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Athos Monks[play]
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Monastic life.

The elder said: The monk will be unjustified if he does not move in the realm of general love. He struggles to go out from his small family and enters into the great family. God does not demand that the head of a household attain to this situation/ measure.

The elder said. Let us not bring the world and its customs, comforts and luxury, into the monastery,

The elder said: Let obedience not be with misery and like forced labor. The elder or eldress is not a Diokletianos who says no and don't. We owe them gratitude since they protect us. Not complaints and disobedience.

The elder said: As soon as the monk renounces and gives over his own to God and forgets them, then God must help them. Thus the monk leaves the small family and enters into the great family of Adam. He doesn't remember his own, nor prays particularly for them. I see in all people my parents, my brothers, my relations. I have ceased all communication. When I don't think of my own, then God will think of them.

The elder said: My greatest enemy is my name. Woe to the monk who gets a name, because he'll not have quiet, but the people will begin to shape various things, which are not the reality.

The elder said: Once two Catholics came here. They seemed to be good boys, architects. And they said to me that Orthodox monasticism doesn't produce anything, whereas theirs undertake great ministries. I explained to them that the mission of the monk is something else, different from the mission of the clergy in the world. I said, "If we destroy the lighthouse on the rocks, what will become of the ships? But the monks are the lighthouses."

Hesychia (far from the world) very quickly brings inner stillness to the soul together with asceticism and unceasing prayer. Then man is no longer bothered by external disquietude, for in essence only his body is found on earth, while his mind is in Heaven.

In this state of being were found the Holy Fathers: incorporeal ones who differed from angels in almost nothing, for they too were found day and night residing in Heaven, noetically and unceasingly at prayer.

A heart, on the other hand, that is captured by the vain world maintains an unnourished soul and a darkened mind, and while the person appears to others to be a human being, he is in essence a spiritual monstrosity.

Vigil with prayer conveys health and life toward spiritual development, for it cleanses and sensitizes the mind, humbles the unruly flesh, and warms up the heart with love for God; and the soul receives Divine Grace.

Prayer during the night is much more beneficial than prayer during the day, just as nighttime rain is more favorable to plants than rain during the day.

Those who struggle during vigil prayerfully, yet are a little drowsy, greatly move God. This is not the case with those who are well rested and feel no drowsiness. Those who fall asleep in their stasidi (Stasidi, pl. stasidia: Church seat) are a thousand times better off than those who sleep in their bed. Nevertheless, we should not waste all our strength on futile things, which will become dust one day and then offer God our tiredness together with our yawning, like the sacrifice that Cain offered (Genesis 4:2-7). When tiredness is justified and we are sleepy, it is better for sleep to steal one or two minutes from us during the vigil and for our drowsiness to recede naturally, rather than to drive it away earlier with coffee. Oftentimes coffee agitates our nerves, especially if we are not calm by nature. It is preferable for someone to keep vigil fewer hours with pure prayer, rather than to hasten for the night to pass without any spiritual benefit and afterward spend the whole day prostrate like a corpse.

Pure prayer is greatly aided by withdrawal from the worldly bustle and large crowds of people. (If possible, it is even better to be completely alone.) When one feels alone, the soul moves about comfortably, the heart erupts with reverence before God and gradually its hard shell bursts and is removed. Thereafter, our heart is moved not only when we think of God, but also even when we hear or see His name written down. The heart leaps and kisses it with great devotion. The same happens, of course, with the name of Christ or the Panagia. Our soul is then internally sweetened.

It befits a monk to be alone and, when alone in his cell, to find rest most of all in his prayer. After all, this is why he is called a monk (The term "monk" derives from the word monachos, from the Greek word monos meaning "alone") ó to live alone with God and, instead of talking with people, to converse unceasingly with God. The more he avoids conversations with men, the more he is helped in his prayer and, consequently, by his prayer he helps others. Worldly conversations ó even if you just listen to them ó are spiritual parasites that obstruct unceasing prayer, especially at the outset of the ascetic life. Therefore, it is necessary to be careful as much in the beginning, so as to collect the mind, as at the later stages, so as to avoid falling into deception.

Patristic study helps a great deal, for the Holy Fathers interpret the Gospel with their evangelical life. Likewise, the examination of ourselves with regard to our sinfulness, our ingratitude, and the many benevolent acts of God is also helpful. All of this naturally brings humility and then, necessarily, the Grace of God. Spiritual study warms up the soul and, with philotimo, moves it to prayer and struggle. The study of ourselves conveys humility and the need for prayer and Godís mercy. For this reason, before we begin to count our komboskinia (Komboskini, pl. komboskinia: the black woolen rope with knots used by Orthodox Christians to count the number of times the Jesus Prayer is repeated.) (how many times we repeat the Jesus prayer), it is good first to count our numerous sins and the many benevolent acts of God.

At the hour of prayer, when our minds divert to filthy things, or if these things descend on us unwillingly, we must not start an argumentative war with the enemy. For, even if all of the worldís lawyers were to gather together, they would not be able to prevail upon one single little demon through argumentation, since only with contempt can someone drive away the demons and their blasphemous words. (Of course, the enemy will bark for a time and only then run off.) Man should not be upset about the blasphemies of the devil but only about his personal sins, and to hope in Godís boundless mercy; for where hope in God is absent, the devilís tail is present.

In order to gather our mind in our heart at the hour of prayer, it is very helpful to hold our breath slightly, but not constantly, for the heart is harmed by this bodily contraction. The heart, of course, is not cleansed by this bodily contraction, but rather through a humble, philotimo sigh of repentance, originating from the depth of our heart. This sigh brings divine consolation, whereas physical contraction, when one pressures himself egotistically and without discernment, brings despair and anxiety.

When man struggles with hope, however, divine consolation comes and the soul intensely feels the caress of Godís love. Then, the heart is attracted by God and the komboskini is treated with joy due to divine fervor. In the beginning, of course, one needs to have persistence with philotimo and discernment until the spiritual oil is defrosted, in order for our soul to ignite and pray unceasingly.

Variety in vigil is very helpful. When one is alone, he may first do full prostrations, then small ones, and then say the Jesus Prayer sitting down or kneeling, and repeat this sequence depending on the time he has to offer. This method is very helpful for it creates spiritual liveliness and drives away the weariness of inaction through interspersed spiritual movements, prostrations. Moreover, it drives away sleepiness and brings spiritual lucidity during prayer.

Excessive work, with its fatigue and distraction, especially when it is done hastily, sets vigilance aside and irritates the soul. For, with the omission of the Jesus Prayer and our spiritual duties, the enemy seizes our spiritual fortresses, attacks both our flesh and our thoughts, and renders our spiritual and bodily strength useless. He cuts off our communication with God, and, consequently, our souls are taken captive by the passions.

On the contrary, work with discernment (especially for beginners), helps a great deal, for it brings double health to man and the blessing of God. For, besides the fact that the monk thereby provides those things necessary for himself, he can also offer blessings to others, and thus the name of God is glorified and his relatives who have reposed receive forgiveness. Spiritual nobility, of course, is essential for the monk; meaning, namely, that being young and healthy he gives blessings to others and does not live from the blessings of others. Spiritual nobility helps much, granting wings to the soul, and inner peace preserves the body with less food.

Handwork that is done with serenity and prayer is sanctified, and it sanctifies those who use the handmade articles. He, on the other hand, who does handwork in haste and nervousness, transmits this demonic condition to others as well. Hurried work done in distress is characteristic of very worldly people.

Internal and external peace, devoutness and unceasing prayer for the sanctification of his soul and his fellow menís souls, who donít have the opportunity to pray ó these are traits that befit a monk.

If the specific handwork is noisy, soft and slow chant is very helpful, until the soul reaches the point of divine inattention, when it no longer hears the noise, or hears it only when it wishes, or, rather, when the mind (nous) descends from Heaven. Naturally, handwork should be simple so that the hands become used to working on their own without having need of the mind.

Much care is needed so as not to expend all our bodily strength on handwork. If we are careless, we wonít be able to carry out our spiritual duties, or we will do them, but without motivation, waiting impatiently for the final knot of our komboskini to arrive and for our prostrations ó that spiritual ascesis which is most helpful of all ó to come to an end.

In the bending of our knees, we humbly venerate God and entreat His mercy, for Him to forgive our sins; that is why they are called prostrations (In Greek, the word metanoia, which means repentance, literally, "change of mind," is used also for the word "prostration." Thus, the word for "prostration" indicates the spiritual condition of the soul, which is expressed by the physical movement of making a prostration). Prostrations made for ourselves or for our neighbor (living or reposed) are the most important "handwork" of all. It is "handwork" with endless toil, provided one has philotimo to labor in repentance. On the contrary, when we are lost in vacuous and insignificant things, in the end we lose our souls as well.

Many prostrations are usually made when our hearts leap with gratitude to God, for the soul expresses itself with the external flutter of prostrations that bring abundant Grace and bodily dispassion.

In the beginning, numerous prostrations remove even unnatural bellies and give man the possibility to climb the spiritual heights of virtues, just as he would, with great ease, climb the heights of mountains, without huffing and puffing.

If we do not struggle, however, we become stagnant or sluggish. If we at least have much humility, though, the hand of God will raise us to Heaven free of charge. If we donít even have humility, God forbid, we will experience a great fall. If a person were to acquire spiritual health, it would be beneficial for him to struggle hard, with much humility, without examining or condemning others, but only himself.

Physically ill people, who cannot struggle, may struggle spiritually, with vigilance and unceasing prayer, in order to uproot the soulís passions, and should constantly think of the Holy Passion of the Lord, that their pain might be sweetened, and that thus they might glorify God with patience in order to receive the martyrs crown.

At the hour of prayer, when other monks struggle with their rule of prayer (Rule of prayer: the individual prayer of a monk, consisting of a prescribed number of prostrations and the Jesus Prayer said using the prayer rope), if someone cannot do full prostrations, let him do small ones or at least say the Jesus Prayer and not fall asleep, unless he is ill or has an excuse. We should always examine ourselves to see if we are making excuses for ourselves or not, that we not become spiritually idle and the enemy take us by surprise; for he never sleeps but perpetually thinks how he can find an opportunity to greatly harm us.

Therefore, when sometimes we see ourselves spiritually numb and our hearts frozen, we should visit a true struggler in order to be re-invigorated, or a person in pain to force our hearts to feel pain, assist with love and be warmed by love, so as to thaw out.

The natural course of the monk is to first submit himself, be instructed, always struggle with great humility, and beseech the mercy of God with reverence. In this way, one gradually ascends Golgotha, is crucified and spiritually resurrected, and rejoices, glorifying God like the angels.

For all those, however, who live the spiritual life in a worldly way ó in other words, all is Pascha, (Pascha, in Hebrew Peshah=Passover: In Old Testament times, this word referred to the passage of the Israelites through the Red Sea to the Promised Land. In New Testament times, it refers to Christís passage from death to life at His Resurrection, and also refers to manís passage from death to life and from earth to Heaven, which was made possible by the sacrificial Crucifixion and the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ), without first passing through Great Lent and the Crucifixion ó it is impossible for them to resurrect spiritually, impossible for them to love Christ. They have not suffered so as to feel the pain of Christ for our salvation and be sweetened by the love of Christ, to become spiritually mad from divine love and absorbed in Heaven.

When man does not go through the natural course of spiritual life, namely Crucifixion ó Resurrection, so as to experience Paschal spiritual states, heavenly ones, he is more miserable than worldly people. Worldly people can somewhat understand when someone speaks to them about divine love. Those, however, who set off for heavenly love and higher joys, by turning also toward worldly joys (those not considered sinful), remain half way down the road like Lotís wife (Genesis 19:26). Consequently, their hearts are as insensitive as stone, so much as to be scandalized even by the words "divine love," which they hear read from the books of the Church.

These people are in greater need of prayers so that God may work a miracle and transform their rocky hearts into human, spiritual ones, that they might fall in love with God; for only God "is able from these stones to raise up children unto Abraham" (Matthew 3:9), as the Gospel says.

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