St. Symeon the New Theologian On
The Temptations Along the Path of Life
HE COUNTLESS TEMPTATIONS ON THE WAY. Now join me in examining carefully the force of these words. With me depict in your mind a road well worn by the feet of those who have made a good start on it. On either side imagine mountains, forests, precipices, peaks, and ravines, as well as plains, gardens, and places that are pleasant and shaded and very beautiful, with all kinds of fruit, with great numbers of wild beasts, of bandits and gangs of murderers scattered in various places. Under these conditions none of these things will be able to entice us or disturb our sense or cause us harm so long as we follow the saints who have gone before us and go by the same road that they walked. For when we go on the path of the commandments of our Lord and God (Ps. 119:1ff., 32), let us go on it without turning aside in the midst of all the perils I have mentioned. Then none of those bandits, none of those wild beasts will openly and shamelessly assault us or venture to come near us, especially if we follow a guide and travel in company with good companions on the way.
From time to time, however, it happens that either from a distance or else from nearby some of them will look at us with murderous eye and use threats, while others will address us in friendly fashion with enticements and flatteries. They will also point out to us how attractive is each place in its location, how beautiful are its fruits, and will exhort us to rest briefly to seek relief from the hardships of the journey. They will suggest that we eat some of the fruits that are particularly sweet and pleasant to look at (Gen. 3:6) and devise many other snares and varied approaches, not only by day but even by night, not only when we are awake but also when we sleep. At times they will assail us with itchings and secretions, at other times by the taste of forbidden foods. At times they will meet us, “with torches and lanterns” (Jn. 18:3) like robbers with sword in hand, and like robbers they still threaten us with death, intending to throw us into confusion and turn us aside from the straight path. Some of them will suggest to us that it is impossible to bear up under the difficulties of the way until the end, others that all this is useless and that it can be of no avail for those who weary themselves with it. Yet others will tell us that there is no end of this road nor ever will ever be. They will point out to us some who have not succeeded, in particular any who have spent a lot of time in asceticism and have not profited thereby, since they have seemed to run the way of the commandments but have done so without knowledge and godly intention, but rather by following their own devices and with presumption. In their case it is natural that they should waste even their steps that are pleasing to God, since they give way to fear and turn back (cf. Mk. 13:16; Lk. 17:31) and by their carelessness give themselves up to the wicked one so that he can do toward them as he pleases.
Saint Symeon the New Theologian (+1022), The Discourses, VII.8.
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