Orthodox River

Forty Texts on Watchfulness

by St Philotheos of Sinai (?9th — 10th century)

  1. There is within us, on the noetic plane, a warfare tougher than that on the plane of the senses. The Spiritual worker has to press on with his intellect towards the goal (cf. Phil. 3:14), in order to enshrine perfectly the remembrance of God in his heart like some pearl or precious stone (cf. Matt.13:44-46). He has to give up everything, including the body, and to disdain this present life, if he wishes to possess God alone in his heart. For the noetic vision of God, the divine Chrysostom has said, can by itself destroy the demonic spirits.

  2. When engaged in noetic warfare we should therefore do all we can to choose some spiritual practice from divine Scripture and apply it to our intellect like a healing ointment. From dawn we should stand bravely and unflinchingly at the gate of the heart, with true remembrance of God and unceasing prayer of Jesus Christ in the soul; and, keeping watch with the intellect, we should slaughter all the sinners of the land (cf. Ps. 101:8. LXX). Given over in the intensity of our ecstasy to the constant remembrance of God, we should for the Lord’s sake cut off the heads of the tyrants (cf. Hab. 3:14. LXX), that is to say, should destroy hostile thoughts at their first appearance. For in noetic warfare, too, there is a certain divine practice and order. Thus we should force ourselves to act in this way until it is time for eating. After this, having thanked the Lord who solely by virtue of His compassion provides us with both spiritual and bodily food, we should devote ourselves to the remembrance of death and to meditation; on it. The following morning we should courageously resume the same sequence of tasks. Even if we act daily in this manner we will only just manage, with the Lord’s help, to escape from the meshes of the noetic enemy. When this pattern of spiritual practice is firmly established in us, it gives birth to the triad faith, hope and love. Faith disposes us truly to fear God. Hope, transcending servile fear, binds us to the love of God, since ‘hope does not disappoint’ (Rom. 5:5), containing as it does the seed of that twofold love on which hang ‘the law and the prophets! (Matt. 22:40). And ‘love never fails’ (1 Cor. 13:8), once it has become to him who shares in it the motive for fulfilling the divine law both in the present life and in the life to be.

  3. It is very rare to find people whose intelligence is in a state of stillness. Indeed, such a state is only to be found in those who through their whole manner of life strive to attract divine grace and blessing to themselves. If, then, we seek - by guarding our intellect and by inner watchfulness - to engage in the noetic work that is the true philosophy in Christ, we must begin by exercising self-control with regard to our food, eating and drinking as little as possible. Watchfulness may fittingly be called a path leading both to the kingdom within us and to that which is to be; while noetic work, which trains and purifies the intellect and changes it from an impassioned state to a state of dispassion, is like a window full of light through which God looks, revealing Himself to the intellect.

  4. Where humility is combined with the remembrance of God that is established through watchfulness and attention, and also with recurrent prayer inflexible in its resistance to the enemy, there is the place of God, the heaven of the heart in which because of God’s presence no demonic army dares to make a stand.

  5. Nothing is more unsettling than talkativeness and more pernicious than an unbridled tongue, disruptive as it is of the soul’s proper state. For the soul’s chatter destroys what we build each day and scatters what we have laboriously gathered together. What is more disastrous than this ‘uncontrollable evil’ (Jas. 3:8)? The tongue has to be restrained, checked by force and muzzled, so to speak, and made to serve only what is needful. Who can describe all the damage that the tongue does to the soul?

  6. The first gate of entry to the noetic Jerusalem - that is, to attentiveness of the intellect - is the deliberate silencing of your tongue, even though the intellect itself may not yet be still. The second gate is balanced self- control in food and drink. The third, is ceaseless mindfulness of death, for this purifies intellect and body. Having once experienced the beauty of this mindfulness of death, I was so wounded and delighted by it - in Spirit, not through the eye - that I wanted to make it my life’s companion, for I was enraptured by its loveliness and majesty, its humility and contrite joy, by how full of reflection it is, how apprehensive of the judgment to come, and how aware of life’s anxieties. It makes life-giving, healing tears flow from our bodily eyes, while from our noetic eyes rises a fount of wisdom that delights the mind. This daughter of Adam - this mindfulness of death - I always longed, as I said, to have as my, companion, to sleep with, to talk with, and to enquire from her what will happen after the body has been discarded. But unclean forgetfulness, the devil’s murky daughter, has frequently prevented this.

  7. It is by means of thoughts that the spirits of evil wage a secret war against the soul. For since the soul is invisible, these malicious powers naturally attack it invisibly. Both sides prepare their weapons, muster their forces, devise stratagems, clash in fearful battle, gain victories and suffer defeats. But this noetic warfare lacks one feature possessed by visible warfare: declaration of hostilities. Suddenly, with no warning, the enemy attacks the inmost heart, sets an ambush there, and kills the soul through sin. And for what purpose is this battle waged against us? To prevent us from doing God’s will as we ask to do it when we pray ‘Thy will be done’. This will is the commandments of God. If with the Lord’s help through careful watchfulness you guard your intellect from error and observe the attacks of the demons and their snares woven of fantasy, you will see from experience that this is the case. For this reason the Lord, foreseeing the demons’ intentions by His divine power, set Himself to defeat their purpose by laying down His commandments and by threatening those who break them.

  8. Once we have in some measure acquired the habit of self-control, and have learnt how to shun visible sins brought about through ‘the five senses, we will then be able to guard the heart with Jesus, to receive His illumination within it, and by means of the intellect to taste His goodness with a certain ardent longing. For we have been commanded to purify the heart precisely so that, through dispelling the clouds of evil from it by continual attentiveness, we may perceive the sun of righteousness, Jesus, as though in clear sky; and so that the principles of His majesty may shine to some extent in the intellect. For these principles are revealed only to those who purify their minds.

  9. We ought to make ourselves each day such as we should be when we are to appear before God. For the. prophet Hosea says: ‘Hold fast to mercy and judgment, and always draw close to your God’ (Hos. 12:6. LXX). Again, Malachi, speaking in God’s name, says: ‘A son honors his father, and a servant his lord. If I am a father, where is the honor due to me? And if I am Lord, where is the fear? So says the Lord Almighty’ (Mal. 1:6. LXX). And St Paul states: ‘Let us cleanse ourselves from all pollution of the flesh and spirit’ (2 Cor. 7:1). And again, Wisdom says: ‘Guard your heart with all diligence, for on this depends the outcome of life! (Prov. 4:23). And our Lord Jesus Christ said: ‘Cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside may also be clean’ (Matt. 23:26).

  10. Untimely talk sometimes provokes hatred in those who listen, sometimes - when they note the folly of our words - abuse and derision. Sometimes it denies our conscience, or else brings upon us God’s condemnation and, worst of all, causes us to offend against the Holy Spirit.

  11. If with the Lord’s help you cleanse your heart and uproot sin - struggling for the knowledge that is more divine and seeing in your intellect things invisible to most people - you must not on this account be arrogant towards anyone. For an angel, being incorporeal, is more pure and full of spiritual knowledge than any other created thing; yet it was an angel who, in exalting himself, fell like lightning from heaven. Thus his pride was reckoned by God as impurity. But those who dig up gold are known to all.

  12. St Paul says: ‘The person engaged in spiritual warfare exercises self-control in all things’ (1 Cor. 9:25). For, bound as we are to this wretched flesh, which always ‘desires in a way that opposes the Spirit’ (Gal. 5:17), we cannot when sated with food stand firm against demonic principalities, against invisible and malevolent powers; ‘for the kingdom of God is not food and drink’ (Rom. 14:17), and ‘the will of the flesh is hostile to God: for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can it be’ (Rom. 8:7). It is clear that it cannot be because it is earthly, a compound of humors, blood and phlegm, and always gravitating downwards. Thus it is always attached to earthly things and relishes the corrupting pleasures of the present life. ‘For the will of the flesh is death’ (Rom. 8:6); and ‘they that are in the flesh cannot conform to God’s will’ (Rom. 8:8).

  13. Guarding the intellect with the Lord’s help requires much humility, first in relation to God and then in relation to men. We ought to do all we can to crush and humble the heart. To achieve this we should scrupulously remember our former life in the world, recalling and reviewing in detail all the sins we have committed since childhood (except carnal sins, for the remembrance of these is harmful). This not only induces humility but also engenders tears and moves us to give heartfelt thanks to God. Perpetual and vivid mindfulness of death has the same effect: it gives birth to grief accompanied by a certain sweetness and joy, and to watchfulness of intellect. In addition, the detailed remembrance of our Lord’s Passion, the recollection of what He suffered, greatly humbles and abashes our pride, and this, too, produces tears. Finally, to recount and review all the blessings we have received from God is truly humbling. For our battle is against proud demons.

  14. Do not reject out of self-love these saving medicines of the soul. If you do, you are no disciple of Christ or imitator of St Paul. For St Paul says: ‘I am not fit to be called an apostle’ (1 Cor. 15:9); and again: ‘I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent, insolent man’ (1 Tim. 1:13). Do you see, proud man, how the saint was not forgetful of his former life? Indeed, all the saints, from the beginning of creation to the present day, have put on this lowliest holy cloak of God. Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, being God incomprehensible, unknown and ineffable, wishing to show us the way of eternal life and holiness, was clothed in humility during His whole life in the flesh. Thus holy humility ought truly to be called a divine virtue, a royal robe and commandment. Moreover, the angels and all the radiant and divine powers practice and preserve this virtue, knowing how Satan fell when he became proud, and how he lies in the abyss as a fearful warning of such a fall to both angels and men. Through his pride he proved himself in God’s sight more degraded than any other created thing: We also know what fall Adam fell through pride. Since we have so many examples of this virtue that confers such blessings on the soul, let us follow them as fully as possible and humble ourselves in every way. Let us humble ourselves in soul and body, in thought and will, in words and ideas, in our outer bearing and our inner state. For unless we strive to do this we will turn our advocate, Jesus Christ, the Son of God and God, against us. For the Lord ‘ranges himself against the proud, but gives grace to the humble’ (Jas. 4:6); and: ‘Everyone that is arrogant is unclean before the Lord! (Proy. 16:5. LXX); and: ‘He who humbles himself will be exalted’ (Matt. 23:12)’ and: ‘Learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart! (Matt. 11:29). So we must be careful.

  15. Our Savior says: ‘Watch yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down by dissipation, drunkenness and worldly cares’ (Luke 21:34); and St Paul says: ‘The person engaged in spiritual warfare exercises self-control in all things’ (1 Cor. 9:25). Aware of all that is said to us in divine Scripture, let us lead our life with self-control, especially in regard to food. Let us accustom our body to virtuous and orderly habits, nourishing it with moderation. For in this way the upsurges of the soul’s desiring power are more easily calmed and subdued by its sovereign aspect, the intelligence; and in fact the same is true where the soul’s incensive power is concerned, as well as our other faults. For those with experience regard virtue as consisting in an all-inclusive self-control, that is, in the avoidance of every kind of evil. For the pre-eminent source of purity is God, the source and giver of all blessings; but next comes self-control with regard to food, exercised in the same regular manner each day.

  16. It is through us that Satan fights God, trying to nullify God’s will, embodied as it is in the divine and life- giving commandments, by preventing us from carrying them out. Similarly, it is through us, and through the help which He gives us, that God seeks to accomplish His holy- will and so to defeat the devil’s lethal purpose. In vain does the devil strive to oppose God by making men disobey the commandments; for God in His turn uses human weakness to overthrow the devil’s schemes. And you can see that this is the case. For it is evident that all the commandments of the Gospel legislate for the tripartite soul and make it healthy through what they enjoin. They do not merely seem to make it healthy, but they actually have this effect. The devil, on the other hand, fights day and night against the tripartite soul. But if he fights against it, it is clear that he fights against Christ’s commandments, since Christ legislates for the tripartite soul through the commandments. The three parts of the soul are represented by its incensive power, its desiring power and its intelligence.

Note how Christ says, ‘Whoever is angry with his brother without good cause will be brought to judgment’ (Matt. 5:22), and then tells us how anger may be healed. But the enemy in his turn tries to subvert this commandment by stirring up strife and thoughts of rancor and envy within us. For he too knows that the intelligence should control the incensive power; and so, by bombarding the intelligence with evil thoughts-with thoughts of envy, strife, contention, guile, self-esteem-he persuades the intelligence to abandon its control, to hand the reins over to the-incensive power, and to let the latter go unchecked. And the incensive power, having so to speak unseated its rider, disgorges through the mouth in the form of words all those things stored up in the heart as a result of the devil’s wiles and the intellect’s negligence. And the heart is then seen to be full, not of the divine Spirit and of godlike thoughts, but of evil. It is as the Lord said: ‘The mouth expresses what fills the heart’ (Matt. 12:34). For if the devil can induce the person he has taken possession of to utter what is harbored within, then that person will not merely call his brother ‘dolt’ or ‘fool’ but may well pass from insulting words to murder. It is in these ways that the devil fights against God and the commandment God gave about not being angry with one’s brother without good cause. But the insulting words and their consequences could have been avoided had their initial provocations been expelled from the heart through prayer and attentiveness. Thus the devil achieves his purpose when he makes us break God’s commandment by means of the thoughts that he insinuates into the heart.

  1. What does the Lord command where the appetitive aspect or desiring power of the soul is concerned? ‘Whoever looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart’ (Matt. 5:28). Aware of this injunction, the devil weaves a kind of mental net in order to undermine its effect. He does not attack us by exciting desire through an actual physical woman, but he operates inwardly by projecting into our intellect lascivious figures and images, and by insinuating words that rouse desire, and by other methods of this kind which those who have experience of the intellect know about.

  2. What commandments are directed at the intelligence? ‘I tell you, never swear an oath… but simply say “Yes” and “No”’ (Matt. 5:34, 37); and: ‘He who does not renounce everything and follow Me is not worthy of Me’ (cf. Matt. 10:37-38); and: ‘Enter through the narrow gate’ (Matt. 7:13). These are instructions to the intelligence. Again, the enemy - wanting to overpower the intelligence, a skilled commander - first addles its wits with gluttonous and promiscuous thoughts, treating it derisively and dismissing it from its command as though it were a drunken general; then he uses anger and desire as servants of his own will. Free in this way from the control of the intelligence, these powers-the desiring and the incensive powers-use the five senses as aids in sinning openly. And these are the sins into which we then fall: our eyes become inquisitive, not having the intellect controlling them from within; our ears love to hear frivolous things; our sense of smell becomes effeminate and our tongue unbridled, and our hands touch what they ought not to touch. With this goes injustice instead of justice, folly instead of moral judgment, licentiousness instead of self-restraint, slavishness instead of courage. For these four principal virtues - justice, moral judgment, self-restraint and courage-govern the three aspects of the soul. When these aspects are properly guided, they keep the senses away from degrading things. Then the intellect, tranquil, its powers with God’s help under control and tractable, fights the noetic battle readily and bravely. But if, being inattentive, it is defeated by the devil’s provocations and its powers, are thrown into confusion, it breaks the divine commandments. Such violation, if not followed by the appropriate degree of repentance, will certainly lead to chastisement in the future. The intellect, consequently, should always be watchful. In this way it maintains its natural state and is a true guardian of the divine commandments.

  3. The soul is walled off, fenced in and bound with chains of darkness by the demonic spirits. Because of the surrounding darkness she cannot pray as she wants to, for she is fettered inwardly, and her inner eyes are blind. Only when she begins to pray to God, and to acquire watchfulness while praying, will she be freed from this darkness through prayer. Otherwise she will remain a prisoner. For through prayer the soul discovers that there is in the heart another fight and another hidden type of opposition, and a different kind of warfare against the thoughts provoked by the evil spirits. Holy Scripture bears witness to this when it says ‘If the spirit of the ruler rises up against you, do not desert your place’ (Eccles. 10:4). The place of the intellect is its firm stand in virtue and to watchfulness. For one can take a firm stand with respect to virtue and vice. Thus the psalmist says: ‘Blessed is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, and has not stood in the path of sinners’ (Ps. 1:1); and St Paul says: ‘Stand, therefore, having girded your loins with truth’ (Eph.6:14).

  4. With all our strength let us hold fast to Christ, for there are always those who struggle to deprive our soul of His presence; and let us take care lest Jesus withdraws because of the evil thoughts that crowd our soul (cf. John 5:13). Yet we will not manage to hold Him without great effort on the soul’s part. Let us study His life in the flesh, so that in our own life we may be humble. Let us absorb His sufferings, so that by emulating Him we may endure our afflictions patiently. Let us savor His ineffable incarnation and His work of salvation on our behalf, so that from the sweet taste in our soul we may know that the Lord is bountiful (cf. Ps. 34:8). Also, and above all, let us unhesitatingly trust in Him and in what He says; and let us daily wait on His providence towards us. And whatever form it takes, let us accept it gratefully, gladly and eagerly, so that we may learn to look only to God, who governs all things in accordance with the divine principles of His wisdom. If we do all these things, we are not far from God; for godliness is ‘perfection that is never complete’, as one who was divinely inspired and-spiritually perfect has said.’

  5. He who really redeems his life, always dwelling on the thought and remembrance of death, and wisely withholding the intellect from the passions, is in a far better position to discern the continual presence of demonic provocations than the man who chooses to live without being mindful of death. The latter, by purifying the heart through spiritual knowledge alone, but not keeping in mind any thought of grief, may sometimes appear to control all the destructive passions by his skill; yet he is unwittingly fettered by one of them, the worst all - pride, into which, abandoned by God, he sometimes falls. Such a person mast be very vigilant lest, deluded by conceit, he becomes deranged. For, as St Paul says (cf. 1 Cor. 4:6, 18, 19; 8:1), souls that gather knowledge from here and there tend to become .haughty and disdainful towards their inferiors, as they regard them; they lack the spark of the love which builds up. But he who all the day long is mindful of death discerns the assaults of the demons more keenly; and he counterattacks and repels them.

  6. The blessed remembrance of God - which is the very presence of Jesus - with a heart full of wrath and a saving animosity against the demons, dissolves all trickeries of thought, plots, argumentation, fantasies, obscure conjectures and, in short, everything with which the destroyer arms himself and which he insolently deploys in his attempt to swallow our souls. When Jesus is invoked, He promptly bums up everything. For our salvation lies in Christ Jesus alone. The Savior Himself made this clear when He said: ‘Without Me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5).

  7. At every hour and moment let us guard the heart with all diligence from thoughts that obscure the soul’s murror; for in that mirror Jesus Christ, the wisdom and power of God the Father (cf. 1 Cor. 1:24), is typified and luminously reflected. And let us unceasingly seek the kingdom of heaven inside our heart (cf. Luke 17:21), the seed (cf. Luke 13:19), the pearl (cf. Matt. 13: 45) and the leaven (cf. Matt. 13:33). Indeed, if we cleanse the eye of the intellect we will find all things hidden within us. This is why our Lord Jesus Christ said that the kingdom of heaven is within us, indicating that the Divinity dwells in our hearts.

  8. Watchfulness cleanses the conscience and makes it lucid. Thus cleansed, it immediately shines out like a light that has been uncovered, banishing much darkness. Once this darkness has been banished through constant and genuine watchfulness, the conscience then reveals things hidden from us. Through the intellect it teaches us how to fight the unseen war and the mental battle by means of watchfulness, how we must throw spears when engaged in single combat and strike with well-aimed lances of thought, and how the intellect must escape being hit and’ avoid the noxious darkness by hiding itself in Christ, the tight for which it longs. He who has tasted this light will understand what I am talking about.

The soul is never sated with it, but the more it feeds on it, the hungry it grows. It is a light that attracts the intellect as the sun the eye. Inexplicable, it yet becomes explicable through experience. This experience I have known or, more precisely, I have been wounded by it; but it commands me to be silent, even though my intellect would delight in speaking of it. ‘Pursue peace with all men and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord’ (Heb. 12:14). Do this in order to acquire love and purity, for these are peace and holiness.

  1. You must direct your wrath only against the demons, for they wage war upon us through our thoughts and are full of anger against us. As regards the manner of the hourly warfare within us, listen and act accordingly. Combine prayer with inner watchfulness, for watchfulness purifies prayer, while prayer purifies watchfulness. It is through unceasing watchfulness that we can perceive what is entering into us and can to some extent close the door against it, calling upon our Lord Jesus Christ to repel our malevolent adversaries. Attentiveness obstructs the demons by rebutting them; and Jesus, when invoked, disperses them together with all their fantasies.

  2. Be extremely strict in guarding your intellect. When you perceive an evil thought, rebut it and immediately call upon Christ to defend you; and while you are still speaking, Jesus in His gentle love will say: “Behold, I am by your side ready to help you.’ When this whole detachment of the enemy has been put out of action through prayer, again turn your attention to your intellect. There you will see a succession of waves worse than before, with the soul swimming among them. But again, awakened by His disciple, Jesus as God will rebuke the winds of evil (cf. Matt. 8:23-27). Having found respite for an hour perhaps, or for a moment, glorify Him who has saved you, and meditate on death.

  3. Let us go forward with the heart completely attentive and the soul fully conscious. For if attentiveness and prayer are daily joined together, they become like Elijah’s fire-bearing chariot (cf. 2 Kgs. 2:11), raising us to heaven. What do I mean? A spiritual heaven, with sun, moon and stars, is formed in the blessed heart of one who has reached a state of watchfulness, or who strives to attain it; for such a heart, as a result of mystical contemplation and ascent, is enabled to contain within itself the uncontainable God. If, then, you aspire to holiness, Cry with God’s help to invoke the Lord and wholeheartedly to turn words into actions. By restraining with a certain forcefulness the five senses through which the soul can be injured, you with certainly make the struggle within the heart lighter for the intellect. So, by means of certain ploys, keep out all external enemies, and with incorporeal. God-given weapons fight against the thoughts which they produce inside you. Avert sensual pleasure through strenuous vigils, and be sparing in food and drink. Keep the body properly slim so that you reduce the burden of the heart’s warfare, with full benefit to yourself. Chastise your soul with the thought of death, and through remembrance of Jesus Christ concentrate your scattered intellect. It is particularly at night that the intellect grows lucid in its radiant contemplation of God and of divine realities.

  4. We should not reject the practice of bodily asceticism; for as wheat comes from the earth, so from such practice grows spiritual joy and benediction. Nor should we try to evade our conscience when it speaks to us of things conducive to salvation that we ought to do, and constantly tells us what is right and what is our duty. This it does especially when purified through active, applied, and meticulous watchfulness of intellect; for then, owing to its pure state, the judgments of the conscience tend to be all-embracing, to the point, and indisputable. So it should not be evaded, since it tells us inwardly how to live in conformity to God’s will, and by severely censuring the soul when the mind has been infected by sins, and by admonishing the erring heart to repent, it provides welcome counsel as to how our defective state can be cured.

  5. Smoke from wood kindling a fire troubles the eyes; but then the fire gives them light and gladdens them. Similarly, unceasing attentiveness is irksome; but when, invoked in prayer, Jesus draws near, He illumines the heart; for remembrance of Him confers on us spiritual enlightenment and the highest of all blessings.

  6. Forcing his way into our intellect, our enemy tries to compel us - created in God’s image though we are - to eat the dust and to creep on our bellies as he does (cf. Gen. 3:14). This is why God says: ‘I will put enmity between you and him’ (cf. Gen. 3:16). Hence we must always breathe God, so that we are [V3] 28 St Philotheos of Sinai Forty Texts on Watchfulness never wounded by the devil’s fiery darts (cf. Eph. 6:16). ‘I shall protect him’, He says, ‘because he has known My name’ (Ps. 91:14. LXX); and: ‘His salvation is near those who fear Him’ (Ps. 85:9).

  7. St Paul, the ‘chosen vessel’ (Acts 9:15) who spoke In Christ’ (2 Cor. 2:17), out of his great experience of invisible noetic warfare wrote to the Ephesians: ‘We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against demonic principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in the celestial regions’ (Eph. 6:12). And the Apostle Peter says: ‘Be watchful, be vigilant, because your adversary, the devil, walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Stand against him, steadfast in faith’ (1 Pet. 5:8). And our Lord Jesus Christ, speaking of the various attitudes of those who hear the words of the Gospel, says: ‘Then comes the devil, and snatches the word out of their hearts! - that is to say, he steals it by inducing them to forget it - ‘lest they should believe and be saved’ (Luke 8:12). And again Paul says: ‘For with the inward man I delight in the law of God; but I see another law … warring against the law of my intellect, and bringing me into captivity’ (Rom. 7:22- 23). They said these things to instruct and enlighten us about what we fail to perceive.

  8. In the absence of self-reproach and humility, spiritual knowledge puffs us up, making us feel superior to others (cf. 1 Cor. 8:1). But if we are aware of our own weakness we will keep in mind Paul’s words when he says: “My brethren, it is not as though I had already grasped it or were already perfect… but forgetting what lies behind, and reaching forward to what lies in front, I pursue my purpose, aiming at the prize of the high calling of God’ (Phil. 3:13-14). And again; ‘I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box by beating the air with my fists. But I discipline my body harshly, and bring it into subjection; for I fear lest, after preaching to others, I myself should be cast away’ (1 Cor. 9:26-27). Do you not see how humility is a road to holiness, and what humility the great. St Paul had? He said: ‘Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst’ (1 Tim. 1:15). Should we not humble ourselves, then, because of the lowliness of our nature? For what is more lowly than day? And we must be mindful of God, since we have been created for this. But we must also practice, so that with our Lord’s help we may advance unhampered in the spiritual life.

  9. The person who gives himself over to evil thoughts cannot keep his outer self free from sin; and if evil thoughts have not been uprooted from the heart, they are .bound to manifest themselves in evil actions. We look on things adulterously because the inner eye has become adulterous and darkened; and we want to hear about foul things because our soul’s ears have listened to what the foul demons inside us have whispered to us. Consequently, with the Lord’s help, we must cleanse ourselves -within and without. We must guard our senses and free each of them from impassioned and sinful influences. And just as, ignorant and full of futility, we used to live in the world with intellect and senses enslaved to the deceit of sin, so now, having changed to the life according to God, we must dedicate intellect and senses to the service of the living and true God, and of God’s justice and will.

  10. First there is provocation; then a coupling with the provocation; then assent to it; then captivity to it; then passion, grown habitual and continuous. This is how the holy fathers describe the stages through which the devil gets the better of us.

  11. Provocation, they say, is a thought still free from passion, or an image newly engendered in the heart and glimpsed by the intellect. Coupling is to commune with this thought or image, in either an impassioned or a dispassionate way. Assent is the pleasurable acceptance by the soul of the thing seen. Captivity is the forcible and enforced abduction of the heart, or persistent intercourse with the object, disrupting even our best state. Passion, in the strict sense, they define as that which lurks impassionably in the soul over a long period. Of these stages the first is sinless; the second, not altogether free from sin; the sinfulness of the third stage depends on our inner state; and the struggle itself brings us either punishment or crowns of victory.

  12. Captivity is one thing at the time of prayer, another when we are not engaged in prayer. Passion, however, incontestably leads either to a corresponding repentance or to future chastisement. But the person who rebuffs the initial provocation, or who regards it dispassionately, has at one stroke cut off all the sinful stages that follow. Such, then, is the strategy employed by the evil demons in their war against both those who are monks and those who are not; and the issue is either defeat or victory, as we have said. The victors are rewarded with crowns; those who fall and do not repent are punished. So let us wage noetic war against the demons, lest we translate their evil purposes into sinful actions. Let us cut sin out of our heart, and we will find within us the kingdom of heaven (cf. Luke 17:21). Let us preserve our heart’s purity and always be filled with deep compunction towards God through this best of undertakings.

  13. Many monks are not aware how the demons deceive the intellect. Being naive and undeveloped, they tend to give all their attention to the practice of the virtues and do not bother about the intellect. They move through life, I fear, without having tasted purity of heart, and are totally ignorant of the darkness of the passions within. Such people, unaware of the battle about which Paul speaks (cf. Eph. 6:12) and not imbued with personal experience of true goodness, regard as lapses only those sins which are actually put into effect. They do not take into account the defeats and the victories that occur on the plane of thought, for these, being internal, cannot be seen by natural sight and are known only to God our judge, and to the conscience of the spiritual contestant. I take it that the scriptural words, ‘They said, “Peace”, but there was no peace! (Ezek. 13:10), apply to such people. The other brethren pray for them in their simplicity, and as best they can teach them to avoid the actual commission of sin. But for those who have a divine desire to cleanse the vision of the soul there is another form of activity in Christ and another mystery.

  14. Vivid mindfulness of death embraces many virtues. It begets grief; it promotes the exercise of self-control in all things; it is a reminder of hell; it is the mother of prayer and tears; it induces guarding of the heart and detachment from material things; it is a source of attentiveness and discrimination. These in their turn produce the twofold fear of God. In addition, the purging of impassioned thoughts from the heart embraces many of the Lord’s commandments. The harsh hour-by-hour struggle in which so many athletes of Christ are engaged has as its aim precisely this purging of the heart.

  15. An unexpected event or misfortune considerably disrupts the mind’s attentiveness; and, by dislodging the intellect from its concentration on higher realities and from its noble state of virtue, it diverts it towards sinful quarrelsomeness and wrangling. The cause of this overthrow is assuredly our lack of attention to the enemy’s attacks.

  16. None of the painful things that happen to us every day will injure or distress us once we perceive and continually meditate on their purpose. It is on account of this that St Paul says: ‘I take delight in weakness, insults and hardships’ (2 Cor. 12:10); and: ‘All who seek to live a holy life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution’ (2 Tim. 3:12). To Him be glory through all the ages.

Amen.