Saturday, October 30, 2010

What is Source of Evil?



In Orthodox teaching we learn that all of Creation is good.  After each step of Creation, God said that everything is "very good." (Gen 1:31)  So what is the source of evil?


Here is how Elder Paisios explained it to a pilgrim.
Evil exists when we make wrong use of the things of God granted to us for our benefit.
It is not bad for someone to have money, but it is bad to be avaricious.  Drugs are not an evil thing, when used to relieve the pain of people who suffer.  They are bad when used for a different purpose.  A knife is a useful utensil, when we use it to cut bread.  However, when it is used to hit someone, it becomes a deadly weapon.  In this case, it is not the knife which is evil, but the inner disposition of the murderer.
Therefore, we must use everything in the right way, the natural way, not abuse them and go against nature.
Since we are weak by nature, when we are inclined to give in to a passion, we should try to avoid anything that makes us feel vulnerable.  We should also be aware that the reason we avoid the causes of our passions is not because they are evil themselves; but rather, because our ill inner disposition does not permit us to use them correctly.
Since we cannot benefit from them, it is better to avoid them, so they do not harm us.  At the same time, we should glorify God for His gifts, and blame ourselves for abusing them and thus provoking the evil.

Friday, October 29, 2010

How to Correct Others



There is great skill in learning how to correct the misdeeds of others.  A direct attack rarely succeeds.  Elder Paisios was a master at this.  He often used his charming sense of humor to correct others.  


Here is one example
The Elder was sitting in his garden with a few pilgrims having a discussion on spiritual matters.  A little boy, standing nearby was hitting the ground with a piece of wood making a loud noise, thus attracting the attention of the pilgrims.  The Elder, who had a very simple and charming way of telling people how to correct their mistakes without hurting their feelings, turned to the child and whispered laughingly:
   - George, dont hit so hard because it is night time in America, which is located right underneath us, and you will wake up its citizens.
The child obeyed immediately, while the relatives were laughing with the charming way Father Paisios told him to stop.


Source: Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, p 112

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Preparing for Prayer



When we take time out for prayer how do we begin.  Here are a couple of views from as Saint and modern day Elder.


Elder Paisios says,
Before praying to God, we should prepare ourselves; we ought to be able to make the pain of our fellow men ours, and put ourselves in their position.  This way, our heart softens and God listens to the prayer springing out of it  Ou heart must participate in everything we do, in all our actions...
Saint Theophan the Recluse writes,
So, Morning or evening, immediately before you begin to repeat your prayers, first stand for a while, sit for awhile, or walk a little. Try to steady your mind, then turn it away from all worldly activities and objects.
Hold your consciousness in your heart and forcefully gather there all the powers of the soul and body. Whoever is locked within the heart is gathered, and whoever is gathered is within the heart.
More on Prayer 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Does Material Abundance Hinder Spiritual Growth?



Are we distracted in our spiritual growth by the abundance of material goods that support our modern way of life?  Have we become dependent on them for our well-being?  Does this not make them our new god?  What is the proper place of material goods in our life? They are all gifts of God are they not?


Elder Paisios has some interesting comments on this condition we find ourselves in today.
I have realized that the destruction of man lies in the abundance of material goods, because it prevents him from experiencing the presence of God and appreciating His benevolence.  If you want to take someone away from God, give him plenty of material goods.  He will instantly forget Him forever.
The key here is the word "abundance." When we build our life around attaining material goods we find ourselves with an abundance of them. This, Elder Paisios says, prevents us from experiencing the presence of God.  This is our general condition of today.  As a result we find most people asleep spiritually.  Church becomes an obligation or a social gathering.  Many even see it as a form of entertainment as evidenced by the nature of many of the mega churches today. 


Even though we have been Baptized and given the Holy Spirit we have fallen asleep and lulled into complacency with material well-being.  We treasure the appointments of our car. We seek the latest electronic gadgets. Life is not whole without an ipod (now an ipad), digital camera or cell phone. We brag about the size of our house which is on the average twice as big as it was 30 years ago. We buy it with a mortgage and then fill it with all kinds of things, few of which are essential to our life, and much which has been purchased on a credit card. Even the Holy period of Advent we are now approaching is filled with the purchasing of toys and gifts.  Most children today find a pile of things on Christmas day, few of which are essential or even related to the spiritual nature of the season. This is the reality we face. 
Does this way of life provide a distraction for you in your spiritual life? What to do?


See: Slowing Down and Ordering Your Life from the Ten Points of an Orthodox Way of Life.


Reference: Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, p 109

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

When does God Perform Miracles?

Here is a story about Father Paisios where he taught the nature of miracles.


"A group of young men, of no religious background, visited the Elder.  They had heard of Father Paisios and were curious to meet him.  After giving them the typical Mount Athos treat (loukoumi and water), he sat next to them to listen to what they had to say.  The told him:
   - Father, we want you to work a miracle in our presence, so we can believe in God.
   - Wait a second, he replied.
He went inside and brought a knife and said jokingly:
   - Stand up in line! I will cut your heads off and then I will miraculously glue them back to their place.  But please, don't stand next to each other, in case I mix them up.
The young men reacted at once"
   - No!! We want to see a different kind of miracle.
then, the Elder sat by their side and told them the following:
   - It would be very easy, if God wished so, to make people believe in Him by working miracles; with His supernatural power, visible to all of us, He would make everyone believe.  However, God does not want people to believe in Him out of admiration for His supernatural power; on the contrary, He wants us to believe in Him and love Him because He is extremely kind.


God will never work a miracle in order to demonstrate His power, and thus acquire more believers.  He works miracles to cover up human weaknesses. ..."


We cannot put the burden on God to make us have faith in Him.  This is a matter for our own free-will. The Elder is beautifully telling us that it is only through a relationship of love that we embody faith and know God's power. Miracles can  happen to those of faith when they are in need due to their human weaknesses. They come when we seek with humility and faith based on a love of Him.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Why Humility is So Important


In our modern world culture, humbleness is not something that is given a high value.  More common is the encouragement to become self assertive, forceful, to act independently.  Yet Scripture and the Church Fathers continually emphasize the need for humbleness for our spiritual growth.
We know God loves us and wants to protect us.  He knows our problems. He is omnipotent so there is no problem that he cannot help us with, except for one.  That is overcoming our lack of humbleness.
Elder Paisios says,
The difficulty God faces, and I repeat, it is the only one, is the He “cannot” help us when our soul is not humble.  God “feels sad” because, while he sees His creature suffer, He “cannot” offer any help.  What ever help He offers, it will harm the person because he lacks a humble mind.
This is when we are overtaken by our passions and God allows this to happen.  He cannot help us because our soul is filled with pride and self-centered thoughts.  In a sense, in these moments we have rejected God and instead put all our trust in our own being.  We are intent on gaining whatever it is we desire.
The Elder says,
God will not give us what we are asking for, no matter how hard we try, unless we humble ourselves.  If our aim is humility, then God will give us everything for free.
God desires only one thing from us: our humbleness.  He does not need anything else; just humble ourselves, so He can actually make us partakers of his divine grace, which was granted to us through the mystery of Holy Baptism.... He is only asking from us to humble ourselves and respond out of gratefulness and appreciation of His love.  Thus, divine grace, will make us love God and get to know Him; it will do everything for us, if we only humble ourselves and allow for it to act.
Saint Peter advises us,
Cloth yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you. Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you. (1 Peter 5:5-7)
Source: Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, pp 88-89

Saturday, October 23, 2010

How To Act When Treated Unjustly


It is common to find ourselves in a situation where we feel we have been treated unjustly.  This can happen in many ways.  We may be falsely accused of making difficulty for someone else or simply not given credit for our good works.  When we have this feeling how are we supposed to respond as Christians?
Elder Paisios says,
When people treat us unjustly, we must be happy, because God’s justice, which is superior to human justice, will protect us.  We should either seek human justice, or patiently wait for the justice of God.  We must be careful however, not to pursue an unjust treatment, because this would be unfair on our part and would indicate lack of love towards other  people.
 It is for our benefit to hope for divine justice, when treated unfairly, and not react to the injustice done to us.  Not only we will profit from this, but later on our children will be benefited as well.  However, the opposite thing happens, when people curse us and the curse is just.
This is a tall order.  It is very difficult for most of us to remain happy when treated unjustly.  But is can become a signal for us to step back and reflect why we have been given this feeling.  Is it due to our unreasonable expectations, our arrogance, our lack of humility, or what?  To have the capability to pause at the moment of this feeling is essential so we do not counteract with unjust treatment.  

Love is always the basis for proper actions.  This requires that we have the opportunity to reflect before we act, so say a small prayer, make th esign of the Cross, and to figure out how to act out of love.
Source: Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, p 86

Friday, October 22, 2010

Why We Have Difficulties


Why are we so often called on to endure difficulty?  It seems like life is filled with obstacles.  We have desires for this or that and often find that what we want is not possible.  Also, even when we don’t seem to have any desire, something we take for granted, like our good health or a close friend, is taken away from us.  Why is this the nature of our worldly life?
Elder Paisios says,
Sometimes God allows for a relative or a fellow worker to cause us problems in order to exercise our patience and humbleness; however, instead of being grateful for the chance God gives us, we react and refuse to be cured.  It is like refusing to pay the doctor who is giving us a shot when we are ill.
Apparently, God is always working to help us to grow in the virtues.  He wants us to be humble and to have great patience.  When we object to the roadblocks that are put in our path in life we are rejecting the medicine God is providing for our growth.
The Elder says,
God does not want us, His children, to be pestered.  He gives us temptations and hardships, in order to become perfect.  Temptations will cease to exist in our life, when we reach the level of perfection.
Christians ought to love afflictions and not try to get rid of them; afflictions are necessary means leading to our perfection.

Source: Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, p 85

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Praying for Others


It is of great benefit to pray for the benefit of others.
Elder Paisios says,
The prayer of those who pray for the world benefits the faithful Christians who have specific and serious problems, because both the former and the later “are tuned in the same frequency.”
Elder Paisios prayed for everyone daily.  He used the Book of prayers and the Psalms. He would read the whole book of psalms each day.  “sometimes, he divided the hours of the night, for instance, from 9 to 10 PM he prayed to God to protect those who return home late from work; from 11 to 12 for those who travel, so they will not be involved in accidents; from midnight to 1 AM for God to help people stay away from ill-reputed night clubs, where they usually spend the night.  In general, he prayed for every situation, for the sick people in hospitals, the married couples involved in a quarrel, for God to sympathize with there children, etc.”
Source: Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, p 83

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Adding Spiritual Value To Our Work


It is through prayer that we sanctify our work as well as ourselves.  Therefore, it is important to teach our employees to be renewed spiritually and to work prayerfully.  When work is sanctified, it gains a spiritual value above the material value of the service or product. When workers are cursing while they work their work is also cursed and its value is diminished.
Elder Paisios says,
In our days, people prefer to purchase their icons and other items from monasteries.  They do so because they know that monks and nuns say the Jesus prayer while working, and every thing they do is blessed.  When people visit a monastery and eat food coked without oil they find it tasty and say, “I haven’t eaten such a tasty dish even in the best restaurant.  How can it be so tasty when it is cooked without oil?
When the cook of a restaurant curses while he is cooking and never goes to church, how can the food be blessed?  On the contrary, the monk is praying while cooking and his hart is filled with positive thoughts; he thinks that he is preparing food for earthly angels to eat.  Moreover, when monks sit at the table to eat, they say a prayer to bless the food.  How is it possible then for the food not to taste good?
Therefore when someone comes to your business to start work, first see that he is spiritually revived and then show him the work, so your business will have God’s blessing and be prosperous.
With this advice, try to create a spiritual attitude in your workplace and observe the difference it makes on yourself, your employees and your customers.
Source: Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, p 82

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

When to Pray the Jesus Prayer


The aim of prayer is to do as Saint Paul instructs us, “To pray unceasingly” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). This simple prayer can easily be said anywhere.  Often we think of prayer as something we do in the morning and then in the evening or in church. But this is not right.  We must think of prayer as something that we do continuously.
Elder Paisios says,
We should always say the Jesus prayer wherever we are; not just in the morning or at night. When we walk, we should not waste our free time, but instead take advantage of it and repeat the prayer.  When we are working in a busy place and it is difficult for us to concentrate on praying, we can quietly chant without disturbing others.
The are many moments during the day when we are idle.  How often do you find yourself waiting in line for something.  This is the ideal time to pray, saying “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.”  Then as you begin to do this during these idle times you will gradually find yourself repeating the prayer at other times throughout the day. To help etch the prayer in our minds, it is also helpful to repeat it numerous times as part of our morning and evening prayers as well.  With God’s help, eventually it will become continuous without any effort. What you need to begin is the intention to pray unceasingly as Paul instructs.
Source: Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, p 81

Monday, October 18, 2010

Should We Pray While Working?



Is it possible to pray while we are working?  On the surface it seems that this will distract us from our work.  The reality is that it will enhance our concentration and our ability to do quality work unhindered by distractions and anxiety.
Elder Paisios says,
When someone is doing work that needs concentration, i.e. he is driving a car, or he is operating on a patient, he should also say the Jesus prayer so God can help him and enlighten him; however, he should pray with his heart, and use his mind to concentrate on his work and thus avoid doing any mistakes.
Prayer can help us concentrate and gain greater insight into our work.
The Elder says,
The more the mind concentrates on praying, and is being humbled, the more it is enlightened by the grace of God. However, the more it gets dispersed and confused due to its haughtiness, the more it becomes troubled; therefore the our mind, which is clean by nature, fills up with dirty thoughts.
It is through prayer that we act with a “clean” mind.  Without prayer we are left with our own often confused thoughts.  We play over and over in our minds negative thoughts about this or that person.  We play over again and again scenarios about what might befall us in the future.  With continuous prayer our mind become still, clean from distracting thoughts, only filled with God and the work that is in front of us as this moment.  We are held in the vision of His will for us.
Source: Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, p 80

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Seeking Security by Prayer

Many ask why is this Jesus prayer so important. It is not as many eastern meditation practices teach to gain a state of bliss or some psychic experience.  The purpose is to keep our soul connected with God so we can live according to His will.
Elder Paisos puts it this way,
The soul must be constantly ready and alert and always in contact with the spiritual headquarters, that is, God.  Only then, it will feel secure, full of hope and joy.
When we learn to pray continually, we gain an sense of security because God is always with us to guide and help us no matter what situation we encounter.  We are never left to rely solely our own thoughts and reason, but always have God at our side.
The Elder says,
The more we pray, the more secure we feel, on a spiritual basis, of course.

Source: Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, p 79

Friday, October 15, 2010

Repeating the Name of Jesus


Elder Paisios is another holy person among many who place an emphasis on the practice of what is called the “Jesus Prayer.”
He says,
We should constantly and unceasingly repeat the Jesus prayer.  Only the name of Christ must remain inside our communication with God, then the devil finds the chance to confuse us with negative thoughts.  Thus, we end up not knowing what we want, do, or say.
Source: Elder Paisios on the Holy Mountain, p 79

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Trust in God for All Things - Why? - How?


Often we feel a conflict from the instruction we receive that tells us to just trust in God and not in our own efforts to take care of ourselves.  It seems thought, that if we do not take care of ourselves we become dependent on the handouts and generosity of others and we lose our independence and our self-dignity.  So what does it mean to trust in God for all things? This instruction seems a bit counter intuitive.
Elder Paisios says the following,
When we believe in God and have trust in His fatherly providence and concern, then we do not think of ourselves; instead we know that God is aware  of our needs and looks after our problems, from the simplest to the most serious one.  The only things we must want is to allow God’s love and providence to function for us.  When we have this kind of faith and inner disposition, we are able to see God’s miracles––God himself––who is always close to us under all circumstances.  I order to experience this we must reject any form of worldly assistance or human hope, and with a pure heart, unhesitatingly and trustfully devote our mind to God.  Then the grace of Christ will fill our souls at once.
But, what about our well intended efforts to amass material wealth to protect us in the future, our children’s education, our retirement and so forth?
He continues,
Some people have the wrong impression, however; they think they can be involved in worldly matters and be attached to material possessions, and at the same time, expect the help of God’s providence.  God’s help to people who think this way can be destructive, for it prolongs their attachment to worldly things. God helps them by letting them be exposed to temptations and difficulties; this will eventually make them loath worldly matters and totally devote their hearts to God.
I have observed this at work at a local monastery.  Three nuns came from Greece without any money and only a small suitcase with a few belongings.  This was five years ago.  Now they live on a 100 acres plot with a beautiful chapel, a guesthouse, and a residence for four or five nuns. They have no debts. In addition there are fully equipped workshops, a large garden and a mini farm with animals.  They pray and work diligently giving priority to hospitality.  They earn enough for basic needs by making icons and selling religious items to those who visit.  But untold times, when cash was needed it showed up at the right time.  There was no campaign to raise money.  They do not worry about money and trust totally in the God to provide whatever they need knowing that He provides for their needs. And He does.
I cant say this is how I live my life as I rely on a retirement fund to protect me in my older years. I have numerous insurance policies for health, auto and home. Although, I have experienced as I let go of accumulated wealth, God does provide in new ways.
A final thought from the Elder,
We must totally rely on God’s providence as this is the only way to  be relieved of our anxiety and worries... To trust divine providence one must free himself from all worldly concerns and wait for God to look after him.... He must overcome his love for money and trust in it and then rest all his hopes on God and he cannot do both at the same time.
With this I struggle.

Source: Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, pp71-73

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Divine Justice vs Human Justice

When Elder Paisios was asked what makes the difference between a saint and the rest of us he said they have divine justice instead of human justice.


Here is how the Elder described Divine Justice:

Suppose two men are sitting at the table to eat.  In front of them, there is a plate with ten peaches.  If one of them greedily eats seven peaches leaving three for his friend, he is being unfair to him, this is injustice.
Instead , if he says: "Well, we are two and the peaches are ten.  So, each one of us is entitled to eat five peaches." If he eats the five peaches and leaves the other five for his friend, then he applies human justice;
That is why, many times, we go to court to find human justice.
However, if he understands that his friend likes peaches very much, he can pretend that he is not very fond of them and eat only one, and then says to him: "Please eat the rest of the peaches, as I don't really like them; besides, my stomach aches and I should not eat any more."  This person has divine justice; he prefers to be unfair to himself by human standards and be rewarded for his sacrifice by God's grace, which he will abundantly receive.
The  true Christian must never condemn, or press charges against his fellow men, even if someone takes by force his clothes.  There is a difference between those people who believe in Christ and those who do not.  Christians abide by the law of divine justice whereas the unfaithful ones by the law of human justice.
Divine justice is such a higher standard than human justice.  Isn't it true that most of us are imbued with the notion of human justices assuming that what is asked of us is equality for all?  Often even this is difficult. Divine justice is much more. It involves charity and compassion based on a love of others.  It requires a capability to sacrifice our own desires for the benefit of others.


The Elder says,

If we acquire divine justice, ignore ourselves, and love God and our fellow men, then God will take care of us and will see that we have everything.
Source: Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, pp 61-62, 67 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Scripture on "Purification of Our Soul"



Purification of our soul is how the fathers tell us to prepare for the reception of divine grace. The say that the more we purify ourselves the more we allow divine grace to function within us.


Elder Paisios says,
When a soul is completely clean from its will and is totally humbled, then it can experience the grace of Christ and the fulfillment of all His promises.
 The following are Scripture passages suggested by Elder Paisios on purification of our soul.
In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and earthenware, and some for noble use, some of ignoble.  If any one purifies himself from what is ignoble, then he will be a vessel for noble use, consecrated and useful to the master of the house, ready for any good work. (2Tim 2:20-21)
Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God. (2Cor 7:1)
For though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds.  We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. (2 Cor 10:3-5)
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name. (Phil 2:5-9)
Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. (Mt 5:8)
You blind Pharisee! First cleanse the inside of the cup and of the plate, and then the outside also will be clean. (Mt 23:26)
...Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness. (Lk 11:39)
Source: Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, pp 55-56

Monday, October 11, 2010

Finding the Way Leading to Christ



Elder Paisios was asked, "What should I do to find the way leading to Christ?"


He answered:
Christ wants us to eliminate our will to zero.  If you obtain a single one of these virtues [Purification, divine justice, love, obedience, voluntary poverty] bear in mind, that the rest are find in the one you just acquired; the same thing applies to our passions; one passion includes all the others.  PUrification requires the soul to be pure and clean from our own will; divine justice is the abandonment of our own will to the will of God; humility is to humble our will and elevate god's will; obedience means not to have a will and thus obey other people; prayer means to take our mind off our wishes and desires and concentrate on God.  so, you wee whichever virtue you apply, you are led to the same result, that is, to the elimination and purification of your own will.  Man will spiritually progress and be benefited only when he manages to eliminate his will to zero.
This is the cross we must bear––our own will and its desires and wishes.  It leads us to pride and the sense of self-sufficiency. When it is not brought to zero we become our own God.  What the elder is describing is the essence of humility.  This is our challenge as Christians, to bring our self-will to zero.  This is the example that Christ showed us.  He was fully human as well as divine but was able to align His human will with His divine will.  It is in this way that we can follow His commandments and learn to love God with our whole heart and soul and to love others as ourselves.


Source: Elder Paisios and the Holy Mountain, p 54

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Are You a Fly or a Bee?



Which of the following two categories fits you. Are you a fly or a bee? This was a question Elder Paisios asked guests who came to him accusing others of of various things.


He says,
I know from experience that in this life people are divided in two categories.  A third category does not exist; people either belong to one or the other.  the first one  resembles the fly.  the main characteristics of the fly is that it is attracted by dirt.  For example, when a fly is found in a garden full of flowers with beautiful fragrances, it will  ignore them and will go sit on top of some dirt found on the ground.  It will start messing around with it and feel comfortable with the bad smell.  if the fly could talk, and you asked it to show you a rose in the garden, it would  answer: "I don't even know what a rose looks like.  I only know where to find garbage, toilets, and dirt."  there are some people who resemble the fly.  People belonging to this category have learned to think negatively, and always look for the bad things in life, ignoring and refusing the presence of good.
The other category is like the bee whose main characteristic is to always look for something sweet and nice to sit on.  When a bee is found in a room full of dirt and there is a small piece of sweet in a corner, it will ignore the dirt and will go to sit on top of the sweet.  Now, if we ask the bee to show us where the garbage is, it will answer: "I don't know.  I can only tell you where to find flowers, sweets, honey and sugar; it only knows the good things in life and is ignorant of all evil."  This is the second category of people who have a positive thinking, and see only the good side of things.  They always try to cover up the evil in order to protect their fellow men; on the contrary, people in the first category try to expose the evil and bring it to the surface.
When someone comes to me and starts accusing other people, and puts me in a difficult situation, i tell him the above example.  then I ask him to decide to which category he wishes to belong, so he may find people of the same kind to socialize with.


Source: Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, pp 43-44

Friday, October 8, 2010

Overcoming False Thinking



How does one overcome preoccupation with false thinking?  This is most difficult as when we are caught in wrong thinking we often do not realize our condition  We are so set on our own thoughts that we are unable to hear another viewpoint even when give to us by our spiritual father.


Here are the steps outlined by Elder Paisios for this condition.
1. Realize the state of our wretchedness.
Repent, go to confession and never again listen to the voice of your own thoughts; instead follow the advice of your spiritual father.
3. After you become aware of this miserable state of being, you should constantly ask God for His mercy through the Jesus prayer, so Christ will help you and His divine grace will return inside him.
One can only be cured and saved thorough humbleness...
 Source: Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, pp 39-40

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Turn the Wheel in the Right Direction



How often do we sit and reflect on spiritual questions, using our own thoughts to figure things out.  The more we think about the issue the more clear it becomes to us what is right.  Then when we go to talk with our spiritual father our mind is fixed and often we find ourselves only defending our own thought.


Elder Paisios, often had little patience for such people who were unable to listen to  to one such person he said the following:
Do not listen to your own thoughts, because you will end up losing your mind.  Be careful, you have a very good machine, but its wheel faces the wrong direction.  You have to turn it to the right direction, where the good thoughts are.  Only you, yourself, can do this along with the help of God.  Nobody else can do it for you, as you are free and self-dependent.  You turn the wheel, and your spiritual father will show you the direction.
Our thoughts, even well intentioned can block us from receiving the spiritual advice we badly need.


Source: Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, p 35-36 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

More on Positive Thoughts



Given that we must be cautious about relying on our own thoughts whether they are good or bad, certain good thoughts are still useful for our spiritual growth.


Elder Paisios says,
We should keep in mind that God "cannot" help us, even if He really wants to, unless we acquire a positive way of thinking.
What kind of positive thinking is he talking about?

He offers the example of the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus. They both died, but one was granted a place in heaven with Christ.  The thief on the left thought negatively saying, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.' (Luke 23:39) The one on the right thought differently.  He rebuked the thief on the left saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." This man then turned to Jesus and said "Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom." (Lk 23:4--42)  Jesus then said to the one on the right, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." (Lk 23:43)  Both of these men stood next to God on the Cross.  One on the left received no help from Jesus, but the one on the right even though he knew his guilt of terrible crimes moved Jesus with his positive thinking.


The kind of positive thinking he is pointing out that is essential is being positive about our relationship with God; Not good thoughts about our own egotistical earthly needs. No matter how badly we have failed in living the commandments, when we are repentive God can help us. This is an example of the positive thought that is essential for our salvation.


Source: Elder Paisios from the Holy Mountain, p 31

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Power of Positive Thinking?



Elder Paisios' residence on Mt Athos
There are many non-spiritual self-help programs that are based on the idea of positive thinking.  Yet, many Fathers caution us about these approaches to happiness.  They tell us that all thought needs to purified.  But how?


Our Christian spiritual aim is to attain God's grace by giving our mind over to God––to align our will with His.  Our positive thoughts as well as our negative thought can limit us because they are a product of our ego and self-will.


Elder Paisios advises us in the following way:
We must always be careful and constantly question the nature of our thoughts.  When someone is preoccupied and trusts his own way of thinking, he becomes vulnerable to the devil, who is capable of transforming us into sly persons, even when we are honest by nature.
He does say that initially our positive thought can be helpful in leading us to God.  But out aim is to submit our own mind to the grace of God. All God asks of us is humility, to let go of our self-centeredness and our pride. 


He says,
In the beginning, we should willingly try to develop positive thoughts, which will gradually lead us to the perfect good, God, to whom belongs every glory, honor and worship; on the contrary, to us belongs only the humility of our conceited attitude.


Source: Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, p29

Monday, October 4, 2010

8 Points For Our Spiritual growth From Elder Paisios

The following is advice Elder Paisios gave on spiritual growth after he was asked for his blessing by a visitor:

1. You must take care of the purification of your soul on a daily basis.
2. You must acquire divine justice and not logic, for only then the grace of our Christ will come to you.
3. Before you do something, think if Christ wants you to; the, act accordingly.
4. You must perfectly practice obedience, so you may later talk to others about the virtue of obedience.
5. The "no" you say to people must be "no", and the "yes" must be "yes".  Do not pretend, but say whatever you think, even if it hurts the other person; say it in a good manner, however, and also give some explanations.
6. You must have and maintain this spiritual dignity; always pay attention to what pleases your fellow monks and not to what pleases yourself.
7. Everyday, you should read a section from the New Testament for the purification of your soul.
8. Do not look at what other people do, or examine how, and why they do it.
Your own goal is the purification of your soul and the perfect submission of your mind to divine grace. So everything for the sake of your goal; pray, study, say humbly the Jesus prayer, being aware that you absolutely need God's mercy.  In other words, pay attention to your spiritual work.
This is advice we can all benefit from.


Source: elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, pp 25-26

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Illusions in Prayer - When Not to Practice the Jesus Prayer



As the previous posts have indicated we can easily distracted in prayer by visions, feelings of warmth and joy.  Because of this it is not always appropriate for one to practice the Jesus Prayer.  First there is preparation that is needed.


Saint Isaac the Syrian says,
God's grace comes of itself without any ambitious striving on our part.  It will only come to the heart that is pure.... Should the apple of thine eye be unclean, dare not to raise it; attempt not to gaze at the ball of the sun; lest they temerity deprive thee even of the limited sight, acquired through simple faith, humility, penance, and other lowly acts and works; lest thy temerity be punished and thou fall headlong into the outer darkness.
Elder Macarius writes in one of his letters the following:
It was a mistake for you to practice mental prayer and prayer of the heart.  All this is beyond your strength, outside the scope of your capacities, incompatible with your circumstances.  Such practices exact the strictest purity of intention towards God, men, and even things.
Instead, read or recite––under the direction of your confessor––psalms, penitential canons, litanies and so on.  Go to church as frequently as possible; live humbly, according to the admonitions of your conscience; and carefully, according to the commandments of our Lord.  In other words, lead the life of an ordinary, God-fearing member of the Christian laity.
Callistus and Ignatius write,
Many paths may lead either to salvation or perdition.  But one there is which securely leads us heavenward: a life lived according to our Lord's commandments.
Our task is to "constantly practice humility, love and charity" elder Macarius reminds us.


Reference: Russian Letters of Spiritual Direction, p 107,108, 110