Reflections of elder Paisius the Athonite (1924 – 1994)
The majority of people in our times rush around at high worldly speed. But inasmuch as they do not possess the fear of God, – and “the beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord,” – they have no brakes, and at such a speed, and with no brakes, they invariably finish up the race in a deep hole. People are extremely upset by difficulties and are, to a great extent, being brainwashed by various influences. They have lost their guideposts and little by little have reached the stage where they no longer have control over themselves.
One can see tempests and great agitation in all the nations. I can now appreciate the torment which the prophets suffered. The greatest martyrs were the prophets! They were martyrs to a greater extent than all the known martyrs, despite the fact that not all of them died a martyric death. This is because martyrs suffered comparatively briefly, while the prophets witnessed the doing of evil and suffered constantly. They cried out and cried out, but the others continued to blow their own horns. And when, due to these others, God’s wrath came down on people, the prophets suffered together with all the rest. But at least in those times men’s minds were limited, and they simply left God to worship idols. Now, when people abandon God consciously, – this leads to the greatest idolatry and paganism.
We have not yet realized that the devil has hurled himself forth to destroy God’s creations. The devil is enraged because the world has begun experiencing concern over the loss of goodness. He is in a frenzy, because he knows that he has little time left to act. He is now behaving like a criminal, who, upon being caught, cries out: “I can’t save myself, they’ll catch me,” – and begins wrecking everything both right and left. The world is burning! Do you realize that? The devil has lit such a conflagration that even if all the firemen were to gather together, they could never extinguish this fire. In a spiritual fire nothing remains undamaged. The only thing left for us is to pray that God have mercy upon us.
The entire world is coming to a single end. Universal destruction. We cannot say: “A window or something like that is slightly broken in the house, let me fix it.” The entire house has fallen apart. The state of affairs has already spun out of control. Only God can do something from above.
We do not have enough living examples in our era
Why does St. Cyril of Jerusalem say that the martyrs of the end times will be higher-standing than all the martyrs? Because previously there were many giants of the spirit, while in our era there is a dearth of living examples, – I am speaking about the Church and monasticism in general. In our times words and books have multiplied, but living experience has become impoverished. We only admire the saints of our Church without understanding how great was their labor. In order to understand it we must labor ourselves, we must get to love the saints and make an effort to be like them. The good God will naturally take into consideration the character of our times and the conditions in which we have to live, and will ask an accounting from us accordingly. Thus, if we undertake even the smallest spiritual effort, we will be rewarded more than the early Christians.
A spirit of asceticism prevailed in ancient times. Each person tried to imitate the other. Under such circumstances neither evil, nor negligence could hold out. There was an abundance of goodness, there was a spirit of asceticism, and thus a negligent person could not persist in his laxness. He was pulled along by the general stream of Godliness. But today, if a person wishes to live honestly, spiritually, – he has a very hard time, there is no place for him in the world. And if he is inattentive, he will roll downhill, he will be carried away by the current of worldliness.
In former times there was an abundance of goodness, an abundance of virtue, there was a sufficient number of good examples, and evil drowned amid the vastness of good. The comparatively small amount of illicitness that existed in the world and in the monasteries was inconspicuous and did not do much harm to people. But what do we see nowadays? There is an abundance of bad examples, while the miniscule amount of goodness that is left is not valued a single jot. In other words, the complete opposite is taking place now: a small amount of good is being drowned in a mass of evil, and evil is at the helm.
If one or several persons possess an ascetic spirit, it is of great help to others, because if a person is perfecting himself spiritually, not only will he benefit from this himself, but also those who watch his endeavors. The same thing happens with a lax person – he influences others in like manner. And if one person becomes debilitated, and then another, gradually and unnoticeably nothing good is left around us. For this reason an ascetic spirit helps greatly amid the laxness that reigns all around us. We must be extremely attentive in this respect, because modern-day people, unfortunately, have reached the point at which they even accept laws that engender laxness and moral turpitude. Even ascetics are being forced to submit to these laws. Therefore, those who are engaged in spiritual labor should not only not fall under the influence of the spirit of worldliness, but should also refrain from comparing themselves with the people of this world. In comparing themselves to worldly people, Christians begin to feel themselves quite saintly, and proceed to become lax, and as a result they become worse than the ones to whom they were comparing themselves. Our points of comparison in spiritual life should be the saints and not the people of this world. It would be well for us to do the following in regard to every virtue: find a saint who was distinguished by this virtue and read his life very attentively. Then we will see that we have not achieved anything yet, and we will continue our spiritual life in humility. Runners competing in a stadium do not turn around to look at those who are lagging behind, for if they look at the last ones, they will become last themselves. If I try to follow the example of those who are succeeding, my conscience becomes finer, while if I look back at those who are in the rear, I find all kinds of excuses for myself and decide that my own sins are not so terrible in comparison with theirs. I calm myself with the thought that there are people worse than I am. In this manner I choke off my conscience, or in other words, I end up with an unfeeling heart.
God does not leave us to the mercy of fate
Being currently in such a horrible state, people do anything that comes into their head. Some live on pills, others on drugs. From time to time three or four deluded individuals create some kind of new religion. Others are tired of life and want to put an end to themselves or create a great hullabaloo by committing a spectacularly evil act. This does not refer to people whose desires along such lines simply take the form of blasphemous thoughts which they are able to chase away. We are speaking of people who have become tired of life and do not know what to do with themselves. It is precisely such people who are used by certain forces for evil purposes.
Despite the fact that we have brought ourselves to such a state, God does not leave us to the mercy of fate. God proceeds to guard the modern world with both hands so-to-speak. Today, when mankind is surrounded by so many dangers, God protects it like a mother does her child. Currently Christ, the Most-holy Theotokos and the saints help us much more than in past times, only we do not realize it. And what would happen to the world if this help were not available?!… The majority of people live on pills and are in a state too terrible for words. One is drunk, another has given up on life, a third is high on drugs, a fourth suffers from insomnia. And one sees how all these people drive cars, ride motorcycles, operate dangerous machinery. Are they all in perfect condition to do so? How many people could already have become crippled! How strongly God protects us, but we are not aware of it…
I remember how in the past our parents went off to work in the fields and left us in the care of a neighbor. We played together with her children. In those times children were more tranquil. The neighbor only needed to look in on us once in a while and then continued with her daily chores while we quietly played. In the same manner Christ, the Mother of God, and the saints used to only look in on the world, but today Christ, the Mother of God, and the saints are continuously either supporting someone somewhere or restraining another one from something, because people nowadays are unbalanced. God forbid the kind of things that are happening nowadays!… It’s just like a mother with several difficult children: one of them has climbed up too high and is in danger of falling off, another takes a knife and wants to cut his throat, a third is planning to trip up a fourth one, etc… The mother cannot relax, cannot close her eyes for a single moment, but watches her children constantly, while they do not understand her anxiety. Similarly the world does not understand that God is helping it. If God were not helping us, with the amount of dangerous technology that we currently have in the world we would all have been crippled long ago. But, fortunately, we have protectors: our Father – God, our Mother – the Most-holy Theotokos, our brothers and sisters – the saints and the angels.
How great is the devil’s hatred of mankind! How strong is the enemy’s desire to destroy us! And yet we forget with whom we are doing battle. If only you knew how many times the devil has already wound his tail around the earth, planning to destroy it! However, God does not allow him to do it, He ruins all his plans. God extracts benefit even from the evil which the devil attempts to do to us; God turns this evil into good.
Look: the merciful God never allows great trials to continue for more than three generations. He always leaves some good stock available. Prior to the Babylonian captivity the Israelis concealed the fire from their last offering to God in an empty well, in order to afterwards light the fire for new offerings. And, in fact, when they returned from captivity seventy years later, the fire used for the first offering to God was lit from the one they found in the well. In difficult times not everyone inclines towards evil. God keeps a good stock for future generations. The Communists held up for 75 years – exactly three generations. And the Zionists, despite going strong for so many years, at the end will not last even seven.
Hard times are coming
God is now allowing a great upheaval to take place. Hard times are coming. Terrible trials await us. Let us treat this matter seriously and let us live in a spiritual manner. Circumstances force us and will continue to force us to engage in spiritual labor. However, this spiritual endeavor will be of value only if we do it joyously, of our own accord, and not because we have been forced to it by sorrows. Many saints would have wished to live in our times, in order to engage in spiritual feats.
In former times a war would begin and a person would go off to fight the enemy, in order to defend his homeland and his people. At the present we are not engaging in combat for the sake of defending our homeland. We are not going into battle in order to prevent barbarians from burning our homes or dishonoring us. We are not conducting war for any national interests, nor for any kind of ideology. We are now fighting either on the side of Christ or on the side of the devil. Who is with whom – the deployment of forces is crystal clear. During the occupation you became a hero if you did not consort with the Germans. Now you become a hero if you do not consort with the devil.
Be that as it may, we are on the verge of witnessing terrible events. Spiritual battles will take place. Saintly people will become even holier, while evil people will become even fouler. We are in for a great thunderstorm, and our battle has great value, because our present enemy is not Ali Pasha, or Hitler, or Mussolini, but the devil himself. And for this combat our reward will be a reward in heaven.
Sin has become fashionable
The greatest barbarianism in the world is not war, but moral catastrophe. People are deteriorating both spiritually and physically. Some people try to justify the situation by saying that sinful life did not begin in our times. “Look at what was going on in ancient Rome!” – they say.
True, but the people in Rome were pagans and worshipped idols. And Apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Romans addressed himself to these pagans, who had become baptized, but had not yet foresworn their bad habits. We should not follow the examples of the greatest decadence in each epoch. Just think – we are Orthodox people, and where have we landed! About other people nothing can be said at all… But the worst thing is that modern people, while engaging in sin on a wholesale basis and seeing that someone is not following the spirit of the times and is not sinning, but demonstrates an iota of piety, – call such a person backward, a retrograde. These people are upset that someone is not sinning. They equate sin with progress. And that is absolutely the worst thing. If modern people, living in sin, would at least recognize it, God would have mercy upon them. But they try to justify that which has no justification, and they laud sin. Moreover, to count sin as progress and to say that morality has outlived its time is, beside everything else, a most horrible blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Therefore, if someone living in this world engages in spiritual endeavor and keeps his life pure, – that has great value. Such people are due to be immensely rewarded,
In olden times a lecher or a drunkard was ashamed even to go the market-place, because people would have started laughing at him. And a woman who played around was afraid even to show her nose outside the door. One can say that this situation served to place a certain restraint upon sin. Yet today, if someone lives righteously, particularly a maiden, people say about her: “Well, well, did she come from another planet?” In general, when lay people committed sin in former times, the poor wretches felt their sinfulness and became a little humbler. They did not mock those who lived spiritually, but on the contrary, they admired them. In our times, however, those who sin do not feel guilty. They likewise have no respect for others. Everything has been flattened down to the ground. If a person does not live in a worldly manner, sinners make a mockery of him.
However, in trying to justify that which has no justification, people feel tormented in their souls and do not find peace anywhere. They are all internally unnerved, and so the miserable ones seek amusement for themselves, they run around bars and discos, get drunk, watch television incessantly… In other words, their conscience bothers them, and in order to forget about it they engage in trivialities. Every person has a conscience. Conscience is the very first Holy Scripture, given by God to the first-created people. No matter how much an individual tries to override his conscience, it will always denounce him from within. There is nothing sweeter than a peaceful and tranquil conscience. Such a person feels himself internally uplifted.
In forsaking God, man experiences the torment of hell.
Men have forsaken God and have therefore been deprived of divine comfort. The further away man moves from God, the harder it is for him. And yet if one has God with him, one does not need to have anything else – nor wish for anything else. If man has everything, but does not have God, he feels inner torment. Therefore, we should get as close as possible to God. Only near God does man find joy – real, eternal joy. In living far removed from the Sweetest Jesus, we drink from a bitter cup. When our mortal self becomes a son of the King, it is nourished by divine pleasure and heavenly sweetness, and already in this life partially experiences the joy of paradise. From lesser paradisiacal joy man progresses to greater and greater joy. His heart is overwhelmed, it trembles with joy, he wants to soar – because the earth and all that is earthly now seem to him to be trivial and of no consequence.
In the beginning man had contact with God. However, later he became estranged from God, but felt as though having originally lived in a palace and afterwards finding himself expulsed forever from the palace gates, he looked at the palace from afar and wept. Just as a child suffers when he is away from his mother, so suffers a man who has distanced himself from God. In forsaking God, man experiences the torment of hell. How terrible it is! However, the greatest torment is suffered by the devil, for he has moved away from God and from love farthest of all.
A person who forsakes God invites demonic influence upon himself, while the one who lives with God receives divine grace. The grace of God will increase in the one who possesses it. However, if a person possesses a little bit of grace, but does not handle it with due reverence, even that small bit is taken away from him. Modern men lack the grace of God, because in sinning they throw away even those crumbs of grace which they possess. And when divine grace leaves a person, the demons furiously attack him.
To the extent to which men have forsaken God, they experience chagrin in this life. In the next life they will experience eternal chagrin. To the extent that a person lives according to the will of God, he will to some degree taste the sweetness of paradise while still living on earth. A person feels joy in doing good and suffers when he sins. The more good a person does, the more joy he feels, while the more he sins, the stronger his soul suffers. Even when a person receives something from another person, he does not experience the joy he feels when giving something himself. But if he offends someone, in that case there is no question of joy! You only have to look at those who offend and deceive others: what ugly faces they have, how hideously they grimace!
People who have moved away from God never receive any comfort and are doubly tormented. Anyone who does not believe in God and eternal life is not only deprived of comfort, but also sentences himself to eternal torment. A man will be paid by the master for whom he works. If you work for a black master, he will make your life black already here on earth. If you work for sin, you will be paid by the devil. If you cultivate virtue, you will be paid by Christ. And the more you work for Christ, the brighter and more joyous you become. Christ suffered the Crucifixion in order to redeem us from sin, in order to purify the whole of man-kind. Just think of what Christ did for us, and what do we do for Him?
People want to sin and to have a God Who would forgive us while we continued to sin. People do not believe and, therefore, throw themselves insatiably into sin. This, i.e. disbelief, is the beginning of all evil. People do not believe in the afterlife and, consequently, do not care about anything. They offend and deceive each other, they abandon their children… The tongue even refuses to speak of the things that are going on. The gravest sins. Such sins that even the Holy Fathers did not foresee anything like it in the Holy Canons. As God said about Sodom and Gomorrah: “I cannot believe it – is it true that such sins are being committed? Let Me go and look.”
The devil has gone on a veritable rampage in our days
If men do not repent, do not return to God, they will lose eternal life. A person must help himself understand the deepest meaning of life. He must come to his senses, in order to feel divine comfort. The task is not simply to abstain from sin, but to grow spiritually.
There is a lot of frenzy in the world today. The devil has gone on a veritable rampage, because modern mankind has given him a great many rights. People are subjected to terrible demonic pressure. Someone explained it quite accurately: “Formerly, – he said, – the devil concerned himself with people, but now he has no concern at all. He simply sets them on his own path, and sees them off with a “bon voyage!”, and people proceed on this path on their own.” This is terrible. Look: the demons in the land of the Gadarenes asked Christ’s permission to enter the swine, because the swine did not give the devil any rights over themselves, and he did not have the right to enter them without permission. Christ allowed him to do so, in order to punish the Israelis, since the law forbad them to use pork for food.
Some people do not believe in the devil’s existence: they explain everything by means of psychology. If the possessed people in the Gospel were to find themselves in the hands of psychiatrists, they would be subjected to electroshock treatment! Christ deprived the devil of the right to do evil. The devil can do evil only if the person himself gives him the right to do so. By not participating in church sacraments, man gives the evil one such rights and becomes vulnerable to demonic pressure. Moreover, rationalism, defiance, stubbornness, willfulness, disobedience, lack of modesty – all these are distinguishing characteristics of the devil. Man becomes vulnerable to demonic pressure to the degree to which he has the above-mentioned characteristics within himself. However, when a person’s soul is purified, the Holy Spirit dwell in it, and the person becomes filled with grace.
Unfortunately, in our era people do not wish to cut off their passions, their own willfulness. They do not accept the advice of others. Afterwards they begin to speak with shamelessness and chase the grace of God away from themselves. And after that, no matter what a person does, he cannot succeed, because he has become vulnerable to demonic pressure. The person is no longer himself, because the devil already commands him from the outside. A person deprived of grace becomes worse than the devil, because the devil does not do everything on his own, but incites people to do evil. For example, he does not commit any crimes, but pressures people into doing them. And because of this people become possessed.
Confession deprives the devil of any rights over man
The devil is powerless
If people would at least go to a confessor and take confession, then demonic pressure would disappear, and they would once again be able to think. Repentance and confession deprive the devil of any rights over man. The devil has no power or strength over a person who is a believer, goes to church, confesses, takes communion. The devil only yaps like a toothless dog at such a person. However, he possesses great power over a non-believer, who has given him rights over himself. Such a person the devil can even worry to death – in this case he has teeth with which he torments his miserable victim. The devil has power over a soul to the extent to which the soul itself gives him rights over it.
In the case where the devil has acquired great rights over a person and has taken him in charge, the reason for this must be found in order to deprive the devil of these rights. Otherwise, no matter how fervently other people pray for such a person, the enemy does not go away. He cripples the person. The priests exorcize him and exorcize him, but in the end the wretched man becomes even worse, because the devil torments him more than before. The person must repent, confess, and deprive the devil of the rights he himself had given him. Only after that does the devil leave, otherwise the person continues to be tormented.
The devil is limited
– Geronda, it seems to me that the devil has great power, especially in our times.
– The devil does not have power, but is full of malice and hate. Only God’s love is all-powerful. Satan tries to pass himself off as being all-powerful, but cannot cope with such a role. He appears to be powerful, but in reality he is absolutely powerless. Many of this destructive plans fall apart even before they are put into action. Do you think a good and kind Father would allow some kind of hoodlums to beat up His children?
– But I, Geronda, am afraid of demons.
– Why are you afraid of them? Demons have no power. Christ is all-powerful, while the devil is simply rotten stuff. Do you not wear a cross? Christ armed us with His cross. The enemy has power only when we ourselves lay down our spiritual weapons.
– But why does he fear the Cross so much?
– Because when Christ accepted to be spit upon, humiliated, and beaten, then the devil’s kingdom and power were shattered. In what an extraordinary manner did Christ vanquish him! The devil’s power was destroyed when Christ received the last blow on the head with a cane. Thus, the spiritual means of defense against the devil is patience, while the mightiest weapon against him is humility. The vanquishing of the devil is the most healing balsam that Christ poured out during His sacrifice on the Cross. After Christ’s Crucifixion the devil has become like a snake deprived of its poison. The demons have been deprived of their poisonous powers, and they are now unarmed, while we are armed with the Cross. The demons cannot do absolutely anything to God’s creation, unless we ourselves give them this right. They can only kick up a row, but they have no power.
– Geronda, does the devil know what is in our hearts?
– Not at all! For him to know the hearts of men would be completely untenable. Only God knows the hearts of men. And only to His saints does He sometimes reveal what is in our hearts for our benefit. The devil knows only evil and malice, which he implants into those who serve him. He does not know our good thoughts. Only from experience does he sometimes guess them, but even in this case he often blunders. And if God does not allow the devil to understand something, then the latter will constantly be mistaken in everything. Let us suppose that I have a good thought. The devil does not know of it. If I have a bad thought, the devil knows it because he himself has sown it within me. If right now I want to go somewhere and do a good deed, for example, save a person from something, the devil knows nothing about it. However, if he himself advises the person: “Go and save such-and-such a one,” i.e. instills such a thought himself, then he will have fanned the person’s pride and will thus know what is in the person’s heart.
All this is very subtle. Do you remember the case with Geronda Macarius? He once met the devil who was returning form a nearby hermitage. The devil had gone there to tempt the resident monks. The devil said to Geronda Macarius: “All the brothers are very cruel to me, except for one friend of mine who listens to me.” “Who is this brother?” – asked Geronda Macarius. “His name is Theopemptus,” – replied the devil. The venerable Geronda then went to the hermitage and found this brother. He very tactfully led him to open up his thoughts and helped him spiritually. Afterwards, upon meeting the devil again, Geronda Macarius asked him about the brothers living in the hermitage. “All of them are very cruel to me,” – replied the devil. – And what is worst of all, the one who had formerly been my friend has now changed, I don’t know why, and now he is the cruelest of all.” The devil did not know that Geronda Macarius had gone to the brother and corrected him, because the venerable one acted humbly, out of pure love. The devil had no rights upon the Geronda’s good thought. However, if the venerable one were to feel pride, he would have chased God’s grace away from himself, and then the devil would have received such rights. Then he would have known of the venerable one’s intent, because in such a case the devil would have fanned the Geronda’s pride.
– But if a person mentions his good thought somewhere, can the devil over-hear him and later tempt this person?
– How can he overhear, if there is nothing of the devil in what is said? However, if the person mentioned his thought in order to boast, then the devil will interfere; that is, if a person is predisposed towards vanity and proudly declares: “I will go and save such-and-such a person!”, then the devil will tune in. One must be very attentive. This is a very subtle matter.
– But it happens, Geronda, that sorcerers forecast things to people, and these things come true. Why?
– The devil has experience. For example, an engineer, seeing a house in disrepair, can say how long it will remain standing. Similarly the devil sees what kind of life a person is leading and deduces from experience how the latter will proceed.
The devil does not possess sharpness of mind, but is rather stupid. He is a ball of nonsense. And he first acts wisely, then acts foolishly. God has made us capable of understanding the devil’s wiles. One has to be greatly overwhelmed with pride not to be able to get a handle on the devil. Through humility we are able to grasp the devil’s wiles, because by means of humility a person is enlightened and draws near to God. Humility is what handicaps the devil.
Why God allows the devil to tempt us
The reason why God allows the devil to tempt us is to single out His children. Whatever the devil may do, in the end he will still break his teeth over that cornerstone – Christ. If we believe that Christ is the cornerstone – we have nothing to fear.
God does not allow temptation if nothing good comes out of it. Seeing that the subsequent good will be better than evil, the Lord leaves the devil to do his work. Do you remember Herod? He killed 14,000 infants and added 14,000 angelic martyrs to the celestial host. Have you ever seen angelic martyrs? The devil certainly broke his teeth over that affair! Diocletian was the devil’s cohort in his cruel persecution of Christians. However, without wishing it, he brought benefit to the Christian Church by enriching it with saints. He though he would destroy all Christians, but was unsuccessful, and thus left us a multitude of holy relics to venerate and enriched the Church of Christ.
God could have taken care of the devil a long time ago, since He is God. And even now, were He to wish so, He could easily knock the devil into a cocked hat and send him into the torment of hell for all eternity. But God does not do so for our sake. Do you think He would allow the devil to torture and torment His own creation? However, He allows the devil to operate up to a certain limit, up to a certain time, in order for him to help us by means of his malice, i.e. to tempt us and make us turn to God. God allows the devil to tempt us only when this leads to good. We must believe that. God allows the devil to do evil, in order to encourage man to combat him. If the devil did not tempt us, we could have become proud and vain, and regarded ourselves as saints. For this reason God allows the devil to sting us with his malice. Thus, by giving us blows, the devil sweeps out all the dust from our soul, and it becomes cleaner. Or, God allows him to attack us in order to have us appeal to God for help. God calls us to Him constantly, but we usually distance ourselves and run to Him only when we are in danger. When man unites with God, there is no place for the devil to squeeze in. Either way, the devil serves as a catalyst for good by helping us become holier. For this reason God tolerates him.
God has not only given freedom to men, but also to the demons, since the latter do not harm, nor can they harm a man’s soul, except in those cases when man himself wishes to harm his soul. On the contrary, both demons and evil people who willingly or unwillingly bring harm to us are actually preparing a reward for us. “If there were no temptations, no one would be saved,” – says Geronda Evagrius. Why does he make such an assertion? Because temptations bring much benefit. This is not because the devil could ever be capable of doing good – no, he is evil. Besides, God does not allow temptations in order for the devil to tyrannize us. On the contrary, He allows him to tempt us in order to have us pass exams for moving into the next life, and to make sure there are not too many claims against us at Christ’s Second Coming. We must understand very clearly that we are fighting against the devil himself, and we will continue combating him until we depart from this life. While man lives on earth, he has a lot of work to do to improve his soul. While he is still alive, he has the right to take exams. If man dies and gets a “D,” he will be deleted from the list of those being tested, and he can never retake his life’s exams.
The devil does not wish to repent
The benevolent God created angels. Out of pride some of them fell and became demons. God then made a perfect creation – man, in order for the latter to replace the angelic host that had fallen away. For this reason the devil is extremely envious of man – God’s creation. The demons yell at God: “We have committed only one error, and You tyrannize us, and yet You forgive humans who have so many sins to their account.” Yes, God forgives them, because people repent, while the former angels have fallen so low that they have become demons, and instead of repenting they become more malicious, more evil. In a great frenzy they have rushed forth to destroy God’s creation. Lucifer had once been the brightest angel! And how low he has fallen… Out of pride the demons distanced themselves from God eons ago, and out of pride they continue to flee from Him and remain unrepentant. If only they were to say: “Lord, have mercy!” and God would have thought of a way to save them. If only they were to say “I have sinned,” but they do not say that. Were he to say “I have sinned,” the devil would become an angel again. God’s love is boundless. But the devil possesses an aggressive will, obstinacy, egoism. He does not want to give in, he does not want to be saved. This is terrible. And there was a time when he was an angel!
– Geronda, does the devil remember his former state?
– You may very well ask! He is all fire and frenzy because he does not want others to become angels, to take his former place. And the farther he goes, the worse he becomes. He increases in malice and envy. O, if only man could feel the state in which the devil finds himself! He would cry day and night. Even when a good man changes for the worse, becomes a criminal, he is to be pitied. And what can one say upon seeing the fall of angels! God is ready to take the demons back, if only they would repent. However, they themselves do not wish salvation. Look – Adam’s fall was healed by God’s coming down to earth, by His incarnation. But the devil’s fall cannot be healed by anything except his own humility. The devil is not becoming better, because he himself does not wish it. And man does not become better only in those cases, where he himself does not wish it.
– Geronda, so what do we have here – the devil knows that God is love, knows that He loves him, and yet he continues to do his own thing?
– How can he not know! But would his pride allow him to humble himself? And besides, he is also very cunning. He is now trying to acquire the whole world. “If I were to have many followers, – he says, – in the final analysis God would be forced to spare all His creations, and I would also be included in this plan!” This is what he reckons. For this reason he wants to attract as many people as possible to his side. Do you see where he’s heading? “On my side, – he says, – there are so many people! God will be forced to have mercy upon me, too!” He wants to be saved without repentance! And did not Judas do the same? He knew that Christ would free the dead from hell. “Let me go down to hell before Christ,– said Judas,– so that He would free me, too!” Do you see what cunning he has shown? Instead of asking Christ for forgiveness, he put his head in a noose. And look – God’s benevolence bent down the fig tree on which Judas hanged himself, but Judas, not wishing to remain alive, picked up his feet so that they would not touch the ground. And all that so as not to say the single word “forgive.” How terrible! In the same manner the chief egoist – the devil – does not say “I have sinned,” but endlessly works at pulling as many people over to his side as possible.
The devil falls apart in the presence of humility
Humility possesses great power. The devil falls apart in the presence of humility. It represents the greatest shock for the devil. Wherever humility exists, there is no place for the devil. Once a certain ascetic forced a demon to say the prayer “Holy God.” “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal!” – prattled the demon and stopped at that; he did not say “have mercy upon us.” – “Say ‘have mercy upon us’!” No way! If the demon were to say those words, he would become an angel. The demon can say anything you wish, except “have mercy upon us,” because in order to pronounce those words one must be filled with humility. There is humility in the request “have mercy upon us,” – and the soul that is asking for God’s great mercy will receive its wish.
Whatever we do, we must be filled with humility, love, and nobleness. It is all so simple, and we ourselves are complicating our spiritual life. Let us complicate as much as possible the devil’s life and simplify man’s life. Love and humility are complicated for the devil, but simple for man. Even a weak and ailing person, who does not have the strength for spiritual exploits, can vanquish the devil by means of humility. In a single moment man can turn into either an angel or a demon. How? Through humility or vanity. Did it take long for the brightest angel to turn into the devil? His fall occurred within instants. The easiest means to salvation are love and humility. For this reason we should begin with love and humility, and then go on to other things.
The devil rules over vanity
– Geronda, why is the devil called “ruler of the world”? Does he really have dominion over the world?
– No way does the devil rule the world! In calling the devil “prince of this world,” Christ did not mean that he rules the world, but that he is master over vanity, over deceit. How else could it be? Would God have really allowed the devil to rule over the world? However, those whose hearts are given over to vanity, to worldliness, are living under the power of the “ruler of this age.” That is, the devil rules over vanity and over those who are enslaved by vanity and worldliness. What does the word “worldliness” mean? It means adornments, trifling baubles, does it not? Thus, those who are enslaved by vanity find themselves under the devil’s thumb. A heart that is captivated by worldly vanity keeps the soul in an underdeveloped state and the mind in obscurity.
Our soul’s greatest enemy, an enemy greater even that the devil is the worldly spirit. It sweetly attracts us and then leaves us with bitterness forever. If, on the other hand, we were to see the devil himself, we would be so overwhelmed with horror that we would be forced to turn to God and would undoubtedly strive to get to paradise. In our age a lot of worldliness has entered the world, a lot of worldly spirit. This worldliness will destroy the world. By becoming internally worldly, people have expelled Christ from themselves.
– Geronda, why do we not understand how much evil the worldly spirit brings and continue to be attracted to it?
– Because the worldly spirit permeates our life little by little. It is just like the porcupine who was trying to enter the rabbit’s house: at first he asked the rabbit’s permission to put his head into the little house, so that it would not get wet under the rain. Then he extended one paw into the house, then another, and then he squeezed inside completely and with his needles pushed the rabbit out of his own dwelling. In a similar manner the worldly spirit deceives us with small concessions and little by little takes hold of us. Evil progresses forward slowly. If it were to progress by leaps and bounds, we would not be so deceived. When hooligans wish to boil a frog, they pour boiling water upon it drop by drop. If one were to pour all the water on it right away, the frog would jump up and hop off to safety. If one pours just a drop of boiling water, the frog shakes it off and then forgets about it. If one continues to pour slowly, at first the frog will again shake it off, but gradually it will become boiled without even realizing it. “Well now, little frog, if you’ve been splashed with boiling water – jump up and hop off!” But it does not run away. It puffs up and puffs up, and then becomes boiled. The devil does the same thing – he “pours boiling water upon us” drop by drop, and finally, without noticing it, we end up being “boiled.” This is how easily we accept evil or sin if they enter our lives gradually, step by step. If evil or sin were to rush into our lives, we would probably fight them, but by giving in to evil gradually, we become used to it and as a result become totally enslaved by it.
Worldly joys are material joys
– Geronda, often worldly people say that even when they have acquired all possible material goods they still experience a sense of emptiness.
– Genuine pure joy can be found only in proximity to Christ. By uniting with Him in prayer, you will find your soul overflowing with joy. The people of this world seek joy in worldly delights. Some religious people seek joy in theological disputes, discussions, and the like. However, when their theological discussions end, they are left with emptiness and do not know what to do next. Whatever they are engaged in – be it sinful or neutral – the result is the same.
Spiritual joy does not come to the one who panders to his heart’s worldly lusts. Such a person is filled with anxiety. Spiritual people feel anxiety from worldly joys. Worldly joys are inconstant, false. They are temporary and temporal joys – material joys, not spiritual. Worldly joys do not “recharge the battery” of the human heart, but only pollute it. After experiencing spiritual joy we would never want material joys. Material joys do not revive a person, but rather deplete his spiritual strength.
– Geronda, why then do people find joy in worldly things?
– Modern people do not think of eternity. Self-love helps them forget that they will lose everything. They have not yet realized the deep meaning of life, have not yet experienced otherworldly, celestial joy. These people’s hearts do not joyfully aspire to lofty things. For example, you give someone a pumpkin. “What a delightful pumpkin!” – he says. You give him a pineapple. “Ugh, what a thick skin these pineapples have!” – he exclaims and throws the pineapple out because he has never tasted it. Or you say to a mole: “How beautiful is the sun!,” but the mole turns around and burrows back into the ground. Those who are satisfied with the material world are like foolish fledglings who sit inside their egg without even trying to peck through the shell, come out and enjoy the sun – a celestial flight into paradise, – but sitting motionless, they die inside the eggshell.
A parent’s curse has a very strong effect
You should know that parents’ curses and even simple indignation have a very strong effect. Even if the parents did not curse their children, but only became indignant over them, then the latter will not have a single bright day: their entire life will be one long torment. Afterwards such children suffer greatly throughout their entire life on earth. It will naturally be easier for them in the after-life, because through their suffering they pay off some of their debts here; by suffering here, in this life, they reduce their torment of hell, because suffering in this life is a taste of the torment of hell.
But even those parents who damn their children to the devil, “dedicate” them to him. Afterwards the devil has rights to such children, and he says: “You’ve dedicated them to me.” In a certain village there lived a husband and wife. Their baby was whining all the time, and the father often said: “The devil take you!” And what do you think: the father would say this to the infant, and by God’s allowance the infant began to disappear from the cradle. Afterwards the wretched mother went to see the venerable Arsenius (of Cappadocia). “Bless me, father! The demons have dragged away my child.” The venerable one would go over to their home, would read prayers over the cradle, and the infant would reappear. And this just went on and on. One time the venerable one said to the mother: “The day will come when the devil will tire of this, and then he will leave your son alone.” From that very day the child ceased to disappear. But when he grew up, he was nicknamed “the devil’s cub.” He stirred up the entire village – no one was left alone, he made everyone quarrel among themselves and greatly succeeded in his treachery. A real “devil’s cub!” God allowed this, so that the people, seeing such a continuation of the story with the disappearing infant, would come to their senses, would restrain themselves, and would become more attentive. We will not talk of how God will judge such a person. It is understandable that such a one had many extenuating circumstances.
The greatest treasure for people living in this world is their parents’ blessing. Just as in monastic life the greatest blessing is to have your spiritual father bless you. That is why it is said: “Do not to miss your parents’ blessing.” I remember a mother who had four children. None of them were married. The mother cried: “I will die of sorrow, – she said, – for none of my children has gotten married. Pray for them.” She was a widow and her children were orphans. I felt sorry for them. I prayed and prayed, but without any success. “Something is wrong here,” – I thought. “We have been subjected to the evil eye,” – said her children. – “Oh, no,” – I said, – this is not from an evil eye, for one can see the results of an evil eye… Maybe your mother cursed you?” – “That’s right, father, – they replied, – we were very prankish in childhood, and she kept saying to us day and night: ‘May you be like tree stumps’!” – “Go to your mother, – I said, – and tell her the true cause of your unsettled state, that she may come to her senses. Tell her to repent, confess, and from this day to bless you incessantly.” Afterwards, within a year-and-a-half all four of them had their own families! Apparently this wretched mother was not only a widow, but also easily fell into a state of irritation and despair. The naughty children tried her patience, and for this she cursed them.
– And what if parents curse their children and then die – how can the children get rid of the parental curse?
– If they look carefully at themselves, they will most likely acknowledge that in their own time they were troublemakers and had tormented their parents, and that was why the latter cursed them. If the children acknowledge their guilt, repent sincerely, and confess their sins, everything will go well for them. By succeeding spiritually they will also help their deceased parents.
– And I, too, Geronda, when leaving for the monastery, was cursed by my parents.
– Such curses are the only ones that turn into a blessing.
A noble curse
– Geronda, is it right, when someone offends you, to say about the offender: “God will send retribution upon him for his malice”?
– Whoever says such words makes himself a laughingstock for the evil one. Such a person does not understand that in saying such words he is “nobly” cursing others. Some people believe themselves to be sensitive and loving, possessing a delicate soul, and tolerant of injustice towards themselves on the part of others. But at the same time they say of the people who offend them: “May the Lord send retribution upon them for their malice.” In this life every person takes exams for passing into the other, eternal life. My reason tells me that such a “noble curse” merits a failing grade in spiritual terms and is unacceptable for a Christian. Christ did not teach us that kind of love. “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do,” – such is the love He teaches. Moreover, the best blessing of all is when we are cursed undeservedly, while we silently and good-naturedly accept it.
If superficial or malicious people – those who have evil in their hearts and distort the truth - slander us or treat us unjustly, let us try, if we can, not to seek self-justification in cases where the injustice concerns us personally. And let us not use the words: “May God send retribution upon them,” because that also is a curse. It would be well if we were to forgive our offenders whole-heartedly and were to ask God to give us strength to bear the weight of slander, and let us continue our spiritual life as unnoticeably as possible. May those whose canons are the passing of judgment on other act unjustly towards us – they thus unfailingly prepare golden crowns for us in the eternal life. Of course those people who live with God never curse others, because they have no anger in them, only kindness. The malice that is directed against these sanctified people by others is neutralized, no matter how strong it may be, while the ones who live with God experience a great and externally invisible joy.
The evil eye
Envy which contains malice can harm others. That is what the evil eye is about – it is a demonic action.
– Geronda, do you mean to say that the Church believes in the evil eye?
– Yes, there is even a special prayer “against malice of the eyes,” which can be read only by a priest. The evil eye harms others in those cases, where a person says something with envy.
– Geronda, many people are asking us for amulets to protect infants from the evil eye. Can such amulets be worn?
– No, they cannot. Tell the mothers to put crosses on their children.
– Geronda, what if someone makes a beautiful thing, another person praises it, the first one accepts the praise with pride, and then this thing becomes damaged somehow – is that the evil eye?
– No, that is not the evil eye. In this case spiritual laws come into play. God takes away His grace from the prideful person, and it is for this reason that harm occurs. The evil eye occurs in rare instances. In particular, it is people who entertain envy with malice, – and there are not too many such, – who can give others the evil eye. For example, an envious woman sees a mother with a delightful baby and says in great wrath: “Why do I not have such a child? Why did God give this child to her?” In this case the infant can suffer harm: it will cease to sleep and will begin to cry and become tormented, because the woman said it with wrath. And if such an infant would have sickened and died, then such an evil and envious woman would have been overjoyed. Another person, for example, sees someone else’s calf, passionately wishes for it to belong to him, and the animal soon dies.
However, a mother herself is often to blame for her child’s anguish. For example, the mother sees someone else’s thin infant and says: “What a skeleton! Only skin and bones!” She admired her own child and despised another’s. However, the words spoken so maliciously about a stranger’s child boomerang upon her own infant. And the child, without being guilty of anything, suffers because of the mother. The unfortunate infant wastes away in front of her eyes – as a punishment to the mother so that she would acknowledge her guilt. Of course the infant itself in such a case is regarded as a martyr. God’s judgment is a deep abyss.
Sin brings misfortunes
Wars, droughts, illnesses, locust plagues – all of these are scourges. And this is not because God wishes in such a manner to give mankind a lesson – no, these misfortunes are the consequence of man’s abandonment of God. All of this happens because man breaks off from God. And God’s wrath is manifested in order to make man remember God and ask Him for help. It is not as though God organized all these misfortunes and ordered one or another of them to visit man. No, it is simply that God, seeing the extent to which the evil in men will proceed and knowing that they will not change – allows misfortunes to occur for their instruction.
God commanded Joshua not to exterminate one pagan tribe – the Philistines, so that whenever the Jews forgot God, the Philistines became their scourge. Thus, when the Jews alienated themselves from God, the devil came into his rights, incited his “mafia” – the Philistines, and they went to war against the Jews. However, when the enemy attacked Israel without the Jews being to blame, then God Himself fought on the side of the Jews. God struck the pagans with a volley of rocks and destroyed them, because in this case the Israelis had the right to divine intervention.
When someone becomes the cause of God’s wrath, and innocent people also suffer for it, then, despite the fact that the innocent sufferers merit a reward, the one who is to blame for their suffering is regarded as a criminal, because the innocent people could have earned the Heavenly Kingdom even without suffering. We should know that people who are believers and keep God’s commandments attract God’s grace, and God definitely helps them in these difficult times. I have heard that a new illness has appeared in American (AIDS). Many of those who live an unnatural and sinful life become afflicted with it and die. And now I have learned that this illness has appeared among us, too. You see, it is not God who destroys people, but people who destroy their own kind, who destroy themselves. In other words, it is not God who punishes them, but through their sinful life they create their own punishment. And one can see that those people are being eradicated, whose life is meaningless.
– Geronda, why cannot a treatment for cancer be found? Is God not allowing it, or are people themselves refusing to ask for divine aid?
– The worst thing is that even if a treatment for cancer were to be found, some other illness will appear. At first there was tuberculosis – a treatment for tuberculosis was found – then cancer appeared. And if God helps cancer to be vanquished, another illness will appear. The cause for the appearance of a new illness will be people themselves, and this process will be never-ending.
Bless, do not curse…
Someone once asked me: “Why during the Great Lent do we sing the following words: ‘Send evil upon them, O Lord, send evil upon the glorious ones of the earth’? This is a curse, is it not?” I answered him: “When barbarians all of a sudden declare war on a certain people, wishing to destroy it, and the people pray to have evil sent upon those barbarians – i.e., that their chariots would break down, or their horses fall sick, or that something else would hinder them – is that good or bad? That is what the Holy Scriptures have in mind – that the barbarians meet some impediment on their way. That is not a curse.”
– Geronda, when does a curse have power?
– A curse has power in those cases when it is a reaction to injustice. For example, if one woman ridicules another one who is suffering, or does something bad to her, and the latter curses her, then the one who acted unjustly will have her family suffer. In other words, if I act with malice toward someone, and that person curses me, the curse will have power. God allows curses to have effect in the same way that He allows one person to kill another, for example. However, if no injustice was involved, the curse returns to the one from whom it issued.
– And how can one become free of a curse?
– Through repentance and confession. I know of many such cases. People who suffered from a curse, having realized that they had been cursed because they were guilty of something, – repented, confessed, and all their misfortunes ceased. If the one who is guilty says: “My God, I committed such-and-such an injustice. Forgive me”, – and speaks of his sins painfully and sincerely to a priest in confession, then God will forgive him, because He is God.
– Does punishment fall only upon the person at whom the curse was directed, or also the one from whom the curse issued?
– The one at whom the curse was directed is tormented in this life. However, the one who issued the curse is tormented in this life and will be tormented in the next one, because if he does not repent and confess, over there he will punished by God as a criminal. All right, perhaps someone had truly offended you. But, by cursing the offender, it is as though you take a gun and kill him. What right do you have to do so? No matter what your offender may have done to you – you have no right to kill him. If one person curses another, that means that the curser has rage in his heart. A person curses another person when he passionately and with indignation wishes him evil. However, a curse coming from a person who is right has great power, and especially powerful is the curse of a widow.
Illnesses and misfortunes resulting from a curse
Many illnesses, the cause of which doctors are unable to determine, have possibly resulted from a curse. And the doctors – can they find a curse? Once a paralyzed man was brought over to me. His body did not bend and was like a piece of wood. One person carried him on his back, while another supported him from behind. His companions told me that he was in such a state from the age of 15 and had been suffering thus for 18 years already. “But can such a thing happen for no reason? – thought I. – That just cannot be, there is some reason hidden here.” I began to ask them and learned that the youth had been cursed. What had occurred? This is what happened: he was once going to school, sat on the bus and sprawled all over the seat. At one of the stops an elderly priest and an old man boarded the bus and stood next to him. “Get up, – he was told, – and give up your place to older people.” But he, not paying attention to anyone, continued to sprawl even more. Then the old man standing next to him said: “You will remain stretched our forever – you will never be able to sit.” And the curse worked. “This is what caused everything, – I told the paralytic. – In order to become well, try to repent. You are in great need of repentance.” And as soon as the miserable young man understood and recognized his guilt, he immediately became well.
And how many current misfortunes come from curses, from indignation! You should know that if in some family many members die or the entire family perishes, then the reason for it lies either in injustice, or sorcery, or in a curse. A certain father had a son who constantly left home and roamed around no one knew where. One time the father said to him in a great rage: “You will soon finish roaming around – you will come back once and for all!” And that same evening, when the youth was coming home, he was killed by a car right across from their driveway. He fell down and continued to lie there, until his friends took his body and brought it home. Afterwards his father came to the Holy Mount and came to me. He cried and said: “My child was killed right on the threshold of my home. Perhaps it was because I became angry at him and told him that he would come home once and for all?” – “And what other reason could there be? – I replied. – Try to repent and confess.” So this is how it was: this time, he said, you will come home once and for all, and the child was brought home dead…
Everything that God allows to happen is humane
– Geronda, why does God allow misfortunes to occur?
– There can be many reasons for it. In some cases God allows misfortune to happen in order that something better come of it, while in other cases – for instructional purposes. Some people receive just recompense, while others pay for their sins, so that nothing goes to waste. You should realize that everything allowed by God is humane, even when people perish, for God is kindhearted.
– But why did God’s punishment arrive so quickly in the Old Testament?
– Old Testament people understood such a language, such a law. God was the same then as He is now, but Old Testament law was meant for the people of those times, because they did not understand otherwise. Old Testament law should not seem cruel to us. For that particular epoch the law was rather benevolent. It was not the law that was cruel – it was that particular generation that was cruel. Modern men can, of course, commit even greater atrocities, but now they are at least able to comprehend it. In our days it is enough for even a single lampada to start swinging, and people already start trembling! But in those days God did so many awesome things: He struck the Pharaoh with ten scourges in order to lead the Israelis out of Egypt; He dried out the Red Sea in order for them to be able to cross it. During the day He gave them a cloud, so that the sun would not burn them, and during the night – a pillar of fire to guide them. And after all these miracles they asked that a golden calf be made for them and began worshipping it as God! Modern people would never have said that some kind of calf was able to lead them to the promised land.
Let us ask God to grant the world repentance
O, if only we could realize how long-suffering is God! It took 100 years to build Noah’s ark. Do you not think that God was unable to quickly build some kind of an ark? Of course He could do it, but He allowed Noah to suffer for 100 years, in order for others to likewise realize what awaited them, and to repent. “Look, – said Noah to the people, – there will be a deluge! Repent!” But they only laughed at him. “What a box he is building!” – remarked Noah’s contemporaries sarcastically and continued on their merry way. Even now God can shake up the entire world in two minutes and force it to change, so that all would become believers and even “superbelievers.” How? This is how: if He turns on the switch for “earthquake” and slowly begins to turn the dial: first to a “5 on the Richter scale,” then to a “6,” and then to a “7.” At “eight” the skyscrapers will start to sway like drunkards. At “ten” everyone will cry out: “We have sinned! We entreat Thee – save us!” However, as soon as the earthquake stops, the people – though still unsteady on their feet – will straightaway run off to bars and discos. Because there was no real repentance in their appeal to God, they uttered the words of repentance superficially, only in order to be saved from evil.
– Geronda, if some kind of natural disaster occurs as a result of God’s wrath, and righteous people entreat God for mercy, does God hear their prayers?
– Do you know what this is all about? People are not repentant, and for this reason God does not heed the prayers of the righteous. If, after angering God, we acknowledge our guilt – that is a totally different matter, for God shows mercy upon us and helps us. But if a person does not acknowledge that he had angered God and continues to do his own thing, – how can God heed the prayers of the righteous? In order for God to forgive a person who has committed a sin, the latter must acknowledge that sin. Moreover, if it is spiritual people who sin, then there are no extenuating circumstances. If the sin is committed by spiritual people, that is not a joke.
Some people, without knowing how spiritual laws operate, pray with painful fervor but are not heeded, because the misfortune that is taking place represents God’s wrath. Others, on the other hand, do not pray at all during a disaster, because they acknowledge the fairness of God’s wrath, the purpose of which is to bring mankind to its senses.
Let us ask God to grant the world repentance and that we may escape His righteous anger. God’s imminent wrath cannot be avoided safe through penitence and the keeping of His commandments.
What people have been able to achieve today
Culture is all well and good, but in order for it to bring benefit, one must also “enculture” one’s soul, otherwise culture will end in catastrophe. “Evil, – said St. Cosmas of Aetolia, – will come from literate people.” Despite the fact that science has progressed far and has attained such great success, people who are trying to help the world are doing it in such a way that they are destroying it without realizing what they are doing. God has allowed man to do everything according to his own lights, but man is destroying himself by disobeying God. Man is ruining himself with what he himself creates.
The people of the 20th century – what have they attained with their culture and civilization! They have driven the world mad, they have polluted the atmosphere, they have spoiled everything on earth. If a wheel comes off its axis, it continues to revolve aimlessly. The same with people – having come off the axis of God’s harmony, they are in torment. In ancient times people suffered from war; today they suffer from civilization. Formerly, because of war, people moved from the cities to the villages and lived somehow by cultivating small plots of land. Nowadays people are unable to live in cities and leave them because of the pressure of civilization. Formerly war brought death to people; civilization now brings them illnesses.
– Geronda, why has cancer become so widespread?
– Do you think that Chernobyl and all the rest of if are gone without a trace? Everything comes from there. Such are people and such are their consequences… Mankind has become deformed. In what epoch were there so many sick people? People were not like that in ancient times. And now there is either cancer, or psychosis, or heart attacks, or destroyed families. Cancer used to be a rarity, since life used to be natural. Man ate natural foods and was in good health. Everything was pure: fruits, vegetables, water. But now even the natural foods harm people. Those who eat only fruit and vegetables are harmed to an even greater degree, because everything is polluted. Currently everything is fertilized, everything is sprayed… Just think of what modern people eat! Spiritual unrest, artificial foods – all of this causes illness in people. By using science without reasoning, people are putting themselves out of commission.
They do not mind polluting the entire atmosphere, but bones bother them.
– Geronda, I have heard that they are planning to cremate all the dead – as they say, “out of hygienic considerations and to economize on land areas.”
– Out of hygienic considerations? Hear, hear! Aren’t they ashamed of saying such things? They do not mind polluting the entire atmosphere, but bones, see you, bother them! But besides everything else, all remains are always thoroughly cleansed. As for “economy of land areas,” do they mean to say that in all of Greece, with all its forests, there is no place for cemeteries? How can it be: they find any amount of space for all sorts of rubbish, but there is no space for sacred remains. And how many saints’ relics can be found in cemeteries! Have they thought of that?
The dead are cremated in Europe not because there is no place to bury them, but because cremation is considered to be a sign of progress. Instead of cutting down a small grove and freeing the space for the dead, they would rather free the space from the dead themselves by cremating them and turning them into ashes. Then they place these ashes into the tiniest box and regard this as progress. The dead are cremated because Nihilists wish to destroy everything – including man. They want to make sure that nothing is left which would remind a person of his parents, of his customs, of the life of his ancestors. They want to cut people off from Tradition, they want to make them forget about eternal life and attach them to this life.
Respect has disappeared completely. Just look at what is going on now! Children place their own parents into homes for the aged! But in ancient times people took care not only of old parents, but also, for example, of old bulls; they did not slaughter them, but said instead: “These used to be our breadwinners.” As for the dead – how venerated they were! I remember the war: with what risk we went out to bury the dead! It is understandable that the priest had to go. But the soldiers went along with him, carrying the bodies of their dead comrades – through piles of snow, in bitter cold, under a hail of bullets. Ah, those times of kindness are long gone!
The worst thing is that those who are in power keep silent, agree with what is going on. From the very moment that this issue with the dead arose, the Church should have taken a stand and expressed its position, so that the problem would be solved; otherwise the Church’s silence allows worldly people to interfere in spiritual affairs and to say whatever comes into their heads. But that is iniquitous. And how does the current world expect to have God’s blessing upon it? How low we have fallen! They are gradually trying to strip man of his dignity.
Pollution and destruction of the environment
The sun burns just like on Mount Sinai, even in wintertime, because ozone holes have appeared in the atmosphere. If the northern wind doesn’t blow, it’s impossible to stand under the sun.
– Geronda, how will this problem with the ozone end?
– Let us wait a bit until scientists take 5 kilograms of putty and fill in the holes! Yes, yes, let them go and fix the ozone holes in the atmosphere… They will see that God has created everything wisely and very harmoniously, and they will say: “We apologize for having fouled things up.” As to these holes in the atmosphere – pray for them to close. The trees and plants are withering. However, God can put everything back in order.
– Geronda, many people are concerned over exhaust and industrial fumes.
– Factory directors should install purifying filters in their pipes, so that the people who are suffocating from industrial soot would be able to breathe a little. In former times these microbes, this soot did not exist. And now they have fouled everything up and think of it as progress. And where does such progress lead? It destroys a person. You go outside, and the air smells of soot. You sit at home, and yet as soon as you open the window, this soot from the street creeps in. And when you wash your hands, this soot does not come off, i.e. it is not harmless. The soot from a stove does not contain any oils, so that if you cough even slightly – it is immediately expelled from your lungs. But this industrial soot does not leave the lungs – it sticks to them.
In high-rise apartment buildings people are packed together like sardines in a can – one on top of another. How do those unfortunate ones who live on the lower floors suffer! All the dust and dirt from the top floors drifts down to them. In olden times the houses had a yard in which animals grazed, and next to it would be a garden with trees, where whole flocks of birds gathered…
– While now, Geronda, people no longer see the swallows.
– Little by little people will reach the stage where they will not even know what swallows look like. People have already polluted the entire atmosphere. In wintertime the air smells of sewage. And just think of what happens in the summer! Luckily for us, God has created fragrant flowers. This entire multitude of flowers neutralizes the malodorous sewage. Yet what would happen if this flowery fragrance did not permeate the atmosphere? What concern God shows for us! And how poorly off we would be, if He did not take care of us!
Spraying is also a form of poison. It is not only harmful insects who die from the spraying, but also the unfortunate birds. In order to cure trees of diseases, they are sprayed with poisonous chemicals from which people fall ill. Everything is poisoned. A whole cloud of poisonous chemicals – do you think it is harmless for people? Especially for young children – for them all these poisonous chemicals are simply deadly. For this reason children come into this world already sick.
The flowers are sprayed in order to kill insects, and afterwards people become sick. It has already been proven that some of the insects that were killed through spraying devoured other insects. Now, in order to get rid of these others, we will be artificially cultivating those whom we had killed off earlier. Yet how wisely everything has been established by God! Where there are crickets, there are no mosquitoes. Once a man came to me and showed me a small device which chased away mosquitoes by using sounds similar to the chirruping of a cricket. People kill off crickets who delight us with their music, and afterwards they wish to reproduce on batteries that which had been made by God. They have destroyed all – both crickets and doves… Now it is rare even to see a raven. Soon they will be catching the raven and putting him in a cage.
All the modern technical means do not assist a person in his faith. Gradually people push God away to the end of the line. People do not attribute primary significance to spiritual evolution – so that everything would be sanctified, so that everything would be done with the help of God.
– Geronda, the olive trees, however, are truly being destroyed by pests.
– Pray for the pests to leave. Do not fight them only by spraying, but also ask help from Christ. Did you forget Christ? It is better to eat fruit that has been slightly gnawed by an insect, than those which are beautiful in appearance, but have been sprayed with poison. Do not go overboard with the spraying. Pray with piety, read the first psalm, and sprinkle the trees with holy water. If you live righteously, then the rains will fall and the caterpillars will die off. God will care for us – we must simply have pious trust in Him.
People’s hearts are now made of iron
Human comforts have overstepped all bounds and have consequently turned into difficulties. Machines have multiplied and so have worries. Machines and iron equipment are already controlling man, having turned him into a machine himself. For this reason people’s hearts are now made of iron. Despite all existing technology, people’s consciences remain underdeveloped. In former times, people used to work with the help of animals and were filled with compassion. If you loaded up a poor animal with a greater burden than it could carry, the animal got down on its knees, and you began to pity it. If it were hungry and looked at you piteously, your heart would start bleeding. But today people deal with iron things and so their hearts are also made of iron. Did a piece of iron equipment crack? Take it to the welder. Did the car break down? Take it to the garage. It cannot be repaired? Take it down to the dump, the heart doesn’t bleed over it. People’s hearts are not being used at all, and this is the surest way for them to become vain and egoistic.
Today each person does not think of another. In the old days (when there were no refrigerators), if food were left until the next day, it would become spoiled. For this reason people thought of their poor neighbors, and to avoid food becoming spoiled, they gave it to the poor. Now leftover food is put in the refrigerator, and no one thinks of his neighbors who are in want. And that is not to mention all the tons of foodstuffs that are thrown out or buried in the ground, while in other parts of the world millions of people are going hungry.
People have gone crazy over machines
Modern technological means are progressing further and further – without any end in sight. They are developing faster than the human brain, because their development is being aided by the devil. In olden times, without all these resources, all these telephones, faxes, heaps of equipment, people enjoyed silence and simplicity, they enjoyed life, while now people have gone crazy over these machines. They suffer from all their many comforts, and they are overwhelmed by anxiety. I remember the Bedouins, whom I knew while I was staying on Sinai, – how happy they were! They had only one tent, and they lived simply. If they had a little bit of tea, they were overjoyed and thanked God. But now civilization has reached even them, and they, too, have begun to forget God. At first the Jews built huts for the Bedouins, then they sold them old automobiles from all over Israel. Now every Bedouin has a hut, in the front yard of each hut stands a broken-down car, and the soul is full of anxiety and suffering. The cars break down, and the Bedouins struggle with the repairs. And if you look at them – what did they gain from all this? A headache and nothing more.
In the old days things were at least durable, and they lasted a long time. But now you pay a whole pile of money, and you buy things which break down immediately. This suits the manufacturers, who increase the production of goods and make a tidy sum from it. Subsequently people suffer from a lack of money and overwork themselves in trying to earn more and more. Moreover, more and more machines and devices appear, and most people constantly wish to acquire the latest technology. Without having finished paying for the old, they are constantly buying something new, and thus they are always tired and in debt. And look at the man who is poor: he, too, wants an automobile, and so he goes and buys the cheapest one. But in order to buy it, he must sell his oxen, his horse, all his belongings. (We will soon reach a point where donkeys will be put up as an exhibit, and we will have to pay in order to see them!) And so this poor man buys some very cheap automobile. The car breaks down. “But we no longer carry spare parts for such a car,” – he is told. The poor wretch has to buy another car. However, he is unable to afford the latest model, and so he buys one which is just slightly better than his old one. Then this car breaks down, too, and so on… We must be very attentive and avoid being caught up in this modern current of pursuing the latest innovations.
Deprivation is very helpful to people
– Geronda, why do people suffer so much nowadays?
– Because they avoid work. Comfort brings people illness and suffering. Conveniences have dulled people in our times, while pampering has caused many illnesses. Just think of how people used to work as they threshed wheat! It was hard labor, but the bread – how sweet it was then! Could you see a piece of bread thrown out anywhere then? Those who have lived through the occupation see a leftover piece of bread and put it carefully aside, while others throw out their leftover bread, not realizing at what cost it is obtained. God gives people His blessings, but the majority of people do not even say “glory to Thee, O God” in response. Today people get everything easily, without working.
Deprivation is of great help to people. As they experience a lack of something, a shortage of something, people become capable of comprehending the cost of what they are missing. Moreover, those who consciously, with reason and humility, deprive themselves of something for the sake of Christ’s love, experience spiritual joy.
People who are suffering experience a feeling of deep gratitude for the least bit of help they receive. At the same time the pampered child of wealthy parents is never content with anything – even if his mother and father were to fulfill all his whims. Such a child has everything and is ready to climb the walls, while many deprived children feel deep gratitude for even the smallest aid that is given to them. Rich children, on the hand, not being needy in any way, whine and complain instead of thanking God and helping the poor. This is the basest ingratitude. They do not suffer any material lack whatsoever, and for this reason they feel empty inside. Parents give their children everything, while these children revolt against them, leave their homes with a single backpack, and wander around the world; but if they had some kind of job and earned their bread through toil and sweat, their work would have some meaning, and they themselves would be at peace and would glorify God.
Most people today do not suffer any deprivation. If is precisely for this reason that they lack the energy to work. If a person does not labor himself, he is unable to appreciate the labor of others.
A multitude of conveniences make a person good for nothing
A multitude of conveniences, becoming overmuch, make a person good for nothing. The person turns into an idler. He can turn something over with his hand, but he says: “No, it’s better to press a button, and let it turn over by itself!” If a person becomes used to a life of ease, then he wants everything around him to be easy. Modern people wish to work little, yet to receive much money. And if they can get away without working at all – so much the better! The same spirit has also penetrated into spiritual life – we all wish to be sanctified without any work on our part.
The farther away people get from a natural and simple life and become used to luxury, the more anxiety grows in their souls. And, consequently, they become more and more distanced from God, they cannot find tranquility anywhere, and thus they whirl around in agitation. They are already circling the moon, because the entire planet Earth cannot contain their great anxiety.
The easy worldly life and worldly success bring worldly anxiety to the soul. Outward education combined with inner anxiety daily bring hundreds of people to psychiatrists for psychoanalysis, while at the same time many of the psychiatrists do not believe in God, nor acknowledge the existence of the soul. Thus how can these people – themselves full of inner anxiety – be able to help other souls? How can a person who does not believe in God and in true eternal life after death be genuinely comforted? If a person arrives at the realization of the meaning of true life, then all anxiety evaporates from the soul, he receives divine comfort, and is healed.
By any means – with the aid of tranquilizers and various yoga-type disciplines – people strive to find peace, yet they do not aspire towards real peace, which comes to a humble person and brings him divine comfort. If we see a man suffering from extreme inner anxiety, agitation, and sorrow, – even if he has everything his soul could wish for, – we should know that he does not have God. In the final analysis, people are tormented by wealth too. Material goods leave them empty inside, and they are double tormented. I know such people – they have everything, and yet they experience anguish. And so they continue to be tormented until they lose their minds. How terrible it is!
Nowadays life, with its incessant rush, is a torment of hell
People are constantly hurrying and rushing somewhere. At such-and-such a time they have to be in one place, at another time – in another place, then in a third, and so on… It is well that amid such a mad rush they have not yet forgotten their names! They do not even know their own selves. And how can they know themselves – can one see oneself in murky water as in a mirror? The world has turned into a veritable madhouse. People have no thought for the other life, they only seek greater and greater material wealth. And, consequently, they are unable to find peace and must constantly be in a rush somewhere.
Fortunately there is another life. People have made their life on earth such that were they to live here eternally, there would be no greater torment of hell. If they were to live with such anxiety in the soul for 800 or 900 years – like in Noah’s times – their life would be one long torment of hell. In those times people lived simply. And their lives were of such long duration in order to preserve the holy Tradition. But now we are witnessing that which is written in the Psalter: “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow” (Psalm 90:10).
Once someone described life in America to me. People there spend entire days at work. Each family member must have his own car. Besides that, at home, in order for everyone to feel comfortable, there must be 3-4 television sets. And so it goes – go to work, become worn out, earn a lot of money, just to say that you are well-off and happy. But what has this to do with happiness? Such a life, full of anxiety, always in a mad rush – this is not happiness, but the torment of hell.
For this reason many people, being unable to cope with life in such circumstances, leave the cities and wander off without direction or purpose – simply to get away. They bunch together into groups, live in nature – some engage in physical development, others are into jogging, still others go into the mountains and climb to a height of 6,000 meters. And all of it is such nonsense! It only proves that anxiety is like a heavy burden upon their hearts, and the heart is searching for a way out.
Outside noise and inner quietude
The majority of the technical equipment which people use today for their convenience makes a great deal of noise. Ah, with their noise people have violated the tranquility of nature, with all their technology they have altered and destroyed it. And what silence there used to be! How man changes, and changes everything around him, without even realizing it.
Today everyone has become used to living with noise. Many children nowadays like to listen to rock music while they read. That is, they prefer to read to the accompaniment of noisy music rather than silence. They feel better when they are agitated, because agitation dwells within them. Noise is heard everywhere. A person wants to drill one tiny hole for a nail, and already he turns on a buzzing device. Why? And he is happy with it and – surprisingly enough – even proud of it. In order to have some cool air, people buy an electric fan and listen to its hum. Formerly, whenever it was hot, people simply fanned themselves, while now they destroy their own ears for the sake of cool air. Even at sea they produce an enormous amount of noise. There was a time when ships noiselessly sailed the seas under their own sails, while now even the smallest motorboat rattles around. Soon the majority of people will circle the earth in airplanes. And do you know what this will lead to? The earth still deadens noise somewhat, while in the air there will be such thundering – God forbid!
Silence is a secret prayer
With all his modern noisy technology a Christian drives away from himself the proper conditions for prayer and spiritual life. For this reason a Christian should refrain as much as possible from using noisy technology. All the things that people consider to be convenient do not generally assist a Christian in attaining his goal.
Silence is a great thing. While remaining silent, a person is already in a state of prayer without even praying. Silence is a secret prayer, and it greatly helps in attaining prayer and a healthy spiritual state, just as the breathing of the skin benefits people by unobtrusively regulating their body temperature and maintaining the vitality of their entire organism. Whoever silently engages in spiritual work, afterwards becomes immersed in prayer.
External silence, combined with constant prayer, quickly leads to inner silence, which brings peace to the soul, while inner silence is a prerequisite for refined spiritual contemplation. And at that point all external disquietude ceases to bother a person, because essentially it is only his body that remains on earth, while his mind sojourns in Heaven.
Antidote to noise pollution: benevolent thoughts
Modern people unfortunately make use of noisy technology even for the most insignificant tasks. Therefore, if someone temporarily finds himself in a noisy environment, he must cultivate benevolent thoughts within himself. You cannot make people turn off one or another piece of noisy equipment. However, in lieu of that you should straightaway put benevolent thoughts to work. This affair requires the power of reasoning and some ingenuity, or the art of turning on benevolent thoughts. For example, you hear the hum of a concrete mixer, the working of a crane, some other noises. You should say: “Glory to Thee, O God, that buildings are not being bombed and destroyed! On the contrary – people are living in peace and building dwellings.”
– But, Geronda, what if the nerves are shot to pieces?
– Nerves shot to pieces? What does that mean? There is nothing better than a benevolent thought. I will show you an example, so that you could see how a single good thought puts the person in order no matter what happens. I was once riding somewhere on a bus. The driver had the radio on very loudly. Our fellow travelers included a group of young religious believers. They told the driver that there was a monk on the bus and repeatedly asked the driver to turn off the radio, but the latter couldn’t care less and even increased the volume. “Just let him be, – I told the young people, – it doesn’t bother me. I’m singing church hymns, and the radio is singing along.” And in my mind I said to myself thus: “If, God forbid, there were an accident somewhere on the road, and the injured people were placed on our bus – one with a broken leg, another with a broken head, – how would I have been able to stand such a sight? Thank God that people are alive and well! And even singing songs!” Thus I calmly continued to ride along, singing church hymns. It was a wonderful trip!
You should do the same – parry all temptations by means of benevolent thoughts. For example, someone banged a door during the night. Say to yourself: “What if, God forbid, something happened to this person, if he fell and broke his leg, – would I be able to fall asleep? And now he just banged the door – well, he obviously had to go somewhere on an errand.” However, if you begin to grumble and say: “What a scatterbrain! Banging doors all around! How outrageous!” – do you think you’ll be in a peaceful state of mind afterwards? Just as soon as you accept such thoughts, the evil one will rile you up. Therefore, a single benevolent thought helps a person more than any other spiritual endeavor.
Being engaged in many tasks alienates a person from God.
People today do not live simply, and for this reason they are mightily distracted. They undertake many things and drown in a multitude of concerns, while I first finish one or two tasks and only then proceed to think of others. I never take on too many things at once, because I am unable to rest if I take on a second task without finishing the first. By taking on too many tasks a person loses his head. Even thinking about all these affairs simultaneously can lead to schizophrenia.
A young man once came to me in a state of mental breakdown. He assured men that he was tormented by some kind of sensitivity inherited from his parents, etc. “What kind of inherited traits are you talking about? – said I. – First of all you need rest. After that finish your studies. Afterwards go and serve in the army, and then try to get a job.” The unfortunate youth heeded my advice and was able to find his way in life In a similar manner other people can also find themselves.
– Geronda, I, too, tire easily from work, yet I cannot understand the cause of it.
– What you lack is patience. And the cause of your impatience is that you take on too many things. You scatter your forces and you get in over your head. And this leads you to nervousness, because you take pride in your work and you suffer for the cause.
When I lived in a common monastery, I was assigned an obedience in the carpenter’s shop. The senior was an elderly monk, Father Isidore. He, poor man, did not possess an ounce of patience. He would start making a window, then would become nervous, would leave off the window and would start making a door, then again would become nervous, would abandon the door and would go up on the roof, – and thus he left everything half-done and never finished anything. He would lose some boards, other he would saw improperly, and so on… In such a manner a person tries and tries, and never achieves anything.
And there are also people whose strength is limited and who are unable to fulfill more than one or two tasks. Yet at the same time they take on too many, and are unable to do anything properly, and involve others in their affairs and concerns. One must try, as much as possible, to take on not more than one or two affairs, finish them properly to the very end, and after that, with a clear and fresh mind, take on something else. For if your mind becomes distracted, how will you then be able to lead a spiritual life? How will you be able to think of Christ?
A task engaged in with tranquility and prayer becomes blessed.
– Geronda, is it not better for work to be done more slowly, so that a person could remain in a tranquil state?
– It is better. If a person labors tranquilly, he retains a peaceful state of mind and sanctifies his whole day. Unfortunately we have not yet realized that by working hurriedly we achieve a state of nervousness, and work that is done with nervousness is not sanctified. One should not set oneself the goal of being able to do a lot at the expense of extreme exhaustion and worry. That is a demonic state.
Work done with tranquility and prayer becomes blessed itself and blesses those whom it profits. And on the contrary, work that is done hurriedly and nervously transmits this demonic state to others. To work with great hurry and emotionalism is a trait characteristic of very worldly people. The result of such work depends on the state of the person who was engaged in it. If a person is full of nerves, ire, and foul language, – the result of his work will remain unblessed, while if he prays during the work, – his effort becomes blessed. One kind of work becomes demonic, while the other becomes divine. By acting with piety and laboring with prayer, you always bless yourselves and everything that you do. By settling one’s mind upon God, man sanctifies his own work.
– Geronda, and what if a person is engaged in intellectual work – how can he pray at the same time, in order to have his work blessed?
– If your mind is kept upon God, then even your intellectual work is sanctified, because you remain in a divine atmosphere even if you are unable to pray during work. Only do not forget to work piously, and every hour or two take a few minutes’ break and read the Jesus prayer. You must affirm yourself in the main thing – i.e. in the divine, and not in secondary, i.e. human, aspects.
Extreme busyness causes man to forget God
– Geronda, does busyness always alienate man from God?
– Listen to what I’ll tell you: when a father comes up to a child who is busy playing and pats him affectionately on the head, the latter, engrossed in his toys, does not even notice it. He will notice his father’s affection only of he distracts himself from his games. Thus we, too, being engrossed in various concerns, are unable to feel God’s love. We do not appreciate what God gives us. Be attentive and do not waste your precious efforts on extreme busyness and vain concerns that will eventually turn into dust. By being busy and concerned with all that is needless and vain, you become physically exhausted and scatterbrained for no purpose, and afterwards, during prayer, you offer God your exhaustion and yawns – just like the offering presented by Cain. Consequently, your inner state will be Cain-like, filled with spiritual anxiety and trepidation which will be encouraged in you by the demon standing nearby.
Let us not aimlessly waste the core of our strength; otherwise, we will later have only chaff and husks left for God. Extreme concern with things siphons from the heart all its inner strength and leaves nothing for Christ. If you notice your mind being constantly distracted by cares, concerns, etc., you should realize that you have wandered off to where you should not be, and you should beware alienation from God. You must realize that earthly affairs have become more important to you than God, creation more important that the Creator.
Extreme busyness causes man to forget God. Father Tikhon used to say with his characteristic manner: “The Pharaoh gave the Israelis a lot of work and a lot of food, so that they could forget God. In our times the devil has completely enticed people with material matters, with earthly concerns. He teaches men to work a great deal and to eat a lot – in order that they forget God and thus be unable, or rather, lack the wish to draw benefit from the freedom that was given to them for the sanctification of the soul. Fortunately, however, contrary to the wishes of the devil, such haste leads to one positive thing – people do not find enough time for sinning as they would wish.”
We must acquire a wise concern for things
We must first of all seek the Heavenly Kingdom. This should be our primary concern, while all the rest will be added. If man forgets about this in his life here, he is losing the time he has been given, he is wasting it in vain. If he does not forget and is preparing himself for the other life, then his life on earth has meaning. If one thinks of the other life, then many things change. However, if a person thinks only of how to establish himself here most comfortably, then such a person becomes tortured, loses all his strength, and is consigned to eternal torment.
Beware of becoming infected with anxious disquietude and a passionate engagement in worldly affairs: “Now we must do one thing and after that – another…”, because Armaggedon will come upon you in such a state. Even a single small moment of concern over various affairs is the work of the demon. Switch your mood toward Christ, because otherwise you will only present an appearance of living with Christ, while inside you will retain the same worldly philosophy, – and I fear that you will become subject to the same misfortune as the foolish virgins.
The wise virgins not only possessed good deeds, but also a wise concern for things – they did not shut their eyes, they did not remain indifferent. The foolish virgins were indifferent and did not try to remain alert. For this reason the Lord said: “Watch therefore.” They were virgins, but foolish and mindless ones. If a virgin is mindless from birth, this is a blessing to her from God. She passes on into the other life without any examinations. However, if she is mentally capable, but lives foolishly, then on the Day of Judgment she will be unable to exonerate herself.
And what about the case of Mary and Martha, described in the Gospel? Do you see how extreme concern over things brought Martha to a state in which she behaved to some extent heedlessly? It appears that initially Mary, too, was helping her, but seeing that Martha was not about to finish with her preparations, Mary left her and went off. “How can I be deprived of my Christ, – thought Mary, – for the sake of salads and pies?” One could think that Christ was coming over to their house exclusively to enjoy Martha’s cooking! This was precisely what bothered Martha, and so she said: “Lord, dost Thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone?” (Luke 10:40).
Let us make sure that we do not end up in the same situation as Martha. Let us pray that we become good Marys.
An intelligent man is a purified man
In honing his mind by means of cunning instead of divine things, a man gives himself over to the devil. But in such a case it would be better for him to lose his mind completely, in order to have extenuating circumstances on the Day of Judgment.
– Geronda, does simplicity differ from cunning?
– Yes, just as a fox differs from a jackal. When a jackal wants to make off with something, he boldly goes and takes what he wants. A fox, on the other hand, will try to get what it wants with the aid of cunning.
– Can a person consider cunning to be keenness of mind?
– Yes, he can, but looking within himself, it will become clear to him what is cunning and what is keenness of mind. What are the gifts of the Holy Spirit? Love, joy, peace, and the like. Does he have any of these gifts within himself? A person who does not possess any of the above manifestations will exhibit the distinguishing characteristics of an unclean spirit.
An intelligent man is a purified man, one who has become free of passion. Whoever has sanctified his mind is truly intelligent. If the mind does not become sanctified, its keenness is of no use. Look at journalists and politicians – they are smart people, but many of them, not possessing a purified mind, along with intelligent statements make very inane ones also. From too much intelligence they utter the greatest stupidities! If a person himself does not gain benefit from his own mind, then the devil will make use of it. If a person will not use his mind for good, then the devil will use it for evil.
– In other words, by not making use of his keen mind, a person gives over his rights to the devil?
– If a person does not use his keen mind for good deeds, then the rights to it automatically pass on to the devil. For example, someone is intelligent, but also lazy and does not put his mind to work. So, since the person does not use his head, what is the use of his being smart?
– Can a person who is intelligent, but prey to passions, be capable of sound judgment?
– First of all, he must be quite attentive to not trusting his own reason. By trusting his own reason, a spiritual person falls into temptation, while a worldly person loses his mind. One should not trust, but rather question and seek advice, and one must sanctify one’s mind. A sanctified keen mind promotes the acquisition of sound judgment. A smart but not sanctified mind will not possess the faculty of spiritual reasoning. A person who is na?ve may regard as holy men those who have been seduced into spiritual vanity, while a purified keen mind becomes quite judicious.
– Geronda, how does a keen mind become purified?
– In order to become purified, a person must refuse to accept “telegrams” from the evil one and must shun evil thoughts, but instead do everything with kindness and simplicity. In this manner he attains spiritual clarity and divine enlightenment, after which he is able to see the hearts of people and not judge them in worldly terms.
– Geronda, is reasoning connected with knowledge?
– Reasoning results from divine enlightenment. One can read the Holy Fathers, be well-versed in many issues, engage in spiritual labors and prayer, and yet reasoning will appear only as a consequence of divine enlightenment. It is a manifestation of a very different order.
– Geronda, were people better in former times?
– It was not that they were better, just that the people of yore possessed simplicity and good intentions. Today people look upon everything with cunning, because they measure everything with the aid of reason. The western spirit has brought great misfortune. It has maimed people spiritually. Without it the spiritual state of modern men would be better, because now everyone is educated and one could have come to a mutual understanding with other people. However, contemporary people have been taught godlessness, all those Satanic theories, and thus they have been put out of commission, so that it is impossible to achieve mutual understanding with them. And in former times it was impossible to achieve mutual understanding with those who were ignorant. I remember a certain monk, who, while attending a Liturgy of the Pre-sanctified Gifts and hearing the name of its author, the holy Pope Gregory of Rome, decided that the Roman Pope was being commemorated and fell into a rage. “I never expected you to become Papists,” – he wrathfully cried and stormed out of the church. See what ignorance can lead to! And the greatest trouble is brought about by those in whom piety is united with disorder in the head. Without grasping the essence of things, they cause problems.
Science should be used in spiritual life
The whole trouble begins with reason, when it revolves only around science and is completely alienated from God. Such people are unable to find inner peace and balance. On the other hand, people whose minds revolve around God can use even science for their own inner improvement and for the good of the world, because in such a case their reason is sanctified.
– In other words, Geronda, science does not benefit mankind?
– Science brings great benefit to man, but also brings much murk. I knew people who, though fairly uneducated, possessed greater clarity of mind than scientists. Those who, by the grace of God, cleanse their minds of the murk brought in by science will have more tools to work with. And if these tools – learning – are not sanctified, they can only be used for worldly and spiritual activities. People who give preference to their inner education – education of the soul, – and who also use their external education to complement the inner one, quickly become spiritually transformed, and then their mark upon the world is great indeed. Such people of God often have fewer diplomas than learned men, but they provide much greater help to others. Such a person is blessed with much grace instead of a heap of unnecessary papers (diplomas). The world is full of sin and needs a great deal of prayer and personal spiritual experience.
I remember how a certain very old monk in the Esphigmenou monastery was so simple-minded that he even though Ascension was the name of a saint. He would pray on his rosary and say: “O holy saint Analypsia (“Ascension” in Greek), pray to God for us!” One time one of the monks in the monastery hospice became sick, and the simpleton had nothing with which to feed him. He then quickly went down to the lower floor, opened a window facing the sea, stuck out his hands and asked: “My dear Saint Analypsia, give me a little fish for my brother!” And – lo and behold! – a miracle: straightaway a huge fish jumped out of the sea straight into his hands! Everyone who saw this froze in amazement. And the simpleton just looked at them smilingly, as though saying: “Is there anything strange in what you see?” You and I are well-versed in the date of this saint’s feast, and that saint’s commemoration, and when, where, and how the Ascension took place, and yet with all our knowledge we cannot obtain even the smallest little fish! Such are the “oddities” of spiritual life, and such “oddities” are incomprehensible to the logic of the intelligentsia, which carries not God within itself, but its own ego. Totally incomprehensible, because such intelligentsia possesses only the fruitless knowledge of the world, because it is sick with a worldly spiritual illness and lacks the Holy Spirit.