There was a holy man who cast out demons—the demons feared him. One of his disciples asked him, “Geronta, why are the demons afraid of you?”
“My child, I will tell you”, said the Elder. “I had a mental war with carnal thoughts, but I never allowed myself to yield to them. I had always arranged the battle so that the war front was at the stage of assault*, and I never allowed the devil to advance further than the stage of assault. And since I had a continuous warfare, God gave me this blessing, this grace that, in spite of my unworthiness, the demons fear me and are cast out”. Just think—he cut off temptations outside the door, as soon as they knocked; he did not open at all. Why didn’t he open? What did he have within himself that hindered them? He had holy recollections which occupied his mind.
Temptations knocked from the outside, trying to enter, but there was no place for them; they were given no room to put their own thoughts inside he had stopped them with the remembrance of God. Through this continual victory this holy man received the grace to be feared by the demons and to cast them out of people. It is a great boast for someone to succeed, by the grace of God, in keeping the devil at the stage of assault.
There is no mortal, no spiritual man, no struggler who is not subject to the assaults of the enemy, that is, every human being should expect to be tempted. If people leave their doors and windows open as people in the world usually do, who do not have knowledge of God then the enemy advances and conquers them. Spiritual people struggle not to open to the enemy a door, a window, or even a hole. It is often difficult to commit a sin in deed not a sin that is done in the heart, but a sin done by the mouth or in deeds. Many things must coincide in order for this kind of sin to take place. To sin with the mind, however, is very, very easy. One is able at any hour, place and time to commit a sin in the mind without anybody knowing it. Outward deeds are often prevented from occurring, not only because many factors must coincide, but also because of shame. On the contrary, an inward sin, a sin done by the mind, can persuade a person to commit crimes inwardly, without being noticed. This inward sin is not visible; people do not see it but God does. And if we do not fear people and do not feel shame, because they do not see the sin, we should fear God, because this moral crime done with the mind takes place in His presence. Many people are deceived; deep down it is due to egotism—it is egotism that does most of the damage. This treason first occurs inwardly, and then it is expressed through the members of the body. So we need intense and constant attentiveness, as we have said—intense vigilance. There should be a guard and sentry within us, which observe the thoughts coming and going and check their identities, so that spies do not enter and cause a civil war within the soul. The eye of the soul needs to be very clear and strong in order to see the enemy from afar and take suitable measures. What a great variety of thoughts assail us all the time! Every passion attacks with its own thoughts. If the soul sees clearly, it cuts off the thoughts from afar. Even from their “smell” it realizes which passion is about to rise up and immediately prepares itself, posts sentries, sets up trenches, and gets ready to face the attack of the passion. People become captives. Passion is like a snake that has poison within it. There are said to be big snakes with poisonous breath that poisons any living thing in the area so that they can devour it. The same holds true for the snake of sin: it spreads poison—pleasure—from afar, and the nous is paralyzed; its powers are paralyzed. The person is captured by the passion and involuntarily is carried toward evil. When people are in this state of captivity, they protest and say, “But I am unable to resist; at that time I am unable to do anything”. The answer is: they must take the proper measures, so that the mind and heart will not reach the point of being captured and disarmed. By experience, as soon as the spiritual serpent spreads its poison, while it is still far off and before it reaches us and poisons our mind and soul, we must take measures to escape the danger. For once we are poisoned, we are no longer able to act at all. When a person yields to fantasies and is overcome by sinful thoughts, it is from there, from the imagination, that all evil comes! And when he has suffered many spiritual shipwrecks mentally and has been wounded repeatedly by hedonistic fantasies, then as soon as Satan comes back again with similar fantasies and shows them to the mind, immediately the person is captured. This is why one must not yield to them, so that the passions and fantasies do not become firm and strong.
*Assault (προσβολή )
Assault is the name given to the first stage of a temptation. See consent for more details.
Elder Ephraim of Arizona