July 3, 2012

Inner Demons

“The Lord is my light and my Savior, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom, shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)

Baptism is also called “Holy Illumination.” When the priest prays over the water before baptism he asks “that no evil spirit which instills darkening of intentions” may descend into the water. “But do Thou, Master of all, show this water to be the water of redemption…the loosing of bonds…the illumination of the soul.” Life after baptism means using the gift of God’s grace that we received. And part of that is the constant effort to purify our inner senses, expelling the demons of darkness that want to blacken the way we look at everything around us, so that instead of seeing the presence of God everywhere, we see Beelzebul. When the enemies of Jesus looked at him, what they saw was demonic, because they could not properly see at all. Their inner “eye” was darkened to such an extent that even the manifest goodness of Jesus became twisted. And this is what led them to seek his destruction.

Similarly, inner darkness leads us out of balance, so that instead of seeing reality as it is (a mix of good and evil) we are led to dark judgments and condemnations that paint situations and people as all black. We refuse to see the other as my brother and sister, human being like us, our own flesh and blood.  “Why do you despise your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God” (Rom 14: 10).

Deformed church life is filled with finger-pointing because we are still looking out on the world and acting out of the darkness of our inner demons. No wonder we have always had divisions. But we cannot resign ourselves to that. As Jesus says (quoted by Abraham Lincoln in a famous speech), “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand…”( Matt 12:25). With God’s grace we can “bind the strong man” (Matt 12:29), and begin looking out onto the world and each other with the eyes of God’s light.


I’m back in Syosset after a busy few days away. Sunday July 1st was Canada Day—or Dominion Day as traditionalists prefer—celebrating 145 years since Confederation in 1867. This is Canada’s national day and in many places it is celebrated with as much fervor as the 4th of July in the US.  Especially in Ottawa, the capital. That morning I served at Annunciation Cathedral then in the afternoon gave a workshop on praying the Psalms at the Sheptytsky Institute Study Days. There were in total about 140 participants for the weekend, including a Muslim student from Turkey interested in knowing more about Eastern Christianity.

That evening I started on the way to Portland, Maine to be at the funeral for Prof Veselin Kesich, driving from Ottawa to Montreal, through the Eastern Townships of Quebec, crossing the border into Vermont where I stayed overnight in St Johnsbury.  Then yesterday morning I drove through the White Mountains of New Hampshire and into Maine.

Fr Constantine Sarantidis of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church presided at the funeral and spoke warmly of the gentle New Testament scholar whose life and teaching had touched so many students over the years. In hearing the words of Psalm 119 during the funeral it was striking just how fitting they were for the man whose departure we were singing. “I will meditate on Thy precepts, and fix my eyes on Thy ways. I will delight in Thy statutes; I will not forget Thy word.”

Meanwhile, on Sunday back at St Sergius chapel in Syosset Fr Basil Summer was celebrating his 60th anniversary of ordained service (20 as a Lutheran pastor, 40 as an Orthodox priest). God grant him many years!

I’ll be here again with the “Chancellor’s Diary” on Thursday July 5th (the Lesser Synod will be at the chancery for its regular meeting that day).

Happy Independence Day to all Americans!