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.”

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!


Thursday, September 13, 2018

Elder Sophrony on Holy Oil

In this portion of a letter, Elder Sophrony writes regarding holy oil and how to use it. Specifically, he refers to Holy Unction, but this could apply to all holy oil as well:

"I am glad that your cheek is better. You should anoint it with the oil that you have now. And you should do so in the following way:

You should take some oil on the tip of your finger, and make the sign of the Cross on the sick body part and say:

'In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…O Lord, heal my spiritual and bodily afflictions, and save me, in the manner that You know.'

Then, you should rub it into the sick body part. This you should do to every bodily member that is suffering. Regardless of whether you are healed or not, you should do this to be sanctified.

I have experienced, however, a multitude of cases of astonishing healing. This holy oil [i.e. the Sacrament of Holy Unction] is especially sanctified. It is sanctified on Wednesday or Thursday of Holy Week…"

From the book: Letters from Russia, by Archimandrite Sophrony Sacharov, published by the Holy Monastery of the Precious Forerunner, Essex, England.

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

Friday, September 7, 2018

Giving thanks to God for everything... ( St.Basil the Great )

When you sit down to eat, pray. When you eat bread, do so thanking Him for being so generous to you. If you drink wine, be mindful of Him who has given it to you for your pleasure and as a relief in sickness. 
When you dress, thank Him for His kindness in providing you with clothes. When you look at the sky and the beauty of the stars, throw yourself at God’s feet and adore Him who in His wisdom has arranged things in this way. 
Similarly, when the sun goes down and when it rises, when you are asleep or awake, give thanks to God, who created and arranged all things for your benefit, to have you know, love and praise their Creator.

St.Basil the Great

Monday, September 3, 2018

The eight passions... ( St. John Damascene )

These eight passions should be destroyed as follows: 
gluttony by self-control;
 unchastity by desire for God and longing for the blessings held in store; 
avarice by compassion for the poor; 
anger by goodwill and love for all men; 
worldly dejection by spiritual joy; 
listlessness by patience, perseverance and offering thanks to God; 
self-esteem by doing good in secret and by praying constantly with a contrite heart;
 and pride by not judging or despising anyone in the manner of the boastful Pharisee (cf. Luke 18 : 11–12), and by considering oneself the least of all men. 
When the intellect has been freed in this way from the passions we have described and been raised up to God, it will henceforth live the life of blessedness, receiving the pledge of the Holy Spirit (cf. 2 Cor. 1 : 22). And when it departs this life, dispassionate and full of true knowledge, it will stand before the light of the Holy Trinity and with the divine angels will shine in glory through all eternity.

St. John Damascene

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Why pain and suffering? ( St. Paisios )

The world is full of pain, fear and suffering. These feelings, without any exceptions, are experienced by all humans. It’s what causes our heart to ache, our mind to go hay-wire, and our emotions to become distorted. People often wonder: How have we had to handle all these problems? Why God allows these tragedies to happen? Some times the questions are complicated and the answers very simple. Elder Paisios of Mount Athos, famous for his spiritual teachings, provides encouragement and support to those who are suffering afflictions.

The struggle to sanctify the soul

..Life of course, is no summer camp; it has joys but also sorrows. The Resurrection is always proceeded by the Crucifixion. The blows of life’s trials are essential for the salvation of the soul, for the soul is refined through them. Just as with clothes; the more we rub them in the wash, the cleaner they become. Even with the octopus, the more it is beaten, the more it is cleaned and tenderized. And the fish, too, appears so graceful when alive and swimming in the sea, or even when displayed in the market with the scales and entrails intact. But it becomes useful only once it is cleaned and made to look less appetizing on the outside before it is broiled. It is much the same with people; when a person sheds all things secular-his scales, if you will- it may seem that he is losing life, his worldly liveliness, but in fact, he is merely removing all useless matter in order to be “ broiled”. Only then is he made useful…

Elder Paisios, Spiritual awakening, Souroti: Holy Monastery Evangelist John the Theologian, vol. II, p. 105.

What Helps Spiritual Progress

People who have been buffeted by rough winds, either because God allowed it in order to rein them in, or because of the devil’s envy, are in need of much sunshine and spiritual refreshment before they can blossom and bear fruit. They are like trees that have grown bold during winter’s halcyon days, only to face the cold north wind afterwards; they will need constant spring sunshine ad showers for their sap to circulate again and to blossom and bear fruit.

…Trust in God, simplicity, and struggle with philotimo will lead to inner peace and security and then the soul fills with hope and joy…

Christ helps those who are fighting the good fight that all Saints embraced in order to subdue the flesh to the spirit. Even when wounded, we must never lose our composure, but should instead ask for God’s help in continuing with the struggle courageously. The Good Shepherd will hear us and rush to our aid, just as a shepherd responds to the bleating of a lamb that is lost or wounded, or threatened by a wolf.

Elder Paisios, Spiritual awakening, Souroti: Holy Monastery Evangelist John the Theologian, vol. II, pp. 106-107.

Divine Energies are Omnipotent

…God never abandons us; we are the ones who forget and abandon Him. When man does not live spiritually, he is no entitled to divine help. But when he does live spiritually and is near God, he is entitled to it. Then if something happens and he dies, he is read for the other life, in which case he gains both in this life and in the next.

God’s help can’t be obstructed, neither by men nor demons. Nothing is difficult for God or a Saint. The obstacle for us humans is our lack of faith, which prevent the great divine energies from coming to us. And while there is such a great power next to us, we, because there is such a great amount of the human element in us, cannot understand the divine energies which exceed all of the world’s human powers, because they are omnipotent.

We sit for hours on end in vain, trying by ourselves to find solution to a problem, using all of our inexperience. Our head spins, our eyes burn, sleep escapes us, because the little demon has hooked us with obsessive thoughts. We may finally find a solution, but later God will found for us a better solution, which we had not thought of, leaving us with the headaches and the sleepless nights. No matter how right our thought might be, if God is not foremost, the head will tire and ache, while prayer with trust in God brings restfulness. For this reason, we can leave to God those activities which are difficult to achieve by human means and not be dependent upon our human efforts, reassured that God will do what is best.

For everything you think of doing, remember to say, “God willing”

A good disposition

-Geronda, what will become of the kind people who don’t believe?

-…Benevolent God will find a way for these kind-hearted people, either with trials and tribulations, with illnesses, hardships, with an earthquake, a lightning bolt, a deluge, or even some word, to bring them around and in the end to lead them to Paradise….

Elder Paisios, Spiritual awakening, Souroti: Holy Monastery Evangelist John the Theologian, vol. II, p 326-328.

Divine consolation

…With the people I went through so much pain! I didn’t pass over their problems lightly. I was painted by them, I sighed over them, but with every sigh I turned the matter over to God and in the pain I felt for the other person God provided consolation. That is to say, divine consolation came with the spiritual approach, because the pain which carries with it hope in God also has divine consolation. Otherwise how is one to endure! How could I possibly get through all the things that I hear? Yes, I feel the pain, but I also think of the divine reward in those who are suffering. We are in God’s hands. Since there is divine justice, divine reward, nothing is lost. The more one is tormented, the more he will rewarded. Although God sees so much suffering upon the earth, even things which we cannot imagine, He never falters. “You have suffered more?” He asks, “I will provide you with more in the other life”, and He rejoices. Otherwise, how could He endure so much injustice, so much evil that exists? But He keeps in mind the reward of those who suffer and, in a manner of speaking, endures that great pain. We don’t see the glory to be received by the other person and so we feel compassion for him, and for this God rewards us with divine consolation…

Elder Paisios, Spiritual awakening, Souroti: Holy Monastery Evangelist John the Theologian, vol. II, p. 348.

Elder Paisios notes that God allows a calamity to happen due to our fault.

Sins Brings Calamities

Locusts, wars, drought and disease, they are all scourges. They’ re not God’s way of educating human beings but the result of our moving away from God. They happen because we stray from Him. God’s wrath comes to make us remember Him and ask for help. It’s not that He arranges and orders, so to speak, these calamities to happen. Rather, God allows them to happen because He sees how far human evil can go and how unwilling we are to change our ways, and so He tries to bring us to our senses. But they are not of His own making…

…It is good to know that the faithful who obey the commandments of God receives His Grace, and that God is, shall we say, obliged to help them in these difficult times….

Whatever God allows is out of love for Man

-Geronda, why does God allow a calamity to happen?

-There are al kind of reasons. Sometimes God will allow something to happen so that something better may come out of it, and other times He wants to educate us. Some people are rewarded others pay a debt; nothing is wasted. You know, whatever God allows, even when human beings perish, it is done out of love for man, because Goad has a “heart”.

Elder Paisios, With pain and love for contemporary man, Souroti: Holy Monastery Evangelist John the Theologian, vol. I, p. 118-121.

Injustice draws the Wrath of God

Most bad and harmful things happen when we wrong other people. For example, when a fortune is made unjustly, the owners may live a few years like royalty, but in the end, they will spend all their money on doctors. Remember the saying “ What is gathered by the wind is also scattered by the wind.” Or remember what the Psalm says, Better is a little that the righteous hath than the abundance of many wicked. What they collect is spent, blown away. Rarely will an illness, a bankruptcy and so on be sent as a trial from God…

Elder Paisios, With pain and love for contemporary man, Souroti: Holy Monastery Evangelist John the Theologian, vol. I, p. 87-88.

Elder Paisios spoke of various signs of the Times and noticed that we need to make spiritual preparation for the events prophesied.

The Antichrist

…the anticipated Antichrist will, in some manner, be the incarnate devil, who will present himself to the Jewish nation as the Messiah and will mislead the world. Difficult years are ahead; we will be tested very severely. The Christians will suffer great persecution. And, you see, people are not at all aware that we are living during the signs of the times, that the sealing is already advancing. It is as if nothing is happening. This is why the Sacred Scripture says that even the elect will be deceived. Those without a good disposition will not be enlightened and will be misled during the years of apostasy. For whoever does not have divine Grace, does not have spiritual clarity, just like the devil.

Elder Paisios, Spiritual awakening, Souroti: Holy Monastery Evangelist John the Theologian, vol. II, pp. 198-199.

Difficult times lie ahead

…with God’s permission, a strong jolt will come our way. Difficult times lie ahead. We will be greatly tasted. We have to take this warning seriously and live spiritually. It is circumstances that are forcing us and will force us in the future, to labour spiritually. But we should try to do so by choice and joyfully rather than by necessity when various sorrows come upon us. Many Saints would plead to live in our times so that they would have the chance to struggle for Christ…

Elder Paisios, With pain and love for contemporary man, Souroti: Holy Monastery Evangelist John the Theologian, vol. I, 39-40.