Chapter Fourteen. 1.Fasting is not just abstention from food, but primarily strict abstinence of the senses. When the senses are fed by external things, they transmit a corresponding amount of poison to the nous and the heart, which killsthe poor soul’s life in God. Our Watchful Fathers have so much to tell us about the holy fasting of the senses. Their entire teaching is mainly directed at the purification of the nous from sinful fantasies and thoughts, and the purification of the heart from feelings that defile it. Furthermore, they teach that we must eradicate every evil in its beginning to keep the soul clean. As soon as any evil thought whatsoever approaches even slightly, it is absolutely necessary that we drive it away and say the Jesus prayer right away. And when in this manner we confront the thoughts coming from the senses and the devil, very soon we will feel the joy and the profit derived from the fasting of the senses. If Eve had restrained her sense of vision, she would not have poisoned the offspring of her womb, that is, all the people who were born from her. In short, abstinence with the senses saves man from hell. 2. I pray, my child, that you resist egotistic and proud thoughts, for from them and from similar passions all the other evil passions originate, and by them a poor soul is pushed over the cliff of destruction. Pay no attention to passionate thoughts; disregard them completely, since the ugliness of evil is written all over their face. Disregarding the thoughts suggested by the devil brings salvation.Humility is the best stratagem, for not engaging in a battle of rebuttal* with them and fleeing for refuge in Christ through prayer is humility. Passionate thoughts may also be expelled by means of rebuttal, but the fight is difficult and the soldier of Christ must be very experienced to get by without damage, because Satan is also an expert in the Scriptures and he cites arguments to trip up the soldier. Therefore, whatever he suggests to you through your thoughts—whether it is pride, vainglory, criticism, etc.—let it go in one ear and out the other. Since they are passionate thoughts, it is unnecessary to hold a conversation with them. Lock them out! Tell them, “I do not tolerate associating and speaking with heretical thoughts”, and remain firm in your prayer.
*Rebuttal (αντιλογία ) Rebuttal is the repulsing of a demonic thought at the moment of assault. See also consent. 3. Pay no attention to whatever the enemy says to you. As soon as he is about to whisper something in your ear, immediately say, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me”, or “Save me”, rapidly and without stopping, and soon you will see that the thought—or rather the pressure to accept the thought—has weakened, and you will not remember what exactly he was trying to say. This method is simpler and more effective than rebuttal—that is, to contradict the thoughts suggested—because after the demon has left and finished everything he had to say, there is nothing left behind as a remnant or shadow. Whereas with rebuttal, when he is defeated and departs, he leaves behind remnants and shadows of whatever he suggested to the soul, that is, faint memories of what one fought against. The first method—i.e., to take refuge immediately in the prayer—is relaxing, and the soul is quickly calmed. On the other hand, the second method—rebuttal—is laborious, and if the soul does not succeed with rebuttal, one is likely to be wounded in proportion to the demon’s skill of persuasion.
4. Flee from sinful thoughts; cut off fantasies, the idol of provocativeness, because Satan—that “know-it-all”—wants to separate you from God your Creator. For when he makes a person guilty by means of sinful consent, the grace of the Holy Spirit leaves, just as a bee flies away from smoke, and then the soul is left without grace and joy, and full of despondency and sorrow. But when we oppose evil fantasies as soon as they first appear in the mind by destroying or repulsing them and immediately seize the sword of the spirit—the holy little prayer of our Jesus—with eagerness and zeal at once we shall see the knavish evil thought abandoning its post and conceding the victory to the governing mind, which the grace and mercy of God strengthened. The cunning devil cannot tolerate seeing the holy guardian angel of our soul stand near us. This abysmal dragon strives to distance him in order to catch us bereft of a bodyguard and swoop down on us like a fearful tempest and devour us. And since he knows that only unchaste thoughts distance this angel, we see him rouse a multitude of filthy thoughts and fantasies of vain idols in order to defile the mind, heart, and body. But when the soldier of God realizes his malice, he seizes the weapon of Christ immediately and disperses his machinations.
5. My child, be careful with your imagination. All sins originate from the imagination; it is the root of sin. So be careful. As soon as a fantasy of a person or deed comes, of something you saw or heard, immediately drive it away from your mind with anger and the prayer. Say it rapidly and intensely, and at once entreat our Panagia mentally with pain to help you, and I trust in God that you will obtain the victory. You were proud, and this is why the devil started fighting you. Humble yourself now; abase yourself; insult yourself mentally, and God, seeing your humility, will help you. Just as you avoid fire so that you do not get burned, and a snake so that you do not get bitten, likewise—and even more so—you should avoid the devil’s fantasies! Be careful, I repeat, with filthy fantasies; because this is how great spiritual men have fallen and perished. 6. Be careful that your mind does not wander here and there, but affix it tightly to the name of Christ. Entreat Him as if He were in front of you by invoking His name with pain of soul, and then you will see how much benefit you will derive. Drive evil thoughts away quickly—kick them out! Shout, “Get out of here, you tramps, out of the temple of God, out of my soul!” Do not leave them inside yourself, because you run the risk of being wounded, and then you will weep and sigh. Be patient, my child. Flee from thoughts as from a fire, for they ravage, chill, and deaden the soul! But if we drive them away with anger, with vigilance, and the prayer, they give rise to great benefit. So struggle; do not be afraid. Call upon our ready Physician. Not many entreaties are needed; He does not ask for money; He is not disgusted by wounds; He accepts tears like a good Samaritan; He nurses and attends to a person wounded by the noetic thieves. Therefore, let us hasten to Him.
7. As for obscene thoughts, they spring from the imaginative part of the soul. That is, within the mind appear people, things, and deeds that the five senses of the body have gathered and transported into the storehouse of the imagination. And in time, the devil will present to the imagination people or things or songs, etc., that the senses have stored up, and in order to create thoughts he incites the passion so that he may sack the city of God—the heart, that is—and defile it. Therefore, the whole trick is to drive away fantasies, people, and so on, as soon as they are depicted in our mind. And if we accomplish this, by the grace of God, the evil temptation is eradicated in its beginning and we win with little effort. But if the thoughts persist, we should resist by invoking the name of Christ and confronting those thoughts with anger. Furthermore, when we see people who scandalize us, we should try not to let the image of them be deposited within us, but we should drive them away at once, lest these images are taken into the imaginative part of our soul, and thus enable the devil to fight us by showing them to us again later.
8. Regarding your blasphemous thoughts, my child, which the devil is putting in your mind, do not fear. It is due to the jealousy of the evil sower. The devil tries to choke the Christian’s soul with the idea that he himself is blaspheming, and in this way to poison his heart! Such thoughts should go in one ear and out the other. That is how much you should disregard them, because these thoughts are not yours. I am telling you, my child, do not fear. I shall take the responsibility for them. When these thoughts come, say to Satan: “Bring whatever you want. From now on I couldn’t care less for anything you say, since all these things are contrivances of your malice!” Even though blasphemous thoughts are clearly from the devil, nevertheless we are also partly responsible for them. How? We are responsible because of the hidden pride of our mind that thinks that we are important: this is revealed by the blasphemous thoughts. They can also originate from our anger, wrath, hatred, etc. Therefore, along with disregarding them, we should take care to reproach ourselves inwardly and fight off every proud thought. Furthermore, we should be at peace with everyone, even if someone harms us.
9. Do not talk a lot. Stay away from back talk, quarreling, loquacity, and everything that issues from a careless tongue. Drive away evil thoughts and filthy fantasies from your mind as soon as they appear. For when they linger inside the mind and heart, they create a grave condition. Whereas when we are careful at the first appearance of the filthy fantasy and the filthy thought that follows, we remain in peace and enjoy the moral gratification of purity. Therefore, my children, let us pay attention to ourselves every time various bad thoughts enter, because the same approach applies for every bad thought. Whatever kind it may be, when it finds the nous careless, it enters and creates—corresponding to the passion—the aforementioned unhealthy condition. Therefore, since a monk is fought primarily by thoughts, the thing that saves him is watchfulness! Watchfulness (nepsis ) is derived from the verb “nefo”, that is, to be careful, vigilant, alert, and on the guard. When we are careful, vigilant, alert, and on our guard, the house of our soul will be well-kept and we shall save our souls for which we struggle our whole life.
10. When a person is young, it is impossible not to be fought by filthy thoughts and fantasies. One must drive them away immediately and say the Jesus prayer, and they will leave. But once again they will return; once more he needs to drive them away through the prayer and watchfulness, that is, through the attention and vigilance of the nous. One must be careful not to let the temptation from an image, because first a fantasy comes, then a thought, and then a filthy pleasure. So when through watchfulness we do not allow an evil fantasy to form and at the same time we say the prayer, we are delivered from the disturbance. In addition, we are crowned by God for our good intention and desire to please Him.
11. You should always keep in mind, my child, that whatever your thoughts tell you is from the devil with the aim of making you despair, while he sits back and chortles. Therefore, you should also scoff at him and pay no attention to his silly words. You will never suffer harm when you disregard him. Take care to pay no attention to whatever he says, and you are saved. You will suffer no harm whatsoever if you adhere to this advice. Anyone who has believed his thoughts has suffered harm. This is why disregarding them and saying the prayer does wonders. Do not sorrow, my child, do not despair, do not lose your courage. No matter what the devil whispers in your mind, it is a lie, deceit. Do not believe him at all! He rejoices when he sees people believing him and becoming embittered. On the other hand, he is tremendously grieved when they do not believe him and remain in peace! As for me, when my Elder told me that these thoughts need to be disregarded, I believe him completely right away and immediately put his advice into practice—which is how I was cured. For the cure to be complete, you must disregard these thoughts. Believe me, this is the best medicine. See to it that you do not neglect it. All your effort should be how not to think of those thoughts that the devil puts in your mind. Pay no attention to them, and do not grieve at all. Show no mercy towards filthy fantasies; strike at them with anger, with divine fear, with the double-edged sword of the prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me”. Shout it intensely, cry out; Jesus is invisibly present to help. “The Lord is near to all that call upon Him” (Ps. 144:18 ).
12. Youth does not forget its natural laws. For this reason it hurls rough waves of filthy thoughts against the citadels of the temple of God to render them dirty dens of bestial thoughts. Flee from filthy fantasies. Destroy them and kill the Babylonian thoughts (cf. Ps. 136:11-12 ) with the sword of the spirit, the prayer, in order to be blessed on the day when the secret deeds of men will be revealed.
13. Do not be dismayed, my child, by the thoughts of fornication; just learn how to drive them away. If you learn this you will reduce them by half, and your head will be crowned with victories. As soon as the person who causes filthy thoughts appears in your imagination, immediately, without the slightest delay, drive the image away—just as you shut your eyes when you do not want to see something—get angry with the devil, and say the prayer rapidly with pain and tears, and you will see immediately that the evil thought withdraws. But if the fantasy intensifies, cut the person depicted to pieces and make him ugly so that the repugnance will drive away the pleasure created. Be very careful not to grow bold and not to pay attention to the evil thought, because this small carelessness will give rise to an enormous battle. Be careful lest the sweetness of the filthy fantasy allures you, and your soul converses with the person imagined, because afterwards, you will extricate yourself only with difficulty, and after this experience, you will see how necessary it is to have vigilance with thoughts.
14. When we struggle against demonic thoughts, the struggle will be considered as a martyrdom. This is because one suffers a great deal when evil thoughts attack, and God, seeing the toil and pain of the soul, considers it to be a martyrdom. Thoughts of unbelief are caused by pride and egotism. Therefore, my child, drive away egotistical thoughts and think very humbly about yourself. Do not criticize others; look at only your own faults. Be careful with your words and do not embitter anyone. Disregard thoughts of unbelief totally since they are demonic and plan to rob you of your fighting spirit. If you don’t, they will hand you over to the carnal demon and thereafter to spiritual death. As soon as you begin the struggle, thoughts of pride will come to you—that you are a fighter, and so on—and the thoughts of unbelief will fall aside. Thus you will see how the demons deceive us. Pay no attention at all to thoughts; disregard them completely. Take hold of the prayer and the remembrance of death, and you will see how the devil changes his guise.
15. We should constantly occupy our mind with beneficial spiritual thoughts, so that the cunning devil will not find the opportunity to bring us a thousand and one filthy and sinful thoughts that defile our soul and renderus guilty and unclean before God. So let us attend, my child, to every thought of ours as well as our every word and deed so that we will not grieve our sweetest Jesus Who suffered a cruel and painful death for us, the guilty ones. My child, attend to your thoughts. Have a fighting spirit and always be ready to confront thoughts. Do not yield, for we pay dearly and gravely for every concession.
16. I received your letter, in which you write about blasphemous thoughts in general. Thoughts of this kind originate from pride. You are deluded in saying that the temptations have ostracized pride from your soul. A tree is known by its fruit, and a cause by its effect. An elder has written that the amount of pride dwelling within us corresponds to the number of temptations we shall have. If we had true humble-mindedness, the peace of God would gloriously ripple in the seat of our heart, and everything would be quiet and peaceful. But since the peace of the city is being disturbed, it seems that there are revolts and espionage, and this is why there is trouble amongst the citizens, the thoughts. The remedy is: not reading heretical books; total disregard of blasphemous thoughts; regarding them as foreign and alien, as barking dogs, as products of the devil; humble prayer; reconciliation, if perchance as a human you are upset with someone; vigilance, if negligence has set in. These are the remedies that cure this illness—but it is cured above all by completely despising blasphemous thoughts as “hogwash” of the devil. When Abba Pambo was being fought by a spirit of blasphemy, he prayed saying: “Lord, how shall I be saved from these thoughts?” And an angel answered him: “Pambo, Pambo, stop worrying about foreign things—that is, blasphemous thoughts—and attend to your sins”. As far as the truth of Orthodoxy is concerned, there is no room for the slightest doubt. The Holy Spirit presided over the Ecumenical Councils. Whatever the saints of God said, they said with the Spirit of God, and as proof of this, we have the sanctity of their holy relics.
17. Do not be discouraged at all, my child. Every passion that springs up and disconcerts us is a salutary medicine. Drive away the image of every person or matter that disturbs you and leads you into temptation. Get rid of any person’s image in your imagination, and let your mouth say the prayer nonstop, and immediately you will see the benefit of this method. Strive not to let desire and the image of that person win your heart and mind. Usually in the beginning of one’s monastic life, the devil brings to mind dear friends in order to break our soul’s strength and crushour soul’s struggle, and thus bring about a defeat with uncertain consequences. Therefore, we must not take things lightly, but must bravely resist temptation from the beginning by driving away images of people from our imagination, by saying the prayer, and by abstaining somewhat from food. Then with sincere and perpetual confession and with God’s grace as our ally, we trust that the enemy will retreat.
18. I received your letter, my child, and sawthe trick the devil played on you. Do not be distressed in such instances, but deal with this “expert” very simply: when he brings thoughts of unbelief, blasphemous thoughts, etc., have nothing to do with him, but pick up your prayer rope and start saying the prayer intensely—continuously, like o motor—and you will see in a little while that the distress and thoughts have left you. In such instances, do not dispute with him! Just say the prayer without any other thought or fantasy, and you will see everything fall apart like a spider’s web. Let no anxiety ruin your peacefulness.
19. To progress in the spiritual life, it is necessary to drive away the various evil thoughts as well as their evil fantasies that provoke us and defile our soul. We must not remain tepid in driving away evil thoughts and fantasies, because every sin originates from the imagination and thoughts. So if we uproot evil thoughts and fantasies by diligently driving them away, we should realize that we are undertaking a systematic struggle towards purity from passions, and thereafter one is freed from spiritual and mental disturbances. But when, on the contrary, we neglect to undertake this struggle to purify our nous from evil thoughts and fantasies, inevitably the vile passions will conquer us and henceforth the demons and sins will control us.
20. Be extremely careful with your imagination. Do not accept any image, because it will become an idol that you will worship. A wandering mind is a shameless bird and paints the most grotesque images: it enters into the depths of our neighbor’s conscience and depicts his secret and hidden things. Immediately destroy the image with the prayer as soon as it begins to form. The more you delay, the more you will toil and suffer later.
21. Each one of us needs to attend to himself, to his work, and primarily to his heart—to see if he has remembrance of God, death, hell, heaven, and every other beneficial divine recollection. The fact that we do not have spiritual consolation is due to our daydreaming and lack of introspection along with remembrance of God. Your thoughts should revolve upon yourselves; give spiritual work to your mind, and do not let it wander about here and there. Force yourselves a little to be silent; do not speak unnecessarily; pray constantly; criticize yourselves internally—do not justify yourselves. In conclusion, without compelling and constraining ourselves, nothing spiritual can be accomplished.
Taken From “Counsels From The Holy Mountain”by Elder Ephraim Of Arizona(Philotheou, Mt.Athos)