Monday, October 14, 2019

Balance the physical realities of our daily life with our spiritual needs. ( St. Seraphim of Sarov )

One of the common errors we make is to think in either/or or black&white terms. For example we may read from one of the desert fathers about giving up all that is of this world and to only concentrate on God. If this notion is taken literally we will create great problems in our life by ignoring the reality of our integral existence. We are physical and spiritual beings. We cannot separate one from the other. It is equally wrong to ignore spirit and to live according to our physical needs alone. This is the most common of errors as our physical needs and passions seem to be the stronger and difficult to manage. What is essential for our spiritual well- being is to balance the physical realities of our daily life with our spiritual needs.

How do we best do this? This is where discipline and balance are essential. We have to be attentive to both body and spirit. We need to pray and we need to eat. We need to set aside time for exercise and for worship. We can't let one dimension of our life out weigh the other. We must care for our whole being all the time.

Saint Seraphim of Sarov says the following:


One should go by the middle path: ‘turn not aside to the right hand nor to the left’ (Pr. 4:26); and one should render unto the spirit what is spiritual, and unto the body what is bodily; for the maintenance of temporal life, one should render what is necessary, and for life in society, that which is lawfully demanded by it, in accordance with the words of Holy Scripture: ‘Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s’ (Mt. 22:21).

He calls this balance the "middle path." our approach to life must be one that is a balance. We must care for the body we have been given, we must have time to express our love for our neighbors, and we must also continually nurture our love for God. When we have such balance we will find that our heart is filled with peace and that God's grace fills it with His love enabling us to walk this thin line of balance. With perfect balance there is no sin but only harmony and love.

I must admit, this is not an easy path to find. Most of will find this balance hard to find. This is why the Church provides so many ways to assist us. As we are more aware of our sinfulness we are discovering the points of imbalance in our lives. Through the ascetic practices, worship and regular participation in the sacraments, we are making an effort to achieve a better balance. No one can walk out on a high wire ir even a balance beam without practice and self effort. The same is true in aging the necessary balance between the physical and spiritual aspects of our life.


St. Seraphim of Sarov

Monday, October 7, 2019

The Triumph of the Church ( St. John Chrysostom )


"How does one prove that Christ is God? 
We should not try to answer this question by using the argument of the creation of heaven and earth, because the unbeliever will not accept it. If we tell him that He raised the dead, healed the blind, expelled demons, he still will not agree. If we tell him that He promised us resurrection from the dead, the kingdom of heaven, and ineffable goods, not only he will not agree, but also he will laugh at us.
How then shall we lead him to the faith, especially when he is not spiritually developed? Surely, we shall do this by resting on truths which are acceptable both to us and to him without any dispute or shadow of doubt.
We shall start from the fact that Christ planted the Church in the world. What is the point then that we absolutely agree upon? It is the fact that Christ planted the Church. It is by this means that we shall reveal the power and prove the divinity of Christ. We shall see that it is impossible to regard the dissemination of Christianity in the whole wide world in such a short period of time as a human work. And indeed, when Christian ethics invites people who have bad habits and are slaves to sin to a higher life. And yet, the Lord managed to liberate from such things not only us, but the entire human species.
Christ’s superbly wondrous achievement is the Church. He achieved this without using arms, without spending money, without mobilizing armies, without causing wars. He achieved it by starting only with twelve disciples, who were insignificant, uneducated, poor, naked, unarmed… 
It was with such human resource that He succeeded in persuading the nations to think correctly, not only in the present life, but also in the life which is to come. He managed to nullify the ancestral laws, to uproot ancient customs, and to plant new ones. He managed to detach man from an easy way of life and to lead him to a difficult one. He managed all these things, although all fought against Him, and He had to endure a degrading crucifixion and an ignominious death!
 
This superbly wondrous achievement is not human. Surely, such things do not occur to human beings. What occurs is the exact opposite. In other words, as long as they are alive and prosper their work progresses. When, however, they die, what they created is destroyed along with them. This is endured not only by the rich or the leading ones, but also by the chief governors. This is so, because their laws are abolished, their memory is obliterated, and their names are forgotten, while their intimate associates are pushed aside. These things occur to those who originally governed the nations by a mere nod, and led to war grand armies; to those who condemned to death and recalled the exiled. To the Lord, however, it was the exact opposite that occurred.

It is superbly wondrous because it was achieved by the Crucified Christ. Before the crucifixion the state of his work looked pitiful. Judas betrayed Him. Peter denied Him. The rest of the Disciples fled in order to save their lives, while many believers abandoned Him. He was left alone among enemies. And yet, after the slaughter and the death, so that you may learn that the Crucified Christ was not a mere man, all things became brighter, jollier, and glorious. 
 
Peter, the head Apostle, who before the crucifixion did not bear the threat of a maidservant, but after so many heavenly teachings and his participation in the divine mysteries said that he does not know the Lord, the same one after the crucifixion preached Him to the ends of the world. Innumerable martyrs were sacrificed, because they preferred to be put to death than to deny Christ, as the head Apostle had denied Him after being intimidated by a young maiden. 
 
The amazing submission of the world to the Crucified Christ and His Apostles: Now, all the lands, all the cities, the deserted and the inhabited places, confess the Crucified Lord. On Him faith is placed by kings and generals, archons and consuls, slaves and freemen, unlettered and educated, the barbarians and the various nations of humanity. Even that small and insignificant tomb that received the blood stained and tortured body of the Lord is more valued than a thousand royal palaces and more venerable even to kings. 
 
What is even a greater paradox is the fact that what happened to the Lord also happened to His disciples. Because, those who were despised and imprisoned, those who were atrociously tortured and underwent innumerable martyrdoms, the very same ones, after their death, were more honored than the kings. Where do we see this? In Rome, the emperors, the consuls and the generals put aside all things and run to venerate the tombs of Peter the fisherman and Paul the tent maker. In Constantinople, those who bear diadems on their heads, wish to be buried next not close to the tombs of the Apostles but at the entrance of their temples. And so the kings become the doormen of the fishermen! Indeed, they are not ashamed for this, but boast about it, not only themselves but also their descendants.
 
Christ’s prophesy about the Church and its speedy fulfillment. When Christ’s disciples were only twelve and the Church was not in any one’s thought, when the Jewish synagogue was still flourishing and the impious idolatry dominated almost the entire world, the Lord had prophesied: “On this stone (i.e. on Peter’s confession of faith) I will build my Church, and the powers of Hades will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Do you realize the truth of this prophesy? Do you see its fulfillment? Think how important a fact is the spreading of the Church almost to the entire earth in a very brief span of time.
 
 Think how the life of so many nations changed and led to the faith so many peoples, how it abolished ancestral customs, how it liberated from age-long habits, how it scattered like dust the domination of pleasure and the power of sin, how it extinguished like smoke the foul smell of the sacrifices, the idolatrous ceremonies, the abominable feasts, the idols, the pagan altars and temples, how it erected sacred altars everywhere, in our land and in the lands of the Persians, the Scythians, the Africans and the Indians. What I say? Even in the British Isles, which are beyond the Mediterranean, in the ocean, the Church was spread and erected altars.
 
The superbly wondrous liberation and change that the Church induced in the world: The work of liberation of so many peoples from age-long shameful habits, as well as the change in the manner of life from an easier to a more difficult one, is indeed wondrous, or rather superbly wondrous. It is a proof of divine operation (energy), even if no one had opposed it, even if peace had prevailed and many had assisted. 
 
Because this spreading of the Church did not only come into collision with ancient habit, but also with pleasure, the happy manner of life. In other words, it had two powerful opponents, which tyrannized humanity: habit and pleasure. 
 
Whatsoever people had received, from centuries ago, from their fathers, their grandfathers and their ancient ancestors, even what they had received from the philosophers and the rhetoricians, all these things they agreed to despise, an attitude extremely difficult. Besides, they had to accept a new manner of life, which was indeed much more difficult; because she removed them from luxury and attached them to fasting. She removed them from avarice and led them to lack of property. She removed them from profanity and led them to chastity. She removed them from aggressiveness and led them to gentleness. She removed them from envy and led them to friendship. She removed them from an easygoing and pleasurable life and led them to a life of difficulties, hardships, and full of sorrows. Indeed she led to this life those who had been accustomed to the life of luxuries. Surely, those who became Christians were not people who lived in some other worlds and did not have sinful habits, but were those who had rotted in them and had become more flexible than clay. It was them that she called to follow the hard and ragged road. And it persuaded them to follow it!
 
The superbly wondrous work of the Twelve Apostles in the spreading of the Church. How many were persuaded? Not two, not ten, not twenty, not a hundred, but an innumerable crowd. And how many did she use to persuade them? She used two men, uneducated, uncultured, unknown, poor, without property, without bodily strength, without glory, without illustrious ancestry, without rhetorical eloquence. She used twelve men who were fishermen, tent makers, whose mother tongue was foreign; because, they did not speak the same tongue with the idolaters. They spoke Hebrew, which was different from all other languages. It was with them that the Church was built up and spread to the ends of the world. This is not the only wondrous fact, but there is also the fact that these few, these poor, these uneducated and despised men, who set out to change humanity, did not pursue their work without disturbance. They were confronted with innumerable wars from every side. They were opposed by every nation and in every city. But why do I speak of nations and cities? War was raised against them even on every house. Their teaching separated on many occasions the child from the father, the daughter in law from the mother in law, the brother from the brother, the servant from the master, the citizen from the ruler, the man from the woman, and the woman from the man. In every family not all believed simultaneously,, and so the Christians suffered daily harassments, ceaseless enmities, a myriad of deaths. All fought them as common opponents and enemies. They were pursued by kings, governors, citizens, freemen, slaves, crowds, cities. They did not pursue only them, but –how terrible– even the neophyte catechumens, i.e. those who just believed.
 
The victory of the Apostles and the Church is due to the power of the Crucified but also Risen Lord. It caused horror and wrath to the idolaters the thought of abandoning their pagan altars, of despising their bloody sacrifices, which all their fathers and ancestors practiced, and of believing in the Lord; of believing in Him who took flesh from the Virgin Mary, and stood trial before Pilate, and suffered numberless tribulations and degradations, underwent a dishonorable death, was buried and rose again. It is indeed a paradox, that, while the sufferings of the Lord were indisputable, -inasmuch as many had seen the lashings, the biting, the spitting, the slapping, the cross, the mocking, the entombment– it was not the same with the resurrection. The Lord, after his resurrection, manifested Himself only to the disciples. In spite of this fact, they spoke about the resurrection and persuaded the peoples and built up the Church. How did they do it? They did it with the power of the Lord, who sent them to preach his Gospel to the nations. It was He who opened to them the way. It was He who facilitated their difficult task. Had they not been assisted by the divine power, the spreading of Christianity would not have even begun.
 
The persecutions against the Church did not inhibit its expansion. The reason was that while the tyrants were forearmed against the Church, while the soldiers interposed their arms, while the mobs raged like a wild fire, while the bad habit was lined up in opposition, while orators, sophists, the rich people, ordinary citizens and leaders were aroused in enmity, the word of God, being stronger than the flame, turned the thistles into ashes, cleansed the fields and sowed the word of the preaching. Some of the believers were thrown into the prisons, others were exiled, others had their property confiscated, others were assassinated, and others were torn to pieces. In spite of the fact that Christians were treated as common criminals, suffering patiently every kind of punishment, humiliation and persecution, more and more people joined the Church. Indeed, the new believers not only were not discouraged by the tortures which they saw the older believers undergoing, but became more eager! They run by themselves, without constraint, showing gratitude to their torturers. They became more fervent in the faith, seeing the torrents of the blood of the believers. 
 
The expansion of the Church in spite of the persecutions proves the incomparable and unconquerable power of Christ. Did you see the incomparable power of Him who achieved all these wonders? How is it possible that people who are undergoing such horrid martyrdoms feel no sorrow? And yet, they rejoiced, and were elated! This is what St. Luke the Evangelist adduces as an example, when he says about the Apostles that “they left from the council rejoicing, because they were proved worthy to be ill-treated for the shake of Christ” (Acts 5:41). While no one can build even a wall with stones and plaster when is persecuted, the Apostles built up the Church throughout the world while sufferings persecutions, imprisonments, exiles and deaths as martyrs. They did not build her up with stones, but with souls –which is much more difficult; since it is not the same to build a wall as to persuade perverted souls to change their manner of life, to abandon their demonic madness and to follow the life of virtue. They achieved this, because they had with them the unconquerable power of the Lord, who had prophesied; “I will build up my Church, and the powers of Hell will not prevail against her” (Matthew 16:18). 
 
Consider how many tyrants fought the Church and how many persecutions they raised against it… Augustus, Tiberius, Gaius, Nero, Vespasian, Titus and their successors right down to Constantine, were all idolaters. All of them –some more moderately, and some more harshly– fought the Church. Even if some of them did not raise persecutions, nevertheless, their attachment to idolatry motivated those who wanted to flatter them to oppose the Church. In spite of all this, the evil schemes and attacks of the idolaters were dissolved as cobwebs, scattered like dust, vanished like smoke. Besides, what were planned against the Church became the occasion of great benefits for the Christians. The reason was that such plans created choruses of martyrs, who constitute the treasure, the pillars, and towers of the Church. 
 
The wondrous fulfillment of what Christ prophesied about the Church reveals most clearly his true Godhead. Do you see the wondrous fulfillment of this prophesy? Indeed, “the powers of Hell cannot prevail against her.” Looking at what came to pass, believe what is to come. No one in the future will be able to prevail against the Church. If they did not manage to crush her when she numbered but a few members, when her teaching seemed novel and strange, when so many terrible wars and so many persecutions were raised against her from everywhere, much more they will not manage to injure her today, when she has spread in the whole world, and increased her dominion among all nations, abolishing their pagan altars and idols, their festivals and celebrations, the smoke and the smell of their abominable sacrifices. How did the Apostles achieve such a great, such an important task, after so many obstacles? Surely, it was by the divine and unconquerable power of Him, who prophesied about the creation and triumph of His Church. No one can deny this, unless he is mindless and completely unable to think."



(Translated and edited by Protopresbyter George Dion. Dragas, PhD, DD, DTh; This article represents selections from St. John Chrysostom’s treatise To Jews and Greeks, a demonstration, that Christ is God… (PG 48, 813-838);



Source- http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.ca

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

God and the devil are found at opposite poles. ( St. Nicholas of Serbia )

God and the devil are found at opposite poles. No one can turn his face to God who has not first turned his back on sin. 
When a man turns his face to God, all of his paths lead to God. When a man turns his face away from God, all of his paths lead to perdition. 
When a man finally rejects God by word and in his heart, he is no longer fit to do anything that does not serve for his complete destruction, both of his soul and of his body. 
 
St. Nicholas of Serbia

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

An enlightened Christian found God with a lifeline to cancer!




Albanian 52-year-old Porphyria talks about her decision to be baptized into the Orthodox faith, about her dark path without her faith and her illness, which eventually made her even stronger.

Porphyria comes from Albania, is a new-born Christian, lived in Greece for many years, always loved Christ and then came the blessed moment when she was baptized and named Porphyria, out of love for Saint Porphyrios. However, various difficulties forced her to live as an immigrant for the second time and now she lives with her family in Germany. We met her in Greece and she spoke to us with the warmth of a true Christian comforted by the caress of God. She narrated without false humiliation her course in the dark path of the life without God and the sickness that she went through. She rejoiced with no trace of pride, as if she were talking about another woman's triumph.

Porphyria speaks to readers of "Orthodox Truth".
“I'm glad to be in Greece after three years. I'll try to tell them how my soul felt. And to speak even to a few who have the same experiences as me and to give them courage. I do not want to talk about my own experiences, but to glorify God for all He has given me. I want God to make me worthy, to express this love and gratitude that I have, to be heard by others. You know it's beautiful when we talk and support as much as we can people who have cancer, but it's very different when you go through the fire yourself and you want to talk by your own experience. The common experience says many things. Actually, I got sick of cancer for the second time. The first time I was ill I was 32 years old. Although I was familiar, I was terrified too. I remember the first day I went to do my first chemotherapy. There was a nest within me, a grief, a sadness, because I knew the road and didn't want to cross it again. That day I felt like the people who were sentenced to death and just before they were executed. I had this feeling when the medicine in my blood started to flow slowly. At that moment, I'm not going to hide it, I was tearful. "

Faced with this suffering, one can not but stand with utmost respect and with this feeling we asked her if she felt abandoned by God ...


Despite my pain, sadness, and crush with the return of my illness, I was not damned. I did not feel that God had abandoned me or given me a punishment. By God's grace, I quickly got used to it. And while I felt like they were executing me, at the same time I was thinking that Christ would turn the potent medicine into water. This poison that would enter my blood, if it wasn't for my good, Jesus would make it water. Until then it was my grievance and my pain, but not against God. "






What Porphyria told us was simply told. We also discerned the noble progress made by the soul through pain, so that it may wish to impart the knowledge she had acquired in such a hard way and to become a missionary of pain to its peers.

After cancer I started searching for myself. I had read about Elder Paisios a lot and also about Saint Porphyrios, to whom I prayed a lot, though I had not met him. Saint Porphyrios was speaking in my soul! He urged people to confession and communion. He said, "My children, most of the things that afflict us, are demons. If you build your relationship with God, you'll have nothing. You will be saved."

So step by step I started to work on myself and say that somehow I have made a mistake. So I was baptized and became an Orthodox Christian. I was learning myself through the mysteries. I resorted to confession. Man must tell everything in confession, even his sinful thoughts, without being embarrassed. Even if he has done the worst crimes in the world. Because it's all tricks of the evil one who wants to separate us from our Father. So the sly one wants to give us false cues and remorse that
make us supposedly so soiled that we can't go near God. But Christ said that He came, just for sinners, the very sinners, the harlots and the publicans, I did not come for the righteous. If He came for the righteous He would have gone to the high priests and the pharisees only. "


From what we discussed with Porphyria, it was obvious that she got this experience without having been thrown into depression. She did not feel it was a punishment of God. Cancer and everything she learned from it did not come across to her as punishment. It was almost a source of inspiration:


"We are often entangled in the prosperity of this world, in the fine foods, the drinks, the beautiful clothes, all of which is what the wicked one wants us to pursue in our lives. This is how it seduces people. And they think they are doing well. And because I lived through cancer, even if for a little while, in Christ's love, I was full in the Holy Spirit in my cancer, and I had nothing to lose. While experiencing the disease, I could not eat, drink, dress, have hair, lag behind other people around me, but I felt I had everything, that I lacked nothing. Diets and food and hair and clothes and beauty. Everything was the grace of God. And if we do not have this grace we will never be happy. God is our joy and our health and our happiness and our wealth and everything is ultimately Christ. We have lost Him and we experience so much pain in our lives. So I want to shout to people that for me cancer is not the boogeyman that scares people, I don't see it as a curse. For me this was God's blessing. Christ knew that I deeply worshiped Him in my soul even before I was even baptized. I was actually looking for Him. I had a good soul and I was a Christian without being a Christian. However, I was also very sinful. When I was an atheist, I had made two abortions in my country. My doctors were telling me abortion is nothing. Later I read that the fetus has a soul and tears to pieces. I was ruthless and God was merciful to me. He allowed the cancer for me to realize that I too could find death. “But I'm not like you, I have a lot of love. I love you, I don't bully you. I only want to slap you just to make you come back because you left Me. How to get you back from going off the cliff. So I allow something that you say is a curse, pain and sorrow, but in reality it is sanctification. This is how I finally felt got the cancer. "


"The reason I live is related to trying to cleanse myself from sin."

Time in patients fluctuates at a different rate, and often clarifies the foggy landscape that faded away so far the dominant thinking. What Porphyria put forward for her life in terms of pre- and post-knowledge was a first-rate lesson for the sick and the healthy:

“But first I found the time to think and draw some conclusions about myself and my life. At first I had a lot in my head and I didn't think about God. I took time, through illness, to think about why I came to life. To work from morning to night? To have more and more to eat? I realized I didn't come to earth for that. The reason I exist on earth is not to sin. Then there is no reason for me to live. The reason I live is related to trying to cleanse myself from sin. To make Porphyria clearer than snow, as the psalm says ... This is what we should ask God, He only knows what is good for us, no matter what we usually ask for in our prayer. We are unhappy because we want our will to be done. But God does not have the same will as ours. Because he knows better than us what we ask him of. And so I slowly learned to leave it in His hands. And let Him bring whatever He wants.
"The Lord used the hard way to bring me back"

It would be naive to believe that after this "happy end" they lived better and we did better. Porphyria does not leave us in such illusions, which gives courage to the people who fall and fall again, that is to all of us. She will tell us:

"I was not always in a state of grace, let's say. Although I got baptized and communed, when I went to Germany again the living worries came. And I was sad because my will wasn't being done. Things weren't happening the way I wanted them too. Of course, man also thinks in spiritual life that he manages things on his own. He reads a book and thinks that's enough. Then comes selfishness and it crushes you. So I want to say that for me cancer was life-saving. It brought me to God from whom I had been so far. When God abandons me I am tragically unhappy. I miss everything, I blame everything and I want to put the blame with everyone and on everything. God used the hard way to bring me back to salvation. Everyone has to search within themselves whether or not they have lost God. God is everywhere and within us and around us, but I may have lost him personally. And something must be done or done to find Him. So I ask God to dwell in my soul, because everything is ultimately a gift from God. Do what you can and you will realize the rest are God's gifts."
“It is a paradise to have Christ in us. Otherwise, we will never be complete”

Often those of us who are baptized as infants run the risk of cultivating, a lifeless silence in our faith. But a newcomer, after years of ignorance that took his breath away, when he finds it again becomes excited and becomes a teacher. Porphyria teaches us:

By the grace of God I realize how much I love the whole world and those who have troubled and distressed me. This can not be done without Grace. People should not fear cancer or other misfortune. Even losing our children, no matter how difficult it may be, even then we are not discouraged. If one divinizes his child and forgets God, then the child's loss can work so that we can find the true God we had forgotten. First of all is God, we must love Christ above all. Then we are complete. If we ask Him, God will teach us His will, He will tell us what He wants from us. I say to myself that I am 52 years old and have lived most of my life. So I have to fight my passions step by step and become a child of light. A child of God, to show us how our Father is. If we are not saints, then we think we are living, but we are dead. It is a paradise to have Christ in us. Otherwise we will never be complete. We will always miss something. And that then leads us on the wrong paths. Because when we miss something we always look for it in the wrong places.
_________
Sophia Chatzi
published in the newspaper
ORTHODOXY ALITHIA Sept 11, 2019

translated by: https://orthodoxgladness.blogspot.com/

post in greek: https://apantaortodoxias.blogspot.com/2019/09/blog-post_62.html

Monday, September 23, 2019

What is true hope ? ( St. Seraphim of Sarov )

If a man has no worries about himself at all for the sake of love toward God and the working of good deeds, knowing that God is taking care of him, this is a true and wise hope. 
 
 If a man takes care of his own business and turns to God in prayer only when misfortunes come upon him which are beyond his power, and then he begins to hope in God, such a hope is vain and false. 
 
A true hope seeks only the Kingdom of God... the heart can have no peace until it obtains such a hope. This hope pacifies the heart and produces joy within it.
St. Seraphim of Sarov

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The devil will use every opportunity to pit the true Orthodox Christians against each other ( Fr. Seraphim Rose )


In the coming years, the devil will use every opportunity to pit the true Orthodox Christians against each other, sometimes with issues great and other times (more commonly) small. 
We must try with steadfastness to not get caught by the bait.

Fr. Seraphim Rose

Sunday, September 15, 2019

When St. Paisios Smacked a Theology Student

I once visited Father Paisios with a student of theology who was at a critical stage. He asked him about his studies. The student naively told him about a work of his dealing with the creation of man. At one point he told Father Paisios: "At one point God didn’t know what to do, so He formed Adam and Eve, to pass His time." I saw Father Paisios with lightning speed raise his hand and gave him a heavy smack. The student lost it, became dizzy, he stood briefly with bulging eyes trying to realize what happened, and then he began to cry, sobbing like a small child. 
 
Father Paisios was looking at him, not saying anything, and let him cry. After much weeping, he said: "Blessed one, what is this that you said? Come with me." He took him by the hand, like a mother with a young child, and brought him to the sink and said: "Wash your face." Then he gave him a towel to wipe his face of the tears and brought him back to his seat. He then began with humor, tenderness and much love to indicate his error, and to say that we should not speak about God and His work with indecency. Moreover, he even wrote a graceful dedication in one of his books and gave it to him. Needless to say, I followed this entire scene speechless and ecstatic.


When I would visit him, after asking his advice on issues dealing with my personal life, I would ask him about issues I was facing with my spiritual children. I told him about a child who was very lively and reactive and asked for an opinion on how to treat him. He replied disarmingly: "Do what a mule driver does with the animal. Hold him securely by the reins and sit far away so you don’t get kicked."
When I recall my memories of that holy figure, I am moved, I shed tears and I pray. May we have his holy prayers. 
 
Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos 
 
 Excerpt from the book Μαρτυρίες Προσκυνητῶν – Γέροντας Παϊσιος ὁ Ἁγιορείτης – 1924-1994, σὲλ 43-44, ἐκδόσεις Ἁγιοτοκος Καππαδοκίας, Νικόλαος Α. Ζουρνατζόγλου, ἐπισμηναγὸς Ε.Α.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Letter to a person who had to choose between suicide and begging.. ( Saint Nicholas Velimirovich )

 

You write that all your worldly goods were sold off to a third party. When you found yourself out on the street with nothing and nobody, you headed to the cemetery, bent on killing yourself. You had no doubts or second thoughts about this. 
 
Exhausted by the vexations, you lay down on your parents’ grave and fell asleep. Your mother appeared to you in your sleep and berated you, saying that in the Kingdom of God there were plenty of people who had been beggars, but not a single one of those who had done away with themselves. That dream saved you from suicide. Your beloved mother really did save you, by God’s providence. You began to beg and to live off begging. And you’re asking if, by doing so, you’re transgressing God’s law.


Take courage. God gave the commandment: ‘Don’t steal’. He didn’t give any commandment ‘Don’t beg’. Begging without any real need is stealing, but in your case it isn’t. The general and emperor Justinian was left blind in his old age, with no possessions or friends. He would sit, blind, outside the courtyard of the throne and beg for a little bread. As a Christian, he didn’t permit himself to consider suicide. Because, just as life’s better than death, so it’s better to be a beggar than a suicide. [Saint Nikolai seems to be confusing two people here. There was a medieval Latin legend that Belisarius, Justinian’s great general, had his eyes put out and ended his days as a beggar, but this is generally, though not universally, held to be spurious. WJL]


You say that you’re overcome with shame and that your sorrow’s deep. You stand at night outside the coffee-shop that used to be yours and ask for money from those who go in and out. You remember that, until recently, you were the owner of the coffee-shop and now you don’t dare go in even as a customer. Your eyes are red from weeping and lamentation. Comfort yourself. God’s angels aren’t far from you. Why are you crying about the coffee-shop? Haven’t you heard of the coffee-shop at the other end of Belgrade where it says: ‘Someone’s it wasn’t; someone’s it won’t be’? Whoever wrote those words was a true philosopher. Because that’s true of all the coffee-shops, all houses all the castles and all the palaces in the world.


What have you lost? Something that you didn’t have when you were born and which isn’t yours now. You were the boss, now you’re poor. That’s not loss. Loss is when a person becomes a beast. But you were a person and have remained so. You signed some papers for certain of your prominent customers and now your coffee-shop’s in the hands of a stranger. Now you look through the window and see everybody laughing, just the way they used to, and you’re wandering the streets with tears in your eyes and covered in shame. 
 
Never fear, God’s just. They’ll all have to answer for their misdeeds. But when they attempt to commit suicide, who’s to say whether the merciful Lord will allow their mothers to appear to them from the other world in order to keep them from the crime? Don’t consider them successful even for a moment. Because you don’t know how they’ll end up. 
 
A wise man in ancient Greece said: ‘Never call anybody happy before the end’. It’s difficult to be a beggar? But aren’t we all? Don’t we all depend, every hour of every day, on the mercy of Him Who gives us a life to lead? Now you’ve got an important mission in the world: to engage people’s attention so that they remember God and their soul and to be charitable. Since you’re forced to live in silence, delve into your soul and talk to God through prayer. The life of a beggar’s more heroic than that of a boss. ‘For gold is tested in the fire and accepted people in the furnace of humility’ (Sir. 2, 5). But you’ve already demonstrated heroism by rejecting the black thought of suicide. 
 
This is a victory over the spirit of despondency. After this victory, all the others will be easy for you. The Lord will be at your side.
Peace and comfort from the Lord!


Source: Δρόμος χωρίς Θεό δεν αντέχεται…, Ιεραποστολικές επιστολές Α, En Plo Publications, pp. 121-3.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

To partake of the Body and Blood of Christ is to receive in oneself the Risen Christ ( St. John Maximovitch )

To partake of the Body and Blood of Christ is to receive in oneself the Risen Christ, the Victor over death, granting to those with Him victory over sin and death. 
Preserving in ourselves the grace-filled gift of Communion, we have a guarantee and foretaste of the blessed, eternal life of the soul and body.



St. John Maximovitch

Friday, August 30, 2019

Bearing your cross ( St. Innocent of Alaska )



If you bear your cross with perseverance and seek comfort only from Him, then He, through His mercy, will not abandon you but will touch your heart and will impart to you the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

It is then that you will feel an indescribable delight, a wonderful inner peace and joy such as you have never experienced before, and at the same time you will feel an influx of spiritual strength. Prayer will become easier and your faith stronger. Then your heart will be kindled with love of God and all people.

St. Innocent of Alaska

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Τhe Desire for Heaven..( Saint Gregory of Nyssa )



But so as not to fatigue your mind in vain by gazing out over the infinite, we’ll desist from poring over the nature of God Who lies beyond, because it’s impossible to understand Him. From what we’ve looked at, we’ve formed some sort of notion of His greatness, but all we’ve really gained is the knowledge that we’re unable to understand much else. And the more superior we believe the nature of God to be to our knowledge, the greater our sorrow is, because the summum bonum, from which we’ve been separated, is so great, and is such that we can’t bear any real knowledge of Him.

And yet, sometimes we find ourselves in such close communion with God that it defies any attempt at explanation. And this God, Who’s beyond our comprehension, is so profoundly entrenched in our nature that we can actually be transformed in accordance with the original image, so that we seem to be new persons because of the absolute likeness. Because, whatever we think now about God, all of it was – once upon a time – inside people. People once enjoyed incorruption and blessedness and composure and freedom. They didn’t know sorrow or the cares of life. They were closer to God and saw Him with a clear and free intellect, unhindered by any intermediate impediment. In short, all of this suggests to us the reason for the creation of the world, when it says that people were made in the image of God, that they lived in paradise and enjoyed the trees planted there. The fruit of these trees was life, knowledge and so on.

If we had all that, how is it possible not to mourn the disaster that befell us, when you compare and contrast the blessedness we knew then and today’s misery. We who were elevated have been humbled; we who were made in the image of the heavenly, have become dust; we who were destined to become royalty, are slaves; we who were created immortal have been destroyed by death; we who enjoyed the delights of paradise have been transported to this afflicted and wearisome place.

We’ve exchanged the ambience of freedom from the passions for this tedious and mortal life. We, who were once free and autonomous, are now dominated by so many and such varied evils that it’s not easy even to number our vicissitudes. Because each of the passions we have within us, when it becomes dominant, takes control of the person who’s subject to it. And just like any tyrant, when it captures the citadel of the soul, it exploits the occupants with the things that should be subject to them: each passion uses our very thoughts to our detriment, in order to benefit from them.

In this way, anger, fear, cowardice, audacity, excessive sorrow or joy, hatred, contentiousness, callousness, harshness, envy, flattery, resentment, heartlessness, and all the passions, which are all ranged in antipathy towards us, are simply an enumeration of some of the tyrants and oppressors who subjugate our souls as captives. And if you think about the bodily tribulations which have become part and parcel of our very nature, meaning the many and varied forms of illness we suffer from and yet which, initially, we had no experience of, you’ll weep all the more at seeing woe where there was once weal and at comparing what is bad with what is so much better.

It appears that this is what the Lord is teaching when He praises mourning, that is that the soul looks to the real good and doesn’t wallow in the essential falseness of this life. Because, if you look carefully at things the way they really are, how can you live without tears? In the same way, if you don’t – and are absorbed in the pleasures of life- how can you understand that you’re actually floundering in a pernicious morass and are in no better state than dumb animals? The way their bodies have been formed is miserable. What could be worse than being deprived of reason?

They’ve got no idea of their distressed condition, yet their lives go on, with some sort of pleasure. A horse, for example, will whinny when it’s pleased, and a bull will paw the ground and send up dust; a pig raises the hairs on its back and dogs play; calves gambol. You can see in each of the animals how they express their pleasure by certain signs. If these animals had any understanding of the value of reason, they wouldn’t spend their dumb, miserable lives in sensual pleasure. The same is true of those people who have no cognizance of the good things of which our nature’s been deprived. For them, enjoyment of the present life means sensual pleasure.

True Beauty

What words can describe the magnitude of the damage done by the failure of the effort to know God? What more can your intellect conceive of? How can you manifest and describe the ineffable in words, and that which is beyond conception by the intellect? But if the eye of your intellect is so well cleansed that you can somehow see what Christ promises in the Beatitudes, you’ll scorn all human discourse, because it’s unable to express what you think. But if you’re still bound to the bodily passions and have the eyes of your soul closed, as though from illness, because of your impassioned condition, then the whole power of rhetoric is of no avail, for that very reason. It’s the same for those who are insensitive, whether you play down or overstress the wonders of words.

In the same way, describing a shaft of sunlight in words is neither use nor ornament to somebody who’s been blind from birth, because you cannot convey the brightness of a ray through the hearing. In a somewhat similar manner, you have to have special eyes adjusted to the spiritual and true light in order to see this beauty. If, by divine dispensation and in an inexplicable manner, you’ve seen this, you preserve the wonder deep in your consciousness. But those who haven’t seen it can’t even begin to comprehend the damage to those who’ve been deprived of it.

How can you describe to them the good they’re missing out on? How can you show anybody something which is beyond expression? We don’t know any special words that would do justice to that beauty. There’s nothing in creation that we can use as a reference. And comparisons wouldn’t do it justice either. How can you compare a small spark with the sun? Or a drop of water with the boundless oceans? Because the ratio between a drop and the enormous masses of waters in the deeps, or a little spark and the great rays of the sun, is retained with regard to everything we view as good when seen in relation to the beauty that is to be perceived around the first good, and beyond and above any other good.

So how can we present the magnitude of this catastrophe to those who have suffered it? I think David expresses this inability very well. On one occasion he was caught up in his mind with the power of the Holy Spirit and, as if transcending his self, in this state of blessed ecstasy, he saw this indescribable and unimaginable beauty. He saw what is possible for a person to see if they’re relieved of their corporeal impedimenta and are able to enter, through the intellect, into contemplation of conceptual and bodiless things. And since he wanted to say something commensurate to what he’d seen, he let out this great cry, which everyone repeats: “All people are liars” (Ps. 115, 2).

Now this, as I understand it, means that anyone who tries to interpret the indescribable light by using words, is really a liar. Not because they hate the truth, but because they’re unable to describe it. Because with visible beauty, such as we have in our lives on earth, whether in inanimate objects or animate beings with dazzling colours, we have the potential to admire them and accept them and to tell others about them, painting their description in words, like an image of their beauty. But how can words reveal something, the original of which is beyond understanding, when there’s no means of description? We can’t talk about colour, or shape, size or even harmony of form or any other such irrelevance in general. How can you perceive something through the things that can be understood by the senses alone, when it’s so far away, and is shapeless, unformed and foreign to the very idea of size and to all the things that are manifest in and around materials and the senses.

But just because it appears to be beyond our powers of comprehension is no reason to despair that our desire will be forever unrequited. On the contrary, however much greater and more sublime the thing we desire is shown to be, the more it’s necessary to elevate our intellect and to bring it up to the mark of our desideratum, so that we’re not excluded from communion with God. Because there’s a great danger that we’ll stop thinking about Him completely, precisely because He’s so sublime and so far beyond description, since we can’t base our knowledge of Him on any of the things we know.

Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Μυστική Θεολογία, selected texts, pubd. by Epektasi, pp. 103-9.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The struggle between good and bad- Angels and Demons

God sent us angels to be our traveling companions and our guides in this life, to guard us and protect us from all evil. They are also our most faithful allies in our struggle against the forces of evil.God is absolute Love, and this love impelled Him to create intelligent beings who would be able to comprehend love, to love God and participate in His bliss. The first such beings to be created were the angels. God endowed them with great abilities and settled them in His heavenly abode. However, though the angels possessed a great deal of perfection, they were not absolutely perfect, and so were open to the influence of passions.

Thus it came about that some of the angels, seduced by the thought of their limited perfections, entered a state of pride, which became the cause of their fall. Lucifer was the first to rebel in pride against his Creator, and he was followed by many other angels who left God. But to leave God means to leave life and embrace death. The rebellious spirits left God of their own accord, and the just Lord also left them, leaving them to their own will. And what consequently happened? The faithful angels separated themselves from the rebels and rejected them with horror, while the rebellious ones turned from bright angels into angels of darkness. Those who had just recently shone with divine glory, now became an object of revulsion and horror throughout the entire heaven and even to themselves. Those who had just recently sung the glory of God, now began to curse and blaspheme. Driven out from heaven by the bright angels and tormented by their own rage, they fell with the speed of lightning into the abyss of hell.

The angels who had remained faithful to God now became absolutely perfect. The Lord rules the universe together with them and uses them as His faithful messengers. The angels are like a model of the perfection and the majesty of God. Their minds and knowledge have no other limits except those imposed by God upon His own creation. The angels are also endowed with superior strength and might, by means of which they are able, in accordance with God’s will, to act upon bodies and the physical world.

But as much as the bright angels are perfect and blissful, so the fallen angels, together with their leader Satan, are horrible and evil. They are eternally tormented by an intense hatred of God, a desire for revenge and utter despair. This is what the struggle of good and evil is all about: it is the struggle of Satan against God and all His creation.

The action of evil forces in the world is quite evident, especially in our times. But from whence springs this great rage with which they are trying to destroy us? Being unable to attack God Himself, they attack Him through His creation, especially through man, who has been created in His likeness and image. What hellish pleasure they find in defiling this image and taking away from the Creator His favorite creation! Being unable to do good, the evil spirits feel a great satisfaction in making man participate in their crimes and share their punishment. And can Satan remain indifferent to us, knowing that we live in the hope of attaining the eternal bliss which he himself has lost? He becomes greatly enraged at the thought that the faithful followers of Jesus Christ, together with the bright angels, will judge him at the end of time. This envy burns him more powerfully than the flames of hell. For this he tries to move heaven and earth, just to lure us into his net. He turns all his anger against us and becomes most dangerous when he attacks not openly, but with the various enticements and wiles of his devious mind.

But it is at this point that the angels come to help us! In order to encourage and support His creation, His faithful sons, in their fierce and unequal battle with the forces of evil, the Lord sends us His angels, His heavenly troops. To each of us He assigns one of them, who becomes our guardian angel, our protector. And it is not only each Christian who has his own guardian angel, but each family, each pious society, each nation. The angels are the friends and brothers of the people on earth. They are so imbued with the love of God, that they immensely love us, too, because in us they see the same gifts of God’s grace which they themselves possess. Truly, in the words of King David, man is a being who is only slightly lower than the angels.

The angels love us and participate wholeheartedly in our salvation, which is just as precious to them as their own holiness. They feel great joy at our salvation and do their utmost to keep us on the right path.

Guardian angel

Let us love and value these wonderful friends and helpers of ours, especially our guardian angel; let us constantly turn to them in prayer, as to our nearest and dearest, so that together with them we would be able to enjoy eternal life in heavenly bliss!!

Saturday, August 17, 2019

"The Choice between Light and Darkness" ( St.Paisios )


"The Choice between Light and Darkness"
In the book 'The Gurus the Young Man and Elder Paisios', by Dionysios Farasiotis p.238-242, St Herman Press 2008, we read the most amazing description of that moment when a searching soul is presented with the terrifying choice, eternal life or eternal death.



One afternoon at the beginning of Holy Week, having made a stop in Thessaloniki, I was by myself in our home there, when, suddenly, my surroundings vanished. There were no images to be seen, sounds to be heard, or objects to be touched. My five senses had ceased functioning. It was as though the light switch had been flicked and the room plunged into total darkness.
 
My mind turned its full attention to a spiritual realm that it found utterly riveting and captivating. In one direction, I saw a soft but intense light- brilliant yet gentle. In the other direction, I saw a thick, cavernous darkness. Initially, I turned my attention towards the awesome, yet fearful, darkness. It made my flesh crawl, but I was overcome by curiosity, the desire to understand what it was. My mind advanced towards the darkness, and I began to sense the magnitude of its negation. The deeper I went, the greater this negation became, and the thicker the darkness.
It had a vast power and, if I dare put it this way, a certain grandeur. It represented a negative perspective on reality, unhesitatingly extending into reality as depth, even as the light stretched infinitely into reality as height. On one side, there was immense love; on the other immense hatred. The light was overflowing with unconditional altruism, while the darkness pulled away in utter self-centeredness.

Though I could not see into the darkness, I could feel the presence of souls in it, leaping about and shrieking with insane, wicked laughter as they were pulled deeper and deeper into the ocean of darkness , until the sound of their voices disappeared altogether. Frightened by this savage madness, I headed towards the light, seeking its protection. Just reaching its outskirts, I felt the relief of having being rescued from a grave danger.

Although I didn't advance very far at all into the darkness, I was able to fill the depths of its evil ocean. I could understand the very essence of the enticing power of sin to tempt, as well as its laughable powerlessness, utter dependence, and shadowy non-existence. The darkness, I saw, is fearsome when it has won you over, but it is absurd and feeble when you reject it- it can not defeat even a small child if he does not fall on his own. In the same way, I did not advance far into the light- only so to speak, skating its edge -but even there I felt confident and comforted by a fullness of life, peace, joy, and knowledge. The light loved me greatly in spite of my unworthiness and granted me its gifts, gifts I never dreamed existed.

At this point, I realized that the light created the world and
every living being. The existential space in which each person dwells is itself a creation fashioned by the light, which also fills and permeates these spaces. One being decided to stay outside of the existential space created by the light, thus creating a sort of space for itself, though only by denying the light, turning from it and driving it away. The darkness has no existence of its own, but only in that it denies the ever-existing and sovereign light....

Just as the light's love wishes to unite all things, being the source of existence and creation, so the hatred of the darkness wants to divide all things, being the source of non-existence and destruction.

Within a matter of minutes, I had received a lesson of immeasurable depth. It was not only a revelation beyond words, of subtle differences of profound meaning and great importance, but also -and even more- a test and trial of the deepest inclinations and intentions of my heart, to see whom I would follow and whom I would leave behind. Fortunately, although my heart initially moved towards the darkness, it ultimately found repose in the light, and fortunately, the light still accepted me."

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Flock of the Theotokos



The Most-Holy Theotokos "Gerontissa" ("The Abbess"), depicted with Holy Angels and several Monastic Saints

M.M. Elder, let us move onto a different topic. Speak to us on the relationship that you and every Athonite has with the Panagia.

Elder Markellos: It is Her Garden, and we are her children. Once, an Athonite monk was sick. In order to be healed, he took refuge in the Panagia of Tinos. There, of course from reverence, he slept at night within the church. In reality, therefore, Panagia visited him, but in a...unique manner. She gave him a motherly slap, saying at the same time: "What do you want here?"

He replied: "My Panagia, I came to find my health."

"Well, why didn't you call me and entreat me in my Garden? I'm there every day along with you. Was there a need to come here?" Then the poor monk lost it, and awoke thinking: "Wow, what a fool I am, what am I doing here?"

This motherly position Panagia has before all of us, and when we are pleasing before Her--according to Her promise--she gives us everything. The blessed Elder Ephraim of Katounakia said: "Are you being tempted? Grab hold of the Panagia by her dress and call upon Her! She is a mother, she will hear you." He said this with joy, and also with faith that it would thus occur. When he sought for something from the Panagia, She gave it to him.

There is a story regarding an astonishing vision having to do with the Athonite Fathers and the Most-Holy Theotokos, which depicts her many times as an Abbess, as the Gerontissa of the Holy Mountain, with Her rod and mandya. She visits, she keeps vigil, she cares for Her children.

An Elder saw this astonishing vision: "The Second Coming, the Last Judgment had come. The Panagia as an Abbess passed by the cemetaries of the Holy Monasteries, by the Sketes, by the Hermitages, where there were the graves of the Fathers. As she passed by the place of the Fathers' rest, she would hit Her staff on the graves, and the Fathers would rise!"

An astonishing vision... All the resurrected Fathers followed the Panagia, who went before them, and arranged them into a large flock, the flock of the Most-Holy Theotokos. The Athonite Fathers were and are Her children, and she led them and leads them to the Kingdom of the Heavens.

An incredible vision. But once in a while, from certain graves, the Panagia did not take the Fathers. She left them there. They were those monks who did not take care in their life, who did not keep their monastic promises and their monastic duties. These cried out, mourned, wailed, entreated: "Take me too, Panagia! Take me together with You!" However, she did not take them, and they remained complaining and estranged from the great brotherhood, the Synodeia of the Most-Holy Theotokos.

Every Athonite monk senses the Panagia as his Mother. Whatever he asks of Her with faith and purity, the Panagia brings about, but he must try to always be pleasing before Her in his life. In other words, he must try to not make his life something that would sadden his Mother.

From Elder Markellos of Blessed Memory, Former Abbot of Karakallou Monastery, Mount Athos. From the Book: Logos Athonos, by Manolis Melinos.
 
http://agapienxristou.blogspot.com/search/label/Flock

Thursday, August 8, 2019

I am at this moment in some pain, and I call on the Name of Jesus ( Fr. Seraphim Rose )



“Why do men learn through pain and suffering, and not through pleasure and happiness? 
Very simply, because pleasure and happiness accustom one to satisfaction with the things given in this world, whereas pain and suffering drive one to seek a more profound happiness beyond the limitations of this world. 
I am at this moment in some pain, and I call on the Name of Jesus,not necessarily to relieve the pain, but that Jesus, in Whom alone we may transcend this world, may be with me during it, and His will be done in me. But in pleasure I do not call on Him; I am content then with what I have, and I think I need no more. And why is a philosophy of pleasure untenable?,because pleasure is impermanent and unreliable, and pain is inevitable. 
In pain and suffering Christ speaks to us, and thus God is kind to give them to us, yes, and evil too—for in all of these we glimpse something of what must lie beyond, if there really exists what our hearts most deeply desire.”


Fr. Seraphim Rose

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

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.
 
Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos