Spiritual Training: Overcome Evil

God cares for man’s freedom as the most precious principle that he possesses, and so in humility draws the soul to His love. But on the path to this love man comes up against the violator, the devil. The Lord allows that it should be so. God trains man’s soul, not by removing evil from his path by giving him the strength necessary to overcome all evil.

(St. Silouan the Athonite, p. 220)

What is Sin?

The essence of sin consists not in the infringement of ethical standards but in a falling away from the eternal Divine life for which man was created and to which, by his very nature, he is called.

Sin is committed first of all in the secret depths of the human spirit but its consequences involve the individual as a whole. A sin will reflect on a man’s psychological and physical condition, on his outward appearance, on his personal destiny. Sin will, inevitably, pass beyond the boundaries of the sinner’s individual life, to burden all humanity and thus affect the fate of the whole world. The sin of our forefather Adam was not the only sin of cosmic significance. Every sin, manifest or secret, committed by each one of us affects the rest of the universe.”

(St. Silouan the Athonite, p. 31)

I am with You Always

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”   (Matthew 28:18-20)

O wonder! The Lord bade me stay my mind in hell and not despair. So close is He to us: “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world,” and “I will deliver thee; and thou shalt glorify me.” (St. Silouan the Athonite, p. 431)

The Lord is Not Like Us

“No man of himself can know what God’s love is unless he be taught of the Holy Spirit; but God’s love is known in our Church through the Holy Spirit, and so we speak of this love.

The sinful soul which does not know the Lord fears death, thinking that the Lord will not forgive her sins. But this is because the soul does not know the Lord and how greatly He loves us. But if people knew this, then no man would despair, for the Lord not only forgives but rejoices exceedingly at the return of a sinner. Though you be at death’s door, believe firmly that the moment  you ask, you will receive forgiveness.

The Lord is not like us. He is passing meek, and merciful, and good; and when the soul knows Him she marvels greatly, and exclaims: ‘O what a Lord is ours!’

The Holy Spirit gave our Church to know how great is God’s mercy.”

(St. Silouan the Athonite, p. 363)

How unlike us humans is our God.  Human may never forgive or forget and can keep angry all their lives, but not so with the Lord.  Humans demand retributive justice and often want to treat people as they deserve, or even worse.  On the other hand, God, so the psalmist tells us is not like us.

The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger for ever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor requite us according to our iniquities.   (Psalm 103:8-10)

Struggling to Love One’s Enemies

“Everyday experience shows that even people who in their inner depths accept Christ’s commandment to love one’s enemies do not put it into practice. Why? First of all, because without grace we cannot love our enemies. But if, realizing that this love was naturally beyond them, they asked God to help them with His grace they would certainly receive this gift.

Unfortunately, it is the opposite that prevails. Not only unbelievers but people who call themselves Christians are afraid of acting toward their enemies according to Christ’s commandment. They think that to do so would only be of advantage to the other side, seeing the enemy refracted through the distorting prism of hatred as having nothing good in him, that he would take advantage of their ‘indulgence’ and respond to their love either by crucifying or shamelessly crushing and subjugating them, thus letting evil, as generally personified by this enemy, triumph.

The idea that Christianity is ‘wishy-washy’ is profoundly mistaken. The saints possess a force powerful enough to sway people, influence the masses, but theirs is the reverse method – they make themselves servants of their brethren, and thus win for themselves a love in its essence imperishable. By following this course they gain a victory that will obtain ‘world without end’, whereas a victory won through violence never lasts and by its nature is more to the shame than to the glory of mankind.”   

(St. Silouan the Athonite, pp. 224-225)

Let All You Do Be Done in Love

Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love.  (1 Corinthians 16:13)

“Those who have stood in these places of the spirit may ask in dismay, ‘Where are we to look for a criterion by which to distinguish genuine communion with God from delusion?’ Blessed Staretz Silouan explicitly asserted that we have such a criterion – love for enemies. He said, ‘The Lord is meek and humble, and loves His creature. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is humble love for enemies and prayer for the whole world. And if you do not have this love, ask and the Lord Who said, “Ask, and it shall be given to you” will grant it to you’” (Archimandrite Sophrony, St. Silouan the Athonite, pp. 162-163).  

The Various Forms of Our Love for God

“Love of God takes various forms.

The man who wrestles with wrong thoughts loves God according to his measure. He who struggles against sin, and asks God to give him strength not to sin, but yet falls into sin again because of his infirmity, and sorrows and repents – he possesses grace in the depths of his soul and mind, but his passions are not yet overcome.

St. John the Forerunner

But the man who has conquered his passions now knows no conflict: all his concern is to watch himself in all things lest he fall into sin. Grace, great and perceptible, is his. But he who feels grace in both soul and body is a perfect man, and if he preserves this grace, his body is sanctified and his bones will make holy relics.” (St. Silouan the Athonite, pp. 438-439)

Carrying the Peace of the Holy Spirit

“But the fruit of the Spirit is …. peace…” (Galatians 5:22)

St. Silouan the Athonite teaches us:

“But if we accustom ourselves to praying eagerly for our enemies, and loving them, peace will always dwell in our souls; whereas if we feel hatred toward our brethren, or find fault with them, our minds will be clouded and we shall lose our peace and the confidence to pray to God.  […]  The man who carries the peace of the Holy Spirit in his heart spreads peace around him, too; but he who has a malevolent spirit in him spreads evil.  […]

It is a great thing in the sight of God to pray for those who hurt our feelings and injure us; and for this the Lord will accord us grace, and by the Holy Spirit we shall come to know the Lord, and bear every affliction with joy for His sake, and the Lord will give us love for all the world, and we shall ardently desire the good of all men, and pray for all as for our own soul. The Lord bade us love our enemies, and the man who loves his enemies is like to the Lord.” (St. Silouan the Athonite, pp 316-317)

“And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against any one; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”  (Mark 11:25)

Adam Laments His Exile

Adam

In the previous blog, The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, we read the words of Archimandrite Aimilianos reflecting on what Adam might have thought and said to God when God questioned him as to why he was trying to hide from His Creator.   In the meditation below, St Silouan puts in Adam’s mouth words lamenting what he lost in being exiled from Paradise.  Though the earth has beautiful landscapes, he cannot find joy in them knowing what exists in Paradise, yet which is no longer attainable for him.

“Adam wept:

‘The desert cannot pleasure me;

nor the high mountains,

nor meadow nor forest,

nor the singing of birds.

I have no pleasure in any thing.

My soul sorrows with a great sorrow: I have grieved God. And were the Lord to set me down in paradise again, there, too, would I sorrow and weep – ‘O, why did I grieve my beloved God?’”

(St Silouan in Remember Thy First Love by Archimandrite Zacharias, p 200)

Adam & Eve worship at the heavenly altar

Adam sees the magnificent beauty in God’s created world, and yet he agonizes over what he lost in being exiled from Paradise.  The pleasures of this world are nothing compared to Paradise Adam tells us.  The entire world was his – a vacation paradise.   Yet, he finds nothing on earth comparable to the Paradise lost.

Great Lent is trying to help us believe Adam’s lament – what we humans have lost is far greater than anything we might experience on earth.   We may be quite attached to this world, yet Great Lent calls  us to yearn for something greater, something we’ve never known.   Can we feel Adam’s exile and believe there is something even more glorious awaiting us, if only we will let go of the things we value so highly on earth?

I Seek the One Seeking Me

You said, “Seek My face,”
My heart said to You, “Your face, LORD, I will seek.”
Do not hide Your face from me…  (Psalm 27:8-9)

Conversion of St. Paul

“My soul yearns after the Lord and I seek Him in tears. How could I do other than seek Thee, for Thou first didst seek and find me, and gavest me to delight in Thy Holy Spirit, and my soul fell to loving Thee. Thou seest, O Lord, my grief and my tears…Hadst Thou not drawn me with Thy love, I could not seek Thee as I seek Thee now; but Thy spirit gave me to know Thee, and my soul rejoices that Thou art my God and my Lord, and I yearn after Thee even to tears.”

(St. Silouan the Athonite, p 269)

“My heart speaks to You; My face seeks You;

Your face, O Lord, I will seek.

Do not turn Your face away from me.”

(Psalm 26:8-9, Orthodox Study Bible)