Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Lying ( Abba Dorotheos )

I wish to remind you, O brethren, about lying, for I see that you do not strive very hard to restrain your tongues and from this we are easily drawn into much evil. Make note my brethren that in every matter, as I constantly tell you, one may acquire a habit either for the good or for the evil; and so one needs great heedfulness so that we will not be robbed by lying, for one who lies has no union with God. Lying is foreign to God. In the scripture it is said that Lying is from the evil one, and for he is a liar, and the father of it (Jn. 8:44). See how the devil is called the father of lies, while truth is God, for He Himself said, I am the way, the truth and the life (Jn. 14:6). Therefore you see from whom we separate ourselves, and with whom we join ourselves by lying: evidently with the evil one. And so if in truth we wish to be saved, we must with our whole soul and all our striving love the truth and keep ourselves from every lie, lest it separate us from truth and from life.

There are three forms of lies: one lies in thought, another lies by word, and another lies by his very life. He lies by thought who takes for truth his own suppositions, that is, vain suspicions against his neighbor; when he sees someone conversing with a brother, he makes his own conjectures and says, "He is speaking about me." If they stop talking he again supposes that it is for his sake that they have stopped. If someone says a word, he suspects that it was said in order to insult him. All the time and in every matter he takes note of his neighbor, saying, "He did this for my sake, he said this because of me, he did this for such and such a reason. A man like this lies in thought, for he says nothing true, but everything out of suspicion alone, and from this proceed: curiosity, evil speaking, eavesdropping, enmity, condemnation. It might happen that one supposes something and this by chance turns out to be true; after this he claims the desire to correct himself, and then begins to constantly take note of everything, thinking, "If someone is speaking about me, I should know what transgression he condemns me for, so that I can correct myself." In the first place, the very beginning of this is already from the evil one, for he began with lie: not actually knowing what was said, he thought up what he did not know; and how can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit (Matt. 7:18)? But if he really desires to be corrected, then when his brother tells him, “Do not do this,” or, “Why did you do that?” he should not be disturbed but should bow down and thank him, and then he will correct himself. For if God sees that such is his good will, he will never let him to go astray, but will send him someone who can correct him. But to say: "I believe my guesses in order to correct myself, and with this aim I eavesdrop and am curious.” This is self-justification inspired by the devil, who desires to make snares for us.

Once when I was living in the coenobium, a diabolical temptation came upon me. I began to draw conclusions concerning a person's state of soul from his movements and the way he walked. And then the following thing happened to me. Once when I was standing, a woman passed by me carrying a pitcher of water. I myself do not know how I was drawn away and looked her in the eyes, but immediately the thought was suggested to me that she was a harlot. However, no sooner had this thought come to me than I began to grieve heavily, and so I told the elder Abba John about it. "Master, what should I do when I involuntarily notice someone's movements and walk and the thought speaks to me concerning the state of this person’s soul?" And the Elder replied to me thus: "What is this? Doesn't it sometimes happen that a person has a natural inadequacy, but just the same corrects himself through great effort and labors? Therefore you must not draw any conclusions from this about his state of soul. So never believe your conjectures, for a crooked rule makes crooked even that which is straight. Human opinions are false and harm the one who surrenders himself to them." And thus from that time on, whenever a thought tells me of the sun that it is the sun, or of darkness that it is darkness, I have not believed it, for there is nothing more onerous than believing one's own opinions. If this becomes rooted in us, it can lead us into such a deleterious state that we think to see things which do not and cannot exist. And I will tell you in this regard about a remarkable incident which occurred in my presence when I was still in the coenobium.

There was a certain brother there who was very troubled by this passion, and he so heeded his own conjectures that he was convinced of the veracity of every one of his suppositions. It seemed to him things were happening precisely as his mind imagined, and that it could not be otherwise. The evil increased with time and the devils led him into such a state of delusion that once, when he entered the garden and looked around (he was always looking around and eavesdropping), it seemed to him that he saw one of the brethren stealing and eating figs, and it was Friday, and not even the second hour yet. And so, convinced that he really saw this, he hid himself and went away in silence. Later during the Liturgy, he again began to watch what this brother who had just stolen and eaten the figs would do during the time of Communion. When he saw that he was washing his hands so as to go and receive Communion, he ran and told the Abbot, "Look, that brother is going to receive Communion of the Divine Mysteries together with the brethren, but do not allow them to give him the Holy Gifts, for I saw this morning how he stole figs from the garden and ate them." Meanwhile that brother was already approaching Holy Communion with great reverence and contrition, for he was very devout. But when the Abbot saw him, he called him over to himself before he could go up to the priest who was distributing the Holy Gifts, and leading him away to the side asked, "Tell me brother, what did you do today?" The brother was astonished and told him, "Where O Master?" The Abbot continued, "When you went in the morning into the garden, what did you do there?" The brother, astonished, again replied to him; "Master, I did not even look at the garden today, and I was not even here this morning in the coenobium, but I have just now returned from a journey, for immediately after the All-Night Vigil the steward sent me on such and such an obedience." Now the place to which this obedience he described took him was very far away, and the brother managed only with difficulty to arrive in time for the Liturgy. The Abbot called the steward and asked him, "Where did you send this brother?" The steward repeated the same thing that the brother had said, that is, that he had sent him to such and such a village. The Abbot asked, "Why did you not call me to receive a blessing from me?" The steward, bowing down replied: "Forgive me Master, you were resting after the Vigil and therefore I did not make him go and receive a blessing from you." When the Abbot was thus satisfied he allowed this brother to receive Holy Communion, and calling the other one, who had trusted his own suspicions, he placed a penance on him and forbade him to receive Holy Communion. Moreover he also called all the brothers at the end of the Liturgy and with tears related to them what had happened, accusing the brother before all, desiring to thus achieve a three-fold purpose: firstly to shame the devil and rebuke the sower of such suspicion; and secondly, so that by putting the sin of that brother to shame, he might thereby be forgiven and receive help from God in the future; and thirdly, in order to convince the brethren never to trust their own opinions. Having instructed both us and the brother concerning this he said that there is nothing more harmful than suspicion, using this incident as an illustration. And the Holy Fathers have spoken much in the same vein, warning us against the harm of believing our suspicions. Therefore let us strive, O brethren, never to trust our own selves. For in truth nothing so removes a man from God and from heedfulness to his own sins, and so arouses constant curiosity over what is not expedient for him than this passion. Nothing good can come from it, only a multitude of disturbances; it never allows a man the opportunity to acquire the fear of God. If by reason of our infirmity evil thoughts are sown in us, we should immediately turn them into good thoughts and they will not harm us; for if we believe our conjectures, there will be no end to them and they will never allow the soul to be peaceful. This is lying by thought.

One lies in word who, for example, from slothfulness is too lazy to get up for the Vigil, but does not say, "Forgive me but I was too lazy to get up." He says instead, "I had a fever, I was completely exhausted from work, I had no strength to get up, I was unwell"; and he utters ten lying words to as not to make a single prostration and be humbled. And if he does not reproach himself in other like circumstances, he will ceaselessly change his words and argue, so as not to undergo reproach. Or if he happens to have an argument with his brother, he will not cease to justify himself and repeat, "But you said… but you did… but I did not say… but so and so said…" and this and that, so as not to be humbled. Again, if he wants something but does not wish to say, "I want this," and instead constantly deviates in his words saying, "I have such and such a disease and I need this; this has been prescribed for me," lying until he satisfies his desire. Just as every sin proceeds either from love of pleasure, love of money, or love of glory, so are lies generated from these three reasons. A man lies either so as not to reproach himself and be humbled, or so as to fulfill his desire, or for the sake of gain, and he does not cease to twist and sophisticate his words until his desire is fulfilled. Such a man will never be believed, and even should he speak the truth no one can give him credence, and his very truth will prove unbelievable.

Sometimes it happens that there is a need under extreme circumstances to conceal something small, and if this small thing were not hidden, the matter would produce great disturbance and grief. When one encounters such extraordinary circumstances and sees himself in need, he may therefore obfuscate his words so that, as I have said, a great disturbance and grief or offence might not ensue. But when such great need arises to depart from words of truth, even then a man should not continue without being saddened over this, but should repent and weep before God and consider the incident a time of temptation. He should not frequently decide upon such deviation—only once out of many occasions. If one takes snake-poison antidote or laxatives often they will harm him; but if he takes them once in a year out of great need, they bring him benefit. So also you should act in this manner: One who wants to modify his word out of great need should not do it frequently but only under exceptional circumstances, once over the course of many years, when he perceives, as I have said, a great necessity; and let that which is allowed infrequently be perpetrated with fear and trembling, showing to God one's good will and the necessity, and then he will be forgiven; but he will receive an injury from it nonetheless. And so we have said what it means to lie by thought, and what it means to lie by word. Now we would like to say what it means to lie by one's very life.

One lies by his life if, being given to fleshly passion, he pretends to be continent; or, being covetous, he speaks of almsgiving and praises mercy; or being arrogant he marvels at the humility of wisdom. And he is amazed at virtue not because he desires to praise it, for if he had spoken with this intention he would have first of all acknowledged his own infirmity with humility, saying: "Woe to me the wretched one, I have become a stranger to every good". Then after acknowledging his infirmity, he would begin to praise virtue and be amazed at it. And again, he does not praise virtue with the aim of guarding others from temptation, for if that were his intention he should have reasoned thus: "In truth I am wretched and passionate, but why should I tempt others? Why should I cause harm to someone else's soul and lay another heavy burden on myself?" Then even though he has sinned by this, he has also touched on some good; for to condemn oneself is a deed of humility, and to spare one's neighbor is a deed of mercy.

But as I have said, a liar is amazed at virtue not for any of the above-mentioned reasons, but either so as to steal the name of virtue in order to hide his own shame, and speak of it as if he himself perfectly possessed it, or often in order to harm someone and deceive him. For not a single ill will, not a single heresy, nor the devil himself can deceive anyone under any other pretext than that of virtue. The apostle says that the devil himself transforms himself into an angel of light, and therefore it is never surprising that his servants should be transformed into the servants of righteousness (cf. II Cor. 11:14-15). So also a lying man, either because he fears shame and does not want to be humbled, or, as we have said, because he desires to deceive someone and harm him, speaks about virtues and praises them, and marvels at them as if he himself behaves accordingly and knows them by experience. Such a man lies by his very life. He is not a simple man but a double-minded one, for he is one way within and another way without, and his life is duplicitous and malevolent.

And so we have spoken about lying, that it is from the evil one; and we have spoken about truth, that truth is God. And so brethren, let us flee lying so as to be delivered from the lot of the evil one, and let us strive to make truth our own, so as to have union with God, Who said, I am the truth (Jn. 14:6). May the Lord God enable us to have His truth; for to Him belongs glory, dominion, honor, and worship unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Abba Dorotheos

How to Read the Holy Scriptures ( Father Seraphim Rose )

From a lecture delivered by Hieromonk Seraphim Rose at the 1979 St. Herman Summer Pilgrimage Platina, CA

It is well known that Protestants spend a great deal of time on Holy Scripture, because for them it is everything. For us Orthodox Christians the Scripture also holds an essential place. Often, however, we do not take advantage of it, and do not realize what importance it has for us; or if we do, we often do not approach it in the right spirit because the Protestant approach and Protestant books about the Scriptures are widespread, while our Orthodox approach is quite different.

The fact that Scripture is an essential part of our Faith can be seen in our Orthodox services. There are daily readings from the New Testament from both the Epistles and Gospels. In one year we read through almost the entire New Testament. In the first three days of the week before Pascha--the feast of Christ's Resurrection, the four Gospels are read in church, and on Thursday night of Passion Week twelve long selections from the Gospels are read concerning the Passion of our Lord, with verses sung in between, commenting on these passages. The Old Testament is also used in the services. In the vespers for every great feast three parables are read prefiguring the feast. And the Divine services themselves are filled with Scriptural quotations, Scriptural allusions and inspiration coming directly from Holy Scripture. Orthodox Christians also read the Scripture outside the services. St. Seraphim, in his monastic life, read the entire New Testament every week. Perhaps it is because we have such a richness of Scripture in our Orthodox tradition that we are often guilty of taking them for granted, of not valuing and making use of the Scriptures.

One of the leading interpreters of Holy Scripture for us is St. John Chrysostom, an early 5th century Holy Father. He wrote commentaries on practically the whole of the New Testament, including all of St. Paul's epistles and also many Old Testament books. In one sermon concerning Scripture, he addresses his flock:

'I exhort you, and I will not cease to exhort you to pay heed not only to what is said here, but when you are home also you should occupy yourselves attentively with the reading of Holy Scripture. Let no one say to me such cold words-worthy of judgment---as these: 'I am occupied with a trial, I have obligations in the city, I have a wife, I have to feed my children, and it is not my duty to read the Scripture but the duty of those who have renounced everything.' What are you saying?! It is not your duty to read Scripture because you are distracted by innumerable cares? On the contrary, it is your duty more than those others, more than the monks; they do not have such need of help as do you who live in the midst of such cares. You need treatment all the more, because you are constantly under such blows and are wounded so often. The reading of Scripture is a great defense against sin. Ignorance of the Scripture is a great misfortune, a great abyss. Not to know anything from the word of God is a disaster. This is what has given rise to heresies, to immorality; it has turned everything upside down."

Here we see that the reading of Holy Scripture provides us with a great weapon in the fight against the worldly temptations surrounding us – and we do not do enough of it. The Orthodox Church, far from being against the reading of Scripture, greatly encourages it. The Church is only against the misreading of Scripture, against reading one's own private opinions and passions, even sins into the sacred text. When we hear that the Protestants are all excited about something that they say is in the Scripture--the rapture, for example, or the millennium--we are not against their reading the Scripture but against their misinterpretation of the Scripture. To avoid this pitfall ourselves we must understand what this sacred text is and how we should approach it.

The Bible --the Holy Scripture, the Old and New Testaments---is not an ordinary book. It is one that contains not human but divinely revealed truths. It is the word of God. Therefore, we must approach it with reverence and contrition of heart, not with mere idle curiosity and academic coldness. Nowadays one cannot expect a person who has no sympathy for Christianity, no sympathy for the Scriptures to have a proper attitude of reverence. There is, however, such power in the words of Scripture--especially in the Gospels-that it can convert a person even without this proper attitude We have heard of cases in communist countries; the police go out in special squads to persecute believers and break up their meetings; they confiscate all their literature: Bibles, hymn books, patristic texts---many written out by hand. They're supposed to burn them, but sometimes either the person who is assigned to bum them or the person collecting them gets curious and begins reading the condemned materials. And there have been cases where this has changed the person's life. All of a sudden he meets Jesus Christ. And he's shocked, especially if he has been raised with the notion that this is a great evil; here he discovers that there is no evil here but rather something quite fantastic.

Many modern scholars approach the Scriptures with a cold, academic spirit; they do not wish to save their souls by reading Scripture: they only want to prove what great scholars they are, what new ideas they can come up with; they want to make a name for themselves. But we who are Orthodox Christians must have utmost reverence and contrition of heart; i.e., we must approach the word of God with a desire to change our hearts. We read the Scripture in order to gain salvation, not, as some Protestants believe, because we are already saved without the possibility of falling away, but rather as those desperately trying to keep the salvation which Christ has given us, fully aware of our spiritual poverty. For us, reading Scripture is literally a matter of life and death. As King David wrote in the Psalms: Because of Thy words my heart hath bee, afraid. I will rejoice in Thy sayings as one that hath found great spoil.

The Scripture contains truth, and nothing else. Therefore, we must study the Scripture believing in its truth, without doubt or criticism. If we have this latter attitude we shall receive no benefit from reading Scripture but only find ourselves with those "wise" men who think they know more than God's revelation. In fact, the wise of this world often miss the meaning of Scripture. Our Lord prayed: I thank Thee, O Father ..that Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent and hast revealed them unto babes (Luke 10:21). In our approach we must not be sophisticated, complicated scholars; we must be simple. And if we are simple the words will have meaning for us. 

 Father Seraphim Rose