Thursday, 29 December 2005

Combating the Passion of Pride 5 — Pride and Asceticism

Christian asceticism emphasizes humility. That asceticism is not Christian that is proud, that does not view its goal as humility, that does not see itself as repentance. It is considered by the Fathers to be demonic. Beware of those who are proud of great feats of bodily ascesis. They are on the road of the devil.

And with this post we end this series on combating the eight passions.

Combating the Passion of Pride 4 — Overcoming Pride in the Monk

The primary therapy for pride is obedience. If a man is proud, and that is his ruling passion, he would do well to start in a severe cœnobium and to remain there all his life in strict obedience. This is not merely to ‘protect the church’. It is the right approach to ascesis for someone whose ruling passion is pride—and don’t let anyone tell you that strict obedience isn’t ascesis. For a man whose ruling passion is pride to enter into solitary ascesis is dangerous. It is largely a matter of time until he falls into spiritual delusion (Gr. plani; Ru. prelest). After that, it’s the mental hospital. That is why the Fathers are extremely reluctant to talk much about Hesychasm in public forums: Hesychasm attracts precisely those persons who shouldn’t meddle with it: the proud. That is also why it says in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers that if you see a beginner ascending to Heaven by his own power, you should drag him down by his feet.

Combating the Passion of Pride 3 — Pride and the Monk

Monks start off well. In this day and age no one becomes an Orthodox monk because there is ‘something in it for him’. We all start off with ideals. Afterwards, however, the passion of pride enters in and we forget that we were once humble. We become hard.

Combating the Passion of Pride 2 — Pride and Repentance

The essential nature of pride is to refuse to repent—to insist. The first movement of humility is to admit that we were wrong, to ask for forgiveness.

George once told us about a woman he had known many years ago. She was counter-culture then; she is now a professor. She is physically very beautiful and quite courteous. She had a very chequered life; she is now alone on anti-depressants. What struck George, when he spoke with her, not having had contact with her for decades, was her spiritual pride.

This pride is incurable; only the mercy of God can enter into such a closed and hardened heart. Moreover, being counter-culture neither helped nor hindered her, nor her becoming a professor: the Gospel speaks on a different level to men and women, even those who are beautiful and courteous; on a different level to monks and nuns.

Combating the Passion of Pride 1 — Looking Towards the Theophany

In the service of Christmas, we look towards the Theophany.

Then Jesus comes from Galilee to the Jordan to John to be baptized by him. But John was preventing him, saying: ‘I have need to be baptized by you, and you come to me?’

Jesus answered and said to him: ‘Let it be for now. For thus it is proper for us that we fulfil all righteousness.’ Then he let him.

And when he was baptized, Jesus immediately came up from the water and, Behold! the Heavens were opened to him and he saw the Holy Spirit descending as a dove and coming upon him.

And Behold! a voice from the Heavens saying: ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased.’

Matthew 3, 13–17

If Jesus, the second person of the Holy Trinity incarnate, could suffer himself to be baptized with a baptism of repentance in order to ‘fulfil all righteousness’, surely we who have sins can suffer ourselves to have a little humility.

Saturday, 24 December 2005

Combating the Passion of Vainglory 5 — The Example of our Saviour

The Virgin today gives birth to him who is beyond essence, and the earth brings forth the cave to the Unapproachable. Angels with shepherds sing hymns of glory. Mages, then, journey with a star. For on our behalf is born a new Child, God who is before the Ages.
(Kontakion of Christmas)

God came down from the heights of heaven to a cave; the Virgin held in her hands the Word of God incarnate and gave him suck. Who can betray this God by being vainglorious in his behaviour?

A Merry Christmas to all.

Orthodox Monk

Combating the Passion of Vainglory 4 — Vainglory in the Monastery

St John of Sinai has some rather severe methods for treating the passion of vainglory in the cœnobium: the Abbot is to berate the vainglorious monk—in front of the visitors. We saw this in action once. An Abbot we were once visiting in his official residence angrily berated his cell servant in front of us for not wearing his habit properly. The Abbot then turned to us and explained that he did this sort of thing to help his monks progress spiritually. We were not impressed. The Abbot did not have the discernment necessary. He was indulging his own vainglory, his own idea that he had reached the heights. It is not easy for an Abbot to put St John’s instructions into practice: he must have the Holy Spirit consciously present in his soul; he must have the discernment to know the true good from the natural good; he must himself be dispassionate so that he is only pretending to be angry. As we said, we were not impressed: the Abbot was indulging a passion, and we await the day that he is forced to leave his monastery—or else his monastery leaves him.

That having been said, when the dominant or ruling passion of a novice is vainglory or pride, rather harsh treatment must be meted out—at the hands of God, not at the hands of a vainglorious Abbot—to bring the man to his senses.

It is rather dangerous to have a monk in the monastery who is dominated by vainglory or pride, especially if he is in an administrative position. He may face down the Abbot. He may lead a rebellion. The poor Abbot.

Abbots should be very careful about accepting novices; they should be extremely careful if the novice is governed by vainglory or pride. They might never see the end of it.

Friday, 23 December 2005

Combating the Passion of Vainglory 3 — Sobriety and Vainglory

Monks and nuns who have progressed in Hesychasm to the stage where they have a modicum of sobriety have the ability to discern whether the decision they are taking is motivated by vainglory or by a love of the Lord.

If they have a love of the Lord, they will act out of that love, avoiding actions which are motivated by vainglory.

We beginners have to use more prosaic criteria: does my action redound to my own glory?

In general, it is best to do our actions in such a way that we are ‘inconspicuous’—so that our left hand does not know what our right hand is doing.

Combating the Passion of Vainglory 2 — Vanity vs. Vainglory

Vanity is combing your hair so it’s slicked down properly, making sure that your habit is ironed properly, trimming your moustache often.

Vainglory is making sure that your blog has a big readership, that it wins a Koufax Award.

Combating the Passion of Vainglory 1 — Physician, Heal Thyself

Who is going to take seriously an orthodox monk with a blog who talks about how to cure the passion of vainglory?

Saturday, 17 December 2005

Combating the Passion of Accidie (Sloth) 4 — Hyperactive Sloth

There is one form of accidie that we do not expect. When the monk dies spiritually, so as no longer to have any interest in spiritual things, he may not just sit around idly wasting his life. He may get busy. He may build buildings. Big buildings. A lot of them. He may go to the missions. Anything. Anything to pass the time. He may become a scholar, a historian, an archæologist. Anything to fill the emptiness. Anything to fill the empty hole where Jesus was.

Wednesday, 14 December 2005

Combating the Passion of Accidie (Sloth) 3 — Medical Issues

There are some illnesses that bring on lassitude in a person. Hence, before a monk has to give an account of his accidie or sloth, it would be well for him to be checked medically for any psychological or physical ailments.

We know of a case where the monk was found to have a glandular condition that was bringing on a sense of lassitude. It was only through a routine medical screening in a routine check-up that this was found.

Such medical conditions could be responsible for other ‘passions’ in a monk, such as hyperactivity, sorrow or other such conditions.

In general, in the monastery, there should be a proper medical attendance on all the monks, with regular checkups. In a monastery, the Spiritual Father of the monk or nun has the ultimate responsibility for the monk’s or nun’s medical well-being. He must be well-informed of the medical condition of the monk’s in his spiritual charge. This matter is addressed in one of St Basil the Great’s Shorter Rules, near the end of the set. However, in some Western countries, there may be legal issues in applying St Basil’s counsel.

It would be most appropriate if one of the monks were a doctor, but this is not always possible in a monastery, for obvious reasons. The next best thing would be for the monastery to have a working relationship with an external doctor who is both medically well-qualified and a pious Orthodox, so that the doctor can appreciate the special circumstances of a monk’s or nun’s lifestyle. The last possibility is to have a working relationship with a medically well-qualified external doctor who is not a pious Orthodox. Even in the case where the monastery is making use of a clinic, it is best if there is continuity of personnel of the clinic in the medical treatment of the monks and nuns.

The monastery will have to take account of both the need for and the possibilities of payment for the monks’ or nuns’ medical care. This might involve medical insurance.

Monday, 12 December 2005

Combating the Passion of Accidie (Sloth) 2 — Training Novices

In the monastery, care must be taken to train the novices to work hard all their lives. This is a matter of learning. We can learn to be lazy; we can learn to work hard. Of course, there should not be a ‘sweat-shop’ atmosphere in the monastery. However, part of the formation of the monk should be an attitude that it is proper to work. This will become a habit in the monk and as he progresses the monk will retain this habit. This habit will serve him in good stead in his spiritual endeavours, since asceticism is itself a matter of work—of work on ourselves.

Saturday, 10 December 2005

Combating the Passion of Accidie (Sloth) 1 — Sloth in the Monastery

We learn from the Ladder of Divine Ascent that accidie (sloth) affects Hesychasts more than cœnobites. The cœnobium assuages the monk’s tendency to accidie with psalmody and manual labour. St Anthony, according to the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, was taught to vary his routine every hour or so. This also is a treatment for accidie: the variety helps the time pass.

However, in common with the other passions, accidie is primarily a spiritual passion, and the ultimate treatment is spiritual: the memory of our passing. Accidie says that life is long, nothing is happening, that time is passing slowly if at all. The memory of our passing, properly practised, teaches us that life is short, that the day of our passing is unknown, and that the time is short that we have to work on our salvation. This helps us to maintain a proper zeal.

St Hesychios recommends that the Hesychast increase his Eros for God in order to combat accidie. Here we have an example of a virtue related to a passion. Eros is the love that men and women have for each other. As a passion, it is called fornication. The virtue that corresponds to fornication is Eros, that same passionate love, but directed to God and virtue.

Combating the Passion of Anger 5 — Anger in the Monastery

It can be seen from the foregoing posts that anger is a very important issue in the daily life of the monastery: the monks must aim for meekness so that they can pursue a life of uninterrupted prayer, normally the Jesus Prayer. This means that novices must be taught not to argue but to give way. They must be taught to maintain their peace with a genuine humble and uncondescending charity in the face of bad or irregular behaviour on the part of others. They must be taught to control themselves, especially in the face of frustration. This is the case whether it is inanimate objects, animals or other people that are frustrating them. This is training: we must learn to behave in certain ways, first by an act of the will, then by habit and finally, when our passions are purified, by an habitual act of charity.

Wednesday, 7 December 2005

Combating the Passion of Anger 4 — Do Demons Exist?

In the last post, we briefly discussed the use of anger against sin and against the demons. Now, someone might say, here is one of those mad monks again, talking about the demons. Do demons exist? Yes. However, so do natural ailments, both psychological and physical. It is not a simple matter to discover a demon in someone else, and only Elders have the charism to do such a thing. We beginners have to leave these things alone.

However, here is a point. As the Elder Porphyrios (1906–1991), whose book of reminiscences, Wounded by Love, we cited in this post, remarks, it is part of the dogma of Christianity that the Devil and demons exist. For we learn in the Bible that Jesus Christ came to destroy the works of the Devil.

To give you an idea of the sort of fellow the Elder Porphyrios was, so that his remarks on the existence of the demons make sense, in one of the many books about him, there is recounted the following episode in his life. He had a cancerous carbuncle on his head which needed to be cauterized. It was a Friday afternoon when he went to a doctor in Athens, who told him that he needed anæsthetic for such a procedure, that it was too late to find the anæsthetist and that he would have to come back another time. But the Elder Porphyrios wanted to go that day to Mt Athos and told the doctor to proceed without anæsthetic. The doctor only consented after the Elder Porphyrios pressured him, with the thought that one touch of the cauterizing iron lightly on the head and the priest would come to his senses and come back another day.

The doctor began the procedure. The room filled with the smell of burning flesh. The Elder Porphyrios entered into a state of prayer united to Christ on Golgotha. He didn’t flinch. The doctor shouted: ‘Penelope (his nurse)! The little old priest is a yogi!’

The Elder Porphyrios remarked in recounting this story that the Devil himself prompted the doctor to shout that out, so as to disturb the Elder’s union with God. For, the Elder Porphyrios remarked, ‘In such a situation, if you lose your mental union with God, you’re lost.’ Remember that the room was filling with the smell of burning flesh.

That’s the sort of fellow that the Elder Porphyrios was—and more. When he says that we have to take seriously the existence of the Devil and the demons, we have to take seriously what he’s saying.

Now the point is that the demons are behind the tempting thoughts. This is not medieval theology: it is part and parcel of Orthodox ascetical psychology. And here is where the proper use of anger comes in: it is used as a directed tool against the demons when they are sowing a tempting thought.

Combating the Passion of Anger 3 — The Proper Use of Anger

In the last post, we discussed the easiest way to reject a tempting thought: to turn to the words of the Jesus Prayer.

Now we are going to discuss a far more difficult method. We don’t actually want to put this method into practice; however, it is important that we understand it.

This new method is the use of anger against the tempting thought. We have said that anger is a passion. We have been discussing how to combat anger. Now we are saying that we should use anger against the tempting thought. Are we not contradicting ourselves?

Here is a very important point. All the passions are distortions of an impulse implanted in us by God for our good. That is, all the passions have their good side. That is why we can be virtuous. The virtues are nothing other than the impulses that we call passions when those impulses are operating according to nature.

So the virtue related to anger is itself a sort of anger. What sort? It is an anger against the demons and against sin, and, when we are sinful, against ourselves (but not in excess). That is why God implanted the impulse of anger in us: so that we might get angry against sin.

Now the classical way to use anger against sin is to speak a word of anger against the demon that is tempting us. This is a very delicate matter, for if we fly into a rage against the demon, against sin or against ourselves, we will only damage ourselves, perhaps very seriously. We must make a controlled use of anger against the demons, against sin.

We will speak in the next post about the demons.

St John of Sinai tells us in the Ladder of Divine Ascent that only the more advanced Hesychast has the strength to use the method of anger against the demons. That is why we do not want our blog readers to try it. You have to be more advanced. However, it is important for us to understand this method, because its existence tells us much about Orthodox ascetical psychology.

Friday, 2 December 2005

Combating the Passion of Anger 2 — Rejecting the Tempting Thought

We said in the last post that at the most basic level, the monk gets rid of a tempting thought by rejecting it. Let’s look at this rejection a little more carefully.

In Orthodox monasticism, the tempting thought is—well, a temptation. It is an invitation to sin. It must be refused. This marks a very big point of divergence between Orthodox mental ascesis and Tibetan Buddhist systems of meditation. In at least some Tibetan Buddhist systems of meditation (we are by no means experts on the matter), the monk is encouraged not to reject the thought that comes to him, say of the touch of silk, but to give himself over to the thought, invoking a higher god or guru, which god or guru will raise his mind to a higher state of consciousness over and above the thought. In tantric meditation, the monk is often directed to visualize himself as engaged in tantric yoga with a goddess.

Orthodox mental ascesis proceeds in a completely contrary fashion. The thought is to be rejected at its inception, or as soon after its inception in the monk’s consciousness that the monk realizes that he has the thought and can reject it. Orthodox mental ascesis is an emptying from such thoughts, a battling with such thoughts. The origin of these thoughts is considered to be the demons.

Accounts of Tibetan Buddhist meditation practices leave the Orthodox monk with a deep unease, precisely because the Tibetan Buddhist meditation practice is for the monk not to reject the thoughts but to give himself over to them. The Orthodox fears that the Tibetan Buddhist is giving himself over to demons.

How does the Orthodox monk reject these thoughts? There is a fairly detailed but very difficult ascetical literature on the matter, much of which is represented in the first volume of the Philokalia or in the Ladder of Divine Ascent of St John of Sinai. Much time is spent in this literature on the very early stages of a tempting thought. This is a very subtle Christian psychology of meditation.

Let us take the easiest way first. That is for the monk—or layman—to return to the words of the Jesus Prayer. This is how beginners are taught the Jesus Prayer, and it makes sense. Because our mind can think only one thought at a time (because of the way it’s built), if we return to thinking or saying the words of the Jesus Prayer, we have taken our mind off the tempting thought, which will eventually get tired and stop.

St John of the Sinai in the Ladder points out that the beginner usually does not have the strength to get rid of the tempting thought on his own power (he will acquire that strength as he grows in Hesychasm). He must, St John says, use petitionary prayer. Now St John was writing these particular passages for full-blown Hesychasts, but the principle remains the same even for us beginners: as we are practising the Jesus Prayer and are afflicted by tempting thoughts, we may find that our only recourse is to ask Jesus for help. This is a little tricky, because if we actually stop the Jesus Prayer to ask for help, then we have been defeated. The thought has accomplished its purpose: we have stopped the Jesus Prayer. Since we should always have in our daily program a period of petitionary prayer in addition to the Jesus Prayer, we can ask for help then. Of course, if things are really bad, then we may have no choice but to stop the Jesus Prayer, and pray in a petitionary way for help. This requires discernment.

In the case of the tempting thought of rancour, the above principles apply. We said in the last post that the monk was involved in an altercation and got angry, and that when he began his period of Jesus Prayer he then had a tempting recollection of the altercation. Now we can see how we beginners should in the first instance proceed: we should make every effort to keep our mind on the words of the Jesus Prayer and not to entangle our mind in the recollection of the altercation. Moreover, when we have finished our period of the Jesus Prayer (or even before that period), we should pray to Jesus Christ that he free us from the tempting thought of rancour. Moreover, since we should be conducting a daily examination of conscience, we should at some point during the day also have an opportunity to examine coolly whether in fact we sinned in the altercation: it may be that we have the persistent thought of rancour because we have in fact committed a sin or fault and need to repent (and in some cases even to see the priest).

In the case of tempting thoughts related to the other seven passions, we proceed in much the same way. In no case do we give ourselves over to the thought; in no case do we visualize ourselves engaged in practices which are not permitted to Christians and Christian monks.

Thursday, 1 December 2005

Combating the Passion of Anger 1 — The Tempting Thought of Rancour

In our last post, we described an interior condition free from tempting thoughts, one in which the Jesus Prayer continues—with great personal intensity, certainly—in an empty mind. This condition is close to the guard of the mind. The guard of the mind is the goal of the Hesychast, and it is from the guard of the mind that the Hesychast is raised by Grace to contemplation.

Let us suppose that in praying in this way, the monk observes an image in his field of consciousness. Let us suppose that this image attracts him, so that he wants to look at it, examine it, talk to it. If the monk gives in to this temptation to consort with the image that appears in his consciousness, thus deflecting his mind from the practice of the Jesus Prayer, then he has begun to consent to a tempting thought.

Let us now suppose that the monk is praying the Jesus Prayer in the way we described in the last post, although he is not dispassionate. That is, he is still subject to the passions. (Indeed, if he is still subject to the passions, he must be careful not to make too much of an ability to pray in the way that we have described: the demons that initiate the tempting thoughts might have withdrawn for a time, without for all that the monk being free of his passions.) Let us also suppose that having finished his vigil at night alone before God, the monk goes about his daily business, during which he falls into a disagreement with someone. Since he is not dispassionate, the monk might very well get angry at the other person. Let’s assume that he does, that he gets angry.

Let’s suppose that the monk calms down in an hour or two, finishes his day and gets up to do his cell vigil again, alone before God.

Now, when he begins to bring his mind into his heart practising the Jesus Prayer, the monk finds that things are not the way they were the day before. He sees that he is continually being distracted by a memory of the altercation he had earlier in the day. He keeps being drawn to a recollection of the event, of the person who offended him. He might begin to ‘act out’ in thought what he should have said and what he should have done in the episode but didn’t think of at the time.

We now say that the monk has a tempting thought of rancour. It is quite possible to have a tempting thought, of exactly the same nature as the thought of rancour just described, for any of the eight passions. The monk might have a thought of a pretty girl he knew 35 years ago, a thought of money and what he is going to do with it, a thought of honours that will accrue to him for his holiness and so on. In each case, however, the thought is distracting the monk from the practice of the Jesus Prayer in the way we described in the last post.

Mental ascesis is the practice of rejecting such tempting thoughts.

Now here we are interested in combating the passion of anger. Hence, we are interested in the tempting thought of rancour which is disturbing the monk’s practice of the Jesus Prayer. How does the monk get rid of this thought? At the most basic level, as with all of the tempting thoughts, he rejects it. He does not dally with it.

In general, in order to combat the passion of anger, the monk must strive to attain to meekness. This meekness is very similar to spiritual love, and should be distinguished from a sentimental meekness that verges on obsequiousness or unctuousness. It requires an honest humility to accomplish this meekness, and some spiritual maturity in how to deal with other people when they have grown angry or difficult.

In his everyday behaviour, so as to avoid in his prayer the distracting thoughts of rancour that we have just described, the monk must be careful not to give in to anger. There is nothing in the Christian monastic tradition that encourages expressions of anger. Instead, the Christian monastic tradition takes a more behaviouristic approach: avoid expressions of anger and your anger will diminish. Express meekness in your behaviour and your meekness will increase and your anger diminish.

Monday, 28 November 2005

Intercessory Prayer

In praying the Jesus Prayer, we should not ‘hop around’ various names and intentions: we should once and for all fold into all our being all those people and all those intentions for which we want to pray, and concentrate on the Prayer. It is a temptation to ‘hop around’ names and intentions; that prevents us from progressing into the depths of the Prayer so as to purify our inner being, optimally so as to purify our heart in conscious sobriety.

When we are praying the Jesus Prayer or an allied prayer, such as the Our Father, we should optimally have our mind in our heart in silence and stillness, praying the Prayer with intent. This can become even painful, so as to give meaning to the word of St Silouan the Athonite that to pray for someone is to shed blood. For in our very stillness, alone before God with our mind in our heart, our very self invokes the God who is before us: we are quite literally as one before Another. Our whole being is focused on the words of the Prayer in the depths of our heart, where is also our mind, united to the Prayer. Thus, united to the Prayer are our mind and our heart and our intent. This is a painful but fruitful experience.

As we progress in the Prayer in this way, we descend ever more deeply into our being, ever finding that we must ‘repent’ in order to begin to make progress in making the words of the Prayer, whatever formula we use, ‘our own’. This is a never-ending road, a never-ending battle against Ego. It is a never-ending battle for sobriety, in the sense of St Hesychios of the first volume of the Philokalia.

However, there is another road of the Jesus Prayer that will intercept and cut off this road of sober intercessory prayer: that is to emphasize the sentiment or emotions. We should not pursue tears or compunction or other emotional states; we should let them come to us naturally. When they come, we should not dwell on them. We should rather dwell on the sober invocation of God with our mind in the depths of our heart, soul and will.

To be able to pray the Prayer in this way, we must have made progress in descending into our heart with our mind, and we must have made progress in combating passionate thoughts. This is mental ascesis. Mental ascesis is the interior rejection of thoughts which form in our consciousness, which thoughts are expressions of any one of the eight passions.

In the present series on combating the passions, we are discussing how to combat those eight passions, largely at the more practical and exterior level of life in a coenobium. As a Hesychast once said to George: ‘I knew a fellow who early left the coenobium for the hermitage, and although he learned to put his mind into his heart, when he did so he found that he did not have the strength to reject the tempting thoughts. In despair he left the monastic state.’ You must make much progress in combating in the objective conditions of your life the passions that we are discussing, before you can become a monk, before you can become a Hesychast practising the Jesus Prayer in silence and tranquil peace.

Wednesday, 23 November 2005

Combating the Passion of Sorrow 4 — Preventing Psychological Problems in the Monastery

The first thing to do to prevent psychological problems in the monastery is to build the monastery in a sunny, dry location. All the cells (individual rooms) of the monks should have a good southern exposure and be free from dampness.

The next thing to do is to make sure that the monastery is well-built and well-heated or well-cooled, as the case may be.

In more northerly locales, the lack of sunshine in autumn and winter naturally brings on depression even in healthy persons. We wonder how the monasteries in the far north of Russia handled this matter; unfortunately we do not know: it would be a matter worthy of investigation for anyone contemplating founding a monastery in the far north or far south.

Next, the diet of the monks should be healthy. Only after charismatic discernment of the will of God by the Superior or Elder should monks embark on an ascesis which will deprive them of necessary vitamins, minerals and so on.

Next, the program of the monastery should be adapted both to the climate and to the psychological needs of the monks. The monks should not be ‘stressed out’ by an excessively burdensome program (say, for the sake of argument, church services 12 hours a day).

Finally, all monks need to work. This is a matter of psychological balance. However, the work should be suited to their physical and mental strength and age.

Monks with known psychological problems or with family histories of psychiatric illnesses that are known or suspected to have a genetic basis should be allowed to embark on personal asceticism only with the greatest circumspection on the part of the Superior.

The Superior should inculcate an attitude of mutual respect and courtesy in the monks that he is forming: ‘wildman’ behaviour should be eliminated and not at all tolerated in monks and novices. This especially includes those monks who have positions of authority in the monastery and who give orders to other monks. This is not merely a matter of preventing psychological deterioration in psychologically unstable persons, but also a matter of maintaining a psychologically healthy atmosphere in the monastery. Monks because of their way of life and relative isolation are more sensitive to psychological disturbance. Hence, allowing ‘wildman’ behaviour such as temper tantrums, shouting because of anger (especially on the part of monks in positions of authority) and such like creates an atmosphere in the monastery that does not allow the monks and novices peacefully to seek God in their hearts and to live a life of continual prayer.

‘Particular friendships’—special, emotionally exclusive, relationships between two or more monks—should be eliminated. These exclusive relationships will destroy the brotherhood. In serious cases, the offending monks are to be expelled. The problem starts long before any physical sin: the emotional exclusivity tears the brotherhood apart.

Christian monasticism does not foresee homosexual relations among monks or among nuns. Hence, the Superior should be very cautious about introducing persons with a homosexual orientation into his or her monastery, even if they are chaste. This is particularly true if a person has adopted a ‘gay-liberation’ ideology even though he or she expresses a wish to remain chaste. Times change; we grow old in the monastery; we change. It goes without saying that Christian monasticism does not foresee sexual relations between monks and nuns (or laywomen), or between nuns and monks (or laymen). See, in general, our remarks in Combating the Passion of Fornication

There is no antinomian tradition—that is, no tradition of conscious freedom from morality and law, the person having advanced spiritually beyond morality and law—in Christian monasticism, and any such expression should be dealt with ruthlessly, even by summary expulsion from the monastery.

These points concerning relations among monks, among nuns and between monks and nuns, and concerning antinomian behaviour, are points at which Christian monasticism takes a very different stance from Tibetan Buddhist monasticism, although we do not know the details of Tibetan Buddhist monastic rules. There is no tradition of tantric yoga in Christianity, so that the physical expression of tantric yoga between monks and nuns, found even among accomplished Tibetan Buddhist masters, is completely alien to Christian monasticism.

The monastery should be careful to maintain courteous Christian relations with its neighbours. This is especially true if the neighbours are not Orthodox Christian. This is so that the monks are unburdened by conflicts with the external world. The monks came for God. They did not come to fight the monastery’s neighbours.

The monastery should be properly inserted into the Orthodox Church. In Orthodox ecclesiology, the monastery is necessarily under the jurisdiction of an Orthodox bishop. Relations with that bishop should be sincere relations of children with their father. When the monastic superior has reached the spiritual stature of St Savas the Sanctified—in the eyes of others, not in his own eyes—, then he can in dogmatic matters carry the banner of Orthodoxy. In cases where the Orthodox monastery is not properly inserted into the Orthodox Church, it can be assumed that the psychological condition of the monks or nuns is not good, and that they will attract unstable or disturbed vocations.

Finally, the Superior should have a personal sense of justice and spiritual love. He should have the spiritual strength to shoulder the burdens of other people, especially of the persons he accepts. He should love his monks with a true spiritual love, and not with a human love that prefers one man over another. He should have a clear idea what monasticism is all about, and why a person becomes a monk. He should be a man of God.

These things are the presuppositions of an emotionally healthy Orthodox monastery. It is in such a monastery that a monk can maintain his sanity and progress in prayer.

Combating the Passion of Sorrow 3 — Psychological Problems and Entry into the Monastic State

We were interested in the matter of acceptance or rejection by the monastery of persons with psychological problems, and we had a long discussion with George on the matter. George himself had discussed the matter in the conversation with the Elder that we reported in the last post. Here’s what George told us.

In the monastery, the norm is to refuse persons with psychological problems who wish to become monks so as to evade their psychological conflicts, or whose parents wish to ‘park’ them in a monastery so as to be rid of a family burden. George said that the Elder viewed such vocations as failed from the beginning. This even included persons who wished to become monks to evade military service (in countries with the draft), to evade the law, to evade tax problems and so on.

The Elder had received as postulants a few persons with organic brain damage who could still function, and he had made them monks, but he remarked that it was a difficult matter: the monastery had to bear a burden which could distort its primary mission of worship of God and ascesis. Moreover, as time went on, the Elder remarked, some of these persons’ condition had deteriorated, causing an even greater burden to his monastic brotherhood. Moreover, the Elder had a fairly large brotherhood. It could ‘absorb’ stress from a few difficult monks without distortion of its primary monastic mission.

In the case that the brotherhood is small, the Elder said, it is out of the question to receive a disturbed or subnormal person: there is not enough psychological space for the person to live in the monastery without distortion of the rest of the brotherhood’s way of life. The monastery would become a small ‘asylum’ (in the original sense of ‘refuge’) instead of a monastery.

The Elder remarked that sometimes this was a sort of ‘folie à deux’ between the Superior and the disturbed or subnormal person: something resonated between them based on the illness the person had, and out of that unhealthy resonance the Superior retained the disturbed or subnormal person—and without realizing that he was embarking on the road of group disturbance.

In general, the Elder said, in cases where the person who advances to become a monk is somewhat psychologically disturbed, the Superior has to turn to God in prayer to seek his will: sometimes it is the will of God that the person be placed in that monastery and become a monk. Sometimes the person will, by the prayers of the saints who protect him and the monastery, get over his difficulty and become a good monk or even a teacher of others. In these matters, it is an error to depend on human discernment in the form of psychological testing, the Elder said, without also seeking the true discernment which is from God. The most psychological testing can tell us, he said, is that there might be a problem.

Moreover, the Elder said, on account of free will, even charismatically-endowed Elders cannot know how a person—even a healthy person—will evolve in the monastery. That is why, he said, persons entering the monastery have in the history of Christian monasticism always been tested as novices for a period of years. In the cases of psychological problems, that period of monastic testing is extended. This allows the person to adapt to the monastery brotherhood and the Superior to assess how the person is likely to evolve over his life-time.

Combating the Passion of Sorrow 2 — Handling Psychological Crises in the Monastery

We haven’t heard from our friend George in a while, so let’s hear what he has to say about handling psychological crises in the monastery. George was visiting a monastery when he had a conversation with an Elder. That Elder had a disciple, Fr Samuel, who was going through a crisis. George knew the disciple, who had just returned from a foreign land, and while in the monastery George had heard a few snippets of conversation from here and there, without of course falling into the fault of talking about third parties in their absence. He was curious, however, what the matter was all about. So during his conversation with the Elder, he asked him what was happening with his disciple.

The Elder briefly described how in the foreign land Fr Samuel had fallen into a crisis and could no longer function. George remarked, ‘Perhaps it is psychological?’ The Elder replied, ‘Would that it were, because then we could have a doctor give a prescription for the appropriate drugs for a few months and Fr Samuel would get over it. Unfortunately it’s spiritual.’

Here we see that the Elder, who had great gifts of spiritual discernment, recognized the value of psychiatric intervention in cases of psychological crisis. However, we also see that he could discriminate between crises that had a natural, psychological origin and those that had a spiritual origin. We also see that the ultimate treatment for crises of spiritual origin is not necessarily psychiatric.

What George tells us is that in that monastery, psychiatric intervention was invoked in all cases of crisis to stabilize the person, and then, given the discernment of the charismatically-endowed Elder, in those cases where the crisis was spiritual in nature, the appropriate spiritual treatment was given to relieve the person of his spiritual burden. This sometimes involved either or both of the Mystery of Unction (Euchelaio) and the Prayers of St Basil the Great from the priest’s Great Book of Prayers. This approach presumes that there is someone available who is charismatically endowed so as to be able to discern what the matter is all about, and who has the spiritual strength to relieve the person of his spiritual burden. Not every Elder can do these things without going to someone much greater than himself for spiritual assistance. Moreover, George tells us, in further conversation with the Elder, he learned that the success of the spiritual treatment requires as it were the agreement of God: God may wish for the sake of the soul’s salvation to leave the soul in the condition it is for a time or even until death—and without that necessarily meaning that that soul is at all lost.

Moreover, George tells us, in that monastery, the Elder had a working relationship with a pious Orthodox psychiatrist who respected the Elder and who worked together with the monastery doctor and the Elder. In cases where the case was completely psychological or, in the judgement of the psychiatrist, required continuing treatment with drugs, the Elder in no case discarded natural human treatment in favour of ‘spiritual treatment’. He recognized that these things work together and deferred to the judgement of the medically trained specialist.

This is true not only for cases of sorrow, but even for cases of psychological crisis that have another origin.

Saturday, 19 November 2005

Combating the Passion of Sorrow 1

We have already discussed sorrow in these two posts: The Jesus Prayer 3 and Sorrow.

In discussing how to combat the passions in the current series of posts, we have until now begun with the more external factors and worked our way in to the interior world of the monk or nun. Let’s do the reverse here. Let’s take the more interior case first.

The thought of sorrow arises as an intrusive tempting thought that if accepted makes us feel ‘down’ or depressed. If we are strong, we can reject such a thought. This is the mental ascesis that we have mentioned in other posts. When sorrow is at its initial stages and has not overwhelmed us, such a mental ascesis is possible. If the monk is experienced with the Jesus Prayer (say, 30 years of it) and also experienced with mental ascesis, this mental ascesis is also possible at the later stages of the evolution of a thought of sorrow into a full-blown funk or depression, when we feel quite down or depressed. However, the beginner in the Jesus Prayer and the weak will find it hard to resist the thought of sorrow once it has progressed beyond the initial stages of a tempting thought.

When we speak of the ‘evolution of a thought of sorrow’ we mean that any attack of any passion begins as a simple thought in our mind which we accept and involve ourselves with. This personal involvement with the thought brings on the further stages of the thought, here the thought of sorrow: this is the funk or depression.

Just as we might have a thought of fornication which if not rejected will evolve to a full-blown sexual temptation or sin, or a thought of avarice which if not rejected will evolve to a full-blown temptation to or act of greed, we might have a thought of sorrow which if not rejected will evolve to a full-blown temptation to or condition of depression. It is much easier to reject a temptation at the stage of the thought than it is at the later stages. This is true of all the passions, but the difficulty of rejecting a full-blown temptation to sorrow is stark: we simply don’t have the strength.

Now the above considerations apply, as we have already pointed out in the other posts, to persons in whom there is no underlying biochemical disequilibrium. We are not suggesting to anyone that an organic illness can be cured by the power of positive thinking. The above considerations apply to persons in whom the cause of the sorrow is not organic. The cause might be a sin that we have committed, an objective sorrow such as the loss of a loved one, an inability to accomplish a desire, an inability to revenge ourselves on someone who has hurt us (let us be honest), an objective hurt we have suffered, and so on. We are saying that in these cases, in the initial stages of the thought, we can reject the thought and be free of the subsequent sorrow.

In cases where our grief or hurt is great, rejecting the thought of sorrow may be very difficult indeed. If we are strong and experienced in the Jesus Prayer and mental ascesis, we can exercise, with the Jesus Prayer, patient endurance until our sorrow goes away by itself.

In some cases we cannot even do that. In those cases, we may be obliged to seek medical assistance, just as in the case of a sorrow which has an organic basis in a biochemical disequilibrium.

Monday, 14 November 2005

Combating the Passion of Avarice 3

The first step in the interior combat against avarice is to trust God. The Gospel is replete with exhortations of our Lord to do this. This might seem a platitude, but let us consider it in more detail. The larder is nearly empty; the visitor who is coming is wealthy: are we going to trust God or put the visitor to the test? Or, we think it would be nice if the kitchen of our monastery had a new floor. The contractor is willing to do it off the books if we are willing to do it off the books. God wants us to do it on the books. He might not want us to have a new kitchen floor. Then again he might. Are we going to trust God? Or do it off the books? Or, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have new quarters for the guests? Then we could entertain them in proper style. With better food. But to find the money, now, …

The next step is to have a personal sense of justice. Shouldn’t the monk of all people follow the Golden Rule?

The next step is to cultivate Christian charity—spiritual love—for others. This is not sentimental or obsequious, but strives to do the best, and to have the best—the spiritual best—happen, first to those of the House of Faith, and then to all men. Evagrius remarks that spiritual love and avarice cannot coexist in the same person. Hence, to cultivate spiritual love is to negate the passion of avarice and to displace it from the soul.

Finally, there is the matter of ambition. Avarice can be intertwined with ambition, and ultimately with a pride that is demonic. Here, it must be wondered: in this day and age in the West, is being a monk such a big deal? Wouldn’t it have been better to aim for CEO of Multinational, Inc.? As we once heard a monk remark: ‘We all started out with the same ideal when we became monks, but along the way we got diverted from the true road. And now we lose both this life, having renounced marriage and the world, and the life of the world to come, having gone off the road of true monasticism.’

At the level of the thoughts that occur to the monk, the monk should beware of thoughts that come to him detailing plans for making a lot of money to relieve his financial problem. In general, thoughts of money or wealth, even for ostensibly good causes, should be rejected. The monk should attend to his work with the means he has, remembering that one of the petitions of the ‘Our Father’ is ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ In praying this prayer, he commends all his needs to his Heavenly Father, who knows what he needs before he asks. As St Paul writes, there is a great gain in godliness with self-sufficiency—with being content with what you have, with making do. After all, we chose monasticism for God, not for money or wealth or fame or glory.

Combating the Passion of Avarice 2

The key points at which the monk is exposed to temptations to avarice from his concrete environment are as follows.

First in selling his products. The practice in Egypt was to have a pious layman take the monk’s mats or ropes to market and to sell them for the monk without haggling for a high price. In the case that the monk engaged in selling his products himself, he absolutely avoided haggling over the price and gave a price that was a little lower than the going one.

We know of a Cistercian monastery that owns a farm. Their practice is to charge a little more than they can for their products, not because they are avaricious but because to do otherwise would be to compete unfairly with the surrounding farmers. If monks are doing the work, a monastery has no labour costs to speak of, so the monastery’s production costs are going to be much lower than those of the surrounding farmers. Charging on the basis of actual production costs would force the surrounding farmers’ prices down. In general, farmers neighbouring communal farms have for this very reason often complained of unfair competition, even when the communal farm was not monastic.

Next in dealing with his employees. The monk is dedicated to living the Gospel, not to exploiting foreign workers. And how scandalous it is for workers and sub-contractors and professionals to leave the monastery grounds because of sharp, dishonest dealings on the part of a senior monk, saying, ‘I will never set foot here again.’!

Next, in viewing visitors and friends as sources of income, not as images of God.

Next, in dealings with the authorities. Let false papers be far from you and you will live in peace until you are resurrected in the resurrection of the just at the right hand of Jesus Christ the Lord.

Next in setting his standard of living. While a monk living in a coenobium might not own anything in his own name, the coenobium might be at a rather high economic level in comparison to the surrounding society. Here there is a problem with the educated Western monk: if the other members of his cohort are prosperous professionals, is he going to rest content living by the light of a kerosene lamp? Might not this be a mere quixotic romanticism? This is not to deny that there are great monastic saints that lived on berries in a lean-to, nor holy men that lived by the light of a kerosene lamp.

Here it is well to remark on the historical Russian dispute between the monasteries which were ‘possessors’ and those which were ‘non-possessors’. That is, between the monasteries which had great possessions and those which had none. As the dispute is usually presented, the bad guys were the ‘possessors’ following in the footsteps of St Joseph of Volokolamsk. But the merest glance at St Joseph’s homilies shows that he was a very spiritual man. The matter is not so simple as such a simple dichotomy would suggest.

However, surely a man becomes a monk today not to improve his lot but to improve himself. Poverty, says Evagrius, leads to humility.

Finally in pursuing wealth for its own sake, so that the monks can live as rentiers. Being a rentier opens a whole new can of worms for the Abbot, who has to send someone to business school to study business and investment and finance and taxation and—, so that that monk can deal with the business advisors of the monastery.

Through donations, St Pachomius’ Fourth-Century group of monasteries quickly became one of the wealthiest landowners of Egypt, to the dismay of the saint’s immediate disciples who watched the decay of the first spiritual ideal. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that the Pachomian monasteries died out so quickly.

However, theoretically, being a rentier entitles the monk to the free time necessary for prayer.

Combating the Passion of Avarice 1

We discussed the nature of the passion of avarice in this post.

Avarice starts from the obvious: the need for food and shelter. The monk has to do something to provide for himself, unless he plans to live until winter on berries in a lean-to in the forest. However, there is a tension between the structure of advanced industrial society and the structure of Orthodox monasticism, which is more suited to simpler occupations than either modern industrial society or the education of the modern monk would have us envisage.

In the Syrian tradition, the monk did not work, and depended on God to feed him. This appears also to have been the practice in Sinai.

In Egypt, the monks insisted on work. There is a story in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers about the young monk who insisted on spending his time in prayer and not working. The Elder sent him to pray outside the cell and when the time came to eat, and the young monk knocked on the door to come in and eat, saying ‘I’m so-and-so,’ the Elder refused to open, saying that so-and-so was with the angels, praying. The Egyptian practice has become the norm on Mount Athos. It is expected there that the monk will work to keep himself.

The final alternative is to belong to a monastery which has wealth and to live as a rentier.

In Egypt, the monks practised very simple occupations which left their mind or nous free for contemplation. But this was integrated into their social context. They plaited mats or made ropes from the local raw materials. This was appropriate to the cultural and economic conditions in which they lived. There was a ready market for mats and ropes in the district.

In the Middle Ages, monasteries farmed land. In the Roman Catholic Church, in a reflection of the social structure of contemporary medieval society, in the Cistercian and Carthusian orders there were two classes of monks: the choir monks, from the higher class, who occupied themselves with higher theological studies, prayer and the priesthood; and the lay brothers, from the peasant class, who occupied themselves with a regime of simple prayers and manual labour on the monastery farm. This two-tier system was formally abolished after Vatican II. The Cistercians were noted for founding their monasteries in otherwise uninhabited marshlands and reclaiming those marshlands. Neither of the two orders could be considered parasitical.

Monasticism necessarily follows the social and economic conditions in which it finds itself.

In the United States of America, with its advanced industrial and technological culture, it would be absurd and laughable to find an Orthodox monk plaiting ropes for a living. It would also be absurd to expect to find in the United States an Orthodox two-tier monastic brotherhood farming in a feudal arrangement.

Moreover, monastic poverty has one meaning in the United States and another in Ethiopia, just as poverty itself is a relative concept. How realistic would it be from a psychological point of view and from a sociological point of view to expect an educated monk in the United States to live at a Third-World level of poverty?

This interrelation with the surrounding culture and economy creates a serious problem for monastic self-support in countries of the First World.

Nowadays, small First-World monasteries support themselves by manufacturing or merchandising luxury items, or by doing the same with simple tourist trinkets, or by doing the same with religious items such as icons or books, or by some combination of these things. Monastic brotherhoods today are too small to have the capital and other presuppositions of entry into the advanced technological economy to which they belong. For example, it would be ridiculous to expect a monastery to aspire to manufacture carpets on a industrial scale. Moreover, practice of an advanced profession—say, computing—is mentally demanding and inconsistent with the practice of continual prayer. However, computing and the Internet have introduced the possibility that some industries, such as publishing, can be pursued on a much less capital-intensive basis. The final alternative again is to wait until the monastery becomes wealthy, if ever, and to live as a rentier.

In the First World today, Orthodox monks are not peasants. While it is by no means universally true, they tend to be well-educated persons who were dissatisfied with the opportunities available to them in the broader society for personal psychological or religious development. They are ordinarily persons who by virtue of education and social position could very easily pursue an advanced profession such a medicine, engineering or law but instead choose to become monks. Orthodox monasticism in the First World has this character: it tends to be a choice of members of the intelligentsia. (Of course, there is also an ethnic element.) But this means that some of the more agrarian pursuits traditionally associated with monasticism are not easily undertaken by these monks. For example, it might be thought that an Orthodox monastery could own a vineyard and sell wine, or similarly for beer. But unless the monks have someone among them who by training is a biologist or agriculturalist, how are they going to know anything about vines or hops or wine-making or beer-brewing? Or are they going to hire a professional to do it for them? But then they just as well might discard the habit and go into business.

In the Byzantine period, in an epoch when slavery was legally permitted, St Theodore Studite forbade his monks to hold slaves, remarking that that was permitted only to lay people. He considered the holding of slaves inconsistent with the monastic profession. Nowadays monasteries have employees, not slaves. But is it not just as scandalous to see a monk mercilessly exploiting a foreign worker to save his monastery a dollar?

Of course, the notion of the monk as rentier has entered into the mythology of the Enlightenment and Reformation: the monk as fat exploiter of the poor, as a precursor of the cigar-smoking capitalist. But there is genuinely a danger of avarice on this road.

These matters form the presupposition of the battle against avarice.

Wednesday, 9 November 2005

Combating the Passion of Fornication

The psychology of men is different from that of women, and the passion of fornication expresses itself differently in men than in women. We do not have the gift of clairvoyance to be able to enter into the inner world of others, so we will necessarily restrict our comments to the psychology of men, leaving others to address the psychology of women. However, clearly, in women female physiology, genetic programming for the maternal role, whether the woman has ever borne a child, or even been pregnant, the age of the woman—all these sorts of things purvey a significance that is not evident in the man. An example is the normal human response to a child: the man and the woman ‘see’ the child differently. The man might see the child as a potential sexual partner whereas the woman would normally have a maternal response to the child. This indicates that it is more dangerous for men who have professed chastity to be around children than it is for women who have professed chastity to be. That is why in the monastic rules, in men’s monasteries where children were allowed—there is one strand, a Basilian strand, in Orthodox monasticism that allows it; there is another more ascetical strand that forbids it—the monk placed in charge of the children is to be an aged monk, in whom ideally the passion of fornication is quite dead.

Evagrius remarks that when the monk is young and vigorous, the passion of fornication is similarly vigorous and seeks its outlet in practices according to nature. As the monk continues in the monastic condition of celibacy, however, the passion of fornication is to an extent diminished and no longer has the strength to seek its outlet in practices according to nature. If the monk in this diminished condition succumbs to temptation, he is likely, it seems, to seek an outlet in practices contrary to nature. Evagrius cautions the monk that it is far easier to purify a soul that first approaches monasticism—say, as a sinner who ‘converts’, repents and then enters the monastery—than it is to purify a soul that, having once been purified by monasticism, then falls into a sexual sin. For, he says, sorrow is ever bringing the sin before mind’s eye of the monk and leading him to despair.

In general, in man the sexual urge is like a fire that is looking for something—anything—to ignite, like an itch that is looking for something—anything—with which it might be scratched. It appears that the sexual urge presents itself to the consciousness of the woman in a quite different fashion, making the treatment of the passion of fornication different for the woman than for the man.

If someone who has a vow of chastity falls into a sexual sin, he is most likely going to be enslaved by the passion: he will compulsively seek after the pleasure again and again. This is true of all the passions, but particularly stark in the case of fornication. It is not a trivial matter to give a vow to God: ‘God is not mocked.’ It takes the prayers of several saints to free the monk or celibate priest from such a bondage to the demon of fornication. And very few who have fallen find their way to such saints.

Hence, it is a matter of the utmost seriousness to discern in God whether the man approaching the monastery or seminary for the celibate life has the strength and the true inclination to remain celibate all his life. ‘It is better to marry than to burn.’ In the Orthodox Church there is no dispensation from vows.

This is one case.

Here is another case. We once heard about a younger monk who had cast off the habit—and his vows—and got married. Since the monk was Orthodox, and there is no dispensation from vows, this suggests that there were serious spiritual consequences to the monk’s action. We were once driving with a priest who remarked on the case. We replied: ‘But the monastery where the monk was (living alone) was quite isolated.’ The priest replied: ‘Ah, yes—so the visitors had to spend the night.’ Let him who has ears to hear, hear.

The Gospel is clear: celibacy is not for everyone but for those to whom it has been given. Moreover, it is for him who ‘is able’ to receive the call to celibacy.

The passion of fornication presents itself to the mind’s eye in two related ways: as an image with sexual content that enters the consciousness, and as a spontaneous excitation of the sexual organs. In both cases, however, the monk must as soon as he can utterly reject the temptation psychologically.

But this is unnatural, the reader of this blog might claim. We are speaking about monks and nuns who, after a testing of their vocation, have freely professed life-long chastity. Persons in the married state must reject similar temptations against fidelity to their spouse; unmarried Orthodox Christians must reject such temptations against their personal chastity.

These considerations lead us to some remarks on how to combat the passion of fornication.

First, monks shouldn’t be alone around children on a continuing basis.

Secondly, monastic superiors should reflect seriously on the presence of children in their monastery.

These considerations also apply to monks and women visitors—and indeed also to nuns and men visitors to the monastery. Historically, monasteries have been cloistered: closed to members of the opposite sex.

Next, on the more interior level, the first thing for the monk to do—if he hasn’t already done so—is to turn off the television. We have to minimize the images that impinge on our consciousness that might excite a sexual response. It is not only at the immediate moment we see them that they might bother us, but also later, through the memory. This obviously also applies even to printed books and magazines, including both text and illustration. In the case of the Internet, a sensible thing to do is to avoid bad sites and to turn off most if not all imaging.

Next, the monk must keep temperance in his diet—recall that the road to a man’s heart is through his stomach: gluttony is the presupposition of a temptation to fornication. This includes quantity of food, type of food, spiciness of the food, amount of alcohol consumed and so on. In a strongly ascetical regime, the monk even reduces his intake of water.

In a general context, the regular regime of the monastery with its long services calms the monk and indirectly soothes his passion. This also applies to regular attendance at the Mysteries, including Confession.

At the very interior level, Evagrius remarks that the temptation of the monk is the tempting thought or image that rises into the monk’s consciousness from the passionate part of his soul, and that the sin of the monk is his consent to the forbidden pleasure of the tempting thought or image. This applies not only to the tempting thoughts of fornication but to tempting thoughts of all the eight passions. As the monk progresses to sobriety through use of the Jesus Prayer, he becomes more and more able to intercept these tempting thoughts or images at their early stages and to reject them. This is mental ascesis. However, mental ascesis is practised for tempting thoughts and images of all the eight passions, not just of fornication.

Finally, prayer is required. This includes not only the Jesus Prayer, but also petitionary prayer for help. Here, the comments of St John of the Ladder in the Ladder of Divine Ascent on the passion of fornication are apposite.