Thoughts and how to confront them (1)

temptation of christHiermonk Benedict of Holy Mount Athos

Preface

Among the problems which man must confront at his moments of prayer, are the various thoughts which enter his mind, or nous.

This booklet is not the result of an experienced study on this important topic of thoughts and reasonings. It is a discourse which took place some time ago. It is presented here in a much improved version without having lost its original figure of speech. Since there are many who struggle with obscene and impure thoughts and even more who «panic», this attempt is made so that the combatant and fighting Christian may understand what thoughts are, where they come from, what their results are, and how they are confronted.

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If anyone is benefited by this small piece of work, let him pray for those who labored for it.

1. The difficult war

It has been stated many times that prayer is a dynamic action which is beneficial for the person who offers the prayer as well as being pleasing to God.

The fact that all this is real irritates the devil and makes him fight against the person who engages in prayer.

In this manner, the faithful person who desires to unite himself to God through prayer faces obstacles placed by demons. These demons place barriers which are systematically organized and planned in order for their attacks to be successful.

Due to this inevitable attack, prayer becomes an act of labor which causes great toil. More so than any other type of work. That is why one of the «Desert Fathers» emphasizes that «there is no grater gatigue than for someone to pray to God».

In order for someone to pray until his last breath he is required to struggle.

It is not only prayer which is tiring. It is mostly the implacable battle of the demons which makes prayer much more fatiguing.

Therefore, the hatred which the demons have for those who pray is a reality. The war between the person who prays and the demons has two aspects to it: the visible (mostly for the beginners) and the invisible for the spiritually advanced. They use sound, objects, and cause noises in order to draw their attention away from prayer. Whether beginner or advanced, the demons often fight a person by use of thoughts.

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It is truly a difficult battle for whoever has chosen to commence the battle against thoughts. For, the thoughts and reasonings are the greatest barrier man faces in order to achieve his spiritual education and perfection. And this perfection can by no other means be achieved than by the continuous invocation of the name of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. In fact, the invocation must be done often enough, as Saint Gregory, the Theologian emphasizes, so that «it is more desirable for one to commemorate God than it is to breathe».

There exists, however, the internal war. There is no war more fierce than an irrational thought which nests in our soul. All that which originates from inside us, is more intense than that which strikes us from the outside. The illnesses which are borne from inside us are sly and treacherous, causing greater damage than an external wound. Even nations were harder hit by internal enemies, compated to those who invaded from a nation’s exterior.

In this way then, the soul cannot be destroyed as much by the machinations that come from the outside as by the diseases which grow inside us, which are the loathsome, obscene and blasphemous thoughts.

2. Thoughts and their origin

What are thoughts and where do they originate? When we say thoughts, we do not simply mean reflections, but also the images and the conditions under which they exist with each occurrence along with the most suitable reflections. Thus, the descriptive images, along with the reflections, are called thoughts and reasonings.

The first and foremost cause of thoughts in man is The Original Sin. Up to that point, man’s mind, was «one-tracked», that is, it was not distracted to think of other things. It’s only thoughts were for God! From the time of The Original Sin, the thoughts of doubt began and, in continuation, came all the other thoughts.

The second cause of instigation of thoughts in man is his senses, when they are not properly governed by their ruling mind. It is especially so for hearing and sight. Today, particularly due to technology, (TV. Radio, etc) the senses receive more stimulations than ever before. For this reason, the battle against thoughts is more intense.

The third cause is the passions which exist in man. It is because of these that the demons gain the opportunity to mobilize the malicious thoughts against us.

The fourth and primary cause, are the demons. St. Gregory of Sinai characteristically emphasizes: «Thoughts are the words of the demons and forerunners of passions».

In addition, St. Isaac, the Syrian, accentuates that «the natural desire» which exists in us as well as our soul’s inclinations and tendencies, cause thoughts to arise.

This war is especially intense against monks, who many times have had to combat against the demons body to body, during the attack by cunning thoughts. That is why St. Maximus, the Confessor, states that this war is much more difficult than the perceptible war.

In addition, cunning thoughts may arise due to the temperament and constitution of the body, and even from daily meals, as well as the movements and motions undergone by the body itself.

The above-mentioned causes give rise to lewd and impure thoughts.

To be continued…

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