by Theophan, The Uncreated Light
Lust, especially in pornography, is a plague that is decimating both young men and women across the world. Most know how it rewires your brain, makes you docile, and all the other negative side-effects of such a self-destructive practice, but want more tangible means of how to fight back against it. I am not an expert, nor do I claim to be. I can only share what has aided me in my own struggles against such a passion. May my words be beneficial and guided in truth. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“The passion of lust wars against everyone, and at the toll-houses the demon of lust will boast before all the princes of darkness that he provided hell with more spoils than all the rest. Be patient, and implore divine help!”St. Anatoly of Optina
10 Ways To Conquer Lust
1. The Eucharist
4. Don’t Get Bored
5. Exercise/Redirect Instead of Suppress
8. Virtue Focus/Do Not Become Too Obsessive Over Fighting It
1. The Eucharist is the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. This would require you to become Eastern Orthodox in order to partake, but there is a legitimate marked difference for me when I have communed vs. when I have not. It is not just me consuming the body and blood of Christ but He Who is consuming me in His love. Experience would only do justice instead of anything I could tell you. So my apologies if this first one doesn’t seem helpful to most of you. When we commune with God, He perfects our imperfections. He cleanses us, He creates a clean heart within us. He Who is perfect annihilates the blemishes on and in us.
Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.John 6:53
2. Prayer is essential as well, keeping a solid prayer rule will help you keep the right perspective and feed yourself with positive influence spiritually. This prayer rule you should ask from your spiritual father, if you don’t have one, get one. Prayer is us talking to our Father, for those in society who have been feeding themselves spiritually with television, pornography, distractions, etc for years it may take some time to let the new positive things take back over. Start small, don’t burn yourself out with a crazy 3 hour long prayer rule every night. Set aside 20-30 minutes of silence, and pray. Pray with your focus on God, not on yourself, ask for healing, wisdom, courage and strength. Do this every day. In Luke 11:9, Jesus teaches on prayer and tells us to knock and the door will be opened to us, keep knocking, keep praying, become relentless.
The Jesus prayer is additionally effective, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner” repeat it over and over when you feel afflicted by passionate desires. Christ’s name is powerful, and over time you will even be saying it in your dreams. That’s happened to me several times now; be it demonic or lustful, I will say the Jesus prayer in my subconscious sleep and it will dispel all evil. (Note: this isn’t a vain repetition if your heart is there every time you say it, it’s how St Paul says to “pray unceasingly”).
3. Fasting holds importance, as Christ doesn’t say “if you fast” but “when you fast.” (Matthew 6:16). Fasting should be a tool in every Christian’s arsenal, when we subdue our stomach this can become beneficial against lust. Fasting weakens temptations and makes any sinful urges easier to control. Again start small, skip a meal, take meat out of your diet for a day, etc and see what works for you.
“The outward man perishes through fasting and self-control, but the more he does, the more the inward man is renewed.”St. Gregory Palamas
Traditionally the fasting is on almost every Wednesday and Friday throughout the year in Orthodoxy, for the remembrance of Christ’s betrayal on Wednesday and His crucifixion on Friday. We choose to remember, and share in His suffering. Fasting is one of the greatest spiritual disciplines and one reason why it is so heavily emphasized is for the spiritual benefits.There are numerous examples in Scripture, most apparently Jesus fasting for 40 days as He was tempted by Satan. But Moses fasted before receiving the commandments (Deuteronomy 9:9), Daniel fasted for an answer to prayer (Daniel 10:1-3), David fasted when his son became ill (2 Samuel 12), and the Church at Antioch fasted before sending out missionary teachers (Acts 13:1-3), etc. Fasting helps us become closer to God, so why has this discipline become lost or seen as unimportant for much of American Christianity?
4. Don’t get bored! Boredom brings upon wandering thoughts, you shouldn’t be bored. There’s always something to do, someone to help, church to go to, be productive! Boredom is part of laziness, when we are slothful we become lazy in fighting the same urges of lust. The more occupied your mind is in the life of the Church and being productive, the less time you will have to let lustful thoughts enter.
“Slothfulness casteth into a deep sleep, and an idle soul shall suffer hunger.”Proverbs 19:15
5. Exercise. One of the most helpful examples I ever read was from St. Theophan the Recluse. Instead of us being so focused on suppressing the sinful urges, as it just creates more pressure against us, redirect the energy into something positive. Exercise is a great way to do this, feeling lustful? Hit the gym, run 3 miles, deadlift until you’re sweating profusely. The physical labor will use that pent-up energy into something positive and not destructive to yourself. Your body was created to move anyways, when we are stagnant and sitting around all the time it’s no wonder it becomes hard for us to control energy with no outlet.
“For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things…”1 Timothy 4:8
There is value in our physical training as long as we are using it to control our sins (passions) and for the glory of God.
6. Prostrations. This falls similarly under the previous example of exercise and re-directing your energy. In your icon corner, do prostrations. If you don’t know what those are, you cross yourself, fall down to your knees, and bow with your face to the ground. It is a way to worship or venerate that’s commonly associated with Islam, even though it was done in historical Christianity first. Biblical references are throughout the entire Old Testament and more, Revelation 7:11, Numbers 20:6, 1 Chronicles 29:20, etc. Joshua even did this before the Ark of the Covenant in Joshua 7:6,
“Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the Lord, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads.”
7. Nepsis is known as “watchfulness,” and it’s one of the most important examples I’m giving. Watch yourself, especially your thoughts. When a lustful thought comes to your head, and you engage with it, the more likely you are to give it power in your self-will and commit a lustful act like pornography. It’s also a common pitfall to become zealous and “fight the thought” in anger but this leads to the same result. Just because you’re fighting the thought, you’re still engaging it and giving it a place to lodge and tempt you. This is a cycle I believe many people are stuck in, they hate the sin of lust but they keep committing it and feel like they’re going in circles making no progress.
There are some helpful words from St. Paisios I’ll mention here:
“Thoughts are like airplanes flying in the air. If you ignore them, there is no problem. If you pay attention to them, you create an airport inside your head and permit them to land!”
As mentioned, when we view lustful thoughts as something just being thrown at us by the enemy, when we let it go, ignore it and choose a different thought it loses any attempted power over us. Do not react, keep peace.
For those discouraged as something they’ve been struggling with for a long time, St. Paisios also says if we have been struggling and make no progress, sometimes demons have brought back reinforcements from satan. What was one demon tempting us is now seven demons, now fifty demons, and so on. God doesn’t allow us to see it so we don’t become conceited and proud like it is us who are so great. It’s by the grace of God we can wage such a war! Take heart, get back up, and keep going forward!
8. Virtue focus is just as important, look to the good of Christ, emulate His life and His teachings. Acquiring virtue inherently fights against sin! Read that again. Acquiring virtue inherently fights sin. A mistake I made in the beginning of this journey trying to fight pornography and masturbation is I became obsessive on the fight and didn’t think about virtues. To make a declaration to fight against sin is good but when it starts taking over as your primary focus, you will fall. It’s by God’s help we can fight these passions, if we only focus on opposition towards it we may fall into the same nepsis trap. Or it will take us longer to make bigger steps in progress rather than if we tried having humility, love, generosity, etc.
“An evident sinner will turn towards good more easily than a secret sinner, hiding under the cloak of visible virtues.”St. Theophan the Recluse
As St. Theophan warns, we also cannot make our virtues just an outward public display but a real inward transformation.
9. Confession is also life-giving in the Church, when we confess our sins in this sacrament we are forgiven. Any past transgression has lost its hold and its weight, a burden is taken off of our heart. Confession is a spiritual healing aspect of this disease of lust, we are ridding ourselves of stains, regret, and any remnants of the past that may try to sprout themselves up again in the future. Confession is powerful (James 5:16). The Church is a hospital in Orthodoxy, and Confession is one of its many medicines for our sins.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”1 John 1:9
10. Believe. Sometimes, it’s a belief, that we are too far gone, that we will always struggle with this passion and it’s “just how it is.” Light the fire of zeal under that phrase and watch it burn to nothing. That’s not how it is! That’s how you choose it to be! You always have a choice, and God always chooses you, choose Him back! Believe that God is with you, that He is by your side giving you strength. That you are not a captive to such an infection of will. Do you believe lust has more power than God? Have you conceded that somewhere in your heart? Remember in the Bible, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.” The father in this biblical story cries out to God, he knows his faith has been imperfect and weak, he humbles himself and cries out for help. Christ answers, and He will answer you too. I titled this “conquering lust,” and the only way to do so is with God. All of these methods are mostly tools, somewhat like spiritual warfare weapons to be used, but if your heart’s not in it, you will fail. Set up the altar in your heart and let God reside there, tear down the idol of lust in your heart. Believe.
“If the disease of sin is natural, then it cannot be cured. Thus it would remain always, no matter how hard you worked to rid yourself of it. If you accept this thought, you will lose heart, and say to yourself: this is how it is. For this is that woeful despair, which, once it has been introduced into people, they have given themselves over to lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness (Ephesians 4: 19).St. Theophan The Recluse
I shall repeat again: Maintain the conviction that our disorderliness is not natural to us, and do not listen to those who say, ‘It is no use talking about it, because that is just how we are made, and you cannot do anything about it.’ That is not how we are made, and if we undertake to cure ourselves, then we will be able to do something about it.”
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