The issue of spiritual deception is a most important one for those who seek union with God. We are engaged in a spiritual struggle in a world that is oriented to deceive us, convincing us that there is not really a struggle.
Without a doubt, the overriding spiritual challenge we all face today is one of misplaced goals based on a limited vision embedded in the norms of our secular society. What we seem to be seeking is self-satisfaction. We attend seminars, watch TV shows, surf internet sites, and read books to examine ourselves, but for what purpose? To discover how to be happy and content with ourselves. Is this not true? We are constantly encouraged to examine ourselves, to become our “true” self. We live in a world where the primary focus is on ourselves and our self-evaluation of our well being. This focus is based in large part on the “simplistic belief that one can be whatever one wishes to be, however one wishes to be it, so long as one does not harm others.”
The “goal of all our self-examination seems to be the discovery of the “me” with whom to be happy and satisfied.” This orientation is also embedded in the New Age and self-help movement. “These programs still orbit around the central point of self-satisfaction and contentment with the true self…. often times they do involve calls to change and transformation…” They “espouse a certain nuance: that between false self-love and true self-love, with one being bound by flaws and problems, and the other being authentic and exalted…” We experience a “direct call for self-assessment and change so that the false self being lived at present… can be shed in favor of the true self, which is the ready object of love….” The “true self one aims to discover and love through shedding such false selves is still one defined by one’s will and desires….” The “root of both is the same: satisfaction gained through contentment in self, as defined by the self.”
This ongoing quest of self-satisfaction is the result of a secular world view where “one sees the world, and the human life within it, primarily or wholly, in terms of “the ‘things of this age’––of worldly visions separated from the theological vision of the Church” that that aims at God’s Kingdom. The current world “ ...sees sin more and more as an outdated conviction of moral behavior; demons as old-fashioned…” We “describe that the world one knows to be simply psychological factors; heaven and hell as outmoded myths aimed at enforcing moral codes….” We deny the demonic forces that are at play.
We fail to generally recognize that the “world is the work of a Creator, that it is the venue of growth for a creature who has an opponent in that growth, that it is moving toward judgment, redemption and renewal. Without these things, the impetus for a call to genuine change into the sanctifying life of the Creator is easily lost…. This mentality is a deception and a trap to the Christian.”
Saint Basil the Great warns us as follows:
Be attentive to yourself (Deut. 15:9). That is, observe yourself carefully from every side. Let the eye of your soul be sleepless to guard you. You walk in the midst of snares (cf. Sirach 9:13). Hidden traps have been set by the enemy in many places. therefore observe everything, that you may be saved like a gazelle from traps and like a bird from snares (Prov. 6:5)
In today's world, “The overarching goal is the now. The human person is to instigate whatever helps, whatever modifications to his life and lifestyle may bring about a deeper satisfaction with whom and what he is. He is charged not to become something else (except inasmuch as he may be prompted to shed certain attributes which keep him from being who he really is at his core), but to become happy with the self that currently lies hidden.”
Wait a minute. What is the focus of the life of a Christian supposed to be. Is it this preoccupation with the self? Is life about self-satisfaction? No!
“How far this is from Christian calling!… Christianity is a life rooted in Christ’s own. Its charge is not to live for self but to live for Christ; and its goal is not satisfaction but transformation. The Christian is called to become, to enter into a newness of life that is another’s––that is Christ’s. He is to discover the “self” of his current existence, precisely so that he can work to change it into a life not defined by his will, but defined and made real by another––by God Himself. The life in Christ is a life of transformation into a New Person. It is a life that works toward resurrection, when the body of this death shall pass away (cf. Rom 7:24) and the glorified man will know the Lord of glory.”
The Christian task is not to simply engage in self-examination for the purpose of self-satisfaction, but to struggle against the forces of evil, engaging in spiritual warfare as the Apostle Paul frequently says. But, by today’s view, this struggle is not real. It is seen as delusional. How often do we discuss our struggle with evil forces? How often, outside of a sermon on Sunday, do we think about the self-sacrifice demanded of us for our salvation, or our true aim to be united with Christ in eternal life? Instead, in many ways, we are told over and over to forget the archaic ideas the Church teaches, but to think for ourselves and get rid of these outdated foolish notions the church says are truths. After all, we are told, they are only ideas imposed on us by organizations that want to control us. By Christians standards, this way of thinking says the devil has already won the battle. The effect is we are no longer willing to engage in the spiritual battle. We forsake our ascetical disciplines of old and instead follow the doctrine of self-satisfaction.
We must wake up! The spiritual struggle is real. It is central to our Christian teachings. We need to refocus our vision from the pleasures of this world to God’s Kingdom and economy. After all the Lord told us clearly, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things be added unto you (Matt 6:33).
Saint John Chrysostom writes,
[The Lord] came to do away with the old things, and to call us to a greater country. therefore he does all, to deliver us from things unnecessary, and from our affection of the earth. For this cause He mentioned the heathens also saying that the Gentiles seek after these things (Matt 6:32)––they whose whole labor is for the present life, who have no regard for the things to come, or any thought of heaven. But to you the chief things are not these which are present, but other than these. For we were not born for this end, that we should eat and drink and be clothed, but that we might please God, and attain unto the good things to come. Therefore as things here are secondary in our labor, so also in our prayer let them be secondary. Therefore He also said, Seek the Kingdom of Heaven and all these thing shall be added unto you.”
“If we are to struggle authentically toward our sanctification and redemption, this orientation toward and into the Kingdom must become paramount in us. Every act must be considered from the perspective of that future life and its attainment. When we do not act in such a way, we reduce our choices and our behaviors to the limited perspective of this brief sojourn. Rather than see the context of our behaviors, actions, and decision as the eternal life of God’s abiding Kingdom, we see it as the short span of this life, and adjust or whole vision and wold view accordingly.”
Saint Innocent of Alaska says
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to this earth in order to return to us our lost capacity to spend eternity in the blissful presence of God. He revealed to people that all their evil lies in sin and that no one through their own efforts can overcome the evil within themselves and attain communion with God. Sin, ingrained in our nature since the fall, stands between us and God like a high wall. If the Son of God had not descended to us through His mercy for us, had not taken on our human nature, and had not by His death conquered sin, all mankind wold have perished for ever! Now, thanks to Him, those who wish to cleanse themselves from evil can do so and return to God and obtain eternal bliss in the Kingdom of Heave.
Now what is this sinfulness we face? It is this self-centered outlook we have where we seek only self-satisfaction and determine our moral standards based on our own internal views. We have made ourselves into little gods where we set our own moral standards to fit with our own self-determined ideas. We ignore God, his teachings as revealed to us and as taught by the Church. We have forgotten that we are called to surrender to God, to give up our self-centeredness, to do as the Lords’ s prayer says, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” This involves a struggle against evil forces. These forces are real. To combat them we need the help from God. We need the help and assistance which can only be found in the Church.
If we can recognize our sinfulness “our life can be offered more wholly to the Lord, Who will make our lives His own. Self-will can be gradually overcome, so that we begin more fully to live that reality o identity in Christ which His own prayer proclaims: that we cry, “Our Father,” as, by nature, only His Son can do. This is what it means for man to live in Christ. He is born up in Christ’s life, through union with Him made a child of the Father. … Chris leads us our of separation from God, away from a “self” defined by our will and passions, into a new life that is the work of His hands, the fruit of His will, the created glory of His eternally, unending and glorious life.”
The unidentified quotes are from "Taking Stock of our Struggle", by Fr.Dn. Dr. Steenberg. His article describes in depth the nature of the struggle we must undertake. Look it up and read it.
The article can be found in no. 263 of The Orthodox Word, published by the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood (www.sainthermanpress.com). This is the source of the unidentified quotes above.
An Additional Thought
An Additional Thought
Orthodox Christians, surrounded by and already swimming in a sea of humanist-worldly philosophy and practice, must do everything possible to create their own islands, in that sea, of other-worldly, God-oriented thought and practice (praxis).
- Hieromonk Serafim of Platina