Purity of Heart: An Effective Shield Against Demonic Spiritual Attack

Unless we have purity of heart, mind, and soul, the demons venture to enter into us. They disturb us and turn us towards deception (prelest) instead of truth.

Starets Paissy, reposnsible for the spiritual reawakening that swept Russia during the last two centuries and gave rise to an abundance of as yet uncanonized saints, is introduced here by a passage from his book, Lilies of the Field, taken from Archbishop Vitaly’s Pochaev periodical, The Russian Monk.


by Paissy Velichkovsky [St. Paisius]


Purity of heart, mind, and soul is attained by a life of much labor, through spiritual effort; for the heart is purified by sorrows, by the most difficult spiritual and bodily virtues: by hunger, thirst, vigils, and other means. From filthy, passionate desires are born bodily passions, that is, lust. But from purity of soul and fasting with prayer, the mind is purified of filthy thoughts and fantasies. Through purity of mind, the soul is liberated from its passions and is enlightened; and from purity of soul comes mental sight. Unless we have purity of heart, mind, and soul, that is, passionlessness, the demons venture to enter into us, they disturb us and display in us deception (prelest) in place of truth. For only by a pure heart, soul, and mind may the Mental Sun be contemplated.

One must apply oneself with special diligence to fasting and unceasing prayer, so that prayer may descend to the depths of the heart and purify it from the passions of the soul and body and enlighten the soul, bringing delight, assuagement, and joy, and driving away filthy thoughts and mental fantasies. When in such a way, a man’s heart, mind, soul, and body are purified, grace comes to dwell in him; the door is closed to demons and passions, and he begins to sense a spiritual sweetness. As long as the natural movements of the body are undiminished and arouse in the heart sinful pleasure and prevent the bodily senses from being purified in this life; as long as the mind has not been liberated from dark, filthy fantasies and the soul has not been delivered from passions – for so long will the sweetness of grace fail to be awakened in a man, and he will not perceive the Divine in his soul.

The beginning of purity is non-acquiescence to sin of mind, and its end is mortification, a being dead to sin of body. Impurity of the heart consists of lustful pleasure and sinful excitement in the heart; impurity of the body, a falling into sin on act. Impurity of mind consists of filthy thoughts; and impurity of soul, of various passions of the soul, when the soul loves something immoderately and is beguiled by it.

If a person labors with his body and achieves certain virtues, but neglects the ordering of his heart, does not fervently devote himself to mental activity (mindfulness) and does not concern himself with sobriety of soul – then he is like someone who gathers with one hand and scatters with the other; for bodily labors are only the beginning of the spiritual path, while internal sobriety of the heart, activity of the mind,* and an ordered soul are its end. Bodily labors without internal ordering and mindfulness are like dry leaves. Therefore we neither reach perfection nor receive grace if we do not know where to begin the spiritual life, what constitutes its middle and its end, and in what consists the essence and foundation of the virtues; and until we realize this we shall continue at one and the same time to labor and to undo the results of our labor.

Understand, O man, where the spiritual life begins, whence the virtues arise, and through what it is that the passions find easy entry into us; and then your soul will be soon enlightened. But without this beginning you will be sowing seed into the sea, and it will always be wasted.

*i.e. the Jesus Prayer (trans. note). 
Paissy Velichkovsky. “On Purity of Heart and Soul.”
The Orthodox Word, Vol. 1, Issue 2, May-June 1965. pp. 115-116

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