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OTT (Commentary) -- 3

9 There is a demon called the ‘wanderer’, appearing to the brothers especially about the time of dawn. This very demon leads the mind about from city to city and from town to town and from house to house, the mind making supposedly mere encounters and meeting certain acquaintances and speaking at greater length and corrupting its own familiar condition

‘Its own familiar condition’: This is a very important phrase which conveys in Evagrius, as in all Orthodox writers, the sense of one’s own spiritual condition maintained habitually by the consistent exercise of one’s daily program of prayer, work, reading and Church services.[1] In all writers, it conveys a sense of the habitual presence of God, continually sensed by the soul with a mental or spiritual sense and not an emotional feeling—what we discovered in Chapter V of Volume I to be called a ‘spiritual perception (noera aisthesis)’. Hence, something which corrupts this spiritual remembrance of God (in a real and not discursively intellectual sense) is quite serious indeed. It is in this context that one should consider the remark of St Makarios the Egyptian in TPL 93, that harbouring anger or rancour against the brother destroys the remembrance of God whereas harbouring anger against the demons does not, because the first is contrary to nature whereas the second is according to nature.

on account of those who meet [it]

As we said, we are not sure if Evagrius means ‘while the ascetic is dreaming or day-dreaming’, or whether Evagrius actually anticipates that the ascetic, succumbing to the suggestion of the demon, is actually wandering about among the hermitages.

and bit by bit becoming far from the gnosis of God

This gnosis of God includes the plerophoria—the inner spiritual and not emotional assurance—of God’s personal presence in our hearts. As St Paul remarks: ‘Because, then, you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son in your hearts, crying “Abba, Father!”.’[2]

To be distanced from this plerophoria can amount to catastrophe.

As the ascetic progresses, this plerophoria can become quite concrete. An ascetic we know, since deceased, remarked in our hearing that he ordinarily received a concrete plerophoria from Jesus Christ of real concrete changes in his life two years in advance of the change. Here it must be understood that the plerophoria had reached the stage of prevoyance: the ascetic in question was well-known for his charism of prophecy. However, the concept of plerophoria applies to all Orthodox Christians according to the measure of their spiritual growth.

The opposite of this plerophoria is the sense of abandonment by God that is discussed in OTT 10, below, and also in Gnostic 28.

It is clear that in this chapter Evagrius means gnosis in the sense of the degree of the intuitive apprehension of God, of the angels and their reasons (logoi) and of the reasons (logoi) of created objects to which the ascetic has attained and which he retains on an habitual basis. The connection of this gnosis to one’s habitual spiritual condition is clear: ‘spiritual condition’ is a somewhat broader concept which includes the moral virtues related to the practical life, not just the intellectual virtues related to the gnosis of God. May we all attain to such a gnosis and such a spiritual condition.

and from virtue

Here we see the addition of the moral virtues associated with the plerophoria of God’s presence in our hearts and with the intuitive spiritual knowledge that we have just discussed. The ascetic, by indulging in the thoughts suggested by the ‘wanderer’, distances himself from his own spiritual condition both intellectually and morally.

Here, also, let us recall that virtue is not only the habitual practice of moral duties, but the presence of the Holy Spirit in our soul, whose operations (energeies) make our soul able to practise the virtues, and whose operations (energeies) bring the parts of our soul into their habitual state of excellence according to nature—this is the definition of a virtue of the soul.

and receiving forgetfulness (lethe) of the profession.

This is clear. The ascetic begins a downward road which, passing through the destruction of his habitual inward remembrance of God, ends in forgetfulness of—indifference to, insensibility to—the monastic profession, and that on an intuitive, spiritual plane. The monk actually forgets the experience of grace he once had; he becomes inert and indifferent. This can actually lead to abandonment of ascesis, even if the ascetic should remain in the hermitage, abandonment of the hermitage—for the missions, perhaps—or, God forbid, even abandonment of the monastic calling itself.

He who is living the life of solitude must keep an eye on this demon, whence it came and whither it ends.

This seems to suggest that the hermit encounters the demon somewhere, as will the sequel.

For it works that long circuit neither pointlessly nor by chance, but it does these things wishing to corrupt the spiritual condition of the hermit, so that being burnt out by these things

We remarked in our commentary on TPL 10 that these demonic fantasies leave the mind (nous) of the hermit washed out and exhausted.

and drunk from the many encounters,

Not only burnt out, but also disoriented, ‘dizzy’ as the Greek today says on Mount Athos. Again, this language seems to suggest actual encounters, not just encounters in a day-dream in the intellect. But this ‘dizziness’ certainly could also occur in cases of a day-dream in the intellect.

the mind immediately falls into the hands of the demon of fornication or that of anger or that of sorrow, which very demons treat with indignity the brightness of the hermit’s spiritual condition.

This is an important point about the hermit’s spiritual condition. For the hermit in the desert, there is a perceptible diminution of the quality of his spiritual condition, perhaps involving not only the onset of persistent or even insistent temptations, but perhaps also sin, at least in thought, through consent to the pleasure of the demonic suggestion proffered by any one of the three demons. There is here again the principle that if you cut the temptation off at the root (the ‘wanderer’) you have avoided all the sequelæ (being burnt out, being ‘dizzy’, being tempted by the demons of fornication, anger and sorrow).

Evagrius now begins one of his instructions on hand-to-hand combat with a demon.

But if, indeed, we have the goal to know clearly the wickedness of this demon let us not quickly speak anything to it or denounce what has happened—how it works the encounters in the intellect and in what way it draws the mind bit by bit towards death—because it will flee from us.

Here it sounds as if everything transpires in a day-dream.

It does not condescend to be seen to be doing these things

Hence, unmasking it, for this demon, has a significance it might not have for the demon, say, of pride.

and we will learn nothing further of those things we have been zealous to learn. But let us allow it to complete the drama

Evagrius is certainly narrating his own personal experience with this demon.

one more day or even two, so that learning exactly its fraud and after that convicting it with a word,

Of rebuttal. Evagrius here begins to use legal terminology.

we cause it to flee.

For good, this time.

But because it happens that, during the time of temptation, the mind, being clouded,

This is certainly an important characteristic of this particular demon.

does not know exactly what is happening, let this happen after the departure of the demon:

Evidently, as soon as the demon departs the monk comes to.

Sitting, remember by yourself

This should not be construed to be a specific posture such as the half- or full-lotus positions of Indian yoga, nor an injunction to remember an esoteric instruction towards a type of meditation. Evagrius means these things in their plain sense, according to the customs of the monks of the Cells of Egypt in the Fourth Century.

those things which have happened to you, whence you came and whither you went

Evidently, those things which happened to you and whence you came and whither you went in the intellect.

and in what place you were apprehended by the spirit of fornication

Again, travelling in your intellect, at what place in your intellect you were (what place you were imagining) when you were apprehended by the spirit or demon of fornication, that is, when the unclean thoughts and fantasies started.

or of anger or of sorrow and, again, how these things happened that happened.

A complete inventory of the day-dream, or, in cases where the monk actually wanders about, of his itinerary.

Learn these things well and commit them to memory so that you have evidence to convict it when it approaches,

The demon.

and inform against the place hidden by it, and that you will no longer follow it any more. If you wish it to be summoned to frenzy, convict it the moment it appears and show with a word the first place into which it entered and the second and the third. For it is very violent, not bearing the shame.

We have no doubt that it as Evagrius says. We are reminded of the visit of Evagrius’ mentor, St Makarios the Alexandrian, to the deserted garden of a certain magician in the Egyptian desert. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers is replete with examples of this sort of hand-to-hand combat with the demon.

That being said, we admit to being bemused by some of Evagrius’ indications: ‘the place hidden by it’; ‘the first place into which it entered and the second and the third’.

Let a proof that you have spoken opportunely

Given the proper rebuttal.

be the fact that the thought has fled from you: it is impossible for it to stand, openly convicted.

We believe that this is a peculiar characteristic of this particular demon, not necessarily of all demons. Some are brazen.

A most heavy sleep succeeds to this very demon when it is defeated, and a deadness with a great coldness of the eyelashes

Evagrius will again refer to this phenomenon in OTT 33, below.

and numberless yawns and shoulders weighed down and numb, all of which things the Holy Spirit will dissipate through intense prayer.

Certainly an odd experience.

This chapter corresponds to Chapter 8 of Peri Diakriseos in the Philokalia.

10 The hatred which is against the demons contributes for us greatly to salvation and it is useful to the working of virtue.

Evagrius has emphasized this in TPL.

And we do not have the strength to nourish this hatred in ourselves even as some good offspring, since the spirits, which are lovers of pleasure, corrupt this hatred

By calling us to the pleasure of the senses worked by the particular passion which is excited by that type of demon.

and call the soul out again to friendship and habitual intercourse.

By means of the pleasure of the senses.

But the Doctor of Souls

Jesus Christ.

cures through abandonment

This abandonment is the opposite of the plerophoria we referred to in our commentary on the last chapter. It is the absence of the inner spiritual assurance that God is present in our hearts. For the monk who has nothing but love for God and from God, it is devastating. What Evagrius is saying is that abandonment, a well-known phenomenon in monastic circles, is God’s own therapy for our attachment to the demons because of the pleasures of the senses they incite us to, because we have not resolutely cut off the eight most general passions. It is certainly true that abandonment has always been considered an act on the part of God for one reason or another. Here, we must take Evagrius to be describing one cause of abandonment, not the sole cause. He is anxious here to discuss our attachment to the demons and to the corresponding passions in the soul, not to give a complete account of the multifarious phenomenon of abandonment. He has a more comprehensive account of the phenomenon in Gnostic 28.

this very friendship—or, rather, gangrene which is difficult to cure. He permits us to suffer something fearsome from them day and night,

That is, intense demonic provocations or even apparitions from one or some of the eight kinds of demons.

and the soul again runs back to the archetypal hatred,

The monk is scared. He sobers up and turns to intense prayer.

being instructed by the Lord to say, according to David: ‘I have hated them with a perfect hatred; they became enemies to me.’ [Ps. 138, 22.] He hates the enemies with a perfect hatred who neither in action nor in the intellect sins, which very thing is a positive proof of the great and first dispassion.

Evagrius does not say ‘cannot sin’ but ‘does not sin’. Until he dies, a man, however dispassionate he might be, is subject to temptation and never overcomes or surpasses his freedom to choose: he can sin.

Sins ‘neither in action’: This is the war waged through objects.

‘Nor in the intellect’: This is the immaterial war. The monk who hates with a perfect hatred no longer consents to the ‘forbidden pleasure of the thought’.[3] Christ, the new Adam, is considered to be the exemplar of this perfect hatred which sins neither in action nor in the intellect, having attained as man to ‘the great and first dispassion’ the moment of his conception. ‘The great and first dispassion’, then, is Christian perfection, the kath’ homoiosin; it is sometimes called divinization (theosis). See Chapter V of Volume I for a discussion of the Christian vocation and Christian perfection. It is with the last term, divinization (theosis), that St Basil the Great expresses Christ’s attainment to perfection as man the instant of his conception in the womb of Mary.

This chapter corresponds to Chapter 9 of Peri Diakriseos in the Philokalia.

We now turn to the demon of insensibility, a subject also taken up by St John of Sinai in the Ladder of Divine Ascent.

11 Concerning the demon which makes the soul to be insensible, why is it necessary even to speak?

We agree.

For I have feared even to write concerning it: how the soul abandons its familiar spiritual condition during the time of the sojourn of this demon;

The following is a good description of what it means to lose one’s spiritual condition:

casts off the fear of God and piety; considers sin not to be sin; does not consider transgression to be transgression; remembers hell and eternal judgement as a mere word; really, ‘mocks at the fire-bearing earthquake’ [Job 41, 21]; and on the one hand supposedly confesses God and on the other hand does not know what God has commanded. It strikes the breast, the soul being set in motion towards sin, and the soul remains insensible. It discourses from the Scriptures and has been completely hardened and does not listen. You bring forward the reproach of men to the soul and the soul does not reckon the disgrace among the brothers; and the soul does not understand, like a pig which closes its eyes and breaks through a fence. Thoughts of vainglory, if they persist, bring on this demon, of which, ‘If the days were not cut short, no flesh would have been saved.’ [Matt. 24, 22.] And, moreover, it is a demon of those who rarely meet the brothers, and the reason is manifest beforehand: on the occasion of the misfortunes of others or of those who are oppressed by illness or of those who are unhappy in prison or of those who fall into sudden death, this demon is chased away, the soul being pricked bit by bit and coming to sympathy, and the hardness which has been constituted on account of the demon being dissipated—we lack these aforesaid things on account of the desert and the rarity of persons among us who are ill. The Lord, in the Gospels, certainly expelling this demon, commanded us to see the ill and visit those in prison. ‘For I was ill and you visited me, in prison and you came to me.’ [Matt. 25, 36.] However, this must be known: if one of those who are living the life of solitude, falling into the hands of this demon, did not accept obscene thoughts or did not abandon his house from accidie, then he has received chastity and patient endurance coming down from the Heavens and he is blessed on account of such a dispassion. As many of those who have professed piety who deliberately choose to abide among seculars, let them be on guard against this demon. For concerning this demon I am ashamed even before men to say or write anything more.

‘Did not accept obscene thoughts’: The meaning is ‘did not consent to or accept the obscene thoughts which came to him’. Evidently, when oppressed by the demon of insensibility, the ascetic has no plerophoria at all, and anything is possible. Here, Evagrius is saying that the ascetic who, oppressed by the demon of insensibility, does not accept or consent to obscene thoughts is to be blessed for his underlying dispassion (apatheia), as also the ascetic in a similar battle with the demon of insensibility who does not surrender himself to thoughts of accidie and abandon the hermitage.

‘Blessed on account of such dispassion’: TPL 60 suggests that Evagrius here means ‘imperfect dispassion (apatheia)’, not ‘perfect dispassion (apatheia)’, but there is a sense here in which an ascetic who does not succumb has a significant underlying condition that can be called dispassion (apatheia), or spiritual progress.

This chapter corresponds to Chapter 10 of Peri Diakriseos in the Philokalia.

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[1] If applicable: a hermit might not attend Church except on weekends, if at all.

[2] Gal. 4, 6.

[3] TPL 75.


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