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!”

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Because I Could Not Stop For Death

 

People are so beautiful it hurts. We all have this beauty in us, this otherworldly potential to be so much more than what we settle for. At times, this awareness is the only thing that makes sense of this senseless existence, its very foundation, the star calling us forward, the purpose of this flesh. Most of the times, though, it makes life ever more painful, because it throws light upon the dark truths we have spent a lifetime learning to ignore.

Someone’s asked in an email from where I get the strength to keep going. The raw answer is: fear. Fear and desperation and the knife-like breath of death I see slowly and implacably eating me from the inside, consuming the beauty within myself, the beauty within you. I look in the mirror and I see a caged animal, waiting in line to be sacrificed. I live with the awareness that none of the breaths I’ve taken, none of the things I’ve felt and done have life within themselves.

The most painful thing I live with, the heaviest weight I carry is the total, perfect knowledge that there is no memory here to preserve even the slightest trace of our sparks of life.

I look in the mirror and I see nothing that will survive death. I stare at this nothingness and life becomes a desperate attempt to outrun death. At times, this turns into pure isolation, and no island can be far enough; no darkness thick enough to cover me. Other times, for very few and rare moments, this turns into white silence. A bright blanket of silence that covers my mind like rarefied air. Up there, in those rarefied clouds, floating high above death, there is Rest, there is Peacefulness.

 

 

Source: Father Seraphim –The Mull Monastery at http://www.mullmonastery.com/uncategorized/someones-asked-in-an-email-from-where-i-get-the-strength-to-keep-going/

Jaws of Eternity

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Heartbreaking Paintings and Poems from Communist Prisons in Romania — II

DAYS

by

Radu Gyr

Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, Monday

Neutral days without form,

Like a great fog

Over the landscape

Good morning, prison cell!

Good night, prison bars!

I’d smash you as a mastiff in his fangs

I’d rend you with my teeth, O Cell!

I stand in Time terribly naked

With my soul planted in liquid eternity,

Like an atoll in an ocean

Beaten by torrid winds…

Dungeon, dungeon, mad fortress,

How my hate would set fire to you!

Life, life outside,

How dare you dance in my dreams like a puppet!

Tuesday,Wednesday,Friday – what day is it?

the week is a dead amassment;

My months pass through no calendar,

My island is on no map.

Monday, Wednesday, Thursday – The devil take you!

Stinking days – Stagnant days,

Here in the jaws of eternity

Who shall count your dark hundreds?

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HUNGRY

by

Nichifor Crainic

 

If ever I was a cluster of grapes,

today I am residue left by the press.

Into the fathomless hunger in me

pour some drop of juice.

I feel how my body is melting away,

a soup of amaranth would warm it.

If touched by a blade of grass

in a flash I’d be green.

At least let my phantom arm

pick an apple from a tree.

It will fill my mouth with aroma

and I would truly live.

In the country of sheep folds and bread

I dream of mushroom soup.

Let me shelter with the dogs

near the heaven of a bowl of terci.*

On the depth of my hunger

blind deserts open up.

When the last spoonful is eaten

I drop over my bowl and spoon.

O God, You Who

out of two fishes and five loaves

made mountains of food

and satisfied thousands of poor

Repeat the miracle, O Good One,

and satisfy thousands of mouths.

Listen also to my prayer,

Give me the basket of crumbs.

* terci – a thin gruel often given to dogs


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JESUS IN THE NIGHT

by

Radu Gyr

This night Jesus entered my cell.

O how sad, how tall was Christ!

The moon followed Him into my cell

And made Him taller, sadder still.

He sat by me upon my mat;

“Put your hand upon my wounds.”

On His ankle there were scars from sores and rust

As if He too had worn chains once…

His hands were like lilies upon a grave,

His eyes as deep as forests;

His garments whitened by the moon,

Silvering in His hands old wounds.

Sighing, He stretched His weary bones

Upon my lousy mat;

In His sleep He shone forth, but the heavy bars

Lengthened upon Him like rods.

I rose from beneath my gray blanket.

“Lord, from whence come you? Out of which eternity?”

Jesus put His finger to His lips

And signed me to be still.

My cell seemed like a mountain peak;

Rats and roaches swarmed around;

I felt my head fall heavy upon my hand

And I slept, a thousand years…

When I awoke from my heavy trance

The straw smelled of roses;

I was in my cell and there was moonlight

But Jesus was nowhere.

“Where are you, Lord?” I cried between the bars.

Across the moon came drifts of mist…

I touched myself, and found upon my palms

The sign of His nails.


pitesti_prison 2

VISIT 

by

Radu Gyr

The exhausted wind froze

like a bow on a cracked violin.

Last night an angel knocked in my door,

his voice weak, his tread tired.

I don’t know if he came from heaven

or some earthly cross

but he looked at me with wounded eyes,

trembling with cold when I welcomed him.

In his eyes of strange god

it was as if some grave illness battled

and he gazed at me with blood-filled eyes

and all that night he wept upon my breast.

In the morning I found him no more.

vestiges of red footprints faded from my door.

Far away in the sky on a cracked violin

the wind fell like a broken bow.

*

Pitesti Prison — Gulag

Pitesti_prison_yard

Pitesti_prison_plaque

Poems from Communist Prisons by Mother Alexandra

Foreword

Within this booklet are a few poems originally written in Romanian, chosen from a large collection, POEZII DIN INCHISORI, edited by Zahu Pana, published by CUVANTUL ROMANESC, 1982

They were written or rather composed by political prisoners who had no paper on which to write. They were memorized by those who survived, and finally spirited out to the free West. Remarkable in that they are true poetry of the soul, they express various emotions of those unjustly imprisoned by the Communist Party, for the crime of independent thought. None of these poets were criminals. They were philosophers, theologians (lay or clergy), generals, intellectuals of all sorts, factory workmen and tillers of the soil. Women and even children shared the same fate.

Source: https://orthodoxyinottawa.wordpress.com/poems-from-communist-prisons/

And http://www.romanianstudies.org/content/2012/11/poetry-in-translation-cxlvi-sergiu-mandinescu-1926-1964-romania-prison-warder-suflet-de-calau

Traced Through Mud

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Heartbreaking Paintings and Poems from Communist Prisons in Romania — I

*

Prison Warder

by

Sergiu MANDINESCU

A muffled night

a bottomless abyss

a peacock’s cry

that never goes amiss.

Great panthers watching in the night

and tigers ready for the pounce,

the pythons flawlessly advance

a path so trite.

The shadow’s silence so profound

fills to the brim the darkest mind –

a jungle full of beasts of any kind,

but human soul is nowhere to be found!

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Glory

by

Radu Budisteanu

Blessed be suffering

which brings man out of a flat groove –

swift sling hurled at a Goliath,

tree in which knowledge is born.

Blessed be suffering.

Without it, good earth would be clay,

the heart would not catch the murmur of a tear

and sin would not know what contrition is.

Blessed be suffering.

If there were not death, would there be love?

Value is given to all by separation,

fruit in the hidden furrow of the passing rays.

Blessed be suffering,

its breast a resting place, a caress upon the brow,

the strong altar screen of the sense let it be,

archway through which alone desire passes.

Blessed be suffering

fruit of the hidden furrow of a passing ray

soul with large embracing arms

like an all enveloping mantle.


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Unwritten Letters

by

Radu Gyr

Our life often lies hidden

in a humble corner of paradise,

in letters which were never sent us

by a hand that never wrote them.

We know not what we’d have the pages say,

what unwritten love song

but the hand which does not write us,

at all times we hold in a dream.

And the phrases that do not come,

in memory’s eye become ever dearer

and that hand which gave me light

as blossom upon my heart I hold.

And thus through the door crack,

we watch with unquenchable longing

for letters that were never sent

by a hand that did not write them.


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Birthday wishes

by

Radu Gyr

For your birthday

I don’t know what

To bring you as a gift.

Bruised upon my bones

My skin only do I have.

Since I have pulled in harness,

Since I have sighed in yoke,

All that was plenteous

Has melted away as snow.

The owls hoot,

the darkness deepens;

The nails on my hands

Grow long for retribution…

grow you,too,

My timid voice,

Grow as a djinn,

Grow as a great bird;

Gather in your flight

And bring to the assailant

The crying of orphans,

The suffocating voice of mothers

Drowned in tears, the mourning of the homeless.

Hate of the whole country

Rise up, now!

Master your curses,

Doom this day!

Curse it with fire and brimstone

For the savage beast

That is bore,

Over the horizon to rise

And with his horns

The world to overthrow.

O my mild voice,

Grow strong, little by little,

As a spring grows

In volume, increasing,

As down the mountains it falls.

Become a sickle;upon his brown

Bludgeon the beast!

O my voice, grow! From the forest swell

Out of the felled woods,

Out of the deserted villages,

Out of the dried-up oil-wells,

Grow out of golden grain

That is taken over the foreign roads,

Grow out of the ruins,

Sound from the depths of prison dungeons,

There where rots in chains

All that stands firm in the land

And is about to die…

Out of gaunt and livid beings

Arise, open eagle’s wings;

Soar over the foe –

Dirty bloodsuckers!

Fly over frontiers

Which have not yet been stolen,

Pass cities and villages

Where in the dead of night

Whispered Christian prayers

Can still be heard

Cross as best you can

The endless steppes

And the sad waters;

Over forests and towns

Look for and follow paths

Traced through mud.

Go far!

Fly as the genii in the legends

Until you come to

Imperial courts

Without royal faces,

Barbaric monasteries

Without altars,

Without God.

Rise, O myvoice,

Lift yourself

Upon wings of fire

In heavenly heat,

And fall back as a tunderbolt!

Blast the citadel

of the beast’s den!

Seed of his seed destroy!

In the land and in eternity,

A word of execration

Let his name be!

Let perish in the mold

All which he stole!

His dust and ashes

Let the earth swallow!

May my unbounded hate

Burn up Satan,

Ana’s* brother!

Thunder blast him!

In scum putrify him!

O heaven,

On his birthday,

Satan’s birthday –

Ana’s* brother –

What offering have you

Sent him, John Doe?

*Ana – Ana Pauker , born in Romania, lived in Russia , an intimate friend of Stalin, an all-powerful one in Romania until the postumous fall of Stalin.

 


Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.

Lords_Prayer_Religious

A favourite scene by an all-time favourite film-maker of spiritual quest: The Sacrifice (Offret) by A.Tarkovsky 1986 – PRAYER: The Lord’s Prayer. The scene poignantly illustrates the power of faith and self-sacrifice.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f4z8Y-NpW1c

The Sacrifice, Tarkovsky’s swan song, tells in esoteric terms of Christian iconography, masterly mise-en-scène, and astounding use of sound composition, of a literary critic, once an actor (Josephson), who promises to give up everything ‘that connects him with the world’ in a bid to save it from the impending nuclear holocaust he hears announced on television.

Banquet for Worms

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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