Title: The Christian Life 5: Unseen Warfare and Self-Accusation
Subject: Self-accusation and repentance
Age: 15+ years
Materials: Icons of the Crucifixion, Extreme Humility, and Resurrection
Prerequisites: The Christian Life lessons: 1. The Beginning, 2. Humility, 3. The Struggle, 4. Tools for the Struggle
We have been arguing for an appreciation of unseen warfare. We may be accused of saying that this path is, in a sense, the purpose of the Christian life. Meanwhile it is the Church's job to prepare and give us an environment and a body of teaching that arms us and makes us able to fight. Ultimately, this prepares us for the event of death and our passing into the next life. We could say this is the only reason for the Church. Without a clear understanding of this task of the Church, then we can begin to lose sight of the Church's purpose and mission.
Think about this:
- In America Halloween and its celebration is the second most important holiday, beat out only by Christmas in dollars spent. For Halloween Americans will spend around 5.8 billion dollars!
- In America only 26% of professed Christians believe in a bodily resurrection.
- Thirty-three percent of Americans will be cremated.
- Increasingly, funerals and viewings of the deceased have declined.
Consider the opposite movement of these two trends. On the one hand, we can't seem to get enough of Halloween, goblins, ghosts, ghouls, zombies, empty graves. On the other hand, we can't seem to get rid of death quick enough.
Now what do we profess? What will happen when you die? Our soul separates from our body. Our body is buried and decays. What happens at the resurrection? Our soul and body are reunited.
Notice these three icons: Crucifixion, Extreme Humility, and Resurrection. In the Resurrection you get your body back! Notice Christ gets his body back. He eats. He is recognizable. In the Orthodox funeral service, the casket is open, it is placed on the solea, feet forward. The Gospel is read over and to the deceased. The last act of the funeral service is that you, the congregation, come and kiss the body of the deceased. You have to come and face death and see your own end.
In a sense we can ask the purpose of the Church in another way. We can ask why God created people at all. We may answer that He created us to populate heaven. Once again the Methodology of the Church regarding this task in a phrase is "Unseen Warfare." What does this encompass? Last week be spoke of some of the things it encompasses, such as all the Sacraments, all the tools we have to keep ourselves spiritually free, like prayer, confession, etc., therefore keeping us as close to God as possible, because we never know when we will be called.
We need to be in perpetual preparation. As a side note: if you are just going every Sunday then it is not enough! You are most likely in danger. I have been alluding to a state that is attainable. I believe it comes from something said by St. John Maximovich. In one of his sermons in his latter years, he said that when a person dies and their soul is brought before the realm of Heaven the decision on where the soul is to go works like this: If you wove your wedding garment then you can get into heaven because you resemble the heavenly realm. The question is whether the wedding garment is woven. So what is this garment? The garment is an invisible mystical garment that we weave throughout our lives and the threads are the virtues (According to the Fathers of the Church). And if you get enough of these threads woven into your garment, then you can get/slip into heaven, because you resemble heaven.
For example, take your priest dressed in his black clerics, and place him in a biker bar. Obviously there may be some discord, both your priest and the bikers may feel uncomfortable. We may even "repulse" one another. They wouldn't feel comfortable with me around. Unseen warfare as we have been describing it, encompasses the whole life of the Church and all the tools available of this warfare. Naturally we have to know what they are and to start using them in the right ways, otherwise we do not start to experience freedom, specifically freedom from sin.
Before we go any further let me say something about those outside of the Church: We pray, we do not judge, rather we love them and we demonstrate patience. Most importantly we live a Christian life. This may become noticed by those around us. Someone very dear to me is constantly reminding me that the quickest way to change someone else's behavior is to change your own.
Now we should say a few more things before we talk about one of the great tools of Unseen warfare: the Virtues. In the past I have likened the virtues to a robe that we wear. This robe is something a bit different from the one we were given at our baptism. It is more like the robe spoken about in the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22:11. To ignore this garment is to do so at your own peril. Much of what we do in the Church is to ignite in us a desire for the virtues and to weave this garment.
All along we recognize that temptations will assail us and to paraphrase St. Anthony, we can say that they will do so until our last breath. Yet for every temptation we must recognize an opportunity to decide for God. And as scripture tells us the temptation will never be a test beyond our ability. Rather it is always a choice.
Freedom is something we are after. In the life of Christ we can get as completely free as we can hope in this life. What we truly want is freedom, if bondage comes from sin and results in death, then freedom comes from virtue and results in life. Freedom, then, is what comes from living obediently to God and thoroughly doing so. A non-Christian can not understand this concept. We must have obedience to the Scriptures and the writings of the Holy Fathers. It is a narrow path but when this path is walked, it is extremely broad. A true Christian walks a very narrow path.
Everything occurs under Divine Providence. There are two types of God's Providence: What God allows (or does not allow) and what is God's will. Both are used for God's salvation. If you believe everything is providential, you don't walk away from things, there are no mistakes. There are things that occur, you don't walk away no matter how hard it gets: The Cross becomes a real possibility, and you stay on the cross long enough to be resurrected. It is crucial element in an Orthodox mind. You can't fight unseen warfare unless you see everything as providential.
Self-accusation is a way to weave our heavenly garment. It is not a way of denying the sin of another or that evil exists. Rather it forces us to go after our own sin, to find it and accuse ourselves of our sin, which leads us to freedom. From a chapter from Abba Dorotheos entitled, "On Self-Accusation," he encourages us that this path is the only way to travel this life. He argues that it is one of the great tools of the Christian life and of Unseen Warfare.
Part of what comes under the term Unseen Warfare is that it is invisible and even the closest person to us will not know we are using it, because it is between us and the Lord. No matter what is going on in others, the difficulties we face, etc., we are to assume that God gave us this for a reason and that God who allowed this to occur allowed it for a reason and even if you can not uncover the reason for the situation, self-accusation will allow us to identify our own sin and learn to face "things."
Romans 8:28 says, "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." The whole process was invented to face the darkness in our souls which allows us to enter the heavenly realm. You really have to want to see your sin, the authentic sin, and want to repent of it. Often you have to simultaneously push from your mind the other person's sin, and pray yourself inward, and when you work hard and go deep, and you name it, and notice the sin and not make a value judgment like "I'm a bad person," you will immediately feel free.
Why we are in the Church? Freedom. And we pay a heavy price for it. If you are going to start living a spiritual life, you have to start accepting what is rather than what you want it to be. Of course this is not talking about regular control over daily life. When it gets threatening their has to be a step of faith not only that we are wrong, but something where we do or go to a level we would not normally, or in a way we would do without putting ourselves in obedience. Yet if we are after God's peace then we must appropriate this way of life into our own.
Prepared by Fr. Evan Armatas