Tuesday, April 30, 2013


This article is from the blog MYSTAGOGY

By Metropolitan Seraphim of Kastoria

In Matins of Holy and Great Tuesday, which is chanted by custom in the evening of Holy and Great Monday, there will parade before us hypocrisy and the hypocrites, the theater and actors, and will feature the terrible "woe" which our Lord sent to the exponents of hypocrisy.

"Woe to you, scribes and pharisees, hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces... You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin... You are like whitewashed tombs..." (Matthew 23:13-29).

What is hypocrisy? It is the pretense of friendship, the God-bearing Fathers of the Church will answer. Hatred hidden under the schema of friendship. Hatred manifested as friendship. Envy characterized as love. Hypocrisy is fictional and not real life virtue. It is the pretense of justice. It is fraud which has the form of truth, according to Maximus the Confessor.

A hypocrite is a man who from a person becomes a mask. A hypocrite is one who puts forward his ego, and idolizes his own self. A hypocrite is one who plays the actor.

Hypocrisy is when one supposedly cares and sacrifices for others while exploiting them. It is one who pretends to be unhappy, sad, persecuted and complains in order to create impressions and distract the attention of others.

A hypocrite is one who uses various disguises, masks, to reveal the frustrations of his experiences, to externalize the passions which exist in the soul.

This is why it is observed that this phenomenon is not given much importance to what the Church calls a sin, rather considering it as a natural state, and others as a catapult to punish our ruthless fellows.

For those ears that can endure the words of my revered Elder, the Metropolitan of Katerini Agathonikos, he said: "When you see these situations know that there is a problem there and even a schizophrenic situation, and you are to supplicate God for the healing of this man."

The hypocrite constantly wants to show himself off so people can talk about him, to praise him and receive honors from everyone else. This situation makes him anxious, nervous, and it gets even worse when it is perceived by people. This occurs especially in our era and in the lifestyle we choose that moves away from our tradition.

And unfortunately we all, more or less, are possessed by this passion. Clergy and laity are under the cloak of hypocrisy.

We have been altered from persons to masks and from people who had upon us the grace of God to secularized beings, as has been observed by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos.

How correct was the Elder of Chalcedon Meliton when he said on Cheesefare Sunday in the Metropolitan Church of Athens, "I criticize hypocrisy", stressing that all of us "pretend that yesterday is today and tomorrow comes without us."

Let us supplicate fervently with tears of repentance and kneeling to come to the Passion of the Savior and Redeemer the Lord Jesus Christ to rid us of the terrible passion of hypocrisy.

May He cleanse us from the passions that we may discard the masks of hypocrisy and become real people. "O Lord, deliver us from all deceit and hypocrisy" (1 Peter 2:1).

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos

Monday, April 22, 2013

Mirrors for Repentance

We are all involved in a life long struggle against our sinful tendencies.  Our greatest challenge is to recognize the weaknesses in our character, to gain a clear view of our defects and failings so we can overcome them.  Normally this is done through inner introspection.  Sometimes others will point our weaknesses out to us and in this case we must be careful not to react badly, but to accept this information as a gift from God.

A disciple of Elder Paisios asked him if it was possible to try and see oneself as he really is, but be unable to actually do so.  He answered "Yes, if his attempt to do so contains pride, he will not be able to see the real self."  We need a bit of humility to begin to see our true self so we can begin the work to grow spiritually. We can use a good mirror.

Elder Paisios advises us that until we are able to uproot our defects we should mirror ourselves in the defects of others. He says that other people are a mirror in which we can see ourselves.

Do you find that you can easily spot the failings of others, but find it difficult to see your own failings? This is a most common condition. When Elder Paisios was asked about this condition he pointed out that we see the illness in others when we cannot see them in ourselves.
If you knew you own illness, you wouldn't know the illness of others. I am not saying you shouldn't be concerned with their pain and suffering, but you mustn't preoccupy yourself with other's faults. If a person is not concerned with his self, the tempter devil will lead him to be concerned with other's faults. If we work on ourselves, then we know ourselves and come to know others as well. Otherwise, we judge others by the wrong assumptions we make about ourselves.
There are two important points here. One is that we can see our own faults in others if we are not blocked from seeing them because of our pride. Our efforts to focus on others' defects can block us from seeing our own defects because of our pride. Second, once we recognize the failings of others in ourselves, we will no longer judge them because we will know the true assumptions about them.  We now know them in ourselves are now focused on our own defects and not theirs.

Next time you catch yourself judging others, or being critical of their behavior, stop and reflect on what you have in yourself that mirrors this behavior.  When you find that weakness in yourself, see if that does not change your view of the one you were about condemn. Most likely you will find that you now do not have time for such speculation as you are busy working on your own perfection.

When you do find a weakness in yourself all you need is willpower to make changes, according to Elder Paisios.  It's just like with a physical illness. We must accept the treatment to get well and carry it out.

Elder says,
This is why the starting point is for one not to be embarrassed, but gladly aware of his illness, his faults. From that point, he must accept the necessary treatment, the appropriate medicines, and be grateful to his physicians - the spiritual father or the elder - and not resist them. 
When you catch yourself judging others, stop and seek to find the weakness in yourself.  Pretend you are looking into a mirror. By using others as a mirror in this way you can begin to dig deeper into your true self.  With the help of your spiritual father you will find cures for what you find and you will also find your relations with others and God changes as you change.

Reference: Elder Paisios of Mount Athos Spiritual Counsels III: Spiritual Struggle,  pp157-164

Monday, April 15, 2013

Taxing Our Faults

When Elder Paisios was questioned about whether he struggled as a novice he answered, "Every time something happened in my struggle, or if others told me something, I never allowed things to just roll off 'untaxed." This leads to the question, what is the tax? Normally a tax is an additional cost that is added on to the goods we buy or service we use.  It is an extra burden that we are obligated to pay.

If we reverse this and say what is meant by being untaxed, it implies that there is no extra cost. This is how Elder Paisios explains the idea of a tax on his faults.  He says, "'Untaxed' means that you disregard your faults, aren't touched by them, you just let them roll off."  The tax is our effort to examine our own behavior. So, if we do not place a 'tax' on the faults we discover or are pointed out to us by others, we are in a sense ignoring them.  This ignorance leads to indifference. We begin to accept them as just part of our normal behavior. Our heart is hardened. Our conscience becomes blind.

Regarding this indifference the Elder says, "Indifference hardens the field of our heart and, no matter what we are told, what ever happens, we are not touched, we can't become aware of our guilt so as to repent." Once we become indifferent to our faults there is no way for us to improve. We know that God calls us to have a pure heart.  The only way to gain this is by being able to recognize our failings.  We must learn to fight indifference so we can become repentive and continually make progress in our way of life. We must learn to apply a tax on our failings.

What are some ways we avoid applying a tax to our faults? We change the subject when they are brought up. We find some rationale to explain our behavior, often blaming our environment or some other person.  We can get pretty creative in finding ways to avoid applying this tax. It's not a heavy tax. It only requires us to take the time to examine ourselves and seek ways to become more like Christ.

The Elder give us an example:
If someone says that I am a hypocrite, I would not say, "May whoever said that be cursed with a bad year!" Instead I would seek to find out what caused him to say such a thing. I would reason and say, "Something is going on; the other person is not at fault. There must be something in myself I have not noticed; I must have given cause in some way for others to misunderstand my behavior. He wouldn't have said such a thing without some reason. If I had been attentive and behaved with prudence, I would not have been misunderstood. I have brought harm to the other person and will be judged for it by God".
Notice what he did not do. He did not explore the other person possible negative motive for such an accusation. He did not assume the other person who is trying to discredit him because of envy or other malice. He assumed that there was a fault he had that he needed to better understand. This extra effort is the tax that is needed to keep us on a path of repentance.

Elder Paisios says:
If we don't examine everything in this manner, we won't be able to benefit from anything. This is why we often say about someone, "this person has lost all control." Do you know when control is lost? When we don't observe ourselves carefully. ... As the years pass, man matures spiritually, and if he makes good of past experiences, he progresses more steadily and more humbly. Often even the ups and downs in our struggle help us achieve a positive and steady spiritual march upwards.
This is what is key, to continue to make progress in the way we live and interact with other in this world. As we learn to perfect our own actions, our heart will be opened more and more to the needs of others and to the acceptance of God's love.  We will receive the blessing of His grace more and more abundantly if we learn to tax our faults. We must take advantage of every clue you get from our daily life and continually seek ways to understand our own behavior.

Reference: Elder pAisios of Mount Athos Spiritual Counsels III: Spiritual Struggle, pp 154-156

Monday, April 8, 2013

Why Do We Do Good?

Is it right to do good so we can get to Paradise where we will be protected and comfortable?  But what is our motivation for this? Is it not a bit self-centered? Here we have to be careful. We know its not good to wast our life with evil deeds. But when we do good for the sake of obtaining Paradise, what are we saying?

Elder Paisios tells us he is not concerned whether he will go to Paradise. He says:
...I am not concerned with where I am going. I have set myself aside. Not that I want to be separated from Christ and so am not concerned whether I'll go to Paradise; but rather it is not my goal to do good just to get to Paradise. So I say, "Even if you set me aside, Lord, I will still be satisfied; I am not worthy of Paradise."
Our aim must be to do good out of the love of God and to be satisfied with His judgment, trusting in His love where He will place us.  The motivation for our good acts must be the love of Christ and not for some self-centered benefit for ourselves.

There are many today in this environment of heroism and self-gratification who seek a spiritual life for some benefit.  They want peace, they want less stress, they want eternal life, they want a spiritual experience, and so forth.  It all about what they want.

Elder Paisios says:
Let us not do good expecting to receive wages like a hireling; let us do good out of love for Christ. We must guard against the calculating human spirit of selfishness, of self-interest and self-love. We must keep in mind that Christ sees us, He is observing us, and we must be ever vigilant not to grieve Him. Otherwise, our faith and our love become worn out and frayed.
The spiritual disciplines we undertake as taught by the Church may in fact lead us to a healthier life but this is not our purpose. It's a side effect. We do not fast and pray for physical benefits. We do it to become closer to the one we love, Jesus Christ.

Why do we do good deeds?  Because we love Jesus Christ and want to follow Him, doing His will as obedient servants of His.  It is our love of God that brings us into union with Him.

Reference: Elder Paisios of Mount Athos Spiritual counsels III: Spiritual Struggle, pp 133-135

Monday, April 1, 2013

Is the Kingdom of God Within You?

In Scripture Jesus tells us "The Kingdom of God is within you." (Lk17:21) How do we know this? We know it  when we experience joy, not just happiness, but a feeling that transcends happiness.  It is a feeling that comes from the heart when we know God is with us. But what is the opposite of this? Elder Paisios tells us that it is "when we have anxiety, feelings of guilt, then there is a portion of hell within us."   When we are sadled with anxiety we have left Paradise and find ourselves mired in hell. This is common condition for most people today. Many drugs that we regularly take are for relieving us from this anxiety we experience in our daily life. But we are capable without any medications to experience joy from all our activities in life.
Elder Paisios says, "It isn't difficult to achieve this; but unfortunately, egoism prevents us from this spiritual magnificence."

What is required to change this anxiety into joy? The key according the Elder Paisios is to allow God to govern our lives. The involves a surrender of our ego to the Church, to Christ whose Church is His Body. In the Church we are guided through the services, sacraments, teachings about prayer and ascetic practices like fasting to overcome our ego-centeredness and become Christ-centered.  But first we have to choose to surrender to the teachings of the Church.  We must pray often and for sure every morning and evening. We need to follow the liturgical calendar, and participate regularly in the sacraments, especially Holy Communion and Confession. We must follow the fasting guidelines fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays as well as during the  fasting periods like Great Lent. We must read Scripture and the writings of the Holy Fathers.  We must make Christ and participation in His Church a top priority in our lives as well as the life of our entire family. Scripture says, "Seek you first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (Matt 6:33)

Elder Paisios says,
People today have made their lives difficult, because they are not satisfied with a few things, but are constantly chasing after more and more material goods. But those who would like to live a genuine spiritual life must first of all be satisfied with a few things. When their life is simplified, without too many concerns and nuisances, not only will they be liberated from the worldly spirit, they will also have plenty of time available for spiritual things. Otherwise they will tire themselves out by trying to follow the fashion of the times; they will lose their serenity and will gain only great anxiety."
Examine your life and search for all those things which are not necessary, that only complicate what otherwise could be quite simple.

The elder gives a very simple example of a man who asked him to come to his home. When he arrived he notices that the man took of his shoes and walked carefully on his toes.  He asked him, "Why are you walking like that?"  He replied, "Its nothing Geronda; I am walking careful so that I don't ruin the parquet."

See how easy it is to complicate our lives? We decorate, we clean, we strive to make money so we can redecorate only to worry about maintaining an appearance. The same goes with our clothing.  Also our hobbies, our vacations and so forth.  How about all the activities we have our children enrolled in. They keep us busy as well as themselves. Where is time for the creative time at home doing art things with Mom or Dad as I remember from my youth; for apple picking, for building a model railroad, for reading, for climbing trees and and laying on top the vines that have grown over them gazing into the heavens  wondering how far the sky goes? We organize everything these days and it only complicates our lives, shuts us off from joy making it more burdensome financially and more stressful to keep up with it all. Joy is replaced with achievement which is always only temporary happiness.  

Seek simplicity in your life and you can discover the Kingdom of God within.

Reference: Elder Paisios of Mount Athos Spiritual Counsels IV: Family Life, p160