It is much easier to notice the failings of others than to see our own. When our passions are inflamed, the last thing that we want to do is to calm down and take a clear look at ourselves. The problem, however, is that when we mindlessly give ourselves to fulfilling our self-centered desires, whatever they may be, we do not live as those created in the image and likeness of God. If we do not embrace Christ’s healing of our souls, we will be unable to bear witness in our own lives to the joy of His Kingdom.
The wretched man in today’s gospel lesson identified himself to Christ as “Legion” because so many demons tormented him that he had lost any sense of his true self. He did not even live like a human person, as he had dwelt alone and naked in a cemetery for a long time. The Savior’s mercy for the man was so profound that He took the initiative in giving him back his identity. The transformation was so shocking that the people of the region asked Christ to leave, for they were profoundly disturbed to see the man “clothed and in his right mind.” He understandably wanted to go away with the Lord, for it would have been very hard for people to relate to him as a neighbor and not as a dreaded monster. He must also have been embarrassed by his former state. Christ refused, however, and told him to “Return to your home, and declare all that God has done for you.” The Savior knew that there could be no greater sign of His saving power than the witness of someone so visibly restored to the dignity of a beloved child of God.
We must resist the temptation to think that such an extraordinary account has little to do with us. The Lord’s deliverance of the demon-possessed man provides an icon of His healing mercy for all humanity. The Son of God became a human person in our world of corruption in order to liberate us all from living naked among the tombs. Our first parents stripped themselves of the divine glory through prideful disobedience; that is when we became enslaved to the fear of death, for which we try to compensate in the vain effort to find fulfillment in the things of this world. Instead of embracing our calling to become more like God in holiness, we disorder ourselves and our relationships with every created thing. We look for fulfillment in what cannot satisfy us and find only misery as slaves of our self-centered desires. We misuse the powers of our souls and all the good things of this life. Instead of offering ourselves and our world for restoration in God, we become idolaters of our own corrupt wills. Our passions easily distort our sense of what it means to be truly ourselves, for it is very easy to accept whatever desires we have as indications of who we truly are.
We are not as far gone as “Legion,” but our passions so easily keep us from embracing our true identity as those called to become “partakers of the divine nature” by grace. Contrary to how we often think and feel, it is not by giving our selves to pride, anger, lust, or any other passion that we will find the joy that ultimately satisfies us, but by uniting ourselves to Christ from the depths of our hearts. He alone is the New Adam Who makes it possible for human persons to become like God in holiness. He calls us to a humble love of God and neighbor that sets right our inclination to care only for ourselves. He commands us to love and forgive our enemies even as we oppose evil with a purity of heart that heals our inclination to wrath, malice, and self-righteous condemnation. He blesses the union of husband and wife in marriage as a sign of His salvation that heals the corruptions of sexual desire which bring misery upon so many and root deeply within our hearts. He raises us all up from the wretchedness of “Legion” to the blessed peace of the Kingdom of Heaven.
In order to receive Christ’s healing, we must reject the powerful temptation to define ourselves in terms of our passions, temptations, and habitual sins, regardless of how “natural” they may seem to us. We must turn away from making a false god in our own image in order to justify pleasing ourselves in what we think, say, and do. What may work quite well in achieving any goal in our world of corruption may well have nothing in common with what is necessary for gaining the spiritual clarity to embrace the restoration and fulfillment of our humanity in Christ. The more we unite ourselves to the Savior in His great Self-Offering, the more fully open we will be to His healing of our souls. Doing so requires the sacrifice of taking up our crosses as we die to the distortions of self that have become second nature to us. Doing so requires a form of martyrdom in which we struggle to bear witness to the Savior’s victory over the power of sin and death in our own lives. That is precisely what the formerly demon-possessed man did when, after his deliverance, he obeyed the Lord’s difficult instruction to “Return to your home, and declare all that God has done for you.”
Regardless of the particulars of our temptations, the Savior empowers each of us to find the healing of our souls as we bear witness to His fulfillment of the human person in the divine image and likeness. Contrary to many popular distortions of Christianity in our day, he does not call us to a vague spirituality that helps us feel better about fulfilling whatever desires we happen to have. His Kingdom remains not of this world, even when we do our worst to distort religion into a tool for advancing the self-serving agenda of any group or individual, no matter how allegedly noble or necessary. Until the coming fullness of the heavenly reign, there will be profound tension between the way of Christ and the way of the world. Though we do not like to admit it, that tension is deeply rooted within our own souls. Christ offers us healing from corruption in all its forms, regardless of how weak we may feel before our familiar temptations to indulge our passions and refuse to offer ourselves to Him fully. The journey to growth in holiness is never ending and goes to the very heart of us all. Instead of trying to make it less demanding as we stumble along the way, we must continue pressing on as best we can, calling out humbly for the Lord’s mercy and strength as we become more truly the people He created us to be in the divine image and likeness.
The path to the healing of our souls requires reorienting all the desires of our hearts toward fulfillment in God. That is how we may all find liberation from the misery of being naked, alone, enslaved to the fear of death, and profoundly confused about who we are in relation to God and our neighbors. It is how we may stop diminishing ourselves according to the legion of our temptations and sins as we do the hard work of becoming more truly ourselves in Christ. One of the reasons that many people do not take Christianity seriously today is that they do not encounter people who have found healing for their passions. They do not know people who are living witnesses of the Savior’s fulfillment of our humanity. If we reduce the meaning of our Orthodox Christian faith to the point that it concerns only what we do for a couple of hours on Sunday, or even to what we do whenever we think we are being especially religious, we will never become radiant icons of Christ’s salvation that draw others to the life of the Kingdom. If our participation in the Body of Christ does not strengthen, heal, and transform us for lives of holiness, then we will not give testimony to what happens when human beings become their true selves through the blessing of our Savior.
St. Seraphim of Sarov said, “Acquire the Spirit of peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” In other words, those who are filled with the Holy Spirit and healed of their passions will live in such a way that their example will draw others to the Lord. They will exist as human persons healed, fulfilled, and transformed. They will move from being “Legion” to being themselves in God’s image and likeness. It is easy to see when other people fall short of fulfilling that high calling, but much more difficult to recognize it in ourselves. So instead of obsessing over how we measure up, we should simply focus all our energies on finding healing for our passions as we reorient our disordered desires for fulfillment in God. If we persist in doing so and call out for the Lord’s mercy whenever we stumble and fall, we will come to know the joy of those liberated from the tomb, clothed in the divine glory, and finally in our right minds. Let us patiently offer the desires of our hearts to Christ for healing, for that is the only way to become the people He created us to be in His image and likeness.