PREFACE: A few days ago I wrote a blog about the Orthodox understanding of thoughts and how they negatively affect us. I have decided to follow up with the next few thoughts from Fr. Maximos on how to combat the logismoi. I want to make it clear that blog post from a few days ago as well as this one are not to be taken as instructions, but as information. I am not a priest, an elder, bishop, or spiritual director of any sort. I am merely a fellow sinner trying to work out my own salvation. I share these ruminations with you in order that you may do further study and speak to your spiritual elder about the implementation of what you read here. These thoughts are to enlighten and prompt thinking. If one takes action I highly recommend it be under the guidance of a gracious priest or spiritual director. Also, reading this post without first reading the one mentioned above will leave one with many holes. I highly recommend reading it first before reading this one.
Many read my latest blog post titled “An Avalanche” which covered the topic of the logismoi in Orthodoxy spirituality. This wisdom came from reading Kyriacos Markides’ book “The Mountain of Silence“. In the chapter following the one where Father Maximos speaks on the logismoi, we see Fr. Maximos give a strategy, so to speak, about how to combat the logismoi. Kyriacos brings the topic back up at one point in the chapter and Father talks about how a pilgrim came to an Athonite elder and pleaded with him to help him combat his logismoi. This young man was distraught over the attack the logismoi would wage against him particularly during the Divine Liturgy. They would fill his mind with horrible thoughts about God and His existence. While the young man and the elder talked an airplane flew over Mt. Athos. The elder used this moment to teach the young pilgrim that an airplane flying over above us is what the logismoi indeed resemble. He said to the pilgrim:
If we don’t allow a logismos to land inside the depths of our hearts and minds, then even if we see it and hear it, even if it bothers us for awhile by it presence, we should never be afraid of it. We must not wail and beat our chests because an airplane passed over the roof of our house. Only when that airplane crashes on our house should we worry” (page 135).
The point of the story about the elder and the pilgrim is this: the best way to combat the logismoi is to in fact ignore them the same way we would ignore an airplane flying over our house. In fact, we would probably not even notice an airplane flying over our house today due to all the distractions or from being use to hearing one and ignoring it. The holy elders state that it is for the best to ignore the logismoi when it whispers or even shouts at us.
Fr. Maximos says ignoring the logismoi “is the healthiest and most productive method to head them off right at their inception. Ignore them completely. Never open up a dialogue with these intruders” (page 135). And they are indeed like intruders are they not? I know my mind is constantly bombarded with logismoi, particularly ones that tell me to lust. I know the lack of boundaries these thoughts have! I would never in my right mind invite an intruder into my house, give him coffee and treats, and converse with him while he held us at gun point while robbing us! It is the same with our logismoi! Why in the world would we allow these dark, evil thoughts filled with craziness to enter our minds and hearts to steal our peace and joy? But yet, we often succumb to their commands do we not? I know I do. They are powerful enemies in the fight for our salvation! Fr. Maximos goes on to say:
Do not interact with them either out of curiosity or out of overconfidence. It is a tactical error. It’s like starting a dialogue with a mortal enemy who is much more clever than you. if you pay attention to a logismos you must realize that it will become increasingly bolder. It will begin to invade your heart with louder and louder noise. The best strategy in confronting a logismos, therefore, is to completely disregard it. Do not focus on what it tells you and urges you to do” (page 135).
Father gives another illustration that if someone is out in your yard urging you to come out and fight and is throwing every curse word in the book at you that the best way to keep yourself safe is to remain strongly boarded up in your house with doors and windows locked tight. Showing this type of indifference to the logismoi is what the holy elders said is the best way to fight them. Just keep them out…period!
Father Maximos then discusses that there are exceptions to this rule. He mentioned what is called adversarial methods for when fundamental principles of the Faith are being attacked by the logismoi that is attacking you. He pointed out that such a case would be when Jesus was tempted by Satan. He did not ignore him, but fought him back with Scripture. Fr. mentioned how the saints who have reached the stage of complete union with God and freedom from their passions can debate and defend such logismoi. However, he strongly suggested that a novice (meaning all most all who read this myself included) should not attempt to do this, but to remain in our steadfastness to ignore the logismoi completely! Having this attitude of complete indifference is far better for us at this stage of spiritual development.
Kyriacos then takes the conversation further by asking Fr. Maximos what he should do if he cannot chase away the negative logismoi and is at the point of surrendering to it. This is where Fr. Maximos recommended a game that the holy elders left us. This game is when you introduce or inject into your mind what they called a “splitting logismos”. Fr. says, “That means grab onto another logismoi and shift your focus on that.” This method is one I tried implementing today in fact. I had some random thoughts pop in my mind throughout the day, usually very sinful thoughts tempting me, and I would focus my mind to a song, a drum beat, or to what was being said by others. I simply focused my mind on something else. I was not always successful, but I did find that it helped me a great deal. Fr. goes on to say:
In cases when the logismoi refuses to retreat, the advice of the elders is to shift your focus to something else, even to something foolish or irrelevant. It is a ploy to trick the mind. Think about something ridiculous instead, for the sake of undermining the power and energy of the logismoi that torments you. By using this method you can gradually reduce the energy and force of the logismos. Next time it returns it will be weaker” (page 137).
One other form of combating the logismoi is hard, manual labor! Fr. Maximos points out the spiritual effort of a hard day’s work when it comes to fighting the logismoi. Of course, we do not have to do hard physical labor, but I think having a job one loves and cares about can serve in its place. A job to keep us busy so to speak. It is like the old saying that idle hands are the devil’s workshop. This indeed will ring true for us if we are lazy and not working. We open our minds up to more attacks. Of course if one does not have a job one can find a hobby or things that involve physical labor outside to substitute for this method of combat. The monks and holy elders understood this. That is why they pray and work, pray and work. It serves to aid in overcoming the logismoi.
The Most Effective Weapon
Kyriacos at one point ask Fr. Maximos why he had not yet mentioned prayer and if prayer would be helpful in fighting the logismoi. Fr. explains to him that it is indeed the most effective and most powerful tool in combating the logismoi, especially the Jesus Prayer “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”. Fr. says:
Keep in mind that participation in the mysteries and tradition of the Ecclesia is a form of spiritual nourishment that penetrates our inner world and empowers our soul to overcome the logismoi. This kind of spiritual work is what we call in one word askesis, meaning prayer, fasting, confession, communion, the study of the word of God and of the life of the saints, sleepless nights in all-night vigils and so on. All this leads to the strengthening of the soul through its embrace, as it were, by Divine Grace. This is the path that the soul takes in order to attain spiritual health” (page 138-139).
This call to imply the most effective weapon against the logismoi does not come without discernment and warning about when to use it. Fr. says that a person should never resort to praying, or to the Jesus Prayer, right after we are assaulted by a logismoi. He in fact states that doing so could have the opposite effect. Here’s why:
It may lead a person to extreme psychic turmoil and to a loss of self-mastery. Old Paisois [Father’s spiritual elder and teacher] used to tell us that when confronted with a logismos, whoever resorts to repeating the Prayer very rapidly resembles a terrified soldier in the heat of battle. He holds his rifle tight to his chest, paralyzed with fear. To reassure himself that he is not afraid he repeats ‘Holy virgin help me, Holy Virgin help me.’ And he shakes from head to toe, sitting there completely immobilized and unable to fight or even breath…
Before a person begins to pray, when confronted with a troublesome logismoi, a rational mastery over the situation must be developed. Again, if at all possible, the best way is to emply the strategy of complete indifference[emphais mine]…
Pray, but not while in a state of panic. Not right at the moment when you are waging war against a logismos that immobilizes you. Under such conditions you become highly vulnerable to the machinations of the enemy. Prayer does its work at the deepest recesses of the human heart and leads to true spiritual health. But prayer should not be an alternative to using our reason and willpower in confronting the logismoi. It should not be practiced in a state of panic. Otherwise we will behave like the paralyzed solider of old Paisios” (page 139).
I feel that that is indeed wise of us not to pray right in the heat of battle. I wanted to share what Fr. had to say about that for I feel it is important to our spiritual development and health not to become paralyzed nor to treat prayer in such a manner.
So far we have discussed how we can ignore the logismoi, engage it in battle under the guidance of a experienced spiritual elder/teacher, introduce the splitting logismoi, partake of the Mysteries of His Church for our well-being and freedom, and yield the weapon of prayer. Fr. Maximos says, “Regular and systematic prayer is the best practice for the attainment of spiritual health. It assists the mind to defend itself against intrusive logismoi. When our heart is guarded by prayer then no image or negative logismoi that comes our way gets imprinted on it.”
I think Father is right! I just remarked today in class to a new friend at work who happens to be Catholic that I struggle so much with prayer and how thankful I am that monks and nuns pray for us all the time. Our spiritual lives benefit greatly from a system of prayer or what many may know as a Rule of Life/Rule of Prayer. I highly recommend starting a Rule of Prayer and keeping it simple such as: wake up, cross myself, pray the Trisagion prayers, pray the Jesus prayer as it comes to mind during the day, then at night the Trisagion prayers again. Do not overburden yourself, but keep it light. Once you work the spiritual muscles they will become stronger.
To recap, few other ways to fight the logismoi are:
- The reading and studying of holy texts: the Bible, Gospels, and lives of the Saints. These nourish us with grace and help us to fight the passions. They energize us and sustain us (page 141).
- Splitting logismoi
- A systematic, active, living prayer life
- Attend sacred rituals of the Ecclesia, participation in Her Mysteries.
- Holy Eucharist
- Not going to places of temptation or addiction
- IGNORING THEM COMPLETELY AND NOT FEELING GUILTY FOR THEIR ATTACKING YOU!!!
Above all, we must also learn that God gives us battles to fight for us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Fr. Maximos says, “The logismoi play an important role in the spiritual development of human beings…Quite often, negative logismoi serve God’s plan. Not that God Himself sets them up, but because it may be the only way for proud individuals to attain humility. The logismoi…can offer us extreme grief, bitter experiences, and pain.”
God’s mission is to reunited us with Him, to heal our souls from the disease of sin, and to rekindle the heart within us that communes with Him. His plan is to liberate us from the passions and the things that prevent us from union with Him. The logismoi may indeed serve in aiding us in our salvation and working it out. They will serve to knock us on our butts and to seek Him in all that we do so that we may be saved and healed.
These airplanes fly all around us, attempting to strike our houses, our minds, and to bring us down through guilt and weariness. God will not forsake us! He has given us wisdom through His Church on how to ignore these airplanes we call logismoi and fight the fires in our minds that they leave after crashing.
Do not fret when you hear the buzzing of the airplanes. They are just airplanes after all. Why be afraid?