December 3, 2016

How Saint Porphyrios Studied in his Youth

By St. Porphyrios of Kavsokalyva

When I was at Mount Athos, all I occupied myself with was study.

I was seven or eight years old and I didn't know about spiritual things. I would read the Apocalypse of Christ and the Apocalypse of the Panagia. I had learned them by heart. But who knows how I twisted them, since I did not yet know the meaning of the word "oikos," that it meant "house." This is how I learned them, without knowing their meaning, but because they were holy books, I learned them and, when I came across them again, I understood them, since I compared them with the first.

When I went into the wilderness, I gave great importance to obedience, because, having read lives of saints which were given in obedience, I also longed to imitate them. I enjoyed this very much. By the grace of God I only read the books of the Church and Holy Scripture. I didn't understand them - yet I still read them even though I didn't understand them. Not even a dictionary existed, nothing. Nor did I ever ask if they had a dictionary. But later, after much reading, I began to feel and explain what I read. By obedience my mind opened. In this way I began to understand many things and these I explained, as well as other things I did not know. I explained the words from other passages. This was my dictionary. Holy Scripture compared with Holy Scripture.

I also did something else. To have pure thoughts, I read - as much as my duties would allow - from the Gospel, the Psalter, etc. I read them to learn them by heart. And so, by the grace of God, I memorized the Gospel of Matthew, the Gospel of John, the Epistle of the Apostle James - though not the whole thing - etc.

With these things I occupied myself, when I was at Mount Athos. When my Elders would leave and they left me alone in the cell, I would go to Saint George, our chapel, and read and chant solemn troparia and canons from the Parakletiki, the Menaia and elsewhere, such as the Horologion, the Canon to Jesus, etc. I very much liked to read the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Psalter, the canons. I could not get enough of reading and I re-read with longing, with thirst. But you will tell me: "What did you hear over and over again, continuously the same thing?"

Yes, always the same. Read me a canon, then re-read it to me, then re-read it to me, and I will listen to it with thirst. As much as you read it, there is no satisfaction. This, however, has great value, it conveys to you spirituality, and it sanctifies you bloodlessly.

Source: From ΛΟΓΟΙ ΠΕΡΙ ΠΝΕΥΜΑΤΙΚΗΣ ΖΩΗΣ. ΙΕΡΑ ΜΟΝΗ ΧΡΥΣΟΠΗΓΗΣ. ΧΑΝΙΑ 2010. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

My Elders never ordered me what to do. They gave me a prayer rope and said: "Say the Prayer."

Nothing else. They saw me as a fanatic and didn't say much to me, not even what to read. They would not allow me to read anything from the great Fathers, which contained austerities. That is, they did not allow me to read Saint Ephraim, Saint Isaac, Saint John Climacus, Saint Symeon the New Theologian, the Evergetinos, etc. They forbade it. Being obedient, I only read the lives of the saints, the Psalter, the Parakletiki, the Menaia, and from these I learned to read, because I did not know how. But I had a lot of zeal for spiritual things. Every now and then I would go to Saint George, which I had helped to build, and I chanted many psalms. I most of all liked the Triadic Canons. And I liked those that contained divine eros. They were dirges, erotic songs, or whatever you want to call them. And I would weep with many tears, but they were not tears of sadness, but tears of joy. I would be moved. It said things beautifully! This was my life. I lived with the grace of the Lord, and not my own strength. These things were by divine grace, they were not by my own smarts, or by my studies - which I did not have - nothing, nothing, nothing. They were by the grace of God.

...Sometimes, however, I would escape. Without asking the Elders I took initiatives. Listen to me. To purify my nous I began to memorize Holy Scripture. I began from the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew. One day I was given an occasion and I told them by heart the first chapter of John. When they heard it they punished me because I had done it without a blessing.

Source: From ΓΕΡΟΝΤΟΣ ΠΟΡΦΥΡΙΟΥ ΚΑΥΣΟΚΑΛΥΒΙΤΟΥ – ΒΙΟΣ ΚΑΙ ΛΟΓΟΙ. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

What is simple is also the most precious.

So struggle in the spiritual life simply, gently, without violence. The soul struggles and is cleansed with the study of the words of the Fathers, in memorizing psalms by heart, scriptural passages, with chanting, with the Prayer. Give yourself to these spiritual things, and leave all the rest.

We can attain to the worship of God easily, without shedding blood. There are two paths that lead us to God, the hard and the wearisome, with fierce assaults on evil, and the easy one with love.

There are many who have chosen the hard way and have “shed blood to gain the Spirit,” such that they attain to great virtue.

I find that the shorter road is that of love. You too should follow it.

So maybe you can have another go. Study to pray, and have it as your goal to progress in the love of God and the Church. Do not wage a war of chasing the darkness from the chamber of your soul. Make a little chink for the light, and the darkness will scatter.

The same holds true for the passions and weaknesses. Don’t engage in battle with them, but turn them into strengths which defy evil.

Busy yourself in troparia, canons, in the worship of God, in divine eros. All the holy books of our Church, the Parakletiki, the Horologion, the Psalter, the Menaia, contain holy words, words of divine eros for our Christ.

When you give yourself to this attempt with longing, your soul will be sanctified in a simple fashion, secretly, without you noticing it.

The lives of the saints and more particularly the life of Saint John the Hut-Dweller have made an impression on me.

The saints are friends of God. All day long, you can delight in and relish their accomplishments, and imitate their lives. The saints have given themselves entirely to Christ.

Little by little, through this study you will acquire meekness, humility, love, and your soul will be glad.

Don’t opt for negative ways to correct yourself. You don’t need to be afraid of the devil, or of punishment, or anything. These things create a reaction.

I myself have a little experience of these things. The aim is not to sit bolt upright, to afflict yourself, to strain, but to improve. The aim is to live, to study, to pray, to make progress in love, the love of Christ, the love of the Church.

This is the holy and beautiful thing which gladdens the soul and liberates it from every kind of evil, this is the effort one makes us to be united with Christ.

To love Christ, to long for Christ, to live in Christ, like the Apostle Paul who said: “I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20).

This is your goal.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.