October 12, 2010

Elder Athanasios of Grigoriou: A Bee Gathering Spiritual Nectar

By Archimandrite Cherubim

What a blessed thing it is to read spiritual books! They can cool and refresh one's whole life. Fr. Athanasios had loved to study from his youth, and here on Mount Athos, with its treasury of spiritual books, they were his companions during every free moment. He sought out the most beautiful flowers in their meadows to make the loveliest bouquets. He gave himself to this task from his first days on Mt. Athos. From all the patristic, ascetic and theological books, he chose the most inspiring passages and inscribed them in his notebook. That blessed pastime continued into old age.

We saw his handwritten notes in the hands of many of the monks of Grigoriou. We discovered in them a rich variety. Next to ascetic texts, there are important events of Church history; next to Patristic writings there are sayings of ancient sages; besides teachings from the Lives of the Saints there are important canons of ecclesiastical law, and stories about the world of ancient Greece, etc. Here are a few examples from the collection:

- Since you are mortal, don't consider yourself immortal.

- Not even the little birds fall down to the ground without God's will. We should always say to God, "Thy will be done."

- St. Augustine was much instructed by the stories about St. Anthony and the ascetics of Egypt. "What is this?" he would ask his friend Alypius. "What did you hear? The ignorant rise up and seize heaven; and we, behold how we, with our heartless science, wallow in flesh and blood."

- The power of the iron sword was not given in the Church; but the power of the spiritual sword, wherein lies the Word of God.

- Pythagoras was never persuaded to eat fish, because by physical nature they are silent and symbolic of silence, which he considered a divine and heavenly gift.

- The spirits of the chosen seek seclusion, and they flee from the assembly of many men.

- Justinian founded and established Hagia Sophia on the mouth of the well on which Christ sat.

- Write your enmity on the water.

- There are five baptisms. First is Moses', when the Hebrews passed over the Red Sea. Second, that of John the Baptist. Third, that of Our Lord Jesus Christ, without which baptism one is not a Christian. Fourth, martyrdom - baptism in blood. Christ suffered that baptism. And fifth, the baptism of tears, which comes from the remembrance of one's sins.

- Bind your will to the will of God, and all things will happen as you wish.

- At the Skete of Boeria, St. Gregory Palamas would spend five days of the week closeted in his cell, not allowing others to enter it. Only on Saturdays and Sundays did he leave to celebrate the Holy Mysteries and to converse spiritually.

- O my God, the Apostle said to Thee that "if any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man" (James 3:2). Lay Thy bridle on me, Lord, and curb my tongue with Thy grace, that I may speak only "whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report" (Phil. 4:8).

From Contemporary Ascetics of Mount Athos, pp. 107-109.