The Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain said there are two types of people. There are the bees and the flies. The bees are attracted to flowers and sweet smells, whereas the flies are only attracted to dirt and stench. Ask a bee where there is stench, and he will say “what is stench”. Ask a fly, where is the sweet smell, and he will say “what sweet smell?” The bee knows only sweetness and good, whereas the fly knows only stench and dirt.
As we examine our life, we must decide whether we will be a bee, or a fly. Do we judge others, and look only for the stench and the dirt, or do we look only for the good in others, and see the stench only in ourselves.
What can be done about thoughts running about every which way during reading and prayer? No one is free from this. There is no sin in this, but it is out of place. It is a sin when someone willfully develops within himself alien thoughts, but when they run off involuntarily, is there any fault? The fault comes about when somebody who has noticed straying thoughts continues to stray in them. It is necessary to do this: As soon as you notice Your thought wandering off, immediately put it back In its place.
For diminishing the straying of thought during prayer, it is necessary to make an effort to pray with warm feeling. To do this, it is necessary to warm the soul before prayer with meditation and with bows. Learn to pray with your own prayers. For example, the essence of evening prayer is to thank God for the day and for everything that one has met in the course of it, both good and bad. For the wrong which has been done, one must repent and ask forgiveness, promising to make amends the following day; then one prays to God for protection during sleep. Say all of this to God from your mind and from your heart. The essence of morning prayer is to thank God for sleep and revitalizing, and to ask Him to help to do things throughout the day for His glory. Again, say this to Him with all your heart and mind. While you are at it, both in the morning and the evening, make known your vital needs to the Lord, both inner needs and outer ones, speaking to Him like a child: “See, Lord, my illness and weakness! Help me and heal me!” All this and similar things you may say to God in your own words, without using your prayer book. Maybe this will be better. Try this, and if it works, you may put aside your prayer book altogether; if it does not work, however, then you should pray with your prayer book, or else you may be left entirely without prayer.
So that the words of the prayers in the prayer book take on meaning and warm the heart, you should sit down in your free time, other than the time when you are at prayer, and think out thoroughly the content of the prayers, and become keenly aware of them. Then when you read the prayers during prayer-time, whether in the morning or evening, all those thoughts and feelings which came to you during meditation will be renewed, and they will collect your attention and warm your heart. Never read a prayer hurriedly. Another thing: Try to learn the prayers by heart. This greatly aids un-distracted prayer. A prayer must be learned Just like anything else.
Learn to think of God not only when you are standing at prayer, but also at every hour and at every minute, for He is everywhere. From this peace will pour into your heart, giving strength for daily business and a regulating of affairs. Your present desire of drawing closer to God will be completely realized in this way. Just as someone standing in the sunshine is warm, so too is the person who always remembers God.
Add to remembrance of God the remembrance of death and of eternal bliss or damnation. These two remembrances will divert us from everything evil, even in thought, and direct us to everything good, not just for show, but in truth. Some think mistakenly that remembrance of death poisons life. It does not poison life, but instead teaches us to be careful and to abstain from everything that does poison life. If we were to remember death a little more, there would be less confusion in our lives, both personal and collective.
You reproach yourself for pride. Good, very good. Be on the lookout for its appearance and immediately cut it off. Pride likes to do everything for itself, but you are to do everything for the glory of God and the good of others, not thinking of yourself, not having pity for yourself. Indeed, the proud outwardly do most of the very same things that those who are nor proud do, except that they have a different direction and different intentions in everything. Our Job is to redirect these intentions from pride to self-reproach, and then direct our actions in line with this. This must be learned. Learn, learn. Lord give the blessing!
You want me to scold you without mercy. Nothing would come of this. To me, you have been chaste and pure so far. It remains for me to wish that the Lord always keep you the way you have seemed to me; if you are not like that in actual fact, may He vouchsafe to make you so.
When you reach the verge of despair while praying and seeking, then the fulfillment of your request is near. Christ wants to heal some hidden passion within you, and this is why He delays in granting your request. If you obtain it sooner, when you demand it, your passion remains uncured within you. If you wait, you obtain your request and the cure of the passion. And then you rejoice exceedingly and give warm thanks to God Who arranges all things in wisdom and does everything for our benefit.
So then, there is no point in losing heart, getting upset, complaining. You must close your mouth. Let no one perceive that you are disturbed. Don’t fume with anger, as if to work it out of your system, but rather be calm. Burn the devil through patience and forbearance. …
So if you too want to see, to taste the love of Christ, endure whatever comes upon you—not whatever you like, but whatever the Lord wants to test you with.
Rebuke no one, revile no one, not even those who live very wickedly. Spread your cloak over those who fall into sin, each and every one, and shield them. And if you cannot take the fault on yourself and accept punishment in their place, do not destroy their character.
Bound up with this is a disease of today’s Orthodox Christians which can be deadly: the
“correctness disease.” In a way this is a natural temptation to anyone who has just awakened to Christian faith and to spiritual life — the more one finds out about Christian doctrine and practice, the more one discovers how many “mistakes” one has been making up to now, and one’s natural desire is to be “correct.” This is praiseworthy, although in the beginning one is probably going to be too artificially “strict” and make many new mistakes out of pride (to which we are constantly blind). If you are critical of others, self-confident about your own correctness, eager to quote canons to prove someone else is wrong, constantly “knowing better” than others — you have the germs of the “correctness disease.” These are signs of immaturity in spiritual life, and often one outgrows them if one is living a normal spiritual life.
But especially in our days, the spirit of worldliness is so strong, and there is obviously so much wrong in our church life — that there is a strong temptation to make “correctness” a way of life, to get stuck in it. And this is not only a disease of converts; one of the best bishops of the Old Calendar Greeks, Bishop Cyprian of Sts. Cyprian and Justina Monastery near Athens, has written that this spirit of “correctness” has already done untold damage to Orthodoxy in Greece, causing fights and schisms one after the other. Sometimes one’s zeal for “Orthodoxy” (in quotes) can be so excessive that it produces a situation similar to that which caused an old Russian woman to remark of an enthusiastic American convert “Well, he’s certainly Orthodox all right — but is he a Christian?”
To be “Orthodox but not Christian” is a state that has a particular name in Christian language: it means to be a Pharisee, to be so bogged down in the letter of the Church’s laws that one loses the spirit that gives them life, the spirit of true Christianity. In saying this my aim is not to be critical or to point to anyone in particular — we all suffer from this — but only to point out a pitfall which can cause one to fail to take advantage of the riches which the Orthodox Church provides for our salvation, even in these evil times.
Even when it is not fanatical, this spirit of “correctness” for its own sake turns out to be
fruitless. As an example, I can tell you of a very good friend of ours, one of the zealot fathers of Mt. Athos. He is a “moderate” zealot, in that he recognizes the grace of New Calendar sacraments, accepts the blessings of priests of our Church, and the like; but he is absolutely strict when it comes to applying the basic Zealot principle, not to have communion not only with bishops whose teaching departs from Orthodox truth, such as the Patriarch of Constantinople, and not only with anyone who has communion with him, but with anyone who has communion with anyone who in any remote way has communion with him. Such “purity” is so difficult to attain in our days (our whole Russian Church Abroad, for example, is “tainted” in his eyes by some measure of communion with the other Orthodox Churches) that he is in communion with only his own priest and ten other monks in his group on the Holy Mountain; all of the rest of the Orthodox Church is not “pure.”
Perhaps there are only ten or twelve people left in the world who are perfectly “strict” and
“pure” in their Orthodoxy — this I really don’t know; but it simply cannot be that there are really only ten or twelve Orthodox Christians left in the world with whom one can have true oneness of faith, expressed in common communion. I think that you can see that there is some kind of spiritual dead-end here; even if we had to believe such a narrow view of Orthodoxy according to the letter, our believing Christian heart would rebel against it. We cannot really live by such strictness; we must somehow be less “correct” and closer to the heart of Orthodox Christianity.
In smaller ways, too, we can get carried away with “correctness’:’ we can like well-done
Byzantine icons (which is a good thing), but we go too far if we are disdainful of the more
modern style icons which are still in many of our churches. The same goes for church singing, architecture, the following of correct rules of fasting, of kneeling in church, etc. While striving to be as correct as we can, we must also remember that these things belong to the outward side of our Orthodox faith, and they are good only if they are used in the right spirit of the true Christianity St. Tikhon talks about. Vladimir Soloviev, in his Short Story of Antichrist, ingeniously suggests that Antichrist, in order to attract Orthodox conservatives, will open a museum of all Christian antiquities. Perhaps the very images of Antichrist himself (Apoc. 13:14) will be in good Byzantine style — this should be a sobering thought for us.
What to do about doubt and faith?
In the Gospel narratives we read the Apostle Thomas told his fellow apostles he would not believe the Lord had risen from the dead unless he put his hand in the wounds of Christ. When He actually saw Jesus, he immediately said “My Lord and my God”, instantly believing without having touched his Lord.
Doubt, in order to be replaced by faith, starts with the desire to be a believer. We must chose to believe, for desire invites God’s grace to abound. We turn to God, saying, “Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief (Mark 9:24).” Our willingness to voice our desire to believe, is the beginning of faith. This faith is a gift from God, and our willingness to receive this gift is the beginning of a life that will be transformed by the Living God, the Father of Lights.
"When all is said and done, at the bottom line faith is a function of will - you must want to believe. The person who does not wish to - even if he sees God, he will not believe." (Elder Pavlos of Saint Katherine’s Monastery in the Sinai).
If you want to find rest here below, and hereafter, in all circumstances say, Who am I? and do not judge anyone.
Vice takes men away from God and separates them from one another. So we must turn from it quickly and pursue virtue, which leads to God and unites us with one another. Now the definition of virtue and of philosophy is: simplicity with prudence.
Prize the virtues and do not be the slave of glory; for the former are immortal, while the latter soon fades.
To live without speaking is better than to speak without living. For the former who lives rightly does good even by his silence but the latter does no good even when he speaks. When words and life correspond to one another they are together the whole of philosophy.