reminiscent of the demonic episode in Mark 5 and Luke 8.

Repentance involves the bringing of all that is hidden to consciousness which Jesus calls “cleaning the inside of the cup.” Healing cannot take place if we are ignorant of what we must be healed and stop blaming outside forces for our sins.

Here is one more Jungian quote that might help explain what I mean, “A man likes to think 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.” Everyone of us, I am sure, knows what this looks like in our own lives.

I would like to throw one other wrench into the works. Christ says that we must love our enemies. St. Isaac of Syria, taking this to its logical conclusion, tells us that the heart of a true Christian “weeps for the demons.” Again, if these things are true, then we are called to love and comfort and enlighten even our most troublesome, damaged parts of ourselves: the ones that consistently pull our strings. As Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

“In thy light, shall we see light,” says the Great Doxology, so let us pray that we be granted the courage to know ourselves, every part and parcel, and open our entire selves to the illumination the comes from grace of God and the power of his unmitigated love. Even now, at this very moment we are bathed in his divine light. This light shines everywhere even in our corporate and personal darkness and cannot be overcome. We have but to look within and awaken to God’s presence in the depths.