Sunday, 8 July 2007

Orthodox Monasticism 23 — Evagrius on the Combat Against the Logismos

The logismos is a bad thing. We don’t want to have logismoi. What can we do about them? Evagrius does not talk about the Jesus Prayer, so the answer he gives does not depend on its practice. However, in the Conferences 9 and 10, St John Cassian, the disciple of Evagrius, discusses a method very similar to the Jesus Prayer: the repetitive recitation of a short scriptural passage. This means that Evagrius must have known something about the role in the spiritual life of the repetitive recitation of a short passage. Moreover, we see in the Life and Rule of St Pachomios that repeating a short passage of Scripture was part of the Pachomian program, especially when the brothers were working or walking in a group.

The basic method to combat a logismos that Evagrius recommends is the ‘rebuttal’: this is the use of a passage of scripture to reject—to rebut—the demon that is exciting the passion and causing the logismos. However, Evagrius also recommends other methods, and St John of Sinai points out in the Ladder that rebuttal is beyond the strength of the beginner.

There is another method that Evagrius recommends in Peri Logismon 24. This is a very basic method based on the psychological fact that we cannot think two thoughts at the same time. If a demon is tempting us to think a logismos—a bad thought—then if we think about something else we will not be thinking about the logismos, and the demon will eventually get tired and go away.

For those of us who pray the Jesus Prayer, this is a very important method of combating a logismos: all we have to do is to take our mind off the logismos and return to the words of the Jesus Prayer.

There is a further concept in Evagrius’ approach to the logismos. This is the concept of attention. We pay attention to our thoughts. This is the foundation of Hesychasm as it is taught in the School of Sinai, which we started to discuss with St John of Sinai. In other words, one of the main features of the practice of the Jesus Prayer is the attention we pay to our thoughts while praying the Jesus Prayer, so as to reject logismoi.

We should be doing this, if we are serious, and especially if we are monks, all day long. Of course, there are inevitably distractions and an attempt to reach this level of practice before we are ready can have adverse effects—so much so that we might end up in a mental hospital. You have to be ready for this. However, it is the basis of the practice of Hesychasm.

So there are really two parts to the practice of the Jesus Prayer: reciting the Prayer—orally, silently in the heart, whatever—and combating our logismoi. And the basic way to combat the logismos is rebuttal. However, for us beginners, it is better simply to return to the words of the Jesus Prayer.

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