Monday, 29 October 2012

Elder Ephraim of Arizona-On Sin, Repentance, Mourning, and Tears

To fall and be injured is human, since—even if a man’s life lasted for only one day—his mind is inclined to evil from his youth (cf. Gen. 8:21 ). But to fall and remain fallen is not human. Repentance recreates man; it was given to us to cure the soul after baptism. If it did not exist, rarely would a person be saved. That is why, the virtue of repentance is unending as long as man is alive, for only the perfect do not err. My children, every time you see your thoughts reproaching you for some sin, immediately take the medicine: repent, weep, go to confession, and behold, you return to your former and better state.

2. After Judas the traitor dedicated himself to the Lord and became a partaker of grace, he performed miracles along with the rest of the Apostles, yet in the end he shipwrecked; whereas the thief who had done impious, evil, immoral deeds, by crying out for mercy, was granted repose in the calm haven of eternal bliss. The Jewish nation, which had received the promises of God and was called by Him special, chosen, and holy (vid. Ex. 19:5, 1 Pet. 2:9 ), was blinded and lost Him forever. The barbaric nations, on the other hand, which were like the harlot in their works, received the gospel and inherited what Israel had rejected: God. Therefore, away with despair and hopelessness! No matter how sinful we may be, we should always turn the eyes of our soul to God and entrust ourselves to Him as servants entrust themselves to the hands of their master. In this manner let our eyes be fixed on the Lord, always trusting in His mercy until He has mercy on us (Ps. 122:2 ).

3. The fall of man into physical mortality and the consequences of exile and alienation from our good Heavenly Father, brought about the law of sin, which wars against the law of God (cf. Rom. 7:23 ). From his youth, man is subject to the law of sin as a tendency, as an inclination, and as wickedness (cf.Gen. 8:21 ). And this tendency towards evil—as an ancestral inheritance and as a mark, product, and remnant of the ancient severance from the fountain of happiness—naturally took on substantial proportions in human nature, thus drawing it to evil. Thereafter, it was only natural for grievous calamities to befall the children of Adam and Eve. The restoration to the sonship of old by means of the Lord Jesus’ death on the cross led to eternal salvation. However, this did not remove the law of sin existing within man: not that God was unable to—for just one drop of the awesome and holy blood of Jesus Christ could transform everything—but providentially He let it coexist in man so that by means of it He could not only instruct him, but also make manifest the intentions of each person. The Scriptures say that God did not permit Joshua the son of Nun to destroy all the surrounding idolatrous nations, but he left some so that through them He could teach the art of war to the sons of Israel
(vid. Josh. 17:13 ). So when this law of sin does not find a brave adversary (that is, one with good intentions and with the divine commandments and precepts as weapons ), then it vanquishes and captures the spiritual struggler; it strips him of his divine weapons and then drags him to the life of sin. From all these and many other things, we reach the truthful conclusion that all the distressing events and things in human nature are a consequence of its fall from its original immortality to mortality. Furthermore, we see that the salvific sacrifice of the God-man Jesus providentially did not remove the law of sin existing within man in order to instruct him, as well as for many other reasons pertaining to our salvation, so that by them He may make him a wise heir of His eternal blessings.

4. “As I find you, I will judge you” (cf. Ez. 33:20 ). Behold, the value of a moment. Did He find you in repentance? Did He meet you in confession? Did He reach you saying “I have sinned against heaven and before you”? (Lk. 15:18 ). Did He approach you when you had tears of genuine repentance and self-reproach in your eyes? Behold, it is in one moment that God makes his decision. “The Lord is faithful in all His words” (Ps. 144:13 ). However, if He finds you otherwise, O man, then the eyes of your soul will open, and you will see what you have lost—but what is the use? If God condemns a person, repentance is futile; when the “fair” of life ends, words are pointless. It is all over! Oh, what a great mystery this is! O my God, my Sweet Jesus, open the eyes of my soul that I may see very clearly this great mystery of my eternal salvation, so that, helped by Thy grace, I may prepare provisions and not repent at the end of my life to no avail. As Thou dost see, I do absolutely nothing and am entirely leprous with passions. Grant me tears and complete repentance before the last hour comes, when I shall hear Thy voice, “Set thy house in order, for thou shalt die and not live” (Is. 38:1 ).

 5 . Repentance is endless. All the virtues, by the grace of God, may be perfected by man, but no one can perfect repentance, since we need repentance until our last breath, for we err in the twinkling of an eye. Therefore, repentance is interminable. Oh, how good God is! Justly will my fellow sinners be punished, for they have ignored the infinite compassion of the heavenly Father. Although we err as humans, we are sluggish to say, “I have sinned!” But how can we say this, since we (and I, above all ) are forgetful and lazy and proud, too—mighty obstacles on the road to humility! Christ showed this road to us through His Cross, but unfortunately we voluntarily turn a deaf ear to Him, to our great regret. Time flies, the years roll by, and we are drawing nearer and nearer to eternity. We see this, yet a mental numbness has bound us until we (and I, first ) are thrown into hell! My God, Who has delivered the human race from the enemy’s slavery, deliver us also from the future condemnation when You come to judge the world and render to each according to his works (cf. Rev. 22:12 ). Through your prayers, may I find mercy when my wretched soul is judged, for I am afraid to meet the fearsome Judge because my conscience reproaches me.

 6 . Obedience, cutting off one’s will, self-reproach, and patience in general are what lay the foundations of the soul, while fervor and zeal preserve one’s tears. If you want to be zealous until the end of your life, diligently pursue constant tears. If you have such tears, do not be afraid; the zeal of yearning for your salvation will remain. Water normally quenches fire; the water of God, however, which streams from the eyes of the repentant, lights not a physical fire—as we know—but a divine fire burning up the enemy’s weeds!

 7 . Let us sincerely repent; let us confess frankly and in detail. Let the tribunal of God and His decision preoccupy us continuously, and let us say, “I wonder, shall I be saved or shall I face the torments of hell?” Now is the time we must shed tears of repentance—in fact, constantly. Ah, how much we should be preoccupied by the question of how white and clean our soul is! We must purify it; otherwise, we shall be unable to present ourselves before Christ as we are now. Meditation on death should not escape us at all during our monastic routine.

 8 . How precious is the time of this life! Every minute has great worth, for within one minute we can think so many things, either good or evil. One godly thought raises us to heaven, and one diabolical thought lowers us to hell. So then, behold how valuable every minute in this present life is. Unfortunately, though, we do not think about this, and hours, days, and years pass with no profit—but is it merely with no profit? How much damage we have all suffered—and I, first—without realizing it! But some day, when our soul is about to depart from our body, we shall realize it. But, alas, it will be too late; there is no room for correction then. We must realize this now when we can still make a start. We should take advantage of the precious time of our life. Truly blessed is he who compels himself and makes a start, because some day he will become spiritually rich. It is never too late, for the Lord awaits each one of us to awaken so that He may give us work. He waits until the eleventh hour (cf. Mt. 20:6 ). He tries with every means to awaken us. I pray that all of us will awaken, light our lamps, and with a vigilant eye wait patiently for the Lord to come, so that we may enter the resplendent bridal chamber of eternal bliss, the festival of the bright angels, to chant with them the resurrectional canticles, which will elevate us from theoria to theoria and to divine ascents! Then—oh, then!—we shall fully realize what a great work it is to compel ourselves in everything and that our superiors did well to push us and grieve us, for we shall say, “Behold what we see now!” Then our thanks to God will have no limits. Then we shall really render thanks worthily to God!

 9 . Let us not lose our time in vain. The kingdom of heaven belongs to those who force themselves (cf.Mt. 11:12 ). Bear in mind the departure of our souls, the final hour and moment of that difficult separation. Keep in mind how the demons seek to snatch the poor soul at this final hour and lead it to Hades. Oh, what grief! What pain of soul! How the soul sighs then! Alas, what a sorrowful situation it is in at that moment! How many promises a person will make to God that he will change his life, that he will walk the path of repentance and hardship, as long as he does not die! All of us shall reach this hour and encounter the above and much more, and we shall then promise much more earnestly that we shall take the path of repentance and spiritual warfare. Let us imagine that this has already happened and that God has heard our request. Now what is left for us to do? To fulfill our promises by showing true repentance and the struggle to correct our soul. Behold the appropriate time for repentance and spiritual warfare! Little by little the time of our life is cut short, and without even realizing it, we are led to the end and to the grave! A tribunal and a Judge await us, as well as entire books in which the deeds of each one of us are written. Who is able to escape these things? No one. We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ “naked and open” (Heb. 4:13 ) for each of us to give an account of his deeds, words, and thoughts. Let us bear in mind these and many more such things night and day, so that we may bring our souls to mourning and tears!

10 . Sin, as a hook camouflaged with the suitable pleasure, comes craftily as something sweet and charming to the tongue in order to attack the soul. However, he who has been lured by the momentary pleasure and its comfort will find it more bitter than poison and more destructive than a pestilent disease in his soul.

 11 . No matter what happened with your parents, confession forgives and erases everything, my dear brother in the Lord. Recall how much the prodigal son sinned (vid. Lk. 16:19-31 ), and how much he grieved his father with his reckless life. But when he repented, at once his father’s arms opened and the past was wiped out as if it had never happened. So the cure for your sad parents has already occurred, for the change of your life to a spiritual life has rectified everything. Now that they are in the true life, they are informed by God about the change of your lifestyle and your repentance, for them. If, when we sin against our true Father, God, He forgives us no matter what we have done, how much more so will our parents be pleased, there in the true life, where they see things clearly. They know human weakness and how easily youth slips, and they are aware of the great master of evil, the devil, who was the cause for all the troubles. Instead, they will be thankful to you that through you they receive aid from God. Remain fully at peace, my brother. Walk the path of repentance with a peaceful mind, and do not let the past trouble you. “Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forward to those things which are ahead” (Phil. 3:14 ), we should look to the goal of our salvation. As soon as man says, “I have sinned!” God forgives him immediately and overlooks his sins. How much did blessed Augustine grieve that holy mother of his! Nevertheless, what sanctity and eros of God he attained later! With repentance everything is corrected. There is nothing that overcomes the compassion of God. “He is merciful to the last and provides for the first; to this one He gives, and to that one He shows kindness” (Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom ). The love of God covers and corrects everything. No one is sinless except for one-God.

 12 . [The Elder writes to one of his spiritual daughters in the world (“In the world” means not in a monastery. ]:
All that you suffered, my daughter, was because of your self-reliance. Didn’t I advise you to have humility and self-reproach? What did you trust in? don’t you know that if one boldly leans on a bamboo rod, it will break and pierce his hands? So what did you trust in? Don’t you know the saying: “Without Me you can do nothing”? (Jn. 15:5 ). Don’t you know that many Fathers fell by trusting in themselves? Humble yourself, blame yourself, weep, my daughter, wash your wedding garment. Your Bridegroom, Who is more beautiful than the sons of men, is calling you, is seeking you, and has prepared an abode for you in the heavens. The spiritual bridal chamber is extremely luxurious! Angels are serving; do not be sluggish. Arise; get some water and wash your wedding gown well, for you do not know when He will come. The time of death is unknown; it comes to us all. We do not know at what moment it will come. Repent. See how the harlot washed the immaculate feet of the Master. She shed tears more precious than myrrh, and they attracted God’s mercy and forgiveness. Then she heard, “Your sins are forgiven; go in peace” (Lk. 7:48,50 ). Repent, my daughter. Fall before the fearsome feet of the Master with mourning. Weep; cry out, “I have sinned, my Jesus. Accept me in repentance and save me. Overlook not my tears, O joy of the angels. Abhor me not, cast me not away. Thou Who hast bent the heavens by Thine ineffable abasement”. With these and many other such words importune Christ, resting assured that you will find His love three times as strong. Your repentance will give limitless joy to the angels, and exuberantly they will exclaim, “She stopped! She stopped! She stopped!” That is, she stopped short of falling. You were caught out of the flow, and now you are ascending again.

 13 . Pray for me, my brother, so that the Lord may grant me repentance before I depart on the great journey from this world—for we were not created for this earth, but for heaven. There, God has prepared a place for His children who are obedient to Him in everything He tells them. On the contrary, for all who are deaf to His divine commandments, He has prepared a place of eternal imprisonment—may God keep us from going there. Now God cries out through the Holy Scriptures, the preachers, the spiritual father: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt.3:2 ). Unfortunately, though, those who think they are smart and strong turn a deaf ear to Him with various excuses. But the all-good God, wanting to distribute His riches to man, calls “all the feeble, the weak, the things that are not” (cf.1 Cor. 1:27,28 ). “Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind, that my house may be filled” (Lk 14:21,23 ), says God through the Holy Gospel. By calling the useless, His compassion is glorified more, and man is led to gratitude, for what leper counted worthy of purification would not render thanks to his benefactor? What person condemned to an eternal imprisonment would not be grateful to his Savior? Unfortunately, my brother, I do not thank God, because forgetfulness—the offspring of pride—has made me lose my head.

 14 . Beloved brother, may God, Who has visited our humbleness, grant us genuine repentance, through which God’s tribunal is propitiated. Sincere repentance is repentance that displays regret for sins committed, mourning, burning tears that break down the strongholds of sin, and sincere and frank confession. Repentance leaves nothing unhealed. If man had not been given repentance, no one would be saved. Triumph and victory are given to man through the weapon of repentance. Glory to the only wise God, Who gave man such an effective medicine that cures every kind of illness, as long as it is taken properly. Let us struggle, my brother; let us live in simplicity and innocence of heart like small children, as the Savior said: “Unless you become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt.18:3 ). With simplicity and faith we are freed from evil day-dreaming, which destroys the good seeds of the Holy Spirit. Things will happen according to our faith. What you sow is what you reap. Let us ask God for compunction and mourning, and He will grant them to us so that a stream of life-giving tears may follow. Then our heart will produce the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

Taken from  "Counsels from the Holy Mountain" Selected from the letters and homilies of Elder Ephraim

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