Sunday, January 31, 2016

Unseen Warfare: How the devil delays us from doing good ( Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite )

Those, who have realised how dangerous and evil is the life they lead, the devil succeeds in keeping in his power, mainly by the following simple but all-powerful suggestion: ‘Later, later; tomorrow, to-morrow.” And the poor sinner, deluded by the appearance of good intention accompanying this suggestion, decides: ‘Indeed, to-morrow; to-day I shall finish what I have to do, and then, free of all care, will put myself in the hands of Divine grace and will follow unswervingly the path of spiritual life. To-day I shall do this and that; to-morrow I shall repent.” This is the net of the devil, my brother, with which he catches a great many, and holds the whole world in his hands. The reason why this net catches us so easily is our negligence and blindness. Nothing but negligence and
blindness can explain why, when the whole of our salvation and all the glory of God are at stake, we fail to use immediately the most easy and simple and yet the most effective weapon, namely: to say to ourselves, resolutely and energetically: ‘This moment! 

I shall start spiritual life this moment, and not later; I shall repent now, instead of tomorrow. Now, this moment is in my hands, tomorrow
and after is in the hands of God. Even if God will grant me’ tomorrow and after, can I be sure that I shall have tomorrow he same good thought urging me to mend my ways?’ Moreover, how senseless it is when, for example, a sure remedy is offered for curing one’s illness, to say: ‘ Wait, let me be sick a little longer!” And a man who delays the work of salvation does exactly this.
So, if you wish to be free of the prelest of the enemy and to over come him, take up at once this trusty weapon against him and obey immediately in actual deed the good thoughts and promptings coming from the Lord and calling you to repent. Do not allow the slightest delay, do not permit yourself to say: ‘I have made a firm resolve to repent a little later and I shall not abandon this
intention.” No, no, do not do this. Such resolutions have always proved deceptive and many people, who relied on them, have for many reasons remained unrepentant to the end of their lives.

(a) The first of these reasons is that our own resolutions are not based on distrust of ourselves and a firm trust in God. Therefore we are not devoid of high opinion of ourselves, the inevitable consequence of which is always withdrawal from us of the blessed Divine help and our consequent inevitable downfall. This is why a man, who decides in himself: ‘ To-morrow I shall abandon the path of sin without fail ‘, always meets with the opposite effect— that is, instead of rising up he falls down worse than before, which is followed by downfall after downfall. God sometimes allows this to happen deliberately, in order to bring the self-reliant to the realisation of his weakness and urge him to seek Divine help, renouncing and abandoning all trust in himself, since God’s help alone can be trusted. Do you want to know, 0 man, when your own decisions will be firm and reliable? When you abandon all trust in yourself and when all your hopes are based on humility and a steadfast trust in God alone.

(b) The second reason is that in making such resolutions we mostly have in view the beauty and radiance of virtue, which attract our will, however weak and impotent it may be; and so naturally the difficult side of virtue escapes our attention. To-day this side escapes notice, because the beauty of virtue strongly attracts our will; but to-morrow, when the usual works and cares present themselves, this attraction will not be so strong, although the intention is still remembered. When desire weakens, the will also becomes weaker or relapses into its natural impotence, and at the same time the difficult side of virtue stands out and strikes the eye; for the path of virtue is by its nature hard, and is hardest of all at the first step. Now let us suppose that the man, who decided yesterday to enter upon this path, today does so; he no longer feels any support for carrying out his decision. The desire has lost its
intensity, the will has weakened, nothing but obstacles are in sight—in himself, in the habitual course of his life, in the usual relationships with others. And so he decides: ‘I shall wait a while and gather my strength.” Thus he goes on waiting from day to day, and it is no wonder if he waits all his life. And yet had he started work yesterday, when the inspiring desire to mend his ways came
upon him, had he done one thing or another in obedience to this desire, had be introduced into his life something in this spirit— today his desire and will would not be so weak as to retreat in the face of obstacles. There must be obstacles, but if the man had something to lean on in himself, he would have overcome them, be it with difficulty. Had he been occupied all day with overcoming
them, the next day he would have felt them far less; and on the third day still less. Thus going further and further he would have become established on the right path.

(c) The third reason is that if the good of awakening from sinful sleep is not translated into practice, such awakenings do not easily come again; and even if they do come, their effect on the will is less strong than the first time. The will is no longer as quick in inclining towards following them and so, even if the resolve to do so is there, it is weak and lacks energy. Consequently, if a man was able to put off till to-morrow obedience to a stronger impulse and then lost it altogether, how much more easily will he do this a second time, and still more easily the third. And so it goes on: the more often obedience to good impulses is put off, the weaker their effect. After a time they lose their effect altogether, come and go without leaving a trace, and finally cease to come at all.
The man surrenders himself to his downfall: his heart hardens and he begins to feel an aversion from good impulses. Thus delay becomes a straight road to final perdition.

I shall add also that delays occur not only when an inner impulse is felt to exchange one’s bad life for a better, but also when a man already leads a good life. For instance, when an opportunity presents itself to do good and a man puts it off till to-morrow or till some other indefinite time. All that was said about the first form of delay applies to this second one, and it may lead to the same
consequences. Know that if someone misses a chance to do good, he not only deprives himself of the fruit of the good he might have done, but also offends God. God sends him a man in need, and he says: ‘Go away, later!’ Although he says this to a man, it is the same as saying it to God, Who has sent him. God will find him another benefactor; but the man who refused will have to answer.

Taken from "Unseen Warfare" By St.Nikodemos the Hagiorite

Not paying attention during the Divine Liturgy

One of the things that folks often mention when they’re making their confession is inattention during the divine services. So, I thought I would use this month’s column to talk about that important subject.
If we want to be focused during the services, one thing we can do is prepare adequately. And even if we can’t do all the prayers that the Church encourages us to do leading up to the Divine Liturgy, we can at least avoid over-stimulation from media. For example, if we stay up late Saturday night to watch an exciting movie and then read the paper or check out our favorite web-sites before we leave for Church—and then listen to music or text our friends right up to the very moment that we get out of the car and walk into the nave, then we’ll probably spend most of the Liturgy processing all those experiences and all that information instead of attending to what the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are trying to say to us. Another thing we can do is spend more time in the Divine Services. In fact, one of the main reasons why our services are so long is because the Church understands that it takes most of us a good while just to relax and calm down before we can ever get around to actually praying. A good rule of thumb that works for most people is one hour in the Divine Services equals about two minutes of genuine interaction with the Most Holy Trinity. Of course, that two minutes can be life changing and world-changing. However, if we never actually spend a full hour in the Divine Services, then we’ll never experience that two minutes of authentic prayer. So, the more time we invest in the services, the more focused we will be. 

But what if you have an infant or a small child, and you’re constantly in and out during the Divine Liturgy? What if you are an usher or a chanter or you sing in the choir? Does that mean that you’re never going to be able to really communicate with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Of course not, because there is a special grace that accompanies each of those roles. Folks who are raising young children or helping with the service are performing important tasks, and the Most Holy Trinity is going to make sure that they get what they need while they are doing their jobs. But we’re not going to receive any special grace if we just wander in and out of the nave because we’re bored or because we don’t like to be still.

Still another thing we can do to stay focused during the services is to be honest about who we are. For example, if we are concerned about our health or stressed about our job or anxious about a family situation, it’s not going to do any good at all to pretend like we’re not thinking about those issues. But rather than just obsess over those things, we should turn them into prayers. And there are lots of ways to do that: we can light a candle for each of those problems when we first go into the nave; we can make the sign of the cross or make a metanioa every time one of those subjects pops up in our mind; we can touch the priest’s vestments during the Great Entrance and attach all those topics to his intercessions; we can raise all of those issues up to the Most Holy Trinity when the deacon elevates the Holy Gifts over the altar. It may take quite a while and a lot of effort, but, eventually, we will clear all that stuff out of our hearts, and then we will be able to hear what the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are saying to us.
Worship is hard work—there’s no doubt about it. But it is the most important work that we do all week long, because it’s how we are getting closer to the Most Holy Trinity, it’s how the people we love are going to get closer to the Most Holy Trinity, and it’s how this world is being transformed through the love of the Most Holy Trinity. And the more attentive we are during at that work, the more those incredibly important goals will be realized.

Source: The Voice in the Wilderness: The Parish Newsletter of St. John the Forerunner Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church