17 September OS 2015 – Wednesday of the Eighteenth Week after Pentecost/1st Week of St. Luke, Afterfeast of the Exaltation of the Precious Cross, Holy Martyrs Sophia and Her Daughters Faith, Hope, and Charity
During this week after the Cross, we begin reading from the Gospel according to St. Luke. Today’s reading is the awesome and sobering account of the Lord’s own temptation by Satan.
And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, Being forty days tempted of the devil. And in those days he did eat nothing: and when they were ended, he afterward hungered. And the devil said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread. And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God. And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, shewed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine.
And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. And he brought him to Jerusalem, and set him on a pinnacle of the temple, and said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down from hence: For it is written, He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee: And in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. And Jesus answering said unto him, It is said, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season. And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all. – Luke 4: 1-15
St. Theophan the Recluse comments on the Lord’s experience of temptation in order to teach us how to approach the demonic warfare endured by Orthodox Christians who are serious about spiritual life:
The devil approaches the God-man with temptations. Who among men is free of them? He who goes according to the will of the evil one does not experience attacks, but is simply turned more and more toward evil. As soon as one begins to come to oneself and intends to begin a new life according to God’s will, the entire satanic realm immediately enters into action. They hasten to scatter the good thoughts and intentions of the penitent in any way they can. If they do not manage to turn him aside, they attempt to hinder his good repentance and confession. If they do not manage to do that, they contrive to sow tares amidst the fruits of repentance and disrupt his labors of cleansing the heart. If they do not succeed in suggesting evil, they attempt to distort the truth. If they are repulsed inwardly they attack outwardly, and so on, until the end of one’s life. They do not even let one die in peace, and even after death they pursue the soul, until it escapes the aerial expanse where they hover and have their haunts. You ask, “What should we do? It’s dismal and terrifying!” For a believer there is nothing frightening here, because demons only bustle around a God-fearing man, but do not have any power at all. A sober man of prayer shoots arrows against them, and they stay far away from him, not daring to approach, and fearing the defeat that they have already experienced. If they succeed in something, it is due to our blundering. We slacken our attention or allow ourselves to be distracted by their phantoms, and they are right there and disturb us more boldly. If you do not come to your senses in time, they will whirl you about; but if a soul does come to its senses, they again recoil and spy from afar to see whether it is possible to approach again somehow. So be sober, watch, and pray – and the enemies will do nothing to you. – from Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 209-210
All of this is critically important for us, a matter of life and death spiritually. Let us then summarize the wise bishop’s very clear exposition of this topic:
- The Lord Himself endured demonic temptation, which should demonstrate clearly to us that the demonic realm is real, and demonic warfare is real, and no believer is exempt from it.
- If you are serious about your salvation, you are going to experience this warfare, and the only Orthodox who do not experience it are those who are not serious about their salvation. Foolishly mistaking the psychological peace of non-struggle for a happy spiritual state, they already belong to Satan, and he leaves them alone…he has all eternity to torture them. For now, he will put his resources into attacking those others who are still fighting him.
- When a serious Orthodox person begins or renews a life of conscious spiritual struggle, all hell breaks loose. The demons employ every trick in the book to lead him away from the path of salvation. Their attacks continue right up to death and even beyond, when they attempt to hinder the soul of the newly departed Orthodox Christian in its ascent through the aerial realm in which they dwell.
- Knowing all this, a pious person, who knows and understands that all of this is real, may be frightened or become depressed, because a. He does not have enough hope in God, and b. He forgets that God’s Providence governs the demons too. The Almighty’s absolute sovereignty binds them in unbreakable chains. By His infinite wisdom and infinite power, He has transformed their very rebellion into a means of working out the salvation of His elect. Having given up true freedom by the misuse of their will, they have reduced themselves to mere instruments of His will to save man, and they are certainly not the autonomous, terrifying, and uncontrollable forces feared by the superstitious Christians who lack hope.
- Therefore what we must do is to be sober, watch, and pray. If we but stay on the path laid out for us, victory is ours, through Christ Jesus our Lord.
The Lord desires our salvation more than we do, and He is all-powerful to bring it about. Let us place all of our trust in Him.