OUR WEAPONS OF SPIRITUAL WARFARE (FROM WISDOM FROM MOUNT ATHOS BY STARRETZ SILOUAN)

pp. 115-119

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Spiritual warfare is the very foundation of living as a Christian, according to St. Silouan.

All those who would follow our Lord Jesus Christ are engaged in spiritual warfare

Inner peace and grace are not gained and preserved meekly and timidly but through continuous and ferocious battle against the distractions that derail us. Silouan uses fiery language to describe the nature and intensity of the battle.

Our battle rages every day and every hour

This is necessary considering the constant lapses into passions that, unless we are trained, are the default position of our souls.

Silouan, like other ascetic writers, sheds a bright light on our daily experience of being, and away from abstract theory. He forces us to pause and look under a microscope at the countless harmless little lies, the small indulgences, figures of speech and automatic thinking patterns and reactions that have become habits. He puts us in the uncomfortable position of taking seriously the things we routinely dismiss as small and understandable manifestations of “just being human.”  We did not commit murder or burglary after all. Silouan turns on its head the notion of “sin.”

Passing judgement, envying or belittling others, bragging, looking down on our fellow men, considering our judgment to be infallible,  fantasizing, controlling, following our will, longing for power and influence, reacting through anger, manipulating things to get our way etc. are not harmless little indulgences but drops of evil that increasingly clog our soul and distance us from God. Their everydayness and automatic, unthinking way we employ them make them especially formidable enemies.

This is why our battle must especially intense and “rage every day and every hour.”

The state of inner peace is fragile for all those who have not ascended to the realm of theosis. How many times have you experienced the loss of joy or calmness just because of your perception of one look from another person as disrespectful; a memory of the unfairness of a former boss; the realization that someone, other than you, is the center of attention and garners a group’s admiration, interpreting someone’s silence as rejection, considering your son’s academic failures as a direct mirror of your own worth…

“One unfriendly look,” writes Silouan, “and grace and the love of God is gone.”

Conversely,

Often a single sympathetic greeting will work a happy change in the soul; and contrarywise

This is where hope and the path of salvation lie.

Following this path is not a loose proposition of occasional virtue, avoiding virtue at inconvenient times or following your whim. As Silouan advises:

All things whatsoever the Lord commanded must be fulfilled with exactitude.

These descriptions of ephemerality and unexpectedness of grace sum up Silouan’s prescription for conducting spiritual war. Be alert to the state of your soul in daily experience rather than focus on abstract theory. Battle as fiercely as possible the devil hidden, sometimes, in barely noticeable thoughts and reactions. Look for the grace of small, often dismissed, moments of “a single sympathetic greeting,” a feeling of compassion for the person who offended you, a moment of silence and restraint when faced with someone spouting offensive political opinions, and build  them into your arsenal of spiritual warfare.

Silouan returns to his theme of simplicity and ease from his previous chapters. Upholding virtues and experiencing a state of grace is not difficult or complicated once you are no longer driven by the desire to assert your will and your heart is filled with love.  

St. John the Divine declares that God’s commandments are not grievous but a light burden. But they are light only where there us love—where live is not present everything is difficult.

Yet, actively desiring and willing a state of grace means that your will for control and self-glorification are at work. In that case, the effort weighs you down, disappointment, emptiness, anger and impatience set in and the “burden” is no longer “light.”

Humility here is juxtaposed to the entitlement implicit in our efforts to bring about grace at will.

But do not think about seeing God; rather humble yourself and let your thought be that when you die you will be case into a dark prison, and there languish and pie for the Lord…When we weep and humble our souls the grace of God preserve us, whereas if we forsake weeping and humility we may ne led astray by intrusive thoughts of visions. The humble soul neither has nor desires to have visions, but praus God with an undisturbed mind; while the mid that is puffed up is not free from intrusive thoughts and imaginings…

Silouan sums up the path to grace and most potent weapon in spiritual warfare thus:

Keep thy mind in hell and despair not

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