An Avalanche

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!

Tin Cans with Nothing Inside

tin-cansPeople often struggle with the question of  “how do we know God?”

Last summer one of my classmates for the training at one of my old jobs asked me about my degree. When we did our introductions my partner mentioned that I hold a B.S. in Bible and Preaching/Church Leadership. He told me how he was not of faith, but was an agnostic and that he really can’t know. He asked me a few questions about Orthodoxy and told me how his grandmother tried to scare him to Christ by preaching about hell to him. I told him we Orthodox would never preach what I call “Escapist Theology” (for me this means two things: those who believe in rapture and/or those who preach get-out-of-hell-free sermons). I have since heard him remark several times to others in the class about his agnosticism and what not.

Later in that same of week, I also watched a video with Fr. Hans Jacobse debating an atheist where the atheist asked about how we determine truth and what is real, etc. Yet another case of “how do we know?” being asked.

At the time, I had began reading Kyriacos Markides’ book “The Mountain of Silence“, which journals his travels and time spent with Father Maximos, a monk and spiritual elder from Mt. Athos who mentors Kyriacos on his journey from being a materialist atheist to being open to spirituality and faith as he explores many traditions.

It was at this point that I was beginning to hear a lot about how do we know God. This prompted much though in my life, so I thought I’d write about it. How do we know God? How do we observe reality? In the book, Kyriacos mentioned a criteria for this that a fellow professor had made known to him. The three ways we know reality is:

  1. The Eye of the Senses (empirical, science)
  2. The Eye of Reason (Philosophy, logic, math, [I also add theology])
  3. The Eye of Contemplation (systematic and disciplined spiritual practice to open upthe intuitive and spiritual faculties of the self)

Kyriacos says, “These are the three different and unique order of reality with their own legitimate and distinct domains, laws, and characteristics that cannot be reduced into one another.”

Now, let’s skip ahead to a conversation Kyriacos has with Father Maximos about this very subject of knowing. Father Maximos remarks at one point, “God,  you see, loves to be investigated by humans.” What Father meant by this is that God wants to be searched for and found. He does not expect us to commit to fideism. Kyriacos follows up that statement by asking, “…If God indeed urges us to be inquisitive, how are we then supposed to conduct our research? Are we to turn to science, to philosophy, or to theology as our starting point” (page 42)?

Father Maximos makes a point about how if we want to study things like the stars then we use a telescope. He says, “Everything must be explored through a method appropriate to the subject under investigation. If we, therefore, wish to explore and get to know God, it would be a gross error to do so through our senses or with telescopes, seeking Him out in outer space. That would be utterly naive, don’t you think?” He goes on, “It would be equally foolish and naive to seek God with our logic and intellect” (page 43).

In his book, “The Sickness Unto Death”, existential philosopher Soren Kiekegaard writes, “”Is it such great merit or is it not rather insolence or thoughtlessness to want to comprehend that which does not want to be comprehended?” This is what Father Maximos means by our logic and reason being lacking means to explore God. How do we, finite human, with our finite logic and reason explore that Other that lies outside the bounds of our logic and reason? It is quite absurd to think these are means to explore God on their own.

Father Maximos still firmly believes that we are to study God and come to know him, but it was Kyriacos’ question of how that carries the conversation forward between them. Father answers that with, “Christ Himself revealed to us the method. He told us that not only are we capable of exploring God but we can also live with Him, become one with Him. And the organ by which we can achieve that is neither our senses nor our logic but our hearts” (page 43).

Our existential foundation, according to the Holy Elders, is indeed our hearts. Mind you, our hearts are the center of our being, the place where our personhood lies. It is the “center of our psychonoetic powers, the center of our beingness, of our personhood. It is therefore through the heart that God reveals Himself to humanity” (page 43). Those who wish to know God, to see Him, to live in communion with Him, cannot do it through logic, theology, reason, science, or by reading Plato and the philosophers. Father Maximos says, “It is only the cleanliness and purity of the heart that can lead to the contemplation and vision of God. This is the meaning of Christ’s Beatitude, ‘Blessed be the pure at heart for they shall see God’” (page 44).

Father goes on to elaborate on how if we wish to investigate and explore God that we must emply the proper method of investigation, which is none other than the Eye of Contemplation and the purifying of one’s heart from the egotistical passions that plague us. He even goes as far as to say that if those who manage to do this, truly do it, and do not see God then they are justified in becoming atheist.

Father Maximos points out that the philosophical quest for God is one that is off. It is only through the existential experiential vision of God that we come to know Him and love Him. Theology, philosophy, the senses, etc. can all point towards God, but they cannot give you God. God cannot be contained to these finite things we have created with our minds. As Father says we must “transcend the IDEA of God and enter into the EXPERIENCE of God” (page 45). He goes on to say, “As long as we do not know God experientially then we should at least realize that we are simply ideological believers…The ideal and ultimate form of true faith means having direct experience of God as a living reality” (page 45).

Father Maximos goes on to speak of the Creed and how the Christian mystical tradition is tied very much to the Creed for it speaks of a living God, of Reality.

I could go on with the conversation with these two men and the spiritual wisdom of the young Father Maximos, but I want to share one last part of what he said:

True faith means I live with God, I am one with God. I have come to know God and therefore I know that He truly Is. God lives inside me and is victorious over death and I move forward with God. The entire methodology of the authentic Christian mystical tradition as articulated by the saints is to reach that state where we become conscious of the reality of God within ourselves. Until we reach that point we simply remain stranded with the domain of ideas and not within the essence of Christian spirituality which is the direct communion with God” (page 45).

I am a huge fan of theology, of the life of the mind. I do not think the Eye of Contemplation is at all a disrespect to the life of the mind. After all, Christ told us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The Eye of Contemplation incorporates the asceticismthat is needed in order to kill the egotistical passions. This truth of the Christian mystical tradition of the East does not kill, neglect, or cancel out the other two Eyes. It simply means that those two cannot bring about the experience of God. They can suggest it, recommend it, or show it, but they are not a direct participation in God. Those disciplines of the mind cannot bring us into the heart, which is where our selves lie. Our true selves. I find the most beautiful thing I have read thus far on the joys of living in the heart come from Father Meletios Webber in his book “Bread & Water; Wine & Oil”:


The heart is quiet rather than noisy, intuitive rather than deductive, lives entirely in the present, and is, at every moment, accepting of the reality God gives in that moment. Moreover, the heart does not seek to distance or dominate anything or anyone by labeling. Rather, it begins with an awareness of its relationship with the rest of creation (and everything and everyone in it), accepting rather than rejecting, finding similarity rather than alienation and likeness rather than difference. It knows no fear, experiences no desire, and never finds the need to defend or justify itself. Unlike the mind, the heart never seeks to impose itself. It is patient and undemanding. Little wonder, then, that the mind, always impatient and very demanding, manages to dominate it so thoroughly.”

The Eye of Contemplation brings us to the place of which Father Maximos and Father Meletios speak. It is in our hearts where we live in communion with God and find the grace of the Holy Spirit and the gifts He brings. The only method of exploring God is to experience God. The only way to experience God is to live in the heart through contemplation and asceticism and participation with His Church and Her Divine Mysteries, which He has given as tangible means of Grace. The knowledge of God resides nowhere else.

Father Maximos said, “We lost the knowledge of God…at the moment when we transformed the Eccelsia from experience into theology, from a living reality into moralistic principles, good values, and high ideals. When that happened…we became like tin cans with nothing inside” (page 55).

I am convicted that I more than anyone else have felt the impact of those words. I more than anyone else have been living a life like that of a tin can with nothing inside. It is now, through the asceticism of the Orthodox Faith, that I’m learning I have only experience God in very small ways due to my insistence on theology, philosophy, and reason. What good is a tool-less Christianity that does not provide one with the means to know and love God and live in Him?

These tools of asceticism I am discovering and the need to experience God and to know Him in my heart by the Eye of Contemplation are the beginning of a life lived like a can being filled to the brim with life until it overflows abundantly with the knowledge of God and His love and grace.