Vol: 2 Issue: 11
Hatour 1725 / Nov 2008
The Purity Of Thought By: H.H. Pope Shenouda III A chaste and pure person should be pure in body and soul, in his thoughts, senses, feelings, and even in his dreams and imagination. A man should give careful attention to the purity of his thoughts as his thought also belongs to God. As we take care of the purity of our hearts in order that God may dwell in them, so we must take care of our minds too. The divinely inspired Holy Bible says, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and all your strength." (Mark 12:30) A person who lets his heart be occupied with sin gives proof that God does not live in his heart, as thoughts arise from the inside of the heart. The Holy Bible says, "A good man out of the good treasure of the heart brings out good things; and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings out evil things." (Matthew 12:35) If you wish to have a pure mind, keep far away from the means that cause the corruption of thought. Keep away from all things that bring to your mind a sinful thought. Such thoughts may come as a result of unsound readings, wicked things that are heard, or due to a sinful environment, bad company or wicked friendship. An evil thought may arise from another evil thought. Keep away from all this so as to keep your thoughts pure. Evil thoughts may arise from desires or evil lusts within the heart. In fact, desires and thoughts co-operate; each of the two may be a cause and a result. An evil thought may bring about a wicked lust, and a wicked lust may give birth to a wicked thought. On many occasions your thoughts may be expressive of your desires. Try to clear out your heart from evil desires, then your thoughts will consequently be purified. Thoughts and lusts may give rise to dreams or imaginations, as you may dream of the thing that you think of, or that you long for. In this way a man may sometimes be responsible for his dreams; and in as much as a man's heart and thoughts are purified, so will his dreams be purified. If you dream of something against your thoughts and desires, you
may be disturbed and wake up quickly, and you will not be able to continue your dream for a long period. On some occasions, evil thoughts may merely be a fight on the part of the devil against you, to disturb the quietness of your heart and destroy your inner peace. Not all evil thoughts are wars from the devils; there is a great difference between the war of thoughts and falling by thought. In case of an evil thought that is merely a fight from the devil, your heart will revolt against this thought and you will try with all your determination to drive it away, get rid of it and not accept it at all. In case of falling by thought however, a man will be contented with the wicked thought or will be enjoying it; he may even try to keep harbouring this thought for a long time, and he may be annoyed if something occurs to break it up. My advice to you is to oppose wicked thoughts and escape from them. If an evil thought attacks you, try to occupy your mind with something else or run away from it. You may think of something else that is deeper so as to divert the course of your thinking. You may occupy yourself with the reading of something interesting so that your thoughts may be diverted from that wicked issue to the topic of reading. You may pray in secret. and raise your heart to God to keep the evil thought away from you; and if all these methods are not effective, you may occupy yourself with some manual work or talk with anybody to drive away the thought. Be cautious not to yield to the wicked thought as this is treachery against God on your part, and association with enemies. Your escape from the thought as soon as it comes to your mind is much easier than your attempt to run away from it after you have kept it for a certain period because as long as the thought continues in your mind, it will exercise its mastery over you and will subject your will to its attraction, until you become a slave to it and fulfill its desire. If the thought continues with you, it may be changed into an emotion, a desire, or a lust; it may develop into an attempt at fulfillment, and thus you may be degraded from a sin of thought to a sin of action. My advice to you is to take the first step; you should orient your thoughts and not let them take advantage of you and direct you. Thought can be a weapon in your hand and it can be a weapon against you; let it be your friend and not your enemy. You should know that the greatest and most useful projects were originally an idea, and all great humanitarian deeds began as an idea. We may need experts whom we invite from distant or nearby countries to obtain ideas from them. Let your ideas be a treasure for yourself and for others. Let your thoughts be a blessing for the society in which you live. Be always occupied with what is beneficial and keep in mind that God reads and examines your thoughts. Therefore, you should be ashamed of yourself whenever you give way to sinful thinking. And if you fall into evil thought, do not despair and keep up that thought, but you should rise quickly and redress your thoughts. May God be with you, granting you purity of thought as a holy gift. Page 2
Right: A Group of years 7&8 boys from St Mark Church Spending a retreat at the monastery
Left: A group of youth from St Marcurius Church Spending a retreat at the monastery
A Group of Youth from St Maryâ€™s Church spending the day at the monastery with Fr Mikhail
On Discernment of Thoughts By: Fr Athanasius Iskander It is our duty to discern our thoughts, in order to know their origin and thus avoid being fooled by the Devil. "Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God" (1Jn 4:1). There are thoughts that come to us from God, the Holy Spirit that dwells in us. These are thoughts that urge us to repent and confess, or to go early to church, have communion or pay our tithes. There are also thoughts that originate from our own minds, like thinking about doing one's shopping, laundry or mowing the lawn. And there are thoughts that come from the Devil, like thoughts of anger, revenge, condemnation and unclean fantasies. There are also thoughts that come from the Devil, but are not quite obvious. These are thoughts that are actually evil but appear outwardly to be virtuous. Of these the book of Proverbs says: "There is a way that seems right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Pr 16:25). Saint Paul also reminds us that "Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light" (2Co11:14). It is our duty to discern our thoughts, in order to know their origin and thus avoid being fooled by the Devil. "Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God" (1Jn 4:1). The Fathers of the church liken these deceiving thoughts to counterfeit currency, bankers can tell these from the real thing. We are exhorted by the same Fathers to learn how to become "experienced bankers". The Bible has several examples of such evil thoughts that masquerade in the guise of virtuous ones. The first book of Samuel tells us of king Saul who thought that offering sacrifices to God was more pleasing to God then obedience (1Sam 15). There is also the story of King Ahab who believed that showing mercy to the King of Syria is preferable to executing God's harsh command to destroy that King (1Kin 21). The results of failing to discern the thoughts were disastrous to these two Kings who were chosen by God to rule over His people. In the case of Saul, he lost his Kingdom, and the spirit of the Lord departed from him (1Sam 13). King Ahab paid with his life for this lack of discernment, for the Lord later tells him: "Because thou hast let go out of thy hand a man whom I appointed for utter destruction, therefore thy life shall go for his life" (1 Kings 20:42). These two examples show us the importance of discerning the thoughts even if outwardly they seem good and pious. A wise "banker" should examine every thought patiently before accepting it as good and acting on it. The Fathers of the church have left us valuable pieces of advice that can help us become wise bankers able to tell counterfeit money from real currency. Page 4
The first thing is obviously to examine the thought to see whether it is in accordance to the teachings of the Bible. If it is not then we have no problem. If it seems to agree with the teachings of the Bible then we should cautiously proceed with further examination of the thought. We should then examine the feelings surrounding the thought, is there a sense of urgency about it? Do you feel compelled to do it right away? If so, then be very careful, for most probably it is from the Tempter. Stirrings of the Holy Spirit come to the soul gradually and gently and not impulsively. Does the thought evoke peace and tranquillity? ..or is it surrounded by anger, bitterness and turmoil? The most pious thoughts should be suspected if they deprive us of our inner peace. The Bible has a lot to teach us in this regard: "If ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts ... this wisdom descends not from above but is earthly, sensual, devilish ... but the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle and easy to be entreated" (James 3:14_17). Many a time we are lead to believe that we are being moved by the zeal of the Lord while we are actually succumbing to anger, condemnation and partiality. This happens to us time and again because we neglect this important step of examining the feelings surrounding the thought. Always remember that the Lord speaks to us in a still small voice. Next, we should examine the motives behind the thought. Sometimes a thought is totally in accordance with the teachings of the Bible, it comes to us amid feelings of serenity but if we search deep down in our souls, we may discover that the motive behind the contemplated action is embarrassing or annoying someone else! Saint Paul encountered this in his ministry, "Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife .. of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds" (Eph 1:15-16). Here we have people doing the most pious work ever; preaching Christ, but the motives behind this are most impious! Inquire seriously about your motives in doing this most virtuous deed, is it to show off how cleaver and innovative you can be? Is that good deed contemplated solely for the glory of God? .. or is it tainted by vainglory. A further step recommended by the Fathers is to measure the proposed deed against the acts and witness of the Apostles. If it looks to be whole, complete, and in conformity with the latter, then let us hold on to it, otherwise, let us cautiously and carefully reject it. Finally, raise your mind to God, so as to be clear whether it is the direct will of God that you should perform such actions and whether they would be acceptable to God. Pray, even as our Lord did in the garden and say, "not my will but Thine be done" (Lk 22:41). Moreover make sure that over and above the exercises we mentioned above, the advice of your father confessor should be sought in all major decisions you adopt. (From: Practical Spirituality according to the desert Fathers) Page 5
Work, and the Desert Fathers By: One of the youth There are many reasons why people work, to cover their living expenses, to support their family, because they enjoy what they do. The reason why the Desert Fathers worked was to get closer to God. Today’s article will attempt to provide an insight into the thoughts of the pure Desert Fathers, who labored and toiled in order to find the most spiritually profitable way of life. From the very beginning of monasticism it was the Lord’s will that monks work. A story from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers tells us that after being discouraged one day in the desert St. Anthony asked the Lord “How shall I be saved”. He then saw an apparition of a man that looked much like himself. The man would sit down whilst plaiting a length of rope, then stand up and pray. These two tasks he repeated continually. St. Anthony took this apparition as a message from God and was “filled with great joy and confidence”, working with his hands from this day onwards. Later Desert Fathers gave indepth reasoning as to why work was such an integral part of one’s spiritual growth and salvation. They experienced that work relieved the soul from boredom (St. Felixinius) was a means to provide the first fruits of one’s wages to the poor (St Loukianos), and was even an important part of overcoming “youthful desires” (St. Evythimios). The Benefits of Work Without something to work on, the mind seems to become curious and wonder. The devil takes advantage of this opportunity and attacks the vacant mind. Taking this into account, the Desert Fathers set orders in place that required all monks to work as part of their daily life. The Evergetinos (a collection of the sayings of early desert fathers) tells us that an elder in the monastery used to sit beside a river, plaiting stalks from a thicket of cane. Every time he would plait a rope he would throw it into the river. This elder “was not working because he had to, but to be occupied and so that his thoughts might remain at peace.” When trying to practically apply this rule to one’s work life there is a loophole that one must beware of. If one is lazy whilst on the job, they bypass the main benefit of working - occupying one’s thoughts - and as Abba Isaiah strictly tells us “idleness is death and misleads the soul”. Likewise how the monks gave to others through charity and almsgiving are a stellar example to us living in the world. It is told us that St Loukianos the heriomartyr thought it is wrong if he tasted food without the poor first taking their part from what he had earned. Whatever he earned he used for food, the rest he gave as alms to the poor. This shows the humility and simplicity of the Desert Fathers. Taking from their example, the church has placed a tenth or a tithe for what a believer would earn as an appropriate sum for almsgiving. St. Loukiannos teaches us to work for others needs first, then for our own needs. In this way we are made to think less of ourselves. We sacrifice our desires and wants in order to give to those who need support. As Amba Abraham Bishop of Faiyoum has taught us, by giving to the poor one accumulates for themselves “treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt”. (Mathew 6:20) Page 6
What to Beware of when at work The Desert Fathers were set apart by their humility. That is why St. Ephraim instructed his spiritual sons, the brothers that if they felt more fatigued than the other brothers they should be very wary and careful of how the devil may play with there thoughts. He tells us that thinking one’s self to be worthy of a greater salary because they work harder than their fellow brothers is a thought that is filled with “deadly bitterness”. That is not to say one is not to be ambitious in the workforce, nor to say that requesting a higher pay package in due time is not appropriate. But what it does tell us is that one should not think of himself above his own position in his work environment. In this way one will have the tools to overcome pride, which is the mother of so many other sins. St Ephraim also talks of a sin that can give one eagerness and power to work above what is normal, and consistent with the balanced life of a believer. That is, the sin of greed. St Ephraim tells us that through the desire for “greed and material things” one can be given strength to work “day and night “ and inevitably he tells us that this “interferes … with your prayer and monastic services”. The devil is wise and can use greed to break up families and marriages. It is also detrimental for the soul of the believer, as bit by bit they are taken away from their prayer, bible readings, services and even partaking of Eucharist. One can combat this through continual self-inspection and an honest and transparent relationship with their confession father, who will advice them about the early symptoms or later signs of this debilitating sin. In Conclusion To finish, some powerful words of advice from Anba Macarius the Great tell us to pray before sleeping and straight after waking. By doing this the believer has no time for “evil thoughts” to enter the mind. His Garce Bishop Mettaous also instructs us to take from the example of the monks who used to memorize verses from the Bible and recite them during their work. If however one’s job is not mental and needs attention, lifting up one’s heart to the Lord when their attention is broken for a time will strengthen the spirit and give them the motivation to go on. The conclusion that we then come to is that if work is not mixed with prayer, there are many pitfalls that one can be vulnerable to. If however the two are mixed, work plays a major role in guiding one’s way to the heavenly kingdom.
Question & Answer How can someone become liberated from shameful thoughts? Let us follow what St Basil has to say Concerning this topic: We should confront these attacks with intensive care and attentiveness, just as an athlete when he evades his opponent's blows with the accurate precaution necessary, together with the flexibility of his body. We should entrust the ending of the war and the avoidance of the arrows, to prayer and assistance from above. And even if the tricky enemy, during the hour of prayer, subjects us to cunning fantasies, the soul should not interrupt its prayer. The soul should also know that it is not responsible for the cunning attacks undertaken by the enemy, in addition to the fantasies emanating from the "paradoxical miracle maker". On the contrary, he should think of the fact that these thoughts are due to the impertinence of the inventor of evil. That person should then intensify his kneeling to The Lord and should plead to God to dissolve the cunning partition caused by irrational and absurd thoughts, so that, unhindered, he can approach God. If, however, the harmful attack of the thought becomes more intense due to the impudence of the enemy, we should not turn to cowardice nor quit the battle in its duration, but instead, we should endure up to the point when God will notice our perseverance. He will then enlighten us with the Grace of The Holy Spirit, which will on one hand cause the enemy to flee, and on the other hand flood our mind with Holy Light, in order for the thought to adore God with uninterrupted tranquility and joy".
Further Readings Fr Athanasius Eskander, Practical Spirituality according to the Desert Fathers, Published by St Shenouda Monastery The Egyptian Desert became a university of this quest for perfection. The Desert Fathers made a science out of this quest, that we now call spirituality. In this university, research was done and experiments were published by many who came to seek the wisdom of those Desert Fathers. Fr Athanasius Iskander borrowed methods and techniques from these Holy Fathers and provided wise instructions on how to practically apply them to the struggles faced by young Orthodox people living in the Twenty First century.
Hiermonk Benedict, Thoughts and how to confront them. Since there are many who struggle with ob-scene and impure thoughts and even more who "panic", this attempt is made so that the comba-tant and fighting Christian may understand what thoughts are, where they come from, what their results are, and how they are confronted. Page 8