In today’s reading from the Gospel according to St. Matthew, we hear the disciples are unable to cast out a demon from a man. When they ask our Lord why this happened, he tells them that their failure is a result of their unbelief – that is, their lack of faith. He then gives them a key instruction: “This kind only comes out by prayer and fasting.”
The Fathers tell us more. The man who came to the Lord to seek the healing of his son lacked faith. Indeed, the man who was possessed lacked faith – and it was his lack of faith that allowed the demon to enter him, and to control him.
The holy monk-martyr Dometius, whose memory we celebrate today, did not lack faith. Born a pagan during the time of the Emperor St. Constantine, he came to know the Christian faith, and was baptized. The depth and beauty of the Orthodox faith caused him to give up all worldly things and to enter a monastery. He lived among the brethren for a time, and then withdrew into silence. The archimandrite made him a deacon, but when he sought to make Dometius a priest, the saint ran away to a distant mountain, and lived there in a cave, praying, fasting, keeping vigils, and meditating. This brought about an increase in perfection, so that he was able to heal the sick. When the Emperor Julian the Apostate heard of the saint, he sent men to wall up the entrance to the cave in which St. Dometius lived, with two of his disciples. They died in the year 363.
So we have these contrasts: the man whose lack of faith caused him to fall under the control of a demon; and the holy martyr Dometius, whose faith led him to victory over his passions, and a heavenly crown.
What about us? How do we live? I suspect that most of us, if we try to place ourselves on a spectrum described by these two contrasting lives, would have to place ourselves closer to the first man than to the saint. Not a very flattering picture, to be sure! Not only that: what does it say about our bearing witness to Christ in us when we live as we do? Take a moment, and recall the sins that you commit frequently, even regularly. Isn’t it a form of lunacy, aren’t we insane in some way, when we continue to do what we do? Now, to be sure, we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us; so, on one level, we cannot be possessed by a demon; but that does not mean that we are necessarily free of demonic influence, against which we must be on our guard, against which we must fight, against which we must strengthen ourselves. And that brings us back to prayer and fasting.
We are called to be disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ – and more than that, we are called to bear Him within ourselves, and make Him known in the world. Can this be possible? We have the example of the martyr Dometius for an answer: Yes, it is possible. He manifested Christ in the world by healing the sick, as well as by his holy life, and by his teaching two disciples the Orthodox faith and way of life.
Victory over the demons comes by prayer and fasting – and we know these to be hallmarks of the Orthodox faith and way of life, together with alms-giving and struggle against our passions. If we would be set free of the demonic influences over our own lives, we must fast and pray. Remember that one purpose for fasting is to weaken the power of our flesh, so that our will can direct it in its desires. Remember also that one purpose for prayer is to teach our will the will of God, so that we can properly direct our lives in the way that is pleasing to God, and beneficial to the salvation of our souls. We also come into the presence of God through the worship of the church, including the vigils that are served on the eve of every Divine Liturgy; and we can learn more of the will of God by studying and contemplating the Holy Scriptures and the teachings of the Fathers.
Brothers and sisters, as we do these things: fast, and pray, worship, and contemplate – we will find ourselves moving away from being like the demon-possessed man, and moving to be more like the saint. Who knows what wonders God might perform through us as we devote ourselves to be like Him, leaving behind, as much as we can, the way of life that is in the world? Let us dedicate ourselves to drawing nearer to Him, that we may know Him better, and make Him known: to the glory of God, and the salvation of souls.
Holy monk-martyr Dometius, pray to God for us!