Sonntag, 4. Mai 2014

Contemporary Mankind Reflections of elder Paisius the Athonite (1924 – 1994)

Our times
The majority of people in our times rush around at high worldly speed. But inasmuch as they do not possess the fear of God, – and “the beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord,” – they have no brakes, and at such a speed, and with no brakes, they invariably finish up the race in a deep hole. People are extremely upset by difficulties and are, to a great extent, being brainwashed by various influences. They have lost their guideposts and little by little have reached the stage where they no longer have control over themselves.
One can see tempests and great agitation in all the nations. I can now appreciate the torment which the prophets suffered. The greatest martyrs were the prophets! They were martyrs to a greater extent than all the known martyrs, despite the fact that not all of them died a martyric death. This is because martyrs suffered comparatively briefly, while the prophets witnessed the doing of evil and suffered constantly. They cried out and cried out, but the others continued to blow their own horns. And when, due to these others, God’s wrath came down on people, the prophets suffered together with all the rest. But at least in those times men’s minds were limited, and they simply left God to worship idols. Now, when people abandon God consciously, – this leads to the greatest idolatry and paganism.
We have not yet realized that the devil has hurled himself forth to destroy God’s creations. The devil is enraged because the world has begun experiencing concern over the loss of goodness. He is in a frenzy, because he knows that he has little time left to act. He is now behaving like a criminal, who, upon being caught, cries out: “I can’t save myself, they’ll catch me,” – and begins wrecking everything both right and left. The world is burning! Do you realize that? The devil has lit such a conflagration that even if all the firemen were to gather together, they could never extinguish this fire. In a spiritual fire nothing remains undamaged. The only thing left for us is to pray that God have mercy upon us.
The entire world is coming to a single end. Universal destruction. We cannot say: “A window or something like that is slightly broken in the house, let me fix it.” The entire house has fallen apart. The state of affairs has already spun out of control. Only God can do something from above.
We do not have enough living examples in our era
Why does St. Cyril of Jerusalem say that the martyrs of the end times will be higher-standing than all the martyrs? Because previously there were many giants of the spirit, while in our era there is a dearth of living examples, – I am speaking about the Church and monasticism in general. In our times words and books have multiplied, but living experience has become impoverished. We only admire the saints of our Church without understanding how great was their labor. In order to understand it we must labor ourselves, we must get to love the saints and make an effort to be like them. The good God will naturally take into consideration the character of our times and the conditions in which we have to live, and will ask an accounting from us accordingly. Thus, if we undertake even the smallest spiritual effort, we will be rewarded more than the early Christians.
A spirit of asceticism prevailed in ancient times. Each person tried to imitate the other. Under such circumstances neither evil, nor negligence could hold out. There was an abundance of goodness, there was a spirit of asceticism, and thus a negligent person could not persist in his laxness. He was pulled along by the general stream of Godliness. But today, if a person wishes to live honestly, spiritually, – he has a very hard time, there is no place for him in the world. And if he is inattentive, he will roll downhill, he will be carried away by the current of worldliness.
In former times there was an abundance of goodness, an abundance of virtue, there was a sufficient number of good examples, and evil drowned amid the vastness of good. The comparatively small amount of illicitness that existed in the world and in the monasteries was inconspicuous and did not do much harm to people. But what do we see nowadays? There is an abundance of bad examples, while the miniscule amount of goodness that is left is not valued a single jot. In other words, the complete opposite is taking place now: a small amount of good is being drowned in a mass of evil, and evil is at the helm.
If one or several persons possess an ascetic spirit, it is of great help to others, because if a person is perfecting himself spiritually, not only will he benefit from this himself, but also those who watch his endeavors. The same thing happens with a lax person – he influences others in like manner. And if one person becomes debilitated, and then another, gradually and unnoticeably nothing good is left around us. For this reason an ascetic spirit helps greatly amid the laxness that reigns all around us. We must be extremely attentive in this respect, because modern-day people, unfortunately, have reached the point at which they even accept laws that engender laxness and moral turpitude. Even ascetics are being forced to submit to these laws. Therefore, those who are engaged in spiritual labor should not only not fall under the influence of the spirit of worldliness, but should also refrain from comparing themselves with the people of this world. In comparing themselves to worldly people, Christians begin to feel themselves quite saintly, and proceed to become lax, and as a result they become worse than the ones to whom they were comparing themselves. Our points of comparison in spiritual life should be the saints and not the people of this world. It would be well for us to do the following in regard to every virtue: find a saint who was distinguished by this virtue and read his life very attentively. Then we will see that we have not achieved anything yet, and we will continue our spiritual life in humility. Runners competing in a stadium do not turn around to look at those who are lagging behind, for if they look at the last ones, they will become last themselves. If I try to follow the example of those who are succeeding, my conscience becomes finer, while if I look back at those who are in the rear, I find all kinds of excuses for myself and decide that my own sins are not so terrible in comparison with theirs. I calm myself with the thought that there are people worse than I am. In this manner I choke off my conscience, or in other words, I end up with an unfeeling heart.

God does not leave us to the mercy of fate
Being currently in such a horrible state, people do anything that comes into their head. Some live on pills, others on drugs. From time to time three or four deluded individuals create some kind of new religion. Others are tired of life and want to put an end to themselves or create a great hullabaloo by committing a spectacularly evil act. This does not refer to people whose desires along such lines simply take the form of blasphemous thoughts which they are able to chase away. We are speaking of people who have become tired of life and do not know what to do with themselves. It is precisely such people who are used by certain forces for evil purposes.
Despite the fact that we have brought ourselves to such a state, God does not leave us to the mercy of fate. God proceeds to guard the modern world with both hands so-to-speak. Today, when mankind is surrounded by so many dangers, God protects it like a mother does her child. Currently Christ, the Most-holy Theotokos and the saints help us much more than in past times, only we do not realize it. And what would happen to the world if this help were not available?!… The majority of people live on pills and are in a state too terrible for words. One is drunk, another has given up on life, a third is high on drugs, a fourth suffers from insomnia. And one sees how all these people drive cars, ride motorcycles, operate dangerous machinery. Are they all in perfect condition to do so? How many people could already have become crippled! How strongly God protects us, but we are not aware of it…
I remember how in the past our parents went off to work in the fields and left us in the care of a neighbor. We played together with her children. In those times children were more tranquil. The neighbor only needed to look in on us once in a while and then continued with her daily chores while we quietly played. In the same manner Christ, the Mother of God, and the saints used to only look in on the world, but today Christ, the Mother of God, and the saints are continuously either supporting someone somewhere or restraining another one from something, because people nowadays are unbalanced. God forbid the kind of things that are happening nowadays!… It’s just like a mother with several difficult children: one of them has climbed up too high and is in danger of falling off, another takes a knife and wants to cut his throat, a third is planning to trip up a fourth one, etc… The mother cannot relax, cannot close her eyes for a single moment, but watches her children constantly, while they do not understand her anxiety. Similarly the world does not understand that God is helping it. If God were not helping us, with the amount of dangerous technology that we currently have in the world we would all have been crippled long ago. But, fortunately, we have protectors: our Father – God, our Mother – the Most-holy Theotokos, our brothers and sisters – the saints and the angels.
How great is the devil’s hatred of mankind! How strong is the enemy’s desire to destroy us! And yet we forget with whom we are doing battle. If only you knew how many times the devil has already wound his tail around the earth, planning to destroy it! However, God does not allow him to do it, He ruins all his plans. God extracts benefit even from the evil which the devil attempts to do to us; God turns this evil into good.
Look: the merciful God never allows great trials to continue for more than three generations. He always leaves some good stock available. Prior to the Babylonian captivity the Israelis concealed the fire from their last offering to God in an empty well, in order to afterwards light the fire for new offerings. And, in fact, when they returned from captivity seventy years later, the fire used for the first offering to God was lit from the one they found in the well. In difficult times not everyone inclines towards evil. God keeps a good stock for future generations. The Communists held up for 75 years – exactly three generations. And the Zionists, despite going strong for so many years, at the end will not last even seven.
Hard times are coming
God is now allowing a great upheaval to take place. Hard times are coming. Terrible trials await us. Let us treat this matter seriously and let us live in a spiritual manner. Circumstances force us and will continue to force us to engage in spiritual labor. However, this spiritual endeavor will be of value only if we do it joyously, of our own accord, and not because we have been forced to it by sorrows. Many saints would have wished to live in our times, in order to engage in spiritual feats.
In former times a war would begin and a person would go off to fight the enemy, in order to defend his homeland and his people. At the present we are not engaging in combat for the sake of defending our homeland. We are not going into battle in order to prevent barbarians from burning our homes or dishonoring us. We are not conducting war for any national interests, nor for any kind of ideology. We are now fighting either on the side of Christ or on the side of the devil. Who is with whom – the deployment of forces is crystal clear. During the occupation you became a hero if you did not consort with the Germans. Now you become a hero if you do not consort with the devil.
Be that as it may, we are on the verge of witnessing terrible events. Spiritual battles will take place. Saintly people will become even holier, while evil people will become even fouler. We are in for a great thunderstorm, and our battle has great value, because our present enemy is not Ali Pasha, or Hitler, or Mussolini, but the devil himself. And for this combat our reward will be a reward in heaven.
Sin has become fashionable
The greatest barbarianism in the world is not war, but moral catastrophe. People are deteriorating both spiritually and physically. Some people try to justify the situation by saying that sinful life did not begin in our times. “Look at what was going on in ancient Rome!” – they say.
True, but the people in Rome were pagans and worshipped idols. And Apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Romans addressed himself to these pagans, who had become baptized, but had not yet foresworn their bad habits. We should not follow the examples of the greatest decadence in each epoch. Just think – we are Orthodox people, and where have we landed! About other people nothing can be said at all… But the worst thing is that modern people, while engaging in sin on a wholesale basis and seeing that someone is not following the spirit of the times and is not sinning, but demonstrates an iota of piety, – call such a person backward, a retrograde. These people are upset that someone is not sinning. They equate sin with progress. And that is absolutely the worst thing. If modern people, living in sin, would at least recognize it, God would have mercy upon them. But they try to justify that which has no justification, and they laud sin. Moreover, to count sin as progress and to say that morality has outlived its time is, beside everything else, a most horrible blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Therefore, if someone living in this world engages in spiritual endeavor and keeps his life pure, – that has great value. Such people are due to be immensely rewarded,
In olden times a lecher or a drunkard was ashamed even to go the market-place, because people would have started laughing at him. And a woman who played around was afraid even to show her nose outside the door. One can say that this situation served to place a certain restraint upon sin. Yet today, if someone lives righteously, particularly a maiden, people say about her: “Well, well, did she come from another planet?” In general, when lay people committed sin in former times, the poor wretches felt their sinfulness and became a little humbler. They did not mock those who lived spiritually, but on the contrary, they admired them. In our times, however, those who sin do not feel guilty. They likewise have no respect for others. Everything has been flattened down to the ground. If a person does not live in a worldly manner, sinners make a mockery of him.
However, in trying to justify that which has no justification, people feel tormented in their souls and do not find peace anywhere. They are all internally unnerved, and so the miserable ones seek amusement for themselves, they run around bars and discos, get drunk, watch television incessantly… In other words, their conscience bothers them, and in order to forget about it they engage in trivialities. Every person has a conscience. Conscience is the very first Holy Scripture, given by God to the first-created people. No matter how much an individual tries to override his conscience, it will always denounce him from within. There is nothing sweeter than a peaceful and tranquil conscience. Such a person feels himself internally uplifted.
In forsaking God, man experiences the torment of hell.
Men have forsaken God and have therefore been deprived of divine comfort. The further away man moves from God, the harder it is for him. And yet if one has God with him, one does not need to have anything else – nor wish for anything else. If man has everything, but does not have God, he feels inner torment. Therefore, we should get as close as possible to God. Only near God does man find joy – real, eternal joy. In living far removed from the Sweetest Jesus, we drink from a bitter cup. When our mortal self becomes a son of the King, it is nourished by divine pleasure and heavenly sweetness, and already in this life partially experiences the joy of paradise. From lesser paradisiacal joy man progresses to greater and greater joy. His heart is overwhelmed, it trembles with joy, he wants to soar – because the earth and all that is earthly now seem to him to be trivial and of no consequence.
In the beginning man had contact with God. However, later he became estranged from God, but felt as though having originally lived in a palace and afterwards finding himself expulsed forever from the palace gates, he looked at the palace from afar and wept. Just as a child suffers when he is away from his mother, so suffers a man who has distanced himself from God. In forsaking God, man experiences the torment of hell. How terrible it is! However, the greatest torment is suffered by the devil, for he has moved away from God and from love farthest of all.
A person who forsakes God invites demonic influence upon himself, while the one who lives with God receives divine grace. The grace of God will increase in the one who possesses it. However, if a person possesses a little bit of grace, but does not handle it with due reverence, even that small bit is taken away from him. Modern men lack the grace of God, because in sinning they throw away even those crumbs of grace which they possess. And when divine grace leaves a person, the demons furiously attack him.
To the extent to which men have forsaken God, they experience chagrin in this life. In the next life they will experience eternal chagrin. To the extent that a person lives according to the will of God, he will to some degree taste the sweetness of paradise while still living on earth. A person feels joy in doing good and suffers when he sins. The more good a person does, the more joy he feels, while the more he sins, the stronger his soul suffers. Even when a person receives something from another person, he does not experience the joy he feels when giving something himself. But if he offends someone, in that case there is no question of joy! You only have to look at those who offend and deceive others: what ugly faces they have, how hideously they grimace!
People who have moved away from God never receive any comfort and are doubly tormented. Anyone who does not believe in God and eternal life is not only deprived of comfort, but also sentences himself to eternal torment. A man will be paid by the master for whom he works. If you work for a black master, he will make your life black already here on earth. If you work for sin, you will be paid by the devil. If you cultivate virtue, you will be paid by Christ. And the more you work for Christ, the brighter and more joyous you become. Christ suffered the Crucifixion in order to redeem us from sin, in order to purify the whole of man-kind. Just think of what Christ did for us, and what do we do for Him?
People want to sin and to have a God Who would forgive us while we continued to sin. People do not believe and, therefore, throw themselves insatiably into sin. This, i.e. disbelief, is the beginning of all evil. People do not believe in the afterlife and, consequently, do not care about anything. They offend and deceive each other, they abandon their children… The tongue even refuses to speak of the things that are going on. The gravest sins. Such sins that even the Holy Fathers did not foresee anything like it in the Holy Canons. As God said about Sodom and Gomorrah: “I cannot believe it – is it true that such sins are being committed? Let Me go and look.”
If men do not repent, do not return to God, they will lose eternal life. A person must help himself understand the deepest meaning of life. He must come to his senses, in order to feel divine comfort. The task is not simply to abstain from sin, but to grow spiritually.

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