"I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."
C. S. Lewis

Friday, June 8, 2012

Saint Hesychius on Warfare With The Passions

his is what he [St. Hesychius] says: “One who is engaged in the spiritual struggle must have at every moment the following four things: humility, extreme attentiveness, refutation (of the thoughts) and prayer. Humility, in so far as its adversaries in combat are the demons of pride, so that he will have at hand Christ’s help in his heart, for ‘the Lord resists the proud.’ Attentiveness, so that one does not allow the heart to have any thought, no matter how good it seems. Denial, so that as soon as one has detected a thought that has come, he may repulse it immediately with anger. Prayer, so that after refuting a thought, one may immediately cry out to Christ with ‘groanings which cannot be uttered.’ Then this ascetic will see the enemy bound or chased by the honorable name of Jesus, like dust by the wind, or like smoke that vanishes with its dreams.
Here is a similar passage: “ It is necessary to act the same way in spiritual warfare as one acts in (conventional) warfare. First of all, attentiveness is required. Secondly, when we notice that the enemy has advanced a thought, it is necessary to strike it with a curse, with anger in the heart. Thirdly, one must pray against it, calling Jesus Christ into the heart so that the demonic apparition will vanish and the mind will not go off daydreaming, like a child fascinated with some adept or conjurer.
“If in your heart you always appeal with humble wisdom, remembrance of death, self-reproach, refutation of thoughts and invocation of the name of Jesus Christ, and if you continue soberly with these weapons every day along the narrow, joy-giving, and pleasant spiritual path, then you will enter into the holy contemplation of the saints, and be enlightened by the deep mysteries of Christ, in Whom is ‘hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,’ in Whom ‘dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily’ (Col. 2:3, 9). For you will perceive in Jesus that the Holy Spirit, Who enlightens the mind, descended into your soul so that it could see with an unveiled face. ‘No man,’ says the Apostle, ‘can say that Jesus is the Lord, except by the Holy Spirit’ (I Cor. 12:3). Of course, it is through this that the Holy Spirit secretly confirms what is sought.”
St. Hesychius talks about the course of spiritual warfare in these and other similar places. There is more said in other parts of his book about each of the demonstrated methods of warfare, especially concerning attentiveness to the heart, dwelling there, and turning in the mind to the Lord in prayer...
“The great lawgiver Moses, or better, the Holy Spirit, said through him, ‘Take heed that there be not a secret thought in your heart, an iniquity’ (Deuteronomy 15:9). Secret thought is what he calls the idea of something evil (passionate), hated by God; this is also what the Fathers call a provocation, directed at the heart by the devil, to which, as soon as it appears to the mind, our thoughts immediately rush and there mingle passionately.
“Attention is the unceasing silence of any thought in the heart, in which the spirit always, continuously and unceasingly breathes with and calls upon Jesus Christ the Son of God and God alone; courageously takes up arms with Him against the enemies; confess to Him, who has the power to remit sins; often embraces Christ, the only One knowing the heart, with secret invocation.
“Sobriety is the continual situating of the thought at the doors of the heart, so that it sees the thoughts creeping up and understands what form the demons are attempting to inscribe and establish in the mind, so as to entice it through the imagination.
"The thought standing (in the heart) and calling upon Christ against its enemies and running to Him is like a wild beast surrounded by many dogs and protected in a stronghold. It perceives intellectually from afar the intellectual ambushes of the invisible foes, and praying unceasingly to the peace-making Jesus against them, remains unharmed by them.
"One who does not have prayer that is free from the thoughts is without a weapon for battle. I understand prayer to be that which is carried out unceasingly within the depths of the soul, so that the enemy who is secretly fighting may be vanquished and scorched by this invocation to Christ. For you must look with the sharply focused eye of the mind so that you will recognize what has entered into it, and after doing so, immediately cut off the head of the snake through refutation, and at the same time call on Christ with groaning. Through experience you will come to know God's invisible help; then you will see clearly the true condition of the heart.
"Thus, the soul that makes bold concerning Christ invokes Him and is not in the least afraid, does not fight alone, but along with the fearful King, Jesus Christ, Creator of all that exists, corporeal and incorporeal, visible and invisible."
I will limit myself to these excerpts, because if I were to copy out everything that is relevant here, it would be necessary to write out half the book. I wrote down these things to remind you what I have been telling you for a long time concerning remembrance of God and the inner struggle with the passions. Know that in this is the entire essence of the labor over the attainment of salvation.
After reading this, do not say to yourself, "Who am I to observe such rules, some sort of hermit in the desert?" You are not alone in asking this; there are many, many others. The only ones who do not ask are those who, although they have the most cause to be concerned for their salvation, do not give it any thought. Those who have begun this labor cannot talk like this. You, too, must act in the way prescribed immediately if you wish to live the spiritual life in which lies the attainment of salvation. If you want to live in a negligent manner, then of course nothing will come to you. I began writing about all this in the belief that your decision to belong to the Lord was sincere. A person whose decision is sincere cannot bypass the path prescribed. He may perform great labors and get around things in various ways, but until he comes upon this Path, it is to no purpose. I am pointing you directly to the path so that you do not wander all over the place. Be more diligent in your undertaking, and you will soon see success. However, you must labor with all your might, because without labor there will be nothing.
Do not tolerate such worldly wisdom. The desert includes those living in a monastery or in the world who are attaining their salvation. For everyone the most important rule is to cleanse one's heart of the passions; one cannot cleanse it in any way other than that described. Do not give up at all and do not resist.
May the Lord bless you!

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 Saint Theophan the Recluse, The Spiritual Life: And How To Be Attuned To It, (St. Paisius Abbey: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1995) pp. 250-253.

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