Below also is a tribute video dedicated to the first post-mortem sign of the Elder's sanctity - his smile.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Below also is a tribute video dedicated to the first post-mortem sign of the Elder's sanctity - his smile.
Burial or Burning?
Protopresbyter George D. Metallinos
The burial of the dead is an essential element of Orthodox Christian culture and a foundational practice of Orthodox tradition. The position that burial corresponds with Jewish culture while burning with the Greek is historically proven to be deceptive and above all misleading. The correct history is that cases of burning the dead did exist in Greek antiquity, but burial was the rule. Classical proofs: the tomb of Marathon, the very many burial finds (skeletons are discovered) up to today, the entombment of Pericles (carrying around an empty bed for those not buried during the war), skeletons are discovered at the graves of the Mycenaeans, Abba Sisoes saw the remains (skeleton) of Alexander the Great in the 4th century A.D., and the most classical example is the tragedy of Sophocles “Antigone”, in which she buried the “traitor” against her brother Creon (not burying the person was degrading and a penalty imposed upon the traitors).
Burning occurs everywhere (Greece, East and West), with dishonor towards the body and regarding it as bad, and finally, contempt for it. In Christianity, the body becomes a “temple” of God, it becomes divinized by grace together with the soul (“τό συναμφότερον” or both together) and is glorified together with it. This is why Christ was buried and from that time all of the Christians, Saints or not, from the Forerunner and Stephen until today. Incorrupt and whole relics of Saints (such as Saints Spyridon, Gerasimos, Dionysios, etc.) have been saved inside the grave, revealing theosis. The Service for the Dead, among the most important texts of world-wide literature, theologically expounds upon the natural ending of the human body (by the grace of God), as well as its formation from “not Being” to “Being” (from non-existence to existence).
In Christianity (I’m talking about Orthodoxy), the unchanging nature of burial for 20 centuries is, despite the statements of the modernizing theologians, a “dogma” (teaching) of the faith. According to Basil the Great, it belongs to the “unwritten” things of the faith, like the sign of the cross, the direction of the church towards the east, the triple immersion and emersion in Baptism, etc., which have never been expressed in writing and however are a permanent and steadfast confession of the Orthodox Body, and they have “the force towards piety". The same with burial. Any theologian, as “important” as he may seem, cannot become a canon of faith, but only the deeds of our Saints, like Basil the Great.
But I believe that the strongest reason to remain in the tradition of burial for today’s Greeks is the cultural. Burial is an unfounded component of our culture. And culture is the fulfillment of our soul in space and time. Those among Buddhists and Hindus or whoever else, who have built within themselves another conscience, cannot impose their opinion to the rest of the multitude, because this would indeed be “fascistic” and undemocratic behavior. I would even say that this not only applies to the burial of our dead, which has been connected to so many practices and customs of our people (the heart of our culture is baptism, marriage, funeral - events that happen throughout our life), but also to seemingly insignificant elements, such as, for example, souvlaki (skewer of grilled meat), kokoretsi (grilled sheep’s entrails), or retsina (resinated wine), etc. Our fellow Europeans want us to be one to abolish us (ex. kokoretsi), so that we eat the German “hamburger” and drink warm Bavarian beer. This, no matter how funny it seems, reveals the permanent tendency of some of our own, for 2-3 centuries now, to change over (reincarnate) to another historical body, because we are embarrassed about our own cultural body. To become something else. And they know very well that if they “take out – put in”, nothing will remain, spiritual or biological, which will hold our Greek identity together. This is the number one problem even with the imposition by any chance of burning. It is a march towards the break-down of our culture. Our great sociologist, professor Demetrios Loukatos, has stated: “Maybe the remains of the dead do not need us, but we need them very much. Burning would be a complete annihilation of a living continuity and communication, which we want”!
There exists a solution to the foreseen “problem” (here we have a capitalist created problem which should NOT exist): Already Greek justice, recently, is apparent: “the establishment of burning of the dead goes against the public order and good morals” ("Τα Νέα" (a Greek newspaper), 5.11.1992). The Holy Synod of the Church of Greece has officially showed two times that “burning is opposed to the statutes of the Orthodox Church”. If a substantial problem exists, it has been created by our jostling in the Capital. Therefore, if we recognize what cultural identity means and we have the disposition to save it, we should reinforce actions such as the following: the creation of new graveyards (cemeteries) outside of residential areas and the transport of our dead to our provinces, to the land of our birthplace. The economical argument proves to be rotten, since burning requires huge expenses (for example public investment for this already exists ["Τα Νέα", 5.11.1992]). Let us leave aside the dangers of contamination from the crematoriums, about which much as been written Abroad.
An initial and very cheap solution is indeed “democratic”. The trade of tombs by the municipality must cease. Huge tombs cannot be appropriated by others in a favorite country, because they are rich, and for the poor (…even dead) to be burned. We propose normal tombs FOR EVERYONE and the gathering of bones in small cases, stacked one on top of the other, as for example in the Cemetery of the Zographou Province. But this applies to EVERYONE! It is understood how much space this will save.
The democratic conscience certainly dictates for us to accept the free choice of burning by those who do not possess Greek Orthodox convictions and thoughts. But this should not be imposed upon those who deny it. It is needless to say that it is consciously inconceivable for a Greek Orthodox to choose burning.
Even the christians abroad would say this. Those who ask for the imposition (behold their democracy) of burning at the expense of our ethnic tradition belong to the “outside”, where they want to make laws …most democratic, even for those on the “inside”. Because some welcome the example of Maria Callas [popular Greek singer who was cremated in France in 1977], I state that neither the blessed singer, nor the blessed Dimitri Mitropoulos [a popular Greek singer who was cremated in Italy in 1960] who preceded, is the measure of faith and Greek Orthodox conscience. Respect for the offering they gave to the people is one thing, and the imitation of their choices is another.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
You have alluded to young earth ideas in your blog. So how do you respond to articles like this which claim the recent discovery that the Amazon River is 11 million years old?
I'm familiar with Ken Ham. But I tend to be a little embarrassed by the young earth Christians. Perhaps that is really a problem with me.
Just to clarify, I never said I was a young earth creationist. I never said I was an old earth creationist either. I would venture to say that I am a supporter of the Intelligent Design movement, but the movement does not take a position on the age of anything (most personal opinions of ID supporters lean towards old earth).
My opinion on the matter of origins, from an objectively scientific view point, is that it lies in mystery. I don't think science has the means to tell us how old man is, how old life is, how old the earth is, or even how old the universe is. Estimations could be made based on certain data, but it is all conjecture. Even the age of the Amazon (see link above) is based on speculation according to data, but the data these scientists analyzed is set according to a model of how things should have been or might have been and not necessarily how they were. I'm not denying the Amazon is 11 million years old, but I'm pretty sure there is no objective proof that it is. I don't think we will ever know in fact, because in order for data like that to be objective we have to know every detail of what was going on in that specific area every single day over the past 11 million years. No technology can possibly provide that information except a time machine (which we yet do not have). You can recreate it on a computer, but how do you know your recreation is objective? How do you know you havn't missed some very important information in your analysis? In the end, it all is just very silly and pointless.
Even an honest scientist will tell you that there really is no such thing as absolutes with the scientific method, especially if it cannot be observed at the present moment (like a sunrise, or gravitation, or weather conditions). Even a scientific fact is fallible and is open to scrutiny. A scientific fact is merely assumed to be true, and can be refuted at any point. This quote from Harvard biologist Stephen Jay Gould illustrates the issue nicely:
"Moreover, 'fact' doesn't mean 'absolute certainty'; there ain't no such animal in an exciting and complex world. The final proofs of logic and mathematics flow deductively from stated premises and achieve certainty only because they are NOT about the empirical world. ...In science 'fact' can only mean 'confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional consent.' I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms."
Thus the great flaw of science is that it ultimately cannot provide absolute truth. Scientists who claim absolute truth on a matter, especially if it cannot be presently observed, are simply quacks. Their science has become a religion and their opinions are their god.
Religious people can be just as dogmatic on this subject. Faith, however, does not give us the right to be absolutists. Absolutes for people of faith can only come through direct revelation. And only direct revelation can truly answer the ultimate questions. As far as a direct revelation on the age of the universe, or the earth, or man, it has never been revealed. Scripture certainly does not provide an objective answer because Scripture is not a direct revelation of God. As Fr. John Romanides has stated:
"Is there a single Church Father who identifies Holy Scripture with the experience of theosis itself? No, there is not one, because God's revelation to mankind is the experience of theosis. In fact, since revelation is the experience of theosis, an experience that transcends all expressions and concepts, the identification of Holy Scripture with revelation is, in terms of dogmatic theology, pure heresy."
Since no single person has had a direct revelation of the actual age of the universe and the exact method of its origins, maybe we can know something about the original condition of the universe from the revelations of the Prophets, Apostles and Saints.
In fact, Patristic consensus holds that the universe in the beginning was very different than what it is today to the point where origins cannot possibly be studied objectively from a materialistic scientific point of view. St. Symeon the New Theologian summarizes the Patristic teaching that "the whole world had been brought into being by God as one thing, as a kind of paradise, at once incorruptible yet material and perceptible". This observation of St. Symeon echoes Wisdom of Solomon (1:13, 14): "God did not make death, neither does He take delight in the destruction of living things. God created all things that they might have their being; and the generations of the world were for preservation, and there is no poison of destruction in them". St. Symeon goes on to explain that before the original creation was "changed over to corruption" it did not "bear perishable fruits and...sprout thorns and thistles" (cf. Gen. 3:18), but had a different "law of nature". Regarding the original state of creation, St. Symeon further illustrates how both man and all living things were in a state of incorruption. St. John the Damascene says that before the transgression of Adam and Eve "there was neither rain nor tempest on the earth". St. Gregory of Sinai says Paradise had been "made between corruption and incorruption". St. Theophilus teaches that animals were not venomous before the fall. He with many Fathers also taught that beasts did not evoke fear in man in the prelapsarian world, but rather submitted to him. And of course, carnivory did not exist in the original creation.
Ultimately, from what we can judge by Scriptural and Patristic testimony, because the prelapsarian world - its vegetation, animals, and climate - were incorrupt, then we can safely conclude that the world before the fall is unknowable in its corrupt state by our corrupt minds. St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, a 19th century Church Father, gives remarkable detail concerning this matter:
"The earth - created, adorned, blessed by God - did not have any deficiencies. It was overflowing with refinement. 'God saw,' after the completion of the whole creation of the world, 'everything that He had made: and, behold, it was very good' (Gen. 1:31). Now the earth is presented to our eyes in a completely different look. We do not know her condition in holy virginity; we know her in the condition of corruption and accursedness, we know her already sentenced to burning; she was created for eternity. The God-inspired writer of Genesis says the earth in its original condition did not have need of tilling (Gen. 2:5): it brought forth by itself grains and other nourishing grasses, vegetables and fruits overabundantly and of superb worth. There were no harmful growths on it; plants were not subjected either to decay or to diseases; both decay and diseases, and the weeds themselves appeared after the alteration of the earth following the fall of man, as one ought to conclude from the words of God to Adam as he was being exiled from Paradise: 'Thorns and thistles shall it [the ground] bring forth to thee" (Gen. 3:18). According to its creation, there was on it only the splendid, only the wholesome, there was only that which was suitable for the immortal and blessed life of its inhabitants. Changes in the weather did not exist: it was continually the same - the most clear and favorable. There were no rains. A spring came forth from the earth and watered its face (Gen. 2:5,6). The beasts and other animals lived in perfect harmony among themselves, nourishing themselves on plant life (Gen. 1:30)."
A similar observation is made by St. Barsanuphios of Optina Monastery in Russia. Once, when standing before a window at night, he pointed to the moon and said to his disciple (the future Elder Nikon):
"Look - what a picture!... This is left to us as a consolation. It's no wonder that the Prophet David said: 'Thou hast gladdened me, O Lord, by Thy works' (Ps. 91:3). 'Thou hast gladdened me,' he says, although this is only a hint of that wonderous beauty, incomprehensible to human thought, which was originally created. We don't know what kind of moon there was then, what kind of sun, what kind of light.... All of this changed after the fall."
If someone tells me they are a young earther, Im perfectly fine with it. If someone tells me they are an old earther, I feel the same exact way as if they are a young earther. No one truly knows the age and origins of these things, and I only weary of those who claim to know - whether they base their conclusions on Science or Scripture.
It sort of reminds me of something Dr. Norman Geisler once told me: "Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays Im a young earther; Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays Im an old earther. Sunday I just focus on the Lord." That has basically become my motto on this subject.
*Patristic quotes taken from The Orthodox Word, "Created in Incorruption: The Orthodox Patristic Understanding of Man and the Cosmos in Their Original, Fallen, and Redeemed States", by Hieromonk Damascene; Vol. 44, No. 1-2, Jan.-Apr. 2008.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Someone sent me a video to analyze during the Michael Jackson Memorial. It is an excerpt from "The Larry King Show" in which Larry interviewed Jermaine Jackson and another reporter is given a tour of Neverland Ranch. At 8:22 in this clip (the above clip just summarizes the ghost part), where the camera is pointed down a hallway, a shadowy form passes across the room at the end of the hall. Is it just a shadow of someone in that room, or is it Michael Jackson's ghost?
I would venture to say that this is just a shadow of someone in the room. The shadowy figure appears elongated against the wall and not detached from it standing (or walking) on its own. As the shadow moves you can also observe the shadow making a shadow on the floor. Plus the room appears to be heavily lit so that it appears in the long camera shot. My guess therefore is that the CNN crew had a person in that room with bright lights to make sure it appeared from the other side of the hallway.
If the shadaw had done a perfect moonwalk however, then I may have reconsidered my analysis.
Russian Orthodoxy: Ethnic or Religious Identity?
July 3, 2009
Berlin, Germany - "I am Russian and so I am Orthodox." The sociologist Natalia Zorkaia, from the NGO Levada Center, thus summarizes the results of research conducted among the population of the Federation entitled "Religion and Religiosity in Russia." It notes that over 72% of people claim to be Orthodox, but only 3% go to church at least once a week. A high percentage loosely follows the precepts of their faith.
The research, commissioned by the Catholic organisation Renovabis, was born of a desire to "observe the return of the religious phenomenon in Eastern Europe and nothing more," says Christopher Dam representative of the organisation that is based in Berlin. Zorkaia says that, interviews from a sample group of 1600 people showed that "Orthodoxy in contemporary Russia is a form of ethnic identity rather than religious conviction."
The figures, presented in late June at a press conference in Berlin, show that 72.6% of respondents stated they were Orthodox and only 7.3% claimed to be atheist. People, who claim to belong to other Christian groups, including Catholicism, count for 1.2%, while Judaism, Islam and Buddhism count for 6.3% of respondents.
The Levada Center research shows that among those who consider themselves Orthodox only 42% say they believe in "unconditionally" God. The survey also notes that of these 55% attend church on the occasion of major celebrations, only 3% visited every week while 12% never go to church. Data regarding the rules and precepts of the faith, such as fasting, confession and prayer, reveals a similar breakdown in percentages.
Hegumen Filipp, professor of Church History at the State University Mgu Moscow, says that the results of research show that "people come to church with their own superstitions and they try to make them a part of church life." The project promoted by Renovabis has aided understanding of the development of the religious phenomenon since the end of the prohibitions of the Soviet era. With regard to the orthodoxy in particular, it covers the period under Patriarch Alexei II.
For Filipp this snapshot of the situation sets out a future task both for the Orthodox clergy and for the leaders of other religions in the country. The Professor, who participated in drawing up the questionnaire, considers training of the clergy to be a vital element. Proper education of the people entrusted with the leadership of the different communities of believers is the only way to raise a genuine religious experience among the laity and greater awareness of the meaning of their faith.
Russian Orthodox Church: The Phoenix is Reborn
26 June 2009
Growing up in 1970s Moscow, I had a nanny who had lived in our family for 45 years. She died in 1981, when she was 93 and I was 13. Like most Soviet people, my family was not religious.
My grandfather prided himself in becoming an atheist in pre-revolutionary Russia and refusing to attend the Orthodox doctrine class at school. It scandalised his father, a priest’s son turned high-ranking civil engineer.
Orthodox belief on the rise In Soviet Russia, it was a norm enforced by persecution, education and all-encopassing atheistic propaganda. But my nanny, Yevdokiya Frolova, was different.
She was a nun. After her convent was closed in 1927, like all of her sisters she spent time in a labour camp. Unlike many, she survived and ended up serving four generations of our family selflessly and lovingly, quietly maintaining a rigorous monastic discipline of strict fasting, daily prayers and regular church attendance.
Thanks to my nanny, for me it has always been the Russian church, the church of my ancestors, which somehow had an existence in this world parallel to the Soviet reality.
But much had to happen before it became a faith of my own: an appreciation for the Russian liturgical music and icons; the 1988 celebration of the Millennium of Christianity in Russia, when the church was let into public life; a trip to the US as a student, where I met a prominent emigre Russian priest, Protopresbyter Alexander Kiselev.
Ultimately, it all came into one with my baptism into to the Orthodox church - my faith in God, the immense beauty and profound meaning of Orthodox liturgy and belonging to my family’s and my nation’s past and present, to the Russian civilisation as a part of the European civilisation, to the whole world around and, hopefully, to God’s kingdom.
Ask any Russian, and you will likely hear a similar story. It will rarely be a happy, conclusive or coherent one. Many would simply see Orthodox Christianity as a “Russian faith”, but not know much about Jesus, our brothers and sisters around the world or the basic doctrine.
Others see no contradiction between declaring themselves Orthodox, going once in a while to a church to light a candle and, at the same time, reading horoscopes or keeping a lover.
There would be quite a few whose Orthodoxy equals nationalism and those who see the Orthodox church as a medieval force isolating Russia. There would be people from all over the political spectrum and every possible ethnic background or social strata.
Alas, only about one tenth of them in big cities and an even smaller percentage in small towns and rural areas would be regular churchgoers. These stories, told and untold, would be diverse, but would have something in common.
There would usually be a grandmother, or a nanny, or another who managed to keep the faith through Soviet times. There would be the painful identity search: “Where do I come from?” or “Where are we going?”
There would be an occasional bow before the beauty of Orthodox ritual and art - often without understanding. There would be that prettiest building with domes in town, once destroyed, now rebuilt.
There would be a major disappointment with the government and political institutions, placing the church as a beacon of hope and an object of trust. There would be the wise patriarch on television and a local bishop, an influential figure in the region.
There would be uncertainty over the changing world and the institution, seemingly the same over centuries and even millennia. There would also be a lack of knowledge about the church and its teaching and a spread of superstition.
Or the uncomfortable realisation that, once you finally join the church, you’d have to change your life. So it’s easier to hang around maintaining a sense of belonging, but not straining oneself too much.
At the turn of the 1980s and 1990s, getting baptised became fashionable and we dreamt of a church that would bring morality and morale to a divided nation in crisis.
The church, in turn, saw the opportunity to rebuild its infrastructure, banking on its status of a national symbol and a state willing to repent for past sins.
The late Patriarch left the church much stronger than he received it in 1990. But although the programme of rebuilding has been fulfilled, the programme of changing society has not.
If the venerable institution wants to be relevant, if it wants to narrow the gap between the two thirds of nominal Orthodox Christians and single percentage points of practising ones, much needs to be done in the field of mission, education and social ministry.
This is the mandate of Patriarch Kirill - the church’s most outspoken and dynamic leader.
At his installation in February, Kirill said: “The witness to the truth and beauty of Orthodoxy can be received and accepted only when people clearly understand the meaning of this witness for their private, family and public life and learn to connect the eternal divine words with the realities of daily life, with its concerns, joys and sorrows.”
Well, that’s like my nanny did.
By the way - There IS God!
Russian Hour TV channel will adorn 25 London buses with posters reading: “There IS God. Don't worry. Enjoy life!” The campaign is in response to adverts that read: “There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”
Alexander Korobko, head of Russian Hour, says the campaign was approved by the Russian Orthodox church in London and in Moscow.
“With tough times here and the ongoing crisis-mood mongering, people need to brace themselves and find some positive stimulus in life,” says Mr Korobko.
A Mission in the World
An Interview by Archbishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk to Expert Magazine
Issue No. 23 (661) 15 June 2009
- Your Eminence, one hundred days have passed since the enthronement of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia. What has changed in church society relations since? Have any new tendencies emerged?
- Ascended to the throne of the Moscow Patriarchate is a man who has been known for many years as a missionary and enlightener. He has long been in active cooperation with all parts of the civil society, conducting a TV program of his own and making regular appearances in the print media. Even before he was
elected Patriarch, he was known and loved by millions of Russian Orthodox faithful throughout the world. He has gained authority in broad public circles. A unique experience Metropolitan Kirill accumulated during his work at the Department for External Church Relations and through his close cooperation with the late Patriarch Alexy II has fully prepared him for the new role he assumed upon his election to the Moscow Patriarchal throne. But the most important thing is that he is a man who is absolutely committed to the Church; there is no private agenda for him. He has put down all his abilities and talents at the feet of Christ, as St. Gregory the Theologian put it.
Patriarch Kirill's enthronement has given a new impetus to the entire complex of relations between the Church and the world external to it. Patriarch Kirill tends to issue challenges to the clergy and the whole Church in a very tough and clear way. At the same time, he is a church leader not only because of his position but also by virtue of his personality. He can inspire people, mobilizing them to a more pro-active missionary and educational work.
- In your view, what are essentially the changes introduced by the Patriarch?
- Our problem is that we are still lacking in bridges linking Orthodox parishes to the outside world.
At worst a newcomer coming to a church from the street will encounter ordinary rudeness. He would be scolded by the babushka who serves behind the candle box. She would condemn him for making the sign of the cross in a wrong way, for standing at a wrong place, for wearing wrong clothes, etc. And after coming to church two or three times, the person will lose any interest in coming back.
We have to break down this mechanism of alienating people from the Church or expecting indifferently that they will come and surmount all the barriers on their own. We should create such a system as to help people without much church experience to get involved in church life gradually. The resources of clergy alone are insufficient to do it. We need active lay people. Our task is to mobilize the laity for pro-active missionary and educational work. I do not mean that this work is absent altogether. It certainly exists. There are many people who work in this area, helping the clergy to bring people to God. But we need a completely different scale of this work.
- Is there a gap emerging now between the Patriarch's rhetoric and the real work of parish priests?
- Much depends here on the personality of the priest and the ruling bishop. If the missionary spirit coming from the Patriarch is not taken up properly, if lay people and clergy rely on the proposition that `we bear witness to the truth of Orthodoxy by the very fact of our existence', then I believe the task of bringing new people to the Church will be unfeasible. This proposition is usually put forward to counterbalance Protestant and sectarian preachers. Indeed, we do not go from door to door inviting people persistently to come to church. That is to say, we do not use aggressive and importunate methods of mission. But it does not mean that we must simply sit and wait doing nothing until people themselves come to us. If the apostles had settled down in the Cenacle after the Resurrection of Christ in the belief that they `bore witness to Christ by the very fact of their existence', I am afraid Christianity would have died in the first generation. But the Saviour's disciples went out to the world and this predetermined the universal triumph of Christianity in the world.
- The Patriarch's recent meetings with young people – is it an attempt to point to new ways of developing church-society relations?
- The Patriarch sets an example to the whole Church. But a single person is not sufficient to carry out the truly titanic work that is necessary for a real initiation of society to the Church. It is very important that the missionary imperative be felt deeply and accepted on other levels, those of bishops, priests, lay people and monastics. The Patriarch's call to pro-active stand in life and to dynamic preaching of Christ and Christian moral values should inspire all members of the Church.
- Today there is a lot of youth movements who march streets with slogans calling, say, `to rebuff' homosexuals. Participants in such actions claim to be Orthodox. Are they `those active lay people' whom the Church needs?
- No. Active does not mean aggressive. Active is a person for whom faith in Christ stands first and who builds his life on the basis of Christian values. An active lay person is inspired by the religious ideal not only within church walls but also in everyday life and seeks to build it in accordance with the gospel's law. He should not be necessarily a missionary in the purely technical sense, walking around and preaching. He must first of all bear witness to Christ by his way of life, his actions and his good works. `In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven' (Mt. 5:16) – these words of Christ were addressed to all Christians, who are called to become the salt of the earth and the light of the world (cf. Mt. 5:13-14).
An aggressive stand however is completely inappropriate for the Church. We should struggle with sin in all its manifestations, but first of all in ourselves and only after that in people around us. It is certainly easier to struggle with sin in others than in ourselves. We must and can help our neighbours and generally people around us, doing it in the first place through our own example and way of life.
The Church states very clearly that sin is sin. The Church is against accepting sin as a norm. But we should not be hostile to people leading sinful life, because sin, from the Christian point of view, is an illness. And we should treat such people as ill, that is, be compassionate and tolerant towards them. We should struggle with sin but be compassionate to a sinner. Compassion does not consist either in saying to an ill person that he is healthy and does not need any treatment or in prescribing medicines to him. On the contrary, compassion consists precisely in calling an illness and illness, in making the right diagnosis and proposing medical assistance. In this lies the mission of the Church. John Chrysostom described the Church as a spiritual hospital. The Church is a place to which people come for healing. Our task is to heal the spiritual illnesses of individuals and society, doing it by no means in an aggressive way.
- How do you plan to develop a system of church education? Indeed, it makes it possible to train clergy capable of carrying out a more active work with the world, on the one hand, and secular and religious education come in little contact professionally, on the other...
- There was a hot debate in the Church about whether theological schools should be accredited to ensure that their graduation certificates are recognized by the state. The opponents of accreditation made this case: if our diplomas are recognized by the state, then our seminarians will not join the clergy but upon graduation will rather go into the world. I would give this response to this: if a person does not want to join the clergy, he will not do it anyway, be his diploma recognized or not. But if a person is a theological graduate, say, from St. Tikhon's Orthodox Humanitarian Institute, and becomes not a priest but an active layman, for instance, a minister or a cultural worker, what's wrong with it? The Church should enlighten the whole world. And the task of theological education is to cultivate people who would become the salt of the earth – in parishes or in administrative offices. These are people who should be present in various spheres of public life and in various walks of life and should be missionaries as the apostles were.
Because of this polemic a decision on the accreditation of theological schools was actually postponed for a few years. It is only now, with the coming of a new Patriarch, that this work has been fully resumed and I hope it will succeed.
It is my conviction that we should expand the framework of church education and should not to be afraid that people we cultivate do not become priests standing at the altar but become secular specialists with a good theological education, serving the Church in their own way in their own field. These people will become our, if you will, `agents of influence' in the world and they will help to bring Christian moral values to those sectors of society which may not be directly reached by the preaching and mission of the clergy.
- What is your view of the Church-State relations as they were before the 1917 Revolution? Today there is a popular nostalgia for those times as a certain ideal...
- If it were all so good in the pre-revolution Church, people would not fall away from it en masse in the revolutionary and post-revolutionary period. Perhaps there would be no revolution at all. It seems to me that the cause of the spiritual crisis that led to the revolution is very well exposed by Protopresbyter George Shavelsky in his memoirs. He was the leader of the army clergy; he was close to the tsar's family and met personally with the tsar. He knew the Church very well at its every level. His memoirs represent essentially a selection of facts. They point to an enormous spiritual decay that existed both in the Church and the Russian state. He shows a great distance which separated the tsar's family and the people in spite of the ardent love they had for the people and desire to become akin to them and to understand them. He shows a gap that existed between the Church and its supreme leaders, on the one hand, and the real world, on the other. Certainly, there were many positive things in the pre-revolutionary status of the Church in the state. But on no account we should try to restore the pre-revolution situation today. We should create a new model of church-state relations to exclude those negative things in church and public life which had led to the revolution.
- Today the liberal part of society maintains that the state becomes ecclesiastical and inclined towards Orthodoxy as almost a state religion. But isn't there a different tendency acting up, when the Orthodox Church is leaning against the state? Don't you see here a threat as to the ability of the Church to have an independent existence and independent policy?
- In my view, nobody is leaning against anybody today, either the Church against the State or the State against the Church. There is separation between Church and State, which is reflected both on legal and political levels. The state does not interfere in the internal life of the Church. The Church does not participate in political struggle, nor does it support any particular party. The Church is open to relations with all. Any political figure, be he etatist or oppositionist, can be a member of the Church.
I do not think the state runs the risk to become clerical, while the Church state-run. But at the same time it should be taken into account that the popular term `multiconfessional state', which is often used in Russia, fails to point to the obvious reality that most of people in Russia belong to the Russian Orthodox Church, even if they are not regular church-goers. About 80 percent of citizens in Russia identify themselves with the Orthodox Church. It means that the Russian Church is a majority religion. At the same time there are millions of people in Russia who belong to other confessions or profess no religion. We should respect and be friends with all. We should create a common cultural space. It should not be forgotten that it was the Orthodox Church that made a decisive influence through centuries on the formation of the spiritual identity of Russia and the Russian people.
- But you cannot deny that there are certain solid ties between the Church and the State.
- The Church and the State have very many common tasks with regard first of all to the spiritual and material welfare of our citizens. There are tasks which cannot be done single-handed, for instance, the population problem. It cannot be solved only through material benefits or TV public service advertising. What is needed here are joint efforts of the State and the Church. And when I am speaking of the Church I refer to the Church's cooperation with traditional religious confessions. In this regard, representatives of traditional religious confessions have very close and sometimes even identical views.
- Patriarch Kirill's recent remarks about the victory in the Great Patriotic War have provoked rather harsh criticism coming also from those close to the authorities. The Patriarch was criticized for seeing the victory as a miracle, while the war hardships as retribution for apostasy. The Patriarch was also criticized for underestimating the role of Stalin and the Bolsheviks. To which extent are you ready to oppose this criticism?
- I am ready to oppose it and so much as to provoke a wave of criticism against myself by stating my own view of Stalin. I believe that Stalin was a monster, a spiritual cripple who created a horrible anti-humane system of governance built on lies, violence and terror. He unleashed genocide against his own people and is personally responsible for the death of millions of innocent people. In this respect Stalin is quite like Hitler. Both brought so much grief into this world that no military or political successes can redeem their guilt before humanity. There is no essential difference between the Butovo firing ground and Buchenwald, between GULAG and Hitler's system of death camps. And the number of victims of Stalin's repression is quite comparable with our losses in the Great Patriotic War.
The victory in the Great Patriotic War was really a miracle because Stalin did before the war all that was possible to destroy the country. He eliminated the whole army top leadership and by his mass repression put once a powerful country on the brink of survival. When a census was carried out in 1937, it was found the country was a dozen of millions of people short. Where did these millions vanish? They were eliminated by Stalin. The country entered the war almost bleeding white. But despite all the flagrant repression, the people showed unprecedented heroism. It cannot be called other than miracle. The victory in that war is a victory of the people who showed the greatest will of resistance. The miracle of victory in the war is a great manifestation of our people's fortitude which could be crushed by neither Stalin nor Hitler.
Sunday, July 5, 2009
The Return of Religion to Europe
By JAN-WERNER MUELLER
BUDAPEST — It's a well-worn contrast: the United States is religious, Europe is secular. Yet, in some respects, this cliched opposition has actually been reversed recently: Religion played virtually no role during the last American presidential election, while in a range of different European countries major controversies about religion have flared up, suggesting that questions of faith are back at the center of European politics.
Consider French President Nicolas Sarkozy. On numerous occasions, he has argued that his country needs to rethink its traditional strict separation of state and religion. In particular, according to the twice-divorced self-confessed "cultural Catholic," France should develop a "positive secularism." In contrast to a negative separation, which according to Sarkozy "excludes and denounces," a positive separation invites "dialogue" and recognizes the social benefits of religion.
In a much criticized speech in Rome at the end of 2007, Sarkozy acknowledged the Christian roots of France, "the eldest daughter of the Church"; he also praised Islam during a visit to Saudi Arabia. Now he wants state subsidies for faith-based organizations — a policy proposal that upsets his many secularist critics.
This new appeal to religion — after a long period when it was taken for granted that secularization would make religion less and less politically relevant — is not an exclusively French phenomenon. The Spanish People's Party tried hard to mobilize Catholics during the election campaign in March 2008. The church supported the PP against Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose advocacy of gay marriage, more relaxed divorce laws and the removal of compulsory religion classes from the national curriculum, upset many religious conservatives. Zapatero eventually felt it necessary to tell a Vatican envoy that Spanish bishops should stop meddling in the elections (which the prime minister won).
In Italy, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi precipitated a constitutional crisis by trying to rush through emergency legislation to prevent a comatose patient from being taken off life support. This reminded many observers of what America's Republican Party tried to do to demonstrate its "pro-life commitments" during George W. Bush's presidency.
Finally, there is Britain, usually seen as perhaps the most secular country in Western Europe, and thus the least likely candidate to see the return of religion of any kind (outside its Muslim community). Under David Cameron's leadership, the newly invigorated Conservative Party is listening to a number of thinkers, dubbed "red Tories," who urge the party to turn its back on Thatcherism and embrace civil society, local community, the family and, not least, religion as a major force in fostering responsible social behavior.
In short, there is a pattern here. But the point is not that individuals in different European countries are becoming more religious — there is hardly any evidence for that. Globally, there might be good reasons to talk about what sociologists describe as the rise of "postsecular societies," but Europe remains the exception. What really explains these new public controversies surrounding religion is something else, something political: the dilemma in which rightwing and center-right European parties find themselves.
Many of these parties used to advocate market radicalism, or at least strong doses of economic liberalization. Not just since the financial crisis have they retreated from these positions and tried to fashion a gentler, more socially conscious image.
Yet, in the search for what Cameron has called a new "look, feel, and identity," these parties have been treading a fine line: On the one hand, they have attempted to appear more modern — for example, by appointing an increasing number of women and members of ethnic minorities to Cabinet posts. On the other hand, they have painted themselves as sworn enemies of the left's supposed moral relativism — an image for which the recourse to religion is obviously helpful.
In fact, some intellectuals close to the right have long advocated an opening toward Europe's Muslim immigrants and their descendants. Where they can vote, so the argument goes, Muslim traditionalists would rather vote for a conservative party, even if it has Catholic roots, than for a secular leftwing party perceived as advocating loose morals.
This is not to say that all appeals to religion are just cynical election ploys. Especially in the face of the financial crisis, religion has been presented as a source for what Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have called the project of "moralizing capitalism."
That is not an absurd idea. There is a long and distinguished tradition of Catholic social thought. But taking these traditions seriously would require much larger transformations of capitalism than even avowed Christian Democrats are prepared to contemplate, including a much wider distribution of ownership and mechanisms for involving workers in management. Theories of "red Toryism" might go some way in this direction, but it remains to be seen whether they will ever translate into practice.
For the moment, the temptation is for the European right to find its "new look" through a selective appeal to religion — and wait and see whether it works as an electoral strategy.
They should remember, though, that starting a Kulturkampf is to play with fire: It might be possible to instrumentalize religious passions for a time; but such passions cannot permanently be controlled from above.
Jan-Werner Mueller is associate professor of politics at Princeton University and an Open Society fellow at Central European University, Budapest.
In Darwin Anniversary Year, New Zogby Poll Reveals Majority Support for Intelligent Design
Just a few months before the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, a newly released Zogby poll shows that the American public overwhelmingly rejects Darwinian theory in favor of intelligent design. When asked if life developed “through an unguided process of random mutations and natural selection,” a standard definition of Darwinism, only 33 percent of respondents said they agreed with the statement. But 52 percent agreed that “the development of life was guided by intelligent design.”
The poll results come from one of four questions commissioned by Discovery Institute for a national Zogby telephone survey conducted earlier in 2009. Results from the other three questions were released previously to coincide with the bicentennial of Charles Darwin’s birth. The new results are highlighted below, and the full report is available here.
Question about Intelligent Design
Now, I am going to read you two statements about the development of life. Please tell me which statement comes closest to your own point of view—Statement A or Statement B?
Statement A: The development of life came about through an unguided process of random mutations and natural selection.
Statement B: The development of life was guided by intelligent design.
Statement A 33%
Statement B 52
Other/Not sure 8
Stephen Meyer and Signature in the Cell on CBN News
[Well, I guess I won't consider any further making travel plans to Ethiopia any time soon. It looks like the Italian media either misquoted or just simply misunderstood Patriarch Abune Paulos regarding the alleged unveiling of the Ark of the Covenant in Ethiopia. The details of the report sound sketchy, but for now the Ark remains out of public spectacle, which may not be an entirely bad thing either. -J.S.]
Patriarch Abune Paulos denies Italian Reports That He Will Reveal the Ark to the World
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia
June 30, 2009
Legend has it that the box-shaped Ark has been hidden from sight in Ethiopia since 642 BC. “I am deeply disappointed that the Italian media misquoted me and disseminated false information about me unveiling the Ark of the Covenant to the world,” he said at a news conference. “It is a fabrication, disinformation.”
Some Ethiopians believe that Prince Menelik I — who is said to be the result of a union between Israel’s King Solomon and the Ethiopia Queen of Sheba — took the Ark from Jerusalem to Ethiopia while he was in power around 950 BC.
“I would like to confirm once again that the Ark of the Covenant and the sacred tablets containing the Ten Commandments that God delivered to Moses are in Ethiopia,” Abune added. Replicas of the Ark are in more than 50,000 Orthodox
churches in the Horn of Africa country, the church says. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church says it keeps the Ark in a holy shrine in the north of the country. Only a small number of priests can even go near the room where it is said to be kept.
[The way we think about God, ourselves and other spiritual matters (or anything for that matter) plays not only a tremendous role in our spiritual lives, but could also affect our mental, emotional and physical health. Furthermore, as the study below points out, our thoughts about God, ourselves and spiritual matters can also play a big role in our interactions with other people. In essence, negative views of God have negative effects while positive views have positive effects.
Of course, this study is nothing new to Orthodox Christians. Our inheritance has already addressed all of these psychological issues being studied about religion today, and has even gone far beyond them. The Fathers of the Church have written a tremendous amount on the role thinking, doctrine and way of life interact with one another to lead man to union with God and love for all of humanity for the ultimate benefit towards ourselves and society in general. We know that in order to be able to identify ourselves as christians we must seek to imitate Christ and the Saints in all things, so that we may heal our selfish desires and become utterly selfless before God and our fellow human beings. We also know that to cultivate our own humility in our relationship with God and people is the ultimate key to our well-being and the well-being of society. Orthodoxy is thus ultimately about healing the human person of all the negative psycho-somatic issues brought on by our thoughts and desires that have lead us to vices and seperation from God. - J.S.]
This Is Your Brain on Religion
Faith can bring out the best in people (love, generosity, compassion) — and the worst (fear, hatred, violence). Whether people are the former or the latter depends on how they view the God they worship.
By Andrew Newberg
When I was in high school, I dated a girl whose family regarded themselves as "born-again" Christians. It was my first encounter with devoutly religious people who strongly disagreed with my perspective on faith. They were always pleasant to me, but they were quite clear that in their view I had deeply sinned by not turning to Jesus. Oh, and because of this, I was going to hell.
It's tough enough being a teenager, but this was too much. The family's judgment disturbed me on two levels. First, I didn't like the thought of going to hell, but at the same time, their beliefs also challenged me to evaluate my own beliefs vigorously.
Distress and anxiety followed, and I realized that this was the first time that I had ever experienced such strong negative feelings about religion. And 30 years later, this episode still resonates as I conduct extensive research on religious practices and beliefs and their impact on the human person.
The research that I have come across, if not definitive, seems clear: Religion and spiritual practices generally have a positive effect on one's physical, emotional and neurological health. People who engage in religious activities tend to cope better with emotional problems, have fewer addictions and better overall health. They might even live longer than those who lead more secular lives. Indeed, many studies document that religious and spiritual individuals find more meaning in life.
Our studies at Penn's Center for Spirituality and the Mind (in conjunction with colleague Mark Waldman) of the effects of different spiritual practices, such as meditation and prayer, also reveal significant improvements in memory, cognition and compassion while simultaneously reducing anxiety, depression, irritability and stress (even when done in a non-theological context). One might come to the conclusion, then, that being religious or spiritual is a good thing. Perhaps God is great.
But not so fast. We also discovered that religion's influence on people depends very much on how they view their God.
There seems to be little question that when people view God as loving, forgiving, compassionate and supportive, this more likely results in a very positive view of themselves, and of the world around them. But when God is viewed as dispassionate, vengeful and unforgiving, this can have deleterious effects on one's physical and mental health. Again, the research is clear: If you ruminate on negative emotions, they activate the areas of the brain that are involved in anger, fear and stress. This can ultimately damage important parts of the brain and the body. What's worse, negative emotions can spill over into outward behaviors that generate fear, distrust, hatred, animosity and violence toward people who hold different or opposing beliefs. Thus, it becomes more easy to believe that "I, and my religion, is right and you, and your religion, are wrong." It is this destructive religious rhetoric that atheists are quick to point their fingers at when focusing on the negative qualities of faith. In fact, reading some of the following quotes could be bad for your brain if it evokes a fearful, anxious or hateful response:
"I want you to just let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good. … Our goal is a Christian nation. We have a biblical duty, we are called by God, to conquer this country." — Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, one of the more extreme anti-abortion groups, 1993.
"You say you're supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that and the other thing. Nonsense. I don't have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist. I can love the people who hold false opinions, but I don't have to be nice to them." — Televangelist Pat Robertson, 1991.
Fortunately, surveys suggest that only a small percentage of Americans hold such hostile beliefs. Unfortunately, this minority often attracts the greatest amount of camera time and ink, too. But what is truly frightening is the fact that 1% translates into 3 million potentially violent citizens in our country alone. And this certainly plays out on the global stage, as beliefs conflict and terrorism fosters fear, hatred and ultimately violence.
There is another potential dark side to religion. As I have witnessed at the hospital in which I work, when people feel that they contracted a disease because God is punishing them, such individuals may not follow doctor's orders, keep appointments or take medications as directed. After all, why try to get better when God is trying to punish you? Research confirms that people who hold a punitive image of God can compromise their immune system and psychological health, thus prolonging their suffering and illness. Currently I, along with researchers at other universities, am developing simple strategies to show people how they can turn negative religious attitudes into a more positive framework that will help them deal more effectively with their health problems, and thus improve their quality of life.
So how can a person of faith guard against the negative side of religiosity and spirituality? Our research findings suggest that all one needs to do is to stay intensely focused on positive and loving concepts — of ourselves, others and our deepest values and beliefs. Obsessively focusing on any form of negativity — be it religious, political, or interpersonal — damages social empathy and cooperation.
In this sense, one can argue that religious and spiritual activities might not only be beneficial, they also might be necessary for helping people find more compassionate approaches toward themselves and toward others. God only knows that politicians and CEOs aren't doing much to generate compassion these days. So it is easy to argue, from a sociological perspective, that religion serves an essential role by directing people into their deepest values concerning life. In this way, God may be good, if not great, at helping people to be compassionate, forgiving and loving.
Battle in the brain
Virtually every religion — including the most conservative sects — preaches positive concepts, such as "love thy neighbor" and "to forgive is divine." Religions often encourage us to seek positive emotions such as joy, peace and hope. But we must always be aware of the eternal battle between those parts of the brain that are prone to push others away, and the parts that are inclined to build cooperative alliances with our fellow human beings in times of need.
In this sense, whether we embrace spiritual or secular values, the ultimate goal is the same. For as Albert Einstein stated when he described the similarities between spiritual and scientific epiphanies, it is the overwhelming awe and beauty of the universe and the deep sense of connectedness to the world that we all seek, if not crave. At their best, both science and religion can evoke inspirational meaning in our lives, and when this occurs, God and science are great.
But we always have to watch out for the times when God, religion, or science can turn a blind eye toward others. We have a brain that is filled with both loving and hateful ideas. We can turn to religion and spirituality as a way to foster the good in us, except, of course, when we don't.
Andrew Newberg is associate professor of radiology and psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. He and Mark Waldman are co-authors of the new book How God Changes Your Brain.
Modern Studies Confirm the Patristic Understanding of the Relationship Between Thoughts and Temptations
Anyone familiar with the writings of the Church Fathers sees in this article a scientific confirmation of what they wrote regarding the nature of temptations and the necessity to control one's thoughts in resisting these temptations. Below is an excellent summary of Patristic thought by Hiermonk Benedict of Mount Athos titled Thoughts and How to Confront Them. - J.S.]
Thoughts And How To Confront Them
Hiermonk Benedict of Holy Mount Athos
"Just as it is natural for ocean rocks to be pounded by waves, similarly man will undoubtedly come into contact with the assaults borne of thoughts." -St. Ephraim the Syrian
Translation by Calliope Hatzidimitriou
Published by The Attendants of Hiermonk Spyridon New Skete,
Holy Mount Athos,
Among the problems which man must confront at his moments of prayer, are the various thoughts which enter his mind, or nous.
This booklet is not the result of an experienced study on this important topic of thoughts and reasonings. It is a discourse which took place some time ago. It is presented here in a much improved version without having lost its original figure of speech. Since there are many who struggle with obscene and impure thoughts and even more who are anxious, this attempt is made so that the combatant and fighting Christian may understand what thoughts are, where they come from, what their results are, and how they are confronted.
If anyone is benefited by this small piece of work, let him pray for those who labored for it.
In this age of knowledge and technology, an age full of facts concerning the nature of man's body and soul, one still thirsts for the truth as given to us by Our Saviour and Lord, Jesus Christ, in addition to His Saints and our Holy Fathers of the Church. We cannot be Christians if we do not know and believe, in full, what Our Lord tells us. He warns us of the existence of the evil one and shows us exactly how to win over him, lest he win over us who call ourselves the children of Christ. The beginner Christian who takes his first steps on the ladder towards Christ will no doubt experience many wonderful moments in his strengthening of faith. There will come a time during his journey up this ladder, when he will desire to plunge himself more deeply into Christ. That is when he will come to the point in his spiritual journey when he will combat with his thoughts. He will desire to examine each thought individually to determine if it is Christ's will or not. He will be surprised at the frequency of thoughts which arise from the devil and his company. In this age of temptations, if a person is single, he may have lustful thoughts, whereas if married, he may have thoughts of divorcing his spouse, etc. This age of advanced technology allows us to separate and destroy our families as if they were worthless, thus causing irreparable wounds to our own loved ones, as well as ourselves...to our souls and our bodily health. There will be times when even prayer will seem impossible! We are told by our knowledgeable psychologists that dreams and thoughts are caused by suppressed desires and fears. However, our Lord teaches us that we must not even accept corrupt thoughts since they are also sin. "Those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man" (Matthew 15:18-20).
"Every sinful person is all mixed up inside. We must open a small crack in our souls so that Christ's Light and Love can enter. That is how we begin to straighten out our soul. Christ always takes the initiative. We must be open to Him and afterwards, through our own vigilant effort (with prayer, confession, Holy Communion and love) we may feel the magnificence that God reveals to us. He has destined all of us for Paradise. And what is Paradise? Christ is. When you love Christ, despite all your feeling of sinfulness and your weaknesses, you have the certainty that you have gone beyond death because you dwell in the communion of Christ's Love. May God make us worthy to see the Face of The Lord, both here on earth and from there, where we are going." -Elder Porphyrios
1. The difficult war
2. Thoughts and their origin
3. The journey towards the World of sin
4. The stages of sin
5. Passions are the source for sinful thoughts
6. Categories of thoughts
7. Thoughts are the beginning of the war
8. The demonic cunningness
9. Blasphemous thoughts
10. The chain of thoughts
11. Combination of thoughts
12. Results of the thoughts
13. Confrontation of thoughts
1. The difficult war
It has been stated many times that prayer is a dynamic action which is beneficial for the person who offers the prayer as well as being pleasing to God.
The fact that all this is real irritates the devil and makes him fight against the person who engages in prayer.
In this manner, the faithful person who desires to unite himself to God through prayer, faces obstacles placed by demons. These demons place barriers which are systematically organized and planned in order for their attacks to be successful.
Due to this inevitable attack, prayer becomes an act of labor which causes great toil. More so than any other type of work. That is why one of the Desert Fathers emphasizes that "there is no grater fatigue than for someone to pray to God". In order for someone to pray until his last breath he is required to struggle. It is not only prayer which is tiring. It is mostly the implacable battle of the demons which makes prayer much more fatiguing.
Therefore, the hatred which the demons have for those who pray is a reality. The war between the person who prays and the demons, has two aspects to it: the visible (mostly for the beginners) and the invisible (for the spiritually advanced). They use sound, objects, and cause noises in order to draw their attention away from prayer. Whether beginner or advanced, the demons often fight a person by use of thoughts.
It is truly a difficult battle for whoever has chosen to commence the battle against thoughts. For, the thoughts and reasonings are the greatest barrier man faces in order to achieve his spiritual education and perfection. And this perfection can by no other means be achieved than by the continuous invocation of the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, the invocation must be done often enough, as Saint Gregory, the Theologian emphasizes, so that "it is more desirable for one to commemorate God than it is to breathe".
There exists, however, the internal war. There is no war more fierce than an irrational thought which nests in our soul. All that which originates from inside us, is more intense than that which strikes us from the outside. The illnesses which are borne from inside us are sly and treacherous, causing greater damage than an external wound. Even nations were harder hit by internal enemies, compared to those who invaded from a nation's exterior.
In this way then, the soul cannot be destroyed as much by the machinations that come from the outside as by the diseases which grow inside us, which are the loathsome, obscene and blasphemous thoughts.
2. Thoughts and their origin
What are thoughts and where do they originate? When we say thoughts, we do not simply mean reflections, but also the images and the conditions under which they exist with each occurrence along with the most suitable reflections. Thus, the descriptive images, along with the reflections, are called thoughts and reasonings.
The first and foremost cause of thoughts in man is the Ancestral Sin. Up to that point, man's mind, was "one-tracked", that is, it was not distracted to think of other things. It's only thoughts were for God! From the time of the Ancestral Sin, the thoughts of doubt began and, in continuation, came all the other thoughts.
The second cause of instigation of thoughts in man are his senses, when they are not properly governed by their ruling mind. It is especially so for hearing and sight. Today, particularly due to technology, (T.V., Radio, etc.) the senses receive more stimulations than ever before. For this reason, the battle against thoughts is more intense.
The third cause is the passions which exist in man. It is because of these that the demons gain the opportunity to mobilize the malicious thoughts against us.
The fourth and primary cause, are the demons. St. Gregory of Sinai characteristically emphasizes: "Thoughts are the words of the demons and forerunners of passions".
In addition, St. Isaac the Syrian accentuates that "the natural desire" which exists in us as well as our soul's inclinations and tendencies, cause thoughts to arise.
This war is especially intense against monks, who many times have had to combat against the demons body to body, during the attack by cunning thoughts. That is why St. Maximus the Confessor states that this war is much more difficult than the perceptible war.
In addition, cunning thoughts may arise due to the temperament and constitution of the body, and even from daily meals, as well as the movements and motions undergone by the body itself. The above-mentioned causes give rise to lewd and impure thoughts.
3. The journey towards the world of sin.
Externally the act of sin may appear to be a simple fact, such as a car accident or some other incident. However, in order to commit this act, many other successive instrumentations must have taken place. For example, in order for a murder to take place, there must have beforehand occurred thousands of reflections and plans in the human mind. The human mind, in order to come to the point of committing the act of murder, had first become an entire base of demonic thoughts. This is what happens with the commitment of any act of sin. And it all started because of one simple thought...
Let us proceed, however, to see what happens after the assault of one simple thought.
We are not held liable for a simple thought or image which passes through our mind, nor is it difficult for us to confront it. However, from the moment that we open the door to welcome in this thought and commence to ponder it, it is then that the thought takes its position within us and become a prevailing thought.
The thought is the main reason "for the journey towards the act of sin". This journey is for us the same as the path and the evolution of disease in the human body. Just as for someone to go to a hospital a various series of events must have previously taken place in the human organism, it is the same for someone to reach the point of having committed the act of sin. A great war must have previously taken place. It is similar to the birth of a child. A complete series of events first take place: from the conception up to the lengthy pregnancy. It is exactly so in the case of sin. The conception of the thoughts, their gestation period and their birth. St. Nikodemos the Athonite, believes that the thought is the beginning, or the root out of which sprouts the trunk, the branches and the complete tree of sin!
The damage begins from the instance of the first thought, and, in continuation, it intensifies. When someone throws a pebble into a well, the waves caused by its tossing create one small ripple in the beginning. The small ripple creates a larger ripple, that goes on to create a larger one, up until the wave reaches the walls of the well.
It is exactly so with sin. Before the sin is committed, a succession of mechanisms and events previously take place and each one follows the other in cosecutive order.
4. The stages of sin.
We are able to perceive three stages in the journey towards the world of sin in this order:
a. the assault, b. the consent or approval, and c. the captivity or imprisonment.
How does this mechanism work? It works in this way. Some cunning thought, such as conceit, vainglory, stinginess, gluttony, condemnation, etc., enters the person's mind. Temptation works though the use of the imagination and its fantasies. It presents the situation as enticing as possible. In this way, its presentation becomes stronger and more attractive.
Up to this point, man is not liable for the thought. The first stage is an assault, an attack from the enemy, or more simply put, the enemy's knocking on that person's door! This situation is normal... physiological. It is not possible for a human to exist without having received an assault. St. Ephraim the Syrian says that just as it is normal for someone to find weeds and flowers growing together in a garden, or just as the islands are pounded by waves all around their coastline, so it is for man. It is most certain that he will come into contact with the attacks of evil thoughts.
From this point on comes the stage of sinning. The commencement of the battle is the assault. If man tosses it out of his mind, without deliberating on it, he then saves himself and liberates himself from the wretched consequences which would follow. If, however, he accepts the discourse with the cunning thought, he opens the door to this impure thought which previously was simply a "knocking on his door". He creates a friendship with it and then comes to the point of approval of the sin. This is the second stage of the execution of the sin.
The person rehearses the sin in the inaccessible depths of his soul and imagines himself having an active part in sinning. He condemns, blasphemes, fornicates, commits adultery, murders, and carries out countless crimes and commits whatever the human mind is capable of imagining. Later, nothing else remains but the third stage, which is the actual execution of the act of sin by the person whose mind has become a hostage of the thought. This person no longer controls the thought, but is imprisoned by it.
Thus, the thought which began with a simple knocking of the door (the assault), caused the opening of that door (the consent). In conclusion, the person was unable to control and dismiss the thought, and he eventually committed the act of sin. This is the path towards sin, which begins with one single thought.
5. Passions are the source of sinful thoughts.
Up to the point of a man's death and as long as his soul remains in his body, it is impossible for him not to have evil thoughts.
The main reason for the existence of these evil thoughts is the war which the devil wages against us. Most thoughts are of diabolical origin. It is the devil's aim to cast man into sinning, either through the use of evil thoughts or through the performance of the act itself. St. Makarios the Egyptian states that spiritual adultery is the consent one gives to cunning thoughts. This is why he says: "A person is obliged to maintain his soul pure and clean, since it is the bride of Christ".
In most instances, evil thoughts resemble themselves to "a river current", in front of which a man begins to panic. That is why the demons first bout with us by use of diabolical thoughts and then follow with materialistic things. If one yields to them, they will then slowly push that person into sinning by execution of the act of sin.
St. John of Damascus tells us that the dominating reasons for evil are the following eight: 1. Gluttony, 2. Fornication, 3. Stinginess, 4. Rage, 5. Grief, 6. Indifference, 7. Vainglory and 8. Pride and haughtiness.
Someone else may tell us that the most basic passion in a human, from which all the passions originate, is selfishness and conceit. Selfishness is the illogical self-love and care given to our own self. This is also the passion of today's human being. It is from selfishness that the three dominating thoughts originate: 1. Gluttony, 2. Vainglory, and 3. Haughtiness. From these three vices arise all evil thoughts.
6. Categories of thoughts.
All that has been stated previously refer to cunning thoughts. However, in addition to those, there exist the good-hearted thoughts and the idle and unprofitable, or human thoughts. The good-hearted arise from God. How shall we then discern them from those which are cunning and impure?
A fellow monk once asked Abba Barsanouphios about this issue and received the following explanation: "The thoughts which originate from God bring internal peace and joy to the person. On the contrary, the thoughts which originate from the devil are filled with agitation, disturbance and grief."
7. Thoughts are the biginning of the war.
Generally speaking, as previously mentioned, the thoughts are the beginning of the war which the devil wages against us. The war begins with assault of cunning thougths and later proceeds to the consent and approval of the sin. This is the path and the development of thoughts which predominantly arise from the devil and from man.
8. The demonic cunningness.
Let us examine, then, how man is attacked by thoughts, or which methods the demons use in order to overtake us through the use of thoughts.
The craftiness of the demons, which desire to sow within us countless impure thoughts, is indescribable. The devil will even take advantage of the most unimportant incident that has taken place in our lives, or the most improbable and unlikely situation to contaminate us.
To begin with, before they cast us into sin, they implant in us the thought that God is a philanthropist. After the act of sin, however, they bombard us with the thought that God is abrupt, rude and harsh. They do this in order to bring us to the point of despair. "Before the fall, they call God a philanthropist, whereas after the fall abrupt and harsh".
9. Blasphemous thoughts.
In following, they attempt to infect the holy moments, such as those of prayer, and the Holy Eucharist, or by implanting in our minds thoughts of blasphemy against God.
Thus, this vile and impure being adores the moments of Holy Gatherings (Divine Liturgy) and especially the dreadful moments of the Holy Sacraments (The Holy Eucharist) in order to blaspheme the Lord and the Sacred Feasts. That is, when the ceremony of The Holy Eucharist takes place, Satan comes and implants in us various blasphemous thoughts. Thoughts such as: "The Holy Eucharist is not the Holy Body and Blood of Christ", and "that which we go to receive in us is absolutely nothing"! Worthless! There are even more impure and wretchedly vile thoughts which one dares not mention.
St. John Klimakos, mentions that a monk was fighting a war against such thoughts for fourteen whole years. There is no other thought as difficult to withdraw and cast out as that of the thought of blasphemy, which may lead a person to despair.
This is a war in which Abba Pambo took part and, while he was praying to the Lord for assistance, heard a divine voice from above which said: "Pambo, Pambo, do not distress yourself with the sins of others, but tend to your own acts".
These blasphemous and vile thoughts battled with many other formidable and virtuous men, such as Meletios the Confessor, as well as others who witnessed and died because of their faith in the Lord. Amongst those saints who confirm this is St. Peter of Alexandria and Paphnoutios the Confessor, who suffered persecution. St. Peter of Alexandria narrates that: "While I was admitting and confessing my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ in the court of law, where they were, by the use of various means, flogging, skinning and burning my body, the demon inside me was blaspheming God".
It is certain, as St. Nikodemos the Athonite points out, that these types of thoughts originate mainly due to the condemnation, the haughtiness, and the jealousy of the demons. For these reasons, the best weapons one may use against them are humility and self reproach.
10. The chain of thoughts.
The following are referred to in the writings of St. John Klimakos of Mount Sinai: "Let us take notice and we will observe that at the time when the church bells sound and we see our brethren gather into the Church, the invisible enemies also gather themselves there. Still others gather themselves at the time when we prepare to wake up to go to Church and do so in order to suggest to us that we should return to our sleep. They say, '...stay and rest until the introductory and preliminary hymns are completed and then you can go to Church'. Again, others, while we are deep in prayer, come to us in order to bring us drowsiness, others to bring hunger, others to suggest to us to lean on the wall as if we were tired, and others cause us to yawn."
Others remind us of loan payments, contracts and bank accounts. So, it is, that in this manner, we leave the Church harmed instead of benefited, without having heard even the most fundamental parts of the Holy Liturgy. There are even many times while we are in prayer, that our mind becomes filled with improper and indecent thoughts. Yet, as the time the prayer finishes, every temptation suddenly disappears.
The devil is well aware of the benefits which are borne from prayer. For this reason, he attempts to contaminate it.
Even if we are victorious over the demon, he instills in us the thoughts of pride and haughtiness through the use of other means, such as the fact that we have attained virtue, since, for example, all the cunning and tempting thoughts have been terminated.
This thought, that we are victorious, resembles a snake which is coiled and hidden in the dung heap of haughtiness. Cunning and tempting thoughts are hidden and nesting in the depths of our hearts!
There are demons who infect our soul at the moment we lay down to sleep and there are others who contaminate our very first thoughts when we wake up in the morning. The devil never loses the chance of fighting us.
There are times when he implants in us thoughts which are against our spiritual confessor and guide. In other occassions immediately after the confession of our sins, he reminds us of the sins we have just confessed in order to bring us to the point of despair. Yet other times, he even casts us into sin and, following that, installs in us the thought of teaching others to perform the same sin!
These, in general terms, are the thoughts which are created by the devil.
Let us now examine the thoughts which are created by man, himself.
The human mind is fond of creating havoc. That is, just as a dog goes to the butcher store in order to grab some piece of meat, or a food-lover is fond of continually speaking of food, the human mind resembles these examples. Many times, it feeds on improper and unclean notions.
A monk who has no possessions, who owns no property (and by definition is Christian), therefore has no troublesome temptations at the time of his prayer. There are no thoughts of problems or issues concerning possessions or lands, which enter his mind to break his concentration at the time of prayer. However, a person who owns properties and possessions and is fond of them, has his reflections and thoughts on materialistic things at the time of his prayer.
The person who cannot control himself, that is a person who is a glutton, has his mind and thoughts continuously concerned about impure images. St. John Klimakos gives us an example of this. Just as a dung heap gives rise to vermin, so does the multitude of food generate downfalls through the production of cunning thoughts and indecent dreams. Gluttony is for fornication the same as wood is for fire.
It is for this reason that St. John Klimakos when writing in The Ladder of Divine Ascent, after his dissertation concerning gluttony, very wisely placed the topic of fornication. "For, I believe", he states, "that gluttony is the mother of fornication".
So then, where do the thoughts of fornication originate? If a person enjoys a leisurely life with all the necessary comfort and, as a result, does not know how to endure hardships and has no knowledge of how to engage in spiritual exercises of ascetic nature, then it is very natural for this person to have thoughts of fornication which will eventually lead to the act. In other instances, again, when a person liberates senses in order to view some other person or to touch someone with his hand, or hear something indecent, it is as if at that moment he has opened the door to impure thoughts. Of course, man's nature is prone to having such thoughts.
Even the disobedience to God's covenants gives birth to a "warehouse of thoughts". That is, the human mind becomes a storage of cunning thoughts. The same types of thoughts are also created by disobeying our confessor and spiritual father.
Many times, human curiosity to explore God's mysteries creates blasphemous thoughts, such as the thought that God is unjust and favors some persons over others. That to some He gives visions and miracles and yet to others He gives nothing.
11. Combination of thoughts.
There exist, however, thoughts which originate from man as well as the devil. These are the "combination thoughts".
"I have seen", says St. John Klimakos, "a few men eating with delight and not being immediately attacked (by the impure thoughts). Also others dining and keeping company with women and yet not having had any cunning thought pass through their mind at that moment in time. However, at the time when they thought that they were in their cell in a condition of peace and security, that is when they were suddenly overtaken by disaster. Nature is what pushed them to dining and drinking delightfully and viewing wantonly. Satan used the moment and cast them into sin".
These are, in general terms, the thoughts which originate from man as well as the devil.
Throughout all this battle, there exists a ladder; attack, combination, consent, captivity.
The enemy attacks the person with one simple thought or with one image. When that person accepts, then the consent takes place. Then begins the conversation with the thought. From this moment on begins the person's own responsibility for thoughts or actions. There follows that the person consents with delight in order to fulfill that which the thought suggests, and in the end he submits and is imprisoned by the passion.
12. Results of the thoughts.
When the thought ages inside us, we then become servants to attempt its accomplishment. Attempt is the attachment of a person to material items and his desire to obtain only these items. Thus, the person's mind becomes detached from the eternal nourishment. And when the person's mind withdraws totally from God, then "it becomes either ferocious or devilish". That is, the person becomes either as a beast or a demon. We observe this happening in today's consumer society. The person's mind has become adhered only to the earthly and has no thought whatsoever of heaven. The result is that the person is transformed into a beast and handicraft (technology) in whatever form, has been deified.
Man becomes unrestrained. He cannot control himself. When a person does not fight against the cunning thought, he then becomes a slave of sin. "Whoever retains the thoughts of sin, without fighting nor arguing with them, then commits the act of sin". Our thoughts corrupt us and crush us, thus creating problems within our personal relationships.
Thoughts pollute and contaminate our soul, poisoning it and mortifying it. "This is the battle of the cunning demon. And with these arrows he poisons all souls", as St. Hesychios the Elder tells us.
With the acceptance of thoughts, the devil obtains authority and can drive a person even to suicide, since that person cannot withstand the devil's strength. The thought makes the soul under handed. That is, it ties the human soul to earthly things. The person who senses the continuous harassments of corrupt thoughts and feels the underbelly of the body on fire, reveals that he is distanced from the sweet fragrance of The Holy Spirit.
One then loses his boldness with God. When the mind begins to converse with shameful and indecent thoughts, then "it is discredited in its frankness towards God". It is not possible for God to have communion, that is communication, with a person whose mind is continually being polluted with indecent and cunning thoughts. Just as it is detestable for an earthly lord when he observes someone denouncing him in order to converse with his enemies, so it is with God.
"Impure thoughts separate God from man". God does not reveal His mysteries to a person who is possessed by defiled thoughts.
Since thoughts separate man from God, consequently, for this reason, a number of bodily abnormalities then arise. Anxiety, insecurity, and fear, on top of many other bodily illnesses, are caused by thoughts. These causes are apparent even to medical doctors. For this reason, they order their patients not to think of various things which would cause them distress.
One thought is enough to cause a person to lose his sleep all night long. It is for this reason it can even break his nerves. The holy father Abba Theodore used to say: "The thought comes in order to disturb me".
These, in brief, are the results of cunning and corrupt thoughts. We should, however, also see the manners in which one must confront these types of thoughts, which mostly originate from the devil.
13. The confrontation of thoughts.
How can someone become liberated from shameful thoughts?
The Saints and Holy Fathers of our Church have made evident to us the various ways of confronting such thoughts.
St. John Chrysostom advises us not to declare or express them, but to choke them with silence. It is just as the beasts and reptiles when they fall into the pit. If they find some outlet upwards, they climb up and out and usually become more ferocious. If, however, they continuously remain enclosed therein, they are easily lost and disappear.
The same happens with polluting thoughts. If they find some outlet by way of a person's mouth to be verbally expressed, they then light up the internal flame. If, however, they are blockaded with silence, they become weak. They dissolve hunger and quickly disappear.
The passage, "How could I do anything so wicked, and sin against God?" (Genesis 39:9) is appropriate. When any type of illogical thought comes to agitate us, let us think of how the most minuscule and illogical thoughts cannot be hidden from God.
The study of God's Laws, the remembrance of things which are to take place in the future, as well as all that God has done just for us, decreases the corrupt thoughts. They, therefore, cannot take root within us.
Their redemption. Just as a snake coming out of its nest slithers in order to hide elsewhere, so it is with loathsome thoughts. When they are redeemed, they then depart from the person. We should know that nothing makes the demons unhappier than the concealment of shameful thoughts.
The exhaustion of the soul and the bodily trials "on all occasions, places and things" can prevent a person in not having indecent thoughts.
"Tend to rid yourself from the passions and you will immediately expell these thoughts from your mincr stresses" says St. Maximus the Confessor. That is, in order for someone to rid himself from fornication, he should weary himself bodily and fast. In order to dismiss rage and sadness, he should despise fame and glory, dishonesty and disgrace. In order to dispel revenge, he should pray for the person who caused him harm.
We cannot hinder thoughts from coming to us. We can, however, not accept them. It is the same as with crows. Just as we cannot stop them from flying overhead of us, we can however prevent them from building their nests on our heads.
Let us follow what St. Basil has to say concerning this topic and the war that is involved.
"We should confront these attacks with intensive care and attentiveness, just as an athlete when he evades his opponent's blows with the accurate precaution necessary, together with the flexibility of his body. We should entrust the ending of the war and the avoidance of the arrows, to prayer and assistance from above. And even if the tricky enemy, during the hour of prayer, subjects us to cunning fantasies, the soul should not interrupt its prayer. The soul should also know that it is not responsible for the cunning attacks undertaken by the enemy, in addition to the fantasies emanating from the 'paradoxical miracle maker'. On the contrary, he should think of the fact that these thoughts are due to the impertinence of the inventor of evil. That person should then intensify his kneeling to the Lord and should plead to God to dissolve the cunning partition caused by irrational and absurd thoughts, so that, unhindered, he can approach God.
"If, however, the harmful attack of the thought becomes more intense due to the impudence of the enemy, we should not turn to cowardice nor quit the battle in its duration, but instead, we should endure up to the point when God will notice our perseverance. He will then enlighten us with the grace of the Holy Spirit, which will on the one hand cause the enemy to flee, and on the other hand flood our mind with Holy Light in order for the thought to adore God with uninterrupted tranquillity and joy."
In general, the Holy Fathers have these methods of confronting corrupt thoughts: a) Prayer, b) Objection, and c) Contempt.
a) Prayer - It is not possible for the beginner to rid himself of these thoughts on his own. It is only those perfected in prayer who know how to do this.
The prayer of the mind, the monologistic prayer of "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner", is the strongest weapon which someone can use in order to win over cunning thoughts. "The name of Jesus scourges the enemies. There is truly no stronger weapon on earth nor in heaven", stresses St. John Klimakos.
"The ever sweet Name of Jesus, continuously meditated on with fervent passion and faith in the depths of the heart, lulls to sleep all the evil thoughts, while awakening all the pure and spiritual. And wherever there originated impure thoughts from the heart such as murder, adultery (Matthew 15:19), as the Lord said, it is from there that follow thoughts filled with purity, and speech of wisdom and grace.
b) The Objection - Prayer is for the beginners and the weak. Those who are able to combat should then use objection, which usually muzzles the demons to silence. Our Lord used this method in order to win the three great wars which were begun in the desert mountain by the devil. Sensuality with "Man shall not live by bread alone", Ambition with "You shall not tempt the Lord your God", Avarice with "You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve" (Matthew 4:10).
The Holy Martyr Peter of Damascus relates the following to us: "When the demons inflict us vith a thought of pride, then you should remember the shameful thoughts which they flung at to you, and thus you should humble yourself. Then again, when you are subjected to corrupt thoughts, remember those thoughts of pride and be victorious over them by the use of this method so that you neither lose hope because of the impure thoughts, nor become proud because of the good ones".
This is just what one elder said when he would find himself subjected to thoughts of laughtiness: "'Elder, take a strong look at your fornication", and the war would then come to an end.'"
There are instances when one musters up all his spiritual strength, all the pure thoughts, and yet still is unable to dispell one evil thought. What is the cause of this? "It is due to the fact that we begin by accepting the thought of judging our brethren". By judging our brothers our thoughts lose the strength which they previously had. There are many times when we are nonsensical and, for this reason, we are overpowered by thoughts. Many times, however, we do not have the power to withstand these thoughts. As a result, we receive spiritual wounds so deep that they cannot recover, even with the passage of a great period of time.
For this reason, it is best for one to resort to the power of prayer and tears, because:
1) The soul does not always have the same strength, 2) the devil has thousands of years of experience, whereas ours is very limited, with the result of us quitting the battle defeated and wounded, since our nous is yet again polluted with corrupt fantasies, and 3) one dispels haughtiness and shows humility when one takes refuge in God at the time of the war of thoughts, and confesses weakness in the fight, while declaring Jesus Christ the only One who withstands the war, since it is He who said: "Take courage, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). That is, the passions, the thoughts and the devil.
c) Contempt. If we occupy ourselves with the thoughts that are imposed on us by the devil, we will never be able to do any good.
To dislike, to disregard and not to be occupied with the thoughts imposed by the enemy are the greatest weapons. These are the strongest blows one can throw to the devil. We must regard his thoughts as being vermin, as the barks of puppies, as mosquitoes, and in the worst instance, as the noise of an airplane and nothing else, since: 1) we believe in the power of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and 2) we believe that after the Crucifixion and the Death of our Lord, the devil has no power whatsoever over us, but remains powerless and weak, as is written: "O enemy, destructions are finished forever"! (Psalm 9:6).
There exists no greater victory and humiliation for the demon than this contempt and scorn, since the person who has arrived at this point in the battle, is armed with the grace of God and remains unapprehended by the thoughts imposed by demons.
These are the three methods of combating corrupt thoughts which originally arise from the devil.
In addition, we could say that the memory of death is a very powerful method for the contempt of these thoughts. The memory of this creates heartfelt pain for our sins and prevents our mind from accepting such thoughts. Whosoever considers the passing day as being the last in his life, will curb the shameful thoughts to a very great extent. Do you sit down at a table in order to have your meal? You should then think of death in order for gluttony not to tempt you.
We should paint a picture in our mind of our tombstone, in order to erase the inconsideration and heartlessness we have. Saint Silouan, the latest formally declared Saint of Mount Athos, said: " You should have your mind continually thinking of Hell, and do not despair". By these means no thought will ever take root in you.
Which method should we use in order to escape the ongoing and tortuous suffering, (as St. Theodore Studite aptly characterizes the thoughts)?
Let us follow the tactics of St. John of Kolovos, who had tested all the methods available. The great spiritual fighter advises us to do the following:
"I resemble a person who sits under a great tree and who suddenly sees a great herd of beasts and reptiles coming to attack him. Then, since he cannot easily withstand, runs up the tree and saves himself. This is exactly what I do. I sit in my cell and watch the cunning thoughts coming to confront me. That is when I climb 'The Tree of Life', to my God with prayer and by this way I am saved from the enemy".