"Yesterday, December 7, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan" (FDR, Dec. 8, 1941).
"We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…. " (Winston Churchill, June 4, 1940
"The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth" (Abraham Lincol, Nov. 19, 1863).
What do these quotes have in common? They are all calls to arms, calls upon people to heroically fight against an enemy. In each case the speaker explained the reason for going to war. Roosevelt spoke about the attacks on Pearl Harbor and other Pacific bases; Churchill about the evacuation of troops from Dunkirk, and Lincoln about the cause of government of the people, by the people and for the people.
We heard a call to arms today. This call, like the others, was a call for the listener to arise in warfare against an enemy. Unlike the others, it was a call to spiritual rather than physical warfare.
"Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires" (Romans 13:11-14; 14:1-4).
The idea of spiritual warfare may be unfamiliar to many. My intuition tells me that people come to church to find peace, not warfare. They come to be told that everything is all right, that God loves them, no matter what. The truth is that God indeed does love everyone, but this does not mean that we are to relax and do nothing to reciprocate.
When I say the words, spiritual warfare, I do not refer to the commonly held definition of Jihad, spiritual warfare in which we coerce or intimidate others into doing and believing what we tell them. Instead I mean spiritual warfare in the sense of inner struggle to become the people that God intended us to be. Spiritual warfare means that we examine ourselves and work aggressively to eliminate the bad habits in our own lives.
In the speeches that I cited an external enemy was involved. In our case this is not so. What is the reason to engage in spiritual warfare?
One answer lies not in the epistle reading itself, but in a theme repeated in today’s Matins service. The theme is Paradise lost.
"In times of old did Adam sit and cry in
sorrow opposite the delights he had in Paradise;
his hands upon did his forehead strike, as
he said this: O merciful Lord, have mercy on
me who have fallen" (translated by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Christian doctrine holds that people were made to be God’s companions. They were made good at their creation. Neither killing nor disease nor hatred was part of their nature. These came afterwards; in theology, after the fall of Adam.
We get small glimpses of what God intended for us in the lives of holy people- the Old Testament Joseph, who could discern dreams; the Prophet Elisha, whose dead bones could raise a man to life; the Apostles, whose shadows could heal the sick. To some in society, the miracles of the Bible are little more than fables or wishful thinking, but to believers they are indications of what might be, what could be for each of us.
My point is that Lent, spring training for Christians, calls for us to take up arms in a struggle that more difficult to explain than World War II or the Civil War. Why? Because the enemy is within us. The struggle is not with Nazis or Japanese or southern rebels, but rather with the vices that we hold inside. Our struggles are within selfishness, with egotism, with hedonism, with anger, with pride, with fear, with doubts, with discouragement, with laziness. Lent requires a declaration of war against these.
IN VAIN DO YOU REJOICE IN NOT EATING, MY SOUL!
YOU ABSTAIN FROM FOOD, BUT ARE NOT PURIFIED FROM PASSIONS!
IF YOU HAVE NO DESIRE FOR IMPROVEMENT,
YOU WILL BE DESPISED AS A LIE IN THE EYES OF GOD!
YOU WILL BE COMPARED TO EVIL DEMONS, WHO NEVER EAT!
IF YOU CONTINUE IN SIN, YOU WILL PERFORM A USELESS FAST:
THEREFORE, REMAIN IN CONSTANT WARFARE,
THAT YOU MAY STAND BEFORE THE CRUCIFIED SAVIOR,
OR RATHER THAT YOU MAY BE CRUCIFIED WITH HIM WHO DIED FOR YOUR SAKE: //
REMEMBER ME, LORD, WHEN YOU COME IN YOUR KINGDOM!
May this Lent be a season of holy war for each of us.