December 12

If some shameful thought is sown in your heart as you are sitting in your cell, watch out. Resist the evil, so that it does not gain control over you. Make every effort to call God to mind, for He is looking at you, and whatever you are thinking in your heart is plainly visible to Him. Say to your soul: “If you are afraid of sinners like yourself seeing your sins, how much more should you be afraid of God who notes everything?” As a result of this warning the fear of God will be revealed in your soul, and if you cleave to Him you will not be shaken by the passions; for it is written: “They that trust in the Lord shall be as Mount Zion; he that dwells in Jerusalem shall never be shaken” (Psalm 125:1 LXX). Whatever you are doing, remember that God sees all your thoughts, and then you will never sin. To Him be glory through all the ages. Amen.

~St Isaiah The Solitary (Philokalia, vol. 1, p. 28)

 

Complacency with respect to our thoughts is one of the greatest allies of the enemy and one of our greatest dangers. Too often most of us fool ourselves into thinking that what we think doesn’t matter, especially since nobody knows what we are thinking…or so we think.

Everything is brought into the light eventually, nothing remains hidden. We are told in Scripture that we will have to account for every idle word, and, in a sense, thoughts are simply unspoken words. God is Spirit, and He plainly hears these unspoken words that we utter within ourselves.

Rather than allowing ourselves to be lulled into inaction when we have shameful thoughts, instead, it is important to use these thoughts as a call to action; a sinful thought can be the stimulus we need in order to call out to Christ for help. What the enemy intends for evil can be transformed and used instead for good if we teach ourselves the new habit to call on our Lord at the onset of every shameful, wicked, or hurtful thought.

But we must first begin to take our thoughts seriously, and also recognize the fact that our thoughts are the precursors to our actions. Shameful thoughts left unresisted, become shameful actions; so, better to resist them now, while they are thoughts, before they gain greater power over us in the future as actions and habits.

 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

November 27

At the time of prayer, we should expel from our heart the provocation of each evil thought, rebutting it in a spirit of devotion so that we do not prove to be speaking to God with our lips, while pondering wicked thoughts in our heart. God will not accept from the hesychast a prayer that is turbid and careless, for everywhere Scripture tells us to guard the soul’s organs of perception. If a monk submits his will to the law of God, then his intellect will govern in accordance with this law all that is subordinate to itself. It will direct as it should all the soul’s impulses, especially its incensive power* and desire, for these are subordinate to it. We have practiced virtue and done what is right, turning our desire towards God and His will, and directing our incensive power, or wrath, against the devil and sin. What then do we still lack? Inward meditation.

~St Isaiah The Solitary (Philokalia, vol. 1, pp. 27-28)

 

*Incensive Power-one of three aspects of the soul (along with the intelligent aspect and the appetitive aspect), the force that provokes strong feelings such as anger and desire, all three aspects of the soul can be used positively in accordance with God’s will or negatively, against nature, sinfully.

 

How can we practice inward meditation and find the stillness deep within our heart that we seek if we are preoccupied with the winds and turbulence that blow across the surface of our minds, and keep our souls stirred up and cloudy? Train the mind in devotion to God, by some means such as The Jesus Prayer, and hold fast to it.

Allow no room for evil thoughts to enter, yet if they do, rebuke them with the name of the Lord and carry on in devoted prayer. Obedience to God’s law and commands clears the way for the intellect to act freely in accordance with God’s will, bringing the powers of the soul under proper authority and control.

Obedience will make us perfect and whole, as Jesus commands “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). As obedience perfects us, we will find that the turbulence of our lives begin to calm naturally, we turn our whole being towards God and away from the world, we resist the enemy, and all of this then creates a state within us which is conducive to stillness, meditation, and union with God.

 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

November 26

The first virtue is detachment, that is, death in relation to every person or thing. This produces the desire for God, and this in turn gives rise to the anger that is in accordance with nature, and that flares up against all the tricks of the enemy. Then the fear of God will establish itself within us, and through this fear love will be made manifest.

~St Isaiah The Solitary (Philokalia, vol. 1, p. 27)

 

We all are easily prone to misuse the gifts of this life, making idols of ourselves, our relations, the material things that we have been given by God, and the talents with which we have been blessed. As Christians we know our salvation and life is with Christ, and He himself has told us that we need to have no love greater than our love for Him.

He commands this in fact, and since His commandments are for our benefit, and by following His commands we show our love for Him, it is essential that we understand this command and follow it. Nevertheless it is not easy to detach from the world and all of the people and things we have grown accustomed to enjoying. This is why the ascetic disciplines, such as prayer and fasting, vigils and spiritual reading, can be of such great help to us as we work to create new habits of devotion to God.

Even living as people in the world, it is possible to devote ourselves to the Lord, living in the world but not of it, and dedicating our hearts to His service, praying at all times, cultivating our hearts to desire Him above everything else.

Our love of this world and everything in it blinds us to the deeper spiritual realities and obscures the clear vision that God intends for us. As we take steps to detach from this world we can begin to gain clarity, seeing the deceptions that hold us attached to it. Only after we create some distance between ourselves and the world can we begin to see it for what it is, and observe the myriad ways the devil and his servants manipulate us and enslave us. A natural anger will allow us to fight these tricks and, by the grace of God, win our way to freedom. Then we begin to see things as they are, ourselves as we are, and begin to see God as He is, which can only  lead us to a merciful fear leading to love, such as the kind Isaiah had in God’s throne room when he said, “Woe is me, for I am undone!”

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

November 25

In storms and squalls we need a pilot, and in this present life we need prayer; for we are susceptible to the provocations of our thoughts, both good and bad. If our thought is full of devotion and love of God, it rules over the passions. As hesychasts*, we should discriminate between virtue and vice with discretion and watchfulness;* and we should know which virtues to practice when in the presence of our brethren and elders and which to pursue when alone. We should know which virtue comes first, and which comes second or third; which passions attack the soul and which the body, and also which virtues concern the soul and which the body. We should know which virtue pride uses in order to assault the intellect, and which virtue leads to vainglory, wrath or gluttony. For we ought to purify our thoughts from “all the self-esteem that exalts itself against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

~St Isaiah The Solitary (Philokalia, vol. 1, p. 27)

 

*Hesychast-one who pursues relationship with God through stillness, inner attentiveness and prayer.

 

*Watchfulness-spiritual vigilance and alertness, attentiveness to our thoughts, emotions and fantasies, and guarding the heart and intellect from their adverse effects.

 

Prayer draws us into the presence of God. Through the continual practice of prayer, stillness and watchfulness we purify ourselves as Christ commanded us to do, and we make ourselves receptive, by the grace of God, to the knowledge of God which illumines us and brings us into divine union.

The knowledge of God will teach us discrimination and help us to understand the good from the bad, and what is appropriate in all circumstances. Reading scripture and spiritual books is important, and feeds our minds, and gives us direction, but it is the inner practice of prayer that creates a living dwelling place for God within us, and from which we participate in the life of Christ.

 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

November 24

Be attentive to yourself, so that nothing destructive can separate you from the love of God. Guard your heart*, and do not grow listless and say: “How shall I guard it, since I am a sinner?” For when a man abandons his sins and returns to God, his repentance* regenerates him and renews him entirely.

~St Isaiah The Solitary (Philokalia, vol. 1, p. 26)

 

*Heart-the spiritual center of man’s being, his deepest and truest self, where man finds union with God.

 

*Repentance-a change of mind or intellect, involving sorrow, contrition and regret but more importantly the conversion of our whole being, and a turning to God.

 

With Christ all things are possible and there is always hope. Everyone has sinned, and likewise everyone can turn from sin towards God, and start anew. The enemy sows seeds of despair within us, when we see ourselves having sinned, imagining ourselves to be overwhelmed by our sin and without hope. But this is never the case, for we always have hope in Christ and can call upon Him out of the simplicity of our repentance.

 

For more on the power of repentance read, Turning the Heart to God by St Theophan the Recluse.

 

When the enemy insinuates sin into our heart we must be attentive to his suggestions, and on guard to resist him, by keeping our focus always on God. This is attentiveness, keeping watch over our thoughts and our fantasies, capturing them and bringing every one of them to the feet of Christ, as St Paul says, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled” (2 Corinthians 10:4-6).

 

 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

November 22

Our teacher Jesus Christ, out of pity for mankind and knowing the utter mercilessness of the demons, severely commands us: “Be ready at every hour, for you do not know when the thief will come; do not let him come and find you asleep” (cf. Matthew 24:42-43). He also says: “Take heed, lest your hearts be overwhelmed with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of this life, and the hour come upon you unawares” (cf. Luke 21:34). Stand guard, then, over your heart and keep a watch on your senses; and if the remembrance of God* dwells peaceably within you, you will catch the thieves when they try to deprive you of it. When a man has an exact knowledge about the nature of thoughts, he recognizes those which are about to enter and defile him, troubling the intellect with distractions and making it lazy. Those who recognize these evil thoughts for what they are remain undisturbed and continue in prayer to God.

~St Isaiah The Solitary (Philokalia, vol. 1, p. 24)

 

*Remembrance of God-a state of recollectedness or concentration centered on God; contrary to a state of self-indulgence and insensitivity.

 

An excellent way to cultivate a state of concentration centered on God, and one that has been encouraged by many Church Fathers, is to practice a prayer of the heart such as The Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner”. Repeating this prayer to ourselves throughout the day within our minds and hearts can help us develop the vigilance and sensitivity that Christ commands. Also, by way of this type of prayer without ceasing, we place ourselves in constant relationship with Christ, and maintain an inner state of peace which enables us to more clearly perceive the thoughts which trouble or distract us, or cause us to lose interest in God. For further insight into the demonic origins of these types of thoughts read C.S. Lewis’s humorous classic, The Screwtape Letters.

 

Constant remembrance of God furthermore protects us from these thoughts by allowing us to recognize from where they originate, outside of us, as provocations. Seeing them for what they are, as arrows from the enemy, we can more easily ignore them, disengage from them, and maintain our focus where it needs to be: on our God.

 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

November 14

Unless a man hates all the activity of this world, he cannot worship God. What then is meant by the worship of God? It means that we have nothing extraneous in our intellect* when we are praying to Him: neither sensual pleasure as we bless Him, nor malice as we sing His praise, nor hatred as we exalt Him, nor jealousy to hinder us as we speak to Him and call Him to mind. For all these things are full of darkness; they are a wall imprisoning our wretched soul, and if the soul has them in itself it cannot worship God with purity. They obstruct its ascent and prevent it from meeting God; they hinder it from blessing Him inwardly and praying to Him with the sweetness of heart, and so receiving His illumination. As a result the intellect is always shrouded in darkness and cannot advance in holiness, because it does not make the effort to uproot these thoughts by means of spiritual knowledge*.

~St Isaiah The Solitary (Philokalia, vol. 1, p. 24-25.)

 

*Intellect-the nous, the highest faculty in man, the organ of contemplation, the innermost aspect of the heart, through which, when purified, man can know God by means of direct apprehension or spiritual perception. Not to be confused with reason.

 

*Spiritual Knowledge-knowledge of the intellect, inspired by God, linked with contemplation and immediate spiritual perception.

 

To hate the world is to reclaim our mind, our heart, our soul and our strength for Christ. We become one-pointed, unified and healed of that which causes dissipation, and distracts us from our true calling to worship God. We should strive to worship God in purity, living virtuously and removing whatever obstructs and hinders us from worshiping Him in spirit and in truth.

To this point also consider: “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you; leave your gift there before the altar and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5: 23-24).

And, “Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7).

 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.