Prayer and Wisdom against Temptation & Spiritual Danger

Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.(Matt. 26:41, Mark 14:38)

Spirit is willing, flesh is weak

St. John Chrysostom: “Inasmuch as Christ Himself came to instruct us in all virtue, He both tells us what ought to be done, and does it… He commanded men to pray for their enemies (Matt. 5:44, Luke 6:28) and teaches this by means of His acts; for when He had ascended the cross He said, ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).’ Therefore, as He commanded men to pray so does He Himself pray, instructing you to do so by His own persistent utterances of prayer.

“Since then He commanded them to pray ‘lead us not into temptation [but deliver us from evil] (Matt. 6:13),’ He instructs them in this very precept by putting it into practice Himself, saying ‘Father if it be possible, let this cup pass away from Me (Matt. 26:39).’ Thus teaching all the saints not to plunge into dangers, not to fling themselves into danger… not to rush forwards themselves, or to be the first to advance against terrors. Why pray this way? Both to teach us lowliness of mind, and also to deliver us from the charge of vainglory. On this account it is also said in this passage that… after He had prayed He said to His disciples ‘Could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation.’ Jesus not only prays but also admonishes, ‘For the spirit indeed is willing,’ He said, ‘but the flesh is weak (Matt. 26:41, Mark 14:38).’

“Now this He said by way of emptying their soul of vanity and delivering them from pride, teaching them self-restraint, training them to practice moderation. Therefore, the prayer which He wished to teach them, He Himself also offered… instructing us to pray, and even to seek deliverance from distress; but, if this be not permitted, then to acquiesce in what seems good to God. Therefore He said ‘Nevertheless, not as I will but as Thou wilt (Matt. 26:39);’ not because He had one will and the Father another; but again, that He might instruct men…

“By means of this prayer, Christ taught both these truths, that we should not plunge into dangers, but rather pray that we may not fall into them; but if they come upon us we should bear them bravely, and postpone our own will to the will of God. Knowing these things then let us pray that we may never enter into temptation; but if we do enter it let us beseech God to give us patience and courage, and let us honor His will in preference to every will of our own. For then we shall pass through this present life with safety, and shall obtain the blessings to come: which may we all receive by the favor and lovingkindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, with Whom be to the Father, together with the Holy Spirit, glory, might, honor, now and forever world without end. Amen.”  (St. John Chrysostom (347-407), Excerpts from Against Marcionists and Manichaeans)

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Triumph of the Catholic and Apostolic Church

In the midst of the intense spiritual struggles of the early Church Bishops against the “false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies(2 Pet. 2:1), Saint Hilary, the Bishop of Poitiers (353 – 368 A.D. ) declares his trust in the triumph of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church:

Saint Hilary of PortiersHilary of Poitiers: “I trust that the Church, by the light of Her* doctrine, will so enlighten the world’s vain wisdom, that, even though it [the world] does not accept the mystery of the faith, it will recognise that in our conflict with false teachers** we, and not they, are the true representatives of that mystery. For great is the force of truth; not only is it its own sufficient witness, but the more it is assailed the more evident it becomes. The daily shocks which it [the Church] receives only increase its inherent stability. It is the peculiar property of the Church that when She is buffeted She is triumphant, when She is assaulted with argument She proves Herself in the right, when She is deserted by Her supporters she holds the field. It is Her wish that all men should remain at Her side and in Her bosom; if so, none would become unworthy to abide under the shelter of that august Mother, none would be cast out or suffered to depart from her calm retreat. But when false teachers desert Her or She expels them, the loss She endures, in that She cannot save them, is compensated by an increased assurance that She alone can offer bliss. This is a truth which the passionate zeal of rival heresies brings into the clearest prominence. The Church, ordained by the Lord (Matt. 16:18) and established by His Apostles (Eph. 2:20), is one for all; but the frantic folly of discordant sects has severed them from her. And it is obvious that these dissensions concerning the faith result from…twisting the words of Scripture into conformity with its opinion, instead of adjusting that opinion to the words of Scripture. And thus, amid the clash of mutually destructive errors, the Church stands revealed not only by Her own teaching, but by that of her rivals. They are ranged, all of them, against Her; and the very fact that she stands single and alone is her sufficient answer to their misbelief. The hosts of heresy assemble themselves against Her; each of them can defeat all the others, but not one can win a victory for itself. The only victory is the triumph which the Church celebrates over them all.” (Saint Hilary, Doctor of the Church, On the Trinity; Book 7, para. 4)

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*Her: The early Church Bishops and Christians often referred to the Church, the Bride of Christ, as “She” and “Her”. Capitalized in honor of the mystical Body of Christ.

** False teachers: St. Hilary uses the word “heretics”, but I’ve chosen to use “false teachers” in keeping with the Scriptural translation of 2 Pet. 2:1.

The Unconquered Master of Christian Warfare

Temptations of Jesus, Jesus Conquers Satan“…the devil took Him to a very high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to Him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Begone, Satan! For it is written, You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve’ (Matt. 4:8-10, Deut. 6:13).”

St. Leo the Great:  “Dearly-beloved, as we approach the beginning of Lent, which is a time for the more careful serving of the Lord… let us prepare our souls for fighting with temptations, and understand that the more zealous we are for our salvation, the more determined must be the assaults of our opponents. But “stronger is He that is in us than He that is against us (1 John 4:4),” and we are powerful through Him in Whose strength we rely (Eph. 6:10): because it was for this that the Lord allowed Himself to be tempted by the tempter, that we might be taught by His example as well as fortified by His aid. For He conquered the adversary, as you have heard (Matt. 4:1-11), by quotations from the Scripture, not by actual strength, that by this very thing He might do greater honor to man, and inflict a greater punishment on the adversary by conquering the enemy of the human race not now as God but as Man. Therefore, He fought that we too might fight thereafter: He conquered that we too might likewise conquer. For there are no works of power, dearly-beloved, without the trials of temptations, there is no faith without proof, no contest without a foe, no victory without conflict. This life of ours is in the midst of snares, in the midst of battles; if we do not wish to be deceived, we must watch: if we want to overcome, we must fight. And therefore the most wise Solomon says, “My son, in approaching the service of God prepare thy soul for temptation (Sirach 2:1).” For he, being a man full of the wisdom of God, and knowing that the pursuit of religion involves laborious struggles, foreseeing too the danger of the fight, forewarned the intending combatant; for fear that if the tempter came upon him in his ignorance, he might find him unready and wound him unawares.

“So, dearly-beloved, let us, who instructed in Divine learning come wittingly to the present contest and strife, hear the Apostle when he says, “for our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of this dark world, against spiritual wickedness in heavenly things (Eph. 6:12),” and let us not forget that these our enemies feel that all we strive to do for our salvation is done against them all, and that by the very fact of our seeking after some good thing we are challenging our foes. For this is an old-standing quarrel between us and them fostered by the devil’s ill-will, so that they are tortured by our being justified, because they have fallen from those good things to which we, God helping us, are advancing. If, therefore, we are raised, they are prostrated: if we are strengthened, they are weakened. Our cures are their blows, because they are wounded by the cure of our wounds. “Stand, therefore,” dearly-beloved, as the Apostle says, “having girded your mind in truth, and your feet shod in the preparation of the gospel of peace, in all things taking the shield of faith in which you may be able to extinguish all the fiery darts of the evil one, and put on the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Eph. 6:14-17).” See, dearly-beloved, with what mighty weapons, with what impregnable defenses we are armed by our Leader, who is famous for His many triumphs, the unconquered Master of the Christian warfare.” (St. Leo the Great, Bishop of Rome 440-461 A.D., excerpt of Sermon 39, On Lent)

+ St. Leo the Great, pray for us +

The Word of Truth is Free

Jesus said…“If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (Jn 8:31, 32)

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Justin Martyr, Saint Justin MartyJustin Martyr:  “The word of truth is free, and carries its own authority, refusing to fall under any skillful argument or the scrutiny of its hearers. It is believed for its own nobility, and for the confidence due to Him who sends it. Now the word of truth is sent from God; therefore the freedom claimed by the truth is not arrogant. For being sent with authority, it is not fitting that authority be required to produce proof of what is said; since there is no proof beyond itself, which is God.

God, the Father of the universe, who is the perfect intelligence, is the truth. And the Word, being His Son, came to us, having put on flesh, revealing both Himself and the Father, giving to us in Himself resurrection from the dead, and eternal life afterwards. And this is Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. He, therefore, is Himself both the faith and the proof of Himself and of all things. Therefore, those who follow Him, and know Him, having faith in Him as their proof, shall rest in Him. But since the adversary does not cease to resist many, and uses many and various arts to ensnare them, that he may seduce the faithful from their faith, and that he may prevent the faithless from believing, it seems to me necessary that we also, being armed with the invulnerable doctrines of the faith, do battle against him in behalf of the weak.”  (Justin Martyr (100-165). Excerpts from Fragments of his lost work on the Resurrection)

+ Justin Martyr, pray for us +