Monday, February 25, 2008

The Staretz on Spiritual Warfare

St. Silouan the Staretz speaks much of humility: to humble our souls. Humility is necessary for obedience, for love, and also for combat against evil. It seems so much suffering is brought upon ourselves, from within ourselves, when we become agitated and irritated over daily events and encounters.

Reading the thoughts of St. Silouan bring peace in the reading, and they express beautifully the Way of Christ, His Truth, His Life. Our friend the staretz shares with us how to proceed in God's commandments.

"If you have followed your own will, then you are conquered by the enemy, and despondency will come upon your soul. If you hate your fellow it means that you have fallen away from God, and an evil spirit has taken possession of you.

"But if you do good unto your brother you will gain rest for your conscience. If yuou subdue your own will your enemies will be driven off, and you will receive peace in your soul.

"If you forgive your brother the affronts he puts upon you, and love your enemies, then you will receive forgiveness for your sins, and the Lord will let you come to know the love of the Holy Spirit.

"And when you have humbled yourself entirely, you will find perfect rest in God.

"Let us love our fellows, and the Lord will love us. Think not, O my soul, that the Lord loveth thee if thou look askance upon any man. Rahter is it then that thou art beloved of the devils, in that thou hast become their servant; but be not slow to repent, and ask the Lord for strength to love thy brother, and thou wilt then see that there is peace in thy soul....

"The spiritual fruits of love are plain: peace and joy in the soul, with all men dear to you, and you shed abundant tears for your fellow-man and for every thing taht hath breath and all creation....

"St John the Divine declares that God's commandments are not grievous but a light burden. But they are light only where there is love--where love is not present everything is difficult. Therefore, preserve love and lose it not, for though it is possible to recover love, this can only be at the cost of many tears and prayers, and without love life on earth is hard. To continue in malice is death to the soul, from which may the Lord save us."

These thoughts which emphasize the teachings of Jesus Christ, flesh out for us by another human being, the reality of what Jesus asks of us--and what we MUST DO. In suffering, we must be careful to not suffer that which is a suffering of our own lack of love and forgiveness; this is not suffering brought by God as gift but rather suffering in collusion with the devil. It is evil suffering, hate suffering, self-pitying suffering. As St. Silouan says, it is death to the soul.

Forgiveness, humility, obedience, love--all must be in place as the front guard against the legion of devils which would rather us retain hurt and anger--sufferings of the soul that come from insults, injuries, and even vicious crimes against us. If we do not forgive and love (humble ourselves to do this out of obedience to Jesus Christ who did all this even though He Is God and is Love Incarnate), we are not victim souls of the Sacred Heart of Jesus but rather make ourselves victims souls of Satan. This is so true.

St. Silouan offers a test. One day pray to the Holy Spirit to love all mankind, and go about the day and night in love and forgiveness. The next day, live without love and forgiveness, and we will see the difference. Well, I do not even want to risk that day without love, for I have had them--I have had days of anger, hurt, self-pity, justified agony from grievous injuries--but yet struggle with forgivenss and letting anger breed even more hate. I didn't think I was hating, but to not forgive those who have hurt us most, is the opposite of love. That is hate. How do we forgive? It takes pray, desire to forgive, and practice of the will to forgive. The Holy Spirit will work on our souls, minds, hearts and bodies; one day we will realize we have no hate and only love for that person or situation that was so hurtful.

St. Silouan's patron saint is St. Simeon the Stylite. Simeon was seven years old when Jeuss appeared to him, and the young boy asked Jesus how they crucified Him. Jesus replied, stretching out His arms, "Thus did crucify Me; but it was My desire. And do thou crucify thyself with Me every day."

"Thus must we urge ourselves all our lives to do good, and above all we must forgive others their trespasses, and the Lord will then not be mindful of our own sins, and will give us the grace of the Holy Spirit."

St. Silouan reminds us again to humble ourselves before God and man. He relates the vision of devils assailing him, and of praying to the Lord, and of God telling him: "Keep thy mind in hell, and despair not." So from then on, he never forgot what could await his soul, and yet he did not despair but yearned after the Lord all the more, and sought Him in tears, and forgave and loved all God's creation. He pondered his death and the thought of the abode of the dark prison of hell, and all the more he longed for God, for the Lord Who his soul knew and loved.

St.Silouan admonishes souls to repent and then we will perceive the mercy of the Lord. He warns to set aside visions for they are a source of evil pride and sweet vanity. Where there is no lowly spirit of repentance, the trouble lies therein, "for without humility, it is impossible to vanquish the enemy".

What to do if our soul is disquieted and we feel an evil spirit working within us? St. Silouan says, " not quail but confess yourself thoroughly and earnestly, and entreat a lowly spirit of the Lord, and the Lord will give without fail. then, according to the measure of your humility, you will be sensible of grace within you; and when your soul finally humbles herself, then will you attain perfect rest.

"And this is the war man wages his life long.

"The soul that has come to know the Lord through the Holy Spirit does not take fright if afterwards she suffer beguilement, but remembering the love of God, and knowing that conflict with the enemy is loosed on her because of vanity and pride, humbles herself and begs the Lord for healing, and the Lord heals--sometimes swiftly, sometimes slowly and gradually....

"Prayer to be clear and unsullied requires inner peace; but peace cannot exist in the soul without obedience and temperance.

"The holy Fathers ranked obedience above fasting and prayer since a man who knows not obedience may think of himself as a spiritual wrestler and man of prayer, whereas he who has excised his self-will and put himself under obedience in all things [to his confessor and spiritual director] serene in mind.

"The soul's war with the enemy lasts until death. And, whereas in ordinary warfare only the body suffers, in our war, which is harder and more dangerous, the soul may perish....

"By the grace of God I have come to know that the Lord mercifully watches over us, and not one prayer nor a single good thought is lost with God. The Lord often seems not to hear us; but that is only because we are proud, and what we ask would not be for our good. Pride is difficult to detect in oneself, but the Lord leaves the proud to be tormented by their impotence until they humble themselves. But when the soul humbles herself, the enemy in vanquished, and teh soul finds deep rest in God.

"Who is there who can realize what paradise is? He who bears within him the Holy spirit can realize it in part, since paradise is the Kingdom of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spriit both in heaven and on earth is one and the same.

"To overcome self-love we need to be for ever humbling ourselves. This is a mighty science not quickly to be mastered. One must reckon oneself the worst of men, and condemn onself to hell. In this way i sth esoul humbled, and the tears of repentance are made to flow which give birth to joy. It is well to school the soul to think, 'I am going to burn in the fires of hell.' But, alas, few understand this. Many there are who despair and fall by the wayside. Their souls sink into a wild state, and then they have no desire to pray or to read or even to think on God.

"Man must condemn himself in his soul but not despair fo the compassiona dn love of God. He must acquire a lowly and contrite spirit, and then all intrusive thoughts will depart, and his mind will be purified. But at the same time he must know his own capacity, so as not to overburden his soul. Learn to know yourself, and see to it that your soul's endeavor is within her strength....Not all souls are equally strong.

"...He who lives according the the commandments is aware every hour and minute of grace in his soul. Yet there are people who do not discern the coming of grace....

"Train yourself to cut off an intrusive thought immediately. And if you are forgetful and fail to chase them away at once, bring God your repentance. Be at pains over this, so that you acquire the habit. the soul is a creature of habit: according t othe habit you have acquired, so will you act all the rest of your life.

"The love of God has various forms. The man who wrestles with wrong thoughts loves God in his way. He who struggles against sin and asks God to give him the strength not to sin, but yet falls into sin again because of his infirmity, and sorrows and repents has grace in the depths of his soul and mind, but his passions are not yet overcome. But the man who has conquered his passions now knows no conflict: all his concern is to watch himself in all things lest he fall into sin. Grace, great and perceptible, is his.

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

This is the conclusion of thoughts of St. Silouan to be shared from the book compiled by Sofrony the Archmandrite, the startetz's student and friend. Much to ponder and pray, particularly to obey the commandments, humble oneself, forgive others, and love all peoples--and very much love those who do not love in return.

Pray to the Holy Spirit, and the help and training will come. Pray for each: obedience, humility, forgiveness, love. These graces will be given, sometimes quickly, sometimes over a long period of time. Another spiritual writer explained that the spiritual climb is not like the earthly journey. There can be no stopping to rest in the spiritual climb! One falls and loses grace if one stops for a moment!


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