Sunday, June 24, 2018

Passion of Suspicion ( Elder Daniel Katounakiotis )



Suspicion in time of peace teaches disturbance and misunderstanding. Suspicion never knows the truth, even if the eyes see the truth and circumstances speak of kindness and love. Suspicion distorts everything and persuades its lover to be convinced of a lie rather than of a truth of what he sees.

Suspicion is a false and grotesque photographer, who in photographing distorts the image of the form before him....

When temptations occur to one who suffers from suspicion, whether from men or from God for his correction, or from natural coincidences, he assumes that such or such a person instigated them, freely censuring the one who is not responsible....

As a vivid depiction of this disastrous madness, I will dispassionately tell you of a reposed monk of Little St. Anne's, Fr. Theophan. He, as we know, being completely conquered by this disease, separated himself from all his brothers and neighbors, declaring that everyone despised him, and that he alone knew what was right, and that the rest were worthy of abhorrence. He suffered this because his suspicions taught such things to him, and he submitted to them and relied on them.

If, my beloved, it happened for the moment that an Ecumenical Council gathered by the Holy Fathers would condemn such as are deceived by their suspicions, they would never yield, maintaining that they are right and the Holy Fathers are wrong.

- Letter to Elder Callinicus the Hesychast (2/1/1896)

Flee, brethren, from monster-breeding suspicion.

As much as this passion appears small and unimportant, so, on the other hand, if it is not checked, it can become great and bring disastrous consequences. This passion of suspicion is usually proposed to foolish and vain souls by the crafty serpent, for the reason that they are occupied by the passion of envy and remembrance of wrongs.

Therefore, when any brother yields to the suggestion of this passion, he will first get as a fellow-worker and advocate evil curiosity, and in consequence, whatever his thoughts suggest he will consider as a completed event....

When this passion becomes chronic, the enemy brings to the brother various fantasies suitable to the aim of leading him astray; and thus it happens that he loses his reason, from which may the All-Good God and Lord save us....

In order to prevent such an abominable passion, the brother must from the first beginning shun it as a deadly poison, exposing it to infamy through pure confession and self-reproach.
 
By Elder Daniel Katounakiotis

From Contemporary Ascetics of Mount Athos (vol. 1), pp. 315-316.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Monasticism: The Apostolic Life

From a Presentation by the Very Reverend Abbot of St. Anthony’s Monastery, Archimandrite Paisios, to the San Francisco Diocese clergy conference at St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery in Florence, Arizona. Spring, 1998.

Many Christians during the first centuries of the Church were moved by a holy zeal to forsake the world and distribute almost all their belongings to the poor or to a common treasury, and then lived a secular life, praying and reading the Holy Scriptures. They usually lived not far from their own families. By doing handicrafts, they earned what they needed for their basic living necessities. They distributed the little money that was left over to the poor. These people were called “ascetics.” This way of life developed even more during the following years, and from this mode of living the monastic life was born. Women who wanted and desired to dedicate themselves completely to God confessed before witnesses that they desired a life of virginity and thenceforth lived—in the beginning—with their parents, who provided for their livelihood. Later it was customary for the virgins to live together in “Parthenons,” Pachomios the Great organized monasticism for women more perfectly and founded many monasteries for men and many for women.

The monastic life was called the “apostolic life” in the ancient church. It imitated – and still imitates – the life of the first Christians, who lived under the direct or indirect spiritual direction of the Apostles. In essence, it is a life of repentance and purification of the heart from our passions, while fulfilling the commandments of the Lord. The beatitudes of the Lord find their fulfillment in monasticism, and more generally in ascesis, just as in the time of the ancient church.

The ascetical life of the monasteries is just like the ascetical life of the first Christians. We find in the Acts of the Apostles that the faithful “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers… All who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. Continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food. . .” (Acts 2:42-46) And later we find another similar testimony: “The multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.” (Acts 4:32)

Sozomenos writes in the Ecclesiastical History that the Jews who became Christians led a philosophical life, as he called it – their way of life was just as we see it organized today, says Sozomenos, by the Egyptian monks. They imitated as much as they could the Prophet Elias and St. John the Baptist. “They forsake belongings, relatives, friends; they live outside of the city in sacred houses called monasteries, in which they conduct august sacraments and worship God day and night. They do not eat before sunset, or they eat once every three or more days. They abstain from meat and wine. There are old virgins living with them…” We see that ascesis was never limited only to men.

In an account of St. Justin the Philosopher, in the second half of the second century, the saint describes the life of the Christians which is similar to that of the first Christians; “We bring whatever we have to the common treasury and we distribute it to whomever is in need.” Their spiritual life was such that, according to St. Justin, they would not even contract marriages, except for the sake of raising children, or they would set aside marriage to keep complete continence. In other words, the monastic way of life, according to the saint, was a normal phenomenon.

The Lord’s words, “All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given,” were actually meant to help his disciples strive for a life of celibacy. Thus, according to St. John Chrysostom, the Lord presents the issue of not marrying as a great and significant achievement in order to attract them and exhort them, since the Lord wanted to inspire the desire for celibacy in them.



Then, to show the possibility of virginity, He said, “There are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake,” that is, they destroyed the evil thoughts and purified their heart. In this way He led them with these words to prefer celibacy, as St. John says.

Celibacy existed in the beginning of the creation of Adam and Eve. St. John Chrysostom describes the life of Adam and Eve in his eighteenth homily on the Book of Genesis: “At the outset and from the beginning the practice of virginity was in force. However when due to their indifference they disobeyed and sin began, that lifestyle was taken away.

Also in his work On Virginity, he describes the life of Adam and Eve saying: “It was deemed necessary for him to have a helpmate, and it came to be, yet not even in this manner was marriage considered necessary. It did not even appear, for they lived without marriage, abiding in paradise as if in heaven, and enjoyed the pleasure of associating with God…. Thus did they live in that place, adorned with virginity.” So it was natural for Adam and Eve to live in virginity and in continuous communion with God, since, as St. Nicholas Cabasilas says, “Adam and Eve were created in the image of the Incarnate God the Logos. Christ was the archetype. The Old Adam was not the prototype for the New, but the New Adam was the prototype for the old. St. Gregory Palamas and St. Maximos the Confessor say exactly the same thing. In this monastic life, the life of celibacy, mankind has its beginning.

Therefore, monasticism is not something foreign to the Church; it is not something that began much later. Celibacy is the life that Christ the Prototype of the old Adam, wanted mankind to live.

When the Church was besieged by blasphemous heresies, the monks and nuns greatly contributed to fight against them. They fought against and hated the dogmas of the heretics, but sincerely loved the heretics. With sincere love in imitation of Christ they brought the heretics back to the bosom of the Church. The sacrament of communion was the final, the crowning stage of the heretics’ return to the Church. However, without the complete rejection of the heresy, this was impossible. Their confession of faith in the decision of the Ecumenical Councils was considered a basic prerequisite of the expression of the orthodoxy of the monks. The catholicity of the Church during the era of the Ecumenical Councils is lived in the eucharistic assembly with obedience to a bishop, as well as through the unconditional acceptance of the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils. The voice of the infallible Church is expressed both through the Ecumenical Councils and through the other regional councils, whose authority is acknowledged by the universal Church’s conscience.

The champions of these decisions were the monks, distinguished for their orthodox faith. Since heresy appeared as a threat to the unity of the Church, the bishops, being responsible for their flock, sought the help of spiritual men to confront the heresies. St. Anthony the Great was summoned from his mountain by the bishops many times to help confront the Arians. St. Makarios was called upon by a bishop to help him against Ierakitos. The nun Melani was active in Palestine. Besides all the other public welfare institutions and women’s and men’s monasteries she founded, she brought about 400 schismatics back to Orthodoxy, who belonged to the sect of the Meletians. Likewise, she worked with other spiritual men to bring all the Spirit-fighting heretics of her area back to the Church. In the book of Barsanuphios and John, the faith in the Ecumenical Councils is praised and extolled. In Palestine, St. Efthymios and St. Symeon the Stylite brought Evdokia back from the anti-Chalcedonian heresy of Dioscoros to the Universal Church. And along with her, a multitude of people deceived by Theodosios returned to the Orthodox Church.

The confessors of the Orthodox Church Sts. Savvas and Theodosios the Abbot also engaged in similar struggles. St. Savvas not only anathematized the leaders of heresies – Eutuches, Nestor, and Severos – but also “supported” the council of Chalcedon. Countless other monks struggled for the authority of the Ecumenical Councils and against the heresies. Not only did monks and hieromonks struggle for them, but they also took part in the Ecumenical Councils. In particular in the Seventh Ecumenical Council, out of the 350 Orthodox Fathers, 136 were abbots and monks.

Even the emperors themselves believed in the positive role of the monks to bring back those who had gone astray from the Church, “which is one.” The letters of the emperor Marcian to the Fathers of Sinai which exhort them against Theodosios the heretic, show the conviction of the emperor that the peace of the Church and the return to her of those who have gone stray was possible through the sound advice and support of the monastics.

The ascetic monastic fathers of the desert, having traversed the path of their spiritual journey free of deception, that is, by passing from the purification of their soul, and progressing to illumination and theosis, in other words to the state of beholding God, to the true theology of our Church, were able to present the truth successfully against errors.

____________________________

Our Church honors marriage in Christ as well as virginity in Christ. So when a monk or nun criticizes or despises marriage, he shows that he does not have an ecclesiastical mind-set (phronema), since he criticizes something that the Church blesses. A true monk never criticizes the blessed state of marriage. And of course a married person should not criticize monasticism because this also shows a lack of an ecclesiastical mind-set (phronema). Divine Grace is acquired by the monk with virginity in Christ, while by the layman with a marriage in Christ. But in either case, a struggle, ascesis, is required, according to Orthodox teaching.

St. John Chrysostom teaches: “Those who live in the world, even though they are married, ought to resemble the monks in all ways.” “You are greatly deceived if you think that there are things that are required of laymen and other things of monks…. All are equally accountable.” St. Basil the Great says in his Ascetical Works: “Submission to the Gospel is required for all men, both for monks and for laymen.

How much, and to what degree must each and every person apply himself in order to attain salvation? According to Father Justin Popovitch, “all of God and all of man, nothing less. It is not measured by just how much is needed and who gives more but God gives all of Himself and man must give all of himself, and in this consists salvation.” And this again applies to monks as well as laymen.

Monasticism expresses the apostolic life of the ancient Church as the continuation of that Church. It is the heart of the Church. But because the world does not provide the capability for people to live in it evangelically to the degree that many would want to, they withdraw from the world, aflame with a divine inspiration, which for several people is uncontainable, for even in their sleep they keep the commandments of the Lord. They withdraw from the world not out of self-love or cowardice or to avoid assuming worldly responsibilities, but out of a purely holy desire to be freed of their passions and that their heart be cleansed, so that they be united with Him Whom they yearn for.

“A Monk,” according to St. Nilus of Sinai, “is he who, withdrawing from all men, is united with all men. A monk is he who regards himself as existing with all men and sees himself in each man. The more a monk overcomes the world, the brighter shines his grace-filled rays and the greater the number of people who can be warmed and illumined by them. From his isolate cell, he sees deeper and becomes familiar with his fellow human beings and grows far closer to them in heart than is possible for those living in the world, for he sees them all and is united with them in God.”

Monasticism is similar to the first apostolic parishes, not only in their common belongings and common daily prayers, but primarily in their common therapeutic treatment. In the ancient Church, the catechumen would pass through the stage of purification, would be enlightened in Holy Baptism, and would even reach theosis. In a similar fashion, a novice monk struggles in the stage of purification and repentance, as the catechumen would, and when his repentance is completed, he enters the stage of enlightenment with the “Second Baptism” which he receives, that is, in his tonsure, and then by the grace of God, he proceeds, if God wills it, towards theosis. If we study Orthodox Monasticism, we would understand how the first apostolic parishes functioned.

The parish life can be inspired by the monastic life. “Angels are a light for monastics, and the monastics are a light for laymen,” according to St. John of Sinai. The monastery reminds the faithful that the commandments of the Lord are common, they apply to all. It drives them on towards new spiritual struggles. Some even experience a spiritual rebirth, according to just how receptive they are to the Grace of the Holy Spirit.

The monastery is a clinic, in precisely the same way that the first apostolic parishes were. The uncreated grace of God perfects man. Once man achieves the healing of this soul, he lives the tradition of our Church; he becomes a bearer of Tradition. When the great Fathers of the Church, who were for the most part monks spoke about purification, illumination, and theosis, they spoke as ones with the experience of the uncreated light; they lived this reality, they lived this tradition of the Church, they lived Orthodoxy. And Orthodoxy, according to Father Justin Popovitch, is: “life and experience of grace, and through this grace, knowledge of God and men.”

The monks, and all Christians, who are cleansed of their passions, find the cure of their soul become the most social of people. And since they themselves have found interior peace and perceptibly know what it means to be a temple of the Holy Spirit, they are able to guide others as well towards the purification of their soul. Spiritual guides are not limited merely to the clergy or to the monks and nuns, but all clergy and laity, married and celibate, men and women are able to guide souls towards perfection if they themselves have been purified of their passions and have attained the state of enlightenment. Or even if they are still in the stage of the purification of their soul, they are able to help.

The love that one has towards monasticism, towards the apostolic life is proof that one lives Orthodox tradition. It is love towards the essence itself of Orthodoxy and this is why all the saints loved ascesis.

The ascetical life is our effort assisted by the Grace of God to apply the commandments of Christ. As St. Gregory Palamas has said ‘ascesis is primarily the evangelical life which is based on repentance. It is man’s preparation for his union with Christ. The commandments of the Lord are directed to all married and celibate, without exception. The only difference is that monks pursue the more perfect application, according the words of the Lord, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and come and follow me.”

Ascesis along with repentance requires bodily effort. As Abba Isaac the Syrian says, “The nous is not glorified with Jesus Christ if the body does not suffer for Christ.” When by means of an ascetical life man is united with Christ, or at least is progressing towards this communion and union, then he is able to see within himself how the achievement of the image and likeness of God is brought about. When man struggles, he simply shows his good intentions to God, and it is the uncreated grace that performs the ineffable union.

When a monk, or a Christian, lives properly, that is, when he progresses spiritually and passes through purification and attains enlightenment, and progresses in accordance with the will of God towards theosis, then he lives Pentecost. He comes into direct contact with Christ through His uncreated energies, which has an impact on the whole world for a person’s spiritual rebirth, as the Fathers of the Church understand it and as it is lived primarily in monasticism, is noticed by all of creation. He effectively benefits all of creation. His teaching, his life, his behavior, his entire spiritual world are all different. He reflects the eternal life, the new life that Christ brought to the world. This new man is what we, too, are called to live in order to see in practice the difference between the genuine Orthodox Christian and the life of a worldly man.

_____________________________________

The transfiguration of each soul takes place also with constant repentance. In beginning His work to save the world, the Lord preached repentance.

A monk through constant repentance renews his baptism. According to St. John of the Ladder, the tears of repentance are a second baptism, a reconciliation with the Lord, and a purification of the conscience. According to St. Isaac, the fruit of the inner man begins with tears. This is why tears are a sign of true repentance, and they are required of all Christians. But there are also other kinds of tears. According to St. Isaac, there is “an order of tears which belongs to him who sheds tears unceasingly both night and day …. The eyes of such a man become like fountains of water for two years’ time or even more. But afterwards he enters into peace of thought and purity of heart. And once he enters into it, it shall abide with him till death. And God raises up the fruit of the Spirit in him. And in this present life he perceives, dimly somehow, and in a figure as it were, the change nature is going to receive at the renewal of all things.” This marks the completion of the heart’s purification process.

The saints of our Church know that divine Grace abides in and transfigures our soul with a desire for struggling, with humility – which is the basis and foundation of the virtues – with watchfulness, and with prayer.

The prayer which the monk uses above all, more than all the other prayers of the Church is the so-called Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” It has tremendous power when it is used constantly and with zeal, and primarily when it is used under the super-vision of an elder who possesses this prayer, that is who has experience of how it acts in the soul of a person. The Jesus prayer contains a confession of the God-man and a confession of our sinfulness. In this combination of these two truths lies the whole spirit of our Orthodoxy. With time, the Jesus prayer guides us towards Christ-like humility, which, according to St. Maximos, guides us to the two-fold knowledge: the knowledge of the omnipotence of Christ and the knowledge of our own weakness. The ignorance of the omnipotence of Christ and the ignorance of our own weakness constitute pride.

The Jesus prayer purifies the nous of thoughts and fantasy, an indispensable prerequisite without which man does not achieve the knowledge of the truth, the knowledge of God, in other words, does not fulfill his purpose as a Christian. As St. John Chrysostom says, this prayer illuminates man with uncreated light. “Prayer done with zeal is light for the nous and soul… It is an unquenchable and continuous light.” However, it is not achieved without labor and temptations. In fact, according to St. Isaac the Syrian, “Reckon every prayer, wherein the body does not toil and the heart is not afflicted to be a miscarriage.”

When prayer, and in particular the Jesus prayer, is done with zeal and persistence and under obedience, it brings man to “true knowledge of God, it is an intercessor between God and men, a physician of the passions, and antidote for illnesses, peace of soul, a guide that leads to heaven, it is communion and union with God. And man’s soul is directed towards God, enlightened, and is thoroughly brightened by His indescribable light.” The monk constantly strives to occupy himself with prayer and mainly with the Jesus prayer, lest he be found unworthy of this divine conversation and end up spiritually lifeless and dead. For the Jesus prayer to purify the soul of man, it must be said without ceasing. This work is not only for monks. Praying without ceasing is for all Christians, according to the Apostle Paul. St. Gregory Palamas as Archbishop of Thessaloniki taught the same thing, that ceaseless prayer, the Jesus prayer, it not only for monks, but for all Christians, as well. But for man to make progress in the Jesus prayer, stillness and seclusion are indispensable aids.

In the Gospel, the Lord often went out into the wilderness to pray. “Why did he ascend the mountain?” asks St. John Chrysostom. And he answers, “In order to teach us that solitude and isolation are good things when we want to come into contact with God. The wilderness is the mother of hesychia and it keeps us far from all noise.

All the hours of the day are appropriate for prayer, but the nighttime hours are most suitable. The night has darkness and quiet, essential aids for the execution of prayer. This is why monks prefer the nighttime hours for noetic prayer and their communication with God. The wilderness has shown forth tens of thousands of saints of our church.

The monk gives priority to the person. Ascesis delivers him from thoughts, the imagination and the passions and by the grace of God he acquires peace and becomes a fountain of peace for all the world. “Find peace within yourself,” says St. Seraphim of Sarov “and thousands all around you will be saved.” He means here not just those who come into contact face to face with such a person but also those far away are changed and become partakers of the grace of such a saint, and turn towards God. This is why today the world needs such people more than ever before.

“Perhaps,” St. Silouan writes, “You will say that nowadays there are no monks who would pray for the whole world; but I tell you that when there are no men of prayer on the earth, the world will come to an end and great calamities will befall: they have started already.”

External stillness must be accompanied with interior stillness. The beginning of the development of the passions and of one’s fall is thoughts, which proceed from a soul lacking peace. The imagination is also a diseased condition of the soul. Of course, in our Lord the New Adam, and in Adam and Eve before the Fall, these did not exist. When we initially undertake by the Grace of God to cure of soul of its illness, a real struggle is required so that we do not, according to St. Dorotheos, “remain all the time rotting in our thoughts.” When a monk joins ceaseless prayer with endless vigilance and complete spiritual obedience to an experienced elder, then he gradually achieves the purification of his soul, and “the purity of soul,” according to St. Isaac the Syrian, “is the first gift of our nature; and without purity of the passions the soul is not healed of the illness of sin, nor does it acquire the glory which it has lost through the Fall.”

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Since we have briefly mentioned the virtues which we as Christians must work at, it would be good to mention also the virtue which is the mother of all virtues, obedience, which without great toil brings all the virtues chained together.

Obedience is a great mystery of our Church, as St. Silouan has said. “The Holy Fathers,” according to St. Silouan, “ranked obedience, which is in essence humility, above fasting and prayer.” In a broader sense, we must have more obedience to Church Tradition and to the visible point of organizational unity, that is, to the bishop and to the canonical structure of the Church. However, more specifically, spiritual obedience to a spiritual father who has reached the state of illumination and theosis renders the disciple, in proportion to the faith and obedience he has towards his elder, a recipient of the uncreated energies of God, through his spiritual father.

“He who has cut off his self-will and put himself under obedience in all things to his elder and his confessor has an unfettered mind… and obedience brings him all the virtues and gifts one by one. He who has true obedience fulfills all the commandments and becomes like Christ who was ‘obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.’ The Holy Spirit loves the obedient soul,” according to St Silouan, “and quickly comes to know the Lord, and obtains prayer of the heart…. And thus
God gives His wisdom and anything else the obedient soul asks of Him.”

________________


The Church today, the world, is passing through a very serious crises, a crisis both moral and spiritual. The problem in the world today is man – the individual. If man by means of ascesis purifies his nous from thoughts and fantasies and then his heart from the passions, then the Grace of the Holy Spirit comes permanently to his soul, and in this manner he becomes at peace with himself and with God. He comes into contact with God and is at peace with his fellow man and with all of creation. The achievement of one soul being cured of his passions means a positive change to all of society, it is a beginning of the cure of all society. This is primarily what monasticism – the apostolic life – has offered and continues to offer to the Church throughout its history, either by word or through silence, to those who draw near. 
 
http://stpaisiusmonastery.org/about-the-monastery/about-monasticism/monasticism-the-apostolic-life/

Sunday, June 17, 2018

On Magic and Occultism ( Elder Cleopa of Romania )


Inquirer: I know that many people, in pain caused by the death of their beloved relatives, take recourse to spiritualism, fortune-telling, occultism, or even aim at conversing with their dead relatives. Why doesn’t the Church allow this?

Elder Cleopa: In both Holy Scripture and throughout the writings of the Holy Fathers there are a host of testimonies clearly showing that God punishes those that become involved with occultism and necromancy (seeking to speak with the dead). Our Saviour teaches us that “blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn. 20:29). The Apostle Paul shows us who believe in Christ that we must seek after the power of faith and not the perception of our material eyes, saying “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). The prowling demons, however, instruct certain men not to be satisfied with the teaching of the Saviour and of His Apostle - to walk with trust in the faith of Christ - but rather to seek by every means to view with their sensible eyes that which is accessible only to the eyes of faith. The man who resorts to black magic and necromancy is an enemy of God, disobedient to His commandments, not content with the salvatory lessons God teaches him through the Scriptures, but rather, prompted by the demons in this illegitimate work, he seeks to investigate things rationally. And so, believing in these fantasies, he withdraws from God and the teaching of our Church.

Those who concern themselves with this and call upon the spirits of the dead, bring in as support the example of Saul who sought from the sorceress the invocation of the soul of Samuel (1 Sam. 28). Those who have fallen into this delusion of Saul should know from his punishment that they are culpable before God. For, because of this very transgression, Saul lost his kingdom and his life and was punished by God to be killed with his own sword. The punishment of Saul for his unlawful conversing with the dead is related in Holy Scripture thus: “So Saul died for his transgression which he committed against the LORD, even against the word of the LORD, which he kept not, and also for asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit, to inquire of it; and inquired not of the LORD: therefore he slew him, and turned the kingdom unto David the son of Jesse” (1 Chr. 10:13-14).

In the Old Testament the Lord commands the following: “Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God” (Lev. 19:31). And elsewhere: “A man or also woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them” (Lev. 20:27). The invocation of the spirits of the dead is hateful before God Who has never given it sanction among His people: “ . . . there shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD” (Deut. 18:9-14). God considers this abomination one of man’s greatest revolts against His Will.

We have no need to communicate with the dead since God has revealed to us everything He knows to be necessary and beneficial for our salvation. For example, conversing with the dead is not able to prove to us that the souls of the dead live as they once lived in this present life. This reality of the next life is not news to us since we know it from Divine Revelation and it is a matter of faith, without there being the need for research and examination with our bodily senses. Divine Revelation offers us every assurance of truth. If someone wants to inspect and feel this with their visible senses it means placing in doubt the truths which were revealed by God. Furthermore, in these spiritual discourses there is no assurance that the spirit of the dead that was called for will appear and speak, for the evil spirits, the demons, mimic the righteous spirits, as Saint Paul teaches us: “Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light” (1 Cor. 11:14). And the Evangelist John tells us the following: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but test the spirits whether they are of God” (1 Jn. 4:1-3).

In addition to all of this, the Holy Fathers tells us that in the case of Saul and the witch, it was not the spirit of Samuel that appeared, but a demonic spirit that had supplanted the spirit of Samuel. Saint Gregory of Nyssa says that the spirit was so dreadful and hideous, that the sorceress was frightened by it. Likewise, we see in the case of Adam whom God had called to the height of theosis, that he was deluded by the Devil and, falling from the grace of God, hid himself with Eve. There are many examples in Scripture from which we know that by the delusion of the devil death is inherited instead of life, the lie instead of the truth, and evil instead of good.

Due to the danger of deception from visions and dreams, some of the Holy Fathers didn’t accept any kind of dream before performing a very careful examination. Saint John of the Ladder [Abbot of St. Catherine's Monastery on Mount Sinai (6th c.) & author of The Ladder of Divine Ascent] says “Whoever does not believe in visions and dreams is a spiritual philosopher,” and also that when the demons of vainglory and pride tempt the weaker brothers with visions and dreams, they make them into “prophets.”

Inq.: The fortune-tellers and enchanters say that Holy Scripture relates cases of the appearances of dead men and angels. They also say that since Scripture attests to our inability to communicate directly with the dead, it follows that conjuring of spirits is not foreign to Christianity, and, above all, is not something anti-Christian.

EC: It is true, indeed, that Holy Scripture relates to us the appearance of Moses and Elias during the transfiguration of the Saviour (Mat. 17:3), and also that after the crucifixion of Christ many dead were raised from the tombs (Mat. 27:52-53). Scripture also attests to the appearance of angels, such as at the news of the birth of Saint John the Baptist, and birth of the Saviour Christ (Lk. 1:11-20), at the Resurrection of the Lord (Lk. 2:9-15), and also to their intervention in the service of certain of the righteous and the saints of the Old and New Testaments (Mat. 28:2-7). They communicated with men either face to face or through dreams (Mat. 1:20, 2:13). However, these appearances did not happen by the will and invocation of men, but by the command of God. These appearances certify the immortality of their souls and their power to be revealed to men in exceptional ways, however, it does not support the prerogative of man to seek out contact with the dead.

Inq.: In the Old Testament necromancy was practiced, as is clear in the case of Saul and the sorceress and elsewhere. In the Christian Church, likewise, that which we call the supplication of saints and angels is practiced. At its base, this is nothing else but an invocation of righteous souls or a communication with the dead, with the aim of helping the living with their particular needs. On account of this, it is claimed that occultism or fortune-telling represents a scriptural teaching that in practice is recognized by the Church.

EC: The truth regarding Saul and the sorceress was clarified earlier. Concerning the entreaty of saints and angels, in no way is it the same as necromancy. In calling upon the saints and angels, we do not have the intention or pretension of speaking sensibly with them, of seeing them, hearing their voice, or of having them appear before us perceptibly in order to reveal to us mysteries which God has determined should remain hidden from man. We speak to the saints and angels in our prayer, by means of our mental (νοερός) eyes and our faith, without the need to see or hear them sensibly.

The conjurors have the aim and the need to call upon the spirits of the dead (I believe, however, that in fact they are spirits of demons which appear in the form of the spirits of the dead) in order that they may reveal to them certain secrets that relate to the future of the dead or other curiosities forbidden by the law of God. Listen to what Holy Scripture has to say: “And when they shall say unto you, seek unto the necromancers and unto the soothsayers, who chirp and who mutter, Shall not a people seek unto their God? On behalf of the living should they seek unto the dead? To the law and the testimony! If they speak not according to this word, for them there is no daybreak” (Is. 8:19-20).

When the unmerciful rich man called upon Abraham to send Lazarus to the house of his father and to make known the situation in which he was found in order to bring his brothers to repentance, Abraham answered him that for the living the revelation of the Law (Moses and the Prophets) was sufficient. Indeed, in the Divine Revelation that was given to us with Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition we lack nothing in the way of knowing about our salvation, nor do we have need to seek from the dead - or better, the demons - something favourable to our salvation.

When God sends us a prophet and it is not revealed to us immediately, this means that he does not want to make other disclosures, knowing that they won’t be profitable for us. When someone who prophesies is not from God, without a doubt he is from the Devil, as were the false-prophets referred to in Scripture. They announced false visions, vanities, and preposterous prophecies relative to the condition of their heart. When they actually do tell us the truth, we should not believe it, since they don’t say it with the aim of benefiting anyone, but rather, from deceptiveness they seek to lead us into delusion. Look at the girl with the unclean spirit of divination in the city of Philippi of Macedonia. Everything that the evil spirit said through her mouth was true, and yet the Apostle Paul admonished it to keep silent, casting out the demonic spirit. (Acts 16:16-18)

As was suggested earlier, with the supplication of the saints and angels we are not curious as to what we will see or what we will hear from them (materially speaking), as are the magicians and fortune-tellers with their invocation of spirits. We seek from God, through the saints, that which He deigns to give us for our salvation, while the psychics and shamans seek, from the demons that appear in the semblance of dead men, that which they themselves want, and even this out of base curiosity.

If, however, by the command of God, one of the saints or angels wanted to appear to us in a material way, there is no transgression in this, for we didn’t desire this or seek after this. Yet, even in such cases, it is necessary for us to be very careful, humble, prudent and full of the fear of God, for knowing that Satan also assumes the guise of an angel, it may well be a fantasy of the Devil (2 Cor. 11:14-15). Of course, even when the vision is from God it is better for us not to receive it. For if we do this with humility God will not be sorrowful because He knows that we are taking heed not to accept within us the wolf instead of the shepherd. We don’t, indeed, have need of seeing the saints and angels, but only to pray with faith and internal vision. Saint Neilos the Ascetic says “Blessed is that intellect which arrives at the point of worshipping God without giving shape to His form within itself.”

Inq.: The occultists and necromancers allege that, according to the teaching of Scripture, being born again or returning to life is accepted by the Scriptures, as in the case recorded of the return of Elias in the person of Saint John the Baptist. The angel said about John: “And he shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias” (Lk. 1:17). And the Saviour says similar words about John: “And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, who was to come,” (Mat. 11:14) in other words, he concerning whom it was revealed by the prophets must come (Mal. 4:4). Another time the disciples asked the Lord, “’Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come?’ And Jesus answered and said unto them, ‘Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things. But I say unto you that Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist” (Jn. 17:10-13). Consequently, John the Baptist is Elias who is to come again into the world. Therefore, Jesus Christ taught that there is a re-awakening or retrieval of life. Isn’t this the case?

EC: Truly, the Prophet Malachi did prophesy the appearance of Elias, however, this was not fulfilled prior to the birth of the Messiah. Rather, Elias will appear just before the coming of the great and illustrious day of the Lord and thereby signify the beginning of the end of the world (Mal. 3:23).

We should understand the angel’s words, that John will come “in the spirit and power of Elias,” to mean that he will have the force of Elias in his mission to the world and in his preaching of repentance, with his zeal, deeds, toils and raiment. (2 Kg. 1:8)

The words of the Saviour would seem, indeed, to support the return of Elias in the person of John (Mat. 11:14,17:10-13), and that it would happen then and not at the end of the world. Nevertheless, based on the spirit of the teaching of the Saviour it is not possible for John to be identified with Elias, but only to resemble him. Lucid and unmistakable proof of this is the fact that to the question of the Jews of Jerusalem, addressed to John through the priests and Levites, as to whether he was or was not Elias, he answered them categorically “ I am not” (Jn. 1:21). It is impossible that John would contradict the Saviour and deny his identification with Elias. Furthermore, if Elias was to come in the person of John the Baptist, how was it that he appeared together with Moses on Mount Tabor during the Transfiguration of the Lord? (Mt. 17:3)

The regeneration which the Saviour speaks of to Nicodemos (Jn. 3:3-7) is not a bodily restoration but a spiritual rebirth from above through water and the spirit, that is, through Holy Baptism. The text itself rules out any possibility of a bodily rebirth, as Nicodemos had mistakenly understood, when it stresses that it is not speaking of a second bodily or natural birth.

And yet, neither can the prudent mind accept the possibility of identifying John with that prophet who is to come, Elias. Likewise, disagreeable is that which the spiritualists teach, namely that his return happens for the purpose of moral purification and perfection, since Elias has no need of purification and moral perfecting. According to the Christian teaching there does exist a return of the soul to the body, but only once, and that at the end of the world when all will be raised and the material body will be transfigured in order to participate in eternal life.

Inq.: In relation to this, I found a passage in Holy Scripture difficult to understand. It is the passage which tells the story of the man born blind who washed and was healed in the pool of Siloam. The Apostles asked the Lord, saying, “Master, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (Jn. 9:2) It seems to follow from this that apparently the blind man was in a position to pay off those personal sins committed before his birth. This is what certain occultists and those who believe in reincarnation maintain.

EC: As we said earlier, at the end of the world there will be one re-establishment of soul and body before the final judgement. This forgiveness of personal sins or of the sins of the parents of the blind man is something else entirely. The case of the man born blind is not concerned with who sinned and punished the blind man, as the Apostles mistakenly supposed. Rather, the Saviour brushed aside this opinion of theirs, saying that the man was not blind on account of his sins, but so that the “works of God should be made manifest in him,” (Jn. 9:3) or, so that His therapeutic power may be made manifest. In the teachings of Christ, nowhere does there exist, even in this life, punishment as the fruit of a just reward. The loosing and forgiveness of sins occur in this life as well. However, the definitive loosing from the shackles of sin happens after the Future Judgement, when it will be not for purification but as recompense. Redemption came from the Lord alone for the sake of all mankind and no one, by any means whatsoever, is able to forgive his own sins.

As for the other teachings of the spiritualists, like those presented earlier they are all anti-Christian and their mask has been removed under the scrutiny of the teaching of our Orthodox Church. Our Church teaches us that:

1) Souls have been created directly by God.

2) According to the teaching of our Church, under no circumstances can one speak of the pre-existence of souls.

3) Bodies are creations of God and not of the angels.

4) The place of punishment is Hades, in which the conditions are immutable - something certified by the words of Divine Revelation.

5) The demons cannot be saved.

7) [sic—Webmaster] There exists only one resurrection and return of the soul to the resurrected body, which will happen at the end of the world for the final judgement.

No one among the race of men can compel a soul to leave paradise and go to hell, or vice versa, as the deluded spiritualists believe. How can such a thing happen when we know very well that the souls of the just are in the hands of God? Likewise, we also know that between the living and the dead “a great gulf is fixed” and no one from there is able to come to us here (Lk. 16:26). Do you think it possible for one among men to take a soul from the hand of God, against His Will and to request it to engage in a conversation? Can someone cross that impassable chasm referred to in the Gospel and through its invocation bring a soul from the other world to earth? And if we assume that we are benefited by such a medium how can we accept it knowing that it is hateful and an abhorrence to God? (Dt. 18:9-13)

Someone might say that, indeed, the souls of the just are in the hands of God, however, the spiritualists in their meetings don’t call upon souls of the righteous, but of the wicked, who are not in the hands of God, but in Hades.

Are the souls of the branded and accursed found beyond the supervision of God? Listen to what the Lord says in the Revelation of Saint John with reference to this: “Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.” (Rev. 1:17-18)

Consequently, just as the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, so too, those of the wicked in the kingdom of Hades are also under the infinite and indescribable authority of God. They are not to be found at the disposal of certain spiritualists who would like to call upon them to serve them in their lawless work. If, through the medium, spirits appear which they have called, let them know that these are not the spirits of relatives or friends. On the contrary, they are the unclean spirits of darkness which, until the last judgement, God has left free to harass men, and who reside in - according to the witness of Holy Scripture - the uppermost stratum of the atmosphere, or “high places.” (Eph. 6:12) Against these powers and principalities battle the Christians with the weapons God has given them. (Eph. 6:11, 13-17)

Inq.: Could you give us a brief summary of the teaching of those who occupy themselves with the occult, who are called variously: spiritualists, fortune-tellers, sorcerers, necromancers etc.?

EC: The teaching of the spiritualists takes many forms, according to the testimonies of the vanguard of occultism. Here it is in general terms:

1) They deny the dogma of the Holy Trinity, replacing it with one supreme god and other solar-gods considered his sons or with other planets that they compare with the Holy Spirit, and all of it is organized hierarchically.

2) Some speculate that God is not the creator of the cosmos, only its organizer.

3) They say that Jesus is a higher spirit and our sun’s god who guides man but doesn’t save him. They believe that the true revelation comes from the spirits that appear to man by means of the medium.

4) They believe that man is made of flesh and encircled with the spirit; that the soul of man has a casing or husk, can leave the visible world and after death communicate with those of the living that are worthy and believing.

5) They say that salvation is accomplished with the evolution toward the good and with reincarnation. They accept an infinite god having under his authority other, lesser, gods which govern particular planets and areas of heaven, assisted by the angels. Spirits of planets, animals and sentient beings inhabit the universe. The body of man is destroyed, but the shell and spirit is immortal. Human beings that are good have within them the good spirit, while the evil pass over into another body until they also, themselves, become good and so on.

Ch. 19. from The Truth of Our Faith:: A Discourse from Holy Scripture on the Teachings of True Christianity, By Elder Cleopa of Romania

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Elder and the Atheist…( Elder Epiphanios Theodoropoulos )



One morning, the Elder (Geronda) Epiphanios Theodoropoulos was in a conversation with 2-3 visitors at his home. One of them was an ideological atheist and a communist. Suddenly, someone from outside came rushing in, and informed them that the city of Athens had been flooded with photographs of Mao Tse Tung, with the inscription “Glory to the great Mao”. It was the day that the Chinese dictator had died.


Geronda Epiphanios: That’s the way things are, my child. Atheists do not exist. Only idolaters exist, who take down Christ from His throne and in His place they enthrone their own idols. We say: “Glory be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”. They say: “Glory to the great Mao”. You pick and choose which one you prefer.

Atheist: You also choose your drug, grandpa. The only difference is, that you call it Christ, others call it Allah, or Buddha, etc. etc…

Geronda Epiphanios: My child, Christ is not a drug. Christ is the Creator of the entire universe. He is the one Who governs everything wisely, from the multitudes of infinite galaxies, down to the minutest particles of the microcosm. He has given life to all of us. He is the One Who brought you into this world and has bestowed you with so much freedom, that you can actually doubt Him, and even deny Him.

Atheist: Grandpa, its your right to believe in all of those things. But that doesn’t mean they are true. Do you have any proofs?

Geronda Epiphanios: You think all of this is just a fairy tale, don’t you?

Atheist: Naturally.

Geronda Epiphanios: Do you have any proof that it is a fairy tale? Can you prove that what I believe is false?

Atheist: ……………….

Geronda Epiphanios: You didn’t reply, because you don’t have any proof either. Which means, you believe they are fairy tales. I spoke to you of believing, when I referred to God; you, however, although rejecting my belief, essentially believe in your faithlessness, since you cannot back it up with proofs either. However, I must tell you that my belief is not something “out of the blue”; There are certain supernatural events, upon which it is founded.

Atheist: Just a minute! Since we are talking about believing, what would you say to Muslims or Buddhists for example? Because they also talk about believing. And they too have high moral standards. Why is your belief better than theirs?

Geronda Epiphanios: So! The criterion of the truth is supposedly judged by this question of yours? Because the truth is most certainly one; truths cannot be many in number. The thing is, who is the possessor of the truth? That is the major question. Hence, it is not a matter of a better or worse belief! It is a matter of the only true belief!

I agree, that other beliefs also have moral teachings. Naturally, Christianity’s moral teachings are incomparably superior. But, we do not believe in Christ because of His moral teachings. Or for His prompting to “Love one another”, or for His sermons on peace and justice, freedom and equality. We believe in Christ, because His presence on earth was accompanied by supernatural events, which was a sign that He is God.

Atheist: Look, I also admit that Christ was an important philosopher and a great revolutionary, but let’s not make Him a god now……

Geronda Epiphanios: My dear child! All the great disbelievers in history were snagged by that detail. The fishbone that stuck in their throat, which they just couldn’t swallow, was exactly that: That Christ is also God.

Many of them were willing to say to God: “Don’t tell anyone that You are God incarnate; Just say that You’re an ordinary human, and we shall be more than ready to deify you. Why do You want to be an incarnate God, and not a deified human? We are willing to glorify You, to proclaim You as the greatest among men, the holiest, the most ethical, the noblest, the unsurpassable, the one and only, the unprecedented… Isn’t that enough for You ?

Ernest Renan –he was the head of the chorus of deniers- thunders out the following, with regard to Christ: “For tens of thousands of years, the world shall be uplifted through You”, and “You are the cornerstone of mankind; if one were to wrench Your name away from this world, it would be like shattering its foundations” and “the aeons shall proclaim that amongst the sons of men, never was there born anyone that could surpass You”. But this is where Renan and his likes stop. Their very next phrase is: “But a God, You are not!”

And those poor wretches cannot perceive that all of these things constitute an indescribable tragedy! Their dilemma is inevitably relentless: Either Christ is an incarnate God, in which case, He is indeed, only then, the most ethical, the holiest and noblest personage of mankind, or, He is not an incarnate God, in which case, He cannot possibly be any of these. In fact, if Christ is not God, then we are talking about the most horrible, the most atrocious and the most despicable existence in the history of mankind.

Atheist: What did you just say?

Geronda Epiphanios: Exactly what you heard! It may be a weighty statement, but it is absolutely true. And I will tell you why.

Let me ask: What did all the truly great men say about themselves, or what opinion did they have of themselves ?

The “wisest of all men”, Socrates, proclaimed that “I came to know one thing: that I know nothing”.

All the important men in the Old and New Testament, from Abraham and Moses, through to John the Baptist and the Apostle Paul, characterized themselves as “earth and ashes”, “wretches”, “monstrosities”, etc…. 

But, strangely enough, Jesus’ attitude is quite the opposite! And I say strangely enough, because it would have been natural and logical for Him to have a similar attitude. In fact, being far superior and surpassing all others, He should have had an even lower and humbler opinion of Himself. Ethically more perfect than any other, He should have surpassed everyone and anyone in self-reproach and humility, from the moment of the world’s Creation to the end of Time.

But, the exact opposite is observed!

First of all, He proclaims that He is sinless: “Who among you shall check Me for sin?” (John, 8:46). “The lord of this world is coming, and he can find nothing in Me.” (John, 14: 30)

He also pronounces very high ideas of Himself: “I am the light of the world” (John, 8, 12); “I am the path and the truth and the life” (John, 14: 6).

But, apart from these, He also projects demands of absolute dedication to His Person. He even penetrates the holiest of man’s relationships, and says: “Whomsoever loves their father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me. and whomsoever loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew, 10: 37). “I came to turn man away, against his father, and the daughter against her mother and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” (Matthew, 10: 35). He even demands a life and a death of martyrdom from His disciples: “They shall deliver you to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you shall be dragged before leaders and kings for My sake…. And brother shall deliver his brother to death and the father his son, and the children shall revolt against their parents and shall put them to death…. And you shall be hated by everyone, for my namesake…. And he that shall endure to the end, he shall be saved…. Do not fear those who destroy the body….. Whomsoever shall deny Me before mankind, I too shall deny him…. Whomsoever has forfeited his soul for My sake, shall recover it” (Matthew, 10: 17 onward).

And now I ask you: Has anyone ever dared to demand for himself the love of mankind, forsaking their very life? Has anyone ever dared to proclaim his absolute sinlessness? Has anyone ever dared to utter the words: “I am the truth”? (John, 14: 6) No-one, and nowhere! Only a God can do that. Can you imagine your Marx uttering things like that? They would take him for a lunatic and nobody would be willing to follow him!

Now, just consider, how many people sacrificed everything for Christ’s sake, even their very life, having believed in the veracity of His words regarding Himself! If His proclamations about Himself were false, Jesus would have been the most despicable character in history, for having led so many people to such a huge sacrifice! What ordinary man – no matter how great, how important, how wise he may be – would deserve such a tremendous offer and sacrifice? Well? No-one! Not unless he were God!

In other words: Any ordinary man that would demand such a sacrifice from his followers would have been the most loathsome person in history. Christ, however, both demanded it, and achieved it. Yet, despite this ‘achievement’, He was proclaimed by the very deniers of His divinity as the noblest and holiest figure in history. So, either the deniers are being illogical when they proclaim this most loathsome figure as “holiest”, or, in order to avoid any illogicality, and to rationalize the co-existence of Christ’s demands and His holiness, they must concede to accepting that Christ continues to remain the noblest and holiest figure in mankind, but, only under the condition that He is also God! Otherwise, as we said, He would be, not the holiest, but the most loathsome figure in history, being the cause of the greatest sacrifice of all ages, and in the name of a lie! Thus, Christ’s divinity is proved by His very deniers, on the basis of those very characterizations of His person!

Atheist: What you just said is really very impressive, but it is nothing but speculation. Do you have any historical facts that would confirm His Divinity?

Geronda Epiphanios: I told you at the beginning, that the proofs of His Divinity are the supernatural events that took place while He was here on earth. Christ did not rest on the proclamation of the above truths alone; He certified His statements with miracles as well. He made blind people see and cripples walk; He satisfied the hunger of five thousand men and manifold numbers of women and children with only two fish and five loaves of bread; He commanded the elements of nature and they obeyed; He resurrected the dead, amongst which was Lazarus, four days after his death. But the most astounding of all his miracles was His own Resurrection.

The entire edifice of Christianity is supported on the event of the Resurrection. This is not my speculation. The Apostle Paul said it: “If Christ had not risen (from the dead), our faith would be futile”. (Corinthians I, 15: 17). If Christ is not resurrected, then everything collapses. But Christ was resurrected, which means He is the Lord of life and death, therefore God.

Atheist: Did you see all of this? How can you believe it?

Geronda Epiphanios: No, I didn’t see any of it, but others did: the Apostles. They in turn made this known to others, and they actually “signed” their testimony with their own blood. And, as everyone acknowledges, a testimony of one’s life is the supreme form of testimony.

Why don’t you likewise bring me someone, who will tell me that Marx died and was resurrected, and that he is willing to sacrifice his life in order to testify it? I, as an honest man, will believe him.

Atheist: I will tell you. Thousands of communists were tortured and died for their ideology. Why don’t you embrace communism in the same way?

Geronda Epiphanios: You said it yourself. Communists died for their ideology. They didn’t die for real events. In an ideology, it is very easy for deception to seep through; and because it is a characteristic of the human soul to sacrifice itself for something it believes in, this explains why so many communists died for their ideology. But that doesn’t compel us to accept this ideology as something true.

It is one thing to die for ideas, and another to die for events. The Apostles didn’t die for any ideas. Not even for the “Love one another”, or any of the other moral teachings of Christianity. The Apostles died for their testimony of supernatural events. And when we say ‘event’, we mean that which is captured by our physical senses, and is comprehended through them.

The Apostles suffered martyrdom for “that which they heard”, “that which they saw with their own eyes”, “that which they observed and their hands touched” (John I, 1)

Just like the clever speculation by Pascal, we say that one of the three following things happened to the Apostles: either they were deceived, or, they deceived us, or, they told us the truth.

Let’s take the first case. It is not possible for the Apostles to have been deceived, because everything that they reported, was not reported to them by others.They themselves were eye and ear witnesses of all those things. Besides, none of them were imaginative characters, nor did they have any psychological inclination that made them accept the event of the Resurrection. Quite the contrary – they were terribly distrustful. The Gospels are extremely revealing, in their narrations of their spiritual dispositions: they even disbelieved the reassurances that some people had actually seen Him, resurrected.

And one other thing. What were the Apostles, before Christ called them? Were they perhaps ambitious politicians or visionaries of philosophical and social systems, who were longing to conquer mankind and thus satisfy their fantasies? Not at all. They were illiterate fishermen. The only thing that interested them was to catch a few fish to feed their families. That is why, even after the Lord’s Crucifixion, and despite everything that they had heard and seen, they returned to their fishing boats and their nets. In other words, there was not a single trace of disposition in these men for the things that were to follow. It was only after the day of the Pentecost, “when they received strength from on high”, that they became the teachers of the universe.

The second case: Did they deceive us? Did they lie to us? But then, why would they deceive us? What would they gain by lying? Was it money? Was it status? Was it glory? For someone to tell a lie, he must be expecting some sort of gain. The Apostles though, by preaching Christ – and in fact Christ crucified and resurrected – the only things that they secured for themselves were: hardships, labours, lashings, stonings, shipwrecks, hunger, thirst, nakedness, attacks from robbers, beatings, incarcerations and finally, death. And all this, for a lie? It would be undoubtedly foolish for anyone to even consider it.

Consequently, the Apostles were neither deceived, nor did they deceive us. This leaves us with the third choice: that they told us the truth.

I should also stress something else here: The Evangelists are the only ones who recorded true historical events. They describe the events, and only the events. They do not resort to any personal judgments. They praise no-one, and they criticize no-one. They make no attempt to exaggerate an event, nor eliminate or underestimate another. They let the events speak for themselves.

Atheist: Are you excluding the possibility that in Christ’s case, it was just an incident of apparent death? The other day, the newspapers had written about someone in India whom they buried and three days later they exhumed him and he was still alive.

Geronda Epiphanios: My poor child! I will recall the words of the blessed Augustine again: “O faithless ones, you are not actually mistrustful; indeed, you are the most gullible of all. You accept the most improbable things, and the most irrational, the most contradictory, in order to deny a miracle!”

No, my child. It was not a case of apparent death with Christ. First of all, we have the testimony of the Roman centurion, who reassured Pilate that Christ’s death was a certainty.

Then, our Gospel informs us that on the same day of His Resurrection, the Lord was seen talking with two of His disciples, walking towards Emmaus, which was more than ten kilometers away from Jerusalem.

Can you imagine someone, who could go through all the tortures that Christ underwent, and three days after His “apparent death”, spring back again? If anything, he would have to be fed chicken soup for forty days, in order to be able to open his eyes, let alone walk and talk as though nothing had happened!

As for the Hindu, bring him here to be flogged with a scourge – do you know what a scourge is? It is a whip, whose lashes each have a lead chunk or a piece of broken bone or sharp nails attached to their end – bring him here, so we can flog him, then force a crown of thorns on his head, crucify him, give him bile and vinegar to drink, then pierce his side with a spear, put him in a tomb, and then, if he comes back from the dead, then we can talk.

Atheist: Even so, but all the testimonies that you have invoked belong to Christ’s Disciples. Is there any testimony on this matter, that doesn’t come from the circle of His Disciples? Are there any historians for example, who can certify Christ’s Resurrection? If so, then I will also believe what you say.

Geronda Epiphanios: You poor child! You don’t know what you’re saying now! If there had been such historians who had witnessed Christ resurrected, they would have been compelled to believe in His Resurrection and would have recorded it as believers, in which case, you would again have rejected their testimony, just like you rejected Peter’s testimony, John’s testimony, etc. How can it be possible, for someone to actually witness the Resurrection and yet, NOT become a Christian? You are asking for a roasted fowl, on a waxen skewer, that also sings! It just can’t be done !

I will remind you though – because you are asking for historians – of what I said earlier: that the only true historians are the Apostles.

Nevertheless, we do have testimony of the kind that you want; and it is by someone who didn’t belong to the circle of His Disciples: it was Paul. Paul not only wasn’t a Disciple of Christ, he actually persecuted Christ’s Church relentlessly.

Atheist: They say that Paul suffered from sunstroke and that it was the cause of his hallucination.

Geronda Epiphanios: My child, if Paul was hallucinating, the thing that would have come to the surface, would have been his subconscious. And in Paul’s subconscious, the Patriarchs and the Prophets would have been top ranking. He would have hallucinated about Abraham, and Jacob and Moses, and not Jesus, whom he considered a rabble-rouser and a fraud!

Can you imagine a faithful old granny seeing Buddha or Jupiter in her dream or delirium? She would most probably see Saint Nicholas or Saint Barbara, because she believes in them.

One more thing. With Paul, we have –as Papini notes- the following miraculous phenomena: First of all, the abruptness of his conversion. Straight from faithlessness to faith. With no intermediate preparatory stage. Secondly, the steadfastness of his faith. No wavering, no doubts. And thirdly, his faith lasted for a whole lifetime. Do you believe that all these things can occur after a case of sunstroke? They can in no way be attributed to such a cause. If you can explain how, then explain it. If you can’t, then you must admit the miracle. And you must know that for a man of his time, Paul was exceptionally well-educated. He was not your average little person, who was totally clueless.

I will also add something else. We today, my child, are living in an exceptional era. We are living the miracle of Christ’s Church.

When Christ said of His Church that “the gates of Hades shall not overpower Her” (Matthew 16:18), His followers were very few in number. Almost two thousand years have passed, since that day. Empires vanished, philosophical systems were forgotten, world theories collapsed. But Christ’s Church remains indestructible, despite the continuous and dramatic persecutions it has undergone. Isn’t that a miracle?

And one final thing. In Luke’s Gospel it says that when the Holy Mother visited Elizabeth (the Baptist’s mother) after the Annunciation, she was greeted with the words: “blessed are you amongst women”. And the Holy Mother replied as follows: “My heart magnifies the Lord. Behold, from this moment on, all generations shall call me blessed” (a’ 48).

What was the Holy Mother at that time? She was just an obscure daughter of Nazareth. How many knew her? And yet, since that day, empresses have been forgotten, distinguished women’s names have been extinguished, the mothers and wives of great generals went into oblivion. Who remembers, or even knows, Napoleon’s mother or Alexander the Great’s mother? Almost no-one. But, millions of lips across every length and breadth of the world, throughout the ages, venerate that humble daughter of Nazareth, the “more precious than the Cherubim and incomparably more glorious than the Seraphim”. Are we, or aren’t we –the people of the twentieth century– living in this day and age the verification of those words of the Holy Mother?

The exact same things are observed in a “secondary” prophecy of Christ: While He was staying at the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him and poured her expensive fragrant oil over His head. Christ commented: “Amen, verily I say to you, that wherever this gospel will be preached in the world, it will also mention what this woman did, in her memory” (Matthew, 26: 13). Now, how large was His circle of followers at the time, so that one could say that they outdid themselves in order that their Master’s prophecy be fulfilled? Especially a prophecy such as this one, which, by today’s world standards, is of no importance to most people.

Are they or aren’t they miracles? If you can, explain them. But if you can’t, then admit them as such.

Atheist: I have to admit that your arguments are pretty solid. But I would like to ask you one more thing: Don’t you think that Christ left His work unfinished? That is, unless He deserted us. I can’t imagine a God that would remain indifferent to mankind’s suffering. We are down here toiling, while He, up there, remains apathetic.

Geronda Epiphanios: No, my child. You aren’t right. Christ did not leave His work unfinished. On the contrary, He is the one unique case in history where a person has the certainty that His mission was accomplished, and had nothing further to do or to say.

Even the greatest of philosophers, Socrates, who discussed and taught during his whole lifetime, and towards the end composed an intricate “Apology”, would have even more to say, if he had lived.

Only Christ – in the time bracket of three years – taught what He had to teach, did what He had to do, and finally said (on the Cross): “It is finished”. Another sample of His divine perfection and authority.

As for the abandonment that you mentioned, I can understand your concern. Without Christ, the world would be a theatre of insanity. Without Christ, you cannot explain anything: why are there sorrows, why injustices, why failures, why sicknesses, why, why, why…. Thousands of monumental “why”s.

Try to understand! Man cannot approach all of these “why”s with his finite logic. It is only through Christ that everything can be explained. All these trials merely precondition us for eternity. Perhaps then, we might be honored by the Lord with a reply to some of those “why”s.

It might be worthwhile, if I read you a beautiful poem* from Constantine Kallinikos’ collection “Laurels and Myrtles”, with the title “Questions”:

I asked a desert father of seventy years,

whose silver strands were blown by the wind:

Tell me o father, why, on this earth,

do the light and the dark inseparably move ?

And why must they – like twins – together sprout:

the thorn and the rose, the tear and the smile?

Why, in the loveliest part of the woodland green

have scorpions and vipers concealed their nests?

Why must it be, that the tender bud,

before unfolding its fragrant bloom,

be struck by a worm in the heart of its stem,

And left to die, like a shrivelled rag ?

Why are the plow, the seed and the hands

a must for the wheat, to become our bread?

Why must everything useful, noble, divine

always be purchased with tears and our blood,

while selfishness ever rampantly reigns,

and lewdness is swallowing up the world?

And why, amongst such harmony around,

must tumult and disorder find their way?


The hermit replied, with his somber voice

and right arm pointing to the sky,

that there, beyond those clouds of gold,

the Almighty weaves a tapestry divine.

But since we are wanderers of the lower plane

We see nothing but the knots and strings below,

It is no wonder, why the mind sees wrong,

when it should always be thankful and give praise:

for the day will come, when Christians all,

with souls that ride the skies with wings,

will gaze atop God’s tapestry and see

how careful and orderly everything was!



My child, Christ never abandoned us. He is forever with us, as a helper and a supporter, until the end of time. But you will realize this, only when you become a conscientious member of His Church and be joined by Her Sacraments.

[Re-published, from the book of the Holy Recluse Monastery of the Theotokos “FROM THE LIFE AND THE TEACHING OF FATHER EPIPHANIOS”] 

http://agapienxristou.blogspot.com/2015/10/the-elder-and-atheist-elder-epiphanios.html

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Beware of Teaching Children Pride...




Most of us parents are very proud of our children. We are continually reinforcing their accomplishments with praise and telling them how wonderful they are. But is this healthy for them? This is a question that surely will draw much discussion and differing viewpoints. 

Here is what St. Paisios has to say,


Many parents, thinking they dearly love their children, end up destroying them without realizing it. For example, a mother, who excessively loves her daughter, tells her while holding her in her arms: "I have the best child in the world." Therefore, from a very young age (when a child is unable to realize it and react against it) the child acquires a haughty mind-set and believes she is a nice person. As a result, she is unable to sense the lack of God's presence and his benevolent power in her life and of course, cannot learn to ask for Him. Consequently, she develops a self-confidence as stiff as marble, which often never goes away, since, as the time goes by, it becomes very difficult to get rid of it. 
The challenge of a parent is to help their child develop a healthy self-esteem which includes humility, while teaching them that all comes from God. Truly, we are all God's children and everything we have and can do comes from Him. It is important to remember to thank Him for the gifts He gives us and our ability to develop and apply them. Pride develops when we think our accomplishments are all our doing or that we are inherently better than others.

How about the extreme emphasis on sports and it competitiveness? A recent survey showed that those who participate in the major sports of baseball, basketball or football are more likely to cheat in school. These activities which emphasize personal accomplishment independent of God can lead our children away from God making it more difficult for them in later life to repent and come closer to God.

We as parents have an awesome responsibly. First we have to develop humility ourselves.

St. Paisios says,

Parents must look after their spiritual life, because apart from themselves, they are also responsible for their children. Of course, they have the excuse of having inherited their negative traits from their own parents; they have no excuse, however, for not trying to get rid of them, once they become aware of their existence. Work continually on your own relationship with God and you will continually become a better parent.