Sunday, May 25, 2014

Elder Ephraim of Arizona on Love and Forgiveness Towards Brethren

My children, fight the good fight (1 Tim. 6:12 ); let brotherly love continue (Heb. 13:1 ); may love be the center of all actions within the synodia—may egotism be far from your thoughts and words. “Whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all” (Mk. 10:44 ), says the Lord. And if we do not become like little children in terms of innocence and simplicity, we shall by no means enter the kingdom of heaven (cf. Mt. 18:3 ). When love governs a synodia, Christ invisibly blesses everything; joy, peace, and self-sacrifice for the brethren are afire in the hearts of every brother—but also prayer intensifies then. The more love abounds, the more love in Christ and self-sacrifice enriches their souls, and then Christ is glorified and worshipped, and we become humble instruments for the glorification of the holy name of God. Genuine love does not envy the good gifts of one’s brother; it does not rejoice when it hears humiliating words or criticism of a brother; it does not restrain itself from constantly commending a brother’s progress. Love does not envy; love does not parade itself, does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, but its brother’s interests; it is not provoked; it thinks no evil; it bears all things, endures all things (cf. 1 Cor. 13:4-7 ).

Whoever has genuine love never falls by sinning against his brother. So my children, pray that Love itself—our God—will grant you the gift of love in Christ. When this love comes to reign in our hearts, words, and deeds, then we should hope for prospects of forming a synodia in Christ with a Christian spirit, with spiritual radiance and an unshakeable foundation—a synodia closely united with one mind and one soul in many bodies.

My beloved children, I pray that the God of love will strengthen you in mutual love and give you the love that does not act wickedly, that does not create scandals, but rather averts them with the wisdom it engenders. I pray that the Lord will give you pure love—love which guards the mouth of him who possesses it and does not let him fall into the pit of criticism, malicious gossip, lying, hypocrisy, and the countless other evils which the lack of this true, godly love begets through the tongue. “He who has love abides in God, and God in him” (cf. 1 Jn. 4:16 ), The evidence that we are of God and that we love Him is when we have true and unadulterated love for one another. “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer” (1 Jn. 3:15 ) and is in spiritual darkness and does not know where he is going (cf. Jn. 12:35 ). We have received a very important commandment from our Lord Jesus: to love one another. Likewise, the devil has given a commandment to those who obey him, that they hate one another. Therefore, we are disciples and subjects of him whose commandment we keep. My children, let us fear coldness and enmity towards our brethren, as well as the various thoughts that accompany these attitudes, which little by little lead the soul to demonic hatred. For in this manner we subject ourselves to the devil—the enemy of our salvation—as to a master, and then innumerable evils will accumulate in our poor souls!

Love is the base, the foundation, and the roof of the soul that possesses it . When such a soul has the God of love dwelling within it, it rejoices splendidly at every moment. In a monastery, mutual love among its members is extremely necessary for its establishment and preservation, because love is the golden link that unites the brethren in every way in a closely knit body, which will withstand the temptations that the lord of enmity and hatred—the devil—will always create. Love is that invincible power that holds the members together in one body, with the abbot as the head. And every time it is necessary, this power will fight against the other completely opposite power of evil, which will endeavor to break off members from their unity. When we are lax and slack in love, the opposing power of the devil will have victories for its side corresponding to the laxity that our previously fervent and powerful love has suffered. What are the victories of the opposing power? Troubles within the brotherhood, such as back talk, disobedience, quarrels, pride, bragging, envy, hatred, and finally, deserting the monastery! Let us reflect, my children: do the angels in heaven perhaps talk back, disobey, do their own will, bear malice, hate, or desert the place where they serve before the throne of God? Of course not. This is what Lucifer did, who was once a rising star, and was cast down and became Satan!

Therefore, since we have worn the angelic schema, aren't we also obliged to live in an angelic manner? How can you be considered to be living an angelic life when I see amongst you back talk, complaining, self-will, enmity, and worst of all, disobedience? By doing so, wouldn't you be doing the opposite of what you have been counseled to do by my lowliness? Won’t you receive a greater condemnation by doing the opposite, according to the scriptural saying that “he who knows and does not do shall be beaten with many blows” (cf. Lk. 12:47 ). That is, he will be strictly chastised with many terrible blows and punishments. Let us fear disobedience to counsels, my children, because every transgression and disobedience inevitably receives a punishment (cf. Heb. 2:2 ). On the contrary, let us struggle to apply them. Be obedient to what you have been advised to do, so that you may receive the unfading crown of love and obedience when the trophies and crowns are given by the Judge of the contest, Jesus Christ. I pray that the Christians’ Champion Lady of the world will count you worthy, through her prayers and those of all the saints, to receive this unfading crown of eternal glory!

My child, see to it that you drive away the evil thoughts which the devil urges you to consent* to—especially thoughts of hatred towards the brethren you should pay no attention to, because he aims to steal from you the greatest virtue: love. And if he achieves this, he has completely won your soul. Once we have lost love—God, that is, for God is love and he who abides in love abides in God and God in him (1 Jn. 4:16 )—then what is there left to save us? My child, do not listen at all to these thoughts of hatred towards the brethren, but drive them away immediately, and start saying the prayer, or tell Satan, “The more you bring me thoughts of hatred, devil, the more I will love my brethren. For I have an order from my Christ not only to love them, but even to sacrifice myself for them, just as Christ sacrificed Himself for me, the wretch”. And at once embrace the things about them that annoy you, and say, “Just look how much I love them, O envious Satan! I will die for them!” By doing this, God sees your good intentions and the method you are using to conquer the devil, and He will come at once to your aid to deliver you.

*Consent (συγκατάθεσις )

Consent is one of the stages of temptation. St. John of the Ladder describes the stages as follows: “Assault is a simple conception or an image encountered for the first time, which has entered the heart. Coupling is mentally conversing with what has been encountered, accompanied by passion or dispassion. And consent (συγκατάθεσις ) is the yielding of the soul to what has been presented to it, accompanied by delight. But captivity is a forcible and involuntary abduction of the heart, or a permanent association with what has been encountered which destroys the good condition of our soul. Struggle is power equal to the attacking force, which either wins or loses according to the soul’s desire. Passion is primarily that which nestles with persistence in the soul for a long time, forming a habit in the soul, by its long-standing association with it, since the soul of its own accord clings to it. The first of these states is without sin, the second not always, but the third is sinful or sinless according to the state of the struggler. Struggle can earn crowns or punishments. Captivity is judged differently, according to whether it occurs at the time of prayer or at other times; whether it happens in things neither good nor bad, or in the context of evil thoughts. But passion is unequivocally condemned in every situation, and requires either corresponding repentance or future punishment. Therefore, he who regards the first assault dispassionately cuts off with one blow all the rest which follow”. --The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 15:73.

I pray that the All-good God will send down upon you the All-holy Spirit, as He did to His divinely sent holy Apostles, so that you may be enlightened to walk the arduous path of salvation. “Behold now, what is so good or joyous as for brethren to dwell together in unity with love?” (cf. Ps. 132:1 ). There is nothing more beautiful than for a synodia to be replete with godly love. Then, everything is radiant; everything is full of beauty, while God above delights, and the holy angelic spirits rejoice above where love is boundless. “Love one another, as I have loved you. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:34,35 ). O love, whoever possesses you has a truly blessed heart, for within love, what could one possibly want and not find! Humility, joy, patience, goodness, compassion, forbearance, enlightenment, and so on, are all there. But in order to obtain this supremely wondrous love, we must constantly call upon the God of love to give it to us. When the name of God is remembered through the prayer “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me”, it contains within it eternal life, and eternal life is the God of love! Therefore, he who prays this prayer obtains true, godly love. So, onwards; behold the way and means of victoriously conquering love. Take courage and bravely proceed into the battle. Say the prayer constantly: orally and noetically. It is more beneficial to say it orally during the day, because at that time the nous is scattered by one’s work.

The beautiful road of love is effortless, and there is neither blemish nor stain in love, but rather the conscience testifies that the soul has boldness towards God. But when there is no love, the soul has no boldness in prayer, and as one defeated and cowardly, it cannot lift its head because it feels remorse for not having loved as God has loved it; it is a transgressor of the commandment of God. If we do not love our brother whom we have seen, how can we love God whom we have not seen” (cf. 1 Jn. 4:20 ). He who has true love has God; whoever does not have love does not have God in himself. The Holy Fathers say, “If you have seen your brother, you have seen God; your salvation depends on your brother”. The holy monastic fathers of old walked the path of salvation effortlessly, because they sacrificed everything so that they would not fall away from love. Love was their goal in life. Our path, though, is completely strewn with thorns which sprouted because we lack love. And this is why when we walk, we constantly bleed. The foundations of the house shake when we do not lay the foundation of love well.

Compel yourself, my child, for the sake of your soul. Compel yourself to comfort the brethren, and the Lord will comfort you—He will give you His grace. Have patience, have patience. Let everyone treat you like dirt, and He will give you His grace. Great is he who has more humility. God gives grace to the person who has fear of God and obeys everyone like a small child and constantly seeks God’s holy will. Such a person never seeks that his own will be done, but the will of God and of the others. He always says, “As you wish, as you know best”. He does not give his own opinion because he considers himself lower than everyone. When they tell him to do something, he eagerly says, “May it be blessed”. So, my child, this is what you should do, too. This makes the demons tremble, flee far away, and not approach anymore. They are very afraid when they see humility, obedience, and love towards all.

My child, just do your duty. If the others do not obey, leave it to God and be at peace. It is due to the devil’s jealousy, my child. Will the devil go out perhaps to the mountains to create temptations? He goes wherever people are struggling for their salvation. And since we, too, are seeking our salvation, he jumbles us up without our realizing it. Carry the burden of the brethren. God rewards everyone justly. The time will come when you will see how much He will give you for the pains you went through to look after so many souls. Labor in this world; keep helping, and you will never be deprived of God’s help. Now you are sowing; the time will come for you to reap. Pray that God will make you strong in patience, discernment, enlightenment, etc. I am constantly praying for you, but I have no boldness before God, and thus my prayer bears no fruit. Just think what the Fathers went through to save others. It is no small matter; you are helping the others, which is why the devil will take it out on you and afflict you. So start showing patience and bravery, and say: “I am ready to die in the battle helping my brethren to be saved, but God will not let me perish, since I am doing it for the sake of His love”. Yes, do so, and you will see how much strength and joy you will receive in the struggle. For sometimes impatience, despair, and pessimism deprive a person of God’s grace, and then he wrongly attributes it to the burdens he is bearing. But courage, self-sacrifice, bravery, and faith in God bring the grace of God. I pray that God will invigorate your spiritual nerves to fight with renewed strength.

Abide in the bond of mutual love, for love is the beginning and the end—the foundation. It is on love towards God and your brothers that “all the law and the prophets hang” (cf. Mt. 22:40 ). Without love we are a clanging cymbal—a big zero. According to the Apostle Paul, even if we give our body to be burned for Christ and distribute our belongings to the poor and mortify our life with harsh ascesis for Christ, yet lack love, we have accomplished nothing (cf. 1 Cor. 13:3 ). Therefore, with all our strength we must see to it that we keep a strong hold on mutual love, so that our trivial works may be approved by Him Who examines the secret thoughts of our hearts.

You write, my child, about someone who kept grieving you, and you cursed him, etc. No, my child, do not curse anyone, no matter how much he has harmed you. Our Christ tells us to love our enemies, so how can we speak evil? Seek forgiveness from God, and henceforth love him as your brother, regardless of whether or not you agree with him. Didn't Christ on the Cross forgive his crucifiers? Then how can we do otherwise? Yes, my child, we must love everyone, regardless of whether they love us or not—that is their business.

My child, always justify your brother and reproach yourself. Never justify your deeds. Learn to say, “Bless”—in other words, “Forgive me”—and humility will dwell within you. Have patience and overlook your brother’s faults, remembering God’s forbearance towards your own faults. Love as Jesus loves you and as you want others to love you. Hold on to silence, constant prayer, and self-reproach, and then you will see how much mourning and tears and joy you will feel. But if you fail to hold on to them, in other words, if you neglect to apply them, then coldness and dryness will replace the above graces. Love the brethren. Your love will show when, despite all your brother’s weaknesses, you count them as nothing and love him. Love will keep you from all sins. Think of nothing but your own sinfulness. Reproach yourself constantly—this is the best path.

I pray your soul is in good health, for when it is healthy, it has patience in afflictions, it has self-denial with the body and in its thoughts; and it fears neither illnesses nor selfish thoughts. When the soul is healthy, it has love within itself; it does not scandalize others; it endures a brother’s harsh words; it does not expose his faults in public; it always has something good to say about his brother; it gives way in quarrels and escapes having bitter thoughts and distress. When the soul is healthy, it does not get angry, complain, talk back, murmur, disobey; it does not follow its own whims, and it does so many other things indicative of spiritual health. This health is what I seek from you; this is what I advise; for this do I pray.

(To a struggling Christian ) First Letter.
Put up with that person who grieves you and creates temptations. Put up with him joyfully. Pray for him every day. Always try to do good to him, to commend him, to speak to him with love, and God will work His miracle and he will reform. Then our Christ will be glorified, and the devil, who sets up all the stumbling-blocks, will be foiled. Force yourself especially to stop criticizing and lying. Your penance is to do one prayer-rope* every day for this person who hates you, so that God may enlighten him to repent, and do ten more metanoias (prostrations) daily for one month. If this person does something against you, overlook it, be patient. Let yourself be wronged, but do not wrong; let yourself be slapped, but do not slap; let yourself be criticized, but do not criticize. When you do all this, then the Son of God, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, will dwell in your soul. Fight the good fight (1 Tim. 6:12 ); overlook the deeds of this person, just as our Christ has overlooked your sins.

Second Letter.
I rejoiced to find out that you are compelling yourself to defeat in this way that person who harasses you so much. Yes, my child, love always conquers. Pursue love, humility, purity. Keep doing a prayer-rope for this person. Christ shall enlighten him. The devil is behind it all. When Christ drives the devil away, your brother will become like a little lamb.

*Prayer-rope (κομποσχοίνι )
Α prayer-rope is a cord with many knots (usually thirty-three or one hundred ) which is used in prayer to help the nous concentrate. At each knot, one prayer (usually the Jesus prayer ) is said.

Give preference to your brother in everything. Let deference towards others characterize you. In the name of God, do not quarrel, do not criticize. These are not actions of a monk, but of a worldly person far from God. You are dedicated to God; whatever He wants is what you should do—this is what should govern your conduct towards others. When you see that you are quarreling, etc., you should realize that you are doing the devil’s will and that God is greatly distressed. The angels who see you say with sorrow, “What’s wrong with him that makes him fight? Doesn’t he take into consideration God’s commandment to love?” Whereas, when they see you sacrificing yourself for the love of Christ, they rejoice and glorify God, Who gives His grace so that man may conquer the devil.

I entreat you, my child, compel yourself to show brotherly love. A monk without love is spiritually dead. Do not judge anyone; do not say things that are unnecessary, useless, harmful, and unbecoming for monks. Why did you leave the world, my child? Wasn’t it to become holy? Wasn’t it to have genuine godly love? When you complain and judge your seniors, con you possibly be fulfilling the goal for which you have withdrawn from the world? How long will the devil laugh, and when will you start repenting and correcting yourself? Time is passing and the end draws near. We must compel ourselves now; now everything can be rectified—later we will bang our heads against the wall to no avail.

It is now the eve of holy Theophany. Oh, what condescension! Naked, He entered the waters of the Jordan! Who did? He Who is the Logos of the beginningless Father, Who said of old, “Let there be…,” and lo, everything came into being in front of Him! Naked, so that He would bestow sonship upon us, who were spiritually bare. When the Jordan saw the Invisible One visible, the Fleshless One incarnate, it was frightened and turned back its flow! St. John the Baptist trembled and said, “How can a servant baptize his Master, how can a lamp illuminate the light?” Which light? That blessed, triple-sun light, “which gives light to every man coming into the world” (Jn. 1:9 ). The beginningless Father bore witness to His co-beginningless Son, while the Comforter descended in the form of a dove and remained on the immaculate head of Jesus, confirming the certainty of the word. Every Christian soul rejoices and leaps for joy before the grandeur of the mystery of Theophany! Oh, what a God and Father we have! Ah, this heart of God which loves man so much has been ignored, forgotten. He cries out through the prophet: “Can a woman forget her child and have no compassion upon the offspring of her womb? Though she may forget her children, I will not forget you” (Is. 49:15 ). “For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved by His life!” (Rom. 5:10 ).

Oh, how much comfort these words of the Apostle Paul give to a newly repenting soul! A soul that shows compassion and sympathizes with its neighbor in words and deeds has great boldness before God! Once, when St. Andrew the Fool-for-Christ was feigning foolishness in the middle of Constantinople, the spiritual eyes of a God-fearing woman were opened, and in a vision she saw blessed Andrew shining brighter than the sun. People were striking him, spitting at him, loathing him, while the demons were rejoicing because they would condemn them at their death, since they were beating and tormenting in every way this saint of God! But St. Andrew said to the demons, “No-I have entreated God that this not be counted as a sin for those who strike and torment me”! Then Barbara-that was her name-saw heaven open, and a huge dove descended with a flower in its mouth and sat upon the head of blessed Andrew and said, “Accept this flower, which the Father of lights has sent to you because you are merciful towards those who strike you, just as He is merciful”. Around the dove were countless little birds of every kind, chanting heavenly songs to the delight of his blessed soul which suffered so much for Christ! Shortly thereafter, the vision ended. When the blessed one approached Barbara, by the Holy Spirit he knew of her vision and said to her, “Keep this a secret, Barbara, until I leave this life, until I go to the place of the wondrous tabernacle” (cf. Ps. 41:4 ). A merciful soul resembles God and has great boldness towards Him! May God give us a compassionate, merciful heart, so that when we depart, we may find God’s heart open and full of mercy, compassion, and love! Amen. So be it!

Great is our honor—though unworthy—to have been called by God to serve in the work of saving souls as His tools, bearing in mind that if others (apostles, etc. ) had not sacrificed their lives for our sake, we would not be children of God and heirs of heavenly blessings. Therefore, let us do whatever we can; the work will be completed by Him Who has the power to perfect it. Think about how the first Christians struggled during the times of the catacombs; with what self-sacrifice, with what love they sacrificed things dear to them when Christian duty called. And in the end, their sacrifices brought them eternal glory. Oh, we are unworthy, and unfortunately we lose everything because of our lack of faith—and I am the first amongst those of little faith. But we hope that the Lord’s mercy will strengthen us, so that we, too, may humbly bear a small cross for our solace.

Blessed is he who endures the harsh words of his brother in silence and circumspection lest there be hatred or criticism or rancor in his heart. He resembles Christ, Whom, when He was casting out demons from people, the Jews criticized by saying, “He casts out demons by the ruler of the demons” (Mt.9:34 ), and “He has a demon. Why do you listen to him?” (cf. Jn. 10:20 ). Do you see, my child, that they said such things even to Christ? Therefore, do not be upset. If you are patient, if you humble yourself and say, “Indeed, I have many demons—since every passion is a demon—and I am just as my brother says, and even worse”, if you try to love and obey him, the day will come when you will be freed from the passions, and then Christ will reign in your heart and give you the priceless peace of God.

Do not ruin salvific love for trifles; do not harbor suspicions against each other and create bad conditions within yourselves that corrupt your souls. Fear the judgment of God; woe to him from whom the offence comes (cf. Mt. 18:7 ). Do not justify yourselves; take the burden of any matter upon yourselves, and then you will experience much benefit in your soul. But if you justify your actions and judge your neighbor and your brother, you will always feel sorrow and distress as a punishment for your transgression. A monk without self-reproach isn't worth a penny, nor will he ever make any progress. Consider whatever the elder tells you to be the will of God and that the Lord speaks through his mouth. Only when you think like this will you practice obedience the way our Christ wants you to.

The Lord will condemn to eternal fire those who create temptations. Sincerely love one another—not falsely and superficially, but with spiritual depth. Our Christ showed us so much love that His holy example should become a holy reason for us also to love one another similarly. If we do not show love through our deeds—not only in words—in vain do we labor in our struggle, for we are beating the air (cf. 1 Cor. 9:26 ) and are straying from the goal of our salvation. Let us not be deceived, thinking that we shall be saved while neglecting the basic virtue of love. If we are not characterized by the unadulterated love of Christ, in vain do we run, in which case all hope of salvation is lost.

Regarding your question, my brother in the Lord, if we should correct our fellow human being when he is ungrateful, unfair, etc., or if we should not in order to be rewarded for being patient, I shall answer: if you think that he will benefit through admonitions and advice, we should do so, choosing to benefit our brother rather than ourselves, thus performing the greatest virtue, love. If you think that no benefit will result from your admonitions, choose your own benefit by putting up with his ingratitude and injustice.

"Counsels From The Holy Mountain" by Elder Ephraim of Arizona (Philotheou,Mt.Athos).

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