November 12, 2013

Saint Nilus the Ascetic as a Model for our Lives

St. Nilus the Ascetic (Feast Day - November 12)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

The venerable Nilus the Ascetic flourished in the mid-fifth century. Born in Constantinople, he was a disciple of Saint John Chrysostom, and a contemporary of Saints Mark the Ascetic and Isidore of Pelusium. He came from a rich and glorious family and served as Prefect of his homeland. However, "his desire for God and the eros of his heart" led him to abandon his enviable position and walk the path of asceticism. He went to the Sacred Monastery of Saint Katherine at Mount Sinai and "indeed passed his life venerably". His spiritual wealth which for many years he collected he distributed generously, as another wheat-giving Joseph, and he nourished and continues to nourish generations upon generations of people. He was wise according to God, but also held a human education and knowledge, leaving us valuable and beneficial writings full of spiritual wisdom and inexpressible Grace. Two of his discourses are treasured in the first volume of the Philokalia, namely his "Discourse on Prayer" which is divided into one hundred and fifty three chapters, and his "Ascetic Discourse". Both of these discourses are spiritual food and drink. They nourish, quench, cool, but also sweeten the reader, as they are sweet and delicious as ambrosia, nectar and honey.

Below we will briefly comment on excerpts from the discourses of the Venerable One, which are always timely, instructive and beneficial.

- "Our opponent the devil is naked, like those running in the athletic stadium. While we who wrestle against him are not only clothed, but we carry on our shoulders a myriad of burdens giving him a lot of excuses to defeat us. For, how can one fight against the spirit of avarice who is stuck with money? How can one wrestle with naked demons dressed in a myriad of cares? ... On the path of athleticism they are bothered by the heavy thoughts of property and money. ... Let us hold our property and money in contempt... let us reject the burden and the vessel will be relieved a little."

These discourses of the Venerable One are addressed to monks, who have made the vow of landlessness, which is why they must be "naked", or free of burdensome thoughts of property and money. By analogy, however, it applies to everyone in the world since they also struggle for their salvation. Certainly, it is natural for the latter to have some money and property for the needs of their family, but this must be done with discernment and moderation, because the accumulation of many material goods, as the Venerable One emphasizes, is an obstacle to virtue. That which the venerable Nilus in fact condemns is the passion of covetousness - avarice, which makes a person hard and cruel, a slave of money and property and a plaything in the hand of the devil. Family needs must not become a pretext for covering over the passion of avarice.

One who truly loves God is not a lover of money, but is merciful and a lover of men. At this point it should be stressed that covetousness - avarice is not a privilege of the rich, since there are rich people who are lovers of God and lovers of men, just like there are poor people who are lovers of money and unmerciful and try in many and varied ways to get rich. The key is to detach the heart from the attachment and slavery of material goods and to give ourselves completely to God. Then a person is free from the tyranny of the demons, who, when acquiring sovereignty over them, operate through the passions, and literally enslave and humiliate them.

- "Do not want the things of your life to be as you want them, but as it is pleasing to God; then in your prayers you will be calm and pleased."

Many problems we face daily arise from the fact that we want to do things in our life that we want and not what God wants. That, however, which we want we cannot know if it is correct and beneficial for us, for that which is pleasing to God is for our interest and benefit, because God loves us, cares for us, each of us individually, and he wants that which is good for us. Obedience to our spiritual father, the bearer of Orthodox tradition, contributes richly towards our walking along the path of that which is pleasing to God and thus avoid the big and serious mistakes of our lives, and thus to be able to pray with peace and pleasantness.

- "If you are patient, you will pray with joy."

It is known that without patience no good can be attained in our life. Here the venerable Nilus refers to prayer and stresses that the patient man prays with joy. On the other hand, the impatient man is resentful and disappointed when they do not see the immediate results of their prayer. However, we must know that God hears our prayers and answers in due time, allowing in our lives that which helps towards our spiritual maturity and our salvation. Certainly a joyous mood strengthens prayer, but true prayer which is done with the nous and heart triggers an inner joy that is a gift of the Holy Spirit.

Trust in the love of God and the striving to be obedient to His will, which means the voluntary crucifixion of the old man "with its passions and desires", causes people joy and makes them truly free.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΟΣΙΟΣ ΝΕΙΛΟΣ Ο ΑΣΚΗΤΗΣ", November 2008. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.