Thoughts and how to confront them(1), Hiermonk Benedict of Holy Mount Athos,

Thoughts and how to confront them(1)

Hiermonk Benedict of Holy Mount Athos


"Just as it is natural for ocean rocks to be pounded by waves, similarly man will undoubtedly come into contact with the assaults borne of thoughts" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Translation by Calliope Hatzidimitriou

Published by The Attendants of Hiermonk Spyridon New Skiti,

Holy Mount Athos,

Greece 1998


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

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.

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

Hiermonk Benedict

Translator's Note

In this age of knowledge and technology, an age full of facts concerning the nature of man's body and soul, one still thirsts for the truth as given to us by Our Saviour and Lord, Jesus Christ, in addition to His Saints and our Holy Fathers of The Church. We cannot be Christians if we do not know and believe, in full, what Our Lord tells us. He warns us of the existence of the evil one and shows us exactly how to win over him, lest he win over us who call ourselves the children of Christ. The beginner Christian who takes his first steps on the ladder towards Christ will no doubt experience many wonderful moments in his strengthening of faith. There will come a time during his journey up this ladder, when he will desire to plunge himself more deeply into Christ. That is when he will come to the point in his spiritual journey when he will combat with his thoughts. He will desire to examine each thought individually to determine if it is Christ's will or not. He will be surprised at the fre-quency of thoughts which arise from the devil and his company. In this age of temptations, if a person is single, he may have lustful thoughts, whereas if married, he may have thoughts of divorcing his spouse, etc. This age of advanced technology allows us to separate and destroy our families as if they were worthless, thus causing irreparable wounds to our own loved ones, as well as ourselves...to our souls and our bodily health. There will be times when even prayer will seen impossible! We are told by our knowledgeable psychologists that dreams and thoughts are caused by suppressed desires and fears. However, Our Lord teaches us that we must not even accept corrupt thoughts since they are also sin. "Those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man". (Matthew 15:18-20).

In the war against thoughts we must constantly remember Our Lord's words: "Be holy, for I Am Holy" (1 Peter 1:16), and have faith that He will teach us. "I who speak to you am He" (The Messiah) (John 4:25-26). Our Lord tells us that: "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth". Most assuredly, "7 say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day...Therefore, everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. I am the bread of life. I am the living bread. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world. Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whosoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood haseternal life, and I shall raise him up at the last day. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand. I and My Father are one. If you love Me, keep My Commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever - the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also. At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him. If anyone loves Me, he will keep My Word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. Peace I leave with you. Let not your heart be troubled; neither let it be afraid. I am the vine, you are the branches. When He, the Spirit of Truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world just as I am not of the world. As you sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. (John).

He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters. When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none he says, "/ will return to my house from which I came". And when he comes, he finds it swept and put inorder. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So I say to you, ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives and he who seeks finds and to him who knocks it will be opened*.(Luke).

"Be near Me beloved children. Understand that your souls live, and evil exists. All that is written in My Blessed Word is not a myth; Satan exists and seeks to ruin your souls. I suffer to see you slumbering and unaware of his existence. I come, giving you warnings, giving you signs, but how many of you will read My warnings like fairytales? Beloved, I am your Saviour; do not deny My Word; turn to Me and feel the pangs of love I have for you. Why are you so willing to thrust yourselves at Satan's feet? O come! All of you who believe no more in Me. Come and behold...All you who wound My Soul, arise, revive, and see My Light. Do not fear Me; I will take your sins, and My Blood will wash them. I come to look for you, My lost sheep". ("True Life in God*\ V. Ryden, Vol. 1,1991).

"Every sinful person is all mixed up inside. We must open a small crack in our souls so that Christ's Light and Love can enter. That is how we begin to straighten out our soul. Christ always takes the initiative. We must be open to Him and afterwards, through our own vigilant effort (with prayer, confession, Holy Communion and love) we may feel the magnificence that God reveals to us. He has destined all of us for Paradise. And what is Paradise? Christ is. When you love Christ, despite all your feeling of sinfulness and your weaknesses, you have the certainty that you have gone beyond death because you dwell in the communion of Christ's Love. May God make us worthy to see the Face of The Lord, both here on earth and from there, where we are going" ("Elder Porphyries",K. loannidis, Holy Convent of Transfiguration of the Saviour, Athens, Greece,1997).

"I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit". We should be aware that Satan knows Jesus Christ is the Only Begotten Son of God, but he does not love Him. In fact, he hates Him and all mankind. ("The Devil and Magic", Hiermonk Benedict, New Skiti, Holy Mount Athos, Greece, 1997). The evil one is constantly attacking us. For this reason we must stay close to Jesus Christ by reading His Word.

As Bishop Kallistos Ware says in "Inner Kingdom", we should read The Holy Bible every day and by opening it randomly we achieve three things: 1) you will learn His Law, 2) at the same time you will be in prayer, 3) the Lord will speak to you.

With The Lord's help everyone who desires His Holy Spirit will find it. AMEN.



Translator's Note


1. The difficult war

2. Thoughts and their origin

3. The journey towards the World of sin

4. The stages of sin

5. Passions are the source for sinful thoughts

6. Categories of thoughts

7. Thoughts are the beginning of the war

8. The demonic cunningness

9. Blasphemous thoughts

10. The chain of thoughts

11. Combination of thoughts

12. Results of the thoughts

13. Confrontation of thoughts

a) Prayer

b) Objection

c) Contempt

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 Gocf\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 beggin-ners) 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.

* * *

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 are 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, (T.V. 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: n 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 dueto 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.

3. The journey towards the world of sin.

Externally, the act of sin may appear to be a simple fact, such as a car accident or some other incident. However, in order to commit this act, many other successive instrumentations must have taken place. For example, in order for a murder to take place, there must have, beforehand, occurred thousands of reflections and plans in the human mind. The human mind, in order to come to the point of committing the act of murder, had first become an entire base of demonic thoughts. This is what happens with the commitment of any act of sin. And it all started because of one simple thought...

Let us proceed, however, to see what happens, after the assault of one simple thought.

We are not held liable for a simple thought or image which passes through our mind, nor is it difficult for us to confront it. However, from the moment that we open the door to welcome in this thought and commence to ponder it, it is then that the thought takes its position within us and become a prevailing thought.

The thought is the main reason "for the journey towards the act of sin". This journey is for us the same as the path and the evolution of disease in the human body. Just as for someone to go to a hospital, a various series of events must have previously taken place in the human organism, it is the same for someone to reach the point of having committed the act of sin. A great war must have previously taken place. It is similar to the birth of a child. A complete series of events first take place: from the conception up to the lengthy pregnancy. It is exactly so in the case of sin. The conception of the thoughts, their gestation period and their birth. St. Nikodimus, the Athonite, believes that the thought is the beginning, or the root out of which sprouts the trunk, the branches and the complete tree of sin!

The damage begins from the instance of the first thought, and, in continuation, it intensifies. When someone throws a pebble into a well, the waves caused by its tossing create one small ripple in the beginning. The small ripple creates a larger ripple, that goes on to create a larger one, up until the wave reaches the walls of the well.

It is exactly so with sin. Before the sin is committed, a succession of mechanisms and events previously take place and each one follows the other in cosecutive order.

4. The stages of sin.

We are able to perceive three stages in the journey towards the world of sin in this order:

a. the assault, b. the consent or approval, and c. the captivity or imprisonment.

How does this mechanism work? It works in this way: Some cunning thought such as conceit, vainglory, stinginess, gluttony, condemnation, etc., enters the person's mind. Temptation works though the use of the imagination and its fantasies. It presents the situation as enticing as possible. In this way, its presentation becomes stronger and more attractive.

Up to this point, man is not liable for the thought. The first stage is an assault, an attack from the enemy, or more simply put, the enemy's knocking on that person's door! This situation is normal... physiological. It is not possible for a human to exist without having received an assault. St. Ephraim, the Syrian, says that just as it is normal for someone to find weeds and flowers growing together in a garden, or just as the islands are pounded by waves all around their coastline, so it is for man. It is most certain thathe will come into contact with the attacks of evil thoughts.

From this point on comes the stage of sinning. The commencement of the battle is the assault. If man tosses it out of his mind, without deliberating on it, he then saves himself and liberates himself from the wretched consequences which would follow. If, however, he accepts the discourse with the cunning thought, he opens the door to this impure thought which previously was simply a "knocking on his door". He creates a friendship with it and then comes to the point of approval of the sin. This is the second stage of the execution of the sin.

The person, rehearses the sin in the inaccessible depths of his soul and imagines himself having an active part in sinning. He condemns, blasphemes, fornicates, commits adultery, murders, and carries out countless crimes and commits whatever the human mind is capable of imagining. Later, nothing else remains but the third stage, which is the actual execution of the act of sin by the person whose mind has become a hostage of the thought. This person no longer controls the thought, but is imprisoned by it.

Thus, the thought, which began with a simple knocking of the door (the assault), caused the opening of that door (the consent). In Conclusion, the person was unable to control and dismiss the thought, and he eventually committed the act of sin. This is the path towards sin, which begins with one single thought.

5. Passions are the source of sinful thoughts.

Up to the point of a man's death and as long as his soul remains in his body, it is impossible for him not to have evil thoughts.

The main reason for the existence of these evil thoughts is the war which the devil wages against us. Most thoughts are of diabolical origin. It is the devil's aim to cast man into sinning, either through the use of evil thoughts orthrough the performance of the act itself. St. Ma-karios, the Egyptian, states that spiritual adultery is the consent one gives to cunning thoughts. This is why he says: "a person is obliged to maintain his soul pure and clean, since it is the bride of Christ".

In most instances, evil thoughts resemble themselves to "a river current", in front of which a man begins to panic. That is why the demons first bout with us by use of diabolical thoughts and then follow with materialistic things. If one yields to them, they will then slowly push that person into sinning by execution of the act of sin.

St. John of Damascus, tells us that the dominating reasons for evil are eight, the following: 1. Gluttony, 2. Fornication, 3. Stinginess, 4. Rage, 5. Grief, 6. Indifference, 7. Vainglory and 8. Pride and haughtiness.

Someone else may tell us that the most basic passion in a human, from which all the passions originate, is selfishness and conceit. Selfishness is the illogical self-love and care given to our own self. This is also the passion of today's human being. It is from selfishness that the three dominating thoughts originate: 1. Gluttony, 2. Vainglory, and 3. Haughtiness. From these three vices arise all evil thoughts.

6. Categories of thoughts.

All that has been stated previously refer to cunning thoughts. However, in addition to those, there exist the good-hearted thoughts and the idle and unprofitable, or human thoughts. The good-hearted arise from God. How shall we then discern them from those which are cunning and impure?

A fellow monk once asked Abba Varsanoufio about this issue and received the following explanation: "The thoughts which originate from God bring internal peace and joy to the person. On the contrary, the thoughts which originate from thedevil are filled with agitation, disturbance and grief.

7. Thoughts are the biginning of the war.

Generally speaking, as previously mentioned, the thoughts are the beginning of the war which the devil wages against us. The war begins with assault of cunning thougths and later proceeds to the consent and approval of the sin.

This is the path and the development of thoughts which predominantly arise from the devil and from man.

8. The demonic cunningness.

Let us examine, then, how man is attacked by thoughts, or which methods the demons use in order to overtake us through the use of thoughts.

The craftiness of the demons, which desire to sow within us countless impure thoughts, is indescribable. The devil will even take advantage ofthe most unimportant incident that has taken place in our lives, or the most improbable and unlikely situation to contaminate us.

To begin with, before they cast us into sin, they implant in us the thought that God is a philanthropist. After the act of sin, however, they bombard us with the thought that God is abrupt, rude and harsh. They do this in order to bring us to the point of despair. "Before the fall, they call God a philanthropist, whereas after the fall abrupt and harsh".

9. Blasphemous thoughts.

In following, they attempt to infect the holy moments, such as those of prayer, and the Holy Eucharist, or by inplanting in our minds thoughts of blasphemy against God.

Thus, this vile and impure being adores the moments of Holy Gatherings and especially the dreadful moments of the Holy Sacraments (The Holy Eucharist) in order to blaspheme the Lordand the Sacred Feasts. That is, when the ceremony of The Holy Eucharist takes place, Satan comes and implants in us various blasphemous thoughts. Thoughts such as: "The Holy Eucharist is not The Holy Body and Blood of Christ", and that "that which we go to receive in us is absolutely nothing"! Worthless! There are even more impure and wretchedly vile thoughts which one dares not mention.

St. John of Mount Sinai, mentions that a monk was fighting a war against such thoughts for fourteen whole years. There is no other thought as difficult to withdraw and cast out as that of the thought of blasphemy, which may lead a person to despair.

This is a war in which the Abbot Pamvo took part and, while he was praying to the Lord for assistance, heard a divine voice from above which said: "Pamvo, Pamvo, do not distress yourself with the sins of others, but tend to your own acts".

These blasphemous and vile thoughts battled with many other formidable and virtuous men, such as Meletios the Confessor, as well as others who witnessed and died because of their faith in The Lord. Amongst those saints who confirm this is St. Peter of Alexandria and Paf-noutios the Confessor, who suffered persecution. St. Peter of Alexandria narrates that: "While I was admitting and confessing my faith in The Lord Jesus Christ in the court of law, where they were, by the use of various means, flogging, skinning and burning my body, the demon inside me was blaspheming God\

It is certain, as St. Nikodemus the Athonite points out, that these types of thoughts originate mainly due to the condemnation, the haughtiness, and the jealousy of the demons. For these reasons, the best weapons one may use against them are humility and self reproach.




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