Saint Silouan the Athonite and His Relevance Today: Part 4

Saint Silouan the Athonite and His Relevance Today: Part 4

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According to St. Silouan, and our entire Orthodox tradition, spiritual life entails spiritual warfare. This is a primary point that we must fully acknowledge and accept as we strive to live our lives in Christ. For the majority of believers, this spiritual warfare refers primarily to the encounter with evil thoughts. For example, St. Philotheos of Mount Sinai teaches, “It is by means of thoughts that the spirits of evil wage a secret war against the soul. For since the soul is invisible, these malicious powers naturally attack it invisibly.” St. Silouan also states succinctly, “ . . . the enemy uses intrusive thoughts to deceive us …

Elder Sophrony also refers to this same teaching. He quotes directly form St. Paul, who writes, “We wrestle … against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual … wickedness in high places.” Elder Sophrony then continues, “This spirit of ‘wickedness in high places’ rushes to attack the contrite heart and mind now stayed on God. Brazenly it invades us, creating the impression that the thoughts and feelings brought by the enemy are our own. Indeed, after the Fall there is something in us that does respond to demonic suggestions.”

Certainly in cases of more advanced ascetics, direct encounters with demons may occur. Most of us believers, however, struggle with the enemy in an indirect way, by confronting and combating those intrusive, annoying, and sinful thoughts that attack us all.

Now, it cannot be said that every sinful thought comes from the enemy. The human mind, itself and on its own, may also be the source of such thoughts. Obviously, regardless of where they may come from, the enemy will exploit these thoughts.

In any case, the enemy works against us by assaulting us through the manipulation of our thoughts. To know the enemy is half of the battle. St. Silouan stresses the vital role of the Holy Spirit in recognizing the enemy.

So then, a question arises: just what exactly are these ‘thoughts’ and how are they defined? In the original Greek, the term is ‘logismos’. In Greek patristic literature, the term is usually found in the plural form ‘logismoi’, and used with mostly negative connotations.

The word is often accompanied by adjectives such as ‘evil’, ‘demonic’, ‘passionate’ or ‘sinful’, and this shows the unfavorable sense with which the Church Fathers use this term. When translated into English, this patristic term is often rendered as ‘evil thoughts’. It is this particular meaning that will be implied whenever I refer to this term ‘logismoi’.

St. Silouan refers to ‘logismoi’ as ‘inner voices’ or ‘suggestions’ that tempt us and incite us to sin. He also refers to them as ‘another mind’ in conflict with our own. In this way, the strategy and deceptive techniques of the enemy are seen more clearly as he aggressively tries to get inside our minds, inside our heads, inside our hearts.

–TO BE CONTINUED–

Read the entire St. Silouan series by Dr. Harry Boosalis:

Part 1,  Part 2,  Part 3,  Part 4,  Part 5,  Part 6,  Part 7,  Part 8,  Part 9,  Part 10

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Dr. Harry Boosalis

Born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota of Greek-American parents, Dr. Boosalis grew up at St. Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church. Upon graduation from Seminary, he served his home parish as a lay assistant and youth director under the tutelage of his life-long parish priest, Fr. Anthony M. Coniaris. He earned his doctoral degree in Greece under the direction of Prof. Georgios Mantzaridis. His dissertation provides a systematic presentation of the teaching of St. Silouan of Mount Athos on Orthodox spiritual life, highlighting its relevance for today. Dr. Boosalis has been teaching dogmatic theology as a full time faculty member at St. Tikhon’s since the Fall of 1992, when he organized, developed and implemented a new curriculum for the entire sequence of dogmatic courses in the Master of Divinity degree program. He serves the Seminary as the Chairman of the Department of Theology and Spirituality and is a member of the Academic Affairs Committee, Strategic Planning Committee, the Curriculum Committee and the Faculty Development Committee. He is the author of four books, editor of three more, and is currently working on a textbook. Since the Summer of 2002, Dr. Boosalis has been leading a group of St. Tikhon’s seminarians on an annual pilgrimage to Iviron Monastery on Mount Athos, Greece. In the summer of 2009, Dr. Boosalis participated in a teaching mission to Tanzania in East Africa, conducted under the auspices of the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC). In the summer of 2011, Dr. Boosalis participated in a teaching mission to Turkana, Kenya also conducted under the auspices of the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC).