The Four Temptations Which Come From The Enemy In The Hour of Death

St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain

St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain

Saint Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, and Saint Theophan the Recluse edited an earlier version of this work, correcting any of its defects in order that it conform to holy Orthodox teaching.

The First Temptation — Against Faith and the Means to Overcome It

The four chief and most dangerous temptations to which our enemies, the demons, usually subject us in the hour of death are:

  1. wavering of faith,
  2. despair,
  3. vainglory,
  4. various images assumed by the demons which appear to the dying.

As regards the first, when the evil enemy begins to sow in you thoughts of unbelief or, appearing in a visible shape, speaks to you against  faith,  do  not  enter  into  argument  with  him,  but  affirm  within  yourself  faith  in  what  he  attacks,  and  say  to  him  with  holy indignation: ‘ Out of my sight, Satan, father of lies. I refuse to listen to you; with my whole soul I believe and have always believed in what my mother, the holy Church believes. And this is enough for me.’ Admit no thoughts of unbelief, and stand firm, according to the Scriptures: “If the spirit of the ruler rise up against thee, leave not thy place’ (Ecclesiastes x. 4). Be vividly aware, and keep this awareness, that this is nothing but the guile of the devil who strives to confuse you in the last hour. If you cannot stand firm in your mind, keep alert in desire and feeling, do not let them incline towards the suggestion, even if it is served up under the cover of texts from the Scriptures, which the destroyer of souls introduces. For whatever text of the Scriptures he may remind you of, he does so with the aim of leading you to perdition by a distorted interpretation and perversion of the true words of God. If this evil snake asks you: what does the Church teach? do not answer, and pay no attention to his words, ignoring him altogether. Aware that he is nothing but lies and deceit, and that he has begun talking to you to confound you with words, plunge deep into the contemplation of faith in your believing heart. Still, if you feel yourself firm in faith and strong in thought, and wish to confound the enemy, answer him that the holy Church believes in what alone is the truth. If he asks again: what is this truth? say that the truth is that in which he believes, namely, that by the cross, our Lord Christ has stricken his head and has abolished his power. Then cleave with the eye of your mind to the contemplation of the Lord, crucified for us, and pray to Him: ‘O my God, Creator and Redeemer! hasten to my aid and do not let me be shaken, however little, in the truth of Thy holy faith. Since, through Thy loving-kindness, I was born in this truth, let me abide in it and so end my mortal life to the glory of Thy name.”

Second Temptation in the Hour of Death — Through Despair

The  second  temptation  in  the  hour  of  death,  by  which  the  enemy  strives  finally  to  strike  us  down,  is  

fear  at  the  memory  of  the multitude of our sins. This fear cannot be avoided; but it is mitigated by belief in the redemption of our sins by the death on the cross of Christ our Saviour. The enemy obscures this faith and fans the fear of our sins, so as to stifle all hope of salvation and strike us down with hopelessness and despair. So, my brother, prepare yourself beforehand to repulse this attack, and resolve even now to grasp firmly in your hand our victorious standard— the cross of Christ, when you approach the gates of death. In other words keep firmly in your heart the faith in the redeeming power of our Lord’s death on the cross. If, entering the gates of death, you actually experience attacks of hopelessness, hasten to realize, first of all, that they are works of the enemy, and not the natural results of the recollection  of  your  sins.  This  recollection  brings  humility,  contrition  and  heartfelt  grief  at  having  offended  the  just  and  merciful God; therefore, although it brings fear, this fear does not extinguish the hope of God’s mercy, and being mixed with it, produces a daring trust in salvation, removing all sense of being cast out. If you know this, you will always recognize, as coming from the devil, every recollection of sins, which has the power to oppress and cast you into despair, extinguishing all hope of salvation and striking you down through fear of being cast out. Once aware of this it will not be difficult for you to have hope beyond hope, which will banish all despair. Hope beyond hope plunges a man into contemplation of the Divine mercy, into whose infinite depths a man endowed with it casts the  great  multitude  of  his  sins,  with  a  firm  conviction  that  God  desires  and  seeks  not our  ruin  but  our  salvation.  The  only  sure foundation on which this conviction can gain strength at any time, and particularly at that time, is the boundless power of the death of our Lord and Saviour on the cross. Therefore, since we must always seek the protection of this cross, how much more must we do so then! Here is a fitting prayer to address to your Lord and God on entering the gates of death:  ‘O Lord! Many are the reasons for me to fear that, in Thy justice. Thou wilt condemn me and cast me out for my sins; but still greater is my daring hope of Thy forgiveness according to Thy infinite mercy in Christ Jesus, our Saviour and Redeem So I beseech Thee to spare me, Thy poor creature, in Thy infinite goodness, for though condemned by my sins, I am washed by the priceless blood of Thy Son and our God, to glorify Thee forever. I give the whole of myself into Thy hands: deal with me in Thy mercy. Thou alone art Lord of my life.’

Third Temptation in the Hour of Death — By Vainglory

The third temptation in the hour of death is through vainglory and self-appreciation, which moves a man to rely on himself and his own works. Therefore never, and especially in the hour of death, let your attention dwell on yourself and what is yours, giving way to  satisfaction  with  yourself  and  your  works,  even  if  your  progress  in  virtues  were  greater  than  that  of  all  the  saints.  Let  all  your satisfaction  be  in  God,  and  place  your  hope  wholly  on  His  mercy  and  the  sufferings  of our  Lord  and  Saviour; belittle  yourself  in your own eyes to your last breath, if you wish to be saved. If some good deed of yours happens to come to your mind, think that it was the work of God in you and through you, instead of your own, and that it is entirely due to Him. Take refuge in the protection of Divine mercy; yet do not allow yourself to expect it as a reward for the many and arduous struggles endured or for the victories you have gained. Stand always in saving fear and sincere conviction that all your efforts, struggles and endeavours  would  have  remained  vain  and fruitless,  if  God  had  not  taken  them  under  the  wing  of  His  benevolence  and  had  not helped them and worked in them. So put now your trust in this merciful benevolence.If you follow this advice of mine, be sure that in the hour of death the enemies” attacks will fail and a free road will open before you, by which you will pass with joy from the earthly valley to the heavenly Jerusalem, the home you longed for.

Fourth Temptation in the Hour of Death — By Phantoms

If our evil, cunning and tenacious enemy, who is never tired of tempting us, should attempt to seduce you in the hour of death by some  phantoms,  visions  or  transformations  into  an  angel  of  light,  stand  firm  in  the  consciousness  of  your  poverty  and  utter nothingness.  And  say  to  him  from a  courageous  and  fearless  heart:  “Return  accursed  one,  to  your  darkness.  I  am  unworthy  of visions and revelations. Only one thing I need—the infinite compassion of my Lord Jesus Christ, and the prayers and intercessions of our Lady, the Mother of God, the Virgin Mary and of all the saints.” Even if certain clear signs make you think that you see true visions  sent  by  God,  do  not  be  too  quick in  believing  them,  but  rather  hasten  to  plunge  deeply  into  the  realization  of  your nothingness and unworthiness. Do not fear to offend God by this; for our humble feelings are never unpleasing to Him. If you have need of such visions, God knows how to prevent you from closing your eyes to them, and will forgive the reluctance of your belief that they come from Him. He Who sends grace to the humble, does not take it away for actions inspired by humility.  Such are the more usual weapons used by our enemy to attack us in our last mortal hour. But he also uses for the same purpose any other passion, which possessed the dying man during his life, and to which he is most addicted, and the enemy tries to provoke it, so that the man may leave this life in a passionate state, which would then decide his fate. This is why, beloved, we should be armed against our strongest passions before this great battle is upon us and, fighting against them with courage, should overcome them and cleanse ourselves of them, to make victory more easy at our last hour,which may come at any moment. In this connection the Lord says to all men: ‘Fight against them until they be consumed’ (I Sam. xv. 18).

On Spiritual Peace of Heart

Your heart, beloved, is made by God for the sole purpose of loving Him alone and of serving as a dwelling for Him. So He calls to you to give Him your heart, saying: ‘My son, give me thine heart” (Prov. xxiii. 26).  But since God is peace passing all understanding, it is quite indispensable for the heart, which wishes to receive Him, to be peaceful and free of all turmoil. For only in peace is His place, as David says. So strive above all things to establish and make firm the peaceful state of your heart. All your virtues, all actions and endeavors should be directed towards achieving this peace, and especially your valiant feats of struggling against the enemies of  your  salvation;  as  the  great  practicer  of  silence,  Arsenius,  says:  ‘  Make  it  your  whole  care  that  your  inner  state  should  be in accordance with God, and you will vanquish your outer passions.”  Peace of heart is disturbed by passions; so if you do not allow passions to approach the heart, it will always remain at peace. In the unseen warfare, the warrior stands fully armed at the gates of the heart and repulses all those who attempt to enter and disturb it. While the heart is at peace, victory over the attackers is not difficult. Peace of heart is both the aim of spiritual warfare, and the most powerful means to achieve victory in it. So, when passionate turmoil steals into the heart, do not jump to attack the passion in an effort to overcome it, but descend speedily into your heart and strive to restore quiet there. As soon as the heart is quietened, the struggle is over.  Human life is nothing but unceasing warfare and endless temptation. Temptation provokes struggle, and so warfare ensues. Owing to  this  warfare  you  should  always  keep  awake  and  do  your  utmost  to  guard  your  heart  and  watch  over  it,  to  keep  it  peaceful  and quiet. When some disturbing movement arises in your soul, strive with zeal to stifle it and pacify the heart, lest this confusion makes you stray from the right path. For the human heart is like a weight on a clock or like a boat’s rudder. If you make the weight lighter or heavier, this will immediately change the movement of all the wheels, and the hands will cease to show the correct time. If you move the rudder to the right or left, the course of the boat is at once altered, so that it no onger stays on its former course. In the same way, when the heart is thrown into turmoil, everything within us is brought into disorderly movement and our very mind loses the capacity of right thinking. This is why it is so necessary not to delay in quietening the heart as soon as it becomes troubled by something internal or external, whether in time of prayer or at any other time.  And you must realize that you will know how to  pray  rightly  only  when  you  have  really mastered  the  task  of guarding  your  inner peace. So direct your attention to this subject and try to find out how to achieve a state of affairs when every action is done in peace of heart, with pleasure and joy. I should say, in brief, that preserving peace of heart should be the constant endeavour of your whole life; you must never allow it to be cast into disorderly turmoil. Then, doing all your business tranquil in the shelter of this peace, as it is written: ‘ My son go on with thy business in meekness’ (tranquility) (Ecclesiasticus iii. 17) you will attain the bliss promised to the tranquil: ‘Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)