Saturday, June 22, 2013

Control of the Stomach ( St.John Cassian )

I shall speak first about control of the stomach, the opposite to gluttony, and about how to fast and what and how much to eat. I shall say nothing on my own account, but only what I have received from the Holy Fathers. They have not given us only a single rule for fasting or a single standard and measure for eating, because not everyone has the same strength; age, illness or delicacy of body create differences. But they have given us all a single goal: to avoid over-eating and the filling of our bellies. They also found a day's fast to be more beneficial and a greater help toward purity than one extending over a period of three, four, or even seven days. Someone who fasts for too long, they say, often ends up by eating too much food. The result is that at times the body becomes enervated through undue lack of food and sluggish over its spiritual exercises, while at other times, weighed down by the mass of food it has eaten, it makes the soul listless and slack.

They also found that the eating of greens or pulse did not agree with everyone, and that not everyone could live on dry bread. One man, they said, could eat two pounds of dry bread and still be hungry, while another might eat a pound, or only six ounces, and be satisfied. As I said, the Fathers have handed down a single basic rule of self-control: 'do not be deceived by the filling of the belly' (Prov. 24:15. LXX), or be led astray by the pleasure of the palate. It is not only the variety of foodstuffs that kindles the fiery darts of unchastity, but also their quantity. Whatever the kind of food with which it is filled, the belly engenders the seed of profligacy. It is not only too much wine that besots our mind: too much water or too much of anything makes it drowsy and stupefied. The Sodomites were destroyed not because of too much wine or too much of other foods, but because of a surfeit of bread, as the Prophet tells us (cf. Ezek. 16:49).

Bodily illness is not an obstacle to purity of heart, provided we give the body what its illness requires, not what gratifies our desire for pleasure. Food is to be taken in so far as it supports our life, but not to the extent of enslaving us to the impulses of desire. To eat moderately and reasonably is to keep the body in health, not to deprive it of holiness.

A clear rule for self-control handed down by the Fathers is this: stop eating while still hungry and do not continue until you are satisfied. When the Apostle said, 'Make no provision to fulfill the desires of the flesh' (Rom. 13:14), he was not forbidding us to provide for the needs of life; he was warning us against self-indul­gence. Moreover, by itself abstinence from food does not contribute to perfect purity of soul unless the other virtues are active as well. Humility, for example, practiced through obedience in our work and through bodily hardship, is a great help. If we avoid avarice not only by having no money, but also by not wanting to have any, this leads us towards purity of soul. Freedom from anger, from dejection, self-esteem and pride also contributes to purity of soul in general, while self-control and fasting are especially important for bringing about that specific purity of soul which comes through restraint and moderation. No one whose stomach is full can fight mentally against the demon of unchastity. Our initial struggle therefore must be to gain control of our stomach and to bring our body into subjection not only through fasting but also through vigils, labors and spiritual, reading, and through concentrating our heart on fear of Gehenna and on longing for the kingdom of heaven.
Taken from "The Philokalia"Vol 1 On the Eight Vices, Pages 73-74

Εγκρατεια στην εγγαμη ζωη ( Γεροντας Παϊσιος )

( Σχετικά με το θέμα των συζυγικών σχέσεων έγραφε ο Γέροντας Παϊσιος σε μια επιστολή του):
- Δια το θέμα των συζυγικών σχέσεων των εγγάμων ιερέων,αλλά και των λαϊκών,που μου αναφέρεις,αφού δεν καθορίζουν οι ΄Αγιοι Πατέρες το πως ακριβώς,σημαίνει ότι είναι κάτι που δεν καθορίζεται,γιατί δεν μπορούν όλοι οι άνθρωποι να μπουν σε ένα καλούπι.

Οι Πατέρες το αφήνουν στη διάκριση,το φιλότιμο,την πνευματική ευαισθησία και τη δύναμη του καθενός.Δια να γίνω πιο αντιληπτός,γράφω περιπτώσεις αγωνιστών εγγάμων ιερέων και λαϊκών που ζουν και γνωρίζω.Εξ αυτών υπάρχουν εκείνοι που ήρθαν σε επαφή μετά τον γάμο και αποκτήσανε ένα,δύο,τρία παιδιά και μετά ζουν εν παρθενία.

΄Αλλοι έρχονται μια φορά τον χρόνο για τεκνογονία και μετά ζουν σαν αδέλφια πάλι.΄Αλλοι απέχουν τις περιόδους των νηστειών και μετά έρχονται σε επαφή.΄Αλλοι δεν μπορούν να το πετύχουν ούτε αυτό.΄Αλλοι μια φορά στο ενδιάμεσο της εβδομάδος,για να είναι τρείς ημέρες πριν από την θεία Κοινωνία και τρείς μετά την θεία Κοινωνία.΄Αλλοι σκοντάφτουν και αυτού,δι΄αυτό και ο Χριστός μετά την Ανάσταση που παρουσιάσθηκε στους Αποστόλους,η πρώτη του λέξη ήτο: "Καθώς απέσταλκέ με ο Πατήρ,κ'αγώ πέμπω υμάς......Λάβετε Πνεύμα ΄Αγιον αν τινών αφήτε τας αμαρτίας,αφίενται αυτοίς,αν τινών κρατήτε,κεκράτηνται ".

Ο σκοπός είναι να αγωνισθή κανείς με διάκριση και φιλότιμο,ανάλογα με τις πνευματικές του δυνάμεις.Στην αρχή φυσικά δεν βοηθάει η ηλικία,αλλά όσο περνάνε τα χρόνια και εξασθενεί η σάρκα,μπορεί να επιβληθή το πνεύμα και παράλληλα αρχίζουν να γεύονται και οι έγγαμοι λίγες από τις θείες ηδονές.Αποσύρονται φυσιολογικά από τις σαρκικές ηδονές τις οποίες τότε τις βλέπουν πολύ τιποτένιες.

΄Ετσι εξαγνίζονται κατά κάποιο τρόπο και οι έγγαμοι και φθάνουν στον Παράδεισο από το ξεκούραστο μονοπάτι με τις στροφές.Ενώ οι μοναχοί χτυπάνε κατακόρυφα,σκαρφαλώντας στα βράχια,και ανεβαίνουν στον Παράδεισο.Πρέπει να έχεις υπ΄όψη σου ότι το θέμα των σχέσεων δεν είναι μόνο θέμα δικό σου,ούτε έχεις δικαίωμα να το ρυθμίσεις μόνος σου,αλλά "εκ συμφώνου" κατά τον Απόστολο Παύλο.΄Οταν γίνεται και αυτό το "εκ συμφώνου", πάλι χρειάζεται προσοχή.

Ο δυνατός θα πρέπει να παίρνει την θέση του αδυνάτου.Πολλές φορές,για να μη λυπήση το ένα μέρος το άλλο,λέγει ότι συμφωνεί,αλλά εωτερικά ταλαιπωρείται.Αυτό συμβαίνει ιδίως στις γυναίκες που έχουν λίγο φόβο Θεού και έχουν ζωηρή σάρκα.Πολλές φορές από αδιακρισία μερικοί ευλαβείς άνδρες,επειδή ακούνε από τις γυναίκες τους ότι συμφωνούν,προχωρούν αδιάκριτα σε μεγάλο διάστημα εγκράτειας και τότε οι γυναίκες ταλαιπωρούνται και ξεσπάνε σε νευρικότητες κ.λ.π.

Οι άνδρες νομίζουν ότι οι γυναίκες τους έχουν προχωρήσει στην αρετή και θέλουν να ζουν πιο αγνά σε μεγαλύτερα διαστήματα και μπαίνει μετά ο πειρασμός στις γυναίκες και θέλουν να γνωρίσουν φίλους.Και όταν γίνει αυτό,τις πιάνει η τύψη της συνειδήσεως για την πτώση και οι άνδρες προσπαθούν να ζήσουν πιο αγνά,βλέποντας τις γυναίκες να μην έχουν διάθεση.

Νομίζουν έτσι ότι έχουν προχωρήσει πιο πνευματικά και δεν επιθυμούν σαρκικά πράγματα.Αιτία φυσικά είναι και ο δικαιολογημένος γυναικείος εγωϊσμός και η ζήλεια,που νιώθουν μειονεκτικές.Η γυναίκα,όταν ιδεί τον άνδρα να θέλει να ζήσει πνευματική ζωή,ζορίζει τον εαυτό της,για να τον ξεπεράσει.Συγχώρησέ με που μπήκα σε ξένα αμπέλια,διότι το έργο του μοναχού είναι το κομβοσχοίνι και όχι αυτά τα θέματα,αλλά,για να μη σε λυπήσω,αναγκάστηκα να σου γράψω μερικά από αυτά (που γνωρίζω από μακρυά),τα οποία ταλαιπωρούν τα αδέλφια μας στον κόσμο και δίνουν χώρο στον εχθρό.

΄Εχει μεγάλη σημασία αν είναι και οι δύο οι σύζυγοι όμοιοι στην κράση.΄Οταν τύχει ο ένας να έχει ήπια και ο άλλος ζωηρή,θα πρέπει να γίνεται μια θυσία από τον δυνατότερο προς τον φιλάσθενο και σιγά - σιγά να βοηθηθεί να λάβει την υγεία ο φιλάσθενος,και με υγεία και οι δύο τότε να προχωρήσουν.

Ο Αντίχριστος (Οσιος Εφραίμ ο Σύρος).

Ο Αντίχριστος, επειδή είναι εχθρός του Θεού, επιθυμεί να χαθούμε όλοι και αυτός ο τύρανος θα χρησιμοποιήσει όλους τους τρόπους για να πάρουν όλοι τη σφραγίδα του θηρίου, μόλις θα έρθει για να παραπλανήσει όλο τον κόσμο.
Να προσέχετε αδελφοί μου, τους διάφορους πονηρούς τρόπους που θα χρησιμοποιήσει το θηρίο. Η αρχή γίνεται από την κοιλιά, ώστε όταν κανείς βρεθεί σε δύσκολη θέση, αφού δε θα έχει τροφές, θ' αναγκαστεί να πάρει το σφράγισμα του Αντίχριστου στο δεξί χέρι και στο μέτωπο, όχι τυχαία, αλλά για να μην μπορεί ο άνθρωπος να κάνει με το δεξί του χέρι το σημείο του Σταυρού, και να μην μπορεί να σημειώνει το Άγιο όνομα του Κυρίου στο μέτωπο.
Επειδή ξέρει ο πανάθλιος, ότι όταν ο άνθρωπος σφραγισθεί με το σημείο του Σταυρού, ελευθερώνεται ο άνθρωπος απ' τις δυνάμεις του διαβόλου.
Γι αυτό το λόγο σφραγίζει το δεξί χέρι του ανθρώπου"

Οσιος Εφραίμ ο Σύρος

Is it appropriate to leave church early

Question: If one enters the church during the time of liturgy and leaves before the end, is this a sin?

Response: What is perfect and pleasing to God is for the person entering the church to hear the Scriptures and remain in the liturgy until the very end. For unless there is good reason, one should not leave before the end; for this is scornful. If some need presents itself, then that person has permission to leave early. However, even then, such a person should not justify oneself, but ask forgiveness from God, saying: "Master, forgive me; for, I was not able to stay."
St. John the Prophet

Lord, Thank you

I saw in my dream, that I visited Paradise and an angel assumed my hospitality. We walked beside each other in a great hall full of angels. My angel guide stopped in front of the first work station and said. "Here is the receiving department. Here we receive all the requests that reach God in the form of prayers". I glanced around the place. It was busy with activity, with so many angels receiving and classifying huge stacks of notes from people around the world. We then proceeded through a long corridor till we reached the second station. My angel told me: "This is the packaging and delivery department. Here the graces and blessings that are requested are brought forward and delivered to those who requested them".

I noticed again how active it was here. Innumerable angels were going back and forth to earth. Finally in the end of a long corridor, we stopped at the door of a very small station. To my great surprise only one angel was sitting there, doing basically nothing. "This is the department of the thank you's" whispered my angel, feeling a bit ashamed. "How is it possible? Is there no work here?" I asked. "It is sad" sighed the angel. "After people receive their gifts, very few send their thank you's". "How can one thank God for the blessings received" I asked again. "Simply" he replied, "you only need to say, thank you my God". "And why exactly do we need to thank Him?"

"If you have food in your fridge, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of this world.

If you have money in the Bank, in your wallet and some coins on a plate, you are one of the 8% of the people who prosper.

If you wake up in the morning feeling healthier than others with sickness, you are more blessed than those who will not survive this day.

If you have not lived to experience the fear of war, the loneliness of prison, the struggle of torture and the piercing pangs of famine, you are ahead of 700 million people of this world.

If you can pray in a temple without fear of attack, of arrest and execution, some 3 billion people of this world will envy you.

If your parents are still alive and are still married, you are unique.

If you can hold your head high and smile, you are not the rule but the exception, for all those who live with doubt and exasperation.

And if you can read now this text, you received a double blessing because it was given by someone who loves you and because you are luckier than two billion people who do not know and cannot even read".

"I understand. And now what should I do? How can I start?" "Say good morning" my angel smiled, "and count your blessings and pass this message to other people to remind them how blessed they are".

"And don't forget to send your thank you".

Magazine "Tolmi" by Archimandrite Daniel Sapika, Doctor.

Guarding the mind- Knocking on the Door of the Heart

To guard the mind requires that we know Christ's presence in our heart. Once we know this presence, we can bring our innocent thoughts to Christ. But first, our heart needs to be opened. Until it is open, Fr. Dimitru Staniloae says,

we must knock at its door, with thoughts sacrificed to Christ, with the hope that we will gain the awareness of His presence and by this our heart will be opened. He also says that we don't have a full feeling of His presence at first. We will experience gradual progress in this. We must be persistent and have patience.

The whole notion about guarding the mind is dependent on us being able to bring our thoughts to the door of the heart. Therefore it is also called watching of the heart.

Fr Dimitru says,
Standing watch at the door of the heart, the mind does nothing but keep itself from going astray, because the heart is after all nothing but the depths of the mind. Think about how often our minds go astray. How often by our immersion in our ego needs we ignore this place of the heart. The mind never stops and our actions seemingly spinout of the control of our highest values. We need to be ever vigilant.

Mark the Ascetic says,
The mind must keep vigil over the heart and guard it with all watchfulness, trying to penetrate into its innermost and undisturbed chamber, where there are no winds of evil thoughts... to be vigilant over the heart and go ever deeper into it and to approach God alone, with out becoming disgusted with the toils of attention and persistence. We have to train the mind to be the supervisor and to watch the thoughts as they enter. At the same time to be aware of the presence of Christ within us, in the heart. Then our thoughts can be presented to Christ as a discipline.

Fr Dimitru says this is how it works,
First a simple thought appears in the consciousness. Immediately somewhere on the periphery an evil thought shows itself, with the tendency of monopolizing the simple thought. But often this watchful defense fails. We allow our thought to become associated with to a desire.

Fr. Staniloae says,
The mind forgets itself for a little and lets itself be touched by the gentle breeze which is coming from the aroused appetite; it finds that it was robbed of its simple first-born thought and was bitten by the passions. Even when we let our guard down allowing a thought that arouses our passions, our approach is to still refer this thought to God in our heart. We must now call on Him with all our power––"Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy."

We may also experience the first thought as a direct attack and not an innocent thought. We need to develop that capacity to recognize it as a direct attack at the very beginning.

For Dimitru says,
It must however, be unmasked at the start, so that we will scarcely be able to escape. He then tells us that this calls for a special spiritual sensitivity which is gained only through steady practice and much effort to cleanse ourselves from the passions.

The challenge is developing continual prayer so we will continually have God on our mind. We need to be able to at any time stop and say, Lord have mercy, or to recite the Lord's Prayer, Our Father...

Dr Dimitru concludes this topic as follows.
Guarding thought... consists of a continual reciting of the name of God in the mind, in the seeking of the heart, or in concentrating within it. But nothing but a concentrated uninterrupted prayer... This is the meaning of Saint Paul's teaching on unceasing prayer.

pray without ceasing...test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. (1Thess 5:17, 21,22) Rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer... (Romans 12: 9,12) This seems to be be an advanced spiritual practice demanding lots of self-control, a life of repentance, and significant progress in mastering the passions.

Reference: "Orthodox Spirituality" By Fr.Dimitru Staniloae
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