Purity of Thoughts
A chaste and pure person should be pure in body and soul, in his thoughts, senses, feelings, and even in his dreams and imaginations. A man should give careful attention to the purity of his thoughts as his thoughts also belong to God. As we take care of the purity of our hearts in order that God may dwell in them, so we must take care of our minds too. In the Holy Bible the Divine Inspiration says, "...Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and all your strength..." (Luke 10:27).
A person who lets his heart be occupied with sin, gives a proof that God does not live in his heart, as thoughts arise from the inside of the heart.
The Holy Bible says a good man produces well from the store of good within himself; and an evil man from evil within produces evil.
The law does not take your thoughts into account but God judges you according to your thoughts. Hence conscience is stronger and deeper than the law, for the person who takes care not to commit a sin by thought will find it difficult to do wrong in deed and action. Thus the purity of thought becomes a means for the purity of the human being as a whole.
If you wish to have a pure mind, keep far away from the means that cause the corruption of thought. Keep away from all things that bring to your mind a sinful thought. Such thoughts may come as a result of faulty readings, of wicked things that are heard, or due to a sinful environment, bad company, or wicked friendship. An evil thought may arise from another evil thought. Keep away from this so as to keep your thoughts pure.
Evil thoughts may arise from desires or bad lusts inside the heart. In fact, desires and thoughts co-operate; each of the two may be a cause and a result. An evil thought may bring about a wicked lust, and a wicked lust may give birth to a wicked thought. On many occasions your thoughts may be expressive of your desires. Try to clear out your heart from evil desires; then your thoughts will consequently be purified.
Thoughts and lusts may give rise to dreams or imaginations, as you dream of the thing that you think of, or that you long for. In this way, a man may sometimes be responsible for his dreams; and inasmuch as the man's heart and thoughts are purified, so will his dreams be purified. If you dream of something against your thoughts and desires, you may be disturbed and wake up quickly, and you will not be able to continue your dream for a long period.
On some occasions evil thoughts may merely be a fight on the part of the devil against you, to disturb the quiet of your heart and destroy your inner peace. But not all evil thoughts are wars from the devils; there is a great difference between the war of thoughts and falling by thought. In case of an evil thought that is merely a fight from the devil, your heart will revolt against this thought and you will try with all your determination to drive it away and get rid of it and not accept it at all. But in case of falling by thought a man will be contented with the wicked thought or will be enjoying it; he may even try to keep harboring this thought for a long time, and he may be annoyed if something occurs to break it up.
When these thoughts come to your mind, do you sincerely oppose them, or do you become satisfied with them? Here is the measure and here is the test of the substance of your purity.
My advice to you is to oppose wicked thoughts and escape from them. If an evil thought attacks you, try to occupy your mind with something else or run away from it. You may think of something else that is deeper so as to divert the course of your thinking.
You may occupy yourself with the reading of something interesting so that your thoughts may be diverted from that wicked question to the topic of reading. You may pray in secret and raise your heart to God to keep away the evil thought from you; and if all these methods are not effective you may occupy yourself with some manual work or talk with anybody to drive away the thought.
Be cautious not to yield to the wicked thought as this is treachery on your part against God and association with enemies. Your escape from the thought as soon as it comes to your mind is much easier than your attempt to run away from it, after you have kept it for a certain period of time, because as long as the thought continues in your mind, it will exercise its mastery over you, and will subject your will to its attraction, until you become a slave to it and fulfill its desire.
If the thought continues with you, it may be changed into an emotion or a desire or a lust; it may develop into an attempt at fulfillment, and thus you may be degraded from a sin by thought to sin by act.
An evil thought may come as a result of idleness according to the saying, "The mind of an idle person is a convenient place of work for the devil." A busy person controls his thoughts, as he directs them according to the kind of occupation in which he works. A hard working student directs his thoughts in the way of his studies; a scientist is occupied with science, an athlete with physical exercises, a monastic with worship; but a person who spends his time in idleness will have his mind exposed to evil thoughts; he does not control his thoughts but the thoughts direct him.
My advice to you is to take the first step; you should orient your thoughts and not let thoughts take advantage of you and direct you. Thoughts can be a weapon in your hand and it can be a weapon against you; let it be your friend and not your enemy. You should know that the greatest and most useful projects were originally an idea, and all great humanitarian deeds began as an idea.
We may need experts whom we invite from distant or nearby countries to obtain ideas from them. Let your ideas be a treasure for yourself and othersLet your thoughts be a blessing for the society in which you live. If you cannot make your thoughts a source of benefit for yourself and for others, at least do not let them be a cause for the loss of your eternity and the purity of your heart.
Do not wait until the evil thought comes to your mind and then you find it difficult to resist it, but you should take the initiative and occupy your mind with righteous subjects. Try to possess a treasure of Holy meditations and Divine thoughts, a treasure of feelings of love towards God, so that your mind may be ashamed of those thoughts and feelings if the devil wishes to defile it or let it fall.
Be always occupied with what is beneficial and keep in mind that God reads and examines your thoughts. Therefore you should be ashamed of yourself whenever you give way to sinful thinking. And if you fall in evil thought, do not despair and keep up that thought, but you should rise quickly and redress your thoughts.
May God be with you and grant you purity of thought as a Holy gift.
His Holiness Pope Shenouda III
117th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark