Briefly, we may say that in the nature of things, if someone wants to be saved, no person and no time, place or occupation can prevent him. He must not, however, act contrary to the objective that he has in view, but must with discrimination refer every thought to the divine purpose. Things do not happen out of necessity: they depend upon the person through whom they happen. We do not sin against our will, but we first assent to an evil thought and so fall into captivity. Then the thought itself carries the captive forcibly and against his wishes into sin.
The same is true of sins that occur through ignorance: they arise from sins consciously committed. For unless a man is drunk with either wine or desire, he is not unaware of what he is doing; but such drunkenness obscures the intellect and so it falls, and dies as a result. Yet that death has not come about inexplicably: it has been unwittingly induced by the drunkenness to which we consciously assented. We will find many instances, especially in our thoughts, where we fall from what is within our control to what is outside it, and from what we are consciously aware of to what is unwitting. But because the first appears unimportant and attractive, we slip unintentionally and unawares into the second. Yet if from the start we had wanted to keep the commandments and to remain as we were when baptized, we would not have fallen into so many sins or have needed the trials and tribulations of repentance.
A humble man is never rash, hasty or perturbed, never has any hot and volatile thoughts, but at all times remains calm. Even if heaven were to fall and cleave to the earth, the humble man would not be dismayed. Not every quiet man is humble, but every humble man is quiet. There is no humble man who is not self-constrained; but you will find many who are self-constrained without being humble. This is also what the meek humble Lord meant when He said, ‘Learn of Me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.’ [Matt 11:29] For the humble man is always at rest, because there is nothing which can agitate or shake his mind. Just as no one can frighten a mountain, so the mind of a humble man cannot be frightened. If it be permissible and not incongruous, I should say that the humble man is not of this world. For he is not troubled and altered by sorrows, nor amazed and enthused by joys, but all his gladness and his real rejoicing are in the things of his Master. Humility is accompanied by modesty and self-collectedness: that is, chastity of the senses; a moderate voice; mean speech; self-belittlement; poor raiment; a gait that is not pompous; a gaze directed towards the earth; superabundant mercy; easily flowing tears; a solitary soul; a contrite heart; imperturbability to anger; undistributed senses; few possessions; moderation in every need; endurance; patience; fearlessness; manliness of heart born of a hatred of this temporal life; patient endurance of trials; deliberations that are ponderous, not light, extinction of thoughts; guarding of the mysteries of chastity; modesty, reverence; and above all, continually to be still and always to claim ignorance.
“In the words of the psalmist, ‘As you lie in bed, repent of what you say in your heart’ (Ps. 4:4 LXX), that is, repent in the stillness of the night, remembering the lapses that occurred in the confusion of the day and disciplining yourself in hymns and spiritual songs (cf. Col. 3:16) – in other words, teaching yourself to persist in prayer and psalmody through attentive meditation on what you read. For the practice of the moral virtues is effectuated by meditating on what has happened during the day, so that during the stillness of the night we can become aware of the sins we have committed and can grieve over them.”
“The thoughts that vex and annoy us have many distinctions: a provocation, or an attack of a thought, is not a sin but is a test of our free will, to what it is inclined—to the thought or to opposition of it. However, when there is agreement and communion with these passions it is considered to be a sin and repentance is needed. He who does not have the strength to oppose them himself must hasten to God, cast down his infirmity and implore His help and the help of the mother of God. When someone is conquered by thoughts it is a sign that pride preceded them, and therefore, he must humble himself more.”
“Our invisible enemy plants a sinful thought in the soul of a person, and then records it as if it were the person’s own thought, so that later he can accuse the person at the terrible judgement of God.”
“When bad thoughts are planted in you, then cry to God: ‘Lord, my Maker and Creator. You see that my soul is in agony from bad thoughts. Have mercy on me.’ Teach yourself to root out thoughts immediately. But when you forget and don’t root them out immediately, then offer repentance. Work on this, so that you get a habit.”
“My House shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.”
Everyone knows that a church calls for reverence, for a collecting of thoughts, for deep thinking about God, and for standing in the presence of God, but who fulfills this? People go to church with a desire to pray, to stand in it for a while with warm fervour; but then thoughts begin to wander, and bargaining begins in one’s head even louder than that which the Lord found in the Jerusalem temple.
Why is this so?
Because the way one stands in church is a reflection of one’s entire life. As people live, so do they behave in church. A church influences and somewhat supports spiritual movements; but then the usual course of one’s spiritual constitution takes over.
Therefore if you want your time in church to consist of worthily standing in the face of the Lord, prepare for this in your ordinary life; walk, as much as you can, in a prayerful frame of mind.
This labour will bring you to the point that in church also you will stand reverently all the time. This reverence will inspire you to be reverent in your ordinary life as well. Thus you will walk ever higher and higher. Say, ‘O Lord, help’ —and begin!
The demons attack the person who has attained the summits of prayer in order to prevent his conceptual images of sensible things from being free from passion; they attack the gnostic so that he will dally with impassioned thoughts; and they attack the person who has not advanced beyond the practice of the virtues so as to persuade him to sin through his actions. They contend with all men by every possible means in order to separate them from God.
To deny oneself means to give up one’s bad habits; to root out of the heart all that ties us to the world; not to cherish bad thoughts or desires; to suppress every evil thought; not to desire to do anything out of self love, but to do everything out of love for God.