My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΝΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
Priest: (Standing before the holy icon of Christ)
Almighty Lord, You have created all things in wisdom. In Your inexpressible Providence and great goodness You have brought us to these saving days, for the cleansing of our souls and bodies, for control of our passions, in the hope of the Resurrection. After the forty days You delivered into the hands of Your servant Moses the tablets of the law in characters divinely traced. Enable us also, O Benevolent One, to fight the good fight, to complete the course of the fast, to keep the faith inviolate, to crush underfoot the heads of unseen tempters, to emerge victors over sin and to come, without reproach, to the worship of Your Holy Resurrection. For Blessed and Glorified is Your Most Honorable and Majestic Name, of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
By Geronda [Elder] Ephraim (the former Egoumenos [Abbot] of the Holy Monastery of Philotheou, Mount Athos and Arizona)
Every person, every Orthodox Christian approaches God and draws near to Him after he has been tested first through "fire and water" (Psalm 65:12). If a Christian does not pass through a furnace, he cannot arrive at refreshment. This is why our good God, Who "examines the hearts and reins" (Psalm 7:9), knows very well what type of passions, gifts, and dispositions each one of us hides within the depth of our heart, and He intervenes accordingly--usually with bitter medicine. Oftentimes He intervenes with a real crucifixion, in order to rebuild us spiritually, restore health to our soul, and render us worthy of passing through the toll-houses easily and reaching the Throne of Grace. As a good Father Who desires to grant true sonship to His children and make them heirs of God and co-heirs of Christ, He will lead them through a furnace of hard trials. One way or another, everyone will undergo a trial period, as God's judgment sees fit.
God often permits a war to break out, particularly for us monks. He allows the devil to attack us, and He sends us to battle; however, He does not leave us without grace. He simultaneously comes and invisibly stands beside us. He strengthens the soul, He enlightens man, He instructs him in spiritual warfare, and thus a person engages in combat. During this battle man will either be crowned a victor or declared a loser.
The number one battle for us is carnal warfare. It begins during our youth. God permits the demon of fornication to subject a person to warfare that may have been previously unknown to him out in the world. A person may have led a pure life, he may have avoided sin and lived peacefully. God knew that if He had permitted this demon to tempt him out in the world, the person would not have been able to withstand the temptations. At some point, God enlightens man, He provides him with the initial grace and zeal, He fuels him with the desire and the strength to renounce the world and to come here to the monastery.
According to Saint Isaac the Syrian, God does not want unwise, brainless, and inexperienced "dummies" in the next life, but wise people: not wise in a secular sense, but wise in the warfare against the demons, against the world, and against their own selves. A person must fight like a warrior. During this complex war he learns the art of arts and the science of sciences; he becomes wise, and graduates with a diploma in godly wisdom. Thus, he ascends and becomes an heir of the Kingdom. An heir of which kingdom? Not an earthly or corrupt one, but of the eternal and incorrupt Kingdom.
There were many simple people, especially in the old days of the early Fathers, who did not graduate from universities or educational institutions. Saint Anthony the Great was illiterate, but spiritually he was a gifted university graduate who ranked first amongst the ascetics because he acquired godly wisdom. In order for us to receive a diploma from God, we must take part in various battles and enroll in many courses. Schoolchildren have various classes (such as math, chemistry, physics, etc.), and they must be examined in every subject in order to pass the grade. Similarly, each one of us is presently taking exams in order to establish our grade and the diploma we will receive.
"...It is necessary to cleanse our heart. Christ and the Fathers teach us, "Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts" (St. Matthew 15:19). Indeed, all evils spring from the heart. Abba (Father) Poimen teaches that our heart is full of thorny roots: "And whoever desires to remove these thorny rootlets bleeds and hurts." If the heart does not hemorrhage and feel pain, according to the teaching of the Fathers, man will not be cured.
God, the Physician, takes hold of the forceps, so to speak, and pulls out the roots, one by one. As He uproots them, the heart aches and spills blood. Whoever patiently endures this painful surgical procedure that is performed by God will one day become healthy. In this manner, the heart (through human effort and aided by grace) will no longer desire impure and vile things. Conversely, when a person is not willing to undergo this medical procedure, when he refuses to endure the pain associated with the removal of the roots and does not patiently remain motionless as required during the surgery he will remain full of passions.
According to the Fathers, who can boast that he has preserved his heart immaculate? No one! Saint Basil the Great declared, "I have not known a woman, and yet I am not a virgin." Of course, he was referring to carnal warfare, to the sensual battle of the imagination, to lustful dreams during sleep, etc. All these things constitute a carnal sensation in the heart; consequently, even though he had not come to know the opposite gender, his heart was not completely chaste.
On the one hand, we must resist evil fantasies and struggle to obliterate them before they give birth to unclean thoughts. On the other hand, through fasting (in accordance to our strength) and abstinence, with our prostrations and prayer rule, with our toil and effort during the day at work and during the night with vigil, we demonstrate our disposition to God: we show Him that we desire to be cleansed, to be purified, and to become holy. Not that these attempts in themselves will result in holiness; rather, through them we collaborate with God in the process of our purification. "We are God's fellow workers" (1 Corinthians 3:9). We work together with God to purify our heart.
When our heart is unclean, our actions, our eyes, our thoughts, our movements, and everything we do will also be unclean. All our bodily actions originate from the heart. The heart externalizes through the bodily members whatever is contained within it. This is how lustful dreams arise. The devil presents images to us in our sleep in order to summon them back to our mind as soon as we wake up, and thus precipitate a battle during the day as well. What must we do in this situation? We must disregard the lustful dream as nothing, aiming not to recall all the dirt that the devil presented to us during sleep.
We should struggle correspondingly against our imagination. Do images come to mind? We must erase them with a sponge. Do they return defiantly? Erase them again. However, if we do not struggle accordingly, they begin to affect us, they start to take root within us, and they gain strength. Subsequently, every time a fantasy that defeated us in previous battles reappears, it proclaims, "I'm back! Now I'm going to pin you to the ground." It is similar to a young child who has been defeated several times: as soon as he sees his opponent, he cannot face up to him and he runs away because his self-confidence has been shattered from the previous losses. When this happens to the soul, it becomes paralyzed as soon as an evil image emerges, then it surrenders, and, subsequently, it cannot think straight.
Thus, we must be fully armed, wide-awake, alert, and on guard, ready to destroy sinful images as soon as they appear. After a few successful confrontations, the enemy will begin to suffer defeat each time he returns to wage war. Thus, when the inside of the cup becomes clean, the outside will also become clean, according to the Holy Gospel (vid. Matthew 23:26).
A certain Geronda [Elder] expelled high-ranking demons ("commanders") and disarmed them with ease. Astonished, his disciple asked, "Geronda, why do the demons fear you and flee?"
He replied, "My child, I have not done anything great; it is the grace of God. The only thing I can tell you is that throughout my entire life I was battled in my imagination by evil thoughts; however, with the grace of God sinful images never overpowered me: they never defeated me. Not only did I never consent to the thoughts, I never even entertained them. Since the demons were never victorious, now they are defeated; now they are afraid; now they are immediately disarmed and expelled from people."
By evading sin at the outset, this elder graduated from university with highest honors without having to take any exams.
This is the case with the various other passions as well, such as envy, jealousy, pride, egotism, criticism, idle talk, etc. What is needed? Watchfulness!
MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God