By His Eminence Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol
Love does not fit into the molds of logic. Love is more than logic. So is the love of God. The love of God is beyond the reason of people. For this reason we cannot judge with reasonable criteria people who love God. For this reason the saints moved according to a logic of their own. They had another logic, not the logic of people. Because their logic was the logic of love. And the Church does not teach us to be good people, no, since this is natural, but if we do not become good people what do we become? This is kindergarten stuff. The Church teaches us to love Christ, that is, to love the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Inside the Church a relationship develops. It is a personal relationship of man with Christ, not with the teachings of Christ, not with the Gospel. The Gospel is something that helps us reach the love of Christ. When we reach the love of Christ, the Gospel is no longer needed. Nothing else is needed. Everything stops. The only thing left is the relationship of man with God. This is the difference between the Church and religion.
Religion teaches you to do your duties, just like the pagans did. For example: we went to the shrines, we venerated, we took out our money and placed it in a box, we left our candles, our oils, our prayers, our names, our prosphoron, everything. These are religious duties. But our hearts did not change at all. Having completed our duties, we are the same as we were before. We are ready to attack one another, ready to testify against each other, ready to be sour just as we were before. Our hearts do not change. We do not acquire a relationship with Christ. Because we just limit ourselves to our duties, our religious duties.
And you should know, these people, religious people, are the most dangerous type within the Church. These religious people are dangerous. May God protect us from them. One Athonite, when I was doing a Liturgy and we came to the part where I said: "Lord, save the pious," told me jokingly: "Lord, save us from the pious." In other words, may God protect us from religious people, because to be a religious person means to have a twisted personality who never had a personal relationship with God. They simply just do their duty towards Him. There is no serious relationship between them and God. And I confess to you by my own experience that I have not seen worse enemies of the Church than religious people.
When children of religious people who grew up within the Church, whether they even be children of priests or theologians or just ordinary people who make out to be religious, and they force their children to become monastics or priests, then these people have become worse than demons. They have risen up against everything. They have become the worst enemies of mankind. I remember parents who would bring their children to my talks, and when their child at some point overstepped their bounds they became the worst people who said the worst things. And I would say to them: "But you brought your child to the talk, I didn't bring them." And one time I told a father when I saw his daughter have zeal towards the Church: "See to it that you not bring her to one of my talks again. Do not bring her again for me to talk to her because your daughter will become a nun and tomorrow you will blame me." "Alas, Father, no, for we adore you." And his daughter became a nun and after seven years he still doesn't speak with me. These are people that never missed one of my talks. They were always the first to arrive. They were at my talks, vigils, they read books, I don't know, they did everything. And they would bring their children, and when the time came when the children had their own freedom, they decided on their own path. Then these people took the completely opposite camp and they proved that Christ had never spoken to them within their heart. They were just religious people. This is why religious people are the most difficult type within the Church. You know why? Because these people will never be healed. Because they think they are near to God. While sinners, or let us say the lost, they know they are sinners. It was because of this that Christ said the tax collectors and prostitutes will enter the Kingdom of God, while He told the Pharisees: "You, you who are religious, you will never enter the Kingdom of God." Because the word of God never changed their heart. They simply comply with the religious type.
Therefore let us take care of ourselves to understand that the Church is a hospital that heals us and helps us to love Christ, and the love of Christ is a flame that burns within our hearts. And let us examine ourselves if we are in the love of God. If we see within us all these vices and selfishness and wickedness, then we should worry. Because it is not possible for Christ to be in our hearts and for it to be full of vinegar.
How is it possible to pray and be full of bile against another person. How is it possible for you to read the Gospel and not accept your brother. How is it possible for you to say you have been in the Church for so and so many years, that I have been a monastic, that I have been a clergyman, or whatever, and yet the initial stage of the spiritual life, which is love, you do not have. Where is the love? Where is the endurance you ought to have with your brother, to be a little patient, for to not accept him means you never had it. Nothing, absolutely nothing. Nothing at all. Christ came to the point that He told those virgins that He had no relationship with them. He cast them out of the bridal chamber despite the fact they had all the virtues, but they lacked love. He wanted to tell them that they may have had virtues on the outside, and may have remained virgins, and may have had a thousand things, but they managed to not have the essence of what mattered most of all. If you cannot accomplish this, then why have everything else? What's the point if I eat oil today and don't eat oil tomorrow? Though I may not eat oil, I can still eat my brother day and night. They would say on Mount Athos to not ask if someone eats fish. Don't eat the fisherman, but eat the fish. Don't eat the man who draws oil, but have a tablespoon of oil. To eat one another with your tongue is much worse than eating a tablespoon of oil. Instead we just remain there. If you dip your spoon in my food we may fight about it, even kill one another because you took food from me. Do you realize how ridiculous these things are, and not only do the demons mock us but also those who are outside the Church. And when they approach us, instead of seeing people of the Church transformed by Jesus Christ, to be sweet and mature people, balanced and integrated, people full of harmony, instead they see us with all our passions and all our sourness and they say: "Um, is this what would become of me? I would be better off without it."
You who go to church, how has the Church benefitted you? As we said yesterday, we went to the shrines, you saw the fathers, you saw the holy relics, you saw Mount Athos, you saw the Panagia in Tinos, you saw everything, and now we have returned. Ultimately of what benefit will all these things be? Have our hearts transformed? Have we become more humble people? Are we sweeter people? Have we become more meek people in our homes and with our families and in our monasteries, where we work? This is significant. If we have not accomplished these things, then at least let us be humble. Together with repentance. Let us be humble. If we can't even accomplish this, then we are worthy of many tears. We are to be lamented. Because unfortunately time is passing and it is lost and our years are measured.
Elder Paisios would be asked: "Elder, how many years have you been on the Holy Mountain?" He would say: "I came the same year the mule of my neighbor came." His neighbor was Old Man Zetos and he had a mule, and you know every cell on Mount Athos has an animal, a mule to carry their things. Well, this animal lives many years and you don't buy a mule every day, since they are expensive. So, he said that the same year he came to Mount Athos was when his neighbor bought his mule. They had the same years on Mount Athos, but the poor mule remained a mule and he also remained the same. He didn't change. We often say we have forty years or something like that in doing something, especially us priests and monks. I have been in a monastery for forty years, a monk will say. But these years are your burden. God will tell you: "Forty years and you still haven't managed to become anything? You have forty years and you still get angry? You still judge? You still contradict yourself? You still are resistant? You still are subservient? You have forty years and you have not yet learned first principles, the first principles of the monastic life and the Christian life? What will I do with your years? What will I do with you if you have fifty years and you can't respond to someone with a good word? What will I do with all these things?"
All these things will be for our burden. And I say all these things first of all for myself. They apply to myself first, and I know from my experience which is why I am telling you. You think it is for each of you. You say: "He's talking about me." I did not say these things for you. I said them for me. For me first.
We say all these things that we may become more humble. That we may shut our mouths. When egoism and all those things move within us, which unfortunately mock us and make us look foolish before God. If we become humble and silent and have an idea about ourselves, then slowly we can begin to correct ourselves with repentance, which is a fruit of humility. He who does not justify himself repents. He who justifies himself never repents. They who repent externally will never learn what repentance means, because internally they justify themselves. Therefore, let us examine ourselves. Examine yourselves, says the Apostle. Examine yourself if the love of God is within you. And not even this much, but at least if we are living in the area of repentance, so that God can heal our existence. May our relationship with the Church be for our healing. Let us become people who are healed of our passions and sins.
Many people ask how we can achieve this. How do we attain it? When we abandon ourselves into the hands of the good physician Christ. When we abandon ourselves with trust in the hands of God within our circumstances, through our difficulties. God knows for each of us what we need and He will lead us along those paths that slowly slowly through the passage of time a person will be perfected, we will be perfectly-formed. It is enough for us to entrust ourselves to God just like we entrust ourselves to our doctor, or since we are now on a boat, like we entrust ourselves to the captain of the ship. We must have trust. He takes us and we do not worry where he is taking us or when we will arrive, because we know that the one leading us is in his right mind, he is awake, he knows the way, and he is careful.
Source: Excerpted from the speech delivered to a group of pilgrims, titled "Η θεραπεία από την αρρώστια τού Φαρισαϊσμού" ("Therapy from the Sickness of Pharisaism"). Translated by John Sanidopoulos.