“First there is provocation; then a coupling with provocation; then assent to it; then captivity; then passion grown habitual; then continuous. This is how the holy fathers describe the stages through which the devil gets the better of us” (Philokalia III, p. 29; St. Philotheos of Sinai)
How can it happen to a person baptized into Christ, sealed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit so that the child or adult is protected from invasion from anything evil or damaging to his or her innocence and openness to the flow of grace from the heavenly Father, the eternal Son of the Father whom we know as Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit of God? Not only is the one united with divine energy polluted with sinfulness, and even worse choosing that alienation from holiness and eventually defining that state as normal and as how he wants to live his life on earth and “if” there is a life hereafter, letting it be without the love, the affection and the blessings of the Lord. In other words, h0w does one become a willing prisoner of evil?
Psalm 1 describes the stages of entrapment as motion: “walking, standing, then sitting.” Remember how the woodcarver Gepetto dressed Pinocchio and sent him off to school to learn how to be a good boy, only to have him influenced by the bad boys who enticed him to go with them to what they promised to be a better place? It’s not a trivial tale of mischief. This is a struggle for the soul of every human being. The Lord has created us with all the ingredients needed to go through life and emerge whole, holy and fit for eternal life united with the Holy Trinity. On the way we shall be invited to surrender that destiny and choose something much less—ultimate death without salvation. The frightening part is that it depends on us. Freedom is another precious gift that puts the responsibility on us alone.
First is provocation. An irritant of the conscience, it annoys us like flies flitting before our eyes. How long can you go on ignoring what can become aggravating? It’s not just pests that annoy—emotional attractions are often temptations of some erotic delight, or suggestions of vanity, like flattery or persuasion to fulfill your potential by veering from the narrow way of propriety.
Yes, you pay attention to the distraction, then you bond with it. You let it pester and annoy or seduce your ego. Now it becomes important enough to you that you have put aside your first affection. Somebody who loves you will tell you directly or otherwise that from the outside it seems you are not the same person you once were.
At this point the distraction is now in first place. What was once something in the air that caught your eye has become uppermost in your mind. You resent being told that you are not the same old you, and the reason for your change in personality has become something or somebody worth defending. You in fact become the defense attorney, and those who care for your welfare are now the enemy. You are so taken by the intrusion or intruder that you are held captive by what was an alien element in your existence. And the worst captivity is when the prisoner is not aware of being in a cell of his own making, insisting that he or she is as free as ever before—indeed, even more so.
This is a passionate matter. The family and friends are now outside. They no longer “make sense” to a prisoner of emotion. The former inner circle have become aliens, the stranger is the new intimate, reason is not functioning, and the marriage between the foreigner and the subject is complete. What was a mere infatuation has become ritual. It is now the new reality, and those who cannot deal with it can remain outside. You have abandoned your basic nature and call it ideal. Perhaps lost forever.