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The nets of the evil one

"Woe to the world because of offenses!" said the Lord, and added, "For offenses must come" (Matt. 18:7). "Must," evidently for our spiritual growth. The Lord does not want us to be self-confident, unconcerned and weakened. He explained the problem of temptations in the parable of the weeds. The Sower (the Lord) sowed the wheat (goodness) in His field (among people), and His foe (the devil) sowed tares (temptations) among the good seeds. When the servants (angels) spotted the tares, they asked permission from the Master to weed them out. He did not permit this, saying: "No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest" (i.e., until the Judgment). Only then "will the angels gather out of His Kingdom all things that offend and those who practice lawlessness and will cast them into the furnace of fire" (Matt. 13:24-42). In other words, a premature estrangement from temptations will harm the spiritual development of mankind.

Just as the fight for survival leads to the development of more perfect and enduring types of fauna and flora in the physical world, the same fight with temptations leads to the formation of more steadfast and virtuous souls. Just as ores of precious metal are tested by fire, and a student by examination, so in the same way the future citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven undergoes temptations (1 Peter 1:7).

It follows then, that the limited activity of the evil tempter enters into God's plans and is allowed by Him. However, God does not allow him to rule. The devil cannot ruin anyone exept those who voluntarily submit themselves to him.

The Apostles taught Christians not to despair during their trials, but to see in them a positive side. The Apostle Paul wrote thus: "Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy" (1 Peter 4:12-13). In the same manner the Apostle James wrote: "Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been proved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him" (James 1:12). In addition to which, God "will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able to endure, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you will be able to bear it" (1 Cor. 10:13).

For what reason did the once pure angel close to God begin to occupy himself with such an abasing and dirty deed as the temptation of mankind? Some are of the opinion that it gives him sadistic pleasure to torture and bring others to perdition. This is true, but there is also another more important reason. Let us remember that the Daystar (the devil) separated himself from God due to pride, wanting to be equal to the Creator in glory and power. Having suffered defeat in Heaven, he now concentrated all his attention on mankind, wanting to subject and enslave to himself the majority of mankind. However, he cannot reach this goal as long as people carry within themselves a single grain of goodness imparted to them by the Creator. Therefore, in order to possess anyone, the devil must first of all mutilate and cripple him morally. The devil attains this with the help of sin. By tempting mankind for some many thousands of years, the devil has perfected himself in this art. Here are some of his main techniques:

  • Stealth
  • Adaptation
  • Gradualness
  • Persistence
  • Lies

In order for man to subject himself willingly to temptation, it is necessary that he consider it as his own decision: then he himself will eagerly strive to seek that which he considers important for his happiness and prosperity. That is why it is imperative for the devil to hide his actions by giving the impression that he does not exist. The devil carefully analyzes a person's character, his inclinations and weaknesses, and adapts his temptations to external factors and circumstances.

The following tale from the book of the Acts of the Apostles illustrates the method of temptation. The first Christians lived jointly and harmoniously, so much so, that everything was communal. Those who were well-to-do sold their holdings in order to help their needy colleagues. Due to such a sincere brotherly love no one was needy, and Christians were considered by strangers as an example for the whole community. A certain Ananaias, being a wealthy man and fearing being called greedy, decided to sell his holdings and offer the proceeds for communal needs. In order not to become totally impoverished, he and his wife Sapphira agreed to give the Apostles only a part of the proceeds, leaving the rest for "a rainy day." As a matter of fact, it was their right to decide how to disperse their property. The deceit consisted in the fact that they wanted to portray themselves as being totally unselfish. When Ananaias gave the Apostle Peter a part of his money while proudly exclaiming that he was donating all his possessions, the Apostle, by revelation from above, learned that Ananaias was deceiving him and said: "Ananaias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself?" (Acts 5:1-11). Upon hearing these words, Ananaias was struck dead.

The above story illustrates how cleverly the devil played upon Ananaias's cowardliness and vanity. Although Ananaias was attached to his property, he was not against being known as a generous donor. So the devil suggests to him a genial compromise, a way to save his property and at the same time evoke a general gratitude. If Ananaias would have truthfully admitted that he was donating only a part of his money, it would not have been considered reprehensible. However, because of vanity, he lied. He could deceive people but not God, because the Lord promised a great reward to those who will disperse their property to the needy and will follow Him, taking up the cross of poverty.

Gradualness is another tool which is successfully used by the temptor. Sensing the natural distaste toward vice by the yet undefiled man, the devil accustoms him to sin in small doses. At first, he suggests to a person to allow "a little" indulgence to himself for the sake of some gain or pleasure. And the devil calms the person with the thought that it is a single deviation from the norm and that having received his wish he will remain an honest and a virtuous man, as he had been. If the person succumbs to the temptation, the devil will then offer him another similar but a more weighty sin — again under the guise of a "small" deviation from the norm. "You shall repent later," the seducer calms him. Thus, by degrees, that man subjects himself to temptations; he sinks deeper and deeper in the mire of sin. Finally, the sinner loses all his strength for confrontation and becomes an unwilling slave to his passions and the products of the Prince of Darkness.

Let us illustrate this with the following example. Let us surmise that unexpectedly a person finds a wallet lying in his path. Opening it, he finds a sum of money together with the identity of the owner. His first thought is to return it right away. But here the temptor nears his ear and whispers that it is more logical to profit from the find: "Providence has sent you this money in time of need. There is no theft here because the money lay for all to see and another could have picked it up." At this point conscience steps in and admonishes that to appropriate another's property illegally is a sin and an effort must be made to find the owner. Here the devil disputes the admonitions of conscience and "logically" proves to the person that, to the contrary, everything is as it should be: you did not pick his pocket, and what’s found is yours. Should the person listen to his conscience and return what he found, he will experience an inner satisfaction that he acted honorably and did not take advantage of another's misfortune. Should he succumb to temptation, the devil will then push him toward other more dishonorable acts, endeavoring to make him a deceiver, thief, and extortionist.

The devil's method of progression can be especially well seen in the example of Judas — one of the twelve Apostles. Judas, having the position of treasurer, was in charge of the coffer into which people placed alms for the needs of the Apostles and for distribution to the poor. Dealing with money is always a motive for temptation, and as we see from the Gospels, Judas succumbed to it. He began by "borrowing" a little from the common coffer for personal needs. Having pity on the sinner, the Lord tried delicately to enlighten Judas; however, without success. Imperceptibly to himself, Judas became a thief. Finally the passion for gain so overwhelmed him that for thirty pieces of silver he sold out his Teacher. In this manner the devil mastered one of the closest disciples of Christ and led him to that terrible sin and suicide.

Not having direct access to man's will, the devil attempts to direct it through thoughts and feelings which in their own turn depend on outward senses. That is why the devil strives very hard to present something enticing to our attention and vision. The devil possesses man's will and enslaves him at the same rate that man subjects himself to sinful thoughts and feelings.

The devil checks our inconsistency. He knows that in principle any man, even though he overcame temptation a thousand times before, can always succumb to sin in a moment of weakness or imprudence. That is why he pesters man to his dying day. Having sustained failure in successive attempts at temptation, he stubbornly awaits another opportunity in which he can again try to incline man to sin. Being an experienced psychologist, the devil knows that man is vulnerable in times of stress and sorrow. Sometimes he waits until man simply weakens and becomes less vigilant and careful. At that moment the devil materializes and suddenly crashes down on man, pushing him toward that sin to which he is most susceptible.

It is due namely to the devil's perseverance that he was able to tempt the greatest righteous man of Old Testament times, King David. David, having surmounted many obstacles and trials in life, finally ascended to the throne of Israel. His foes vanished, wars came to an end, there ensued times of great prosperity, and David became weakened. And so, stepping out one night on the rampart of his house, he saw in the neighboring house a beautiful woman bathing in the fountain. He wanted to know who she was. It turned out that she, Bathsheba, was the wife of one of the senior officers in his army. The friendship with the beautiful neighbor turned into longing, and the king sinned. Bathsheba became with child from that unlawful alliance which according to Jewish law was punishable by stoning. Wishing to save her from a scandalous and torturous death, David immediately recalled her husband from his campaign in order to give him an opportunity to be with Bathsheba and thus give him cause to think that she became with child by him. For some reason Bathsheba's husband did not wish to stay with her and soon returned to his unit, which was besieging some enemy town. The problem seemed unsolvable, and so the devil imparted to David the following cunning plan: to send Uriah, Bathsheba's husband, into the most dangerous situation of battle, in order to have him slain by a foe’s hand. In fact, Uriah was soon killed in the fray, and then David did in a short time marry his widow and hide in this way the sin of adultery. Besides, the devil had so thoroughly clouded David's reason that the latter lost all ability to understand the terror of his double crime. Only later, when the Prophet Nathan by means of an allegory brought the king to judge himself, did David understand what he had done. In agony he fell to his knees and openly repented (2 Sam. 12). He could never forgive himself that sin and repented it all his life, composing a prayer of deep penitence (Psalm 51), which to this day troubles the hearts of repentant sinners. Thus the merciful Lord rescued from the devil's nets his fallen righteous one.

By this and similar occurrences the Lord teaches us not to be self-confident: "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10:12). If the devil in his boundless impudence dared to tempt even the Saviour (Matt. 4: 3-10), then who is free from his underhanded dealings? That is why in warning us the Lord teaches: "Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak" (Matt. 26:41).

The devil's main method, which saturates all his actions and essence, is lies — everywhere and always lies — the most heinous and shameless, although often capably directed toward grains of truth for greater plausibility. The Lord characterized him thus: "for he is a liar and the father of it" (John 8:44).

The devil tries to corrupt everything to such an extent that it becomes mind- boggling. He presents the least failure as a major, irreparable tragedy, and a meaningless pleasure or a temporary gain as being the most important, almost as if it were the main aim in life. In pushing us to sin, he calms us with the thought that it is a natural and forgivable weakness. And when a person does sin, then the devil throws him into depression, and admonishes him that he has angered the Creator forever and that therefore it is fruitless to repent. The devil persuades any one who is devoted to some passion that they are too weak to try to reform. And those leading a pious life the devil tries to incline towards pride. He can even appear to a person in the guise of an angel of light or as Christ Himself, so that the latter should think of himself as being better than others: "And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:14). In the lives of the saints one can find many tales in which with similar visions he tempted zealots.

With an unquenchable thirst for power, the devil spares neither his time nor his effort to turn any natural weakness in man into an untamable and revolting passion. He wants man to totally defile himself and become baser than an animal. Only then, through sin, does the devil gain control over man and make him his captive.

But thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ, this control by the devil is not lasting, and his iron chains are weaker than a cobweb. It is enough for the sinner to address God in his repentance, and all the control of the devil over him falls apart as a house of cards. "For thus did the Son of God come, to destroy the acts of the devil" (1 John 3:8). The Lord is, namely, the All-powerful, who bound the strong one and plundered his house (Matt. 12:29).

Therefore, let us hurry to our Saviour for help and protection from the sly serpent. With a strong faith and a virtuous life we shall rise up against the fallen soul, and he, as it was promised, will flee from us! (James 4:7). Amen.

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