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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Suffering is Part of Our Life ( Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos )


The Problem of Suffering

by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
In today’s turbulent society there is no one who does not face suffering in his life and taste the bitter cup of afflictions. We see people in distress, miserable, tormented, prostrate under the heavy burden of suffering. Their faces are downcast, but their hearts even more so. They are tormented and afflicted. Because of this suffering, or rather, because they handle suffering in the wrong way, they suffer various illnesses of body and soul. We shall therefore look at some aspects of this vast subject of suffering and pain in our lives.

1. Suffering is Part of Our Life

It is well known that suffering is closely linked with human life. Christ declared to His Disciples that they would have much suffering in their lives. “In the world ye shall have tribulation” (John 16:33). We encounter this truth throughout Holy Scripture and the teaching of the holy Fathers, who are successors to the holy Apostles. The Apostles Paul and Barnabas visited Lystra, Iconium and Antioch together, “confirming the souls of the Disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). St Paul testified to the Christians of Corinth, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed” (2 Cor. 4:8). The necessary comments on the phrase “yet not distressed” will be made later in the chapter. Here we insist on the fact that the Christian life is closely linked with suffering and pain.

The saints lived through many sufferings, trials and difficulties. St Nikitas Stithatos, a disciple of St Symeon the New Theologian, says, “The present life is full of suffering and pain for the saints. They are afflicted by other people and by demons.” We encounter the same testimony in St Isaac the Syrian: “For it is impossible, when we are travelling along the path of righteousness, for us not to encounter gloom, and for the body not to suffer sickness and pain, and to remain unaltered, if indeed we desire to live in virtue.”

The Apostles and saints insist on this fact, because many Christians, like many of our contemporaries, wrongly think that, provided we live Christian lives, we shall be joyful all the time. To be sure, as we shall see below, we have joy and consolation, but this consolation, joy and comfort come through experiencing the Cross. “Through the Cross joy has come into the whole world.” First come trials, then joy follows, and we rejoice inwardly, in spite of external temptations.

2. The Causes of Suffering

It ought to be made clear that suffering has many causes. The holy Fathers, speaking from experience, teach that the three main causes of suffering are the devil, other people and fallen human nature, with all the passions that exist in our heart. Suffering that comes from the devil is very painful, and is experienced by those who do good and attempt to keep Christ’s commandments. Abba Dorotheos describes a case of this sort of unendurable suffering caused by the devil:

“While I was still living in the monastery, on one occasion I was afflicted by an intense and unbearable sadness, and I was in such a state of grief and distress that I was almost on the point of dying. That suffering was due to an attack by the demons; this sort of temptation comes about through their envy. It is extremely severe, but short lived; heavy, dark, inconsolable, with no respite. Distress is all-embracing, and we are hemmed in on all sides. The grace of God, however, comes swiftly to the soul, as otherwise nobody could endure it.”

Suffering is also caused by other people slandering and maligning us. This often provokes us to complain about those who, in spite of being well treated, behave in this fashion. Sometimes people persecute God’s servants, as happened in the case of the Prophets and the holy Apostles, thus creating problems and sufferings. The Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians: “For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life” (2 Cor. 1:8)

Then there is the suffering that results from our fallen nature and the passions that exist in our heart, as mentioned earlier. Abba Dorotheos writes that it is possible for us to be in a good state and have inner peace and calm, then our brother says something to us and we become agitated, turn on him, and accuse him of causing us distress. “This is ridiculous, completely unreasonable. Did the person who spoke implant the passion in him? Quite the opposite: he [the speaker] revealed the passion in him [the hearer], so that the latter could repent of it if he wished.

So these are the three basic causes of the suffering that befalls us in life: the devil, other people and our fallen nature. The first two types of suffering are experienced by the saints, whereas the third type usually affects those of us who have not yet been purified from passions. Sufferings due to the first two causes do not touch the inner state of the soul, so with a little patience the sufferer receives abundant grace. The third cause, however, can, if we are not careful, create a dreadful state. There are therefore two types of suffering: external and internal.

Obviously spiritual fathers [and mothers] who have been granted the gift of discernment can distinguish which suffering is caused by the devil, which by other people and which by us ourselves; which is according to God’s will or permitted by Him. They will then help us accordingly. This is why spiritual fathers [and mothers] can heal us more effectively than psychiatrists, who cannot make this distinction and regard everything as due to a person’s poor psychological state.

3. The Benefits Derived from Suffering

Suffering and pain are essential in our lives because they are a participation in Christ’s Passion. In Orthodox teaching much is said about imitating Christ. This imitation, however, is not external or ethical but mystical. We have to go through what Christ went through, including of course the temptations and afflictions that He suffered. The Apostle Paul writes, “I…rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh” (Col. 1:24). According to the commentary of St Theophylaktos, Archbishop of Bulgaria, “This statement means: If perhaps Christ needed to suffer still, but He died before paying the whole debt of His suffering, I, Paul, pay off this debt of Christ’s and undergo those sufferings which Christ had to undergo for your sake and for the sake of the whole Christian Church.” This whole theology of our participation in the sufferings and death of Christ is set out again by St Paul in one of his Epistles: “Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you” (2 Cor. 4:10-12).

The sufferings and trials in our lives bring many benefits. Pain is a new revelation of Christ to man. Through pain a new being is born. Pain creates the right conditions for another world, previously invisible to us, to open up.

St Maximos the Confessor repeatedly speaks in his writings of the beneficial presence of suffering and pain, or, as he describes them, “involuntary afflictions”. For St Maximos these “involuntary afflictions” are a powerful means of purification from “voluntary passions”. This pain of “involuntary afflictions”, which comes from sufferings and trials, defeats the power of the passions. “All suffering, whether voluntary or involuntary, brings death to sensual pleasure, the mother of death”, provided the sufferer accepts it gladly. Apart from the patient endurance of involuntary afflictions, we can equally well fight voluntary passions by means of godly suffering.

The same Saint writes, “Trials are sent to some in order to take away past sins, to others so as to eradicate sins now being committed, and to yet others so as to forestall sins which may be committed in the future. These are distinct from the trials that arise in order to test men in the way that Job was tested.

St Gregory Palamas shares this same perspective when he says “Misfortunes help the faithful to put right sins, to become trained and experienced, to apprehend the wretchedness of this life, and to desire fervently and seek diligently the eternal adoption as sons, redemption and truly new life and blessedness.”

David the King and Prophet says in one of his Psalms, “Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress” (Ps. 4:1). According to St Nicodemus the Hagiorite, “The more troubled and distressed a person is in the present world, the more his nous transcends the narrow confines of this world. He goes beyond the height of heaven and finally arrives at an immeasurably wide open space. Once there, he rejoices and finds repose in the sweet theoria of God. Even before the dissolution of his body, he lives a blessed and happy life. The Lord indicated this when He said ‘In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33). And Habakkuk, revealing the repose that comes from suffering, sang in his song, ‘that I might rest in the day of trouble’ (Hab. 3:15).”

Through suffering we remember God, we turn to Him and thus the precious gift of prayer develops, provided that we con-front suffering with the appropriate seriousness and within the at-mosphere described by the Orthodox Tradition.

The saints were aware of the benefits derived from suffering. That is why, according to St John Climacus, they thirsted for afflictions. St John Climacus says that the characteristic of those who have reached perfection in godly mourning is “thirst for dishonour, voluntary craving for involuntary afflictions…blessed are those who hunger for hardship and thirst for dishonour, for they shall have their fill of food that does not cloy.” They longed for suffering because the greater the suffering, the greater the consolation. The Apostle Paul writes, “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ” (2 Cor. 1:3-5).

4. Dealing with Suffering

It was stated earlier that the important thing is not so much the presence or absence of suffering, as whether we deal with it well or badly.

If we are spiritually healthy, we shall do what the Apostle Paul himself did and recommended to Christians: “We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Rom. 5:3-5). We should glory in the Lord because we have been counted worthy to endure every kind of suffering and misery, whether it comes from demons because we are striving for virtue, or from evil men because we want to walk in the path of God’s commandments.

We should also consider that we deserve not only the suffer-ings that afflict us, but even more and greater sufferings. This is part of repentance. “A sign of true repentance is the acknowledgement that we deserve all the troubles, visible and invisible, that come to us, and even greater ones” (St John Climacus). Repentance remedies the distress that may be caused by external pressures and suffering.

As for suffering due to other people, we ought not to turn against those concerned, but patiently endure the suffering, in the knowledge that much good will come of it.

Unfortunately we behave like the dog that Abba Dorotheos describes:

“Someone throws a stone at him, and he leaves the person who threw it and goes off to bite the stone. We do the same. We leave God, Who permits these calamities to befall us for the purification of our sins, and we turn against our neighbour saying, ‘Why did he say that to me? Why did he do that to me?y Although we could derive great benefit from such troubles, we work against our own interests, ignoring the fact that by God’s providence everything happens for the good of each of us.”

Self-accusation is also linked with repentance. Each of us should blame himself, reproach himself and regard himself as deserving his suffering and as being its sole cause. Because we do not reproach ourselves we suffer inwardly and inflict suffering on others. As for the man of God, whatever should befall him, “whether harm or dishonour or any kind of suffering, he immediately regards himself as deserving it and is not at all disturbed. Is there any greater freedom from anxiety than this?” (Abba Dorotheos).

Suffering is not the same as sorrow. Outward affliction is different from inner depression. The sadness and depression that often engulf us are a substitute for godly sorrow, which is repentance. Nowadays we suffer not so much because we have temptations great or small, but because we lack repentance. We are obsessed by a sense of self-sufficiency. This is the source of many psychological illnesses and even physical sufferings.

We should always bear in mind the Apostle’s words: “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor. 4:8-9).

"The science of Spiritual Medicine" by Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos




Source-thoughtsintrusive.wordpress.com

Sunday, September 16, 2018

God is everywhere. ( Elder Joseph the Hesychast )



“God is everywhere. There is no place God is not…You cry out to Him, ‘Where art Thou, my God?’ And He answers, “I am present, my child! I am always beside you.’ Both inside and outside, above and below, wherever you turn, everything shouts, ‘God!’ In Him we live and move.

We breathe God, we eat God, we clothe ourselves with God. Everything praises and blesses God. All of creation shouts His praise. Everything animate and inanimate speaks wondrously and glorifies the Creator. Let every breath praise the Lord!”

Elder Joseph the Hesychast

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The True Cross



One time a poor monk named Gennadios came to the Sacred Monastery [of Dionysiou on Mount Athos] from New Skete of Saint Paul to seek charity. He was an old man over seventy years in age. Our abbot, Archimandrite Gabriel, gave him whatever he wanted, even in conversation and in the spiritual life. The old man among others confessed the wondrous vision below, and which testifies to his virtuous and holy life.

On 14 September in 1967, Xeropotamou Monastery celebrates because it has the large Honorable Cross which also has a hole to which the Lord was attached. Because of the feast he also went to celebrate with them and venerate the All-Holy Wood. During the time of veneration at the end of Orthros, the old man came into ecstasy, and saw that flames of fire came out of the Honorable Wood and the entire surrounding area, as if it was on fire. Seeing this in ecstasy he was amazed and said to himself: "How do the brother monks approach and embrace the Honorable Cross and do not burn?" And how would he himself approach and venerate? It seemed to him totally impossible. When it came time for him to venerate he pleaded to the Panagia from the depth of his soul and heart to help him to approach. And, O the wonder!, the flames he saw extinguished and thus with courage and much reverence he approached and venerated.

This virtuous old man reposed on the day of the Elevation of the Honorable Cross on September 14th, which is a sign of his reverence for the Honorable Cross.


Monk Lazarus Dionysiatis 
http://agapienxristou.blogspot.com/search/label/Holy%20Cross

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Pride, self-love and selfishness... ( Gerontissa Makrina )

The demon of pride, self-love and selfishness fights all people today.
 If we do not expel them, we are not going to see God within us.

Gerontissa Makrina

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Advice to All Christian Women, But Especially New Brides ( St. Gregory of Nazianzus (“the Theologian”) )

We are in Constantinople, in 384 AD. There is a festive event taking place: the wedding of two well-known youths of that time. They are both from upper class families.

The bride, Olympiatha, is a remarkable young lady, quite wealthy and a descendant of the imperial family. She is an orphan whose uncle Prokopios (an eparch of the Imperial State that is also her protector) undertook the responsibility for all of the wedding arrangements, including the invitation list. Olympiatha is marrying a wonderful man by the name of Nevrithios who is the eparch of Constantinople and overseer of the imperial fields.

According to the historians of that time, all of the “who is who” are in attendance of the wedding ceremony, including a sizeable group of bishops. St. Gregory the Theologian (the Patriarch of Constantinople and spiritual father of the bride) is unable to be present due to personal illness. He sent a personal letter to Prokopios expressing his regrets for being unable to attend due to illness. As the spiritual father of Olympiatha, he is pleased about the wedding and passes in writing his immense joy about the wedding of the “golden Olympiatha.” He calls her golden not because of her immense family wealth but rather her golden heart that is evident in the bride’s character and demeanor. In his letter, St. Gregory refers to her as “my child,” i.e., my spiritual child; as such, he is in position to know the depth of her character and quality of her soul as no one else.

Within his letter to Prokopios, he writes that “I am next to you, celebrating the event, and with you I place the right hand of the one youth upon the right hand of the other and then both of them upon the hand of God.”

Later on, St. Gregory sends to the young bride an original wedding gift: a poem with 111 verses, written in ancient Greek and with quite old-fashioned language (even for that time). Through this gift, he passes to his spiritual daughter the wisdom of pertinent advice and thus paints the ideal type of an Orthodox Christian wife.
+ + +

My daughter,

For your wedding, I, your spiritual father Gregory, offer you this poem as a gift. And I consider it to be the best possible advice a father could offer to his beloved daughter.

Listen to me Olympiatha: I know that you desire to be a true Christian. As such, be aware that a true Christian must not only be one but she must also appear accordingly. This is why I ask you to pay special attention towards your personal appearance. You must be simple! Gold, attached to precious stones, does not add any value to women of your stature. This is even more so with make-up. It is very improper for you to alter your face, which represents an image of God, for the sole purpose of attraction and admiration by others. Know that this constitutes vanity that is unbecoming of a young lady of your character. I therefore ask that you overcome the feminine vanity that is abundant among young ladies of our time and remain simple in your appearance. The expensive and fancy dresses must remain for those women that have no desire for the life beyond and do not know what the meaning of spiritual struggle and attainment of virtues is all about; this type of woman cannot possibly comprehend the spiritual radiance and brilliance of a life in Christ. You have aimed towards greater goals and for a higher purpose for your life. These goals demands your full and undivided attentiveness and care.

First of all, you must respect and love God and immediately after Him you must respect and love your husband in the same manner as our Lord and Savior and in accordance with the instructions of our Holy Gospel. I thus ask you, how is it possible for a woman to love her husband in this manner if she has not met, has not respected and has not loved Her Lord and Creator in this same manner?

In your marriage, fondness, affection and love must be strong and persistent for him whom God has selected to be your life partner. This man is now the eye of your life and the delight of your heart. And if you ever perceive that your husband possibly loves you more than you love him, do not take advantage of his feeling by attempting to gain the upper had in your marriage. That is plainly wrong as it is totally against the writings of the Holy Gospel!

You must respect him and love him unconditionally, as you love God. Be aware that you are a woman and you have an important and great purpose and destiny; however, your purpose and destiny is different than that of your husband who must be the head of your household. Set aside the silliness of equality among the sexes, that some of your contemporaries preach, and attempt to comprehend the obligations of marriage. In the realization of these obligations you will discover the great patience and endurance that is necessary to fulfill your family duties; it is in this manner that you will also discover the great strength that you as a woman possess.

You must surely be aware of how easily anger overtakes men. They cannot maintain and they often appear as wild lions. It is at this exact moment that a woman must remain stronger and display her superiority. You must play the role of the lion-tamer. What does a lion-tamer do when the beast starts roaring? He becomes even calmer than usual and through kindness and persistence he overcomes his wrath. He speaks to him kindly, in a soft but firm voice, he caresses it, he attends to it, he pets it and little by little calmness is restored.

You must never criticize, scold or become derogatory towards your husband for something that he has erred. Likewise, you must avoid any contempt towards any inaction or indecision by your husband, even when the outcome is not favorable or something that you greatly desire or consider proper. Be aware that demons are always around attempting to penetrate your household, and break up the couple’s harmonious spiritual cohabitation.

You must share everything, joys and sorrows alike. The Holy Sacrament of Marriage has indeed made all common to both of you. This is equally important towards the daily obligations and duties as they apply to running the household; it is the only way that a strong foundation will be built for your marriage. Let both of you provide your views and opinions; in the end, however, allow your husband to have the final say.

When you observe your husband to be sorrowful, share in his sorrow and provide him the needed relief; the support of the person closest to you in moments of sorrow and despair is of great value and relief. Immediately, however, let your facial expressions become calm, clear and collected; let peace prevail upon your demeanor and forego the temptation of any thoughts of despair. The wife is the calm harbor for the sea wave-stricken husband.

Your presence within your home is irreplaceable; you must accordingly love your home with all the cares and concern of a dedicated housekeeper. You must view it and consider it as your kingdom and you should be judicious about how often you exit its entrance. Let your husband take care of many of the outside cares and obligations while you concentrate towards those within the home.

Be extremely careful with whom you associate and the company that you keep. Be especially careful of the social gatherings that you may be participating in. Do not allow yourself to enter entertainment centers of questionable background; these represent extreme danger towards your purity and the sanctity of your marriage. These types of social interactions remove the instinct of shame, eyes cross with eyes, and once shame is not there to guard from any impropriety, the demons are able to exercise their influence and give rise to evils of unspeakable magnitude.

On the other hand, social interactions with friends of substance and of firmly grounded spiritual state must be pursued. In this manner, words of value get implanted within you and you either benefit from them or are able to confront and resolve any weaknesses that you may recognize. Concurrently, you are able to cultivate social interests and get to know people who will benefit your household’s spiritual state.

Do not be anxious to keep company or even appear in public and in the company of others for no reason. You should instead dedicate your precious time in the company of your wiser and more prudent relatives, priests, and seriously-minded people, young and old alike.

Stay away from conceited and ostentatious women whose mind is pre-occupied with external appearances and social circles, all for the purpose of vainglory and public display. This should be the same for any men that you consider respectful and spiritual but whom your husband has not allowed to enter your home, irrespective of how highly you may regard them. For is there anything more precious for you than your good husband whom you love so dearly?

Your thoughts must aim high but you must never behave as intolerable or snobbish.

I applaud women that are known by only a few men. Do not run towards worldly feasts and celebrations, even when those are for weddings or birthdays. It is around those types of gatherings that the passions of the flesh are aroused with the many dances, the drinking, the laughter and the false joys that are capable of deceiving and misleading even the pure and the wise. Always remember that purity is extremely fragile—it is like bee wax exposed to the rays of the sun. It would be prudent to limit and at times avoid the worldly feasts, even within the confines of your own home. If we were capable of controlling the desires and many appetites of the stomach we would be well served in our struggles against the many passions of our flesh; we would be in a position to conquer them instead of being subdued by them.

Keep your face calm and collected and do not alter it with extreme laughter or with grimaces of dismay, anger or disappointment towards others. Your ears should be decorated not with pearls but instead with the sounds of proper language and with locks for all the improprieties that may enter your nous through them. Thus, whether they are open or closed your sense of hearing will remain pure.

As far as your eyes, they are the ones that display the contents of your soul. Let them be the source of blush and virgin purity that pours below your eye lashes. This way, your presence and eyesight will invoke modesty, decency and the shame of innocence to all that lay their eyes upon you, perhaps even your husband! It is best and for many reasons that you keep your eyes closed or indifferent to the events around you and you should make it a habit to always maintain your sight low.

And now for your tongue. Your husband will always be your enemy for as long as your tongue is uncontrolled, even if you are to be blessed with thousands of other talents. A foolish tongue often endangers even the most innocent of people. It is preferred to maintain quiet, even in cases that you are correct. This is because you risk the expression of an unintended improper word or characterization. No matter how greatly you desire to say a lot, it is best that you limit your words and instead choose your presence to be a quiet one.

Be attentive even of the manner that you walk; it matters greatly towards a prudent presence.

And now pay close attention and be mindful of the following advice: You must never exemplify or maintain an uncontrollable desire for the flesh. Persuade your husband to respect the holy days of the Church and the fasting periods. This is because God’s laws are of much greater importance than the image of God. Be mindful that the institution of marriage was established by the Son of God to aid His creation so that a balance is maintained, as some depart this world while others arrive.

If you have benefited from this old man through some spiritual words of value I ask that you keep these words and advice guarded well within the depths of your soul. In this manner, through everything that you have benefitted and through the grace of your moral stature, you will be capable of healing your excellent husband and well known politician from the evils of vainglory and pride that constantly surround him.

This is my gift and heirloom that I offer to you. And if you desire my blessing, I pray that you become a vineyard of descendants, with many children, and many children from these children, so that our God may be glorified by more of us, for it is for Him that we are born and to Him that we should aim our earthly paths.

Your spiritual father,

+Gregory

Patriarch of Constantinople
http://orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/saint-gregory-advice-to-a-new-bride.aspx

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Orthodox Spirituality & the Technological Revolution ( Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetras )



Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetras

Orthodox Spirituality & the Technological Revolution
From The Authentic Seal: Spiritual Instruction and Discourses by Archimandrite Aimilianos, Former Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Simonos Petras, Mount Athos, Greece 

Introduction
A great deal is made nowadays of “the technological revolution”, as seen from both sides, those in favour and those who are very much against.In the realm of Orthodox theology, however, is there really any essential difference between the age-old problem of technology and today’s reality?We could, of course, talk about the last century with the industrial revolution and all its consequences- social, political, moral, religious and so on.When people speak of a new era in the history of mankind, of the third, technological revolution, are they not perhaps exaggerating the extent of the undoubted change in the conditions under which we live? Would it not be more realistic, instead of talking about a revolution, to recognize a process which began long before the industrial revolution and reached its culmination in the developments and consequences there of?

The basic feature which is new, however, in modern technology, is that it has turned everything on its head. While in former times people attempted to use science to improve their dominion over nature, it has now infiltrated into the very innermost laws of nature, with results likely to prove positive but also with terrible and limitless opportunities for intervention in these laws themselves. And where might this inversion bring us? To the further extension of these opportunities or to voluntary restrictions to ensure the sovereignty, dignity and survival of nature?

For this reason, the problem is not, in essence, , that of the relationship between Man and Nature, but rather that of our felicity in choosing among what might be infinite possibilities, so that we do not fall victim to the works of our hands. Why mention this? Because with justification we recall the words of Job: “She has hardened herself against her young, as though not bereaving herself, she has laboured in vain without fear” (Job 39:16). In other words, our era acts with harshness and indifference towards its children, as if they were not its own. And its indiscriminate and foolhardy attitude reduces every attempt and effort to naught, and, in the end, misfires.

Finally, it is not our function to note the revolutionary changes, but rather to point out to our contemporaries the true purpose of technology and to propose Orthodox theological and moral criteria.

Let us now see when technology begins.

A. Anthropology and Technology

Adam in Paradise was “naked in simplicity and artless in life” (Gregory the Theologian, PG 36, 632C), unclad and without “art”. His call, his essential occupation was contemplation, gazing upon God, sought and found in supervision of the tree of knowledge. Which is why He made Man “a farmer of immortal plants” (ibid.), so that through agriculture in Eden, he would be constantly occupied with God.

Technology, therefore, makes its appearance after the Fall.

Adam’s first-born son (Gen. 4:1-26), Cain, was a farmer; Abel was a shepherd; both of them, therefore, bound up with nature.

The third son, Enoch, became a mason and a builder of cities. Of the other descendants, Jobel founded the nomadic way of life. His brother, Jubal was the inventor of stringed instruments with the psaltery and harp. Thobel was a smith, forging iron and copper.

Finally, the son of God-fearing Seth, Enos, loyal to the name of God, set up the first public congregation, thus instituting the worship of God, so that all these technologist descendants of Adam could find both a place and means of gazing upon God and could work wherever they went, until they achieved dominion over the earth.

Through the blessings of God and wearisome toil, the gradual appearance of technology from agriculture through to industrialization thus provides Man with the opportunity to retain his position as lord over nature, despite the ancestral Fall. Technology is occasioned by Man’s powers of reason and is a way of compensating for his weakness, as against animals, which have sufficient strength to survive, as against the forces of nature, the necessities of life (Gregory of Nyssa, PG 44, 140D-144AB) and so on.

We might mention here that for the ancients and for Scripture, no distinction was made between art and artifacts (technology), which, if they corresponded to the needs of our nature, could hardly be foreign or hostile to “beauty”. Art precedes mechanics, being of greater necessity, while technology developed, not to serve the highest concerns of Man, but with the aim of greater production and profit.

In the course of its development, then, if Man is to live as overlord, technology in general must remain discreetly within a certain logical framework. It should not be an end in itself, but rather a disposition, a means to an end, and a conduit into the innermost laws and elements, not only of the earth, but of that which is above the earth. Because, according to Gregory of Nyssa, people have “an upright bearing, stretch up towards heaven and look upwards. In the beginning, these things and their regal worth are noted” (op. Cit.. PG 44, 140D-144AB).

B. Control Over Technology


The automation of the industrial age and, particularly, the information technology of the post-industrial age, together with the ecological crisis, pose a single question: Why should we be served by modern technology, which is a gluttonous idol of worship, a machine beyond our control? Why should the whole of our society be organized technologically, simply to feed the machine? A distinguished Russian hierarch (Filaret, Metropolitan of Minsk), for example, has revealed that the entire production of the enormous iron mines was put to no other purpose than to make new mining equipment for the same mines!

It is natural that the rapid progress in nuclear physics and in genetics should open up new scientific horizons, but also create problems and dangers for the human race, so it is obvious that there is an imperative need for moral intervention in the field of technology. What is worrying is the absurd and “carefree” optimism of many scientists and political agencies. According to them, technological development contains within itself the solution to the problems which it causes, and hence it ought not to be trammeled, so that “technical solutions” to the various problems can arise. For example, who can exercise control in an ideological regime, when they are deliberately seeking to create a type of technological man? The saying of Saint Paul applies here: “Let do us do evil, that good may come” (Rom. 3:8).

There are also those, on the other hand, who, using historical arguments and invoking our inability to predict the way in which inventions will evolve in future, reject all moral intervention.

Technology per se is not, of course, harmful, being the fruit of the reasoning and intellect of Man, who was formed in the image of God. But when, unrestrained and unbridled, it rushes headlong towards its destination, then it becomes Luciferous, though not bearing light but rather pitch darkness. The danger for us is the absence of accountability in the way in which technology is administered and exploited, a way which has as its aim the stifling domination of human life and the solution of problems by technical means, regardless of moral and metaphysical principles.

Finally, however, let us hear the voice of our Orthodox Tradition.

C. The Position of the Church Regarding This Particular Problem

The Church of Christ retains in unadulterated form the Orthodox Tradition, a real, unique force, on which it draws from its life and experience, as well as from a never-failing spring of asceticism and the voice of its treasury of monastic tradition, which is always profound and vital.

Monastic tradition can give applicable criteria of behaviour to the members of the Church as regards technology. The Church and monasticism are not hostilely disposed towards technological progress. On the contrary, monks over the centuries have proved to be powerful agents of scientific and technical invention.

In the Medieval West, the monks restored civilization, which had been destroyed in the barbarian invasions. The monasteries became focal points for the natural sciences, where mathematics, zoology, chemistry, medicine, and so on developed. The most important inventions of the monasteries formed the basis of industry. Likewise, through their reclamation of large tracts of land, the monks created the opportunity for agricultural development.

So that there would be no need for monks to miss services, our own saint Athanasios the Athonite built — on the Holy Mountain — a mechanical kneading device, which was driven by bullocks. This instrument, says the Life of the saint, “was the best, both in terms of attractiveness and art of manufacture” (Life of Blessed Athanasios on Athos, I, 179, Noret, p. 86, 1, 46). The same was true throughout the lands where Orthodox monasteries were established.

The Orthodox monastery always lived as an eschatological reality and a fore-taste of the Kingdom of Heaven, and was therefore also a model for an organized society with a way of life faithful to the Gospel, embracing human dignity, freedom and service to one’s fellows.

Given this, the holy Fathers subjected technology in the monastery to two criteria, as Basil the Great characteristically remarks concerning work and the choice of technical applications.

a) Restraint

With this criterion in mind, those technical applications are chosen which preserve “the peace and tranquility” of monastery life, so that both undue care and torturing effort are avoided. Let us have as our aim “moderation and simplicity”. For Basil the Great, technology is “necessary in itself to life and provides many facilities” (PG 31, 1017B), provided the unity of the life of the brotherhood is preserved, undistracted and devoted to the Lord.

In general terms, our watchword should be: “Let the common aim be the meeting of a need” (PG 31, 968B). And Saint Peter the Damascan adds: “For everything which does not serve a pressing need, becomes an obstacle to those who would be saved; everything, that is. which does not contribute to the salvation of the soul or to the life of the body” (Philokalia, vol. III, p. 69, 11. 32-34).

These principles are certainly not for monasteries alone. They could be guidelines for control over technology, unless we want to be exterminated.

b) Spiritual Vigilance

The most dreadful enemy created by post-industrial culture, the culture of information technology and the image, is cunning distraction. Swamped by millions of images and a host of different situations on television and in the media in general, people lose their peace of mind, their self-control, their powers of contemplation and reflection and turn outwards, becoming strangers to themselves, in a word mindless, impervious to the dictates of their intelligence. If people, especially children, watch television for 35 hours a week, as they do according to statistics, then are not their minds and hearts threatened by Scylla and Charabdis, are they not between the devil and the deep blue sea? (Homer, Odyssey, XII, 85)

The majority of the faithful of the Church confess that they do not manage to pray, to concentrate and cast off the cares of the world and the storms of spirit and soul which are to the detriment of sobriety, inner balance, enjoyable work, family tranquility and a constructive social life. The world of the industrial image degenerates into real idolatry.

The teachings of the Fathers concerning spiritual vigilance arms people so that they can stave off the disastrous effects of the technological society. “For the weapons of our warfare… have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4), according to the Apostle Paul. Spiritual vigilance is a protection for everyone “containing everything good in this age and the next” (cf. Hesychius the Elder, PG 93, 1481A) and “the road leading to the kingdom, that us and that of the future” (Philotheos the Sinaite, Philokalia, vol. II, p. 275). Spiritual vigilance is not the prerogative only of those engaged actively in contemplation. It is for all those who are conscientiously “dealing with this world as though they had no dealings with it” (1 Cor. 7:31).

In the industrial era, people became consumers and slaves to things produced. In post-industrial society, they are also becoming consumers and slaves to images and information, which fill their lives.

Restraint and spiritual vigilance are, for all those who come into the world, a weapon made ready from the experience of the monastic life and Orthodox Tradition in general, one which abolishes the servitude of humanity and preserves our health and sovereignty as children of God.


Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Reading the Bible ( St. Justin Popovich )

The Bible is in a sense a biography of God in this world. In it the Indescribable One has in a sense described Himself.

The Holy Scriptures of the New Testament are a biography of the incarnate God in this world. In them it is related how God, in order to reveal Himself to men, sent God the Logos, Who took on flesh and became man, and as man told men everything that God is, everything that God wants from this world and the people in it.

God the Logos revealed God’s plan for the world and God’s love for the world. God the Word spoke to men about God with the help of words insofar as human words can contain the uncontainable God.

All that is necessary for this world and the people in it—the Lord has stated in the Bible. In it He has given the answers to all questions. There is no question which can torment the human soul, and not find its answer, either directly or indirectly in the Bible.

Men cannot devise more questions than there are answers in the Bible. If you fail to find the answer to any of your questions in the Bible, it means that you have either posed a senseless question or did not know how to read the Bible and did not finish reading the answer in it.

What the Bible Contains

In the Bible God has made known:


(1) what the world is; where it came from; why it exists; what it is heading for; how it will end;

(2) what man is; where he comes from; where he is going; what he is made of; what his purpose is; how he will end;

(3) what animals and plants are; what their purpose is, and what they are used for;

(4) what good is; where it comes from; what it leads to; what its purpose is; how it is attained;

(5) what evil is; where it comes from; how it came to exist; why it exists—how it will come to an end;

(6) what the righteous are and what sinners are; how a sinner becomes righteous and how an arrogant righteous man becomes a sinner; how a man serves God and how he serves satan; the whole path from good to evil, from God to satan;

(7) everything—from the beginning to the end; man’s entire path from the body to God, from his conception in the womb to his resurrection from the dead;

(8) what the history of the world is, the history of heaven and earth, the history of mankind; what their path, purpose, and end are.

The Beauty of the Bible

In the Bible God has said absolutely everything that was necessary to be said to men. The biography of every man—everyone without exception—is found in the Bible. In it each of us can find himself portrayed and thoroughly described in detail; all those virtues and vices which you have and can have and cannot have.

You will find the paths on which your own soul and everyone else’s journey from sin to sinlessness, and the entire path from man to God and from man to satan. You will find the means to free yourself from sin. In short, you will find the complete history of sin and sinfulness, and the complete history of righteousness and the righteous.

If you are mournful, you will find consolation in the Bible; if you are sad, you will find joy; if you are angry—tranquility; if you are lustful—continence; if you are foolish—wisdom; if you are bad—goodness; if you are a criminal—mercy and righteousness; if you hate your fellow man—love.

You will find a remedy for all your vices and weak points, and nourishment for all your virtues and accomplishments. If you are good, the Bible will teach you how to become better and best; if you are kind, it will teach you angelic tenderness; if you are intelligent, it will teach you wisdom.

If you appreciate the beauty and music of literary style, there is nothing more beautiful or more moving than what is contained in Job, Isaiah, Solomon, David, John the Theologian and the Apostle Paul. Here music—the angelic music of the eternal truth of God—is clothed in human words.

The more one reads and studies the Bible, the more he finds reasons to study it as often and as frequently as he can. According to St. John Chrysostom, it is like an aromatic root, which produces more and more aroma the more it is rubbed.

Prayerful Preparation

Just as important as knowing why we should read the Bible is knowing how we should read the Bible. The best guides for this are the holy Fathers, headed by St. John Chrysostom who, in a manner of speaking, has written a fifth Gospel.

The holy Fathers recommend serious preparation before reading and studying the Bible; but of what does this preparation consist?

First of all in prayer. Pray to the Lord to illumine your mind—so that you may understand the words of the Bible—and to fill your heart with His grace—so that you may feel the truth and life of those words.

Be aware that these are God’s words, which He is speaking and saying to you personally. Prayer, together with the other virtues found in the Gospel, is the best preparation a person can have for understanding the Bible.

How We Should Read the Bible

Prayerfully and reverently, for in each word there is another drop of eternal truth, and all the words together make up the boundless ocean of the Eternal Truth.

The Bible is not a book, but life; because its words are spiritual life (Jn 6:63). Therefore its words can be comprehended it we study them with the spirit of its spirit, and with the life of its life. It is a book that must be read with life, by putting it into practice. One should first live it, and then understand it.

Here the words of the Saviour apply: Whoever, is willing to do it will understand that this teaching is from God: If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. (Jn 7:17). Do it so that you may understand it. This is the fundamental rule of Orthodox exegesis [Ed., i.e., explanation].

At first one usually reads the Bible quickly; and then more and more slowly, until finally he will begin to read not even word by word, because in each word he is discovering an everlasting truth and an ineffable mystery.

Everyday read at least one chapter from the Old and the New Testament; but side by side with this, put a virtue from each into practice. Practice it until it becomes a habit to you. Let us say, for instance, that the first virtue is forgiveness of insults. Let this be your daily obligation. And along with it pray to the Lord: O gentle Lord, grant me love towards those who insult me! And when you have made this virtue into a habit, each of the other virtues after it will be easier for you, and so on until the final one.

The main thing is to read the Bible as much as possible. What the mind does not understand, the heart will feel; and if neither the mind understands nor the heart feels, read it over again, because by reading it you are sowing God’s words in your soul. And there they will not perish, but will gradually and imperceptibly pass into the nature of your soul; and there will happen to you what the Saviour said about the man who casts seed on the ground, and sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows, while the man does not know it. (Mk 4:26-27).

The main thing is: sow, and it is God Who causes and allows what is sown to grow. (I Cor 3:6). But do not rush success, lest you become like a man who sows today, but tomorrow already wants to reap.

Seed in Our Souls

By reading the Bible you are adding yeast to the dough of your soul and body, which gradually expands and fills the soul until it has thoroughly permeated it and makes it rise with the truth and righteousness of the Gospel.

In every instance, the Saviour’s parable about the sower and the seed can be applied to every one of us. The Seed of Divine Truth is given to us in the Bible. By reading it, we sow that seed in our own soul. It fails on the rocky and thorny ground of our soul, but a little also falls on the good soil of our heart—and bears fruit.

And when you catch sight of the fruit and taste it, the sweetness and joy will spur you to clear and plow the rocky and thorny areas of your soul and sow it with the seed of the Word of God. Do you know when a man is wise in the sight of Christ the Lord? It is when he listens to His word and carries it out. The beginning of wisdom is to listen to God’s word: Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man. (Mt 7:24).

Every word of the Saviour has the power and the might to heal both physical and spiritual ailments. Speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. (Mt 8:8). The Saviour said the word—and the centurion’s servant was healed.

Just as He once did, the Lord even now ceaselessly says His words to you, to me, and to all of us. But we must pause, and immerse ourselves in them and receive them, with the centurion’s faith. And a miracle will happen to us, and our souls will be healed just as the centurion’s servant was healed. For it is related in the Gospel that they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick. (Mt 8:16).

He still does this today, because the Lord Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever. (Heb 13:8).

Beware!

Those who do not listen to God’s words will be judged at the Dreadful Judgment, and it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment than for them. (Mt 10:14-15).

Beware—at the Dreadful Judgment you will be asked to give an account for what you have done with the words of God, whether you have listened to them and kept them, whether you have rejoiced in them or been ashamed of them, the Lord will also be ashamed of you when He comes in the glory of His Father together with the holy angels: Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when He cometh in the glory of His Father with the holy angels. (Mk 8:38).

There are few words of men that are not vain and idle. Thus there are few words for which we do not mind being judged. For every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. (Mt 12:36).

In order to avoid this, we must study and learn the words of God from the Bible and make them our own; for God proclaimed them to men so that they might accept them, and by means of them also accept the Truth of God itself.

Words of the Word

Great is the mystery of the word—so great that the second Person of the Holy Trinity, Christ the Lord, is called the Word or the Logos in the Bible.

God is the Word (Jn 1:1). All those words which come from the eternal and absolute word are full of God, Divine Truth, Eternity, and Righteousness. If you listen to them, you are listening to God. If you read them, you are reading the direct words of God. God the Word became flesh, became man: And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (Jn 1:14), and mute, stuttering man began to proclaim the words of the eternal truth and righteousness of God.

The Grace-Filled Word

In every word of the Saviour there is much that is supernatural and full of grace; and this is what sheds grace on the soul of man when the word of Christ visits it. Thus, the Holy Apostle calls the whole structure of the house of salvation the word of the grace of God: Brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified. (Acts 20:32).

Like a living grace-filled power, the Word of God has a wonder-working and life-giving effect on a man, so long as he hears it with faith and receives it with faith: When ye received the Word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the Word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe. (I Thess 2:13).

Everything is defiled by sin, but everything is cleansed and sanctified by the Word of God and prayer—everything—all creation from man on down to a worm (I Tim 4:5).

By the Truth which carries in itself and by the Power which it has in itself, the Word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Heb 4:12) Nothing remains secret before it or for it.

The Birth-Giving Word

Because every Word of God contains the eternal Word of God—the Logos—it has the power to give birth and regenerate men. And when a man is born of the Word, he is born of the Truth. For this reason St. James the Apostle writes to the Christians that God the Father has brought them forth ... by the word of truth (Jas 1:18), and St. Peter tells them that they have been born anew ... by the word of the living God, which abides forever (I Pet 1:23)
St. Justin Popovich

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The demonic stronghold - The characteristics of pride



One of the foremost experts on the depths of the human spirit, St. Isaac the Syrian, says in his 41st homily: “The one who has come to a realization of his sin is higher than the one who raises the dead through prayer; whoever has been able to see his own self is higher than the one who has been granted the vision of angels.” It is for the purpose of self-knowledge that we will examine the matter we have stated in the title.

Pride, and egotism, and vanity, to which we can add - haughtiness, arrogance, conceit - are all different varieties of one basic manifestation - “turning towards oneself.” Out of all these words two have the most concrete meaning: vanity and pride; according to the “Ladder” they are like youth and man, seed and bread, beginning and end.

The symptoms of vanity, this initial sin: intolerance of criticism, a thirst for praise, a search for easy paths, constant orientation upon others - what will they say? how will it appear? what will they think? Vanity sees an approaching audience from afar and makes the wrathful - affectionate, the irresponsible - serious, the distracted - concentrated, gluttons - temperate, and so on - all of this while there are observers around..

The same orientation upon an audience explains the sin of self-justification, which often creeps unnoticeably even into our confession: “I am no more sinful than the rest…. only insignificant sins…. I have not killed anyone or stolen anything.”

The demon of vanity is overjoyed, says St. John of the Ladder, seeing our virtues increase: the more successes we have, the more food for vanity. “When I keep fast, I am vain; when I hide my spiritual labors - I am vain over my piety. If I dress pleasingly, I am vain, and if I put on old clothes, I become even vainer. If I begin to speak - I am consumed by vanity, if I keep silent - I become still vainer. No matter how you turn this prickly plant - it always has its thorns sticking upward.” As soon as a kind feeling or a sincere movement arises in a man’s heart, immediately there appears a vain backward look at oneself, and thus - these most precious movements of the soul disappear, melt like snow under the sun. They melt, which means they die; which means that because of vanity the best in us dies; thus we kill ourselves with vanity and we replace a real, simple and good life with phantoms.


Increasing vanity gives rise to pride.




Pride is supreme self-confidence, rejecting all that is not of itself, it is a source of rage, cruelty and malice, a refusal to accept God’s help, a “demonic stronghold.” It is an “iron curtain” between ourselves and God (Abba Pimen); it is an enmity towards God, the origin of all sin, it is present in every sin. Every sin constitutes a willing yielding of oneself to one’s vice, a conscious flouting of God’s law, an audacity against God, although “the one who is subject to pride is desperately in need of God, for no man can save such a one” (“The Ladder”).

Where does this vice came from? How does it begin? What does it feed on? Through what stages does it pass in its development? What are the characteristics by which one can recognize it?

The latter is particularly important, because a proud person usually does not see his sin. A wise elder once counseled one of his monastics to shun pride, but the latter, blinded by his intellect, replied: “Forgive me, father, but there is absolutely no pride in me.” The wise elder said to him: “There is no better proof of your pride, child, than such an answer!”

In any case, if a person finds it hard to ask forgiveness of others, if he is easily offended and mistrustful, if he is rancorous and judgmental of others, - all of these are undoubtedly signs of pride.

In the “Homily against pagans” of Saint Athanasius the Great there are the following words: “Men have fallen into self-desire, preferring to contemplate themselves rather than divinity.” This brief definition reveals the essence of pride: man, for whom until now the center and the object of desire was God, has turned away from Him, has fallen into “self-desire,” has come to love himself more than God, has preferred self-contemplation to divine contemplation.

In our life this turning towards “self-contemplation” and “self-desire” has become part of our nature and can often be seen in the mighty instinct for self-preservation, both in our earthly and our spiritual life.

Just as a cancerous growth often begins with a bruise or a continuous irritation of a certain spot, so the spiritual illness of pride often begins either with a sudden shock (for example, due to some calamity), or from a continuous massaging of one’s ego due to success, good fortune, the constant exhibition of one’s talents, etc.

Often you are dealing with a so-called “temperamental” individual, passionate, talented, easily fascinated. Such a person is like an erupting volcano, with his ceaseless activity preventing both God and men from getting near to him. He is full of himself, totally absorbed in himself, intoxicated with himself. He does not see or feel anything except his burning talent, from which he derives great enjoyment and satisfaction. One can hardly do anything with such people until they become played out, until the volcano becomes extinguished. Such is the danger of all talented and gifted people. Talent should be balanced by deep spirituality.

Otherwise, in reverse cases, in situations of great sorrow - there is the same result: the person becomes totally absorbed in his misfortune, in his eyes the surrounding world becomes dull and dark; he cannot think or speak of anything except his sorrow; he wallows in it, he finally holds onto it as the only thing left to him, as the only reason in life.

Often this turning towards oneself becomes developed in people who are quiet, submissive, taciturn, whose personal life had been suppressed from childhood, and this “suppressed subjectivity compensates itself by engendering a tendency towards egocentrism” (Jung, “Psychological types”) in the most diverse manifestations: quickness to take offence, mistrust, coquetry, seeking of attention, and even in the form of direct psychoses such as persecution mania, megalomania, etc.

Thus, a concentration upon oneself leads a person away from the world and from God; he becomes chipped off, so-to-speak, from the general tree trunk of world-outlook and turns into a shaving curled around an empty spot.


The progression of the spiritual illness


Let us try to outline the major stages of the development of pride, from slight self-satisfaction to extreme spiritual darkness and total destruction.

At first it is seen as frequent attention to oneself, almost normal, accompanied by a good mood bordering on flippancy. A person is satisfied with himself, laughs a lot, whistles, hums, snaps his fingers. He likes to appear original, to amuse others with paradox and wit; he exhibits unusual tastes, is capricious in food. He willingly gives advice and amicably interferes in the affairs of others; he unconsciously manifests his exclusive interest in himself with the following phrases (interrupting the conversation): “no, let me tell you,” or “no, I know a better story,” or “I have the habit of….,” or “I usually follow the rule of….”.

At the same time he is greatly dependent on the approval of others, depending on which he either blossoms or fades and becomes sour. In general, however, at this stage his mood remains fairly bright. This form of egocentrism is usually characteristic of youth, although it is sometimes seen in adults.

Such a person is lucky if at this stage he encounters serious concerns, especially for others (marriage, a family), a job, a project. Or if he becomes entranced with religious life and, attracted by the beauty of spiritual endeavour, realizes his spiritual poverty and becomes desirous of the aid of grace. If this does not occur, the illness progresses further.

There appears in him a sincere belief in his own superiority. Often this is expressed through irrepressible verbosity. What else is verbosity if not, on the one hand, an absence of modesty, and on the other hand - a delight in one’s own self? The egoistic nature of verbosity is not lessened by instances of discussion of serious topics; a proud person can easily prose on humility and silence, can glorify fasting, can debate on the merits of good works versus prayer.

Self-assurance quickly turns into a passion for ordering others around; such a person imposes his will upon others (but is intolerant of his own will being imposed upon), takes charge of others’ attention, time, efforts, becomes impudent and obnoxious. His affairs are important, the affairs of others are of little value. He tries to do everything, interferes in everything.

At this stage the proud person’s mood begins to spoil. In his aggressiveness he naturally meets with opposition and rebuffs; he becomes irritable, stubborn, peevish; he becomes certain that no one understands him, even his spiritual father; his conflicts with the world increase and the proud person makes a final choice: “I” against others (but not yet against God).

The soul becomes dark and cold, becomes the abode of arrogance, contempt, anger, hate. The mind becomes obscured, the differentiation between good and evil becomes muddled, becomes replaced by the differentiation between “mine” and “not mine.” He escapes from all obedience, is intolerable to all segments of society; his purpose is to propagate his own views, to vanquish and shame others; he hungrily seeks fame, even notoriety, revenging himself upon the world for its lack of acknowledgment. If he is a monk - he leaves his monastery which has become intolerable to him, and seeks his own paths. Occasionally this force of self-assertion is directed towards material acquisition, a career, social and political activity; sometimes, if there is talent, it is directed towards creativity, and in such a case, through pushiness, the proud person can even achieve some measure of success. On these same grounds schisms and heresies are created.

Finally, at the last stage, the person separates from God. If previously he sinned out of mischief and mutiny, now he allows himself everything: sin no longer bothers him but becomes a habit; if he feels easy about anything at this stage, it is his easy relations with the demons and his easy access to dark paths. The state of the soul is dismal, hopeless, totally isolated, but at the same time there is a sincere conviction in the rightness of his path and a feeling of complete safety, despite the fact that he is being rushed on black wings to perdition.


In truth, such a state of mind does not differ greatly from madness.


At this stage the proud person lives in a state of total isolation. Look at how he talks, argues: he either does not hear at all what others say to him, or hears only that which coincides with his own views; if something is said to him contrary to his opinions, he becomes angry as though he were greatly offended, and viciously refutes everything. In those around him he sees only those qualities, which he himself had imposed upon them, so that even in his praises he remains proud, self-centered, impervious to objectivity.

Characteristically the most prevalent forms of psychological illness - megalomania and persecution mania - spring directly from “increased self-awareness” and are totally unthinkable in individuals who are humble, simple and self-sacrificing. Even psychiatrists believe that paranoia is based upon an exaggerated awareness of one’s own self, a hostile attitude towards others, a loss of normal ability for adaptation, an irrationality of beliefs. A classic paranoiac never criticizes himself, in his own eyes he is always right and he is sharply dissatisfied with the people around him and with the conditions of his life.

Here is a perfect illustration of the depth of St. John of the Ladder’s determination: “Pride is extreme poverty of the soul.”

A proud man suffers defeat on all fronts:

Psychologically - anguish, gloom, barrenness.

Morally - solitude, the drying up of love, anger.

Physiologically and pathologically - nervous illness and madness.

From a theological point of view - the death of the soul preceding physical death, the experience of hell while still in this life.

In conclusion it is natural to pose a question: how to struggle against this illness, how to oppose the destruction which threatens those who follow this path? The answer springs from the essence of the question: first of all - humility; then - obedience, in increments - to loved ones, to elders, to the laws of the world, to objective truth, to beauty, to all that is good within us and around us, obedience to the law of God, and finally - obedience to the Church, its rules, its commandments, its mystic sacraments. And to achieve this - follow that which stands at the beginning of the Christian path: “Whosoever wishes to follow Me, must renounce himself.”

Renounce himself…. and must continue renouncing himself every day; every day a person must take upon himself his cross - a cross of enduring affronts, placing oneself last, suffering sorrows and illnesses, silently accepting abuse, offering total and unconditional obedience - immediate, voluntary, joyous, fearless, constant obedience.

And then the path into the kingdom of peace and profoundest wisdom, which destroys all passions, shall become open to him.

Glory be to our God, Who opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble!



Protopriest Alezxander Elchaninov

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Christ often comes and knocks at your door... ( Elder Amphilochios Makris )

Christ often comes and knocks at your door and you invite him to sit in the living-room of your soul.
Then, absorbed in your own business you forget the Great Visitor. He waits for you to appear and
when you are too long in returning, he gets up and leaves. At other times, you are so busy that you
answer him from the window. You don't even have time to open the door.


Elder Amphilochios Makris

Sunday, August 19, 2018

The snakes that venerate icons!!



Icon of Panagia Fidousa (Virgin of the Snakes)


In a tiny Greek village in the south of Kefallonia, a miracle occurs every year after the feast of the Transfiguration (Aug 6). Around the bell-tower of the chapel at Markopoulo, small venomous snakes appear. These snakes crawl around the church, and upon the icons of the Mother of God in an act of apparent veneration. The snakes remain in the confines of the chapel, docile throughout, until the feast of the Dormition (Aug 15), when they disperse and become almost impossible to find on the island. This is a strange miracle, especially given the association of the serpent with Satan, so what is the significance?



Snakes on Dormition icon


The chapel at Markopoulo is built on the ruins of a convent. In the early 18th-century, the nuns there were attacked by pirates. After praying to the Mother of God for help, the church was filled with snakes; when the pirates entered the convent they were terrified by the sight and fled. Every year since then, snakes have appeared during the Dormition fast around the church, venerating the icons there, leaving after the feast itself. In recent years, the snakes have failed to appear twice: in 1940, the year Greece was brought into the Second World War, and 1953, the year of a devastating earthquake on Kefallonia. Because of this, it is believed to be a portent of coming disaster if the snakes do not appear, or appear in small numbers. The first, straight-forward, meaning of the snakes appearance in Kefallonia is simply to remind us of one of the many times the Mother of God has helped those who prayed to her.


And I will put enmity Between you and the woman (Gen 3:15)


Yet there is much symbolic history associated with snakes in Christianity, much of it relating to the serpent being a representation of the devil (Gen 3; Ps 91:13; Rev 12:9; 20:2) and evil in general (Num 21:4-9; Matt 3:7; 23:33). This symbolism is so deeply implanted in our historically Christian culture that it may seem as though the snake by its very nature is a wily, slippery, evil creature. Yet the holy fathers remind us that our current instinctive revulsion to vipers is something that came after the Fall:


The serpent tempting Eve



Do not regard the present serpent; do not regard how we flee it and feel revulsion towards it. It was not such in the beginning. The serpent was the friend of man and the closest of those who served him. and who made it an enemy? The sentence of God: “Cursed are you above all the cattle, and above all wild animals… I will put enmity between you and the woman” (Gen 3:14-15). It was this enmity that destroyed the friendship. I mean not a rational friendship, but one of which an irrational creature is capable. Similar to the way that now the dog manifests friendship… just so did the serpent serve man. As a creature who enjoyed great closeness to man, the serpent seemed to the devil to be a convenient tool (for deception)… Thus, the devil spoke through the serpent, deceiving Adam. -St John Chrysostom, On the Creation of the World; 6.2
Blessed Theodoret and St John Damscene set forth the same teaching, the latter summarizing:

The serpent was accustomed to man, and approached him more readily than it did other living creatures, and held intercourse with him in delightful motions. and hence it was through it that the devil, the prince of evil, made his most wicked suggestion to our first parents. -On the Orthodox Faith; 2.10


Th curse is lifted

The serpent – in all its varieties and species – were thus cursed because it was used as an instrument of Satan:


But perhaps some will say: If the counsel was given by the devil, using the serpent as an instrument, why is this animal subjected to such a punishment? This was also a work of God’s unutterable love for mankind. As a loving father, in punishing the murderer of his son, breaks also the knife and sword by which he performed the murder, and breaks them into small pieces – in similar fashion the All-good God, when this animal, like a kind of sword, served as an instrument of the devil’s malice, subjects it to a constant punishment, so that from this physical manifestation we might conclude the dishonour in which it finds itself. -St John Chrysostom, Homilies on Genesis; 17.6

“In my name…they shall take up serpents”


The world suffered from the condemnation given to Adam, Eve, and the serpent, as it still does today. However, with the advent of Jesus Christ in the world, His death, resurrection, and ascension, the curse is lifted, and the means of our restoration is available. And through our restoration to our pre-fallen state, the fallen state of the world is also reversed. This is why St Paul was unharmed by the snake that bit him (Acts 28:3-5), why Jesus said we would be able to pick up serpents with our hands (Mk 16:17-18), and why numerous other Saints have lived in peace with wild beasts. These examples show to us that with faith and through God, the harmony of Paradise is restored even in this life.

The miracle bestowed upon Kefallonia every year is just another example, and a particularly fitting one. As one Sunday hymn proclaims:

You are exceedingly blessed, O Virgin Mother of God, for Hades has been taken captive by him who was incarnate of you. Adam was recalled, the curse was abolished, Eve was delivered, death was put to death and we were given life. Therefore, praising you we cry aloud: Blessed are you Christ our God, who thus was well pleased, glory to you.
Jesus redeems mankind and the entire created world, so what is true of Adam and Eve is true also of the snake. And so this animal, through which the devil tempted Eve, comes to venerate icons of the “second Eve”, Mary: the woman who brought forth the seed, Christ, through Whom “the curse was abolished.”