This second article on warfare and Orthodoxy plans to focus on the warfare that every baptised Orthodox Christian is called to engage in, the spiritual warfare. Many great books have been written on this very subject, and this author would recommend the four volumes of the Evergetinos, Unseen Warfare by St Theophan the Recluse, and The Field and The Arena by St Ignatius Brianchaninov. These provide step by step methods by which we can start to take our spiritual lives seriously and engage in spiritual exercise. First among these books is the Ladder of Divine Ascent of St John Climacus, which is traditionally read during Great Lent. What follows is but a brief summary of the idea of spiritual warfare.
Spiritual warfare is not like material warfare. There are no breaks, no truces and no ceasefires. There is either complete victory or utter defeat. We have an enemy in Satan who attacks us at all times and never rests, and so we too must match these efforts. Like soldiers, we need to be disciplined and not fall out of line. If a soldier becomes separated from their army, they are easier for the enemy to pick off and kill. So too we must never separate ourselves from God and the Church.
We must remember that we are spiritual athletes. Our aim might be higher than an Olympic gold medal or a World Cup, but we can take some inspiration from the amount of training that athletes put in. If they work so hard for these worldly successes, how much more should we work out of love for God? We, like the athletes, have our spiritual exercises. We have prayer, through which we can lay our problems and our sins at the feet of God like a sacrifice brought before an altar (Psalm 50:19). We have fasting, by which we sacrifice our tastes and desires and strengthen our resolve. We can read the Bible and spiritual books, and through these fill our minds with what is good and true. We partake of Holy Communion, and “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom).
It is for us to start to follow the commandments, to fight our passions, to pray, and to fast. To do this, the best way is to get an objective opinion from a spiritual father. The first step is obedience to the directions given by the spiritual father. If we listen and obey we are already practicing humility, one of the greatest virtues, by sacrificing our wills. Follow his advice faithfully and lay everything before him and you cannot go wrong. If we desire to follow Christ, we must deny ourselves and take up our crosses (Mark 8:34).
If this is enough to get you down, remember that the thought that this is simply too much is another temptation designed to lead us into despair. Remember the words of St Paul to rejoice always, to pray without ceasing and give thanks at all times (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Fight the good fight like St Paul, and remember that the Holy Trinity, the Theotokos, the saints and the angels are with us every step of the way. We have so many people here to help us, so many books and examples from the lives of saints to inspire us and so much guidance from the Fathers.
"Therefore take up the whole armour of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." (Ephesians 6:13-17).