We must confess our thoughts

We must confess our thoughts to the SPIRITUAL fathers with the greatest discernment and not to EVERYONE at random. HOW TO CONFESS AND ASK QUESTIONS, WITH WHAT KIND OF FAITH TO RECEIVE THE ANSWERS OF THE FATHERS and how to COLLABORATE WITH THEM

1. From Patericon

Two brothers who lived in different places met once. One of them said to the other one : `I want to go to abba Zenon to confess him a thought.` `I want the same` said the other one. So they went together. Each one of them too the abba aside and confessed his thoughts. One f them, when he confessed nelt down at the feet of the Elder begging him with tears in his eyes to pray for him. And the Elder said to him: Go, do not give up, do not slander anyone and do not neglect your prayer. So he left and was healed. The other one after he confessed his thought to the Elder added recklessly: `Pray for me`; he did not ask it with painful heart.

After some time the two brothers met by chance. One of them said to the other: When we went to the Elder did you confess the thought you wanted to tell him about?` `Yes`, answered the other one. Then the first one asked: `Did you get any benefit from confessing?` And the brother answered:`Yes. With the Elder’s prayers God healed me.` The other one said:           I confessed but I did not feel any healing.` `And how did you ask the Elder?`asked the one who had benefited. I told him: `Pray for me because I have this thought.` Then his brother said: ` When I confessed, I washed his feet with my tears asking him to pray for me. And for his prayers God healed me.`

The Elder related to us all these to teach us that who asks the prayers of one of the Elders for his thoughts, must do that painfully, from all his heart, as if he asked it from God and then he got healed. That one who confesses recklessly or tempting not only finds no benefit but he is also doomed.

*

An Elder said: Once someone who had fallen into a big sin felt his heart pierced by repentance and went to confess to an Elder. He did not confess to that one the deed only the thought: «I got a thought of this kind. Can I save my soul?» That Elder did not have enough discernment and answered:«You lost your soul!» When the brother heard this he said to himself: «If I lost my soul I should go into the world». Leaving he decided to go to abba Silouan who was a man with a great discernment and confess him that thought. So he arrived at him and didn’t confess him the deed only the thought as he had done with the other Elder. Abba Silouan opened his mouth and began to quote from the Holy Scriptures saying that there is no damnation for those who just think about the evil. Hearing that the brother got courage and trust and confessed the deed. The Elder hearing about the deed healed his soul as a good doctor with remedies from the divine Scriptures telling him that there is repentance for those who return consciously toward God. After that my abba went to this Elder who related the story about that brother and said: `Look how that one who despaired and was ready to go in the world now is like a star among the brothers.`

We related all these to see that is not a small danger for someone to confess his thoughts to some men lacking discernment.

2. of saint Ephrem the Syrian

If someone confesses his thoughts to you beware brother not to be upset while he is speaking by the same thoughts especially if the eye of your mind is still slightly sick. Because then you will be like the helmsman in the middle of the vortex. But hearing the beginning of his account you must understand the other details and comfort the troubled man with the words of the Holy Fathers or with those experienced by ourselves. Since it is not in the will of God to fall one by means of another because He wants the salvation of us all.

And you beloved do not confess your thoughts to anyone, only to those whom you tried to see if they have spiritual experience, not paying attention to the exterior look or the whiteness of the hair. Because many according to the Apostle have a form of godliness but deny its power. [1]. And the Saviour said: Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them.[2].

Therefore we must not look at the exterior appearance because the scheming of the enemy are numerous but we should take heed at the way of thinking of everyone. And do not hide your thoughts of those whom you see having the gifts of the Holy Spirit so that the enemy could not nestle within you finding you hiding and draw you slowly to perdition.

Beware brother not to despise your brother in your heart hearing his sins because he committed such deeds. But marvel at his change and open confession. Because to confess your mistakes voluntarily to some spiritual men is a sign of improvement of your life, of fear of God, of humble spirit and of faith.

It is rather right to appreciate your brother for that and comfort him humbly as it is written, watching yourselves, or you also may be tempted.[3]. Since God says through Ezekiel: Therefore, son of man, say to your people, ‘If someone who is righteous disobeys, that person’s former righteousness will count for nothing. And if someone who is wicked repents, that person’s former wickedness will not bring condemnation.[4].

3. of abba Isaiah

If you ask an elder about a thought and you know he is trustworthy to keep your word, confess openly your thought to him. But if some men tell you about thoughts that struggle you too, do not wish to listen to them, so that you won’t have any war. If a brother confides in you and confesses his mistake do not tell anyone about that because it will be deadly for you. If you ask the elders about your thoughts, do not ask after you committed the deed but confess what struggles you now. Do not be hypocritical saying other things instead of the true one or as if they were committed by someone else. Otherwise you fool yourself not the elders you question.

When you as the elders about your war do not listen more of the thoughts which speak within yourself than of the elders, but pray first to God saying: `have mercy on me and give what You will to the elders to tell me.` And what the elders tell you do with faith and God will give you peace. If you are helpless in passions avoid letting anyone speak to you about the passions of his thoughts as to a person of trust. Since this thing is perdition for your soul. Do not confess your thoughts to everyone for not being a cause of stumbling for your elders and for being covered by the grace of God.

4. of saint John Casian

Visiting the holy elders who lived at the Skete, I went to abba Moses, a very virtuous man gifted with divine wisdom. Arriving there after other useful words for the soul I asked him about the confession of the thoughts and about what we should do. Many times, I said, some of the elders, when they hear the thoughts of the brothers, do not heal them and they also condemn them, bringing them to despair. And this thing becomes a reason for a harmful shame and fear. We know something like this happened in the land of Syria. A certain brother confessed his thoughts to one of the elders from there with all simplicity and sincerity opening his heart completely without any shame. But the elder when he heard that started to get angry on the brother condemning him for such sinful thoughts. Thus many hearing about that were ashamed to confess their thoughts to the elders.

Abba Moses answered: `It is good sons not to hide our thoughts of the elders but confess them openly and sincerely. And we should not follow our own judgment but obey without hesitation those things they consider as good.

But we should not confess the secrets of our heart to everyone at random, only to the elders with high spiritual life and discernment who are acknowledged by many and are advanced not only in age. Because many who confessed their thoughts taking into account only the age and the exterior appearance  of those who listened to them because of those men’s inability instead of being healed fell into despair.

*

There was once a very zealous brother who being fought by the demon of fornication came to an elder and confessed his thoughts. When that one heard them being unexperienced got angry on that brother calling him  a wretch and considering him unworthy of the monachal order because he had received such thoughts. Hearing these words the brother being desperate left his place and went into the world. By God’s care he met abba Apollo the most experienced among the elders. That one seeing him troubled and upset asked him: `What’s the reason of your trouble, brother?` That one because of his great despair could not answer anything in the beginning. Then because the elder did not stop asking him to confess the reason of that overwhelming sadness began to tell him what happened to him: I am fought by thoughts of fornication and I went to confess them to that elder and according to his word there is no hope for me to save my soul. Thus falling into despair I am going into the world.

Hearing those elder Apollo comforted him a lot and gave him advice saying: Do not be surprised my son and do not despair because I at this very old age am terribly fought by these thoughts. Do not despair, being overwhelmed by lust because this is healed not with a human effort but with Christ’s love for men. Just make me the joy of going back to your cell.` And the brother did that and after sending him back to his cell abba Apollo went to that elder who drew away the brother with hi severity and standing in front of his cell prayed with tears saying: `God, You Who do everything for our benefit and Who allow temptations to try us for our profit, please listen to me and give to this elder the war that fought the brother, to let him know at senescence by trial  what he hasn’t learnt for so long: that we must suffer with those who are fought.   

When he finished the prayer he saw near the cell a moor throwing arrows towards the elder. And the elder jumped and started to go around as if being drunk. Not being able to endure that for a long time he got out of the cell and went on the same way as the young monk back to the world.

Abba Apollo saw him leaving and understanding what happened, went on another path and he reached him coming into his way and saying: `What is the reason of such a great commotion that possesses you?` The elder understanding that the saint knew what he had, did not say a thing, being ashamed. Then abba Apollo said: `Go back to your cell and knowing your weakness from now on consider yourself either unknown by the devil or ignored by him and know that’s the reason why you were not worthy to fight against him.

Because you could not stand his attacks not even for a day. This thing happened to you because when you received a younger brother who was fought by the enemy instead of strengthening him for battle you threw him into despair not thinking at the wise command which says: Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. [5]; or at the word of the Savior Who tells us not to break the bruised reed or quench the smoldering wick[6]. Because nobody can endure the scheming of the enemy, nor appaise the fire of nature, if the grace of God would not protect the weak human. Thus after this saving oikonomia was given to us let us pray together to God so that He may take away from you the trouble He allowed to affect you.

 For he wounds, but he also binds up; he injures, but his hands also heal. He humbles and raises, kill and gives life, sends to hell and raises back[7]». After saying all these and prayed he got rid of his struggle. And the saint advised him to ask from God word of wisdom to know when to speak.[8].

We learn from what was related that there is no other safe way of salvation than to confess our thoughts to our Elders who have discernment and let ourselves be guided by them to virtue, not following our will or judgment. If someone encounters one or more simple elders with less experience he should not hide his thoughts for this reason and not confess them to the experienced ones. He should not lose trust in all f them because of the unexperienced ones avoiding all the elders, but it happens with the doctors he should first try to see how experienced they are and then show them the wounds of his soul. And he should not refuse their remedies, but receive them  gratefully, even if they cause him pain for a while.

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[1]   2 Tim. 3,5.

[2]   Mt. 7,15-16.

[3]   Ga. 6,1.

[4]   Iz. 33,12.

[5]   Pr. 24,11.

[6]   . Mt. 12,24.

[7]   Job 5 18

[8]   Is. 50,4.

Excerpt from EVERGETINOS – first edition 2007  Great Holy Monastery  Vatoped vol. I, Theme 21 – Metropolis Press Publishing, Athens, Greece, 2007.