“What am I to do, Abba, since passions and demons beset me?” a young monk asked the holy Abbot.
“Do not say that you are bothered by demons, child,” answered the elder, “because the greater part of us are beset by our own evil desires.”
——Sayings of the Desert
Flip Wilson was a quite popular stand-up comedian of the 60’s and 70’s whose trademark phrase was “the devil made me do it.” His catch phase served as an excuse for any type of outrageous behavior. Those words became very popular and were used by many to excuse their own behavior. Flip Wilson knew the expression was just a joke, but this expression is hidden in each of us. They are an unrelenting desire to pass responsibility along to someone or something else.
The wise Abba is confronted by the very same concept by a young monk. This young brother couldn’t possibly see that he was largely responsible for his our behavior. His Abba correctly instructed him to start with himself, and in doing so he would find victory over the demons. This approach holds a very profound lesson for us. Transformation begins with me.
My favorite pop philosopher, Jimmy Buffet, says it all in his signature song – Margaritaville. After three verses of decrying his plight with the words “there must be someone to blame,” the final verse says, “its my own d**n fault.
OURS IS THE GREATER PART
A disciple of Abba Anthony said, ‘If anyone wants to drive out the demons, he must first subdue the passions; for he will banish the demon of the passion which he has mastered. For example, the devil accompanies anger; so if you control your anger, the devil of anger will be banished. And so it is with each of these passions.’
——–Sayings of the Desert Fathers
Self-control and overcoming the negative forces and habits that drive each of us is a worthy goal. The wise old man attributes every problem very directly to a “demon.” We do not share such a view of good and evil. We do, however, need to acknowledge the presence of supernatural evil in our world. That being said, I want to concentrate on the positive advice of the saying.
Passion is the root of both good and evil. Learn to reap your positive passions, and subdue your negative (sins) ones and you will be on your way to a life of the Spirit. We are advised to master the passions that lead us away from God and our neighbor, thus banishing that obstacle of spiritual attainment from our lives. May each of us take this to heart, and make it a matter of fervent prayer.
Someone said to Abba Arsenius, ‘My thoughts trouble me, saying, “You can neither fast nor work; at least go and visit the sick, for that is also charity.”‘ But the old man, recognizing the suggestions of the demons, said to him, ‘Go, eat, drink, sleep, do no work, only do not leave your cell.’ For he knew that steadfastness in the cell keeps a monk in the right way.
—sayings of the Desert Fathers
A great “demon” of all people is restlessness. This feeling can cause us to stray away from our purpose in life. We have a tendency to fill our days with meaningless activities that accomplish nothing. The greatest tool of the evil one is distraction from purpose. Most believers get up every morning with the intention to “do no evil,” but the demands of the world can sidetrack the best among us. Keeping our focus on our “cells” of life will keep us on track. We pray, we care, we are other focused, and this is the calling of all Christ followers.
Some brothers came to find Abba Anthony to tell him about the visions they were having, and to find out from him if they were true or if they came from the demons. They had a donkey, which died on the way. When they reached the place where the old man was, he said to them before they could ask him anything, ‘How was it that the little donkey died on the way here?’ They said, ‘How do you know about that, Father?’ And he told them, ‘The demons showed me what happened.’ So they said, ‘That was what we came to question you about, for fear we were being deceived, for we have visions which often turn out to be true.’ Thus the old man convinced them, by the example of the donkey, that their visions came from the demons.
……sayings of the Desert Fathers
The age old question for us is: How does the devil lead us? In this somewhat complicated saying the Abba leads his followers to believe that they can be led by the evil one. Many people see “visions from God” that are not from God at all. Today, as it was then, we must be on our guard when with put God into our claim. When the scripture tells us to approach Him with “ fear and trembling” we are to take heed of those words. Our society is all too quick to assign things to God, or to the devil, when they are really just our own ramblings. Be very careful when you call on either that you have the discernment necessary to make such a decision.