Hiermonk Benedict of Holy Mount Athos
12. Results of the thoughts.
When the thought ages inside us, we then become servants to attempt its accomplishment. Attempt is the attachment of a person to material items and his desire to obtain only these items. Thus, the person’s mind becomes detached from the eternal nourishment. And when the person’s mind withdraws totally from God, then «it becomes either ferocious or de- vilish». That is, the person becomes either as a beast or a demon. We observe this happening in today’s consumer society. The person’s mind has become adhered only to the earthly and has no thought whatsoever of heaven. The result is that the person is transformed into a beast and handicraft (technology) in whatever form, has been deified.
Man becomes unrestrained. He cannot control himself. When a person does not fight against the cunning thought, he then becomes a slave of sin. «Whoever retains the thoughts of sin, without fighting nor arguing with them, then commits the act of sin».
Our thoughts corrupt us and crush us, thus creating problems within our personal relationships.
Thoughts pollute and contaminate our soul, poisoning it and mortifying it. «This is the battle of the cunning demon. And with these arrows he poisons all souls», as St. Hysichios the Elder tells us.
With the acceptance of thoughts, the devil obtains authority and can drive a person even to suicide, since that person cannot withstand the devil’s strength. The thought makes the soul under handed. That is, it ties the human soul to the earthly things. The person who senses the continuous harassments of corrupt thoughts and feels the underbelly of the body on fire, reveals that he is distanced from the sweet fragrance of The Holy Spirit
One then loses his outspokenness with God.
When the mind begins to converse with shameful and indecent thoughts, then «it is discredited in its frankness towards God». It is not possible for God to have communion, that is communication, with a person whose mind is continually being polluted with indecent and cunning thoughts. Just as it is detestable for an earthly lord when he observes someone denouncing him in order to converse with his enemies, so it is with God.
«Impure thoughts separate God from man». God does not reveal His mysteries to a person who is possessed by defiled thoughts.
Since thoughts separate man from God, consequently, for this reason, a number of bodily abnormalities then arise. Anxiety, insecurity, and fear, on top of many other bodily illnesses, are caused by thoughts. These causes are apparent even to medical doctors. For this reason, they order their patients not to think of various things which would cause them distress.
One thought is enough to cause a person to lose his sleep all night long. It is for this reason that we say that thoughts agitate a person and can even break his nerves. The holy father, the Abbot Theodore, used to say: «The thought comes in order to disturb me».
These, in brief, are the results of cunning and corrupt thoughts. We should, however, also see the manners in which one must confront these types of thoughts, which mostly originate from the devil.
13. The confrontation of thoughts.
How can someone become liberated from shameful thoughts?
The Saints and Holy Fathers of our Church have made evident to us, the various ways of confronting such thoughts.
St. John Chrysostom advises us not to declare or express them, but to choke them with silence. It is just as the beasts and reptiles when they fall into the pit. If then find some outlet upwards, they climb up and out and usually become more ferocious. If, however, they continuously remain enclosed therein, they are easily lost and disappear.
The same happens with the polluting thoughts. If they find some outlet by way of a person’s mouth to be verbally expressed, they then light up the internal flame. If, however, they are blockaded with silence, they become weak. They dissolve hunger and quickly disappear.
The passage, «How could I do anything so wicked, and sin against God?» (Genesis 39:9) is appropriate. When any type of illogical thought comes to agitate us, let us think of how the most minuscule and illogical thoughts cannot be hidden from God.
The study of God’s Laws, the remembrance of things which are to take place in the future, as well as all that God has done just for us, decreases the corrupt thoughts. They, therefore, cannot take root within us.
Their redemption. Just as a snake coming out of its nest runs in order to hide elsewhere, so it is with loathsome thoughts. When they are redeemed, they then depart from the person. We should know that nothing makes the demons un-happier than the concealment of shameful thoughts.
The exhaustion of the soul and the bodily trials «on all occasions, places and things» can a person in not having indecent thoughts.
«Tend to rid yourself from the passions and von will immediately expel! these thoughts from your mind» stresses St. Maximus the Confessor. That is, in order for someone to rid himself from fornication, he should weary himself bodily and fast. In order to dismiss rage and sadness, he should despise fame and glory, dishonesty and disgrace. In order to dispel revenge, he should pray for the person who caused him harm.
We cannot hinder thoughts from coming to us. We can, however, not accept them. It is the same as with crows. Just as we cannot stop them from flying overhead of us, we can however, prevent them from building their nests on our heads.
Let us follow what St. Basil has to say concerning this topic and the war that is involved.
«We should confront these attacks with intensive care and attentiveness, just as an athlete when he evades his opponent’s blows with the accurate precaution necessary, together with the flexibility of his body. We should entrust the ending of the war and the avoidance of the arrows, to prayer and assistance from above.
And even if the tricky enemy, during the hour of prayer, subjects us to cunning fantasies, the soul should not interrupt its prayer. The soul should also know that it is not responsible for the cunning attacks undertaken by the enemy, in addition to the fantasies emanating from the «paradoxical miracle maker». On the contrary, he should think of the fact that these thoughts are due to the impertinence of the inventor of evil. That person should then intensify his kneeling to The Lord and should plead to God to dissolve the cunning partition caused by irrational and absurd thoughts, so that, unhindered, he can approach God.
If however, the harmful attack of the thought becomes more intense due to the impudence of the enemy, we should not turn to cowardice nor quit the battle in its duration, but instead, we should endure up to the point when God will notice our perseverance. He will then enlighten us with the Grace of The Holy Spirit, which will on one hand cause the enemy to flee, and on the other hand flood our mind with Holy Light, in order for the thought to adore God with uninterrupted tranquility and joy».
In general, the Holy Fathers have these methods of confronting corrupt thoughts: a) Prayer, b) Objection, and c) Contempt.
a) Prayer, It is not possible for the beginner to rid himself of these thoughts on his own. It is only those perfected in prayer who know how to do this.
The prayer of the mind, the monologistic prayer of «Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner», is the strongest weapon which someone can use in order to win over cunning thoughts. «The name of Jesus scourges the enemies. There is truly no stronger weapon on earth nor in heaven», stresses St. John of the Climacus.
«The ever sweet Name of Jesus, continuously meditated on with fervent passion and faith in the depths of the heart, lulls to sleep all the evil thoughts, while awakening all the pure and spiritual. And wherever there originated impure thoughts from the heart such as murder, adultery (Matthew 15:19), as the Lord said, it is from there that follow thoughts filled with purity, and speech of wisdom and Grace».
b) The Objection. Prayer is for the beginners and the weak. Those who are able to combat should then use objection, which usually muzzles the demons to silence. Our Lord used this method in order to win the three great wars which were begun in the desert mountain by the devil. «Sensuality with «Man shall not live by bread alone», Ambition with «You shall not tempt The Lord Your God», Avarice with «You shall worship The Lord Your God, and Him only you shall serve» (Matthew 4:10)».
The Holy Martyr Peter of Damascus relates the following to us: «When the demons inflict us with a thought of pride, then you should remember the shameful thoughts which they flung at to you, and thus you should humble yourself. Then again, when you are subjected to corrupt thoughts, remember those thoughts of pride and be victorious over them by the use of this method so that you neither lose hope because of the impure thoughts, nor become proud because of the good ones».
This is just what one elder said when he would find himself subjected to thoughts of haughtiness: «Old man, take a strong look at your fornication», and the war would then come to an end.
There are instances when one musters up all his spiritual strength, all the pure thoughts, and yet still is unable to dispel one evil thought. What is the cause of this? «It is due to the fact that we begin by accepting the thought of judging our brethren». By judging our brothers our thoughts lose the strength which they previously had. There are many times when we are nonsensical and, for this reason, we are overpowered by thoughts. Many times, however, we do not have the power to withstand these thoughts. As a result, we receive spiritual wounds so deep that they cannot recover, even with the passage of a great period of time.
For this reason, it is best for one to resort to the power of prayer and tears, because:
1) The soul does not always have the same strength, 2) the devil has thousands of years of experience, whereas ours is very limited, with the result of us quitting the battle defeated and wounded, since our nous is yet again polluted with corrupt fantasies, and 3) one dispels haughtiness and shows humility when one takes refuge in God at the time of the war of thoughts, and confesses weakness in the fight, while declaring Jesus Christ the only One who withstands the war, since it is He who said: «Take courage, I have overcome the world» (John 16:33). That is, the passions, the thoughts and the devil.
c) Contempt. If we occupy ourselves with the thoughts that are imposed on us by the devil, we will never be able to do any good.
To dislike, to disregard and not to be occupied with the thoughts imposed by the enemy are the greatest weapons. These are the strongest blows one can throw to the devil. We must regard his thoughts as being vermin, as the barks of puppies, as mosquitoes, and in the worst instance, as the noise of an airplane and nothing else, since: 1) we believe in the power of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and 2) we believe that after the Crusification and the Death of Our Lord, the devil has no power whatsoever over us, but remains powerless and weak, as is written: «O enemy, destructions are finished forever»! (Psalm 9:6).
There exists no greater victory and humiliation for the demon than this contempt and scorn, since the person who has arrived at this point in the battle, is armed with the Grace of God and remains unaprehended by the thoughts imposed by demons.
These are the three methods of combating corrupt thoughts which originally arise from the devil.
In addition, we could say that the memory of death is a very powerful method for the contempt of these thoughts. The memory of this creates heartfelt pain for our sins and prevents our mind from accepting such thoughts. Whosoever considers the passing day as being the last in his life, will curb the shameful thoughts to a very great extent. Do you sit down at a table in order to have your meal? You should then think of death in order for gluttony not to tempt you.
We should paint a picture in our mind of our tombstone, in order to erase the inconsideration and heartlessness we have. Abba Silouanos, the latest formally declared saint of the Mount Athos, said: «You should have your mind continually thinking of Hell, and do not despair». By these means no thought will ever take root in you.
Which method should we use in order to escape the ongoing and tortuous suffering, (as St. Theodore Stouditis aptly characterizes the thoughts)?
Let us follow the tactics of St. John of Kolovos, who had tested all the methods available.
The great spiritual fighter advises us to do the following:
«I resemble a person who sits under a great tree and who suddenly sees a great herd of beasts and reptiles coming to attack him. Then, since he cannot easily withstand, runs up the tree and saves himself. This is exactly what I do. I sit in my cell and watch the cunning thoughts coming to confront me. That is when I climb «The Tree of Life», to my God with prayer and in by this way I am saved from the enemy».
Hiermonk Benedict of Holy Mount Athos, Thoughts and how to confront them (Translation by Calliope Hatzidemetriou).