It occurs to me that I should spend some time addressing the reality of the devil, since in his Homily Fifty-Eight on the Saving Nativity According to the Flesh of Our Lord and God and Savior, St. Gregory Palamas has been addressing how the Nativity affects the evil one. I have had a number of conversations about the necessity of believing that the devil is real — do we really need to believe in him? In a word: yes. One of the great victories that the evil one has accomplished in the modern era is getting us to the point where we are arrogant enough to stop believing in the reality of the devil and his minions. It gives him free reign to do us damage. Remember the consequences of the Fall:
God said to the serpent…”I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers” — Genesis 3:14-15
Humanity is in an eternal struggle against the evil one whether or not we like it or believe it.
Acknowledging this struggle does have its advantages:
- It gives us an incentive to be vigilant. We are in a spiritual war where we do not get to be neutral, because the invading army is coming after us.
- It helps remind us that not only are we good (cf Genesis 1:31), but we are made in the image and likeness of God. Evil is an external force that is not a natural or intended part of who we are. All of those negative and evil thoughts that assault us every day, day in and day out do not originate with us. They are placed there by an external force: the devil and his angels.
- This means that humanity is evil by choice, not by nature.
- Thus, we always have the ability to choose good over evil no matter what the circumstances.
- Finally, as St. Gregory has pointed out, Christ is born uniting Himself to us. We now have the infinite power reserve that is God to give us the strength and the wherewithal to choose good in every circumstance. We need only say, “Away with you Satan!” and to worship the Lord our God and serve only Him (cf Matthew 4:11) and the devil is powerless against us.
Knowing these things and believing them makes the seemingly impossible possible, because Emmanuel! — God is with us. All of the saints that have come before us — the lives they lived, the choices they made, the feats that they accomplished — are our witnesses to the power available to us. We, too, can choose this. We are not destined to be as the secularists and atheists see the world (with the lowest common denominator), we are destined for the heights of heaven. We need only make the choice to go there. Amen.