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St. Paul tells us in Romans 7:22-23 “For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
The Fathers tell us that this means that each one of us has in him two wills, a higher will, the inner man, which seeks after things that are, “above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.” (Col 3:1), and a lower, sensual will or “the law of sin” which is in our members, that seeks after things of the world and the flesh. These two wills are at war with each other as St. Paul tells us in Romans 7:23.
Unfortunately the law of sin is most of the time victorious bringing into captivity the higher will. Needless to say that the sensual will or the lower will or the law of sin is under the direction of the devil, our archenemy, and the higher will is under the direction of Grace.
The goal of Christian perfection is to reverse the situation and bring the sensual will into captivity to the higher will, a difficult goal, even for St. Paul himself who laments this difficulty by saying, “O wretched man that I am!who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom 7:24)
The devil is so clever, so if we even succeed in subjecting the lower will to the higher will, he changes his tactic, by trying to corrupt the higher will, making it function independently of Grace, so that even though we are doing good, this good is not according to the will of God and is done in a way not pleasing to God.
Even if he fails in this, he tries another strategy, he plants pride and self righteousness in our hearts, thus robbing us of the rewards of any righteousness we may have.
I think by now we realize how vicious this war is!And we are expected to fight it till the last breath!St. Paul warns us in Hebrews 12:4, “Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.” He also reminds us in Ephesians 6:12-13 “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” St. Peter also advises us, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Pet 5:8)
It is an uphill battle that we have to fight and are expected to win. You may say, this is very difficult. Well, the Lord Jesus agrees 100%, “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matt 7:14)
The good news, however, is that our adversary the devil, the roaring lion, cannot force our free will. He acts only as a clever salesman trying to sell us his wares. It is entirely up to us whether we accept the sales pitch or reject it.
When we first came to Canada, we were fooled many times by clever sales people who sold us many things that later turned out to be worthless. But with experience we learned not to believe everything a salesman tells us. With so many of them phoning us at the most inappropriate times and boring us with their promises, we have learned how to be tough with them, cut them short and not allow them to engage us in a discussion. Sometimes you have to be rude in order to get rid of them.
These people use various tricks to convince people to fall into their traps. We are all aware of this line, “Congratulations, you have just won a free trip to Jamaica” or a TV etc.. But if you are wise you can spoil their deceit. I personally tell them, it is against my religion to accept anything for free and then hang up.
It is the same with the devil, he will use tricks, very crafty tricks but if you insist on saying no he cannot do anything. He will change his tactics like we said before but you can have victory in this war if you are sober and vigilant like St. Peter tells us.
How can I resist the sales pitches that the devil always throws against me? The first thing is through prayer. Bring your weakness to the Lord Jesus, say the prayer that we learned in the Agpeya, “If the righteous is hardly saved, where shall I the sinner stand? The burden of the day and its heat I could not bear because of my human frailty.”
Cry with St. Paul, saying, “ Who shall deliver me from the body of this death,” except Thee O my Lord. Say with the Psalmist, “Have mercy upon me, O Lord; for I am weak” (Ps 6:2) . The devil can not prevail on someone who acknowledges his weakness before the Lord.
The second thing is to teach yourself how to hate sin and the salesman of sin, the devil. In the same way you have learned how to hate those annoying sales people who interrupt your dinner, learn how to hate sin and the devil. Remind yourself that the wages of sin is death and that sooner or later we shall all stand before the Judgement Seat of Christ. Repeat in your mind the words of the Agpeya, “Behold, I am about to stand before the Just Judge, frightened and terrified of my many sins.”
Prayer and the remembrance of Judgement Day are your defence lines, but what can I do when the enemy attacks? Let us take an example: Suppose a person verbally abuses you. Immediately the salesman comes to you convincing you to defend your honour and not to let that jerk think that you are a sissy, and after all he started this and you are only acting in self defence. On and on goes the sales pitch. Your first reaction is to realize this as a Satanic sales pitch. Say to yourself, “wait a minute, this is a pitch to sell me the sin of anger and the other one of revenge”. Diagnose the kind of sin you are being sold. Next, arrest it before it reaches your heart and starts to stir up your emotions. Drive it away by saying, “Get behind me Satan”. Do not think that the devil will listen and get behind you, he will bring the thought back as soon as you drive it out. Here is where the defences we spoke about earlier come into play. Train yourself to hate these suggestions and consider them your mortal enemies. Say with the Psalmist, “O daughter of Babylon, the wretched, blessed is he who seizes your children and dashes them against the rock.” (Ps 137:8-9, Septuagint.) The Fathers tell us that the children of the daughter of Babylon are the evil thoughts that assail us.
The Fathers of the Desert also teach us a certain prayer that they used a lot to fight these thoughts. It is the secret weapon that we can always use against the salesman and his sales pitches. It is the first verse of Psalm 70 (69 in the Septuagint) “O God come to my help, O Lord make haste and help me.” There is a whole chapter in John Cassian’s book “The Conferences” on the use of this secret weapon against these thoughts. Keep saying this prayer repeatedly in your mind until you regain your peace. Some people say that if you cross yourself repeatedly while saying this prayer, it becomes even more effective. If you want to eradicate this thought completely, do the opposite to what the salesman is telling you to do; an act of charity towards this aggressor. To seek perfection does not mean only to eradicate the sin but also to plant a virtue in its place. This is what is meant in Psalm 34:14, “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.” The Lord tells us the same thing, “Love ye your enemies, and do good, ... and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.” (Luk 6:35)
It is needless to say that these exercises of the will can not be successful if we have not first mastered the exercises of the mind, we spoke about last week. Your mind must be trained to accept abuse trusting in what the Lord told us, “Woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you”, and, “Blessed are you when men shall revile you and say all manner of evil against you falsely .. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad”.
In spite of all of this, the war can be relentless and the thoughts can come upon us like the waves of the sea one after the other. To be able to fight back, you have to memorize some verses that you can use as your battle cry against your enemy, for example say with the Psalmist, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is He Who provideth for my safety; of whom shall I be afraid? When they come near me to eat my flesh, they that trouble me and my enemies, they themselves became weak and fell. If an army should be arrayed against me, my heart shall not fear: If war should rise up against me, in this I have hope.” Psalm 27 (26 Coptic 1-3) Repeat this verse in your mind.
Also seek the help of the Virgin Mary, say the prayer we say in the Agpeya, “O pure Virgin cast the shadow of your protection on me, your servant. Keep away from me the waves of vile thoughts.” These prayers of the Agpeya were put for us by the Fathers to help us in this war between the wills.
If the thoughts keep assailing you always remember that those who are with us are more than those against us.
One day an evil king sent a whole army against Elisha the prophet of the Lord, and when his servant saw the chariots and the weapons surrounding them he feared greatly, but Elisha told him, “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. And Elisha prayed, and said, LORD, I pray Thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.” (2 Ki 6:16-17)
The same happened to St. Moses the Black. Evil thoughts kept assailing him and every time he went to his Father in Confession St. Isidore to tell him about the thoughts that were bothering him. After he has been there for 14 times, St. Isidore took him up to the top of his cell and told him “look to the west and tell me what you see?,” He told him “I see demons throwing fiery darts against the monks.” He told him now look to the east and what do you see?,” He told him, “I see angels defending the monks against the demons’ fiery darts.” He asked him, “Who are more, those who assail us or those who defend us?.” St. Moses told him, “those who defend us.” Immediately the thoughts ceased to attack him.
Resisting the thoughts that the enemy implants into our minds is not without its rewards, as this story from the Fathers tells us; A young monk living with his Abba, was in the habit of never going to sleep before he prostrated himself before the Abba asking him to bless him. One night he came and prostrated himself and said, “Bless me Abba” but his Abba was fast asleep. He remained there, hoping that the Abba would wake up but the Abba kept sleeping all night long. It so happened that during his sleep, the Abba saw seven angels putting seven crowns on the head of his disciple. In the morning he asked the disciple, “What happened during the night?” The young monk said to him, “Forgive me Abba but during the night, seven times the thought came to me to leave you and go to bed, and every time I resisted the thought.” The Abba then knew that the crowns were for resisting the thoughts. He told the story to the other monks but did not tell the young disciple, lest he should fall into pride.
We should always plant good thoughts instead of the evil ones that the salesman of evil plants in our minds. These are some examples of how we can do that:
If the devil offers you thoughts of murmuring and complaining, because you failed an exam or some mishap happened to you and he starts telling you it is not fair, fight them by saying “Thank you Lord.” In the beginning you will be saying it by your tongue only but after a while your heart starts saying it along with your tongue. If the sales pitch is thoughts of anger against someone who wronged you, oppose them by trying to invent excuses for that person. If the thoughts keep coming in waves fight them by saying, “Lord forgive him and forgive me.”
One very important weapon in the fight against these sales pitches is to ask your father in confession to pray for you. Just phone him and tell him, “Abouna the salesman is almost convincing me, please help me with your prayers.”
The book, The Paradise of the Fathers, tells us that a monk was sent by his father in confession to do an errand in the city, when he went into the house he was supposed to go to, a beautiful girl tried to entice him to sin with her, he immediately cried out, “Lord through the prayers of my father in confession please save me”, and immediately he found himself on the road towards the Monastery.

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