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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Successful French photographer says singing of Athos monk inspired him to become a monk

Photographer Gerard Gascuel who worked with Marcel Marceau and Salvador Dali and now is Hieromonk Gerasim says he decided to become a monk after hearing an Athos monk singing.
“I was 33 when editor in chief of an influential Japanese magazine sent me to Greece to make a report about life of Athos monks,” Father Gerasim was quoted as saying by the Rossijskaya Gazeta daily on Tuesday. Going around the monasteries he called on a convent where there is an ancient tradition to keep skulls of deceased monks. “I went into the crypt and then life divided: “before” and “after.” When I was going back I met a Greek monk and we talked about meaning of life. His English was poor… And suddenly he started singing!” Father Gerasim recalls. According to him, it was then that he decided to become a monk.
“I made a decision in few seconds. Having returned to France, I delivered my report to the magazine, sold my estate and became an ordinary monk on Athos. I spent many years in the Holy Land at St. Sabbas Monastery in the Judean desert. I met my spiritual father there. I realized that death is not the end,” Father Gerasim tells about his spiritual way.
He became a monk, but he is still a photographer, though he managed to found and become rector of an Orthodox monastery in French town of Cevennes.
Brother Jean’s exhibition (as he is known among artists under this name) takes places in Nizhny Novgorod.

St. Athanasius on Praying the Psalms

Athanasius was one of the most influential of the early theologians of the church.  His fame comes mainly from being the best-known opponent of the heretic Arius.  Arius taught that Christ was but a creature—a created being instead of the second person of the Godhead.  Athanasius stood against Arius, defending the faith which he explains in On the Incarnation.  Athanasius lived through severe persecution, attended the famed Council of Nicea (325 A.D.), and died as the patriarch of Alexandria in A.D. 373. Here is what he writes about praying the Psalms taken from his work "On the Incarnation":

My Dear Marcellinus,

I once talked with a certain studious old man, who had bestowed much labour on the Psalter, and discoursed to me about it with great persuasiveness and charm, expressing himself clearly too, and holding a copy of it in his hand the while he spoke.  So I am going to write down for you the things he said.

Son, all the books of Scripture, both Old Testament and New, are inspired by God and useful for instruction, as the apostle says; but to those who really study it the Psalter yields especial treasure.  Within it are represented and portrayed in all their great variety the movements of the human soul.  It is like a picture, in which you see yourself portrayed and, seeing, may understand and consequently form yourself upon the pattern given.

In the Psalter you learn about yourself.  You find depicted in it all the movements of your soul, all its changes, its ups and downs, its failures and recoveries.  Moreover, whatever your particular need or trouble, from this same book you can select a form of words to fit it, so that you do not merely hear and then pass on, but learn the way to remedy your ill.  Prohibitions of evildoing are plentiful in Scripture, but only the Psalter tells you how to obey these orders and refrain from sin.

"But the marvel with the Psalter is that...the reader takes all its words upon his lips as though they were his own, written for his special benefit..."

But the marvel with the Psalter is that, barring those prophecies about the Savior and some about the Gentiles, the reader takes all its words upon his lips as though they were his own, written for his special benefit, and takes them and recites them, not as though someone else were speaking or another person’s feelings being described, but as himself speaking of himself, offering the words to God as his own heart’s utterance, just as though he himself had made them up.

It is possible for us, therefore to find in the Psalter not only the reflection of our own soul’s state, together with precept and example for all possible conditions, but also a fit form of words wherewith to please the Lord on each of life’s occasions, words both of repentance and of thankfulness, so that we fall not into sin; for it is not for our actions only that we must give account before the Judge, but also for our every idle word.

"So, then, my son, let whoever reads this book of Psalms take the things in it quite simply as God-inspired."

When you would give thanks to God at your affliction’s end, sing Psalm 4, Psalm 75 and Psalm 116.  When you see the wicked wanting to ensnare you and you wish your prayer to reach God’s ears then wake up early and sing Psalm 5.

For victory over the enemy and the saving of created things, take not glory to yourself but, knowing that it is the Son of God who has thus brought things to a happy issue, say to Him Psalm 9; and when you see the boundless pride of man, and evil passing great, so that among men (so it seems) no holy thing remains, take refuge with the Lord and say Psalm 12.  And if this state of things be long drawn out, be not faint-hearted, as though God had forgotten you, but call upon Him with Psalm 27.

If you want to know how Moses prayed, you have the 90th Psalm. When you have been delivered from these enemies and oppressors, then sing Psalm 18; and when you marvel at the order of creation and God’s good providence therein and at the holy precepts of the law, Psalm 19 and Psalm 24 will voice your prayer; while Psalm 20 will give you words to comfort and to pray with others in distress.

When you yourself are fed and guided by the Lord and, seeing it, rejoice, the 23rd Psalm awaits you.  Do enemies surround you?  Then lift up your heart to God and say Psalm 25, and you will surely see the sinners put to rout.  And when you want the right way of approach to God in thankfulness, with spiritual understanding sing Psalm 29.

So, then, my son, let whoever reads this book of Psalms take the things in it quite simply as God-inspired.  In every case the words you want are written down for you, and you can say them as your own. 

Chazen presents sacred Soviet Iconography

Unknown (Russian)
The Virgin of the Sign, late 16th–early 17th century
Tempera on wood with gilt, 28 x 34 1/2 in.
Gift of Joseph E. Davies, 37.1.3. Photo by Eric Tadsen, © Chazen Museum of Art [37_1_3_pr]
Newest exhibit combines spiritual themes, artistic aesthetic to give viewers a glimpse of Russian theological history

When viewing the Chazen Museum of Art’s new exhibit, “Holy Image, Sacred Presence: Russian Icons, 1500-1900,” the old is-it-idolatrous-or-isn’t-it conundrum takes a back seat to an appreciation of the at times stunning Eastern Orthodox Iconography presented in the Chazen’s Mayer Gallery.
The exhibit is made up of approximately thirty pieces from the Chazen Museum’s permanent collection. The icons were predominantly gifts of one Joseph E. Davies. Davies served as U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1936-38, and collected numerous works of Russian art that was being sloughed by the relatively new Soviet government. The legitimacy (and morality) of these purchases is, to be sure, up for debate.
The icon, as spiritual medium, is intended to evoke sacred presence by appealing to the senses. The first documented Christian icons date back to the second century in what was once the Roman Empire. The ones presented in the museum’s exhibit, which are predominantly products of the Russia of the 17th to 20th centuries, span a variety of Christian themes, aesthetic styles and physical media.
Paintings and etchings of Jesus, Mary and John the Baptist (with head) abound amongst apostles, saints and dragons.
The icons would have been originally found in cathedrals, as a sort of screen or divider (iconostasis) between the congregation and the sanctuary before them; or in a more miniaturized form in the personal prayer space within one’s home; and otherwise scattered about daily Russian life.
They are divided into three to five layers, each layer playing a different role, from representing particular saints before Christ, to telling the more famous Christian stories by intricate series of painted panels. They are meant to represent “portraits” of Christ and the saints as vehicles of prayer, as well as representing the history of the Christian faith.
For believers, the exhibit informs us, icons are inseparable from the ritual of the sacred space where images, sounds and emotions come together. The exhibit places the iconic images within a context that impresses upon the viewer their significance for both everyday ritual observance and for the religious holidays and festivals celebrated by Eastern Orthodox Christians.
One instructional placard quotes Theodore the Studite, a Byzantine Greek monk of the late 8th and early 9th centuries, in arguing that “the believer did not worship a material object, but instead venerated the figures whose presence was evoked by the icon. That is, icons are a point of access to the sacred.”
In making a case for the icon as a legitimate medium for spiritual connection, an anonymous iconophile is quoted: “A foreigner will remain unmoved before these icons, whereas we are overcome by their mysterious power. Because before these icons, or ones like them, the souls of our forebears poured out their most powerful feelings, because before them they experienced rare flashes of great joy and powerful waves of that great sorrow that faith and faith alone could help them beat.”
It is not difficult to see how, in merely staring at the gold-plate overlays and covers for various icons, and imagining the chiaroscuro of flickering light from a candle flame or lamp, one could be induced to a kind of spiritual trance, verging on the transcendence of which the iconophiles spoke.

The “Holy Image, Sacred Presence: Russian Icons, 1500-1900” will be at the Chazen Museum of Art, in the Mayer Gallery now through June 5.


The Presence of So Many Peoples Sacrifice Is a Ray of Hope, and a Source of Joy by Monk Moses the Athonite

There are still noble benefactors, philanthropic sponsors, modest givers of charity, and eager volunteers. Individualism, enrichment and fun times have not ruled everyone. We must refer to the positive in our society, so as to not be disappointed. Let us be optimistic and still have hope. 

The Church of Greece, despite the criticism which it endures from various people, maintains numerous charities and is well organized for charitable services in parishes and cities. Daily it provides the needy throughout Greece with over 35,000 food dishes, among whom are the immigrants who have not received the necessary state care. The current property ownership of the church is to provide for its rich charity work.

The church now operates and maintains:

- 20 nurseries and kindergartens
- 84 homes for the elderly
- 13 hospitals for the chronically ill
- 30 different institutions
- 8 institutions for people with disabilities
- 54 camping areas
- 33 youth institutions
- 10 hospital clinics
- 6 hostels
- 36 orphanages/boarding schools
- 195 soup kitchens
- 44 schools of iconography
- 136 schools teaching Byzantine and European music
- 47 different schools
- 35 blood banks
- 1 home for the blind
- 13 school dormitories
- 7 mental health institutions

In 2009 the church gave an allowance for every third child in Thrace of 120,000 euros. Overall, the Church of Greece last year made sales for various charities the significant amount of 100,000,000 euros.
All this money was given by the faithful, the church-goers, philanthropists, famous and anonymous, rich and poor. Some from their surplus and some from the little they have. Everyone should be commended, especially the latter.

Christ blesses the widow in the Gospel for giving two worthless mites, because she gave it from her heart and from the little that she had. Christ loves the secret giver, as He makes clear in the Holy Gospel. Secrecy is essential to charity. Also, in no way should one offend, expose or shame in a superior manner the kindness of less fortunate givers.

In the scarcity of sincere love in our times, fortunately there are preserved people who spoil their leisure, their laziness, their carelessness, to offer a sweet smile to children and the elderly in several difficult positions.
The presence of so many peoples sacrifice is a ray of hope, and a source of joy and optimism.

Many Confess, But Few Repent by Monk Moses

What is repentance and confession?

Confession is a God-given commandment, and it is one of the Sacraments of our Church. Confession is not a formal, habitual (”to be on the safe side”, or, ”in view of upcoming feast-days”), forced and unprepared act, springing from an isolated duty or obligation and for psychological relief only. Confession should always be combined with repentance. A Holy Mountain Elder used to say: ”Many confess, but few repent!” (Elder Aemilianos of Simonopetra Monastery, Mt. Athos)

Repentance is a freely-willed, internally cultivated process of contrition and sorrow for having distanced ourselves from God through sin. True repentance has nothing to do with intolerable pain, excessive sorrow and relentless guilty feelings. That would not be sincere repentance, but a secret egotism, a feeling of our ”ego” being trampled on; an anger that is directed at our self, which then wreaks revenge because it is exposing itself and is put to shame—a thing that it cannot tolerate.

Repentance means a change in our thoughts, our mentality; it is an about-face; it is a grafting of morality and an abhorrence of sin.
Repentance also means a love of virtue, benevolence, and a desire, a willingness and a strong disposition to be re-joined to Christ through the Grace of the almighty Holy Spirit.
Repentance begins in the depths of the heart, but it culminates necessarily in the sacrament of divine and sacred Confession.
During confession, one confesses sincerely and humbly before the confessor, as though in the presence of Christ. No scientist, psychologist, psychoanalyst, psychiatrist, sociologist, philosopher or theologian can replace the confessor. 

The father-confessor
No icon—not even the most miracle-working one—can provide what the confessor's stole can: the absolution of sins. The confessor takes the person under his care; he adopts him and ensures he is reborn spiritually, which is why he is called a ”spiritual father”.

Normally, spiritual paternity is lifelong, sacred and powerful—even more powerful than a family bond. Spiritual birth is a painful process. The confessor must keep track of the confessing soul, with a fear of God (as one who is ”accountable to God”), with understanding, humility and love, and guide him with discretion in the ever-upward course of his in-Christ life.

The confessor-priest has been given a special blessing by his bishop for the undertaking of his confessional opus. However, the gift of ”binding and un-binding” sins is initially acquired through his ordination as presbyter, when he is rendered a successor to the Apostles. Thus, validity and canonicity in Apostolic succession, through bishops, is of central and great importance. 

Like all the other holy sacraments of our Church, the sacrament of Confession is performed (and it bestows Grace on the faithful), not in conjunction with the skill, the science, the literacy, the eloquence, the energy and the artfulness of the priest—not even with his virtue and holiness—but through the canonicity (validity) of his priesthood and through the ”Master of Ceremonies”—the Holy Spirit.
The possible sins of the priest do not obstruct divine Grace during the Sacraments. Woe betide, if we were to doubt (on account of the unworthiness of the priest) that the bread and the wine actually become the Body and the Blood of Christ during the Divine Liturgy! This of course does not mean that the priest should not have to constantly concern himself with his own ”cleanliness”.

Thus, there is no such thing as ”good” or ”bad” confessors. Each and every confessor provides the exact same absolution. However, we do have the right to choose our confessor; and of course we have the right to turn to the one who truly makes us feel at ease with him spiritually. To constantly change our confessor however, is not a very sober decision; this kind of tendency does not reveal spiritual maturity. But confessors should, respectively, not fret excessively—or even create problems—when a spiritual child of theirs happens to depart from them.
This may mean that they were morbidly attached to each other (sentimentally, to the person. and not to Christ, nor to the Church). 

They may also regard that departure as an insult; one that is demeaning to them and makes them think there is no-one better than them, or, it may give them a feeling that the other ”belongs” to them exclusively and they can therefore dominate them and in fact even behave forcibly towards them, as if they were repressed and confined subordinates.
We did mention that the confessor is a spiritual father, and that spiritual fatherhood and spiritual childbirth entails labor.
Thus, it is only natural for the confessor to feel sorrow upon the departure of his spiritual child. However, it is preferable for him to pray for his child's spiritual progress and his union to the Church, even despite his disengagement from him. He must wish for, and not against that child.

The confessor's work is not just the superficial hearing of a person's sins and the reciting of the prayer of absolution afterwards. Nor is it restricted to the hour of confession. Like a good father, the confessor continuously cares for his child; he listens to him and observes him carefully, he counsels him appropriately, he guides him along the lines of the Gospel, he highlights his talents, he does not place unnecessary burdens on him, he imposes canons (penances) with leniency and only when he must, he consoles him when he is disheartened, weighed down, resentful, exhausted, and he heals him accordingly, without ever discouraging him, but constantly pursuing the struggle for the eradication of his passions and the harvesting of virtues; constantly shaping his eternal soul to be Christ-like.

This ever-developing paternal and filial relationship between confessor and spiritual child eventually culminates in a feeling of comfort, trust, respect, sanctity and elation. When confessing, one opens his heart to the confessor and discloses the innermost, basest, and most unclean—in fact, all—of his secrets, his most intimate actions and detrimental desires, even those that he would not want to confess to himself, nor tell his next-of-kin or his closest friend. For this reason, the confessor must have an absolute respect for the unlimited trust that is being shown to him by the person confessing.
This trust most assuredly builds up with time, but also by the fact that the confessor is strictly bound (in fact to the death) by the divine and Sacred Canons of the Church, to the confidentiality that confession entails.

In Orthodox confession there are of course no general instructions, because the spiritual guidance that each unique soul requires is entirely personalized. Each person is unprecedented, with a particular psychosynthesis, a different character, differing potentials and abilities, limitations, tendencies, tolerances, knowledge, needs and dispositions. With the Grace of God and with divine enlightenment, the confessor must discern all these characteristics, in order to decide what he can utilize best, so that the person confessing will be helped in the best possible manner. At times, leniency will be required, while at other times, austerity.

The same thing does not apply to each and every person. Nor should the confessor ALWAYS be strict, just for the sake of being called strict and respected as such; and he should likewise not ALWAYS be excessively lenient, in order to become the preferred choice and be regarded as a ”spiritual father of many”. What is required of him is a fear of God, discernment, honesty, humility, deliberation, understanding and prayer.
”Economy” (Oekonomia: to make allowances for something, exceptionally) is not demanded of the person confessing, nor is it proper for the confessor to make it a rule. ”Economy” must remain an exception.
”Economy” must also be a temporary measure (Archmandrite George Gregoriates). When the reasons for implementing it no longer exist, it must naturally be retracted. The same sin can be confronted in numerous ways.

A canon (penance) is not always necessary. A canon is not intended as a form of punishment. It is educative by nature. A canon is not imposed for the sake of appeasing an offended God and an atonement of the sinner in the face of Divine Justice; that is an entirely heretic teaching. A canon is usually implemented during an immature confession, with the intent to arouse awareness and a consciousness of the magnitude of one's sin. 

 According to Orthodox teaching, ”sin” is not so much the transgression of a law, as it is a lack of love towards God. ”Love, and do whatever you want”, the blessed Augustine used to say…
A canon is implemented for the purpose of completing one's repentance in view of confession, which is why Fr. Athanasios of Meteora rightly says:
”Just as the confessor is not permitted to make public the sins being confessed to him, so must the person confessing not make public the particular canon that the confessor has imposed in his specific case, as it is the resultant of many parameters.”

A confessor acts as the provider of the Grace of the Holy Spirit. During the hour of the Sacrament of Confession, he does not function as a psychologist and scientist. He functions as a priest, as an experienced doctor, as a caring father. When listening to the sins of the person confessing, he prays to God to give him enlightenment, to advise him what the best ”medication” for cure will be, and to gauge the degree and the quality of that confession.
The confessor does not place himself opposite a confessing person with curiosity, suspicion, envy, excessive austerity, power and arrogance; but equally not with indifference, thoughtlessly, carelessly and wearily. The humility, love and attention of the confessor will greatly help the person confessing.

The confessor should not ask too many, unnecessary and indiscreet questions.
He must especially interrupt any detailed descriptions of various sins (especially the carnal ones) and even the disclosure of names, to safeguard himself even more. But the person confessing should also not feel afraid, or hesitate and feel embarrassed; he should feel respect, trust, honor and show reverence to the confessor. This clime of sanctity, mutual respect and trust must be mainly nurtured, inspired and developed by the confessor. 

The benefit of confession
Our holy mother the Orthodox Church is the Body of the Resurrected Christ; She is a vast infirmary for the healing of frail, sinning faithful from the traumas, the wounds and the illnesses of sin; from pathogenic demons, and from the venomous demonic traps, and influences of demonically-driven passions.

Our Church is not a branch office of the Ministry of Social Services, nor does She compete with various social welfare organizations. This does no mean that She does not acknowledge their significant and well-meaning work, or that She Herself does not offer such services bounteously, admirably and wondrously. But the Church is mainly a provider of meaning in life, of redemption and salvation of the faithful, ”for the sake of whom Christ died,” through their participation in the sacraments of the Church.

”The priest's stole is a planing instrument,” as Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain used to say, ”that planes and straightens out a person. It is a therapeutic scalpel that excises passions, and not a trowel for workaholics, or a symbol of power. It is a servant's apron intended for ministering to people, for providing therapy and salvation.”

God uses the priest for the forgiveness of His creature. It is plainly stated in the absolution blessing: ”May God forgive you—through me the sinner—everything, in both the present and future age, and may He render you blameless before His awesome Seat of Judgment. Having no longer any worry for the crimes that have been confessed, may you go forth in peace.” Sins that have not been confessed will continue to burden a person, even in the life to come. 

How to confess
Confessed sins should not be re-confessed; it would be as though one doesn't believe in the grace of the Sacrament. God is of course aware of them, but it is for the sake of absolution, humbling, and therapy that they need to be outwardly confessed. As for the occasional penance imposed for sins, one must realize that it does not negate the Church's love for the person, but that it is simply an educative imposition, for a better awareness of one's offenses.

According to Saint Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, ”confession is a willed, verbal revealing of one's evil deeds and words and thoughts; solemn, accusatory, direct, without shame, decisive, to be executed before a legitimate spiritual father.” This God-bearing saint has succinctly, fully and meaningfully clarified that confession must be willed, free, effortless, without the confessor straining to extract the person's confession. It should be solemn; in other words, with an awareness of the sorrow that the sinner caused God with his sin, and not with sentimental, hypocritical, fainthearted tears.

Genuine ”solemnity” implies an inner compunction, remorse, hatred of sin, love of virtue, and a feeling of gratitude to the Gift-Giving God. ”Accusatory” implies a responsible confession, without attempts of justification, subterfuge, artiface, irresponsibility and seeking of scapegoats; with sincere self-reproach and genuine self-humiliation that bears the so-called ”joy producing sorrow” and the ”joyous grief” defined by the Church. ”Direct” implies a confession with all sincerity, directness and precision, valour and courage, severity and bravery.

It often happens that during the hour of confession, one avoids admitting his defeat, fall and weakness, and by means of eloquent and long-winded descriptions attempts to deflect his share of responsibility, with twists and turns and half-truths—or even by accusing others—all for the sake of preserving (even at that hour) a prim and proper ego. A confession ”without shame” implies a portrayal of our true, deplorable self.

Shame is a good thing to have prior to sin and not afterwards, and in the presence of the confessor. It is said that the shame felt during confession will free us from the sin at the Last Judgment, because whatever the confessor absolves will not be judged again. A ”direct” confession implies that it should be clean, specific, sincere, and accompanied by the decision that the faithful will never repeat the sins he has confessed.

Furthermore, confession should be continuous, so that the ”willfully recurring” passions (according to Saint John of the Ladder) are not strengthened, but rather are more speedily cured. Thus, old sins will not be entirely blotted out from the memory—there will be a regular self-monitoring, self-observation, self-awareness and self-reproach. Divine Grace will not abandon the penitent; demonic entrapment will be averted much more easily, and remembrance of Death will not seem so horrid and terrible. <…>
Modern problems that hinder pure confession

A basic prerequisite for partaking in the holy Sacraments and for an upward spiritual course is a purity of heart; a purity that is devoid of various sins and the spirit of avarice and blissfulness inspired by today's hyper-consumerist society, the spirit of God-despised pride in a world of narcissism, individualism, lack of humility, misanthropy, and arrogance, the demonic spirit of mischievous thoughts, fantasies, imaginations, and unclean suspicions and envy.
Purity of heart has become a rare ornament—in brotherly and conjugal relations, in obligations towards colleagues, in friendships, in conversations, in thoughts, in desires, in pastoral callings. The so-called Mass Media have lapsed and become mere sources of contamination.

Forgotten are neptic awareness, ascetic sobriety, traditional frugality, simplicity and gallantry. This has led to a polluting of the soul's rationalizing ability, an arousal of its desirous aspect towards avarice, while its willpower has become severely blunted, thus drawing a weakened person towards evil, without any impediments or limitations.
Nowadays prevailant are self-justification, excuses for our passions, beautification of sin, and its reinforcement through modern psychological supports. 

The admission of mistakes is regarded as belittlement, weakness and generally improper. The constant justification of our self, and the meticulous transferal of responsibilities elsewhere have created a human being that is confused, divided, disturbed, worn-out, miserable and self-absorbed, taunted by the devil, and captured in his dark nets.
There is a prevalence of foolish rationalism nowadays, which observes evangelical virtues and Conciliar canons according to its liking, preference and convenience, on important issues such as fasting, abstinence, childbearing, morality, modesty, honesty and precision.
In view of all the above—none of which I believe has been exaggerated—it is our belief that the job of a confessor is not an easy one. 

Ordinary coercion to repent and the cultivating of humility are nowadays inadequate; the fold requires catechesis, re-evangelizing, spiritual training, as well as a spiritual about-face, in order to acquire powerful antibodies. Resistance, reaction and the confronting of the powerful current of de-sanctification, of secularization, of denegrating heroism, of eudaemonism (a theory that the highest ethical goal is happiness and personal well-being) and of amassing wealth are imperative. The young generation is in need of special attention, instruction, and love, because their upbringing has not proven to be of any help to make them aware of the meaning and the purpose of life, or of the emptiness, indecency, lawlessness, and the darkness of sin.

Another serious problem—even for our Christians—is the often over-zealous quest for a labor-free, toil-free and grief-free life. We are in search of Cyreneans to carry our crosses. We refuse to lift up our own personal cross. We have no idea of the depth and breadth of our own cross. We bow in reverence before the Cross in church, we cross ourselves, but we do not embrace our personal cross. In the long run, we would like a non-crucified Christianity. But there cannot be an Easter Sunday without a Good Friday.
We honor martyrs and saints, but we ourselves do not want to suffer any hardships or difficulties. 

Fasting is too difficult a task to accomplish, we feel resentful during an illness. We cannot tolerate any harsh words, not even when we are to blame; therefore how could we possibly tolerate injustice, slander, persecution and exile, the way our saints did? It is an indisputable fact that the contemporary, secular spirit of convenience, leisure and excessive consumerism has greatly affected the measure of spiritual living. Generally speaking, we demand a non-ascetic Christianity… Orthodoxy however has the ascetic Gospel as its basis.
One other serious problem of our time is man's morbid and undue reliance upon logic, intellect, knowledge, and personal judgment—we are referring to over-fed and ultimately tiring rationalization. Neptic Orthodox theology teaches us to consider our Nous a tool, and to lower it, into the Heart. 

Our Church does not cultivate and produce intellectuals. To us, rationalization is not a philosophical mentality, but a clearly sin-oriented life view—a form of atheism—since it goes contrary to the commandment of placing our faith, hope, love, and trust in God. A rationalist judges everything using the filter of his own, finite mind, with himself and his sovereign ego as the epicentre, and does not place any trust in divine Providence, divine Grace and divine Assistance in his life.

By often regarding himself as infallible, a rationalist does not allow God to intervene in his life and therefore judge him. Thus, he is convinced that he is not in need of confession. Saint Simeon the New Theologian says, however, that for one to believe he has not fallen into any sins is the greatest of falls and fallacies, and the greatest sin of all. Certain modern-day theologians speak of ”missing the target” instead of ”sinning” in their desire to blunt the natural protest of one's conscience. The self-sufficiency displayed by certain churchgoers and fasting Christians can sometimes be hiding a latent pharisaic stance, i.e., that ”they are not like the others” and therefore are not in need of confession.

According to the holy fathers of our Church, the greatest evil is pride; it is the mother of all passions, according to Saint John of the Ladder. It is the mother of many offspring, the first ones being vainglory and self-justification. Pride is a form of denial of God; it is an invention of wicked demons, the result of too much flattery and praise, which in turn results in a person's debilitation and exhaustion, God-despised censure, anger, rage, hypocrisy, a lack of compassion, misanthropy, and blasphemy. Pride is a passion that is formidable, difficult, powerful and hard to cure.

Pride is also strong in many ways, and has many faces. It manifests itself as vainglory, boastfulness, conceit, arrogance, presumptuousness, pompousness, insolence, self-importance, megalomania, ambition, self-love, vanity, avarice, pampering of the flesh, desire for first place, accusations and arguments. It also manifests itself as smugness, favouritism, insolence, disrespect, outspokenness, insensitivity, contradiction, obstinacy, disobedience, sarcasm, stubbornness, disregard, indignity, perfectionism and hypersensitivity. Finally, pride can lead to impenitence.

The tongue often becomes the instrument of pride through unchecked, long-winded, useless talking; gossiping, and silliness; through vain, insincere, indiscreet, two-faced, beguiling, affected, and mocking conversations.
Out of the seven deadly sins many other passions spring forth. Having mentioned the offspring of Pride, we then have Avarice, which gives birth to the love of money, greed, stinginess, lack of charity, hardheartedness, fraud, usury, injustice, deceitfulness, simony, bribery, gambling. Fornication manifests itself in myriads of ways; for example, envy, with its underhanded and evil spite, insatiable gluttony, anger, as well negligence and lack of care. 

Elements of family life
Special attention should also be paid to many un-Orthodox elements in family life, which we believe should be examined carefully by confessors and the persons involved. The avoidance of childbearing, the idolizing of one's children (when parents regard them as an extension of their ego); overprotecting them, or constantly watching their moves and savagely oppressing them.

Marriage is an arena for exercising humility, mutual yielding and mutual respect, and not the parallel journey of two sefish egos, no matter how long they have been together. The devil dances for joy whenever there is no forgiveness for human weaknesses and in everyday mistakes.
Parents will help their children significantly not by excessive courtesy outside the home, but by their peaceful, sober and loving example in the home, on a daily basis. The participation of the children together with the parents in the sacrament of confession will fortify them with divine Grace in an experiential life in Christ.

When parents ask for forgiveness with sincerity, they simultaneously teach their children humility, which destroys all demonic plots. In a household where love, harmony, understanding, humility and peace bloom, there the blessings of God will be bounteous and the home becomes a castle that is impervious to the malice of the world around it. The upbringing of children with the element of forgiveness creates a healthy family hearth, which will inspire them and strengthen them for their own futures. 

One other huge matter that constitutes an obstacle for repentance and confession is self-justification, which also plagues many people of the Church. Its basis is, as we mentioned earlier, demonic Pride. A classic example is the Pharisee of the Gospel parable.

The self-justifying person has seemingly positive traits, which he himself will praise excessively, and which he would like others to honor and praise. He is happy to be flattered and to demean and humiliate others. He has excessive self-esteem, he excessively justifies himself, and believes that God is obligated to reward him. In the final analysis he is a poor wretch, who in his miserable state makes others miserable. He is overcome by nervousness and agitation and is overly demanding, thus imprisons himself, for these are tendencies that will not allow him to open the door to divine mercy through repentance.

An offspring of Pride is censure (fault-finding), which is unfortunately also a habit of many Christians, who tend to concern themselves more with others than themselves. This is a phenomenon of our time and of a society that pushes people into a continuous observation of others, and not of ourselves.
Modern man's myriad activities never allow him to remain alone to study, contemplate, pray; to attain self-awareness, self-critique, self-control, and remembrance of death.
The mass media are incessantly preoccupied with scandal-seeking, with human passions, sins, and peoples' crimes.

Such things provoke and leave impressions, and even if they do not tempt, they nevertheless burden the soul and the mind with filth and ugliness. They actually reassure us by making us believe that ”we are better” than those described. Thus, a person becomes accustomed to the mediocrity, lukewarmness, and transience of superficial day-to-day life, never comparing himself to saints and heroes. This is how censure prevails in our time—by giving others the impression that he is justly imposing a kind of cleansing by slinging mud at others. Meanwhile he is contaminating himself by generating malice, hatred, hostility, resentment, envy and coldness.

Saint Maximus the Confessor says that the one who constantly scrutinizes others' sins, or condemns his brother based on no more than suspicion, has not even begun to repent, nor has he begun any attempt to discover his own sins. 

Many and various things can be said; but in the end, only one thing is significant and important: our salvation, to which we are not attending. Salvation is only attained through sincere repentance and pure confession.
Repentance not only opens the heavenly Paradise, but also the earthly one, with the foretaste—albeit incomplete—of the ineffable joy of the endless heavenly reign, and the reign of wonderful peace in the present time. Those who continually practice confession are potentially truly and genuinely happy people; peace-loving and peace-bearing; heralds of repentance, of resurrection, transformation, freedom, grace, with the blessing of God in their souls and lives. ”God's bounteous Grace turns the wolf into a lamb,” says Saint John the Chrysostom.

No sin can surpass God's love.
There is not a single sinner who cannot become a saint, if he so desires. This has been proven by innumerable names recorded in the Lives of the Saints.
The confessor listens to confessions and absolves those confessing, under his blessed stole. He cannot, however, confess himself and place the stole over his own head to obtain forgiveness in the same manner. He must necessarily kneel underneath another stole to confess and be absolved.

That is the way the spiritual law functions; this is what God's Wisdom and Mercy have ordained. We cannot confess others while never submitting ourselves to confession; we must practice what we preach. We cannot talk about repentance, but never repent; or talk about confession, but not go to confession ourselves regularly. No one can cast himself down, and no one can absolve himself. The unadvised, the disobedient, and the unconfessed are a serious problem for the Church.

Dear brothers and sisters! The confessor's stole can be a miraculous scalpel for the removal of malignant tumors; it can raise the dead, renew and transform the indecent world, and bring joy to earth and heaven. Our Church has entrusted this grand ministry, this sacred service, to our priests and not to the angels, so that we might be able to approach our confessor easily and fearlessly, as fellow-sufferers and corporeal counterparts.
All the above has been delivered sincerely and not at all pretentiously by a co-sinner who does not aspire to play the teacher, but who is a co-struggling, co-student with you. It was his sole desire to remind you in simple and artless words of the Tradition of our holy mother, the Church, on the ever-relevant matter of divinely-conceived and divinely-blessed Repentance, and the God-given, God-pleasing, blessed Sacrament of Confession. 

From the book Repentance and Confession,
 Monk Moses of the Holy Mountain

This is LOVE!

Once there was a couple who loved too much ...
The man loved his wife and the show at every opportunity ...
His wife was beautiful, delicate but frail.
The man had to go to war,
where he spent a lot of difficulties and near misses to lose his life.
Praying daily that God let him live to come back again to his beloved wife.
His whole idea was to shake in his arms, and this gave him courage to endure hunger, cold and injuries.
When the war ended, full of joy, started for home.
But the road he met a family friend who syllypithike for the disaster they found it.
"What disaster?" He asked, all concern.
"We learned? Your wife suffered an infectious disease and deformed her face."
The man sat in the middle of the street and wept bitterly.
When he arrived home later that afternoon, his wife realized that her lover had lost the light ...
He thought he had been blinded in the war in a battle ...
Hugged him but with the same love and lived happily for 15 years.
After the woman died and her husband after being closed his eyes, opened his own!
For fifteen years pretended to be blind not to hurt ...

This is love ....
Do not connive to hurt you ...


Monday, March 28, 2011

Guiding the Nous in Theoria by Elder Joseph the Hesychast‎


The Prayer Stops, the Bodily Members Cease to Move, and Only the Nous is in Theoria within an Extraordinary Light…

My beloved little child and all the sisters in Christ according to rank, rejoice and be healthy in the Lord. I begin once more to speak into ears which desire and seek to hear. Ask, says our sweet Jesus, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you! (Mt 7:7). I honor your good intentions; I praise your zeal; I appreciate your love, and I emulate you.
So, listen to me once more.
First of all, the method of beginning your prayer that you mention, my child, is very good. With such thoughts you are able to keep your mind from wandering by thinking that the prayers of the elder and the eldress ascend like a pillar of fire and that they converse noetically with God. When the nous thinks and believes such things, it stops for a moment, the prayer is sweetened, and tears start to trickle. Then that grace which is found in beginners, which you mentioned, approaches and like a mother teaches her young how to walk. When she goes away and leaves them, they seek her. They cry, shout, and look for her. After a little while she comes back, only to withdraw once more. Again they cry and shout; again she returns. Until she rears us, there is no way for her to stay with us because our passions prevent her.
The passions are a hard material. Ural mountains! Thousands of feet high! Grace is like the sun. The sun rises, but the shadow of the mountains does not allow it to warm the entire noetic man. As soon as a beam finds him, he is immediately set on fire with joy. The rest of his soul, though, is still beneath the shadow of the passions, and the demons are able to act as soon as grace retracts. Many times they obstruct it as clouds obstruct the sun’s light, for the shadow of the passions raises steam that obscures the little beam of light just dawning. This steam is the thoughts of despair you wrote about. Cowardice, fear, impudence, profanities, and other such things wither the soul and deprive it of its boldness towards God.
Every thought that brings despair and heavy sorrow is from the devil. It is the steam of the passions, and you must expel it at once with hope in God, with confession to the eldress, and with the prayers of those older than you, by thinking that they are praying and entreating God for you.
A small sorrow mixed with joy, tears, and consolation in the soul is from the grace of God throughout our life, it guides us towards repentance whenever we err. A sin drives away boldness towards God, but repentance brings it back at once. Grace does not bring despair, but it continually brings to repentance a person who has fallen. On the other hand, the words of the demons bring despair at once; they blight him like hail falling upon delicate little leaves that have just sprouted.
Now pay attention to this little lesson of praxis: When you see grace acting and your soul rejoicing and tears falling effortlessly (because of the mercies that God has given you), if you are praying, be still. If you are standing, don’t move. If you are sitting, remain seated. If you are saying the prayer, keep saying it without any childish thoughts, and accept the rain of the Spirit for as long as it comes upon you. For even if it comes while you are working, if you get up to pray, it stops. It wants you to remain wherever it found you, so that you do not become its master. It wants to teach you never to trust in yourself, as long as you are in this life. The rainfall of grace of a single day provides enough water for the things planted in the soul for the entire period that grace leaves.
The grace of the priesthood is one thing, the grace of the great schema is another, the grace of the Mysteries is different, and the action of grace in ascesis is also different. They all spring from the same source, but each one differs from the other in eminence and glory. The grace of repentance, which acts in those who struggle, is a patristic inheritance. It is a divine transaction and exchange in which we give dust and receive heaven. We exchange matter for the Spirit. Every drop of sweat, every pain, every ascesis for God is an exchange: a loss of blood, and an influx of the Spirit. The magnitude of this grace depends on how much a person can contain, in proportion to how much his own vessel can hold. This grace of praxis is also called purifying grace.
Now then, illumination follows praxis. Illuminating grace is the second stage. That is, once a struggler has been trained well with the grace of praxis and has fallen and risen countless times, he is given the enlightenment of knowledge and clarity of the nous, which perceives the truth. He sees things as they are, without artifices and methods and human syllogisms. Everything stands naturally in its true state. However, many trials and painful changes are encountered before arriving at this point. But here he finds peace in his thoughts and rest from the temptations.
Illumination is followed by interruptions in the prayer and frequent theorias, rapture of the nous, cessation of the senses, stillness, profound silence of the bodily members, and union of God and man into one. This is the divine exchange in which, if one endures temptations and does not stop struggling along the way, one exchanges the material for the immaterial. Therefore, run behind the heavenly Bridegroom, deers of my Jesus. (cf Song of Solomon 1:4). Smell the noetic myrrh. Make your life, soul and body fragrant with chastity and virginity. I do not know of anything else that pleases our sweet Jesus and His All-pure Mother more than chastity and virginity. Whoever desires to enjoy their great love should see to it that he makes his soul and body pure and chaste. Thus will he receive every heavenly good.
Now, let me explain what the phrase interruption of the prayer means, when grace abounds in a person. The grace of praxis is likened to the radiance of the stars; whereas the grace of illumination is like the full moon; but the perfecting grace of theoria is like the midday sun traversing over the horizon; for the Fathers have divided the spiritual life into three categories.
So when grace abounds in a person and he knows all that we have written, he attains great simplicity; his nous expands and has great capacity. Just as you tasted that drop of grace when much joy and exultation came upon you, it comes again in the same manner when the nous remains in prayer. But much more comes, like a subtle breeze, like a mighty gust (Acts 2:2) of fragrant wind. It overflows throughout, the prayer, it stops; the bodily members cease to move, and only the nous is in theoria within an extraordinary light. A union of God and man occurs. Man is unable to distinguish himself. It is just like iron: before it is thrown into the fire it is called iron, but once it ignites and becomes red-hot, it is one with the fire. It is also like wax which melts when it approaches fire; it cannot remain in its natural state.
Only when the theoria has passed does he return to his former state. Whereas during theoria, he is not functioning in this world. He is totally united with God. He thinks that he has neither a body nor a hut. He is entirely rapt. Without a body he ascends to heaven! Truly great is this mystery, for one sees things that a human tongue cannot express.
When this theoria has passed, he has such a deep humility that he cries like a small child, wondering why the Lord gives him such blessings, since he himself does nothing. He then obtains so much awareness of who he is that if you were to ask him, he would say that he considers himself destitute and unworthy to exist in this life. And the more he thinks like this, the more he is given.
“It is enough!” he cries out to God, and grace abounds even more. He becomes the son of the King. And if you were to ask: “Whose are these things you like wearing?”
“My Lord’s,” he answers. “And the bread and food you eat?”
“My Lord’s,” he again answers. “The money you carry?”
“My Lord’s,” he says. “What do you have of your own?”
“Nothing. I am dirt, I am mud, I am dust. If you lift me up, I stand. If you throw me down, I fall. If you take me up, I fly. If you toss me, I hit myself on the ground. My nature is nothing.”
He never has enough of saying this. And what is this nothing? It is what existed before God created the heaven and the earth: nothing. This is the beginning of our existence. We come from clay; this is the raw material we are made of. And our power? It is the Divine inbreathing, the breath of God.
So receive, o God, Lover of good desires and Creator of every good thing, receive the divine inbreathing which You breathed into our face, giving us thus a living spirit, and we shall decompose into clay once more.
Therefore, what hast you, o proud man, that you did not receive? Now if you received it, why do thou glory as if thou hadst not received it? (1Cor 4:7). Acknowledge, lowly soul, your Benefactor and be careful not to usurp things belonging to others, things of God, as your own accomplishments. Realize, wretched soul, your existence, be aware of your ancestry. Don’t forget that you are a foreigner here and that everything is foreign! Now, if God the sweet Benefactor gave you something, render it with a clear conscience, Your own from Your own.
If you have ascended to the heavens and seen the natures of the angels and heard the voices of the divine Powers, if you theologize and teach, if you have defeated the wiles of the demons, if you write and speak and do things, all are a gift of God.
So say to your Lord, “Receive, o my sweet zephyr, my Jesus, Your own from Your own!” And then oh, then, my soul! What things you will see when the treasures of God open and He says to You, Receive everything, my son, for you proved to be a faithful and good ruler! (Mt 25:21).

The Elder Joseph the Hesychast (+1959), Struggles, Experiences, Teachings


It is only natural for noble memories to be recorded, so that they remain forever as glowing landmarks in spiritual history. This is the more necessary these days, when life is in a state of flux and rapid change so that the traditional foundations are almost totally transformed. Anyone of an advanced age will have something to say from his experience of the past, as a witness to events and a source of reliable information. But this is also an obligation which creates history. This is how knowledge about the lives of former generations is handed down to us – of how they lived, how and what they thought and what their social and spiritual life was like.
It is on these grounds that we write these lines, because we wanted to leave a living memory of some aspects of monastic life – something that anyway corresponds to my own bent, since I became a monk at an early age. My impressions, which to be sure are those of a monk, revolve mainly around the life and words of devout and virtuous monks and elders whom I have met or heard about from reliable sources. From my youth I was thrilled by the Lives of the Saints, and I always cherished the hope that one day I might meet people like that, true workers of virtue, heroes in the practice of arduous ascetic labours and genuine friends of God, filled with divine love towards God and their neighbour.
Nearly two millenia have passed in the history of our Church, during which the bitter struggle of good and evil has gone stubbornly on and their respective supporters have constantly clashed. However much the workers of virtue diminish in number – the ‘little flock’, in the words of Our Lord (Lk 12.32) – they have not ceased to be a presence in every age, even under harsh conditions. And this is because we are simply seeing the fulfilment of the Lord’s prophecy that ‘the gates of Hell shall not prevail against the Church and the flock of Christ’ (Mt 16.18), and because indeed ‘He who is in you in greater than he who is in the world’ (1 Jn 4.4).

Monasticism goes back almost to the days of the holy Apostles, and started to be organised after the third century in Egypt and Palestine. The initial solitary way of life was followed by a communal life, first in lavras that were semi-coenobitic and later with a purely coenobitic rule. According to sacred tradition, the monks under Pachomius the Great at Tabennisi, by the mouth of the Nile, received the rule and foundation for their communal life in a revelation from an angel of God. The basic characteristic of this rule which was given them was a small variation from coenobitic life in a strict sense to accommodate the desire and godly fervour of the spiritual warriors of the time – a degree of independence as to the intensity of their spiritual struggle. Each was allowed to make his own choices as to diet, form of struggle, ascetic labour, vigil, prayer and whatever else.
In a relatively short time this tradition spread to Palestine, where Theodosius the Great instituted the purely coenobitic life, for which he is called the Coenobiarch. During this period, monasticism spread to almost every part of the world where the Church was to be found. Monasteries, sketes and hermitages were built, where zealous Christians would resort to put into practice the commandments of the Gospel according to their desire and their fervour, devoting themselves solely to the things of God. In the east the monks were not left in peace for long, especially after the spread of Islam, which was undoubtedly a sore trial for Christendom. Thus began the gradual movement towards the area around Byzantium, and Olympus in Bythinia (Asia Minor) became a thriving centre. In the capital, too, there flourished the Studites, renowned for their zeal for the patristic tradition and architects of our hymnology it its detailed form, building on a tradition received from the famous Lavra of St Sava. But here, too, the iconoclast heresy did not allow them to dedicate themselves in peace to their monastic labours, and the search began for a new place to continue this sacred tradition.
So begins the history of Holy Athos, which from that time has remained down the years an unshakable bastion of true piety and virtue, the spiritual and fragrant paradise of the Most Blessed Mother of God, whose special love and care for it continues to be made manifest in practical ways.
It is not our intention to write a general history of monasticism, so we are not going into details in our brief account. We have given this summary sketch only because we shall refer later to the spiritual warriors of Mount Athos, the legitimate continuators of our patristic tradition.

It is sad indeed that despite the rich spiritual contribution of Athonite monasticism which has survived and thrived uninterrupted for more than a thousand years, nothing has been written that is worthy of its splendour. Even the names of those who passed through and handed on this rich heritage have not been written down. We are unequal to this task and also untimely born, having missed almost all the vast wealth of this spiritual heaven. Indeed, Athos has stood permanently between earth and heaven, to reconcile the human race with God and, often, to stand in the way of the divine justice which human treachery has provoked.
When we first started out in our own homeland, the first thing we learned about monastic life was the Holy Mountain. This was because it happened that both our Abbot Barnabas and the spiritual father of our monastery, Hieromonk Kyprianos, had previously been Athonites. They were always telling us about living images and examples of holy monks from Athos whom they themselves had seen and heard . They told us about the Elder Kallinikos the Hesychast, the Elder Gerasimos of Chios, Father Gregorios, Father Kosmas, Father Savvas, Ilarion and many others. All these were people full of godly zeal, real ascetics, true spiritual warriors, men of inwardness and watchfulness , sober, filled with divine grace and the spirit of prescience.
These vivid tales, combined with our youthful fervour at that time, were so uplifting that they kindled in us the desire to visit this holy place for ourselves. And if God did not grant us the blessing of meeting such fathers, we could at least venerate their holy relics and see at first hand the holy places where they lived and strove, and learn from their successors as much as we could about their marvellous and supranatural lives. Such were the motives that led us to set out, and so by the grace of God we found ourselves on holy Athos, where we encountered far more than we had expected or dreamed.

There is nothing strange or rare in recounting the lives of remarkable men and some part of their feats and struggles. If only this were always done: it would offer some hope for restoring stability to a corrupted society which, alas, is inundated with contradictions. A form of impassioned love possesses people’s hearts. To a greater of lesser extent, everyone loves something, is interested in something – something occupies their minds. In their struggle to organise whatever it is they areinterested in, they may be satisfied or frustrated. But taking their life as a whole, they are not satisfied, because most of their time and energy has been wasted on pitiful vanities and in the service of pointless ends. Many philosophies amd theories have been articulated and written down since the dawn of history, but there has been no improvement in this harsh reality.
The meaning of truth is not easy for people to grasp in the place of exile and condemnation in which they find themselves. The ancient commandment of the Creator following the sin of disobedience remains inexorable: ‘and at the east of the garden of Eden God placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life’ (Gen. 3.24). Entry to Eden, to joy and happiness and peace, has been forbidden for ever! In its place, the earth keeps bringing forth thorns and thistles and ‘in the sweat of your face shall you eat bread all the days of your life’ (Gen. 3.19,17).
So the fullness of time had to come for this new Gospel to overturn the ancient condemnation and grant human beings the blessing, to grant them true happiness and joy. ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give unto you’ (Jn 14:27). Since the moment when the new Gospel gave the good news to men and revealed the true meaning of life – real peace and joy – many centuries have passed up to this day, and the course of mankind continues unimpeded towards its realisation. Indeed, ‘to all who received Him, He gave power to become children of God’ (Jn 1:12).
Out of the countless heroes who continue this course we shall speak of one, whom God in His love for mankind granted us to live close to for a considerable time. ‘We have seen and heard and touched’ (cf. 1 Jn 1:1) personally the actual life of this man, and also his thoughts, as far, of course, as it was possible for us.
The basic characteristics of this blessed Elder were the comprehensive commandments: on the one hand love for God with all his heart and soul, and for his neighbour as himself, and on the other the bitter, lifelong struggle with various trials in order to put this commandment into practice. It is impossible not to meet with difficulties if one travels the narrow way (cf. Mt. 7:14) of virtue in order to come out on the other side – or rather, in heaven – even as ‘through many tribulations we must enter into life’ (cf. Acts 14:22). But for those who by a higher providence are prepared by God for the strengthening of others, and who in a certain way bring renewed vitality into a situation of neglect, the struggle is incomparably more bitter and rougher, and often seems quite relentless. This is not difficult to see also from the lives of the great Fathers and founders of the monastic life, who, according to the degree of their mission, also encountered the violence of exceptional trials. In the course of life it is natural that things often change, for the better or worse, in accordance with the prevailing circumstances which their environment creates over and above the natural laws governing them.
This was what the Elder would tell us sometimes in answer to our questions on the subject. ‘It happens’, he said to us, ‘that the love of our fellow men, and generally the sympathy of the whole environment, can lighten our load so that the trials are scarcely perceptible; and at other times people’s cruelty and revulsion can make our cross an unbearable weight.’
Those of us who lived close to the Elder learned from his life and his words many valuable things which he knew from experience. But the brothers who came later, who joined us towards the end of his life, insisted that we should write down for them something of the Elder’s life, maintaining that an oral account would soon be forgotten. So it was their insistence, and that of the others who had known our Elder, which induced us to write down something of his life, despite our very limited abilities. This should have been done by others who were more capable. But perhaps this is difficult, because owing to the Elder’s peculiar manner of life there are not many witnesses who saw and heard him at first hand. Perhaps, again, something will be written in the future by others who have both the enthusiasm and an ability with words.
When I began gradually noting down what I remembered and had got about half way, I was overcome by a kind of disheartenment and lost the will with which I had started off. I shut my notes up in a cupboard and was thinking not to continue for the time being. About two months went by in silence, then one morning the brother who lived with me said in surprise, ‘Last night I saw the Elder in a dream, and he gave me two big seals to give you. One was all ready, with its lettering carved on, and the other had no lettering and needed to be carved. I asked, “What should I tell him to do with them, Elder?” and he replied clearly, “Give them to him, and he will know what to do with them.” Then I woke up.’ (Bear in mind that my handicraft at the time was making wooden prosfora seals). When the brother told me this, I immediately understood what it meant because that was where my thoughts turned, and I continued with a will to finish writing the Elder’s life.
I too must admit now that it is very useful to have the lives and experiences of godly and virtuous people written down, as a support and example for later generations. With care and a sense of responsibility, without fanaticism or ulterior motive, we describe what we saw and heard personally of the life of our ever-memorable Elder, as well as the testimony of others who knew him before we did.

To be continued…


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