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Sermons of Archpriest Anthony B. Gavalas
The Activity of the Devil
Our Savior's Resurrection, indeed His whole, entire Incarnate Dispensation, had as its purpose the destruction of the power of the devil. And so it is that we marvel whenever we see any kind of manifestation of demonic power. Because we as Orthodox Christians believe that having descended into Hades, having broken the iron bars, and shattered the locks, and crushed the brass gates that once held man captive to death, that the power of the devil was destroyed once and for all. We marvel when we see in people the activity of the devil; we marvel when we see these things such as what we heard in today's Gospel. And we have seen such things, where people are subject to some power that is demonic. And they speak strangely, and they walk strangely, and they perceive the world in different kinds of ways, and they are pitiful to look upon.
But I daresay that the lot of someone who is in that kind of the throes demonic of possession, that his lot is perhaps better than someone in whom the activity of the devil is not quite so manifest. Because just as a person who is ill and does not have a fever is in greater danger than one who is ill and has a fever, because a fever alerts the family, it alerts the doctor that something is wrong, and steps can be taken to help to cure this person. So it is that people in whom the activity of the devil is not so manifest are in greater danger, because they don't understand that they are in such terrible peril. They think that what they are undergoing, the things in their lives are certainly natural; that they're very ordinary; that there's nothing to get excited about. This is just a phase; this is just how young people are; this is just how sick people are, or old people, or the character of this person or that person. And we forget that our Lord God wants our salvation, and He has created us to be gentle, and loving, and caring for one another; that He has made us so that we show love, and that we show care towards our families; that He has made us to have peace and quiet in our homes, that as Orthodox Christians we should have this kind of consolation of the peace of God in our families. How does this happen? How does the devil take such liberties? How is it that he takes over in our personal lives and in our families?
When we are baptized, the beginning of the baptismal service, the service which is called of the catechumens, has two parts. The first part is the exorcism of the demons, the demons that have taken up their abode in the soul of the person who is about to be baptized because of our weakness, because of our being uncovered and unprotected in our condition following the ancestral sin of Adam and Eve. And these very powerful and very beautiful prayers are read, and the demons are exorcised, and the person who is about to be baptized confirms that he has thrown off the yoke of Satan, that he has spat upon and exorcised together with the officiating priest those demons that once held sway in his heart. And when this person, this neophyte, this newly baptized person, comes out of the baptismal font of the Holy Orthodox Church, he comes out pure, and cleansed, and white, and free. He is free from these demons; he is free from their influence; he is free because at that moment he has joined his will to the will of God, and the will of God is that the power of the devil have no sway and no authority over our souls.
How is it then that we once again become prey? How is it then that once again the devil takes a part in our lives, and indeed sometimes seems to run our lives and our households? We repeat once again, the devil has no power, but he does have that power that we give him. And we indeed give him power. We permit him into our homes, we permit him into our souls, mostly because we are careless about what comes into our house. Whether it is the house of our souls, or the house in which we live, in which our home is. And we bring him in with our evil moods, and our grumpiness; we bring the spirit of the world into our homes when we come from outside, whether we have been shopping or working, or whatever activity we have been, where the devil holds sway out there because the world wants him to have authority. But he also comes into our house with the various media that come into our homes. Whether it is the television, or the radio, or the music that we listen to, or our computer, or the magazines and newspapers that we read. We give him access. And instead of being watchful guardians over our own souls and the souls of our children and of our spouses, we become guilty of permitting these unclean spirits to take up their nests and abode in our house.
We are tyrannized by them and even our prayers become tainted. Because we can say Our Father Who art in the heavens, we can call upon our heavenly Father, but if our deeds are those of that dark father, of that father of lies, of that father of destruction, of that father of shadows, of that father of darkness, then our holy fathers tell us that we can call on the heavenly Father all we want, the one who is our father will hear our prayers, and the one who is our father is the one whom we resemble.
We have said in previous sermons that God has given us the authority to be coworkers with Him, cobuilders with Him, and this is what we're talking about. No builder would allow a building that he worked on so hard all day long to be destroyed that night. That is not being a builder. That is being foolish. And yet we do that. We pray, we say our prayers, we keep our fasts, we do good works, and yet, with an hour's worth of television in the evening, with twenty minutes in front of the computer, with an hour with a novel, we can destroy everything we have built in the day, and given the devil a foothold in our houses to boot!
And if this was not enough, there are Orthodox Christians who receiving a magazine or a newspaper first turn to their horoscope, or what is even worse go to mediums, and tea leaf readers, and all of the rest of that foolishness, not realizing that all of these people are nothing less but priests: they are priests of the devil. It's as simple as that. Just as we have priests of God serving the services, the blessed rituals of our holy Church, which are the perceptible means by which we receive the grace of God, so it is that with the rituals of these demonic activities the demons gain access into our souls.
The devil has no interest in giving us anything good. He has interest only in corrupting us and destroying us. But this corruption and this destruction are very bitter. And like anything else that is very bitter it must be sugar coated so that we will swallow it. And so it is that he sugar coats the means of our destruction with various cultural and entertainment elements. So that we unwittingly swallow. In the meantime, he is working our damnation.
My beloved brothers and sisters, that young man in today's Gospel is nothing more than an image of your soul and my soul which the devil wants to destroy; sometimes throwing it into the cold water of despair, and other times into the hot furnace of the passions. By whatever means we must as good fellow builders and coworkers with the Holy Trinity be more watchful than we are. We must, to take this image even further, use those tools that our Savior has given us. He gave them to us today in exactly and so many words: prayer and fasting; prayer and fasting. So that when we see that somehow or another the devil has squeezed into our house--and we'll see it, we see it in the behavior of our children, we see it in the quarrelsomeness at our table, we see it at the impatience we have with one another, we see it in all of these things that are not Christlike--as soon as we see these things, especially those of us who are responsible for the household, fathers and mothers, grandfathers, grandmothers, elders, priests, bishops, we must immediately employ those tools of prayer and fasting. Not only in times like we are in now, which is the Dormition fast, where the Church has structured prayer and fasting into our lives, but even when it is not, when we see that something is amiss, and we need to incorporate some more prayer and some fasting into our lives so that we can take away the energy and power that we ourselves gave to those malignant, destructive, corrupting spirits.
These things we have learned from today's Gospel. These things we give to you as a precious gift from our Holy Orthodox treasury of spiritual life and of how to be saved.
We thank our Lord God, and we give glory to Him, to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, Who has made these things manifest to us so that we might incorporate them into our lives unto salvation. Amen.
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