Twelve years ago Hieromonk Seraphim Rose wrote in his penetrating study, Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future:
"...a new demonic outpouring is being loosed upon mankind... Perhaps never since the beginning of the Christian era have demons appeared so openly and extensively as today."
This issue of "Orthodox America" examines some of the more recent manifestations of this "demonic outpouring," which leave no doubt that this tide of evil activity has not been stemmed but continues to rise, threatening to engulf, "if it were possible,.. the very elect" (Matt. 24:24).
Some Orthodox Christians may think to themselves: "I'm a faithful member of the Church; I pray and keep the fasts; I know enough not to dabble in any kind of occult practices. Thank God I'm safe from this 'demonic outpouring'."
This is a dangerous sense of assurance, for the Evil One is exceedingly cunning and, like a chameleon, he adapts his form of deception to exploit most effectively the weaknesses of his prey. As Father Seraphim soberly pointed out: "a great gift of discernment, with a deep distrust of all one's extraordinary "spiritual" experiences, is required if a per son if not to be deceived." (ORF, p. 182)
is discernment? St. Paul mentions it as one of the gifts of the Spirit (I Cor.
12:10), and St. Peter of Damaskos says simply: "Discernment is light"
Awake, thou that sleepest...and Christ shall give thee light. (Eph. 5:14)
It is one of the great misfortunes of our modern times that man has come to trust in his own "enlightenment." Living in this progressively oriented society, we Orthodox Christians cannot help but be tainted by this outlook, even if objectively we accept the Church's teaching that this world lies in darkness. We spend most of our life developing our bodily eye, i.e., the mind, on which we depend so much for "getting along" in the world. It is much more difficult for us to see the need of developing our spiritual eye. And yet, this is what is urgently needed if we hope to escape the manifold snares of the enemy. As it is, we are able to perceive his realm of activity not so much with our own eyes as through Scripture and the Teachers of the Church, such as St. Macarius who wrote:
"There is a Satanic 'earth' and home, where the powers of darkness and the spirits of wickedness live and walk and take their pleasure. That darksome earth cannot be seen with the eyes of this body, nor be felt; neither is the luminous earth of the Godhead felt, or seen by the fleshly eyes. Bu: to those who are spiritual both are discernable to the heart's eye; that Satanic earth of darkness and the luminous earth of the Godhead." (Homily 14)
When Adam and Eve allowed pride to enter their hearts, their spiritual eyes grew clouded. No longer were they able to 'see' God and His angels as clearly as they had in Paradise. For God is pure Light, and sin is the absence of light. St. Macarius calls sin a "foggy power"; he likens it to a covering which hangs over a lamp and obscures its light. In some it may be a thin veil, while in others, beset by many sins, it is like a thick blanket.
How, if pride, as the root of all sin, generates darkness, can it not be concluded that discernment, which is light, is born of humility? This is indeed the teaching of many Holy Fathers. St. John Cassian writes: "From humility comes discernment," and St. Peter of Damaskos teaches that "humility... gives birth to discernment; while from discernment comes the spiritual insight which the prophet calls 'counsel' (Is. 11:2). By means of such insight we see things according to their true nature." The same Holy Father continues:
"Discernment is characterized by an unerring recognition of what is good and what is not, and the knowledge of the will of God in all that one does .... the spiritual insight it generates is more necessary than all other gifts. For what is more necessary than to perceive the wiles of the demons and, with the help of God's grace, to protect one's soul?"
If, on certain levels, the demons today appear quite openly-inspiring various cults led by false prophets, stirring up popularity of the occult, steering souls into a morass of materialism, appearing as beings from outer space--they are also hard at work in the hidden recesses of our hearts. Here their intrigues are more difficult to detect. As. St. John of Kronstadt writes:
"Those who are trying to lead a spiritual life have to carry on a most skilful and difficult mental warfare, a spiritual warfare, every moment through life; it is necessary that the soul should have every moment a clear eye, able to watch and notice the entrance into the heart of thoughts sent by the evil one, and to repel them."
Likewise, St. Anthony the Great counsels the need for much prayer and exercise, "that one may by the divine gift of discerning spirits, be able to know which among them are more, and which less, evil than others...and how each may be defeated and cast out,"
Discernment is necessary not only to protect ourselves from the wiles of the devil, but also to know God's will, to know what it is that is most pleasing to Him.
Finally, discernment consoles and strengthens the heart by offering a glimpse of the "luminous earth of the Godhead," the world of light, ,goodness, love; spurring us on toward the goal of our spiritual life, which is union with our Creator and God.
That great luminary of the Church and hesychast Father of the 11th century, St. Gregory Palamas, constantly prayed: "Lord, enlighten my darkness!" How much more, then, should we who are filled with the darkness of ignorance strive to acquire such an indispensable gift as that of discernment, that the eyes of our spiritual understanding being enlightened, we may know "what is the hope of the Lord's calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints" (Eph. 1:18).
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