Within the life of every Ukrainian Catholic lies an ongoing spiritual combat. This battle commences at the moment of Baptism, as we die to sin and choose to live for God. The apostle Paul reminds us that our struggle is not against mere flesh and blood but against powerful spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm. As we engage in this spiritual warfare, we are armed with essential tools such as prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, which purify our thoughts and lead us toward dispassion. In this article, we will delve deeper into the significance of spiritual combat in the life of a Christian, exploring the profound impact of fasting, the power of overcoming evil thoughts, and the journey toward conquering passions.

 

Arming Ourselves for Spiritual Combat: Fasting and Almsgiving

The journey of spiritual combat begins with arming ourselves with the powerful disciplines of fasting and almsgiving. Both practices have been observed by Christians since ancient times, serving as transformative tools in our spiritual growth. Fasting is a way of imitating Christ’s forty-day fast in the wilderness, where He faced the devil’s temptations and emerged victorious. By partaking in fasting, we not only follow Christ’s example but also attain a deeper purity of heart. Fasting involves restraining not only our bodies through abstinence from food and drink but also our souls through the suppression of passions and desires.

Almsgiving, inextricably linked with fasting, embodies the essence of love for our neighbor, reflecting the very nature of God’s mercy. The act of giving selflessly to those in need shows our humility and reminds us of God’s grace in our lives. Saint John Chrysostom profoundly encourages us to extend our fasting beyond food and drinks, prompting us to fast from slander, gossip, and any form of harm toward others. By embracing both fasting and almsgiving, we equip ourselves with the strength to overcome the spiritual battles that come our way.

 

Overcoming Evil Thoughts: The Battle of the Mind

One of the most significant challenges in spiritual combat is dealing with evil thoughts that constantly influence our minds. These thoughts can be either good or evil, impacting our spiritual lives in diverse ways. The story of Adam and Eve’s fall in the book of Genesis serves as a poignant reminder of the power of temptation. The serpent deceived our ancestors by suggesting that they could become like God if they rejected His commandment. This temptation resulted in personal responsibility for sin. Likewise, in our lives, we face continuous temptations to sin, but it is our response that defines the outcome.

The stages of dealing with evil thoughts are a progression: suggestion, internal conversation, struggle, assent, and passion. It begins with a suggestion, which can manifest through images, fantasies, or recollections, and if not dismissed, the evil thought proceeds to penetrate our hearts. The internal conversation with the thought presents us with a choice – to succumb or resist. The struggle to dismiss the thought requires effort, relying on the Word of God and prayer to achieve victory. If we give assent to the evil thought, accepting and intending to act on it, we have already sinned, even if the action is not realized. This sequence culminates in the state of passion, where a person becomes enslaved by their sinful desires.

 

Conquering Passions: The Path to Freedom

The conquering of passions is a central aspect of Christian ascesis, referring to the struggle against intense emotions and desires that can lead us astray. Like a debilitating illness, passions can ruin our spiritual lives, making us vulnerable to temptation. To attain freedom from passions, we must first cultivate self-awareness, recognizing their presence within us. Next, we must resist their influence by exercising our will in cooperation with God’s grace. The ultimate goal is to eradicate these passions, reaching a state of ap├ítheia, wherein we are no longer driven by sinful desires but governed by the love of God.

Achieving ap├ítheia is a precondition for Christian perfection, as it liberates us from the chains of sin and enables us to embrace God’s gracefully. This journey involves ascetical practices and spiritual discipline, but it is the transformative power of God’s love that truly conquers all passions. As we grow in our understanding of spiritual combat, we become more adept at dismissing evil thoughts, resisting temptations, and experiencing the joy of spiritual freedom.

 

The path of spiritual combat is an integral part of the Christian journey, offering opportunities for growth and deeper communion with God. By embracing the disciplines of fasting and almsgiving, we cleanse our hearts and show compassion towards others, emulating Christ’s example. Overcoming evil thoughts requires vigilance and reliance on God’s grace to resist temptation. On this journey, we strive to conquer passions, liberating ourselves from sinful desires and allowing the love of God to govern our lives fully. Through prayer, discipline, and unwavering faith, we navigate the spiritual battlefield, emerging as victorious warriors of Christ. In the ceaseless struggle of spiritual combat, we find transformation, growth, and a profound closeness to God.