Orthodox Thought for the Day

ORTHODOX THOUGHT FOR THE DAY

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

On witnessing faith

Final entry:  Gerontissa Gavrilia on “witnessing faith” The Ascetic of Love, pp 326-7 

G:  I don’t know how to talk with my fellow students, who do not believe in the Incarnation of God.  They say that Christ was only… 

G.G.:  …He was Theanthropos (God-man)!  But man cannot understand that with his reason.  He cannot grasp the Mystery of Incarnation—how God became Man.  And he cannot comprehend it, because it never happened before, nor will it ever happen again.  It happened once! ... This is why talking serves no purpose:  just as you do not listen to them, they do not listen to you, when you give the witness under these circumstances…We should talk only when we meet a Seeker of the Truth—only then.  The rest are all persons who have been misled; who have limited their mind to a single track.  No matter what you tell them, they will continue their monologue.  There can be no dialogue.  They come, by Divine Dispensation, only to waste your valuable time. 

G.:  What should we do when they talk? 

G.G.:  Recite to yourself the prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon us.”  And let them speak, for they need to say these things… 

G.:  But in this way they think… 

G.G.: …that since you keep silent, you agree with them. 

G.:  And then what? 

G.G.:  Nothing.  Let them be and pray that their eyes may be opened.  

G:  Still, they insist:  “Will you not give the witness?  Will you not speak? 

G.G.:  No. A Confession of Faith is not like that.  The witness is given only when people are receptive.  As we read in the Gospel, “A sower went out to sow,”  He sowed.   



A seed fell on rocky ground, another among thistles, a third into good soil.  If you drop the seed all the time on rocks or among thistles, it will not find soil, it will not grow.  There is such a great lack of faith around us…Fortunately, there are also books.  It is easier for a person to be convinced by what he reads than by a person with no power, like you and me.  Do you understand how it works?  The other one thinks, “Who are you to teach me?”  And, of course, the Ego makes its appearance… 

G;  I have noticed that there are persons who love people, animals, plants, everything that is beautiful, music, etc…but they do not want Christ.  What about them? 

G.G.:  It doesn’t matter.  A day will come when the Lord Himself will open their eyes.  At present, we will love them as they are.  There is nothing else we can do.  We should not speak.  If our own life speaks, then it’s all right.  I am opposed to the idea of speaking, when the other one does not see anything in your life.  For the Lord says, “Give when you are asked to give.”  When they do see something in your own life, they will ask you, “How does that happen?” 

G.:  They will be interested to know… 

G.G.:  When you go to people of a different religion, for example to India, and you work like a servant without pay, without any recompense, then they ask, “Who is He who sends you?”  I have here some letters, and they are still writing to me, saying, “Your God has brought you to us…” 

Here is a source for this book in English: 


To perivoli tis Panayias Bookstore
9, Prassakaki str. Thessaloniki 43622 Greece
bookstore@toperivoli.gr
Tel. (031)283805

Monday, July 29, 2013

On the "right" of the other

More guidance from Gerontissa Gavrilia, The Ascetic of Love: 

 
G.G.:  A person who has love, forbearance, obedience and humility, has gained both this world and Paradise.  The most difficult thing, however, is to overcome the Power of Darkness which always tells us that we are right.  Do you agree? 

E.:  Aren’t we ever right? 

G.G.:  Never!  The other one is always “right.”  That is what is so important… 

E.:  How do you explain that? 

G.G.:  Do you know why?  Because, according to his own Ego, he is right.  Therefore, why should I try to convinced him with my own Ego? 

E.:  That is to say, we submit to the other person’s Ego and right. 

G.G.:  Not in the way you mean it.  We do what we consider to be right, without getting into pointless arguments with the other person; without reproval; without losing our peace of mind.  That person will continue on his own way and we shall commend him to God’s will.  He cannot harm us.  For we have an Authority above us and the Authority agrees with our own sense of justice.  We have our Confessor, our Gerontissa (spiritual mother), our Bishop, the entire Church who are in agreement.  Above all, we have the Gospel which tells us, “This is Right, this is the Commandment.”  So?  Now let me tell you something.  For all such thoughts, I have a basket, which I call the “basket of vanity.”  In the way we throw waste papers away, in the same way I throw these thoughts in this basket and they cease to trouble me.  Because man should not be worried by such things.  Many a time an atheist will come, someone who is opposed, someone who will start useless discussions with the sole intention of annoying you…Even if this person has saddened or hurt you, never show it…Never do that.  Otherwise he will have achieved his purpose.  Do you see that?  The next time he will return with greater resolution.  But if again you remain calm, he will think:  “No use hitting here; I’ll try somewhere else.” 
 
 

Therefore above all, no anger!  For the Lord Himself has said, “resist no evil.”  When we set ourselves against someone,  we get involved in a bitter quarrel.  If anyone were to witness the scene, after a while would he be able to tell who is right and who is wrong?  Certainly not.  Because we have both become evil, yielding to the Tempter.  This is why I am telling  you:  when a discussion between two persons leads to controversy, one of the two, if he happens to be a person of God, must keep silent and repeat within himself that prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon us,”  Then in two minutes everything stops… (pp 309-10)

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Gerontissa Gavrilia on prayer

From The Ascetic of Love 

G.G.:  When you are unable to do something, practically or personally, for someone you wish to help, you may still send a message to God.  You may take that person in mind, place him at the Feet of Christ and pray the Lord to bless him.  Then you would have done what you could.  This may be practiced gradually.  This is what monastics who have completely withdrawn from the world do.  They did not withdraw because they did not love people, they went into retreat because they love people very much and wished to do nothing else but pray for them.  If the world stands on its feet today, it is because thousands of monastics pray for that.  People who don’t know say, “What does a monk or a nun do? 
They just pray.  So what?  Acts!  Deeds!  That’s what we need!”  They are not right, though.  For there exists no energy greater than that of prayer.  Great is the power of prayer, say the Holy Scriptures, and indeed effective.  Because prayer is power.  It is energy.  Doesn’t the Gospel tell us, You can make even a mountain move with your prayer?  Fr. Lazarus*  says something very interesting:  that the mountain we move with our faith is our own Pride—a big mountain!  And we throw it into the sea!

G:  Yes, but how can we do this?

G.G.:  Only with the grace of God!  Pray with all your heart, “Lord, take away my pride,” and the next day, He starts! 

K.:  Still, everyday life, work, marriage, children, cares, worries, all these leave you no time for anything else.  You want to, but you don’t have the time… 

G.G.:  You don’t need time.  Because as I have told you, prayer is a state of the soul.  As we read in the Way of a Pilgrim, when you wash the dishes, keep saying, “Lord, have mercy upon me…Lord, have mercy upon me,”  Whatever we do in a day, we can do it while keeping in our mind and in our heart the notion of God, a constant awareness of the existence of God, as if listening to a background music…nothing is impossible…  (pages 297-98)

on praying without love:

G.G.:  If you don’t love, don’t dare pray.  For your prayer will not reach the ears of the Lord.  It is an abomination to God.  Somebody comes and tells me, “I cannot stand this person.  Of course, I do not wish him any harm, but I pray that God may guide him.”  And I say, “How dare you?”  If I say, “Lord, please guide this person whom I do not love,” He will tell me:  “Why do you care, since you do not love him?  First love him, then come and ask Me to guide him.  I will grant it at once.  Because He said, “Love your enemies.”  (pg 299)
 
*Fr. Lazarus Moore (of blessed memory) was a spiritual guide to Gerontissa Gavrilia.

Friday, July 26, 2013

On changing others

From The Ascetic of Love, pp 179-80, Gerontissa Gavrilia on causing change in others:

It is a great fallacy to believe that by trying you can change a person.  This never happens.  It can be done through the example of your own life.  It can never, or very seldom, be achieved through effort, talk, contradiction and the like. 

The change will occur when the time of God comes.  If you change your own self and become a living example to the person you wish to change, if you become his ideal and are seen to be happy, then it will happen.  To pray for somebody is quite right---but we must not try to change him.  This is only in the Hand of God.   



 God has a plan for everyone’s life.  For all human beings.  We are free, but what we don’t know is that He knows what we shall do.  For He knows all.  God knows every single step of our life, to the last moment.  We do not.  And dear M., if we tried more to unite our self with God, then we wouldn’t need to do anything.  Because we would automatically become an example to those we wished to see walking His way.   

It is natural, though, for you, so young and with all this love God has put into your heart, to fail to understand, at least in the beginning, to feel disappointed and to say, What a situation!   All this effort and no results yet?  But did it ever cross your mind that God says the same thing about us?  I pardoned so many times, I showed forbearance so many times…And still…   



 The next step should be prayer.  Just as the beginning was prayer.  Without judging the other person.  Once after I had understood that prayer is everything, I saw two very angry boys fighting in the street.  I refrained from intervening, as I would have done in days past.  Instead, I put at once into practice what I believed in.  I turned aside and said, Lord, put Thy peace between these two.  By the time I turned to look at them again, they were laughing and playing.  That was an answer from God.  Know that, dear M.  Our peace and serenity, our own way of living, indicate how much we believe.  That is why a person may teach us the best lesson, but if we see that he is troubled, restless and faltering, we cannot have faith in what he tells us.  If therefore, we wish to help our fellow men, the purpose of our life should be to get as close as we possibly can to the Example—the Lord. 


Thursday, July 25, 2013

On joy in the Christian life

An interview with Gerontissa Gavrilia, The Ascetic of Love, pp 241-243
 

Interviewer:  Joy is an integral element in the life of a Christian, is it not?  When you believe in Christ, aren’t you always joyful? 

Gerontissa Gavrilia:  Indeed, you are.  For Christ said, “My peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth,” And again, “that My joy might remain in you,”  This joy is like the grace of God.  It dwells in us.  We do not wait for the other one to give us joy, since Christ gives it first. 

Interviewer:  This is what I have noticed.  Though you see every day people who are sick, poor, helpless…you are joyful. 

Gerontissa Gavrilia:  Yes.  Because I love with all my heart those whom I see.  I link their life with my own and, at the same time, I think:  If I, a mortal and sinful person, can love them so much, how much more must God love them—God Who created them and Whose children they are. In other words, He is the first to care for them.  He knows why they are sick. He knows what effect their sickness will have on their soul.  He knows the reason of all things.  I can neither judge nor fathom any further.  So, this is what I do.  I take this sick person in my heart.  I make a fervent prayer, with all my love, and I place him at the Feet of Christ.  That is, I say, “My Lord, give him Your pardon, give him You mercy, give him light, give him health of body and soul.  Make Your will manifest itself in his life.”  Because sometimes, if God’s will is not revealed in a person’s life, he may suffer from illness for a long time, so that he may learn his lesson through experience.   

When you are confined to bed, you can be alone, you can think, and you may find the answers to a lot of questions.  Those who had to spend long days in bed—as I had in my young age—know what a gift this is to the sinful side of ourselves.  For sin must be cleansed.  Sitting up in bed, we can stay all alone:  no social activities, no images from the outside world, nothing…this helps…So I say this prayer and leave the ailing person in the Hands of God.  Can I do anything more?  No!  After I have done that, the joy of God remains unaltered in my heart.  I cannot weep over this person’s condition.  I can weep over my own sins and beg to be forgiven.  This is something different.  But, cry for another child of God…no.  My heart will be filled with compassion—that, yes.  This compassion will lead me to prayer!   

Prayer will be as a union with God…To work His miracles, God wants us to have love in this world—truly, He wants a human soul to love in unison with Him.  I have noticed that.  This is why priests and God-loving people who make a paraklesis (supplication prayer) notice an immediate change in the condition of the person for whom the paraklesis is made, even if he is miles away.  For he tells them, “Do you know how I felt?  From that moment on I felt stronger, etc.”  Obviously so.  Because there is no greater energy than that of prayer.  Prayer is God’s energy—that’s what it is.  Above all, however, we need something else:  We need to listen to the voice of God—in silence. 

Interviewer:  Do you mean, Gerontissa, that joy can become permanent? 

Gerontissa Gavrilia:  Yes…even if we are doing something very important, such as praying, we should open our door when someone knocks.  As the Saint says, pretend that you were not at prayer and do not send him away.  Open your door and tell him, Come in brother.  When we have reached the point of thinking like that, of thinking only of our brother and not of our own self, our joy becomes permanent.  And as we have become the mirror in which the other sees his own reflection, if this mirror is filled with joy, he will surely see that too…This is most essential.  You see, I lived many years in India—a very poor country, oppressed, suffering, ignorant of Christ.  Well, let us take now a country where Christ is known, such as Switzerland or France.  As soon as you alight from the train, you see nothing but sullen, worried faces.  They all look anxious!  What has happened here?  The sense of joy has been lost.  This is very serious indeed!  In India, they are awaiting Christ and this waiting is joyful.  We “have” Him, but do not reflect Him.  We are guilty for this.  Terribly guilty…still you should know, and I will say it once again, that when you submit yourselves entirely to the power and love of God, you will comprehend that everything—listen well, EVERYTHING, in capital letters—is done either because God wills it or because God permits it.  There is no third version!  Therefore, since God wills it, I accept it with all my heart; since God permits it, again I accept it with the same joy.  For He has His reasons, it is a training.  Never dare ask “why.”  NEVER!  Because he who asks “why” writes “I.”  And where there is an “I,” there can be neither progress nor hope. 

Interviewer:  Gerontissa, you have spoken of joy.  Yet the Fathers tell us to have sorrow and tears for our sins.  How can these be combined? 

Gerontissa Gavrilia:  I will tell you.  The moment we become aware that we did something wrong, we shall shed tears, we shall feel contrition, we shall repent.  Then, the joy of pardon should follow, because we know that God is compassionate and all merciful.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Divine therapy


Advice from Gerontissa Gavrilia (Papayanni +1992), The Ascetic of Love, pg 158

Quite often, patients with a painful arm would come to me for treatment.  The moment I started massaging the arm*, the patient stiffened and I would say, ‘Relax.  Let your arm loose so I can do my work,’ but he couldn’t and would keep his arm stiff.  Then I would tell him again, ‘In spite of all my good will, my experience and the love I have for my job and people, I will not able to help you if you don’t let your arm free.’ 

I have watched how the patient’s attitude works and have realized that this is also what happens with us.  If we abandon ourselves in God’s hands, He will fashion us as He wants us to be.  He will give us so many opportunities!  He will make us meet people that are His own!  We shall progress in life!  And finally we shall flourish in Christ, in God.  But, when we want things to be according to our own petty will and tell Him, ‘No, I do not want that,’ then God says to us, Let yourself free, ‘No, I will have it my way,’  Let yourself free.  ‘No!  This is what I want.’  And because He made us free, He tells us, Well since this is your wish, go ahead and break your little head!  Then you will come and say, ‘Forgive me, Lord.  Have mercy on me, my Lord.’  Let us hope that this may be so, to make us turn to God and tell Him, ‘Lord have mercy upon me.’  For even then, even with a broken head, if He opens our eyes, all we be well.  

*Gerontissa Gavrilia was a trained physiotherapist
 
 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Understood everywhere and by all


From Gerontissa Gavrilia (Papayanni +1992), The Ascetic of Love: 

Once when I was there where I was, some foreign missionary came and said to me, “You may be a good woman, but you’re not a good Christian.”

I said, “Why?”


“Because you have been here so long and you only go about speaking English. What local languages have you learned?”


I said to him, “I haven’t managed to learn any of the local languages, because I travel a great deal from place to place. As soon as I learn one dialect, they start speaking another. I’ve only learned ‘Good morning’ and ‘Good evening.’ Nothing else.”


“Bah, you’re no Christian. How can you evangelize? All the Catholics and Protestants learn all the local dialects in order to . . .”


Then I said, “Lord, give me an answer for him.” I asked it with all my heart, and then I said, “Ah. I forgot to tell you. I know five languages.”


“Really? What are these five?”


“The first is the smile; the second is tears. The third is to touch. The fourth is prayer, and the fifth is love. With these five languages I go all around the world.”


Then he stopped and said, “Just a minute. Say that again so I can write it down.”


 

With these five languages you can travel the whole earth, and all the world is yours. Love everyone as your own–without concern for religion or race, without concern for anything.  Everywhere are people of God. You never know if the one you see today might tomorrow be a saint.

The melancholic and the nun

From The Ascetic of Love, pp 335-336:

(Gerontissa Gavrilia)…What I believe, dear M., is that by reliving regrettable incidents of the past you cause much harm to yourself.  As the doctor said, your present illness is psychosomatic.  This is the way he said it, but I know from personal experience, that by going over such unpleasant events, you live through them again…Once in the days of my youth, I lived for a certain time near someone who suffered from melancholia.  He was sad and pensive all day long.  No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t make him overcome this condition.  It seems that God permitted it as a test.  Little by little, I started becoming like him. 

(Reply from M):  You?  Depressed?

(Gerontissa Gavrilia):  Yes.  When I was going out with my friends, I had nothing to tell them.  To whatever they said, I answered with a single word only:  “Yes,” “No.”  My friends kept asking, “What has happened?  Why this change?”  I was not aware of this change myself, but had the feeling that everything was in vain!  I had become a melancholic person, too; because this condition is very contagious.  Then one day I happened to be in new surroundings:  with a group of fellow-students and while normally my character was an open one, everyone remarked,  “What a shy girl!  So silent!  That’s curious!”  This condition lasted a long time.  It is said that melancholic persons emit sad vibrations just as cheerful persons send out waves of joy.  You must have noticed that the moment a joyful person comes in, without saying a word, just by walking in and out of the room cheerfully, he leaves something there, something like a trace…

(M):  …of freshness.

(Gerontissa Gavrilia):  Yes. Something like that…

(M):  Yes…After some time, however, I think it over and say to myself:  “Why should I fret to death?”

(Gerontissa Gavrilia):  …Well, it is not often that one meets a person who can say it so aptly as you just did!  You bring me back to the state I was in, before accepting that God is the Father of all of us and that He will take care of His children.  Otherwise, I too, would have been still a melancholic person.  I was so depressed at the time, that I felt it would perhaps be better to die rather than see what was going on in this world!  We may end up like that, you know.  This is why you should react at once.  I have been telling you, we should take all our sorrow and place it at the Feet of Christ.  Because He suffered on the Cross for our sins, and for our sorrows, and for our problems, and for all the gloom of our souls.  For everything!  And when you remember that the Blood of our Lord is cleaning us from everything, that’s the end of it!  Nothing of all these exists any more.  If you take the time to think on this thoroughly, then you will understand.  There are limits to what we can do.  We cannot give help to all…We cannot be physically present both here and there.  In spirit, of course, we can be everywhere…This is exactly why, dear M., you should convert your sensibility into prayer.  Something wonderful will happen then.  Because you could take in your heart all those in need of help and place them at the Feet of Christ Who was Crucified for you, for me, for all the world…This is why you have been confined to a sick bed:  to meditate on this and then go forth as a joyful person. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Church on earth

As harbors in the ocean, God established churches in the cities; so that, fleeing from the confusion of life’s matters, we enjoy serenity there. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

On faintheartedness

Every prudent person does not weep in advance, but he waits for whatever the Lord will send him.  And what the Lord sends—whether good or bad—he accepts with joy and strives to endure according to his strength.  But if he cannot endure—he repents for his faintheartedness.  But we become fainthearted beforehand; while still not seeing any misfortune or sorrow, we grieve before the sorrow ever comes.  Christian, live in a Christian manner. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

On the Fall and the tyranny of thoughts

The Holy Fathers say that the Lord has permitted mankind to be born of woman and to multiply on the earth in this manner because of the Fall of our forebears.  God had ordered everything perfectly, and He is the Father of all.  However, after the Fall this harmony was disturbed.  Our very nature became corrupt, for our forebears were created immortal.  When man fell, death came and the order of the universe was disturbed, for Adam had been created as the crown of the universe and the master of all created things.  In every man can be found the entire material world of the universe and all the noetic powers.  This is why it has been said that man is a microcosm.  We must return to the bosom of our Heavenly Father and our faith must grow stronger in order that we might get strength from Him, and we shall see His Kingdom. 
 
After the Fall, everything fell apart.  God, being Love, knew that created beings would not be able to remain in the state they were created in, and so He gave them all the time from the Creation to the Dread Judgment to come to their senses and return to the bosom of their Heavenly Father, to become one with Absolute Good and Absolute Love.
 
 Mankind, however, prefers evil to good.  Such is the result of our fallen nature!  It is easier for us to think evil than good.  But when we think evil, we have no peace or rest from such thoughts.  How great is our fall!  It is a strange thing indeed…We cannot seem to come to our senses, neither can we do good of our own selves.  We have no idea how very much our thoughts are tyrannized by the fallen spirits.  We think those are our thoughts.  We are tormented by hatred, envy, and malice.  Unsurpassed tyranny!  Our soul does not want this, but it cannot free itself.  It becomes accustomed to this tyranny from a very early age, so that is has become rooted firmly in the soul.  One must strive to conquer this tyranny of thoughts!  We must be transformed into love and acquire peace.  It is not easy, for our fall is very great. 
 
Man cannot do this without God’s help.  Man thinks very highly of himself.  But everything that is revealed to him comes from eternity.  We are surrounded by God’s mysteries.  We ourselves are the greatest mystery.  We don’t even know who we are, where we came from, and where we are going.  What sort of a being is this that thinks, moves and talks without knowing how or why?  What a great mystery this is!  How is it possible that our internal organs function without our will—and they function perfectly at that?  And how is it that we can disturb this perfect harmony with our thoughts? 

 


http://www.stherman.com/Catalog/Spiritual_Counsels/Elder_Thaddeus_Book.html

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

All living things long for God

Every living thing seeks love:  man, animals and plants.  All people seek God and long for Him, regardless of whether they are believers or unbelievers.  Some people call themselves atheists, but they do not know that in their hearts they long after God.  For when someone yearns for justice, love and truth, he is really yearning after God.  All people long for love that never changes and justice that is always the same.  All living things long for God.  The only difference is that some oppose Him and others don’t, some yearn after Him consciously while others are not aware that their yearning is really after God. 

iconographer:  Michael Kapeluck
available through Conciliar Press

Monday, July 8, 2013

On atheism

Some say that they are atheists, but there is no such thing as an atheist…No such thing.  Even the devil believes and trembles (cf. James 2:19), but he refuses to do good.  There is no such thing as a person who does not believe in God, and there is no rational being on earth that does not long after life with all his heart.  We will give anything to live eternally, and we all long after perfect love, love that never changes but lasts forever.  God is life, He is love, peace and joy.  There are those who oppose Him, but they can do nothing to hurt Him.  It is we who complicate our own lives with our negative thoughts.