I’ve often heard converts who are preparing for Orthodox baptism say that as they get closer to the ceremony, life seems to get really difficult. Friends and family begin to express serious doubts and some become hostile. Work or school becomes more difficult. Physical ailments become more acute. Doubts about Orthodoxy abound. The list can go on and on.
I remember having the same experience before my baptism. It was like walking into a strong wind. You lean forward and your legs work hard. Most of the time you move forward, but sometimes the wind is so strong, you stumble back a little. Why is it such a struggle and where does this wind of opposition come from?
The Orthodox believe that there is an invisible world, and that part of that world is evil. This belief is mocked in our culture and it’s not kosher today to speak of Satan as a personal force of evil. You may be too young to remember the comedian, Flip Wilson. Among other things, he was famous for looking at the camera and saying “The devil made me do it.” It always got a lot of laughs. Today it would bring hoots of derision. St. Paul called Satan a roaring lion going about seeking to devour us. It’s a mark of our times that people joke about something that will devour them. I want to portray him as the wolf that tried to devour the three little pigs. I’m sure that you know the story.
Let me ask you – have you ever had a direct and personal experience of the devil? I’m not talking about the experience of temptation that we all have, but a face to face encounter. We read about it in the lives of the Saints, but we rarely hear of it now except in Hollywood movies about so called exorcisms. I think that the wolf remains hidden because there are few saints these days. In fact, the wolf is not very involved in the daily lives of most people. Has he lost interest in the damnation of the human race? No, that is still his goal, but he has powerful allies that do the work for him. St. Paul said that most of the evil and temptation that we experience comes from within ourselves. Our fleshly nature is a great ally of the wolf. There is another ally – the world. You might remember the list of the unholy trinity – the world, the flesh, and the devil. With the world and the flesh as his helpers, he is free to work on bigger things.
So, there is no reason to fear the big, bad wolf, right? It depends on what you are doing and if it draws his attention. For example, when he notices that you trying to build a spiritual life, he becomes interested. If you do well in building your spiritual house, the wolf starts to worry and he begins to take a more personal interest in you. Clearly, if you are building well, his allies, the flesh and the world, must be falling down on the job. You are becoming a threat to him, so it is time to come and test what you have built.
St. Paul speaks of this in 1 Corinthians 3:9-17. No matter how you build, the time of testing comes to us all. The wolf comes to blow and to test if we have built well and with good materials. If like two of the pig brothers, we build with hay or sticks, then our houses will surely fall. We will suffer loss and it will be sorrowful. How strong is this wind of opposition? It can be gentle in the beginning and then grow to hurricane force. Let’s remember how this wind blew against the early Church and how the Saints stood fast, often at the cost of their lives. It seems to me that the wind is approaching gale force again.
The material that we build with is faith, hope, love, patience, forgiveness, etc. The tools we us to build with is knowledge, Liturgy, prayer, fasting, etc. We have all we need to build well. It is amazing that so many of us live in spiritual shacks made with hay and sticks. It is inevitable that these will fall around us. When our houses fall under the wind is everything lost? In anger and despair, we look up to God and say “Why me? Do your really love me? What did I ever do to deserve this?” Having given us all we need, I can almost see God shrugging at the sentiment.
There is hope. Paul says that while we do suffer loss, we ourselves are not lost. The reason is that there is a foundation that is laid, and that foundation cannot be moved by any wind of opposition. The Apostles are the foundation and Christ is the cornerstone. No matter how disastrous my loss, I can begin to build again. We must rebuild! What good does it do us to just the materials and the tools and not use them. The only question is will I build with strong materials and will I build well. I won’t know the answer until the wolf returns.
Finally, this is not just a personal issue. St. Peter said that we are living stones and we are built into a spiritual house with other stones. If we are to successfully survive the wind that is coming, we need each other. Each of us must find our place in the wall of this spiritual house and be cemented together with other living stones. We are charged to build each other up in love. To think of what is coming against the Church, it is a tragedy when we tear each other down.
So, who’s afraid the big, bad wolf? We are on a good foundation, but we must continue to build our spiritual house, the Church, the Ark of Salvation. If we do well, when the wind of opposition blows again, we will not be moved. If we suffer loss, we will still stand on the rock foundation that cannot be moved. The gates of hell shall not prevail. In fact, the Saints tell us that the approach of the wolf is even a blessing from God. We often believe that we have done well in our spiritual life. God allows for us to be tested, and so we discover the reality of our situation.
We are the Temple of God, and the Spirit dwells in us.