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Homily for 11/4/07 - P23 - clothed in grace

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  • Fr David Moser
    Eph 2:4-10, Luke 8:26-39 In the first half the second century, St Averky was the bishop of the city of Hierapolis. This city was primarily a pagan city and the
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 4, 2007
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      Eph 2:4-10, Luke 8:26-39

      In the first half the second century, St Averky was the bishop of the
      city of Hierapolis. This city was primarily a pagan city and the
      Christian Church was very small. St Averky was saddened by the great
      number of unbelievers in his city this sadness fired him with a great
      missionary zeal. One day there was a particularly important pagan
      festival in the city and while the people were all out celebrating St
      Averky was praying for their salvation. He was inspired by the Holy
      Spirit to go to the pagan temple and there he began to beat on the idols
      with his staff and to smash them. The pagan priests heard the racket and
      came to see what had happened. They found St Averky in the midst of
      their temple surrounded by pieces of the idols. They were furious, but
      St Averky said to them, “Your gods became drunk at the festival and
      began to fight among themselves, see what has happened to them?” They
      thought that St Averky was mocking them, but he only wished to point out
      that their “gods” were in fact lifeless pieces of stone. The furious
      pagans tried to kill St Averky and three fearsome young men who were
      possessed by demons rushed at him but fell down foaming at the mouth and
      bellowing. The demons in them cried out to St Averky saying, “we ask you
      by the one true god, Whom you preach: do not torment us before the
      appointed time. The people when they saw and heard this (knowing these
      youths to be ferocious madmen) stopped and were filled with dread at the
      suffering of the youths. St Averky did not respond to the demons but
      instead turned to prayer and began to beg God to deliver the youths from
      these demons and to turn not only them but the whole crowd away from
      idolatry and to the worship of the One true God. He then turned to the
      youths and tapped them lightly on the head with the staff which he
      carried (with which he had smashed the idols) and commanded the demons
      to come out. The youths cried out and fell to the ground as the demons
      left them. St Averky then lifted each one up and they all arose, healed
      and in their right mind. They exclaimed that they wished to become
      followers of the True God and sought instruction in the True Faith from
      the saint. St Averky began right then and there to instruct not only the
      youths, but all the people present. Then, toward the end of the day many
      of the sick were brought to him and by the power of our Lord Jesus
      Christ, he healed them. Many were baptized that day. This was the
      beginning of the turning of the whole city away from pagan idolatry and
      toward faith in Christ. Little by little, everyone in the city of
      Hierapolis came to believe in Christ and be baptized. St Averky did not
      stop with those in the city but went to spread the Gospel throughout the
      whole region of Syria and Mespotamia. He is rightly called an
      “Equal-to-the-Apostles.”

      The deliverance of the demon possessed youths also brings to mind the
      events that we heard in the Gospel today, where our Lord Jesus Christ
      was confronted by two demon possessed men near the cities of Gadara and
      Gergesa. When they saw Him, the demons cried out to Him saying, “Jesus,
      Son of God, what have we to do with you? Have you come here to torment
      us before the time?” How remarkably similar were the words addressed to
      Christ and the words that St Averky heard from the demon possessed
      youths. In the Gospel we heard that these men were known to be madmen
      and all fled from them, for they had great strength and ran about with
      no clothing. The madmen, being overcome by the devil were not only naked
      in body, but also their souls had been stripped of every good thing by
      the demons. There was nothing left in them of any gift of God’s spirit –
      they had become like beasts. The demons are destroyers and tormentors;
      this is all that they know. They have set themselves against the Creator
      of the universe and the Lover of all mankind and in their rebellion have
      become the antithesis of the servants of God. Where God creates and
      loves all mankind without limit, the demons destroy and torment all men
      who fall prey to them. When a demon, through the passions and appetites
      of the body gains control over a person, “he crawls into the soul and
      seizes on a man’s heart and mind, until he has completely devoured them,
      disfigured them and emptied them of divine beauty and purity, of
      understanding and righteousness, of love and faith, of hope in good and
      the desire for good. Then he enshrines himself in the man as on his
      throne and takes all the threads of the man’s body and soul into his
      hands, and the man becomes to him an animal on which he rides, a pipe
      through which he plays, a wild beast through which he devours.” ( St
      Nikolai of Ochrid) This was the condition of the madmen in the Gospel as
      well as those who were encountered by St Avkery. In both cases, we are
      told not that the men themselves recognized Christ and cried out, but
      that the demons within them cried out. The madmen were like empty
      shells, corpses devoid of their own life, driven by the demons. These
      men were worse than dead, for the soul was completely devoured by the
      demons and they were enslaved not only in soul but also in body. They
      had been destroyed and were tormented by the demons.

      In both cases, however, when confronted by the power of God, through the
      command of our Lord and through the prayer of St Averky, the demon
      possessed madmen were instantly delivered from their torment and they
      began to speak with their right minds praising God. In the Gospel we
      heard that when the people of the town came to see what had happened,
      they found the former madmen clothed, seated at the foot of Christ and
      in their right minds. Just as the demons had stripped them of all good
      things and left them naked both in soul and body, so when the demons
      were banished our Lord also clothed them again, not only in body but
      also in soul. With what did He clothe them? We hear in the Epistle, that
      we are saved by grace and this is the garment with which our Lord
      clothes the soul – with the grace of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle tells
      us that God loved us while we were yet dead in sin and raised us to sit
      in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. Does this not sound the same as
      the miracle of the deliverance of the demon possessed men? They were
      dead in sin – even worse than dead, they were the complete slaves of
      sin, emptied of all goodness – and yet they were raised up by Christ and
      seated at His feet. Do you not see the parallel here, how the
      deliverance and healing of the demon possessed is but an example of what
      our Lord Jesus Christ does for us all. While we are dead in sins, He
      raises us up, just as he delivered the demon possessed and raised them
      up. And just as they sat at His feet, so also He sets us in the heavens
      with Himself. The demoniacs had been stripped of every good thing and
      ran about naked both in body and soul. When we were enslaved by sin, we
      too were naked before God, having been stripped of the Glory of God,
      which is the proper clothing of the soul. But our Lord does not leave us
      naked, but He Himself clothes us with His grace. Thus the Apostle
      reminds us, “by grace you are saved not of works” The demon possessed
      men did many evil things, but they were not possessed and stripped naked
      as the result of their evil works, but rather the nakedness and evil
      works were the result of their enslavement to the demon. When they were
      delivered, they were delivered not by works but by the power of God and
      their souls were clothed by His grace. We too are in the same place, for
      we have been delivered from the death of sin not by our works, but by
      the grace of God with which we are also clothed.
      Like the demon possessed, we too are tormented by the sins which eat at
      our souls. If those sins are left to themselves, eventually they will
      devour our souls and we will be empty of the grace of God and open to
      the torment and control of the demons. No matter what we do on our own,
      we cannot be delivered from these sins. We can, and should resist
      temptation; we can, and should strive to do that which is good and
      righteous and this slows down and possibly even stops for a while the
      progress of sin in our hearts. However, we need to have the sin rooted
      out of us and we need to be healed from its effects if we are to be
      truly free from sin. This is accomplished only by the power of God. We
      are saved not by our works or by our efforts, but we are saved by the
      grace of God. God pours out His grace upon us and we have only to
      preserve the grace that flows all around us and cooperate with its
      effect on our lives. If the grace of God prompts you even to do a small
      good work, then do it, for that then allows the grace to flow into you
      more fully and transform you more completely. Our good works are not the
      cause of our salvation, but they are the result of God’s grace in us.
      One way in which we cooperate with the working of that grace in us is by
      allowing the grace to prompt us to good works. This cooperation with the
      working of grace then has the effect of opening the heart even more to
      the effect of grace and the prompting to even more good works so that in
      the end the effect of even one small grace filled act is multiplied a
      thousand times over.

      God has raised you up from the death of sin, He has delivered you from
      the power of sin that sought to destroy you. He has filled you with His
      grace which constantly works in you for your salvation. You have been
      raised up and made to sit in the heavenly places with Christ. As a
      result of this great work of salvation, we are now faced only with the
      necessity to continue to cooperate with the transforming and
      transfiguring work of grace which will make us like God Himself and join
      us to Him. This then is our Christian calling – to sit at the feet of
      Christ and to be instructed by Him in the Life that He gives and to put
      on the garments of grace which He provides for us. We who were once dead
      in sin are now raised up and made to be alive in Christ!

      --
      Archpriest David Moser
      St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
      Homilies: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/propoved/
      Website: http://stseraphimboise.org
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