The Snares of the Devil have Increased Enormously

St Ignatius (Brianchaninov). "On prelest". On the Snares of the Prince of This World.

St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov) (1807-1867)

With the sign of the Holy Cross I lead you, brother, to a spiritual vision. Our guide will be the great Father among the saints, Anthony the Egyptian desert dweller. Through the power of divine revelation, he once saw the traps of the devil that were set all over the world to lure mankind into perdition. Having seen that there were an infinite number of these snares, Anthony implored the Lord with tears: “Lord! Who can avoid these traps and attain salvation?” (Skete Paterikon. — St Abba Dorotheus. Homily 2).

I contemplate these traps of the devil. They are set both outside and inside a person. One net is tightly bound to another. In some places, these nets stand several layers deep; in other places the traps are set over great pits that lead most convoluted nets, from which deliverance seems impossible. Seeing these numerous nets, I begin to cry bitterly. Involuntarily, I also ask question of the blessed dweller: “Lord! Who can be delivered from these nets?”

Traps intended for my mind are set in various books that pretend to be illuminating but instead contain the teaching of darkness, written under either the overt or implicit influence of devil, from the source of the fallen reason, damaged by sin, “by the trickery of men, in [their] cunning craftiness” (Eph 4:14) as the Apostle said; writers, who are “vainly puffed up by [their] fleshy mind” (Col 2:18). My brother, whose salvation I desire, can also become a trap for me. Leading me to damnation, when his mind is caught in the nets of false teaching and so-called wisdom. My own mind is stamped with the fall; it is enveloped in murk, it is infected with poison of lies. My own mind, fooled by prince of this world, lays traps for itself. Even in Eden, the mind tried to acquire knowledge without wisdom and attentiveness, and the knowledge proved to be lethal! After the fall, it became even less discerning, even more careless. Brazenly, it drinks the cup of poisoned knowledge, and so even more confidently it destroys in itself the taste and desire for the divine cup of the knowledge that gives salvation.

So many snares are prepared for my heart! I see crude ones and subtle ones. Which are to be considered the more dangerous? I do not know. The hunter is skilled, and whoever escapes the crude nets often falls into subtle ones. But the end of the hunt is the same – perdition. The nets are hidden in all manner of ways, with unsurpassed skill. Sinful falls are hidden in all triumphs; the desire to please people, hypocrisy, and vanity are hidden in all attempts at virtue. The darkness of self-deception and demonic delusion is hidden behind a spiritual, heavenly mask. Passionate love, often sinful, hides behind the appearance of holy love. The false, sinful sweetness of fantasy pretends to be spiritual joy. The prince of this world tries every possible means to keep a person in his fallen state; and this is enough, even without heavy sins to make a person distant from God. Crude, obvious falls into sin are very easily substituted with the prideful thoughts of a Cristian who is content with the so-called virtues of fallen nature and self-deception. Such a Christian separates himself from Christ.

How many snares are laid for my body! It is in itself such a snare! How terribly the prince of the world uses it! Through the body and its shameful inclinations and desires we become like the dumb cattle. What an abyss! What separation from the likeness of God! Into this deep abyss, so far from God, we plunge ourselves when we give in to crude, carnal lusts, called by a name appropriate to their sinful heaviness – “falls into sin.” But the more subtle carnal sins are no less destructive. For their sake, a person stops caring for his soul and forgets God, heaven, eternity, and the calling of mankind. The prince of this world tries to keep us in constant diversion, darkening us through the pleasures of the body!

The emotions, the doors into the soul through which the soul communicates with the outside world, are constantly led by the devil into fleshly pleasures and their inextricable bonds. In famous concert halls, loud music expresses and arouses various passions; these passions are depicted on the stages of theaters. People are led in all possible ways to these pleasures of deathly evil. When drunk with these pleasures, a person forgets about the divine goodness that saves him, the blood of the God-Man that redeems him.

This is but a weak description of all the traps that are set by the prince of this world to catch Christians. Does not even this weak description make us shudder, does it not make us ask the same question: “Who can escape these traps?”

But I have not yet finished painting the terrifying picture! Once more, my brush is inspired to continue painting, led by the word of God.

What does the word of God say? It foretells events that are already happening before our eyes, a prophecy of the last times, when “lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold” (Matt.24:12). The word of God, more immovable then the heavens and the earth, tells us that in the last times, the snares of the evil one will increase, as will the number of ensnared.

It is true! I look at the world, and I see that the snares of the devil have increased, especially when compared with the times of early church. They have increased a countless number! The number of books containing false doctrine has increased; the number of minds that contain and teach others false doctrines has increased. The followers of holy Truth have diminished to an absolute minimum. More and more people honor so-called virtues that are openly pagan, contrary to one’s very nature, which is disgusted by them. The understanding of Christian virtues has diminished, and I do not even begin to speak of the dearth of their actual practice. A  carnal life is preferred; the spiritual life is disappearing. Pleasures and cares of this world eat up all our time; we have no time to remember God. And all this becomes not just a free choice but a requirement, a law. From abounding iniquity shall the love of many become cold, and this abounding iniquity makes ever fewer the number of those who would abide in the love of God if it were not the pervasiveness of evil and the increasing snares of the devil.

The sorrow of St Anthony was grounded. How much more should a Christian mourn our own times when he sees the snares of the devil? The sorrowful question is essential, in fact: “Lord! Who of us humans can avoid these snares and receive salvation?”

The answer to the righteous desert dweller was: “The one who is humble-minded will avoid these traps, and they will not even be able to touch him.”

What a divine answer! How it removes all doubts from the heart, how well it describes in only a few words the surest method of victory over our enemy, a way of destroying and tearing apart his convoluted nets, which he has woven over many millennia of hateful experience.

Let us barricade our mind with humility, not allowing it to strive unscrupulously wherever it wishes, carelessly gathering information; but rather preventing it, no matter how interesting or attractive it seems. Let us guard it from the temptation of the false teachers who hide under the sheep’s clothing of the Christian faith. Let us humble our minds through obedience to the Church, casting down all thoughts that exalt themselves against the knowledge of God (2 Cor.10:5). The narrow path of obedience to the Church is difficult for the mind at first; but it leads the mind to the width and freedom of spiritual wisdom, contrary to everything the carnal mind has to say. Let us not allow our mind to read spiritual literature written by anyone other than the writers of the true Church, which the Church has witnessed to be true vessels of the Holy Spirit.

He who reads holy writers doubtlessly takes part in the grace of the Spirit who lived in them and spoke to them; but he who reads the works of heretics, even if they are called saintly by the heretical assemblies to which they belong, takes part in the spirit of delusion (St Peter Damascene. Philokalia, part: About sobriety). For disobedience to the Church, which is pride, he falls into the snares of the prince of this world.

What about our heart? Let us graft a branch of a fruit-bearing olive to this wild tree, let us graft into it the qualities of Christ, let us teach it evangelical humility, let us force it to accept the will of the Gospels. When we see our heart’s constant disagreement with the Gospels, its constant contradiction, let us see in this contrariness, as we would see in a mirror, our own fallenness. Let us weep for our sins before the Lord, our Creator and Redeemer, let us feel the pain of salvific sorrow. Let us remain in this sorrow until we see our healing. “A contrite and humble heart God shall not despise” (Psalm 50:19 LXX). God is our Creator and our great Master. He can re-create our heart and make it into a heart that constantly calls to Him with tears and prayers, a heart transformed from a lover of sin to a lover of God.

Let us guard our senses, not allowing them to be the channel for sin to enter into the cell of the soul. Let us rein in our curious eye and our curious ear. Let us pace a heavy bond on the apparently small tongue, which can wreak such tremendous havoc. Let us humble the irrational desires of our body with temperance, vigilance, ascetic labors, frequent remembrance of death, and attentive, constant prayer. Bodily pleasures are so short-lived! How foul is their inevitable end! In contrast, the body that is shielded by abstinence and the safeguarding of the senses, purified by tears of repentance, and sanctified by frequent prayer, mysteriously transforms into the temple of the Holy Spirit, making all the attacks of the enemy futile.

Humility avoids all the snares of the devil, and he cannot even touch it!


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