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"...the kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force" (Matthew 11:12).
Warfare. In today's world, we are surrounded by it. The current war in Iraq dominates the news, be it on television, the radio, or in the newspaper. War is seemingly all around us. There is another kind of war that is around us all the time. This war is not reported on the news or in weekly periodicals. It is a war, however, that affects each and every one of us every day of our lives. It is a war fought in the home, at work, at play, on vacation, and even when we are in prayer or in Church. It is the war being fought for our very souls. Each day, whether we realize it or not, we battle against Satan and his demonic forces. Each day, we are engaged in spiritual warfare.
This war is very evident to Orthodox Christians in college. Staying connected to your faith and the Church throughout your childhood and young adult life is of great importance in our world today. You grow up in the Church as part of a spiritual family, with the love and guidance of your relatives, your priest and your fellow parishioners. Then, you go away to college and, all of the sudden, those supports aren't right there. Rather, there are distractions and temptations of the worst kind. Being less than ten years removed from my own college experience, I can remember all to well the warfare that went on in my own life. The temptation is there to let one's faith fall by the wayside. Keeping connected to your faith during this time can be a difficult struggle. This is why I began with the above quote from the Gospel of St. Matthew. Being "forceful" in one's faith can be the only way to get through this struggle. The Kingdom of Heaven, which we all strive for in our daily lives, does not belong to those who are "sleepy" or "lazy" in their faith. It belongs to those who, being lovers of Christ and His teachings, earnestly cling to their faith with strength and a true desire to see God. You will fight this battle for the Kingdom each and every day, and when you go into this battle, there are weapons you can use.
"Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword." Matthew 10:34
Christ came into a world largely under the authority of Satan. Christ himself calls Satan the "ruler of this world" who "must be cast out" (John 12:31). When Christ says that He did not come to bring peace but a sword, it is because He came to wage war against Satan. We also carry these spiritual swords. We fight Satan, the leader of vice, by arming ourselves with the weapons of virtue. St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, author of the book, "Unseen Warfare" writes:
But if this is the hardest of all
wars... victory in it is the most glorious of all.... If you really desire to
be victorious in this unseen warfare and be rewarded with a crown, you must plant
in your heart the following four dispositions and spiritual activities, as it
were arming yourself with invisible weapons, the most trustworthy and
unconquerable of all, namely:
never rely on yourself in anything;
b) bear always in your heart a perfect and all-daring trust in God alone;
c) strive without ceasing; and
d) remain constantly in prayer
Likewise, in St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians (6:10-18), we are given, you might say, the rules for engagement in our spiritual battle. We are to trust in the Lord for strength (v. 10), and gird ourselves with all the weapons of God's armor (v. 11 and 13) prayer, fasting, the Holy Mysteries, Holy Scripture, and watchfulness (vs. 10, 17 and 18).
Prayer is such a powerful weapon in our spiritual struggle. Don't just pray when you haven't studied enough for that exam, or need to pull an all-nighter to finish a paper. Make prayer part of your everyday routine, in the morning and in the evening. Pray for strength and guidance. Pray to know God's will in your life. In the hustle and bustle of daily life, we need to take the time to slow down and talk to our heavenly Father.
It may seem daunting to go down to the dormitory dining hall on a Wednesday or Friday and find something to fit into our fasting schedule, but it is important to do so. Fasting sharpens our spiritual awareness, and reminds us of the sacrifices Christ made for each and every one of us.
St. Basil the Great tells us that the Mysteries move us to "boldness...increase of virtue...(and) keeping of God's commandments." They shape our lives to be firm in Christ. When you're looking in that phone book to find the pizza joint that still delivers at 2 A.M., find the nearest Orthodox Church. Meet the priest, find out if they offer transportation if you don't have a car. Receive the sacraments as often as you can. It's the spiritual nourishment that sustains us.
Christ's teachings and the life-giving words of God contained in Scripture can be so very useful in helping us to discern the will of God in the conflicts we encounter. There is a lot of required reading on a college campus. Make the sacred Scripture part of it. Our Diocesan website has a link to the daily scripture readings.
Be alert and ready. The devil never rests and will never stop tempting us to sin, so we always need to be on guard. That means being careful and safe and knowing when we are heading into situations that we shouldn't be. Carry a small icon with you, a prayer rope on your wrist, a cross around your neck--anything that will remind you to keep on guard against the snares of the devil. Seek out other Orthodox Christians on campus, especially if your college has an OCF (Orthodox Christian Fellowship) Chapter. Call on the name of Christ through the Jesus Prayer to aid you in your struggle. "O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner."
There are chances for you to not only stay connected to your faith, but to grow even stronger in it as well. All you have to do is choose to seek them out. When spring break rolls around, instead of jetting off to Cancun or Daytona, seek out "Real Break" through OCF and OCMC where you can bring the faith to those who need it most and are less fortunate than yourself. Many students who have done so have had life-altering experiences, made lasting friendships, and truly grown in their faith. Can you really do that in Cancun?
It is true that your time in college is filled with many distractions, but it can also be filled with many wonderful opportunities to grow in your Orthodox faith. The battle is never easy, but it is one that is ongoing. Again, as St. Nicodemus writes:
...as warriors who take part in this unseen war are all who are Christians; and their commander is our Lord Jesus Christ, surrounded and accompanied by His marshals and generals, that is, by all the hierarchies of angels and saints. The arena, the field of battle, the site where the fight actually takes place is our own heart and all our inner man. The time of battle is our Whole life.
Your years in college will be one part of your life, one battle to be fought. Fight hard. Be strong. Live your faith. Be proud of it, and take the kingdom with force, as that is Christ's will for each of us in our lives.
Fr. Matthew D. Moriak