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Homily for 3/6/11 - Forgiveness - In the Arena

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  • Fr David Moser
    Matthew 6:14-21 In the city of Rome, during the time of the empire, there was a great arena called the Coliseum – the ruins of which still stand today and
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 5, 2011
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      Matthew 6:14-21

      In the city of Rome, during the time of the empire, there was a great
      arena called the Coliseum – the ruins of which still stand today and
      have been excavated and studied by scholars and viewed by countless
      tourists. This Coliseum was the site of public entertainments that
      centered chiefly around the combat of trained fighters called
      gladiators. These gladiators would stand in the arena and fight against
      both animals and other men. Sometimes they would stage a “hunt” pitting
      gladiators portraying hunters against ferocious beasts such as lions or
      bears. The hunter did not know what kind of animal he would be facing,
      nor did he know from whence the animal would appear. He had to be on his
      guard at all times and attentive to every part of his surroundings so
      that he would not be surprised by the beast for the hunter might then
      become the hunted. Other gladiators faced one another in personal combat
      pitted against a foe of equal skill. He had to fight skillfully and with
      zeal lest he be defeated.

      Today we cross the threshold and enter our own spiritual arena where we
      will do battle against our own foes as dangerous and deadly as those of
      the ancient gladiators. Our arena is not a particular place, for our
      battles take place within the soul. Our arena is a period of time set
      aside by the Church for the purpose of waging war against our foes. We
      call this time Great Lent. Some of our foes are unreasoning and wild as
      were the animals hunted by the gladiators. These are our passions that
      arise out of our fallen nature which is similar to that of the beasts.
      When we give in to our animal passions, we cloud the image of God in our
      souls and become instead like the beasts. These bestial passions are the
      wild beasts that we hunt and slay with the weapons of fasting and
      ascetic labor. By denying ourselves, we cut off the power of the
      passions and they become weak.

      When we fast we attack one of the most basic and strongest passions –
      that of the stomach. How often are we ruled by our own desire for food.
      We seek after the tastiest food and we often can’t go even a short time
      without eating something. We learn to cook or we seek out the best
      restaurants to appease our desire. Even the slightest twinge of hunger
      will drive us to look for something to eat. When we fast, we attack this
      passion head on by limiting not only what kinds of foods we eat, but
      also limiting how often and how much we eat. By confronting this
      particular passion, which is intertwined with almost all the others, we
      are attacking one of the foundations of our passionate nature.

      It is also important to remember that fasting was a part of our life
      from the moment of creation. God placed Adam and Eve in the garden of
      paradise (Eden) and there they were permitted to eat of every tree –
      except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This is the original fast
      which mankind was given at the beginning, setting a limit on what we ate
      by prohibiting the fruit of on single tree. In breaking the fast of
      paradise, Adam and Eve disobeyed God and introduced sin into the world.
      They themselves became subject to the consequences of sin and were cut
      off from God, Who is our Life. They began to die. When we are united to
      the God/man Jesus Christ through baptism and the other sacraments, we
      are joined again to the source of Life. When we are tempted by our
      fallen desires and passions, we return again to the very first spiritual
      tool that mankind was given in paradise – fasting – and by using this
      tool, with God’s help we can overcome and defeat these temptations.

      But it is not only against the “wild animals” of our passions that we
      struggle in this life. We also engage in combat against an armed foe who
      uses both strength and skill against us. That foe is the devil. We face
      this foe in a spiritual contest of skill and strength. With God’s help
      we are armed with the grace of the Holy Spirit and we are clothed with
      the armor of the virtues – as the Apostle Paul describes (having put on
      the whole armor of Christ… Eph 6:11) The evil one cannot overcome these
      spiritual weapons given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ, but this does
      not cause him to stop fighting. Our wily opponent simply takes a more
      subtle approach. St Gregory Palamas describes this tactic of the devil:
      “(The devil) is inventive, versatile and extremely skilful in contriving
      wickedness. He has means to hinder our good purposes and actions as soon
      as they begin. But if he fails to prevent them initially, he sets up
      other devices by which he can render them useless once they are
      underway. If he is unable to make them worthless when they are half way
      to completion, he knows other tricks and ways to invalidate them even
      once they are finished, and makes them a source not of reward but of
      harm to all but the most careful. First of all he points out how
      laborious and difficult to accomplish virtue is. In this way he fills us
      with laziness and despair, as though we were attempting difficult and
      impossible things and were therefore incapable of putting our intentions
      into action. Then he engenders disbelief in the rewards which God has
      promised to those who struggle.”

      The devil knows that we have been given spiritual weapons which are
      invincible and which he cannot overcome. In order to negate them, he
      first tries to convince us not to use them. And so we think that the
      fast is too hard, it is too much trouble. After all what does it really
      benefit us to change our diet. And so laziness creeps in and we set
      aside this powerful spiritual weapon unused. But perhaps we do not fall
      to this trickery and we begin to fast anyway. Even then the evil one
      knows that if we misuse this weapon then it will not only be ineffective
      but it may also turn and harm us. And so, he begins to tempt us with
      pride in our own ability to fast and with judgment of others who do not
      follow the rule as strictly as they should. Our fasting then is turned
      into a source of spiritual harm for ourselves rather than a weapon
      against the evil one. Remember the Pharisee of a couple of weeks ago? He
      fasted, and yet his fasting was tainted with pride and judgment and so
      was of no benefit to him. Humility, repentance and forgiveness empower
      our fasting and so counteract this attempt of the evil one to turn us
      from the path of Christ. Even if we avoid these traps, the evil one
      prompts us to question the value and effect of our fast telling us that
      it is only a ritual with no real effect and similar lies. If we do not
      believe that there is a very real spiritual effect of fasting, then we
      will only engage in it half-heartedly and soon we will neglect it,
      falling back upon the temptation to laziness, giving up altogether. In
      these ways the devil deceives us into lowering our guard and setting
      aside the armor and weapons that insure our victory in this spiritual

      We are spiritual gladiators entering into the arena to face our foes. We
      face the bestial passions of our fallen nature which we battle with
      attentiveness, fasting and ascetic labor. If we avoid this danger then
      we will face a foe of strength and skill who is exceedingly cunning –
      that is the devil who seeks to destroy us. He knows that he cannot
      defeat us if we rely upon the armor and weapons given to us by the grace
      of God and so he seeks to deceive us and convince us to set these
      weapons aside or if we do not set them aside then to misuse them. But if
      we stand firm, if we embrace the fast and focus on the spiritual tasks
      of Great Lent, the prayers, the ascetic labor, the works of
      righteousness, then we will overcome these foes that seek to hinder us
      from following Christ and emerge victorious with Christ at the feast of
      His Resurrection.

      Archpriest David Moser
      St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
      Homilies: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/propoved/
      Website: http://stseraphimboise.org
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