A few days before my birthday in 2005, I purchased and received Anthony M. Coniaris, Confronting and Controlling Thoughts According to the Fathers of the Philokalia (Minneapolis: Light and Life Publishing 2004). It was a providential purchase. For this is a matter about which I am much concerned presently. I may offer some thoughts on it in a subsequent post. But for now, I just want to post an extended quote.
The church fathers, who spent their lives resisting the devil’s onslaughts (logismoi) have a deep understanding of how Satan attacks us through the mind. They list the following four stages of how Satan attacks us through logismoi:
1. The mind receives a suggestion or stimulation, which is another word for temptation. This is called prosbole in Greek. It is like Satan knocking on the door. If the mind is vigilant, attentive, it will notice the provocation and will close the door on temptation, or, as some church fathers say, “If the devil knocks on the door of your mind, send Jesus to the door.” By this they mean the Jesus Prayer. There is no sin involved in this first stage. Even Jesus was tempted.
2. If we do not close the door, the soul will enter into dialogue with the suggestion/temptation as Eve did with the serpent. The fathers warn us about the great danger of dialoguing with Satan, since he is far wiser than we are with countless years of experience in seducing victims. This second step is called syndiasmos or dialogue. Yet even in this second stage of tempation there is no accountability, since no sin has been commited. It is a conversation, albeit dangerous, between Satan and the soul.
3. There is a union or coupling with the thought in which the mind consents to the temptation (logismoi) and begins to dwell on it. The decision has been made. This is called synkatathesis, or consent. It is the begin of sin. It is the stage Jesus referred to when He said that if you look upon a woman lustfully and covet her in your heart, it is as if you have already committed adultery.
Yet we are still in the third stage of consent. No action has taken place. It is still possible by God’s grace to be liberated from this stage of consent. . . .
4. The fourth and last stage in the process of sin is the stage of captivity. Here we fall so completely under the power of temptation that we are no longer free to resist it. It becomes a passion, an obsession, an addiction. We become its captive. We are imprisoned by it.
St. Hesychios describes this process of temptation as follows in the Philokalia:
The provocation comes first, then our coupling with it, or the mingling of our thoughts with those of the wicked demons. Third comes our assent to the provocation, with both sets of intermingling thoughts contriving how to commit sin in practice. Fourth comes the concrete action–that is, the sin itself. If, however, the intellect is attentive and watchful, and at once repulses the provocation by counter-attacking and gainsaying it and invoking the Lord Jesus, its consequences remain inoperative; for the devil, being a bodiless intellect, can deceive our souls only by means of fantasies and thoughts. . . .
Intellect is invisibly interlocked in battle with intellect, the demonic intellect with our own. So from the depths of our heart we must at each instan[ce] call on Christ to drive the demonic intellect away from us and in His compassion give us the victory. . . .
How can we best resist the logismoi or evil thoughts that attack us? Every day we need to make a decision as to which thoughts we will allow to enter our minds. We need to screen them carefully and with great discernment: What we read, what we watch on TV; what movie we see; what company we keep. We need to “take every thuoght captive to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). The mind of Christ can, through the Holy Spirit, control our thoughts, our intents, and our actions, if we submit to Him daily. . . .
Because God’s help is ever just a prayer away from us, St. Philotheos of Sinai was able to say,
Be extremely strict in guarding your intellect. When you perceive an evil thought, rebut it and immediately call upon Christ to defend you; and while you are still speaking, Jesus in His gentle love will say: “Behold, I am by your side ready to help you.”
For a great audio account of the above, listen to Mother Melania in her Illumined Heart interview.