You should observe three things before all else: freedom from all cares, not only cares about bad and vain but even about good things, or in other words, you should become dead to everything; your conscience should be clear in all things, so that it denounces you in nothing; and you should have complete absence of passionate attachment, so that your thought inclines towards nothing worldly. Keep your attention within yourself (not in the head but in your heart). Keep your mind there (in the heart), trying by every possible means to find the place where the heart is, in order that, having found it, your mind should constantly abide there. Wrestling thus, the mind will find the place of the heart. This happens when grace produces sweetness and warmth in prayer. From that moment onwards, from whatever side a thought may appear, the mind immediately chases it away, before it has time to enter, and become a thought or an image, destroying it by Jesus’ name, that is, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me! Moreover, from that moment, a man conceives hatred of the demons and anger against them, constantly battles with them and vanquishes them. As to other results which usually come from this work, with God’s help, you will learn them from your own experience, by keeping your mind attentive and in your heart holding Jesus, that is, His prayer—Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me! One of the holy fathers says: ‘Sit in your cell and this prayer will teach you everything.’
Question. But why cannot the first and second methods of attention and prayer produce this?
Answer. Because we use them wrongly. St John of the Ladder, likening these methods to a ladder with four rungs, says, ‘Some tame passions and become humble; others psalmodize, that is, pray with their lips; yet others practice mental prayer; others rise to contemplation. Those who undertake to climb by these rungs do not begin with the top and then go down, but start from the bottom and go upwards—stepping first on the first rung, then on the second, then on the third, and finally on the fourth. The method by which he who wishes it may raise himself from off the earth and rise to heaven is as follows: first, he must wrestle with his mind and tame his passions; second, he must practice psalmody, that is, pray with the lips, for, when passions are subdued, prayer quite naturally brings sweetness and enjoyment even to the tongue and is accepted by God as pleasing to Him; third, he must pray mentally; fourth, he must rise to contemplation. The first is appropriate to beginners; the second, to those who have already achieved some manner of success; the third to those drawing nigh to the last rungs of achievement, and the fourth—to the perfect.’
Thus the only possible beginning is the diminishing and taming of passions. This can only be achieved in the soul by guarding the heart and by attention, for, as the Lord says, out of the heart proceed evil thoughts which defile a man. So it is there that attention and guarding are needful. When, through the heart’s opposition to them, passions are completely subdued, the mind begins to long for God, seeking to get close to Him, for which purpose it increases its prayer and spends most of its time praying. From this longing for God and praying, the mind acquires strength and chases away all thoughts which circle round the heart seeking entry, and strikes them down with prayer. Then warfare begins: with a great roar the evil demos arise, and through the passions raise mutiny and storm in the heart. But by the name of Jesus Christ all this is dissolved and vanishes, like wax in a flame. Yet, even when banished and driven out from the heart, the demons are not quelled, but make other attempts to disturb the mind, from without, through the senses. But here again the mind very soon restores, and begins once more to feel its usual quiet; for they have no power to disturb its depths but can manage only to ruffle its surface. But the mind is not yet able to free itself from warfare completely, and to be untroubled by attacks of the evil demons. This is the attribute only of the perfect—of those who have completely renounced everything and whose attention remains ceaselessly in the heart.
Thus, if a man practices all this in due order, doing each thing at its appointed time, then, when his heart is purified from passions, he will be able to give himself up entirely to psalmody, to struggle with thoughts, to look up to heaven with his bodily eyes, or to contemplate it with the inner eyes of his soul, and to pray in true purity, as he should.
Still, it is advisable to gaze up at heaven with bodily eyes as seldom as possible, for fear of the evil demons which are to be found in the air. They are called spirits of the air because they produce in the air various forms of prelest—so we must take care. God demands only one thing from us—that our heart be purified by means of attention. As to the rest, it will be as the Apostle said: ‘If the root be holy, so are the branches’ (Rom. xi. 16). But if a man begins to lift his eyes and his mind to heaven and imagine something in his mind, doing it not in the order we have indicated, he will see dreams, something false instead of true, because his heart is not pure. Thus, as we have said more than once, the first and second methods of attention and prayer do not lead a man to achievements. When we wish to build a house we do not put on the roof before building the foundations, for to build a house this way is impossible; first lay the foundations, that is, start to guard the heart and cleanse it from passions; then build the spiritual house, that is, repulse the insurrection against us, raised by evil spirits through the outer senses, and learn to cut off such attacks as quickly as possible; and only then should we put on the roof, that is, complete renunciation of everything in order to give ourselves up entirely to God. In this way we shall complete our spiritual house in Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever. Amen.