We once asked Father Paisios:
- Father, you constantly tell us to have positive thinking. We would like you to give us some advice on how to deal with the following problem:
- Often people come to us to tell us that some priests charge a lot of money for performing the Holy Sacraments; they say that they smoke, or hang around coffee shops; they even say that some priests are involved in immoral acts, and in general, make strong accusations against them and present evidence to justify them. What answers can we give to people who accuse the clergy?
The Elder started telling us:
- I know from experience that in this life people are divided in two categories. A third category does not exist; people either belong to one or the other. The first one resembles the fly. The main characteristic of the fly is that it is attracted by dirt. For example, when a fly is found in a garden full of flowers with beautiful fragrances, it will ignore them and will go sit on top of some dirt found on the ground. It will start messing around with it and feel comfortable with the bad smell. If the fly could talk, and you asked it to show you a rose in the garden, it would answer: “I don’t even know what a rose looks like. I only know where to find garbage, toilets and dirt.” There are some people who resemble the fly. People belonging to this category have learned to think negatively and always look for the bad things in life, ignoring and refusing the presence of good.
The other category is like the bee whose main characteristic is to always look for something sweet and nice to sit on. When a bee is found in a room full of dirt and there is a small piece of sweet in a corner, it will ignore the dirt and will go to sit on top of the sweet. Now, if we ask the bee to show us where the garbage is, it will answer: “I don’t know. I can only tell you where to find flowers, sweets, honey and sugar; it only knows the good things in life and is ignorant of all evil.” This is the second category of people who have a positive thinking and see only the good side of things. They always try to cover up the evil in order to protect their fellow men; on the contrary, people in the first category try to expose the evil and bring it to the surface. When someone comes to me and starts accusing other people and puts me in a difficult situation, I tell him the above example. Then, I ask him to decide to which category he wishes to belong, so he may find people of the same kind to socialize with.
Elder Paisios was constantly stressing the importance of pious thinking in spiritual life. He used to say that a single positive thought equals a vigil in Mount Athos. Once, he told us the following incident:
“One day someone came to see me, but as I was busy I told him to wait in the chapel. Later on, when he left the chapel to come into my guestroom, I did not notice that he had forgotten to take his cigarettes and had left them on the chapel’s seat. Meanwhile, another guest arrived; he also went into the chapel to wait, until I was free to see him.
When I called him in, he asked me:
- Elder, do you smoke?
- No, I said. Why are you asking?
- I saw a pack of cigarettes in the chapel, that’s why.
- The person who was there before you must have forgotten them, but I did not notice it.
After he left, a child came to visit me for the first time. He knocked on the door and I immediately asked him what he wanted:
- I wish to see Elder Paisios. Is he here?
- I’m afraid he is not, I replied. He went to Karyes to buy cigarettes.
The child answered innocently:
- It does not matter, Father. I will wait for him to come back.
You see the difference between the two ways of thinking, said the Elder. The first person, who found the cigarettes in the chapel, had negative and suspicious thoughts, whereas the child, even when I told him that Elder Paisios went to buy cigarettes, reacted in the opposite way. He simply said he would wait without asking if the Elder smokes or what he needs the cigarettes for.
“One day, a young man, who was full of negative thoughts, visited me and expressed his desire to become my disciple. I explained to him:
- I do not wish to have disciples. I always have many visitors and they would end up neglecting their spiritual duties in order to take care of my guests. Moreover, I have been a monk for many years and among the virtues I have acquired, I also have developed some weaknesses, which I haven’t managed to get rid of. So, if you come to live here, my virtues (prayers, fasting, vigil) will harm you, as you will be unable to follow my strict schedule; my weaknesses will also do you harm, as they will be impossible for you to bear. For these reasons, I cannot take you as my disciple. He finally left to go visit other monasteries.
After a few hours, I was sitting in the garden eating two plain tomatoes without oil and a small piece of bread, thinking of all the good things God has given me. He gave me a nice house situated in such a beautiful area that even rich people envy; I do not have to pay any rent unlike so many people, who struggle to earn their living; I have my daily food without having to work hard in some factory; the monks around the area I live are nice.
As I was filled with these thoughts, I felt a sweet grief inside me for being ungrateful to God, and I started crying being unable to continue eating. While I was in this state, suddenly, I saw the young man, who had visited me earlier and had asked me to become my disciple standing by the fence. I didn’t want him to see me crying, so I went inside to wash my face and then I opened the gate to let him in.
Looking disturbed, he said to me:
- Don’t pretend to be an ascetic! I saw you eating meat and when you saw me coming you went inside to hide it from me. Now I know what you really are!
I started laughing, but did not give any excuses; I was stunned by his way of thinking and the way he ‘cultivated’ his negative thoughts.”
Elder Paisios had a very positive thinking. Even under the worst circumstances, he thought positively. He even managed to extract good out of the most harmful things, by using them in a special way. Once, one of the visitors, who had been greatly assisted by Father Paisios, asked him, as he was departing, if there was anything he could send him. The Elder explained that he did not want anything.
Since the visitor insisted, he finally said to him jokingly:
- Well, send me cigarettes!
The visitor left and after some time Father Paisios received a package through the mail. It was a big box containing many packs of cigarettes. When the Elder saw this, he was astonished. What was he going to do with all these cigarettes? On the one hand, he could not throw them in the garbage wasting all the money spent for purchasing them. On the other hand, he did not want to give them away causing harm to health of other people. In the following days, Father Paisios asked one of his visitors if he smoked. He nodded his head.
-How many packs a day? asked the Elder.
- Three, he answered.
- Look, said the Elder, smoking so many cigarettes is harmful to your health and also very expensive. Let’s make a deal. During the next few months, I will offer you the cigarettes for free, but you will only smoke one pack per day. He agreed and Elder Paisios gave him the cigarettes feeling satisfied for not throwing them away and for helping someone restrain his passion.
“The spirituality of a person is defined by the quality of his thoughts. One day, three men were sitting in a park chatting. Suddenly, a young man hastily ran by them. When they saw him, they all thought of something.
The first one thought: ‘He must have stolen something, so he is running to escape’. The other one thought: ‘He must be late for his date with some girl that is why he is running.’ And the third one said to himself: ‘Most probably he is a chanter in a church and runs to be on time for the service.”
Three men had three different thoughts for the same person. However, only the last one, who had a positive thought, was benefited, whereas the other two were spiritually harmed.”
Father Paisios always insisted by saying:
“When one of our brothers has a negative thought, we must try to kindly and humbly correct it. It is our duty to do so. Today many people, unfortunately including some of our spiritual fathers, instead of trying to correct falsified thoughts, they either consent to them, or even distort the positive ones.
I will give you an example so you can understand the way they function:
Suppose a young man says to his spiritual father:
- A friend of mine did this and that to me.
And thus, he starts telling him his negative thoughts about his friend. His spiritual father, instead of trying to change his thoughts and make him love his friend again, views his problem from a social point of view, and wishing to be nice, says to him:
- Since you know what kind of person your friend is, do not pay attention to him. Just ignore him.
The young man may superficially feel better after listening to the words of his spiritual father, but his negative predisposition towards his friend is still inside him. Now, when his friend goes to the same spiritual father to tell him the same things, the spiritual father faces the problem in the same way. He once again regards the problem from a social point of view and calms him down. He lets him, however, keep inside him the negative thoughts he has for his friend.
This way, the Elder said, I can even please the devil if I wish to. You will now see what happens next, since divine justice exists in our lives. At some point, the two friends, who still have negative thoughts inside them, meet and begin accusing each other: “You are this and that…I talked to my spiritual father and he also thinks the same way of you.” Eventually, they discover that what their common spiritual father tried to do was just to be nice to them. As a result, they end up losing their trust and respect for him.
The correct way of dealing with similar cases is the following which I also apply:
A married man came to me to discuss the problems he was facing with his wife and how her behavior has affected his thoughts. I immediately started finding excuses for his wife’s behavior. In the end, I told him that he should glorify God for the wife He gave him and he is the one responsible for destroying their loving relationship. I made him question his behavior and love his wife again, by convincing him that he is in the wrong, and that he should get rid of all his negative thoughts. I did exactly the same thing with his wife, when she came to see me. I also scolded her, so both of them got rid of their negative thoughts, and ended up loving each other again. Moreover, they also understood why I scolded them, as they realised that my only aim was to bring them back together.”
“Thoughts are like airplanes flying in the air. If you ignore them, there is no problem. If you pay attention to them, you create an airport inside you and permit them to land!”
Once, a young man visited the Elder for advice. Being simple-hearted, however, he couldn’t restrain from listening to negative thoughts. These thoughts were acting as an obstacle to every good work he was trying to accomplish. Father Paisios, due to his discretion, realised that his negative thoughts were the cause of his problem and told him the following:
-There was a man who used to say: “If I get married and have children, and my children are boys and there is war, they will have to join the army and finally they will get killed. So, there is no reason for me to get married.”
Then, the Elder turns to him and says:
- Isn’t that a silly thought?
- Yes, the young man replied.
The Elder went on:
-Be careful, because you are doing the same thing. Bear in mind that you will never achieve anything good, if you think and act this way.
I always wondered how our saints managed to willingly endure their martyrdom and how will we be able to acquire their tolerance, since the slightest headache can make us feel totally helpless. One day, as I was heading towards the cell of Father Paisios, I met him by the river situated five hundred meters away from his cell. He had given the river the name ‘Nile’. He was cutting some wood from a chestnut tree in order to make a small bridge, so people could cross the river without getting wet. He had just stopped his work and was ready to return to his cell, because he had cut his left hand with the sharp edge of a piece of wood and was bleeding. I could detect in him a spirit of joy as he was looking at his hand over and over. Suddenly, he turns to me showing the bleeding palm of his hand and says:
- You see, it looks like the crucified palm of Christ.
When we arrived at his cell, we sat at the guestroom and I asked him:
-Father, what made our saints, not only endure their martyrdom but also constantly feel joy about it, while we can’t even stand the bite of a mosquito?
- Everything has to do with having a correct thinking. If our thoughts are firmly secured in our faith, no one can ever take them away.
Then, he brought the Old Testament and told me that section 4 in the Book of Maccabes explains very clearly how positive thoughts can help us disregard pain and torture. He began reading the text and explaining it to me. When he finished, he told me:
- This text from the Old Testament clearly indicates that man is free and with his good thoughts, he can overcome his passions and desires and whatever else derives from them.
Father Paisios explicitly stressed that the words “I can’t” have no validity in man’s life. It is the words “I don’t want” or “I don’t love” which lead man to say “I can’t”. When people are tortured by a specific passion, they claim that a certain power prevents them from restraining and being good. They should know that this power, which acts as an obstacle, is rooted inside them; it can make them love, but it is turned to the wrong direction. Since they love their passions, it is natural that they are unable to get rid of them. When you love something, you want it, and you cannot let it go because you do not want to lose it. First, they must hate their passion and then find something better to direct and transfer their love to. Otherwise, they will keep on suffering.
Many times, people said to Father Paisios:
- Father, I smoke and I cannot stop. What can I do?
- Do you want to stop smoking? He asked in return.
- Yes, I have tried many times without being able to stop.
- Well, that’s it! As of this moment you will not smoke again and God will help you.
Then, the person, who suffered from this passion, said:
Father Paisios interrupted him before he was able to conclude his sentence, and said with a sharp, but trustful, tone in his voice: - There is no ‘perhaps’, it is over! Do not consent to the thoughts that tell you that you might not make it. Father Paisios wanted to stress that we are free and self-dependent. If a passion rules our lives, it is because we consent to it. If we remain enslaved by it, we do it because we love our passion and want to be its slave. From the very moment we yearn for our spiritual freedom and wish to abide in Christ, and we really want to, we are freed from our passions and become servants of God. All commandments are given by Christ to those who are enslaved by sin, and He tells them to leave sin aside and follow Him instead. For this reason, God says to the thief: “do not steal”, to the unjust person: “do not be unfair”, to the adulterer: “do not commit adultery.”
If we are forcingly, and not willingly, enslaved by sin, then why is God asking us to leave sin aside and come close to Him? Since He is telling us to do so on our own, it means that we are being subdued by our passions because we love and want them. The moment we hate them and direct our love towards God, we immediately become free. Therefore, it is of primary importance to realise our “illness” (that is, willingly siding with evil) and hate it and love good instead; then we instantly acquire it.