Archive for September, 2013

Spiritual Combat

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

“And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:12). How, you ask, can one hope to attain to the Kingdom by means of violence? It seems to me the problem can be reduced to the apparent conflict between jiriki and tariki, to use the (Japanese) Buddhist terms—that is, between “self-power” and “Other-power”.

I call this conflict “apparent”, because in fact these seemingly opposite powers are two sides of a single coin. Christianity, grosso modo, is a religion in which “Other-power” is stressed, especially in Protestant circles: the grace of God alone is the cause salvation, and all human effort or “work” is seen as Pelagian in character. Nonetheless, it’s very clear in the Scriptures that man is still called to struggle, to engage in what the Fathers call “unseen warfare” and Islam the “greater jihad“.

As you know, we Orthodox capture this complementary opposition with the idea of synergeia—”co-operation” or “co-working” (1 Corinthians 3:9)—and the ascetical tradition is consistently insistent in stressing that the human “side” of this operation entails a sort of “violence”.

You may object that this violence is to be directed toward the demons, or perhaps toward one’s ego, and not toward Heaven. It seems to me, however, that this is a case of needlessly splitting hairs. In saying the Kingdom can be taken by “storm” or by “violence”, the Scriptures are simply speaking elliptically, as they so often do, underscoring in their own way the importance of spiritual combat.

A Standpoint Outside and Above

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

Needless to say, there is no simple solution to the problem you describe. The Path is a “path” because it must be traversed, jagged rocks and all, and this entails a combination of resolution and patience: resolution, lest we be tempted to give up; and patience, lest we become anxious or spiritually greedy.

“Trying to see” (your words) is the key. Though it’s very difficult not to wish for, and to attempt to achieve, an immediate solution to acedia—it’s a painful state, after all, as you suggest with the metaphor of “boiling”—it’s important not to push too hard to get out, for this can in turn create an unhealthy and egoistic tension in the soul. Better to take objective note of our lethargy, leaving it to God to change our state in His own good time.

What we are seeking is to place ourselves at a standpoint outside and above all our “states” (ahw滎), be they pleasant or unpleasant, happy or sad. We wish to be, or at least align ourselves with, the Witness, all the while calmly accepting the fact that soul is in flux and cannot but pass through various ups and downs as the events of time flow past it and through it.