We are a people at war. There are bloody wars in the Middle East and there is an interminable war on terror. But there is a war that hits much closer to home, one that touches each one of us every day. It is the spiritual warfare.
In the spiritual warfare, there are no civilians who escape the conflict while others fight on the front lines. Spiritual warfare is total war. Have you experienced this war? Have you felt the fiery darts of the Evil One? Have you witnessed the casualties of spiritual warfare in marriages, in families, at work, in school, in parishes?
Spiritual warfare has no boundaries. The Evil One does not discriminate. The enemy is not humane. In the spiritual warfare, we have only two options: surrender to the enemy and consign ourselves to slavery and torment, or fight.
But our enemy is a fiendish master of deception. On the spiritual battlefield we can so easily be deceived, and instead of fighting against our true enemy, we often attack our fellow soldiers. “You are the reason my life is so bad! You are evil! You are the one I must fight!” Whenever we fight against other people, our demonic enemy has duped us into firing upon our own forces.
In any war, one must be absolutely clear about who the enemies are, and where they are. St. Paul tells us,
We are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Eph 6:12)
Our enemies are not flesh and blood human beings.
So how do we fight against the devil in the spiritual warfare? In baptism we are declared newly enlisted warriors of Christ, and no soldier is enlisted and sent to war without a weapon. Our weapon is the Cross of Christ. The Cross is the might of the Church through which corruption is abolished, through which the power of death is crushed. How great is the power of the Cross! When the demons behold it, they are burned. By the sign of the Cross they are consumed with flames.
But how are we to wield the Cross? Are we to take up the Cross as one would take up a sword or firearm? And what exactly is the power of the Cross?
There is no magic in two perpendicular lines. We do not venerate the Cross because it is an instrument of torture and execution. The Cross is not a sword or a club that we use to intimidate people that we don’t like. The Cross is mighty and invincible because our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is mighty and invincible, and He allowed Himself to be crucified—He endured a shameful death on the Cross—in love and humility. Jesus’ crucifixion reveals the mystery of divine power in complete vulnerability; a mystery that we see in the icon of “Extreme Humility” where Christ, with hands bound, wearing the crown of thorns, descends into the tomb. This is the love of God. The power of the Cross is the extreme humility of Jesus Christ. To defeat the demons we wield the Cross in the same way that Christ wielded it. We wield the weapon of peace by being victims of the Cross, by being co-crucified with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Humility is the only weapon we can use to attack the demons. In humility, Christ’s victory is our victory. Bearing our neighbor’s burden, we follow Christ on His humble path to the Cross. Seeing that we have injured our brothers and sisters, we ask for forgiveness, and God transforms us with His mercy. The “broken and contrite” heart of the penitent radiates the light of Christ, and as the light grows in intensity, the demons cry in fear and run far away. The love and mercy of Jesus Christ are our invincible weapon in the spiritual warfare.
Standing in the middle our great Lenten campaign in the spiritual warfare, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ calls out to us:
Take up your cross and follow me!
Today we fight! Filled with hope and courage, we take up our cross, and follow Christ to that hallowed ground outside the walls of Jerusalem, the Place of the Skull, where our Lord and King offers Himself and grants victory and new life to us all.
Father Sergius Halvorsen is Assistant Professor of Homiletics and Rhetoric at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. He is attached to Christ the Savior Church (OCA) in Southbury CT and writes Transforming Preaching Ministries, a blog for preachers.