How to struggle against bodily passions
In struggling against bodily passions, my brother, a different method should be used than in struggling against the others. If you want things to proceed in the right order, know that you should do one thing before you are tempted by these passions, another thing during temptation and yet another when it is over.
Before temptation, attention should be concentrated on the causes, which habitually give birth to temptation or which excite passion. The rule here is to use every means to avoid all occasions, which may upset the calm of your body, especially meeting people of the other sex. If you are forced to converse with such a person, let the conversation be short, and preserve not only modesty but a certain sternness of countenance; let your words be friendly, but reserved rather than forthcoming.
‘ Never trust thine enemy’ (Ecclesiasticus xii. 10) says the wise Sirach. So never trust your body; for as iron produces rust by itself, so the corrupted nature of the body produces evil stirrings of lust. “For like as iron rusteth, so is his wickedness’ (Ecclesiasticus xii. 10). I repeat again, do not trust yourself in this respect, even if you no longer feel and have not felt for some time this sting of your flesh. For this thrice-cursed wickedness sometimes achieves in one hour or one moment what it has not done for many years, and always makes its preparations for attack silently. Know that the more the flesh pretends to be your friend and gives no cause for suspicion, the greater the harm it inflicts later, and often strikes to death.
All must fear people of the other sex, communion with whom is regarded as good in ordinary life, either because they are relatives, or because they are pious and virtuous, or because they have done you a favour and you fee] under the obligation to express your gratitude as often AS possible. You should fear this because, without fear and attention to yourself, such communion is practically always mixed with the pernicious sensory lust which, gradually .”and insensibly, steals into the soul to its very depths and so obscures the mind that a man thus infected begins to disregard all the dangerous causes of sin, such as passionate glances, sweet words on both sides, seductive movements and postures of the body and the pressing of hands. Thus he finally succumbs to the sin itself and to other snares of the devil, from which at times he never manages to extricate himself completely.
So, my brother, flee this fire, for you are gunpowder, and never dare to think in your conceit that you are damp gunpowder, moistened with the water of a good and firm will. No, no! Better think that you are as dry as dry and will catch fire as soon as you are touched by that flame. Never rely on the firmness of your resolve and your readiness to die rather than to offend God by sin. For, although it can be assumed that this resolve makes your gunpowder damp, frequent communication and sitting together in private will gradually dry the moisture of your righteous will by bodily fire, and you will never notice how you are set aflame with bodily love to such an extent, that you will cease to be ashamed of men and to fear God,- and will disregard honour, life and all the tortures of hell in your longing to commit sin. So avoid in all possible ways:
(a) Communion with people, who can be a temptation to you, if you sincerely desire to escape the captivity of sin and paying its wages, which is death of the soul. The wise Solomon calls a man wise, who fears and avoids the causes of sin; and he calls foolish a man who, with great self-reliance, confidently neglects to avoid them, saying: ‘A wise man feareth, and departeth from evil: but the fool rageth, and is confident” (in his actions) (Prov. xiv. 16). Did not the Apostle point this out when he advised the CORINTHIANS: “Flee fornication” (I Cor. vi. 18).
(b) Flee idleness and laziness; stand on guard watchfully, in all things peering closely at your thoughts, and wisely arranging and conducting the activities, demanded by your position.
(c) Never disobey your spiritual teachers and fathers, but obey them willingly in everything, executing their orders quickly and readily, and especially those which can teach you humility and go against your own will and inclination.
(d) Never allow yourself boldly to judge your neighbour; judge and condemn, no. one, especially for the particular bodily sin of which we are speaking. If someone has manifestly fallen into it, rather have compassion and pity for him. Do not be indignant with him or laugh at him, but let his example be a lesson in humility to you; realising that you too are extremely weak and as easily, moved to sin as dust on the road, say to yourself: ‘He fell today, but tomorrow I shall fall.’ Know that, if you are quick to blame and despise others, God will mete out a painful punishment to you by letting you fall into the same sin for which you blame others. ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matt. vii. 1); you will be condemned to the same punishment, in order to learn from it the perniciousness of your pride and, thus humbled, to seek a cure from two evils: pride and fornication. Even if in His mercy God protects you from downfall and you keep the chastity of your thought inviolate, stop blaming others if you were blaming them, and instead of relying on yourself, be still more afraid and do not trust your own steadfastness.
(e) Pay attention to yourself and watch over yourself. If .you have gained some gift or another from God, or find yourself in a good spiritual state, do not in your vainglory accept vain illusions. about yourself, thinking that you are something and .imagining that your enemies would not dare to attack you that you abhor and despise them so much that you will immediately repulse them., if they dare to come near you. As soon as you think thus, you will fall as easily as an autumn leaf from a tree.
That is what you must do before the temptation of bodily passion assails you.
At a time of actual temptation, do as follows: hasten to discover the cause which provoked the attack and sweep it away immediately. This cause may be internal or external. External causes may be: undisciplined eyes, words sweet to the hearing, songs which delight your ears by their content or melody, fine garments made of soft materials, perfumes pleasing to the nose, free behaviour and conversations, physical touch and pressing of hands, dances and many other things. Remedies against these are: simple and humble attire, the will not to see, hear, smell, say or touch anything which may produce this shameful impulse, and especially avoidance of all intercourse with people of the other sex, as has been already said above. Inner causes are, on the one hand, ease and comfort of the body, when all bodily desires find full satisfaction; on the other—shameful thoughts, which either come of themselves brought by memories of things seen, heard and experienced, or which are excited by evil spirits.
As regards a life of physical ease and comfort, it should be hardened by fasts, vigils, sleeping rough, and especially by a great number of bowings and prostrations to exhaust the body, and by various other voluntary mortifications of the flesh, as advised and counseled by our wise and experienced holy fathers. The remedy against thoughts, no matter whence they come, is various spiritual exercises, compatible with your present state and dictated by it, such as: reading of holy and salutary books, especially of St. Ephrem the Syrian, St. John of the Ladder, the Philokalia and others of the same kind, devout meditations and prayer.
When shameful thoughts begin to assail you, pray thus: immediately raise your mind to our Lord, crucified for us, and call on Him from the bottom of your heart: ‘ My Lord Jesus! My sweetest Jesus! Hasten to help me and do not let my enemy ensnare me!’ At the same time embrace mentally (and also physically if there is one near you) the life-giving cross upon which your Lord was crucified, kiss often His wounds and say to Him with love: ‘Most beautiful wounds, most holy wounds, immaculate wounds! Wound my wretched and impure heart and do not let me offend and shame Thee by my uncleanness.” During the time when shameful thoughts of bodily lust multiply in you, your reflections must not be directed straight against them, though many advise this. Do not attempt to picture in your mind the uncleanness and shame of the sins of bodily lust, nor the remorse of conscience which follows upon them, nor the corruption of your nature and loss of your pure virginity, nor the besmirching of your honour, and other similar things. Do not attempt, I say, to think of these things, for such reflections are not always a reliable means of overcoming bodily temptations and may only give strength to the attacks and, at times, lead to your downfall. For, although your mind remonstrates with the lust and mentally upbraids it, yet the thought dwells on its objects, to which the heart feels such predilection. So it is not surprising that while the mind is lavishly pouring out severe condemnations of these things, the heart delights in them and consents to them—which means inner downfall. No, you must think of such subjects as would screen off these shameful things and completely distract your attention from them, things which, by their nature, would have a sobering effect on your heart. Such subjects are the life and passion of our Lord Jesus, Who took on flesh for our sakes, the inevitable hour of our death, the terrible day of judgment and the various aspects of torment in hell.
If, as often happens, shameful thoughts should persist in spite of this, and should attack you with special force and impetuosity, fear not, do not stop reflecting as we have said, and do not attempt a direct attack on them to expose their shameful nature, Refrain from this, but continue to direct your whole attention to reflections upon the sobering and awe-inspiring subjects indicated above, without bothering about the shameful thoughts, as though they were not your own. Know that no better means exists of driving them away than disregarding and neglecting them. As often as possible, interrupt your meditation by this or a similar prayer: ‘ Deliver me, my Creator and Saviour, from my enemies, to the glory of your passion and your infinite mercy.” Conclude your meditation by a similar prayer,
Take care not to cast the eye of your mind upon this bodily uncleanness, since merely visualising it is not without danger; and do not pause to converse with these temptations or about them, in order to find out whether consent to them had occurred in you or not. Although such analysis may appear good, in actual fact it is a trick of the devil, who strives by this means to weigh you down, to cast you into faintheartedness and despair, or to make you dwell on these thoughts as long as possible, in order thus to drive you to sinful action, of this kind, or some other.
Instead of all such investigations of the thoughts which trouble you, go, confess all in detail to your spiritual father, and thereupon remain undisturbed in your heart and thought, untroubled by any questions, but content with the ruling of your father. Only, you must reveal to him everything, which has troubled and is troubling your mind and feeling in this temptation, concealing nothing and not letting your tongue be tied by shame, but humbling yourself in self-abasement. For if, to gain victory, we need profound humility in all struggle with our enemies, how much more so at moments of warfare of the flesh? For in this case the very temptation is mostly either born of pride or is a reproof and punishment for it. Therefore St. John of the Ladder says that he who has fallen into fornication or some other sin of the flesh, had previously fallen into pride; and that his fall into sin was allowed, to humble him. ‘ Where a downfall has happened, there pride has dwelt before it; for pride comes before a fall.’ And again, ‘Punishment for the proud is to fall’ (Chapter 23). When shameful thoughts are at last subdued and temptation ceases, you must do the following: however much you are convinced that you are now free from attacks of the flesh, and however sure you are of yourself, take every care to keep your mind and attention away from things and people, who were the cause of this upsurging of temptation. Do not satisfy the impulse to see them, under the pretext that they are your relatives, or that they are devout and your benefactors. Admonish yourself with the thought that this too is a sinful blandishment of our corrupt nature and a net of our cunning enemy the devil, who assumes here the form of an Angel of light, in order to cast us into the darkness of which St. Paul speaks (II Cor. xi. 14).
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