Friday, March 23, 2018

Are Passions Natural?

What is a passion? 
They are impulses that move us to action by overcoming our will. Because of this we say they enslave us. They are powerful because they are also desires which cannot be satisfied. They act as a force that goes against what we know to be the proper action and lead us to actions which are counter to the commandments of Christ. There is no single list of these passions, but the following is a common list used in early Christian literature: gluttony, unchastity, avarice, anger, dejection, listlessness, self-esteem and pride.

Their ultimate cause is the forgetting of God. Healing begins with faith.

Not all passions are bad. There are both natural and unnatural passions. Our natural passions are our appetite for food, enjoyment of food, fear and sadness. These are necessary for our the preservation of our nature. They are important animal aspect of our being given to by God. But we are more than animals as we are spiritual. Because of this we have an aspiration for the infinite. Often these natural passions which are intended for earthly preservation are transformed into unnatural passions. They are frequently transformed into a mistaken quest for the infinite in things of this material world. The soul loses control and the passions take over. Out task is to control them so they can be limited to their proper purpose. Then they can channeled to seek divine things.

Saint Maximus says,

The natural passions become good in those who struggle when, wisely unfastening them from the things of the flesh, use them to gain heavenly things. For example they can change appetite into the movement of a spiritual longing for divine things; pleasure into pure joy for the cooperation of the mind with divine gifts; fear into care to evade future misfortune due to sin and sadness into corrective repentance for present evil. So the natural passions are not necessarily bad. When we are thinking of God they are kept to their necessary biological functions. Our task is not to eradicate them but to control them, keeping them within the limits necessary for the preservation of the body. They must continually be watched and controlled. This is the basis of asceticism.

Thoughts from Fr. Dimitru Staniloae:

Asceticism means, in the spirit of Eastern thought, the restraint and discipline of the biological, not a battle for its extermination. On the contrary, asceticism means the sublimation of this element of bodily affectivity, not its abolition.... Natural passions can assume a spiritual character and give an increased accent to our love for God.... Now here is the most important point. By controlling them we increase our spiritual blessings.

Fr. Dimitru says,

By putting a bridle and a limit on the pleasure of material things, a transfer of this energy of our nature takes place, in favor of the spirit; pleasure in spiritual blessings grows. ... The challenge we face is not easy. Is difficulty is increased by our tendency to react in the wrong way. Once a pleasure leaves us we feel a loss. This can be painful. Pain or dissatisfaction always follows pleasure. This pain that follows does not lead us to take action to temper the pleasure, but does the opposite. We seek even more pleasure. The cycle continues without satisfaction.

Fr. Dimitru says,

The pain which follows pleasure, instead of making him avoid pleasure, as its source,...pushes his anew into pleasure as if to get rid of it, tangling him even more in this vicious chain. Asceticism is aimed at breaking this dysfunctional cycle of pleasure and pain, liberating us from the unnatural extension of passions that have a proper role in our bodily preservation. This bodily domination through uncontrolled passions is our main block to union with God.

Reference: Orthodox Spirituality, pp77 - 89

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Little Dimitri with the gift of insight...( God's Grace )

In September of a certain year, there was a great deal of turmoil observed in the Department of Oncology of the University Hospital of Rion. Little Dimitri was asking urgently for the Hospital's priest. He was insisting on immediately receiving Holy Communion...
He was 13. He had been in that specific clinic for about one and a half years. A minor headache had led him there. The doctors had diagnosed brain cancer. His native town was Fieri of Albania; his parents unbaptized. They had lived in Patra for several years. Shortly after his admission to the Hospital, the young boy had asked to be baptized. He had heard about Christ, and wanted to become a "child" of His. He was baptized, "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" - after the necessary catechesis of course. 

Everyone in the clinic was extremely fond of him. The cancer had progressed considerably, and had by now deprived him of his sight. He was entirely unable to see, anything and anyone. But he could listen, with the utmost and amazing patience. He never complained. He would say that God loved him very much. He prayed, and would ask his parents to do the same. 

All those who visited him could perceive that there was something different in that boy. He spoke constantly about God. He was always courteous and happy. His face shone. He wanted to partake of the Precious Gifts frequently. When his mother would sometimes be in another area of the clinic, he would shout out to her:
"Mother, come quickly! Papa is coming, with Christ! He is coming up the stairs! Come and get me ready!" 

And that was exactly what would happen: the priest would come, and he would find little Dimitri sitting upright in his bed, with his mouth wide open and crossing himself with reverence. Even though he never knew the exact time of the priest's arrival, he could "see" him coming, with his gift of insight - and despite the two closed doors that came between his room and the corridor that the priest was coming from. This has been verified by the pious Mrs. Maria Galiatsatou, who had volunteered to look after that boy.
"Mrs. Maria, I want to tell you something", he said to her one day. "When Papa comes together with Christ, I can see him approaching as he walks up the stairs, and next to him are two tall, beautiful people with pure white gowns, who lean towards the Holy Chalice to protect it, with their arms outstretched."
One time, when the doctor asked him: "How are you, my little Dimitri?"
He replied: "Mister Doctor, can I tell you something privately? I am just fine. But you shouldn't worry so much because your wife went away. God will be with you, because you are a good person." 

The doctor remained frozen for an instant. No-one else knew about the grievous incident that had occurred the previous day at his place: that his wife had abandoned him, to be with another man.....
"Now that is a child of God" was what those who had met him would say.
The last time that he received Holy Communion, he was unable to sit up in his bed, but he did receive Christ with joy and longing as he lay there.
"Thank you very much", he whispered and then went to sleep forever. When the priest went to the morgue the next day to read the Trisaghion Prayer over little Dimitri, he remarked:
«It's the first time in my life that I have seen a corpse like this. His face was was aglow.... and it had the colour of amber».
His parents came to love Christ very much, and they now want to be baptized also.... 

* One of the signs that Orthodoxy acknowledges in a reposed saintly person is also the colour of the skin, which takes on a translucent amber appearance.

Taken from the book: "ASCETICS IN THE WORLD" , pp.378–380, ISBN: 978-960-89593-2-3,
Publications of the Sacred Retreat «Saint John the Forerunner», Metamorphosis, Chalkidiki

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Saint Patrick, the Enlightener of Ireland

Saint Patrick, the Apostle of the Irish, was seized from his native Britain by Irish marauders when he was sixteen years old. Though the son of a deacon and a grandson of a priest, it was not until his captivity that he sought out the Lord with his whole heart. 
In his Confession, the testament he wrote towards the end of his life, he says, "After I came to Ireland - every day I had to tend sheep, and many times a day I prayed - the love of God and His fear came to me more and more, and my faith was strengthened. And my spirit was so moved that in a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and almost as many at night, and this even when I was staying in the woods and on the mountain; and I would rise for prayer before daylight, through snow, through frost, through rain, and I felt no harm." 
After six years of slavery in Ireland, he was guided by God to make his escape, and afterwards struggled in the monastic life at Auxerre in Gaul, under the guidance of the holy Bishop Germanus. Many years later he was ordained bishop and sent to Ireland once again, about the year 432, to convert the Irish to Christ. His arduous labours bore so much fruit that within seven years, three bishops were sent from Gaul to help him shepherd his flock, "my brethren and sons whom I have baptized in the Lord - so many thousands of people," he says in his Confession.
 His apostolic work was not accomplished without much "weariness and painfulness," long journeys through difficult country, and many perils; he says his very life was in danger twelve times. When he came to Ireland as its enlightener, it was a pagan country; when he ended his earthly life some thirty years later, about 461, the Faith of Christ was established in every corner.

Apolytikion in the Third Tone

O Holy Hierarch, equal of the Apostles, Saint Patrick, wonderworker and enlightener of Ireland: Intercede with the merciful God that He grant unto our souls forgiveness of offences.

Kontakion in the Fourth Tone

The Master revealed thee as a skillful fisher of men; and casting forth nets of Gospel preaching, thou drewest up the heathen to piety. Those who were the children of idolatrous darkness thou didst render sons of day through holy Baptism. O Patrick, intercede for us who honour thy memory

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Bearing the Shame of Confession..( Archimandrite Zacharias Zacharou )

From “Remember thy First Love” by Archimandrite Zacharias Zacharou

Question: In taking the steps which you have presented to us, the most difficult thing, I think, is to overcome the fear of shame. This is what I try to do in my parish. People will not come to confession although their souls are burdened and things are driving them crazy, because they cannot overcome the shame to admit their sins. How do you lead people in this direction?

Answer: I think that the strength to bear shame is a gift from God. When I was a young and inexperienced spiritual father, Elder Sophrony told me to encourage the young people to confess precisely the things of which they are ashamed, for if they learn to do so, shame is transformed into strength against the passions, and they will overcome sin. This is precisely what occurred in the person of Zacchaeus. He bore shame voluntarily, and the Lord, Who was on His way to Jerusalem in order to suffer the Cross of shame, saw Zacchaeus bearing shame for His sake and recognized in him a kindred spirit. Zacchaeus had put himself prophetically in the way of the Christ, in the way of the Cross, and in a prophetic way the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ was activated in the heart of Zacchaeus. His heart was enlarged and he was able to enter into the power of faith. Christ has saved us through the Cross of shame, so when we suffer shame for His sake He considers this as gratitude, and in return He transmits to us His grace which regenerates our life.

This is exactly what happens in confession. Those who confess sincerely and take upon themselves the shame for their sins are regenerated. But those who shrug their shoulders and say, ‘Nothing special, the usual things…’ they do not bear any shame, their heart remains unmoved, and they hardly receive any benefit. But those who, with shame and a contrite heart, strip their souls naked before God and before another mortal, ‘of like passions’ (Acts 14:15) with them—that shame of theirs really finds the heart, humbles it and brings it to the surface. This then, opens the heart to receive the grace of regeneration, of consolation. We see this in the life of many that come to us: the greater the shame they bear with contrition, accusing themselves before God, the greater the grace they receive to amend their lives and make a new beginning.

Source: Orthodox Heritage Vol. 10, Issue 11-12

Sunday, March 11, 2018

In order to be reconciled to someone with whom we are at odds, the first thing we are to do is to accuse ourselves.

The Holy Fathers tell us that, in order to be reconciled to someone with whom we are at odds, the first thing we are to do is to accuse ourselves, not the other person. If we do not accuse ourselves, we will never find rest, and we will never make true and lasting peace with our neighbor. We will always be holding onto our pride. 
Abba Dorotheus provides us with a good example of this from his own experience as the Superior of a monastery. He says: "Once there came to me two brothers who were always fighting. The older one was saying about the younger one, 'I arrange for him to do something and he gets distressed, and so I get distressed, thinking that if he had faith and love towards me he would accept what I tell him with complete confidence.' And the younger was saying, 'Forgive me, reverend father, but he does not speak to me with the fear of God, but rather as someone who wants to give orders. 
I guess this is why my heart does not have full confidence in him, as the Holy Fathers say.' Notice that each blames the other and neither blames himself. Both of them are getting upset with one another, and although they are begging each other's pardon, they both remain unconvinced 'because he does not from his heart show me deference and, therefore, I am not convinced, for the Fathers say that he should.' And the other says, 'Since he will not have complete confidence in my love until I show him deference, I, for my part, do not have complete confidence in him.' My God, do you see how ridiculous this is? Do you see their perverse way of thinking? God knows how sorry I am about this; that we take the sayings of the Holy Fathers to excuse our own will and the destruction of our souls. 
Each of these brothers had to throw the blame on the other.... What they really ought to do is just the opposite. The first ought to say: 'I speak with presumption and therefore God does not give my brother confidence in me.' And the other ought to be thinking: 'My brother gives me commands with humility and love, but I am unruly and have not the fear of God.' Neither of them found that way and blamed himself, but each of them vexed the other.

Hieromonk Damascene 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Differences Among Trials

A section taken from “Elder Joseph the Hesychast: Struggles, Experiences, Teachings,” by Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi

Trials, or temptations (πειρασμοὶ -- peirasmoi) are so called because they engender experience (πεῖρα -- peira), since in the unseen warfare they do indeed afford spiritual knowledge to those who are mindful. Anything is called a temptation if it is in opposition to our struggle for faith and true piety as we press on towards submission to God, but they are sub-divided into various kinds, according to the understanding of the Fathers. 
There are the trials of those actively engaged 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, supplementing 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 judgment 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, deprivation 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 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 trails 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 mind 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 unusual symptoms of illness and painful wounds, a poverty and dereliction that is extraordinary and defies consolation, and all other things that seem impossible and insoluble, giving 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; these are all also the medicines for his healing, to make him sober up and humble himself and vomit out the bile of this devastating perversion.

Just 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 and accompanied by humility and compassion in the service of love, he increases the aid and illumination given by grace.

Something comparable happens on the side of deception. 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 warfare, 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 to 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 that are familiar to us from the 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 [Joseph] never stopped explaining to us at every stage of our life, in his own winsome way, the aim and purpose of these misfortunes that befall us. We understood the movement and functioning of these misfortunes constantly within the framework of the spiritual law which regulated everything in our lives in detail. Indeed, how much wisdom is concealed here for 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).

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Saying thank you to God... ( St. Basil the Great )

“When you sit down to eat, pray. When you eat bread, do so thanking Him for being so generous to you. If you drink wine, be mindful of Him who has given it to you for your pleasure and as a relief in sickness. When you dress, thank Him for His kindness in providing you with clothes. When you look at the sky and the beauty of the stars, throw yourself at God’s feet and adore Him who in His wisdom has arranged things in this way. Similarly, when the sun goes down and when it rises, when you are asleep or awake, give thanks to God, who created and arranged all things for your benefit, to have you know, love and praise their Creator.”

St. Basil the Great

Thursday, March 1, 2018

St. John Maximovitch of the intercessions of the Theotokos

The Most-holy Theotokos and Christ

Having experienced all the difficulties of earthly life, the Intercessor of the Christian race sees every tear, hears every groan and entreaty directed to Her. Especially near to Her are those who labour in the battle with the passions and are zealous for a God-pleasing life. But even in worldly cares She is an irreplaceable helper.
 "Joy of all who sorrow, and intercessors for the offended, and feeder of the hungry, consolation of travellers, harbour of the storm-tossed, visitation of the sick, protection and intercessor for the infirm staff of old age, Thou are the Mother of God on high, O Most Pure One" (Sticheron of the Service to the Hodigitria). "The hope and intercession and refuge of Christians", "The Mother of God unceasing in prayers" (Theotokion of the Third Tone). "She day and night doth pray for us and the sceptres of kingdoms are confirmed by Her prayers" (daily Nocturne).

-St. John Maximovitch of Shanghai and San Francisco, "Orthodox Veneration of the Theotokos"

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Theology is the content of our prayers ( Elder Sophrony )

The contemporary spiritual, theological problem concerns the person [πρόσωπο]… Revelation reveals that “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14). If He says, “I am” it means that He is a person. The word “I” has great significance. For it expresses the person. God says, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). Science cannot say this. Only revelation can say this. And we need to base ourselves on revelation, which the Lord never refuted…Theology is the content of our prayers. And an example of this theology is the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great. 
The whole anaphora is theology and is expressed through prayer. But then theology comes as a state of being. John the Theologian, from an academic point of view, was not a theologian, he says things simply. His theology, however, is a state of being. Whatever he says becomes dogma for everyone. But the only study that enables us to sense what God is like, is the ascetic life according to the commandments of the Gospel. 
When our life is lived according to the will of God, then we understand that there cannot be a difference between the commandments and the mind of God Himself. When we think according to the commandments, then our mind gets used to thinking as God Himself thinks. And regarding theosis, they say: but what is theosis? With obedience to the abbot from the beginning, one’s will is cut off, then in obedience to the Gospel commandments one reaches this state. We do small things but the results must become great. 
Through obedience we enter into the life of divine Being. We have good descriptions of this in the writings of St. Nicodemus the Athonite. I have told others, as well, that when they learn things from the world, they are living in sin. They need to free themselves through asceticism. This is how I tried to make them understand the need for patience. 
Just as the Incarnation was a great kenotic act, where Christ God became man as one person and bore our sins patiently with humility and love. In following Him, we become true persons in Him and realize our life and fully live our freedom. It is here where personhood finds its greatest achievement: in putting on Christ and His indwelling in us by the Holy Spirit sent from God the Father. The very essence of our life must become constant personal encounter with Christ, and in this we become truly persons, truly free, truly loving. This is how personhood is understood in theosis. 
We fulfill our personhood in living in Christ and His dwelling within us, and inasmuch as He has perfected humanity, He raises us in freedom, in love, to the fulfillment of our humanity, as true persons in Him. 
Elder Sophrony 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Fasting is an ordinance of the Church, obliging the Christian to observe it on specific days... ( Saint Nektarios of Egina )

Fasting is an ordinance of the Church, obliging the Christian to observe it on specific days. Concerning fasting, our Savior teaches: "When thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father Who is in secret: and thy Father, Who seethe in secret, shall reward thee openly." 
From what the Savior teaches we learn 
(a) that fasting is pleasing to God, and 
(b) that he who fasts for the uplifting of his mind and heart towards God shall be rewarded by God, Who is a most liberal bestower of Divine gifts, for his devotion.

In the New Testament fasting is recommended as a means of preparing the mind and the heart for divine worship, for long prayer, for rising from the earthly, and for spiritualization.

Saint Nektarios of Egina