The prayer of bowing the head at the Vespers service ends with the petition: “Oh Lord our God … protect us … from any adverse action coming from the devil, from any vain thoughts and evil memories.” Satanic actions, thoughts and evil memories are attempting to infect the soul and body of the Christian. We hear this petition, with various other expressions, repeated in almost all the holy Services of our Church, daily.
All these supplications of our Church are there so that the faithful may acquire thoughts, pure and clean, protected from the evil actions of the devil. Furthermore, man’s thought, enlightened by the grace of God may guide his way of thinking, his decisions and all his actions. The Church insists on this matter because, as God said, “the mind of man is diligently involved with the evil things from his youth” (Gen. 8:21). It is difficult from man to tame the evil thoughts. Telling is the last prayer before the holy Communion: “I am standing in front of the gates of Your temple, Oh Lord, not being however far away removed from evil thoughts.”
The matter of thoughts is a very serious one for the spiritual health of every faithful. As the Lords said, you may have not done a sin of the flesh with the body but, if you consent and you desire it with your heart and with your mind, it is as if you have already committed it; “whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mat. 5:28).
But where do the evil thoughts come from?
One cause is the inclination towards evil which has remained in every human being after the fall of the First-created human beings. Our Lord has revealed to us that when man’s heart has not been offered to God with full a devotion and love, then out of such a heart “proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Mat. 15:19). Man’s passions are produced by and fed with evil thoughts.
A second cause is the evil one, the devil, the origin of evil, who takes advantage of the man’s idiosyncrasy, is searching for weak spots of man’s character and is sowing there evil thoughts. And here the question is raided immediately:
How can a Christian protect himself from evil thoughts?
Almost all Holy Fathers of the Church have dealt with the issue of how one should face evil thoughts. Reading their works we can accumulate plenty of spiritual resources on this matter. Summarizing this precious spiritual experience, briefly and as much as time allows us, we could say the following:
- We cannot stop the thoughts from not coming; we can, however, not accept them. As we cannot stop the crows from flying above us but we can prevent them from building their nests on top of our heads.
- When an evil thought comes to us (no matter how filthy it may be), if we do not allow it inside us but expel it right away, we are not guilty of it at all.
- When there is selfishness and pride in our soul (things which expel the Grace of God from us) then the evil one sees our soul being exposed, he comes in and sows the evil thoughts with great results. The only thing then that can dispel these thoughts away is humility.
- Satan (provided that we do not want to have anything with him) has no power to enter and establish evil thoughts in our souls. That is why we should not live with the fear that Satan will overpower and contaminate us with evil thoughts, even if we are not willing.
- We should be watchful of our senses: our eyes may not watch indecent images curiously; our ears should not pay attention to scandalous descriptions and songs; our hands should not touch bodies and objects that excite inferior senses; we should not taste substances which are blurring the mind and make us lose control over our actions … The evil one takes advantage of such things and through these open “small windows” he pours his evil thoughts into our heart.
- The contempt with which we will face the evil thoughts which the Devil is sowing will make him run away. And this because the Devil is proud; he wants people to pay attention to him, to get busy with him, and he does tolerate people being contemptuous of him.
- The prayer of the heart, the single-sentence prayer, “Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me” is the most powerful weapon for someone to become able to overpower the evil thoughts. “Keep whipping the enemies with the name of Jesus, for there is no more powerful a weapon either on earth or in heaven than this”, says with emphasis St. John [the author] of the Ladder.
- We should ask for the peace, the joy and the love which come from Christ and pay no attention to sinful thoughts. To keep our face - our whole being - constantly turned towards Christ and to seek His face, His mercy. This way, little by little, unconsciously, we are turning holy; the old man, who with his desires and thoughts was pestering us, is departing and we keep putting on “the new man which was created according to God” (Eph. 4:24), as Saint Porphyrios Kausokalyvites used to advise.
- For every other means which protect us from evil thoughts, we should seek the advice of our Spiritual Father who, along with the remission of sins, offers also spiritual guidance so that we may reach the state of holiness for our soul and body. Amen.