From my youth do many passions war against me, but do Thou Thyself defend and save me O my Saviour…

Prokeimenon chanted during the Paraklesis to the Theotokos

Beloved, the season of the Fast is upon us. During this time we wage war against the passions, seeking to overcome the allures of the world to draw closer to Christ. To aid us in our labors, consider the following…

In what order should you fight your passions?

It would be very useful for you, my brother, to know well the order in which YOU Should fight your passions, so as to do this work as it should be done, instead of simply haphazardly, as some people do, without great success, and at times even with harm to
themselves. The order in which it is necessary to fight your enemies and struggle with your bad desires and passions is the following:

  • Enter with attention into the heart and examine carefully with what thoughts, dispositions and passionate attachments it is specially occupied, and which passion is most predominant and tyranically rules there.
  • Then against this passion first of all take up arms and struggle to overcome it.
  • On this one concentrate all your attention and care, except only at the times when some other passion happens to arise in you. In that case you should deal with this one without delay and drive it away, after which you must once more turn your weapons against your chief passion, which constantly manifests its presence and power.
  • For as in every kind of warfare, so in our unseen battle, we must fight first what is actually attacking us at the present moment.

Unseen Warfare
from the Venetian original of Lorenzo Scupoli ‘Il Combattimento spirituale’
enhanced by Saint Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, and Saint Theophan the Recluse

Salvation is a constant effort, so likewise is overcoming the passions.  Fortunately, the Church has many great practitioners and physicians who understood well the root of passions and their cure. There is a useful example in the counsel of the Desert Fathers, from the Vita Patrum concerning the words of Elder Pimenius:

A certain brother attacked by a spirit of blasphemy was too much ashamed
to be able to talk about it, and although he tried to obey the seniors by going to them in order to bring his thoughts into the open he found that once he got there he was too frightened to talk. After he had come several times to abba Pimenius the old man realised that he was having trouble with his thoughts and said, “Now look, you have come to me several times burdened by a whole lot of thoughts and you have gone away again, despondent, still carrying them with you. Tell me, my son, what is it all about?”
He replied, “There is a devil of blasphemy attacking me and I have been ashamed to speak about it.”
And as soon as he had opened up about it, the burden of his battle seemed lighter.
And the old man said, “Don’t be too worried, my son. When these thoughts come to you say, ‘I don’t accept this. May this blasphemy be upon your own head, Satan, I want nothing to do with it.’ For whatever your soul rejects will not find a permanent home. ” The brother went home cured.

Satan, the Father of Lies, seeks to unsettle us and to divert from the path of Salvation using many cunning devices, including despondency. We should feel ashamed of our sin and use this as motivator to confess the sin and to repent. Despondency is a passion, a passion of hopelessness and a passion of self-reliance. We feel that no one can help us. Indeed no mere man can help us, but the God-man, our Saviour can, will, and has helped us. How often each of us falls into the trap of shame. This can be a benefit as our soul recognizes the stench of the sin. Now we must take courage and follow the words of Abba Pimenius,

“…When these thoughts come to you say, ‘I don’t accept this. May this blasphemy be upon your own head, Satan, I want nothing to do with it.’ For whatever your soul rejects will not find a permanent home.”