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February 6, 2014

Saints Barsanuphios and John as Models for our Lives

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

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

The venerable Barsanuphios and John lived in the sixth century. They were great ascetics, but also knowledgeable of the Orthodox faith and theology. The venerable Barsanuphios lived for many years as a recluse in a small cell near the Monastery of the venerable Seridos, where Abba Dorotheos lived in asceticism. There he reaped the sweet fruits of hesychasm and with his spiritual gifts, as well as the wisdom he acquired from above by his union with God, he helped many people by answering their questions and queries. At a nearby distance his disciple, the venerable John, exercised hesychasm, and he too responded to questions dealing with the spiritual life. He also was made worthy of many gifts of the Holy Spirit and particularly the gift of foresight and prophecy, which is why he is called the Prophet.

The responses of these Saints were gathered in a book titled the Book of Barsanuphios and John and it contains 838 questions and answers. It was printed in Venice in 1816 under the care of Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite, who in the Prologue wrote a summary of the lives of these Saints. They both completed their lives in peace.

Below we will quote and briefly comment on excerpts of the words of the Saints, which are always relevant, instructive and beneficial.

1. "Know, my brother, that if someone upsets their fellow man, either with acts or words, then he himself will be upset a hundred times more."

The venerable Barsanuphios refers here to spiritual law, according to which, what one does, whether good or evil, that they will find before them. That is, the same thing will happen to them depending on what they do, and even to a far greater extent.

2. "You should not spread your hand in front of the other at the (food) table, because this is improper and foreign to the common class."

The venerable John gives this advice among other things, which is related to external behavior, but it is not foreign to the inner state of man. Rather, it is directly connected to it. When a person loves God, then he loves his fellow man, and he conducts himself with subtlety and kindness to all, even with people he knows intimately. Moreover, familiarity does not abolish courtesy and respect.

Whoever is neat and orderly on the inside, is interested in their external orderliness, and is not only careful to not bring others to a difficult position, but cares in every way to facilitate them and serve them.

3. "O cowardice, the daughter of unbelief, how low it has thrown us! It is a companion of many evils, blinding the mind, fuddling the heart, extracting people from God; it is the sister of despair, removing people from the fear of God into the place of loss."

He calls cowardice the daughter of unbelief and describes even its results, namely the evils it produces. Conversely, the daughter of faith is spiritual bravery, which helps man to be freed from the passions so that the nous can be illuminated by the uncreated Grace of God and the heart can be a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Thus, in this state man knows God existentially, acquires perfect love which embraces even enemies, and dwells with hope which never dies, since the true hope of the faithful is in the Holy Triune God. Moreover, belief in the personal God of the Church requires bravery and manliness, "for God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and wisdom" (2 Tim. 1:7).

4. "Believe that everything that comes from God is for the good... Hopefully the Lord will give you wisdom and illuminate the eyes of your intellect, by the prayers of the saints."

It is important for one to have trust in the love of God and to receive everything with good thoughts. That is, to believe that God truly loves them and allows a variety of temptations for their salvation. That which, most of all, gives grace to man and matures them spiritually is to accept the sad events of life with a disposition of thanks and glorification. Conversely, when one considers the cause of their calamities to be God and murmur against Him, then they are driven to despair and destruction. Hopefully we will become wise and understand that God is our Father, that He truly loves us and that "everything that comes from God is for the good."

5. "To die without sin is not death, but a transition from grief to rest."

A certain monk in a Coenobium became heavily sick and the fathers asked the great Elder (so they called the venerable Barsanuphios) to heal him. The Venerable One told them that he would not die. Of course, God is calling him towards Him, but this does not mean he will die. He will transition from death to life and from grief to rest. For that which we call death is not death, but a journey towards the Light of eternal life and rest and joy, for all those who lived in repentance and "departed" with repentance. Death is a departure from the commandments of God and the loss of Divine Grace, because of repentance.

The great Elder, when he finished his words he turned to the sick man and said: "Go in peace, my child, to stand before the Holy Trinity, and intercede for us." And the monk closed his eyes and "departed" in peace.

The Book of Barsanuphios and John should consist of food for all those who love God and struggle to walk the straight path of His commandments, which leads to the liberation from the shackles of the passions and the fear of death, the unending blessedness of eternal life.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Όσιοι Βαρσανούφιος καί Ιωάννης", January 2013. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.