The article continues from…Is Science a Laborious Vanity? — Part 2
From the understanding about astronomy and astrology we have read through in the previous two parts, clearly explains the deceit of the King of the world—Satan, the great deceiver.
The greatest deceit, the great victory of Satan is not that he is leading a willing world to destruction, it is that he is, sadly, often able to deceive and lead astray the Christian person who is struggling to be transformed more and more into the image of Christ (see in particular Rom 12:2). Satan deceives the Christian by convincing him to take his attention off Christ and to doubt the power and promises of God.
How do we resist this deceit? What should be the response of the Christian person to the wiles of the Devil? The Holy Scriptures are clear. The two Epistles of St. Peter the Apostle that are contained in the New Testament are wondrous builders of faith. In the introductory notes that we find at the beginning of the Second Epistle of Peter in the Orthodox Study Bible, there is a marvelous summary of the theme of Peter’s Epistles:
“Though the world disbelieves, deceives and mocks, Christians must maintain apostolic doctrine and an Orthodox Christian way of life. We are to grow continually in holiness and virtue and pursue an entrance into ‘the everlasting kingdom’ which is to come”.
The answer for the Christian is to continually seek God and His Kingdom; to fight the deceits of the Devil, despite the pain and suffering he can cause, with a faith founded upon the All-powerful and All-loving God.
Be reliant upon God and His holiness; be close to His Church, receive often the Sacraments that he freely offers to us. Resist evil and cling only to God.
“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” (James 4:7-8a).
Satan can only deceive he cannot pluck us out of the hand of God; he cannot send us unwillingly from the kingdom of God. If God no longer becomes the focus of our vision and life, it is not He who has moved, it is that we have taken our gaze from him!
There are three short Homilies by St John Chrysostom (the Golden-mouthed). They are entitled collectively as ‘Three Homilies Concerning the Power of Demons’. The first is referred to as being “Against Those Who Say That Demons Govern Human Affairs” and the second and third “On the Power of Man to Resist the Devil”.
St. John Chrysostom warns his listeners against this despairing because of the power of the devil.
“For he (i.e. Satan) is an enemy and a foe, and it is a great security to know clearly the tactics of your enemies … when he overcomes by deceitfulness, he does not get the better of all men … he does not overcome … by force, yet by deceitfulness” (Homily II-1).
Thankfully, Satan does not deceive all in the Church. The saints, many of whose icons are surrounding us, can be our examples of faith and Christian life because they can be our guides encouraging us to continue with our eyes fixed upon God – the one who brings salvation and life.
“The Devil is wicked; I grant this indeed, but he is wicked for himself not towards us if we are wary” (Homily III-1).
When we sin, we cannot blame Satan or another for our failing. Our sin is our own because we have committed it by the exercise of our own power and free will, or by our own lack of faith. Likewise, when one in the Church falls away from God, we cannot say that Satan’s power has taken him by force away from the presence of God. God forbid that we should allocate to Satan the power that he so desperately seeks. Our sin is our own and, likewise, our falling away is our own. We fall away because Satan has convinced us, through deceit that our place is not in the Kingdom of God.
St John Chrysostom is careful to show that Satan’s deceits are many, but his intention is one. He seeks only to make us leave the presence of our loving God and to prevent us from allowing God to guide us. Satan seeks this by either convincing us that God cannot do what he has promised, by tempting us with the pleasures of this world, or by deceiving us to think that he, Satan, has the power which he actually does not have. The power of Satan can only lead us from God if we allow him the opportunity to do so.
Some of the other great writers of the Church can be cited to give us strength against this deceit of the Devil. In these (St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 12 15) we are exhorted to see that ‘in the sacrifice of Christ, the devil has been defeated’. Satan is vanquished already and, only by deceit, can he lead astray those who are in Christ; tempting them through promise of treasure, power or letting them fall into utter despair.
We are instructed elsewhere (St. Ignatius’ Epistle to the Smyraeans III & IV) to be firm, guarding ourselves from those who seek to influence evil upon us. Not just to turn away but even to flee from them. We must understand that Satan has enticed men and women from the beginning. It is only then that he has him in his power. However Satan is ultimately bound by the power of God. His power over man is only through delusion (St. Irenaus’ Adversus Haereses). We are to keep our lives fully in God and not to fall into the temptation that the Devil puts in front of us.
In the Gospels, Christ uses the common things of life to teach the truths of God. These well-known things are weaved by him into a story that conveys God to the hearers. The spiritual writers of our Church followed the example of our Lord. In teaching their hearers many of these writers spoke of everyday things, things like grain, fields, birds, and every day events from life. Some even used widely known stories to describe the action of Satan, for example the Fables of Aesop.
In the fable called THE DOG AND HIS REFLECTION. It goes something like this:
“A dog was crossing a plank bridge over a stream with a piece of meat in his mouth, when he happened to see his own reflection in the water. He thought it was another dog with a piece of meat, so he let go of his own and flew at the other dog to get his piece, too. But, of course, all that happened was that he got neither, for one was only a reflection and the other was carried away by the stream”.
The moral of the story is:
“Envy not your neighbors lot; and
be content with what you’ve got.”
We can apply this fable to the Church and to ourselves who see ourselves as part of it. The deceit here is the reflection that the dog saw. What he thought was real was in fact only imaginary. When applying this story to that of the human person we can ask, why do we ‘bring ourselves, by own accord, into subjection to the enemy of this life?’ What is it that encourages us to push away eternal life to fall into sin? It is Satan the great deceiver who tempts us with the imaginary security of a life of wealth, comfort, pleasure and power – a life without God.
Satan can be seen in this story of our greedy dog; he is in the stream trying to convince the dog that even though he has all he needs, there is still more. Alas, this desire is based not on what God has given us, but on what we image we can and should have. Satan cannot offer the dog a real piece of meat; he can only reflect the image of the meat that already exists. Satan’s promises of peace without God are false. He tries to convince us to take his offer by copying the things of God. However, these copies are not real; they will disappear as easily as ripples do to a reflection in a stream. Satan does not take the meat from the mouth of the dog; he does not have to. He only need convince the dog to grab at more and by doing so lose what he has already been given. He plays on the greed and pride of the dog. Greed and the constant desire to be better than those around us is a common way of the world, it is not the way of a life in Christ. The temptations of the Devil often involve what we think we should have. The grace that God has given us is enough for our needs; we should use what we have been given with thankfulness and not worry about what we do not have.
Another fable concerning a reflection in a stream (in The Stag and the Hounds):
“A stag one autumn day came to a pond and stood admiring his reflection in the water.
‘Ah’ said he, ‘what glorious antlers! But my slender legs make me ashamed. How ugly they are! I’d rather have none at all’.
The stag was soon distracted from his vain musings by the noise of huntsmen and their hounds. Away he flew, leaving his pursuers a vast distance behind him. But coming upon a thicket, he became entangled by his antlers. He struggled to free himself as the baying of the hounds sounded nearer and nearer.
‘At last’ he thought, ‘If I am meant to die at the fangs of these beasts, let me face them calmly’.
But when he ceased to tremble, he found his antlers had come free.
Immediately he bounced back, delighting in his legs, which carried him far away from danger. As he ran, he thought to himself,
‘Happy creature that I am! I now realize that, that on which I prided myself was nearly the cause of my undoing, and that which I disliked was what saved me’.
Satan again lies within the flowing stream in this fable. Previously, we saw how Satan often deceives us into desiring what does not really exist. Here the deceit differs. Here the stag is convinced that what he has is inadequate. Previously it was pride and greed that was the downfall of the dog. Now we are reminded that vanity and extreme self-resourcefulness can be fatal. The stag knew what he wanted. However, his assessment of what was necessary or adequate for him was not right.
It is rather amazing to hear many in the Church say “I would really like to contribute more to the ministry and life of my Church, but I don’t have the necessary talents to do anything”. It’s not a matter of my antlers being just right or my legs being too thin and scrawny, but it is often a matter of “it would be too embarrassing for me to contribute anything in my Church youth group”. Perhaps it is “I would really like to say something at my youth group, but everyone would think I am stupid, or pushy”.
All of us have spiritual gifts from God; they were given to us by God at our Baptism. The Church cannot function properly, especially in times of need and challenge unless all of its members use the gifts God has given them. How can we expect the Church to stand fast against a world that rejects the Kingdom of God when the very members of that Church are not completely relying upon God?
Thankfully, it is not the combined self-reliance of all the members of our Church that makes us the ‘Body of Christ’ (I Cor 12:27). It is the power and grace of God that transforms the individual members of the Church into the functioning ‘Body of Christ’ in this world.
The stag allowed his own vanity and his self-judgment to cloud his opinion of himself. Satan often deceives the members of the Church into believing that even God’s promises will not be fulfilled in them because they in themselves do not ‘have what it takes’. It is not up to us, it is up to God!
“But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless they are sent?” As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ (Rom 10:14-17).
Satan cannot defeat the Church that is filled with the purpose and Spirit of God. He will, however attempt to deceive those who are part of it. The Church cannot be the vehicle of God’s salvation in this world if those who see themselves as belonging to that Church are not going to use what God has given them because of fear of ridicule, vanity, embarrassment or pride.
Perhaps our stag should read the verse above that mentions “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news”! In the end it is the scrawny feet that saved the stag from the fangs of the hounds. So too, it is the feet that carry the preaching and the teaching and those who are living out their faith in this world that will save us from the deception of the snapping Devil – however scrawny and ugly those feet might appear to be!
One of the greatest dangers for those within the Church is what is called ‘The New Age Movement’. What has the ‘New Age Movement’ got to do with the deception of Satan? It certainly has nothing to do with us who are members of the Church! Or does it?
Sadly, the ‘New Age Movement’ in its variety of forms, has influenced all aspects of life, and even many who see themselves as members of the Church of God are so easily influenced by this great deception of Satan.
Many see the “New Age Movement” as just a way of life; living in respect of all creatures, practicing non violence, being sensitive, respecting others right to believe in their particular religion. Nothing could be further from the truth. The “New Age Movement” is in fact one of the greatest attempts at deception by Satan upon Christians today!
The “New Age Movement” is not simply some broad descriptive title for a range of unrelated philosophies or teachings. It is a highly organized and motivated movement that, in its least organized form, seeks to distract Christians from concentrating upon the things of God. At its most dangerous, it seeks to destroy Christian faith and replace the historical and theological Christ with a ‘new’ and ‘more relevant’ Messiah figure.
“According to New Age sources, the New Age Movement is a worldwide network. It consists of tens of thousands of cooperating organizations. Their primary goal or the secret behind their ‘unity-in-diversity’ is the formation of a ‘New World Order”. The Movement usually operates on the basis of a well-formulated body of underlying esoteric or occult teachings”.
A far more subtle and potentially more dangerous satanic deception lies behind the more basic unorganized expression of the “New Age Movement”. It is not the expression of ‘New Age’ in the world that should concern us, as much as its influence within the Church of God.
Sadly we can find particular ‘New Age’ practices and beliefs even with many members of the Orthodox Churches. Seemingly simple activities such as reading one’s stars, experimenting with the occult, using ‘healing crystals’, practicing eastern forms of meditation and certain ‘holistic medicine’ practices etc are expressions of what the “New Age Movement” is encouraging. These things are destructive to one’s Orthodox Christian faith precisely because they seek to take away from the uniqueness and central importance of Christ and the ‘Kingdom of heaven’. Anything that can do this will also slowly but surely chip away at the prime place of importance that Christ and the Gospel has in our lives as Orthodox Christians.
Referring to quotes from a onetime Confessor Priest-Monk from Mount Athos:
“The activity of the Antichrist and the beast, regardless of how much power they are allowed to have from God, will never acquire any authority over the souls of God’s servants. As it was with Job ‘… but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it’ (I Cor 10:13b).
“Only the conscious denial of Christ deprives man of salvation. No hidden action or symbol of the evil one can harm or have an influence on the believer.
Truly, Satan is the great deceiver because he portrays himself as having power and influence that he does not really have. He is the greatest trickster because he casts an image that strikes fear and despair even into the hearts of those touched by the power of God.
Satan deceives because he seems to appear where he really cannot be and he tries to tempt all people, in venturing where they should not go.
“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you. Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you. Be sober, be watchful; because your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you. To him be the dominion forever and ever” (1 Peter 5:6-11).