Category Archives: Unseen Warfare

With fear and trembling…

With spring now here I’ve started to become increasingly aware of the fact that I leave for Holy Cross in only about four more months. This is much more than just another move to a new apartment, this means a trip from the bottom of the US to the top, and to add to the mix, with a (will be then) eleven month old baby.

This in itself is pretty scary. I am uprooting my family from the relative comfortableness of our current life and trusting that everything will work out once we’re there. But ah! Once we’re there!

It is here that my thinking usually shifts to the reason I am going to the school in the first place; I seek to dedicate my life to God and His people as one of His priests. The closer the time comes to officially start down this path, the more nervous I get. This is even scarier than moving my family across the country.

When I think about being a priest, my mind immediately recalls how unworthy of such a duty I am. Growing up, I always viewed preachers and priests as almost “other” than myself. They were holy men who prayed frequently, effortlessly dispensed advice and seemed destined to do what they were doing. With my own journey however I’ve come to see priests differently, as real people, just like myself, with their own fears, problems, stresses and desires.  Again, just like myself, with my own fears, problems, stresses and desires.  I live far from what I would consider a holy life; I pray far more infrequently than I should, I’m often confused myself as to the best course of action, and I still have a lot to work on in taming the various passions which sometimes drive me.

All of this is possible, and the first step is always the same: we must recognize and then acknowledge our failings. I thank God that I have found myself in a position where I have to do this starting now, where there is no more time to “get to it later.”  The fact that I am scared at the thought of the responsibility I seek to take on drives me to examine and seek to better myself, to do what I can to try and prove myself worthy of that responsibility.

You don’t have to take such a drastic step to awaken your own self to this however. We all have responsibilities, whether or our spouse, kids, co-workers or what have you. Strive to be a good example to who ever it is that depends on you or who you really care about. Live your life in such a way that those around you honestly want to know what it is that you have that they seem not to. In our times it is no longer expected that someone is a Christian. It is much more common to be agnostic, or unconcerned, or even lukewarm to the point of being insincere. The upright Christian is becoming rarer to find and hence more valuable.

We are all called to the priesthood in our lives, to tell the World of the Good News and to teach, guide and help each other. It is my prayer that God, seeing us striving to overcome ourselves and reaching out to Him, in fear and trembling, will grant us grace and mercy and draw us closer to Him. Amen.

IC | XC
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NI | KA


Nothing else did You ever desire or seek from me, and nothing else do You desire or seek from me now.

Almighty King of heaven and earth! Who made You enter my unworthy heart, when I am accursed, and poor, and blind, and naked? No one, of course, but Your immeasurable love for me. O uncreated love! O love most sweet! What do You want of me, beggar that I am? Nothing, as I see and understand, except my love for You; nothing, except that no other fire should burn on the altar of my heart but the fire of my love for You, which would consume all love and all desire other than that of bringing myself to You as a burnt offering and fragrant incense. Nothing else did You ever desire or seek from me, and nothing else do You desire or seek from me now. So hear now, O Lord, the vows of my heart! See, I combine my desire with Your desire; and as You have given the whole of Yourself to me, so I give the whole of myself to You, to be wholly in You. I know, O Lord, that this cannot be, unless I renounce myself wholly; it cannot be if any trace of self-love remains in me, if I harbor some sympathy or disposition towards a will of my own, thoughts of my own, or some self-pandering habits of my own. Therefore I desire and I strive from now onwards to oppose myself in all that is not acceptable to You,  even if everything in me and outside me should rebel against it. By myself, I have not strength enough to succeed in this. But since from now on You are with me, I daringly trust that You Yourself will accomplish in me all that is needed. I seek and strive that my heart may be as one with Your heart; and I trust that Your grace will grant me this. I seek and strive to see nothing and to hear nothing, to think of nothing and have sympathy with nothing, except that which Your will, determined by Your commandments, leads me to and shows, and I trust that it will be granted me by Your power working in me. I strive and I seek not to let attention stray from the heart, where You dwell, there to gaze at You unceasingly and be warmed by the rays of light issuing from You; and I trust that this will be given me by the touch and embrace of Your hands. I strive and seek for You alone to be henceforth my light, strength and joy; and I trust to be given this by Your saving action on my inner man. It is of this that I pray and shall always continue to pray. O merciful Lord, grant me this, grant me this.

This is prayer which the authors of Unseen Warfare recommend to be prayed after receiving Holy Communion, and what a powerful prayer it is!

In it we have the humble confession of the person praying it, acknowledging that they themselves have done nothing worthy of God entering into their very being.

In it we see just what it is that God wants us from us; He doesn’t demand anything outlandish, anything that would stoke the pride – He wants only our love, in return for the divine love which He is so eager to pour out on us.

In it we have a firm resolution to conform ourselves to God’s will and to do what it is that He wants from us, while acknowledging that in order to do so we must deny ourselves and not give any room to self-pandering.

In it we have a confession that this is not something we can do on our own, that it not something that we can do without help. In confessing this we we simultaneously deny the original sin of Adam and Even which was just this: the belief that we, as human beings, can make our own way without God and do not need to rely on Him.

And finally, in it we have a firm statement of faith and trust in God. This is perhaps the hardest part; to relinquish the control which we try to have over ourselves and our lives, and to trust that once we do so, and invite God’s eager help, that He will indeed provide for and take care of us.

This, in my opinion, is a very amazing prayer which can be said at any time. I hope that I – and whoever else might come across this prayer – can take it to heart, and once it’s there, pray it from the heart with all sincerity and surety of the love of God.

IC | XC
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NI | KA


God will take away your gifts…

So here we are, ending the third day of the Great Fast. This is the time of the year when we are to really strive to live lives pleasing to God, to purify ourselves of harmful passions, and to fill our lives with spiritual thing things. I’ve been reading a wholly edifying book known as the Unseen Warfare which was written by a Roman Catholic priest in the 1600s, and over time made its way to Mt. Athos, and then to Russia where two Eastern Orthodox monks, St. Nikodemus and St. Theophan translated, edited, and made some changes to it.

In chapter 20, How to overcome negligence, it states:

Let the conviction never leave your thought that a single raising of your mind to God, and a single humble genuflexion to His glory and in His honour has infinitely more value than all the treasures of the world; that every time we banish negligence and force ourselves  to do the work we should with diligence, Angles in heaven prepare for us the crown of a glorious victory; and that, on the contrary, not only has God no crowns for the negligent, but that little by little He takes back from them the gifts He bestowed upon them for their former diligence in His service, and will finally deprive them of His kingdom if they continue to be negligent, as He said in the parable of guests bidden to supper, who were too lazy to come: ‘For I say unto you, that none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper’ (Luke xiv. 24).

This is a very power statement, and one that I believe we should really think over during this lenten period.  It is only be continuing to progress on the spiritual path, by continuing to subdue and conquer our harmful passions and striving to align our will with the will of God that we can be assured of the Kingdom of God. If we are negligent in this task, and focus instead of gratifying our own base instincts and working to please our selves, or even if we just stop in a neutral position, God won’t punish us right away, but the longer we wait to restart our work, the more of His grace God removes from us until we have fallen so far from Him that we lose our salvation.

I pray that God will keep us all strong over the next 46 days until Easter, that we will have the strength, courage, and conviction to run the entire course of the fast, and that we can use this time of “concentrated Christianity” to regain what Grace we’ve lost, and refocus our energies into worshiping the Most Holy Trinity. May God bless you all!

IC | XC
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NI | KA


How to treat a sinner…

The authors of Unseen Warfare give some very sage advise when it comes to witnessing someone else sin, and I think that it is some advice that has largely been neglected today. People tend to have this image of Christians that we should be perfect, and that if we aren’t perfect then we aren’t true Christians. The reality of the fact though is that the only difference between a true Christian and a non-Christian is that we as Christians recognize, acknowledge, and attempt to cut off our sin. We still sin. It is part of our fallen nature. With that in mind, Unseen Warfare states:

Never allow yourself boldly to judge your neighbour; judge and condemn no one, especially for the particular bodily sin of which we are speaking [lust]. If someone has manifestly fallen into it, rather have compassion and pity for him. Do not be indignant with him or laugh at him, but let his example be a lesson in humilty to you; realising that you too are extremely weak and as easily moved to sin as dust on the road, say to yourlf: ‘He fell today, but tomorrow I shall fall.’

Rather than seeing someone sinning, or who has sinned, and thinking like the Publican “At least I am not like them” we should be moved to feel compassion for them since we, like them, are just as vulnerable, and indeed if we get into a habit of judging others and feeling ourselves better than them then we will fall into the worst sin of all, <b>pride</b>.

Imagine it like this: You are in the middle of a ferocious war. It is you and the rest of humanity against an evil pervading force. Do you laugh at or scorn a member of your own army when they fall? No! You realize what it was that made them fall so that you are not attacked the same way, and then you mourn for your fallen comrade.

As the saying goes, we are not an island. Each and every single human being on this earth is a creation of the Lord God Almighty, and so it is a sad thing when any single one of them falls away from the way which God would have us.

IC | XC
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NI |KA


Christian Warriors

Archangel Michael

I came across this very direct and very insightful bit of information while continuing my reading of Unseen Warfare. It is the very first paragraph of Chapter 16 which is titled “How a warrior of Christ should prepare for battle in the moring:”

As soon as you wake up in the morning, pray for a while saying: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me.’ Then your first work should be to shut yourself in your own heart, as if taking up position in the arena. Having established yourself there, bring yourself to the consciousness and feeling that your enemy and the passionate urge agaisnt which you struggle at the moment is already there, on your left, ready for immediate attack; therefore rouse against them a firm resolve to conquer or die, but never submit. Realise also that on your right there stands, invisibly present, your Commander, our Lord Jesus Christ, with His Holy Mother and a host of holy Angels, with the Archangel Michael at their head, ready to come to your aid. So take heart and be of good cheer.

What a brilliant visual of the warfare we are all involved in and what hearting one as well! I try to say a set of morning prayers each morning (the usual Glory Be… O Heavenly King… Most Holy Trinity… Come let us worship and bow down… etc.) though sadly the days I don’t do it outnumber the days that I do. However, I can definately tell a difference throughout the day from when I do say my morning prayers and when I do not.

The Fathers teach us that prayer is the single most effective weapon against our enemeis–both internal and external.  I don’t know about you, but I find it very comforting to know that as I’m praying, as I’m waging a holy war against my passions and the demons who delight in them, I have the mighty Commander, our Champion Defender, and the Heavenly Army fighting with me. Glory be to God!

IC | XC
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NI | KA


Glory to God for His Wisdom!

It’s funny how things turn out sometimes, and moments when you feel like God is smacking you in the face to make you realize something. There’s a certain sin which I really struggle with. It seems like when the urge to commit this sin comes I am powerless to resist it, even with full knowledge that it displeases God and that I should not do it. Well, again yesterday I fell into the sin.

A little bit later, after reflecting on my struggle with this sin and wondering why it is that I cannot seem to fight against it, I was reading Unseen Warfare when I came across this passage, and felt like it was speaking directly to me, at that very moment:

So let no one dream of acquiring a true Christian disposition and Christian virtue, and of working for God as he should, if he does not want to compel himself to renounce and overcome all the passionate impulses of the will of the flesh, whether great or small, which he was formerly accustomed to satisfy, willingly and fondly. The chief reason why so few people attain to full Christian perfection is exactly their reluctance, through self-pity, to force themselves to deny themsleves absolutely everything.

It really got me thinking how my weakness was due to not being fully commited to stopping the sin, that my passionate body and will still enjoy this particular sin. Even though I know that it is wrong, that it is an offence to God, it is in the end my carnal desire which wins out because Iam still fond of the act.

If that wasn’t enough, today’s Epistle reading comes from Romans 6:3-11 where it says:

Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the ressurection. We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin. For a dead person has been absolved from sin. If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. We know that Christ raised from the dead, dies no more, death no longer has power over him. As to his death he died to sin once and for all; as to his life, he lives for God. Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as being dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus. [Emphasis mine of course]

Here again I feel like the timing is more than a coincidence. As an Orthodox Christian I believe that God sometimes allows us to fall into sin, or to suffer in some way in order to teach and strengthen us. God’s wisdom far surpasses our limited mortal reason and I really believe now that God allowed that logismoi (roughly and simplisitically, a sinful thought urging towards action) to enter my head, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to fight if off, at the time that it did so that it would be followed by these two readings so that I would be able to more fully appreciate what they were saying.

God has done His part, now it is up to me to accept this widom and apply it to my life. Glory be to God!


Avoiding Spiritual Delusion

I was able to continuing reading Unseen Warfare last night and specifically I read a chapter titled “How to train one’s will to have but one ultimate aim in all things, both external and internal—to please God.” As Christians this is our ultimate aim, to re-align our will with the will of God and this is what the Church teaches us is pleasing to God. It is also perhaps the hardest thing will ever try to achieve in our lives.

As descendents of Adam we all are subject to our passions. These passions, these desires of our will have become what drives almost all of us; the fulfillment of them have become for the majority of the world the chief end of life:

For our nature is so accustomed to please itself, that it seeks its own comfort and pleasure in all its doings, even the most righteous and spiritual, and secretly and lustfully feeds on it as though it were food.

Did you catch that? Our will seeks its own pleasure even in the most righteous and spiritual activities. This is what I am most scared of I think, that I will fall into what is called prelest. Prelest is a Russian word which is used because is there is no exact word in English to mean what it means, though it can generally be termed “spiritual delusion.” Prelest is doing spiritual things such as praying constantly, helping others, etc. out of love of doing the acts in-of-themselves, rather than doing them in order to please God. It is loving to do spiritual things because they make you feel spiritual, rather than doing them in order to draw yourself closer to God.

This really scares me because it is such a subtle deception. I could think that I am doing so well, worshiping God fully, but really be worshiping my own ego and my own will. In fact, the book goes on to say:

And so it happens that when we see the chance of spiritual doing lying before us, we immediately desire it and impetuously rush towards it; yet not as men moved by the will of God, nor for the sole purpose of pleasing Him, but for the sake of the comfort and joy which is born in us, when we desire and seek that which God wants from us. This prelest is the better concealed and hidden, the higher and more spiritual is the nature of what we desire. [emphasis mine]

Now, the author does give us the solution to this problem, and on the surface it makes a lot of sense. However even this doesn’t seem like an easy thing to do when you really think about how you would carry it out. He tells us:

When there lies before you some work, which accords with the will of God, or is good in itself, do not immediately incline your will towards it and do not desire it, without previously raising your mind to God, so as to be clear whether it is the direct will fo God that you should desire and perform such actions and whether they would be acceptable to God. And when you compose your thoughts in such a way that the inclination of your will is determined by God’s will itself, then wish it and do it, but only because God wishes it, for the sake of pleasing Him and for His glory alone.

Wow. Basically, what this is saying is that even we have the opportunity to do some spiritual work, or some good thing, we shouldn’t immediately do it, but pray about it and ask God if He wants us to do it, and to do it right then. Not only that, but also:

As regards activities whose completion takes a more or less long time, or which go on continually, we should establish in our heart a firm resolve to practice them solely to please God, and this not merely in the beginning, when we undertake them, but later too this right resolve should be renewed frequently to the very end. For if you fail to do this, you will be in danger of becoming once more enmeshed in the self-love so natural to us, which, inclining more towards pleasing ourselves than towards pleasing God, in the course of time often succeeds in turning us imperceptibly away from our original good disposition and in changing our first good aims and intentions.

This isn’t as simple as “making up my mind” to do this. It will be only by the grace of God that I can keep this in mind, to recognize when I should be asking God before acting, and, God willing, I will be kept free of any prelest. Please, pray for me! I also sincerely hope that any one who reads this might also take the advice to heart. God bless!

IC | XC
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NI | KA


The Time of the Battle…

… the warriors who take part in this unseen war are all who are Christians; and their commander is our Lord Jesus Christ, surrounded and accompanied by His marshals and generals, that is, by all the heirarchies of angels and saints. The arena, the field of battle, the site where the fight actually takes place is our own heart and all our inner man. The time of the battle is our whole life.

These words, written by St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain in the forward to his rendering of Unseen Warfare*, sum up in a graphic way the life of the Christian. Christ himself states in Matthew: “Do not think  that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword.” That is, the message of Christ does not mean that we can sit back and enjoy peace, rather it is a call to arms.

[Y]ou must ceaselessly fight against yourself and against everything that panders to your own wills, that incites and supports them.

Here the author of Unseen Warfare defines our enemies. Using these quotes we can draw up a general battleplan:

1. Every Christian is to be a warrior.
2. Our commander is Christ
3. Christ, as well as each Christian, is supported by His generals – the Angels        and the Saints.
4. The battle field lies within each of us, in our own hearts.
5. Our enemies are our passions and everything which supports them, which       includes the demons.
6. The battle will last our entire life.

Equating the Christian with a warrior is nothing new, but what exactly does that mean? The Orthodox Church teaches that our great task here on earth is to struggle to regain our natural state of being; the way humanity was before the Fall.  The way this is done is by waging an ‘unseen warfare’ against our enemies, the chief of which is our passions.

Our passions are those desires and impulses which we drive us to seek our own will above the will of God. They are not bad in of themselves (being created by God) but ever since the Fall we have largely lost the ability to control them. Have you ever noticed how quick to anger we can become if wefeel someone has slighted us? How easily we are subdued by lust? The demons love the lack of control we have and they are quick to manipulate our passions to steer us away from God.

Luckily we are not left to fight these enemies on our own! We have on our side all the legion of Angels in heaven, as well as the saints who have gone before us. These saints have already fought the same war we are fighting now. They have overcome and subdued their enemies and are quick to help us if we ask. More powerfulful than all of these though is our commander, Christ Jesus – God Himself! They key though is that we absolutely must ask for assistance, and put our trust fully into our commander. During a battle each individual soldier might not be able to know or understand the entire scope of what is going on around them. All they are aware of is the current enemy they are facing and they must trust that the general has an overall command and understanding of the war at large. So too must we trust that God knows what we are facing, as well as what is to come!

This battle is not one that we will ever be able to completely win in this lifetime. There’s no such thing as ‘once saved, always saved’ since there is no way to completely conquer these passions while we are alive. So, we must struggle daily in the battle with the hope that at the end we will be victorious.

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Lofty speech aside, this is a battle which I personally am having a terrible time with. It is so incredibly easy to push God out of my mind and to not be aware of the battle which is constantly raging. There is one particular sin which, no matter how aweful and remorseful I feel afterwards, I seem to keep commiting. I feel like I am only now beginning my ‘training’ if you will on how to fight back against my enemies and I am still so very weak.

Please, pray for me that God will send me an army of his servents to help me in the fight.

Likewise, I pray the same for all of you!

As the saying goes: Iesou Christos nika  — Jesus Christ conqueres!

IC | XC
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NI | KA

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*This reference, and all future references to the book Unseen Warfare refers to the edition published by the St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press in New York.