Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Is God Just?

The following is a story told by Elder Paisios about a man who was seeking to understand the nature of Divine Justice. The man's elder sent him to observe life from a hidden place and here is what He saw.

First, he saw a rich man stop along the road where there was a spring for a rest. He watched him take out his purse and count 100 gold coins. But, when he got back on his horse he absentmindedly left his purse lying there. Later, another man comes along and finds the purse and immediately takes off with it. Next, a poor man comes and sits down in the same spot to eat some bread. About this time the rich returns to retrieve his lost purse. He finds the poor man there who knows nothing about the purse. Thinking the poor man was lying, the rich man beats him thinking he stole the purse. He beat him so badly that he died. But when he examines his pockets he does not find the purse.

The man sent to observe life turned to the Lord in prayer saying: "Lord, what is the meaning of this Will of yours? Please explain how Your Benevolence can tolerate such injustice?" A angel of the Lord then answered him as follows: "Of all the things you just witnessed, some were by God's concession, others were for education, and others had providential reasons. He who lost the coins was the neighbour of the one who found them. The latter had an orchard worth 100 gold coins. Being greedy, the rich man forced him to sell it for only 50 coins. The disadvantaged man turned to God in prayer and asked for God to take care of this injustice. Therefore his discovery of the purse with the 100 gold coins was God's providence which had responded to his prayer to give him his money back two fold."

"The poor man who was murdered unjustly also committed murder once in his life. He had repented and afterwards lived a God pleasing life. He constantly asked God to forgive him for the murder and to give him a death just like the one he had inflicted." "Naturally, the Lord forgave him based on his repentance. God was moved by his sincerity and his efforts to live a life according to His commandments and his desire to pay for his crime. Thus the Lord granted him his wish and allowed him to die a violent death and then took him into His bosom.

Finally, the greedy man who lost all his gold coins and then committed the murder would have a disastrous end due to his greed and love of money. God therefore allowed him to fall into the sin of murder so that his soul would be severely pained and he would seek to repent. The result was that this person did repent and abandoned all worldly pleasures and become a monk. "Now in which of these cases did you find God to be unjust or cruel or insensitive?"

-Saint Paisios

Friday, November 13, 2015

Praying to Panagia

“When you are about to pray to our Lady the Holy Virgin, be firmly assured, before praying, that you will not depart from her without having received mercy. To think thus and to have confidence in her is meet and right. She is the All-Merciful Mother of God, the Word, and her mercies, incalculably great and innumerable, have been declared from all the ages by all Christian churches; she is, indeed, an abyss of mercies and bounties” – St John of Kronstadt

Source: https://throughthegraceofgod.wordpress.com/2015/11/12/st-john-of-kronstadt-praying-to-panagia/

Monday, November 2, 2015

An expression of love

Distomo is a small village in Greece, around 150km northwest of Athens, and with a population of four thousand. During WWII, on the 10th June, 1944, Nazi SS troops went door to door and massacred 218 civilians, mostly women and children. According to survivors, Nazi soldiers "bayoneted babies in their cribs, stabbed pregnant women, and beheaded the village priest." Below is a moving description written by the Head of the International Red Cross in Greece,  Sture Linner, in his book “My Odyssey”:

We were married on June 14. Emil Santrom, chair of the Greek Committee, organized a wedding banquet for the occasion. Late in the evening he approached me and pulled me aside to a corner, away from the laughs and voices, to talk privately.
He showed me a telegram he had just received: The Germans had been slaughtering for three days the people of Distomo, near Delphi, and then they burned the village down. If there were any survivors, they would be in need of immediate assistance.
Distomo was within the region of my responsibility for the supply of food and medicines. I passed on the telegram to Cleo to read. She winked and we immediately departed discretely from the festivity.
About an hour later we were on our way in the darkness of the night. It took several agonizing hours to travel the ravaged roads and pass several roadblocks. It was dawn by the time we finally reached the main road that led to Distomo.
Vultures were rising slowly and hesitantly at a low height from the sides of the road when they heard us coming. For hundreds of yards along the road, human bodies were hanging from every tree, pierced with bayonets – some were still alive.
They were the villagers, who were punished this way – they were suspected of providing help to the guerrillas of the region, who had ambushed an SS unit.
The odour was unbearable.
In the village the last remnants of the houses were still burning. Hundreds of dead bodies of people of all ages, from elderly to newborns, were strewn around on the dirt. Several women were slaughtered with bayonets, their wombs torn apart and their breasts severed; others were lying strangled with their own intestines wrapped around their necks. It seemed as if no-one had survived…
There! An old man at the end of the village! He had miraculously survived the slaughter. He was shocked by the horror around him, with an empty gaze, his utterances incomprehensible. We descended in the midst of the disaster and yelled in Greek: “Red Cross! Red Cross! We came to help!”
From the distance a woman approached with hesitation. She told us that only a handful of villagers managed to escape before the attack begun. Together with her we started searching for them. It was after we had set off in this search that we realized she was shot in the hand. We operated on her immediately with Cleo performing the surgery.
It was our honeymoon!
Not long after this horrific massacre, our connection with Distomo would conclude with this remarkable epilogue.
When the German occupation forces were forced to leave Greece, things did not go as planned for them. A German unit was surrounded by guerillas exactly in the same area, at Distomo. I thought that this might be taken by the Greeks as an opportunity for a bloody revenge, especially when considering that for quite a while the region had been cut off from any food supplies. I loaded with food necessities a few lorries, I wired to Distomo word of our planned arrival, and we found ourselves on the same road, once again, Cleo and I.
When we reached the outskirts of the village, we were met by a committee led by the elderly priest. He was an old fashioned patriarch, with a long, wavy, white beard. Next to him the guerrilla captain, fully armed. The priest spoke first and thanked us on behalf of everybody for the food supplies. Then he added: “We are all starving here, both us and the German prisoners. Now, though we are famished, we are at least in our land. The Germans have not just lost the war; they are also far from their country. Give them the food you have with you, they have a long way ahead.”
At this phrase Cleo turned her eyes to me. I suspected what she wanted to tell me with that look, but I could not see clearly any more. I was just standing there weeping….

Reference: Sture Linner, Min Odysse (Stockholm: Norstedt, 1982)
Source: http://www.greece.org/blogs/wwii/?page_id=211

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

What should God have done for us that He has not done?

What defence will we make before the Lord at the fearful hour of Judgment, if we are so careless about our salvation? What should God have done for us that He has not done? Have we not seen God the Word Himself humbled, in the form of a servant (Philipians 2:7), that we ourselves might become humble? And have we not seen His ineffable face spat upon, that we might not get angry when we are insulted or when we are rebuked? Have we not seen His holy back scourged, that we might be obedient in all things before our Abbots and the other monks? Have we not seen His face, which makes the earth tremble when He looks upon it (Psalm 103:32), slapped, that we might endure whenever we are attacked, and not become like wild beasts? Did we perhaps not hear Him say, “I do nothing of Myself,” and again, “I came not to do My will, but the will of the Father Who sent Me” [cf. St John 5:30-31], that we might not be impudent and self-willed? Did we perhaps not hear Him say: I do not disobey nor gainsay, “and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly of heart” (St. Matthew 11:29); and again: “I came not to be ministered unto, but to minister” (St Matthew 20:28); and further saying many similar things, that we might strive to be like this?

It is impossible for us to prosper and be saved in any other way than by imitating Christ in all things. I beseech you, my brethren, the chosen flock of Christ, let us be vigilant while we have the time. 

From St Ephraim the Syrian - Evergetinos

Friday, October 23, 2015

Preaching Christ in a World That Doesn’t Need God

By Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick ( St Paul’s Orthodox Church of Emmaus, Pennsylvania)
Secularism is essentially the idea that one can conceive of a world without God. It is the belief in an autonomous order existing apart from the divine order. It is not necessarily a denial of God’s existence, by the way. Such outright atheism has never been that attractive and still isn’t even for the West. Rather, it is the conception of a world without the constant presence of God as a necessary influence on everything. The created world is seen as self-sustaining, capable of existing without the presence of the uncreated God.
Without getting too deep into yet another enormous topic, we can at least recognize a few varieties of secularism. One variety is the deism which many of the founding Fathers of American embraced. God created the world, but He doesn’t really interact with it.
There is an atheistic secularism, as well—having conceived a world ordered without God, any mention of Him must be expunged from the public order. All public policy therefore must not only not favor any religion, but it cannot be influenced by it.
There is also a kind of secularism which divides the life of a person into separate spheres. There is a sphere for God and then a sphere for “common sense,” everyday, ordinary sorts of activities. What does God have to do with my grocery shopping? Is He interested in how I cut my toenails? If most of life is really not relevant to God stuff, then it makes sense of course to set aside only one part of morning per week for God, and let’s not make it too long, shall we? I have everyday, ordinary things to get to.
This division actually has its origins in medieval Catholic theology. Some theologians who followed Thomas Aquinas posited “natural” and “supernatural” spheres of order and knowledge, apprehended respectively through reason and faith. While some emphasized the essential union between the two, others focused more on their sense of opposition. Thus, rationality without the direct influence of revelation came to be elevated and given its own domain of inquiry.
I am simplifying things here considerably, but I hope you will excuse me for that. The way that this opposition has come down to us is, in any event, also rather simplified. Is it not true that most people these days here in the West consider their own reason the primary ruler for their lives? They may not be very logical, of course, but the perceptions and decisions of their own minds are what govern day to day living.
The idea that God would be an ordinary part of life, or even that life itself would be fully enveloped in the divine presence—these are not the norm for most people, even religious people. That is why they “go to church” for an “experience” of some sort. They desire to have a supernatural moment or two in what is otherwise a natural life.
We ourselves probably function this way most of the time. We ourselves are products of our time. I cannot claim that I have an absolute sense of the presence of God here at this very moment. I feel that I have to go looking for Him or do something special to bring Him here. Our default way of functioning is as though God is actually absent. And most of the time, we do not feel His absence—that is, we do not miss Him. Rather, most of the time, we just go about our lives without any sense that Someone is missing.
Here is yet another way that any sharp contrast between Orthodox Christians and the West is collapsed. We ourselves have become secular, even if we have a fervent faith. We have to force ourselves to have a sense of God’s presence and influence. So if secularism may be identified as the “Western mindset,” then we have it, as well. It is a very real struggle for me, and I imagine that it may be for you, too. That it is a struggle at all is an indication of the pervasiveness of the mindset of our times, whether it is in the West or in the East. The person who has a constant sense of God’s presence with him is a rarity.
We may be tempted here to try to fight back against the secular mindset, especially the secular fundamentalism that pervades our public culture and tries to expel even the admission of a divine order from public view. And we might think that fighting back is perhaps best done on the grounds of the great moral issues raised in our time. What is marriage? What is a person? What is a man? What is a woman? What is life?
While I believe that we need to teach clearly what we believe about these things, I also think that attempting a frontal assault on secularism will not actually do us much good. We tend to rant when we do that, to come off as angry and condemning, to be anything but loving. Why? Because we often turn our ethics into ideology. And when we embrace ideology, then we give ourselves permission to hurt other people in service to what we believe.
So we have to be wise here, to address the secular mindset not as an enemy but rather as a pathology of the human person. Those who think secularly—which includes us!—are not our enemies. Rather, they are suffering from an invasive mental virus which infects not just the mind but even the heart.
A doctor will tell you that when he diagnoses and treats a disease, he does so not just in terms of the theoretical form of the disease but of the actual affliction that the patient has. And I think that the Christian response to secularism these days is generally not in terms of the actual affliction that we the patients are suffering but rather in terms of the theoretical form of the disease. What do I mean by that?
We tend to think of secularism as atheism, as an outright attack on the divine order. But most people with a secular mindset are not atheists. As I said, we usually function with a secular mindset ourselves. And we are not atheists. The same holds true for the vast majority of Americans. Belief in God co-exists in the minds and hearts of most Americans along with their secular worldview. We can point that out as inconsistent and contradictory, and of course, it is. But telling people that they just have to choose between secularism and God is probably not going to get us much of anywhere.
So what do we do? What is the actual form of the secularist affliction?
The secularism most Americans believe in has actually been identified as a form of religion. And it’s called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. The term is the invention of sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, and they coined it to describe the beliefs of American teenagers in their 2005 book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers.
Although Smith and Denton were talking about teenagers ten years ago, their description of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is apt for most Americans these days, of whatever age and even of whatever religious affiliation. My experience even with Orthodox Christians is that they largely function in these terms.
So what is this belief system? What does it entail? Smith and Denton identified five teachings of this worldview:
  1. A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to solve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.
And that’s it. That is the secular mindset that most Americans have. God is definitely out there for them. He definitely wants us to be good. But the point of life is to be happy, and God doesn’t have to come into the picture unless there is a problem. And if you’re good, then you get to go to heaven when you die.
What makes it possible for people who actually belong to churches to believe and function according to this mindset of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is that its teachings (if they can be called that—there’s no official teacher) are roughly similar to many religions’ ethics and general cosmology.
And because this is a problem both for those who are not yet part of the Orthodox Church and for those who are already part of our flocks, if we learn to address this worldview, we will be both evangelistic and also strengthening the people whom we have in front of us. So how do we as Orthodox Christians address this?
The problem with Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is its vague non-specificity. It believes in “God,” a god who wants us to be “good,” a god who will see to it that we get to go to “heaven” when we die. This is all very general, all very uncatechized and non-specific.
But we Orthodox Christians do not believe in some vague “God”; we believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We believe in the incarnate God-man Jesus Christ. We believe that life is not merely about being “good,” not even merely about a specific set of ethics, but about cooperating with divine grace so that we might become like God. We do not believe in “heaven” as a vague, “good place” reward for the ethical. We believe in union with the Holy Trinity in Jesus Christ, a union that can last and deepen and become more intimate and powerful unto the ages of ages.
We also believe that Jesus Christ is available, touchable, near to us, ready to relate to us and commune with us. And we believe that cooperating with that heals us and brings us together, curing our sin and our loneliness and isolation.
In short, the Orthodox Church, because it has never dumbed down its teachings, offers something that breaks through secularism, including the specific variant ascendant in our culture—Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. But we have to teach it, and we have to teach it in such a way that it communicates the closeness and reality of Christ.
This is not just about believing a list of more correct things about God, though. One can agree to these ideas and still be secular, still subscribe to Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Rather, the point is that our teaching points to a real Someone Whom we can encounter. And we begin by naming Him with the Name He Himself has placed above every other name—Jesus Christ.
I fear that much of the time, we do not actually catechize our people, being content to teach them piety and morality. Here’s how you do this pious thing. And don’t have sex before marriage or do drugs. Those are perfectly true things to teach, but if we do not have an existential encounter with the Christ Who has commanded these things and Who commanded them for specific reasons, then our listeners won’t see the point in them.
Many young people today (and many other people, too) aren't drifting away from God because they are rebelling against Him. Rather, they are drifting away because no one ever introduced them to Him. They just don’t see the point in going to church or being moral or church authority, because they weren't directed to Jesus Christ. It’s hard to believe in and worship a “God” whom you don’t know.
In terms of its encounter with the secularism of the Western mindset, the Orthodox Church’s mission is to preach like Paul on Mars Hill. Him Whom the secularists around us and even we ourselves worship without knowing—the Unknown God—that is the One Whom we proclaim.
If secularism is seeing and living in the world as though it were autonomous and without the presence of God, then Christianity is the key to introducing people to that God Whom they do not know. So we are on a mission to introduce this God to our flocks and to those who are not yet of this fold.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The way of the Church is LOVE...

I once asked someone: "What type of warrior do you consider yourself to be? Christ's warrior or temptation's warrior? Are you aware that the evil of temptation also has its own warriors?"

A Christian must not be fanatic; he must have love for and be sensitive towards all people. Those who inconsiderately toss out comments, even if they are true, can cause harm.

I once met a theologian who was extremely pious, but who had the habit of speaking to the (secular) people around him in a very blunt manner; his method penetrated so deeply that it shook them very severely. He told me once: "During a gathering, I said such and such a thing to a lady." But the way that he said it, crushed her. "Look", I said to him, "you may be tossing golden crowns studded with diamonds to other people, but the way that you throw them can smash heads, not only the sensitive ones, but the sound ones also."

Let's not stone our fellow-man in a so-called "Christian manner." The person who - in the presence of others - checks someone for having sinned (or speaks in an impassioned manner about a certain person), is not moved by the Spirit of God; he is moved by another spirit.

The way of the Church is LOVE; it differs from the way of the legalists. The Church sees everything with tolerance and seeks to help each person, whatever he may have done, however sinful he may be.

I have observed a peculiar kind of logic in certain pious people. Their piety is a good thing, and their predisposition for good is also a good thing; however, a certain spiritual discernment and amplitude is required so that their piety is not accompanied by narrow-mindedness or strong-headedness. Someone who is truly in a spiritual state must possess and exemplify spiritual discernment; otherwise he will forever remain attached to the "letter of the Law", and the letter of the Law can be quite deadly.
A truly humble person never behaves like a teacher; he will listen, and, whenever his opinion is requested, he responds humbly. In other words, he replies like a student. He who believes that he is capable of correcting others is filled with egotism.

A person that begins to do something with a good intention and eventually reaches an extreme point, lacks true discernment. His actions exemplify a latent type of egotism that is hidden beneath this behavior; he is unaware of it, because he does not know himself that well, which is why he goes to extremes.

Quite often, people begin with good intentions, but look where they may find themselves! This was the case with the "icon-worshippers" and the "iconoclasts" of the past: both cases were extremes! The former had reached the point of scraping off icons of Christ and placing the scrapings into the Holy Chalice in order to "improve" Holy Communion; the latter, on the other hand, burnt and totally discarded all icons. That is why the Church was obliged to place the icons in higher places, out of reach, and, when the dispute was over, lowered them so that we can venerate them and thus confer the appropriate honor to the persons portrayed therein...

- Elder Paisios the Athonite, The Letter of The Law

Friday, October 2, 2015

Memoirs of a Greek Taxi Driver - "Thanasi, Today You Were Send to Me by Christ"

One morning, I received a call by the taxi call center directing me to a nearby shore. When I arrived at the address, I saw a very elderly man slowly coming towards the taxi accompanied up to the door by his daughter. When this elderly man entered inside and sat in front, he made a very good impression on me. His smile, his courteousness, his entire demeanor drew my attention. He also had an appetite for discussion during our trip since the route was quite long. We were heading to some village where his summer house was. Thus, with the appetite to talk and much time at our disposal, we discussed various social matters. In the beginning, I politely asked him about his field of work. From what this man was saying, I realized that he must have been very educated.
“I am a doctor Mr. Thanasi, but I have been retired for many years. I spent most of my life in an operating room. I also had my own clinic on such and such street; do you remember it?”
“Although I was born in 1961, I remember something about it.”
“So, as a scholar, I loved medicine very much, and I loved mankind. In my zeal and thirst for knowledge, God granted me on top of material wealth, an invention in the surgical field which made my name very well known. Patients would visit me not only from all over Greece, but also from abroad. I worked many hours and on quite a few nights, one would find me with the lancet in my hand. Sometimes, I would even sleep in the clinic because I would be too tired to return to my home. I considered it my duty to help my fellow man over and above everything else.”
“Doctor, please allow me to tell you that I am so pleased that we have met.”
“The feeling is mutual Thanasi, and I am sincere in saying this; by the way, I am also interested to find out your educational level because I have the feeling that you are not just a taxi driver.”
“I am an elementary school graduate, I replied.”
“Thanasi, I understand that you are trying to be humble, but please, tell me the truth, what did you major in?”
“I’m telling you the truth.”
“Well, I am sorry, but I don’t believe you.”
“Then, you will allow me to tell you a very true story from my childhood which is a little comical, and then I am certain that you will believe me. When I was little, the greatest nightmare for me was school and education. Just imagine, it took me eight years to finish that wretched elementary school. During the last grade, I was already shaving. I was a foot taller than the other children. So in all these eight years, I don’t remember, even once, answering my teacher correctly on the verbal quiz on the daily lesson. Every day in class, I would try to hide behind my fellow students. I didn't want my teacher to see me, so she wouldn’t call me up to the blackboard for the daily lesson drill. Every time I was called up to the blackboard, I was not only clueless of the daily lesson, but I didn’t even know what subject we were on, whether it was geography, history or religion.
In order to hide very well behind the back of the student who was in front of me, who was also hiding behind the one in front of him, I would whisper to him, “Hey, don’t move and don’t bend down." He, would then turn and tell me, “What are you saying you dunce? You want me to be punished instead?”[1] And despite my hiding attempts, my name would be called out loud and clear to walk towards the board and to demonstrate my knowledge of the daily lesson in that class. The mere announcement of my name was enough to make my legs tremble.
I will never forget during one of these times, when I was standing for quite a while at the board and I would say, “Today we will learn about our fatherland." I stopped for about five minutes, and then again, “Today we talk about our fatherland," since I didn’t know what else to say. So I turned and saw the teacher’s gaze. She was looking at me from above her glasses and gritting her teeth. In that nasty voice of hers she said, “You deafened us." I barely kept from soiling myself. The children were bursting with laughter, and the whip would fall like a storm. As you can understand, doctor, from the frequency of the daily beatings, when I heard my name, I would no longer go to the board. Instead, I would make the trip shorter by going straight to the desk to reap what was due. So what do you say, now, do you believe me?”
The doctor broke out in laughter and said, “Thanasi, you are a riot, truly awesome,” and he continued to laugh. We both laughed very much, and while we spent  some time discussing much about the fruitless public educational systems, I wanted to shift the conversation a bit towards spiritual matters, before our arrival.
I had this good persisting thought working inside of me: I wonder, if this good doctor, and very dear elderly man, who must be nearing his nineties, is ready for heaven? Thus, after a brief prayer, and the use of much discretion, I shifted the conversation towards this area. By the grace of God, the doctor was very open for spiritual conversation. Furthermore, he told me, “Thanasi, I see that you are very religious.”
“The Scribes and the Pharisees were religious as well, but they remained outside the kingdom. You, doctor, are you are you in good standing with the church?” I asked.
“Yes, I don’t have a problem, although I didn’t have much time over the years for church attendance. I had, however, my own way all these years, to approach and to believe in Christ.”
“Would you mind sharing your way with me, doctor, so I can understand?”
“Let me tell you; every time I was faced with a difficult operation, I would spend some time in the room adjacent to the operating room, which I had transformed as my own personal chapel. I would kneel, pray extensively and lift my hands, to ask Christ to help me and my patient.”

Oh, my friends, when I heard the doctor speaking like this, I was overflowing with joy, especially since it is not very common to hear such words from the mouths of today’s doctors. Unfortunately this joy did not last very long because when we focused the conversation more directly to the area of repentance, confession, Holy Communion, the doctor was not on board. He became increasingly defensive and justifying himself and said, “What area of my life do I need to repent for, and why do I need to go to confession? I don’t remember having done anything evil. Thanasi, please listen so you can see where I ‘m coming from. I have my own philosophy in matters of faith, and I have held on to it throughout my life.”
I replied, “Doctor, it is not a matter of philosophy. Here we are dealing with matters of faith. There are many philosophers, but there is only one Savior.”
He came back with, “Please consider that being older than you, I may know something more.”
I added: “It is not a matter of age, either. It is about the teachings of the Gospel which calls one to sincere repentance and confession so he or she may properly prepare to often partake with reverence of the Body and the Blood of our Christ,” I replied.

“No, Thanasi, I don’t agree with repentance and confession. Furthermore, I don’t feel the need to repent for anything nor to go to confession.”
“Very well, since you don’t agree with repentance [and since you happen to be wiser than me], tonight when I go home, I will open the New Testament, and wherever I encounter the word repentance, I will draw a smudge or better yet, rip the page out, which means that I will remove over 100 pages from the New Testament. What do you say?”
“Well, now, I didn’t mean it like that!”
“Doctor, since you don’t agree with it, and I don’t agree with it, we can wipe it out with one stroke of the pen so it’s no longer there to reprove us.”
“Now just a minute Thanasi, so I can get things straight. To begin with, why must I go to a physical church? Isn’t the Church of God everywhere? Furthermore, why must I have any dealings with a priest? That’s what I could not understand all these years. Why should I go to the priest?”
“Doctor, please allow me to ask you, are you married?”

“Why, what are you saying now? I have grandchildren.”
“Great! Where did your marriage ceremony take place?”
“What, do you mean where did it take place? We went to church, where else?”
“Ohhh! So, you went to church, in front of a priest. Doctor, why the church and not the patio on the flat roof of your house? What would the church possibly have more so than your roof top patio? You could call fifty, one hundred friends, open a few bottles of wine, play some music, and have someone from your group bless the crowns. What more could the priest offer you? Everything would be just fine. So, why did you go to a church, and why did you go to a priest? I would like you to answer me. Moreover, when you baptized your children, and your grandchildren, where did you go? I will tell you, my doctor. You went to the church. But why the church? Why didn’t you stay at your home, fill your bathtub with water, and have someone dip the children three times and why not thirteen times since these things don’t have much significance? Someone could slap a little oil on them, and everything would be just fine. So, what more could the priest do for you that you couldn’t take care of yourself. Furthermore, for you to understand it better, the next time my stomach hurts, and I choose to go to a plumber, what would you think? Oh, my doctor, my doctor, for all sacraments, we go to a priest, but when it is time for repentance and confession, we are so quick to say “Why should I go to a priest?”
I am very much afraid, that many of us, due to the great egotism and pride we have, will not only be separated with  houses, land, money, stocks and bonds, taxis, and clinics, but worst of all, we are in danger of being separated with Christ eternally. My dear doctor, as a man of high education, I would like you to consider eternity [without Christ]! The loss of Christ! God forbid!
My friend , in a few minutes as you enter your home, stand before your iconostasis, and ask the saints there, “My saints, did any of you reach sainthood without holy confession and shedding tears of repentance? And I'm certain the answer will come to you soon enough.” At that point, the doctor refrained from asking me any other questions. Seemingly perplexed, he lowered his head, and remained silent.
And my last words were, “My doctor, forgive me, but you forgot one thing in your life. You have been holding the surgical scalpel in your hand for so many years, and it has healed thousands of people, it has performed some miraculous healings, but it never occurred to you to turn it inside of you to make your own incision, your own personal surgery in order to excise your spiritual maladies. As you understand, I’m referring to the spiritual lancet, which hurts even more.”
Here, my friends, these words finally touched a sensitive chord in the doctor. As his tears began to flow, he tried to apologize and I said, “No, my doctor, don’t apologize because these tears are the most beautiful tears Christ has been waiting from you for ninety years now.” “My dear Lord, how could I possibly describe the indescribable? He cried and sobbed like a child and in this spiritual wailing, he turned and said to me, “My dear Thanasi, Christ sent you my way today!”
My God! My God! What beautiful words! What a beautiful outcome! What beautiful moments. These special blessings will stay with me for the rest of my life! In the last couple of miles our relationship became completely different. He asked me to come by two days later to take him to a good spiritual father if I happen to know of one.
I said, “My doctor, I have a wonderful spiritual father for you, full of meekness and love. By the way, have you ever been to confession?
“I have never confessed, my dear Thanasi, ever.”
“Nor have you communed?”
“Not even once.”
Oh, my dear Lord, a ninety year old man who never communed even once after his infant baptism.
When I left, I immediately called Father Thomas, because Father Triantafyllos was not available. I gave him a brief account of the events, and precisely what transpired with our dear doctor, and Father Thomas asked me, “Are you speaking about the world-renown doctor who had the clinic on such and such street?”
“Yes, father, do you know him?”
“What are you saying, Thanasi? All of Greece and Europe knows him. Please bring him; just call me a few minutes before you come.”
“It will be my pleasure,” I said and I was flying with untold joy. Sure enough, I drove with my private car to the doctor’s house to pick him up, and we had a soul-benefitting conversation on the way concerning confession. I wanted to prepare him so that he understood that repentance needs to precede confession. Among other things, I said, “Confession, my doctor is not merely a pronouncement of a list of sins; it must be accompanied with pain of soul, and compunction, it is an acknowledgment of our sinfulness, just like the prodigal son’s.”
The doctor was accepting and understanding everything I was telling him, without any objection. Thus we finally ascended the stairs of the church, and we arrived at the confessional to find many people waiting and most of them young students. Of course, they immediately requested that we go ahead of them, understanding that an elderly man could not remain standing for a long time. Father received the doctor with much joy and love. While my elderly friend was in the confessional, I was praying through the inner depths of my soul. I was asking our sweetest Jesus to enlighten and soften this heart, regardless of my sinfulness. The devil had trapped his heart in the passion of self justification for 90 years, and I prayed and wished for both of us to be together again, not just here on earth, but in heaven for all eternity.
In a few minutes, the door opened and I apprehensively went to receive our elderly doctor. Father Thomas smiled and told me, “Everything is fine, Thanasi. Everything is fine. He may commune whenever he wants.” “Glory to Thee our Lord, glory to Thee." My joy was complete. I thanked the student who had given us his turn telling him, “May the Panaghia reward you for your kindness!” His eyes glowed with emotion. As we were exiting the church, the doctor was very happy and told me, “My dear Thanasi, you don’t know what the father told me.”
“What did he tell you?”
“To begin with, when I entered, he immediately recognized me. He knew me from the days I ran the clinic. As soon as I entered, he told me, “Come, my doctor, come, because we are colleagues.”
“Really, my father, are you a doctor as well, I asked?”
“Yes, I am a doctor of the soul, as a priest of the Most High, and you are a doctor of the body.
This helped us to connect, and from there we progressed into confession and the prayer of absolution.”
“Didn’t I tell you that father is wonderful? He is full of meekness and love.”
We continued our joyous discussion in the car, and in a few minutes we arrived outside his home. I offered to give him a ride to Church so we could take Holy Communion together next Sunday morning, but out of courteousness and humility, he didn’t accept my offer. As we bade each other farewell with much joy, the elderly gentleman, deeply touched by the day’s events, reiterated, “My dear Thanasi, I know and fully understand that Christ sent you on my path. From here on, I know the way.”

I escorted him to the door of his house, and after we exchanged a warm handshake, I wished him “the joy and eternity of paradise." Even though I knew where his house was, I never saw the doctor again. I had the sense that my mission had come to an end. Now that I’m sitting and narrating this event, years later, I would like to say to him the same thing over again, “Doctor, may you abide in the joy and blessings of paradise, and please remember us in your prayers.” 

Used by permission of CZ, www.saintnicodemos.org 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Elder Paisios and St. Euphemia

"Father Paisios was going through a very difficult phase. A problem was created in the Church at that time and many bishops had gone to him to ask for his help. However, it was a very complicated problem and even if he wanted to, he was unable to assist; as he said, no matter from which side you look at the problem, you come face to face with a spiritual impasse. So, he decided to turn his efforts to solve the problem into prayer. During that time, Father Paisios constantly prayed for God to give solution to the Church’s problem; especially, he prayed to St. Ephemia:
- St. Ephemia, you who miraculously solved the serious problem the Church was facing then, take the Church out of the present impasse!
One morning, at nine o’ clock, when Father Paisios was reading the service of the third hour, he suddenly heard someone discreetly knocking on his door. The Elder asked from inside:
-Who is it?
Then, he heard a woman’s voice answering:
- It is me, Ephemia, Father.
-Which Ephemia? He asked again.
There was no answer. There was another knock on the door and he asked again.
-Who is it?
The same voice was heard saying:
-It is Ephemia, Father.
There was a third knock and the Elder felt someone coming inside his cell and walking through the corridor. He went to the door and there he saw St. Ephemia, who had miraculously entered his cell through the locked door and was venerating the icon of the Holy Trinity, which the Elder had placed on the wall of his corridor, on the right hand side of the church’s door.
Then the Elder told the saint:
-Say: Glory to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
St. Ephemia clearly repeated those words and immediately Father Paisios knelt and venerated the saint.
Afterwards, they sat and talked for quite a while; he could not specify for how long, as he had lost all sense of time while being with St. Ephemia. She gave the solution for all three matters he had been praying for and in the end he said to her:
- I would like you to tell me how you endured your martyrdom.
The saint replied:
-Father, if I knew back then how eternal life would be and the heavenly beauty the souls enjoy by being next to God, I honestly would have asked for my martyrdom to last for ever, as it was absolutely nothing compared to the gifts of grace of God!"