The Eight Means of Temptation

Parintele Cleopa de la Sihastria

By Elder Cleopa (Ilie) (1912-1998) of Sihastria Monastery in Romania

The Holy Fathers say (this is how Fr. Cleopa began to express concisely his spiritual experience to us, inherited from the Holy Fathers and personally experienced by him, as every one of his words clearly confirms) that on the path of salvation one is tempted by the devil from eight sides: from the front, from behind, from the left, from the right, from above, from below, from inside, and from the outside.

1. One is tempted from behind when one continuously remembers the sins and evil deeds one has committed in the past, recalling them anew in one’s mind, reshuffling them, engaging them, despairing because of them, and contemplating them sensually. Such a remembrance of how we have sinned in the past is a demonic temptation.

2. One is normally tempted from the front through fear at the thought of what the future holds: of what will happen to us or to the world; of how much longer we will live; of whether we will have anything to eat; of whether there will be a war or any other kind of serious and frightful event to come; and, in general, by making all kinds of guesses, predictions, prophecies, and everything else that induces fear of the future in us.

3. One is tempted by the devil from the left through the call to commit obvious sins and to behave and act in ways that are known to be sinful and evil, but which people do nonetheless. This temptation is a direct call to sin openly and consciously.

4. There are two ways in which the devil tempts from the right. The first is when one performs good deeds and actions, but with a bad or malicious intent and purpose. For example, if one does good or acts well out of vainglory, to receive praise, to obtain a position, to acquire fame, or in order to attain some benefit for oneself – it follows that one is doing such good out of vanity, avarice, and greed. The performance of good deeds for bad purposes is sinful and vain. The Holy Fathers liken such a performance of good deeds (such as fasting and almsgiving) to a body without a soul, inasmuch as the purpose for which a deed is accomplished is its soul, while the deed itself is its body. Therefore, the performance of good deeds with an ungodly purpose is essentially a temptation coming from the right, that is, coming under the guise of good. The second demonic temptation from the right comes through various apparitions and visions, when one receives visions of the devil in the form of God or an Angel of God. The Holy Fathers call trusting these specters from the devil, or accepting these demonic phenomena, delusion or deception [prelest].

5. Further, the devil tempts one from below when one is capable of performing good deeds or holy virtues but is too lazy to do so; or when one knows that one should make greater efforts and labors in ascetic struggles (in virtues and good deeds), and is capable of doing so, but does not do so out of laziness or because one is looking for excuses for one’s laziness. One thereby spiritually rejects these virtues by doing much less than one could in fact do.

6. Temptations from above (Elder Cleopa, in order better to explain this to us, demonstrated with his hands the direction from which one or another temptation came; he then briefly repeated what the direction of the temptation he had just described was) also come about in two ways. The first is when one takes upon oneself ascetic struggles that exceed one’s strength, thereby recklessly straining oneself. This happens, for instance, when one is sick but imposes a fast on oneself that is beyond one’s strength; or generally when one overdoes any ascetic struggle that is beyond one’s spiritual and physical capacity. Such obstinacy lacks humility and is unreasonably presumptuous.

Another temptation from above is when one strives to learn the mysteries of Holy Scripture (and of God’s mysteries in general), but does not do so according to one’s spiritual maturity. That is, when one wants to penetrate the mysteries of God in Holy Scripture (or in the saints, the world, and life in general) in order later to explain and teach these mysteries to other people when one is not spiritually mature enough to do so. The Holy Fathers say that such a person wants to chew through a bone with baby teeth. St. Gregory of Nyssa speaks about this in his work, The Life of Moses. He says that it was for this reason that God commanded the Israelites, who were imperfect, to eat only the meat (which is like milk for the teeth) from the Passover lamb – and, moreover, with bitter herbs – and not to break into pieces or to eat the bones, but rather to burn them in fire (cf. Exodus 12: 8, 10, 46). This means that we, too, should interpret only those mysteries in Holy Scripture (and in our faith in God generally) that correspond to our spiritual maturity and to eat (absorb) them with bitter herbs, that is, with everything that life brings us (suffering, grief); we should not bite into the mysteries of Holy Scripture, Divine knowledge, and God’s Providence, like so many hard bones, with our baby teeth; they are susceptible to fire only, that is, they become clear only in ripe spiritual maturity and in experienced souls that have been tested by grace-filled Divine fire.

7. One is tempted from within by that which one has in one’s heart and by that which proceeds from the heart. The Lord Jesus Christ clearly stated that it is from within, from one’s heart, that sinful and impure thoughts, desires, and lusts proceed (cf. Matthew 15:19) and tempt one. Temptations come not only from the devil, but also humanly, from the evil intentions and skills, lusts, evil desires, and inner love of sin that proceed from an unclean heart.

8. Finally, the eighth door to demonic temptation is opened from the outside, through external things and occasions, that is, through everything that enters from outside through one’s senses, which are the soul’s windows. These external things are not evil in and of themselves, but by means of them one’s feelings can be tempted and induced to evil and sin.

These, then, are the eight means by which everyone is tempted, regardless of whether one is in the world or in seclusion.

(Having completed listing all eight means by which one is tempted, Elder Cleopa briefly repeated them and then added the ways and means with which to combat each of these temptations.)

Against each of these temptations – from behind, from the front, from the left, from the right, from above, from below, from inside, and from the outside – one must fight by means of watchfulness (the Elder used precisely this Slavonic word [trezvenie]), that is, attentiveness, carefulness, and wakefulness of soul and body; wakefulness and vigilance of spirit; sobriety and discernment; attention to one’s thoughts and actions; or, in a word: judgment. On the other hand, by means of constant prayer that invokes the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that is, through unceasing prayer. (Here Fr. Petronius added in Greek: “Prosochi kai prosefchi” – that is, as the Holy Fathers put it, “by attention and prayer.”)

In other words (the Elder added), the Holy Fathers said that the battle against all temptations and passions consists in the following: guarding all one’s mind, soul, and body from temptation – this is our ascetic struggle, from our human point of view; from the Divine side, one must continuously and prayerfully call upon the help of the All-Merciful Lord Jesus Christ – and this is that unceasing and primary prayer of the hesychasts called the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner!”

Advertisements

Keep Your Mind in Hell

 

icon_st_silouan_athonite.jpg

… and Despair Not

Not for the faint-hearted!

“No one on this earth can avoid affliction; and although the afflictions which the Lord sends are not great, men imagine them beyond their strength and are crushed by them. This is because they will not humble their souls and commit themselves to the will of God.”

 

These words seem to sum up soberingly D. Balfour’s tumultuous life, and indeed in so many respects ours…

 

SPEECHLESS! “It seems ludicrous to rate a book like this according to a certain amount of stars…I searched for it after reading the book I Know a Man in Christ — a great book about our holy and blessed Elder Sophrony, which mentions this correspondence with the amazing Englishman David Balfour. I imagine that the only reason why anyone would be interested in this book would be to learn about this incredible spiritual friendship. (No! There are so many more reasons to want to study this book) And this book does allow for that — and much more besides. I’ve read letters of spiritual direction before. These letters go way beyond that. They give insights to the Elder and to St. Silouan which are simply impossible to convey otherwise. And this David Balfour — he went from Catholic hieromonk to Orthodox hieromonk to British Army major and intelligence officer to diplomatic interpreter to midlife husband and father to Oxford Byzantine scholar in old age. A biography of him wouldn’t go amiss, although I don’t think we’ll see one. And underlying his whole life is the gaining and the losing and the eventual regaining of that inestimable treasure, the Holy Orthodox Christian faith and Holy Grace. Not for the faint of heart.” (D. Kovacs )

 

 

Not for the faint of heart.” Most certainly!

 

What an intense book which can be read on so many levels! A heart-rending spiritual biography of a brother in Christ struggling for his faith and the salvation of his soul amidst staggering trials, temptations and tribulations! A sobering warning too to all of us to be deadly serious with our faith and never forsake our obedience to our spiritual father at any cost! Hell indeed broke loose when Balfour decided to disobey St. Silouan and use his own mind instead for his life-decisions! To give you just one example: After converting to Orthodoxy and becoming an Orthodox hieromonk, Balfour disobeyed St Silouan’s ‘suggestion’ to move to France, and then to England, and went to Greece instead. Things went well at first, but with the outbreak of the Second World War, Balfour was forced to flee Greece and started wandering all over Europe, while undergoing a very dark period of disobedience, disillusionment, doubt and eventual loss of his faith, to the extent that he decided to shave his beard and defrock himself in Cairo, Egypt! I cannot even begin to imagine how traumatic all this experiences must have been for him!

elder-sophrony

 

What a most sobering book! “For Whom the Bells Toll” indeed. How often have I betrayed the Lord and disobeyed my spiritual father in the past! How dire the consequences of my disobedience have always been! Indeed, how fragile our faith is, how precarious our decision to follow the Lord at any cost like a true disciple, how unpredictable our falls and how uncertain our salvation until the very last moment of our life!

 

Striving for Knowledge of God: Correspondence with David Balfour is a treasury of wisdom distilled from Fr. Sophrony’s reading of the Fathers of the Church, from his conversations with St. Silouan, and from his own experience. Since most of these letters were written to someone new to the Orthodox Church and to Orthodox monasticism, they are of greatest interest to anyone contemplating converting to Orthodoxy.

 

In particular, the correspondence touches and elaborates on the difference between Eastern Orthodox and Western thought, in both Christian and philosophical writings. Thus Fr.Sophrony mentions Schleiermacher, Spinoza and Kant, and St John of the Cross (The Dark Night of the Soul). He dedicates a few pages to the concepts of the heart and prayer. In Eastern Christianity, he argues, the spiritual heart is not an abstract notion but is linked with our material heart and has its physical location. In opposition to the Western search for some visionary mystical experience, Fr.Sophrony advocates the prayer of repentance, which is the basis of all spiritual life.

 

As a reply to Balfour’s doubt over the importance of specifically Eastern ascetic and dogmatic traditions, Fr.Sophrony asserts the organic integrity and integrality of ascetic life, dogma and the Church. Criticising Schleiermacher in connexion with this issue, he writes:

 

“There are three things I cannot take in: nondogmatic faith, nonecclesiological Christianity and nonascetic Christianity. These three – the church, dogma, and asceticism – constitute one single life for me.” – Letter to D. Balfour, August 21, 1945.

 

“If one rejects the Orthodox creed and the eastern ascetic experience of life in Christ, which has been acquired throughout the centuries, then Orthodox culture would be left with nothing but the Greek minor [key] and Russian tetraphony.” – Letter to D. Balfour.

 

Fr.Sophrony also warns against attributing to intellectual reasoning the status of being the sole basis for religious search:

 

Historical experience has demonstrated that natural intellectual reasoning, left to its own devices, fatally arrives at pantheistic mysticism with its particular perception of reality. If this takes place in the soul of the Christian who does not want to reject Christ (as in the case of Leo Tolstoy), he arrives at Protestant rationalism or at spiritualism, which stands mystically close to pantheism… I am convinced that the rejection of the Church will lead to the rejection of the Apostolic message about Сthat which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes… and our hands have handled (1Jn.1:1) [148].

 

 

On a more general level, these letters are full with profound theological and spiritual insights. What a most blessed golden ‘chain’ of Grace and Sainthood! Elder Sophrony, already under consideration for glorification, was ordained to the diaconate by St Nicolai (Velimirovic) of Zicha and became a disciple of St Silouan the Athonite. Can you imagine? All these Saints were also ‘connected’ with the greatest probably Saint of our century, St. John Maximovitch! St. Nikolai Velimirovich is often referred to as Serbia’s New Chrysostom. St. John Maximovitch, who had been a young instructor at a seminary in Bishop Nikolai’s diocese of Ohrid, called him “a great saint and Chrysostom of our day [whose] significance for Orthodoxy in our time can be compared only with that of Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky). … They were both universal teachers of the Orthodox Church.”

 

Coming back to the book, of all theological concepts touched upon in this book, the one which most interests me  is the concept of Godforsakenness, as outlined by Fr.Sophrony, who worked out a distinction between two types:The first one is when man deserts God: To the extent that we live in this world, to that same extent we are dead in God. The second one is when God hides from man: a horrific state of Godforsakenness. When man has no more life in this world, i.e. cannot live by this world, the memory of the divine world draws him there, yet despite all this darkness encompasses his soul. He explains: these fluctuations of the presence and absence of grace are our destiny until the end of our earthly life. Fr.Sophrony saw suffering as a necessary stage in ascetic development: Divine grace comes only in the soul which has undergone suffering.

 

“We must have the determination to overcome temptations comparable to the sorrows of the first Christians. All the witnesses of Christ’s Resurrection were martyred. We should be ready to endure any hardship.”

 

“The most important thing in the spiritual life is to strive to receive the grace of the Holy Spirit. It changes our lives (above all inwardly, not outwardly). We will live in the same house, in the same circumstances, and with the same people, but our life will already be different. But this is possible only under certain conditions: if we find the time to pray fervently, with tears in our eyes. From the morning to ask for God’s blessing, that a prayerful attitude may define our entire day.”

 

“Whoever gives up his cross cannot be worthy of the Lord and become His disciple. The depths of the Divine Being are revealed to the Christian when he is crucified for our Savior. The Cross is the foundation of authentic theology.”

 

Not for the faint of heart, indeed!

I Shall Not Live In Vain

“Songs of Earth & Sky” Bill Douglas’ Album
Based on poems by Emily Dickinson and William Blake

“The words are a beautiful expression of compassion by Emily Dickinson (first verse) and William Blake (second verse).”

I Shall Not Live In Vain

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain.
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again –
I shall not live in vain.
I shall not live in vain.

Love seeketh not
Itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care;
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a Heaven in Hell’s despair**

If I can stop one heart from breaking
I shall not live in vain
If I can ease one life the aching
Or cool one pain
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again
I shall not live in vain
I shall not live in vain

 

A Cage

depression5

I feel like a bird trapped in a small birdcage,

A birdcage hidden at the bottom of a dark basement.

And all I want to do is break out of the blackness,

And fly into the Sonlight which waits outside.

I can feel it, the Light –

It’s all around the basement.

The Light is greater than the basement.

All I want to do is get into that Light,

And loose myself in it.

But it is an impossible task – I can’t get out.

And the thick, murky black air closes in…

 *

I feel like I’m in a room with invisible walls.

But it’s so black in the room,

That I can’t see through the walls.

And I am the centre of the room.

Where I go, the room goes – I can’t get out.

I wish someone would chain the room still,

So I could get out into the Light outside.

… 

Oh Jesus, You are the Light of the world.

Please shatter this darkened prison I live in,

And take me into Your light.

Let it consume me, encompass me, surround me.

Let me become one with You, You in me, me in You.

 *

http://cornerstonethefoundation.blogspot.gr/p/depression-poems.html

Banquet for Worms

hell2

valley of death

II.

Who put me in this bed of worms? Who buried me in the dust, to become a neighbor of snakes and a banquet for worms?

Who pushed me off the high mountain, to become a companion of bloodthirsty and godless men?

My sin and Your justice, O Lord. My sin stretches from the creation of the world, and it is swifter than Your justice.

I count my sins throughout my entire life, throughout the life of my father and all the way back to the beginning of the world, and I say: Truly, the name of the Lord’s justice is mercy.

I bear the wounds of my fathers on myself-wounds that I myself was preparing while I was still in my fathers—and now they have all appeared on my soul, like a spotted hide on a giraffe, like a cloak of vicious scorpions that sting me.

Have mercy on me, O Lord, open the floodgate of the heavenly river of Your grace, and cleanse me of leprous evil, so that without this leprosy I may dare to proclaim Your name before the other lepers without them ridiculing me.

At least raise me up by a head above the rotten stench of this bed of worms, to inhale the incense of heaven and return to life.

At least raise me up as high as a palm tree so I can laugh at the serpents chasing my heels.

O Lord, if there has been even one good deed in the course of my earthly journey, for the sake of that one deed deliver me from the companionship of bloodthirsty and godless men.

O Lord, my hope in despair.

O Lord, my strength in weakness.

O Lord, my light in darkness.

Place just one finger on my forehead and I shall be raised. Or, if I am too unclean for Your finger, let a single ray of light from Your kingdom shine upon me and raise me-raise me, from this bed of worms, O my beloved Lord.

prayersbythelake