Spiritual Warfare

When you think of spiritual warfare, what comes to mind? Is participating in the Divine Liturgy and receiving communion one of them? A theme that surfaces over and over again in the Church’s heritage of liturgical prayer is spiritual warfare. Here are a couple of examples.

A Prayer after Receiving Communion
Freely Thou hast given me Thy Body for my food, O Thou who art a fire consuming the unworthy. Consume me not, O my Creator, but instead enter into my members, my veins, my heart. Consume the thorns of my transgressions. Cleanse my soul and sanctify my reasonings. Make firm my knees and body. Illumine my five senses. Nail me to the fear of Thee. Always protect, guard, and keep me from soul-destroying words and deeds. Cleanse me, purify me, and adorn me. Give me understanding and illumination. Show me to be a temple of Thy One Spirit, and not the home of many sins. May every evil thing, every carnal passion, flee from me as from a fire as I become Thy tabernacle through communion. I offer Thee as intercessors all the saints: the leaders of the bodiless hosts, Thy Forerunner, the wise apostles, and Thy pure and blameless Mother. Accept their prayers in Thy love, O my Christ, and make me, Thy servant, a child of light. For Thou art the only Sanctification and Light of our souls, O Good One, and to Thee, our Master and God, we ascribe glory day by day. Amen.

Let God Arise!
Let God arise!
And let His enemies be scattered!
And let those that hate Him flee from His presence!

Hail most precious and life-giving Cross of the Lord!

As smoke vanishes,
So let them vanish!
And as wax melts from the presence of fire,
So let the demons perish from the presence
Of those who love God
And sign themselves with the Sign of the Cross,
And say in gladness –

Hail most precious and life-giving Cross of the Lord!

For you drive away the demons
By the power of our Lord Jesus Christ crucified on you,
Who went down to Hell
And trampled on the power of the devil,
And gave us you,
His venerable Cross,
For driving away all enemies.

Hail most precious and life-giving Cross of the Lord!

O most precious and life-giving Cross of the Lord,
Help us! –
With our Holy Lady the Virgin Mother of God,
And all the Saints throughout the ages. Amen.

Hail most precious and life-giving Cross of the Lord!

Guard us by the holy and life-giving Cross
And keep us from all evil.

Into Your hands, O Lord, we commit our spirit.
Bless us,
Save us,
And grant us eternal life. Amen.

The agenda of the Holy Tradition is to overcome sin and death, whatever form they take in our life. Unless we enter the arena of spiritual effort in agreement with the Holy Spirit’s agenda of transformation, we will not know the joys of paradise. Perhaps it might be helpful to consider St. Paul’s exhortations regarding the Divine Liturgy in light of this heritage of liturgical prayer of which he is an early example.

So, it should not surprise us to find the heritage of spiritual counsel making the same point. St. Marcarius the Egyptian, is one among many who have reflected at length on this theme along what will be more familiar lines. Here is his counsel:

HOMILY XXV – On Spiritual Warfare
By St. Macarius of Egypt (ca. 300 – 391)

This homily teaches that no man, without being strengthened by Christ, is capable of overcoming the stumbling-blocks of the evil one, and what those who desire the divine glory must do. It teaches also that through Adam’s disobedience we came down into bondage to carnal passions, from which we are delivered by the mystery that is in the cross. It instructs us besides that the power of tears and of the divine fire is great.

1. Those upon whom the divine law is written, not with ink and letters, but implanted in hearts of flesh, these, having the eyes of their mind enlightened, and reaching after a hope, not tangible and seen, but invisible and immaterial, have power to get the better of the stumbling blocks of the evil one, not by themselves, but from the power that never can be defeated. But those who have not been honoured with God’s word, nor instructed by divine law, are vainly puffed up and fancy that by their own free will they can bring to nought the resources of sin which is only condemned through the mystery contained in the cross. It lies in the power of man’s free will to resist the devil, but it does not extend to an absolute command over the passions. “Except the Lord build the house,” it says, “and keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain, and the builder laboureth in vain.” (Ps. cxxvii. i.)

St Macarius the Egyptian with Cherub2. You cannot go upon the asp and basilisk and tread under your feet the lion and the dragon, without first purging yourself as far as human ability goes, and being strengthened by Him who said to the apostles, “Behold, I have given you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and upon all the power of the enemy.” If human nature had had force, without the whole armour of the Holy Ghost, to stand against the wiles of the devil, the apostle would not have said, “The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly” and again, “Whom the Lord shall destroy with the Spirit of His mouth.” That is why we are bidden of the Lord to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” If we are not delivered by the superior power from the fiery darts of the wicked one and admitted to the adoption of sons, our social existence is in vain; we are far from the power of God.

3. Accordingly, one who wishes to be a partaker of the divine glory, and to see as in a glass the form of Christ in the ruling faculty of his own soul, ought with insatiable affection and an inclination which is never filled, with all his heart and all his might, by night and when it is day, to seek the help which comes mightily from God, of which, as I have said before, it is impossible to partake, unless a man first abstains from the luxury of the world, from the desires of the opposing power, which is alien to the light, and is an activity of wickedness with no kinship to a good activity, but wholly estranged from it. Therefore, if you wish to know why we, who were created in honour and put to live in paradise, came at last to be compared unto the beasts that have no understanding and were made like to them, having fallen from the glory of innocence, understand that having become by the transgression the slaves of the fleshly passions, we shut ourselves out of the happy land of the living, and being reduced to captivity we are still sitting by the waters of Babylon; and because we are still held in Egypt, we have not yet inherited the land of promise, flowing with milk and honey. We have not yet been leavened with the leaven of sincerity, but are still in the leaven of wickedness. Our heart is not yet sprinkled with the blood of God; for the snare of hell, and the hook of sin is still fixed in it.

4. We have not yet taken to ourselves the gladness of Christ’s salvation, for the sting of death is still rooted in us. We have not yet put on the new man, which after God is created in holiness? since we have not yet put off the old man which is corrupt according to the sinful lusts. We have not yet borne the image of the heavenly nor been made conformed to His glory. We have not yet worshipped God in spirit and in truth, because sin reigns in our mortal body. We have not yet beheld the glory of the incorruptible, for we are still under the operation of the moonless night – We have not yet put on the armour of light, since we have not yet put off the armour and the darts and the works of darkness. We have not yet been transformed by the renewing of the mind, for we are still conformed to this world in the vanity of the mind We are not yet glorified with Christ, because we have not suffered with Him. We do not yet bear in our body the marks of Him, and are not in the secret of the cross of Christ, for we are still in the affections and lusts of the flesh. We are not yet heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, for the spirit of bondage is still in us, not that of adoption. We have not yet become the temple of God and the habitation of the Holy Ghost, for we are still the temple of idols and the hold of the spirits of wickedness because of our propensity to the passions.

5. In truth we have not yet acquired simplicity of conduct or the brightness of the mind. We have not yet had vouchsafed to us the guileless and reasonable milk and the growth invisible. The day has not yet dawned upon us, nor the day star risen in our hearts. We have not yet been mingled with the sun of righteousness nor begun to flash with His rays. We have not yet received the likeness of the Lord nor been made partakers of the divine nature. We have not yet become the genuine purple of the King, nor the unfalsified image of God. We are not yet smitten with the passionate love of God, or stricken by the spiritual charity of the Bridegroom. We are not yet acquainted with that ineffable communion, and have not experienced the power and peace that there is in sanctification. To sum it all up, we are not yet a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people forasmuch as we are still serpents, a generation of vipers.

6. How should we be anything but serpents, we who are not found in obedience to God, but in the disobedience which came by the serpent? How to bewail the calamity as it deserves, I cannot find. How to cry aloud and weep to Him that is able to expel the error lodged within me, I do not know. How shall I sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? How shall I lament for Jerusalem? How shall I flee from the grievous bondage of Pharaoh? How am I to quit the foul place of sojourn? How can I deny the bitter tyranny? How can I get out of the land of Egypt? How can I cross the Red Sea how pass the great wilderness? How escape perishing from the bite of serpents how to conquer the aliens? How shall I utterly destroy the heathen within me? How shall I receive the oracles of the law of God upon these tables of mine? How shall I see the true pillar of light, and of the cloud proceeding from the Holy Ghost? How shall I enjoy the manna of eternal delight? How drink the water from the life-giving rock? How am I to pass over Jordan, entering into the good land of promise? How am I to see the Captain of the Lord’s host, whom Joshua the son of Nun, when he saw Him, immediately fell down and worshipped?

7. Unless I go through all this and destroy the heathen within me, I cannot go into the sanctuary of God and rest, nor become a partaker of the glory of the King. Therefore, labour to become a child of God without fault, and to enter into that rest, whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Christ. Labour to be enrolled in the church in heaven with the firstborn that you may be found at the right hand of the majesty of the Most High. Labour to enter into the holy city, the Jerusalem that is at peace, that is above, above all, where also is Paradise. You have no other way to be admitted to these wonderful and blessed types, unless you pour out tears day and night, like him who says, “Every night wash I my bed, and water my couch with my tears.” You know well that they that sow in tears shall reap in joy. The prophet says boldly, “Hold not Thy peace at my tears,” and again, “Put my tears into Thy bottle.” Are not these things noted in Thy book? And, “My tears have been my meat day and night,” and in another psalm, “have mingled my drink with weeping.”

8. For the tear that is really shed out of much affliction and anguish of heart in the knowledge of the truth, with burning of the inward parts, is indeed a food of the soul, supplied from the heavenly bread, of which Mary preeminently partook, when she sat at the feet of the Lord and wept, after the testimony of the Saviour Himself. He says, “Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” O those precious pearls in the flow of blessed tears! O that immediate and ready hearing! What a strong, wise mind! What keen love of the Spirit of the Lord, moving vehemently towards the unsullied Bridegroom! What a sting of desire in the soul for God the Word! What swift communion of the bride with the heavenly Bridegroom!

9. Imitate her then, my child; imitate her whose eyes were fixed upon nothing but Him only, who said, “I am come to send fire upon the earth, and I would that it were already kindled.” There is indeed a burning of the Spirit, which burns hearts into flame. The immaterial divine fire his the effect of enlightening souls and trying them, like unalloyed gold in the furnace, but of consuming iniquity, like thorns or stubble; for our God is a consuming fire, taking vengeance on them that know Him not in flaming fire, and on them that obey not His gospel. It was this fire that worked in the apostles, when they spoke with fiery tongues. It was this fire which shone by the voice round St. Paul, enlightening his mind, but blinding his sense of sight; for not without the flesh did he see the power of that light. It was this fire which appeared to Moses in the bush. This fire, in the shape of a chariot, caught up Elias from the earth. The blessed David was seeking the operation of this fire when he said, “Examine me, Lord, and prove me: try out my reins and my heart.” It was this fire which warmed the heart of Cleopas and those with him while the Saviour talked after His resurrection. So the angels and ministering spirits partake of the shining of this fire, according to what is said, “Who maketh His angels spirits, and His ministers a flaming fire.” It is this fire which burns up the beam that is in the inward eye, making the mind clear, that, recovering its natural power of penetration, it may see without interruption the wonderful things of God, according as one says, Open Thou mine eyes, that I may see the wondrous things of Thy law. This fire drives away devils, and destroys sin; but it is the power of resurrection, and the effectual working of immortality, the illumination of holy souls, and the strengthening of rational powers. Let us pray that this fire may reach us also, that always walking in light, we may never for a moment dash our feet against a stone, but shining as lights in the world, may hold forth the word of everlasting life; that enjoying ourselves among the good things of God we may rest with the Lord in life, glorifying the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, to whom be glory forever. Amen. from Fifty Spiritual Homilies of St. Marcarius the Egyptian, by A.J. Mason D.D., SPCK, 1921

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