Our thoughts govern our life16 November 2021
‘It’s one thing to pray against negative thoughts; it’s another to argue with them; and it’s another to exterminate them and leave them behind you’ (Saint John the Sinaite, Ladder of Divine Ascent, discourse 26, 51).
The Fathers are quite clear on this matter: our thoughts set the tone and rhythm for our soul, because they lead us either to a disposition to love the Lord and his saints or to an affiliation with this world, which is subjugated to the evil one and his forces. Thoughts can be good: from God and the angels; they can be natural: they express our character as it really is; but- and this is what affects the spiritual life particularly and is what Saint John is referring to in that chapter- they may also be from the devil. So we should always be watchful. Our mind should be a vigilant guard which immediately recognizes the kind of thoughts winging towards us, either in the intellect or in the depths of the heart. This is the ‘invisible warfare’ in which the faithful engage and which will make them triumphant or will destroy them utterly.
The saint helps us: he notes three means of defence against demonic thoughts. The first way is to pray to be delivered from them. This is important advice, particularly for beginners in the Christian life, since it involves calling upon the all-powerful Lord for his assistance. The second is to contradict them: to oppose their wickedness with the truth of the Gospel word. This is a tactic which demands a good knowledge of the Christian faith, which is not so easy if you take into account the variety of wicked thoughts possessed by the enemy and his ceaseless attack on the faithful. The third way is to completely deride any and every demonic assault. This is the best and safest method, says Saint John, because ‘those who employ the third method spit upon and make a mockery of the demons’.
Is it by chance that all the Fathers, ancient and modern always present this as the best way? So much so, in fact, that the great modern Saint, Porfyrios Kavsokalyvitis, called the spiritual life and the war against demonic thoughts ‘No problem’! ‘Complete disdain for wicked thoughts by turning towards the Lord’, was his suggestion, born of his sanctified experience. And he went on to say: ‘We don’t shoot the darkness. All we do is light the light’.
So, ‘Overcome evil with good’ [Rom. 12, 21].