Warfare and Prayer

    Even the devil, having lost the knowledge of God, and so inevitably becoming ignorant in his ingratitude and pride, cannot of himself know what to do. On the contrary, he sees what God does to save us and maliciously learns from this and contrives similar things for our destruction. For he hates God and, being unable to fight Him directly, he fights against us who are in God's image, thinking to avenge himself on God in this way; and, as St John Chrysostom says, he finds us obedient to his will. For instance, he sees how God created Eve as a helpmate for Adam, and so he enlists her co-operation to bring about disobedience and transgression. Or, again, God gave a commandment so that by keeping it Adam might be mindful of the great gifts he had received and thank his Benefactor for them; but the devil made of this commandment the starting-point for disobedience and death. Instead of prophets, he promotes false prophets; instead of apostles, false apostles; instead of law, lawlessness; instead of virtues, vice; instead of commandments, transgressions; instead of righteousness, foul heresies.
    In addition, when the devil saw Christ descending in His extreme goodness to the holy martyrs and revered fathers, appearing either in Himself or through angels or in some other ineffable form, he began to fabricate numerous delusions in order to destroy people. It is on account of this that the fathers, in their discrimination, wrote that one should not pay any attention to such diabolic manifestations, whether they come through images, or light, or fire, or some other deceptive form. For the devil can deceive even in sleep or through the senses. If we accept such delusions, he makes the intellect, in its utter ignorance and self-conceit, depict various shapes or colours so that we think that this is a manifestation of God or of an angel. Often in sleep, or to our senses when awake, he shows us demons that are apparently defeated. In short, he does all he can to destroy us by making us succumb to these delusions.
    In spite of all this, the devil will fail in his purpose if we apply the counsel of the holy fathers: that during the time of prayer we should keep our intellect free from form, shape, and colour, and not give access to anything at all, whether light, fire or anything else; and that we should do all we can to confine our mind solely to the words we are saying, since he who prays only with his mouth prays to the wind and not to God. For, unlike men, God is attentive to the intellect and not to the words spoken. We must worship, it is said, 'in spirit and in truth' (John 4 : 24); and again, 'I had rather speak five words whose meaning I understand than ten thousand words in a strange tongue' (I Cor. 14 : 19).


St. Peter of Damascus: A Treasury of Divine Knowledge


    I
t is now that the devil, having failed in all his other schemes, tempts us with thoughts of despair: he tries to persuade us that in the past things were different and that the men through whom God performed wonders for the strengthening of the faith were not like us. He also tells us that there is now no need for such exertion. For are we not now all of us Christians and all baptized? 'He who believes and is baptized shall be saved' (Mark 16 : 16). What more do we need? But if we succumb to this temptation and remain as we are, we will be completely barren. We will be Christians only in name, not realizing that he who has believed and been baptized must keep all Christ's commandments; and even when he has succeeded in doing this, he should say, 'I am a useless servant' (Luke 17 : 10), as the Lord told His apostles when He instructed them to carry out all He had laid down for them.
    Everyone who is baptized renounces the devil, saying, 'I renounce Satan and all his works, and I join myself to Christ and all His works.' But where is our renunciation, if we do not abandon every passion and desist from every sinful act that the devil promotes? Rather, let us hate such things with all our soul and show our love for Christ through the keeping of His commandments. And how shall we keep His commandments unless we relinquish our own will and thought the will and thought, that is to say, which are opposed to the commandments of God?

St. Peter of Damascus: A Treasury of Divine Knowledge
 
 
    Briefly, we may say that in the nature of things, if someone wants to be saved, no person and no time, place or occupation can prevent him. He must not, however, act contrary to the objective that he has in view, but must with discrimination refer every thought to the divine purpose. Things do not happen out of necessity: they depend upon the person through whom they happen. We do not sin against our will, but we first assent to an evil thought and so fall into captivity. Then the thought itself carries the captive forcibly and against his wishes into sin. The same is true of sins that occur through ignorance: they arise from sins consciously committed. For unless a man is drunk with either wine or desire, he is not unaware of what he is doing; but such drunkenness obscures the intellect and so it falls, and dies as a result. Yet that death has not come about inexplicably: it has been unwittingly induced by the drunkenness to which we consciously assented. We will find many instances, especially in our thoughts, where we fall from what is within our control to what is outside it, and from what we are consciously aware of to what is unwitting. But because the first appears unimportant and attractive, we slip unintentionally and unawares into the second. Yet if from the start we had wanted to keep the commandments and to remain as we were when baptized, we would not have fallen into so many sins or have needed the trials and tribulations of repentance.
    If we so wish, however, God's second gift of grace repentance - can lead us back to our former beauty. But if we fail to repent, inevitably we will depart with the unrepentant demons into age long punishment, more by our own free choice than against our will - Yet God did not create us for wrath but for salvation (cf. I Thess. 5 : 9), so that we might enjoy His blessings; and we should therefore be thankful and grateful towards our Benefactor. But our failure to get to know His gifts has made us indolent, and indolence has made us forgetful, with the result that ignorance lords it over us.

St. Peter of Damascus: A Treasury of Divine Knowledge
 
 
    If a man wants God to hear his prayer quickly, then before he prays for anything else, even his own soul, when he stands and stretches out his hands towards God, he must pray with all his heart for his enemies. Through this action God will hear everything  that he asks.

Abba Zeno
 
 
 
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