Governing the mind

1 April OS 2016 – Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent; Thursday of the Great Canon; St. Mary of Egypt; St. Barsanuphius of Optina 

The second reading at Vespers today, Proverbs 16:17-17:17, contains one of the best known verses of Holy Scripture: “Pride goes before destruction, and folly before a fall (Proverbs 16:18).”

St. Theophan the Recluse uses this verse as an inspiration to exhort us about guarding our thoughts in general:

Therefore, do not allow evil thoughts to come in, and there will be no falls. And yet, what are people most careless about? About their thoughts. They allow them to seethe as much and however they like, not even thinking to subdue them or to direct them to rational pursuits. Meanwhile, within this inner turmoil the enemy approaches, places evil in the heart, seduces it, and inclines it toward evil. And the person, not noticing this himself, is ready for evil. It remains for him to carry out the evil that is fixed to his heart or to struggle against it. But this is our sorrow: almost no one takes on the struggle, while all are led to evil as if bound.   Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 74

None of us disagrees with this. How do we do it?   We have heard the Church, through her preachers, tell us over and over again what the standard approach is, and we just have to do it:

  1. When we rise in the morning, make our Cross right away, start saying the Jesus Prayer, and then make sure we say our Morning Prayers.
  1. Take our prayer rope with us through the day (in a pocket or purse, if we cannot wear it), and let it remind us to struggle to say the Jesus Prayer as much as possible in the midst of our activities.
  1. Refuse unnecessary conversations and distractions.   Refuse gossip and condemnation of others.
  1. Make our Cross frequently during the day, to dedicate to God our a. commute time, b. the beginning of the work day and our work through the day, c. our meals. Make the Cross before meetings, conversations we know are going to be difficult or a temptation of some kind.
  1. When obviously sinful thoughts come into our minds, reject them forcefully with prayer.   When interesting, attractive thoughts – including seemingly good ones – come into our minds, we do not let them capture us by their attractiveness, but remain skeptical and question them with prayer.
  1. At home, to eat with the family, not in front of a screen.   Read holy books together. Always have family prayer time.
  1. Go to sleep saying the Jesus Prayer.

Try doing all of this for one day, and you will begin again to go along the path of governing your thoughts!

A blessed remainder of the Great Fast to all!

Today 1/14 2016, is the 103rd anniversary of the repose of the Elder Barsanuphius of Optina, +1913.  May his prayers be with us as we strive to do all of the above!   Venerable Father Barsanuphius, pray to God for us!   


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