Month: November 2017

Nativity Fast: Vicious Cycle of Unclean Spirits

So, things are so bad that people are getting killed in churches and pastors are committing sex crimes against children.  And let’s not even begin to look at all the scandals among entertainers and politicians.  People think that horror movies are scary.  Heck, the stuff on my Facebook feed makes Freddie Kruger look like Tinkerbelle.

After listening to a podcast with Antiochian Bishop John, I kinda wonder if these horrific acts of sex and violence are due to the fact that people are spiritually empty and fail to fill themselves with holiness.  Consider porn; here it is someone watches that stuff as if the woman is really pleasing him.  The fact is that the viewer is just getting high off of the lady that she doesn’t know and is being used.  The viewer’s soul is still empty as there is no real love being shared.  If this continues, he (or she) will either spiritually starve to death.  Or, Satan may make an example of the viewer and lead him (her) to some form of immorality or crime.  Not all viewers become rapist and molesters.  But, as long as there are some examples of the worst behavior, too many are satisfied with their “not that bad” habits.

Anthony vs demons

The same can be said for gun violence.  It is true that most gun owners are law abiding citizens.  And I am all for people taking self-defense training, if they so choose.  But, one thing that is driving many people to gun ownership is a fear.  When the gun becomes the source of security, the owner is not satisfied with something basic for a well trained self defender.  He (she) needs something more powerful because the bad guys have better guns.  Along with this fear is that someone is out to do them wrong or has done them wrong and they need to pre-emptively attack the enemy, or avenge their self-esteem.  Perhaps some increase of gun control laws, or better enforcement of the checks and balances that are already in place can help prevent more of these crimes.  Then again, a knife in the hands of the fearful and vengeful can still kill someone.  Even if no killing is involved, the fearful and vengeful soul decays and rots into something ungodly as it dies.

Jesus taught that when an unclean spirit leaves a man, it eventually returns to where it came from.  Finding the place empty and neat, it brings back seven other spirits worse than its self.  In the end, the man is worse off than before (Matthew 12:43-45).  Could this be what happened to the three pastors in Ohio who sold girls as sex slaves?  Could this be the case with the man in Texas who killed people who were in worship?  Of course, the criminal justice investigators, law enforcement, even psychiatrist all have their answers.  But, I believe that there are demons who are willing to leave people alone for a while in expectation that the people they lived in will not fill their souls with anything that will lead them to salvation.  And when proven right, they further lead their host to spiritual decay, or destroy them all at once.

This is why it is so important for us to spend time devoted to prayer, reading the Bible and holy writings from the fathers, worship, and compassionate service to others.  When we intentionally take time out of our day to do these things, we fill ourselves up with the Holy Spirit.  We cannot digest something as challenging as St. John Callimachus’s Ladder of Divine Ascent in one setting.  Even the entire Gospel of John is a bit much to take in all at once.  But, Father Seraphim Rose, as well as other monks throughout the ages, recommend that we make time to take a little bit of spiritual nourishment each day.  Each of us can find a corner in a room and cut out a little entertainment time for prayer.  We can surround ourselves with uplifting music, images, and words to counter all of the negativity we have been assaulted with throughout the day.  And there is someone that we can do something good for, often right under our noses.

Marina of Antioch

The vicious cycle of unclean spirits is real.  We can only overcome them with souls full of holiness.  Even if we fall, we have enough of the Lord’s presence that we can repent, get back up, and grow stronger.

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Nativity Fast: Invitation to Spiritual Warfare

I have a friend on Facebook whom I don’t see eye to eye with on politics.   I keep him on my friends list because he is a person of good character, anti-racist, and an Orthodox Christian.  A National Public Raido listener once complained of that station’s liberal perspective on the news.  But, he remained a supporter of NPR because, “you can’t learn anything in a vaccum.”  For us to maintian a few friendships despite political and other differences can be beneficial.

On Veteran’s Day, he posted a picture of himself during his active duty Marine Corps days. Dude was in his BDUs with his sleeves properly shortened exposing a rather impressive pair of biceps holding his M-16.  I remarked that he would be one of the last person I’d get into a bar room fight with.  His reply was a sucker punch that floored me, “that was ‘play time’ compared to the spiritual battle we each face.”

marines

Here is a man who successfully completed a very difficult basic training and had been in situations where he had to be constantly vigilant and maintain deep resolve to complete his missions. But, he counts the spiritual war that we all face to be even harder than military active service.  Perhaps if he was a clergyman, or monk, who had responsibility for the souls of others and to accurately teach the holy tradition handed down to us from Christ and His Apostles; his statement wouldn’t have been as surprising.  This brother is a layman who understands that the battles we face in the spiritual realm are against a more far more dangerous enemy.  Warfare with him and his minions is of the utmost importance.  The consequences of how we face the fight are eternal.

We are at the eve of the Advent season. Orthodox Christians fast as we prepare to celebrate the great gift given to us from the Father, His Only-Begotten Son.  I think that it is good for all Christians to embrace the fact that we should approach this season with seriousness in our struggle against Satan.  This is especially a good time for us to enter into spiritual warfare as there are so many allegations of sexual misconduct in all areas of our society.

This time of year, we are surrounded by the adversary’s most diabolical agents all at once. Among them (and they are numerous) consumerism convinces us to make extravagant purchases, even if we can’t afford them, and that we are being selfish and petty when we don’t.  Envy assaults us as we see desirable materials goods and we crave to have them, or something “better,” without being grateful for what we do have.  Gluttony drags us into eating and drinking large quantities of, often, unhealthy things under the cover of “celebrating the season.” Ingratitude frequently partners with other demons to increase their strength.  Even carnal lust finds some room as self-indulgence makes the air of this time of year quite toxic.  As if a cherry and sprinkles on top of this sundae of evil, our hypocrisy lets us make a little contribution to the same poor people whom we either ignore or blame for their condition the rest of the year without truly seeing them as the image of God and fellow human beings.

Valaam-Now-61

We cannot allow ourselves not to enter into spiritual warfare during this season, or any other time of the year. No matter what form of Christianity you practice, all of us must make time for reflection and self-examination.  We cannot afford to be nonchalant about this struggle as the life and death of our souls are at stake.  No, we must not walk around with a scowl on our faces dressed in sackcloth and ashes.  But, let us consider the great gift God offers us; salvation through His Son who was made man.  We are called to give ourselves to be one with Him.  We must, likewise, lay aside every weight that holds us back from this goal and cast aside every sin that traps us into complacency and compliance with the evil one.  Our struggle is to be one with God.  This is not an easy struggle.

But, we do not fight alone. The presence of the Holy Spirit is with all who call on the name of the Lord.  We have spiritual fathers and mothers to aid us as we confess our sins.  Prayer is essential and maintaining a rule of prayer strengthens us against demonic attacks.  We have the scriptures and holy writings outside of the Bible worthy of reflection and meditation.  There are saints who have walked in our shoes who have left a witness for us on earth and pray for us in heaven.

I urge myself first and all others to take this season seriously. Whatever sins you know are a problem for you, fight boldly and bravely against them.  Even those sins that aren’t difficult to overcome, be watchful as they can become stumbling blocks and traps if ignored.  Talk with your earthly spiritual guide about how best to approach the celebration of Our Lord’s birth so that your soul can gain the greatest benefit and growth.  If you fall in the process, repent and continue on the spiritual battlefield.

Modern Violence: The Mark of Cain

Does anyone remember the story of Cain and Abel in the Bible? Cain, a skilled farmer and tool user, was angry that his offering to God was not accepted.  His brother, Abel, made a living just by seeing to the needs of his flock of sheep.  His offering of the best of his animals and their best portions was accepted by the God he relied on.  In an English translation of the Septuagint (the Greek language Old Testament compiled and translated 200 B.C. in Egypt), God Himself gave comfort and instruction to the dejected brother; “Did you not sin? Even though you brought it rightly, but did not divide it rightly?  Be still; his recourse shall be for you; and you shall rule over him” (Genesis 4:7 from the Orthodox study Bible).  Rather than find comfort and instruction from the One he claimed to serve, Cain took a tool and killed his brother who, like him, was made in the image of God and had every right to live.  Cain would later mock the Creator.  The merciful one heard his cry for survival, as he offered no repentance, and allowed him to live and his descendants to create a society.  But this society was based not on a security from the Holy One.  It was based on wandering and human skill with God seen only as a tool for their dominance.

cain-and-abel

Compare Cain to Jesus Christ. First, Our Lord rejected Satan’s offers of self-gratification, arrogance, and earthly rule.  He made these rejections by strictly adhering to His heavenly Father.  As a result of this, Jesus was able to fulfill the prophecy about Him: “A bruised reed he will not break, a smoking flax, He will not quench” (Isaiah 42:3).  He cured people of all sorts of illnesses, even an unclean woman who should have been stoned to death for appearing in public (Mark 5:25-34) .  He healed people of demon possession, even one whom his society had given up on and preferred to have him kept ill rather than lose their questionable livelihood (Luke 8:26-39).  Rather than wish the worst on His tormentors, Christ asked:  “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do (Luke 23:34).  In a sense, Jesus took the advice that Cain ignored, “Be still; his recourse shall be for you; and you will rule over him.” Indeed, there is no one else we can turn to for the salvation of our souls as our knees bow and lounges confess that He is Lord (Philippians 2:5-11).

As Christian as we want to claim ourselves to be, we tend to base our existence on the mark of Cain. In our anger and frustration with things not going our way, we refuse to be still and wait to rule with (much less rule over) our brother.  We take tools to overcome, even people who mean us no offense, those who are in a weaker position.  In extreme cases, there is murder and warfare.  For most of us, we dehumanize and insult others who don’t share our point of view.  Whether or not blood is spilled; the humble and obedient example of Christ is ignored in favor of imposing and defending our point of view as right and all others as wrong for the sake of what we can gain in this world.

christ temptation

But, the Christian is not a citizen of this world. We belong to the kingdom to come and are to live as sojourners here.  Our tool is the cross with which we offer sacrificial love to those who love and hate us.  Our first and foremost responsibility is to do what Cain failed to do; repent and be still.  Repent because we are all sinners seeking salvation.  Be still because God accepts those who repent and obey His will despite their fallen state.  And if we are obedient even unto death as Christ was, we can fully enter into the fullness of His kingdom.  While still living, we can experience a peace in mind from Christ that goes beyond Cain’s understanding.

Let us expel the mark of Cain and imitate Christ. Through the scriptures, we can reject the roots of sin.  By this rejection, we can devote ourselves to genuine love for others; especially those in need and are disturbed by the evil one.  We can be forgiving no matter what injustice we may bear in this life.  Upholding our mark in this world may give us offspring, land, cities, comfort, and other things for survival.  But, these are temporal and will prevent us from obtaining a place in the world to come if we put too much emphasis on them.  We Christians should know and must do better.