In the eighth chapter of the book of Joshua, we read about Joshua and the Israelites' capture of the Caananite city of Ai. The Israelite army's first attempt to take the city was a miserable failure, for a variety of reasons. But Joshua learned from his failure, and he devised an ingenious plot to capture the city on the second try. He divided his army, placing part of it in front and part of it in back of the heavily-fortified city. The division in front of the city stormed the city head-on. When the defenders began to beat them back, the Israelites retreated. Drunk with their success, the army of Ai charged after the Israelites, leaving the city undefended. Quickly, the division of Israelites to the rear of Ai marched into the city unopposed, and the city was won.
This tactic has been repeated by armies countless times in the 3000-plus years since the battle of Ai, usually with the same result. And the demons often attack us in the same way. One demon will tempt us in one way, and we fight off the attack. But in so doing, we leave ourselves undefended for another attack from another demon to the "rear," and so we still lose the overall battle. In chapter eight of Way of the Ascetics, Tito Colliander warns us about leaving one "side" of our souls undefended:
"The first time you are victorious over self may be a sign to you: Now I am on the way! But do not consider yourself virtuous, only thank God, for it was He who gave you the power; and do not rejoice beyond measure, but swiftly go on. Otherwise the vanquished evil may come to you and conquer you from the rear" (24).
In our struggle toward salvation, we will encounter many defeats, but many victories also. In order to make our victories last, however, we must not neglect our defenses, as did the army of Ai. Our enemy the devil is relentless, "walk[ing] about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Pet. 5:8). Unlike us, the demons do not sleep or get tired. Their attacks will continue. So, as St. Peter warns us, "Be sober, be vigilant!" (op cit). As Colliander writes, "...always the next phase of the battle is already waiting. We must be constantly prepared. There is no time to rest." But how can we do this? Colliander gives us some practical suggestions.
"Once again, be silent! Let no one notice what you are about. You are working for the Invisible One; let your work be invisible. If you scatter crumbs around you they are willingly picked up by birds sent by the devil, the saints explain. Beware of self-satisfaction: in one mouthful it can devour the fruit of much toil.
"Therefore the Fathers counsel: act with discernment. Of two evils one chooses the lesser. If you are in private, take the poorest morsel, but if anyone is looking, you should take the middle way that arouses the least notice. Keep hidden and as inconspicuous as possible; in all circumstances let this be your rule. Do not talk about yourself, of how you slept, what you dreamed and what happened to you, do not state your views unasked, do not touch upon your own wants and concerns. All such talk only nourishes your self-preoccupation" (25).
Finally, if we are to succesfully guard our hearts against the attacks of the enemy, we must cultivate a spirit of humility. Again, Colliander offers down-to-earth advice on how to accomplish this:
"Do not seek higher posts and higher titles: the lower the position of service you have, the freer you are...And do not be prompt to show your learning or skill. Hold back your remarks...Contradict nobody and do not get into arguments; let the other person always be right. Never set your own will above that of your neighbour. This teaches you the difficult art of submission, and along with it, humility. Humility is indispensable.
"Take remarks without grumbling: be thankful when you are scorned, disregarded, ignored. But do not create humbling situations; they are provided in the course of the day as richly as you need" (26).
From my experience, I can say "Amen" to that last sentence! It seems that every day something humbling occurs to me (and some days, SEVERAL things happen!). I give thanks for that, because I need it!