Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Sin of Smoking ( Elder Nektary of Optina )

I am continuing my mental battle with the vice of smoking, but it's still completely unsuccessful. I have to quit this filthy and stupid occupation; it is noticeably ruining my health — the gift of God — and that is a sin.

The ever-memorable Elder Ambrose once heard an admission from one of his spiritual daughters:

"Batiushka! I smoke and this is tormenting me!"

"Well," the Elder answered her, "this isn't a great misfortune, if you can quit."

"That's just the problem," she said, "I can't quit!"

"Then it's a sin," said the Elder, "and you've got to repent of it and leave off doing it."

I also have to leave off, but how do I do it? I'm consoled by the words of our Elders, who promised me freedom from this sin "when the time is right."

The late patron of Optina Monastery and spiritual friend of its great Elders, Archbishop Gregory of Kaluga, could not stand this vice among the clergy, but he was condescending towards laymen who smoked, and even towards his seminarians, before they joined the clerical staff. He categorically demanded from candidates who were preparing for ordination that they cease from this filthy habit, and he did not ordain those who smoked.

Our friend Fr. Nektary, to whom I often complained about my weakness, informed me of this. "After all," he consoled me, "you, your honor, are a layman — what's to be expected from you? But here..."

And he related the following to me:

"In the days of Archbishop Gregory, a spirit-bearing and monk-loving man, the following incident happened. A seminarian from Kaluga, who had graduated at the head of his class, and who, because of his exceptional giftedness was personally known to the Archbishop, had to prepare himself for ordination to one of the better positions in the diocese. He appeared before the Archbishop for a blessing and to set a date for the ordination. The hierarch received him with extreme affection, conversed amiably with him and, having shown fatherly kindness towards him, dismissed him, assigning a date for the ordination. However, when dismissing the candidate, he did not fail to ask him, 'Well, then, brother, do you smoke, or not?'

"'No, your Eminence,' replied the candidate, 'I don't go in for that.'

"'Well, good,' the Archbishop exclaimed joyfully, 'see what a fine fellow I've got! Well then, prepare yourself, and may the Lord bless you!'

"According to custom, the candidate bowed to the feet of the Archbishop. His frock coat flew open, and from his breast pocket cigarettes began to fall out onto the floor, one after the other.

"The Archbishop flared up in indignation. 'Who made you lie to me?' he exclaimed with great anger. 'To whom have you lied? When have you lied? When preparing to serve God in holiness and in truth?... Get out of here! There is no position for you, nor will there be one!...'

"And with that he drove the liar out of his sight.... So, your honor," added Fr. Nektary, looking at me with his always laughing, kind and affectionate gaze, "why be dejected that it's not the smell of athonite incense that comes out of your mouth? To whom are you obliged?... And, you know what?" — he exclaimed, and his face lit up with a kind smile. "You won't believe it — I myself barely avoided joining the ranks of smokers. This was back in my childhood, when I still lived at home, together with my mama.... In the whole wide world there were only the two of us, Mama and me, and there was also a cat that lived with us.... We were of a low station, and because of this we were poor: who needed people like us? Well, then, once my mama wasn't keeping an eye on me and I went ahead and borrowed some tobacco from some of my rich peers. They had no shortage of tobacco and they willingly treated everyone who wanted it. They rolled themselves a cigarette, smoked and smoked, and then stuck it in my mouth — 'Here, have a smoke!' Well, following them, I myself began to smoke. The first time I tried it I became dizzy, but I liked it all the same. Cigarette butt after cigarette butt, and I already began to get used to this mischief. I began to beg and then to borrow on credit, hoping somehow to pay it back. But what was I going to pay it back with, when my own mother lived, as they say, from bread to kvass, and there wasn't always plenty of bread.... Then my mama began to notice the smell of tobacco coming from me....

"'What's this, Kolya (my name in the world was Nicholas) — you haven't begun to smoke, have you?'

"'What do you mean, Mommy,' I would say, 'I hardly think so!'

"And I would quickly move aside, as if I were doing something. It went that way once, then another time, and then I got caught. Once I had barely managed to inhale some borrowed tobacco on the sly, when suddenly, there was Mama.

"'Were you just smoking?' she asked.

"Again I said, 'No, Mama.'

"But where did I get 'no' from? I reeked of tobacco from way off. Mama didn't say a word to me then, but she gazed at me with such a sorrowful look that you could say that my whole soul was overturned within me. She went away from me somewhere to do the housework, and I hid in a secluded corner and began to weep inconsolably, that I had grieved Mama. And not only had I grieved her, I had deceived her and lied on top of that. I can't express how painful this was for me! The day passed, night came, and my mind sought for sleep. I lay in my bed and whimpered, lay and whimpered.... Mama heard it.

"'What is it, Kolya — you're not crying, are you?'

"'No, Mama.'

"'Why aren't you sleeping?'

"And with these words, Mama got up, lit the lamp and came over to me. My face was all wet with tears and my pillow was soaked....

"And what happened between us then!... We both had a good cry and were reconciled. Having a good cry with one so dear, how nicely we were reconciled!

"And thus ended my mischief with smoking."

Elder Nektary of Optina

The powerful influence a mother has over her child ( Saint Nektarios of Aegina )

The upbringing of children must begin during infancy. This is necessary in order to direct the child’s powers of the soul—as soon as they begin to emerge—toward good, virtue, and truth, while simultaneously distancing them from evil, indecency, and falsehood.

This age is the secure foundation upon which a child’s moral and intellectual understanding will be erected. Thus, Fokilidis says: “It is necessary to teach someone to do good work while he is still a child,” because man sets out from childhood, as from a starting block, to run the race of life.

St.Basil the Great affirms: “It is necessary for the soul to be guided right from the very beginning toward every virtuous exercise, while it is still soft and moldable as wax; so that, as a child begins to speak and to acquire discernment, there exists a road comprised of the elemental concepts and devout etiquette that were initially imparted, giving him the ability to speak good and useful things and inspiring him to acquire a proper moral conduct.” Truly!

Who will not agree that the first impressions during childhood remain permanently ingrained and unforgettable? Who doubts that various influences during early youth become so deeply imprinted upon a child’s tender soul, that they continue to exist vividly throughout the duration of his life?

Nature has appointed parents, but especially mothers, to be instructors during this early stage of life. Hence, it is necessary for us to suitably teach and diligently raise virtuous women, on account of their supreme calling to become teachers; for they will serve as the images and examples that their own children will follow. A child mimics either the virtues or bad habits of his mother—even her
voice and manners, even her ethos and conduct to such an extent, that one can very appropriately liken children to phonographic records that initially register sound, and then play it back as it was originally voiced, in the identical pitch, the same quality, and with the same accent and emphasis.

Each glance, every word, every gesture, and every action of a mother becomes the glance, word, expression, gesture, and action of her child. Hence, Asterios notes: “one child speaks exactly like his mother, another bears a striking resemblance to her personality, while yet another takes on his birth giver’s manner and conduct.” By being in the constant presence of her child and through her repeated counsels, a mother profoundly affects the soul and character of her child, and she first provides him with the initial impetus toward virtue.

Saint Nektarios of Aegina

Looking at ourselves before judging others ( St. Paisios )

-Elder,I often see and judge the failings and defects of others.

-Do you now what your illness is?
-That's why you know the illness of others.If you knew your own illness,you wouldn't know the illness of others.I am not saying you shouldn't be concerned with their pain and suffering,but you mustn't preoccupy yourself with their faults.If a person is not concerned with his self,the tempter devil will lead him to be concerned with other people's faults.If we work on ourselves,then we know ourselves and come to know others as well.Otherwise,we judge others by wrong assumptions we make about ourselves.

-Elder,what helps the most in correcting ourselves?

-First of all,we need willpower.In a way,willpower provides the good foundation.Secondly,one must become aware that he is sick and take necessary antibiotic treatment;otherwise,if one is sick and hides the sickness,if he refuses to acknowledge it to himself and others, he will suddenly collapse one day before he realizes it,and will already be beyond medical help.Let's say someone knows that he has a pretubercular condition that is causing his lack of appetite.People ask him,"Why don't you eat?""And he replies,Oh,I just don't like this food."Then he has aches and pains and can barely walk."Why are you walking like that?"they ask him.And he again says,"Oh,I like to go very slowly,why should i run like crazy."He doesn't admit to them or himself that he has aches and pains and can't walk.Then he has a cough." Why are you coughing?" "It's probably some allergy," he replies.Again,he won't admit that his lungs are a mess.In the meantime,he starts spitting blood but he still refuses to acknowledge his illness and says, "Oh,my throat must be sore!"

-And all this,Elder,simply because he refuses to acknowledge he has tuberculosis?

-Yes,he hides it and he hides from it.And while he is hiding it,he is gradually overtaken by full-scale tuberculosis.The lungs burst,he spits enough blood to fill buckets,then he collapses and the illness is exposed,but by then it is too late.But if he'd acknowledged the symptoms early on and accepted the necessary treatment,he'd have been healthier than the healthy.What I'm trying to say is that when it comes to the spiritual life,those who justify,hide or ignore their passions and faults,will in the end receive such demonic influence that they won't be able to hide.Have you any idea what it is like to accept demonic influence?One becomes like a wild beast,fiercely defensive,foul-mouthed,refusing any help from anyone.
This is why the starting point is for one not to be embarrassed,but to be gladly aware of his illness,his faults.From that point ,he must accept the necessary treatment,the appropriate medicines,and be grateful to his physicians-the Spiritual Father or the Elder-and not resist them.Look at how someone who's ill stretches out his arm to be given a blood transfusion,he's poked with the needle,it hurts,but he accepts the pain for the sake of his health.Or having an operation,we know how painful it is and yet we endure it for the sake of our health.

-Elder,when I know that a very strict remark will help me,why is it that i do not accept it gladly?

-Look,you may not be willing to accept it gladly,but do you at least realise that this is not right?
-Yes ,i do.
-Well then,if you realize it,that's something.You see,a person who is ill takes a pill that may be bitter as poison,but he accepts it better than candy,simply because he understands that it will help him.If we don't accept the bitter medicine,we can't expect to be cured.To be strengthened by Christ,one must recognize his weakness and take the medicine.
Taken from ELDER PAISIOS OF MOUNT ATHOS,Spiritual Counsels Vol3 "Spiritual Struggle"