By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas
Venerable Chariton the Confessor was born and raised in Iconium of Asia Minor, during the reign of Emperor Aurelian, which was a period of persecution against the Church. He was arrested along with other Christians, and courageously confessed his faith, for which he was subjected to severe torture. Twice he was carried off bloodied to prison, but by the grace of God he survived, and when Aurelian died soon after, Saint Chariton, by imperial decree, was released.
After his release he continued to live a life of asceticism and prayer. One day he decided to go to Jerusalem, along the way however he encountered some robbers, who took him prisoner and led him to their cave. But soon after the robbers died after they had drank from their wine, for without knowing a snake had poisoned it. Thus, Saint Chariton, by divine economy, was freed from bondage, but he also became an heir to the great wealth of the robbers, which he distributed to the poor, and took care to build many sacred churches.
He lived in quietude in that cave for a long time, until many people came to him seeking spiritual guidance. This is why he established the magnificent Lavra, which he named Pharos. Having guided his disciples along the path they should walk, and because he foreknew the time of his death, he passed on to them his spiritual testament as a priceless treasure. Having been brought to a place fit for hesychasm, there he delivered his holy soul into the hands of the living God.
We will go on to comment briefly on his testament and wise counsels towards his spiritual children.
"I command you, above all, to preserve carefully the divinely transmitted faith without wavering in the least or being shaken by periodic events or danger. For a short while, as has been revealed to me by the Lord, there will be widespread tumult in the holy Churches of Christ, caused by the heretics who will lead astray many by their heretical beliefs. You, however, must stand fast in the true dogmas of the Church, even unto the shedding of your blood, if the time or need of it so requires."
Faith is a way of life and is directly linked to salvation. When our faith becomes distorted through various heresies, then the way of life of a person is compromised and their eternal future is at stake. Here we see that faith is linked to the correct doctrines of the Church. Saint Gregory Palamas also emphasizes this truth when he says: "I believe in God means that I think correctly about Him and not simply that I accept His existence. For faith is associated with the doctrines of the Church, with the truth of revelation, as the Church expresses through the Prophets, the Apostles and the Holy Fathers. It is associated with the orthodox mindset and the orthodox life, and those who do not have both, are essentially atheists." This is because, as he says: "An atheist is not only one who does not believe in the existence of God, but a heretic also is an atheist, since they distort the faith and compromise the orthodox way of life. This is also true of the one who becomes orthodox through baptism, but does not have an orthodox ethos or mindset, and their way of life is not in accordance with the will of God."
In other words, faith is associated with orthodox dogma, repentance, good works, and obedience to the Church and the commandments of God - with the orthodox way of life in general. Anyone who does not have these characteristic attributes is an atheist, or their faith is empty, false and dead, like that of the demons. For the demons also "believe and shudder," but their faith is not beneficial nor does it save them, because, due to their pride, they do not repent, and their life is not harmonious with the will of God.
"You must also keep watch that you do not condemn your brother, but share in his grief and set him aright. This is because the passing of judgement is produced by the soul of a proud man who, by his own reckoning, condemns other men, so as to justify and exalt himself."
To condemn others and even to reach a point of slandering them, shows that they have pride. Because of pride they do not repent, and they cannot see their own sins and their own faults, but they occupy themselves with the sins and faults of others, wanting to always find justification for themselves. This strips them of the grace of God and they become a plaything of demons. To the contrary, when someone loves and has compassion on others and prays for them, then their entire existence becomes a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. This means they bring benefit to others, and they themselves feel internal peace and spiritual gladness.
"The methods of purging and purifying the soul of its defilements are manifold: tears, sighing, a contrite heart, confession, fasting, prayer, lying on the ground and all the other curative treatments of the soul. Though they are moderately tiresome, great benefit is derived by those who practice them. I know of something that is not tiresome, yet purifies the impurities of the soul, and this is to be sympathetic towards those who have shortcomings and falter, for this affinity brings about the forgiveness of sins of the sympathizer himself."
The Saint here teaches the value of forbearance and forgiveness, which arises out of love for our enemies and in general for all those who by their behavior become a cause for our own pain and tribulation. More than other things, sympathy for their faults purifies the soul of all the stains of the passions and sins.
By true faith, which is inextricably linked to orthodox doctrine, to repentance, to good works and obedience to the Church, true love springs forth, with forbearance, forgiveness and sympathy towards others who did us wrong, all of which more than all other things contributes to the purification of the heart from the passions, the illumination of the nous, and our union with God.
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.