Sexual Temptation (continued) Book V

V.v.13. Another brother goaded by sexual thoughts got up in the middle of the night and ran to an old man to confess and receive counsel. Helped and strengthened he returned to his cell. And behold the devil tempted him again, so that again he ran to the old man. This happened several times. The old man by no means discouraged him, but gave him appropriate advice, "Don't give in to the devil, don't relax your mind, but as often as the devil is troublesome, come to me so that he may be rebuked and put to flight, for nothing wearies the devil so much as having his attacks brought out into the open, and nothing rejoices him so much as thoughts being concealed."
Eleven times the brother came to him to reveal his thoughts, and at last he cried, "Mercy on me, father. Give me a word."
And the old man said, "Believe, my son, that God has allowed thoughts which have goaded my own mind to be transferred to you, but don't carry them away with you, cast them down in front of you straight away."
As the old man said this, because of his great humility, the murmur of temptation was stilled in the brother's heart.
V.v.14. Another one, goaded by sexual temptation kept on battling and underwent ever more severe fasts for forty years, guarding his thoughts and refusing consent to them. At last he came in to the church and made known to everybody what he had been going through. And everyone was enjoined to do penance for him for a week, joining together in prayer to the Lord, and behold his temptation ceased.
V.v.15. On the subject of sexual temptation an old man said, "You lazy hermits, do you really want to walk on the path of salvation? Get going, work hard, take pains, seek and you will find, wake up, knock and it will be opened unto you. Think of the gladiators of this world, who when seen to have stood up bravely against all manner of attacks, receive the crown. See how much strength can be built up by physical exercise. So do you stand, and be strong, and the Lord will fight against the enemy for you."
V.v.16. Another old man spoke thus about these same sexual thoughts, "Be like somebody going along the street or into a shop who can smell cooking or some other such pleasant smell. If he wants to he can stop and eat, but if not, all he gets is the smell before he passes by. So you may leave the smell behind you, rise up and pray, 'Lord. Son of God, help me'. And do this to counteract all sorts of other thoughts. For we don't aim at eradicating thoughts but at fighting against them."
V.v.17. Another old man said, "We suffer these things because of our negligence. If we really trusted that God dwelt within us we would not allow any other superfluous baggage inside. For the Lord Christ dwelling in us and with us sees every aspect of our lives. Bearing him with us as we do, and gazing upon him, we ought not to be negligent but become holy as he is holy. Let us stand on this rock and let the enemy dash himself against it in vain. Fear not, and he cannot do you harm. Sing with vigour the psalm, 'They that put their trust in the Lord shall be even as the Mount Sion. He who lives in Jerusalem shall stand fast for ever'" (
V.v.18. A brother questioned an old man, saying, "If a monk falls into sin he is grieved that in his search for perfection he has fallen dangerously short, and has to work hard at the task of renewal. But someone making a beginning after renouncing the world seems to prosper with ease."
And the old man replied, "A monk succumbing to temptation is like someone with a building which has collapsed. If he plans prudently he will rebuild the ruins, gathering together all the useful building materials, possessing already the foundations which have been laid, and stones and sand and other things necessary for building. And so he can quickly begin to get on with the restoration. But someone who has not excavated or laid down footings, and has none of the requisite materials simply launches forth in hope that somehow, some time, all will come to fruition. Similarly, a monk who has succumbed to temptation and turned back to the Lord has a lot of resources to fall back on - meditation on the divine law, psalmody, manual work, prayer, etc. - all these are fundamental. But someone newly converted remains in the lowest rank until he has learnt these things."
(Also in III.13) A certain brother in the grip of sexual temptation went to a certain respected old man and said, "Of your charity please pray for me, as I am very troubled by sexual thoughts." 
So the old man prayed to the Lord. Later he came again to the old man with the same request, and the old man again prayed to the Lord, saying, "Lord, show me how the devil is working in this brother. And why is it that even though I have already prayed to you he has not found any relief?"
And the Lord showed him what was happening with this brother. For he saw him sitting down, a devil with him, and as it were sporting with him, and an angel sent to help him from the Lord standing nearby, very angry with this brother for not turning to the Lord but really enjoying his own thoughts and giving his whole attention to them. So the old man realised that the cause lay rather at the brother's own door, and told him that it was because he was consenting inwardly to these thoughts. He showed him how to deny entrance to such thoughts, and as the brother began to come to life again through the old man's prayer and teaching, so he began to gain respite from his temptations.
V.v.20. When a certain respected old man saw that his disciple was grievously troubled with sexual thoughts he asked him, "Do you wish that I should ask the Lord to take this burden from you?"
But he replied, "I can see, father, that if I work at it, even though the burden of such work is very heavy, there will be fruition in due course. But pray for me to the Lord to give me strength to bear it." 
And the old man said, "Now I know that you are far advanced along the way and have outstripped me."
V.v.21. It was told of a certain old man who had gone into Scete that his disciple had been with him since the time when milk was his only food, and having been brought up in a monastery he had no idea of what women were. But when he grew up, to the old man's astonishment he described how the devil showed him women's clothing in dreams. For when he went up to Egypt with him for the first time and saw women he said to him, "Father those people are like what I saw in my dreams in Scete."
And the old man said, "These are the monks of the world, my son. They wear a habit rather different from ours, and live in different hermitages." 
And as they went back to their cell the old man marvelled that the demons had showed him images of women in Scete.
(Also in III.11) A certain brother in Scete was being severely tried by the devil, who kept on putting into his mind memories of a certain beautiful woman, and this grievously disturbed him. And in the mercy of God it so happened that another brother came down from Egypt and joined him in Scete. In the course of conversation he mentioned that the wife of a certain person was dead, who happened to be that same woman who had been throwing him off balance. Hearing this he put on his cloak that night and went up to the place where he had been told she was buried. He dug down till he was able to take out some of the decaying remains and wrap them in his cloak, which he then kept in this cell after his return. And when it had got really putrid, he would put it in front of him and scold his own thoughts thus, "See the object of your desires - posses it, enjoy it!" 
And so by the use of this putrescence he rebuked himself until his craving died.
V.v.23. A certain man once came to Scete to be a monk and brought his newly weaned son with him, who when grown to adolescence began to be attacked and provoked by demons. He said to his father, "I am going back to the world. I can't resist these bodily desires."
His father however tried to calm him down
, but the young man said, "I really can't bear it, father, Let me go back to the world."
His father said, "Hear me just this once, my son. Take forty loaves and enough palm leaves for forty days work and go into the inner desert, and stay there for forty days, and let God's will be done." Obedient to his father, he went into the inner desert, staying there at his work of making mats out of the dried palm leaves and eating dry bread. After twenty days without incident there appeared to him a devilish apparition in the shape of an Ethiopian woman sitting in front of him, stinking and foul of face, such that unable to endure it he turned violently away from her. And she said to him, "In the hearts of men I am able to appear beautiful, but because of your obedience and the labour you have persevered in, God has not allowed me to lead you astray, but made me show you how foul I am."
He immediately got up and giving thanks to God ran to his father, and said to him, "I no longer want to go back to the world, father, for I have seen the work of the devil and his foulness."
His father had realised this would happen, and said to him, "If only you had stayed the full forty days as I had said, you would have seen even greater things than these."
(Also in 11I.14) A certain old man who lived in a very distant part of the desert had a mother who after many years wanted to see him again and having enquired where he lived, set out to take the road to the desert. Meeting up with a camel train she joined them and travelled into the desert with them. But she was led astray by the devil, for when she had arrived at the old man's door she established her identity by certain signs and stayed with him saying, "I am your mother."
Now another monk living in a lower part of the desert who was in the habit of filling a bowl with water at the time for his meal, suddenly found that the bowl was tipped over and the water poured out on the ground. Inspired by God he said to himself, "I will go into the inner desert to tell the seniors about the incident of the spilt water."
So he got up and went on his journey and when it got to be late at night he went to sleep in a temple of idols by the side of the road. In the middle of the night he heard the demons saying, "This night we have led that monk into sexual sin."
He was sad when he heard this and coming to the old man whom he found to be in a similar sad state he said, "What shall I do, father? For I filled my bowl with water but at the hour for my meal it was all poured out."
And the old man said to him, "You are coming to consult me because your bowl of water has tipped over? But what shall I do, for this night I have fallen into sexual sin."
"I know", was the reply.
"How do you know that?" he asked.
"I was sleeping in the temple", he said, "and I heard the demons talking about you." 
"I think I'd better go back to the world," he said, but the other begged him, saying, "Don't, father. Stay here in your place and send this woman away. This has all happened because of the attacks of the enemy."
At these words the old man took heart, intensifying and developing his way of life until he had returned to his former state.
V.v.25 An old man said, "Silence, hidden meditation, and an untroubled mind give rise to chastity."
V.v.26. A certain brother asked an old man, "If someone succumbs to temptation, what should be done for those who are scandalised by him?"
The old man told him a story: A certain man was appointed to be the deacon in a monastery in Egypt, and to this monastery there came with all his family a certain civil servant suffering judicial banishment. In a very evil deed the deacon lay with this man's wife, and all the brothers were very upset. He however went to a certain old man and confessed all. This old man had a secret inner chamber and when the deacon saw it he said, "Bury me alive in here and don't tell anyone."
And he went into hiding in this cell and truly did penance. It happened quite some time after that the waters of the Nile did not flood. And when everyone had offered many prayers it was revealed to one of the holy men that the waters would not flood until the deacon hidden with such and such a monk should come forth. They were astonished to hear this and went to drag him out of the place where he was. He offered up prayers, and the waters flooded. So those who had been scandalised by him were in due course edified by his penitence, and they glorified God.
(Also in III.12) Two brothers went into the town to sell what they had made, and when they had parted from each other in the city one of them succumbed to sexual temptation. Meeting him later the other brother said, "Come, let's go back to our cell."
But the other said he wasn't coming.
"Why not brother?" he asked.
"Because after you left me I was tempted and fell into sexual sin."
But he, wanting to win his brother back, said, "The same thing happened to me. After I left you, I too fell into sexual sin.  But let's go and do penance together however difficult that may be, and God will forgive us our sins."
When they got back to their cell they told the old men what had happened and they told them what they must do by way of doing penance, one of them not for himself but for the other brother as if it had been he himself who had sinned. Seeing his labour and his charity, God revealed after a while to one of the old men what this brother who had not sinned had taken upon himself out of the depth of his charity on behalf of the one who had.
"Truly, this is what it means to lay down your life for your brother," he said
V.v.28. A brother once came to one of the old men and said, "My brother has cast me off and dashes off hither and thither so that I am very upset by it."
And the old man advised him thus, "Bear with him calmly, brother, and God seeing your labour and patience will call him back to you. It is not possible for anyone to be easily turned aside by harshness or severity once he has made his mind up, for devils aren't driven out by devils; rather win him back to you by kindness, for God himself calls people by persuasion."
And he told him this story: There were two brothers in the Thebaid and one of them fell into sexual sin, and said to his brother, "I'm going back to the world."
The other wept and said, "I can't let you go, brother. If you go you lose your purity and the fruits of your labour."
But he wouldn't listen, saying, "I'm not staying, I'm going. Either come with me and I'll go back in your company, or else let me go and I shall stay in the world for good." 
The brother went and told all this to a senior of some repute who said to him, "Go with him, and God, because of your labour, will not let him be destroyed."
So he rose up and went with him back to the world. When they had arrived at a town, God looked on the labour of love which he felt compelled to exercise by following his brother, and took away the brother's cravings, so that he said, "Let's go back to the desert, brother. I've already sinned with a woman in my thoughts and what has that benefited me?"
And they returned joyfully to their cell.
V.v.29. A brother tempted by a demon went to a senior and said, "Those two brothers there are both of them evil livers."
The old man knew that he was being deceived by the devil, but sent and called the two brothers to him. After vespers he put out a carpet for those two brothers and enveloped them in a single cloak, saying, "Great and holy are the sons of God."
But to his disciple he said, "Shut that other brother up in his cell by himself. For he himself is a victim of the passions of which he accused the others."
V.v.30 A brother said to one of the old men, "What shall I do, for these unclean thoughts are killing me?"
And the old man said, "A woman when she wants to wean her child puts something bitter-tasting on her breast, so that when the child comes to suck as usual, he tastes the bitterness and rejects it. Therefore put some bitterness in your thoughts."
"What is this bitterness which I have to put there?" the brother asked.
The old man replied, "Think of death and the torments laid up thereafter for sinners."
(Also in III.62) A certain brother questioned an old man about this kind of thought. And the old man said, "I'm never bothered by such things."
The brother was shocked by this and ran to another old man telling him what the other had said and how he had been shocked by that because it was abnormal. And the old man said, "That man of God didn't mean to say that there was nothing to it. Go back to him and apologise in the hope that he will show you the mastery lying beneath his words."
So the brother went back to the old man and apologised, saying, "Forgive me, father. It was stupid of me to rush off without so much as a farewell word, but I pray you, explain to me how it is that you are never worried by sexual temptation."
And the old man said, "Since the time I became a monk I have never fully appeased my desire for bread, water, sleep or any of those things which give pleasure. I have crucified myself, never allowing myself to feel sexual urgings."
And the brother departed, greatly edified by what the old man had said.
(An alternative version of III.40, ascribed there to Arsenius) A certain brother asked one of the old men, "What shall I do? For my thoughts constantly turn towards sex and don't leave me alone for one hour at a time, and my mind is in a turmoil because of it."
And he replied, "When the demons scatter these thoughts into your mind and you become aware of it, don't hold a conversation with them. The natural task of the demon is to suggest them, and however much he keeps on sending them in, the demons themselves will not be driven out. It rests with you as to whether you accept or reject them."
"But how shall I do this?" the brother asked. "For in my weakness my passions overcome me."
"Listen to this example", he said. "You know what the Midianites did? They dressed up their daughters and made them attractive in the eyes of the Israelites, and did not prevent anyone from coming to them and lying with them. Whoever wanted to went in to them but others angrily condemned them, and killed those who had rashly gone in to them (
Numbers 25). Do likewise against sexual thoughts. At the first sign of any suggestion from them in your thoughts, don't answer, but get up, pray, and do penance with the words, 'Son of God have mercy on me'."
"But I do try to direct my mind like that, father," said the brother, "though there is no compunction in my heart, and there seems to be no power in my words." 
"Keep up with those mental exercises," the old man said, "for I have heard that abba Pastor used to say, and several other fathers too, that even though the snake-charmer may not fully understand the force of the words he uses, the snake who hears them recognises their power and is subdued and humiliated thereby. Similarly for us, though we may not fully understand the force of the words we use, the demons hear them and depart in terror."
V.v.33.  An old man said, "Thoughts of sexual temptation are really as fragile as a sheet of paper. If it is pushed towards us and we don't want it, it is easily crumpled up and thrown away. Therefore we do need discernment in our minds, recognising that there is no hope of safety for those who consent to such thoughts, but that a crown of glory is laid up for those who resist."
V.v.34 Two brothers attacked by sexual temptation left and took wives. After a while they said to each other, "How much good has it done us, leaving the sort of life the angels live for this tarnished existence - and then the fire of everlasting torment? Let's go back to the desert and do penance for what we have done." 
When they got to the desert they asked the fathers to receive them as penitents, confessing their sins. And the fathers shut them up for a whole year, allotting each the same weight of bread and quantity of water, as they appeared to be of similar constitution. When they had completed their time of penance they came out. The fathers saw that one of them was pallid and sad, the other robust and cheerful, and they wondered why, seeing that their rations had been exactly the same. And they asked the sad and sorry one what sort of mental discipline he had used in the cell. He replied, "I turned over in my mind the evil I had done and the punishment of the world to come, and for very fear my bones stuck to my flesh" (
Psalms 102.5)
Then they asked the other one about his thoughts in the cell and he replied, "I gave thanks to God who had saved me from the iniquity of this world and the punishment of the world to come, and I rejoiced in a continuous remembrance of God." 
And the old men said, "Both kinds of penitence are equal in the sight of God."
V.v.35. An old man living in Scete fell ill and his brothers looked after him. And when the old man saw how much hard work it entailed he said, "I'll go down into Egypt lest my brothers are worn out."
But abba Moses said to him, "Don't go, lest you fall into sexual sin." 
"You can say that to me," he replied, "and my body more than half dead?" And he got up and went into Egypt. When people living nearby heard of his arrival they gave him a great deal of help, among whom was a certain faithful virgin
(virgo fidelis) offering her services to the sick old man. After a little while when he was getting better from the illness he had, he lay with her and she conceived. When questioned by her neighbours about who had got her pregnant, she told them it was the old man, but they wouldn't believe her. But the old man confessed that it was he, and begged them that they would care for the baby she was carrying.

Home  List of Contents   Next   Top of Page