The almighty God will do what you cannot

Elder Paisios the Athonite

Elder Paisios the Athonite

A YOUNG man once came to my cottage in despair, because he had fallen into a sin of the flesh and could not change from that passion.

He had been to two spiritual fathers who tried, with an austere method, to help him understand that what he was doing was a serious matter.

The boy despaired. “Since I know that what I am doing is a sin” he said “and I can’t stop doing it and be set right, I shall sever my relationship with God”.

When I heard his problem, I felt for the poor boy, and said: “Look, blessed child, you should never begin your struggle from what you can’t do, but from what you can do.

“We will see what things you can do, and we will start from them. Can you attend church each Sunday?” “I can”, he told me.

“Can you fast every Wednesday and Friday?” “I can.”

“Can you give a tithe of your salary in alms, or visit the sick and help them?” “I can.”

“Can you pray every evening, even if you have committed a sin, and say, ‘My God, save my soul’?” “I will do that, Elder”, he told me.

“Start then” I said to him “from today, to do everything you can, and the almighty God will do the one thing you cannot.”

The poor boy calmed down, and said repeatedly, “Thank you, father”. He had, you see, philotimo, and God helped him.

Elder Paisios. Original at Γέροντες της εποχής μας.


NOT KNOWING, O Lord, the power of thy all-holy Spirit that had come upon thy Apostles, they supposed the interplay of tongues to be intoxication; but we who are reassured by them, ceaselessly speak after this fashion: Take not thy holy Spirit from us, we beg, O thou that lovest mankind.

Sticheron. Create a clean heart in me, O God, and renew a right Spirit in my innermost parts.

O Lord, the overshadowing of the holy Spirit, poured out upon thine Apostles, prepared them to speak in strange tongues; the paradox, was thought by the unbelieving to be intoxication, but by the believing to be an ambassador of salvation: make us worthy of his illumination, we beg thee, O thou who lovest mankind.

Sticheron. Do not banish me from thy presence, and do not take away thy holy Spirit from me.

Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of truth, who are everywhere, and fill all things, the treasury of good things, and who furnish with life: come, and make thy tabernacle in us, and cleanse us from every stain, and save, O good one, our souls.

Feast of Pentecost. The Stichera are from Ps 50 (Heb 51).


2 thoughts on “The almighty God will do what you cannot

  1. Simply wonderful! This is not unlike a traditional Roman teaching that if one seeks to avoid sin or vice it is best not to try simply to resist the vice, but rather to aspire to the contrary virtue and the closeness to God that it will bring. I am curious to know: in what do the Orthodox fasts on Wednesday and Friday consist? As you well know, we Anglicans have tended to refrain from any prescriptions on the subject, with the predictable result that almost nobody keeps these fasts any more.

  2. This gentle advice is typical of Paisios, whose counsels are all the more compelling because his own life was so rigorous. You can read a selection of his wisdom at this website dedicated to Elder Paisios, and there are translations of his books at St Herman’s. Like many others, Paisios saw his cottage as a doctor’s surgery, not a courtroom.

    The convention arose long ago, that on Wednesdays and Fridays Orthodox will (for all practical purposes) eat Vegan, but without any oils. There’s a good short piece by Bishop Kallistos, in which he reminds us that we are willing to put ourselves through diets and hardship for weight-loss or sporting glory, but not to shed the excess weight of worldliness or to receive the far more glorious gifts (in this life and the next) of the Holy Spirit.

    It seems rather beautiful to me to aim at one common convention for the whole Church, as the Bride fasts for the Bridegroom, “for the two shall be become one flesh”. That said, while some Orthodox are rather austere about this, life is rarely so simple. The article at OrthodoxWiki is a little more Paisios-like, in that it encourages Orthodox who are new to fasting to begin by doing what they readily can, and then consult a good spiritual father as they look to deepen their fasts subsequently. There was a nice piece at Αγιορειτικό Βήμα about this, from a nutritionist, at the start of the Advent (St Philip) fast a few days ago, urging moderation for those with health problems. Then there’s the perhaps rather predictable story, of the young monk who exclaimed, in the fast, “Father, these beans are so much nicer than meat anyway!”, at which point his Elder told him he would be eating meat for the rest of the fast…

    The key point, as I understand it, is that whatever is done has to be done for love of Christ and as a spiritual journey from weakness to strength (Rom 14:1-17) – almost, I suppose, that as we love Christ more and more, we find we simply cannot eat with pleasure on days when we commemorate his betrayal and his cross – and not because “it’s the rules”.

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