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Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Elder Ephraim of Arizona- On Carnal Warfare

You wrote to me, my child, about your carnal warfare. Be patient—with the grace of God everything will pass. Nothing will be left of it, as long as you struggle. Whatever fights against you will be short-lived if you oppose it valiantly.

Carnal warfare will accompany you throughout your youth. But according to your struggle it will subside and become tolerable. The passion of pride, however, will continue for a long time, beyond your youth. But you will find some rest from this passion for a while according to the struggle and spiritual knowledge with which you resist. These two passions are the strongest of all. Upon these two passions the entire edifice of sin stands; each one is a component of the other. Both are formidable lions. But our Jesus with a single cheerful glance is able to render them carrion for the vultures.

The terrible passion of fornication is difficult to fight against, especially when it is strengthened by former predispositions. But God knows how to deliver those who take refuge in Him with humility, for He knows how easily our nature slips.

Carnal warfare stems from pride—so that you may humble yourself and learn that if grace leaves us, we fall and become a piteous spectacle. So humble yourself; blame yourself; ask our Panagia to grant you a spirit of humility so that you may come to know and feel that you are nothing, a zero. For our Jesus says, Without me you can do nothing. (Jn 15:5). From the temptation that came upon you, learn how man falls—and how low he can fall. There are even worse falls for those who have more pride. Do not be distressed; it is a temptation and it will pass. God permits such things to happen for our benefit so that we may become wise through temptations. Be patient and brave! Take courage; it will pass. It is a storm, and in this way will the sea throw out all the rubbish that the preceding peace accumulated!

Do not grieve more than necessary, for this is from the devil, and this grief will lead you to negligence and laxity. Persist in your struggle and do not be afraid. Disregard satan and show that you do not attach any importance to him. Then, since he is proud, he will leave, but as long as you pay attention to his attacks, he will not.
When you have carnal warfare, be very careful with filthy fantasies, which produce dirty thoughts. Stop and expel fantasies as soon as they come. Immediately say the prayer with pain of soul and at once you will be delivered from the warfare.
Do not lose heart, my child. It is a battle and it will pass. All the saints were fought against. They had such great warfare that they took poisonous snakes in despair and put them on their bodies so that they would be bitten and die. But since we are weak, God does not allow us to be fought beyond our strength, but instead He will help us. However, since we have pride, He permits this warfare so that we may humble ourselves. Do not grieve more than necessary, but with great humility throw yourself before God and blame yourself. Immediately drive away every evil thought as soon as it comes, and I hope that the grace of God will relieve you.

Do not fear; you will suffer no harm. Drive away cowardice; have courage. Everything will pass, as you will see, while this warfare will leave behind much benefit for you, and God will give you much grace. Just do not lose heart, because this is how we lose the contest.

My beloved brother in Christ, I saw the mental warfare you are going through with the evil spirit of sin, of fornication.

My brother, listen to a pauper in knowledge with a soul bereft of any good. When one struggles against sin with humility and the fear of God, with fervent spiritual work and with the guidance of an experienced spiritual father, God will never let him be lost. Only when he neglects his spiritual duties, and especially when he becomes proud, thinking that he is something, then it is possible for him to slip. But even then, if he seeks forgiveness with humility, he gets up again and is healed again. For the Lord’s mercy is near to those of a contrite heart.

However, many trials occur for one to gain experience and spiritual wisdom, for without temptations it is impossible to obtain experience. Experience is not a skill derived from learning, but it is to have practical knowledge of the benefit and harm of temptations. If God does not let a person fall into temptations a little, it is impossible for him to become conscientious. When someone does something with good intentions, yet later it turns out that what he did was not right, God—since He observes the heart and tries the purpose for every deed—will bring things back to normal and will enlighten him to realize what he should have done. Infallibility belongs to God alone. No matter how perfect the saints were, they still had some blemishes. Therefore, they would go through temptations to obtain greater humility and caution, and to grow patient with their weak nature. A touch of anger, laughter, or idle talk does not take away a saint’s holiness.

Only one must keep in mind not to despair. Even if one slips and sins ten thousand times a day, it is not justifiable in God’s eyes for him to despair, but rather he should be hopeful and prepare for a fight, until God’s mercy comes and delivers him.

There was once a monk who happened to slip and sin by himself continually, yet he would always arise at once and do his prayer rule. The demon that kept throwing him into sin lost his patience seeing the courage and hopefulness of this brother. So he visibly appeared to him, and said to him with vexation:

—Don’t you fear God, you defiled wretch? You have just sinned, so with what face can you now stand before God? Aren’t you afraid that God will burn you?

But since this brother had a valiant soul, he said to the demon:

—This cell is a forge: you hit and get hit. As God is my witness, Who came to save the world, I will not stop fighting you, falling and getting up, beating and being beaten, until my final breath—and let’s see who will win: you or Christ!

When the demon heard this unexpected reply, he said:

—I won’t fight you anymore, because if I do, I’ll make you win crowns.

Thenceforth, this brother was delivered from the warfare, and he sat in his cell weeping for his sins.

When God enlightens a person and he repents for his sins and walks with humility and caution, God does not let him be lost. Of course, his predispositions for his previous sins will become thorns and hindrances to him, but when he sees the waves rising menacingly, he should not despair, thinking that he will fall and be lost. On the contrary, he should hope in God with faith and struggle with humility under the spiritual guidance and training of his spiritual father, without fearing the violent storm that arose.

The devil, of course, will not remain inactive; he also has his own weapons. Which ones? For instance, he whispers to us:

—You can’t do anything. I will throw you down again. Don’t you see the magnitude of this passion, the bulk of that weakness? Bear in mind that I’m not defeated so easily and that I’m not about to retreat. Besides, what have you achieved until now? Nothing! Nor will I ever let you do anything in the future. All your efforts are going to waste. I am invincible. Don’t you see my might?

And at once he displays filthy fantasies with intensely powerful carnal pleasure. He seems armed like a scorpion. And then he makes the struggler think that it is impossible for him to escape and that he should put up his hands and surrender!

These and countless other things does the insidious instigator craftily display. So, onward! Let us expose the lie of his traps, and let us reveal the rustiness of his weapons. The warrior of the mighty God, trusting in Christ’s invincible power and actually feeling it, begins the serious battle courageously, raising the banner of the awesome cross and armed with the name of Jesus which is dreadful to the demons. He calls upon it constantly and vigorously, and thus keeps the imagination from giving in to the insidious and silly assaults of the devil, while always reflecting on death, judgment, hell, the delight of paradise and eternal glory beside Jesus, the feats of the saints, and so on—and all this is like ammunition supplying power to prayer! Then despair, negligence, egotism, and depravity are put to flight, the struggler is filled with zeal, and satan’s exaggerations collapse and burst like a thin balloon.

 Source: “Counsels from the Holy Mountain, Selected from the Letters and Homilies of Elder Ephraim,” St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery (1999), pp. 165-169.
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Item Reviewed: Elder Ephraim of Arizona- On Carnal Warfare Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Tom Manakis
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