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February 6, 2010

Counsels of Sts. Barsanuphios the Great and John the Prophet

Sts. Barsanuphios and John (Feast Day - February 6)

Saint Barsanuphios, an Egyptian by birth, lived in the 6th century during the reign of Emperor Justinian. He first lived in a monastery near the township of Gaza and then lived outside the monastery in a small cave, spending his time in prayer and silence. Nobody saw him for 50 years. For his great humility, God honored him with the gifts of wisdom, clairvoyance and prophecy. It has been told that, like the Apostle Paul, he ascended into Heaven and witnessed the indescribable blessings of God’s Kingdom. Being a miracle worker, he raised the dead, and like the Prophet Elijah could control the heavens. Such were the great gifts he obtained through unbelievably difficult temptations and sufferings. At the closing stages of his life — for the good of the Church — he was invited by the Patriarch of Jerusalem to visit the city, where he convinced the emperor to abandon his erroneous thinking and restore the concordant relationship with the Church of Jerusalem. He died in the year of 563.

Venerable John also practiced a life of silence and earned the gifts of prophecy and clairvoyance, for which he received the designation of prophet. His place of birth is unknown. During an 18 year period up to his death, he lived near the Elder Barsanuphios. Knowing the date of his demise and in response to Abba Elianus’ request, he postponed his death for two weeks in order to instruct him how to run the cloister.

Saints Barsanuphios’ and John’s instructions have been preserved in the form of questions and answers (over 800 +) posed by individuals of various callings — Archbishops, priests and laity.

Saint Barsanuphios instructed Abba Seridos to record all his answers without having any fear of making mistakes, as the Holy Spirit would direct him to chronicle everything correctly and in sequential order.

Once certain of the Fathers besought Saint Barsanuphios to pray that God stay His wrath and spare the world. Saint Barsanuphios wrote back that there were "three men perfect before God," whose prayers met at the throne of God and protected the whole world; to them it had been revealed that the wrath of God would not last long. These three, he said, were "John of Rome, Elias of Corinth, and another in the diocese of Jerusalem," concealing the name of the last, since it was himself.

On Prayer and Knowing the Will of God.

6. How can you be moved in prayer, reading and singing of Psalms? In prayer, the feeling comes from recollecting your sins. The praying person must bring to mind his deeds, how sinners that have committed similar sins will be judged, and the terrifying words of the Judge: "Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire" (Matt. 25:41).

During the uttering and singing of prayers, the feeling comes when the person compels his mind to be attentive to the words and grasp with all his soul the power that is enclosed in them. If despite this, that feeling is still absent within you, do not weaken but persevere patiently because merciful, generous and long-patient God will accept our endeavors. Always remember the Psalmist’s words: "I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry" (Psalms 40:1). Act in this way and have trust that God’s mercy will visit you.

8. How many times does one pray in order to receive advisory thoughts as to what course of action to take? If you are unable to ask an experienced elder, you then have to utter your prayer on the given subject three times. After this, examine your heart and if it leans by even a hair’s breadth — act accordingly. This type of communication is noticeable and fully understood by the heart.

8. How do you pray three times: at different intervals or all at once? Sometimes you can’t defer them. If you have spare time, pray three times over three days. But if there are urgent circumstances like that with the betrayal of Christ — where He went away three times to pray and uttered the same words each time — then use that as your guide.

8. When you intend doing a God-pleasing deed and a contrary thought opposes it, this lets you know that the intended act is truly pleasing to God. Pray and observe, whether during prayer your heart corroborates the goodness and this goodness grows and does not lessen, and accordingly, whether the opposing thought increases or not. Know that every good deed definitely has bitter opposition from the devil’s jealousy, while a good deed through prayer gains ascendancy over it. If an ostensibly good deed is implanted by the devil and then be opposed by him, — then prayer will weaken this illusory good deed, together with its illusory opposition. In this instance, it is apparent that the reason why the devil opposes the thought he himself had implanted, is to beguile us into accepting his concept as good.

8. When in thinking about something, you see confusion in your thoughts, and after calling upon God this confusion remains — even slightly — then know that what you are thinking of doing has been motivated by the deceiver. Then, under no circumstances are you to do this — because nothing is pleasing to God that is done with confusion. In a situation where there are opposing thoughts to this type of confusion, then there is no need to immediately regard the matter as evil. Examine the subject, is it good or evil — if evil, then leave it and if it’s good, carry it out and reject the confusion.

On Repentance, Temperance, Meekness, and Sorrows

23. You ask how to lay the beginnings of repentance. If you wish to begin repentance, look at the woman sinner: she washed Christ’s feet with her tears (Luke 7:38). Tears wash away the sins of every person. But a person acquires tears by internal efforts, through the diligent study of the Holy Scripture, through patience, meditation on the Last Judgment and eternal shame, and through self-denial, just as the Lord said: "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Mat. 16:24). To deny one’s self and to take up the cross — means to sever your own will in everything and regard yourself as nothing.

24. Regarding temperance in food and drink, the fathers teach to partake of both in lesser quantities that is required, i.e., not to fill your stomach fully. Each individual has to determine his own measure in both food and wine. Moreover, the measure of restraint is not limited to food and drink, but extends to talking, sleep, clothing and to all the senses. There must be its own measure in all of this.

27. If upon starting a conversation you realize that it is sinful — terminate it by saying: "No, we won’t talk about this," or, having remained silent for a few moments, say: "I have forgotten what I wanted to say," — and switch the conversation to a different non-sinful topic.

28. Do you wish to free yourself of sorrows and not be burdened by them? Expect bigger ones — and you will calm down. Remember Job and other Saints — what sorrows they had endured! Acquire their patience and your spirit will be consoled.

On Humility, Vile Thoughts, and Discretion

30. Let us always have recourse to humility, for the humble lies on the ground, and where would one who lies fall? Whereas a person that has ascended to a great height, can easily fall. If we changed and reformed, it is not from us but is God’s gift, for: "The Lord lifts up the humble."

30. You must regard yourself as the greatest sinner among sinners, who has done nothing worthwhile before God, and reproach yourself at all times, everywhere for everything.

31. To the question on whether we should argue with thoughts that perturb us, I will answer: Don’t argue, because the enemies precisely want this to happen, and seeing our altercation will not cease their attack. It is better if you prayed to the Lord, opening your feebleness before Him, and He will not only drive out these thoughts but will eradicate them completely.

36. It is more beneficial to humbly pose questions than to persist with your own will, because the Lord Himself helps the asker what to say — for the sake of his humility and righteousness of heart.

On Love for Your Neighbor, Mercy, and Non-Condemnation

42. Do not grow despondant in sorrows and physical labors, which you have to perform within the society, because this also means that you have laid down your soul for your brothers (1 John 3:16) — and I hope the reward will be great for this labor. Just as the Lord placed Joseph to feed his brethren during the famine in Egypt (Psalm 32:19), He placed you to serve society. I am just repeating the words of the Apostle: "You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Jesus Christ" (2 Tim. 2:1).

43. When you want to do a charitable act but a thought not to give creates doubt, test your thought, and if you find it being suggested through stinginess, then give — increasing the amount that you originally intended.

45. You are troubled by thoughts that incite confusion in others and find yourself confused. Know my brother, that if somebody offends you in word or deed, that person himself will be offended one hundred times worse sometime later. Be forbearing in everything and beware of ascribing your will to anything. Examine your thoughts attentively, so that they do not infect your heart with the murderous poison of anger, and that they do not tempt you into accepting a mosquito as a camel, or a pebble for a cliff. Because then you will be like a person who has a plank in his eye yet looks at the speck in another’s.

On Hypocrisy and Teaching

53. Sometimes, silence is better than any convincing and instructive conversations. Let us utilize words in moderation, remembering: "In the multitude of words there wanteth not transgression" (Prov. 10:19). So as not to fall into conceit and self-praise, let us remember that in not practicing what we preach, we preach toward our own condemnation.

Apolytikion in the First Tone
Divine and tuneful harps of the Holy Spirit's myst'ries, sounding forth sweet hymns of discernment which soothe all those in sorrows: ye moved men to cast off passion's yoke and trample upon Satan's loathsome head. Wherefore, Godlike Barsanuphius and wise John, deliver us who now cry out: Glory to Him that hath given you grace. Glory to Him that hath blessed you. Glory to Him that hath saved many through your sacred words of counsel.

Kontakion in the Third Tone
O Great Barsanuphius and John, thou marvellous Prophet, all the hidden secrets of men and God's dispensation brightly shone in the clear mirrors of your most pure hearts; and with beams of grace divine, ye cast out sin's shadows from the souls of men; O Fathers, lights of discernment, entreat the Lord for us all.