Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Spiritual Deception - How the Demons Mislead Us Through Our “Passions”

What is it that prevents us from living in total conformity with Christ’s teaching? For myself, I find this a most difficult task. What is it that keeps us from enabling the part of the Lord’s Prayer that reads, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven”?  What holds us back and allows us to fall off the path we regularly pray for help to follow? 

The Church Fathers give us the answer: It is the work of the demons who are busily taking our natural impulses and turning them into “passions.”  

What do we mean by “passions”? Fr. Dn. Steenberg says that “‘passions’ are those impulses of the soul, of the heart (and thus, also of the body), which it suffers ‘passively’.  God gave us natural impulses.  When the soul is no longer in control of them they become “Passions.”  Notice the emphasis on “passive.” We find ourselves in a condition where we do not seem to be in control of all our actions and can easily fly off into a fit of anger or show our hatred of another person.  This is the result of a God given gift turned into an evil action.  Our soul has relinquished it power to another power.

We know that what God has created is “good.” (Gen 1) Therefore, our impulses that lead to behavior such as anger must, in some form, also be good.  For example, anger directed at the demons is appropriate and necessary for our spiritual growth.  But anger that lashes out at friends and neighbors is not.  One is where the soul is in control and the other is where the soul remains passive.   When the demons are active within us, our soul is no longer in control.  It becomes like a prisoner, captured by a demonic force.  The soul becomes passive, constrained in its actions.  Under this condition our natural instincts turn into “passions,” taking control of our life without proper restraint by our soul.  Rather than being used to help us attain God’s Kingdom, they cause us to lead a sinful life and distance us from God.  Often, I have a feeling of helplessness when confronting my own sinfulness.  Why do I do these things, I frequently ask myself.  I know better, it’s not what I want to do, but yet, I am unable to act appropriately. I know it is because my soul has become passive.  But why?  How does one put it back in control?

To live the Orthodox Christian life we need to understand this issue.  We need clarity about how our best intentions and highest desires get transmuted into lesser and undesired actions that tend to separate us from God and His Kingdom.  Can you see how our desire for self-satisfaction, to seek what feels “good’ is part of this issue?  Anger comes about when we are denied what we desire.  Hatred comes about when someone does not act the way we want them to act.  Our focus on self-satisfaction is the work of demons.  Our higher values are reduced to earthly self-centered terms of feeling good, being satisfied or happy.  Steenberg says, “in the Christian vision of man, those things that the world calls “good” in his emotional state are in fact known to be deceptions, traps, and pitfalls in the spiritual struggle.”

We must uncover the causes of our “passions.”  We must understand more clearly how the  instincts God has given us for the purposes of His Kingdom are being used by demonic forces to keep us from Him.  It is imperative that we learn how to control and overcome these negative forces that are at work within each of us.  This is the Christian struggle that demands our top priority.  This is also a struggle we cannot complete on our own. It is a struggle where we need God’s help and the shelter, guidance and support of the Church, its ministers, sacraments and supportive members.  When we take our spiritual life seriously, we necessarily work very hard to reorient our entire life toward God’s Kingdom.

St. Didochus writes,
So long as the soul is worldly-minded, it remains unmoved and untroubled––however much it sees people trampling justice underfoot.  Preoccupied with its own desires, it pays no attention to the justice of God.  When, however, because of its disdain for this world and its love for God, it begins to rise above passions it cannot bear, even in its dreams, to see justice set at naught.

Once we accept that we are under attack, and understand that our soul is being held captive, then we can constructively fight back.  As we engage in this struggle to liberate our soul, we are drawn closer and closer to a vision of God’s Kingdom.  We experience more and more the unconditional love of God.  Our misuse of our instincts abates.  We begin to find that we can control unwanted actions with God’s help.  As this focus on the Kingdom grows, we find our passions also become focused more and more on the Kingdom.  Our natural impulses become constrained.  It is like someone has taken hold of the reins of a runaway horse cart.  The wild horses being like our uncontrolled passions.  The holder of the reins being our soul. 

Steenberg suggests that this world opposes a life in Christ.  He says,
“It does not acknowledge the Kingdom of God; it rejects even more potentially the reality of demonic foes; and it has lost all sense of a proper distinction between natural impulse and the dominating passionate impulse…”

If we want to live Christ’s vision, we need to accept the Scripture and the Church's vision of the realities of the invisible realm, and learn how it works against us.  This will lead us to an appreciation of the ascetical and sacramental life taught by the church. It will give us motivation to engage in such practices.  The authentic Christian life one that involves a struggle.  It is not about some self determined idea about our satisfaction.

What are we to do?
Abba Matoes says,
Satan does not know by what passion the soul can be overcome.  He sows, but without knowing if he will reap, sometimes thoughts of fornication, sometimes thoughts of lander, and similarity for the other passions.  He supplies nourishment to the passion which he sees the soul is slipping towards.

The devil hits us everywhere until he finds our weakness and then concentrates on that area. We need to acknowledge our weaknesses. What is your weakness that the demons are attacking and having success?  

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