My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
THE SEVENTH PRAYER OF VESPERS (ESPERINOS)
O Great and Exalted God, the only One Who is Immortal and dwells in unapproachable Light; Who has created the whole universe in wisdom; Who has separated the light from darkness, and has set the sun to rule over the day and the moon and the stars to rule over the night; You have made us sinners worthy once again at this hour to stand in Your presence and to offer to You our evening prayer of praise. Direct our prayer, O Loving Lord, like incense before You, and accept it as a sweet-smelling fragrance. Grant that this present evening and the approaching night will be peaceful for us. Vest us with the weapons of Light. Deliver us from nocturnal fears and from everything that lurks against us by night. Grant us sleep, given for the renewal of our weakness, that is free from every diabolical fantasy. Yes, Lord of all, and Provider of good things, grant that even as we rest upon our beds, we may remember Your Name through the night. Enlighten by meditation upon Your Commandments, may we in time arise in gladness of heart to glorify Your Goodness, offering petitions and supplications to You for our own sins and for all the people, who expect Your visitation in mercy and compassion, through the intercessions of the Holy Theotokos. For You are a Good and Loving God and to You we give glory, to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
"On should never believe in oneself"
"Realize your nothingness and constantly keep in your mind the fact that by yourself you can do nothing good which is worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven. Listen to the words of the wise Fathers: Saint Peter of Damascus assures us that 'nothing is better than to realize one's weakness and ignorance, and nothing is worse than not be aware of them' (Philokalia).
Saint Maximus the Confessor teaches: 'The foundation of every virtue is the realization of human weakness' (Philokalia).
Saint John Chrysostom says: 'He alone knows himself in the best way possible who thinks of himself as being nothing.'
Ask for God's help in this with warm and humble prayers; for this is His gift. And if you wish to receive it, you must first implant in yourself the conviction that not only have you no such consciousness of yourself, but that you cannot acquire it by your own efforts; then standing daringly before the Almighty God, in firm belief that in His great loving kindness He will grant you this knowledge of yourself when and how He Himself knows, do not let the slightest doubt creep in that you will actually receive it." (Source: Unseen Warfare)
CONCERNING EVIL SPIRITS AND "INTERNAL DEMONS (PART V)
By Archbishop Lazar Puhalo of Canada
Demons do not have the power to inflict death upon anyone, and their power rests mostly in the ability to deceive or to lead a person to harm himself. Saint Anthony the Great informs us that, "We have among us terrible and cunning enemies, the evil spirits. As soon as the demons see that any Christian is a struggler and developing in virtue, they strive to hinder the path with temptation, inspiring evil thoughts. If they cannot seduce the heart with blatant, impure sensuality, then they attack again, trying to instill fear with dreams and visions...But these apparitions are, themselves, nothing, and soon disappear if one, with faith in God's help, signs himself with the sign of the Cross" (Works, p.30).
From Saint Anthony and the other Holy Fathers, as well as from Divine Scripture, we learn that the evil spirits do not give up their attacks on us after their own defeat. Usually, the evil one is able to take a person captive by means of a perversion of the senses or by fear. However, the twin snares of pride and falsehood are his most fruitful weapons. For, through pride, he promotes falsehood and develops heresies and false teachings, which lead great numbers of people away from Christ and His Holy Church. In this, Satan or his angels appear as heavenly Angels, or "Angels of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14; Galatians 1:8). Such evil spirits often begin to seduce the careless by means of bits of truth. The demons freely confess Christ as the Son of God (St. Luke 4:41), and confess God (St. James 2:19). They also acknowledge that the message of Salvation is carried in the teaching of the Apostles (Acts 16:16-18). Moreover, Satan does not always inspire outward evil in his followers. He deludes certain people and leads them to inward spiritual pride. Externally, however, he allows these people the appearance of great piety. Through these servants, the evil one introduces his heresies and false teachings. In the meanwhile, the demons set upon true believers (especially bishops, priests and monks) with the very strongest warfare. People see the apparently pious and sincere heretics and compare their lives with those of the faithful. Satan inspires this comparison and its conclusions. One must recall that the heretics are not so greatly tempted as the leaders of the faithful; the unbridled malice and hatred of Satan is unleashed primarily upon those who are struggling to keep the true faith. The others already belong to him, and so Satan can allow them to go un-tempted or with lesser temptations in order to bring them to greater pride and self-righteousness in their heresy.
Our defense against Satan is Christ and all the things which He has given us through His Holy Church. In order to preserve ourselves from the seduction of the evil one, we must learn from the Holy Scripture, the rest of the Sacred Tradition (2 Timothy 2:15; 3:6; etc), and the Orthodox way of life. The Holy Church is our refuge and harbor, our port of safety from the storms of the evil spirits. Constantly educating ourselves mentally and spiritually in the teachings of the Faith is absolutely necessary. Moreover, one must learn to pray without ceasing, as our Savior commanded us, calling on God in the words given us by Christ, to "deliver us from the evil one."
There is another aspect to our struggle that we must not neglect. Our Savior gave us a parable of great importance which reveals to us our own particular responsibility in our struggle. "...when the demon goes forth from a person, it wanders in dry places, seeking rest, and cannot find it. Then, returning to its former dwelling, it finds it vacant, swept and decorated, so it takes seven demons more wicked than it is, and moves back in to dwell there. Then the final condition of that person is worse than it was before" (St. Matthew 12:43; St. Luke 11:24).
What are we being taught in this Parable? When one struggles against a given passion, and finally put it forth (for a simple example, say smoking cigarettes or pot), it is necessary to close and bolt the door of the heart against the passion. However, many times, we harbor a love and desire for the passion we have put out, and we nourish that desire, sometimes even unaware of this ourselves. This secret desire or longing for the passion is the sweeping and preparation of the heart for its return. The passion (or demon behind the passion) does return, and finding such fertile soil, plants related passions in the heart. Yielding to one passion in such an addictive way makes it easy for other passions to accompany it back into our hearts. Once we have rationalized and justified accepting the one passion back into our person, it is much easier to rationalize and justify accepting others. We then come into a kind of bondage to the whole package of passions, because we have allowed passion itself to defeat us. Behind the passion and the defeat is the tempting of a "homeless demon" seeking a place for itself. In reality, however, it is our nourishing of the passion (remember, the demon went to a "dry place," that is, a place where it was not being sustained, and so when our heart was ready to sustain it, it naturally returned) that causes the defeat.
CONCERNING "INTERNAL DEMONS" AND SPIRITUAL STRUGGLE
"The monk Abraham came to Abba (Father) Pimen from Abba Agathon. He asked the Geronda (Elder), 'How do the demons fight against me?' Abba Pimen replied, 'The demons fight against you? Our own wills become the demons, and these attack us in order that we may fulfill them."
We need to speak about this other kind of "demon", even though not every reader will be able to follow this discussion. The problem with our "internal demons" is usually ignored or mythologized because it is so complex. This "demon within" is an aspect of our own mind, and it is dangerous to continue overlooking this fact or attributing all our inner conflicts and struggles to fallen angels. On the one hand, when we shift responsibility for all our temptations and passions completely away from our own minds and attribute them all to external demons, we become unable to appropriately take responsibility for conditions we have more control over and deal with them effectively. On the other hand--and this is far more dangerous--when mental illnesses are attributed to demons (or to angels as they often were in 18th-19th century Russia) this can result in greater illness and even suicide in many cases.
We wish to discuss these "internal demons" in terms of the way in which the Holy Fathers and Mothers have taught us to deal with them. I am aware that not everyone will understand or be able to easily follow this discussion, but at least every reader will be aware that this aspect of our spiritual struggle exists.
Let us look briefly at the way the Holy Fathers outline the manifestation of a sinful fall (or, if you prefer, a negative response to a natural or negative stimulus). A sinful fall (and, conversely, a virtuous act) develops in stages. As we follow the pattern, we can see how guarding the mind, prayer of the heart in particular the use of the Jesus Prayer and prayer rope, help deal with each stage:
- Spiritual sickness or passion:
At the same time, positive training and godly impulses can follow the very same path for our salvation. Prayer, acts of love and charity, can also become habitual by the same process. Fasting, prayer and contemplation help us to control our impulses and emotions at the earliest stage (which is what "guarding the mind" is really all about).
Thus, we see complete necessity of vigilance, guarding the mind, discernment, prayer of the heart and all the other aspects aimed at developing discipline, self-control and spiritual responsibility within ourselves. As Orthodox Christians, we acknowledge the necessity of the grace of the Holy Spirit in all this, but we do not renounce our own active moral responsibility in it--grace is always available, but we must actively cooperate with it.
MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God