Concerning temptation and sin

by St Theophan the Recluse

Be strong. The enemy fights you. But this does not mean that you are sinful. Nor should his attacks shake you or confuse you. Temptations arise from the envy of the enemy and return to his head. Not only you are not responsible for it, but provided you struggle you will profit from it. Each time you repulse an attack of the enemy you secure a victory and you gratify God. It is not possible to avoid the annoying attacks of the enemy. Our life is formed in such a way. But this does not lead to the loss of the fighter, but rather to his salvation. As a consequence of the fall of the first created humans the passions nestle in us.

In order to get rid of them we must firstly realise their,existence. And in order that we realise their existence they must manifest themselves, they must come out of their hiding. Temptations play their part in this and so, without the enemy's intention, they help in our cleansing and sanctification. Thus the temptations force the evil that is hiding in us to come to the surface. The temptations arise from the flesh, the world and the devil.

Usually it progresses in these stages:

1. A bad thought appears in the mind or one of the senses is attacked. For example the eyes see an indecent picture. This is the start of the temptation. At this stage there is no sin or guilt because we are still at the attacking phase or at the unintentional attack by the enemy. If you react immediately and you turn to the Lord you have won a crown. But if you do not object and you start occupying yourself with the thought or the picture, this is not a good sign. Your Soul wavered. Despite all these so far there is no sin. But you took a step towards it. There are persistent indecent thoughts, thoughts that do not disappear easily or they return. Do not be weary of this. It is the work of the enemy. If every time you show your immediate dislike towards them and you go to the Lord frequently you are in a good spiritual condition. So do indecent thoughts come in you? Drive them away. Do they persist? You also persist in driving them away. The ancient fathers did the same thing. They, indeed, taught that the sooner one drives away the first bad thoughts the quicker he is freed from the war off the enemy. But he who delays and starts to occupy himself with the temptation then he will make the second step to the fall.

2. The preoccupation with the temptation or the discussion with it is the second phase. Sin is still not occurring, but its beginning is created.

3. The third phase is a satisfaction or pleasure which arises from the prolongation of the temptation. At this stage we might have not committed the sin, but we are definitely in an unclean situation. Indeed it happens that the experience of,pleasure arises without our will taking active part.

4. The fourth step towards sin is the bending of our will even if we have not eventually given our approval. At this point there is guilt because we cannot always be masters of our feelings, but we can be masters of our will. As yet we have not practised sin, but we are at its threshold.

5. The fifth phase is the consent to sin or the decision by a person to sin. Here we definitely have a sin but an internal sin.

6. After this follows the final stage, that is to say the commitment of sin. Here we have the complete fall, the destruction of the soul, the deprivation of the Divine Grace, the submission to the authority of the enemy. Regarding the blasphemous thought, or the blasphemous thoughts of disbelief which are directed against the Holy Communion you should know that they come from the enemy. The Lord Himself instituted the mystery of the Divine Eucharist saying: "This is my body" and "This is my blood". In addition He gave the commandment "Do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22. 19). The Apostles started to perform this holy Mystery and since then this act of the Church has not stopped nor would it stop until the end of time. joy is not something external to ourselves but it comes from the depths of our being. For us Christians joy arises from the expectation and the life in the wealth that emanate from the divine incarnation and it increases with our persistence in the state of our adoption by God. The Lord received human flesh from the virgin blood of our All Holy Virgin Mary and we become one with Him because of this incarnation. For this reason an important characteristic of the Christian life is the esteem of virginity. Not only bodily virginity but also spiritual.

The carnal sin constitutes a denial of our Christian qualities. And nothing suppresses the spiritual joy as much as this sin, although the enemy continually whispers to us that it is natural and insignificant.

translated by C. Theodorou in Orthodox Messenger, May/June 1998
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia publication

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