About the quality of the spiritual thoughts and dispositions (IV)

Priesthood is given as a manifestation of God`s love for mankind, said hieromonk Athanasios of Iveria. God loves us and makes us His priests. A ministrant priest lends his voice and hands to God for fulfilling His Holy Sacraments.

A priest is purified by God’s grace when he dresses in the holy priestly garments except for the case when he has a lack of morality, a revengeful attitude or a greediness for money. Those who toil for the word of God should be first prepared by ascesis.

Elder Avvakum the barefoot said to all the spiritual fathers: To give advice is a blessed thing because in that moment two minds meet in love and humbleness. He emphasized the fact that any advice should be given with great love, humbleness, leniency and peace and it doesn’t matter at what time of the day a person could come to ask for help. The monks should receive everyone with a smile so that the visitors would leave content and glorify God, he insisted.

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An elder said :

`We should not put God in a difficult situation. He is full love. God doesn’t like to see us unhappy. What does He do then?

When we are given plenty of divine grace we boast with it. If we are not given this grace we are sad, unhappy, even desperate. Even after we try to make a good start, we tire. Even if we go on the sides, this may mean a good experience for us, because it is only for making us humble ourselves.

Sometimes God withdraws His grace from us. This is in fact the way in which a man humbles himself. When he is given back the divine grace the man sees that he evolved in what regards self knowledge and realizes that he cannot rely on himself and he needs God’s help. He is exactly like a baby. As soon as he is able to hold his mother’s hand he tries to walk. He makes big steps and believes that he does them well thinking that he does that on his own. If he continues, the child becomes dependent because if we keep his hand all the time he has a false confidence and then he falls to tumbling when in fact he expects to walk alone.

Sometimes the devil succeeds in using us to tempt our brother. When we pray to God to give us love then God may allow a brother to become sick and thus we have the opportunity to show our love when the sick brother asks for our help. The sick one may ask you: `Please bring me some tea, bring me this, bring me that…` In this way God tests your love and patience.

Sometimes God withdraws His grace from our hierarchs and then they speak harshly to us. In this way they put us to the test to see if we judge or not, when we previously asked to be given the virtue of not condemning anyone.

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An elder from nowadays who was full of discernment was saying:

`We don’t speak in the name of freedom when we tell to the others that everything is allowed. This is enslavement. Someone can evolve only through temptations. Here is an example: we have a young tree and take care of it. We fix it with a thread of a stick. We don’t use wire because that would do it harm. We make a small enclosure around it. This is the only way to take care of it. Here is another case, of a small child. We restrict his freedom from his conception because he lives in the womb of his mother for nine months. After his birth he is wrapped in swaddles. When he grows a little we fix a small enclosure around him and so on. These restrictions are necessary until the child becomes older. Apparently he hasn’t freedom but without protection he could have died or stopped growing.

Elder Avvakum Lavriotis who was full of grace said :

Joy comes from someone’s bond and union with God. Mankind was created to be happy not sad. When you are glad of bad things you will surely pay for this pleasure you had. But the joy of God doesn’t ask any reward. For instance I who have nothing in this world cannot pay anything for the happiness I have. I am not the only one who affirms this truth. My brothers the monks who have nothing else except for God are full of joy. I emptied myself for the sake of Christ. I have nothing else but God and joy. Poverty is wonderful because it brings freedom. The man must empty himself to make place for Christ to enter his heart. When God is with me I have happiness. In each cave dwelled by a hermit you will find spiritual joy.

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An old hermit said to a group of priests who visited him :

In order to have time for prayer somebody must not lose his time with the work which should be done by someone else.

For instance: a doctor will not do the dressing because an assistant can do this. The doctor takes care of more serious matters as it would be to examine a patient or to perform a surgical operation. If he loses his time with minor things he will not have time for the important ones and nobody will benefit of his medical knowledge. This thing applies to you as well. Pray for your believers and underline the names of those who are in greater needs than the others. It helps to know which is the particular problem of each person to pray better for each case in part.

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An old hermit adviced a priest in the following way :

`Try as much as you can to perfect yourself and become a good priest. Then you will see that your parishioners will follow your example without telling them something else. Thus you will see that by toiling for your perfection you become a quiet example for the others.

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The same hermit said :

We must gradually make the other one have good thoughts. Then everything will be all right. A person who hasn’t got good thoughts is under a demonic influence. We must turn on the right switch. When we have everything on the same wavelength we can benefit of obedience since the right switch is open. The young people who start their spiritual life must focus their attention towards the main causes of sin and they must always try to have good thoughts.

Once an old hermit went to town with some business and when he came back to  the skete the other brothers asked him what he had seen there. He answered that he didn’t see any man, only wild trees.

In our days the people want to become saints without any effort and some of them say:

`All the theological teachings must be passed through the patristic sieve.` In fact we ought to sift everything through the teachings of the holy fathers and throw away what means garbage. We must study following the guidance of the holy fathers. I will show you an example: we have three metals: copper, bronze and gold. These metals are of different quality. We have gold of 12 and of 24 carats. We choose that one which is of 24 carats. We need some cheap metal too but we should choose gold.

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A monk who lived in the hermitage of Holy Trinity from Saint Anna’s skete was tempted by the demon of idleness until he almost fell into despair. One day in his despair he said:

`I will climb the hill till the top, I will sit on the highest rock and will swing my legs waiting for the time to pass by.

It was in the day before the feast of Saint John the Baptist, Dionisiou Monastery being dedicated to this saint. He climbed on the peak of a rock, sat down there and started to swing his legs while saying the Jesus prayer but not all the time of course, only from time to time since he was possessed by demonic idleness. While he was sitting in that idle position a legion of demons passed by going to Dionisiou Monastery to tempt the monks from that place. One of the demons said to the others: `I’ll make fun of that half dead body dressed in black who sits down there.`

`Don’t go, he will burn you` said the other demons. But that demon went anyway and showed up as a novice and said:

`What are you doing here?`

`Not much` said the young monk. I am idle and I am not able to offer anything to my God except for sitting and swinging my legs. Hearing those humble words the demon left him immediately and went back to join his group. This story isn related by the elders who advice the novices who have difficulties to follow their rule of obedience.

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An old hermit said:

`Someone’s mind and heart cannot be cleaned as long as they are focused on the world and its problems.`

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A hermit from Katounakia whose name was Raphael always repeated for himself:

Everything is on earth is ephemeral but everything is above is for eternity.

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An elder said:
`The world is for the monk as a coalman (meaning that it soils the soul as a coalman)

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Another elder said:
`If monachism flourishes in our days it means that God prepares something special for the world. The whole world is in a crisis. The people are hungry after spiritual things.

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An elder said to his disciples:
When we come to the monastery to become monks we must leave the world behind us with its habits, comfort and luxury.

From the Athonite Patericon