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January 31, 2015

The Spiritual Counsels of Elder Daniel to Saint Arsenios of Paros

St. Arsenios of Paros (Feast Day - January 31 and August 18)

As a youth, St. Arsenios of Paros (1800-1877), who was known as Athanasios in the world, was introduced to his spiritual father, the renowned Elder Daniel of Zagora in Thessaly, while he was a student in Kydoniai of Asia Minor, when he had come to confess the students there. After their meeting, Athanasios never left the side of his spiritual father till he reposed.

When Elder Daniel took his fourteen year old disciple Athanasios to Mount Athos, he taught him the lessons, canons, laws and ways of true wisdom of the monastic and angelic mode of life, of true philosophy. According to Elder Philotheos Zervakos, the biographer of St. Arsenios, "Elder Daniel was a perfect teacher, in deed as well as in word. And his pupil, Athanasios, was extremely attentive and diligent in his efforts to master the queen of the arts and sciences, the true wisdom, the monastic way of life."

Before Elder Daniel clothed Athanasios in the great and angelic habit as a monk and renamed him Arsenios, he counseled him with the following words of authentic theology and spirituality:

Listen my child, and pay attention to my words. If you want to become a true and perfect monk, to master the monastic way of life, which is the true philosophy, the art of arts and the science of sciences, and leads man safely to the Kingdom of Heaven, it is necessary from the very outset to learn three lessons. If you pay the proper attention to these and apply yourself and learn them, you will subsequently learn with ease all the other lessons that are necessary for the mastery of the science which you have decided to follow. Or rather, in these three lessons are contained (on them depend) the whole Law, and the virtues, and all the other lessons.

These three lessons are the following: The first is called cutting out of one’s will; the second, humility; the third, obedience. It is easy for one to learn these intellectually; but to learn them in this way is of no benefit. What benefits one is putting them into practice. It is easy for one to read about them in the writings of the Apostles, and of the Fathers and Teachers of our Holy Church, and thus learn about them. But while it is easy to read and learn about them, it is difficult to put them into practice. Many men, especially educated persons, scholars, teachers, bishops, priests have read about them, are reading about them and have learned about them, and many of them have also taught them and are teaching them to others. However, as they did not practice them, they did not derive any benefit at all. Rather, they brought harm upon themselves and upon others, for "he who knew his master’s will and did not act according to it shall receive a severe beating, while he who did not know shall receive a light beating." Hence our Lord Jesus Christ enjoined on His holy Apostles, and through them on us and on all men of all generations, first to do and then to teach. "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father Who is in heaven." You note that the Lord did not say: "that they may see or hear your good words," but "your good works." Similarly, he says: "Whosoever shall do and teach, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven." He does not say: "Whosoever shall teach" only, but who will also and in the first place "do."

Now my child, as I have become your spiritual father, fulfilling my paternal duty, I shall teach you the three lessons that I have mentioned. You, on your part, as my genuine spiritual child, watch lest you become disobedient; for just as our forefathers were expelled from Paradise because they disobeyed the commandment of the heavenly Father, so you too will not enter Paradise if you disobey the precepts which I, the least of spiritual fathers, shall give you. However, if you pay attention to all my precepts and obey them, you will easily and safely enter the Kingdom of Heaven; and even in the present, transitory life, you will be granted heavenly gifts by God. Disobedience has led, is leading, and will lead to death, whereas obedience has led, is leading, and will lead to eternal life and a heavenly, everlasting kingdom.

Know this, too, my child: Whoever learns these three lessons in deed is the happiest of men. He becomes an imitator of Christ our God, inasmuch as when Christ came to this world He taught these three lessons in deed. In the first place, when the heavenly Father sent Him to the world, He did not oppose the will of His Father, but did it. Secondly, although He was God, He humbled Himself, "taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men." Thirdly, He "became obedient unto death, even death on a cross." Wherefore God His Father "hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." So you, too, my child, if you cut off your will, if you become humble and if you practice obedience, you will make progress in the other virtues also, and God will elevate and glorify you.

From the Life of St. Arsenios written by the Blessed Elder Philotheos Zervakos, translated by Constantine Cavarnos in volume 6 of the Modern Orthodox Saints series, pages 43-46.