Christ Restores our True Personhood: Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Luke in the Orthodox Church

Luke 8:26-39

           We are surely not aware of all the assumptions that we make about ourselves and about other people.  Sometimes how we view ourselves or others becomes clear when something unexpected happens, whether for good or for bad.  We can be greatly surprised when someone we know well behaves differently than we had expected.  Sometimes we surprise even ourselves in how we respond to a challenge and gain insight into our character as a result.  For that to happen, we must allow our assumptions to be challenged and take the risk of learning to see ourselves more clearly.  That can be hard to do, especially when we have become comfortable with our illusions about who we are.

In today’s gospel, we read about a man whose misery was obvious.  He surely had no illusions about himself, for he was so filled with demons that he called himself “Legion.”  His personality had disintegrated due to the overwhelming power of the forces of evil in his life.  That is shown by the fact that he was naked, like Adam and Eve who stripped themselves of the divine glory and were cast out of Paradise into our world of corruption.  He lived among the tombs, and death is “the wages of sin” that came into the world as a consequence of our first parents’ refusal to fulfill their calling to become like God in holiness.  This naked man living in the cemetery was so terrifying to others that they tried unsuccessfully to restrain him with chains.  People understandably feared that he would do to them what Cain had done to Abel.  But when this fellow broke free, he would run off to the desert by himself, alone with his demons.  The Gadarene demoniac provides a vivid icon of the pathetic suffering of humanity enslaved to death, stripped  naked of the divine glory, and isolated in fear.  His wretched condition manifests the tragic disintegration of the human person that results from refusing to embrace our true identity as living icons of God.

Evil was so firmly rooted in this man’s soul that his reaction to the Lord’s command for the demons to leave him is shocking: “What have you to do with me?…I ask you, do not torment me.”  His brokenness was such that he had abandoned hope for healing and perceived Christ’s promise of deliverance simply as even further torment.  By telling the Lord that his name was Legion, he acknowledged that the line between the demons and his own identity had been blurred.  He was in such bad shape that it was not clear where he ended and where the demons began.  The Savior then cast the demons into the herd of pigs, which ran into the lake and drowned.  In the Old Testament context, pigs were unclean, and here the forces of evil lead even them into death.

Perhaps there is no clearer image of human brokenness in need of the healing of Christ than this miserable man.    He represents us all in many ways.  He did not ask Christ to deliver him, even as we did not take the initiative in Christ’s coming to the world.   The corrupting forces of evil were so powerful in this man’s life that he had lost all awareness of being a person in God’s image and likeness.  We can also become so distorted by self-centered desire that we lose a true sense of self.  When that happens, we would rather that Christ leave us alone to serve our passions than to set us free.  We can easily become filled with fear that His healing mercy will simply torment us, for we often cannot even imagine who we would be without the corruption with which we have come to identify ourselves.

After the spectacular drowning of the swine, the man in question was “sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.”  The one who had not been recognizably human returned to being his true self, was back in society, and was learning from the One Who had set him free.  That was a very upsetting scene to the people of that region, however.  They actually asked Christ to leave out of fear at what had happened.  We may find their reaction hard to understand.  What could be so terrifying about this man returning to a normal life?  Unfortunately, we all tend to get used to whatever we get used to.  What we have experienced routinely in ourselves or from others becomes normal to us.  The scary man in the tombs was afraid when Christ came to set him free, but his neighbors seemed even more disturbed when they saw that he had changed.

It should not be surprising that the man formerly possessed by demons and still feared by his neighbors did not want to stay in his hometown after the Lord restored him.  He begged to go with Christ, Who responded, “Return to your home, and declare all that God has done for you.”  That must have been a difficult commandment for him to obey.  Who would not be embarrassed and afraid to live in a town where everyone knew about the wretched and miserable existence he had experienced?  It would have been much easier to have left all that behind and start over as a traveling disciple of the One who had set him free.

But that was not what Christ wanted the man to do.  Perhaps that was because the Lord knew that the best sign of His transforming power was a living person who had been restored from the worst forms of depravity and corruption.   Why should people believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of the world?  Surely, the lives of His followers must bear witness to His healing power in order to convince them.  When someone moves from slavery to personal decay to the glorious freedom of the children of God, that person has moved from death to life.  That person has become his or her true self as one who bears the divine image and likeness.  Such a radical change is a brilliant sign of the truth of Christ’s resurrection, for He makes us participants in His victory over death by breaking the destructive hold of the power of sin in our lives.

Our Lord makes it possible for us to become our true selves in Him, the Second Adam.  That means being united with Him in holiness such that, by His gracious mercy, we become “partakers of the divine nature” who fulfill humanity’s original vocation to become like God in holiness.   He has overcome our nakedness by clothing us in a robe of light in baptism, filled us with the Holy Spirit in Chrismation, and nourished us with His own Body and Blood in the Eucharist.  He Himself forgives and restores us through Confession and repentance.  Our Lord is even more present to us than He was to the man in today’s gospel lesson, for He has made us members of His own Body and dwells in our hearts.  We serve Him as we serve one another, including even the most miserable people with whom He identified Himself as “the least of these.”

Our calling, then, is not to ask Him to go away out of fear that His healing will torment us.  Sin only has the power in our lives that we allow it to have, and we all have a long, challenging journey to open ourselves fully to the Savior’s healing.  Since we all bear God’s image and likeness, restoration is open to us all if we will take the small steps of which we are capable each day through prayer, fasting, almsgiving, forgiveness, repentance, and the other basic spiritual disciplines of the Christian life.  We must cultivate the mindfulness that is necessary to resist the personal disintegration that comes from identifying ourselves with our passions.   That is not easy because often nothing is more appealing in the moment that wallowing in pride, anger, lust, resentment, and other distorted desires to the point that we have more in common with pigs at a trough than with the man after his deliverance, when he sat “at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.”

When we experience temptations, we must make them opportunities to embrace Christ’s healing of our corrupt humanity through His victory over death. We must die to sin in order to rise up with Him in holiness.  We must crucify the distortions of our souls that have become second nature to us.  When the struggle is hard and we cannot imagine being set free, we must remember the difference between a person disintegrated by the power of evil and one gloriously restored as a living icon of God.  That is precisely what is at stake whenever we face the choice between welcoming Christ’s healing presence in our lives or hiding from Him in fear as we cling to our passions.  May God grant us all the spiritual clarity to see that that is the ultimate choice we make every day of our lives.










  1. Good afternoon, Father
    This morning, I read a quote from St. Symeon (The New Theologian), who said when it comes to salvation, it’s not so much what we believe or do, but what we are that will determine our future state; we will either have a similitude with God or a dissimilitude with Him.
    In other words, how close are we to becoming like God. I found this to be intimidating, but it did get my attention.
    Fortunately, I was led to read your post this morning, Your final paragraph had an answer for me: it’s through our everyday lives that God will show us what we need to do to become more like Him. Our fasting and prayers and alms will be for nothing if we refuse to become more like Him. Is that the lesson?

    1. Laura,
      Thanks for your very thoughtful comments and question. I would say that it is through our everyday choices that we may become more like God as we mindfully turn away from gratifying our passions and become more fully the persons He created us to be. By prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and other practices, we offer and open ourselves to receive His healing and restorative grace. Such practices are not ends in themselves, but they are how we may become more fully our true selves in the likeness of God. Let me know if that raises further questions.
      In Christ,
      Fr. Philip

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