Recently, as I was getting ready to hear a confession, I had an experience that is really quite common, I heard from the confessee about how difficult it was for this person to finally make it to confession. They had been trying, intending, planning, time after time after time, and each time as though of the blue, this obstacle and that obstacle appeared suddenly. And the confessee said to me, “Something is just holding me back.” and I put my head up and I said, “Some ONE, is holding you back.” She said to me, “Exactly. Someone.”
We know that we have an opponent, an enemy, who is frightened by few things more than the humility that is engendered in our hearts when we prepare a confession. Who is afraid of few things more than the power of the grace of God to forgive someone’s sin and to wash them away because as soon as that act, that mystery takes place, all the places where the demon had his claws and fingers, he loses his hold.
The person becomes wet so to speak with baptismal water once again and the demon can’t hold on. This is why the demon is always coming up with new things to do, just as we are about to go to confession and it is not just confession but sometimes when we are planning to make an apology to someone. The same thing happens.
The Evil One is not a personification of evil that we make up for literary uses. The Evil One and the demons are not just myths that we in our religious practice have invented to explain the fact that sometimes people sometimes make bad choices. They are entangled in our bad choices, that’s for sure. But the evil one is real and he is a person an angelic, fallen, person.
He has a host of angels, we don’t know exactly how many. Some of the Holy Fathers suggest that about one third of the entire angelic ranks fell, when Lucifer did. That is a lot. He imitates the works of God, including the ordering of the holy’s angels. He hates the Almighty. He coveted God’s position. God cast him out through the agency of the Archangel Michael from the light and splendor of the presence of the Lord into darkness where he dwells now.
And he together with his demons, seek to hurt God. In spite, they seek to oppose the people of the Lord, knowing that the way to get at the Lord, is through us. He can’t bear the image of God, or to see people so loved, who delight in the Lord by our Christian lives. And they are very afraid, very afraid of our spiritual progress. This is the first thing I want to remind you, I know you know it, but it is good for you to hear your priest say it, the Devil and his demons are real.
They are also exceedingly talented, exceedingly talented. Saint Nicodemus of the holy mountain said there are three fundamental reasons that the demons are so successful. The first is the fact that they were created as these ethereal, refined spirits and as such are ingenious, past human comprehension. So some of it, their talent is rooted in the fact that they are such glorious creations of God, the angelic spirits, the demons are simply fallen angels.
The second reason is that they are ancient, they are very old, and they have been about this for a very long time. Now we do have a few ancients in our midst, I’m sorry mom, I didn’t mean to look at you that was completely accidental. Completely accidental. I’m going to pay for that. I am going to pay dearly for that. None of our ancients however are anywhere as ancient as the demons. Remember the angelic host were fashioned before man was fashioned. They have been about this for a very long time. And number three they have warred they have engaged in combat, especially with the greatest of Christians for all of these years, they have confronted the aesthetics, like Saint Anthony and St. Mary, and they have learned what works and what doesn’t.
They know their tricks through long practice against the best Christians and for these reasons, we find ourselves often outmaneuvered, we find the wiles of the Evil One, to be too great for us and we fall into traps and we know this. The Devil and his hosts are real and they are talented.
Behind every passion that we face is a demon, this is the teaching of the church. Just like we believe that the good virtues that are born in us are not born by human effort alone. We also believe that the evils that we can actually do are not born by our efforts alone. You know Saint Paul’s teaching on this, right?
The Fruit of the Spirit is love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and faithfulness and gentleness and self-control against which there are no laws. These majestic fruits that are the very constituent elements of our Christian life, come not just from our decisions, not just from our choices to follow the Lord and please him but ultimately they are the fruit of the presence of the third person of the Godhead inside of us. These are fruits of the Holy Spirit. He inspires them in us and we cooperate with him, we do our part and together we have a beautiful symphony that brings forth a wonderful thing.
It works the same way in the production of evil passions. Behind every passion, there is a demon and an ugly face. Before St. Paul in Galatians 5 listed all the fruits of the Spirit, he first listed what he calls the works of the flesh, immorality, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, conflicts, heresies and schisms, these are all the works of the flesh. And they are breathed into us, they are encouraged by the unclean spirits and if we give them space, if we play or dance with the demons then these fruits come to us and poison our lives.
That is not to say that we can’t help it, I’m not suggesting that because the church teaches that behind every passion there is a demon to encourage it, that we are somehow forced to do evil that is not true. Although sometimes they can weigh so heavily and they can breathe upon us so strongly that it is very hard to resist.
Saint Anthony, in order to encourage the faithful in their spiritual struggle, related an account he had, a very shocking interaction he had when he was in the desert. One time he was inside his little broken down monastery and he heard (two knocks) someone knocking on the door and he went out and he saw this huge hideous creature and Saint Anthony said, “Who are you?” And he said, “I am Satan.” How would you like that for a knock on the door? And Saint Anthony says to him, “What are you doing here?” and he said, “I have a question for you? Why are you Christian always blaming me for everything?” This is what he says to St. Anthony, “why are you Christians always blaming me for everything and cursing my name?” And Anthony says, “Because you cause so much havoc in our lives.” and he says, “You’re wrong, I am weak, I have been made weak.”
A very beautiful testimony put out from the mouth of the Devil himself about what has happened to him since our Savior came to the earth. He HAS been made weak, in fact. You know from one angle, the New Testament says the whole intention and purpose of Jesus coming to the earth was to destroy the works of the Devil that is 1 John 3:8. He came to destroy the works of the Devil. When St. Peter in Acts chapter 10 was preaching the gospel and communicating to people what the heart of Jesus’s ministry was, he said, “Jesus went about doing good and delivering people from the oppression of the Devil.” This is what our Savior did. The Lord himself in describing his own ministry and helping us understand what he had come to do, said that, “No man can enter into the strong man’s house and plunder his property unless he has first bound the strongman.” Now let me explain that to you.
This teaching from Jesus came after he had been working marvelous wonders and the crowd possessed Pharisees could not except Jesus’ wonders and so they suggested to his disciples and then to him, God forgive them, that the way He had so much power, the way He was able to deliver people from sickness, And from diseases that they had had for decades, was in fact that He was in league with the Devil, they even said that He was the chief and He cast out demons by Beelzebub, the chief of demons. This is what they said.
Jesus went on to explain how ludicrous it was that the Devil was casting out the Devil that a house divided won’t stand. The Devil is not that foolish and then He went on to give this teaching about the strong man which is Jesus’ description of who the Devil is. He said, “Nobody can go into the strong man’s house, which is the dominion of Satan and plunder his property.” His property are all of those of us that he has stolen and put under his possession, put under his tyranny and power, people who he had made to have physical hemorrhages for 18 years, like that poor woman in the grip of the Devil. Dumb and deaf person’s because they were gripped by the evil one people who were in passion and couldn’t escape, these were the possessions of the Devil that he had stolen and Jesus said. “Nobody can enter into the strong man’s house and plunder his property unless he has first found the strongman” i.e. I am delivering people. I am taking back the stolen possessions of the Evil One, I have entered the strong man’s house and you ought know this only happens because I have bound him. This is exactly what the presence of our Savior did to the Devil when He came to earth.
St. John in the Revelation in the 20th chapter of Revelation describes this teaching of our Savior in greater detail by a vision. John saw a mighty angel sent from heaven with this thick huge chain and he took the chain and he bound Satan for 1000 years so that he might not deceive the nations any longer.
This is Revelation chapter 20. It is this beautiful Johannian vision of what happened when Jesus came to the earth, Jesus brought a chain with him and he bound the evil one so that the evil one could not keep the world in darkness, this was the precondition for the propagation of the Gospel.
This was the negative side. And the positive side was our Savior gathering his apostles, giving them the Spirit and saying go into all the world, announce the good news to every nation baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you and promising to be with the disciples until the end of the age.
That is the positive commission but it is built upon this miracle. The fact that our Savior came to destroy the Devil’s work. He came to destroy him who had the power of death and held us in its tyranny and this is why the Devil can honestly say to Saint Anthony, “Why are they always cursing me when I have been made weak?”
So though we have these great opponents brothers and sisters, though we know that behind every passion there is a demon, an expert an expert trickster in that passion, who encourages us to do it. We also know that we don’t have to. We don’t have to. We can in fact beat down the temptation and we can do it the same way that this beautiful woman came to victory in the Gospel, this woman whose precious child was demon possessed. This woman who had no resources from her own background. She was a Canaanite pagan, she didn’t know the true God she didn’t have access to the grace of God on the earth and she heard about Jesus and she sought him and she pursued him in humility and by prayer begging him twice we have a description of this gospel an account even though it is so short. Twice, we have a description of what she said, “Lord, son of David, have mercy on me.” She begged Christ for mercy. You know what she got the first time? Silence. Nothing. Now what would we have done? If we were there and we had been there begging, raising our voices, multiple cries to Jesus and he simply ignored us. Well we would say, “He didn’t answer my prayer.” How often do we give up our battle because we act once or twice and that is it? And he doesn’t answer us. She did not do that, she pushed in and you know what she got the second time, she said, “Lord have mercy on me,” and finally the disciples were bothered by her, they couldn’t take this crazy woman bothering them anymore. And so they looked at Jesus and said, “Please get rid of her, send her away she is driving us nuts!” And Jesus didn’t it drive her away instead he chose to give her a big huge insult.
The first time was silence, the second time was a huge insult, He said, “It is not proper to take the children’s bread and give it to dogs.” Now put yourself in her shoes, the first time, she got no answer, so she virtuously pushed past the first time, the second time she got an insult, the very opposite of what she was seeking. Doesn’t that happen sometimes when we pray? We pray, perhaps, we were persistent and though we didn’t get an answer we kept praying and then it appeared that something the exact opposite of what we were asking takes place and we are even tempted to think, “Maybe I shouldn’t have even asked anything about it?”
It’s worse, He made it worse, this woman could have thought that but she didn’t. She beat the Lord Jesus at his own game, which delighted him. It absolutely delighted Him. She said, “Yes Lord, but even the dogs feed on the crumbs that fall from their Masters table.” And Jesus just went “ah!” He just stood in amazement of this woman and he said, “Woman, your faith is magnificent. It is done as you wish, now.” And her daughter was healed from that very moment.
This is how we can win brothers and sisters against the Devil. This is how we can win. The Lord came to crush the works of the Devil, absolutely. He came to bind the strong man, he came to take the club of the fear of death out of the Devil’s hand and to crush death. He has done all those things for us. We can push through the temptations that remain and have victory over the Evil One by forming within ourselves the very character of Christ, by forming within ourselves a humble faith filled spirit like this woman had. We can pray for all of our needs and be resolved to be near God and to make the effort to get near him like this Canaanite woman did.
She left the area where she was from. She left the milieu in which she was comfortable. She put herself as a pagan woman into the midst of believing Jews who distain her. She endured even the criticisms of the apostles because she was so desirous of getting into the presence of Jesus Christ and then she endured his silence and his insult because she knew that behind them was something good. She knew that Jesus was the Savior of men, the lover of men, she had heard about His miracles, she had witnessed his great love poured out on men and she prevailed and got exactly what she wanted plus she got the healing of her daughter, she got confirmation of her faith in her own salvation through Jesus himself and she became memorialized for all generations.
Who would have thought by her humble insistent prayerfulness and I encourage you the same way, seek him to the point of discomfort be humble and confident as he loves you and He will answer you and do not give up and then St. Paul’s words to the Romans will be true for us he said to the Romans take heart because God will trample Satan under your feet. Amen.