One of the more crucial components of our spiritual life is proper training in the development of good spiritual habits. Habit is a second nature. This is why it is imperative that we train ourselves in the ways of spiritual warfare. Saint Silouan writes, “Train yourself to cut off an intrusive thought immediately … Be at pains over this, so that you acquire the habit. The soul is a creature of habit: according to the habit you have acquired, so will you act all the rest of your life.”
This specific technique of inner attentiveness to ‘logismoi’ is also referred to as ‘watchfulness’. Watchfulness is a spiritual technique that liberates us from impassioned thoughts.
The term ‘watchfulness’ is often used in context with military terminology. One of the more common analogies employed when referring to watchfulness is that of guarding or setting a watch over one’s heart, through inner attentiveness and through prayer. As a technique of spiritual warfare, the purpose of watchfulness is to take note of the troublesome thoughts that come into our heart. This then enables us to reject instantly, any vain and unproductive thought or ‘logismos’ attempting to attack, encroach on, and ultimately ‘capture’ us.
Thus, watchfulness is the guarding of the heart from intrusive ‘logismoi’, that attempt to take away our inner peace and lure our mind away from prayer. For example, we all know how difficult it is to focus our mind when we try to pray.
Whether at Church services, during the Divine Liturgy, or at home. Our mind always seems to wander away whenever we try to focus it and to pray. The goal of watchfulness is to try to catch those initial thoughts, at the very moment when our mind begins to stray away from whatever it is we are trying to focus on in prayer.
One of the more effective weapons of the spiritual arsenal is the ‘Jesus Prayer’, that is, the invocation of the Name of Jesus. Its use is imperative if we are to effectively battle the enemy. The Jesus Prayer is especially relevant today. Every believer, in any situation, can call upon the power of the Name of Jesus.
Accessible to all, it requires no particular level of spiritual progress in order to proceed in its practice. By prayerfully repeating the words “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner,” the believer partakes in a time-honored tradition inherited from apostolic times. Founded upon Holy Scripture, the Jesus Prayer is inspired by the prayer of the publican: “God, be merciful to me a sinner” and the cry of the blind man: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”
The Apostle Paul also refers to the importance of the invocation of the Name of Jesus. He writes:“Therefore God also has highly exhalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth . . . ”
St. John Climacus attests to the power of the Name of Jesus and its unique role in spiritual warfare. He refers to it as the greatest of all ‘weapons’, “Flog your enemies with the name of Jesus, since there is no stronger weapon in heaven or on earth.” St. Hesychios points out the effectiveness of the Jesus Prayer in combating ‘logismoi’. He writes, “Whenever we are filled with evil thoughts, we should throw the invocation of our Lord Jesus Christ into their midst. Then, as experience has taught us, we shall see them instantly dispersed, like smoke in the air.”
Elder Sophrony stresses the importance of the Jesus Prayer along the lines of spiritual defense, “When the attention of the mind is fixed in the heart it is possible to control what happens in the heart, and the battle against the passions assumes a rational character. The enemy is recognized and can be driven off by the power of the Name of Christ.”
—TO BE CONTINUED—
Read the entire St. Silouan series by Dr. Harry Boosalis:
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