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Evagrios the Solitary...Texts on Discrimination in respect of Passions and Thoughts

Excerpts from The Philokalia

Evagrios the Solitary


Volume 1: p. 38

Texts on Discrimination in respect of Passions and Thoughts

1. Of the demons opposing us in the practice of the ascetic life, there are three groups who fight in the front line: those entrusted with the appetites of gluttony, those who suggest avaricious thoughts, and those who incite us to seek the esteem of men. All the other demons follow behind and in their turn attack those already wounded by the first three groups. For one does not fall into the power of the demon of unchastity, unless one has first fallen because of gluttony; nor is one's anger aroused unless one is fighting for food or material possessions or the esteem of men. And one does not escape the demon of dejection, unless one no longer experiences suffering when deprived of these things. Nor will one escape pride, the first offspring of the devil, unless one has banished avarice, the root of all evil, since poverty makes a man humble, according to Solomon (cf. Prov. 10:4. LXX). In short, no one can fall into the power of any demon, unless he has been wounded by those of the front line. That is why the devil suggested these three thoughts to the Savior: first he exhorted Him to turn stones into bread; then he promised Him the whole world, if Christ would fall down and worship him; and thirdly he said that, if our Lord would listen to him, He would be glorified and suffer nothing in falling from the pinnacle of the temple. But our Lord, having shown Himself superior to these temptations, commanded the devil to 'get behind Him'. In this way He teaches us that it is not possible to drive away the devil, unless we scornfully reject these three thoughts (cf. Matt. 4:1-10).

2. All thoughts inspired by the demons produce within us conceptions of sensory objects; and in this way the intellect, with such conceptions imprinted on it, bears the forms of these objects within itself. So, by recognizing the object presented to it, the intellect knows which demon is approaching. For example, if the face of a person who has done me harm or insulted me appears in my mind, I recognize the demon of rancor approaching. If there is a suggestion of material things or of esteem, again it will be clear which demon is troubling me. In the same way with other thoughts, we can infer from the object appearing in the mind which demon is close at hand, suggesting that object to us. I do not say that all thoughts of such things come from the demons; for when the intellect is activated by man it is its nature to bring forth the images of past events. But all thoughts producing anger or desire in a way that is contrary to nature are caused by demons. For through demonic agitation the intellect mentally commits adultery and becomes incensed. Thus it cannot receive the vision of God, who sets us in order; for the divine splendor only appears to the intellect during prayer, when the intellect is free from conceptions of sensory objects.

3. Man cannot drive away impassioned thoughts unless he watches over his desire and incensive power. He destroys desire through fasting, vigils and sleeping on the ground, and he tames his incensive power through longsuffering, forbearance, forgiveness and acts of compassion. For with these two passions are connected almost all the demonic thoughts which lead the intellect to disaster and perdition. It is impossible to overcome these passions unless we can rise above attachment to food and possessions, to self-esteem and even to our very body, because it is through the body that the demons often attempt to attack us. It is essential, then, to imitate people who are in danger at sea and throw things overboard because of the violence of the winds and the threatening waves. But here we must be very careful in case we cast things overboard just to be seen doing so by men. For then we shall get the reward we want; but we shall suffer another shipwreck, worse than the first, blown off our course by the contrary wind of the demon of self-esteem. That is why our Lord, instructing the intellect, our helmsman, says in the Gospels: 'Take heed that you do not give alms in front of others, to be seen by them; for unless you take heed, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.' Again, He says: 'When you pray, you must not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in synagogues and at street-corners, so as to be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they get the reward they want. . . . Moreover when you fast, do not put on a gloomy face, like the hypocrites; for they disfigure their faces, so that they may be seen by men to be fasting. Truly I say to you, they get the reward they want' (cf. Matt. 6: 1-18). Observe how the Physician of souls here corrects our incensive power through acts of compassion, purifies the intellect through prayer, and through fasting withers desire. By means of these virtues the new Adam is formed, made again according to the image of his Creator - an Adam in whom, thanks to dispassion, there is 'neither male nor female' and, thanks to singleness of faith, there is 'neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free; but Christ is all, and in all' (Gal. 3:28; Col. 3: 10:11).

4. We shall now enquire how, in the fantasies that occur during sleep, the demons imprint shapes and forms on our intellect. Normally the intellect receives these shapes and forms either through the eyes when it is seeing, or through the ears when it is hearing, or through some other sense, or else through the memory, which stirs up and imprints on the intellect things which it has experienced through the body. Now it seems to me that in our sleep, when the activity of our bodily senses is suspended, it is by arousing the memory that the demons make this imprint. But, in that case, how do the demons arouse the memory? Is it through the passions? Clearly this is so, for those in a state of purity and dispassion no longer experience demonic fantasies in sleep. There is also an activity of the memory that is not demonic: it is caused by ourselves or by the angelic powers, and through it we may meet with saints and delight in their company. We should notice in addition that during sleep the memory stirs up, without the body's participation, those very images which the soul has received in association with the body. This is clear from the fact that we often experience such images during sleep, when the body is at rest.

Just as it is possible to think of water both while thirsty and while not thirsty, so it is possible to think of gold with greed and without greed. The same applies to other things. Thus if we can discriminate in this way between one kind of fantasy and another, we can then recognize the artfulness of the demons. We should be aware, too, that the demons also use external things to produce fantasies, such as the sound of waves heard at sea.

5. When our incensive power is aroused in a way contrary to nature, it greatly furthers the aim of the demons and is an ally in all their evil designs. Day and night, therefore, they are always trying to provoke it. And when they see it tethered by gentleness, they at once try to set it free on some seemingly just pretext; in this way, when it is violently aroused, they can use it for their shameful purposes. So it must not be aroused either for just or for unjust reasons; and we must not hand a dangerous sword to those too readily incensed to wrath, for it often happens that people become excessively worked up for quite trivial reasons. Tell me, why do you rush into battle so quickly, if you are really above caring about food, possessions and glory? Why keep a watchdog if you have renounced everything? If you do, and it barks and attacks other men, it is clear that there are still some possessions for it to guard. But since I know that wrath is destructive of pure prayer, the fact that you cannot control it shows how far you are from such prayer. I am also surprised that you have forgotten the saints: David who exclaims, 'Cease from anger, and put aside your wrath’ (Ps. 37:8. LXX); and Ecclesiastes who urges us, 'Remove wrath from your heart, and put away evil from your flesh' (Eccles. 11:10. LXX); while the Apostle commands that always and everywhere men should 'lift up holy hands, without anger and without quarrelling’ (1 Tim. 2:8). And do we not learn the same from the mysterious and ancient custom of putting dogs out of the house during prayer? This indicates that there should be no wrath in those who pray. 'Their wine is the wrath of serpents' (Deut. 32:33. LXX); that is why the Nazarenes abstained from wine.

It is needless to insist that we should not worry about clothes or food. The Savior Himself forbids this in the Gospels: 'Do not worry about what to eat or drink, or about what to wear' (cf. Matt. 6:25). Such anxiety is a mark of the Gentiles and unbelievers, who reject the providence of the Lord and deny the Creator. An attitude of this kind is entirely wrong for Christians who believe that even two sparrows which are sold for a farthing are under the care of the holy angels (cf. Matt. 10: 29). The demons, however, after arousing impure thoughts, go on to suggest worries of this kind, so that 'Jesus conveys Himself away', because of the multitude of concerns in our mind (cf. John 5:13). The divine word can bear no fruit, being choked by our cares. Let us, then, renounce these cares, and throw them down before the Lord, being content with what we have at the moment; and living in poverty and rags, let us day by day rid ourselves of all that fills us with self-esteem. If anyone thinks it shameful to live in rags, he should remember St Paul, who 'in cold and nakedness' patiently awaited the 'crown of righteousness' (2 Cor. 11:27; 2 Tim. 4:8). The Apostle likened this world to a contest in an arena (cf. 1 Cor. 9:24); how then can someone clothed with anxious thoughts run for 'the prize of the high calling of God' (Phil. 3:14), or 'wrestle against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world' (Eph. 6:12)? I do not see how this is possible; for just as a runner is obstructed and weighed down by clothing, so too is the intellect by anxious thoughts - if indeed the saying is true that the intellect is attached to its own treasure; for it is said, 'where your treasure is, there will your heart be also' (Matt. 6:21).

6. Sometimes thoughts are cut off, and sometimes they do the cutting off. Evil thoughts cut off good thoughts, and in turn are cut off by good thoughts. The Holy Spirit therefore notes to which thought we give priority and condemns or approves us accordingly. What I mean is something like this: the thought occurs to me to give hospitality and it is for the Lord's sake; but when the tempter attacks, this thought is cut off and in its place he suggests giving hospitality for the sake of display. Again, the thought comes to me of giving hospitality so as to appear hospitable in the eyes of others. But this thought in its turn is cut off when a better thought comes, which leads me to practice this virtue for the Lord's sake and not so as to gain esteem from men.

7. We have learnt, after much observation, to recognize the difference between angelic thoughts, human thoughts, and thoughts that come from demons. Angelic thought is concerned with the true nature of things and with searching out their spiritual essences. For example, why was gold created and scattered like sand in the lower regions of the earth, to be found only with much toil and effort? And how, when found, is it washed in water and committed to the fire, and then put into the hands of craftsmen who fashion it into the candlestick of the tabernacle and the censers and the vessels (cf. Exod. 25:22-39) from which, by the grace of our Savior, the king of Babylon no longer drinks (cf. Dan. 5:2, 3)? A man such as Cleopas brings a heart burning with these mysteries (cf. Luke 24:32). Demonic thought, on the other hand, neither knows nor can know such things. It can only shamelessly suggest the acquisition of physical gold, looking forward to the wealth and glory that will come from this. Finally, human thought neither seeks to acquire gold nor is concerned to know what it symbolizes, but brings before the mind simply the image of gold, without passion or greed. The same principle applies to other things as well.

8. There is a demon, known as the deluder, who visits the brethren especially at dawn, and leads the intellect about from city to city, from village to village, from house to house, pretending that no passions are aroused through such visits; but then the intellect goes on to meet and talk with old acquaintances at greater length, and so allows its own state to be corrupted by those it encounters. Little by little it falls away from the knowledge of God and holiness, and forgets its calling. Therefore the solitary must watch this demon, noting where he comes from and where he ends up; for this demon does not make this long circuit without purpose and at random, but because he wishes to corrupt the state of the solitary, so that his intellect, over-excited by all this wandering, and intoxicated by its many meetings, may immediately fall prey to the demons of unchastity, anger or dejection - the demons that above all others destroy its inherent brightness.

But if we really want to understand the cunning of this demon, we should not be hasty in speaking to him, or tell others what is taking place, how he is compelling us to make these visits in our mind and how he is gradually driving the intellect to its death - for then he will flee from us, as he cannot bear to be seen doing this; and so we shall not grasp any of the things we are anxious to learn. But, instead, we should allow him one more day, or even two, to play out his role, so that we can learn about his deceitfulness in detail; then, mentally rebuking him, we put him to flight. But because during temptation the intellect is clouded and does not see exactly what is happening, do as follows after the demon has withdrawn. Sit down and recall in solitude the things that have happened: where you started and where you went, in what place you were seized by the spirit of unchastity, dejection or anger and how it all happened. Examine these things closely and commit them to memory, so that you will then be ready to expose the demon when he next approaches you. Try to become conscious of the weak spot in yourself which he hid from you, and you will not follow him again. If you wish to enrage him, expose him at once when he reappears, and tell him just where you went first, and where next, and so on. For he becomes very angry and cannot bear the disgrace. And the proof that you spoke to him effectively is that the thoughts he suggested leave you. For he cannot remain in action when he is openly exposed. The defeat of this demon is followed by heavy sleepiness and deadness, together with a feeling of great coldness in the eyelids, countless yawnings, and heaviness in the shoulders. But if you pray intensely all this is dispersed by the Holy Spirit.

9. Hatred against the demons contributes greatly to our salvation and helps our growth in holiness. But we do not of ourselves have the power to nourish this hatred into a strong plant, because the pleasure-loving spirits restrict it and encourage the soul again to indulge in its old habitual loves. But this indulgence - or rather this gangrene that is so hard to cure - the Physician of souls heals by abandoning us. For He permits us to undergo some fearful suffering night and day, and then the soul returns again to its original hatred, and learns like David to say to the Lord: 'I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them my enemies' (Ps. 139: 22). For a man hates his enemies with perfect hatred when he sins neither in act nor in thought - which is a sign of complete dispassion.

10. Now what am I to say about the demon who makes the soul obtuse? For I am afraid to write about him: how, at his approach, the soul departs from its own proper state and strips itself of reverence and the fear of God, no longer regarding sin as sin, or wickedness as wickedness; it looks on judgment and the eternal punishment of hell as mere words; it laughs at the fire which causes the earth to tremble; and, while supposedly confessing God, it has no understanding of His commandments. You may beat your breast as such a soul draws near to sin, but it takes no notice. You recite from the Scripture, yet it is wholly indifferent and will not hear. You point out its shame and disgrace among men, and it ignores you, like a pig that closes its eyes and charges through a fence. This demon gets into the soul by way of long-continuing thoughts of self-esteem; and unless 'those days are shortened, no flesh will be saved' (Matt. 24:22).

This is one of those demons that seldom approach brethren living in a community. The reason is clear: when people round us fall into misfortune, or are afflicted by illness, or are suffering in prison, or meet sudden death, this demon is driven out; for the soul has only to experience even a little compunction or compassion and the callousness caused by the demon is dissolved. We solitaries lack these things, because we live in the wilderness and sickness is rare among us. It was to banish this demon especially that the Lord enjoined us in the Gospels to call on the sick and visit those in prison. For 'I was sick,' He says, 'and you visited Me' (Matt. 25:36).

But you should know this: if an anchorite falls in with this demon, yet does not admit unchaste thoughts or leave his cell out of listlessness, this means he has received the patience and self-restraint that come from heaven, and is blessed with dispassion. Those, on the other hand, who profess to practice godliness, yet choose to have dealings with people of the world, should be on their guard against this demon. I feel ashamed to say or write more about him.

11. All the demons teach the soul to love pleasure; only the demon of dejection refrains from doing this, since he corrupts the thoughts of those he enters by cutting off every pleasure of the soul and drying it up through dejection, for 'the bones of the dejected are dried up' (Prov. 17:22. LXX). Now if this demon attacks only to a moderate degree, he makes the anchorite more resolute; for he encourages him to seek nothing worldly and to shun all pleasures. But when the demon remains for longer, he encourages the soul to give up, or forces it to run away. Even Job was tormented by this demon, and it was because of this that he said: '0 that I might lay hands upon myself, or at least ask someone else to do this for me' (Job 30:24. LXX).

The symbol of this demon is the viper. When used in moderation for man's good, its poison is an antidote against that of other venomous creatures, but when taken in excess it kills whoever takes it. It was to this demon that Paul delivered the man at Corinth who had fallen into sin. That is why he quickly wrote again to the Corinthians saying: 'Confirm your love towards him . . . lest perhaps he should be swallowed up with too great dejection' (2 Cor. 2:7-8). He knew that this spirit, in troubling men, can also bring about true repentance. It was for this reason that St John the Baptist gave the name 'progeny of vipers' to those who were goaded by this spirit to seek refuge in God, saying: 'Who has warned you to flee from the anger to come? Bring forth fruits, then, that testify to your repentance; and do not think that you can justsay within yourselves. We have Abraham as our father' (Matt. 3:7-9). But if a man imitates Abraham and leaves his country and kindred (cf. Gen. 12:1), he thereby becomes stronger than this demon.

12. He who has mastery over his incensive power has mastery also over the demons. But anyone who is a slave to it is a stranger to the monastic life and to the ways of our Savior, for as David said of the Lord: 'He will teach the gentle His ways' (Ps. 25:9). The intellect of the solitary is hard for the demon to catch, for it shelters in the land of gentleness. There is scarcely any other virtue which the demons fear as much as gentleness. Moses possessed this virtue, for he was called 'very gentle, above all men' (Num. 12:3). And David showed that it makes men worthy to be remembered by God when he said: 'Lord, remember David and all his gentleness' (Ps. 132:1. LXX). And the Savior Himself also enjoined us to imitate Him in His gentleness, saying: 'Learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart: and you will find rest for your souls' (Matt. 11:29). Now if a man abstains from food and drink, but becomes incensed to wrath because of evil thoughts, he is like a ship sailing the open sea with a demon for pilot. So we must keep this watchdog under careful control, training him to destroy only the wolves and not to devour the sheep, and to show the greatest gentleness towards all men.

13. In the whole range of evil thoughts, none is richer in resources than self-esteem; for it is to be found almost everywhere, and like some cunning traitor in a city it opens the gates to all the demons. So it greatly debases the intellect of the solitary, filling it with many words and notions, and polluting the prayers through which he is saying anything that contributes to the sense of your own importance.

14. When the intellect of the solitary attains some small degree of dispassion, it mounts the horse of self-esteem and immediately rides off into cities, taking its fill of the lavish praise accorded to its repute. But by God's providence the spirit of unchastity now confronts it and shuts it up in a sty of dissipation. This is to teach it to stay in bed until it is completely recovered and not to act like disobedient patients who, before they are fully cured of their disease, start taking walks and baths and so fall sick again. Let us sit still and keep our attention fixed within ourselves, so that we advance in holiness and resist vice more strongly. Awakened in this way to spiritual knowledge, we shall acquire contemplative insight into many things; and ascending still higher, we shall receive a clearer vision of the light of our Savior.

15. I cannot write about all the villainies of the demons; and I feel ashamed to speak about them at length and in detail, for fear of harming the more simple-minded among my readers. But let me tell you about the cunning of the demon of unchastity. When a man has acquired dispassion in the appetitive part of his soul and shameful thoughts cool down within him, this demon at once suggests images of men and women playing with one another, and makes the solitary a spectator of shameful acts and gestures. But this temptation need not be permanent; for intense prayer, a very frugal diet, together with vigils and the development of spiritual contemplation, drive it away like a light cloud. There are times when this cunning demon even touches the flesh, inflaming it to uncontrolled desire; and it devises endless other tricks which need not be described.

Our incensive power is also a good defense against this demon. When it is directed against evil thoughts of this kind, such power fills the demon with fear and destroys his designs. And this is the meaning of the statement: 'Be angry, and do not sin' (Ps. 4:4). Such anger is a useful medicine for the soul at times of temptation.

The demon of anger employs tactics resembling those of the demon of unchastity. For he suggests images of our parents, friends or kinsmen being gratuitously insulted; and in this way he excites our incensive power, making us say or do something vicious to those who appear in our minds. We must be on our guard against these fantasies and expel them quickly from our mind, for if we dally with them, they will prove a blazing firebrand to us during prayer. People prone to anger are especially liable to fall into these temptations; and if they do, then they are far from pure prayer and from the knowledge of our Savior Jesus Christ.

16. As sheep to a good shepherd, the Lord has given to man intellections of this present world; for it is written: 'He has given intellection to the heart of every man' (cf. Heb. 10:16). To help man He has given him incensive power and desire, so that with the first he may drive away wolflike intellections, while with the second he may lovingly tend the sheep, even though he is often exposed to rains and winds. In addition, God has given man the law, so that he may shepherd the sheep; He has given him green pastures and refreshing water (cf. Ps. 23:2), a psaltery and harp, a rod and staff. In this way he gathers hay from the mountains, and is fed and clothed from his Hock; for it is written, 'Does anyone feed a Hock and not drink its milk?' (1 Cor. 9:7). Therefore the solitary ought to guard this Hock night and day, making sure that none of the lambs is caught by wild beasts or falls into the hands of thieves. Should this happen in some valley, he must at once snatch the creature from the mouth of the lion or the bear (cf. 1 Sam. 17:35).

What does it mean for the lambs to be caught by wild beasts? It means that when we think about our brother we feed on hatred; when we think about a woman we are moved with shameful lust; when we think about gold and silver we are filled with greed; and likewise when we think about gifts received from God, our mind is gorged with self-esteem. The same happens in the case of other intellections if they are seized by the passions.

We must not only guard this flock by day, but also keep watch at night; for by having fantasies of shameful and evil things we may lose some of the sheep entrusted to us. And this is the meaning of Jacob's words: 'I did not bring you a sheep which was caught by wild beasts; I made good of myself the thefts of the day and the thefts of the night. I was parched with heat by day, and chilled with frost by night, and sleep departed from my eyes' (Gen. 31:39-40. LXX).

If a certain listlessness overtakes us as a result of our efforts, we should climb a little up the rock of spiritual knowledge and play on the harp, plucking the strings with the skills of such knowledge. Let us pasture our sheep below Mount Sinai, so that the God of our fathers may speak to us, too, out of the bush (cf. Exod. 3) and show us the inner essence of signs and wonders.

17. Our spiritual nature, which had become dead through wickedness, is raised once more by Christ through the contemplation of all the ages of creation. And through the spiritual knowledge that He gives of Himself, the Father raises the soul which has died the death of Christ. And this is the meaning of Paul's statement: 'If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him' (cf. 2 Tim. 2:11).

18. When the intellect has shed its fallen state and acquired the state of grace, then during prayer it will see its own nature like a sapphire or the color of heaven. In Scripture this is called the realm of God that was seen by the elders on Mount Sinai (cf. Exod. 24:10).

19. Of the unclean demons, some tempt man in so far as he is man, while others disturb him in so far as he is a nonrational animal. The first, when they approach us, suggest to us notions of self-esteem, pride, envy or censoriousness, notions by which non-rational animals are not affected; whereas the second, when they approach, arouse incensive power and desire in a manner contrary to nature. For these passions are common to us and to animals, and lie concealed beneath our rational and spiritual nature. Hence the Holy Spirit says of the thoughts that come to men in so far as they are men: 'I have said, you are gods, and all of you are children of the most High. But you shall die as men, and fall as one of the princes' (Ps. 82:6-7). But what does He say of the thoughts which stir in men non-rationally? 'Do not be as the horse and mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be controlled with bit and bridle in case they attack you' (Ps. 32:9). Now if 'the soul that sins shall die' (Ezek. 18:4), it is clear that in so far as we die as men we are buried by men, but in so far as we are slain or fall as non-rational animals, we are devoured by vultures and ravens whose young 'cry' to the Lord (Ps. 147:9) and 'roll themselves in blood' (Job 39:30. LXX). 'He that has ears to hear, let him hear' (Matt. 11:15).

20. When one of the enemy approaches you and wounds you, and you wish to turn his sword back into his own heart (cf. Ps. 37:37:15), then do as follows: analyze in yourself the sinful thought that has wounded you, what it is, what it consists of, and what in it especially afflicts the intellect. Suppose, for instance, that a thought full of avarice is suggested to you. Distinguish between the component elements: the intellect which has accepted the thought, the intellection of gold, gold itself, and the passion of avarice. Then ask: in which of these does the sin consist? Is it the intellect? But how then can the intellect be the image of God? Is it the intellection of gold? But what sensible person would ever say that? Then is gold itself the sin? In that case, why was it created? It follows, then, that the cause of the sin is the fourth element, which is neither an objective reality, nor the intellection of something real, but is a certain noxious pleasure which, once it is freely chosen, compels the intellect to misuse what God has created. It is this pleasure that the law of God commands us to cut off. Now as you investigate the thought in this way and analyze it into its components, it will be destroyed; and the demon will take to flight once your mind is raised to a higher level by this spiritual knowledge.

But before using his own sword against him, you may choose first to use your sling against him. Then take a stone from your shepherd's bag and sling it (cf. 1 Sam. 17) by asking these questions: how is it that angels and demons affect our world whereas we do not affect their worlds, for we cannot bring the angels closer to God, and we cannot make the demons more impure? And how was Lucifer, the morning star, cast down to the earth (cf. Isa. 14:12), 'making the deep boil like a brazen cauldron’ (Job 41:31. LXX), disturbing all by his wickedness and seeking to rule over all? Insight into these things grievously wounds the demon and puts all his troops to flight. But this is possible only for those who have been in some measure purified and gained a certain vision of the inner essences of created things; whereas the impure have no insight into these essences, and even if they have been taught by others how to outwit the enemy they will fail because of the great clouds of dust and the turmoil aroused by their passions at the time of battle. For the enemy's troops must be made quiet, so that Goliath alone can face our David. In combat with all unclean thoughts, then, let us use these two methods: analysis of the thought attacking us, and the asking of questions about inner essences.

21. Whenever unclean thoughts have been driven off quickly, we should try to find out why this has happened. Did the enemy fail to overpower us because there was no possibility of the thought idea of bread persists in a hungry man because of his hunger, and the idea of water in a thirsty man because of his thirst, so ideas of material things and of the shameful thoughts that follow a surfeit of food and drink persist in us because of the passions. The same is true about thoughts of self-esteem and other ideas. It is not possible for an intellect choked by such ideas to appear before God and receive the crown of righteousness. It is through being dragged down by such thoughts that the wretched intellect, like the man in the Gospels, declines the invitation to the supper of the knowledge of God (cf. Luke 14:18); and the man who was bound hand and foot and cast into outer darkness (cf. Matt. 22:13) was clothed in a garment woven of these thoughts, and so was judged by the Lord, who had invited him, not to be worthy of the wedding feast. For the true wedding garment is the dispassion of the deiform soul which has renounced worldly desires. [In the texts On Prayer it is explained why dwelling on ideas of sensory objects destroys true knowledge of God.]

23. As we stated at the beginning, there are three chief groups of demons opposing us in the practice of the ascetic life, and after them follows the whole army of the enemy. These three groups fight in the front line, and with impure thoughts seduce our souls into wrongdoing. They are the demons set over the appetites of gluttony, those who suggest to us avaricious thoughts, and those who incite US to seek esteem in the eyes of men. If you long for pure prayer, keep guard over your incensive power; and if you desire self-restraint, control your belly, and do not take your fill even of bread and water. Be vigilant in prayer and avoid all rancor. Let the teachings of the Holy Spirit be always with you; and use the virtues as your hands to knock at the doors of Scripture. Then dispassion of heart will arise within you, and during prayer you will see your intellect shine like a star.
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