There is a war going on outside and there is a war within. We are all tired of these wars and wish they would cease. We want the world to change. Most of us wish things around us were different and most of us wish we could change things inside of us. But how can we change ourselves so as to change the world around us? We are broken, discontent and lost. However, as God has demonstrated throughout history, He is exceedingly proficient at pulling off His will through messed up people in pretty crazy and amazing ways.
Our brokenness can be fixed. We can be healed. This can be accomplished this through learning about and practicing unseen warfare, which is ascetical theology. This is the foundation of the spiritual life which is the way to healing, and the way to healing is the path towards God. As Evagrius said, “People become better as they come nearer to God.” Therefore this is a spiritual and religious process of re-linking one’s soul to God, which ends in communion with God. Through God we can be fully restored.
Referring to the spiritual life in terms of war is a little intense for some. The modern spiritual enthusiast might prefer softer terms such as “self improvement” or “self help” or “self realization”. I prefer referring to this as unseen warfare because this explains with precision the active work that self improvement requires. It is “unseen” in that is takes place in the mind and heart of a person. It is “warfare” because there is an intense conflict in ones thoughts, feelings, desires and urges during the process of change. It is a war, and it requires warfare—daily confrontation with the bad habits and patterns that we have established over time. This is what Jesus Christ was referring to when he said, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword” (Matt 10:34). It may sound like a paradox, but as Aristotle said, “we must make war so that we may live in peace.”
Here we will explore this as taught in the Holy Sccriptures and the writings of the early Church fathers, desert monks and nuns and mystics throughout the ages. We will be delving into the writing of the great early spiritual writers and ascetics from both eastern and western Christian traditions as well as some more modern theologians and philosophers.
Through the course of this website you will be learning the basics of spiritual warfare. Some will be theoretical but much will be practical. We will be learning about the following topics: the Goal of unseen warfare, who the enemy is, the location of the battlefield (the soul), the anatomy of the soul, the passions, how to overcome bad habits with good habits, the virtues and the vices (the long lists), how to think straight and overcome destructive thoughts, self examination, self control & self denial. We will also cover a brief survey of illumination & perfection which will include contemplation, uncreated light, hesychasm, dispassion & theosis, most of which may be largely out of the reach of us who live not in a cave.
The aim of this endeavor, that is undertaking unseen warfare, is not to find happiness or consolation in this life, nor is it to be viewed as a “self help” system. Although these are the natural outcome of success in spiritual warfare, they are not the actual end game in victory. As C.S. Lewis said,
“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”
The goal of unseen warfare is to reconnect with God. As outlined in the scriptures, this is a road of affliction and suffering. After all Jesus said that this requires each of us to bear our own cross. This includes dying to our self and also rising again as a new man in Him.
Trying to implement any level of ascetical life is super counter intuitive for the modern American. Therefore, wanting to do this is a bit crazy. You have to be nuts to be excited about wanting to destroy yourself and all your desires. The American way is, “you deserve it” or “just do it!” or “You can do anything you want as long as it doesn’t hurt someone else”. These concepts are lies. The early Greek philosophers, and later, the Church saints and mystics, knew that desire and pleasure do not produce happiness, but instead produce suffering. So the ascetic is embracing suffering and even uniting it to Christ to overcome suffering. This makes no sense to the world. As stated eloquently by St. John Climacus in the Ladder of Divine Ascent:
“All who enter upon the good fight, which is hard and close, but also easy, must realize that they must leap into the fire, if they really expect the celestial fire to dwell in them.”
--St John Climacus
When choosing to engage in any level of ascetic practice, one thing is for certain. We will be challenged, tested and we will fail. In fact, we will fall on the battlefield very often--even daily and even multiple times a day. Failure is a major component of this battle. And because the culture and world we live in is going in the opposite way of asceticism, the battle is all the more difficult, and at times may seem impossible. But be of good cheer, because the Church Fathers knew it would be difficult for us. Here is an entry from the Arena, by the Russian mystic, St. Ignatius Brianchaninov. I’m pretty sure this is describing our time.
“Once the holy fathers of the Egyptian Skete were talking prophetically about the last generation. ‘What have we done?’ they said. One of them, the great Abba Ischyrion replied: ‘We have carried out the Commandments of God.’ They asked him: ‘And what will those who come after us do?’ Abba replied: ‘They will do half as much as we have done.’ They again asked him: ‘And what will those who come after them do?’ Abba Ischyrion replied: ‘They will not have any monastic activity whatever, but they will be permitted to have troubles and afflictions, and those of them who persevere will be superior to us and our fathers.’”
-- St. Ignatius Brianchaninov
This website of teachings a quotes is a warriors manual or field guide that can be referenced for inspiration. The quotes from the scriptures, saints and mystics herein quickly empower and inspire. Their words are like swords that cut through the modern worldview of materialism, relativism and individualism. By God’s mercy and grace, we can destroy our broken self and build up a new person in Christ. This is the way of true purpose, peace and contentment that is only fully realised when a soul is purified and united to the Godhead.