The World and I

For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.   (Ephesians 6:12)

For though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.   (2 Corinthians 10:3-6)

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The Gospels as well as the entire Bible gives recognition at times to a spiritual warfare of cosmic dimensions which is ongoing within the created universe.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, became incarnate and entered into the world exactly to engage in this warfare on our behalf.  Oftentimes in our daily lives we are not aware of the ongoing spiritual warfare, though some people, monks for example are consciously engaged in the warfare on a daily basis.

That Christ came into the world to enter into the fray on our behalf is obvious in today’s Gospel lesson:

And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?”

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Now a herd of many swine was feeding at some distance from them. And the demons begged him, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of swine.” And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the swine; and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and perished in the waters. The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, and what had happened to the demoniacs. And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their neighborhood.  And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city.  (Matthew 8:28-9:1)

The Gospel lesson shows Christ active in the world, not enthroned in the comfort and safety of heaven, and not just piously praying in the temple.  It is a lesson about Christ engaging evil face to face in a desolate place where most humans have decided not to go.  Christ is God’s presence and power in the world casting out the forces of Satan from the lives of two rather unsavory men.

Whether we think in these terms or not, we ourselves come to church in order to personally experience that presence of the Kingdom in our lives, to commit ourselves to the Kingdom of God and to show our own rejection of all that is evil.  Our presence at the Liturgy is not withdrawal from the world, nor fleeing the real presence of evil in the world, but rather adding ourselves to the spiritual war against Satan.  Throughout the Liturgy we are praying for and about the world and all that is in the world.    We unite ourselves to Christ in order to defeat Satan in our own lives so that we can be what Christ expects of us:

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men. You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:13-14)

In the Gospel, it is obvious that Christ does not just talk to those who are holy, sinless, without problems.  He engages everyone in the world, even those possessed by Satan.

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Compared to life in Biblical times, we have many modern advantages that help relieve suffering, pain and sickness.  The medical progress and social welfare  we experience are a direct result of Christian efforts to help the needy and to relieve suffering.  The impetus was the mercy and care that Christianity advocated for the poor and needy.  It was the Christians who established hospices and hospitals and famine relief and care for orphans and widows throughout the Roman Empire.  That was the seed for the development of medical science and social concern for those in need.   This was a real response to the evil they could see everywhere and which most people simply tried to avoid.

War of the Worlds 2It is interesting that science fiction often portrays the earth being invaded by an alien army which attempts to destroy life on earth or tries to turn everyone into inhuman possessions of the aliens.  Science fiction really is just borrowing the narrative of the Gospel.  Science fiction turns Satan into an alien invader, but the story is the same.  The world is at risk and we need to repel the invasion.  The Scriptures tell us the alien invader is Satan  and Christ came into the world to drive back this alien invasion and to overcome the spreading corruption of the Evil One.  That is what Christ does in the Gospels, and whether we see it or not, it is what we are doing in the Church through the exorcism at Baptism and in our becoming the Body of Christ.

Throughout the Gospel Christ is present in the world seeking lost sheep, injured lambs, the sick and the possessed.  Christ freely went even to places and people who had forsaken God.    We attend the Liturgy to make Christ present in our lives, because we agree and believe that there is real evil in the world and we want it defeated.  We unite ourselves to Christ to expel evil from our lives.  We receive the Body and Blood of Christ to strengthen ourselves in the spiritual warfare so that we can go back into the world to defeat evil and witness to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  We accept the risk of what spiritual warfare means – including martyrdom.   Our task is not simply to come to the church to receive Christ and be united to Him.  Our task is to go back into the world to get Christ out of the Church and into the entire world, to claim our lives for God and be God’s servants daily so that evil is crushed because we are oriented to God.  We don’t need to orient ourselves toward evil to defeat it, we defeat evil by completing orienting our lives, our hearts and minds to God.  If we keep our eyes and hearts on Christ, Satan and evil are automatically defeated.

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The Liturgy in the Church orients our lives toward the Kingdom of God, it helps us always keep our face toward God.  In the Liturgy we are always facing in one direction toward God, with our backs toward Satan because we have left evil behind us.  That is the symbolism of the Liturgy and why we stand and orient ourselves this way in the Liturgy rather than sitting around in circle with the altar at our center.

Our spiritual struggle is not just against our personal sins and passions, it is part of the cosmic warfare against Satan and all evil powers.    This is why it is so difficult to overcome our personal sins and failings.  Our struggle within ourselves immediately puts us into the conflict with Satan and his forces.  When you desire to stop any sin or passion within yourself, lust, greed, anger, lying, etc, you are at once engaged in the spiritual warfare which is raging through the entire world. One difficulty in overcoming our sins, temptations and passions is we are not prepared to engage in the full spiritual warfare against Satan, and we fail to think of ourselves as part of the world or part of a greater whole.  We tend to see our self as isolated and in a lonely struggle and that we just have personal problems, but the reality is we really are part of a bigger war.  Christ came into the world to take on Himself the sin of the world, to directly confront and defeat Satan.  But we have to keep ourselves united to Christ to benefit from His power.  We keep ourselves united to Christ in the Communion of the Saints, in the Church, through confession, communion , prayer, the Liturgy, bible study, in practicing charity and forgiveness.  We learn to love in and through community and that keeps us in the Body of Christ.

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How do we keep Satan from influencing our lives?    A willingness to listen to God’s Word, listening to God’s word, heartfelt prayer, a devout fear of God, true Christian love for God and for one another, a desire to serve God, humility, self-denial, seeking truth, doing God’s will as revealed in the Gospel commandments.

Deliver Us From Evil

“The awesome force of evil does not lie in evil as such, but in its destruction of our faith in goodness – our conviction that good is stronger than evil. This is the meaning of temptation. And even the very attempt to explain evil by virtue of rational arguments, to legitimize it, if one can put it this way, is that very same temptation, it is the inner surrender before evil. For the Christian attitude towards evil consists precisely in the understanding that evil has no explanation, no justification, no basis, that it is the root of rebellion against God, falling away from God, a rupture from full life, and that God does not give us explanations for evil, but strength to resist evil and power to overcome it. And again, this victory lies not in the ability to understand and explain evil but rather in the ability to face it with the full force of faith, the full force of hope, and love that temptations are overcome, they are the answer to temptation, the victory over temptations, and therefore the victory over evil.

Here lies the victory of Christ, the one whose whole life was one seamless temptation. He was constantly in the midst of evil in all its forms, beginning with the slaughter of innocent infants at the time of his birth and ending in horrible isolation, betrayal by all, physical torture, and an accursed death on the cross. In one sense the Gospels are an account of the power of evil and the victory over it – an account of Christ’s temptation.

And Christ didn’t once explain and therefore didn’t justify and legitimize evil, but he constantly confronted it with faith, hope, and love. He didn’t destroy evil, but he did reveal the power of struggle with evil, and he gave this power to us, and it is about this power that we pray when we say: “And lead us not into temptation.”

The Gospel says about Christ that when he was suffering alone, at night, in the garden, abandoned by all, when he “began to be sorrowful and troubled” (Mt. 26:37), when all the force of temptation fell on him, an angel came from heaven and strengthened him.

It is about this same mystical assistance that we pray, so that in the face of evil, suffering, and temptation our faith would not waver, our hope not weaken, our love not dry up, that the darkness of evil not reign in our hearts and become itself the fuel for evil. Our prayer is that we can trust in God, as Christ trusted in him, that all the temptations would be smashed against our strength.

We pray also that God would deliver us from the evil one, and here we are given not an explanation but one more revelation, this time about the personal nature of evil, about the person as the bearer and source of evil.”   (Alexander Schmemann, Our Father, pp. 78-81)

Giving Satan Opportunity

33268195933_661cfa9dcc_nAs we come to the end of Great Lent, we realize that it is easy to give Satan opportunity to enter into our lives and tempt us away from Christ.  It can happen so naturally and mundanely that it has occurred before we realize what we have done.  We turn against those around us because we have lost sight of Christ and we come to believe falsely that “my” will is the most important thing in the world, and I become willing to sacrifice everyone around me to defend and preserve my self will.   In doing this we come to the fact that when we no longer are willing to let all we do be done in love for others (1 Corinthians 16:14), we have lost Christ.   If we have lost Christ, we no longer have anything to say to other Christians.

Whenever we become obsessed by some past event in which we perceive that we have been wronged, we give the devil ample opportunity to lead us toward greater temptation. We forget that our warfare is not with each other! We are to engage in spiritual warfare against the Enemy of our salvation and his willing hosts, the demons. When we remember wrongs, we fall prey to the Father of Lies and engage in combat with our fellow brothers and sisters.   (Joseph David Huneycutt, Defeating Sin: Overcoming Our Passions and Changing Forever, Kindle Loc. 924-27)

38195829935_4831a43b3b_nThe antidote for Christians to this sinful self-will is Christ Himself.   “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).  In order for Christ to become human, He emptied himself (Philippians 2:5-7).  In order for  us to become fully human, we need also to empty ourselves and open our hearts to Christ abiding in us.   Here we realize that “the heart” of which the fathers speak isn’t the organ that pumps blood in our bodies, but refers to the spiritual reality that every person is capable of being a temple for God, or a dwelling place for Satan.  The choice is ours.

Understanding these things, enter within yourself by keeping watch over your thoughts, and scrutinize closely your intellect, captive and slave to sin as it is. Then discover, still more deeply within you than this, the serpent that nestles in the inner chambers of your soul and destroys you by attacking the most sensitive aspects of your soul. For truly the heart is an immeasurable abyss. If you have destroyed that serpent, have cleansed yourself of all inner lawlessness, and have expelled sin, you may boast in God of your purity; but if not, you should humble yourself because you are still a sinner and in need, and ask Christ to come to you on account of your secret sins.

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The whole Old and New Testament speaks of purity, and everyone, whether Jew or Greek, should long for purity even though not all can attain it. Purity of heart can be brought about only by Jesus; for He is authentic and absolute Truth, and without this Truth it is impossible to know the truth or to achieve salvation. (St Symeon Metaphrastis, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 33655-64)

This is why we prayed daily throughout Great Lent:  Grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother.

Why We Don’t Fear Satan

This blog concludes the blog Demonic Possession as a Physical Ailment.

Archimandrite Vassilios Papavassiliou says spiritually we don’t fear Satan precisely because we do have a fear of God.   This fear of God, however, is not a cringing in terror in the face of an unpredictable power, but more awe and respect for the Creator.

“But the fear of God is not a paralyzing or timid fear. On the contrary, fear of God pushes us to do good, to repent and become more like Christ. This kind of positive fear is aptly expounded in the second-century Christian work, The Shepherd of Hermas: “Fear,” said he, “the Lord, and keep His commandments. For if you keep the commandments of God, you will be powerful in every action, and every one of your actions will be incomparable. For, fearing the Lord, you will do all things well. This is the fear which you ought to have, that you may be saved. But fear not the devil; for, fearing the Lord, you will have dominion over the devil, for there is no power in him. . . . For fears are of two kinds: for if you do not wish to do that which is evil, fear the Lord, and you will not do it; but, again, if you wish to do that which is good, fear the Lord, and you will do it. Wherefore the fear of the Lord is strong, and great, and glorious. Fear, then, the Lord, and you will live to Him, and as many as fear Him and keep His commandments will live to God.”   Unfortunately, in contrast to the teaching of Hermas, there are many Orthodox Christians who live in fear of the devil, demons, magic, and curses. This displays a terrible lack of faith. Such fear is contrary to God’s providence . . . contrary to spiritual knowledge. The teaching of Hermas is echoed by many other Fathers: the demons have no power! They can only tempt and frighten, and have no power other than what God permits. This is made abundantly clear in the many accounts of exorcism in the Gospels. The demons fear Christ. They also fear the saints. They should also fear us, rather than us fearing them. There is no dualism in Christianity; God and the devil are not two equal powers playing with humanity like pawns in a chess game. Fear God, and the devil will fear you!”

Papavassiliou goes on to quote St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite (d. 1809AD):

“Why do you fear the Devil, O Christians? He cannot force you to do anything. The Devil should, rather, fear you, not you the Devil, for you are clad in the armor and panoply of God; you have as a sling the sign of the Precious Cross, with which, and from a distance, you can smite all of the demons; you wield, as a two-edged sword, the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, which the demons fear and at which they tremble. As for you, if you are willing to keep the commandments of the Lord, and to be the true friends and soldiers of the Heavenly King, you will have no need of magic or any other device of the Devil, and you will trample on him with your feet as though he were a beast, a little sparrow, a scorpion, or an ant. ‘Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.’  [Luke 10:19] Hence, if you will, the Devil can become so small and lowly that he resembles an infant; and again, if you will, the Devil can become so mighty against you that he roars like a fearsome lion and seeks to devour you.”   (Thirty Steps to Heaven: The Ladder of Divine Ascent for All Walks of Life, Kindle Loc. 1567-89)

Demonic Possession as a Physical Ailment

The Gospel lesson in our current lectionary for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost is Matthew 8:28-9:1 in which Christ encounters two men possessed by demons.   At the time when the Orthodox Gospel lectionary was being formed, a story of Christ exorcising demons must have been very popular.  For in the current lectionary, the parallel version of this story from Luke’s Gospel (8:26-39) is read also on the 21st Sunday after Pentecost.   Since we have a lectionary that repeats every year, it is interesting that they thought this miracle important enough to proclaim twice during the church year in which there are only 52 Sundays, and we actually hear only 1/7 of the Gospels if we attend only on Sundays.  The Luke version is slightly different than the Matthew version (one instead of two demoniacs), but both have a heard of pigs running over a cliff and all drowning.    Here is the version from Matthew’s Gospel:

At that time, when Jesus came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” Now a herd of many swine was feeding at some distance from them. And the demons begged him, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of swine.” And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the swine; and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and perished in the waters. The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, and what had happened to the demoniacs. And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their   neighborhood.  And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city.

Reflecting on demonic possession, Jean-Claude Larchet writes:

“St. John Cassian provides precise indications as to how the devil acts in certain cases of possession and shows how this is analogous to certain processes due to physical causes.  When an unclean spirit makes its way into those organs in which the soul’s vigor is contained, [it] imposes an unbearable and immeasurable weight on them, and overwhelms the intellectual faculties and deeply darkens their understanding.   We see that this sometimes also happens through the fault of wine or fever or excessive cold or other unfavorable conditions that are externally caused. The devil, who had received power over the blessed Job’s flesh, did not succeed in bringing this upon him,  having been forbidden by the command of the Lord, who said: ‘Behold, I hand him over to you; only spare his soul’ (Job 2:6). That is to say, only do not drive him mad by weakening his soul’s abode, and do not obscure the understanding and the wisdom of the one who withstands you by suffocating the governance of his heart with your weight.”   (Mental Disorders and Spiritual Healing, p 48)

A fascination with demons, even with exorcisms of demons, can itself be spiritually unhealthy.  In the baptism exorcism, in one of the prayers the priest says, we show our utter contempt and disdain for Satan by referring to the Gospel lesson of the demoniac and the herd of swine:

Acknowledge the vanity of your might, which does not even have power over swine. Remember Him Who, at your request, commanded you to enter into the herd of swine.

We remind Satan in almost taunting fashion to remember the events at Gadara – we tell him to remember how powerless he was then and always continues to be in the face of Christ.  Satan is not God’s opposite and equal, and has no power in himself.  We who have been baptized can show our contempt for Satan by ignoring him – for sometimes in giving attention to satan we give power to him as well.  But Satan has been rendered powerless by Christ.

Larchet is pointing out that even the Patristic writers acknowledge that demon possession often has no other manifestation than symptoms related to physical diseases.  Some of these symptoms of demon possession according to St. John Cassian really are the end result of drunkenness or a fever or even of unfavorable weather conditions.     We do need to keep in mind that the Fathers of the Church did not attribute every human problem and ailment to demons.

Below is the entire prayer excerpted above – one of two prayers in the baptism service in which the priest directs his words/prayer to Satan: banning him from the catechumen who is about to be baptized and declaring Satan powerless because of Christ Jesus our Lord.

God, holy, awesome and glorious, Who is unsearchable and inscrutable in all His works and might, has foreordained for you the penalty of eternal punishment, O Devil. The same God, through us, His unworthy servant, commands you, with all your hosts, to depart from him (her) who has been newly sealed in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, our true God. Therefore I charge you, most crafty, impure, vile, loathsome and alien spirit, by the power of Jesus Christ, Who has all power, both in heaven and on earth, Who said to the deaf and dumb demon, “Come out of the man, and do not enter a second time into him:” Depart! Acknowledge the vanity of your might, which does not even have power over swine. Remember Him Who, at your request, commanded you to enter into the herd of swine. Fear God, by Whose decree the earth is established upon the waters; Who has made the heavens, and has set the mountains with a line and the valleys with a measure; and has fixed bounds to the sands of the sea, and a firm path upon the stormy waters; Who touches the mountains and they smoke; Who clothes Himself with light as with a garment; Who spreads out the heavens like a curtain; Who covers His exceedingly high places with the waters; Who has made the earth so sure upon its foundations, that it shall never be moved; Who gathers the water of the sea and pours it out upon the face of the whole earth: Leave, and depart from him (her) who has made himself (herself) ready for Holy Illumination. I charge you by the redeeming Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by His precious Body and Blood, and by His awesome Second Coming; for He shall come quickly to judge the whole earth; and He shall chastise you and all your host with burning Gehenna, committing you to outer darkness, where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.

Next:  Why We Don’t Fear Satan

God Triumphs over Evil

“My point is that such has been God’s custom right from the start, to turn whatever plots the Devil contrives against us [back] onto that [demon’s] head and to set things in place for our salvation. Consider!  He (sc. the Devil) expelled humankind from Paradise, and God opened up heaven to them. He drove them from governing on earth, and God gave them the kingdom of heaven, and set our nature firmly on the royal throne. In this way He always gives more abundantly blessings which the Devil attempts to strip away. He does this by rendering the Devil more hesitant in his plots against us, while teaching us never to fear his machinations.”

(St. John Chrysostom, The Cult of the Saints, pg. 234)

The Limited Power of Satan

St. John Damascene (d. 749AD) is perhaps known for having written a summary of Christian theology and beliefs (An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith), which was in fact his own synthesis of the Patristic writers who came before him.

St. John describes how Satan and demons came into existence and his description of the existence of evil reflects the commonly held views of his day.  Satan is NOT God’s opposite and equal – far from it.  Satan and demons have no power except what god allows them to have (One can think of the Gospel lesson of the Gadarene swine where the demons have to ask permission of Christ to leave the man they had possessed.  The demons do not even have power over swine, as is stated and prayed in the pre-baptismal exorcism prayers).

Why does God give Satan permission to do anything?

This has to do with God’s own respect for the free will He has bestowed on some of his creatures including both humans and angels.  Neither humans nor angels are automatons – preprogrammed beings that have no choice in what they do.  We can freely choose good or evil, just like the angels.  However in terms of having power over our lives, Satan and demons are limited by what God allows them to do, AND by our own cooperation with them.  For neither Satan nor angels can make us do anything either.   They cannot violate our free will.  The will of God and the will of any human are thus both limitations put on the power of the Evil One.

St. John Damascene writes:

“Among the angelic powers the chief of the terrestrial order, the one to whom God had entrusted the task of looking after the earth, was not evil by nature, he had not received any trace of evil from his Creator. He was good. However, he did not maintain the light and honor that God had given him. By a deliberate act of his own free will he rebelled against the Creator. He turned his face away from goodness and fell into evil. Evil in fact is merely the absence of good, as darkness is the absence of light. A host of angels placed under his command followed him in the fall. Despite their angelic nature, they also freely plunged from goodness down to evil and became wicked. The devils cannot do anything against us without God’s permission. But with God’s permission they are powerful. All wickedness, all the passions are inspired by them. But listen: God allows them to suggest sin to a person, but they cannot force him to do it. We ourselves are responsible for accepting or rejecting their seductive suggestions.”    (Drinking from the Hidden Fountain, pp. 127-128)

In every Orthodox Baptism, we pray over the baptismal candidate:

O Lord of Sabaoth, the God of Israel, Who heals every malady and every infirmity:  Look upon Your servant; prove him (her) and search him (her) and root out of him (her) every operation of the devil.  Rebuke the unclean spirits and expel them, and purify the works of Your hands; and exerting Your great power, speedily crush down Satan under his (her) feet; and give him (her) victory over the same, and over his unclean spirits.  (3rd Exorcism Prayer)

May we all be so victorious over the Evil One.

Satan and Our Passions

There is a debate among some Christians that the Lord’s Prayer should conclude with the words “deliver us from the Evil One” rather than the customary “deliver us from evil.”  The prayer thus asks God the Father not merely to protect us from generic evil but really from the works of Satan.

Some claim that nowhere in the Orthodox tradition can you find the saints speaking of a generic evil, but rather they all recognize the existence of the Evil one.   However, I came across an interesting quote from St. Ephrem the Syrian (4th Century) which maybe shows some of the Fathers had a far more nuanced understanding of Satan and devils than we who live in a literally dominated society imagine.    Here is the poem St. Ephrem wrote.  Satan is the speaker:

How many satans there are in a person,
but it is I alone whom everyone curses.
A person’s anger is [like]
a devil which harasses him daily.      Other demons are like travelers
who only move on if they are forced to,      but as for anger,
even if all the righteous adjure it,
it will  not be rooted out from its place.
Instead of hating destructive envy,
everyone hates some weak and wretched devil!

(Ephrem the Syrian SELECT POEMS, p 143)

St. Ephrem has Satan call the many passions (like anger and envy) of a person “satans” but really is acknowleding these passions are not demons but things residing within each human.   Jesus speaks about this same idea in Mark 7:21-23 where He notes that evil lurks in the heart of each human but He does not blame the Evil One.

The Lord Jesus said: “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man.”  (Mark 7:21-23)

St. Ephrem says a person’s anger is like a devil, and in that sense is demonic, but it isn’t a devil acting in a person.  The reality is our passions can imitate devilish behavior which is why we need the asceticism of self denial and self control – to contain the passions which are like demons in us.   Perhaps with a bit of humor, St. Ephrem has Satan lamenting that everyone blames him for all their sins and that  everyone hates him alone because they fail to recognize themselves as the source of their own passions.  St. Ephrem cleverly has the Father of Lies demurring the fact that we humans lie to ourselves blaming some poor devil for things which in fact are our own passions (like envy for example).

Satan deserves no blame for the passions and behaviors in which a human chooses to engage.  People blame devils for their faults rather than do the hard work of dealing with their destructive passions.

it is an interesting poem which does not blame Satan for all our woes, but rather St. Ephrem acknowledges that the heart is the home and source of much evil in the world.  We need to engage in a spiritual warfare within ourselves and with our own passions rather than blaming Satan.

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.   (James 4:7)

Humility Defeats Satan

“When Abba Macarius was returning from the marsh to his cell one day carrying some palm-leaves, he met the devil on the road with a scythe. The [devil] struck at him as much as he pleased, but in vain, and said to him, ‘What is your power, Macarius, that makes me powerless against you? All that you do, I do, too; you fast, so do I; you keep vigil, and I do not sleep at all; in one thing only do you beat me.’ Abba Macarius asked what that was. He said, ‘Your humility. Because of that, I can do nothing against you.’ (Apoth., Macarius 11, p.130)

If this was true for Macarius, it was also true for any other person who wished to be a Christian. Anyone can fast or renounce what they love in order to gain what they want more. The devil himself is good at renunciation; there is no merit in that. For these early folk, the mark of the Christian was not renunciation or, for that matter, heroic feats of virtue, but humility.

 Abba Anthony said, ‘I saw all the snares that the enemy spread out all over the world, and I said, groaning, ‘What can get me through such snares?’ Then I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Humility.’ (Apoth., Anthony 7, pg. 2))

It was humility that made these ancient Christians able with the help of God’s grace to take on the enormous and dangerous task of the transformation of the old creation into the new.’  (Roberta C. Bondi, To Love as God Loves, pg. 42)

Evil: A Universal Power and/or A Condition of the Soul?

The lurking evil.

It is not a powerful semi-deity in a cosmic battle with God, but rather a negative condition of the heart.

Imagination likes to portray evil as a demonic power in the universe which comes ready to snatch and destroy everything in its path.  It is an external force threatening all that exists.

While such portrayals of evil make for good books and movies, we do find in Scripture and Tradition another image of evil.

“If evil is neither uncreated nor created by God, from when comes its nature? Certainly no one living in the world will deny that evil exists. What shall we say then? Evil is not a living animated essence. It is the condition of the soul opposed to virtue, developed in the careless on account of their falling away from good.” (St. Basil the Great on Sin, Suffering, and Salvation, pg. 15)

The condition of the soul opposed to virtue.  That is a theological opinion of St. Basil.  It brings evil down to size, something we have to deal within us; not something that can be destroyed by armies and nuclear weapons.

In Genesis, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good AND Evil stands in the middle of Paradise.  It is not evil, but the knowledge of evil.   The serpent in Genesis 3 who tempts Eve is portrayed in later writings as evil, but in Genesis it is just a creaturely serpent (albeit a talking one) not a semi-god Satan.  Genesis gives us a different idea as to the location of evil in the universe.

“The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.   (Genesis 6:5)

God sees evil in the heart of His new creature – every imagination of heart was evil.  Evil was not an all-powerful force external to humanity, but in the human heart.   How does God react to this revelation?

“And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart”.  (Genesis 6:5-6)

God in His heart is grieved by the evil in the heart of man.  God gives us an image of repentance.   And God tries to cleanse the world of this evil by drowning it in a flood, according to Genesis.   And what does God woefully discover as a result of the destructive Great Flood?   The flood doesn’t change the reality of the location of evil.

“I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.”  (Genesis 8:21)

Evil lurks in the imagination of man’s heart.

The Lord Jesus too pointed out this same reality for He taught:

“For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery,  coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man.” (Mark 7:21-23)

Evil – the condition of the soul opposed to virtue, the imagination of the heart.

It is no wonder that our battle with evil begins in our own spiritual lives.  In resisting sin, in practicing self denial and self control.  In repentance and seeking God’s forgiveness. That is the battle against evil that everyone of us can engage in.  We don’t need the police or an army for that fight.  We can turn away from evil and embrace virtue.   We do this by humbling ourselves and repenting of our heart’s evil imaginations.  We can seek the good virtues in order to destroy the evil which lurks within.

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord, …

he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts…”   

(Luke 1:46, 51)