But it is worse than that. Actually, it surprises me little that the ‘woman of Canaan’ would complain of a daughter ‘grievously vexed with a devil’ (St Matt. 15:23). Ps. 96:5 says ‘all the gods of the nations’—or Gentiles, like the Phoenicians—‘are mere idols’: but according to both the Greek and Latin translations of the Old Testament, ‘all the gods of the nations are demons’ (Ps. 96:5 LXX). Next week’s Gospel mentions ‘Beelzebub’, or ‘Lord of Flies’, the demonic god of the Philistine city of Ekron, who is referred to there as ‘the chief of devils’ (St Luke 11:14-28).
The latter passage reminds us that Ps. 96:5 is true par excellence of the Phoenicians of Tyre and Sidon, whose deities are variously known as Baal or Moloch, and who were known to sacrifice their children in the fiery mouths of their great bronze idols. Such sacrifices are mentioned in Lev. 18:21, and there are terrifying, vivid descriptions of them in a scholium to Plato’s Republic as well as in Plutarch.
Thus, it seems a fitting punishment for people known in the Mediterranean world for sacrificing children to demons for their children to be ‘badly demonized’, according to a literal translation of the woman’s words. Surely the burners of human beings to demonic gods fall under St Paul’s condemnation when he writes in today’s Epistle, ‘He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God’ (I Thess. 4:8). Confronted with the same Moloch-worshipping Phoenicians in their colony of Carthage, G.K. Chesterton tells us the Romans saw ‘faces of sneering men; and hated the hateful soul of Carthage’. 
But, as St Augustine happily observes in The City of God, ‘[M]en, though erring, incredulous, and averse from the worship and service of the gods, are nevertheless beyond doubt better than the demons whom they themselves have evoked’ (De civ. Dei 8.24).  This is wonderfully demonstrated by the woman in today’s Gospel. She recognised her error, repented, and came to Christ in humble supplication, and this humility is the dominant note of today’s lesson. It begins with a simple plea for mercy, like the prayer of the Publican, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner’ (Lk 18:13). Then, we see the recognition that the Messiah of the Hebrews is the true ‘Baal’, or ‘Lord’, when the woman says ‘O Lord’.
St Gregory Palamas, the Archbishop of Thessalonica in the 14th c., preached a beautiful homily on today’s Gospel in the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Thessalonica (not the big famous Hagia Sophia, but a smaller one).  I will be quoting frequently from St Gregory through the rest of this homily. Commenting on the Canaanite woman’s address to Christ, St Gregory points out that ‘no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost’ (I Cor. 12:3). Thus, in his words, ‘In fact the Canaanite woman did not merely come out from those heathen coasts, but sprang up from the valleys like a sacred lily, exhaling with her words the fragrance of the divine Spirit from her mouth.’ 
So, we have already a model of enormous self-abasement, but our Lord ‘wanted her faith and virtue to be demonstrated even more clearly’. First, He ‘answered her not a word’ (15:23), then, when the disciples pleaded with Him to send her away, He said, ‘I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (15:24).
Now, we might think that the humble response to such a rebuff would be to accept it and withdraw—but this would be pride, not humility. When she needs help, the humble woman begs for it. Thus, woman of Canaan worships Christ, that is, she falls down before Him in prostration, and supplicates Him in even simpler words: ‘Lord, help me’ (15:25).
How does Christ respond to this self-abasement? We are astonished to find that He responds with an insult: ‘It is not meet to take the children’s bread [that is, the salvation belonging to Israel], and to cast it to dogs [the Phoenician Baal-worshippers]’ (15:26). But while we may be shocked by Christ calling a woman a ‘dog’, however fitting a moral description of her people it may be, He who knows all things knew her heart, saw her humility, and wanted to test her to reveal her amazing virtue before all for centuries to come.
For how does she respond? She is not insulted. According to St Gregory, ‘[W]hen she was treated with contempt and heard herself called not just an irrational animal, but a dirty and fierce one, whose voice was a dog’s bark rather than human speech worth listening to, she agreed and joined in ridiculing herself, but did not cease to entreat Christ.’ 
The Fathers teach us that when we are insulted, we absolutely must NOT respond with insults, but, they say, it is even better not to become angry, and best of all to admit the truth in the insult. One Father of the Egyptian desert, Abba Isaiah, says insults are good for us because they teach us humility, and that one who ‘bears insults is like a tree that is watered every day’ (Isaiah 1).  Another Desert Father, Abba Xanthius, points out a dog is better than we, ‘for he has love & he does not judge’ (Xanthius 3). 
So the Canaanite woman follows this highest path: ‘Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table’ (15:27). St Gregory writes:
Let us learn from this teacher with how much patience, humility and contrition we must persevere in our prayers. Even if we are unworthy, and even if we are sent away because we are soiled with sins, let us learn not to turn back, but to keep humbly asking from our soul. We shall receive our requests from God. 
And if none who is defiled can enter that place, then allow me to live by its enclosure, residing in its shade. Since Paradise resembles that table, let me, through Your grace, eat of the ‘crumbs’ of its fruit which fall outside, so that I too may join those dogs who had their fill from the crumbs of their masters’ tables. (Hymns on Paradise 7.26) 
I reckon that just as pride is the greatest of the passions, since it was able to cast various beings down from Heaven, so also is humility the greatest of all the virtues. For it has the power to raise a man up from those dark abysses, even if he is a sinner like the Devil. This is why the Lord called the poor in spirit, that is, the humble, blessed above all others (Matt. 5:3). 
And when He has finished with everyone, then He will say unto us, too, ‘You, too, come forth!’ He will say. ‘Come forth, my drunk ones, my weak ones, my shameless ones!’ And we will all come forth, without being ashamed, and stand there. And He will say, ‘Swine you are! Of the image of the beast and of his seal’ but come, you, too!’ And the wise and the reasonable will say unto Him, ‘Lord, why do you receive such as these?’ And He will say, ‘I receive them, my wise and reasonable ones, forasmuch as not one of them considered himself worthy of this thing . . .’ And He will stretch out His arms to us, and we will fall at His feet . . . and weep . . . and understand everything! Then we will understand everything! . . . and everyone will understand . . . […] Lord, Thy kingdom come! 
Let us humble ourselves of our own free will, brethren, that we may demonstrate our faith in Christ and also be exalted by Him. Or rather, may we acknowledge our innate lowliness, and the fact that the misleading thoughts which sometimes arise within us are from the demons. Then let us cry out to Christ like the Canaanite woman, fall down before Him and persevere in humble prayer, and we shall obtain the grace which is given to the humbleminded, and speedily ascend to divine heights.