Sunday, August 7, 2011

Three Weapons

AS WE GROW UP the obstacles to spiritual fullness seem to move away from the guy/girl stuff to the greed/fear stuff. We start to lose ourselves in careerism and tidy professionalism, as we tumble down the lukewarmness staircase. People do us wrong, we do people wrong. We die a little each day. We go flat.

I don't want it to be that way for me, and I don't think it has to be.

Zeal for Faith
Saint John Chrysostom, in a eulogy for one saint, writes "saints' memorials are not urns or coffins or columns or inscriptions, but good works and a zeal for faith and a healthy conscience towards God."(1)

Zeal for faith. The word "zeal" should excite me. If it makes me uncomfortable, I might ask why.

If and Only If
St. Mark the Ascetic, wrote of the three things that kill that zeal, that knock us out cold. He begins,
"If you wish, my son, to acquire and possess within yourself your own lamp of mental light and spiritual knowledge, that you may walk without stumbling in the deepest night of this age and have your steps ordered by the Lord must greatly desire the path of the Gospels, that is, to practice the most perfect Gospel commandments with ardent faith and become a participant in the passion of Christ through desire and prayer; then I will show you a wonderful method to achieve this...
He starts with "if." Anything worth anything in life --to succeed in a service project, to run a sub-3 hour marathon, to build a good relationship with our family -- starts with a clear and unequivocal "yes" to "Do you want this, for real?"

How much more is this the case when it's about the big things, like union with Christ and being with God in spiritual light and freedom?

Three Causes
He continues, focusing now on the three things that zap us:
I speak of the three strong and powerful alien giants, on whom are founded all the hostile forces of the mental [intruders]. If they are cast down and slain, all the forces of the evil spirits will be finally defeated. These three giants of the evil one, who seem to be strong, are "ignorance," mother of all ills, "forgetfulness," her sister, aider and abettor, and "laziness" (indifference) which out of darkness weaves a dusky garment and cloak in the soul. This latter strengthens and affirms the former two, gives them substance and makes evil take firm root in a negligent soul and become an essential part of it.
When I know nothing of God, nor care to inform myself, I have little hope of finding the spark of life. God's word and those of his saints -- today more than ever -- are widely available.

There are two sides to forgetting. I forget what it is like to live a life of joy and conformity with God’s way. At the same time, I forget the sting, anxiety, and brokenness that sin brought me. That old, crooked relationship? That feeling after I stabbed someone in the back? Long-ago. Poof.

Laziness is serves the other two, for obvious reasons.

Three Weapons
So, what do we do? He continues,
If you wish to gain victory over passions and easily put to flight the hordes of mental aliens, collect yourself inwardly with God's help by prayer and, descending into the depths of your heart, find there those three strong giants of the devil -- I mean forgetfulness, indifference or laziness, and ignorance, the food on which all other passions feed and act, live and grow strong in self-indulgent hearts.
He calls us to go into our hearts. This requires time away from those little flecks of distraction: the phone, the texts, the Facebook feeds, the latest with the Kardashians and similar "news."

Our weapons are memory, knowledge and a lively, zeal:
With strict attention to yourself and a sober mind, and with help from above, you will certainly find these evil will find them by the weapons of righteousness which are their contrary. These weapons are memory of the good, the source of all blessings, enlightened knowledge, by which a soul kept in sobriety chases away the darkness of ignorance, and a lively zeal, which rouses the soul and leads it to salvation.
Memory. When my memory is full of good and beautiful things, there's no room for corrosive junk.

Knowledge. When my mind is weak, so is my will. It's a recurring theme for many of us, I imagine.

Lively Zeal. When's there's a fire within me, movement and good living follow.
(1)On Saint Eustathius par. 3
(2)E. Kadloubovsky and G. E. H. Palmer, trans., Early Fathers from the Philokalia (London: Faber & Faber, 1981), pp. 60 - 62.


moose said...

Thank you nad! Very helpful for me.

Nader Alfie said...

Thanks very much for reading and commenting.