The Devil Can Manipulate Our Thoughts

Sermon delivered by His Eminence Metropolitan Demetrius on the 11th Sunday after Pentecost at Saint John of San Francisco Orthodox Monastery, Cobleskill, NY. August 23/September 5, 2021.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

We've heard in the Holy Scriptures a question that our Savior poses to His followers, the Christians: what communion hath light with darkness? And this rhetorical question has great meaning, because for somebody to be a member of the household of God -- or a person to be a citizen of paradise, that is -- one has to have the light. And, so, in this life, our Savior prepares us so that we can be ready for those future things which await those who love God.

I recall, once, when I was a young teenager, I came across something from the Holy Fathers which left a deep impression on me. And at that time, being so young and inexperienced, I thought that it was very easy… but not exactly, not for the egotistical person. And the quote was from one of the Holy Fathers, Saint Amun, who said, "If you wish for God to hear your prayers, before you pray for anything else, pray with all your heart for your enemies." And it seems like we have to start there in order to understand Christian doctrine.

Oftentimes, we have people who are at a loss, because they lack spiritual insight and understanding, and they've become so concentrated on being Orthodox that they forgot about being Christians. Like the Pharisees, they do not understand the weightier matters of the law. And, so, one has to have, both, an understanding of Christian and Orthodox doctrines, since, in reality, it's one and the same thing.

So, here, we start with learning how to pray with all your heart for our enemies. How is that possible for our fallen culture, for our backwards people? It’s so difficult for people to understand this concept, and they permit -- since they are having difficulty understanding this concept -- the evil one to manipulate their thoughts.

For we must understand that our thoughts are either our thoughts, thoughts which come from God, or thoughts which come from the evil one.
Our thoughts can very much be influenced by the evil one. Or we can invite God's grace to help us; but in order to do that, we must do those things which He commands us to do!

Many times, I've heard people say, in a conversation (before they say what they want to say), "Well, I'm not saying this egotistically" or "I'm not judging this person," and then they go on and continue judging the person. I've heard it many times, even from clergymen sometimes, unfortunately. And this shows that we are infected with delusion. We don't know ourselves.

And in the midst of our thought process, we must understand that the devil manipulates things so as to make sure that the end result of our thoughts is that we are right, we are the ones that are correct. In any way possible, he'll make sure to manipulate this fact or that fact and, in the end, come up with an absolutely convincing scenario. This I've seen many times.

Oftentimes, it's amazing when we have to deal with it in confession, and by the end, if the person is able to see how he was duped by the devil, he learns. He comes to greater understanding. He comes to understand what kind of an enemy we have, and he comes to understand why it is that our Savior says, "trust not your own heart." Be very careful not to trust yourself so much, because the sign of the Christian is a person who is humble.

Today, our Savior speaks to us concerning the man who had owed much to the king, ten thousand talents. And since the person didn't have the wherewithal to pay his debt, the king decided -- something which of course, was a real scenario back in those days -- that the person would be sold, and his family, and all their goods, so that he could pay back what he owed.

And the person was in a crisis. This was obviously a life crisis. This was a huge problem. His whole life was about to fall apart; he would have lost not only all his goods but even his family; even his own life! He would have been sold into slavery. And, so, in such a crisis, naturally, he begged the person to have mercy on him. He begged the king, "Please, forgive me my debt!"

We have to understand that we are debtors before the Lord. Oftentimes, I try to remind all of us -- myself included, especially -- how if we take a look at the gifts which God has given us, and we take a look at ourselves, we see that we are not worthy of the gifts of God and that there's an imbalance. We have not really worked for them. They're free gifts, which the Lord gave us for whatever reason. Out of His love for us, He passes onto us, as we hear in the Gospel passages, the talents.

And there's an imbalance. For example, God calls someone to a Christian life, someone who was in the world, someone who was a servant of the devil. And the Lord works a miracle in the life of that person and brings him to normalcy, brings him to life, lifts the darkness and the heaviness of an unclean conscience; and He works with the person. And the person always has to see himself as a debtor, because God gave us more than we deserve! And it may be that we would be judged for this. And if we recognize that we are not worthy of the gifts of grace, then we are getting ourselves to be in a safer area!

A monastic, someone who is called out of the world, and instead of seeing the great gifts that the Lord has given to the person in the moment of darkness, sees everything as dark. He sees the light as darkness, he sees the darkness as light, he is fooled. And it's because the devil has manipulated everything in such a way so that the end result of his thinking, of his train of thought, would be that he is correct and that those who know more are not, even the Holy Fathers.

And, so, the king forgave him his debt. That's what happens especially in the beginning of the spiritual life where the Lord forgives us our debt, our great debt, and He gives us His gifts! Not only does He return to us those things which we thought were ours, but He gives us above and beyond.

But we know from Scripture that we must do unto others as we would have them do unto us. And so, in the middle of this crisis, rather than thinking clearly -- and for this reason I said what communion doth light have with darkness, doth darkness have with light? -- this person, rather than meditating on the goodness of the king and being humbled in his heart over the fact that the king forgave him everything, went to his fellow servant and demanded one hundred pence! You see that he was forgiven ten thousand talents and now he's demanding one hundred pence from his fellow servant.

And the servants of the king saw it and were quite sad... even the angels of God watch us! We who are shallow, we who are worldly, we who are stuck on the things of the earth, don't see the spiritual world. It's difficult for us to see the angels around us. It's difficult to see the demons around us. If only we could see how because of our actions the angels are removed far from us, and if we could see how the demons come closer to us, or vice versa, we would be living differently! We would not be so stuck in our delusions!

And because of this action and because it was reported to the king, the king was not happy. For what communion hath light with darkness? And this person was dark! He had a chance to receive light, he had a great chance -- he was forgiven everything -- and yet he would not forgive!

So this is why the Holy Fathers devise means for us -- exercises for us -- to think like Christians. Before you pray for anything else, if you want God to hear your prayers, pray with all your heart for your enemies! Not just pray for your enemies, but pray with all your heart for your enemies.

And this may take years for us to achieve. Sometimes, with the slightest little word, a person gets offended, and this is really backwards in the spiritual life. Or, as we said, you see how the devil can manipulate certain words, or we misunderstand certain words, or we see things according to our own passions, or because we are so passionate, because we are so envious, or because we are so malicious, we interpret the words of the other person who has no malice or envy as malicious because we see our own faults in the other person.

So today's lesson is for us to once again humble our hearts, to remember that we have been forgiven… especially in the time of our life crisis, as this man had his life-crisis moment. At that time, we are given the opportunity to pray with all our hearts. We are desperate. And that prayer can be accepted and is acceptable to the Lord. And as we see in the parable today, it was accepted by the Lord!. For the man fell on His face and begged Him to forgive Him his debt. He was forgiven.

But things don't stop there, and the last day can be worse than the first. We must remain in humility! We must realize who we are dealing with, what we are dealing with. We must open our eyes to the spiritual world. Even if we can't see it, even if we can't perceive it, we must understand that there's a whole world of angels and demons surrounding us.  And if we don't give permission to the Holy Angels to work with us, the demons are glad!

I say permission because -- as you know and as we've said many times -- God respects our freedom. It's up to each and every one of us to decide whether or not we want to do those things which God teaches us to do. If we do those things, blessed are we, because, slowly, we become more and more enlightened and we understand more and more concerning the things of God and concerning how perfect God is, and concerning how imperfect we are.

So let us not demand of others. Let us not be spiritually foolish. Let us remember how many times God has forgiven us and let us always be ready to forgive!

Let us understand the spirit, which our Lord Jesus Christ conveys to us. We say we're Christians, but we've forgotten the greatest teachings of Jesus Christ, for He taught by example. And on the moment of His crucifixion, St. Macarius of Egypt teaches us, He was the most humble of all men at that moment.

What an ugly thing pride is! It makes us ugly! It makes us foolish! We lose our peace!

What a beautiful thing humility is! It changes our lives! It brings peace to us! It brings understanding to us! It brings God to us!

For God gives grace to the humble but resisteth the proud, as it says in the Scriptures.

So again, we stress that we must start to understand certain basics of the Christian faith, because if we jump -- or if we wish to skip the steps which lead to sanctification and we jump -- all the way to theosis without having first gone through the proper steps of repentance, purification, illumination, then we will fall into delusion for sure… we will fall into prelest.

So let us pray that our Lord will open to us the eyes of our souls, so that we can perceive the spiritual world and understand the angels as the servants of God, who are the servants of the King.

And let us ask for their help to bring us to the King, and let us look at the good example and the bad example in today's parable:  the good example, where, if we come across our life crisises (the difficulties of this life), we most certainly must fall on our knees and beg to be forgiven and to be released!  But at the same time, we must also forgive and release. For if we do not forgive, we should not expect forgiveness. And we should not fool ourselves into thinking we have forgiven when we haven't forgiven.

We must forgive, for in today's Gospel we hear something very fearful at the end, where the Lord was wroth with that servant. And that servant will not find his salvation! Our Lord says it simply to all of us.

If we could understand these things we wouldn't be so blinded by that moment of passion, where we get so upset with whoever it was. And we would understand that these trifling, little matters mean absolutely nothing with regards to our eternal salvation!

And lastly, once again, St. Isaac tells us that the torments of hell are bitter regret, which means that the people, the souls that are down there, regret so much what they could have done in this life! Let that not be our fate, but let us hear the word of God, and let us walk the path of salvation in humility and righteousness, always asking our Master to forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

May all of our enemies be forgiven, and may God help us never to hold a grudge against anyone! And may our Lord grant unto us forgiveness of our sins, so that we will be able to offer the gifts, which each and every one of us offer together, the Gifts on the Holy Table, unto remission of sins and life everlasting.