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14 - PRESUMPTUOUS SINS

PRESUMPTUOUS SINS

In Psalm 19:13, David prays saying, “Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.”
What are these presumptuous sins? They are hidden sins. They are sins that are veiled with outward righteousness, so that they are not perceived as sins. They can also be actual virtues practised in a way not pleasing to God or not according to God’s will. Sometimes these sins are called “Right hand sins” because they are sins that masquerade as virtues.

Examples of presumptuous sins:

1. Self-reliance:

You hear a sermon and you feel your heart being pricked and a desire burns inside you to follow after righteousness. You start with great zeal, you fast, you pray a lot and you read the Bible. You feel an extra-ordinary energy moving you, that you mistakenly think is the grace of God, but alas, in a few days you fall flat on your back and you become worse than before. The problem is self-reliance. The solution is to go to your Father in confession and let him guide you. He will probably give you a modest program for readings, prayers and fasting.

2. Over-righteousness:

Even if you do it the right way and go to your Father in confession, the devil starts convincing you to do more than what your Father in confession told you to do. The devil starts telling you, “Abouna probably doesn’t know your spiritual stature!” or “Abouna is delaying your spiritual growth.” So, you start hiding your ascetic efforts from your Father in confession and only confess to him. Once you do this, the devil will actually help you in your ascetic endeavour, make you fast for longer hours, read the Bible excessively, pray more and more. Why would the devil do that? In order to make your ascetic endeavour a goal in itself rather than a means towards perfection. You start to feel happy with how many hours you can keep fasting and how many metanoias you make. The Bible has a lot to tell us about this. “Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself?” (Eccl 7:16)
“For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” (Rom 12:3)
The devil used to come to Saint Antony, after he finishes his prayers and starts to give himself some rest and say to him, “Antony, wake up and pray!” But the wise Saint Antony used to reply, “I pray when I want to, but I will never listen to you.”
One has to be moderate in every thing. This moderation is called by the Fathers The Royal Way, not swerving to the right (overrighteousness) or to the left (sinfulness)
It is for this reason that monks had a rule for prayer and fasting and readings assigned to them by their spiritual guide. You should always consult your Father in confession about your spiritual endeavours and ask him to assign you a rule for every thing.

3. Punishing yourself:

Sometimes in our do-it-yourself spirituality, we punish our selves for the sins we commit. So, if you fall into a certain sin you increase your fasts, metanoias, or prayers and you think that you have dealt with the problem. Soon enough this will lead to:

4. Absolving yourself:

For example, you are on a trip and the food served on the plane is non-fasting, so you allow yourself to indulge and justify it to yourself by the fact that you fast a lot and it is your right to have a break. What you don’t realize is that the devil has made you take to yourself the power of binding and loosing which belongs to the priest. In reality, it is the devil that is binding and loosing you. He made you lose your spiritual director and he became your spiritual adviser!Again the Bible tells us something about this, “No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth it in a secret place, neither under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that they which come in may see the light.” (Luk 11:33) The Fathers of the desert tell us that what this means is, hide not your ascetic deeds from your spiritual adviser, do not practice ascetism secretly from your Father in confession.

5. The delusions of righteousness:

If you continue in this way, the devil will convince you that you are doing the right thing, that you are on the way that leads into life eternal, while in practice you are on the way to perdition, to losing your salvation. Again the Bible warns us against this, “Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness.” (Luk 11:35) In Revelation 3:17, the Lord rebukes one of the bishops of the seven churches by saying unto him, “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.”
People who reach this stage are almost lost. Theophan the Recluse tells us that these people discover their state only after they die. It is of these people that the Lord says, “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matt 7:22-23)

6. False revelation, visions, dreams:

In order to confirm you in your delusion, the devil can sometimes make you “know things” before they happen!, or know the thoughts of people!
How can the devil do this? Very easy!He knows that your grand mother in Egypt is dying, so he puts the thought in your mind. You call Egypt and they tell you indeed that she is very ill. If you believe this, he will keep on telling you things in order to convince you that God is favouring you by these revelations, and fill you with the deadly sins of pride and self righteousness.
John Climacus tells us that the devil can implant a thought in someone’s mind and reveal it to another to give him the illusion that he can read people’s minds!Where do you think all those “Psychics” get their knowledge? From the devil. Actually most “Psychics” are really people possessed by demons.
Three monks were having “revelations” and they were arguing among themselves whether these revelations are from God or from the devil. They decided to go to Saint Antony the Great to ask him about these. While on the way to Saint Antony, the donkey they had with them died. They resumed their journey and when they reached Saint Antony, he told them, “Too bad that your donkey died!” They asked him, “How did you know about the donkey?” He told them, “The devil told me!” They told him, “You answered our question before we asked you.”
Some people have visions of saints or angels. One has to be very careful before accepting these, because the devil can imitate these in order to ruin your spiritual life. The history of the desert Fathers is filled with horror stories about people who accepted these visions without discerning whether they are from God or from the devil.
One of these stories is the story of Heron, a monk that spent 50 years in ascetism and was brought to ruin by a false angel that appeared to him for a long time. He stopped going to church, and refused the advice of the other monks, who advised him to tell the Abbot about this. In the end the “angel” convinced him that he was going to be taken alive to heaven like Elijah. The poor man went to say goodbye to his fellow monks, who tried in vain to convince him that this is the devil, but he would not listen. The “angel” took him to a mountain and convinced him to jump, and of course he fell to his death. The Abbot would not allow the psalms to be chanted for him. He considered him as one who committed suicide.
Another “angel” appeared to another monk for three years. The cell in which he lived was shining with the light of the “angel”, so that he did not need to light any candles!After three years, the “angel” gave him a vision of “Paradise” showing him the Jews sitting in the bosom of Abraham, while the Christians were being tortured in Hades, He left Christianity and became a Jew.
There were wiser monks though. To one “Gabriel” appeared with a message from God!He told him, “You must have come to the wrong cell, for I am a sinner unworthy of revelations, but the monk next door is a saintly man.” “Gabriel” disappeared in smoke!
To another monk “The Lord” appeared and told him to worship him, but he said, “I don’t want to see the Lord on earth, I want to see him in heaven.” Again, the false “Lord” disappeared in smoke.
Now these are things that happened to monks centuries ago, but the devil is still using the same techniques even today, with great success. Many years ago, I noticed that one of the servants has stopped coming to church and having communion for a long time and I decided to visit him and ask him about the reason for this. He simply told me, “Pope Kyrillos appears to me every Sunday and gives me communion!” Another servant from out of town, told me that something was bothering his conscience. Since I was not his Father in confession, I advised him to confess to his own Father in confession. The next morning he called to tell me that “Pope Kyrillos” came to him in a dream, asked him to confess, then gave him the absolution. He asked me if this is good enough, but I told him, I still suggest very strongly, that you go and confess to your Father in confession, and tell him about this dream.
There are true apparitions, but there are also false apparitions, in the same way that there is real money and there is counterfeit money. And the proper way to handle revelations, apparitions and dreams, is to consult with your Father in confession.
A spiritual person will always deem him/herself unworthy of these revelations. Dreams are totally under the control of the devil. God spoke to certain people through dreams, but these can be counted on the fingers and they were saints and prophets, not sinners like us. We should not give much weight to dreams. Saint Antony once said, “He who believes in dreams is the toy of the demons.”

7. False gifts:

In a later stage, the devil may actually give you “spiritual gifts” like healing gifts, or people ask you to pray for them and in a short while, their problems are solved. The devil can give someone a headache, and cause it to go away when you pray for him!Or cause a problem for someone, and later solves this problem when you pray for that person. An example of this kind of trickery is given to us in the life of Saint Pachom. There was another monk training with him under Abba Palaemon, who used to taunt St. Pachom that he is not striving enough.
As a proof of this, that monk used to walk on burning coals without being hurt!St. Pachom felt very discouraged because he could not do the same. One day, the monk came to him and told him, Today, I am going to jump into a furnace and will not be burned!He jumped into the furnace and was consumed by the fire.
Saint Pachom was very shaken by this and he went into the desert and started to pray, telling God, “This is too difficult for me!” But God sent an angel to comfort St. Pachom and tell him, “Because of your humility, God will grant you discernment, so that the devil cannot trick you this way, and you will be able to help others who will become your disciples.”
Where do you think all those TV “Healers” get their gifts from? It’s from the devil. The Bible tells us that the devil can cause illnesses. Possessed persons healed by the Lord often had blindness, deafness, epilepsy or other ailments caused by the demons. In the Book of Job, we are told that Satan “smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown.” Satan can cause someone to be temporarily blind, and then allow the “healer” to “heal” him!Why? Because both the healer, the healed and the spectators are deceived by these false “miracles.”

8. False consolation, false tears:

Sometimes the devil, in order to confirm you in your delusion will give you a false warmth in your heart, even false tears that start coming down when you pray. This is very easy. He just tells his demons not to disturb you or tempt you in order that you may be deceived and think that you are doing the right things.
Here is a true example of how he does that. Long time ago, I met two young people who were living together in sin. They used to tell me, “Abouna, we pray the Agpeya together, and we read the Bible together, so how can this be wrong?”
There was an old song that had this lyric, “It can’t be wrong, when it feels so right!” Every time I hear this song I think to myself, “The devil himself must have written this song!”

9. The peace before the storm:

This is another trick that the devil uses in order to ambush young people into sin. It goes like this. A boy meets a girl andthey start meeting behind their parent’s back. They are afraid to tell their Father in confession, so they ignore this part in their confessions. “It’s only friendship” whispers the devil in their ears. They spend hours together without having any unseemly desire towards each other. They don’t kiss or touch (because the devil told his demons not to attack them.) They fall into the trap of false security. They can meet in a room by themselves, even sit on a couch without doing anything unholy (again because this is the script written by the devil.) One day, they are sitting on the same couch like they used to do for so many months, and suddenly, the demons attack from every direction. Feelings of lust suddenly swamp them. Totally unprepared, they fall into sin.

10. The war of the opposites:

This is another trick of the devil by which he tries to spiritually exhaust us, and make us easy prey. He plants two opposed thoughts in our mind. They are both good thoughts, but they alternate without ceasing in our mind. Each one has its own arguments, supported by the appropriate verses from the Bible. You go on and on trying to find out which one is from God and which one is not. The truth is that they are both from the devil. This he does to drain you and engage your mind in fruitless pursuits in order to weaken you and make you easy to attack. The easiest solution to this dilemma is to talk to your Father in confession.

11. The spiritual progress war:

The devil may make you over-anxious about your spiritual progress. “You are not making any progress, change your Father in confession,” he whispers in your mind. What we don’t know is that God hides from us the fruits of our strife, even unto the last day of our life. He does this out of love for us , for if we see results, we will immediately attribute the results to our own piety and not to Grace, and thus lose all what we gained from our strife to pride and self-righteousness.
When the Lord brought Israel into the promised land, He told them “The LORD thy God will put out those nations before thee by little and little: thou mayest not consume them at once, lest the beasts of the field increase upon thee.” (Deut 7:22) The Fathers explain this to us by saying that these “nations” symbolize our sins. The Lord does not want to destroy our sins quickly, lest the beasts of the field, pride and selfrighteousness, increase in us and devour us.
The Lord also gave us a parable that we should not expect to see results for our strife, “And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; And should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how.” (Mark 4:27) If you have a house plant it will grow every day, but if you try watching it to see if it grows, can you see it? So it is with your spiritual life, do not expect to see results because God hides the results from us for our own good.

12. Secondary sins:

The Fathers tell us that every demon going out to fight against the faithful has two “assistant demons,” one on his right hand and one on his left hand. The one on his right hand is called the demon of pride, and the one on his left is called the demon of despair.
If the principal demon succeeds in tempting you to sin, the demon of despair takes over. He starts rebuking you harshly in order to make you despair from your salvation. You may think that this is your conscience, or God rebuking you because of your repeated failure, but you are mistaken. The Fathers tells us that when God rebukes, He rebukes gently and lovingly, never harshly.
If you resist the temptation, the demon of pride starts to put thoughts of self-righteousness in your mind, by telling you, “You really became experienced in fighting this sin!” or something like that, in order to make you lose the victory you just scored by the grace of God. The demon of despair sometimes implants thoughts of blasphemy in our minds, or thoughts of fornication, while we are standing in line to take communion. He then rebukes us very harshly trying to make us despair from salvation.
A monk went to his Abba, very distressed because of thoughts of blasphemy that were attacking him constantly. His Abba told him, ignore those thoughts and say, “These are your thoughts not mine, may your blasphemy be upon your head.”
The treatment of these tricks is to be aware of them, expose them and fight them. Go to your Father in confession and reveal the thoughts to him. The Fathers tell us that as soon as you reveal the thoughts to your Abba, they will disappear.


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