A living testimony

2 August 2015

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We have spoken earlier about the cause of all evil. We are not hesitating however to speak again about this tragedy which originates from this single cause: the dark and devilish pride. Not only have we as human beings perished from this evil but also the very non-material angels. It has corrupted their intentions and their image, and they have become the most revolting and beastly rational beings. Hence, this contagious sickness is in essence not only complete wickedness but also darkness. It harbors inside the root of all sin. Our Lord, when He assumed the task of our reformation, began His gospel with the instruction: “Repent”. This command includes the complete code of contact and the path which one may follow to completely depart from the deluded ways of his former life. The word ‘repentance’, as we have noted earlier, means a complete change of the way we perceive our life; it means that we have to change our attitude to life and proceed in exactly the opposite way.

Self-confidence, haughtiness and authoritarianism have separated us from the root and the trunk of life. “The Lord opposes the proud” (James 4, 6). We are not able to find or do anything without God’s help. Repentance restores us to the base from which we have departed, while humility reconnects us to the trunk from which we have been cut off. Hence we begin to bear fruit again. Our humble prayer, which we have been taught, restores the fatherly love and authority of God in us. The more we persevere in repentance and in prayer, the nearer we come to perceive the divine affection, which has no measure on this earth. The end of this progress is only found in regeneration, when we will finally become like our prototype. “What we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3, 2). When the spirit of prayer incites us to continue with even more fervor, there is nothing else in our hearts than fervor for our beloved savor, our Christ. While we are persevering in prayer, suddenly we are overcome by something which we have never known or imagined before: our Lord’s light inside our own darkness. Then genuine consolation appears which is not comparable to any other. All thoughts become quiet, our intellect is being illuminated and our wounded soul is being healed. This experience is prompting us to remain inside the fatherly love. Our entire body and mind is devoted to this kind of prayer. However, no matter how much we try, our entire nature cannot supersede its natural limits, since we are only capable of “partly” doing something. The love, which is a product of our heart’s warmth towards God, intensifies and illuminates our prayer, frees it from being flighty and urges it somehow to passionately rise towards the beloved God.

Then this might happen: we may depart from the sense of our material self by the divine grace. If someone asks us, we are not able to say if this has happened “with or without our body”. This is incomprehensible to those who did not personally experience it.  When we were asking our most holy elder to explain these events to us which are beyond our nature and which he himself was experiencing, he would certainly describe them as best as he could, but this state of affairs was again incomprehensible to us. While he was speaking about spiritual matters, or when we were exposing our thoughts to him late at night, he would suddenly interrupt the discussion and would tell us about our brother Athanasios, who had been away for many days, that he was on his way to us with his sack on his back and that he was somewhere between the monasteries of Dionysiou and Saint Paul’s.

We would consider this strange since the places he was talking about were not visible from where we were even during the day. How could he see them while he was kneeling in his cell? “This is how it is done”, he would explain to us. “When the divine grace illuminates the mind through prayer, then man can see where grace guides him without being prevented by things or landmarks standing in the way”. Even though this virtue is a gift of the Holy Spirit and is cited in divine commandments, very few people acquire it, since it requires a great deal of self-denial and love for God. Very few rare souls manage to show enough courage and bravery, to obey the Christian commandments precisely in these turbulent times, instead of following the wider path taken by many.

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One such rare person, who had preserved the fullness of his initial piousness and zeal, was our blessed Elder Joseph. He had spent his entire life without any backward glances or compromises but most importantly he did not take offence at the ridicule and obstacles posed by those who did not understand his goals or by those who were lazy themselves. He preferred to accept the title of the “deluded, the eccentric and the unsociable” instead of contravening the rules of the austere patristic teachings. Many times he did this because he experienced the fruits which diligence and the zeal to patristic teachings bear and did not wish to bow before any social systems.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8, 38-39). Once the blessed elder had delighted in the fullness of divine love, how could he ever become separated from this source of life? The unwavering faith to our risen Christ promotes this kind of bravery and total self-denial. That does not at all mean that those who line themselves up to this way of life will not taste the bitterness of changes or harsh temptations, which occasionally lead one to the brink of bottomless desolation. This desolation, which is in accordance with our human measure, presents itself as a matter of fact in order to enable us to reach the fullness of humility of the comprehensive Golgotha, behind which the resurrection is hiding. The extraordinary thing is that grace hides itself; thus during excruciating difficulties one feels he is lost.

“Despite all my efforts to recall it”, our elder was saying, “I could not bring it back; it was toughening its stance and was showing no signs of coming back. Then my only consolation was my tears. All Mighty, I was crying, “you have taken me up and thrown me aside” (Psalm 102, 11) and I have no consolation, “I am forgotten as though I am dead” (Psalm 31, 12). “But You O Lord do see trouble and grief; The victim commits himself to you, you are the helper of the fatherless” (Psalm 9 35) Then consolation would appear to the speechless exaltations of my heart; sometimes this comfort would sooth me, at others it would test me. The Lord once appeared to me crucified in the true dimensions of His God-Man body, but it was a time when I was going through some unrelenting temptations caused from the inside and outside environment, which had no end. The Lord using a complaining note spoke to me clearly: “I have been crucified for you and you cannot persevere in your trials for my sake?” My Lord, remember me in your kingdom, I cried, and all my troubles disappeared along with the crucified Lord”. How great indeed are the benefits and the change which takes place when one reaches the state of such contemplations and communications with the leader of our salvation?

When our Lord is united with the humble human beings, He calls upon us to follow him; but He only calls upon those who have received Him and to whom He “gave the right to become children of God” (John 1, 12). Such people are able to remain beyond natural conditions and laws and perceive the spiritual realms in all their height and width. Those, however, who are under the law of gravity and are slaves to their own desires and pride, remain sluggish in this valley of tears.

When a person perceives Christ’s love for the first time – not the love which is called ‘introductory’ and aims to console one-, but the love in all its fullness through which he is able to cry out along with Saint Efraim the Syrian: “Withdraw the waves of your grace my Lord, for I am swamped”. Then his intellect is captured by a contemplation which is beyond natural laws and rules and outside the limits of time. Upon his return to his usual self, he is distressed and miserable for what he has lost, since he would have liked to have remained in this state. However, he is only left with faith and hope, since grace secretly encourages him on.

Oh, our most holy and blessed elder and father, why did you leave us so soon, alone in the struggling arena, you who have been such a unique instructor? We are being overcome by your loss! Why did we meet you at such an early age, where we had not been mature enough to recognize who you really were? Why did you conceal yourself from our youthful eyes and we are now flooded with regret? Is it not possible for you to come back to us even for a week? Blessed were those days when even though we had been laboring really hard and had almost nothing, we were constantly inundated with the fragrance of resurrection and eternity. Even though we were ascending a hill, fully laden three times the height of 1200 feet from the shore of Saint Anne to our cells, we were not tired. Instead we were upset because the shortage of time was not permitting us to ascend the same path once more for the sake of obedience. We had no help from any animal since the path was steep; we had to carry everything on our backs. Therefore, we were replacing a donkey.

There is only one meaning to our purpose in this life, no matter how many theories try to dissect it: Our obedience to Christ’s commandments. It is only in this way that we find solutions to the various problems which trouble us. There never is and there will never be any other assistance from anywhere in the entire creation other than the force of His redemption. He has given us everything- I mean our Christ- and firstly, the essence of everything, which is the comprehension of and the faith to the Holy Trinity. He has made known to us the Father: “Father, I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world”( John 17,6).Through Him we know and receive the Holy Spirit: “If I go, I will send the Counselor to you”(John 16,7) From now on we are able to recognize His divine energies both inside us and around us without making a mistake, and are able to test if they are sent from God or the evil one.

The detailed nature of the human personality has been revealed through Christ and in Him. It is now apparent what man’s image is like and how the likeness to God is being achieved. He alone has exposed our material nature in relation to the surrounding environment; He has demonstrated that our return to eternity goes through Him. Now no one needs to carry out any research as to the nature of man, as to his origins or his destination. He revealed this quality when He justifiably said “All who ever came before me, were thieves and robbers” (John 10, 8).Similarly elsewhere, in a different context, He states: “A man’s enemies will be members of his own household (Matthew 10, 36) How is one to take this without being scandalized? The fifth commandment states: “Honor your father and mother” (Exodus 20, 12) and “anyone who curses his mother or father must be put to death” (Exodus 21, 16). Is this a contradiction? Of course not! This is how it is being explained: “If your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell” (Matthew 18, 9). Together with the eye, He also refers to the hand and the feet, advising their severance. Therefore, He is not just referring to our bodily parts but also to the members of our family, when they prevent our relationship with God. “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10, 37) Does not this verse mean the same thing? We love our family but if through their unhealthy love they try to separate us from God, then we ignore them.

In reality, a Christian’s struggle initially begins with his internal self and then it spreads to the outside world for the sake of solidarity. When one turns his attention inwards and searches his inner self, he turns his whole being towards God’s love; When he turns outwards he also loves his neighbor. According to the Gospel, those who adhere to Christ’s commandments, irrespective of their level of education or origin, become the abode of their Creator. “You have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to little children” (Matthew 11,25). Were not the Apostles little children when they had received the great blessing of the Pentecost? Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit which resided in them, granted them the fullness of wisdom both of the present and of the eternal world. “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” ( John 17, 3) Thus, he who has recognised this truth has inherited eternal life and will be able to hear:“rejoyce that your names are written in heaven” ( Luke 10, 30).

It is the holy Gospel alone which exceeds not only every intellect on this earth but also whatever else human has imagination created in the entire history. What philosophcal concepts could ever identify the unusual man of the Gospel, Jesus Christ, as the true God who has no beginning and as the One who had created the Universe? He is the same one who had previously revealed himself to Moses when He told him: “I AM”? What kind of present or past intellectual could ever connect Moses’ conception  of God with that of grace and believe that He indeed was the one who “spoke and it came to be; he commanded and it stood firm”( Psalm 33,9); the One who was with God from the beginning and “through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made”( John 1, 3); the One who was the first reason for the whole world’s existence, of the heavens and earth, of the seen and the unseen; that this person was the same One who had been crucified amongs two robbers? It is difficult to believe the foolishness of such a gospel. But we believe “in Jesus Christ crucified”. Some regard this “as a stumbling block and others as foolishness”( 1 Corinthians 1,23-24). However, none of these groups of people will ever achieve their own purification and deification nor will they ever enter the bridal chamber with the bridegroom. None of these will feast at the banquet of the regeneration. The fact that our Jesus was crucified becomes the living testimony of his deity only to the faithfull; to the little children; to the “humble in heart”; to those who believe in their own deification and to those who have accepted the authority to become kins with God with simplicity and through grace they have become children of God. Thus, Paul says: “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1, 18). “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe”(as above, 1,21).

 When we are finding difficulties and we certainly lose our courage, our Lord consoles us: “Take heart! I have overcome the world!”( John 16,33) Since therefore, He has overcome the world, we will also come out winners and overcome nature. Our prototype not only has become our example but has also provided us with this power: the grace of repentance which destroys the law of sin. This is how our Lord transfers the grace and the authority: “Father,I have given them the glory that you have given me” ( John 17, 22). His gifts do not stop here. After He transfers His father’s inheritance, He goes deeper and shocks even the hardest consciences: “Father,I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world”( John 17, 24). The magnificance of our Jesus’ promises may only be expressed by deep silence, otherwise they may be dimished. I do not think that there is anything in human reasoning or imagination which is able to measure this. If anyone is to contemplate His glory, must first get used to it. If anyone is to understand even “partly” this kind of mystery, must first perceive “who Jesus is”. Our Lord has informed us that He is hidden in His commandments. “Whoever has my commandments and obeys them, he is the one who loves. He who loves me will be loved by my Father and I too will love him and show myself to him”( John 14, 22). Whoever did not follow Him with absolute faith, who did not show his love for Him in practice with all his heart, as well as his soul and his mind as we have said before, let him not delude himself that he belongs amongs the faithful and let him not dare describe Him.

What kind of person man is indeed! Christ, our Savor, has loved man and by His grace has lifted him to the fullnes of the uncreated being even though He created him from nothing by His godly command.  This is the gift which Christ, the Lord, has granted him without restrictions or reservations. Just as our Lord, as the incarnate Word, exceeded natural reality, in the same way man, who is being deified by him, becomes through the power of the Holy Spirit which resides in him, exceptionally more noble and worthy than all the material creation. One can only succeed in becoming “worthy of his calling” if he manages to comply with this merit and changes his minset. In case we are overcome by conceited thoughts, our Lord presents us again with a way to defend ourselves. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” ( Matthew 16, 24-25) With these words of the Gospel, our Lord expresses the most critical revelation on “the gate which is small and the road which is narrow that leads to life” ( Matthew 7,14) The lowest level of the practical way of salvation for the kingdom of heaven is for one to miss out on his deliverance because of his wordly interests. Whoever has no comprehension of eternal life regards as irrational the required sacrifice of the total self-denial. Is not though the whole world subject to ruin, often ahead of time, because of human absurdity and artificial circumstances? How is the immortal human soul, which is a beloved part of Christ, who is the ruler of eternity, to be measured?

The architect of the past, the present and the eternal future has founded His Church on the testimony of His divinity. Any thought or notion, which does not refer to the essence of immortality or to the triumph against all elements of corruption and hell, which is the true nightmare of all living beings, deducts from Christ the fullness of His divinity. Without the steadfast confession to Christ’s divinity the Church is also unable to exist, either as Church-militant or as Church-triumphant. Our Lord, before His splendid resurrection, in order to confirm His divinity, ascended on mount Tabor and transformed Himself in front of His chosen disciples. Thus He revealed in an outstanding way what “we will become” in the eternal future in His kingdom. These are pleasing and satisfying hopes. But first one must approach them practically.

We have several times stressed and we are going to repeat again, the meaning of the cross since it constitutes the key to our assured access. Only if “we die with Him” we are going to live with Him. Hence, before we start thinking or doing anything, we must have in mind what Peter the Apostle says: “Since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude” (1 Peter, 4, 1). The “old Self” of sin neither wants nor is able to do what God wants. This is exactly our point of combat and struggle. If we confess that the full gift of inheritance has been granted to us by the divine All Love, then we have a cause for recognizing our wretchedness and meekness. This attitude opposes the incurable pride, which is the fundamental plight which the evil one uses against us. If we recognize our wretchedness, in accordance with our Lord’s saying that “apart from me you can do nothing”, then we are being led towards the state of humility. The humble mindset is our particular self-emptying; our personal Hades, towards which we must first descend just like our prototype, our Jesus. The greatest virtue, which as our Fathers say, leads us towards this path, is self- condemnation. This virtue breaks down all the traps set by the devil through our selfishness and our need to safeguard “our rights”. “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14, 11).

What a great gift prayer is and how little we use it! Is not our wretchedness, with our numerous deficiencies and weaknesses, undoubtedly our most distinguishing attribute? What better solution will there be for this, other than the saying: “ask and you shall receive”? We unravel our manifold troubles and are being taught how best to fight the unseen war against the “rulers and the authorities of darkness” by believing in our Lord’s resurrection and by continuously asking for His divine mercy. The Lord says:”Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you and you will honor me” (Psalm 50, 15). At the same time He admonishes us with His parabolas that we are not holding fast with prayer. Our contact with the divine through grace, which is the cause of prayer, will reform everything. It tames passions, extinguishes temptations, enlightens the intellect so that it does not delude itself by inappropriate thoughts and it generates bravery and zeal to perform our duties. Then man, even if he is swamped by the causes of sin, he is not tempted but becomes an example to his brothers for his illuminating life and his virtuous behavior. But most of all, if he perseveres with humble prayer, the divine grace, which he had honored with his careful behavior and sacrifice, will not delay raising him to the realm of divine mysteries and the inheritance of the children of God. When man remains at this level, he becomes spiritual and begins to experience inside him the belief that God’s promises are real and that he will come to get familiar with them soon, since he already tastes them.

How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all” Psalm 104, 24). “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”(Ephesians 6, 12) The entire essence of evil at its most intense has only one purpose: to destroy the faithful. If we place our faith in Christ as our foundation and we decide to follow Him with all our might, we will be able to stop the relevant forces of the opposing enemy, who is trying to prevent us from doing so.  The repenting, humiliated heart receives the intensity of the manic attack, which confuses our mind and the struggler thinks that all these unspeakable thoughts and notions are a result of his own defeat and misery. After the fall, poor man has suffered this calamity: to be under the authority of the evil one, who incites him to follow his own corrupt designs. It is only fervent repentance that may stop this irrationality in its tracks and strengthen the intellect to evade the vicious circle and allow it to be dragged into the realm of infinity. The intellect illuminated by the divine grace is able to discriminate his own positive stance and inheritance from the hasty and useless enemy, who is only tightening his rope around us temporarily. It is through our steadfast faith in our risen Lord that we are able to win the struggle against all opposition. Satan’s authority over the one who does not believe in the power of the resurrection, but relies on his own rationality, is not just seditious but powerful and many times it strangles him. This precisely happens because it is not just thoughts and concepts which launch the fight but also the permanent inward and outward causes and particularly the fight against one’s fantasy. This situation leads some people to confusion and delusion. It is nevertheless an indisputable fact that “we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14, 22).

God is indescribably great. He is “the blessed and only ruler, the King of Kings, the Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see”( A Timothy 6, 15-16). It is one thing to hear about God and a different thing to experience Him. Nevertheless, the infinite God when He wants He diminishes Himself to the measure of man, so that He can fit inside the meager human nature. Because of His divine designs for our own resurrection and perfection, He permits the harsh fight which launches the enemy against us, so that we are apparently humbled. In reality though, God is the one who is working our redemption through this struggle, even though He registers the victory to us. If man does not duck the pain during the fight, he fulfills his confession. Even though God was the One who has brought about the victory by His grace, He ascribes it to our humble selves because we have shown this little patience. As soon as man realizes that it is very essential to return and remain near God, he receives illumination and is being taught in practice the mysteries of spiritual life.

Then here again, we have one mystery in the making which is almost the same with the changes of our natural condition, which we have talked about. The divine grace, which is everything to us, while it has been teaching us and guiding us to victory by the experience of the warmth of divine love, almost totally disappears and leaves us alone, often during the hardest part of the fight. This is done by the motherly attribute of grace in order to test our intention and our dedication to our confession. We must necessarily verify that we have freely chosen to love God absolutely. Thus, our every motion has this as its primary aim.

This is how we will fulfill our primary motion: “To lift up our cross and follow Him”. It is also how we totally prove our affection to Him as our father in order to be able to receive the seal of the gift. That is, to inherit the promised goods, His All-Love. When the warrior responds in this way and stays faithful and grateful during the times when grace weakens; when he feels alone and helpless, he has managed to make progress in many ways.  According to Saint Isaac of Nineveh no gift increases unless the beneficiary shows gratefulness. Then patient endurance is required in the face of tribulation. Temptations become apparent when grace weakens its presence and hides itself. This is how we are ascending to the higher level of the faith of contemplation. Moreover, grace does not introduce us to higher mysteries, because we are lacking in practical experience and our hands have not been trained for war, our fingers for battle (see Psalm 144, 1). Lastly and most importantly, without this experience it is impossible for one to reach the fullness of humility without which he makes no progress whatsoever. It is only through patient endurance in the face of every kind of tribulation during the weakening of grace, that our conscience will stop rebuking us for our trespasses as in the saying: “The servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows” (Luke 12,47).

According to our great father Diadohos Fotikis “faith without deeds and deeds without faith will be reprimanded in the same way”. God examines the presence of faith in all our deeds towards Him and only receives and rewards something when it is done in faith. As an example we take our father Abraham, who has shown his faith in practice, by trying to slay his own son. He thus became the pillar of faith throughout the generations.

We have stressed the issue of the weakening of the presence of grace and our obligation to show patience when we feel that we have been orphaned by God. We are now going to cite a different factor which is absolutely crucial to this preparation. If one compares the reason for his fall and his destruction and the way one may return and save himself, one concludes that our adherence to this factor becomes obligatory. Through the disobedience and rebellion of our forefathers, we and the whole creation have suffered total damage and the greatest calamity. Our Christ, our incarnate Word of God, has healed this disaster by His obedience and His crucifixion. There is no need to comment on this since facts speak for themselves. “Those who want to fight the devilish pride must strive for obedience.The latter by itslef will in time show us the paths towards all virtues, without any mistakes”( Diadohos Fotikis,Ascetic Treatise, paragraph 41). If according to our Fathers, the essence of all things consists in their participation in the creative and cohesive power of Word God, and “it is not in man to direct himself” then, where is all the so- called power and ability of nature or of man’s reasoning after his fall? “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15, 5). Our blessed elder was specifically insisting on this point in order to convey to us the essence of obedience and submission as the absolute particulars of our duty to love God. Since Paul incites us to imitate him, and hence to imitate Christ, there is no other element which best describes our God-Man Savor than His obedience. The Ever-Virgin Mary was another example which our blessed elder was referring to. She too, through her submission to God’s will and her obedience to Word God, attracted the Father’s splendor away from His bosom and became the prototype and the source of the entire world’s redemption.

Obedience, being the highest virtue and at the same time the source and the origin of all other basic virtues, necessarily adorns the godlike image and the figure of those who have been reborn in God. We have said earlier that everything exists, including rational beings, because they participate in the creative and cohesive power of Word God. The factor which connects beings with Word God is called “dependence”. This is why it is imperative that all rational beings submit to God, through Whom all things were made. We are convinced of this by the fall of both angels and man. As soon as the angles even thought of becoming self-sufficient they broke their unifying connection to God and they immediately perished. “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10, 18).The same happened to our Forefathers when they disobeyed the commandment. This mistake was so severe that it cost the perpetrators their spiritual life and imposed corruption on material things which have been created as “very good”. As a proof that disobedience was the main reason for the disaster was the fact that the incarnate Word God reinstated that which has fallen by His absolute obedience to the Father. Submission and obedience to God’s will is not simply an unambiguous virtue which abolished the corresponding evil, but it is the practical bond between the divine “BEING” and the rational beings. It is the central connection without which spiritual life disappears and the whole purpose of the existence of rational beings is being nullified. Therefore, our Fathers were right in saying that discernment and freedom, which are the main charismas of the spiritual life in God, originate in obedience. Abbot Poimin, who is regarded as the pillar on discernment, stressed exactly this point, as well as the need to completely pay attention to our conscience. Abbot Kasianos says: “Discernment is the acropolis and the queen of the rest of the virtues. When it is raised, it teaches one to avoid any scarcity or abundance”. Consequently man acquires spiritual eyes and recognizes where he is coming from and where he is heading to and does not become a victim of the outside influences or irrational passions. The Scriptures say that the “eyes of the wise man are on his head”. This means that he has acquired the virtue of discernment. So essential is the enlightened discernment that it equals in importance to vision (διόραση) and to foresight (προόραση) because it is a spiritual virtue. As Paul says it is the “discrimination of spirits” which is the work of the “one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines” (1 Corinthians 12, 11). This is the ‘salt’ which our Lord urges us to acquire in order to be able to discriminate. The origin of blessed obedience is freedom. Paul praises it and cautions us to remain in such a state. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” ( Galatians 5,1). He who is granted this particular fragrance of the Holy Spirit is no longer under typical laws in accordance with the saying “the law is not made for good men”( 1 Timothy 1,9). As a son of God, set free by the divine grace from the yoke of the letter of the law, he becomes a ruler of Sabbath, since he has submitted himself to the spiritual laws of life.  The Lord has proven to Peter that “the sons are exempt” (Matthew 17, 26) from the kings’ taxes, meaning the ways of the “old self of sin” who as mortal has now been overcome by life.

When the grace of repentance reaches its fullness, it is able to raise man to this kind of freedom. Because man has honestly thrown himself at the ‘feet’ of divine mercy, he is made worthy of ascending on the ladder of godlike virtues, which in its turn leads to the full comprehension of the truth. “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8, 32).This kind of freedom is inconceivable to laymen, who only believe in the truth which they themselves have established.  This is what Abbot Isaiah, one of the pillars of our Church Fathers, says about freedom acquired by grace through our honest repentance: “When man abandons his sins and returns to God, his repentance regenerates and totally renews him.”(Abbot Isaiah the hermit, ‘An ascetic treatise on the keeping of mind’, paragraph 22)

The state of our society today is most dangerous and opposes those who would like to live a godly life. The motives of all the elements and notions of this world, which wish to impose themselves, are clearly the designs and schemes of Mammon (i.e the god of riches), who does not like to submit to God’s will. His whole intention and the total purpose of his actions are to direct one towards “the wide and broad path”, which certainly pulls him to the opposite way of his human destination. Some restrictions deprive the existing causes of the ability to influence man and drag his faculties away from the narrow and steep path, since the fallen man is from now on a victim of the law of influence.  One necessary effort, which becomes an obligation if we are to overcome the law of influence, is to ‘lack care’ (be unconcerned) (αμεριμνία) for everything which is not of our concern. These days this seems strange. Nevertheless it constitutes the main means by which we can be set free from the influences of the various causes which tempt us and affect us daily. When the intellect is freed from the confusion of the multiple concerns, it naturally leans towards God who is the first and main origin.This state of mind rouses our desire for God. This desire gives birth to zeal, which has wrath against evil and sin as its weapon. Then man, armed, can stand up and fight against the unseen enemy “the rulers and the authorities, the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6, 12). The love for God originates from the fear of God and man is set free from the bondage of vanity by the grace of Christ. What are we then looking for? We are looking for spiritual labor (ergasia), which can only be performed if one is dedicated to practice the virtue of ‘the lack of care’. This is what is meant by “your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 109, 105). Let us not refer to the extreme tasks but let us cite in accordance with our humble measures our great Father’s, Abbot Isaiah’s opinion: “Let us begin the struggle, my brothers, in accordance with our ability and God will come to our assistance because of His infinite mercy. Even if we do not manage to keep our hearts pure, let us at least keep our bodies pure as best as we can, as our Lord wants and let us believe that in the present times of spiritual hunger, He is showing His mercy to us as He does with His saints” (Abbot Isaiah as above, paragraph 17)

The most important factor for man’s spiritual advancement is to protect his conscience. Our conscience is a natural law, which has remained healthy and is assisting us after our fall in order to be able to discern good from evil and to generally succeed in reaching our destination. It is an infallible criterion of our deeds and thoughts which cannot be bought off, or silenced unless it is being ignored or infringed upon. Sometimes our Lord calls it ‘salt’: “Have salt in you, and be at peace with each other” (Mark 9, 50). At other times He calls it our ‘adversary’: “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court” (Matthew 5, 25). If one listens to his conscience and does not silence it by infringing upon it, the latter will point out his duty and he will avoid making mistakes, as we have already said. If he does not sin in deeds, fear of God remains with him and God’s grace strengthens him to heed the divine commandments. In this way, his spiritual state is enhanced “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 5, 13).

To the prudent conscience acts in two ways. It protects him from vices and points out his obligations. In other words, it strengthens him. If one relies on this revelation and the spiritual law and obeys God’s will as it is expressed in the commandments, then he builds up his conscience to react to more sensitive issues, through which his total love for God is being expressed. For instance, we are obeying the divine beatitude “blessed are the poor in spirit” and by our conscience we degrade ourselves to the lowest step of humility. This attitude which is dictated by our conscience has an immediate effect. “He who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14, 11). This is done because of the abundance of grace, since God “gives more grace to the humble” (James 4, 6). The humble one, therefore, who has raised himself towards God, is the only one who acquires the improvement or rather the unity and fully enters into the realm of divine knowledge. This kind of full knowledge is the knowledge of truth. Thus, the following saying is fulfilled: “You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free” ( John 8, 32). “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8, 36).

Just as the links of a chain are connected to each other and if one is moved, the others will move also, virtues are connected with each other with the same continuity. The same applies to vices. If we obey the precepts of our Lord’s beatitudes for which He has expressed His contentment and we regard them as our obligation, a series of virtues will follow as an unbreakable chain and without any special effort we gradually progress spiritually. The experience of our humility, which is the subject of the first beatitude, causes the fear of guilt and creates the pain of repentance. The latter brings forth supplication and prayer, which cause mourning and lament. Then mother grace approaches because it cannot take the lament and the pain of the penitent. “ Blessed are those who mourn for they will be consoled” ( Matthew 5, 4).

Who is causing the consolation if not the Most Holy Spirit, which not only is but it is also called the “Comforter”? What else is the feeling of comfort if not the awareness that our God has accepted our painful prayer and has forgiven our sins? After the absolution of our tresspasess and in accordance with our painful supplications, our bodily parts and our senses which were serving our former sinful life are being transformed and are being transfigured to work for the virtues, just as they had been working for the vices. If we obey the divine commandments in practice, the fullness of love will be caused in us and its perception will from now on be a fact. “He who has my commandments and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He, who loves me, will be loved by my Father and I too will love him and show myself to him”. (John 14, 22). What else is mightier than divine epiphany, on which the whole purpose and the aim and the final destination of human beings rest? When man loves God, neither trials, nor wars, nor changes nor anything else which prevent the spiritual war, are able to thwart him from his present combat.  We have partly talked about the fight against temptations. We are now more or less going to give a fuller explanation, because temptations are almost at the centre of our practical struggle.

Obeying the commandments places us in front of the divine “BEING”. We are not denying our debt and we are not going back to our decision to pay for it. However, the ‘old self of sin’ is trying to prevent our progress because he is being pressurized by the law of corruption. The fear which we have in case we fall short increases our pain and the attrition of our heart. We are denying any glory or seeming merits, which may possibly adorn us; our knowledge, our beliefs even our own wishes. The harsher trial is to persevere in God’s occasional desertion in spite of our wish and desire to remain steadfast in our faith in him. He weakens the presence of His grace in order to test our faith in Him. The seeming spiritual poverty together with the ache of the divine silence causes real bitterness and darkness. At such times, I think, we are not far behind the feelings that our forefather experienced after his exile from Paradise. None of the so-called human abilities remains standing and the most intense repentance takes place. Then man comes to the point of hating himself. This is how our complete self- emtying takes place and causes our resurrection which itself is a divine gift. How are we to explain this to modern man in order to make him understand? Our Holy Fathers have been using metaphors in order to explain the Scriptures for our benefit. Even the Holy Testament has occasionally an allegorical, symbolic and metaphorical meaning. The story about the resurrection of Lazarus if seen allegorically as part of the spiritual war,  can be explained in the following way according to Abbot Isaiah: The dead Lazarus symbolizes the lifeless human intellect which no longer behaves rationally inside the grave of anesthesia.  The four days of his burial symbolize the four forces of the soul, which have died because of the abuse and the excessive use of things and they also constitute the grave of anesthesia. The two sisters of Lazarus who cry in front of Christ to raise their dead brother, symbolize the practical means of repentance: Martha the deeds and Maria the contemplation. Their supplication is being accepted by the Lord, who raises Lazarus, who has been dead for four days. After the resurrection, Martha continues to serve and this symbolizes the healthy behavior of the senses after their honest repentance. Maria sits by Jesus’ feet and rejoices in the contemplation of His teachings. This symbolizes the healthy intellect when it is preoccupied with the adoration in spirit and truth (ἐν πνεύματι καὶ ἀληθείᾳ λατρείαν). Lazarus sits at the dinner of the feast together with Jesus. This symbolizes the actual emergence of apathy and the sabbatical of those who have acquired it by the grace of God.

Source: Γέροντος Ιωσήφ Βατοπαιδινού, Αθωνική Μαρτυρία,
Ψυχοφελή Βατοπαιδινά 2, Έκδοσις β΄,
Ιερά Μεγίστη Μονή Βατοπαιδίου, Άγιον Όρος 2008.