Last summer I read Kyriacos Markides’ book “The Mountain of Silence”. I greatly enjoyed his journey with the spiritual elder, Father Maximos. At one point, they are discussing what Christ came to do while He was here and what His real mission was. Father Maximos says:
What the Ecclesia primarily teaches is the means through which a human soul may attain Christification, its saintliness, its union with God. The ultimate goal is to become perfect in the same way as our Heavenly Father is perfect, to become one with God. Christ didn’t come into the world to teach us how to become good fellows, how to behave properly, or how to live a righteous life in this world. Nor did He come to offer us a book, even if this book is called the Bible or New Testament…He came to the world to give us Himself. To show us the Way toward our salvation.”
Kyriacos remarks having heard this before and mentions that it is Satan who seeks to prohibit us from communion with God and seeks to prevent us from reaching our destination of union with the Holy One. Kyriacos is curious as to how Satan does this, what are his means and ways to prohibit us from reaching union with God. Father tells Kyriacos that the most used tool of Satan is preventing us from union with God is what the holy elders have called “logismoi” (sounds like ‘logos me’). A simple reading and understanding of this Greek word would render it “thoughts”. However, Father Maximos has this to say:
Logismoi are much more intense than simple thoughts. They penetrate into the very depths of a human being. They have enormous power. Let us say…that a simple thought is a weak logismos. We need to realize, however, that certain thoughts, or logismoi, once inside a human being, can undermine every trace of a spiritual life in its very foundation. People who live in the world don’t know about the nature and power of logismoi. That is, they don’t have experience of that reality. But as they proceed on their spiritual struggle, particularly through systematic prayer, then are they able to understand the true meaning and power of this reality” (page 118).
I for one have found the language I need to describe my crazy thoughts within the Orthodox spiritual life. Have you ever laid in bed at night seeking to fall asleep, perhaps praying while trying to fall asleep, and just get bombarded by thought-after-thought? Sometimes these thoughts are intentional thoughts: what to do the next day, reflection upon events from the past day, agendas, etc. Sometimes these thoughts are not thoughts we think. Evil thoughts even! If you have experienced the bombardment of crazy thoughts at any time then you have experienced what the holy elders call the logismoi.
The Holy Fathers speak of the Fall of man creating a divide, a chasm, between man’s mind and man’s heart. This divide is what brings about the logismoi. Our mind is a crazy house while living disconnected from the heart, what the Fathers call the Nous. The Nous is the source of our being, our personhood as I wrote in my previous blog. The logismoi constantly bombard our hearts and minds to prevent us from experiencing union with God. Father Maximos is sure to point out that not all logismoi are bad. He speaks of how it is wise to speak with a experienced spiritual elder who can guide one in the discernment of one’s logismoi.
Kyriacos ask Father how it is that the logismoi can prevent us from reaching God. Father says:
Let us say that a logismos is a thought of a special quality and power intensity…There is something mysterious about a logismoi. Its impact is similar to the sting of a needle when you go to the doctor to receive a shot. When negative logismoi manage to enter into your spiritual bloodstream they can affect you in the same way that a needle, full of poison, penetrates you and spread the deadly substance throughout your body. Your spiritual world becomes contaminated and you are affected on a very deep, fundamental level. Your entire spiritual edifice can be shaken from its very foundation” (page 119)
We can see from this wise Father’s words that these thoughts can be very destructive, very detrimental to our spiritual well-being. A logismoi can be so powerful that it can leave us feeling helpless against its power. These thoughts are faced by all! Even the Saints throughout the ages. They have become masters over their logismoi through Theosis and spiritual regimens prescribed to them by their spiritual leaders.
Our logismoi pushes us towards committing a sinful act! The demons haunt us with the logismoi and compel us to commit these sins because God is gracious and loving and will forgive anyways. Then when this sin comes about and we have committed it we feel the wild, crazy thought that says God is a mean kid in the sky waiting to burn up dirty little sinners with His holy wrath. This is the crazy world of crazy thoughts, crazy logismoi!
Things were not always like this! Prior to the Fall we lived in a state of constant prayer, constant union with God. Once the Fall occurred and the rift between man and God came into existence so came with it the logismoi to replace what was continual, constant prayer. This is the existential crisis of our existence today! Our hearts were once innocent and pure, but once the rift came to be the heart became bombarded by these logismoi, which are themselves the barrier between us and union with God.
The best way to combate the logismoi is through ceaseless prayer. The lives of the Saints and holy elders testify to this. They also identified for us the 5 stages in the development of the logismoi that goes contrary to God’s law and goodness. I believe that Father Maximos points out the stages in order for us to be aware of how these crazy logismoi can destroy us. Knowing your enemies tactics is half of the battle, right?
5 Stages of Development for Logismoi
Assault Stage- this is the stage where the logismoi first attacks our mind. We must take care to know that this do not leave us accountable. Everyone in history of mankind since the Fall experiences the logismoi. Father Maximos says, “The quality of our spiritual state is not evaluated on the basis of these assaults.” We will always be attacked by myriads of logismoi. We do not sin in this at all. We have no need to feel guilty for these thoughts plaguing us. Pleading questions like “Why do I have these thoughts?” and “Why me?” are born out of our egoism. This obsession, Father says, is a tool used by Satan to bring us down. These logismoi come to us because we are humans……period! Do not beat yourself or obsess over these logismoi. You are human; you will experience them always.
Interaction Stage- this is what I call the conversation stage. This is where we begin to open up a dialogue with the logismoi. If the logismoi engaged you to lust after someone, which may be a bombarding thought that I and other men can and do face, then in this stage you begin to say, “Should I or shouldn’t I?”, “What will happen if I do?”, “Who will know?”, or “Who is gonna get hurt?”. Father Maximos points out that even in this stage there is no accountability or sin, but that if one is weak to begin with then the actual sin is not far from being committed.
Consenting Stage- this is the stage where you give the logismoi your consent to do what it urged you to do like in our case above, lusting. We make the decision that brings about the beginnings of guilt and accountability. We say, “Okay, I am going to do this!” Father Maximos says, “It is the beginning of sin. Jesus was referring to this stage when he proclaimed that if you covet a woman in your mind you have already committed adultery in your heart. The moment this decision is allowed to take root in your heart, then you are well on the way to actually committing the act in the outer world.” He says that this stage is still consent and desire; no action has yet to be taken. If we pray and ask for God’s help and invoke His name we can defeat this stage without going on to the next.
Captivity Stage- if we aren’t able to be freed from the previous stage then defeat has come and the act has been committed. Father says we become hostage to the logismoi. The power in it is seen in the moment of succumbing to the logismoi. Once that happens the logismoi comes back in greater power the next time and is harder to resist, which just goes on and on getting harder to resist each time. This is called captivity because it takes a hold of us in a way we have a hard time being freed from.
Passion/Obsession Stage- “The logismos has become an entrenched reality within the consciousness of the person, within the nous. The person becomes a captive of obsessive logismoi, leading to ongoing destructive acts to oneself and to others…” says Father Maximos. The holy elders say that this stage is “like giving the key of our heart to Satan so that he can get in and out any time he wishes.” This stage is the stage of self-destruction. We can reason and understand, but we are helpless for our hearts are captive to the evil. The logismoi possesses and controls us.
These are the 5 stages: assault, interaction, consent, captivity, and passion. Father Maximos says that “they unfold and grow within us sometimes gradually, sometimes like an avalanche.” However, there is healing from these that come from the grace of the Holy Spirit and through cooperation with Him via asceticism.
These thoughts are indeed like an avalanche! I have witnessed all 5 of these stages; I have found the language of Orthodox spirituality to describe perfectly how our thoughts bombard us, sometimes for the good, but mostly for the bad. We are not held eternally by these thoughts. The avalanche does not cover us forever. The warmth of the Light of Christ burns brightly and reverently to melt away at this avalanche! It is not an easy battle, but there is a way of overcoming. I have not yet read further in the book, but Father Maximos does lay out a battle plan so to speak. We are not left hopeless in the wake of the avalanche of logismoi.
Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica once said:
Our life depends on the kind of thoughts we nurture. If our thoughts are peaceful, calm, meek, and kind, then that is what our life is like. If our attention is turned to the circumstances in which we live, we are drawn into a whirlpool of thoughts and can have neither peace nor tranquility.
Everything, both good and evil, comes from our thoughts. Our thoughts become reality. Even today we can see that all of creation, everything that exists on the earth and in the cosmos, is nothing but Divine thought made material in time and space. We humans were created in the image of God. Mankind was given a great gift, but we hardly understand that. God’s energy and life is in us, but we do not realize it. Neither do we understand that we greatly influence others with our thoughts. We can be very good or very evil, depending on the kind of thoughts and desires we breed.”
Nothing speaks to the power of the logismoi like Elder Thaddeus’ wise words. We did not cover the spiritual regimen that Father Maximos goes into later in the book, but I feel that knowing that the logismoi is real and how it seeks to consume us is half of the battle. The regimen may not be something we need to cover, but something I urge you to speak about with your spiritual father and how to combat it. I will say that learning to pray and enter into one’s heart is the beginning of fighting the logismoi as Jesus gives you strength and light to climb out of the avalanche. He has given us tools to combat these bombarding logismoi. Take hold of the tools and wisdom of the holy elders given to the Church. The avalanche can be overcome!