Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,
At Sunday’s liturgy, the Gospel reading will be St. Luke’s account of the Gadarene demoniac. (LK. 8:26-39) This event is both powerful and puzzling. For a man is healed of demonic possession so as to be found “clothed and in his right mind,” and a herd of swine are destroyed in a frenzied and demon-driven act of self-destruction. Not exactly the “stuff” of our everyday lives. This passage, then, records an exorcism. Yet, an “exorcism” seems to belong to a worldview that can only be conceived of as belonging to the past. It is clear, however, that there were many exorcisms attributed to Jesus according to the Gospels. This is because Jesus clearly took the existence of the “evil one” seriously. For the Lord’s Prayer has a concluding petition that implores our heavenly Father to “deliver us from the evil one.” Most New Testament scholars will argue in favor of translating the Gk. poneros as the “evil one” and not simply “evil.” This presents a more concrete, and less abstract, sense of evil in the world.
Our spiritual tradition – especially as recorded in the Lives of the Saints (hagiography) – consistently portrays a crucial part of the “spiritual warfare” of the great saints as a more-or-less open confrontation with the “evil one” or with demons. Allowing for a stereotypical use of this genre, it remains true that within the Church’s living Tradition, we have always interpreted these descriptions with a realism that does not explain away the presence of the “evil one.” And Orthodox Christians do not consider themselves as simplistic and lacking in sophistication for this unapologetic acceptance of the existence of the “evil one” as revealed throughout the New Testament.
As our contemporary world continues to retreat from describing certain events and persons as “evil,” I see no reason that we must join in that retreat. Of course, there are so many factors at work in any given event – from the environmental to the psychological – but the sheer irrationality and mystery behind so many horrific events could rather point to the evil one/evil as “alive and well.”
Back in April 2007, I wrote an article on the Virginia Tech massacres during which thirty-two students were killed and twenty-five wounded. As we know, the killer took his own life. This excruciatingly painful event led me to reflect on the presence of the evil one and the destructive power of evil choices within the world. Below are the links to this two part article in case you may want to read it again – or perhaps for the first time - as we approach these themes on Sunday, however different the historical and cultural contexts between the world of the Gospels and our contemporary world may be.
Meditation - Virginia Tech Tragedy, Pt 1
Meditation - Virginia Tech Tragedy, Pt 2
Please feel free to share any further comments with me.