Spiritual wars are allowed by God for our benefit… and for the crowns gained through them as one of the saints said,
“None shall be crowned except the one who conquers, and non shall conquer except the one who fights.”
God intends these wars to test the freedom of our will, and to give us the opportunity to deserve the riches of the heavens if we conquer… As for the devil, it is his nature to resist God’s kingdom and fight those who seek it. He fights God through His children and accuses them as in the case of Job the just (Job 1,2). He envies those who lead a life of righteousness, that they may not gain the divine blessing which he himself was deprived of.
Diabolic wars fight all; no one escapes from them.
When we speak of these wars, we mean the wars waged by the devil and all his forces and supporters. Since the days of Adam and Eve and their son Cain the devil has been fighting, trying his best to throw men under the condemnation of eternal death.
He overthrew prophets, apostles, and persons who had the Spirit of the Lord such as David and Samson who repented, and King Saul whom God refused and the Spirit of the Lord departed from, ” and a distressing spirit from the LORD troubled him.”(1 Sam. 16:14).
So, do not think that diabolic wars are directed only at beginners or sinners. Satan fights all, including those who may be growing in grace, he fights them even more. Thus, everyone must be on guard and not think themselves above certain wars. Let us remember how David the prophet was fought by adultery and fell into that sin in spite of having the Spirit of the Lord and in spite of having been the anointed of the Lord… the devil seeks any prey.
St. Peter described him using some grave words, ” … your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”(1 Pet 5:8). He wanders about continually to catch his prey. When the Lord asked him (in the story of Job), “From where do you come?” , he answered plainly, “from going to and fro on the earth and from walking up and down on it” (Job 1:7, 2:2).
Of course the purpose of this wandering is seeking any prey to overthrow. The devil does not get desperate however strong the person whom he fights is.
It is even said of sin, “For she has cast down many wounded, And all who were slain by her were strong men.” (Prov 7:26).
The devil did not even hesitate to fight the twelve disciples of Christ. The Lord spoke to St. Peter the apostle about this, “Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat , But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail ” (Luke 22:31, 32 ). We also remember Elijah, the great prophet whom God lifted to the heavens, of whom St. James the apostle said, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours ” (James 5:17)
The devil even dared to tempt the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He offered Him three emptations on the mount (Matt. 4). He was not dissuaded by what he knew about Christ or by the divine revelations which preceded this at the time of His baptism (Matt. 3:13-17); he fought Him throughout the forty days (Mark 1:13, Luke 4:2).
Thus, it was said that the Lord Jesus Christ, “Was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb. 4:15), and, “For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.” (Heb. 2:18). Indeed, the temptation of Christ by Satan is a comfort for us in all our trials… If a temptation befalls you, do not be troubled, for Christ has been tempted before, and as He has conquered, you will conquer as well.
Diabolic wars are aimed against God Himself, against His kingdom, and against us who are His blessed temples.
The devil wants to resist God’s Kingdom by every means and rejoices when he is able to overthrow “if possible, even the elect.” (Matt 24:24).
Just as” there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10), undoubtedly the devils rejoice when one righteous person falls and delight over anyone who submits to them.
St. Paul the apostle explains these spiritual wars, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:11, 12).
He explained that these spiritual wars need spiritual weapons to resist them, which the apostle mentioned in the same chapter in detail. They require Gods’ help, as He says, ” without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) . In these spiritual wars, how nice it would be to remember the words of David the prophet, ” … the battle is the Lord’s ” (1 Sam 17:47) Spiritual wars are continuous; they may vary but never end.
As long as you are in the flesh, you are subject to these wars which continue with you until death. Thus, St. Peter the apostle says, “…. conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear;”(1 Pet 1:17). By “fear” he does not mean the dread of devils, but he means the kind of fear which leads to precaution and always being on guard.
For individuals, the war continues till death, but as for the world, the war continues for ever until the end of all ages. Even when the devil is loosed out from his prison, he shall go out to deceive the nations (Rev. 20:7,8). “In the latter times, some shall depart from the faith” (1 Tim. 4:1), and, “perilous times shall come” (2 Tim. 3:1).
Before the coming of Christ, there shall come a falling away first (2 Thess. 2:3), and the devil will do his best and will come down to earth, ” having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.” (Rev 12:12).
This continuing war of the devil may become more severe during holy times. The devil gets very annoyed when we start any spiritual work and uses all his means lest the prey should escape him. Thus, when we start spiritual work, he starts using his wars, devices, and many obstacles.
We start spiritual work, and he begins resistance. He is not comfortable as long as we have any relationship with God, knowing that this endangers his kingdom. Here are some wonderful words from “The Paradise of the Fathers”;
“When the bell rings in the middle of night for prayers, it does not only awake the monks to pray but the devils are also aroused to fight monks and prevent them from praying…”And thus, St. Evagrius said, “When you begin a holy prayer, be ready for whatever may befall you.”
Whenever we start spiritual practices, whether prayers, contemplation, hymns, spiritual reading, or kneeling down in worship, the devil does not stand tied up or merely watching but he also works and he has certain wars with which he fights.
True indeed are the words of the Book of Joshua the Son of Sirach;
“My son, if you come to serve your God, be ready for all temptations.” (Sirach 2:1)
This verse is a part of a chapter recited on the ordination of a new monk. It is also included in the reading of the third hour of Tuesday of the passion week. Of course the devil gets ready to fight those who get ready to resist him. Thus, do not be astonished at the wars which accompany spiritual work. Never let such wars make you turn back… but be vigorously steady not withstanding any trouble you undergo, remembering the words of St. Paul the apostle, “… be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Cor 15:58).
We start the struggle, and he starts fighting. We start spiritual matters, and he starts resistance.
An example of this is that the devil gets annoyed at fasting because through it “…
I discipline my body and bring it into subjection “(1 Cor 9:27), so that your soul may rise and attain God… the devil does not accept this. He gets annoyed at lent in particular, because people are very devout during it, and it reminds the devil also of the fasting of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of his own defeat (Matt. 4).
Thus, the devil struggles to hinder this fasting or raises problems during it so that people may be engaged in those problems and neglect spiritual work. Hence, some find a relation between this fast and problems and trails.
Undoubtedly, spiritual work stirs up the envy of devils…
The devil envies a spiritual person for his attachment to God which he is deprived of. He envies man because though he is earthy and has flesh, he tries to make his soul rise high and be elevated, while the devil in spite of being a spirit (Matt. 12:45), is far away from God and is an unclean spirit (Mark 1:27).
From the beginning the devil envied Adam and Eve, making them fall in sin and into the condemnation of death. Thus, we say in the Divine Liturgy, “And death which entered into the world through the envy of Satan”.
The evil envies only those who are successful in their spiritual work. He envies those who are near to God and faboured by Him. He envies the penitants for the zeal of their repentance and the worshippers in their deep attachment. He envies the humble, the meek and the pure-hearted and fights all of them. But what about those who are under his domination and under the domination of sin, or who are languid in their spiritual life?
Why would he fight them? He is satisfied with their condition or puts them under his watch or leads them into what is worse. Here we mention three main kinds of spiritual wars:
a) the person whom the devil fights lightly or heavily.
b) the person fought by his own desires, where the devil might have given the starting point and left this poor prey to be fought by his inner corruption, or by the habits dominating him. Someone might be fought by the body or by his instincts, another by his own self or his own thoughts.
c) the person fought by false brethren, by wicked people or evil surroundings which we call “supporters of the devil” or “the devil’s powers”.
Thus, the church teaches us to say at the end of the thanksgiving prayer, “All envy, all temptation, all works of Satan, all intrigues of the wicked, and the rising up of enemies, visible and invisible, cast them away from us, and from all your people…”
There is another kind of these wars which we may call the test, or trial.
An example of this kind is given in the Holy Bible, “Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham,and said to him ..Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love ..and offer him there as a burnt offering ..”(Gen 22:2).
Here, God was not fighting our father Abraham, God forbid… but He was testing his heart to know the depth of his love and his obedience to Him… and our father Abraham succeeded in this test.
The saint and the sinner are both liable to be fought; but what is the difference between them?
The main difference is that a saint is exposed to external war only, while his inner self is pure. He does not accept this external war, but rather refuses it and resists with all his power in order to overcome it.
On the other hand, a sinner or a wicked person may be exposed to a double war both external and internal. He is exposed to the devil’s temptations from the outside and is fought internally from the lusts of his own heart and mind. Thus, he yields to the devil opening his interior gates for him, welcoming and accepting his thoughts and suggestions. Even if he still has some conscience to resist, it will be a weak resistance which will not continue long nor will it seriously repel the thoughts of the outer enemy.
When saints are fought, their power is revealed and they conquer; but sinners are defeated. However, God may sometimes allow that saints be defeated – temporarily – for their own benefit.
For a person who always conquers, may be fought by pride and may think highly of himself! Thus God sometimes permits that saints be conquered so as to make them feel humility of heart and be humbled. Besides, this would make them realize the enemy’s power and severity in his wars so they would have compassion towards their brothers who are exposed to such wars. As St. Paul the apostle says;
“Remember the prisoners as if chained with them; those who are mistreated; since you yourselves are in the body also.” (Heb 13:3).
A person who does not experience diabolic wars, may condemn or despise those who fall, but one who suffers and gets weary is kind and compassionate to those who fall, and prays for their salvation as the apostle says, ” knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.”(1 Pet 5:9)… Indeed, how frightful are the words of Revelation about the beast, “It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them…” (Rev 13:7)
And how frightful is what follows “… And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation ,All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” (Rev. 13:7,8).
However, lest some should despair, it is stated that those who shall worship him are those whose names are not written in the book of life since the establishment of the world…
That is the sons of perdition…. though they are undoubtedly abundant, a matter which shows the severity of the wars of the devil and his powers. We are comforted in this matter by the statement that the beast and the devil were cast into the lake of fire and brimstone (Rev. 20:10).
Yet, we mention all this so that we may be cautious. Since our enemy is so fierce, let us then hearken to the words of the apostle, “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise , redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” (Eph. 5:15,16).
The victories of the devil do not frighten us but make us circumspect and cautious. They make us not depend on ourselves but:
In our wars, we must cleave to the Lord for help and triumph.
He fights the devil in us, and conquers the world in us. Does He not say, “… be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). Yes, He conquered the world when He was tempted by the devil, and He still conquers and will conquer the world in all ages as long as the devil is fighting us. So, “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ …” (2 Cor 2:14)
He conquered the devil in our human nature for He has sanctified and blessed it giving it the spirit of victory. So, we address Him in the Liturgy of St. Gregory, “You have blessed my nature in You”. The devil had previously conquered this human nature, but the Lord Jesus Christ has restored to it its Divine Image and its dignity before the devils when He conquered the devil while being in this nature.
Thus, the devil no longer considers this nature his game, which he can overcome whenever he wants; for since he was been defeated by it, he began to fear it.
The Lord has saved us from the spirit of failure and given us power to support us against the wars of the devil. We now have hope that Christ will conquer the devil in us when St. Paul says, “… Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith ” (Eph 3:17)
Thus, we do not get troubled by the diabolic wars as long as the hand of the Lord is with us during them, fighting on our behalf and conquering. God does not repel diabolic wars for us but gives us victory over them. He fights on our behalf, conquers the devils and then gives us crowns because we yield our wills to Him while He is fighting devils for us.
The above is only a simple introduction from which we will proceed to speak about the devil and his craftiness.
— HH Pope Shenouda III