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Sunday December 2, 2018
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Do you know who Sun Tsu was? Sun Tsu was a Chinese general, military strategist, writer, and philosopher who lived between 544–496 BC. He wrote a famous book entitled “The Art of War” which has had a profound influence on both Eastern and Western military thinking, business tactics, and even legal strategy to this day! In this ancient book, Sun Tsu made the following observation: "Every battle is won or lost before it is ever fought." Think about this. The point is, when you take the time to properly prepare for battle, the more likely you are to win. The Lord Jesus makes a similar point when He was teaching about discipleship. He asked: “What king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able... to meet him who comes against him...?” (Luke 14:31). Preparation for battle is essential in war, and it doesn’t matter whether the war is physical or spiritual. For most of us, physical combat is not something that we have to face every day, but spiritual combat, that’s a different matter.
The Lord Jesus said: “‘The Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and those who are forceful will seize it” (Matt 11:12). How can we seize the Kingdom? How can we take it by force? By using spiritual weapons, the spiritual weapons that Christ provides to us. The Apostle says, “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but are powerful through God to the pulling down of strong holds; casting down logismoi, and every haughty thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every purpose to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10: 4-6).
So we are called to do spiritual battle, and we are called to engage in it constantly. Why? The chief of the Apostles tells us: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). And as Satan himself confirmed to St Macarius the Great: “You keep vigil, and I never sleep!” So, struggle, warfare, conflict with Satan and against his wicked demons, is something that any authentic Orthodox Christian must endure on a regular basis. The holy fathers teach that if the devil is not attacking us, then he already has us!
So now let’s look at our Apostolic lesson for today. It is given to us precisely to prepare us and to arm us for spiritual combat, which Advent is all about. It comes from St. Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians, 6:10-17.
Brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take 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 loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparedness of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Put on the whole armour of God! And what is this armour? It is God’s own armour which Isaiah describes in chapter 59. It is His armour, the armour of virtues, the armour of righteousness,  and St Paul tells us how to use it. The first thing that the Apostle tells us is to be strong! But we aren’t strong, are we? We feel weak and we are weak in our efforts against Satan. How does that old children’s song go? “Little ones to Him belong. They are weak but He is strong!” It’s true, we ARE weak but HE IS strong, and in Him we can be strong too! What does Isaiah say? “He (God) gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak” (Isaiah 40:29). And in another place the Apostle says: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). And let’s not forget what we heard from the Lord in the Gospel reading this morning: “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God” (Luke 18:27). But if we aren’t close to Christ, if we aren’t connected to Christ, then we remain without power; we remain weak. “My help cometh from the Lord” says the Psalm, it does not come from me (Psalm 120:2 LXX).
After this, we are told to put on a belt, a strong, wide belt which is “truth.” One cannot be a liar and then hope to fight against the “Father of Lies” who is Satan himself (John 8:44). Christ is the Truth, and we must always imitate Him.
Next, St. Paul tells us to “put on the whole armour of God.” Partial armour won’t do. If any piece of the armour is missing, Satan will furiously attack just that spot! If any piece is lacking, our defeat is certain. So we must be careful that as we prepare ourselves for spiritual battle, that we don’t forget any piece, no matter how insignificant or trivial it might seem. So what’s the first piece? The breastplate. The breastplate protects the warrior against wounds to his heart. The “breastplate of righteousness” is the same for the spiritual warrior. By living a God-pleasing and righteous life our hearts are protected against the “fiery arrows of the evil one” and they become, instead, the dwelling place of God.
Next, we need to protect “our feet with the preparedness of the gospel of peace.” That’s literally what it says. It means that the words of the Gospel must be very, very familiar to us. If we know the Gospel, we are protected from walking “in the counsel of the ungodly” (Ps.1:1) or walking where we should not go. If the Scriptures are not our constant food, as Jesus recommends, then we are defenseless against the mental, verbal, and written assaults of the enemy (see Matthew 4:4).
After that, I need to take up the “Shield of Faith.” What does a shield do? It protects us against all sorts of weapons of the enemy: arrows, swords, axes, maces, spears, you name it. It is a super-important piece of defensive equipment. The fiery darts of the evil one are the satanic arrows launched against our minds as well as our bodies. And what is this particular shield made-of? Faith! Faith, especially faith without doubt, is critical to our salvation and our deliverance from the enemy. Remember what Jesus said to blind Bartimaeus? “Go thy way; thy faith hath saved thee, delivered thee, rescued thee!” (Mark 10:46-52). Faith protects me. Faith defeats and drives back the enemy. Faith gives me power over Satan and his minions.
What comes next? The “Helmet of Salvation.” A helmet guards my head; my brain, my eyes, my ears, my mouth, my tongue. If we apply a spiritual helmet over our head, we are seeking, with God’s help, to overcome the passions which have to do with the senses. My eyes and brain from viewing and being tempted by evil thoughts and evil sights, my ears from hearing unclean or inappropriate words, my nose from craving evermore exotic foods, or perfumes, guarding my tongue from unseemly speech, harsh, crude, or judgmental words.
Last, I must make sure to take up the “Sword of the Spirit – The Word of God.” This is not simply the Bible as some think, but it is reliance on God’s promises to do what He says He will do. Confidence and trust in God will cut to bits every spiritual adversary. Remember, our enemies are always spiritual, never human. Spiritual enemies do work through human beings, true, but our job is to pray for the human beings, forgive the human beings. But when it comes to the passions, the demons, the logismoi, we are to fight with everything in us, plus enlisting the assistance of the grace of God.
I will end with a quote from St Anatoly of Optina:
“Are you fighting against your passions? Fight, fight, and be good soldiers of Christ! Do not give in to evil and do not be carried away by the weakness of the flesh. During the time of temptation, flee to the Physician, crying out with the Holy Church, our mother: “O God, number me with the thief, the harlot, and the publican (i.e., with the repentant), and save me!” Amen.