Philokalia

Philokalia

Friday, September 20, 2013

Ladder of Divine Ascent - Step Twenty Five On Humility



There is something very misleading about "reading about humility" as if one could learn about true humility from a book.  In fact, St. John says this precisely: "Do you imagine that talk of such matters will mean anything to someone who has never experienced them?  If you think so, then you will be like a man who with words and examples tries to convey the sweetness of honey to people who have never tasted it.  He talks uselessly.  Indeed I would say he is simply prattling.  Our theme sets before us as a touchstone a treasure stored safely in earthen vessels, that is, in our bodies.  This treasure is of such quality that it eludes adequate description.  It carries an inscription of heavenly origin which is therefore incomprehensible so that anyone seeking for words for it is faced with a great and endless task.  The inscription reads as follows: Holy Humility."

            Therefore, St. John approaches this step with some concern.  His hesitancy to write about humility stems from at least two sources.  First, as he insists, humility is a virtue won through struggle.  There is a very real sense in which humility can only be learned existentially - through the experience of the struggle for God.  In the context of this struggle, we are taught by God Himself what it means for us to be humble.  It is one thing to write about it and to give mental assent to it.  But how many of us really know that this is true, how many of us feel that it is true, how many of us experience the torturous presence of pride moment to moment?  There is only one way to learn: life-long struggle with oneself.

            Second, it is difficult to write about it because humility expresses itself in different ways in different people.  Since humility is a grace of God in the soul, learned existentially in the context of my own individual struggle to find God, it is inescapably personal.  What it means for me to be humble is tied to who I am, where I have come from, where I am going and how I am supposed to get there.  The uniqueness of my own road to God means that humility is going to be different for me than for anyone else.  Furthermore, as I grow older and my life changes, humility will take on new meaning and new expression.

            However, as beginners we are in need of some direction.  St. John gives us general guidelines to follow in the specifics of our own struggle.  First, he reminds us that the struggle for humility is the most important struggle of our spiritual lives.  Humility is victory over every passion, a love of prayer, and the guardian of all other virtues.

            Second, he teaches us how to recognize the presence of humility in our hearts.  (Remember: his purpose in giving us these "signs of humility" is not to make us proud because they are there, but to make us humble because they are not!)  Sign number one of humility is "the delighted readiness of the soul to accept indignity, to receive it with open arms, to welcome it as something that relieves and cauterizes diseases of the soul and grievous sins."  Sign number two is "the wiping out of anger - - and modesty over the fact that it has subsided."  Sign number three is "the honest distrust of one's own virtues, together with an unending desire to learn more."

            Third, he teaches us how to cultivate the presence of humility in our hearts.  Here St. John reminds us that there is not one way to humility.  The heights of humility may be scaled from various vantage points: 1) We can develop humility by reminding ourselves often of our sins.  Nothing keeps us from thinking that we are "holy" like the remembrance of what we have done and are doing wrong, 2) We can develop humility by reminding ourselves of how much grace we have received.  If we cannot "handle" the constant remembrance of our sins or if this grace has not been given to us, then perhaps we can humble ourselves by the constant remembrance of God's mercy and grace.  True gratitude leads to humility, 3) We can develop humility by reminding ourselves of how weak and vulnerable to sin we are.  If we cannot continuously remind ourselves of our sin, and if we cannot remain continuously thankful, at least we should be able to remember at all times how easy it is for us to fall.  We are not strong in and of ourselves; we are vulnerable, we cannot defend ourselves spiritually or physically.  Let us be humbled.  This is why the holy fathers say that physical labor, vigils, fasting, etc. are important aids to humility.  They reveal the weakness of our flesh, so that we might put no trust in it.  Recognition of our own mortality and frailty leads to humility.


1-12            In these opening paragraphs St. John speaks of his hesitancy in writing about this virtue.  Humility, he explains, can only be understood through experience and is expressed differently from person to person and changes with the passage of time.

            Do you imagine that plain words can precisely or truly or appropriately or clearly or sincerely describe the love of the Lord, humility, blessed purity, divine enlightenment, fear of God, and assurance of the heart?  Do you imagine that talk of such matters will mean anything to someone who has never experienced them?  If you think so then you will be like a man who with words and examples tries to convey the sweetness of honey to people who have never tasted it.  He talks uselessly.  Indeed I would say he is simply prattling.  The same applies in the first instance.  A man stands revealed as either having had no experience of what he is talking about or as having fallen into the grip of vainglory.
            Our theme sets before us as a touchstone a treasure stored safely in earthen vessels, that is, in our bodies.  This treasure is of a quality that eludes adequate description.  It carries an inscription of heavenly origin which is therefore incomprehensible so that anyone seeking words for it is faced with a great and endless task.  The inscription reads as follows: "Holy Humility."

            Humility is a grace in the soul and with a name known only to those who have had experience of it.  It is indescribable wealth, a name and a gift from God.  "Learn from me," He said; that is, not from an angel, not from a man, not from a book, but "from Me," that is, from My dwelling within you, from My illumination and action within you, for "I am gentle and meek of heart" (Matt. 11:29) in thought and in spirit, and your souls will find rest from conflicts and relief from evil thoughts.
            The appearance of this sacred vine is one thing during the winter of passions, another in the springtime of flowering, and still another in the harvest time of all the virtues. . .  . As soon as the cluster of holy humility begins to flower within us, we come, after hard work, to hate all earthly praise and glory.  We rid ourselves of rage and fury; and the more this queen of virtues spreads within our souls through spiritual growth, the more we begin to regard all our good deeds as of no consequence, in fact as loathsome.  For every day we somehow imagine that we are adding to our burden by an ignorant scattering, that the very abundance of God's gifts to us is so much in excess of what we deserve that the punishment due to us becomes thereby all the greater.

13-34            The distinguishing characteristics, signs, and value of humility.  St. John also speaks in these paragraphs about the importance of self-knowledge and self-examination for those who desire humility.  Those who truly desire this virtue will use every means available to obtain it.

            Where there is humility there will be no sign of hatred, no species of quarrelsomeness, no whiff of disobedience . . .  . The man with humility for his bride will be gentle, kind, inclined to compunction, sympathetic, calm in every situation, radiant, easy to get along with, inoffensive, alert and active.  In a word, free from passion.  "The Lord remembered us in our humility and delivered us from our enemies" (Ps 135:23-24), that is, from our passions and from our impurities.

            The sun lights up everything visible.  Humility reaches across everything done according to reason.  Where there is no light, all is in darkness.  Where there is no humility, all is rotten.

            A man truly humble within himself will never find his tongue betraying him.  What is not in the treasury cannot be brought out through the door.
            A solitary horse can often imagine itself to be at full gallop, but when it finds itself in a herd it then discovers how slow it actually is.
            A first sign of emerging health is when our thoughts are no longer filled with a proud sense of our aptitudes.  As long as the stench of pride lingers in the nose, the fragrance of myrrh will go unnoticed.
            Holy humility had this to say: "The one who loves me will not condemn someone, or pass judgment on anyone, or lord it over someone else, or show off his wisdom . . .  .

            You will know that you have this holy gift within you and not be led astray when you experience an abundance of unspeakable light together with an indescribable love of prayer.  Even before reaching this stage, you may have it, if in your heart you pass no judgment on the faults of others.  And a precursor of what we have described is hatred of all vainglory.
            The man who has come to know himself with the full awareness of his soul has sown in good ground.  However, anyone who has not sown in this way cannot expect humility to flower within him.  And anyone who has acquired knowledge of self has come to understand the fear of the Lord, and walking with the help of this fear, he has arrived at the doorway of love.  For humility is the door to the kingdom, opening up to those who come near.

            Those of us who wish to gain understanding must never stop examining ourselves and if in the perception of your soul you realize that your neighbor is superior to you in all respects, then the mercy of God is surely near at hand.

            Whoever is eager for the peaceful haven of humility will never cease to do all he possibly can to get there, and with words and thoughts, with considerations and explanations, with questionings and probings, with every device, with prayer and supplication, with meditation and reflection, he will push onward, helped by God, humiliated and despised and toiling mightily, and he will sail the ship of his soul out from the ever-stormy ocean of vainglory.

35-64            St. John then describes how to cultivate the presence of humility within our hearts.  The truly humble, he teaches, will never trust in himself or his own strength.  He who has genuine humility will not sin voluntarily.  Through his lowly self-abasing actions he will seek to form this virtue in his soul.  Humble is as humble does!

            Some drive out empty pride by thinking to the end of their lives of their past misdeeds, for which they were forgiven and which now serve as a spur to humility.  Others, remembering the passion of Christ, think of themselves as eternally in debt.  Others hold themselves in contempt when they think of their daily lapses.  Others come to possess this mother of graces by way of their continuous temptations, weaknesses, and sins. There are some - and I cannot say if they are to be found nowadays - who humble themselves in proportion to the gifts they receive from God and live with a sense of their unworthiness to have such wealth bestowed on them, so that each day they think of themselves as sinking further into debt. That is real humility, real beatitude, a real reward!  And you may be sure that it is by this particularly blessed route that anyone has traveled who in a few short years has arrived at the summit of dispassion.

            . . . God is delighted when He sees us courting dishonor for the purpose of crushing, striking, and destroying our empty esteem.  And virtue of this sort comes only from a complete abandonment of the world and only the really great can endure the derision of their own folk.

            A lemon tree naturally lifts its branches upwards when it has no fruit.  The more its branches bend, the more fruit you will find there.  The meaning of this will be clear to the man disposed to understand it. 

            Just as birds fear the sight of a hawk, those who practice humility fear the sound of an argument.

            A humble man will always hate his own will as a cause of error.  In his petitions to the Lord which he makes with unwavering faith he learns what he should do and obeys.  He does not spend his time scrutinizing the lifestyle of his superiors.  He lays all his burden on the God Who used an ass to teach Balaam what had to be done.  All the acts, thoughts, and words of such a man are directed to the will of God and he never trusts himself.  Indeed, to a humble man, self-confidence is as much a thorn and a burden as the orders of someone else are to a proud man.

            Humility cannot be genuine and at one and the same time have a worldly strain.  Genuine humility is not in us if we fall into voluntary sin, and this is the sign that there is something material still within us.
            The Lord understood that the virtue of the soul is shaped by our outward behavior.  He therefore took a towel and showed us how to walk by the road of humility (cf. John 13:4).  The soul indeed is molded by the doings of the body, conforming to and taking shape from what it does.

            A man who sits on a throne acts in one way, and the man who sits on a dunghill acts in another.  That, perhaps, is the reason why that great and just man sat on the dunghill outside the city.  Totally humbled, he said in all sincerity, "I despise myself, waste away" (Job 42:6), and have regarded myself as dust and ashes.

            Humility has its signs.  It also has its sinews and its ways, and these are as follows - - poverty, withdrawal from the world, the concealment of one's wisdom, simplicity of speech, the seeking of alms, the disguising of one's nobility, the exclusion of free and easy relationships, the banishment of idle talk.
            Nothing can ever so humble the soul as destitution and the subsistence of a beggar.  We will show ourselves true lovers of wisdom and of God if we stubbornly run away from all possibility of aggrandizement.

65-66            St. John concludes by reminding us once again that humility is not a virtue that one obtains through struggle alone, but it is given by God and comes through loving union with Him.

            Someone discovered in his heart how beautiful humility is, and in his amazement he asked her to reveal here parent's name.  Humility smiled, joyous and serene: "Why are you in such a rush to learn the name of my begetter?  He has no name, nor will I reveal him to you until you have God for your possession.  To Whom be glory forever."  Amen.






  

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Ladder of Divine Ascent - Step Twenty-Four on Meekness, Guilelessness and Simplicity



          
              Having shown us the danger of pride, St. John wishes to lead us step by step to the virtue of humility (Step 25).  Before we consider humility, however, he insists that we must seek meekness.  What is meekness?  St. John answers: "Meekness is a mind consistent amid honor and dishonor; meekness prays quietly and sincerely for a neighbor however troublesome he may be; meekness is a rock looking out over the sea of anger which breaks the waves which come crashing on it and stays entirely unmoved; meekness works alongside of obedience, guides a religious community, checks frenzy, curbs anger." 
            A meek person 1) is not quick to defend or justify himself in the presence and thoughts of others.  He is not easily unsettled by the words and opinions of others, 2) guards his heart carefully against the intrusion of thoughts of "frenzy (against any thoughts which disturb his internal peace), 3) is calm in the midst of disturbing events; he is not easily excited or provoked, 4) watches over his words, carefully choosing to utter only those which bring peace, 5) does not project himself into conversations or situations in which his presence is not desired, 6) does not jump in to correct everyone and everything, 7) is willing to wait for God to act and does not believe that his action is necessary to God, 8) knows how to pray and to be quiet, 9) has no personal agenda and is concerned only for God's will - recognizing that God's will unfolds itself in ways that are unusual and unexpected.  Thus, even in his concern for God's will, he is willing to calmly wait for God to accomplish His purpose.  When he must act, he does so out of calm faith rather than panicky unbelief.
            It is interesting that St. John connects meekness with simplicity and guilelessness: "A meek soul is a throne of simplicity, but a wrathful mind is a creature of evil." "Guilelessness is the joyful condition of an uncalculating soul."  He use three images as illustrations: childhood, Adam in the Garden and St. Paul the simple. 
            During childhood, he tells us, there is an absence of concern to "fit in".  Those who have struggled for simplicity live much the same.  Fitting in with the crowd, and compromising one's integrity to do so, are not a part of their lifestyle.  They are free from the necessity to change themselves (becoming social/spiritual chameleons) to "fit in" and to meet the expectations of others. 
            From Adam in the Garden we learn that simplicity is the absence of self-awareness.  St. John writes: "As long as Adam has simplicity, he saw neither the nakedness of his soul nor the indecency of his flesh."  Adam was free from the desire to "look in the mirror" and the necessity of "standing on the scale."  Does not a lot of vanity spring from an unhealthy desire to look good in the eyes of other people or to find out how we look to others?  Here we see why St. John keeps mentioning hypocrisy as he discusses simplicity.  Our outside appearance often becomes the equivalent of a mask, designed to keep people from seeing us as we really are.  Our outside appearance becomes divorced from our inner self.  The inherent, simple connection between our inner soul and outer body becomes distorted.  This distortion wreaks havoc on our spiritual lives.              
             From St. Paul the Simple, we learn that simplicity is linked to obedience and firm faith.  St. Paul was a disciple of Antony the Great.  St. Antony thought him too old to be a monk, but Paul submitted to the severest disciplines with such unquestioning obedience that in a relatively short time he acquired holiness and spiritual powers even greater than his master's.  After relating this story, St. John draws this conclusion: "Fight to escape your own cleverness.  If you do, then you will find salvation and an uprightness through Jesus Christ. . . " 
            If we follow the simple path - distrusting our own wisdom, doing the best we can yet realizing that our mind, without warmth of heart is a very weak tool - - then a Godly life will begin to be formed in us.

            Meekness is a mind consistent amid honor and dishonor.  Meekness prays quietly and sincerely for a neighbor however troublesome he may be.  Meekness is a rock looking out over the sea of anger which breaks the waves which come crashing on it and stays entirely unmoved.  Meekness is the bulwark of patience, the door, indeed the mother of love, and the foundation of discernment.  For it is said: "The Lord will teach His ways to the meek" (Ps. 24:9)  And it is meekness that earns pardon for our sins, gives confidence to our prayers and makes a place for the Holy Spirit.  "To whom shall I look if not the meek and the peaceful?" (Is. 66:2).
            Meekness works alongside of obedience, guides a religious community, checks frenzy, curbs anger.  It is a minister of joy, an imitation of Christ, the possession of angels, a shackle for demons, a shield against bitterness.  The Lord finds rest in the hearts of the meek, while the turbulent spirit is the home of the devil.  "The meek shall inherit the earth" (Matt. 5:5), indeed, rule over it; and the bad-tempered shall be carried off as booty from their land.
            A meek soul is a throne of simplicity, but a wrathful mind is a creator of evil.
            A gentle soul will make a place for wise words, since the "Lord will guide the meek in judgment" (Ps. 24:9), or rather, in discretion.

            Hypocrisy is soul and body in a state of opposition to each other, intertwined with every kind of invention.
            Guilelessness is the joyful condition of an uncalculating soul.
            Honesty is innocent thought, a genuine character, speech that is neither artificial nor premeditated.

            Malice is honesty perverted, a deluded thought, a lying disposition, perjury, and ambiguous words.  Malice is a false heart, an abyss of cunning, deceit that has become habitual, pride that is second nature.  It is the foe of humility, a fake penitence, mourning depleted, a refusal to confess, an insistence on getting one's own way.  It is the agent of lapses, a hindrance to resurrection, a tolerance of wrongdoing, false-grief, false reverence.  It is life gone diabolical.

            Let us run from the precipice of hypocrisy, from the pit of duplicity.

            Unadorned simplicity is the first characteristic of childhood.  As long as Adam had it, he saw neither the nakedness of his soul nor the indecency of his flesh.

            If you wish to draw the Lord to you, approach Him as disciples to a master, in all simplicity, openly, honestly, without duplicity, without idle curiosity.  He is simple and uncompounded.  And he wants the souls that come to Him to be simple and pure.  Indeed you will never see simplicity separated from humility.
            The evil man is a false prophet.  He imagines that from words he can catch thoughts, from appearance the truth of the heart.

            Paul the Simple, that thrice-blessed man, was a shining example to us.  He was the measure and type of blessed simplicity, and no one has ever seen or heard or could see so much progress in so short a time. 
            A simple monk is like a dumb but rational and obedient animal.  He lays his burden on his spiritual director.  And like the animal who never answers back to the master who yokes him, the upright soul does not talk back to his superior.  Instead, he follows where he is directed to go and will raise no protest even if sent to his death.

            A lapse often saves the clever man, bringing him salvation and innocence in spite of himself.
            Fight to escape from your own cleverness.  If you do, then you will find salvation and an uprightness through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

            If you have the strength to take this step, do not lose heart.  For now you are imitating Christ your Master and you have been saved.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Ladder of Divine Ascent - Step Twenty Three on Pride


St. John says that pride flows out of our love of the praise of men (Vainglory).  Its midpoint is "the shameless parading of our achievements, complacency, and unwillingness to be found out."  It is "the spurning of God's help, the exalting of one's own efforts and a devilish disposition."  In rather frightening words, St. John writes: "A proud monk needs no demon.  He has turned into one, an enemy to himself." 
            How can we recognize that this spiritual ailment is afflicting us?  In a series of proverbs, St. John gives us several signs which manifest its presence in our hearts: 1)  a know-it-all, argumentative spirit, 2) a refusal to obey, a belief that we know better than our spiritual elders, 3) an aversion to correction, a belief that we are beyond the need for reproach and/or instruction, 4) a desire to lead and an innate belief that we know what needs to be done and how it needs to be done better than others, 5) a false humility, 6) a lack of awareness of our own sins and shortcomings, 7) an inflated opinion of our own virtues, 8) a belief that we have attained the blessedness of heaven, a forgetting of the need to finish the race and of the possibility of failure.
            How do we overcome pride in our lives?  Once again, St. John's words are practical and to the point.  His advice can be summarized as follows: 1) it is helpful to keep before us the struggles and virtues of the holy Fathers and saints.  It is so easy for us to compare ourselves with our contemporaries and think that we are doing pretty well.  In our day and age, it is a great temptation for those who are trying to live pious and prayerful lives to begin to think that they are somehow doing a lot for the Lord, that they are waging a serious and dedicated struggle and that they have achieved a level of spiritual maturity.  One has only to look to the Fathers and the Saints to see how shallow and false this kind of thinking is, 2) it is helpful for us to remember how many blessings we have received and to remember how any advancements we have made in the spiritual life are the result not of our own efforts but God's mercy, 3) it is helpful to remember that everything we obtain by way of struggle in the spiritual life is offered to us only because of the struggle of Christ.  No matter how hard we struggle, without Christ there would be no victory.  The doors of Heaven would still be closed.  The grave would still have its claim on us and we would be shut out from the presence of God.  "If we were to die ten thousand times for Christ, we should still not have repaid what we owe, for in value rather than in physical substance there is no comparison between the blood of God and that of His servants."
            "Such is the twenty-third step.  Whoever climbs it, if indeed any can, will certainly be strong."
  

1-4            Pride defined: Where it begins and ends.

            Pride is a denial of God, an invention of the devil, contempt for men.  It is the mother of condemnation, the offspring of praise, a sign of barrenness.  It is a flight from God's help, the harbinger of madness, the author of downfall.  It is the cause of diabolical possession, the source of anger, the gateway of hypocrisy.  It is the fortress of demons, the custodian of sins, the source of hardheartedness.  It is the denial of compassion, a bitter pharisee, a cruel judge.  It is the foe of God.  It is the root of blasphemy.
            Pride begins where vainglory leaves off.  Its midpoint comes with the humiliation of our neighbor, the shameless parading of our achievements, complacency, and unwillingness to be found out.  It ends with the spurning of God's help, the exalting of one's own efforts and a devilish disposition.



5-13            Signs which manifest prides presence in our hearts.

            A proud monk argues bitterly with others.  The humble monk is loath to contradict them.
            The cypress tree does not bend to the ground in order to walk, nor does the haughty monk in order to gain obedience.
            The proud man wants to be in charge of things.  He would feel lost otherwise.

            For the proud correction is a fall . . .  .
           
            To reject criticism is to show pride, while to accept it is to show oneself free of this fetter.
            Pride loses the profits of all hard work and sweat.  They clamored, but there was none to save them, because they clamored with pride.  They clamored to God and He paid no heed since they were not really trying to root out the faults against which they were praying.
            An old man, very experienced in these matters, once spiritually admonished a proud brother who said in his blindness: "Forgive me, father, but I am not proud."  "My son," said the wise old man, "what better proof of your pride could you have given than to claim that you were not proud?"

14-24            What attitudes and behaviors help one to overcome pride.

            A help to the proud is submissiveness, a tougher and humbler mode of life, and the reading of the supernatural feats of the Fathers.

            While it is disgraceful to be puffed up over the adornments of others, it is sheer lunacy to imagine that one has deserved the gifts of God.  You may be proud only of the achievements you had before he time of your birth.  But anything after that, indeed the birth itself, is a gift from God.  You may claim only those virtues in you that are there independently of your mind, for your mind was bestowed on you by God.  And you may claim only those victories you achieved independently of the body, for the body too is not yours but a work of God.

            If we were to die ten thousand times for Christ, we would still not have repaid what we owe, for in value rather than physical substance there is no comparison between the blood of God and that of His servants.
            We should always be on the lookout to compare ourselves with the Fathers and the lights who have gone before us.  If we do, we will discover that we have scarcely begun the ascetic life, that we have hardly kept our vow in a holy manner, and that our thinking is still rooted in the world.

25-31            Some of pride's distinctive qualities.

            Pride makes us forget our sins, for the remembrance of them leads to humility.
            Pride is utter poverty of soul disguised as riches, imaginary light where in fact there is darkness.  This abominable vice not only stops our progress but even tosses us down from the heights we have reached.
            A proud monk needs no demon.  He has turned into one, an enemy to himself.

            It happens, I do not know how, that most of the proud never really discover their true selves. They think they have conquered their passions and they find out how poor they really are only after they die.
            The man ensnared by pride will need God's help, since man is of no use to him.


32-34            Origin and Offspring.

            I captured this senseless deceiver once.  It was rising up in my heart and on its shoulders was vainglory, its mother.  I roped them with the noose of obedience and flailed them with the whip of humility.  Then I lashed them and asked how they had managed to gain access to me.  "We have no beginning and no birth," they said, "for we are the source and the begetters of all the passions.  The strongest opposition to us comes from the contrition of heart that grows out of obedience.  We can endure no authority over us, which is why we fell from heaven where we surely had authority.  In short, we are the authors and the progenitors of everything opposed to humility, for everything that favors humility brings us low.  We prevail everywhere except in heaven.  So, then, where will you run to escape us?  You will find us often where there is patient endurance of dishonor, where there is obedience and freedom from anger, where there is willingness to bear no grudge, where one's neighbor is served.  And our children are the falls of those who lead the life of the spirit.  Their names: Anger, Calumny, Spite, Irascibility, Yelling, Blasphemy, Hypocrisy, Hatred, Envy, Argumentativeness, Self-will, Disobedience.
            There is only one thing with which we cannot interfere, and the violence you do us will make us admit what this is.  If you can honestly condemn yourself before the Lord, then indeed you will find us as flimsy as a cobweb.  For, you see, Vainglory is pride's saddle-horse on which I am mounted.  But holy Humility and Self-deprecation will laugh at the horse and its rider and will joyfully sing the song of triumph: `Let us sing to the Lord, for He has been truly glorified.  Horse and rider He has thrown into the sea' (Exodus 15:1), into the depths of humility."

35-48            In these final paragraphs St. John discusses blasphemy and blasphemous thoughts and how they may be overcome.

            This atrocious foe has the habit of appearing during the holy services and even at the awesome hour of the Mysteries, and blaspheming the Lord and the consecrated elements, thereby showing that these unspeakable, unacceptable, and unthinkable words are not ours but rather those of the God-hating demon who fled from heaven because, it seems, of the blasphemies he uttered there too against the Lord.  It must be so, for if these dreadful and unholy words are my own, how could I offer humble worship after having partaken of the sacred gift?  How could I revile and praise at the same time?
            This deceiver, this destroyer of souls, has often caused men to go mad.  And no other thought is as difficult to admit in confession, which is why so many are dogged by it all their days.  In fact nothing gives demons and evil thoughts such power over us as to nourish them and hide them in our hearts unconfessed.
            If you have blasphemous thoughts, do not think that you are to blame.  God knows what is in our hearts and He knows that ideas of this kind come not from us but from our enemies.

            Those unclean and unspeakable thoughts come at us when we are praying, but, if we continue to pray to the end, they will retreat, for they do not struggle against those who resist them. 
            This unholy demon not only blasphemes God and everything that is divine.  It stirs up the dirtiest and most obscene thoughts within us, thereby trying to force us to give up praying or to fall into despair.  It stops the prayer of many and turns many away from the holy Mysteries.  It has evilly and tyrannously caused the bodies of some to be worn away with grief.  It has exhausted others with fasting and has given them no rest.  It has struck at people living in the world, and also at those leading the monastic life, whispering that there is no salvation in store for them, murmuring that they are more to be pitied than any unbeliever or pagan.
            Anyone disturbed by the spirit of blasphemy and wishing to be rid of it should bear in mind that thoughts of this type do not originate in his own soul but are caused by that unclean devil who once said to the Lord: "I will give you all this if only You fall down and adore me." (Matt. 4:9).  So let us make light of him and pay no regard whatever to his promptings.  Let us say: "Get behind me Satan!  I will worship the Lord my God and I will serve only Him" (Matt. 4:10).  May your word and your effort rebound on you, and your blasphemies come down on your own head now and in the world to come."  To tackle the demon of blasphemy in any way other than this is to be like a man trying to hold lightning in his hands.  For how can you take a grip on, seize, or grapple with someone who flits into the heart quicker than the wind, talks more rapidly than a flash, and then immediately vanishes?  Every other kind of foe stops, struggles a while, lingers and gives one time to grapple with him.  But not this one.  He hardly appears and is gone again immediately.  He barely speaks and then vanishes.

            Let us refrain from passing judgment or condemnation on our neighbor.  If we do, then we will not be terrorized by blasphemous thoughts, since the one produces the other.

            Hold this foe in contempt and you will be liberated from its torments.  Try cleverly to fight it and you will end up surrendering, for the man who tries to conquer spirits by talk is like someone hoping to lock up the winds.

            He who has defeated this vice has banished pride.