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Spiritual Warfare

I’m sure you’ve heard about spiritual warfare. The devil has been at war with the Church since the beginning. Throughout the centuries just when everything seems to be going well for the Church, something disrupts our progress. Peace doesn’t seem to last long in the Church.

IN THOSE DAYS, Paul went on with Barnabas to Derbe. When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to lconion and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they believed. Then they passed through Pisidia, and came to Pamphylia. And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia; and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had fulfilled. And when they arrived, they gathered the church together and declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they remained no little time with the disciples. But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, reporting the conversion of the Gentiles, and they gave great joy to all the brethren. And when they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them.

Acts 14:20-28;15.1-4

Just when things were going well and the Gospel was spreading outside the boundaries of the Jewish community, conflict erupted. With all the ‘new people’ entering the Church, the ‘old guard’ had to make sure their way of life was preserved.

The same thing happens today when any parish experiences what I would say was ‘out of the normal’ growth. For many parishes growth is primarily limited to birthrate and transfers from another parish. Becoming Orthodox through marriage at least keeps it in the family.

If ‘too many’ other people join the Church because they want to be Orthodox, tensions can flare even in the most stable communities. People like stability, and too much of anything new destabilizes any group. It isn’t always bad, but it is always stressful.

You would think that a parish would be happy to accept new members. The problem is, as it was in the ancient Church, that new members bring new ways of doing things. The ancient Church wrestled with the idea of mandatory circumcision. That is all history, or is it?

Sure, the ancient Church resolved the issue of circumcision and kosher laws. The Church grew, but not without other conflicts. Throughout the centuries, beginning with the Council in Jerusalem (Acts 15) through the Ecumenical Council until today, the Church has conflict. Why?

The devil is at war with God and the Church gets in his way. The more people the Church introduces to God, the more the devil fights. He knows his time is limited. The only weapon the devil has is to turn us against each other. They don’t call him ‘the one who divides’ for nothing.

The historical reality of conflict doesn’t mean we should be satisfied with conflict. The lesson we learn over the centuries of councils is the truth of God never changes. We call those dogmas or doctrines. The way we live the truth changes constantly as circumstances change.

Whether a man is circumcised or not does not change the truth of Christ. Circumcision is the Old Covenant. Christ is the New Covenant. The Church allows circumcision, but not if we believe we are required as a matter of faith. The Council of Jerusalem taught us that.

Our job as Christians is to live the truth of God as taught to us by the Church. We aren’t free agents to believe ‘as we wish’ without accountability to the Church. The Holy Apostles were guided by the Holy Spirit into “the whole truth” so we trust them.

It isn’t a secret that our Orthodox way of life today isn’t exactly as it was in the first century. We don’t worship the same liturgy. We don’t fast the same. We don’t even handle our resources the same. We do a disservice to people when we let them think nothing ever changes in the Church.

The Church has been responding to historical circumstances since the beginning, and since the beginning things continue to change, just not truth. Fast forward to the 21st century and the Church is again experiencing conflict from within.

Just as has been the case in every circumstance before, today’s conflicts are a result of our war with the devil. The devil continues to turn us against each other, but the Church will prevail. It may look and behave a bit different ‘on the other side’ but it will survive loyal to the truth.

I’m not taking sides with today’s blog. I’m just wanting to remind us that conflict isn’t new to the Church, and our responses to conflict aren’t new either. I’m sure those of the circumcision party weren’t happy with the results of the Council of Jerusalem. We all won’t be happy either.

Who are we to be happy anyway? Christ calls us to deny ourselves to follow Him. The Church invites us to take us our cross as a way of life. The cross may change, but the goal is the same. A life in communion with God is the goal. The Church is the Way. (see Acts 9.2)

I encourage you to speak with your spiritual father about today’s conflicts in the Church. Seek his advice and wisdom. Trust the Bishops to ‘do their jobs’ and protect the truth. The Bishops are the successors to the Apostles, not you and me.

Keep one thing in mind in every conversation. The devil is at war with the Church and he will stop at nothing to divide us. Don’t let the devil win.

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