September 7 – Thursday of the Fourteenth Week after Pentecost Mark 5:1-20
Possession: Mark 5:1-20, especially vss. 12, 13: “So all the demons begged Him, saying, ‘Send us to the swine, that we may enter them.’ And at once Jesus gave them permission. Then the unclean spirits went out and entered the swine . . . and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and drowned . . .” The thought of demon possession is dreadful, frightening, and repulsive. The mere idea of a person being invaded by foul spirits sobers us as we reflect upon the scriptural passages describing possession by Satanic power. Alas, others struggle to make sense of the violent madness that afflicts our world, for without an understanding of the demonic there is no way to explain mass murder and the other wanton assaults against anything with a degree of goodness and purity.
As Orthodox Christians, we are blessed to be sheltered by the Church. She offers us a clear stance and effective prayers against such evil. In this reading, Saint Mark provides several specific teachings to help us resist the snares of the evil one.
We may liken possession – the occupation of a person or group of people by a spiritual power – to slavery, in which one becomes another’s property. However, spiritual possession is far more pervasive and insidious than being owned by another human being. A dark “other” infests and corrupts every aspect of the person’s body, mind, and soul.
Possession is invisible to our sensory organs, although it often manifests itself in the sort of unnatural behavior described in this passage (vss. 3-5). The essence of spiritual possession is the residing of a dark spiritual presence within the victim, distinct from any physical force or process. A conscious, willful, and contriving being lives inside the afflicted. For the possessed, it not so much a question of being “out of his right mind” as a state in which his thinking and actions are clearly under the control of another.
For this reason, the Lord Jesus speaks to the spirit as an entity distinct from the possessed man (vs. 8). Further, Christ our God addresses this unseen being as an “unclean” spirit (vs. 8). He demands his name; the answer is “Legion; for we are many” (vs. 9). The possessed man is swarming with “unclean spirits” (vs. 12).
The change from singular to plural occurs in verse 10: “he begged . . . that He would not send them.” These spirits are unclean in the sense of being impure, lewd, despoiled, and immoral. It is their evil nature that explains the demons’ adverse reaction to Jesus, the all-pure One: “I implore You by God that You do not torment me” (vs. 7). Demonic possession indicates the presence of a corrupt being – hence the fierce reaction to the encounter with the “Son of the Most High God” (vs. 7).
Such evil spirits are destructive (vss. 3-5), violent (vs. 13), and isolating (vs. 5) to those they inhabit. They create a living death for their victims, always with the ultimate aim of destroying them. Demons are powerful, as the broken chains and other futile efforts to control the demoniac show. Further, they pose a constant threat to the lives and property of others (vss. 4, 13).
Now comes the good news concerning demonic possession: the evil spirits are subject to God. Jesus terrifies them. They are bound to fear Him, for He has power to cast them out. He can exorcise them from their victims, for as Saint John the Evangelist states: “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 Jn 4:4).
Let us never allow the demons to alarm or frighten us. We are to call at all times upon the name of the Lord Jesus, who keeps us in our “right mind” (vs. 15).
Free us always, O Lord, from evil spirits that would instill dark control within us. – Adapted from the baptismal prayer of exorcism