Ephesians 6:10-17

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be! We frequently have Epistle readings from St. Paul where he urges us to persevere in the spiritual life, to struggle against the attacks of satan, not to conform to the fallen ways of this world, to hold steadfast to Christ throughout our lives. We’ve had several readings like this recently, where we’re instructed on what to do. And this morning St. Paul very concretely defines for us the armor and the weapons that Christ and His Church offer to us in this struggle against sin and to follow in the way of Christ. St. Paul begins by characteristically telling us to “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Ephesians 6:10). And before we even have the chance to ask “how?” he continues, “put on the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:11a). The center of this morning’s reading tells us what this armor is, how to put on the armor of God. But before St. Paul defines this for us, he explains to us who our enemies will be. “That you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:11b-12). We aren’t fighting mere mortals of flesh and blood; our enemies are the demons—evil bodiless creatures of incredible spiritual strength and prowess. And they attack us, not head on, but with deceits and with tricks. The demons want to deprive us of heaven, to make our eternity to be the same miserable state they have guaranteed for themselves. So our enemies are satan and his demonic hosts, whose goal is to deprive us of the glory of God for all of eternity. With our enemy now defined for us, St. Paul continues, “take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13). We put on the whole armor of God so we can withstand the assaults of our enemies. With the constant attacks of such wretched foes, we can’t afford to just sit back and rest in comfort and hope that things will go well. To follow Christ is a violent life—“the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew11:12). Christian life is a battle, as St. Paul’s language suggests, a battle for us to stand with Christ amidst the evil of the day. And so our anchor, our support in this battle, is the armor of God. “Gird your waist with Truth,” (Ephesians 6:14a) St. Paul says, put on the belt of Truth. The waist or the loins are used as a spiritual image for the foundation of our soul. If garments and supplies are swinging loose around the waist, the movement of a soldier would be impeded. So all the clothing and materials for battle were secured to the waist with a leather belt. St. Paul tells us to fortify, to secure our souls with the constant pursuit of Truth, with the hatred of all falsehood and compromise. The first layer of our armor against the attacks of satan is to seek what is wholly and completely True in all areas of our lives, no compromises ever (a compromise would be a chink in the armor, and imperfect armor can always be penetrated). St. Paul then tells us to “put on the breastplate of righteousness” (Ephesians 6:14b). St. John Chrysostom says that this is an impenetrable (like the breastplate of a soldier), an impenetrable life of virtue. A life of following the commandments of Christ is a protection—we’ll still be attacked and even wounded in our spiritual struggles. But we’re protected from complete overthrow by the evil one by the impenetrable breastplate of a righteous life. We’re then told to “shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15). We’re prepared to set out on this journey/battle with hearts prepared to understand the gospel—the good news of Christ. The psalmist says, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105), and “Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Psalm 119:11). Supporting us in our battles, and showing us the way, is the revelation of God to mankind in the person of Jesus Christ. All things necessary for our salvation, St. John the Evangelist says, are present in the word of God. So our feet are shod, our way is guided and protected, by the gospel of Jesus Christ. We see the image of this in the Church—all teachings are weighed by the Tradition, and specifically the Fathers compare questionable teachings with the Scripture—as a firm bedrock to offer guidance and to define the truth. “And above all,” St. Paul writes, “take the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench the fiery darts of the wicked one.” The shield is a soldier’s front line, his foremost piece of armor. Without a shield a soldier can fight some simple one on one battles, but he’s defenseless against multiple foes, and especially against projectiles—arrows or thrown spears (which could easily symbolize the wiles of the enemy). Our first and most important line of defense against the evil one is the shield of our faith. Not simply “I believe in God,” not knowledge about God. But true, saving faith, St. John Chrysostom says. This means “I know God,” “I live in relationship with Christ,” I have experience of God, and not just knowledge about Him. And in the face of this surety of faith, all enemies will flee—“if ye have faith as the grain of a mustard seed…nothing shall be impossible unto you” Christ promises (Matthew 17:20). This saving faith, like all the Christian virtues, is a gift of God—a gift freely given to all who seek it with their whole hearts. And with this faith, St. Paul writes, all the fiery darts of the wicked one will be quenched—all the demons attacks will be deflected and destroyed in the face of our relationship with Christ, our shield of true faith. Our last piece of armor, as described by St. Paul, is “the helmet of salvation” (Ephesians 6:17a). The knowledge of our salvation in Christ. This is language that we Orthodox sometimes shy away from, thinking it sounds too Protestant or too outside the experience of the Church. But we know from the life and writings of St. Silouan the Athonite that when man lives in a saving relationship with Christ (the shield of faith we just mentioned), when man experiences God “the Holy Spirit witnesses to him of his salvation, his whole being is apprised that his sins have been forgiven” (The Enlargement of the Heart, Fr. Zacharias Zacharou, p. 12). The Holy Spirit witness to the soul of her salvation. With this knowledge of our salvation, what attack of the enemy could possibly take us out of the hands of the living God? St. Silouan says the saints would rather die than disappoint the God who offers them salvation. And finally, the final piece of our warrior’s uniform, “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17b). This is the only weapon St. Paul gives us—the weapon of the Spirit of God. St. John Chrysostom writes that by the sword of the Spirit “all things are severed, by this all things are cleft asunder, by this we cut off even the serpent’s head” (Homily XXIV On Ephesians). The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God—remember the temptations of Christ in the wilderness, and He refutes each of satan’s attacks with quotes from the Holy Scriptures. With all this armor—covered from head to foot, and this weaponry—the very Spirit and Word of God, who can be defeated? God gives us all we need for the battle. But like any soldier, if we don’t train, and put on our armor and take up our weapons, then we’ll be left in defeat on the field of battle. So in diligence let’s take up and continue the battle, as St. Paul says in the verse right after our Epistle reading, “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:18). Many of the Father’s identify the sword of the Spirit with prayer. Stinging the demons with the holy name of Jesus. We set out always in prayer—clad with the Belt of Truth, the Breastplate of Righteousness, the Shoes of the Gospel of Peace, the Shield of Faith, the Helmet of Salvation, and carrying the Sword of the Spirit. Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

The homilies of St. John Chrysostom on Ephesians, numbers XXII-XXIV, were used liberally in the preparation of this homily, and are excellent sources for further consideration of the topic of putting on the whole armor of God for spiritual warfare.