Monday, November 12, 2018

Struggles Against the Sexual Passions ( STS. BARSANUPHIUS AND JOHN )



The question of Abba Dorotheus to the Great Elder: 
 
-- Q: I am being strongly attacked by sexual passion; I am afraid that I may fall into despondency, and that from the infirmity of my body I will not be able to restrain myself; pray for me, for the Lord’s sake, and tell me, my Father, what I should do? 
 
A: Brother! The devil, out of envy, has raised up warfare against you. Guard your eyes and do not eat until you are full. Take a little wine for the sake of the body’s infirmity of which you speak. And acquire humility, which rends all the nets of the enemy. And I, who am nothing, will do what I can, entreating God that He might deliver you from every temptation and preserve you from every evil. Do not yield to the enemy, O brother, and do not give yourself over to despondency, for this is a great joy to the enemy. Pray without ceasing, saying: “Lord Jesus Christ, deliver me from shameful passions,” and God will have mercy on you, and you will receive strength by the prayers of the Saints. Amen. 
 
-- Q: The same brother, being attacked by the same sexual passion, asked the same Great Elder to pray for him and to tell him how to distinguish whether a man is being tempted by his own lusts or by the enemy. 
 
A: Brother! Without labor and contrition of heart no one can be delivered from passions and please God. When a man is tempted by his own lust, this may be known from the fact that he is careless about himself and allows his heart to reflect about what he has done before; and then a man himself draws passion unto himself through his own lust. His mind, being little by little blinded by passion, begins, unnoticeable for himself, to pay attention to someone for whom he feels attraction, or to speak with him, and he finds occasions on which to converse with him or to sit with him, and by all means he strives to fulfill his desire. If one allows thoughts to pay heed in this, warfare will increase until a fall, albeit not in body but in spirit, in agreement with thoughts; and it turns that such a man lights the fire himself in his own substance. But a sober and prudent man who desires to be saved, when he sees from what it is that he suffers harm, carefully preserves himself from evil remembrances, is not drawn into passionate thoughts, avoids meetings and conversations with those for whom he feels attraction and avoids every occasion for sin, fearing lest he himself ignite a fire within himself. This is the warfare which proceeds from one’s own lust, which a man brings on himself . . .
Tame your steed with the bridle of knowledge, lest, looking here and there, he become inflamed with lust towards women and men and throw you, the horseman, to the ground. Pray to God, that He may turn “your eyes, lest they see vanity” (Psalms 118:37). And when you will acquire a manful heart, warfare will depart from you. Cleanse yourself, as wine cleanses wounds, and do not allow stench and filthiness to accumulate in you. Acquire weeping, so that it might remove from you freedom (looseness) in your relations, which destroys the souls that adopt it. Do not throw away the implement without which fertile land cannot be worked. This implement, made by the Great God, is humility: it uproots all the tares from the field of the Master and gives grace to those who dwell in it. Humility does not fall, but raises from a fall those who possess it. Love weeping with all your heart, for it also is a participant in this good work. Labor in everything to cut off your own will, for this is accounted to a man for sacrifice. This is what is meant by: “For Thee we are mortified all the day, we are accounted as sheep for slaughter” (Psalms 43:22). Do not weaken yourselves by conversations, for they will not allow you to prosper in God. Firmly bridle the organs of your senses: sight, hearing, smelling, taste, and feeling, and you will prosper by the grace of Christ. Without tortures no one is a martyr, as the Lord also has said: “In your patience possess ye your souls” (Luke 21:19), and the Apostle says, “in much endurance, in sorrows” (II Corinthians 6:4). 
 
-- Q: Pray for me, my Father, I am very much disturbed by thoughts of sexual sin, despondency, and fear; and a thought says to me that I should converse with a brother to whom I feel attracted when I see him, lest by my silence I give him occasion for suspicion. I feel likewise that the demons are somehow pressing me, and I fall into fear. 
 
A: Brother! You are not yet instructed in warfare with the enemy, which is why there come to you thoughts of fear, despondency, and sexual sin. Stand against them with a firm heart, for combatants, unless they labor, are not crowned, and warriors, unless they show the King their skill in battles, do not become worthy of honors. Remember what David was like. Do you not also sing: “Test me, O Lord, and try me, kindle my inwards parts and my heart” (Psalms 25:2). And again: “If a regiment arm itself against me, I will hope in Him” (Psalms 26:3). Likewise, concerning fear: “For if I should go in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me” (Psalms 22:4). And concerning despondency: “If the spirit of the powerful one should come upon thee, do not leave thy place” (Ecclesiastes 10:4).
Do you not wish to be skilled? But a man who is not tested by temptations is not skilled. It is battles that make a man skilled. The work of a monk consists of enduring battles and opposing them with manfulness of heart. But since you do not know the cunning traps of the enemy, he brings thoughts of fear and weakens your heart. You must know that God will not allow against you battles and temptations above your strength; the Apostle also teaches this, saying: “Faithful is the Lord, Who will not leave you to be tempted more than you can bear” (I Corinthians 10:13).
Brother! I also in my youth was many times and powerfully tempted by the demon of sexual sin, and I labored against such thoughts, contradicting them and not agreeing with them, but presenting before my own eyes eternal tortures. For five years I acted thus every day, and God relieved me of these thoughts. This warfare is abolished by unceasing prayer with weeping.
And the fact that the demons are pressing you proceeds from their envy; if they could, they would chase you out of your cell also; but God does not allow them to take possession of you, for they do not have authority for this. God could swiftly relieve you, but then you would not begin to oppose another passion (when it comes). May the demons not weaken you so as to turn your attention to a brother (to whom you are attracted), or to converse with him; but If you should happen unexpectedly to come together with him, against your desire, restrain your glance with fear and decency and do not listen attentively to his voice. And if this brother, out of ignorance, should himself begin to speak with you or sit next to you, then skillfully avoid him, but not suddenly, rather with decorum. Say to your thought: “Remember the terrible Judgment of God and the shame which will then overtake those who are attracted by these shameful passions.” Compel your thought, and you will receive help, by the prayers of the Saints, and God will have mercy on you. Do not be a child in mind, “but a child in malice” (I
Corinthians 14:20); in mind, O brother, be perfect. Pay heed to yourself, as to how you will meet God. Amen.
-- If you wish to be delivered from shameful passions, do not behave with anyone familiarly, especially with those toward whom your heart is inclined by a lustful passion; through this you will be delivered also from vainglory. For in vainglory is involved the pleasing of men, in the pleasing of men is involved familiarity of behavior, and familiarity of behavior is the mother of all passions. 
 
-- Q: What should I do, my Father? I suffer from sexual passion. 
 
A: As much as you can, wear yourself out, but according to your strength; and have hope not in this, but in love from God and in His protection, and do not give yourself over to despondency, for despondency serves as the beginning of every evil. 
 
-- Q: What do the words you have spoken mean: 
 “See to it, lest you be drawn away by a thought of sexual sin?” 
 
-- A: This happens not only with regard to sexual passion, but in other cases also. The mind is subjected to this as a consequence of distraction, and when this happens a man should cry out to himself, saying: “O Lord! Forgive me for the sake of Thy holy Name; I have been subjected to this for my negligence. Deliver me from distraction and from every net of the enemy; for Thine is the glory unto the ages. Amen.” And let the following be for you the sign by which you may know that you are drawn away: if one is speaking with others and his mind is distracted here and there, it happens that when he speaks of one thing his thought passes over to something else; this is what it is to be drawn away. Likewise, if anyone is doing something and passes over in thought to something else; in his forgetfulness he either ruins what he is doing or does something more than necessary, and this is likewise (a case of) being drawn away. In the same way a sexual thought draws us away. It happens that one is conversing with another, and if the enemy succeeds in drawing his mind away from God-pleasing sobriety, then, as a consequence of distraction, a sexual desire appears in the mind. And this is likewise a drawing away, because it has happened not from reflection or remembrance, but a man is drawn away by it out of forgetfulness. And such a one is like a traveller who, by reason of grief that comes upon him, goes away from the straight road and finds himself on another road. But coming back to himself, a man should call out to himself, according to what has been said above, and hasten to God’s mercy. The Lord is merciful and will accept him like the prodigal son; we know with what mercilessness He accepted the latter. But when this warfare arises in the mind even without distraction, one must be sober, not take enjoyment of such thoughts, no tarry in them, but all the sooner hasten to God the Master.

from “Saints Barsanuphius and John: Guidance Toward Spiritual Life,” trans. by Fr. Seraphim Rose, (Platina, California: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1990), pp. 71 - 76, 113, 126-127 (selections).

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

A plea from the newly established Three Hierarchs Academy ( Florence, AZ )






The Three Hierarchs Academy, located in the beautiful deserts of Florence, AZ was founded in March 2018 by local families. Led by Headmaster, Fr. Peter Heers, and offering a K-12th grade program, its mission is to initiate its students into the Way, Truth and Life Incarnate, Who is Christ, the Light of the world. 
For more exciting information about this new Orthodox School please see: https://www.threehierarchsacademy-az....
 
To provide much needed support for the Academy please consider offering a donation at: https://threehierarchsacademy-az.org/....

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

There are three stages for salvation ( Elder Ambrose of Optina )



"There are three stages for salvation. St. John the Golden Tongue states: a) Do not sin. b) If you have sinned, repent. c) Those who repent inadequately, have to bear their sorrows as they find them."

Elder Ambrose of Optina

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Our intercessors in Heaven , Orthodox veneration of Saints



During baptism a person receives a name in honor of a saint, who from that time becomes his heavenly protector. Every Orthodox Christian should be acquainted with the life of his heavenly protector and should appeal to him in prayer for help and guidance. Our righteous ancestors always tried to mark the day of commemoration of their saint – their “Namesday” – by partaking of the Holy Mysteries, and celebrated this day with greater ceremony than their birthday.

What is the reason for the Orthodox worship of God’s saints? Do the saints in heaven know of our needs and difficulties, and do they show any interest in us? Do they hear our prayers and do they try to help us? Should we appeal to the saints for help at all, or does it suffice to pray only to God? Members of sects, who have lost the apostolic tradition, do not understand the essence and the purpose of Christ’s Church and, therefore, reject the need to pray to the saints in heaven. We will briefly expound the Orthodox teaching on the subject.

The Orthodox veneration of God’s saints stems from the belief that all of us, both those who are working on their salvation and those who have already achieved salvation, both the living and the reposed, make up a single divine family. The Church is a great society which encompasses both the visible and invisible worlds. It is a huge, universal organization, built on the principal of love, in which each individual must not only take care of himself, but also be concerned with the benefit and salvation of other people. The saints are those people who, more than others, showed love for their neighbors during their life on earth.

We, Orthodox Christians, believe that when a righteous person dies, he does not break off his tie with the Church, but enters its higher, celestial domain – enters the triumphant Church. Having attained the spiritual world, the soul of a righteous person does not cease to think, desire, feel. On the contrary, these qualities of the soul unfold here more fully and perfectly.

Contemporary non-Orthodox Christians, having lost their living tie with the heavenly-earthly Church, have the vaguest and conflicting notions of the other world. Some of them believe that a man’s soul goes to sleep after death and becomes disconnected from everything; others believe that even if a man’s soul continues its activity after death, it no longer has any interest in the world which it has left. Still others believe that one should not pray to the saints in principle, since Christians are in direct communion with God.

What is the teaching of the Holy Scriptures in regard to the righteous ones who have departed from this world and the power of their prayers? In apostolic times the Church was regarded as a single heavenly-earthly spiritual family. Apostle Paul wrote to newly-converted Christians: “But ye are come unto mount Sinai, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect” (Hebrews 12:22-23). In other words, you, having become Christian, have merged with a great family and have come into close contact with the heavenly family and the righteous ones therein. Apostle Peter’s words of farewell to the Christians of Asia Minor – “Moreover I will endeavour that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance” (2 Peter 1:15) – clearly confirm that he promises to continue to take care of them when he departs for the other, spiritual world.

The ancient practice of appealing to the holy martyrs and saints for help is based on the realization of live contact between the heavenly and the earthly Church and on belief in the power of their prayers.

We know that the most earnest and righteous people were still in their lifetime called by God His friends and were glorified by Him with gifts of the Holy Spirit and with miracles. Thus, Christ said to His apostles at the Mystic Supper: “Ye are My friends!… For whosoever shall do the will of My Father Who is in heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother” (John 15:14; Matt. 12:50). The Holy Scriptures provide many examples of the saints’ spiritual nearness to God and power of intercession before Him. Thus, for example, Abraham asked God to have mercy upon the denizens of Sodom and Gomorrah, and God was ready to fulfill his request if at least ten righteous people could be found in those cities. Another time God refrained from punishing Abimelech, king of Gerar, because of Abraham’s prayers for the latter. The Bible tells us that God spoke with the Prophet Moses face to face, “as a man converses with his friend.” When Miriam, Moses’ sister, sinned and was punished with leprosy, Moses was able to obtain forgiveness for her from the Lord. There are many other examples of the special power of the saints’ prayers.

The saints do not replace God and do not decrease the need to appeal to the Heavenly Father. After all, adult members in a family do not lessen the authority of the parents when they take care of their children together with them. Moreover, nothing gives greater joy to parents than to see older brothers taking care of younger ones. In the same manner our Heavenly Father rejoices when the saints pray for us and try to help us. God’s saints have a stronger faith than we do and are closer to God because of their righteousness. Therefore, let us appeal to them as to our older brothers who intercede for us before the throne of the Almighty.

It is noteworthy that the righteous ones, while still living on earth, saw and knew much of what is inaccessible to general comprehension. Even more so are these gifts inherent to them in the celestial realm, where they have gone after shedding their mortal flesh. During their life on earth, the saints were able to penetrate into the celestial realm by means of their spirit, and some saw hosts of angels, others were worthy enough to contemplate the image of God, still others were raised up to the third heaven and heard mysterious indescribable words there, as, for example, Apostle Paul. Now, residing in heaven, they are even more capable of knowing what takes place on earth and of hearing those who appeal to them, because the saints in heaven are “equal to angels.” From the Lord’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus we learn that Abraham, while being in heaven, could hear the cry of the rich man suffering in hell, despite the “great abyss” which divided them. Abraham’s words: thy brothers have Moses and the prophets, let them heed them, – clearly show that Abraham knew of the life of the Jewish people after his repose, knew of Moses and his law, of the prophets and their writings. The spiritual vision of the righteous ones’ souls in heaven is, undoubtedly, greater than it was on earth. Apostle Paul writes: “For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Cor. 13:12).

The saints’ nearness to the throne of God and the power of their prayers for the faithful living on earth is evident in the book of Revelation, in which Apostle John writes: “And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne, and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands.” Further on he describes a vision of the righteous ones, praying in heaven for people suffering on earth: “And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand” (Rev. 5:11; 8:3-4).

Great is the power of prayer! “Pray for each other, so that ye may be healed: the earnest prayer of the righteous can do much,” – instructs us Apostle James. Prayer for others is an expression of love for them; thus, by praying for us, the saints in heaven show their brotherly love and care for us.

In the Gospel and in other New Testament books we find numerous instances which testify to the power of prayer for others. Thus, for example, the Lord healed the son of a courtier in response to the latter’s plea; the entreaty of the woman of Canaan resulted in her daughter being freed from possession by demons; at the request of a father the Lord healed his possessed son, while at the request of friends He forgave and healed a man sick of the palsy, whom the friends had lowered down from the roof on ropes; the faith of the Roman centurion led to the healing of his servant. Moreover, the Lord performed the majority of His miracles from afar, without actually seeing the sick person.

Thus, if the prayers of plain people had such power, then even more powerful are the prayers of saints who stand before the throne of God. “And this is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask any thing according to His will, He heareth us,” – assures us Christ’s beloved disciple (1 John 5:14).

For this reason from ancient times the Church expounded a teaching on the benefit of prayerful appeals to saints. We see this, for example, in ancient liturgies and other written testimonials. In the liturgy of the Apostle James we read: “We especially commemorate the Holy and Glorious Virgin, the blessed Theotokos. Remember Her, Lord God, and by Her pure and holy prayers have mercy upon us and save us.” In commenting on the liturgy of the church of Jerusalem, St. Cyril of Jerusalem remarks: “We also commemorate (at the liturgy) the previously reposed – primarily the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, – in order that by their prayers and intercession God would accept our own appeal.”

The testimonies of the Church Fathers and teachers on the Church’s veneration of the saints are numerous, especially starting with the 4th century. But even from the beginning of the 2nd century there is direct written testimony of early Christians on their faith in the prayers of saints in heaven for their brothers on earth. Witnesses of the martyric end of St. Ignatius the God-bearer (early 2nd century) say: “Returning home in tears, we served an all-night vigil… Afterwards, having slept a bit, some of us saw the blessed Ignatius arising and embracing us, while others also saw him praying for us.” Similar records referring to the martyrs’ prayers and intercession for us can also be found in other narratives dating from this epoch of the persecution of Christians.

Belief in the holiness of a departed person can be confirmed by special testimonials, such as: martyrdom for Christ, a fearless confession of one’s faith, selfless service to the Church, the gift of healing, etc. This is especially true when the Lord affirms the holiness of a departed person through miracles occurring after the latter’s death and upon prayer to him.

Besides the assistance of prayer, the saints help us achieve salvation by the example of their lives. An acquaintance with the lives of the saints enriches a Christian through the spiritual experience of those who had embodied the Gospel in their lives more earnestly than others. We see here so many vivid examples of living faith, courage, patience. Being people just like us, and having overcome most difficult temptations, they encourage us to travel along the path of our life with patience and humility.

Apostle James urged Christians to imitate the patience of the ancient prophets and of Job the Long-suffering, and to acquire the strong faith of people like the prophet Elias. Apostle Peter instructed Christian wives to take an example of modesty and obedience from the righteous Sarah, wife of Abraham. The holy Apostle Paul exhorts Christians to imitate the spiritual labors of ancient saints, beginning with Abel and ending with the Maccabees. At the end of a detailed instruction on this subject he writes: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1).

The Lord says: “Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:15-16). The saints are the bright stars which show us the way to the Heavenly Realm.

Let us treasure the saints’ nearness to God and let us appeal to them for help, bearing in mind that they love us and are concerned for our salvation. An acquaintance with the lives of the saints is especially important in our times, when the concept of the Christian ideal has become so shallow and distorted among the wide mass of “Christians” of the most different varieties.

Bishop Alexander (Mileant)

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Explaination of dreams ( Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos )


What are Dreams?
St John Climacus gives a definition of dreams: “A dream is a movement of the nous while the body is at rest.” When the body is immobilised by sleep at night, the nous – not the rational faculty – continues working. This activity of the nous is what we refer to as dreams. Whereas dreams are an activity of the nous while the body is at rest, fantasy and imagination are an illusion of the eyes “when the mind is asleep. Fantasy is ecstasy of the nous, when the body is awake. Fantasy is the vision of something which does not exist in reality.” In other words, imagination is active while a person is awake, whereas dreams come into action during sleep.

There is a distinction between dreams and visions. “A vision is something seen more or less consciously when awake. A dream is something imagined during sleep” (St John Climacus). A person perceives visions by means of his senses, but he sees dreams through the action of his nous when his body is asleep.

In addition, the saints distinguish between dreams, visions and revelations occurring during sleep. According to St Nikitas Stithatos, we can see dreams, visions and revelations while asleep, and he examines the difference between them.

Dreams are images that do not remain unchanged in the imaginative faculty of the nous. They present a confused picture with constantly-altering scenes and forms.

Visions remain constant. They do not change, “but remain imprinted on the nous unforgettably for many years.” They benefit the soul by bringing compunction and revealing fearful wonders. As a result they keep the beholder reflective and in awe.

Revelations are theorias granted to the purified and illumined soul, “in a way that transcends normal sense perception”. They reveal the mysteries of God.

St Nikitas Stithatos goes on to explain that dreams are seen by “materialistic and sensually-minded people”, whose nous is darkened by passions and whose imagination is mocked by the demons. Visions are associated with “those well advanced on the spiritual path, who have cleansed the soul’s organs of perception.” Those who purify the soul’s senses and have progressed to a high level behold visions. Revelations are for perfect Christians, “who are activated by the Holy Spirit, and whose soul is united to God through theology.”

I think these clarifications are essential in order to make a distinction between dreams and theorias of God. We shall look at this issue in the next section, when we set out the factors that distinguish dreams coming from the devil from visions and revelations sent by God during sleep. It needs to be stressed at this point that dreams mainly affect man’s imagination. They are an action of the nous while the body is asleep, and most of them are the work of demons.

Types of Dreams

As we saw above, the Fathers make a distinction between dreams, on the one hand, and visions and revelations on the other. There are, however, many Fathers who speak about dreams in general. When we study their writings we realise that the dreams we see at night, while our body and senses are inactive, have many causes. Some dreams are the result of our natural physical state and impressions made on us during the day. Others are due to passions, in other words, to unnatural impulses of the soul. Some are clearly the work of demons. There are, however, dreams that come from God and are revelations bestowed by God, or the angels as God’s messengers.

The first category encompasses those dreams which are the result of the thoughts, reflections and impressions of the day. St Basil the Great, in response to the question, “Where do shameful nocturnal fantasies originate?”, teaches that, “They result from alien movements of the soul during the day.” These alien impulses of the soul and the impressions of the day are stored in our memory and create dreams. Many dreams also originate from physical reactions.

The second category includes dreams that arise from passions, which are actions of the soul contrary to nature. When the soul’s powers are corrupted and are motivated by the impressions provided by the senses, they provoke this type of dream. We can therefore see from our dreams which passions dominate us. More will be said on this subject in the next section.

The third category of dreams, so-called demonic dreams, is horrendous. Although the devil can also exploit the other two categories of dreams, he sometimes acts independently of them. St Diadokos of Photiki states succinctly that for the most part dreams are nothing more than “images reflecting our wandering thoughts or…the mockery of demons.” The demons trick those whom they have in their power. When they gain control of someone they appear to him both sleeping and waking in the form of angels or martyrs, and grant him a revelation of purported “mysteries” and bestow supposed “spiritual gifts” on him (St John Climacos).

But how do the demons act? What is it that they stir up during sleep? Evagrios Pontikos observes that the demons “make an imprint on the nous by arousing the memory, while the activity of our bodily senses is suspended during sleep.” The demons act mostly through our memory to provoke dreams.

We know from the patristic tradition that the majority of dreams are the work of Satan and fall into the third category. The demons transform themselves into angels of light or prophets and foretell the future. However, as St John Climacus remarks, the demons know nothing about the future from foreknowledge, because if they did, they would be able to foretell our death.

The demons attack monks more than anyone else by means of dreams, because they want to provoke them to abandon their sacred task. In particular, the demons attempt to disturb novices, who have left their homes and families, “representing to [them] that [their] relatives are either grieving or dying, or are captive for [their] sake and destitute” (St John Climacus). Of course no one should pay any attention to such dreams, because they are demonic deceptions intended to lead the monk to reject and abandon the monastic way of life.

The fourth category of dreams is those coming from God. Such dreams are sometimes called revelations and are associated with inner purity. Many such dreams are recorded in Holy Scripture. I should mention in particular the dreams of Joseph, the Betrothed of the Most Holy Mother of God, concerning Christ’s conception, birth and protection. St Isaac the Syrian says that the holy angels take the likenesses of saints “and show themselves in these likenesses in dreams to the soul while its thoughts are drifting, for joy, preservation and delight.”

So there are many kinds of dream and they are due to many causes. Christians should distinguish between dreams and examine where they come from. We shall now set out some factors that indicate the origins of dreams.

In general, as St John Climacus says, if we wake up from sleep peaceful this shows that we have been comforted by the angels unawares. If, on the other hand, we wake up troubled, “we are suffering as a result of evil dreams and visions.” A dream’s origin is indicated by whether it disturbs us or brings peace. This is not, however, absolute proof, as there is a sort of joy mingled with pride which comes from the devil.

St Diadochos of Photiki says that dreams that originate from the devil do no keep the same shape, but change from one form to another, alarm the senses, resound with laughter or “suddenly become threatening.” The figures that appear in the dreams sent by demons shout and menace, transform themselves into soldiers and sometimes “screech at the soul.” By contrast, dreams that come from God do not change shape or provoke fear and horror, but bring inexpressible joy and gladness.

St John Climacus teaches that demonic dreams usually show torments, judgments and separations, and make us frightened and miserable. This is a sign of delusion. It is possible, however, for us to see torment and judgment in dreams sent by God to make us repent. The difference is that in the first case such dreams bring despair, which is a sign of demonic deception, whereas in the second case, they give rise to intense prayer, repentance and a willingness to change.

Visions during sleep, according to St Nikitas Stithatos, are not all true, nor do they all leave an imprint on the nous. True visions are seen “only by those whose nous is purified, who have cleansed the soul’s organs of perception and who are advancing towards natural theoria.” Such people have purified themselves through prolonged fasting and exercise self-control in every aspect of their lives. They do not worry about day-to-day matters and are not concerned about this present life. They live like angels and “through exertion and hardship pleasing to God they have attained the sanctuary of God, the spiritual knowledge of created beings and the wisdom of the higher world.”

In general it should be stated that dreams that come from God (which are called visions and revelations) are as far removed from dreams that come from the devil (which have a strong imaginative element) as heaven is from earth. Just as there is no similarity between created and uncreated things, there is no similarity at all between diabolic and divine dreams.

According to patristic teaching, satanic dreams are characterised by colour and change, whereas dreams from God have no colour and are unchanging. This is how we can tell the difference between those sent by God and those which result from physical illness or satanic energy. Anthropocentric psychoanalysis, which does not make this distinction between created and uncreated, and does not accept the existence of demons and their energy, is unable to distinguish between different types of dreams. Thus it goes seriously wrong, because it can categorise divine visions as delusions and hallucinations. Only someone completely integrated into the Orthodox Tradition, who has the mind of Christ and has tasted heavenly things, is able to make this distinction and heal the illnesses of his spiritual children.

Dreams and Passions

We saw earlier that one category of dreams originates from passions, whether of the body or the soul. This issue will now be examined more closely, because by studying our dreams we can observe which passions dominate us, in order to fight against them.

St John Climacus writes that the heart of gluttons dreams of food and nourishment, but the heart of those who mourn dreams of judgment and condemnation. We know from the teaching of the Fathers that the human soul has three powers or aspects: the appetitive (desiring) aspect, the incensive aspect and the rational aspect. St Symeon the New Theologian writes about how we can understand from dreams which passions dominate us the most. When the soul’s appetitive aspect is stirred up by social contact, food and enjoyment, it sees the same things in dreams. When the incensive aspect of the soul is enraged against its fellows, it dreams of attacks by wild animals and reptiles, of wars and battles. When the soul’s rational faculty is elated with arrogance and pride, it imagines itself being caught up into the air, or seated on a high throne, or in command of the nation.

St Symeon’s disciple, St Nikitas Stithatos, is more revealing. He writes that someone who has made progress in the spiritual life can see the impulses of the soul by examining dreams. If the soul loves material things and pleasure, “it dreams of acquiring possessions and having lots of money, of female figures and passionate involvements, all of which lead to the soiling and defilement of soul and body.” If someone’s soul is grasping and avaricious, “he dreams of gold everywhere, and imagines himself acquiring it, lending it out at interest and storing it up in his treasuries. And he is condemned for his callousness.” If someone is hot-tempered and vicious, “he imagines himself pursued by wild beasts and poisonous snakes and is overwhelmed with fear and cowardice.” If his soul is full of self-esteem, “he will dream of acclamation and being feted by the people, of holding positions of power and authority. ” Even when awake he imagines that what is non-existent actually exists. If someone’s soul is full of pride and arrogance “he sees himself being carried along in a splendid coach and sometimes even flying through the air on wings, while everyone trembles at his great power.” Thus we can recognise the passions in our soul from the type of dreams we have.

We ought to note, however, that not everyone can make this distinction, only someone who has been trained in this struggle and has the precious gift of discernment.

Just as the impassioned person sees dreams that correspond to his passion, so the person who loves God and is diligent in practising virtue sees good dreams. According to St Nikitas Stithatos, if someone is sincere in his struggles for godliness, he sees in his sleep the outcome of events and awe-inspiring visions are revealed to him. He prays even when asleep and he awakes with tears on his cheeks and “words addressed to God” on his lips. When a person lives all through the day with noetic prayer and has learnt to converse with God, he does the same during sleep. His dreams and revelations are linked with God and prayer. It is possible for him to say the Jesus prayer with his lips even when asleep. He feels his heart praying continuously. His nous prays without ceasing. He wakes up aware of having prayed all night. It often happens that he is attacked by the devil. Then his nous automatically begins its converse with God (noetic prayer) and the devil vanishes. Such events do not make him afraid, in spite of the devil’s appearance, but bring him joy and gladness. All day long, even for days on end, he rejoices in God’s power and in the fact that the devil was driven off by the energy of the praying nous.

Dealing with Dreams

The holy Fathers were familiar with this sacred struggle and they describe how to deal with dreams. We shall look at some aspects of their teaching. First of all, preventive action is required. Because most dreams are connected with passions and every-day impressions, we have to struggle against the passions. The more we fight against passions, or rather, the more we strive to transform the passions and powers of the soul, the more we are freed from the dreadful state of dreaming. Our liberation from dreams is linked with dispassion and purification of the heart. St John Climacus writes that, “As a mass of dung breeds a mass of worms, so a surfeit of food breeds a surfeit of falls, and evil thoughts, and dreams.” We must therefore limit our food.

As many dreams result from alien impulses of the soul, avoiding such impulses helps us to get rid of awful dreams. If we purify our soul through being in a state of hesychia, so that it “is continuously musing on things that are good and pleasing to God”, it will dream of such things at night (St Basil). Our nous should be occupied during the day in musing on God’s name. Then our dreams will bring joy and gladness because, as St Symeon the New Theologian says, “What occupies the soul and enters it while it is awake, still occupies its imagination and thoughts during sleep.”

We should also pray before going to sleep. If we fall asleep after praying, we shall have corresponding dreams. Abba Philemon exhorts, “Before going to sleep, say many prayers in your heart, and resist thoughts and the attempts of the devil to lead you where he wills…as far as you can, take care to sleep only after reciting psalms and attentive reading; and do not let your mind accept alien thoughts through negligence.” Praying before sleep and striving to cut off thoughts is a good way of dealing with bad and demonic dreams.

Then we need a good means of countering dreams after we have seen them. The most effective method of confronting dreams is to stop them abruptly. We should avoid thinking about them when we wake up. Many people examine the dreams of the previous night, which leads to many errors. The holy Fathers recommend that we reject them completely and hold them in utter contempt.

St John Climacus describes the person who totally rejects dreams as “a wise man”, whereas he calls someone who examines them and believes in them “completely inexperienced”. The demons aim to defile us through dreams, so the same Saint advises us “never to think about the fantasies that have occurred to you during sleep.”

From the same standpoint, St Diadochos of Photiki says that not believing at all in dreams is sufficient to ensure our progress in virtue. “We can achieve great virtue just by never trusting our imagination.” In fact he teaches that, even if we were to reject dreams coming from God, for fear that they might be from the devil and we could be deceived, this is a good thing. God will not be angry with us in that case, because He sees that we are being careful. A servant who refuses to open the door at night to the master of the house, when he returns after a long absence, for fear that a deceiver may have the same voice as him and seize his goods, is praised by his master. The same happens when a Christian or monk does not accept dreams. God praises His servant because He knows that he acts in this way for fear of being deceived by the devil, who “transforms himself into an angel of light.”

We have to reject dreams and try to forget them, because by remembering them our hearts are filled with sadness, anxiety, despair and impurity. St John Climacus knows that many people, by continuously accepting dreams, have gone mad. When someone is constantly subject to the influence of the demons, the devil gains a hold over him and he becomes insane: “…so that these unfortunates are deceived and completely lose their wits.” This mainly happens in the case of demonic revelations. Many people get into such a state that, when they accept revelations and satanic dreams, they are mocked by the demons and “then they make sport of us even when we are awake.” The devil appears when we are awake and we become his servants. This results in the eternal death of the soul, as well as all sorts of other physical and psychological disorders.

The overall conclusion is that the type of dreams we have indicates what state we are in: whether we are enslaved to the passions, servants of the devil or servants of God. Dreams disclose our health or sickness, whether or not we are ill. On the one hand, confession, repentance and epitimion are necessary to cleanse us from passions. On the other, we must put no trust at all in dreams. In this way we shall be delivered from the tyranny of the devil, who desires our eternal death and wants to distance us from God.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

The Five Miracles of Saint Gerasimos of Kefallonia




St. Gerasimos of Kefallonia (Feast Day - August 16 and October 20)



1. A Young Atheist Woman From Australia Converts To Orthodoxy and Becomes A Nun After Seeing the Incorrupt Relics of Saint Gerasimos

The powerful effect the incorrupt relics of Saint Gerasimos the New had a particular effect on a young Australian nun, Anna, who lives at St. Stephen's Monastery on Meteora. She related the following:

I came to Greece in 1988, hoping to get work as an English teacher. I wasn't of Greek parentage, nor did I have any particular interest in classical culture or the arts, but came because Greece sounded interesting. I had not been raised with any religion nor was I looking for one, but soon after I arrived I met some people who were planning to go to Kefallonia, to St. Gerasimos, and invited me along. It seemed a good way to begin seeing the country, and I agreed. When I entered the church and stood before the saint's coffin, I was stunned by what I saw - the incorrupt relics were so obviously a miracle that I knew in myself that there must be a God, and that Orthodoxy was how you worshipped Him. I was baptized and a year later I came to the monastery.

2. The Cave of Saint Gerasimos and Unbelievers

The older church containing the relics of St. Gerasimos is built directly over his cave and pilgrims are welcome to descend the ladder and squeeze through the tiny floor-level entrance that leads into the cave. Local Christians say that only believers can wriggle through the narrow passageway. The wife of an Argostoli priest has informed that, wanting a blessing for her unborn child, she had squeezed through with no trouble when she was fully nine months pregnant, but the thin, lithe young woman whom she brought with her - an unbeliever - couldn't do so.

3. The Epidemic of Cholera in 1760

In 1760, when an epidemic of cholera struck the island, a nun named Akakia had a vision of the saint, praying in front of an icon of the Mother of God, beseeching her to halt the epidemic. The Mother of God spoke from the icon and said, "I have asked my Son, and He will grant you this." Then the saint caught hold of a roll of a cotton-like material wrapped around his staff, and began plucking off many small pieces, scattering them into the air. That night he also appeared to another woman on the island, telling her to go quickly to her father's house - that the infection would not spread to the countryside.

The stories of these visions quickly made the rounds of the villages. One local woman, however, refused to believe the accounts, and scoffed at them saying, "These are stories for children." That night the saint appeared to her in a dream and struck her with his staff, saying, "By this children's story, through the blessing of Panagia, I dispel the sickness from this island." The next morning the woman went straight to the monastery to venerate the saint's relics, telling the nuns of her dream and showing them the bruise on her side where the saint had struck her. They all gave thanks to God.




4. Healing of a Mentally Ill Woman in 1785

In 1785, a mentally ill woman named Susannah came to the monastery and lived there for many months. She never spoke to anyone and ate only if she was given food; otherwise, she went hungry.

One day, after she had been there almost a year she began shrieking loudly during Vespers. The priest came out of the altar and tried to calm her but she screamed all the more until the unnerved cleric finally slapped her, and she was forcibly carried out of church.

That night the priest had a dream that the saint's larnaca (coffin) opened by itself and that St. Gerasimos climbed out. He was holding a book in his hands and motioned the priest over. When the priest came up to him, he hit him hard over the head with the book and asked him, "Did that hurt?" The priest said, "Yes," and the saint responded, "And that hurt me tonight when you slapped that poor woman. Get up now, it's time to go to Matins, and don't ever do it again."

The priest awoke terrified, and ran to the church where he begged the saint's forgiveness. That morning, Susannah was again in church, but this time, she suddenly called out coherently, "Let the priest who hit me yesterday, come and give me something to eat." To the amazement of everyone who knew her, she had been healed.

5. Saint Gerasimos Saves Sailors At Sea From Death


In November 1807, a shipping merchant by the name of Manuel was passing the island on his way to the Peloponnese. When he was in sight of Kefallonia a huge storm blew up. The sailors did all they could to keep the ship afloat, but the intensity of the storm continued to build until they were near despair. On board was a Kefallonian sailor named Ioannis, who had a small icon of St. Gerasimos with him. Shouting to the crew, "St. Gerasimos will save us!" he threw the icon into the sea. When the icon touched the surface of the sea the waves were immediately calmed. The grateful captain ordered the crew to dock in Kefallonia, to pay homage to the saint.



Apolytikion in the First Tone

O believers, let us praise the protector of the Orthodox, the God-bearing miracle-worker lately appearing to us, the incarnate angel, divine Gerasimos. For he has rightly received from God the ever-flowing grace of performing healing. He strengthens those with diseases and he heals those with demons. And therefore he pours out healings to those who honor him.


Saint Gerasimos of Kefallonia

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Know Thyself ( Elder Ephraim of Arizona )

This is the knowledge of the perfect saints: (it is not as some people explain it, but it has its own special power) to put it simply, one must confess that even when one is at the heavenly height of virtue, it is possible– if God abandons him– for him to fall into the abyss of corruption and debauchery! It is not a matter of just saying this with empty words, but one must really feel this way. But one cannot say this with conviction if one does not first pass through the Babylonian furnace of temptations, and if one’s human nature does not slip by God’s permission, so that he realizes his weak constitution. He then sees with whom he has to wrestle, what the wickedness and malice of his adversary (the devil) is, and how difficult it is to rise after a fall! In brief, this is what “know thyself” means.

- Elder Ephraim of Philotheou
 (Counsels from the Holy Mountain)

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

Sunday, September 16, 2018

"Evolution is a theory; Jesus Christ is God": A Vision of St. Paisios


From the age of eleven [says St. Paisios], I would read the lives of the Saints, I would fast and keep vigil. My older brother would take the books and hide them, but that didn’t stop me. I would just go into the forest and keep reading there.

Later, when I was fifteen, a friend of my brother named Costas told my brother, “I’ll make him willingly give up all this nonesense.” He came and explained to me Darwin’s theory of evolution. I was shaken by this, and I said, “I’ll go and pray, and, if Christ is God, He’ll appear to me so that I’ll believe. I’ll see a shadow, hear a voice—He will show me a sign.” That’s all I could come up with at the time.

So, I went and began to pray and make prostrations for hours; but nothing happened. Eventually I stopped in a state of exhaustion. Then something Costas had said came to mind: “I accept that Christ is an important man,” he had told me, “righteous and virtuous, Who was hated out of envy for His virtue and condemned by His countrymen.” I thought to myself, “since that’s how Christ was, even if He was only a man, He deserves my love, obedience, and self-sacrifice. I don’t want paradise; I don’t want anything. It is worth making every sacrifice for the sake of His holiness and kindness.”

God was waiting to see how I would deal with this temptation. After this, Christ Himself appeared to me in a great light. He was visible from the waist up. He looked at me with tremendous love and said, “I am the resurrection, and the life; he that believeth in Me, even if he dies, he shall live” (Jn. 11:25). He was holding the Gospel in His left hand, open to the page where the same words were written.

With this event, the uncertainties that had troubled my soul were overcome, and in divine grace I came to know Christ as true God and Savior of the world. I was convinced of the truth of the God-man, not by men or books, but by the very Lord Himself, who revealed Himself to me even at this young age. Firmly established in faith, I thought to myself, “Come back now, Costas, if you want, and we’ll have a talk.”



EVOLUTION IS A THEORY; JESUS CHRIST IS GOD
from the book Elder Paisios of Mount Athos


Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

source