Conscience and Obedience (Part II)

The Icon of the Mother of God "the Softener of Evil Hearts"

The Icon of the Mother of God "the Softener of Evil Hearts"

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


"Ask your Father", says the Scripture, "and He will tell you" (Deuteronomy 32:7). We see this is the patristic path the saints walked. We read in the Lives of the Desert Fathers that a certain Zacharias saw a vision, but his spiritual father was not in a position to elucidate whether it was from God or from the demons. So he rebuked his disciple, telling him not to pay attention to visions. The disciple went to a discerning Geronda (Elder) who told him, "The vision is from God, but go and submit yourself to your spiritual father", thus showing that being obedient is more important than seeing visions.  

How much the Holy Fathers have left us for our instruction! The best road, the most correct, the safest, the freest from responsibility, is the road of submission to an Elder (Geronda). "He who practices obedience", says Abba (Father) Palamon, "has fulfilled all the Commandments of Christ".

"The disciple has chosen the best road", says Abba (Father) Moses. "Run, children, to wherever obedience is. There lies joy, peace, brotherly love, unity, vigilance, consolation, crowns, and wages". But when we want to put forth our own will as disciples, then the road becomes difficult, rough, and dangerous. When one practices obedience, he finds himself in love, in forcefulness, in brotherly affection, in crowns, in sanctification, in salvation.

Self-will is a great barrier, a great obstacle--it is a wall between the soul and God. Just as when a wall is in front of us and blocks the sun, the place is damp and unhealthful and does not bear fruit because the sun does not shine there, the same thing happens with the wall of self-will. When it stands in front of the soul, the soul is darkened and remains without fruit. The Sun of Righteousness is Christ; when the soul is not obstructed, the rays of Christ come and illuminate it, and man bears fruit and is sanctified.

Only the one who has tasted the fruit of obedience can speak about it. Obedience is the most grace-filled road. Above all, one who is obedient casts out the evil demon of selfishness and pride--which causes all evils--and brings humility and freedom from care.

We read in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers about two brothers who decided to become monks and left the world. One became a disciple in a coenobitic monastery; the other became a hermit. After two or three years the hermit said, "Let me go and see my brother who is in the monastery, living in the midst of cares and worries. Who knows how the poor thing is doing in the midst of so much bustle". He was confident that through his ascesis he had reached a high spiritual level. He went to the monastery, and with the excuse that he supposedly needed his brother, he said to the Egoumenos (Abbot), "I would like to see my brother a little". His brother came, and the Egoumenos (Abbot), who was a holy man, blessed them to go off by themselves and talk.

When they had gone some distance from the monastery, they saw on the path a dead man who was almost naked. The hermit said, "Don't we have any clothes to cover the man with?" The monk from the monastery, in his simplicity, said, "Wouldn't it be better to pray for him to be resurrected?" "Let's pray," said the hermit. They both prayed, and the dead man arose". The monk from the monastery did not attach much importance to the miracle; he believed it came about through the prayers of his Elder (Geronda). The hermit, however, said within himself that the miracle occurred because of his own virtues--because of his ascesis and fasting, his nightly vigils and the hardship he endured, his sleeping on the ground and all his other achievements.

When they returned, before they had a chance to speak, the Egoumenos (Abbot) said to the hermit, "Brother, do not think that it was because of your prayers that God raised the dead man--No! God did it because of the obedience of your brother!" When the hermit saw that the Egoumenos (Abbot) immediately read his thoughts, that he had the gift of clairvoyance and was a holy man, he believed that in reality he himself was deluded, and that his brother, who he thought was anxious and worried about many things within the monastery, was actually above him. 

Think with what confidence the disciple said, "Let's pray for him to be resurrected!" Here you see simplicity, guilelessness, faith. The hermit considered it impossible, but the monk from the monastery considered it natural; he trusted in the prayers of his Geronda (Elder). What a struggle he must have undergone to reach such humility! How his egotism and pride must have been smashed in the monastery! What person coming from the world does not have egotism and pride? How many disciples were sanctified and gave forth myrrh after death!  

(Source: "Counsels from the Holy Mountain," selected from the Letters and Homilies of Geronda Ephraim, of Saint Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery, Florance, Arizona)

(To be continued)


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom


With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George