Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Saint Neophytos the Recluse as a Model for our Lives


Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Neophytos was born in Lefkara of Cyprus in 1134. His parents were poor, but pious and virtuous. They had eight children, to which, due to their economic situation, they were not able to give any other education except that of piety. Saint Neophytos however, due to his great love of learning, learned letters at the Holy Monastery of his repentance, and even became an author. At the age of seventeen or eighteen his parents arranged for his engagement to be married, as was the custom at the time. Ultimately, however, they succumbed to his insistence and allowed him to be free to become a monk at the Monastery of Saint John Chrysostom at Koutzoventi.

He went to Jerusalem to venerate the holy places there, but also to become a monk near a hesychast monk, because he loved quietude and the hesychast way of life. God, however, had other plans for him. In a wondrous way he was led to Melissovouno in Paphos, where at the edge of a valley he carved out a cave and lived as a recluse.

There were many who wanted to become monks near him, so he was forced to establish a monastery. He also wrote his famous "Standard Testimony", which was a rule for its proper functioning. Later, at the age of 65, he carved out a cave higher up the mountain for even more seclusion.

Of his sayings, we have the following, among others:

"I call those rich, who are rich in virtue and self-sufficient when in need."

"The memory of death and the fear of God are good things superior to all other good things."

He reposed in peace on 12 April 1219 at the age of 85.

His life and conduct give us the opportunity to highlight the following:

First, the hesychast way of life as taught by the Orthodox Church, is a safe and certain path that leads unerringly to communion with God, because it helps people master their passions. Thus, their nous is illumined and they see the glory of God, and then realize that true wealth is not in material possessions but the uncreated grace of God, which is the operative cause of all virtues. And still they find that the true man is the one who holds this spiritual treasure, because what determines personality and human value is not what one possesses, but what they are.

Spiritual wealth increases as material wealth decreases, and offered as a sacrifice on the altar of love. As much as one, out of mercy and love for voluntary poverty, is freed from the multitude of material goods, the more the spiritual life grows and heavenly bliss is experienced, which is beyond human intellect. "You desired blessedness beyond understanding, so you reckoned abstinence as your food, poverty to be your wealth, lack of acquisitiveness as abundant possessions, and humility as glory, wondrous one." Material wealth is ephemeral, since they leave people, or rather people leave it, because people are not citizens of this earth, but wayfarers, travelers, and all present things are as a shadow, as the sacred Chrysostom says: "Do you not know that the present life is a sojourn in a far country? For are you a citizen? Nay you are a wayfarer. Do you understand what I say? You are not a citizen, but you are a wayfarer, and a traveler. Say not: I have this city and that. No one has a city. The city is above. Present life is but a journey. We are journeying on every day, while nature is running its course... The time of your departure is uncertain, the tenure of your possessions insecure, there are innumerable precipices, and billows on every side of you. Why do you rave about shadows? Why desert the reality and run after shadows?" Therefore, the purpose of this transitory life is not our transitory well-being, but deification, which is the existential communion with the living Triune God.

Second, there can be no spiritual life without two great good things, namely the fear of God and the memory of death, which, according to Saint Neophytos, "are good things superior to all other good things." The fear of God, which is respect and love for God, increases with the remembrance of death, which is not a natural event, but a spiritual gift. That is, the remembrance of death is not only thinking about death and that someday we will die. Of course, this also can benefit a person and protect them from serious sins, when combined with repentance and preparation for the departure of this transient life, but the memory of death is much higher, and is a charismatic situation. "Mindfulness of death, as lived and described by the Fathers, is not an external awareness that one day we shall die. Elderly people have this as well, and they mention it often. Rather, it is a charismatic state; it is the consciousness of inner deadness. Man sees that he is inwardly destitute of God’s grace, and that he has passions. He knows that God is the God of the living, but he is spiritually dead and has lost God. This is what people experience in the West, which is why they say that God is dead. God has not died, but man has died to God. When, by grace, man sees this inner deadness, he also sees deadness in the whole of creation. He feels that everything is lifeless, dead. He sees death everywhere. This causes profound suffering; he gives himself over to weeping and seeks Life, the Living God, his resurrection. This is a charisma, a spiritual event that gives birth to prayer" (Archimandrite Sophrony Sakharov).

Independence from material goods, namely the liberation of attachment to them, increases the fear of God and reawakens the gift of the memory of death. People cling to God through asceticism, prayer, the sacramental life, and the life in Christ in general, and they acquire fulfillment and meaning in life, true freedom and unconditional love, since they are released from the bondage of the passions and the fear of death.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasis, "Ὅσιος Νεόφυτος ὁ Ἔγκλειστος", April 2008. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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