How The Passions Are Aroused--According to Traditional Orthodox Christian Teaching

Veneration of the Precious Chains of the Holy and All-Glorious Apostle Peter

Veneration of the Precious Chains of the Holy and All-Glorious Apostle Peter

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

By Father Dumitru Staniloae

It's important for us to dwell a little on the way in which the passions are stirred up. This will also show us how to keep them quiet. We should point out that the path of arousal is in essence the same as the conception of the passion. This only to the extent that the birth is harder than the arousal. It doesn't yet exist in us as a sleeping beast which has only to be awakened. But a flammable material is in us even before any passion, made up of the natural passions; these help in some way in the conception of the passions, just as the already existing passion helps in its arousal.

Who hasn't had the experience, that a passion is stirred up sometimes after we have made a good decision, or when we are carrying it out, or after we have finished doing it. [Saint Mark the Ascetic, No Righteousness by Works 88: "When the Devil sees that the mind has prayed from the heart, then he brings great and evil temptations." GrPh 1. p. 115, cf. Phi. 1, p. 132]. Other times we find ourselves in a state of meditation or of spiritual rest in which the problem hasn't been presented to us of making a decision, and yet the passion is awakened. In all cases, it is aroused as a resistance to, and a revolt against, disregarded tendencies. In such situations and in others, the passions have their antecedents in us. [Saint Mark the Ascetic, On the Spiritual Law 179: "When you see that the appetites which lie within you are moving powerfully and calling the peaceful mind to some passion, know that the mind was occupied beforehand with them and has stirred them up and put them in the heart."]

We can ask the question then: "How is the passion aroused in these cases?"

In all the Orthodox Christian spiritual writings we find the following sequence as the way in which the passions are aroused in every circumstance: Satan puts a sinful thought into our mind, the so-called attack (provoli), which we think that we can also translate by the word bait. It is the first appearance of the simple thought that we can commit this or that sinful deed. It appears in the mind as a simple possibility. It isn't yet a sin because we haven't yet taken a position in regard to it. It seems to be outside of us; we didn't create it, and it still has only a theoretical character, a not very serious possibility, which doesn't seem to concern us much. We are preoccupied with our whole being with something else. We don't know where it came from; it seems as though someone was playing and threw it on the side of the road. But we continue to think about it. So it has all the characteristics of a thought discarded by somebody else and therefore the Holy Fathers attribute it to Satan. It is the simple thought of a possible sinful deed, but no concrete image of this act and of the circumstances in which it could be carried out have yet taken shape in our minds. [Saint Mark the Ascetic defines the bait thrown out by Satan as "...the appearance of a persistent thought of evil." On Baptism, PG 65.1016A. or "a provocation is an image-free stimulation in the heart." On the Spiritual Law 140, Phil 1, p. 119. Saint John of Damascus characterizes it this way: "a provocation is a simple suggestion by Satan, of a certain thing, for example: "do this" or "that" as he did with the Lord: "Command that these stones become bread" (St. Matthew 4:3). There are cases, however, when a passion is stirred up all at once and inflames us immediately.

When a passion is aroused, though, as an ignited thought, from this attack until the sinful deed, we find numerous steps. Saint Hesychios of Sinai numbers four: the provocation, the coupling (synduasmos), the assent (synkatathesis) the concrete action. Saint John of Damascus numbers seven: the attack, the coupling, the struggle, the passion, the agreement, the actualization, and the enslavement. The decisive moment is when our thought takes a position. If we have rejected the thought at the first moment, we have escaped. If, however, we start to think about it, to relish the sin in our mind, the "coupling" or the mingling of our thoughts with those of the wicked demons has already happened. Now we have joined ourselves with the evil thought; it has become part of us. It is no longer something foreign in us. By it we have entered the area of the sin and we can hardly stop the full development of this process once it is set in motion. The ascent to the fact follows next, or the plan composed by our thoughts and the thoughts of Satan for the realization of the fact. Only now does the simple thought materialize in images. According to Saint John of Damascus, by the coupling of our thoughts with this thought, the inner passion is produced as a second phase.

The bait, the provocation, isn't yet a sin because it doesn't yet depend on us to produce it, and absolutely no man is spared from it.

But let's look a little closer. What is this simple thought of sin, which appears without images, in our mind or in our heart?

First of all, how does this thought come from the Devil? Does it come directly or by something in us too? Saint Mark the Ascetic, says, in his treatise On Baptism, that it is thrown into us by Satan, in another place, On the Spiritual Law, in text 140 he writes, that "...the attack is an imageless movement of the heart," and again in text 179, that "the desires call the mind to some passion..."

On the other hand, Saint Diadochos of Photiki states that from the time of Baptism Satan is no longer in the depths of the soul, in other words in the mind, but " the body senses…working via the easily influenced body on those who are still babes in soul." "….Now he rides on the juices (humors) of the flesh, as one who is nesting in the body, so he can make the mind turn somersaults on the slipperiness of the passions." "…Enveloping the mind by the bodily juices as by smoke in the sweetness of irrational appetites." Or, as Saint John of the Ladder (Climacus) points out: "...Many times a devil lurks in the stomach and keeps man from getting full, even if he were to swallow all of Egypt or drink the whole Nile."

From this it follows that Satan sends the bait to us by means of the bodily appetites; he stirs up some appetite which is sleeping in the subconscious." Saint Diadochos comments: "...Our mind, having a very fine sense, appropriate somehow through the body the work of the thoughts suggested to it by evil spirits."

The bait is, then, the first appearance in our consciousness of an evil desire. At first, it isn't vehement and takes the form of a simple thought. Better said our consciousness takes notice of it already from the first stirring and this, its first activity in the consciousness, takes place in the form of a thought. Only if it isn't suffocated by our determined reaction, does this movement gain intensity. So we can resist it only with great difficulty.

(To be continued)


Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom


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

+Father George