Casting out our Inner Demons
When the Disciples of Christ were unable to cast out the demon from a young man, their master admonished them saying that the demon could only be cast out by prayer and fasting. The Great Forty Days is a time we when we are called to a heightened awareness of prayer and fasting. During the pre-Lenten period we are slowly prepared for the Great Fast as we begin the process of abstaining, first from meat products and then from dairy and oil. Even a cursory glance at our monthly calendar will indicate the heightened state of prayer in the church as the days are filled with weekday services and special commemorations during the Sunday liturgy.
We can see the Lenten period as a process of casting out our inner demons through the powerful weapons of prayer and fasting. Christ instructs us during these saving days to clean the inside of the cup of our soul and the Great Forty Days provides us with the tools to accomplish such cleaning. Through our abstaining from meat, diary, and oil products we lighten our bodies—not as a means of punishment, but rather as a way to correct the imbalance caused by the excesses of our daily lives. Our fasting is not intended to diminish the value of the body but rather remind us that we are composed of both body and soul and that more often than not our focus is not on the spirit but only on satisfying the needs of the flesh. Similarly, the Lenten services are offered as a way for us to focus ourselves in prayer so that our fasting can bear fruit. On Wednesday evenings the Presanctified Liturgy is celebrated so that we may be nourished with the Body and Blood of our Savior, the Compline on Thursday evenings brings us into contact with the Psalter—that preeminent, penitential text, the Salutations on Friday evenings leads us to the Mother of God who shows all the summit of spiritual perfection, and the Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great on Sunday worship intensifies our focus on God through the great saint’s mighty Eucharistic prayers.
Our prayer and fasting during Great Lent is not meant to be taken piecemeal but rather as a whole, for all aspects of our Lenten journey are equally important. It is not uncommon for many of us to follow the fast and yet never step foot inside the church at one of the special services—no doubt, the inverse is also true. We are called, however, to cast out the inner demons that torment us with the weapons Christ prescribes. And what are these demons? We are able to name many of them—our anxiety, arrogance, and angst are only a few. When our prayer is joined with fasting and our fasting with prayer the Great Lent becomes a type of catharsis that allows us to expel that which is alien to God and bring us to a deeper understanding of who we are intended to be.
Lent is indeed a singular opportunity for us to clean the inner recesses of our hearts. As Christians we are not immune to the assaults of demons. We are, however, able to combat those forces. Through prayer and fasting there is no despair that cannot become hope, no selfishness that cannot be turned into humility, and no sorrow that cannot be converted to joy. Prayer and fasting can indeed move mountains if we but choose to use them. To those who do, Christ will “give the power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.”
Rev. Dr. Demetrios E. Tonias