The inner beauty enlightens and ennobles even the most imperfect features

The exterior beauty is more precious when it covers the inner beauty.

The inner ugliness uglifies even the most beautiful face; the inner beauty enlightens and ennobles even the most imperfect features in such a way that they are not noticed anymore. Harmony, kindness, inner dignity, richness of ideas, the moral strength, the loving heart and the merry behavior, all these irradiate from the eyes, enliven the face, guide the movements, who will care then that the features are uneven or that the skin has an imperfect colour. Beauty does not warm the soul. The following parable says the same.

A young plowman went with his friends to a feast  to choose his wife. So many beauties showed up for dance that the young man’s eyes ran to and fro.

The women walked like some pea hens, they waved and displayed their charms and only one of them stood shyly aside with her head bent to earth.

`That’s my soul mate` the ploughman said pointing towards her. I am used to judge as I do it with the ears of wheat: when they stand up proudly you can see them from afar but drawing closer you notice the wheat ear has no grains – while the full ear of wheat is always so bent that you don’t notice it from the first sight. It’s the same with the bride.

Once after ten years from the graduation of a famous university, the graduates visited the professor who had taught them psychology. They started a vivid talk and the hospitable host heard complaints about the many difficulties of life. Then he proposed to his visitors to drink some coffee and brought the kettle on a tray full of simple but also of very refined cups – from glass, porcelain and even from crystal…

After everyone took a cup the professor said: If you noticed the cups taken were the expensive ones. Nobody wanted to drink from the cheap cup. The source of your problems is the desire only what’s best. Understand this: the cup doesn’t make the coffee better or more flavored. Sometimes it is only more expensive and it hides what we drink in fact. You wanted coffee? See, your wish came true, but you willingly chose the best cups and began to look what cup each one of you had taken. Now think: life is like coffee and work, money, career, social position and all the other things you are concerned about are the cups: simple instruments of life. The cup we have doesn’t define our life and doesn’t change its value, but focusing on the cup we forget to enjoy the taste of the coffee.

As long as we focus on the exterior and less important things we fail to notice the qualities and the main attributes of the interior content which matters the most. Running after nice wrappings we lose the taste of true life.

Konstantin V. Zorin

The man is the only creature who longs after the inner self living within himself

The man was defined by the anthropologists of our times in many ways: the man – the speaking creature, the man – the thinking being, the man – the being who works, but all these definitions prove to be helpless and incomplete. The man is not limited at these.

It is very important to understand that the world is not an amorphous mass of people, that every person of this world is extremely important.

Jesus has never treated the crowd of people who surrounded Him as a crowd, but He sought the face of the man and his soul, He spoke with each and everyone. Think how many times we read the Gospel and reading it we had the feeling that it purposefully addressed to each one of us.

Know that this means to see in the man who is before you a person, a soul that’s more important than the universe.

Treat any man around you as a man for whom Jesus died on the cross, beginning with those from your house and continuing with your neighbours, with the people from the street, from the traffic, with everyone you meet. It is a great thing to understand that there are people around you who have souls, problems, troubles, pains, needs of all kinds, different views of the world, different conceptions about life and death, different colour of the skin and different orientations. Have patience and mercy towards them, do not make them suffer or subjugate with authority, but pray God to give you this divine power to see beyond all the limits of a man – beyond of his look, of his speech, of his deeds – to see him as your brother whom God loves just as much as He loves you!

In our times there are researchers, personalist philosophers who study the person. These philosophers (who are not theologians) say that it is not work which makes the man superior to the animals, or his living in the society, but his spiritual life…the man paints, sings, writes and more than these, he prays! None of the other creatures of the world pray, none of them seeks or longs after something which is within himself.

The man is the only being who longs after the inner self living within himself. The Scripture refers at the spiritual man, at the man who fishes within himself, at the man who is not content with the shores where the water is small and the fish scarce. In one of the Gospels Simons says a difficult word: `Lord I’ve fished all night and didn’t catch anything.`

You see, the man tries in vain to get rid of boredom, of his bad moods, an hour of sleep does not solve his spiritual pain, a movie, a trip to the seaside or in the mountains, in the forest do not solve his spiritual pain!

A man told me one day: Father, I suffer a lot, I have problems, great concerns and fears disturb me, my soul hurts…I think I’m going to take the plane for a vacation of two weeks to forget about everything! My dear, I’m sorry to tell you but your thoughts, pains and worries will come with you and even more than this you may find them there when you arrive.

You cannot run of your thoughts and spiritual pains anywhere in the world! You cannot drown inside yourself your thoughts, pains, fears regardless of the vacations you would take, of the alcohol you would drink, of the cigarettes you would smoke or even worse … until when? Until you awake within yourself the spiritual man, the man who fishes in the depths.

All the fathers of the Church says that when you pray, when you focus on your inner self and you begin to see the emptiness within yourself, your sins, you get a wonderful state of repentance and endless humbleness and you say only this, as Simon said: `Go away from me, Lord, because I am a sinful man!`

You know what’s the paradox? He doesn’t leave, He remains near the humble man, near the man who sees himself sinful, He has endless patience and love for the man. try to fish in the depths, try to find that state which was called by the Fathers of the Church as being the QUEST FOR THE TRUTH…but not as a reading, as an intellectual activity, only as a profound state of grace in which the man and God meet each other.

The Saints who experienced this encounter say that once reaching that state they didn’t need anything at all anymore from this world because all their needs, all their emptiness was filled and fulfilled by God.

But how can we fish in the depths? What’s the rod for this fishing?

There is a wonderful prayer, a certain way of praying to God which takes you to your inner self, with all your fishing nets. There is a prayer which allows your mind to descend into the depths you have never thought you had, prayer which helps you to see your spiritual darkness which will gradually bring the Light within yourself:

`LORD JESUS CHRIST HAVE MERCY ON ME THE SINNER!`

Priest Visarion Alexa

About the obedience shown to the spiritual father

The obedience shown to a spiritual father is eternal life, heavenly ladder, fast ascension, plentiful wreaths, angelic accomplishment, struggle for peace, journey t the sky. Obedience accomplished all the orders, improves everything, does and creates everything and slowly enriches the soul in an invisible and unknown way, placing it in the treasury, raising it towards God to stand before Him crowned and mysteriously beautified. (Saint Gregory of  Sinai)Elder Ephrem of Katounakia is nowadays one f the most esteemed Athonite elders. Being around 80 years old, he was the disciple of the well known abba Joseph the Hesychast. If the others disciples of abba Joseph became abbots of Athonite monasteries, elder Ephrem preferred  the hesychia, remaining in seclusion in Katounakia where he lives with three disciples. We translate below some of his advice about obedience given to the monks from Simonopetras.

Obedience towards the spiritual father brings every good. Obedience will bring the grace. The slightest disobedience drives away the grace. In a way the spiritual father holds the place of God.  Any thing the spiritual father says is like being said by God.  Consider your spiritual father as the image of God. All the passions are gradually healed by obedience. Nothing brings salvation neither the priesthood, nor the ascesis, only the obedience towards the spiritual father.

Obedience makes miracles : obedience brings all charisms. For obedience Christ gives the prayer. The prayer doesn’t save our souls, only the obedience towards the spiritual father.

A demonized man came to serve two elders with obedience and he was healed due to his obedience. He told me how he saw the demon before him and when he said the Jesus prayer once the demon got troubled. When he said it twice the demon began to shake. When he said it the third time the demon disappeared. Do you have obedience? You have the grace of God, you are in heaven. Know that the devil is not afraid of us, he doesn’t even pay attention to us. He runs away when he sees the grace of God we get due to the obedience towards a spiritual father.

Who is obedient is somehow not afraid of God. You do not have obedience? Do whatever you like: prayer, fast, ascesis, etc – these do not bring your salvation. Only the obedience brings salvation. Whoever is obedient resembles Christ, Who made Himself obedient till death and not any death, but death on the Cross.

The spiritual father may fall. That one who has obedience never falls. The spiritual father will give account before God for him but that one who has obedience won’t do that.

Christ speaks through the spiritual father. Is it possible for someone to fall as long as he resembles Christ in obedience. Even if the order of the spiritual father is wrong, God, for obedience will turn it into spiritual benefit. Thus regard your spiritual father as if you saw Christ. Do not upset him. Did you sadden your spiritual father? You sadden God. I have my own experience of disobedience and of compelling my elder Nicephorus. I  compelled him saying: If we don’t do this I leave…`Elder Nicephorus was forced to accept. When I returned to our cell the elder said: `Why did you force me doing this thing, my child? After I die, you can do whatever you like.`

He showed me with these frightening, reproaching words that I estranged myself from God. I lost my prayer for a long time. Not only have I lost the gift of prayer but I have also been punished by God.

Do you know what canon you receive if you force your spiritual father to do something? It’s terrible.

Who is obedient is like a white sheet of paper. He has nothing written on it to be taken by the devil.

Not even the whole world or the whole Holy Mountain values as much as the spiritual father, with fear of God.

Do you have obedience towards your spiritual father? You have obedience towards the Lord and Theotokos. And Christ who had absolute obedience towards the heavenly Father receives you, hears you, makes you be like Him.For this reason that one who has obedience will have a double reward in the eternal glory.

If youtr spiritual father sends you to the moon and you go, you are obedient. Do you please your spiritual father? You please God.

When I went to elder Joseph, your spiritual father was a novice. Elder Joseph tried him all the time, but your spiritual father did not know anything else but forgive and  be it blessed. Many times elder Joseph called them when I passed by: Vavouli make some coffee for us! And your spiritual father, Ephrem answered: Be it blessed! and ran to do that. When I was away elder Joseph said quietly: `May you be always blessed!` and prayed for him. Your spiritual father received much grace because of his obedience towards elder Joseph.

That demonized man who was totally obedient to the two elders and who was healed due to his obedience told me how the demons whispered to him: `Leave your elders and go down on the cliffs from the shore! These elders eat, sleep and pray too little.To get rid of us you need a lot of prayer and fast. And of course they said the truth but it was a trick of the devils to make him be disobedient. Forced by another power they said: If we had succeeded to make you leave your elders and descend on the cliffs from the shore we would have thrown you into despair and pushed you into the sea to suicide yourself. He defetead the demons due to his obedience and he was healed. Only the devil knows what means the spiritual father, what means the obedience towards him.

Once following my own will and planting trees, I saw them withering, all of them. Those I planted with the blessing of elder Nicephorus gave fruit although elder Nicephorus was not a monk with ceaseless prayer.

You should not permit anyone to judge your spiritual father. Stand against him, oppose him when you hear that he says something against your spiritual father. This is right and this is what you have to do. A story resembling that one with the monk who said: `I have an elder`and made the devils disappear by this it happened too to the father of elder Amphilochius. He brought his father to the Holy Mountain, made him a monk and took care of him. The son made his father a monk! When his father was on his deathbed elder Amphilochius went inside his room and seeing him troubled asked him:

`Father, why are you so troubled?`

`The devils came and frightening me told me that they would take my soul. And elder Amphilochius said: `Do not be afraid because they cannot do anything to you since you are obedient to someone. If they come back to you tell them: `What do you want from me? I have an elder I obey.`

The demons came back the next day with a lot of noise, with swords, with axes, with hayforks, frightening him that they were going to take him. When he told them he had an elder the demons vanished. Only the demon knows what power has the elder and his words. Did he say anything? Go. Go to the moon and do not fear! Anything the spiritual father wants must be done. You should not care of anything else than to be obedient. If you have obedience you go to heaven, if you didn’t you go to hell.

You didn’t come to take the Holy Eucharist ten times a day, to say the Jesus prayer, to keep vigils or fasts. Nothing has value without obedience. If you had obedience you go to heaven, if you didn’t, you go to hell!

Adam was disobedient and he went to hell! We, the monks, say only a few words: OBEDIENCE TOWARDS THE SPIRITUAL FATHER = LIFE, DISOBEDIENCE = DEATH. If you were obedient you did everything. I don’t mean that the others are uselss, but are not that important. I remember that once when elder Joseph was alive I judged him about something. I went to pray in the evening and I could not make my prayers: Lord Jesus…Lord Jesus…I could not say more. I did something wrong, I said to myself. I thought about the previous day, where I went, what I said. I found it: I judged my spiritual father. The next day was Sunday and I had to serve in the Holy Altar. What was I supposed to  do then? Pray. `God, forgive me because I judged my spiritual father. I sinned, forgive me.` But nothing happened. `But Peter, my Lord, denied You thrice and You forgave him. I did not deny You, I just judged my spiritual father. Now I regret and ask for forgiveness. Nothing! I take the rosary once again but the prayer cannot be said. I burst into tears and I cried a lot. You forgave pious Maria the Egyptian when she repented and You forgave many other sinners. Isn’t there any mercy, any forgiveness for me?`

Three hours passed in that way. I finally felt a peace a sweetness, a joy inside myself. Then the prayer started by itself: `Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.` So it is not the same if you judge a stranger or your spiritual father. Woe to you! You judged Christ!

Elder Josephn was the only man I loved and feared. The spiritual father can tell you a vain or twisted word. But you should keep on being completely obedient. I tasted the fruit of complete obedience at elder Joseph. You will ask me what is that. I was not afraid of God, I was not even afraid of Him. What does the spiritual father say? Be it blessed, be obedient without distinction.

The mouth of the spiritual father is the mouth of Christ. Do what your spiritual father tells you without analyzing, without commenting or protesting. Be humble. Did your spiritual father say it? Be it blessed. Do not worry about anything as long as you have obedience. You will save your soul, you will go to heaven.

A deacon said to his spiritual father: `Father, I want to go and bathe in the sea for my heatlh.` `Don’t go, child, because of this or that reason.` `But I’ll go.` And he went. He bathed and while doing that a shark killed him. Later the sea took his ripped body on the shore. Where did his soul go?`

Obedience brings enlightenment, tears and prayer. If you don’t have obedience, even if you have these, you will lose them. As much love and respect you have for your spiritual father, as much you received. The grace surrounds the obedient monk as a flame and the devil cannot catch him. If this flame is missing the devil will devour us.

Theology (the speech about God) is the result of prayer and the prayer is the result of obedience. When you have obedience, you will find prayer and theology (speech about God). But when you do not have any obedience, you do not find anything. The main thing, the root is obedience. Weere you obedient? You will find prayer. Maybe you find it now or tomorrow.

Question:  And if the spiritual father gives a wrong order?

Answer: Nothign wrong happens to you, because you have obedience.

The more devotion, self sacrifice, love and faith you have in your soul, the less inner struggle you have. But when you have something against your spiritual elder, know that you are not united with him, you don’t love him and don’t trust him. The more trust you have in your spiritual father, the less worries you have. When you are not united with your spiritual father you feel a resistance, you have a thron inside.

The more devotion and obedience you have towards your spiritual father, the more zeal you will have.

The greatest zeal is at the beginning of the monachal life. You are devoted to the spiritual father. When you are united with your spiritual father this is the best zeal. When you see the face of your spiritual father as the face of Christ everything goes well. When you see mistakes at your spiritual father, you are in misery.

Someone told me once: Pious Father, I want to go to my spiritual confessor to confess for this and that. What do you say?` Make 1000 prostrations.` Be it blessed.` And he didn’t say anything to his confessor. This is the union, the attachment for the starets.

Oh, blessed obedience! What can I say, fathers? When I was under obedience I had a different gift, a different prayer! I was like floating in the air. Now I am starets. You may say that I did not seek that, that God gave it to me. But I remember the time when I was a disciple. The best condition for the monk is that of disciple, of obeyant. The power of obedience is shown in the following story. It was Tuesday and at evening I got some thoughts against my spiritual father, elder Joseph because he made us sign a letter. He was right to do that as it proved afterwards. On Saturday I went to the holy service with the elder. When he saw me he said to me: Father, you have something against me, there is something that separates you of me, you have something inside. Do not separate yourself of your spiritual father, do not tear yourself apart! I had forgotten that I had judged him, I had forgotten my thoughts. `Father, I don’t remember to have any thought to separate myself from your holiness.`

`But you have something against me. When I saw you, I knew. My soul knew that you have thoughts against me.` `Father, I don’t remember anything!` `Try to remember!`

After I finished the Holy Liturgy I left. Walking to my cell and meditating at the thoughts I had had on those days I remembered that judgment against him relating to that letter. I went back and apologized with tears in my eyes.

Thus the monk must be blindly obedient, without making any distinction. I remember that another time I went to my cell to pray. I was in a state of grace. All of a sudden elder Procopius who was disciple like me knocked at the dor and called me to work. Because I know that the grace may come and delight you for five minutes, an hour or two, I thought that being in that state of grace it was good to take advantage of it and after it was over I would have gone to work. Fathers, I have just thought about that and I lost the grace. Wasn’t that disobedience? It was, even if father Procopius was not my spiritual father. And I said to myself: I was disobedient and lost the prayer.` That’s why I say: `Be obedient and you will find prayer. Do not seek prayer, it comes from obedience.

The first thing I saw at elder Joseph was that God saves you by means of the prayers of your spiritual father. What we can say is that as united you are with your spiritual father, as much grace you receive. Like the iron in the fire, it becomes fire.The more you take it away from fire, the colder it gets.

The prayer comes from obedience, not obedience from prayer. Be obedient now and the grace will continue to come.

Elder Joseph said : `That one who is obedient will be well only for that obedience. It doesn’t matter who is the spiritual father. How did Judas benefit that he had Christ? In no way. How did Adam benefit that he had God as Father and that he was in heaven?  In no way. He did not benefit from heaven because he was disobedient. How was the great Acachius impeded from holiness by the fact that his spiritual father was whimsy and mad and beat him daily? In no way.

Question:  God gave us intellect. This is white, this is black. If your spiritual father tells you that white is black and viceversa do you refrain yourself from judging him?

Answer:  This is obedience, my father, this is obedience. Be sure that is black and not white as you see it…You see that thing white and your spiritual father sees it black. He sees it right, he sees it correctly! This is obedience! Try to see that it is not as you say, white, do not believe not even what you see with your own eyes.

When you are united with your spiritual father, the grace overfills you. I remember those years: the grace came abundantly. My spiritual father told me once: `You won’t receive anything till next Saturday. That was death for me indeed. We were amazed how the word of our spiritual father became reality, how it was sealed by God.

Once some Christians brought us a sack of potatoes at the dock. One of my disciples, a novice (now he is not here anymore) told me that he was tired and he didn’t want to go to bring it so I went myself. Downwards it was parked a truck. I waved towards it. There were two professors inside it who told me: `Father, don’t you know where lives elder Ephrem?` `That’s me`, I answered. One of them said then: You, the monks, are happy indeed, because you lived a true Christian life.`

When I went back to the cell I related that happenstance to my disciple and he answered without shame: `Yes, when they come here you send them away and when you go out you invite them to come.` `What to do, my child, that’s how I felt then to answer, I said. Now let’s pray for an hour in the cell. After an hour he came to me and asked: `How many prayers have you made?` `This much`, I answered. `Only that much? I made many more and I can still make some.` He told me those words without shame. I went back to my cell upset. I almost cried for his behaviour. The disciple went t sleep. But how to sleep when the devils came to attack him? So he came to my cell frightened and told me what had happened to him. I answered: This happens to you because you upset your spiritual father.` I read a prayer to him, everything passed and he slept well.

When you make a fool out of yourself for the sake of obedience and do as I tell you and you as about everything, God begins to give you grace.

Elder Procopius left once, being disobedient to elder Nicephorus. When he reached a certain state of rejection he felt the lack of grace. He felt as if another Procopius asked him `why did you leave?` `Because of this and that` I answered. Why did you leave your obedience and your spiritual father? Go back to your chore. And Peocopius went back to that.

It doesn’t matter who is the spiritual father. The bow you make to your spiritual elder is a great thing. Having obedience towards elder Nicephorus in those years I saw miracles.

Elder Joseph said: Neither the priesthood, nor the Holy Eucharist or the Jesus prayer, or the fasting or the vigils can save without obedience. Everything is done from our own will is taken by devils.

Because by obeying the will of someone else, he accomplishes not only the denial of his soul but also the renouncement at the whole world.

That one who contradicts his spiritual father, makes the devils rejoice. And of the one who humbles himself till death the angels rejoice. Because one like this makes the work of God (John VI, 28) resembling the Son of God, Who fulfilled the obedience towards His Father till death and death on the cross (Philip II, 4-11)

At the Court – unexpected encounter

Early morning, my trainee’s lawyer was already waiting for me with his car, to go to the Court. The man knew everything about my trouble. If I were in his place, I would not have worked with that lawyer anymore, I would have left. “Don’t you understand that everything happening to you is just for the money? Don’t you realize that yet?”, and he made me understand some things I would have never thought about.

Within half an hour we arrived at the Court. I set on a bench and was waiting to be called… ”Mind the prayer and nothing else!” Gheronda had told me. I was feeling him with me all the time. A lot of time had passed and, finally, they called me into the courtroom. Over there I saw the face of the prosecutor. There were many other strangers who, as I found out later, were journalists. The judge spoke first, then the prosecutor, but everything was spoken in the language of that country. Then the judge asked me something that, as you can imagine, I could not understand and, therefore, I answered him into Greek language: “Unfortunately I do not understand you, I do not know your language.” Then he started to talk again with the prosecutor, in their language unknown to me. Gheronda had told me: “Tell your lawyer that you will not answer anything unless they give you something written in Greek language.”

Then I turned towards the lawyer next to me and told him Gheronda’s words, exactly how he had told me. He spoke with the judge, but I could not understand any word they were addressing to me. Shortly after the session ended the lawyer invited me to follow him. We got out from the Court building and got into the car. I was lost… I did not understand anything they were saying into the court and the lawyer started to explain to me what had happened: when we spoke Greek, the judge got mad at the prosecutor, because there wasn’t a Greek translator into the court room. Likewise, the accusation document should had been translated into Greek language, so I could understand it too. When he asked the prosecutor how long it will take to make the translations, he replied that in their country the system was made in such a way that it will take some time… He could not establish even an estimated date; therefore, the trial was postponed indefinitely. I asked the lawyer what to do from now on and he replied that we would have to wait as long as was necessary. Then we headed together towards his office where, he asked me again to sign some documents so that my wife could send him more money.

Gheronda then spoke to me in my mind:

  • Tell him, my child, that you will go back alone to the apartment and he does not need to take you there. Go to the church, my child, go to the church for prayer!

I lingered a bit on the way before getting there, while Gheronda told me happily:

  • Have you seen, my child, that our prayers have been heard?
  • How so, Gheronda, since nothing happened this time either? They want to stall, and I want to leave, to go back to my wife and children.

Then I became desperate and started to cry.

  • No, my child, don’t cry! What happened today is for the best. Start praying and you shall see! Very soon we will go back on the Island of the Saints!
  • Father, I hope your Holiness’ words will come true!

For the moment I stopped to a phone booth to call my wife and told her in detail what had happened, and after twenty minutes of walk I arrived at the church. I sat in a corner, in front of the icon of Virgin Mary and continued my prayer. I stayed there for a long time, looking at the many people who worshiped that beautiful icon of the Mother of God, watching them; they were people who, for many decades, had been forbidden to worship the holy icons, were not allowed to go to the church or to express their religious beliefs. At that moment I remembered some events happened in Cyprus, in 1974, when the Muslim Turks killed the civilian population, destroyed Orthodox churches and monasteries, even cemeteries…

  • Why, my God, do you allow to happen all of these? How did you allow the communism?
  • It is a test, my child, all these things are a test, replied Gheronda.
  • A test due to the sins of people, I asked him?
  • Of course, my child, and you should thank the Lord for everything that is happening to you, for allowing you to have such experiences. Glorify Him for everything you have been through and will from now on. Come on! Let’s go back to our home now! The Prayer! Pay attention to the road and keep your eyes down and look at the women you meet only from the knees down! Look at everybody as if you were looking to our Holy Mother, the Virgin! Come on, my child, let’s go!

I returned to the apartment, without looking left or right but only straight forward, with my mind into prayer. Shortly before getting there, I stopped to buy some candles and noticed a woman looking at me from afar. Immediately I looked down, but I was thinking: “Why does she look at me so insistently? Could be one of the persons I helped finding a job in Cyprus? You could say that she recognizes me from the newspaper photos… What if… what if…”

I paid at the cashier with my head down and saying my prayer, and then went to my apartment. “Well done, well done! Keep doing that all the time! You stayed away from the evil.” All the afternoon I read from the Holy Bible. At some point I received a phone call from Cyprus, asking me information regarding to my work place. Thanks God that the twelve workers I had then stood by my wife and children, continuing their work as long as I was away, without creating any trouble. The next day, in the morning, I got down running the eight floors…

  • Slowly, slowly! The Prayer! Pray with your head down, says Gheronda!
  • Of course, Father, do not worry! I will not forget.

At some point I received a phone call from Cyprus where I was asked for some information about where I was working. Glory to God that the twelve employees I had then stayed with my wife and children, continuing my work all the while I was absent without creating any problems. The next morning, I lowered the eight floors running …

  • Slowly slowly! The prayer! Prayer and eyes down, says Gheronda!
  • Of course, Father, don’t worry! I will not forget!

I crossed the street and went to the market where I bought a few things and then I thought to go to the supermarket to buy some food. Suddenly, Gheronda told me:

  • Quickly, quickly, let’s return home!
  • Why, Gheronda?
  • Do you not hear me? Come quickly!

I hurried, crossed the four lanes of the street and as soon as I got into the building started a heavy rain that scared me leaving me out of breath. I got into the apartment and sat in the kitchen, watching astonished the rain.

  • Thank you, Gheronda, thank you!
  • Well, my child, did you want to get wet and ill, especially with the high humidity from here? You must be healthy for we have a long way to go.
  • Why? Do we have a lot to walk?
  • You shall see, you shall see! You keep your mind into prayer and all the rest and let yourself into God’s care… Come on! The rain stopped! Let’s go to the supermarket now.

This time I carefully descended the eight-story stairs.

“Where is your mind”, asked again Gheronda…?

  • Yes, yes. I know! To prayer!

After I finished the shopping I went to a phone booth and found out from my wife that she had received a message from my former collaborators from that country, who were asking about me. I told her what to reply to them and asked her to arrange a meeting with them, behind the cathedral. What else could they want? Why they didn’t contact me for so long? I did not know if it was wise to meet them…

“No, we will go to see what they want!” I went back to the apartment, spending my evening quietly, immersed into study. In the morning, after the canon, I went on foot towards the meeting. I was supposed to walk about one hour and a half and the humidity, the heat and the insects were unbearable. I stopped a few times to have some rest and catch my breath and because of that I got there five minutes late. The two who were waiting for me were the couple I had worked with regarding the work problems in that country. I sat on the bench behind the one they were sitting on and we spoke like that back to back. In those parts of the world you were afraid even of your shadow! The man didn’t speak English, and his wife very little. She told me that if my family will deposit the money they were requesting since the beginning, everything will come to an end! When I inquired who was asking for the money, they avoided giving me a name, being afraid for themselves and their families. Then I asked them to help me, but as soon as they heard the word “help”, the stood up, said good bye and left.

  • They are gone, let them be. Did you understand?
  • What to understand, Gheronda?
  • They must have involved in this predicament!
  • It is obvious, Gheronda, but what did they want from me anymore?
  • Never mind, my child, let’s go to the church and pray…

Extract from the book The Testimony of an ex con’s conversion – Father Paisie, my Saint and my schoolmaster – Egumenita Printing house, 2016.

Blessed Simeon

In 1922, an orphan child named Simeon came from Asia Minor together with the refugees. He settled in Piraeus in a barrack and grew up over there all by himself. He had a cart and worked as a docker at the port of Piraeus. He did not know how to read or much about our Faith. He had simplicity and faithfulness.

When he reached the marriage age, he married, had two children, and then moved together with his family to Nicaea. Every morning he went to Piraeus to work for earning his bread. Every morning he passed by the Church of Saint Spiridon, entered in, stopped before the iconostasis and said,

– Good morning, my Christ! I’m Simeon. Please help me earn my bread!

In the evening, when he finished his work, he went back to the church, walked in front of the iconostasis and said,

– Good evening, my Christ! I’m Simeon. Thank you for helping me today, too!

And so were passing the days of blessed Simeon.

By 1950, all his family members had tuberculosis and fell asleep into the Lord. Thus, Simeon remained alone, but he continued to work without complaining. And he did not stop passing by the Church of Saint Spiridon and tell Christ “Good Morning” and “Good Evening”, asking for His help, and thanking Him.

When Simeon got old, he became ill. He has been hospitalized for nearly a month. Once the nurse in charge asked him:

– Grandpa, you’ve been here for so long, and nobody came to see you. Don’t you have anyone in this world?

– My child, Christ is coming every morning and evening to comfort me.

– And what does He say to you?

– “Good morning, Simeon! I am Christ. Have patience!”. “Good evening, Simeon! I am Christ. Have patience!”.

Being surprised by his words, she called her confessor, Father Christodul the Fasos, to come and check if Simeon had fallen into deception. Father Christodul came, talked with him, asked him the same question as the nurse in charge, and received the same answer. At the same hours, in the morning and in the evening, when Simeon was greeting Christ, Christ was also coming to greet Simeon. The confessor asked him:

– Could it be your imagination?

– No, Father, I don’t imagine anything. It is Christ Himself.

– Has he come today too?

– He came.

– And what did he tell you?

– Good morning, Simeon! I am Christ. Have patience, and in three days, early in the morning, I will take you with Me.

The confessor went every day to the hospital and talked to him. He realized Simeon was a blessed man. Three days later, early morning, he went again to visit Simeon and see for himself if he was going to die was or not. And indeed, as they were talking, Simeon suddenly shouted,

– Christ is here!

And immediately he felt asleep forever.

Eternal remembrance! Amen.

What is beyond death

What is beyond death remains a great mystery. Christianity states that man was not created for death, but for life. “I came so that you may have life and to have it more abundantly,” said the Savior (John 10, 10).

Christ has revealed that beyond physical death there is heaven and hell, where, different from now, people will last in happiness or unhappiness, according to how they have understood to live their historical life. Christ has told us not only that there is life after death, but He has shown us this through His own resurrection from the dead and ascension to heaven. Based on the divine revelation, we know that partly – through our soul – we are immortal, that beyond death we could have paradise or hell, depending on how we lived and not as God wanted and ordained. We are the ones who prepare the heaven or the hell, according to the way we understood to live our life here. Knowing that future life is a mystery, the Church did not dogmatize its eschatological doctrine. In its Creed, its symbol of faith, it limited to dogmatizing the faith in resurrection and future life: “I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” All the other assumptions and explanations about the life beyond are nothing but speculations and simple personal opinions.

 (Vasile Răducă the priest-parisioner of the Kretzulescu church, The Guide of today’s Orthodox Christian, Humanitas Publishing House, pp. 196-197).

Article taken from www.doxologia.ro

Kisses on the forehead

A king visited his soldiers on the front. After encouraging and reassure them, he shook hands with each one. Then he asked the general to take him to the infirmary as well. Mangled, without hands, without feet, full of pus or blood, the wounded soldiers barely moved into their beds. He passed on every sick person, stretched out his hand and congratulated him. When he finished, the King turned to the general, asking, “Is there any one I have not congratulated?” “There is one more in reserve. He’s paralyzed, dumb, blind and deaf. You will not be able to shake hands with him!” The King went to the unconscious soldier’s bed, removed the blanket from his face and kissed his forehead!

Every day, early in the morning, Christ comes to visit His soldiers. He stretches out his hand, encourages them, tells them beautiful words. He cleans the tear of the orphan who is asking for bread. He kisses elders’ eyes widened of loneliness. He caresses the little one who is bullied in school by his colleagues for being a Christian. He bandages the wound of the one who suffers tremendously. He stretches out his hand to the abandoned, abused wife, the one with bruised eyes. After he greets everyone, he does another thing too: He kisses all the sinners on their forehead! The weak ones with hereditary flaws and limited talents. The falling ones. The lost ones. The losers who are playing with fire.

What king bends to kiss a vagabond, an adulterine, the person who ruins the church? What god loves the lost ones? Which of them still embraces when is kissed by a Judah? Who forgives the sinners before they ask to be forgiven?

Do not turn your back to the King. He just started his visit. Let’s prepare ourselves to offer him right now both our cheeks …

If you avenge yourself, you’ll be in God’s debt. If you do not avenge yourself, then God owes you

And you confess incompletely if you do these: judge, speak badly, and they are all recorded.

It’s easy to say, “Look what he did!”, but you don’t know why he did it or you don’t know his repentance. And do you not hear that God loves him more if he repents, than the one who did not fall into temptation? And what are you going to do? Because a habit has been created, and it is not good, to easily talk badly about another: “So what, I’m the only one talking like this? So what, he doesn’t deserve it? I see what he does, aren’t I? “

Brethren, there is nothing created by God, grass, anything, that can remain unknown by God. Do you think God is more interested in grass than people? Therefore, of course He is watching us. And we are asked to be charitable. If you want to be victorious: be humble and judge no one. Because this way you will be free. Otherwise not.

You live your life according to your other sins, and you do not stop judging him. You compare things. “I’m not like that!” and you compare yourself with a man you call a bastard. Why don’t compare yourself with the Apostle Peter, Paul, or St. Siluan the Athonit? Why don’t compare yourself with different known Fathers who lead a holy life? The Savior says, “Love your enemies,” the one who hurts you. As is the saying, “He told me, and I told him, and I will tell him!” Not only you do not forgive him, but you also think of revenge on him. Do you want revenge? I teach you: love and mention him in your prayers. Because if you took revenge, you’ll be in God’s debt. If you do not take revenge, God owes you, and it is better this way, and even the Scripture says, “Vengeance is Mine.”

Father Arsenie Papacioc

Blessed are the pure in the heart for they will see God (I)

Archimandrite Ephrem Philoteus

May the most immaculate and holy Spirit enlighten my darkness to tell you some words about the most beautiful prayer and purity of the soul.

The prayer is the talk of the man with God. God is Spirit. And as saint Dyonisios Areopagite say God is above spirit. Thus due to His nature God is so bondless so present everywhere that the man can be in any moment with Him and by the spirit of faith to see Him and speak to Him. Nobody is so close to us permanently as God is.

Great honor is for the man to dare and be worthy to talk with a high rank person here on earth and he considers himself important because of this relationship. But God is above all men and angels. And we are all worthy of this honor, to speak with Him and see Him through the eyes of faith.

All the hymns of our Church, the troparions, the praises are prayers. But much more important than these prayers is this small prayer called mental prayer which consists of only five words: `Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!` With this small prayer we can communicate with God permanently, ceaselessly. Apostle Paul asks us the same:

`Pray without cease, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.`[1]

The hermits of the first Christian centuries lived in caves and deserts in remote corners of the world. In those times there were no printed books as we have today and because of this reason they did not have many to read. But what did they do all day and night in the desert? They had the university of the universe. From creation they rose to the contemplation of the Creator of everything, God. A hermit was walking one day and he saw a very beautiful flower. He hit it and said: `Don’t shout so loudly!` By doing this he wanted to say that this flower speaks a lot about God’s wisdom. Therefore if such a small flower is so wonderful God the Creator of everything is even more!

The Holy Fathers said that all the creatures speak in their own way. And the man for reaching this stage to listen to the voices of the creatures has to purify his soul, mind and heart by ascetic struggle.

Great Arsenios lived in the world and he was a great erudite and philosopher. Then he went in the desert, lived in complete reclusion and struggled in a very severe way  to purify his soul. He did not speak with the people and did not see anyone. However this one who was so wise in the world by spiritual strife and reclusion received and came to know the philosophy of the Spirit which is far greater than the worldly one. They say that he raised his hands for prayer at sunset and let them down at sunrise. He kept his arms up all night long. But how could he do this? In a natural way it would be very hard. But with the help of God there is nothing unattainable. His whole mind and heart were in the rapture of contemplation in the Holy Spirit and he was initiated in the heavenly mysteries. He communicated with God directly.

From this we understand that the essential and successful thing somebody needs for uniting with God is to separate himself for a while of the rest of people and the worldly worries and by finding peace of mind to be able to communicate through prayer with the Spring of all bliss, God. The mind of the man is what leads the work of his spirit. If the mind is purified by the dirty thoughts which taint it then the heart will reach purity in time.

`Blessed are the pure in the heart for they will see God` [2]

And since God is not anthropomorphous to be seen with his physical eyes, He reveals Himself in the heart of the man in a mysterious ineffable way when he purifies himself. When the Christian prays correctly with a focused mind, meaning that his mind is humbly focused on the meaning of the words, of the prayer then he begins to feel the fruit of prayer. And the fruit of a humble prayer is that the man reaches humility and tears and repentance or a great joy and love for God.

The Niptic Fathers of our Church speak a lot about the mental prayer. They say that no other means purifies our mind better than vigilance. When the mind takes heed and by vigilance is saved of dispersion and of the attacks of the evil thoughts the heart is freed of passions. When the passions are rooted and tangled in the heart of the man then the purification is very difficult.

The imagination is the tentacle which spreads all over awfully. It is the eye of the mind which penetrates the most unimaginable and audacious lands. And from there it begins the unlawful deed. The greatest sins are committed because of the imagination. Everything is gathered in the mind by the five senses of the body – persons, things, dirty images – all these are a poison which spreads in the whole being of the man. Thus someone becomes dirty and sinful and has no daring before God. If the spiritual man does not refrain this impetus of the imagination, he cannot reach a good spiritual condition. Vigilance is what guards the imagination and forbids the images which give birth to evil thoughts and keep the mind clean.

When there are no images and the man gives a correct occupation to the mind by prayer then the mind communicates correctly with God. The struggle is not easy because the mind never stops its activity. But what we give to it, this is what it will activate in us. It is like the mill which works. If the miller throws in it wheat, it will grind wheat. If somebody goes and throws rubbish in it, then it will grind rubbish. Thus the result will be in accordance with what we allow the mind to receive in itself.

That is why it is necessary to guard our mind by prayer, by fear of God and by wisdom so that when we are challenged by bad thoughts and sinful images to have focused all the attention of our mind. Because when we receive them many bad things appear which upset us inwardly. On the contrary when we impede them there is no anxiety in the inner self. When the mind preserves itself clean and rejects the devil and sin then the inner house of our heart and soul will be in a good condition.

As for instance when the door of our house opens in the road, in the boulevard, anyone can knock at it. Even a thief can ask to be received inside. If we don’t open for him nothing serious happens. But if we don’t take heed and we don’t search to see who knocks at the door and he cheats us by his words and we open then from there it begins the toil and the struggle to chase him away of the house. And if we let him go farther inside the strife will be even harder. This evil man may tie the landlord of his hands and feet and become the master of the house.

It is the same with the evil thought. It knocks at the door and wants to enter. When we have no vigilance and we begin to talk with it, it’s as if we opened the door to it.

A sinful thought may come in any situation. When we don’t have attention we don’t have vigilance and we let the thought to enter and this will generate images thoughts about persons, things, scenes. And everything the man saw or tasted and touched in the past with his five senses begins to hurt his mind. And if he is reckless again the war becomes stronger. It will irritate the heart and cause staining. When the man gives rights to the devil by a certain passion very hardly he will take back that right from him. The devil revenges furiously because he says: `I fought so much to take this soul in my possession.` Then the fight to purify the soul is very big.

[1] I Thessalonians 5, 18.

[2] Matthew 5, 8.

Why God doesn’t kill the villains?

  • Why God doesn’t kill the murderers, the heretics, the revolutionaries, the lustful directly from their mother’s womb, and save their souls from hell and the others from their evil influence?
  • God’s patience is the necessary condition for our salvation. If God would listen to your advice, then on Earth would remain as many people as they are on the Moon. God’s clairvoyance allows the development of good and evil, otherwise human’s free will would be a fiction.
  • I asked you about the heretics, revolutionaries, suicidal people etc., saying that it is best for them to die in their mother’s womb in order to save them from hell’s fire. Your answer to this question puzzled me. According to your logic results that man is his own judge, and God does not interfere in man’s life and free will. This resembles the deism and agnosticism. Please help me clarify this issue.
  • If God’ clairvoyance would condemn the sinner beforehand, then the free will would be an apparent one. The gift of free will provides the conditions for the development of good and evil. God doesn’t select the humanity beforehand.