VENERATION for holy Christian men and women in the Orthodox Churches, both those living and those reposed in the Lord, arises from the distinctive belief that those who plunge themselves into prayer and sacrifice become imbued with the divine. As St Peter said:
“WHEREBY are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (2 Pet 1:4)”
In Hymn Of Entry, Archimandrite Vasileios recorded the truly inspiring words of a young monk, who had a special devotion to St Isaac the Syrian (7th century):
I AM reading St Isaac the Syrian. I find something true, heroic, spiritual in him; something which transcends space and time. I feel that here, for the first time, is a voice which resonates in the deepest parts of my being, hitherto closed and unknown to me. Although he is so far removed from me in time and space, he has come right into the house of my soul. In a moment of quiet he has spoken to me, sat down beside me. […]
To no one else have I opened the door of my soul in this way. Or to put it better, no one else has shown me in such a brotherly, friendly way that, within myself, within human nature, there is such a door, a door which opens onto a space which is open and unlimited. And no one else has told me this unexpected and ineffable truth, that the whole of this inner world belongs to man.
Orthodox have no trouble believing that the saints who have reposed in Christ continue to hear us and move among us like angels; they have become totally assimilated to the divine, and they beckon us to the same glory.
ORTHODOXY is based heavily on the idea that the Christian life is a form of therapy. Metropolitan Ierotheos of Nafpaktos has written,
MANY interpretations of Christianity have been formulated and many answers given to the questions: What is Christianity and what is its mission in the world? Most are not true. In what follows we shall seek to make it quite clear that Christianity, and especially Orthodoxy, is therapy.
As with any therapy, self-treatment can work but brings various pitfalls. Christians are consequently encouraged to seek out an experienced “spiritual father”, perhaps the local priest, more usually a monk or nun, who can help determine a suitable programme of treatment for our sickness of soul (which often has knock-on effects on the body too).
As Gerontissa Gavrielia said (see Επιλεγμένα θεολογικά κείμενα),
IT IS not a knowledge which you acquire by learning, but a knowledge which you acquire by suffering. This is Orthodox spirituality.
Many monks and nuns who have demonstrated particular experience of a healthy spiritual heart attract (usually somewhat to their embarrassment) various waifs and strays from amongst us, coming to them for comfort, counsel, and prayer. Of one monk he knew, Archimandrite Vasileios wrote:
HE is a day of sunshine and of calm; a well of purity and fruitful virginity. His whole body, as it were, forms a laugh of silent joy. Gentleness and radiance flow from him. Like a cool and clear day in spring when the breeze is full of the scents of new life, so his words are full of the fragrance which comes from the flower-covered valleys of his heart, the slopes of his sacred and light-bearing reflections.
Elder Thaddaeus of Vitovnica said something very similar.
WE can keep guard over the whole world by keeping guard over the atmosphere of heaven within us; for if we lose the Kingdom of Heaven, we will save neither ourselves nor others. He who has the Kingdom of God within himself will imperceptibly pass it on to others. People will be attracted to the peace and warmth in us; they will want to hear us, and the atmosphere of heaven will gradually pass on to them. It is not even necessary to speak to people about this. The atmosphere of heaven will radiate from us even when we keep silent, or talk about ordinary things. It will radiate from us even though we may not be aware of it.
Such people will be addressed as “Elder” (geronta, gerontissa for women), and bombarded with all kinds of questions. They endure this with affection and sympathy.
SOMEONE asked the if elder [Paisios] all the people who came everyday with questions tired him. He answered: I’ll tell you. When the discussion is spiritual it doesn’t weary. It’s bad when people ask altogether unreasonable questions. If they are illiterate and ask such things it will be alright. But there are “smart” people, students, and they ask you what relation the time has with the conscience of the person. In such cases I say, “Here I have coffee and one or two aspirins. Sit a little and little by little we’ll clear up your theme”.
In the cases of the more celebrated Elders, these dialogues are often recorded and compiled into books which, if used with care (since they were not speaking to us) can be helpful in resolving some of our problems and questions.
Also On Gabriel’s Message
Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) of Nafpaktos
St Bede, Monk of Jarrow
The story of ‘George’
A list of selected British saints
Fr Gheorghe Calciu-Dumitreasa (1925-2006)
Elder Arsenie Papacioc
St Nektarios of Aegina
Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh
Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi
St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne
What Good Does The Ascetic Life Do?
Joseph the Hesychast
Fr Seraphim Rose
A Visit From Another Life
WE may still speak to the saints as we would our spiritual father, laying our sorrows and fears before them in the knowledge that they will pray for and counsel us. The veil between our world and theirs is gossamer fine. The following first-hand account of a strange event that befell Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain illustrates this beautifully.
I HAD returned from the outside world, where I had been on an ecclesiastical matter. On the Tuesday, at ten in the morning, I was in my cell reading the Hours. I hear a knock on the door and a woman’s voice which said, “At the prayers of our holy Fathers…”.
I thought, “How does a woman come to be on the Mountain?” In saying it, I felt a divine sweetness in me, and I asked, “Who is it?”
“Euphemia”, she replies.
I thought, “Euphemia who?” Surely some woman has not been mad enough to come as a man to the Mountain? What shall I do now?”
She knocked again. I ask, “Who is it?” “Euphemia”, she replies once more. I reckon I won’t open up. When she knocked the third time, the door opened by itself, though it had a bolt across it. I heard footsteps on the path. I leant out of my cell, and I see a woman with a cloak. Someone had come with her, who resembled the Evangelist Luke, who disappeared. Although I was certain that it wasn’t a trick, because she gleamed with light, I asked her who she was.
“The martyr Euphemia”, she replies.
“If you are the martyr Euphemia, come and worship the Holy Trinity. What I do, you do too.”
I went to the church, made a bow and said, “In the name of the Father”. She repeated it with a bow. “And of the Son”. “And of the Son”, she said in a thin voice.
“Louder, so I can hear” I said, and she repeated it with more strength.
While we were still on the path, she made bows not towards the church, but towards my cell. At first I found this strange, but then I remembered that I had a small paper icon of the Holy Trinity, glued to the wood, above the door of my cell.
After we had venerated three times – “And of the holy Spirit” – then I said, “Now I shall venerate you, myself”. I made my veneration and kissed her feet and the tip of her nose. I read in her face that she found it impudence to kiss her.
At length, the saint sat on the stool, and I sat on a little chest, and she relieved my aporia (in the church sense of the word) [aporia in ancient Greek means ‘puzzlement’, or ‘helplessness’].
Then she recounted her life to me. I knew that there was a St Euphemia, but I did not know her life. When she told of her martyrdom, I was not just listening, but it was as if I was watching. Dreadful! Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.
“How did you bear such a martyrdom?” I asked.
“Had I known what glory the Saints have, I would have done what I could to experience yet greater martyrdom.”
After that happened, for three days I was not able to do anything. I was thrilled, and constantly glorified God. I could not eat, or anything… I constantly gave glory.
He referred to this in a letter. “In all my life, I shall never be able to repay my debt to Saint Euphemia, who though I did not know her, and without having any obligation towards me, did me such a great honour”.
From “The Life of Paisios the Agiorite”, by Hieromonk Isaac. Original extract at Απόψεις για τη Μονή Βατοπαιδίου.
O LORD Jesus, unto Thee Thy lamb doth cry with a great voice: O my Bridegroom, Thee I love; and seeking Thee, I now contest, and with Thy baptism am crucified and buried. I suffer for Thy sake, that I may reign with Thee; for Thy sake I die, that I may live in Thee: accept me offered out of longing to Thee as a spotless sacrifice. Lord, save our souls through her intercessions, since Thou art great in mercy.