Thursday, October 11, 2018

Sin And The Devil ( St. Paisios )

When We Sin We Give Rights to Temptation

There is so much demonic influence in the world today. The devil is roaming free because people have given him the right to do so and they are vulnerable to horrific attacks by him. Once someone rightly said: "In the old days the devil was preoccupied with human beings; not anymore. He shows people the way, tells them 'farewell', and off they go." It's terrible! You see, when the demons wanted to enter the swine in the country of the Gadarenes, they asked for Christ's permission - since the swine had not given the devil an excuse, he did not have the right to possess them. Christ allowed this to happen so that the Israelites, who were forbidden from eating pork, may be punished.

- Geronda, some people say that the devil does not exist.

- I know; someone told me that I should take out of the French translation of Saint Arsenios the Cappadocian all references to demonic possession, because Europeans will not understand it; they don't believe in the existence of the devil. You see, they explain everything with psychology. But if they took to psychiatrists the possessed of the Gospel there would be no end to electroshocks. Christ has removed from the devil the right to do harm. The devil can harm us only if we allow him to have power over us. Those who do not participate in the Mysteries of the Church give rights to temptation and become vulnerable to demonic influence.

- Geronda, in what other ways can one give rights to the devil?

- Rationalism, contradiction, stubbornness, willfulness, disobedience, and insolence all are qualities of the devil. People are vulnerable to the degree that they have these qualities. But when the soul is purified, the Holy Spirit enters a man and fills him with Grace. On the contrary, when it is infected with mortal sin, the unclean spirit dwells in him. When, again, the soul is not mortally infected, then, it is merely under the influence of the evil spirit.
It is unfortunate that nowadays people don't want to curb their passions and their will; they do not accept anyone's advice. From this point on, they speak with insolence and reject the Grace of God. As a result, anything they undertake does not prosper because it is subject to satanic influences. Man is beside himself because the devil directs him from the outside. The devil is not inside the man, God forbid, but even from the outside, he can take over and run a person's life.

When divine Grace "departs" from a man, he becomes worse than the devil. For, there are things that the cunning devil himself will not do; instead, he will urge men to do them for him. He does not, for instance, commit crimes; he has man do them for him. That is how people end up being possessed.

Confession Deprives the Devil of His Rights

If people only went to a Spiritual Father to confess their sins, the demonic influence would cease, and they would be able to think more clearly. Nowadays, they can-not even think because of demonic influence. Repentance and confession deprive the devil of his rights over us.

Recently, a sorcerer came to the Holy Mountain and blocked the road with sticks and nets, near my Kalyvi. Anyone passing through there, who had not been to confession, would have been harmed and would have no idea why. As soon as I saw them, I crossed myself, went through and broke the spell. Later on, the sorcerer came to my Kalyvi and told me about his evil schemes and burned his books. The devil has neither power nor dominion over those who have faith, go to Church regularly and receive Holy Communion. He just barks a little "arf, arf!" like a dog without teeth. But he has great power over one who has no faith and gives him the excuse to take over. He can lynch him and tear him to pieces with his teeth. The devil's authority upon a soul depends on the rights this soul has granted him.

Even when a soul dies in good order, as it rises to Heaven, the devil follows behind. It's like a train moving with tremendous speed, while dogs are running after it and in front of it, barking and occasionally some of them getting run over. But if one is not in good spiritual order, the train cannot go with speed, because its wheels are damaged, dogs will enter through its open doors and bite some passengers.

When the devil has been allowed to acquire great rights over a man and has him in his grip, the cause that will bring his power to an end must be found. Otherwise, no matter how intensely the others pray for someone, the devil will not leave him. The devil will cripple a man. Priests may do exorcisms over and over again, but the possessed man ends up paying the price since the devil will then torture him even more because of the exorcisms. Unless we repent and go to confession, and destroy the rights that the devil has over us, he will not go away and we will always be troubled. As long as the devil has these rights, he will not go away even if one reads and rereads exorcisms for days, weeks, months or years.

The Devil Will Not Approach a Pure Creature of God

- Geronda, why am I overwhelmed by passions?

If one gives in to temptations, he is seized by the passions. What God wants from you - which is for your benefit too - is to take your passions and throw them at the devil's face. Turn your anger, your stubbornness and so on against him. Or, what is even better, "sell" your passions to the devil and use the money to buy "stones" to throw at him and keep him at a distance. Most often, we human beings allow the enemy to harm us by giving him all kinds of excuses either through carelessness or through proud thoughts. The devil can even take advantage of the will naturally have greater authority over him. The devil acquires more and more rights. 
- Geronda, suppose a person who has lived carelessly by giving the devil authority over him decides to start a new life, by putting things in order and living carefully, will that person be fought by the devil? -
When these people turn around, God gives them strength, illumination and divine consolation to get them started. But as soon as the struggle begins, the enemy will fight them fiercely. At that point patience and perseverance is needed. Otherwise, how can the passions be uprooted? How can the old man shed his garment? How can pride go away? This is how we realize that we can do nothing on our own, and we humbly ask for God's mercy; it is then that humility comes. The same happens with someone who wants to give up a bad habit, for instance smoking or drugs. At first, he feels happy with his decision and throws them away. Then, he sees other people smoking, drinking or whatever and a fierce battle begins. If he overcomes the temptation, he turns his back to the habit without difficulty. All of us need to resist a little. The devil does his job; shouldn't we do ours?

We Should Not Start a Conversation With the Devil

All of us have some inherited weaknesses but these cause us no harm. For instance, one may be born with a little mole on the face. A mole might make someone look beautiful, but if it is scratched it might also cause cancer. We should not let the devil scratch our passions. If we let him do that, "cancer" may occur.

- Geronda, the demons scare me.
- What are you afraid of? The devil has no power. Christ is All-powerful. The tempter is rotten. Don't you wear a cross? The devil's weapons are weak. Christ has armed us with His Cross. Only when we abandon our spiritual armour is the enemy strong. An Orthodox priest had only to show a small cross to a sorcerer and the demon he had invoked started trembling.

- Why is the devil so afraid of the Cross?
- Because when Christ received the spitting, the blows and the beatings, the kingdom and the power of the devil were crushed. How wonderful is the way in which Christ defeated the devil! "The devil's dominion was crushed with a reed," used to say a Saint. When Christ was given the last blow with a reed, at that very moment, the devil's power was destroyed. In other words, patience is our spiritual defence and humility our greatest weapon against the devil. The greatest balm that Christ's sacrifice on the Cross gave us is the crushing of the devil. After the Crucifixion of Christ, the devil is like a snake with no fangs, with no poison; he is like a wild dog without teeth. All poison was removed from the devil; all teeth were removed from the wild dogs that are the demons. So, they are now disarmed, while we are armed with the Cross. There is nothing, really nothing that the demons can do to a creature of God when we ourselves don't hand over rights to them. They only make noise; they have no authority over people.

- Geronda, did the demons become so ugly when they fell and from angels they became demons?

- Of course! And it's like they have been struck by lightning. When lightning strikes a tree, doesn't it turn into a charred stump? The demons look like that. For a while, I used to say to the devil, "Come by so that I can see what you look like and avoid falling into your hands. Just a look is enough to see how evil you are. Should you get me, there's no telling how much I will suffer."

Excerpts taken from, Elder Paisios ,Spiritual Counsels Vol 1 "With Pain And Love For Contemporary man"

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Our love for work ( St. Paisios )

From “Family Life, ” by Elder Paisios the Athonite, published by the Sacred Hesychastirion of St. John the Evangelist, Souroti, Greece. 

Geronda, why do so many people feel bored at work? 

—Maybe they don’t love their job? Or, maybe they work on the same thing continually? With some jobs, say at a factory where they make door and window frames, a laborer might do the same thing from morning till the time he leaves: glue, glue, glue. Another constantly handles windows; another, putty. They constantly do the same monotonous work; and their boss is always watching them, not for just one or two days, either. It is always the “same old, same old,” to the point of boredom. In the old days it wasn’t like that though. A contractor would be given four walls from the carpenters and was expected to present the owner with a finished house and the key. He would have built the floors, the door and window frames, and would even have set the windows with putty. Afterwards he would have built spiral staircases, turned banisters; after that he would have painted, built the cupboards and the shelves, even the furniture! Even if he didn’t do all of it himself, he knew how to do it. In a pinch a contractor could even put the tiles on the roof.

Today so many people are tormented because they don’t love their jobs.

They eagerly await the hour when they can go home. But when one has zeal for his job and is interested in what he is doing, no matter how much he works, his zeal grows. He is devoted to his job; and when it is time to leave he says, “Where did the time go?” He even forgets to eat and sleep; he forgets everything! Fasting like this, he isn’t hungry; sleepless, he isn’t tired, but instead rejoices that he doesn’t need sleep. It’s not that he suffers from hunger or lack of sleep; it’s that work is like a feast day for him. 

Geronda, how is it that when two people have the same job, one can be spiritually profited from it while the other is spiritually harmed? 

—It depends on how each one does his work and what is within him. If one works with humility and love, everything is bright, clean, and delightful, and he will feel refreshed. But if one allows prideful thoughts and thinks that he does his work better than others, he may feel a certain satisfaction, but this satisfaction doesn’t fill his heart because his soul is not growing; he has no rest.

When a person doesn’t do his work with love he grows tired. For such a one merely knowing he must climb a hill to finish a job makes him tired, because he doesn’t love his work. The one who does his job with all his heart, however, goes up and down the hill without even realizing it. A worker could dig in the sun, for example, and not get tired, as long as he does it from his heart. But if he doesn’t do it from his heart, he is always stopping, loafing around and complaining. “Oh, it is so hot,” he says, and so he suffers. 

Geronda, can a person become so absorbed with his career, his job, that he becomes indifferent or inconsiderate towards his family, etc.? 

—He should love his job simply; he shouldn’t “fall in love” with it. If he doesn’t love his work, he will tire out doubly, both bodily and spiritually. Then even his bodily rest won’t relax him because he will be spiritually exhausted. Spiritual exhaustion is something that overwhelms a man. When someone works with all his heart and is joyful, he is spiritually relaxed and his bodily exhaustion disappears.

You see, I know a general who still does all the jobs of his privates. How he worries about them! Like a father! Do you know what joy he feels?! Those under him also rejoice. Once he set out at midnight from Evro, headed to Larisa for the feast of Saint Achillius. He wanted to make it in time for Divine Liturgy, even though it would have been fine for him simply to go later, and be there only for the Doxology service afterwards. But he said, “I must be on time to honor the Saint.” He does everything with all his heart! The gratification felt in one who does his work with filotimo is a good gratification. It was given by God so that His creature would not tire out. This is true rest from weariness. 

Geronda, how about our God-given, individual talent? 

—Each person should increase the talent he has; for God, having given it him, expects a return. For example, the mind is powerful, but depending upon how one uses it, can be used for good or evil. Someone who is very bright—-if he uses his mind properly—is able to invent things which may help the world. But if he doesn’t use his mind properly he might invent a way, let’s say, to rob his neighbor. People who draw cartoons in newspapers and the like are able, in only one cartoon—one sketch—to present their whole message. And if the cartoon is dealing with ecclesiastical issues and such, they are even able to present theology sufficiently. Some of them could have delved deeper into divine teachings if they would have studied theology—had they put their mind to it. That is, they could have sharpened their mind; they could have sanctified it, and thus would have helped themselves and others. But instead, many do negative work; obscene if they are obscene, ridiculous if they are ridiculous.

In other words, those with exceptional abilities will either become useful or destructive, while doubtless those who are not exceptional won’t be able to do great good, but at least they also won’t be able to do great harm.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Reasons Why Our Intentions for a Holy Life Do Not Produce Results ( Metropolitan Gregory of Novgorod )

The first and foremost reason why our intention to correct ourselves and lead a holy life remains without result lies in the fact that our intention is often too vague and indefinite.
A certain sinner, for example, says to himself: “It’s high time for me to stop sinning, time to mend my ways! I repent! I’ll stop sinning!” The intention is quite indefinite. And because of this, although it might be sincere, it is unreliable and may not achieve the desired correction.
He who has a sincere desire to amend himself must first of all determine exactly what it is that must be corrected. He must determine what his greatest sin is and what means he must use against it, and what dangers he must avoid so as not to fall into it again, since it has become a habit, a part of his life. All this thought and self-examination must come first and only then should a resolve be made, and that resolve should be specific as, for example: “Enough is enough! With God’s help I am no longer going to fall into such-and-such a sin; I’m going to break this bad habit; I’m no longer going to associate with those particular people who encourage me in this habit; I’m going to break off that unhealthy relationship; I’m going to use such-and-such means against this sin; I’m going to arm myself and muster all my forces against it when it begins again to tempt me.”
The same thing must also be said about the resolution to lead a righteous life. By no means is it enough to content oneself simply by stating the following resolve: “From this time forth I’m going to lead a God-pleasing life.” Such a resolution is not definite enough, and although it may have come from the heart, it is doubtful whether it will have any effect.
He who desires to abandon a life of sin and live a righteous life must first of all examine which obligations he has most difficulty in fulfilling and does not like to fulfill; what exactly hinders their fulfillment; what he must do, what means he must employ to fulfill them more readily. Having done this, he must make a specific resolve, as for example: “Now, with God’s help I will try hard to fulfill this obligation which until now I have done so poorly; I will apply myself to using such-and-such means towards its fulfillment. For example, when someone offends me I will be more patient; I won’t start using insulting and shameful language, or better yet, I won’t answer back at all; in such-and such company I’ll be more careful in what I say; at such-and-such times I’ll try to pray fervently, something I have not done up to now.., and so on.”
In general, the more definite one’s intention to change one’s sinful life and live righteously, the more it will suit the particular circumstances, the state of one’s soul, one’s relationship with others, etc., and the more hope there is of its bringing it into reality. When something is so definite one can more easily direct one’s thoughts and one’s strength to one subject and thus, of course, more easily achieve the desired goal.
Another reason why our good intentions fail, is because we do not hold firmly enough to our resolve. Scarcely two or three days pass by after our having made our resolution and we, in our normal daily routine of life amidst our worldly cares and pursuits, have already forgotten our intention, although at the time it was made with proper firmness of purpose. For this reason, if we truly wish our good intention to be realized, then each of us, every morning after our morning prayers, must immediately bring to mind and renew our resolution, saying in our hearts: “I promised God to turn away from this particular sin; I really wanted to fulfill this obligation; I must keep my promise!” Having renewed in this way our good intention, we must diligently pray to God that He would grant us the necessary strength to carry it out.
Likewise, our intention must be renewed in this way throughout the course of the day. And when evening comes, we should never go to sleep without having first examined our hearts to see how we have spent the day: did we keep our promise to God? And if it happens that we went against our resolve, against our promise, then we must immediately ask God’s forgiveness, and once again renew our resolve and carefully watch over ourselves. This is the way in which those people act who are concerned for the salvation of their souls, and in this way they attain salvation!
The third reason we fail in our intention to lead a better life, is our excessive fear of the difficulties connected with such an undertaking. A holy life is not attained without work, without sufferings and difficulties; it often takes a prolonged and fierce battle. We must withdraw from occasions to sin, of which there are so many. We must sacrifice various enjoyments which are so pleasant, abandon many worldly pursuits which make life interesting, and endure many unpleasant things which because of our self-love are often so difficult to bear.
For example, let us suppose that we resolved to withdraw from our natural inclination to become angry. In order to turn away from anger we must quietly endure a lot of what is to us almost unbearable, and to which our usual response would have been a stream of crude words; sometimes we must not justify ourselves even when we are in the right; often we must be silent when we feel the urge to speak; often we must give in to others even when the occasion does not demand it; we must often bear the offenses of others and not reveal our irritation; often force ourselves to patiently endure when we are slandered or laughed at like fools and cowards. All this we must endure if we truly desire to realize our intention to withdraw from anger.
Amidst all the difficulties of keeping oneself from anger or any other sin which manifests itself as particularly great, our soul often falls into despondency and all our strength seems to evaporate. In such cases we must immediately bring to mind various sacred truths and experiences which are able to restore our former spirit, our former strength, and give us hope of abandoning the sin from which we decided to turn away. Thus we must remember that no matter how weak a man is, with God’s help he can do and endure all things if only he truly desires and uses it; this is accomplished through the strength that is granted by God.
We must remember the millions of righteous ones, who have gone before us and their self-denial, patience and endurance which they left as an example for us and for the whole world. We must remember that, above all, God desires our correction, and because of this, knowing our weakness and our needs, He will unfailingly come to our aid if only we turn to Him with fervent prayer and make use of the means and the power which He has given to us.
We must remember that the difficulties which invariably accompany any important undertaking are intimidating only to the lazy and faint-hearted; that only the first steps along the path of correction are unpleasant and difficult; that the farther one goes along such a path the easier and less painful it becomes; that any victory which we gain over our enemy makes us much stronger and better able to endure any further onslaughts. We must more often remind ourselves of the feeling of peace and satisfaction we shall experience when in the last days and hours of our life we look back at our past, at the difficulties we have heroically overcome, at the many sufferings borne with Christian patience, at the countless temptations conquered by our love for God, at all the noble deeds which we performed in secret before God’s eyes alone, at all the favors which we showed our fellow man, at the faithfulness with which we fulfilled our obligations, often forcing ourselves to the utmost to do this.
Finally, we must more often remind ourselves that for all this we will be rewarded by so much in the life of the age to come that all the difficulties which we overcome here in this life, all the sufferings which we endure in this age for the sake of a righteous life, will appear to us much smaller; in fact, they will appear insignificant, in comparison with the heavenly rewards.
O, Almighty God! Now we count each minute of trial and suffering and we rarely consider the blessed eternity which delights the souls of Thy righteous and faithful servants. Brother! In your striving towards a God-pleasing life, when you weigh your earthly difficulties and grief, place more often on the scale this eternity! It will outweigh all your trials, all the pleasures of worldly pursuits, pleasures and enjoyments.
The fourth reason that our resolution to lead a better life often fails, lies in the fact that we want immediately to become saints. Many people, when they once feel an aversion to their sinful behavior, make a firm resolve to change their ways and place a good beginning towards this reform; but because this doesn’t happen as quickly as they would like, and whether by habit or rashness they often fall into their old sins, they lose heart and come to the conclusion that it’s impossible for them to change their ways.
Brother! Sister! People don’t become saints overnight. Our old man does not easily yield to being transformed into the new man. A big tree is not felled by a single stroke of the ax. So it is with each evil passion which’ is so firmly rooted in us. The way to perfection or to spiritual maturity is almost always unnoticeable, just as are so many things in nature.
A spiritual man passes through various stages of growth, just like the physical man. Much time is spent in childhood before reaching the fullness and strength of manhood. There is a long period of weakness, and only then does one become stronger and stronger, until finally one becomes a man. Only at this age is one capable of doing what is proper to a man. Likewise, a ripened ear of corn is at first only a seed, then a small blade of grass, then a stalk, and finally an ear of corn; but even this ear is not ripe all at once, but grows, then flowers, then it tassels and only then does it become ripe. The same is true of a righteous, life! Even the best man in the world does not suddenly become a saint. His perfection for the most part develops slowly and only little by little. Good earth which accepts into itself a good seed brings forth fruit, says the Lord, in patience. (Lk 8:15).
To fall, of course, is not good, and it were better not to; but he who falls and then quickly gets up, becomes wiser and more careful, renews his good intention, fervently prays to God for new strength to attain a righteous life. Falls are not such a hindrance for such a man on the path to perfection. At the time of his fall, when he falleth, he shall find a stay, i.e., strength (Sir 3:31) and like the Apostle Paul, strikes ahead towards the mark of the prize of the high calling, forgetting those things which are behind. (Phil 3:13).
The above, then, are some of the reasons why our good intentions to turn away from sin and lead a better life are often unfulfilled. Let us avoid these pitfalls; let us try to make our resolution as definite as possible; let us remember more often and continually to renew our decision, and let us not become faint-hearted if we do not at once reach perfection, but let us courageously surmount the difficulties we meet along the way in firm hope of God’s help.

From “The Conversations of Metropolitan Gregory of Novgorod,” translated from the monthly periodical of St. Panteleimon’s Monastery on Mt. Athos, January 1899, pp. 15-19.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

"It Is Not With Ease That the Saints Went to Paradise" ( Elder Philotheos Zervakos )

It is not with ease that the saints went to Paradise, but they worked and struggled against the three enemies - the flesh, the world, and the devil. To be willing and great, however, they overcame the devil and the desires of the world and the flesh. We need prayer and vigilance.

All the saints were sanctified by humility, because humility generates love and all the virtues. The humble person is the dwelling place of God and the bearer of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. If all the virtues are present and humility is absent, then they are empty, unprofitable, and harmful.

Divine Chrysostom when asked, "when will the end be?", responded, "when shame will be absent from women". And an unspoken prophecy says that the end will come when men will become women and women men. In our days we see these fulfilled.

Be careful, my beloved children, to not have in your mind the earthly, the perishable, and the vain of this world, but raise it to the country above, to heaven. May you remember always the Kingdom of God and quickly you will gain it.

Elder Philotheos Zervakos

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

What Oxygen is for our Physical well-being, God's Grace is for our Spiritual ( St. Paisios )

"You must know that only passions and sins are ours. Whatever good we do is from God, whatever foolish things we do come from us. 
When God's Grace abandons us for just a little while, we become unable to do anything. As in natural life, when God removes oxygen from us we die immediately. 
The same is true for spiritual life: If God removes His Grace, we are lost."

St. Paisios