Orthodox Spiritual Life (Part VI)

Saint Tikhon the Bishop of Cyprus

Saint Tikhon the Bishop of Cyprus

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,



Saint Tychon the Wonderworker of Cyprus; 40 Holy Martyrs of Rome; St. Mark the Just of



By Saint Silouan the Athonite

"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." --Ephesians 6:12

"Everyone who would follow our Lord Jesus Christ is engaged in spiritual warfare."

--Saint Silouan the Athonite


Spiritual life entails spiritual warfare. For the majority of believers, this warfare refers primarily to the encounter with evil thoughts. [Saint Philotheos of Sinai states succinctly: "It is by means of thoughts that the spirits of evil wage a secret war against the soul. For since the soul is invisible, these malicious powers naturally attack it invisibly." Certainly in cases of more advanced ascetics, direct encounters with demons may occur. Most believers, however, struggle with demons in an indirect way, by confronting and combating intrusive, annoying and sinful thoughts. [Saint Silouan writes: "Along with an evil thought, a hostile power enters into us, and then the soul is clouded, and evil thoughts harass her."]

It cannot be said that every sinful thought comes from demons. The human mind may also be the source of such thoughts. Certainly, regardless of where they may come from, the demons exploit these thoughts. In any case, the enemy works against the believer assaulting him through the manipulation of thoughts. [Saint Athanasius writes in regard to these assaults of the demons, "Should they see any Christians--monks, especially--laboring gladly and advancing, they first attack and tempt them, placing stumbling blocks in the way. Their stumbling blocks consist of evil thoughts" (The Life of Antony 23). To know the enemy is half of the battle. Saint Silouan stresses the vital role of the Holy Spirit in recognizing the enemy. ["Without the Holy Spirit the soul is incapable even of embarking on the struggle, for she neither knows nor understands who and where her enemies are." (Saint Silouan the Athonite, p. 423).

The question arises: just what exactly are these 'thoughts' and how are they defined? In the original Greek term is 'logismos' (λογισμός). It appears in Holy Scripture, where in the context of spiritual life it has pejorative meaning. In the Septuagint (Old Testament translation by 72 Hebrew Scholars: Orthodox Old Testament) the term appears in Proverbs, qualified by the adjective 'kakos' (κακός) which means 'evil' or 'wicked'. An evil or wicked 'logismos' is included in the list of things that are an abomination to the Lord: "A heart that deviseth wicked imaginations [λογισμούς)..." In the New Testament, the Holy Apostle Paul uses the word in reference to spiritual warfare: "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds, casting down imaginations {λογισμούς} and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God..." (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). Here again, the term is found with a negative meaning. His language implies that 'logismoi' lead ultimately away from God.

In Greek Patristic literature the term is usually found in the plural form 'logismoi' (λογισμοί), again with mostly negative connotations. The word is often accompanied by adjectives such as 'evil', 'demonic', 'passionate' or 'sinful' and this shows the unfavorable sense with which the Holy Fathers use this term. When translated into English, this Patristic term is often rendered as 'evil thoughts.' Henceforth it is this particular meaning that will be implied whenever the term 'logismoi' is used.

1. The deceit of the enemy

Saint Silouan refers to 'logismoi' as 'inner voices' or 'suggestions' that tempt man and incite him to sin. ["If an inner voice tells you to steal, and you heed it, by heeding it you give the devil power over you. If a voice whispers to you to eat a lot--to eat your fill--and you do eat and eat, again a devil will have assumed power over you. In the same way, if you let suggestions from any passion get the better of you, you will become the dwelling-place of devils" (Saint Silouan the Athonite, p. 446). He also refers to them as 'another mind' in conflict with our own. ["When you find another mind in conflict with your mind, humble yourself and the struggle will cease" (Saint Silouan the Athonite, p. 445).] In this way the strategy and deceptive techniques of the enemy (evil one) are seen more clearly as he aggressively tries to get inside our minds.

'Logismoi' may be manipulated to stir up anxiety and anger aimed against those people with whom one is closest to. This often includes friends, relatives and fellow members of a parish community, as well as those with whom one is sacramentally linked or has spiritual bonds, even clergy and their families. Whether well founded or not--and usually they are not--these 'logismoi' can end up as passions of extreme anger or even hatred directed towards these innocent 'victims'.

Every believer knows the reality of contending against the wide variety of these intruding thoughts. They continuously bombard him, not only during the day but also throughout the night. This warfare wages throughout one's entire lifetime; indeed it is a life-long struggle. Saint Silouan emphasizes this point quite often. [For example, "The soul's war with the enemy continues until death...Our battle rages every day, every hour...While we are on earth we must learn to wage with the enemy (Evil One) Saint Silouan the Athonite, pages 423-437). He also highlights the severity of the matter. In common military warfare there is the possibility that the human body may be wounded or die. In spiritual warfare, however, there is even more danger, since it is the human soul that may perish. For those committed to Christ, the spiritual struggle cannot be avoided. This holds true regardless of one's level of spiritual progress. In fact, the battle against evil thoughts intensifies the further one advances. In this way the believer matures and participates more fully in the life in Christ. [Saint John of Karpathos writes, "The more fervent our devotion and love for God, the more savage are their assaults; they urge us on to acts of sin, making war upon us in way that we cannot endure, trying in this manner to deprive us of our faith in Christ, of prayer and every hope" (Texts for the Monks in India 65, The Philokalia, vol. 1). Saint Isaac the Syrian writes: "...an evil thought approaches the soul only to tempt and to try a man." (The Ascetical Homilies 48, p. 229).

These thoughts or 'logismoi' will certainly come; this is inevitable. The believer cannot control their coming, but he can control their expulsion. It is up to him whether or not he allows them to stay. Saint John Cassian draws attention to this particular point, "it is impossible for the mind not to be troubled by these thoughts. But if we exert ourselves it is within our power either to accept them and give them our attention, or to expel them. Their coming is not within our power to control, but their expulsion is." Saint Silouan likewise writes, "Just as people go in and out of a house, so may thoughts proceeding from devils come and go again if you do not accept them."

It is interesting to find how this same idea is expressed by a contemporary spiritual elder of Mount Athos, Elder (Geronda, now Saint Paisios). He used to liken 'logismoi' to airplanes flying high overhead in the air. If you don't pay them any attention, they simply fly away. However, he added, we must be careful not build an airport within our heart so that they land!

The trickery and deception of the enemy must never be underestimated. He is most clever and cunning in his never-ending attempt to sugar-coat the initial encounter of a 'logismos' presenting it as harmless and even as something productive and beneficial. ["At first sight there seems to be nothing wrong about an intrusive thought but so it begins to divert the mind from prayer, and then stirs up confusion. The rejection of all intrusive thoughts, however apparently good, is therefore essential..." Saint Silouan the Athonite, p. 168). These thoughts or imagination may even appear at first as fresh spiritual insights that shine light of the truth about someone or on someone's words or actions (or even lack thereof).

By entertaining these 'logismoi' and allowing them to grow and progress, the believer exposes himself a host of disastrous consequences that lead to sin. [Saint Maximos the Confessor also teaches: "Do not misuse thoughts, lest you necessarily misuse things as well. For unless anyone sins first in thought, he will never sin in deed." Chapters on Love 2. 78. The goal of spiritual life entails that one must always be attentive and try to catch the 'logismos' before it develops and becomes too difficult to control. If one is heedless, he finds himself responding to these demonic suggestions, and this culminates not only in his enslavement to them, but also in his 'identifying' with them. Not only does the believer entertain 'logismoi', but he comes to be influenced by them. Thus, he is easily seduced and slowly he finds himself under their thought-control.

(Next: Methods and means of defense. Watchfulness)



The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.


Glory Be To GOD For All Things!


With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George