Required Reading

Required Reading May 20, 2005

Blessing assured!

[T]here are days when, out of fatigue or illness, we cannot do everything the way we should. It is bad when duties are completely neglected because the enemy gains ground and conquers our heart. In such cases, we must do something, even if it is the least possible, like the good soldiers who when they are not able to mount an offensive, fire a few shots from their trench, thereby keeping the enemy at bay. Later on, when they find the first opportunity, they attack the enemy with heavy weapons and defeat him.

For example, when he brings us evil or blasphemous thoughts, we should start the Jesus Prayer and say to the devil: ‘It’s good that you pricked at me, for I had forgotten my Christ’. When we do this, even if we were to keep the devil near, he won’t remain, since he is not so dumb as to work for free and to bring benefit to our soul.

When you examine your sinfulness and engage in this painstaking work on yourself, you should first of all have hope in God and hold on to this tightly so it never leaves. Whatsoever sins are not carnal you can analyse in detail, in order for you to be compelled to humility. Whatever sins, however, are of the carnal type do not analyse at all, except to consider yourself as a putrid sac full of filth. You should not take the liberty to pray for persons with carnal sins either, for, besides it being considered impertinence, since you are not yet reconciled with God, the enemy will also corrupt you with unclean thoughts during the day and perform indecent plays for you at night.

If something like this occurs in your sleep, do not examine it at all, for it is dangerous. The same applies to any incident in your life (of a carnal nature), which God rescued you from by covering for you and saving you, like a bird from the talons of a vulture. When a young man re-examines the sins of the flesh, he resembles a soldier who, after being saved by God from the enemy’s grenade, takes it into his hand to examine it and, while he curiously inspects it, the grenade blows his brains off. Thus, it is a lot safer when we are wrapped up in our dirty sac.

We should be disgusted with ourselves and work only on our wretched self so we can first be reconciled with God. Afterwards, great love comes to the humble servant, and this divine love ignites the fire of his own love (as much towards God as towards his neighbor), and he casts his entire self into the service of others, believing that he is nothing but fertilizer, rejoicing that others will produce fruit.

For oftentimes it is egotism, pride and judging of others with a lack of love which drives God’s Grace away, and the devil draws near and lights a fire even on our dry emaciated bones. Thus, we increase our fasting, spiritual endeavours, our prostrations, etc., in order to humble our flesh, but to no avail, for our flesh is not humbled, and our soul lacks humility and love.

Therefore, when war with the flesh approaches, if we have done a little fasting and vigil with prayer, and the war does not subside, then we must realize that the problem is elsewhere. We should immediately fall prostrate before Christ and ask for His forgiveness in advance and beg Him, at the same time, to enlighten us so we can realize our fault and who it was that we’ve hurt or wronged, and to ask his forgiveness. As soon as we humbly ask forgiveness from Christ, immediately the carnal flame departs and we recall the cause, which, in turn, helps us even more to be humble. Then God’s grace comes in abundance.

[A] young man usually observes his spiritual condition in terms of his carnal temptations. If a young man has dispassion (i.e. no carnal enticements), he thinks he is doing well, when, in fact, he may be found in such a state of lethargy so that he will not be able to discern his other passions that lie in hiding. God then allows for the demon of fornication to humble him involuntarily and, thus, through humility God approaches him again. To put it succinctly, the demon of fornication, with the shock that he gives the young man, makes him realize that something has gone wrong.

We have no excuse, however, when we don’t want to repent and confess, but rather we prefer to remain stuck in the mud. Some people do not confess because they have the impression that they will fall into the same sins. This means that they simply add more and more layers on top of the older layers of mud. Yet, when they stain their clothes, they wash them and take care not to soil them again, and when they are stained again, they clean them once again.

My thought tells me that the greatest enemy — even greater than the devil — for our soul’s salvation is the worldly spirit, for it sweetly misleads us and in the end eternally embitters us. Yet, if we saw the devil himself, we would be terrified and forced to immediately resort to God and secure Paradise.

[W]e can see God’s great simplicity spread over all of His creation, such as His heavenly lights (the stars), dispersed by His divine hand with such simplicity, without using a plumb line and a level, and yet they give such rest to people! On the other hand, worldly lights, neatly ordered in succession, are so tiresome.

Orthodox temperance, and spiritual asceticism in general, always aims at a superior spiritual goal, the sanctification of the soul. Worldly asceticism, on the contrary, such as that of the deluded practitioners of Yogi, is performed in order to acquire a resilient body be able to twist their hands and feet like paper puppets, be admired by foolish people and mocked by the ridiculous demons.

All those who accept impure thoughts while pampering the flesh with food and rest and then claim that the evil one wars against them out of envy, slander the devil.

At the outset of our spiritual life, God, out of love, does not permit us to come to know either our sinfulness or His great benevolence, so as not to despair, especially if His creature is sensitive.

We must not expect spiritual spring, unless we first pass through spiritual winter, in order that the spiritual parasites might die. We must not expect the divine to blossom within us, if the purely human does not die first. In other words, the worldly grass must be overturned through spiritual ploughing, and the seed of wheat planted, so as to bring the true verdure into sight, which also brings an abundance of fruits.

The monk who follows his own will is followed by delusion, while the layman who believes in his own thoughts usually ends up in a mental hospital.

Naturally, every person will be paid by the boss for whom he worked. Those who work for Christ shall receive a hundredfold now in this time and in the world to come, eternal life and those who work for the black boss will receive darkness even now.

Those who come close to people in pain, naturally draw near to God, because God is always by the side of His children who are in pain.

Those who suffer trials unjustly imitate Christ; and those who face hardships due to their sins are blessed, because they are forgiven their sins in this life.

He who seeks humility from God but does not accept the person that God sends him so as to humble him, doesn’t know what he is asking for, for virtues are not purchased like groceries (as many kilos as we want). Rather, God sends us people for us to be tested, to exert ourselves, acquire virtues, and be crowned.

[W]here hope in God is absent, the devil’s tail is present.

Hurried work done in distress is characteristic of very worldly people.

Of course, the person who is spiritually healthy seeks neither true lights in this present life, nor visions of the next, but only God’s mercy, and God gives His creature whatever he needs.

Whoever thinks that he can come to know the mysteries of God through external scientific theory, resembles the fool who wants to see Paradise with a telescope.

Those who live simply, with kindness and good thoughts, and have acquired inner simplicity and purity, regard the supernatural very simply, as natural, for everything is simple to God. He does not use greater power for the supernatural and less for the natural, but the same power for everything. He Himself is very simple and His Son revealed it to us on earth with His holy simplicity.

We should neither create problems in the Church nor magnify the minor human disorders that occur, so as not to create greater evil and the wicked one rejoice.

He who is irritated about a minor disorder and abruptly rushes to ostensibly correct it … resembles the light-headed sacristan who sees a candle dripping and abruptly dashes to fix it, stumbling over people and candlesticks, and thus creating an even greater disorder during the Divine Service.

It is well known to discerning spiritual Fathers that this demonic practice (namely, deriding the clergy and the Church) has turned many people into Jehovah’s witnesses. It is also known to the whole world that not even one Jehovah’s witness has become Orthodox in this un-orthodox way.

We owe greater gratitude to those who humble us, wrong us, and douse us with venom, than to those who nurse us with honour and sweet words, or feed us with tasty food and confections, for bile is the best medicine for our soul.

Let us not examine whether we were justly or unjustly embittered, out of love or viciousness, or whether we are at fault slightly or not at all. We should accept with joy the spiritual benefit that every trial leaves behind, glorify God for everything and be grateful to the people who wrong us.

The trials that God allows are in proportion to our tolerance level, but unfortunately many times the mockery and thoughtlessness of merciless people are added on and then we break down. Strong wind usually splits sensitive trees and uproots those with shallow roots, while it helps trees with deep roots to extend deeper into the ground.

All those who have within them a demon from birth receive a great reward when they do not murmur, until they are liberated with the Grace of God. Those, however, who were themselves the cause, must themselves do battle.

The thing that will move God more on the Day of Judgement is the work each one of us has done on his old man.

Certainly, we all have some discernment, but unfortunately most of us do not use it on ourselves but on our fellowmen … and we contaminate it with criticism, condemnation, and the demand for others to correct themselves. We should, rather, demand this only from ourselves who do not resolve to struggle fervently, cut off our passions, liberate our soul, and fly to Heaven.

Many times, however, the devil mocks us in the following way: we venerate the icon of an angel with great reverence, whereas the angel in the flesh, our neighbour, who is the image of God, we hurt and insult.

To God, everything is excellent: the ten of the five talents, the four of the two talents and the two of the one talent. Divine justice has different mathematical terms: sometimes one plus one equals two, sometimes two million.

Be careful never to seek out lights and gifts of God … but only repentance, which will bring humility. Then, the Good God will give you whatever is necessary.

If you want to tune in to God so He listens to you when you pray, turn the knob to humility, for on this frequency God always operates, and humbly ask for His mercy.

All quotes taken from “Epistles” by Elder Paisios of Mount Athos.

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