Western Christians celebrate Easter one week from now, but for those of us in the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church, Lent began only last week. Our Easter falls five weeks behind the West this year.
I offer a quotation from Fr. Seraphim Rose of Blessed Memory (1934-1982) that is especially relevant to those of us struggling through this Lenten season. Fr. Seraphim was an American original, and I am pleased to have met people who actually knew him. As Eugene Rose he came of age in California at the beginning of the Beatnik era as a gifted student with interests in Eastern mystical philosophies and Zen Buddhism. As Eugene Rose, he graduated from both Pomona College and UC Berkeley. He spoke fluent Chinese and Russian as well as Greek and Sanskrit. After a long period of soul searching, he eventually converted to the Russian form of Orthodox Christianity in San Francisco, and became a well-known Orthodox ascetic monk and writer. Fr. Seraphim was such a prolific writer that a number of his religious publications were smuggled into the Soviet Union where they were translated, often copied by hand, and then passed around as “samizdat” underground literature. His writings had and continue to have a huge impact in both the East and West, and is credited with helping to revive Christianity in Russia after the fall of the USSR. There is much more written about his life and struggles that can found on the Internet which I won’t rehash here, but it is well worth reading.
So back to Lent. I’ve found this quotation from Fr. Seraphim that touches upon the influence of demons on humans. They have existed for thousands of years, and they know all the human weaknesses. We humans go into battle with them every day, blindly, and increasingly unarmed.
Fr. Seraphim is making a point that because of our inherent human weakness the need for regular and frequent confession is very important to Christians. This is especially so during Lent when temptation comes more frequently. Confession is a rite of purification, along with fasting, and he writes about the need to confront our personal weaknesses with humility in order to gain inner strength. For such strength is necessary and vital in order to combat the demonic influences that lead to temptation, and all too often cause us to fall away from God and into sin. The humility that comes from confessing our weaknesses leads to strength and spiritual growth.
“Do not be afraid to confess the fleshly sins. Do you think you are so holy? God allows you to fall in order to humble you. Get up and walk in fear and trembling. Struggle against them, but do not despair, no matter what happens. Strength in Orthodox firmness comes very gradually; what you do every day helps build it up; and you fall, humility and self-awareness build it up.
Your battle with “demonic fornication” is not as unusual as you may think. This passion has become very strong in our evil times – the air saturated with it; and the demons take advantage of this to attack you in a very vulnerable spot. Every battle with passions also involved demons, who give almost unnoticeable “suggestions” to trigger the passions and otherwise cooperate in arousing them. But human imagination also enters in here, and it is unwise to distinguish exactly where our passions and imagination leave off and demonic activity begins – you should just continue fighting.
“That the demons attack you in dreams is a sign of progress – it means they are retreating, seeing that you are resisting conscious sin.”
~Fr. Seraphim Rose