Monday, November 18, 2013
Αναγνωρίζουν ομιλίες, αντιλαμβάνονται συμπεριφορές, ξέρουν να μετρούν. Τα βρέφη είναι τελικά πολύ πιο «σύνθετα» όντα από ό,τι νομίζουμε.
Τα βρέφη αντιλαμβάνονται και γνωρίζουν πολύ περισσότερα από όσα πιστεύουμε
Ο υπέροχος αλλά μυστηριώδης κόσμος των βρεφών αρχίζει να φωτίζεται ολοένα και περισσότερο αφού οι επιστήμονες τα τελευταία χρόνια έχουν καταφέρει να αποκωδικοποιήσουν μια σειρά ικανότητες και δυνατότητες που έχει ο άνθρωπος κατά τους πρώτους μήνες, ακόμη και κατά τις πρώτες εβδομάδες της ζωής του. Όπως φαίνεται, τα βρέφη γνωρίζουν αλλά και αντιλαμβάνονται πολύ περισσότερα από όσα πιστεύαμε ως σήμερα.
Μας καταλαβαίνουν προτού καν… ξεμυτίσουν
Τα έμβρυα μπορούν να «αποκωδικοποιήσουν» τον λόγο ακόμη και τρεις μήνες πριν από τη γέννησή τους. Αυτό έδειξε μελέτη γάλλων ερευνητών του Εργαστηρίου GRAMFC (Groupe de Recherche sur l’ Analyse Multimodale de la Fonction Cérébrale) που βασίστηκε σε λεπτομερείς απεικονίσεις του εγκεφάλου 12 βρεφών τα οποία είχαν γεννηθεί πρόωρα. Μόλις στις 28 εβδομάδες της κύησης τα βρέφη φάνηκε ότι μπορούσαν να διακρίνουν μεταξύ διαφορετικών συλλαβών όπως «γκα» και «μπα» αλλά και μεταξύ ανδρικών και γυναικείων φωνών. Οι ερευνητές αναφέρουν ότι είναι σχεδόν απίθανο η ελάχιστη εμπειρία των μωρών εκτός της μήτρας να ήταν εκείνη που τους χάρισε την ικανότητα να αντιλαμβάνονται τις συλλαβές. Όπως υποστηρίζουν, τα βρέφη μαθαίνουν τη… γλώσσα των μεγάλων κατά την ενδομήτρια ζωή τους. Τα νέα αυτά ευρήματα ενισχύουν τη θεωρία που αναφέρει πως τα βρέφη αποκτούν γλωσσικές ικανότητες ενόσω βρίσκονται στη μήτρα αποκρινόμενα στις φωνές των γονιών τους.
Αναγνωρίζουν τα ψέματα!
Πρόσφατη μελέτη έδειξε ότι τα μωρά, ακόμη και από την ηλικία των 18 μηνών, μπορούν να καταλάβουν πότε ο γονιός τους τούς λέει ψέματα! Τα βρέφη, όπως αναφέρουν ψυχολόγοι του Πανεπιστημίου Κονκόρντια στον Καναδά, είναι σε θέση να καταλάβουν πότε κάποια συναισθήματα που δείχνουν οι γύρω τους δεν συνάδουν προς τα γεγονότα που λαμβάνουν χώρα εκείνη τη στιγμή, όπως π.χ. όταν ένας ενήλικος δείχνει λυπημένος ενώ του δίνουν κάποιο αντικείμενο που επιθυμεί.
Οι μαθηματικές ικανότητες
Επιστήμονες του Πανεπιστημίου Ντιουκ στη Βόρεια Καρολίνα υποστηρίζουν ότι τα μωρά που αντιλαμβάνονται τη διαφορά ανάμεσα σε τρία μήλα και σε έξι μήλα στην ηλικία των έξι μηνών είναι πιθανότερο να έχουν καλύτερες αριθμητικές ικανότητες όταν φτάσουν στο προνήπιο. Και αυτό σημαίνει ότι ορισμένες μαθηματικές ικανότητες μπορεί να είναι έμφυτες. Προηγούμενες μελέτες έχουν δείξει ότι τα βρέφη έχουν την ικανότητα να ξεχωρίζουν σύνολα που περιέχουν διαφορετικό αριθμό αντικειμένων. Πολλοί νευροεπιστήμονες και αναπτυξιακοί βιολόγοι υποψιάζονται ότι η «διαισθητική» αντίληψη του πλήθους αποτελεί τη βάση για τις μαθηματικές ικανότητες των ενηλίκων. Οι ερευνητές αναφέρουν ότι τα αποτελέσματα της μελέτης που έκαναν ενισχύουν την άποψη ότι η διαισθητική αντίληψη των αριθμών είναι έμφυτη ικανότητα στην οποία θα βασιστούν αργότερα οι μαθηματικές ικανότητες. Επισημαίνουν πάντως ότι το ταλέντο στα μαθηματικά επηρεάζεται και από πολλούς περιβαλλοντικούς παράγοντες όπως η παιδεία και η ενθάρρυνση από τους γονείς.
Τα 18μηνα βρέφη κατανοούν τους βασικούς κανόνες της αριθμητικής, σύμφωνα με μια μελέτη ειδικών του Πανεπιστημίου του Κουίνσλαντ στην Αυστραλία. Οι ερευνητές κατέληξαν σε αυτό το συμπέρασμα αφού παρακολούθησαν βρέφη της συγκεκριμένης ηλικίας και είδαν ότι τα μικρά επιλέγουν να βλέπουν βίντεο όπου γίνεται σωστή αρίθμηση παρά άλλα όπου δεν ακολουθούνται οι κανόνες της πρόσθεσης. Παρ’ ότι ως σήμερα πιστεύαμε πως τα παιδιά κατακτούν τους κύριους κανόνες της αριθμητικής στην ηλικία των περίπου τεσσάρων ετών, η συγκεκριμένη μελέτη δείχνει ότι οι βασικές αρχές γίνονται «κτήμα» των παιδιών από τη βρεφική ακόμη ηλικία.
Σούπερ παιδιά τα βρέφη που κολυμπούν
Η εκμάθηση κολύμβησης από την αρχή της ζωής χαρίζει στα παιδιά εντυπωσιακές δεξιότητες αργότερα στον βίο τους, σύμφωνα με μελέτη ειδικών του Νορβηγικού Πανεπιστημίου Επιστήμης και Τεχνολογίας και του Πανεπιστημίου του Λάνκαστερ. Οι επιστήμονες ανακάλυψαν ότι τα μωρά που κολυμπούν εμφανίζουν καλύτερη ισορροπία και μπορούν να αρπάζουν και να κρατούν αντικείμενα πολύ πιο εύκολα από όσα βρέφη δεν μαθαίνουν κολύμβηση. Μάλιστα η διαφορά αυτή σε σημαντικές δεξιότητες φάνηκε να ισχύει ακόμη και όταν τα παιδιά είχαν συμπληρώσει τα πέντε έτη τους.
Οι ερευνητές συνέκριναν 19 βρέφη-κολυμβητές με αντίστοιχο αριθμό παιδιών που δεν συμμετείχαν σε μαθήματα κολύμβησης. Τα βρέφη είχαν συμμετάσχει σε πρόγραμμα κολύμβησης επί δύο ώρες την εβδομάδα από την ηλικία των δύο-τριών μηνών ως την ηλικία των επτά μηνών. Όταν τα παιδιά των δύο ομάδων εξετάστηκαν στην ηλικία των πέντε ετών, η διαφορά στις επιδόσεις τους σε ασκήσεις ισορροπίας και άλλων φυσικών δεξιοτήτων ήταν εντυπωσιακή, σημειώνουν οι ερευνητές.
Ήταν κάποιος κοινοβιάρχης που είχε πολλή δόξα από τους ανθρώπους και ήταν πατέρας διακοσίων μοναχών. Σ' αυτόν ήρθε ένας γέροντας φτωχός και παρακάλεσε το θυρωρό να ειδοποιήσει τον αββά, ότι είναι ο τάδε αδελφός.
Με πολύ δυσκολία μπήκε ο θυρωρός να τον ειδοποιήσει και βρήκε τον αββά να μιλάει με άλλους. Στάθηκε δε λίγο και του μετέφερε όσα αφορούσαν το φτωχό, χωρίς να ξέρει ποιος στην ουσία ήταν
Ο αββάς τότε τον μάλωνε λέγοντας δεν κοιτάς που μιλάω με τους ανθρώπους; Άσε με τώρα. Αυτό έφυγε. Μακροθύμησε δε ο Κύριος, έμεινε και τον περίμενε, μέχρι να έρθει.
Γύρω στις έντεκα, ήρθε κάποιος πλούσιος, τον οποίον γρήγορα τον υποδέχτηκε ο κοινοβιάρχης. Τον είδε να είναι μαζί με τον πλούσιο, και ο φτωχός τότε γέροντας τον παρακάλεσε λέγοντας:
-Θέλω να σου μιλήσω, αββά.
Αυτός όμως μπήκε μέσα μαζί με τον πλούσιο να φάνε, θέλοντας δήθεν να φροντίσει τους φιλοξενουμένους. Έπειτα πάλι μετά το γεύμα ξεπροβοδίζει μέχρι τη θύρα τον πλούσιο και επέστρεψε αιχμαλωτισμένος στις πολλές φροντίδες και λησμονώντας την παράκληση του πτωχού και ανεξίκακου γέροντα.
Όταν έφτασε το βράδυ και ο κοινοβιάρχης δεν αξιώθηκε να δεχτεί τον ευλογημένο και αληθινά ξένο και αναχωρώντας τότε ο γέρος είπε στον πορταρη μοναχό
-Πες στον αββά, αν θέλει τη δόξα των ανθρώπων, εγώ για τους προηγουμένους κόπους και τις πολλές του προσπάθειες, θα του στείλω από τα τέσσερα μέρη του ορίζοντα να τον παρακαλούνε, επειδή θέλει να αλείφει και να αλείφεται αλλά τα αγαθά της δικής μου Βασιλείας όμως δε θα τα γευτεί.
Και έτσι φανερώθηκε ο γέροντας ο φτωχός... ο Παντοκράτωρ Χριστός!!!
Ό,τι κι αν μας συμβούλευε ο γέροντας Μακάριος, πάντοτε τοποθετούσε την ταπείνωση στην πρώτη γραμμή των συμβουλών του. Από αυτήν την αρετή παρήγαγε όλες τις επόμενες αρετές που συναποτελούν το ήθος του αληθινού Χριστιανού. Αυτή είναι η ουσία των μαθημάτων, που ο γ. Μακάριος δίδαξε σε όλους, όσοι διψούσαν για τις εντολές και την καθοδήγησή του:
να εξετάζεις τη συνείδησή σου,
να πολεμάς συνεχώς με τα πάθη σου,
να καθαρίζεις την ψυχή σου από τις αμαρτίες,
να αγαπάς το Θεό εν απλότητι καρδίας,
να πιστεύεις σ' αυτόν χωρίς υπολογισμούς,
να έχεις ακατάπαυστα ενώπιόν σου το απεριόριστο έλεός του, και με όλη τη δύναμη της ψυχής σου να Τον δοξάζεις και να Τον ευλογείς σε όλες τις δυσάρεστες περιστάσεις της ζωής,
να αναζητάς τη δική σου ενοχή, και να συγχωρείς κάθε παράπτωμα του διπλανού σου εναντίον σου, ούτως ώστε να αποσπάσεις το έλεος του Θεού για τις δικές σου αμαρτίες,
να προσπαθείς να θεμελιώσεις μέσα σου την αγάπη για το διπλανό σου,
να περισώζεις την ειρήνη και την ηρεμία στην οικογένεια και τους γνωστούς σου,
να θυμάσαι πιο συχνά τις εντολές του Θεού και να προσπαθείς να τις εκπληρώσεις, καθώς επίσης και τους κανόνες της Εκκλησίας,
όσο είναι δυνατόν, να πηγαίνεις για εξομολόγηση και να μετέχεις των Θείων Μυστηρίων αρκετές φορές το χρόνο,
να τηρείς και τις τέσσερις περιόδους νηστείας, καθώς και τις Τετάρτες και τις Παρασκευές,
να παρακολουθείς τις ακολουθίες και τη Θεία Λειτουργία σε κάθε εορτή,
να λες πρωινές και βραδινές προσευχές και ακόμη μερικούς ψαλμούς κάθε μέρα, και, αν το επιτρέπει ο χρόνος, να διαβάζεις ένα κεφάλαιο από τα Ευαγγέλια και τις Επιστολές των Αποστόλων,
να προσεύχεσαι κάθε πρωί και βράδυ για την ανάπαυση των κεκοιμημένων και τη σωτηρίου των ζωντανών.
Αν, για οποιεσδήποτε συνθήκες, δεν μπορείς να εκπληρώσει αυτά τα καθήκοντα, τότε να επιτιμήσεις τον εαυτό σου ώστε να μετανοήσεις ειλικρινά, και να πάρεις σταθερή απόφαση να μην αποτύχεις ξανά στο μέλλον. Προσευχήσου ακόμη για εκείνους για τους οποίους έχεις κάποια κακή επιθυμία, γιατί αυτός είναι ο σιγουρότερος τρόπος για την εν χριστώ συμφιλίωση.
«Γέρων Μακάριος της Όπτινα»
Everyone, whether or not he is a Christian, must expect a certain amount of sickness and discomfort to enter his life. Physical pain is universal; no one escapes it. Therefore, how much we suffer from illness, or how intensely, does not matter so much as how we understand these infirmities. The understanding is all.
If a man supposes that life should be one long, luxurious "vacation," then any amount of suffering that comes to him is unbearable. But if a man views life as a time of sorrows, correction, and purification, then suffering and pain become not only bearable, but even useful.
Saint Ambrose of Milan says of the Christian attitude toward sickness: "If the occasion demands it, a wise man will readily accept bodily infirmity and even offer his whole body up to death for the sake of Christ....This same man is not affected in spirit or broken with bodily pain if his health fails him. He is consoled by his struggle for perfection in the virtues" (Exegetical Works). Hearing this, the man of the world is quite likely to exclaim: "What an idea! How can a man 'readily accept' illness and disease?"
To an unbeliever this is indeed an incomprehensible thing. He cannot reconcile the fact of human suffering with his own idea of God. To him, the very thought that God would allow pain is repugnant; usually he sees every kind of suffering as evil in an absolute sense.
Without the aid of Divine Revelation man cannot understand the origin and cause of pain, nor its purpose. Many people, not having help in understanding, are haunted by fear of pain, terrified at the thought of a lingering illness, and quick to seek medical relief because they believe illness is only the result of "chance."
If it is true that infirmity comes through mere "bad luck" (which even common sense tells us is not so, since much disease is the result of immoderate living), then indeed it is permissible and even desirable to use all means to avoid the pain of illness and even the illness itself. Furthermore, when a disease becomes irreversible and terminal, worldly wisdom teaches that it is acceptable to end the life of the patient — what is called euthanasia, or "mercy killing" — since, according to this view deathbed suffering is useless and cruel, and therefore "evil."
But even in everyday life we know that suffering really isn't "absolutely evil." For example, we submit to the surgeon's knife in order to have a diseased part of the body cut away; the pain of the operation is great, but we know that it is necessary in order to preserve health or even life. Thus, even on a strictly materialistic level, pain can serve a higher good.
Another reason why human suffering is a mystery to an unbeliever is because his very "idea" of God is false. He is shocked when the Holy Fathers speak of God in the following way: "Whether God brings upon us a famine, or a war, or any calamity whatsoever, He does so out of His exceeding great care and kindness" (St. John Chrysostom, Homily 7, On the Statues).
The God-bearing Elder Macarius of Optina, in 19th-century Russia, wrote thusly to a friend: "Being weak in health as you yourself are, I cannot fail to feel much sympathy for your plight. But kind Providence is not only more wise than we are; It is also wise in a different way. It is this thought which must sustain us in all our trials, for it is consoling, as no other thought is."
Wise in a different way... Here we can begin to see that the Patristic understanding of God's ways is contrary to the world's view. In fact, it is unique: it is not speculative, scholarly, or "academic." As Bishop Theophan the Recluse has written: "Christian faith is not a doctrinal system but a way of restoration for fallen man." Therefore, the criterion of faith — true knowledge of God — is not intellectual. The measure of truth, as Professor Andreyev wrote, "is life itself ...Christ spoke of this clearly, plainly, and definitely: I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). That is, I am the Way of perceiving the Truth; I am Myself the incarnate Truth (everything I say is true)...and I am Life (without Me there cannot be life)" (Orthodox Christian Apologetics). This is very far from the wisdom of this world.
We can either believe or disbelieve Christ's words about Himself. If we believe, and act upon our belief, then we can begin to ascend the ladder of living knowledge, such as no textbook or philosopher can ever give: Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? (I Cor. 1:20)
One of the difficulties in compiling a handbook of Patristic teaching on illness is that sickness cannot be strictly separated from the general question of pain (e.g., psychological pain and the suffering which results from war, famine, etc.). Some of what the Holy Fathers have to say here about illness also establishes a foundation for their teaching about adversity, which will be the subject of the fourth book in this series.
Another difficulty is that the Orthodox Fathers sometimes use such words as "sin," "punishment," and "reward" without limiting themselves to the meanings our modern society gives them. For instance, "sin" is a transgression of the Divine Law. But in Patristic thought it is also more than this: it is an act of "treachery," a faithlessness to God's love for man and an "arbitrary violation of [man's] sacred union with God" (Andreyev, Ibid.). Sin is not something we should see within a strict legal framework of "crime and punishment"; man's faithlessness is a universal condition, not limited to just this or that transgression. It is always with us, for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).
God's dealings with man are not limited to our legalistic ideas about reward and punishment. Salvation, which is the ultimate goal of Christian life, is not a "reward," but a gift freely given by God. We cannot "earn" or "merit" it by anything we do, no matter how pious or self-effacing we think ourselves.
In everyday life we naturally think that good deeds should be rewarded and crimes punished. But our God does not "punish" on the basis of human standards. He corrects and chastises us, just as a loving father corrects his erring children in order to show them the way. But this is not the same thing as being "sentenced" to a "term" of pain and suffering for some misdeed. Our God is not vindictive; He is at all times perfectly loving, and His justice has nothing to do with human legal standards.
He knows that we cannot come to Him without purity of heart, and He also knows that we cannot acquire this purity unless we are free from all things: free of attachments to money and property, free of passion and sin, and even detached from bodily health if that stands between us and true freedom before God. He instructs us, through both Revelation and correction, showing us how we may acquire this freedom, for Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free (John 8:32). As St. John Cassian teaches:
God "leads you on by a still higher step to that love which is free of fear. Through this you begin effortlessly and naturally to observe all those things you originally observed out of fear of God and punishment, but now you do them no longer from fear of punishment, but from love of Goodness itself, and delight in virtue" (Institutes).
Keeping in mind this deeper spiritual meaning of such words as "sin," "reward," and "punishment," we can proceed to study the divinely-wise discourses of the Holy Fathers on the subject of illness, thanking God that "our Faith has been made secure y wise and learned Saints" (St. Kosmas Aitolas), for "truly, to know oneself is the hardest thing of all," as t. Basil the Great writes. The Holy Fathers point the way. Their lives and writings act, as it were, like a mirror in which we may take the measure of ourselves, weighed down as we are by passions and infirmities. Illness is one of the ways by which we can learn what we really are.
Even though we’re in the season of winter, we had a fine day yesterday, with lots of sunshine. We felt the weather had taken a turn for the better, and then today it changed again and we’ve got turbulence. We can’t get out to do our work. We have to dig in until this situation passes, since we all know it’s temporary. This phenomenon of variations in the weather also occurs in our spiritual life. Changes and variations are a postlapsarian phenomenon. After the fall, people unfortunately lost their personality and are now subject to alterations. Before the fall, they had the Grace of the Holy Spirit living with them. They lived in accordance with nature, they lived without needs and “being lords of all”, held sway over time, manner, place and means and were not subject to variations of any kind, since they had a comprehensive personality. But, as the late Justin Popović observes, when they wanted to become God, through the devil, not only did they not do so, but became a particular kind of devil themselves. Something happened which cannot be rooted out and they now had no authority over anything in their personality. And they waited to see what they would find. All that was left to them was the power of reason and with this they thought up ways of freeing themselves from dangers, which had arisen because of the changes they had undergone. This is an important piece of thinking which will especially help us monks to succeed, since our life is the exact study of the conscience. We don’t monitor only the results of an action, in order to refrain from it; we also monitor the causes which gave rise to it.
In the period of Grace, Jesus has taught us to root out evil. In the period of the Law of Moses, the result, the fruit, the action had been punished. We live in the period of Grace. We don’t wait for the time for evil to happen in order to stop it or to pray not to implement it. We monks are on the watch from the conception of the thought, the “provocation” in the language of the Fathers, so that we can pull up by the roots the very plants that bear evil fruit, which is sin in action. To succeed in this we have to have great finesse in the handling of the variations. As we’ve already said, these variations are like weather conditions. They’re not permanent, but passing. They shouldn’t frighten people into changing the pattern of their lives. We have sailors as examples. They don’t renounce the call of the sea just because it becomes like hell when there’s a storm. What do they do? They tie up in a harbour and wait it out. Then they get back on course and the matter of the storm doesn’t concern them any more. So we aren’t frightened either, when we have the skill of dealing with variations. Through the variations, Satan tries to scare us, to block our path. But since we know in advance that the variations are intrusive and transient features, then we’re not bothered by them. Like the sailors, we tie up the ship and wait, knowing that the tempest will pass and we’ll continue. You see in the readings we listen to in the refectory that the Fathers place little store by the matter of troubling thoughts, or provocations, as they’re called, particularly that great teacher of discrimination Abba Pimin, who interprets precisely this detail for us. For us who are a long way from the causes, the variations really are laughable, because they achieve nothing. In practice, we’re living in reality. What reality? When we heard the call. Jesus called us with the prophetic words of Isaiah: “Therefore come out from them and be separate. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you,
and you will be my sons and daughters”. And we heard the call; each one at the age and in the circumstances decided by the dispensation of divine grace, we “came out from them”. What? The causes, not people. Never let it be said. With people we’re brothers. People don’t harm us. We have relations with people. We came out, to be exact, from the root cause of mammon, in the language of Jesus, by which He meant the law of abnormality, the law of desire. We came out from there, and now don’t touch such kinds of “unclean things”, which make up the body of mammon… Anything to do with abuse and desire is no concern of ours. And we didn’t wait for a moment at a distance from the causes of evil, but built a dwelling and a hut in the deserts, like wild goats, and here we persevere, awaiting God’s mercy, convinced that He Who called us is faithful to His promises. So there’s not much the devil can get out of us, if we’re just a little bit careful. Because in the language of the Fathers, who interpret in detail the practical facet of our lives, most of the bad that we can suffer is due to the root causes of evil. Our backsliding starts where the senses and the natural resources and laws, with unspeakable pretexts, are all jumbled up by Satan. Now that we’re out of all that, Satan’s been stripped of his power. Divine Grace, with the Cross of Christ, has denuded him, because “the swords of the enemy have failed utterly”. And Jesus tells us that “the Lord of world is coming and in me he will find nothing” and “take courage, I have defeated the world”, including, naturally the devil himself. Not being able any longer to provoke us directly from the essence of things, which are the root causes and which excite us us, he tries through the variations to bring back old memories, in order to trouble us, to spoil our peace and take our minds off our aim. Which is what? To forget the past and concentrate on the future. To forget the old life, the old person of sin and abuse and to embrace the “new life”. To imitate Jesus and our Holy Fathers, whose followers we are.
The crown of the monastic hypostasis is virginity. We had virginity and purity as our goal, which is why we fled the root causes that provoked us. Intertwined with virginity are obedience and the renunciation of our own will, which is subordination, and then there follow physical service, humility, sobriety, silence, prayer and everything else the Fathers gave us and with which we occupy ourselves. By the Grace of Christ, each of us observes all these, more or less, with the strength he possesses and abstains in practice from the root causes. This is as far as human strength and effort will take us, there’s nothing we can do. Whether the roots of evil will be pulled up from within us and in their place the roots of good will strike, bringing as their fruit good memories and virtues, doesn’t depend on us. We long for it, we await it, we hope for it, we believe in it, but it’s not ours to hold. Only divine Grace will give it, and that’s what we wait for. It’s out of our control. All that’s within our control is to abstain, in practice, from anything which is called- and really is- sin. And, with as much strength as we have, to remain within the margins of the good and of virtue.
By the Grace of Christ, this is what we do, more or less. It’s as far as our strength will take us. The rest we await with faith, and if Grace comes, it grants it. So the devil can’t do us down, unless he troubles the waters and draws the monk away from his standards. What are these standards? Purity, subordination and obedience. Now if the monk hangs on to these unswervingly, the devil can’t do him any harm.
He can’t harm him in purity, because there aren’t any root causes. A monk would have to be really stupid to be deceived into entering into evil tastes you have to acquire and to think up ways of finding pleasure in that sort of filth and compliance, which are too disgusting even to think about. One of the most significant causes that blocks the road for us who want to observe virginity precisely, is the opposite sex. Because, in the presence of this cause, our purity is impugned. Anything at all that moves us to the remembrance of this kind of pleasure is entirely alien to us. In a real monk, the effect of Grace is so great that thoughts like that just make him laugh. If ever God allows a war to burst upon us, there must be some reason. Either because we’ve abandoned our duty and have resigned ourselves to negligence and sloth, and so are asking Grace to give us a wake-up call, or because it’s the time for it to give us the crown of purity, the comprehensive seal of virginity, which is why it allows Satan to trouble us: so that we can prove, in practice, our real appetite for purity. And in this battle, God will give us the appropriate strength. “And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it”.
Now we come to our second duty, subordination and obedience. As you know, the fall of logical beings, both angels and people, occurred through rebellion. When Christ came to bring back into balance that which had fallen, he did not deign, nor provide nor attempt nor decide to make that return by any other gate but that of obedience. Because if He chosen any other way, He would have given the impression that He had made a mistake at the creation. But God made everything “very good”. In one of his discourses, Saint Neofytos the Enclosed interprets “very good” by saying: “And how was it possible, Our Good Lord, for You to make something wrong, something not “very good”. Since You’re the centre of all kindness. You’re the supreme good, so was it possible for You to make a mistake and make something that wasn’t good like You?”.
So what was made “very good” by God can’t be altered by the devil, by people or by any other factor. When Christ came, He had the power, as Lord of all to alter even the law of creation, because “He spoke and they were born, He commanded and they were made”. He is the craftsman. And yet, to prove the perfection of His Godly magnificence, He indicated that there should be a return to where the fall occurred. He was forced, therefore, to take on our own nature, to undergo a kind of selflessness that’s inconceivable for the thought process of logical beings and to persuade us, in practice, that our restitution could only succeed in this way. We monks, who keep the Gospel perfection in its highest form, are total imitators of Christ. This is why, after purity, we promised subservience and obedience. So long as a monk remains subservient and obedient, the devil can’t ever do him any harm, neither with variations, nor illnesses, nor dangers nor fears nor any logical or absurd pretext. Precisely because the obedient monk doesn’t accept his own thinking. Satan can never appear directly and speak face to face nor even make shapes for us that will deceive us. He certainly does something, but in what way? Deviously, through thoughts. From where the faculty of direct knowledge casts up its own thoughts and projects them onto the screen of the intellect and chooses them and decides, that’s where Satan goes and, through the same projector, beams the evil thought onto the same screen. This faculty of direct knowledge is guileless and doesn’t understand; it sees the image and doesn’t realize who put it there. It takes it for its own thought. Because the thought’s deceitful when it comes. It doesn’t say: “Eat, sleep, be idle, steal, lie, laugh”. If it did, people wouldn’t heed it. By nature, people are good and don’t go directly towards evil; unless they’re depraved. Then the thought comes with the reasonable pretext and says: “I don’t feel too good, I’ll just have sleep”, and many other unspeakable pretexts. Now when these come, the real person who’s really under obedience immediately thinks: “Any thought that comes to me, good or bad, I’ll tell the Elder about it”. Then they’re within the framework of subordination and obedience. Once the devil sees that the disciple behaves like that, he loses all his power. Try it and see. If there’s a subtle thought that won’t go away, say “I’ll go to the Elder and he’ll tell me what to do” and it’ll disappear straight away.
Unfortunately, variations exist and alter our disposition. People can be cheerful, enterprising, “fervent in the spirit”, and all of a sudden they’re arid, listless and lose all their vigour. Then comes the perfectly reasonable thought that they should be accommodating. If they’re not feeling well, they can eat a little more, maybe something better, go and have a rest before the usual time, not bother with their rule. But a monk says: “That’s not for me. And if necessary, I’ll ask the Elder”. So he’s in no danger. Because, if you allow yourself dispensations, they’re followed by a host of temptations and you’ll never hear the end of it. You’re seized with despair, discouragement, your conscience bothers you and doesn’t leave you in peace, so that you’re encouraged bodily to abandon your rule and spiritually to stop remembering God. This will shake up your whole world, body and soul. But if you’re careful, you’ll take whatever’s bothering you, whatever’s pressing upon you, to the Elder. Then you’re sheltered by the grace of obedience and dependence and, because of that, you’re not held in thrall to the various traps that Satan’s laid. Wherever Satan can’t get in, everything’s normal and peaceful, because we Christians have the peace of Jesus as a possession: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you” (Jn. 14, 27) and “Behold, I am with you always” (Matth. 28, 20). These are positions; they’re not just words.
By staying within the bounds of obedience and duty, we enjoy the continuation of the presence of the Grace of Jesus and we become peaceful. All of this increases within us the experience of how we should fight. Once we learn that, the problem’s solved. Nobody can do anything to us, because we’ve continued along our chosen path intelligently and wisely, because, to put it simply they don’t have the right to, because “the one who is within you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4, 4).
Question: Elder, apart from what you’ve told us, what else should we do when these variations come?
Answer: As I said before, people have to learn the art of war. Central to this, as Jesus told us, is patience. “Who shows patience to the end will be saved” and “in your patience you will possess your souls. Since it’s patience that’ll show reality. Because the variations, which are up and down states, are not real. Neither the state of being up is real not that of being down. The wave of Grace which sweeps people, cools them and gives them comfort isn’t permanent, but then neither are despair and dryness. What they really are we’ll discover only with patient endurance. If you’re in the habit of being patient, you await the mercy of God, which will come and satisfy you.
The variations are caused by lots of reasons. Whether they’re from the right or the left the underlying causes have one aim. Whatever is in the interest, for the benefit of people. If the Lord of life and death allows anything to happen to people, He must have weighed it with His own Godly justice, which is certainly for people’s benefit. The matter of the great goodness and providence of God is Godly and perfect- as are all the divine perfections. God doesn’t change, so that evil can come out of one of His decisions. Only kindness, only love, only goodness, only caring, only charity- that’s what God is. So those whom He loves and those whom He chastises, He does so in accordance with His attributes- with love.
If God allows a variation, a temptation- especially to people, whom He loved so much that “He did not spare His own Son”- it means that He does so out of love, in our interest.
Source: Elder Iosif, Διδαχές από τον Άθωνα, Ψυχωφελή Βατοπαιδινά 8, 3rd ed. Publications of the Holy Great Monastery of Vatopaidi, Holy Mountain, 1999.
We grow spiritually both from our temptations for pleasure and the trials we face from pain. We are either drawn to something based on our appetite for it or reject it by our refusal to accept it. The spiritual tests we receive are either attractive or repulsive. These tests are not merely for our self-knowing, but hey are aimed to correct ourselves; to help our soul regain control over the biological demands of our body. It is the way we master our passions.
Let's consider temptations. We may have a simple temptation for a second helping of ice cream which only brings to us later the feeling of being stuffed and then problems with being overweight. But our desire for more pleasure temps us to take more of what we know not to be in our best interests. By rejecting a temptation we strengthen our will, increasing our capacity to do God's will. This resistance demonstrates and fortifies our self-control. But resisting temptations may be easier to master than our capacity to reject dejection, anger and disgust. While pleasure is something we can anticipate, pain is something we must wait to address. It's easier to not be controlled by temptation for pleasure than to avoid pain because we never seek pain. It often appears due to our life experience and not necessarily something we can avoid, although much pain is the aftermath of pleasure. Dealing with our temptations is our first priority.
Fr. Dimitru says,
The primordial and direct cause of man's decadence isn't an avoidance of pain but a seeking of pleasure. The avoidance of pain comes later, because it is caused by pleasure. So first we must do battle with pleasure, principally and directly. Pleasure is often sought by our previous initiative, while pain is almost always avoided, by a reaction which is produced when it arises; likewise if we wish to escape the preliminary initiative which looks for pleasure, we must also do it with a previous, contrary initiative, and if we want to escape the reaction contrary to pain which is produced the moment of the appearance of pain, we must wait for that moment to stop the reaction.... I run for pleasure as a reaction to something I am waiting for. But I must wait for the moment of pain to stop the repulsive reaction to it.We can see this in the life of Jesus. First He was tested by pleasure in the wilderness and then faced the trial of suffering in His Passion and Crucifixion.
We seek pleasure for its own sake, but also because of our fear of pain.
Fr. Dimitru says,
The restraint from pleasure and the patient endurance of suffering, far from being something negative-passive and of a weak nature, instead strengthens it and this means a spiritualization, a putting the spirit in control... . By refraining from pleasure we have taken a big step toward the spiritual force of dispassion.... . Dispassion isn't a passivity, but a concentration of the spirit in the realm of the good and of the spiritual world.
The true joy we seek does not come from pleasure. When we are no longer automatically moved by an attraction to pleasure nor fear pain, we find a peace and stability in our life. We can see the divine providence of God at work. We understand how God uses our life's situation in the world as both grace and judgment. We appreciate how we grow through our self-control to avoid pleasure and exercise patience in our times of difficulty.
In suffering we are attracted to God and tested so we will be stronger to resist future sins. Our difficulties may not be due to our own sinfulness but due to that of others. In this fallen world stuff happens and we need to be prepared to respond to all kinds of difficulty with love and patience. Our ability to endure with patience is a sign of our recognition of God's power and wisdom. We thank God for all he sends to us along our path of life. It is through our avoidance of temptations and endurance of pain that we grow our faith in Him and find true joy.
As we say in the Lord's Pray, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."
Reference: Orthodox Spirituality, pp 170-176