SPIRITUAL WARFARE, PART #2 (from “Wisdom from Mount Athos,” St. Silouan)

Who shall describe the joy of knowing the Lord and of reaching out towards Him day and night insatiably?” asks St. Silouan. The premise of the spiritual warfare is that the beauty and inner peace of the destination make lifelong warfare worthwhile. There is, in fact, “nothing more precious than to know God; and nothing worse than not to know Him.”  

Such overwhelming desire, however, is fraught with danger if it is overtaken by our personal wants and driven by our own will. This is where delusion sets in. Silouan, for example, warns about forcing visions to occur and mistake them for true messages from God.

And I beseech those who see visions and put their trust in them to understand that this is a source of evil pride and, side by side with pride, sweet vanity…

He reminds us that visions cannot be gained by our own will and that “…without the Holy Spirit it is impossible to come to knowledge of what is of heaven.” 

Far from acquiring knowledge of God, acting on our own is, in fact, a type of spiritual materialism –adopting a worldly, materialistic framework in the spiritual realm. It treats deification transactionally, as a precious good we can buy and consume on demand.

The peril of such spiritual materialism is nothing less than the loss of our soul and invitation to the devil.

Silouan, however, does not want us to despair and gives us a map for gaining and restoring union with God.  He reminds us that the antidote to the fallacy of achieving union with God through our own means, is humility.

without humility it is impossible to vanquish the enemy…Only when you humble yourself will you experience “perfect rest.”   And only in a state of inner rest and peace can our prayer be “clear and unsullied.”

The journey back to God starts by putting “one’s trust in your confessor and not in yourself. Thinking that we can wrestle evil on our own is delusional. Obedience is essential to healing and spiritual restoration.”  

Silouan gives us hope in our fallen state by encouraging us not be afraid. In the place of fear, he admonishes calm acceptance of the current state of the soul and repentance.

The soul that has come to know God” does not despair of any beguilement the devil has brought about but accepts it and repents.

Paradoxically, Silouan calls the soul that is humble and obedient “courageous.”  This is because it takes courage to forsake pride, as manifested in daily habits and beliefs.  

The soul.” He tells us, “is a creature of habit.”  It is far harder to overcome habits than it is to argue against a big idea, withdraw support from a political candidate or make life-changing decisions, such as marrying or accepting jobs.

Over time our mental associations, justifications, reactions, tastes and routines become embedded into our daily, default patterns of thinking and acting. We mistake them for our true identity and rarely question them. Vanity, greed and love of material things are hardest to overcome, St. SIlouan tells us.

The hardest thing of all is to subdue the flesh for God’s sake and to overcome self-love.

Yet, Silouan, reminds us that repentance must not lead to self-pity and despair:

 Man must condemn himself in his soul but not despair of the compassion and love of God

Our spiritual warfare takes place at every hour of the day and every day of our lives. It represents the way of life for a Christian. Yet it is not a joyless or pointless effort as we experience moments of true union with God, and the unspeakable delight of inner peace.

So soon as the Lord lays His hand upon my soul, she becomes a new being

St. Silouan ends the chapter with his description of the meaning of spiritual warfare. The relentless struggle to gain true knowledge of God and continuously regain it when we lose it constitutes, in itself, a constant relationship with God and a source of mutual joy:

Thus, the soul spends her whole life waging war. But do you not lose heart over the struggle, for the Lord loves a brave fighter.

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