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Thursday, October 11, 2018

Homily on Life After Death ( St. John Maximovitch )

Limitless and without consolation would have been our sorrow for close ones who are dying, if the Lord had not given us eternal life. Our life would be pointless if it ended with death. What benefit would there then be from virtue and good deed? Then they would be correct who say: "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!" But man was created for immortality, and by His resurrection Christ opened the gates of the Heavenly Kingdom, of eternal blessedness for those who have believed in Him and have lived righteously. Our earthly life is a preparation for the future life, and this preparation ends with our death. "It is appointed unto man once to die, but after this the judgment" (Heb 9:27). Then a man leaves all his earthly cares; the body disintegrates, in order to rise anew at the General Resurrection. Often this spiritual vision begins in the dying even before death, and while still seeing those around them and even speaking with them, they see what others do not see .

But when it leaves the body, the soul finds itself among other spirits, good and bad. Usually it inclines toward those which are more akin to it in spirit, and if while in the body it was under the influence of certain ones, it will remain in dependence upon them when it leaves the body, however unpleasant they may turn out to be upon encountering them .

For the course of two days the soul enjoys relative freedom and can visit places on earth which were dear to it, but on the third day it moves into other spheres . At this time (the third day), it passes through legions of evil spirits which obstruct its path and accuse it of various sins, to which they themselves had tempted it. According to various revelations there are twenty such obstacles, the so-called "toll-houses," at each of which one or another form of sin is tested; after passing through one the soul comes upon the next one, and only after successfully passing through all of them can the soul continue its path without being immediately cast into gehenna. How terrible these demons and their toll-houses are may be seen in the fact that Mother of God Herself, when informed by the Archangel Gabriel of Her approaching death, answering Her prayer, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself appeared from heaven to receive the soul of His Most Pure Mother and conduct it to heaven. Terrible indeed is the third day for the soul of the departed, and for this reason it especially needs prayers then for itself .

Then, having successfully passed through the toll-houses and bowed down before God, the soul for the course of 37 more days visits the heavenly habitations and the abysses of hell, not knowing yet where it will remain, and only on the fortieth day is its place appointed until the resurrection of the dead . Some souls find themselves (after the forty days) in a condition of foretasting eternal joy and blessedness, and others in fear of the eternal torments which will come in full after the Last Judgment. Until then changes are possible in the condition of souls, especially through offering for them the Bloodless Sacrifice (commemoration at the Liturgy), and likewise by other prayers .

How important commemoration at the Liturgy is may be seen in the following occurrence: Before the uncovering of the relics of St. Theodosius of Chernigov (1896), the priest-monk (the renowned Starets Alexis of Goloseyevsky Hermitage, of the Kiev-Caves Lavra, who died in 1916) who was conducting the re-vesting of the relics, becoming weary while sitting by the relics, dozed off and saw before him the Saint, who told him: "I thank you for laboring with me. I beg you also, when you will serve the Liturgy, to commemorate my parents" — and he gave their names (Priest Nikita and Maria). "How can you, O Saint, ask my prayers, when you yourself stand at the heavenly Throne and grant to people God's mercy?" the priest-monk asked. "Yes, that is true," replied St. Theodosius, "but the offering at the Liturgy is more powerful than my prayer."

Therefore, panikhidas (i.e., Trisagion Prayers for the Dead) and prayer at home for the dead are beneficial to them, as are good deeds done in their memory, such as alms or contributions to the church. But especially beneficial for them is commemoration at the Divine Liturgy. There have been many appearances of the dead and other occurrences which confirm how beneficial is the commemoration of the dead. Many who died in repentance, but who were unable to manifest this while they were alive, have been freed from tortures and have obtained repose. In the Church prayers are ever offered for the repose of the dead, and on the day of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, in the kneeling prayers at vespers, there is even a special petition "for those in hell."

Every one of us who desires to manifest his love for the dead and give them real help, can do this best of all through prayer for them, and particularly by commemorating them at the Liturgy, when the particles which are cut out for the living and the dead are let fall into the Blood of the Lord with the words: "Wash away, O Lord, the sins of those here commemorated by Thy Precious Blood and by the prayers of Thy saints." We can do nothing better or greater for the dead than to pray for them, offering commemoration for them at the Liturgy. Of this they are always in need, and especially during those forty days when the soul of the deceased is proceeding on its path to the eternal habitations. The body feels nothing then: it does not see its close ones who have assembled, does not smell the fragrance of the flowers, does not hear the funeral orations. But the soul senses the prayers offered for it and is grateful to those who make them and is spiritually close to them.

O relatives and close ones of the dead! Do for them what is needful for them and within your power. Use your money not for outward adornment of the coffin and grave, but in order to help those in need, in memory of your close ones who have died, for churches, where prayers for them are offered. Show mercy to the dead, take care of their souls . Before us all stands the same path, and how we shall then wish that we would be remembered in prayer! Let us therefore be ourselves merciful to the dead. As soon as someone has reposed, immediately call or inform a priest, so he can read the Prayers appointed to be read over all Orthodox Christians after death. Try, if it be possible, to have the funeral in Church and to have the Psalter read over the deceased until the funeral. Most definitely arrange at once for the serving of the forty-day memorial, that is, daily commemoration at the Liturgy for the course of forty days. 
(NOTE: If the funeral is in a church where there are no daily services, the relatives should take care to order the forty-day memorial wherever there are daily services.) It is likewise good to send contributions for commemoration to monasteries, as well as to Jerusalem, where there is constant prayer at the holy places. Let us take care for those who have departed into the other world before us, in order to do for them all that we can, remembering that "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."

Sunday, October 7, 2018

War With Sinful Thoughts ( Elder Ephraim of Vatopaidi )


Q. What are sinful thoughts and what are their spiritual substance?


A. They are thoughts opposed to God's will and operate in the area of the human intellect either by their own will or not. The mind is restless and it either produces thoughts or external factors are continuously displayed on the screen of the mind.


Q. Where do such thoughts come from?


A. Their source is either the passionate heart of man or demons themselves. Christ Himself reveals: "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, blasphemy" (Matt. 15:19).


The passions of man are produced and fed with sinful thoughts. Demons are certain beings that feed on excessive hatred for humans and impinge in any way the salvation of man. Their main job is to sow evil, wicked, vile, sinful, blasphemous thoughts in the intellect of man.


There are of course divine thoughts as well whose source are in God Himself and the Saints, who encourage the sinner to repentance, and bring consolation in any way to those who are troubled, illuminating the virtuous so that "they can know the deep things of God" (1 Cor. 2:10).


The spiritual advancement of man appears primarily in the quality of one's thoughts. We must cultivate the pure, holy and divine thoughts. We must make our mind into a factory of good thoughts, as the blessed Elder Paisios would say.


Q. How do we identify these thoughts and how do we distinguish them from sinful thoughts?


A. Only with watchfulness (nipsis) can we observe the mind, and be careful to identify our thoughts. Watchfulness is temperance, the attention I impose on my mind.


This is achieved by invoking the all-honorable, majestic and sweet name of our Christ. The prayer, the "Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me", is the greatest weapon against the demons and passions, and it is able to uphold the mind that is controlled by and observes the thoughts.


Thoughts are like airplanes that fly in the air. It doesn't depend on us if airplanes fly continuously in the air. It does depend on us and we must not allow thoughts to land within us, to accept them, to give them consent.


Q. What is the difference between desire and thought?


A. Desire is the mood we have to do something, to ask for something is a movement of the heart, while thought moves in the area of the intellect.


First we desire and after this desire it is expressed internally through thoughts. Desire is the beginning, the root. By cutting off sinful desires we are essentially freeing ourselves from sinful thoughts.


This is why our Lord emphasized: "But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman with desire has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matt. 5:28). He wanted to cut off the root of the passions.


Saint Gregory Palamas says that the intellect of the believer who struggles in prayer is easily purified of thoughts, just like the heart of a person (which is the power that produces thoughts), cannot be purified unless all the other powers of the soul, the appetitive and spirited, are purified.


Q. Must we confess all of our thoughts?


A. The thoughts that come into our minds daily by the thousands are countless. Most of these thoughts are vain, vile and sinful. The demon knows his job well and cultivates these thoughts. We are liable only when we consent to them, when we implement these thoughts into practice.


Depending on what spiritual state a person is in, so they are judged on how they deal with their thoughts. For example, for the perfect, who have perfect spiritual knowledge and supervision of thoughts, consent to a sinful thought is sinful. For someone who has now begun the spiritual life it may not be sinful.


The person who struggles correctly confesses their thoughts that do not cease to press on them, which through prayer and struggle alone cannot be resisted. It is not possible for someone to confess all their thoughts. This is psychological illness. Many come to confession with a notebook in which is written their thoughts, hundreds of thoughts that pass daily through their intellect. This is not right. They not only tire the Confessor/Spiritual Father but they themselves do not benefit. This is not observing one's thoughts, it is not a fruit of watchfulness and spiritual progress, but it is a situation of illness.


Q. Can we come to the Holy Chalice in a situation where right before Divine Communion there comes to us a sinful thought?


A. Of course we come forward. What do we read from Saint John of Damascus right before Divine Communion?: "I stand before the doors of Thy temple and I still do not forsake my wicked thoughts."


The war with thoughts is described by the Fathers as difficult. In this particular case we need to have contempt for this thought because it was brought by the enemy to rob us of the blessing of Divine Communion. Unless it is a thought connected with a deadly sin that has not been confessed, though I think such a thought would not battle us at that moment, since it would already be rebuked by our conscience.


Q. Are there certain pernicious thoughts that lead to spiritual death?


A. Yes, the thoughts of despair and hopelessness. These thoughts, say the Fathers, are like cutting off the head of a struggler. The believer must never forget the love and mercy of God our Father no matter what depth of sin they have fallen into. They must never forget that hope exists and repentance exists.


Christ did not come to judge the world but to save the world. Christ accepted the repentance of the thief, the villain on the cross who was at the throes of death, saved him, and placed him in Paradise.


Q. Should couples confess to one another the thoughts they have towards each other?


A. I think not. It is better to say their thoughts to their common spiritual father. Be aware that the devil, from the moment when certain people are united with the crowns of marriage, has placed upon them a target to separate them at some point. This is why there is a war that unfortunately most couples do not recognize. While the beginning of marriage is all milk and honey, and love united them both, but then disagreements begin, and quarrels, and "I don't like you", and "I don't love you". All this is war.


Why? What happened after ten years of marriage or more and the one doesn't love the other? It is better in the beginning for a couple to address such problems to their common spiritual father, who through the illumination of the Holy Spirit will guide them accordingly and with his prayer will banish the demonic energy that has come between them to separate them. And by God I am not saying that couples should not discuss things between each other, as this is essential for there to be unity and love, but do not tell each other your sinful thoughts which are sowed by the devil.


Q. How can we fight against thoughts?


A. With watchfulness and the prayer "Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me". Saint John of Sinai in his book The Ladder says: "The name of Jesus plagued our enemies." Our enemies are our passions, our sinful thoughts, the demons. There is no more effective way, than when the prayer is said with self-reproach and pain of heart.


If you see a thought persists despite your effort and prayers and does not leave you alone, then it is good to bring this thought to confession. Confession is practical humility, and "God gives grace to the humble" (Jam. 4:6). The shame we feel before our spiritual father through the confession of this sinful thought, will justify us before God and God will relieve us from the energy of this passion, this sinful thought.


It is also very good to cultivate good thoughts and despise the sinful ones, or bad thoughts, but this requires much diligence.


The contempt we show towards bad thoughts sown by the devil will make the same devil deflate, be trapped, to flee, because the devil is arrogant, and he wants us to care for him and be occupied with him, and he cannot tolerate being despised.


If you can cultivate in this way, it is the most bloodless, as Saint Porphyrios of Kavsokalyva would say. Let us ask for peace, joy and the love of Christ and not care for our evil selves, our passions, our sinful thoughts. Let us turn our face - our whole being - towards Christ and seek His face, His mercy. Thus slowly, without realizing it, we will be sanctified, and the old man with its desires and thoughts will flee, which bothered us, and we will be clothed with the new which is "created by God" (Eph. 4:24).

Saturday, September 29, 2018

On the Beginners’ Spiritual Shortcomings ( Father Arsenie Boca )



Propensity for Haughtiness
They are more readily inclined to give lessons, rather than to receive them. They condemn within their heart those who do not understand faith as they do and they manifest that condemnation – at first, secretly held in their hearts – through their words – and that is when you feel like you hear the Pharisee who thought he was worshipping God when he was vaunting himself for his own deeds, while despising the tax-payer. That sort of attitude is to please the devil. All of these things drive one’s soul to pride and haughtiness. They are of no use whatsoever to the beginners (on the contrary, they change whatever else they have good in them, into sins), as they cease bearing with one another and if anyone comes up to belittle their fellowman, that pleases them. They will see the straw in their brother’s eye yet will fail to notice the beam in their own eye; they will make a big deal out of the other’s minor deeds and will efface their own – greater – faults.
They don’t like confessor Fathers who do not praise them for their actions and don’t appreciate their good behaviour – because such spiritual sons’ sole pursuit is to be praised and commended in everything they do.
They even try to convince others that they have an accomplished spirit and harbor true piety.
They even go as far as not confess their sins anymore, lest they should downplay themselves in the process and they avoid mentioning their mistakes in order to render them lighter. They will avoid by all means praising others, but they do not like not being praised by others. Sometimes they will go as far as to ask others to praise them. Beginners very seldom escape such weaknesses.


Propensity for Spiritual Stinginess

They complain whenever they don’t receive the comfort they expected from their spiritual Fathers or their fellowman. They always look to filling up their minds with spiritual advice and teachings. They dedicate all their time to reading and have no more of it left for the spiritual work, which should be their first and foremost duty.


Propensity for Anger

They are always in a bad mood.
They do their duty sloppily.
They get upset for the slightest thing and end up being unbearable to the ones around them.
They blame others.
They badmouth others.
They give moral lectures in a bitter and high voice, as if they were the only ones who would have access to being virtuous.


Propensity for Spiritual Greed

They exhaust themselves carrying out prayer rules.
They apply themselves to fasting without limits.
They keep away from people who would invite them to take bodily food.
They lack discernment.
They work against the commandments.
They want bodily canons (rules) rather than mind-based canons.
They don’t listen to their spiritual Fathers.
They take pride in making various efforts without discernment.
Such spiritual “sons” are encouraged by the devil to behave this way.
They always look for pulling out counsels that suit them, from their spiritual Fathers.
In case one rejects their ideas, they sulk like children.
Whatever they do, they do superficially, because they are convinced that they do nothing good before God, whenever He doesn’t work [in their life] as they would like Him to.
They take the Eucharist many times, without their spiritual Father’s approval.


Propensity for Envy and Worldliness
Their fellowman’s spiritual wellness always gets into their eyes.
They suffer when they hear someone else being praised.
Another person’s virtue makes them sad and if given the chance, they will belittle and persecute it, in order to break off all praise for that person.
They want to be the first in everything.


Excerpt from CĂRAREA ÎMPĂRĂTIEI – ”The Way to the Kingdom” – by Fr. Arsenie BOCA

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Hagiorite Orthodox monasticism



The Hagiorite Orthodox monasticism is not isolated from the world; it is not unsociable. On the contrary, one might say that the genuine monk is more sociable than the laity, since he directly communicates with the supreme social Being, the Creator of man and society: the Lord. As hagiorite monks we ache and worry about the future of man theses days. Many discontented people visit the Holy Mountain, distraught by impossible troubles which cause a deadlock. The wrong way of living is the main culprit for all the hardships; that is, life outside the Church.

Our times are such that everything surrounding us and our values is going through a crisis. Scientific and technological advances affect our social lives; consumerism, hedonism, the ideological chaos and the abundance and confusion of theories as well as globalization indicate that modern man finds himself at a crucial turning point in his history.

Under these circumstances, it is very difficult even for a thoughtful adult to have a clear cut idea of his status and recognize what his truly personal options are without being swayed by other factors or to understand where he can move freely and how he is being dominated by something or someone. If this is tricky for a mature person imagine how complicated it is for a student or a pupil, who also have to deal with their hitherto unrecognizable fits and starts at an age when they ought to establish their personalities and create their own identity!

Education is an institution which aims to cultivate one as a person, to develop his spiritual values and complete his personality. The Ancient Greek philosopher, Plato, used to say: “All knowledge when separated from justice and virtue is seen to be cunning and not wisdom” (Plato Collected Dialogues: Menexenus: p 196, 246e-247a). If our ancestors thought that knowledge cultivates the soul through virtue and it that it is not an external acquisition, how are we supposed to deal with it since we are not only orthodox Christians but also the descendants of the ancient Greek philosophers, the Apostles and of the Great Fathers of our Church?

In every country, education is irrevocably connected to its history, its culture and its tradition. In our island, Cyprus, Orthodoxy was the model on which education was based, since it was a shaping, life-giving factor, not just for Education but for other institutions as well.

After the British rule which lasted almost a century, foreign elements intruded into our orthodox tradition. Especially after the ‘May 1968 movement’, which begun in France and influenced the moral and social fabric of our society with the so-called sexual liberation, the denunciation of institutions, of social structures and of religion, Education changed and followed the trends and the demands of the times. It complied with the theory of usefulness and it concentrated in producing graduates who would produce, consume, develop and make money; in other words it promoted the economic and technological advancement in a bizarre way. Thus Education no longer meets the existential needs of a person, neither does it deal with moral issues or cultivate virtue; it is indifferent to religion and does not wish to be defined as ‘orthodox’.

We have unfortunately learnt that nowadays our Educational system, at all three levels, does not contribute towards the formation of a responsible, well rounded person, the true person, the traditional orthodox Cypriot. Even at the elementary level there is an attempt to cut off pupils from their traditional roots. Moreover, many intellectuals wish to modernize and secularize the Church and remove the Christian faith from the state; that is, they wish the Church to “conform to this world” (Romans 12, 2) in order to seemingly modernize it. These things cause distress and a lot of pain to the faithful and to those who love our country. Pray, where do all these take place? They take place in Cyprus, the mainly orthodox and culturally esteemed island of the Saints.

Our Educational system seems to be the product of the modern technological explosion which splits the body from the spirit, dividing man and steering him towards materialism. It deprives him of the ability to genuinely hope, to be honest in his transactions and his conscience and to remain free inside. It mostly supports his ability to move freely in scientific circles, finally feeding him with dry knowledge and education, which according to St Paul merely “puffs him up” (A Corinthians 8, 1). That is, it makes him proud, egoistic, selfish and generally speaking, full of passions. The main purpose of those who attend the Lyceum and the universities is to find a job. Of course this is what they must aim at, but it must not be their only aspiration.

Education as a measure of quality must seek to regenerate one’s heart and transform his soul. It must not seek productivity or meet the needs of the state. It must be independent from these in order to produce free persons, whom it will steer towards self-perception and the knowledge of God and will offer them a comprehensive education, which will transform them. It must not deform them with the supply of dry knowledge or make them chase after grades, inciting their attachment to the ephemeral materialism.

Teachers and those responsible at the Ministry of Education should aim to offer a proper education to the young ones, i.e. an education in Christ. They should travail in birth until “Christ is formed” in their hearts as St Paul says (Galatians 4, 19). The school and the university ought to become spiritual wombs in which a person, man in Christ, will be able to grow and mature spiritually. The school ought to cultivate genuine, eternal persons through Grace, which will be complete in the image of the only true and eternal person, Christ. This can be accomplished with the cooperation of the Church. It is only in the Orthodox Church that Christ and spiritual life are experienced. The Church is not an administrative body, a human institution, but a god-man institution; it is the body of Christ.

Teenagers and young people will not attain a high quality of life through the upgrade and renewal of the external, educational means; but this kind of life is the effulgence of the performance of someone who is cultivated inside through the Holy Spirit. It is the kind of life achieved through the compliance and the sensitization of those people who leave their mark on the lives of the young. However, we are not here to apportion blame but to sensitize people’s hearts.

Pupils and students ought not to think and act for their interest; they ought not to choose a profession to gratify their pride and their self-interest regardless of whether it will undermine them as persons. In the old days, one would choose his profession according to his skills and his abilities, namely his aptitude. These days, unfortunately the choice depends on the resulting social status or its economic prospects. Thus, one’s ability comes second. This trend is aggravated by unemployment and the fact that youngsters can no longer follow the profession they like. In this way a job often becomes servitude.

When choosing his profession a young person, who is faithful, ought to also take into account the prospects for his personal advancement and his culmination in Christ, which is a Christian’s main mission. (St Gregory of Nyssa: What is the name of a Christian or his profession?) One’s profession ought not to be seen independently but must constitute a means to advance one’s life in Christ. The Christian is called to discharge his professional duties “as to the Lord and not unto men” (Colossians: 3, 23).

All professions are good -from the road cleaner to the university professor- so long as they are performed honestly, conscientiously and meticulously. The Lord placed our forefathers in Paradise to “work it and keep it” (Gen. 2, 15).Even Christ, in His life on earth, was working as a carpenter. St Basil, the Great, says that the Church has hunters, builders, farmers, shepherds, athletes and solders as its members; each one of them ought to discharge his duties conscientiously. (St Basil: Homily on “watch thyself”). The various professions ought not to just meet a person’s needs but benefit others as well. St Paul urges each one of the Ephesians to “labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Ephesians 4, 28).

Any pupil, student or worker will be consistent in his job, his relationship with others and the Lord, if he has recognized the true meaning of his life. Namely, to accomplish his personal sanctification, his deification, which is the final objective for the creation of man.

For this reason blessed Elder Justin Popovic from Serbia was stressing that everyman is called to sanctification. Thus, a scientist may become a holy scientist, a philosopher- a holy philosopher, a farmer- a holy farmer, a rich man – a holy rich-man, a pauper- a holy pauper, an old man –a holy old man, a student- a holy student and a pupil – a holy pupil. (Justin Popovic: Man and God-Man)

This means that the evangelic message of sanctification can be applied by any man, of any social standing at any age. The struggle to attain sanctification gives life its true meaning. This struggle, albeit hard, is also sweet and full of joy, since divine Grace is walking along with the fighter. Man becomes sanctified by participating in the uncreated divine energies, irrespective of whether he is at the stage where he is struggling to cleanse himself from the passions or has attained illumination or has reached the final stage of deification. He who tries to become sanctified constantly strives to increase, advance spiritually, touch and taste dispassion. Dispassion according to St John Climax is “a never-ending perfection” (St John Climax: Climax: Homily 19th). He who experiences dispassion, i.e. sanctification, is experiencing a lasting, intense spiritual state. This state, which is the experience of divine Grace, cannot be compared to any joy or experience on earth.

If the young ones are to be better placed against Education and be able to choose the right profession so that Education will not be diluted and transformed into a job-finding vehicle, they ought to give up seeking worldly knowledge but strive to attain spiritual knowledge as described by St Paul. They ought not to seek to appease their selfish, money-oriented interests while ignoring and impinging on their spiritual needs. On the other hand, parents but realize that children are not their property but independent, unique persons. The usual habit parents have in trying to realize their own aspirations and designs through their children, torments their offspring.

Finally, educators- teachers and university professors- ought to recognize that genuine education shapes people who will offer themselves and their skills to serve others. If this is to be achieved, educators ought to demonstrate an honest and genuine care in their teaching and not simply discharge a barren, professional duty with the ultimate aim to make money. They ought to be deeply conscientious, intellectually and spiritually mature and be ready to sacrifice themselves; in addition they ought to live a pure life with integrity and orthodox conscience and ought to acquire sincere faith in Christ. Both teachers and pupils ought to learn at the great school, called Church.

source: Translated by Olga Konari Kokkinou from the Greek edition: Αρχιμ. Εφραίμ Βατοπαιδινού Καθηγουμένου Ι. Μ. Μ. Βατοπαιδίου, Αθωνικός Λόγος, Ιερά Μεγίστη Μονή Βατοπαιδίου, Άγιον Όρος 2010.
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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.