God sometimes covers up good gifts
Monk Proclu (Nicau) The Holy Spirit doesn’t allow a man who is weak in humility to feel Him.
Even if some people want to be saved, the good God doesn’t reveal the gifts of eternity to them because He pities these souls. The word of the Psalter is fulfilled in them: How great is the multitude of Thy goodness, O Lord, which Thou hast hid for them that fear Thee (Ps. 30:19).
Even if a man hasn’t progressed in humility, the Holy Spirit covers his good deeds so he won’t be robbed. Some people murmur and say: “I’ve spent so much time in the monastery and I haven’t felt the help of God at all.” Such people should rejoice, because God has concealed their good gifts so they don’t see them, and thus needn’t fear thieves.
The devil attacks the mind that isn’t occupied with prayer
In the struggle for humility, the devil sometimes mixes with the mind of man. As long as the mind is in prayer, he can’t mingle with it; he stands at a distance, but watches for the moment when the mind is empty, unoccupied. Then the devil lashes out and attacks wherever man is weaker. For example, he tells you that you’re better than someone else.
Once, when I wanted to weep for my sins, the devil said to me, “Why are you denigrating yourself? I know your sins, but you’re a little better than the bad people.” He didn’t say “good,” because he knew I wouldn’t believe him. This was a heavy blow for me.
These temptations come when you try to gather your mind; if I’m praying, and my mind is carried away to church, and out onto the street, and it soars somewhere else, then the devil begins to fight me with many carnal temptations. Then you can’t see your inner life, because it’s dark.
Whatever obedience you carry out, even when you’re carrying a bucket of water, your mind must be working— because if you have no work, the devil will give you his work, and you won’t be able to stay in the monastery any longer. If you think about food, or the rain, or clothes, or any other earthly things, it’s like living in the world.
Some dream of the desert, and don’t realize that they have the desert in their cells. At night, when you pray to the good God, you are as if in a desert; but if you sleep all night, then it’s just like living in a city: You’ll have no rewards.
If you fall asleep with prayer in your mind, the devil can’t succeed
All those who try to have sleep seize them directly from prayer—that is, who try to fall asleep with prayer in their mind, will greatly increase it.
If you can’t remain vigilant all night, get your spiritual father’s blessing and go to your cell. And after you complete your rule of prayer and you want to sleep, make the Sign of the Cross over your headboard and your face and say: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” If it doesn’t work out for sleep to overtake you directly from prayer, that means during the day when you went to your obedience, your mind was scattered and you weren’t repeating the prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ…” That means you have to try not to talk with anyone when you go to your obedience, unless you’ve been asked about something. Then answer so they won’t think badly of you if you don’t answer; don’t give them cause for suspicion and answer exactly as much as was asked. If you start multiplying your words, then you bear the blame. Such is the silent life.
If you fall asleep with the prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ…,” the devil begins to wake you up so that you fall asleep in a state of distraction. It’s his jealousy, so that you won’t fall asleep in prayer several nights in a row.
This is the greatest success—if sleep seizes you from the prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ…” No matter how hard the spirits struggle with you and no matter how difficult the temptations are, the Holy Spirit will enter your heart, and the devil will no longer have any power; he’ll no longer be able to succeed.
When the devil sees that a man wants to purify his heart, he appears with all sorts of trials
When a man tries to say the prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ…,” there are all sorts of trials. First the devil tries to attack through the five senses. To the degree that you try to not be a slave to these five senses, the Holy Spirit helps you in the prayer of the heart. And to the extent that you try to labor ascetically, the Holy Spirit helps the mind acquire the prayer of the heart (self-moving prayer).
The Holy Spirit brings the mind into the heart. Know that there are moments when He grants man to feel Him.
Fr. Cleopa (Ilie) said:
When you inadvertently wake up or turn on your other side… and there comes humility, repentance, tears, collectedness of mind, and thirst for God, then a monk must, as much as he can, not allow thoughts of many cares into his mind. This joy doesn’t last long—ten or fifteen minutes. Let the mind then repeat the prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ…” And if a monk gathers his mind and prayers, great joy can descend into his soul.
And the devil does the opposite: When you feel humility, collectedness of mind, tears, then he gives you worries: Either you have to finish reading your prayer rule, or you have to go to church, or you have to do something urgently, and then you can lose (to him).
When the devil sees that a man wants to purify his heart, he tries to confuse him with visions. And if the devil deceives you, you’ll need three or four days to get rid of him and return to the place that you fell from.
When the devil comes, tell him, “If you’re from God, repeat after me: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’” With these temptations, the Holy Spirit initially enlightens your mind, but doesn’t help; He stands and waits to see who you’ll join. And if you repeat, “Lord Jesus Christ…,” then to the extent that you pray and entreat help from God, the Holy Spirit castigates the devil and reveals him to you.
Whatever happens in the visions, don’t think, don’t reflect upon the revelations and deeds that occurred in the deception.
The temptations from the devil are so heavy that it would be better if someone cut you alive with a knife, an axe… If the good God allowed the devil [to do whatever he wants], man wouldn’t be able to withstand the temptations. But God doesn’t allow temptations beyond a man’s strength.
The fall or rise of a monk stems from his thoughts
Suspicion, condemnation, slander, murmuring… When a man wants to mourn his sins, these temptations recede from him. And even if he lives in a communal monastery, even in the fraternal residence he’s as if in the desert. But when you unite with someone or dance to someone’s tune, you lose.
Those who have gone to live in monasteries with the thought: “I’m going to the monastery to die,” are the ones who progressed. Those who go to a monastery to die will greatly progress. But those who go to live longer still have much to endure, not because they or anyone else wants it—it’s just the way it is: They suffer much and get nothing in return.
There are those who don’t make any special endeavors in the monastic buildings, but they try not to grieve anyone—neither the abbot nor anyone else, and they’re at peace with everyone; they pray in their hearts, they have nothing to do with anyone, and they want to be saved. They outrun everyone. The fall and rising of a monk stems from his thoughts, from what his mind is occupied with. Whoever has jealousies or opinions, God forbid, is in danger.
The deepest peace I ever had was when I lived in the brothers’ quarters and avoided being interested in anything. If someone asked for advice, I gave it. If you speak without being asked, or you answer more than is necessary, you lose.
How to preserve spiritual joys
You achieve spiritual joys both during sleep, if the mind is working, and when you’re awake.
When the good God is pleased to do so, the Holy Spirit stops nature: You’re not hungry or thirsty; nothing can cause you harm. In time, the Holy Spirit takes away a man’s prayer, whether he’s awake or asleep. Then, wherever He takes him, he feels happy; and as soon as He leads him, He returns to him the prayer that He took away, and he no longer labors with his mind. And during the day, when the Holy Spirit gathers his mind into his heart and he prays to God with such thirst, then wherever the Holy Spirit leads him, he feels like he’s in Paradise.
Only those who have tasted these joys can understand this. If the good God had left him in these joys, he would have remained in them eternally. But if you’ve had one of these joys, know that it’s not yours. It would be yours if, no matter how many times you get up for prayer you have it every time; then it would be yours. However, God has revealed these joys to you so you might know what to fight for.
When you have such joy, you should do this: When He took away your prayer and you rejoiced in the glory of God, and He brought you back and again gave you prayer, then pray unceasingly, always, always, as briefly and as often as possible, so your mind isn’t scattered. And if you have much humility, the Holy Spirit will again enrapture you. And so on for three or four days, and maybe longer. During this time, you don’t sleep, you don’t get hungry, and you don’t have this age in mind at all. You don’t have this age in mind anymore—only the other one.
After these joys have departed, the devil comes by way of temptation. First with tiny, tiny, tiny trifles, and if you say the prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ…,” then he steps aside and waits in ambush. And he rushes in when he sees that the mill is spinning in vain, without grinding anything. Then he pours in his tares and prepares his own grinding.
To be continued…