Sunday, July 29, 2018

Nothing smells worse than pride ( St. Kosmas Aitolos )

There was a virtuous hermit who frequently prayed to God, and who received revelations of many divine mysteries. One day he set out from his hermitage to travel to a distant region. Along the way, he met another man who was journeying in the same direction. This individual was actually an angel, but the hermit did not realize this and assumed he was a regular human being.

As they journeyed together, along the path they
encountered a dead horse. The hermit covered his nose and held his breath; the angel did not. A short while later, they came across a dead calf. The hermit again covered his nose and held his breath; the angel did not. Not long after, they found a dead dog in their path. The hermit covered his nose and held his breath; the angel did nothing.

Eventually they approached a certain village
where they crossed paths with a beautiful young lady, who was wearing extravagant clothing and
ornate jewelry, and taking great pride in her appearance.

The angel then immediately covered his nose. When the hermit witnessed this, he stopped and
asked, “Who are you? Are you an angel, a human being, or a demon? ...

We passed by a dead horse that stunk, but you did not cover your nose. We also passed by the dead calf and dog, and I did not see you cover your nose. Now that we passed by such a beautiful young lady you decided to cover your nose and hold your breath?” Then the angel made himself visible to the hermit and replied, “Nothing smells as bad as pride does to God.” Having said this, the angel disappeared.

The hermit then returned back to his hut and
began weeping for his sins, beseeching God
to protect him henceforth from the devil’s traps, and not allow him to fall into the sin of pride and
thus lose his soul.

St. Kosmas Aitolos

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Our individual persona isn’t terminated on death ( Elder Marcel of Karakallou, Mt Athos )

(Skulls of the monks on Mt. Athos, Greece)

From the time we’re created, each individual has a particular mode of existence, which is not extinguished when we die. Saint John the Damascan says that the union of soul and body occurs at the beginning of our formation. ‘Body and soul are formed at the same time’. This specific persona of each individual is not dismantled even on our death. The soul may indeed be separated from the body at death, but the personhood remains the same.
Each person is a unique and inimitable personality. This special individuality, this specific persona, never ceases to exist. This is why, in the parable of Dives and Lazarus, the Lord says that the rich man saw Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham, not merely Lazarus’ soul.
The aim of the divine incarnation was to bring fallen humankind into their inheritance in the Kingdom of Heaven. This is why all the Fathers declare that the Word of God became human in order to deify human nature.
When we talk about the deification (glorification) of human nature, we agree that the righteous become sharers in divine nature, although always with the proviso that their human nature isn’t obliterated, but participates in the divine glory of our inapproachable God to the extent that we’re able to do so.
In other words, the individuality of each person is retained, elevated through the resurrection, approaches divine glory, but still remains finite.
And all of this depends on the incarnation of the Divine Word. Jesus Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity, took human nature upon Himself and united with it as a Person and a Persona. Both natures remained unconfused. When the flesh was deified, it didn’t lose its own nature. This is Jesus, perfect God and perfect human. It was over the dogma of the two natures and one hypostasis of Christ that all the battles with the Monophysites were fought.
By grace, not by essence, the righteous take part in divine glory and communion, but each person continues to retain his or her personality. But this is where God’s magnificent and infinite wisdom and loving-kindness come in.
The Word as infinite God ‘dwells in inaccessible light’ (I Tim. 6, 16) and no-one can approach His divine brilliance, but all of us saved Christians are united to His divine human nature, and, all together constitute His body, ‘the fullness of Him who fills all in all’ (Eph. 1, 23). Since Christ is the Head of the Church and we are the members, then the body becomes perfect when we’re all united in Christ. The Church is His body, the fulfilment of Christ as a person.
What has been said so far is enough to prove that the incarnate Word of God is the root cause of the fact that people retain their personalities even after death. This becomes even clearer from the teachings of the holy Fathers.
This indissoluble persona, consisting of the soul and the body, is described for us by Gregory the Theologian in his funeral oration for his brother Kaisarios: ‘I await the voice of the Archangel, the last trump, the transformation of the heavens, the alteration of the earth, the liberation of the elements, the renewal of the world. Then I’ll see Kaisarios himself, without having died, without us accompanying him to the tomb, without lamentation, without us feeling sorry for him. He’ll be bright, glorious, elevated…’
The notion that the separation of the soul from the body doesn’t eradicate a person’s individual identity is also accepted by Saint Gregory of Nyssa. In his dialogue with his sister, Saint Makrina, he uses two wonderful examples and with stunning precision demonstrates that the soul always recognizes its own body, both as it was when they were united and after their separation.
He uses an example from painting. In order to paint a subject, the artist mixes a variety of colours, but can still discern the individual colours he’s applied in making the mixture.
A second example he uses is from pottery and again demonstrates that the soul has no difficulty in identifying its own body, even when it’s mixed with other, foreign elements. Ceramic objects are made from the same clay. The potter creates a variety of objects which don’t have the same form or the same use. A pitcher is one thing, a wine-jar another and a plate something else. All of these objects have their own shapes and particular features, by which they’re recognized by their owners.
And then again, if they’re broken, they can be mended and become recognizable: which bits belongs to the wine-jar, to the pitcher, to the cup. And if the broken pieces get mixed up with unworked clay, then it’s even easier for the owner to recognize the baked pieces.
From the above we can understand very clearly that death, that is the separation of the soul from the body, doesn’t eradicate a person’s individual identity. People stay the same.
The separation of the soul from the body is temporary and lasts as long as they’re in what we call the middle situation of the departed. At Christ’s second coming, the soul and body will be united. We shall rise, with new bodies, not subject to decay, as Saint Paul teaches us: the Lord ‘will transform the body of our humiliation so that it may be conformed to the body of His glory’, (Phil. 3, 21).
And Saint Makarios the Egyptian affirms the permanent integrity of human nature with great clarity: ‘At the Resurrection, all the members rise and not a single hair is lost, as has been written, “Not a hair of your head shall be lost” (Luke 21, 18). And everything will be lambent, bathed in light and fire and transformed, not, as some say, broken up and consumed by the fire so that their nature no longer exists. Because Peter’s still Peter, Paul Paul and Philip Philip. People remain in their own nature and specific identity, filled with the Holy Spirit’.

(†Markellos Karakallinos, Η φύση του σώματος μετά την Ανάστασιν, Holy Monastery of Karakallou, pp. 20-24).

Saturday, July 21, 2018

St. Porphyrios and the Hippies

St. Porphyrios once said:

One day a hippie visited me. He was dressed in something colorful, strange clothes, and wore an amulet and jewelery, and he asked to see me. The nuns were worried, so they came and asked me, and I told them to have him enter. As soon as he sat across from me, I could see his soul. He had a good soul, but was wounded which was why he was a revolutionary.

I spoke to him with love and he was moved. "Elder", he said, "nobody until today has ever spoken to me like this." I had told him his name, and he was confused as if I knew him. "Well," I told him, "God revealed your name and that you travelled as far as India where you met a guru and you followed him." He was in even greater wonder. I told him other things about himself, and he left pleased. The next week he arrived with a group of hippies.

They all gathered together within my cell and sat around me. A girl was also with them. I liked them very much. They were good souls, but wounded. I did not speak to them about Christ, because I saw they weren't ready to hear of it. I spoke their own language about topics that interested them. When we were finished and they got up to leave, they told me: "Elder, we would like a favor: allow us to kiss your feet." I was embarrassed, but what could I do, I allowed them. After they gave me a blanket as a gift. I will call for it to be brought, so you can see it. It's very nice. After a time the girl visited me, the hippie, by herself. They called her Maria.

I saw that Maria was more advanced in her soul than her friends and she was the first I spoke to about Christ. She received my words. She has come other times, and has taken a good path. Maria also told her friends: "Hey naughty children, I would never have imagined that I would come to know Christ through hippie friends."
St. Porphyrios 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Why does God allow Temptations in our Life ( St. Paisios )

God allows temptations that are in proportion to our spiritual condition.
For example,sometimes He may allow us to make a mistake,some small indiscretion,so that we may be more careful next time;or be able to completely avoid a greater evil brought on by the cunning devil.
Other times,God allows the devil to tempt us,to put us to the test.In such cases,we are given an examination and,instead of harming us,the devil does us good.Remember Elder Philaretos,who used to say,"Son,to have no temptations today is to be abandoned by God."He preferred to battle every day against temptations,so that he might be crowned by Christ.
A strong person like Elder Philaretos does not avoid temptations,but rather, says to Christ,"O my Lord,send me more temptations and give me the strength to battle against them."A weak person,however,will say,"Do not permit me to be tempted,O Lord."And lead us not into temptation...But when we actually are tempted,we tend to say,"Well,I am only human and I cannot resist these temptations!"Instead,what we should say in these circumstances is this:"O my God,I am not at all a worthy being,I;m a rascal;help me become a worthy human being."I'm not,of course,suggesting that we should pursue temptations,but rather that we should confront them with patience and prayer when they do come.
In every spiritual winter,we should anticipate the spiritual spring with patience and hope.The greater temptations are usually momentary,and if we can manage to escape the lure of the moment,the phalanx of demons will go away and we will be saved.When man is united with God,temptations disappear.Can the devil do any harm to an Angel?No,for he will be burnt by the Angel's presence.

Spiritual life is very simple and easy;we make it difficult by not struggling properly.With a little effort,a great degree of humility,and trust in God,one can achieve great progress in the spiritual life.For the devil cannot find a foothold where there is humility,and where there is no devil,it follows that there will be no temptations.

-Can one fall into some sin by divine concession?

-No,for it is very grave to say that God would concede for us to sin in some way.God ever concedes for us to sin.It is we who make concessions,and the devil comes and tempts us.For example,when i'm proud,I expel divine Grace,the Guardian Angel flees,the other "angel",the devil,comes,and I smash my face on the rocks of temptation.This is our concession,and not God's.

-Elder,when we have fallen into sin,is it right to say,"The tempter caused me to fall"?

-I,too, often hear some people saying that the tempter,the devil,is the cause of their spiritual tribulations,when in fact it is their own fault for not confronting the situation appropriately.After all,the tempter tempts us.Can it avert us from doing evil?It's just doing its job.Let's not blame everything on the devil.There was once a novice who lived with his Spiritual Father ,and when left alone for a while,he took an egg and placed it on one of those large old-fashioned keys.Suddenly the Elder entered the room."What are you doing there?"he asked."Well, Elder,the tempter led me to cook this egg here,"the novice replied.And then a fierce voice was heard,"I knew nothing about such cunning art;I just learned it from this novice!"Some times the devil is actually sleeping.but we rouse him into action!
St. Paisios

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Comparing Orthodox Spirituality & Other Traditions ( Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos )

Orthodox spirituality differs distinctly from any other “spirituality” of an eastern or western type. There can be no confusion because Orthodox spirituality is God-centered, whereas all others are man-centered.
The difference appears primarily in the doctrinal teaching. For this reason we put “Orthodox” before the word “Church” so as to distinguish it from any other religion. Dogmas are the results of decisions made at the Ecumenical Councils on various matters of faith. Dogmas are referred to as such, because they draw the boundaries between truth and error, between sickness and health. Dogmas express the revealed truth. They formulate the life of the Church. Dogmatic differences reflect corresponding differences in therapy. If a person does not follow the “right way” he cannot ever reach his destination. If he does not take the proper “remedies,” he cannot ever acquire health; in other words, he will experience no therapeutic benefits. Again, if we compare Orthodox spirituality with other Christian traditions, the difference in approach and method of therapy is more evident.

A fundamental teaching of the Holy Fathers is that the Church is a “Hospital” which cures the wounded man. In many passages of Holy Scripture such language is used, for example in that of the parable of the Good Samaritan. In this parable, the Samaritan represents Christ who cured the wounded man and led him to the Inn, which is to the “Hospital” which is the Church. It is evident here that Christ is presented as the Healer, the physician who cures man’s maladies; and the Church as the true Hospital. It is very characteristic that Saint John Chrysostom, analyzing this parable, presents the truths emphasized above.

Man’s life “in Paradise” was reduced to a life governed by the devil and his wiles. “And fell among thieves,” that is in the hands of the devil and of all the hostile powers. The wounds man suffered are the various sins, as the prophet David says: “my wounds grow foul and fester because of my foolishness” (Psalm 37). For “every sin causes a bruise and a wound.” The Samaritan is Christ Himself who descended to earth from Heaven in order to cure the wounded man. He used oil and wine to “treat” the wounds; in other words, by “mingling His blood with the Holy Spirit, he brought man to life.” Then the Good Samaritan, i.e. Christ, took man to the grand, wondrous and spacious Inn - to the Church. He handed man over to the innkeeper, who is the Apostle Paul, and through the Apostle Paul to all bishops and priests, saying: “Take care of the Gentile people, whom I have handed over to you in the Church. They suffer illness wounded by sin, so cure them, using as remedies the words of the Prophets and the teaching of the Gospel; make them healthy through the admonitions and comforting word of the Old and New Testaments.” Thus, according to Saint Chrysostom, Paul is he who maintains the Churches of God, “curing all people by his spiritual admonitions and offering to each one of them what they really need.”

In the interpretation of this parable by Saint John Chrysostom, it is clearly shown that the Church is a Hospital which cures people wounded by sin; and the bishops and priests are the therapists of the people of God. And this precisely is the work of Orthodox theology. When referring to Orthodox theology, we do not simply mean a history of theology. In Patristic tradition, theologians are the God-seers. Saint Gregory Palamas calls Barlaam [who attempted to bring Western scholastic theology into the Orthodox Church] a “theologian,” but he clearly emphasizes that intellectual theology differs greatly from the experience of the vision of God. Theology is the fruit of man’s cure and the path which leads to the acquisition of the knowledge of God.

Western theology, however, has differentiated itself from Eastern Orthodox theology. Instead of being therapeutic, it is more intellectual and emotional in character. In the West, scholastic theology evolved and is now based on rational thought whereas Orthodoxy is hesychastic. Scholastic theology tried to understand logically the Revelation of God and conform to a philosophical methodology. The Scholastics acknowledged God at the outset and then endeavored to prove His existence by logical arguments and rational categories. In the Orthodox Church, as expressed by the Holy Fathers, faith is God revealing Himself to man. We accept faith by hearing it not so that we can understand it rationally, but so that we can cleanse our hearts, attain to faith by theoria (see note, end of article) and experience the Revelation of God.

Scholastic theology reached its culminating point in the person of Thomas Aquinas, a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. He claimed that Christian truths are divided into natural and supernatural. Natural truths can be proven philosophically, like the truth of the Existence of God. Supernatural truths - such as the Triune God, the incarnation of the Logos, the resurrection of the bodies - cannot be proven philosophically, yet they cannot be disproved. Scholasticism linked theology very closely with philosophy and with metaphysics, and is accountable for much of the tragic situation created in the West with respect to faith and faith issues.

The Holy Fathers, however, teach that natural and metaphysical categories do not exist but speak rather of the created and uncreated. Never did the Holy Fathers accept Aristotle’s metaphysics. Theologians of the West during the middle Ages considered scholastic theology to be a further development of the teaching of the Holy Fathers, and from this point on, there begins the teaching of the Franks that scholastic theology is superior to that of the Holy Fathers. Consequently, Scholastics, who are occupied with reason, consider themselves superior to the Holy Fathers of the Church. They also believe that human knowledge, an offspring of reason, is loftier than Revelation and experience.

It is within this context that the conflict between Barlaam and Saint Gregory Palamas should be viewed. Barlaam was essentially a scholastic theologian who attempted to pass on scholastic theology to the Orthodox East. Barlaam’s views -- that we cannot really know Who the Holy Spirit is exactly, that the ancient Greek philosophers are superior to the Prophets and the Apostles (since reason is above the vision of the Apostles), and that the hesychastic way of life (i.e. the purification of the heart and the unceasing noetic prayer) is not essential -- are views which express a scholastic and, subsequently, a secularized point of view of theology. Saint Gregory Palamas foresaw the danger of these views and through the power and energy of the Most Holy Spirit and the experience which he himself had acquired as a successor to the Holy Fathers, he confronted this great danger and preserved unadulterated the Orthodox Faith and Tradition.

If Orthodox spirituality is now examined in relationship to Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, the differences are immediately discovered.

Protestants do not have a “therapeutic treatment” tradition. They suppose that believing in God, intellectually, constitutes salvation. Yet salvation is not a matter of intellectual acceptance of truth; rather it is a person’s transformation and divinization by grace. In the Holy Scripture it appears that faith comes by hearing the Word and by experiencing “theoria” (“The vision of God”). We accept faith at first by hearing in order to be healed, and then we attain to faith by theoria, which saves man. Protestants, because they believe that faith by hearing saves man, do not have a “therapeutic tradition.” It could be said that such a conception of salvation is very naive.

The Latins as well do not have the perfection of the therapeutic tradition which the Orthodox Church has. Their doctrine of the Filioque is a manifestation of the weakness in their theology to grasp the relationship existing between the person and society. They confuse the personal properties: the “unbegotten” of the Father, the “begotten” of the Son, and the procession of the Holy Spirit. The Father is the cause of the “generation” of the Son and the procession of the Holy Spirit. The three Disciples of Christ (Peter, James and John) beheld the glory of Christ on Mount Tabor; they heard at once the voice of the Father, “This is My beloved Son,” and saw the coming of the Holy Spirit in a cloud, for the cloud is the presence of the Holy Spirit, as Saint Gregory Palamas says. Thus the Disciples acquired the knowledge of the Triune God in theoria and by revelation. It was revealed to them that God is one essence in three hypostases.

A faith, thus, is a true faith inasmuch as it has therapeutic benefits. If it is able to cure, then it is a true faith. If it does not cure, it is not a true faith. The same thing can be said about medicine: a true scientist is the doctor who knows how to cure and his method has therapeutic benefits, whereas a charlatan is unable to cure. The same holds true where matters of the soul are concerned. The difference between Orthodoxy and the Latin tradition, as well as the Protestant confessions, is apparent primarily in the method of therapy. This difference is made manifest in the doctrines of each denomination. Dogmas are not philosophy, neither is theology the same as philosophy.

Since Orthodox spirituality differs distinctly from the “spiritualities” of other confessions, so much the more does it differ from the “spirituality” of eastern religions, which do not believe in the Theanthropic nature of Christ and the Holy Spirit. These traditions are unaware of the notion of personhood and thus the hypostatic principle. And love, as a fundamental teaching, is totally absent. One may find, of course, in these Eastern religions an effort on the part of their followers to divest themselves of images and rational thoughts, but this is in fact a movement towards nothingness, to non-existence. There is no path leading their “disciples” to theosis-divinization (see note below) of the whole man.

This is why a vast and chaotic gap exists between Orthodox spirituality and the eastern religions, in spite of certain external similarities in terminology. For example, eastern religions may employ terms like ecstasy, dispassion, illumination, noetic energy, etc. but they are impregnated with content different from corresponding terms in Orthodox spirituality.



Theoria is the vision of the glory of God. Theoria is identified with the vision of the Uncreated Light, the uncreated energy of God, with the union of man with God, with man’s theosis. Thus, theoria, vision and theosis are closely connected.

Theosis-Divinization is the participation in the Uncreated grace of God. Theosis is identified and connected with the theoria (vision) of the Uncreated Light (see above). It is called theosis in grace because it is attained through the energy, of the divine grace. It is a co-operation of God with man, since God is He Who operates and man is he who co-operates.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Most Holy Theotokos - Image of an Ideal Woman

One of the most terrible manifestations of our times is the complete distortion of the image of an ideal woman. The ideal image depicted for us by the mass media shows a sort of attractive witch, unashamedly half-naked, with loose and disheveled hair, impudent glance, business-like, energetic, fearless, unfettered by moral laws or conscience. In consequence, unfortunate young girls and women – mothers, wives, daughters, – striving to imitate this devilish image, corrupt their souls, ruin their families, hopelessly destroy their own and others’ lives.

Yet at the same time we – Orthodox Christians – always have before our eyes the image of the One Who was more beautiful and wondrous than all the people on earth and even all the celestial denizens, the cherubim and the seraphim, the One Whom the Pre-eternal Council chose to become the Mother of God. As St. Dimitry of Rostov says: “After Adam’s transgression the Word of God did not forthwith come down to earth to be incarnated and save fallen mankind,” because “there was not yet a single maiden on earth who was pure not only in body, but also in spirit.” Thus the Theotokos’s major characteristic is Her virginal purity.

Another characteristic of this greatest Handmaiden of God is Her humility. Of all the personages in the Gospel, there is no one about whom we know so little as the Holy Virgin; Her entire life is shrouded in mystery, and yet She was undoubtedly the spiritual center of the first Christian Church after Her Divine Son’s Ascension; however, under the cover of modesty, She preferred to remain in the shadows.

The third characteristic of the Holy Virgin, according to St. Dimitry of Rostov, was Her all-encompassing and boundless love for God, which is mentioned in the following spiritual song: “O Mother-Virgin, miracle of chastity! Thou art daughter of the heavenly Father, the bride of the Holy Spirit, the Mother of Christ – the Son of God.”

There was not a single one among the Holy Fathers who did not laud the Theotokos! Foretold and presaged by the Old Testament prophets, She is glorified by all the ancient and contemporary Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church.
As St. Gregory of Neocaesaria says, what amazes us in the Holy Virgin is not only Her chaste and pure physical beauty, but above all the beauty of Her soul. She was holy both in body and soul. Her garments were modest, Her gait was dignified, Her speech was brief, pouring out of a humble heart; all Her thoughts and all Her desires were turned only towards God.

The Church historian Nikiforos Kallistos adds: in conversing with others She retained Her modesty, did not laugh immoderately, did not express indignation, did not argue, never thought of Herself, and was characterized by total humbleness.
More than anything else in the world She loved Her Son, loved Him so much that She was ready to die with Him, yet with what courage and firmness She accompanied Him when He went on His path of suffering, was present at Golgotha when He was being crucified, stood at His Cross and attended His burial. “She wears the crown of martyrs, – says Leo the Philosopher, – because as She stood at the Cross, with Her soul pierced by the greatest anguish, She suffered more than all the martyrs.”

She loved and respected Her family members, but also loved and welcomed all strangers. St. Ambrose of Milan says: “She never offended anyone, never denigrated anyone, even the poorest person. Her modest belongings, consisting of two robes, She gave away before Her death to the two widows who served Her.”

Each person’s death sums up his life and brings recompense from the Lord – either reward or punishment. The most-glorious Dormition of the Mother of God revealed Her in all Her majesty and glory. Three days before Her death the Archangel Gabriel appeared before Her, announced Her repose and gave Her a shining branch from paradise – symbol of victory over death and corruption. On the third day after Her Dormition, the Mother of God appeared to the apostles in indescribable glory, surrounded by a multitude of angels, and said: “Rejoice, I am with you forever.” The apostles, filled with joy, instead of saying their usual “O Lord Jesus Christ, help us!”, exclaimed: “O Holy Mother of God, help us!”

And thus all Christians pray to the Holy Mother of God to help them. Help us then, O Most Holy Theotokos, grant our children the enlightenment to see in Thee the purest and most beautiful example of behavior, save and protect them from the vices and temptations of these evil times!

Reprinted from “Orthodox Russia,” No. 16, 2003..

Monday, July 9, 2018

The children, their joys and their difficulties ( St. Paisios )

Q.: I’ve noticed, Elder, that sometimes babies smile at the time of Divine Liturgy.

A.: They don’t do that only at the Divine Liturgy. Babies are in constant contact with God, because they’ve got nothing to worry about. What did Christ say about little children? ‘Their angels in heaven continually gaze upon the face of my Father who is in heaven’. They’re in touch with God and with their guardian angel, who’s with them all the time. They smile in their sleep sometimes, and at other times cry, because they see all sorts of things. Sometimes they see their guardian angels and play with them- the angels stroke them, tease them, shake their fists and they laugh. On other occasions they see some kind of temptation and cry.

Q.: Why does temptation come to babies?

A.: It helps them to feel the need to seek their mothers. If there wasn’t this fear, they wouldn’t need to seek the comfort of being cuddled by their mothers. God allows everything so that it’ll turn out well.

Q.: Do they remember what they see as babies when they grow up?

A.: No, they forget. If a little child remembered the number of times it had seen its guardian angel, it might fall into pride. That’s why, when it grows up, it forgets. God’s wise in His doings.

Q.: Do they see these things after baptism?

A.: Of course after baptism.

Q.: Elder, is it all right for an unbaptized child to reverence relics?

A.: Why not? And they can be blessed with the holy relics. I saw a child today, it was like a little angel. I asked, ‘Where are your wings?’ It didn’t know what to say! At my hermitage, when spring comes and the trees are in blossom, I put sweets on the holm-oaks next to the gate in the fence and I tell the little boys who come: ‘Go on, boys, cut the sweets from the bushes, because if it rains they’ll melt and spoil’. A few of the more intelligent ones know that I’ve put them there and laugh. Others really believe that they’ve grown there and some others have to think about it. Little children need a bit of sunshine.

Q.: Did you put lots of sweets, Elder?

A.: Well, of course. What could I do? I don’t give good sweets to grown-ups; I just give them Turkish delight. When people bring me nice sweets, I keep them for the kids at the School [the Athoniada]. ‘See, last night I planted sweets and chocolates and today they’ve come up! See that? The weather was good, the soil was well-turned because you’d dug it over well and they came up just like that. See what a flower garden I’ll make for you. We’ll never need to buy sweets and chocolates for kids. Why shouldn’t we have our own produce?’ (Elder Païsios had planted sweets and chocolates in the freshly dug earth and put lilac blossoms on top to make it seem that they were flowering).

Q.: Elder, some pilgrims saw the chocolates you planted in the garden because the paper stood out against the soil. They didn’t know what to make of it. ‘Some kid must have put them there’, they said.

A.: Why didn’t you tell them that a big kid put them there?

Q.: Elder, why does God give people a guardian angel, when He can protect us Himself?

A.: That’s God looking after us especially carefully. The guardian angel is God’s providence. And we’re indebted to Him for that. The angels particularly protect little children. And you wouldn’t believe how! There were two children once, playing in the street. One of them aimed at the other to hit him on the head with a stone. The other one didn’t notice. At the last moment, apparently, his angel drew his attention to something else, he leapt up and got out of the way. And then there was this mother who went out into the fields with her baby. She breast-fed it, put it down in its cradle and went off to work. After a bit, she went to check and what did she see? The child was holding a snake and looking at it! When she’d suckled the child, some of the milk had stayed on its lips, the snake had gone to lick it off and the baby had grabbed hold of it. God looks after children.

Q.: Elder, in that case, why do so many children suffer from illnesses?

A.: God knows what’s best for each of us and provides as necessary. He doesn’t give people anything that’s not going to benefit them. He sees that it’s better for us to have some sort of defect, a disability instead of protecting us from them.

Source: Discourses 4, Family Life, published by the Holy Monastery of Saint John the Theologian, Souroti, Thessaloniki

Friday, July 6, 2018

“NO THANKS, DOC” Rejecting spiritual medicine

It will be no surprise to learn that most people seek out the help of spiritual council at times they are in real need. The Church recognizes the sickness of sin and death in the world, and the Lord gives His Church to be the world’s spiritual hospital. Just like a hospital dedicated to healing physical illness, it makes good sense when those who are spiritually sick (which includes all of us) seek the therapy and medicine where it can be found. For the Church, this medicine is particularly to found in the Holy Mysteries of Communion and Confession.
For those who seek the advice of a doctor to treat their cancer, it would seem strange indeed to reject medical advice. We go to see a doctor because we are confident that the doctor has everything to offer us that his or her particular hospital can give for our sickness. For example, if cancer were so serious that it called for a strict regime of chemotherapy, radiation, and a special diet, we would not expect to see beneficial results merely by sitting at home in front of the television, or by devising our own method of treatment. If we plan in the first place to devise our own method, it would make no sense to consult the physicians. Why would we waste everyone’s time?
In the case of the spiritual hospital that is the Church, the grace of the Holy Spirit actively works through the Holy Mysteries which are conveyed to us in the priesthood. Unlike a physician of our bodies, the human “qualifications” do not stand in the way of our obtaining sufficient medicine for the healing of our souls. The grace of the priesthood allows the grace of God to work, such that the spiritual guidance given in Holy Confession is sufficient for our spiritual health. While spiritual “specialists” exist in the form of holy elders, we can benefit from Christ’s spiritual medicine in the Holy Mystery of Confession with any priest.

Do we in fact approach Confession this way, if we approach it at all? Do we consider ourselves to be better spiritual advisors than the priest, who does not give his own “advice”, but in fact, speaks the words given by grace? Many fathers testify that the words they speak in Holy Confession are not the words they intend to say to their spiritual child; many even leave hours of Confession wondering where the words come from! Of course, we know the real answer: the real physician is the Great Physician, Who leaves the priesthood dependant not on itself, on its seminary education, on psychology courses or counseling training, but on His Grace.
If we accept the reality of the grace of the priesthood and the Holy Mysteries of Communion and Confession, we have no choice but to accept in total the word which the Lord gives us through the Holy Mysteries. All Orthodox Christians – even priest and bishops – must take this critical step each time they place their head beneath the priestly stole seeking the absolution of their sins. Each time we do this, we will to accept the Lord’s medicine, and to strive as much as it is in our power to take the medicine as it is prescribed, not second guessing the spiritual prescription, or forgetting about it, or neglecting to check back with the spiritual physician on a regular basis, usually once every month or so.
To approach the Holy Mysteries with any other attitude is not simply blasphemous against the grace of the Holy Spirit – it is spiritual suicide. In rejecting the Holy Mysteries, we reject the only thing that can truly make us well, from the inside out. To reject them is to lose the greatest chance for a healthy life of soul and body.
To reject them is, in essence, to say “No thanks, Doc”, not to an earthly physician, but to the Great Physician Himself.


Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Concerning Pride ( The Salvation of Sinners )

The more you boast and gloat in your accomplishments, the more you will be disdained and ignored by God, Who opposes the proud, and Who disperses the minds and hearts of all who are conceited: “He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts” (Lk. 1:51).

Humility is the greatest of all gifts; conversely, pride stands as an obstacle to all good things, and it serves as the root of all transgressions.
In order for this evil to be cured, the Lord oftentimes permits us to fall into grave
mistakes and commit serious sins. Our all-wise Physician would certainly not permit this to take place if pride was not the worst and most
severe of all wrongdoings. The Prophet and King David once asserted pridefully, “I said in my prosperity I will never be shaken” (Ps.29:7);
that is to say, “I will not sin.” And so, in order to humble him and cure him of this pride, the Lord consequently permitted the prophet to commit adultery and murder.
 When the Lord foretold the Apostles that they would all abandon Him and flee as soon as the Jews apprehended Him, the Apostle Peter boasted in this manner: “Even if all the other Apostles abandon You, I will never leave you even if I have to lay down my life for Your love.”
(cf. Mt. 26:33-35).

On account of this haughtiness, the Lord permitted Peter to deny Him three times, so that he may subsequently humble himself, lament his weakness, and no longer think highly of himself. Similarly, many virtuous hermits dwelling in the desert, who cast out demons from people and
performed awesome signs and miracles later fell into grave and terrible sins. 

Whoever reads such accounts will be startled and certainly humble himself wholeheartedly.
Since the Lord permits people to fall into such
sins in order to cure their pride, it is obvious that pride is the worst of all sins. Oftentimes, God
also permits people to be falsely accused and slandered for crimes they have not committed in order to make them more humble. Additionally, He may send them various sorrows so that they do not end up becoming prideful, just as the Apostle Paul attests: “There was given to me an angel of
Satan to flog me, so that I do not boast on account of the many revelations I have received
(cf. 2Cor . 12:7).

from the book
The Salvation of Sinners