Sermon on the Gospel reading about the Gadarene demoniac, November 15, 2020
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
The event we remember today is shocking—the casting out of demons from the two Gadarene demoniacs. No one could handle them, and they couldn’t handle themselves. Only God freed them from this demonic possession. But in this Gospel story there is something even more amazing that the people and the demons wrought, and not God. If the Lord cast the out demon from the demoniac, then people cast God from themselves. This is even more astounding! People saw the ineffable miracle of God in the healing of an incurably sick man, which brought wonder upon the entire region and upon those present. But instead of falling down at Jesus’s feet to thank Him, saying, “Stay with us forever”, they said, “Depart from us!” This is a real diabolical wonder that takes place in the human race.
Now even certain Orthodox priests are saying that demonic possession doesn’t exist, that it’s a mental illness, that it’s nothing but Orthodox people’s emotional over-exhilaration, and sometimes even simulation. They weren’t here [in the Pskov Caves Monastery] in the 1980’s when Fr. Adrian served the rite of exorcism in the Church of the Meeting of the Lord. We saw with our own eyes how a thirteen-year-old girl just tossed off strong men as she headed for some goal known only to her. People don’t think about what’s happening in their own lives, in the lives of their close ones, and in the life of a country and people; how God’s spirit works, how guardian angels influence people’s thoughts and deeds, how the devil and the demons influence those deeds, thoughts, and the state of the soul. Man is always falling for these terrible influences, because the evil spirits, the devil, demons, the multitude of spirits who are at enmity with God, who hate man and hate God even more, act upon our souls and minds in ways that we don’t even suspect.
The holy fathers warn us not to think too much about this, because it’s beyond the capacity of the human mind. As a rule, when people begin to think about it they fall into a state where the demons start taking over their minds and souls. But we do need to understand and know about this! Continual concentration on the infernal and cruel subject of demons—which definitely exist—can drive a person out of his mind and make him a plaything of the demons. But it is necessary to remember this. Sometimes whole nations become subservient to these spiritual beings, the demons. Demons move into people’s souls, which then unite in spirit with evil and madness, and then destroy themselves, their minds, and their country. They do things in a state of ecstasy, intoxication, and infernal joy that they are later ashamed of, and they don’t understand how they could have possibly done such things! They as if realize their dream, but that dream was sent to them from the devil and taken from the devil. From time to time we see how dangerously a man proceeds when he’s in a state of “heated blood”, as St. Ignatius (Branchaninov) wrote, and as if possessed, lurches after a certain goal. He wants it very much, pays attention to nothing else, hears nothing else, and is in a state of total ecstasy and intoxication. We can see that something peculiar and abnormal is happening to that person. He has joy—but it’s demonic joy.
We recall, “Serve ye the Lord with fear and rejoice in Him with trembling.” But there is no trembling here! Only terrible intoxication. Such people are stubborn; they do not obey the Church and reason. These people are suicides, who only later understand it. These people are involuntary murderers—they kill the souls and lives of many people. But they only understand that as time goes by. Examples of such terrible madness and demonic possession were our Russian revolutions. It was not without reason that our Russian saints warned that demonic possession awaited the Russian people. At the end of the 1820s, St. Seraphim of Sarov warned about the terrible events to come. In 1823–1824, when a man who would later participate in the Decembrist uprising of 1825 came to St. Seraphim, who was standing near the holy spring that had welled up by his prayers, the saint refused to bless that sincerely religious revolutionary who came to him for a blessing. He sent him away with the words: “Everything you are scheming is a terrible demonic obsession. You will lead Russia and the Russian people to catastrophe.” St. Seraphim’s disciple asked him why he refused to bless the believing man. And St. Seraphim pointed to his usually pure, translucent spring now completely murky, and said, “They will stir up and darken Russia, just like this spring.”
St. John of Kronstadt also warned of the events that would take place in February, 1917, saying that Russia would soon go mad. He died in 1908, having warned everyone about this in advance. St. Theophan the Recluse, St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov), and our contemporaries saw with horror how demons entered people, and they told us about it. Bishop Theophan said, “Demons have possessed people’s souls, and the Russian people have become demoniacs.” The great Russian poet, Maximillian Voloshin, wrote:
“The people, madly obsessed,
Are beating their heads against the stone,
And tearing their bonds like ones possessed…”
We recall the deaf and dumb demon-possessed boy whom the Lord healed. Voloshin writes:
“Is it not that spirit possessing you,
O, Rus’, you deaf and dumb!
The devil has stolen your reason and freedom,
He throws you into water and fire,
Against the rocks and to the woods.”
Such events unfortunately repeat themselves. Very few people understand what’s happening during these times of demonic possession. The larger part, to our profound regret, perceive their own demonic possession as something admirable, “beating themselves against the rocks… throwing themselves into fire and water”, killing themselves and others. The holy passion bearer Tsar Nicholas II, who did very much for our Fatherland, was defamed and slandered. He had lifted all spheres of the people’s lives (from agriculture to health services) to an unprecedented level for that time. For many years, everything in soviet Russia was compared to the level of 1913. The country was victorious in the bloody First World War. Russian troops were ready to free the Russian territory occupied by Germans, march into Berlin, Vienna, and Constantinople (now Istanbul). The armies of Yudenich and Kolchak were right near Constantinople. Russia was the only country in the world where there were no ration cards during the war. Cards were distributed only for sugar so the people wouldn’t make moonshine. But there were ration cards in neutral Switzerland, and in the USA, which entered the war the day after the Tsar’s arrest. A victorious country that had overcome all the complications of wartime was crushed by its own demonic possession.
To be sure, external forces also participated in the revolution. But we happily accepted this demon of revolution and destroyed a great country. Later, when people came to their senses, they reproached themselves. But it was too late! Just imagine the demonic insanity! The first order of the Provisional Government, the dream of those handshake liberals, was to cease disciplinary measures in a fighting army. The second crazy idea whirling in the demonic maelstrom was the order to fire all governors and vice governors. The entire vertical of power collapsed. The Germans who had retreated under Nicholas II were advancing. The police and gendarmerie were let go and a people’s militia was created using criminals released from prisons (the so-called “Kerensky nestlings”). These insane actions by demon-possessed people, supported by the demon-possessed portion of the population, led up to the point in 1917 when there was no more Russia. The Germans were outside Petrograd. Industry was pummeled, agriculture dead. In 1918 the GNP was equal to thirty percent of what it was the year before. Civil war erupted. And those exaltations over the toppling of Nicholas II, over the new world, were utter madness. Glory be to God, the strength of the Russian people who were raised in the Orthodox faith kept the country from disintegrating altogether. It was even reborn. All the projects that had been engineered under Nicholas II (the famous GOELRO plan;1 the industrialization plan; and five plans for the metro system lay on Tsar Nicholas’s desk) were brought into being, thank God. But at what cost!
And what demonic madness remained! The entire Church structure was practically destroyed; millions of people repressed; an astronomical number of deaths; the culture demolished, and a great heritage destroyed or taken out of the country. In our province [Pskov] there are a multitude of ruined churches and old estates. In their demonic madness the people destroyed all the best the country possessed. It came to the point where our religious and non-religious heritage was denied and rejected. Only in 1934 were schoolchildren allowed to study history and literature.
Suicidal demonic possession often happens to large communities of people. The doctors talk about this in another way, but what they say is also interesting. I am now preparing articles on the events of 1917 and I think, Lord, how could people burn down their own house with the conviction of suicidal fanatics?! Many doctors of that time—Bekhterev, Rossolimo, Ivan Petrovich Pavlov and others were no strangers to the revolutionary mood. Even so, they all say that it was mass psychosis. But Orthodox Christians say that it was demonic possession. Unfortunately, many Orthodox Christians are far from completely understanding this. The events of 1917 speak to this.
To be honest, not all religious people saw the revolutionary events as evil, demonic, and suicidal. Moreover, theological seminaries were often hotbeds of revolutionary movements. During the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries, revolutionary cells formed in a number of seminaries. That means that there was a real enfeebling of the Church, a demonic delirium. It is no coincidence that one of the secretaries of our country’s communist party was a former seminarian.2 Most horrible is that a person who has faith can lose it. Who loses faith? Someone who once had it. Who becomes demonically possessed? Mostly believers—the devil attacks them. The devil is not so interested in unbelievers—they’re outside God as it is. We have to remember this. And how many priests and bishops also greeted the events of February 1917 with elation! Many of them became new martyrs after they had come to their senses. To be sure, it’s easy for us to talk about this in hindsight. And of course, we are not judging anyone. But this demonic possession had stolen into the very heart of our religious nation!
Demonic possession is a reality. No matter how the diabolic powers laugh at it! They are precisely the ones who are laughing at us when we talk about the spiritual illness of demonic possession, possession by the devil. For the devil there is nothing more useful than convincing people that he doesn’t exist, that there is no such thing as demonic possession, that it simply doesn’t occur that he can completely take a person over and lead him around where he wishes, and do it in such a way that the person doesn’t even guess what’s happening. That person will elatedly think that those thoughts are his own, that it’s his own decision.
Brothers and sisters! Let’s remember that each of us can meet this illness, just like ordinary somatic illnesses, on our own paths. None of us have any guarantees. It is very arrogant and prideful to think that this happens somewhere with someone else, but not to us. People have the tendency to put up their guard against gloomy thoughts. But when this illness happens, they shrug their shoulders and say, what can we do? Signs of this illness exist. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the effected person is going to climb the wall and throw things around. The holy fathers tell us what happens to the human soul, to a person’s morality, when he is possessed by a demonic spirit. It’s pride, trusting only in oneself, inner rebellion against the Church with its rules and life, high-mindedness, judging, not admitting your own mistakes, stubbornness in your sins—first of all not sins of the flesh, but mental, emotional sins. If you feel this then go and talk to a priest; come to confession and talk about this first of all, because this illness is precarious and has very serious consequences for the soul and its salvation.
We rarely talk about this subject. And thank God! It’s too scary! But from time to time we are obligated to remind our flock and our own selves about it, no matter how people relate to it (even if it’s with displeasure and misunderstanding), in order to protect ourselves and our close ones from the possibility of getting this serious illness—which is only cured by humility, love, peace, hope in God, and prayer to the Lord. May the Lord preserve you!