Also, when we look at the life of the Holy Virgin St. Mary, she illustrates to us the model of purity in thought. When she witnessed the overwhelming and miraculous events of the Incarnation, the Blessed Virgin “kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Lk. 2: 19, 51)
St. Paul the Apostle wrote to the Philippians exhorting them to “fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.” (Phil. 2:2) To the Corinthians, he wrote in his second epistle, “bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5)
During this time of the year, as we celebrate the Feast of the Apostles, followed by the Fast of the Blessed Virgin and the Feast of the Assumption, let us take our fathers the Apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary as models on how to keep the one mind with purity. Let us remember that the basis of the one mind is the purity of thought. How do we acquire purity of thought? How do we control our thoughts to concentrate on our Lord Jesus Christ? How do we bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ? We pray in the Divine Liturgy and ask God to “purify our hearts, eyes, understanding, thoughts, and intentions.” We also pray and ask God that “every thought that is displeasing to Your Goodness, O Lover of mankind, keep away from us.”
The Types of Thoughts:
God characterized man by having a rational mind. Therefore, man is a thinking being. His thoughts may be of a good nature, e.g. thoughts about service, humility, contemplating on divine matters, etc., or they may be of a bad nature, e.g. vain glory, anger, revenge, lust, doubts, etc. Purity of heart requires that a person keeps his thoughts concentrated on good things, as well as avoiding the bad thoughts.
The Danger of the Bad Thoughts:
- These are considered sins, and man will have to give an account for the evil thoughts, which he accepts, even if he doesn’t act upon them, for God knows the secrets of our thoughts and will judge us accordingly.
- Evil thoughts may lead to evil action. If a person allows the evil thought to linger within him, without attempting to purify his thought and heart, it may lead to evil action. For example, thoughts of lust may lead to fornication, anger may lead to murder, doubts may lead to heresies or denial of the faith, etc.
- Control of thoughts requires great spiritual struggle. If a person procrastinates in fighting the evil thought at its inception, it enters and settles within him. Then he will find great difficulty in ridding himself of it. This is clearly illustrated in the story of St. Moses the Black. Even after he repented and went to the wilderness, he continued to struggle greatly against the thoughts of lust and was fiercely haunted by the remembrance of the sins he committed. St. Zossima the priest recounts that the same thing happened with St. Mary of
Egypt. Even after she repented and became an anchorite, she continued to struggle against thoughts of lust. It took her seventeen years, then God finally granted her rest, peace, and purity of thought.
The Sources of Thoughts:
Thoughts can come to a person from several sources, such as:
- From within himself. A person may invent thoughts as a result of evil experiences and the remembrance of the sins that piled up within him. This is why St. James wrote, “Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” (James 1:14-15) He also wrote, “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?” (James 4:1) Therefore, we pray in the Diving Liturgy asking God to purify us from “the remembrance of evil entailing death”, which refers to the evil thoughts that originate from with us and can lead to our condemnation and death.
- The senses. Hearing, touching, and seeing are all windows to the mind, and we are greatly influenced by the words we hear, the scenes we see, and the things we touch and feel. Therefore, inasmuch that a person can control his senses, he will control his thoughts.
- The media. Radio, television, the Internet, magazines, and books are all sources for our thoughts.
- The friends. The kind of friends that a person deals with will affect the kind of thoughts he will have.
- Satan. Satan carries warfare with all humans. In his warfare, even against the righteous and saints, he introduces many thoughts. In the Gospel, we see that he even waged warfare against our Lord Jesus Christ by introducing ideas, but our Lord refused them and He was victorious. Whereas with Eve, while she was living in the Garden of Eden in a state of purity and innocence, he waged his war by introducing thoughts to her. In this case, both she and Adam fell.
The Stages of the Evolving of Thoughts:
A person’s thoughts go through the following stages:
1. Presentation. In the temptation of our Lord in the wilderness, Satan presented to Christ these thoughts: to turn the stones to bread, to throw Himself from the pinnacle of the temple, and to worship him (Satan) and he will give him the world’s kingdoms and glory. These were all ideas presented by Satan to our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord not only refused them, but told him, “Away with you, Satan.” (Matt. 4:10) This first stage is not considered a sin for God will not judge us on the thoughts presented to us, but rather on the ones, which we accept. Satan presented to Eve ideas about why God forbade them from eating from the tree of good and evil and the advantage they will acquire if they ate from it. Eve accepted Satan’s ideas; she ate from the tree and gave to her husband (Gen. 3:1-7). Eve’s sin wasn’t in the fact that ideas were introduced to her, but rather in her acceptance and the action that followed. One of the fathers said that we can’t prevent birds from flying over our heads. But we can certainly prevent them from resting and nesting on our heads.
2. Acceptance. As the thought is presented, a person can either accept it or refuse it. Acceptance follows presentation, and although man may not have control over the thoughts Satan presents to him, yet he is responsible if he accepts them.
3. Growth. If a person accepts the evil thought and doesn’t get rid of it, it will grow and lead to other thoughts. As with David the prophet, his thoughts of lust led to adultery and then led to murdering Uriah the Hittite.
4. Settlement. Doubt can penetrate a person’s thoughts. If he accepts it, it grows inside him and becomes a permanent idea, which he will accept and advocate. For example, a person may deny his faith or doctrine because of an inner personal thought, which settled within him and became indoctrinated. This may lead to his servitude, i.e. “slavery to ideas”, to the point that a person becomes a slave to thoughts of lust or revenge. Although the person may be aware of the danger of a certain thought, yet he becomes controlled and enslaved by it.
How Do We Bring Every Thought Into Captivity to the Obedience of Christ?
- We should test the thoughts and examine them, since some are deceiving thoughts. We see that in Eve’s case, when Satan came to her in a deceptive manner and told her, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?’…You will not surely die…For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen. 3:1-5) This is why St. John wrote, “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God.” (1 Jn. 4:1) For example, the thought of anger may present itself as holy zeal, lust may come as compassion, or doubt may take the form of the importance for searching for scientific facts. Therefore, we must have the spirit of discernment to detect the evil thought at its inception, get rid of it, and completely refuse it.
- Don’t negotiate with the evil thoughts. The only remedy to certain evil thoughts is dismissing them form the beginning, because negotiating with these thoughts leads to falling and sinning. Eve’s problem was that she negotiated with Satan and his idea instead of expelling him from the start.
- Flee evil thoughts. This is achieved by:
- Avoiding the sources out of which evil thoughts arise.
- Avoiding boredom, which often leads to evil thoughts.
- If the war of evil thoughts intensifies, one must forsake altogether the place and occupy himself with another matter.
- Positive actions. This can be attained by:
- Purifying the heart, since a pure heart stems from pure thoughts and vice versa.
- Occupying oneself with holy thoughts and increasing our meditations in the Holy Bible and the lives of the saints.
- Spiritual exercises, e.g. prayers, fasting, repentance, confession, reading the Holy Bible and spiritual books, as well as being busy in service. For a person, who is pre-occupied with God, the evil thoughts will not be able to penetrate him. We must use our minds to meditate on the divine and heavenly matters.
Through the intercessions of the Most Holy Theotokos and the prayers of our Fathers the Apostles, may our Lord help us to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.