Saturday, July 8, 2017

EVEN THE DEMONS BELIEVE

The Holy Apostle Paul assures the Ephesians, "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."  Here he refers to that vast multitude of demonic hosts that inhabit the air around us, ever striving to corrupt our minds and hearts during the course of this earthly life, while obstructing the course of our path to the Throne of God at that dreadful moment when the soul departs from the body. 

Nevertheless, it is evident from today's Gospel reading that the demons are, in a sense, but paper tigers.  Though Satan has been given leave, according to the providence of God, to prowl the earth, like a ravening lion seeking whom he may devour, his rule is strictly limited to the time preceding the Final Judgment of God, and even so, it is subject to the supreme authority of Jesus Christ the Pantocrator.  And so it is that the demons cry out to our Lord, "What have we to do with Thee, Jesus, thou Son of God?  art thou come to torment us before the time?"

And so it is that even the demons are compelled to confess Christ.  As St. James writes, "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble."  So it is that even the demons, while confessing Christ, require His permission to enter the swine, "and behold, the whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place, and perished in the waters."  For truly Satan is a murderer from the beginning, and that very same destruction the demons wrought upon the swine, they would gladly accomplish upon the human race.  Fortunately, though, the demons have not been granted the power to destroy a single human life.  Through their wicked suggestions, they can surely incline us towards that dark path of destruction that leads to eternal damnation in a hell of our own making... but only if we freely and voluntarily submit ourselves to their authority.

Having been baptized into Christ, we Orthodox Christians have put on Christ, and therefore we have been given, through the Church, the armor of God and the weapons required that we might engage in that spiritual warfare to which  we have been called.  For while we should never underestimate the powers of evil arrayed against us, and while the demons are indeed fierce adversaries fully capable of striking abject fear into the hearts of the faithful, we must ever keep in mind St. Paul's injunction, "If God is for us, who can be against us?"  For indeed, through the power of the most sacred and life-giving Cross, "we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us:" our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

THE WAGES OF SIN

"For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."  In this passage in St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, the Holy Apostle refers to that recompense which each and every soul born into this world is due to receive in the life to come, according to how he or she has labored in this earthly life: whether we have striven to acquire virtue and the gift of the Holy Spirit of God in our hearts, or else we have willfully aligned  ourselves with Satan and his demonic hosts by indulging our sinful passions.  The first path leads to eternal life in communion with God, while the second path leads to the spiritual death of our soul and eternal communion with the Spirit of Evil.  It is for this reason that we pray in the Lord's Prayer, "Deliver us from  the Evil One."

The surest way of attaining eternal life in God's heavenly Kingdom is through sincere and heartfelt repentance, combined with humility and a prayerful desire to acquire God's gift of love in our heart.  If, by the grace of God, we are deemed worthy to patiently endure this struggle unto the end, it matters not if we have labored in the Lord's vineyard from the first hour or the eleventh: we shall receive the very same wages: eternal life and salvation in the Kingdom of our heavenly Father.

Truly it is given to every man to die once--and then to be judged according to how well we have invested those talents God has granted to us in this earthly life.  Have we utilized wisely the time and resources allotted to us, or have we, like the Prodigal Son, foolishly squandered the good gifts of God?  According to the unanimous consensus of the Church Fathers and the Holy Tradition of the Church, it has been revealed that in that very moment of death, when the soul is forcibly sundered from the body, we shall encounter not only our Guardian Angel, but a vast multitude of demons as well, intent on dragging our soul into the dark and dismal depths of Hades.  As we rise through the air (the domain of the "principalities and powers," the demonic hosts who dwell in "high places") we shall be required to pass through a series of so-called "toll houses,"  each one devoted to a particular sin or passion--wherein we shall be detained by demons who accuse us of those various and sundry unconfessed sins we have committed during our sojourn on earth--whether in thought, word, deed, or desire. 

It is true, as St. John the Theologian assures us, that "God is love,"  and therefore... He does not desire the death of a sinner, but rather that he should return from his way and live. It is an inconvertible truth, nevertheless, that if we have willfully separated ourselves from God in this life by  participating with the demons in their evil works in rebellion against the Law of Love, then it is only natural that the spirits of darkness should be fully justified in claiming that which is rightfully theirs: our immortal souls.  And so--having defaced the image of God within us--we shall be dragged into the depths of Hades, that place of outer darkness where there shall be weeping and the gnashing of teeth.  And so we shall obtain the wages of sin: eternal death in a hell of our own making.

Let us make haste, therefore, while there is still time, before that dreadful day of reckoning overtakes us like a thief in the night, to live a life of repentance, humbly confessing our sins before God, casting aside the works of darkness while striving to clothe ourselves in the armor of light.  Through the prayers of the Most Holy Theotokos and all the saints, let us beseech our God to have mercy upon us, that in the hour of death, we might be delivered from the dreadful accusation of the demons and be found worthy of ascending to the Throne of God.