Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Words of the recently reposed Elder Joseph of the Vatopedion Monastery:
“….Now then, today I am forced to speak about this matter also; it is a somewhat daring endeavour, but necessity has caused me to bring up the subject, when every day I hear men say “my wife is like this….my wife is like that….all women are devils…”.
So, I ask: “Excuse me dear fellow, but this woman you are referring to – weren’t you the one that married her?”
“Well then, when you married her, didn’t you find every love, tenderness and happiness in her person?”
“So, why have you changed now? She is the same person. Both when you married her, and now. Can you see that you are to blame?”
I met an elderly couple some years ago – quite elderly, in their eighties – who had so much bitterness between them that, if it were possible, they would kill each other. I felt sorry for them; I sat down next to them and began to search deeper and discovered that they had reached that point out of ignorance. They had no idea what Christianity was, or anything about morality – nothing whatsoever. When I sat down to talk to them, I saw that they were quite receptive and they would pay attention to whatever I told them…. Well ! After trying to briefly show them that mankind is descended from God and that it has eternity inside it, and that we will not be in this world forever, and that conjugality is not dissolved here but continues into eternity, they were both moved and they accepted all that they heard. I left them, and after some time, they sent me a letter in which they said: “Dear Elder, it is as though we are reliving the first month of our marriage…..” Imagine that – those who were ready to kill, to slaughter each other…. Can you see the evidence now?
I will tell you of another character, of a proper husband; one that we rarely encounter in our day. But we did encounter one such person. He was in every way a perfect character – a Christian, and a completely social sort of person. He married late, almost thirty years old, not because he was averse to marriage, but because he thought that was how it should be. So he said his prayers with faith, and found himself a young girl and married her. The girl was young – ten years younger than him. Soon after he married her, she began to get into mischief. He pretended not to notice; he regarded her as his daughter and himself as her father. However, they had important business interests overseas and they had to go there, even if only temporarily. So he took her and they went abroad. When they arrived, she became very obstinate, and would say to herself: “He did this on purpose, to estrange me from my environment. I will desert him.” So she just up and left him. She came back to Greece, and where do you think she went? To one of those “casino” places, and began to live the life of a free woman – one who is paid…”
The husband however, from the day that she left him, never stopped praying with tears and insisting – in fact extorting God: “Benevolent One, I will not retreat, I will not leave you alone; You were the One who gave me my wife. “By God is a woman suited to a man” (according to the Bible). I want my wife. If the young girl has strayed, must she be lost? Why did You come down to earth? Didn’t You come to find the lost ones, to heal the sick, to resurrect the dead? I will not budge. I will not let You rest. I want my wife. Bring her back to me.” He wept for two whole years.
His prayer was eventually heard and the young woman came to her senses. “Oh dear,” she confessed, “God will have to create another Hell, because this one is too small for me!”
So she sat down and wrote him a letter, saying: “I dare not address you; I have no such right. If I return, will you accept me as your servant?”
He replied: “My love, why did you mention that word and hurt my feelings? Wasn’t it me who sent you on a vacation and was waiting for my love to return, to my wide open arms?”
So, he went and waited for her at the airport, as they had arranged. When she arrived, she fell down and began to beat herself and cry. He took her in his arms.
“My love, why are you doing this and hurting my feelings? I was longing to see you again. Let’s go home now; we never parted – I was always with you.”
That young girl turned out to be a faithful wife after this….
And that is the stance that a man – a husband – should take. If husbands are like that one, then show me what woman is bad?”
The Differences between the Trials
Trials (peirasmoi) are so called because they engender experience (peira), since in the unseen war they do indeed afford spiritual knowledge to those who are attentive. Anything is called a trial if it is in opposition to our struggle for faith and true piety while we are pressing on towards submission to God, but they are subdivided into various kinds, according to the understanding of the Fathers. There are the trials of those taking part in the struggle, so that they may make additional gains and progress in their struggle. There are the trials of the slothful and unwilling, to make them beware of things that are harmful and dangerous. There are the trials of those who are drowsy or sleeping, in order to wake them up. Then again there are the trials of those who have distanced themselves and gone astray, to make them draw near to God. Different again are the trials of the righteous and friends of God, so that they may inherit the promise. There are also trials of the perfect, which God permits in order to bring them forward in the Church for the strengthening of the faithful and as an example to be emulated. There is also another kind of trial, again of the perfect, such as those endured by our Lord and the Apostles, who fulfilled the law of communion with the world by taking up the trials which are ours.
Spiritual Fathers also participate in this law of ‘communion’ by bearing the burdens and the weaknesses of their spiritual children through prayers and other struggles which supplement what is lacking in others. There is also another way, according to the Fathers, in which one person may be a sharer in someone else’s trials, and this is as follows: the accuser shares in the trials of the accused, the slanderer in those of the slandered, the wrongdoer in those of the wronged – especially when those who are wronged endure the harm done to them without a murmur.
We shall speak at this point of the trials of those who are making progress as a result of their attentiveness and willingness to struggle, which – again in the judgement of our Fathers – are usually the following: indolence, heaviness of body, languor of the limbs, listlessness, confusion of the mind, suspicion of bodily sickness – faintheartedness, in other words – darkening of the thoughts, being abandoned by human help, constriction in their external needs and the like. All these things, when – by God’s consent – they befall participants in the struggle, give rise to a sense of dereliction. Their faith then begins to be waver, as if the hope which had given them heart up till then had been cut off. But secretly grace consoles them so that they do not change their regime, because it convinces them that the trial has not come from themselves, since everything testifies that they have not abandoned their consistent good practice. After facing this difficulty and receiving the mystical consolation of grace, they turn with faith and yearning towards God who has power to save them, and fall down in humility asking His salvation, which is the end to which they have endured these trials. Such, according to the Fathers, are the trials of those who are advanced and making progress in spiritual matters.
In those who chance to neglect their duties or, which is the most terrible, fall into self-conceit and pride, the trials are different and harsher, in the same way as surgical operations and excisions are called for in cases of serious illness. The demons at first make war on them openly and quite shamelessly and insistently, and beyond their strength (cf. 1 Cor. 10:13). They experience a darkening of the intellect so that they lose the power of discrimination altogether, and imbecility and idiotic thoughts abound; an intense war of the flesh, pressing their will to go contrary to nature; anger for no reason and intractability in whatever concerns their own will; quarrelling on the spur of the moment and rebuking people at random; blasphemous thoughts against God; a loss of courage in the heart; being mocked by the demons, secretly and openly; lack of restraint in idle talk and, in general, a desire for the world and for idle vanities. After that, trials which are severe and hard to dispel: strange and unaccustomed symptoms of illness and painful wounds, a poverty and dereliction that is unaccustomed and defies consolation and everything else that is impossible and insoluble, which gives rise to despair and fear because the heart is devoid of hope. All these things are consequences mainly of pride, and come upon the person who has been led astray into believing in himself; and all these are the medicines for his healing, to make him sober up and humble himself and vomit out the bile of this devastating perversion.
As in matters of grace there are means of assistance which augment our progress both in time and in quantity, so also on the side of error there are factors which contribute to its fluctuation. On the side of grace, when by the grace of Christ someone treads the strait and narrow way (Mt 7:14) of the commandments according to the measure of his understanding, he increases the aid and illumination given by grace if he also acquires humility and sympathy in the service of love. Something comparable happens on the side of error. If impatience and grumbling are added to it, one’s cross becomes twice as heavy if not more. Faintheartedness and lack of hope are the most excruciating horrors of the unseen war, and are reserved for hard and unhumbled characters as the harshest lesson, which is a taste of hell itself and of punishment, a palpable sign of desertion and dereliction. Here it takes the prayers of saints and the intervention of a miracle for the heart to be softened. Many prayers and tears are needed for this sick soul to be reunited with grace and so be healed: otherwise it is inevitable that error will conquer, and that way lies madness and destruction.
O blessed humility and gratitude! Who is wise and will keep thy ways and understand thy statutes, that he may win thee totally and have thee as his intimate companion: that thou mayest go before him and follow him in all his ways, until thou presentest him to thy Master and King, who has taken thee as His delight and sharer of His throne and has revealed thee to us! For he says, ‘Learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart’ (and not just in appearance) ‘and you will find rest for your souls’! (Mt 11:29).
It was not our intention to repeat so many problems and explanations well known from our Fathers; we were carried away by our train of thought, since almost unintentionally we found ourselves amidst the whirlwinds of trials to which we so often fall victim through our many deficiencies and lapses in attention.
The ever-memorable Elder never stopped explaining to us at every stage of our life, in his own delightful way, the aim and purpose of these ‘contractual afflictions’. We saw the movement and functioning of these afflictions constantly within the framework of the spiritual law which regulated everything in our lives in detail. Indeed, how much wisdom is concealed here in those who have understanding in the science of the spiritual life, when they chart their course over this ocean of life using nothing but this lodestone of the spiritual law, ‘the law of the spirit of life’! (Rom. 8:2).
Metropolitan Philaret Voznesensky, the New Confessor:
1. Remember, you are a son (daughter) of the Orthodox Church. These are not empty words. Remember the commitment this entails.
2. Earthly life is fleeting; one is hardly aware of the swiftness of its passing. Nevertheless, this transient life determines the eternal destiny of your soul. Do not forget this for a moment.
3. Try to live piously. Pray to God in church, pray to God at home–fervently, with faith, trusting yourself to God’s will. Fulfill the holy and saving precepts of the Church, her rules and commandments. Outside the Church, outside obedience to her, there is no salvation.
4. The gift of words is one of God’s greatest gifts. It ennobles man, lifting him above all other creatures. But how this gift is now misused by a corrupts humanity! Safeguard this gift and learn to use it as befits a Christian. Do not judge, do not speak idly. Avoid, like fire, bad language and seductive conversation; do not forget the words of our Lord and Savior: By thy words thou shall be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned. (Mt 12:37) Do not indulge in lying. Holy Scripture sternly forewarns: The Lord shall destroy all them which speak a lie. (Ps 5:4)
5. Love your neighbor as yourself, according to the Lord’s commandment. Without love there is not Christianity. Remember, Christian love is SELF-SACRIFICING, and not egocentric. Do not miss an opportunity to show love and mercy.
6. Be meek, pure and modest in your thoughts, words and deeds. Do not imitate the profligate. Do not take their example, and avoid close acquaintance with them. Have no unnecessary dealings with unbelievers-unbelief is infectious. Observe meekness and propriety always and everywhere; avoid becoming contaminated by the shameless habits of todays world.
7. Fear vanity and pride; run from them. Pride caused the highest and most power angel to be cast down from heaven. remember, ‘thou art earth and to earth shat thou return…’ Deeply humble yourself.
8. The fundamental task in life is to save one’s soul for eternity. Keep this as the most essential task, the main concern of your life. Woe to those whose indifference and neglect bring their souls to eternal ruination. Source: Orthodox Heritage, Vol 7, issue 09-10, p 32
Glory be to God for everything! Glory be to God for having created me to His image and likeness. Glory be to God for having redeemed me, the fallen. Glory be to God for having extended his solicitude to me, the unworthy. Glory be to God for having led me, the sinner, to repentance. Glory be to God for having offered me His holy words, like a lamp in a dark place, thus setting me on the path of righteousness. Glory be to God for having illumined the eyes of my heart. Glory be to God for having made known to me His holy name. Glory be to God for having washed away my sins through the bath of baptism. Glory be to God for having shown me the way to eternal bliss. The way is Jesus Christ, Son of God, Who says of Himself: “I am the way and the truth and the life.”
Glory be to God, that He has not brought me to perdition through my sins, but suffered them because of His kindness. Glory be to God for showing me the vanity and emptiness of the world. Glory be to God for helping me in various temptations, misfortunes, and calamities. Glory be to God for protecting me in accidents and mortal dangers. Glory be to God for defending me against the Devil, who is the enemy. Glory be to God for raising me when I was prostrate. Glory be to God for comforting me in my sorrow. Glory be to God for converting me when I was erring. Glory be to God for punishing me as a father. Glory be to God for announcing to me His last Judgment, that I might fear it and repent of my sins. Glory be to God for revealing to me eternal torment and eternal bliss, that I might flee the one and seek the other. Glory be to God for offering to me, the unworthy one, food which strengthened my body, clothing which covered my nakedness, a house wherein I found shelter. Glory be to God for all the other benefits He granted me for my comfort and sustenance. I received benefits from Him as often as I breathed.
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Glory be to God for everything!
Now, my brethren, I address my words to you. I cannot speak to you as I did formerly, with my voice and my lips, for I am silent, and my breath is spent. But I can talk to you by means of this short letter.
1. The temple of my body has been destroyed, and earth returns to earth, according to the word of God: “Dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return.” But with the holy Church, I expect resurrection from the dead and the life of the world to come. My hope is sitting at the right hand of God, Jesus Christ, my Lord and God. He is my life and resurrection. He says to me: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me shall not die but live.” With His voice will He awaken me from my sleep.
2. I have gone away from you according to the way of earthly things; I have departed, and we no longer see each other as we did before. But we shall see each other in that place where shall be gathered all the nations that have lived from the beginning of the world and to its very end. O God, grant that we may see each other there, where God is seen face to face, and gives new life to those who see Him, and comforts and gladdens them and gives them ineffable joy for all eternity. There do men shine like the sun; there is true life; there is true honor and glory; there is true joy and gladness; there is true ecstasy, and all that is eternal and endless. “Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, as we have hoped in thee.”
3. I greatly thank my benefactors, who did not forsake me in my weakness and misery, but out of their mercy and love, provided me with their goods. May God render to them their kindness on the day when all shall be rendered their due.
4. I have forgiven, and I forgive, all who have offended me; may God forgive them in His gracious mercy. I too pray to be forgiven wherein I have offended anyone, being a man. “Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven,” God has said.
5. As I have no belongings, nothing remains after me. I pray that those who lived at my side and served me may want nothing.
Pardon, my beloved, and remember Tikhon!