8 Spirits of Evil: One Must Know Them by Sight to Defeat Them

The Monk Nilus compiled his advice for monks, and therefore not all of them are applicable in worldly life. But let's see what we can take from them for ourselves.

November 26 is a date well known for many of us, since on this day the Orthodox Church celebrates the feast day of St. John Chrysostom. But a day earlier, on November 25, the church calendar marks the commemoration day of the disciple of St. John - the Venerable Nilus the Faster (Sinai), whose work "On the Eight Spirits of Evil" was included in the famous ascetic collection "Philokalia". It will become the subject of our fixed and, I must say, very deserved attention today.

The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things, Hieronymus Bosch. Fragment: gluttony. Madrid, Prado Museum Photo: wikipedia.org


We do not need to expect, however, that here we will discover some secret knowledge about demonic forces, which was hitherto unknown to us. We are not turning to occultists for information, but to an ascetic who lived with his son for forty years in a cave near Mount Sinai. I think that the title of the Venerable Nilus' work will attract the interest of many fans of something like that, of the mysterious, but no, we will find in it only a denunciation of our own passions and "boring" advice on how to fight them.

In general, ascetic literature is difficult for us to "digest", because our spiritual life is rather meager and inert. We want impressions, not hard, everyday work.

TheVenearble Nilus calls the eight main passions the spirits of evil, on the one hand emphasizing their pernicious essence, on the other, as if indicating that demons have their own, let's say, specialization in the temptation of people. Therefore, the struggle with passions is not only opposition to one's own sinful inclinations, but also to evil spirits, demons, acting through them.

Gluttony

We need food to maintain the vital functions of our body. But, at the same time, it is the primary source of temptation. At the very beginning of his instructions, the Venerable Nilus draws an analogy between fire and the belly, firewood and food. “A great flame is kindled from a multitude of firewood, and a multitude of food feeds lust,” he writes. Therefore, the fast should begin not so much with limiting the food as with limiting their quantity.

This common truth, known to all of us, is often neglected. I have often come across the fact that fasting grew into a legal plane, while not causing any remorse in people. After all, you can fill your belly with lean food so that it will be hard to breathe, you can constantly pamper yourself with delicious fish and seafood. Formally, with such an attitude, the fast is not broken, because a person has nothing inside and does not omit anything.

I quite sincerely believe that it is better to eat a piece of boiled chicken with bread and drink a glass of kefir during the fast than to eat shrimp, salmon, trout and other expensive seafood today. Moreover, most people today cannot afford to buy even hake or canned food, while a carton of milk or cottage cheese is available to many. What is the point in eating formally fasting food, if, as the Venerable Nilus writes, it kindles our stomach?

“If you surrender to the desire of filling your stomach,” he continues, “then nothing will be enough to satisfy your voluptuousness; because gluttony is a fire that consumes a combustible substance and always requires something new. "

Moreover, a satiated stomach is a source of sinful thoughts and daydreaming, while deprivation of natural needs awakens thoughts of impending death and all the ensuing consequences.

Fornication

Fornication is a child of gluttony. The "mechanics" of passion is quite simple here. Satiety plunges a person into sinful thoughts, the mind is shattered and, in such a state of intemperance, he falls under the influence of the passion of fornication, since he is simply no longer able to resist it.

"Fornication takes satiety as its ally (ie, to help - author's note)," writes the Venerable Nilus, "becomes one of the opponents of the mind, and fights against it to the end along with its enemies." Hence follows the natural desire of Christians to avoid any festivities during fasting, because people of the opposite sex will necessarily be present at them, and this is a source of danger: “He who protects himself from these arrows does not go to crowded meetings, does not wander absent-mindedly at festivities. For it is better to stay quietly at home and be in prayer than, thinking to honor the holidays, to become a quick prey for enemies. "

Further, the Venerable Nilus gives a lot of advice (first of all, of course, for men, since he himself is a man) regarding behavior with women. He points out that one should not even give a reason for conversation, not even a glance, since "the demon of lewdness attacks a zealous ascetic fighter quickly, suddenly showering him with arrows of passionate lust."

Avarice

Following the apostle Paul (1 Tim. 6, 10), the Venerable Nilus calls the love of money the root of all evil, and therefore writes: “Until we pluck money from the soul, cutting off the rest of the passions will not be successful, since they will grow again like young branches on an old tree. "

The Venerable Nilus compiled his advice for monks, and therefore not all of them are applicable in worldly life, but let's see what we can take for ourselves. We simply cannot live without making money. The saint says that it is generally better to get rid of any material income by spending it on charity, because "the one who acquires much is entangled in cares." Living in the world, we are also enmeshed in cares, but let these cares be not for our sake, but for the sake of our loved ones and relatives. To combat the love of money, it is necessary to spend as little as possible on yourself, especially on things that are not necessary, but bring only short-term pleasure.

Anger

How often do we fail to cope with anger and irritation? When everything is boiling inside, it is extremely difficult to stop this process. The Venerable Nilus has wonderful discernment on this score: “Prepare yourself to be meek and loving of abuse: meek with people, and loving with our enemy; for this is the natural use of anger to oppose the serpent (the ancient one) with hostility. " It turns out that the fight against anger must be built on the ability to redirect it to the enemy of the human race.

Anger is a rather strong feeling, the correct use of which can even contribute to strengthening one's asceticism.

Sorrow

This passion is often engendered precisely by anger: “Sorrow is the despondency of the soul and is the result of angry thoughts; for anger desires vengeance; Failure to take revenge breeds sorrow. " Also, sadness arises with love and attachment to the material world. On the one hand, we understand perfectly well that everything in this world is subject to decay, destruction and death, but on the other hand, we always want something more: to live well, eat tasty food, sleep longer, etc. That is where sorrow comes in. When we are constantly striving for more, we regret what we have lost.

If Christ really becomes a source of joy for us, then sorrow will lose its power and influence. But this can be achieved in the ways that are well known to us, the main thing is to do everything so as not to weaken your work, stress. Maybe our abilities are weak and limited, but that is already something. 

“Be especially grateful in afflictions, because through them the grace of intercession is more clearly felt. So, by gratitude, driving away the sorrow from the afflictions that befall you, you will not darken the brilliant beauty of courageous contentment, ” the Venerable Nilus sums up.

Despondency

Despondency is "the exhaustion of the soul." When the inner forces were wasted on sinful things, then the soul can no longer withstand the multitude of temptations that have fallen upon it, and it falls into despondency. In such a state, there will be no inspiration, no upsurge, but only the understanding that this is no longer possible, that one has to somehow get out of this "hole". Therefore, the Venerable Nilus gives this advice:

"Patience heals one from despondency, and doing one's duty (despite the lack of desire), with all self-compulsion, out of the fear of God."

Patience: perhaps simple, banal, but firm patience is the main tool in the fight against despondency and without it this passion cannot be overcome.

Vainglory

Vainglory destroys the meaning of all labor and turns the ascetic into a “free worker” who will not receive any reward. “The abstinence of a vain man is like smoke from the furnace; both are scattered in the air, ”writes the Venerable Nilus. To resist this passion, it is necessary to drive out of the mind any thought of human praise. Demons will return it, and therefore, in this case, you need to try to see the flaws in what you have worked on.

The Venerable Nilus reminds us that by ascetic deed one can be exalted and even receive strength from the demons for even greater labors, but thereby only aggravating one's position. Therefore, you must be extremely careful with vainglory. 

Pride 

The Venerable Nilus calls pride "a tumor of the soul, filled with spoiled blood" and indicates that with pride the archangel fell from Heaven, and with humility a man is raised to Heaven.

It seems to me that the images and reproaches with which all ascetic literature abounds in general are extremely important here. “Look at your nature, that you are earth and ashes, and soon you will be resolved into dust; now dignified, and after a little you will be a worm Why lift up your head, when it will soon rot? ”- writes the Venerable Nilus. These are not just words, you need to try to feel them and really identify yourself with that worm. The little earthworm really has nothing to be proud of.

Also, pride is opposed by the memory of previous sins, albeit those we have repented of. Any relaxing, and the thought that we have completely overcome some sin, will not only return it to our soul, but will also abundantly “season” it with pride.

*   *   *

I hope that these small notes will allow someone to revive their spiritual life, at least a little, their own, albeit small, work of asceticism. And I would also like us not to perceive ascetic literature as boring, but every time to find in it a solution to our spiritual problems. May the Venerable Nilus, whose memory we are celebrating today, help us in this!