Thursday, November 12, 2015

Facing Temptations ( Fr. Dimitru Staniloae )

We grow spiritually both from our temptations for pleasure and the trials we face from pain. We are either drawn to something based on our appetite for it or reject it by our refusal to accept it. The spiritual tests we receive are either attractive or repulsive. These tests are not merely for our self-knowing, but hey are aimed to correct ourselves; to help our soul regain control over the biological demands of our body. It is the way we master our passions.

Let's consider temptations. We may have a simple temptation for a second helping of ice cream which only brings to us later the feeling of being stuffed and then problems with being overweight. But our desire for more pleasure temps us to take more of what we know not to be in our best interests. By rejecting a temptation we strengthen our will, increasing our capacity to do God's will. This resistance demonstrates and fortifies our self-control. But resisting temptations may be easier to master than our capacity to reject dejection, anger and disgust. While pleasure is something we can anticipate, pain is something we must wait to address. It's easier to not be controlled by temptation for pleasure than to avoid pain because we never seek pain. It often appears due to our life experience and not necessarily something we can avoid, although much pain is the aftermath of pleasure. Dealing with our temptations is our first priority.

Fr. Dimitru says,

The primordial and direct cause of man's decadence isn't an avoidance of pain but a seeking of pleasure. The avoidance of pain comes later, because it is caused by pleasure. So first we must do battle with pleasure, principally and directly. Pleasure is often sought by our previous initiative, while pain is almost always avoided, by a reaction which is produced when it arises; likewise if we wish to escape the preliminary initiative which looks for pleasure, we must also do it with a previous, contrary initiative, and if we want to escape the reaction contrary to pain which is produced the moment of the appearance of pain, we must wait for that moment to stop the reaction.... I run for pleasure as a reaction to something I am waiting for. But I must wait for the moment of pain to stop the repulsive reaction to it.We can see this in the life of Jesus. First He was tested by pleasure in the wilderness and then faced the trial of suffering in His Passion and Crucifixion.

We seek pleasure for its own sake, but also because of our fear of pain.
Fr. Dimitru says,

The restraint from pleasure and the patient endurance of suffering, far from being something negative-passive and of a weak nature, instead strengthens it and this means a spiritualization, a putting the spirit in control... . By refraining from pleasure we have taken a big step toward the spiritual force of dispassion.... . Dispassion isn't a passivity, but a concentration of the spirit in the realm of the good and of the spiritual world.

The true joy we seek does not come from pleasure. When we are no longer automatically moved by an attraction to pleasure nor fear pain, we find a peace and stability in our life. We can see the divine providence of God at work. We understand how God uses our life's situation in the world as both grace and judgment. We appreciate how we grow through our self-control to avoid pleasure and exercise patience in our times of difficulty.

In suffering we are attracted to God and tested so we will be stronger to resist future sins. Our difficulties may not be due to our own sinfulness but due to that of others. In this fallen world stuff happens and we need to be prepared to respond to all kinds of difficulty with love and patience. Our ability to endure with patience is a sign of our recognition of God's power and wisdom. We thank God for all he sends to us along our path of life. It is through our avoidance of temptations and endurance of pain that we grow our faith in Him and find true joy.

As we say in the Lord's Pray, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."

Reference: Orthodox Spirituality, pp 170-176

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