Thursday, November 5, 2015

Spiritual Counsels From Elder Cleopas

—What kind of words are the most potent to benefit others? The most powerful word for edifying others is practical—the example of our lives. St. Isaac the Syrian says the same: “The speech of works is one thing; beautiful words without deeds, another.” Afterwards he adds: “Many words without works are like an artist who paints pictures of water on the wall but is not able to quench his thirst.’’

—Another man asked Fr. Cleopas: “Father Cleopas, can a virtuous Christian save his family and his village by the holiness of his life?” How can he not? The more virtuous Christians there are in the world, in a country, in a community, the more that country or community will be preserved from dangers, wars, disturbances, famines, and all kinds of evil. On the other hand, the fewer elect of God there are, the more severe will be God’s chastising blow. Someone asked a certain Saint: ‘’Can one man save a city?’’ ‘’He can,’’ the Saint answered. ‘’The Prophet King David is an example. Listen to what God said: For the sake of David My servant, I will not abandon the city of Jerusalem.’’
—A visiting layman asked him: “Father Cleopas, I quarrelled with someone and have asked his forgiveness many times, but he doesn’t want to forgive me. What can I do to be reconciled with him?” Do not say anything more to him, nor speak evil of him to others, but pray to God for him and forgive him from your heart. In time the anger will be extinguished, like a fire that is starved of wood.

—How should Christians stand in church during services, how should they pray, and what duties do they have when they go to church? Christians should stand in church with faith, fear of God, and attention. They should force themselves as much as possible to pray without distraction and with feeling of heart. Also, Christians have the following duties: to go regularly to church, for whoever often misses the services, except for the sick, are barred from the Holy Mysteries; to be reconciled with all men and to ask forgiveness of anyone they have hurt; to preserve their purity at least two days before going to church and at least one day after; to come early to the divine services in order to have time to venerate in peace and hear Matins. Every Christian should offer some gift to the Lord according to his ability, even if it is very small, as a sacrifice from the work of his hands. They should give names for commemoration, and ask the priest to take out parts [from the prosphora] for the living and dead members of their families. Christians should stand in church modestly and in good order, the men on the right and the women on the left. They should wear clean and modest clothes, and women should have scarves on their heads. It is forbidden to talk during services without great need. After Divine Liturgy starts, everyone should remain in his place and not move about to venerate the icons. They should follow the Liturgy with pious attention, and listen to the prayers and singing of the choir, the Epistle and Gospel readings, and the sermon. No one should leave the church before the end of the Liturgy without great need. Those who have confessed and prepared for Holy Communion should read the appropriate prayers before Communion in advance, and before they approach the Holy Gifts they should ask forgiveness of all the faithful. After the Liturgy, those who received Communion should read the prayers of thanksgiving, spending that day in spiritual joy and guarding themselves from all temptations. Parents should bring their children to church regularly, taking care that they receive communion of the Body and Blood of Christ. After the end of the divine services, Christians should reverently return to their homes, spending the rest of the day thinking of holy things, reading spiritual books, and visiting the sick. They are also obligated to tell those at home who didn’t come to church about what they heard and learned in church from the troparia, readings, and the sermon. These are the most important duties of Christians when they go to church on Sundays and feast days.

—What is prayer, and what kinds of prayer exist, according to the Holy Fathers? Evagrius of Pontus says: ‘’Prayer is the converse of the mind with God. Prayer is an offshoot of meekness and angerlessness.” “Prayer is a fruit of joy and gratitude. It is the banishing of sadness and despair,’’ according to Evagrius of Pontus. And the Fathers say it is the union and joining of man with God, the strength of the world, reconciliation with God, the mother and daughter of tears. Prayer is the key of the kingdom of heaven, and according to Theophan the Recluse, it is the ascent of the mind and thoughts to God. Prayer has three degrees: first, spoken or read prayer, performed by the body; second, prayer of the thoughts, or mental prayer; and third, prayer of the feelings, or of the heart.

—Generally our people pray little, but with much humility. Can they hope for salvation through their small quantity of prayer? And how should the sick or those who can’t read pray? Our Savior Jesus Christ said: When you pray, do not use vain repetition like the gentiles, for they think they will be heard for their much speaking. Do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him (Matt. 6:7-8). Then He taught us the ‘’Our Father.’’ Therefore, our Savior Himself taught us brief prayer. Anyone who says short prayers, but with humility and tender feeling, will be saved. Let us remember the holy elder who prayed for forty years with the same prayer: “Lord, I as a man have sinned; do Thou as God forgive me.”

—How can people fulfill the Apostle Paul’s command, “Pray without ceasing?” Anyone can pray without ceasing if he always walks before God with his mind and heart. He can work with his hands while his mind and heart are raised to God. The only thing I have to add is that the most important thing in spiritual prayer is that our mind and heart are inseparable from God, regardless of what time and place we are in. We must always be aware of the presence of God. “This work applies to all kinds of prayer, and is considered an uninterrupted prayer,” says St. Theophan the Recluse. This is the feeling and spiritual contemplation of God that the blessed Prophet David had when he said: “I beheld the Lord always before me, for He is at my right hand, that I might not be shaken...” (Ps. 15:8). So we must understand that a faithful man’s life is a ceaseless prayer if his mind is always with God.

—When we do good works, is that also a kind of prayer to God? Yes, it is. The Apostle Paul tells us this when he says: Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him (Col. 3:17). Whenever one does a good deed for the glory of God, or speaks for the benefit of others for the glory of God, he has the prayer of works. Therefore St. Theodore the Studite, counselling his disciples, said to them: “He who does good deeds and obeys with humility and without protest, performs liturgy and priesthood”

Taken from Spiritual Conversations with Romanian Elders by Fr. Ioanichie Balan.