A story of Saint Paisios on Judging
Once on Mount Athos there was a monk who lived in Karyes. He drank and got drunk every day and was the cause of scandal to the pilgrims. Eventually he died and this relieved some of the faithful who went on to tell Elder Paisios that they were delighted that this huge problem was finally solved.
Father Paisios answered them that he knew about the death of the monk, after seeing the entire battalion of angels who came to collect his soul. The pilgrims were amazed and some protested and tried to explain to the Elder of whom they were talking about, thinking that the Elder did not understand.
Elder Paisios explained to them: This particular monk was born in Asia Minor, shortly before the destruction by the Turks when they gathered all the boys. So as not to take him, his parents would take him with them to the reaping, and so he wouldn’t cry, they just put raki into his milk in order for him to sleep. Therefore, he grew up as an alcoholic. There he found an elder and said to him that he was an alcoholic. The elder told him to do prostrations and prayers every night and beg the Panagia to help him to reduce by one the glasses he drank. After a year he managed with struggle and repentance to make the 20 glasses he drank into 19 glasses. The struggle continued over the years, and he reached 2-3 glasses, with which he would still get drunk.
The world for years saw an alcoholic monk who scandalized the pilgrims, but God saw a fighter who fought a long struggle to reduce his passion. Without knowing what each one is trying to do, what right do we have to judge his effort?
Saint Paisios on "Good and Evil Thoughts"
Many people like to give excuses about their own lack of faith, their lack of spirituality and their lack of participation in the life-giving mysteries of our Church. They point to failings of individuals in the Church and use these as excuses for their spiritual idleness. It’s a little like saying, “I won’t drive because there are people who speed or don’t obey traffic rules!” Responding to such comments, Saint Paisios once said,
“Some people tell me that they are scandalized because they see many things wrong in the Church. I tell them that if you ask a fly, ‘Are there any flowers in this area?’ it will say, ‘I don’t know about flowers, but over there in that heap of rubbish you can find all the filth you want.’ And it will go on to list all the unclean things it has been to.
Now, if you ask a honeybee, ‘Have you seen any unclean things in this area?’ it will reply, ‘Unclean things? No, I have not seen any; the place here is full of the most fragrant flowers.’ And it will go on to name all the flowers of the garden or the meadow.
You see, the fly only knows where the unclean things are, while the honeybee knows where the beautiful iris or hyacinth is.
As I have come to understand, some people resemble the honeybee, and some resemble the fly. Those who resemble the fly seek to find evil in every circumstance and are preoccupied with it; they see no good anywhere. But those who resemble the honeybee only see the good in everything they see. The stupid person thinks stupidly and takes everything in the wrong way, whereas the person who has good thoughts, no matter what he sees, no matter what you tell him, maintains a positive and good thought.”
Become like the dead – Saint Macarius
Many times, we are deeply affected or hurt by people’s criticisms of us. We may feel that we are treated unjustly, or that people don’t understand us. Other times, we desire the praises of our peers and recognition for our successes. However, neither people’s criticisms or praises of us have any real bearing on either our salvation or our lives. When people raise this concern with me, I remind them of the following story from the life of Abba Macarius the Egyptian.
A brother came to see Abba Macarius the Egyptian and said to him, “Abba, give me a word, that I might be saved.’
So the old man said to him, Go to the cemetery and abuse the dead.’
The brother went there, abused them and threw stones at them; then he returned and told the old man about it. The latter said to him, ‘Didn’t they say anything to you?’ He replied, ‘No.’
The old man said, ‘Go back tomorrow and praise them.’ So the brother went away and praised them, calling them apostles, saints, and righteous men. He returned to the old man and said to him, ‘I have complimented them.’
And the old man said to him, ‘Did they not answer you.’ The brother shook his head no. Then Abba Macarius said to him, ‘You know how you insulted them and they did not reply, and how you praised them and they did not speak; so you too if you wish to be saved must do the same and become a dead man. Like the dead, take no account of either the scorn of men or their praises, and you can be saved.’
The Orthodox View of Cremation
History of Cremation
Cremation comes from Latin word “cremare” meaning “to burn”. Some cultures practice cremation for reasons such as:
1. Coping with fear of the dead.
2. To enable easy transportation of bones.
3. To protect bodies from desecration.
4. Belief that fire freed the soul from wandering.
5. Belief that fire purifies the soul.
By the latter part of the fourth century, the cremation of human remains had become increasingly rare in the Roman Empire.
Cremation begins reappearing in the West following the efforts of Prussian pro-cremationists in 1855, when an international congress of medical experts met in Florence in 1869 contending that earth-burial was unhygienic. Cremation appealed not only to atheists and freethinkers but it was commonly requested - usually as an act of rebellion by spiritualists, theosophists, universalists and anti-church types.
What is Cremation?
Cremation is not a completely accurate term for the burning of a departed person. Human bones do not burn because they contain inorganic, non-combustible matter. Thus, the unburned bone portions are ground in process that reduces them to small granules, these comprising at least half of the total remains. Sometimes, human ashes are mixed with ashes from another person or other sources.
Burial in Ancient Judaism
The Hebrews in the Old Testament era lived and were surrounded by pagan societies. Through the prophets, God frequently warned the Israelites not to adopt pagan beliefs and practices.
In the Old Testament, earth burial was the norm for the departed. Cremation was used only as punishment and humiliation for those who engaged in grievous, sinful acts, Josh. 7:15; Lev 21:9; 20:14. Cremation was also an instrument of God’s wrath as He destroyed certain peoples by fire (Num 11:1-3; 16:35; Josh 7:15,24-26; 2Kings 1:10-12) and famously the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19:24.
The Lord says through the prophet Amos, “For three sins of Moab, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath, because he burned, as if to lime, the bones of Edom’s king” (2:1-2), a clear denunciation of cremation.
The Israelites treated the body of a dead person with great respect by closing the eyes (Gen.46:4); washing the body (Acts 9:37); draping a napkin over the dead person’s face (John 11:44); anointing with aromatic spices (Lk.23:56; 24:1; Jn.19:40) and wrapping with linens (Mt.27:59; Mk.15:45; Lk.23:53; Jn.19:39-40).
Christian arguments against Cremation
1. Our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ died on the Cross and was buried.
2. Everyone will be bodily resurrected in the Second Coming of Christ. Cremation is a denial of the bodily resurrection.
3. The human body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit, even after physical death.
We must not be conformed to this world (Romans 12:2) especially as cremation becomes more common.
Benefits of Earth Burial
Cemeteries provide consecrated ground for survivors to visit the graves of loved ones. These visits reminded survivors of the brevity and uncertainty of their own lives and our inevitable destination to leave this world and meet our Lord. Studies show that survivors of the departed who are cremated express less grieving and weeping at time of funeral, rarely visit the site where their relatives or loved ones are kept, especially with those whose ashes are scattered.
Relics of the Saints
It is well known among church historians that the early Christians fervently opposed infanticide, child abandonment, abortion and suicide because they believed in the sanctity of the human being. In their minds, the sanctity of the human body did not come to an end when a person died. They saw the human being as the crown of God’s creation, for man was made in the image and likeness of God (Gen.1:27). “The saints, during their earthly lives, were filled with the Holy Spirit. And when they fulfil their course, the grace of the Holy Spirit does not depart from their souls or their bodies in the tombs” (St. John of Damascus). Cremation denies and deprives us of the sacred tradition and benefits of the presence of saintly holy relics.
St. Paul emphasizes this, saying, “Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person. For God's temple is holy and you are that temple” (1Cor 3:16-17). He repeats this again later, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which have from God? You are not your own” (1Cor 6:19). So, even though we may not have attained a level of saintliness like some of our spiritual predecessors, nevertheless, God’s Holy Spirit lives and dwells within us.
Cremation is the denial and deliberate destruction of God’s human temple. As follower’s of Christ, we do not believe that the material world is inherently evil and to be despised. Rather, as Christians, we believe in the inherent goodness of the material world, especially our human bodies. Together, our body and soul, are created in God’s image and likeness. We are called to redeem and transfigure this creation to its original glory and beauty by continually resisting sin and temptation, repenting of our transgressions, and opening our hearts, minds and bodies to the indwelling presence of God’s divine grace through His Only-begotten Son and live-giving Holy Spirit.
Because the Orthodox Faith affirms the fundamental goodness of creation, it understands the body to be an integral part of the human person and the temple of the Holy Spirit, and expects the resurrection of the dead. Cremation is the deliberate desecration and destruction of what God has made and ordained for us. The Church insists that the body be buried, returned to the earth from which it was taken, so that the natural physical process of decomposition may take place.
Being a God Parent
Being a Godparent brings many responsibilities before both God and one’s godchild. The role and presence of the godparent at baptism is recorded as early as the year 200AD by Tertullian. Saint John Chrysostom, living in the fourth century also mentions godparents.
In the early Church, godparents were allocated for each person and were usually of the same gender as the person being baptised. This is because the spiritual relationship that formed through the sacrament meant that they could not be married. For this reason, in some Orthodox countries, this was extended to godparents only baptising children of the same gender. Their role was manifold.
Firstly, they were required to assure the Church of the moral character of the candidate, and secondly, to watch over and guide the new Christian along throughout their Christian journey. Together with the parents, the godparent is responsible for the spiritual and moral growth of the child.
In Greek, the godparent is known as ανάδοχος (anadochos), which literally means ‘one who takes responsibility for another’. This highlights the role and significance of the godparent.
Given that the godparent is not simply a friend in the life of their godchild, but is responsible for their spiritual progress, the canons of the Church prescribe that godparents:
* must be Orthodox Christians
* must not be denied the right to receive Holy Communion as a result of schism
* cannot be clergy (unless special permission has been granted
* must be able to understand the responsibility involved (therefore, young children, those under 12 years of age, cannot be godparents).
It is therefore important to choose people actively involved in the faith to be godparents to our children, so that they are able to share their faith experiences with their godchild.
Being asked to be a godparent, as well as a great honour, is also an opportunity for one to reflect on their own faith and baptismal vows.
St Leo of Rome – On the Nativity
Our Saviour, dearly-beloved, was born today (Christmas day): let us be glad. For there is no proper place for sadness, when we keep the birthday of the Life, which destroys the fear of mortality and brings to us the joy of promised eternity. No one is kept from sharing in this happiness. There is for all one common measure of joy, because as our Lord, the destroyer of sin and death, finds none free from the charge, so He comes to free us all. Let the saint exult in that he draws near to victory. Let the sinner be glad in that he is invited to being pardon. Let the gentile take courage in that he is called to life. For the Son of God in the fullness of time which the inscrutable depth of the Divine counsel has determined, has taken on him the nature of man, thereby to reconcile it to its Author: in order that the inventor of death, the devil, might be conquered. And in this conflict undertaken for us, the fight was fought on great and wondrous principles of fairness.
Truly foreign to this nativity is that which we read of all others: “no one is clean from stain, not even the infant who has lived but one day upon earth.”
Nothing therefore of the lust of the flesh has passed into that peerless nativity, nothing of the law of sin has entered. A royal Virgin of the stem of David is chosen, to be impregnated with the sacred seed and to conceive the Divinely-human offspring in mind first and then in body: she learns from the angel that what is to be wrought in her is of the Holy Spirit. Nor does she believe it loss of honour that she is soon to be the Mother of God. Her implicit faith is confirmed also by the attesting of a miracle, and Elizabeth receives unexpected fertility: in order that there might be no doubt that He who had given conception to the barren, would give it even to a virgin.
Therefore, the Word of God, Himself God, the Son of God who “in the beginning with God,” through whom “all things were made” and “without” whom “was nothing made,” with the purpose of delivering man from eternal death, became man: The true God and true man were combined to form one Lord, so that, as suited the needs of our case, one and the same Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, could both die with the one and rise again with the other.
Rightly therefore did the birth of our Salvation impart no corruption to the Virgin’s purity, because the bearing of the Truth was the keeping of honour. Such then beloved was the nativity which became the Power of God and the Wisdom of God even Christ, whereby He might be one with us in manhood and surpass us in Godhead. For unless He were true God, He would not bring us a remedy: unless He were true Man, He would not give us an example. Therefore, the exulting angel’s song when the Lord was born is this, “Glory to God in the Highest”, and their message, “peace on earth to men of good will”.
For they see that the heavenly Jerusalem is being built up out of all the nations of the world: and over that indescribable work of the Divine love how ought the humbleness of men to rejoice, when the joy of the lofty angels is so great?
Let us then, dearly beloved, give thanks to God the Father, through His Son, in the Holy Spirit, Who “for His great mercy, wherewith He has loved us”, had pity on us: and “when we were dead in sins, has raised us together in Christ”, that we might be in Him a new creation and a new production. Let us put off then the old man with his deeds: and having obtained a share in the birth of Christ let us renounce the works of the flesh. Christian, acknowledge your dignity, and becoming a partner in the Divine nature, refuse to return to the old baseness by degenerate conduct. Remember the Head and the Body of which you are a member. Remember that you were rescued from the power of darkness and brought out into God’s light and kingdom.
By the mystery of Baptism you were made the temple of the Holy Ghost: and do not subject yourself once more to the devil; because your purchase money is the blood of Christ, because He shall judge you in truth Who ransomed you in mercy, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit reigns for ever and ever. Amen.
Saint Porphyrios the Kavsokalyvite “Wounded by Love”, 2005
“There is one thing, O Christ, that I want, one thing I desire, one thing I ask for, and that is to be with You.
Let us Love Christ and let our only hope and care be for Him. Let us love Christ for His own sake only. Never for our sake. Let Him put us wherever He likes. Let Him give us whatever He wishes. Don’t let’s love Him for His gifts. It’s egotistical for us to say: “Christ will place me in a fine mansion which He has prepared, just as the Gospel says: In my Father’s house there are many mansions… so that where I am you may be also.” What we should say rather is: ‘My Christ, whatever Your love dictates; it is sufficient for me to live within Your love.’
As for myself, poor soul... what can I say? I’m very weak. I haven’t managed to love Christ so very fervently and for my soul to long for Him. I feel that I have a very long way to go. I haven’t arrived at where I want to be; I don’t experience this love. But I’m not discouraged. I trust in the love of God. I say to Christ: ‘I know I’m not worthy. Send me wherever Your love wishes. That’s what I desire, that’s what I want. During my life I always worshipped You.’
When I was seriously ill and on the point of leaving this life, I didn’t want to think about my sins. I wanted to think about the love of my Lord, my Christ, and about eternal life. I didn’t want to feel fear. I wanted to go to the Lord and to think about His goodness, His love. And now that my life is nearing its end, I don’t feel anxiety or apprehension, but I think that when I appear at the Second Coming and Christ says to me: Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment? I will bow my head and I will say to Him: ‘Whatever you want, my Lord, whatever your love desires. I know I am not worthy. Send me wherever your love wishes. I am fit for hell. And place me in hell, as long as I am with You. There is one thing I want, one thing I desire, one thing I ask for, and that is to be with You, wherever and however You wish.’
I try to give myself over entirely to the love and worship of God. I have consciousness of my sinfulness, but I live with hope. It is bad to despair, because someone who despairs becomes embittered and loses his willingness and strength. Someone who has hope, on the contrary, advances forward. Because he feels that he is poor, he tries to enrich himself. What does a poor man do? If he is smart, he tries to find a way to become rich”.