OUR ADVERSARY, the devil, has the long-standing habit of artfully choosing modes of warfare against those who enter upon the ascetic contest according to the form of their weapons, and he changes the manner of his struggle against them according to the aim of each. He observes those who are indolent in their volition and whose thoughts are infirm, and from the very beginning he vehemently wars upon them, raising up against them vigorous and potent temptations. He does this in order to make them taste the modes of his wickedness at the start of their course, so that they should be overcome by fear and their pathway should seem to them rugged and impassable.
Thus they will say to themselves, ‘If the beginning of the way is so arduous and harsh, who until the end can confront the many struggles that lie herein?’ Thenceforth they are unable to withstand anymore, to make any further progress, or even to take anything else into consideration, because their thought is so obsessed with apprehension. The devil has only for a little while to straiten them with his warfare before they turn to flight.
Nay rather, it is God Himself Who permits the devil to prevail upon them, and He gives them no aid whatever. And this is because they entered the Lord’s contest with doubt and coldness.
For the prophet says:
‘Cursed is the man who does the works of the Lord carelessly, keeping back his sword from blood ‘;
‘The Lord is nigh unto them that fear Him.’
For God commands us to confront the devil with fearlessness and ardour, saying:
‘Start now to destroy him, rush to war against him, grapple with him manfully, and I shall put the fear of you upon your foes that are under heaven, saith the Lord.’
For if you do not voluntarily die a sensory death for the sake of God’s goodness, involuntarily you will die a noetic death, [ falling] away from God.
Whatever your portion should be, without misgivings voluntarily accept temporary sufferings for its sake, that you may enter into the glory of God. For if you suffer bodily death in the Lord’s contest, the Lord Himself will crown you, and God will give your venerable relics the honour of the martyrs.
Therefore, as I said above, those who are negligent and slothful at the beginning and have not undertaken mightily to surrender themselves to death, are found always to be inferior and cowardly in every battle. Nay rather, God permits them to be pursued and warred upon, because they did not truly seek Him, but as tempters and mockers of God they endeavoured to do His work. Hence the devil himself knew them from the beginning and tested their thoughts, revealing those men to be cowardly, self-loving and, moreover, sparers of their bodies.
So he drives them like a hurricane, since he does not see in them the noetic power that he is accustomed to see in the saint for in proportion to a man’s volition to strive toward God, and in proportion to his purpose to attain his goal for God’s sake, God works with him, helps him, and manifests His providence in him.
The devil cannot draw near to a man or attack him with temptations unless it be permitted by the bidding of Heaven, or he grows lax and surrenders himself to shameful thoughts and to distraction, or he becomes proud and conceited, or he accepts thoughts of doubt and cowardliness.
Now the devil does not so ask God for such men as these, for unskilled and inexperienced beginners, in order to tempt them, as he does for holy and great men, for he knows that God will not permit the former to fall into his hands. God knows that they do not have the strength for the devil’s temptations, and so He does not surrender them unless they have within them one of the causes aforementioned; in such a case, the power of God’s providence withdraws from them.
This is the first method of the devil’s warfare.
St Isaac The Syrian