Friday, 7 June 2013

Elder Ephraim of Arizona- On the Love and Humility of God

Chapter Seventeen.

On the Love and Humility of God,
on Grace, and on the Fear of God.

 May the Lord our God give you peace and love, for God is love. Always remember the words of the Lord, Who said: “He who keeps My commandments, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father… and We shall come to him and make Our abode with him” (Jn. 14:21,23 ). Let us love God with all our soul, with all our heart, and with all our strength, and may our works keep in step. That is, our works should be a reflection of our love towards Him. And when our works are wrought lawfully, God will repay us with divine love in our souls. He who has found love partakes of Christ every day, and thus he becomes immortal. “If anyone eats of this bread, which I shall give, he will live forever” (cf. Jn. 6:51 ), says the Holy Gospel. He who partakes of the love of Christ bears much fruit. The souls that love Jesus breathe the spiritual air of the other world, the world of the spirit, which is the kingdom of heaven. Even in this life they taste the waters that flow from the throne of God’s grace! The drink at the heavenly table is divine love. The licentious drank this drink, and the wounds of their sins were soothed; drunkards became fasters; rich men desired poverty in Christ; paupers were enriched with godly hopes; the weak became strong; the unlearned became wise! Love is the Christian’s triumph over the devil, hatred, and envy. In order to reach the divine harbor of God’s love, we must first fear Him as God, Who chastens sin and transgression. It is not possible to cross the sea and reach the harbor without a boat. Likewise, it is impossible to reach the harbor of love without repentance. The fear of God appoints us commander and captain in the boat of repentance, and it takes us across the murky sea of life and guides us to the divine harbor of divine love. Just as we are unable to live without air, likewise it is impossible to live in the eternal life with God if we do not breathe the very sweet and fragrant air of God’s love. Let us shake off the burden of our sins with the power of repentance, and thenceforth light and free as eagles, let us fly high above where the eternal God has stored up the inexhaustible treasures of virtue and wisdom, so that we may drink the waters of eternal life and be deified, as the Scriptures say: “You are gods, and all of you are the sons of the Most High” (Ps. 81:6 ). Let us compel ourselves, my children, for the love of God is not gained through negligence and sluggishness but through eagerness, obedience, patience, forbearance, silence, prayer, and forcefulness in everything. So shall we be negligent for such an eternal gift? No! Then let us cry out in lamentation: “Christ, our Master, shut us not out of Thy kingdom, but open unto us out of Thy compassionate mercy. Amen”.

2. God is love and full of compassion. Let us not sadden Him in anything! He endured the Cross for us; His head was pricked by the crown of thorns; His side was pierced by the spear; His feet were nailed; His back was scourged; His all-holy mouth was given gall and vinegar; His heart ached from the insolence and ingratitude; He was naked up on the Cross in front of such a demonic mob. This, my children, is Whom we should not sadden with our carelessness, which intensifies His suffering. The Jews were His enemies, whereas we have been baptized in His holy Name—we are His disciples who are devoted to serving Him! His disciples abandoned Him out of fear of the Jews, and how much He was grieved is beyond description! And now, how will all who deny Him, all who abandon Him, all who promise Him one thing and do another, find themselves before Him at the hour of judgment? What shall they say when our Christ begins to enumerate His sufferings one by one, while they will have only their denial and a multitude of evils to present? Let us attend to our life, my children. Let us have love and patience in everything. Let us not criticize, let us drive away every evil thought, let us humble ourselves, let us bear in mind the difficult hour of death and judgment. When you do all these things, know that you will live with Christ eternally! Like angels beside His throne, you will chant everlasting hymns full of joy! What bliss we shall have then! All things here will be forgotten! Only joy and Pascha with no end! Glory to God, Who gives us the victory.

3. I pray that the love of God will refresh your thirsty soul, as the hart quenches its thirst at the fountains of water. “Thus does my soul yearn for Thee, O God. When shall I come and appear before the face of my God?” (Ps. 41:1,2 ). Glory to Thee, for Thy great mercy upon me! Without my doing anything good on earth, He consoles and comforts my soul. From time to time the blessed dew of God’s love affects my callous soul. Ah, how much it soothes my wretched soul! How much it refreshes my soul and lightens the burdens of life and temptations! Oh, if only God would count me worthy through your prayers to rest eternally in the dew of God’s love for which I long! The salvation of man requires much toil. The tempter—the devil—has activated all his experience and knowledge to annihilate man. Do not depart from us, O God, my God, but be for us as the brass serpent was for Moses, (vid. Num. 21:6-9 ), so that by looking at You, we may be healed from the bites of the spiritual serpents. “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He” (Jn. 8:28 ). My Christ, my light, my crucified love, Who was lifted up on the Cross for our sins, the Serpent that saves souls wounded by the evil serpents, heal us who have been wounded by the stings of sin. May God bless us and in His good will open His sea of compassion to us, so that we may all be found united together in the eternal and blessed life, where there is neither pain nor sorrow or sighing, but life unending. “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 7:17 ). Oh, what joy that cannot be taken away! What a confident awareness that henceforth the torments of this toilsome life have ended! “What god is as great as our God?” (Ps. 76:13 ). He is a Father overflowing with compassion, Who does not take sins into account, as long as His repenting son says: “I have sinned against heaven and in your sight” (Lk. 15:21 ). Then at once the Father embraces and kisses him and obliterates from His heart every trace of displeasure that the child’s profligacy may have occasioned! I lose my senses when I contemplate His abyss of paternal compassion towards sinners!

4. With what love the blessed soul will be fed in the kingdom of heaven! It is He –my Christ, my Jesus, my dearest, the living Logos—Who gave us our existence, as well as the means to exist, eternal redemption, and repose in the bosom of the heavenly Father. “He spoke and they came into being; He commanded and they were created!” (Ps. 32:9 ). He chastens us a little in order to keep us humble, for He knows how easily our weak human nature changes, how easily it turns towards evil. He treats us with paternal solicitude and chastens us lovingly, so that we may obtain firm wisdom. This is the knowledge of the perfect saints: (it is not as some people explain it, but it has its own special power ) to put it simply, one must confess that even when one is at the heavenly height of virtue, it is possible—if God abandons him—for him to fall into the abyss of corruption and debauchery! It is not a matter of just saying this with empty words, but one must really feel this way. But one cannot say this with conviction if one does not first pass through the Babylonian furnace of temptations, and if one’s human nature does not slip by God’s permission, so that he realizes his weak constitution. He then sees with whom he has to wrestle, what the wickedness and malice of his adversary (the devil ) is, and how difficult it is to rise after a fall! In brief, this is what “know thyself” means. When one obtains this knowledge, the Holy Trinity dwells in his heart. Then bliss gushes forth endlessly, and he reaches the point of seeing revelations! This is what Abba Isaac writes—that great boast of hesychasts. One holy monk stood up to say his evening prayers and stretched out his arms. When the grace of God came upon him—he had his back to the setting sun—it overcame him so much that he didn’t come to himself until the sun rose the next morning and warmed his face. Then he realized that it was the next day, and he glorified God Who counts men made of earth worthy to see such mysteries. Oh! Those days of grace have passed, and now there is a bitter cold even in the warm countries, that is, in the dwellings of monks and hermits. Good examples and virtue have vanished! How vividly the monastic saints must have felt grace in prayer! God visits us somewhat faintly in prayer, and we feel a little bit of grace. But they who were engrossed in theoria all night long—how intensely they must have felt the kingdom of heaven! “The kingdom of heaven is within us” (cf. Lk. 17:21 ). Oh, how much I would have liked to live in those days when sanctity and good examples were abundant—now there is only aridity and misery. Let us once again thank God immensely that in such a moral darkness He has given us a little light, so that even by stumbling forward we are able to reach the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem and not be shut out in the eternal darkness. May this not happen to any Christian, my dear Christ, but may all of us together be counted worthy to reach there with joy and a joyful step, celebrating the eternal Pascha! (Paschal Canon, Ode Five ), Amen.

5. A person whose mouth always thanks God will by no means lack the blessing of God, but a person whose mouth grumbles and wounds his great Benefactor shall certainly be chastened by God. He gave us our being; He gives us life; He preserves us in various ways with His divine providence. Through the death of His Son, He reconciled us who were previously His enemies and made us sons and heirs of His kingdom! He purifies us and sanctifies us through His holy Mysteries! He gives us the heavenly, most holy food and drink, that is, His All-holy Body and Precious Blood! He has also given us a guardian for our whole life! He will receive our soul and guide it to the eternal inheritance! But what am I saying? Time would fail me to recount everything; I would be laboring in vain, trying to count the sand in the sea—the infinite benefactions of our good God! Then, even after so many countless good things, we grumble! Oh, my God, overlook our ingratitude and open our mind so that we grasp what Your paternal heart has bestowed upon us, and so that we render a little thanks in order that we may find forgiveness and mercy.

6. Regarding the holy angel that you wrote to me about, it is true that when he receives a decree from the Lord, he neither adds nor subtracts anything, but he remains beside a person, enlightens him, looks after him, delivers him from dangers, and defends him from the devil, as we see in the life of St. Andrew the Fool for Christ, in which an angel was fighting against the devil in order to defend a guilty monk, and so on. Read it and you will see. Man is given a guardian angel as an older brother who, being closer to God and having more boldness, prays for his younger brother. And man entreats his guardian angel as his older brother to protect him and pray for him, since he has more boldness towards God. How many times he whispers in our soul’s ear, “Don’t do this”, or “Do it”, or “Be careful here”. There are many such instances with those who have the eyes of their soul open. Do not forget the parable of the gardener and the fruitless fig tree in the Holy Gospel, “Let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, fine. But if not, after that you can cut it down” (Lk. 13:8-9 ). The gardener symbolizes the holy angel who looks after a person, until he bears fruit and is saved. In The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, many things are written about the angels’ solicitude for man—they were seen weeping while the people they protected were sinning. Just think how much they prayed for them! Their “tears” show their love and compassion for man.

7. My blessed children in the Lord, may the love of our Lord keep you in spiritual and bodily health. Truly how lamentable it is for a child to be living in his father’s house, to enjoy all the comforts of life, and not to acknowledge his own father—or even if he does give him a little respect and attention, not to feel his profuse love and affection—but on the contrary, when the remembrance of his father does come, he considers it something not worth thinking about or occupying his mind with! What verdict could be given for such an ungrateful and arrogant child? Surely, everyone would label him as an unworthy heir of his father’s love and fortune. Unfortunately, though, in this example and in the person of this unworthy child, we see today’s man who is ungodly in his relationship with God, his Father, and, sad to say, we also see today’s Christians, except for a select few. We live in this world, which God has designated as our temporary abode. He gave us the freedom to enjoy the good things of the earth, without leaving Himself unattested to in everything that we see and think, so that through our reason we would render glory and honor to Him, with whole-hearted love for Him as our supreme offering. Let us briefly go over the world-saving and momentous events, beginning with the disobedience of Adam and Eve, so that we may perceive more clearly the wealth of God’s love. Because of their pride and disobedience, Adam and Eve were banished from the garden of delight and inhabited the land of thorns and thistles. But the infinite love of the Heavenly Father, Who had been forgotten by the human race, sent His only-begotten and beloved Son into the world, to remove man’s enmity towards Him. We see His supreme love leading Him to sacrifice His sweetest Son through a tragic death on the Cross, since this is what the grave fall of guilty mankind required! The Apostle Paul presents this sacrifice with the following words: “He (the Father ) who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32 ). He also says: “He became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8 ). But after three days He rose by His own authority, as befits God, becoming the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep to confirm that most truly the entire race shall be raised by a common resurrection. Before His Ascension, He commanded the holy Apostles to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit all who believe in His name, simultaneously giving them the power to become children of God through faith. He even handed down to us the holy Mysteries, so that through them we may be united with Him and always live with Him in true happiness, which only union with God can provide. He also gave us a vigilant guardian for our soul and body, our holy guardian angel, whom He sends to us at holy baptism to be our guide and protector. It is through the Mystery of holy Baptism that a Christian becomes a child of God by grace, an heir of God and a joint heir with Christ (cf. Rom. 8:17 ). But I shall not proceed to recount the events that show the infinite riches of the ineffable love of the heavenly Father towards us; for the more man’s mind is enlightened to grasp the love of the Creator for Hiw creation, the more evident our ingratitude and failure to recognize such an affectionate and true Father becomes. We live in this vain world and are truly ignorant—or rather, we have not yet understood why we are alive, what goal this life of ours has, and what purpose man has on earth! Unfortunately, we have become almost like the irrational beasts; we live without considering that the time of our life here is the most precious thing for our future restoration. We use up and waste this time with no regret, and when we come to our senses we shall be unable to bring this time back. Therefore, how truly wise is the man who has realized the great value of time in this transient life and takes advantage of it accordingly, enriching his life with good works, so that when the grievous hour of death comes, his conscience will be confident and say in his defense before the spiritual prosecutors, the demons: “I have done what I should. So why are you still raging?” in the Holy Gospel, Jesus spoke about the purpose of man: “I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father” (Jn. 16:28 ). Here our Savior is speaking humanly, for as God, consubstantial with the Father, He was never separated from Him. The fact that man is destined to leave the world at the time determined by God and to go to God where he came from, can be inferred from the Holy Scriptures in Genesis: “And God formed man from the dust of the earth and breathed upon his face the breath of life, and man became a living soul” (Gen. 2:7 ). The divine breath came out of the tri-hypostatic God—not that the breath itself became a soul in man, but the soul of man was created by a divine insufflations, which is why it has to return to its God. Here is something remarkable: the breath of God went out and created the soul of man. He made it holy, pure, innocent, good, etc. So when the frightful hour of death comes for the soul, I wonder, will it still have its original sanctity and purity? Unfortunately not, for we have all sinned as descendants of Adam. God, however, Who knows our weakness and that the mind of man is inclined to evil from his youth, (cf. Gen. 8:21 ), certainly does not demand the impeccable purity of its initial state, but what does He seek? He seeks true, sincere repentance, abstention from sin, a heart broken and humbled; He seeks mourning and tears in order to give us a consoling ambrosia, “which the unrepentant world knows not (cf. Jn. 1:10 ). So when a person sincerely repents, God welcomes him with open arms, simultaneously giving him the divine features with which he will be able to ascend unimpeded into the boundless kingdom of God, so that he may live thenceforth with the heavenly Father. Behold, the purpose of man! The mind stands in amazement when it grasps this grand and lofty divine purpose! And yet how great is man’s insensibility and how thick a darkness covers the eyes of his soul, so that he does not think why he exists here on earth and what God wants from him. Unfortunately, his mind’s vision has been impaired by the illness of sin, and especially by self-love. How long, my God, shall we remain sluggish and callous towards this great purpose of ours? Send us a little illumination. Why, has the sun ever stopped sending its abundant light? How much more so will You, the infinite Sun of love, never stop shining! Woe to us, my Lord, for we voluntarily do every evil deed. But since You have endless oceans of love, pour upon us love and affection, compassion and forbearance again and again—perhaps some more souls will be saved before Your just judgement breaks out upon us! Yes, Lord, take pity on me, the miserable one, who does not practice what he preaches, and grant me repentance before I leave this world! Enlighten Your world, for which You poured out Your awesome and all-holy Blood, and give repentance to all.

8. Beloved children in the Lord, I pray that my poor letter will find you in love, obedience, prayer, and circumspection in everything. Today we celebrate the assembly of all the Heavenly Powers; just think what a festival is taking place in heaven! What hymns! What joy for the angels of God! The holy angels, the guardians of our souls, are celebrating today, and since they are our older brothers, we should share in their joy and grace. They invisibly help us so much! From how many temptations and deaths they deliver us! How many prayers they say for us when they see the face of God! When they stand beside us, they offer each person’s prayers! And when we die, it is they who will help us in the hour of death and in the ascent through the toll-houses, and for this reason we should bear a special love towards God’s angels. However, it is more advantageous for us to resemble them in their virtues. The holy angels have perfect obedience to the commands of God; they execute His orders with no objections. They have perfect love towards God and men. The angels have undefiled chastity and invincible humility, while their innocence is beyond description. Other virtues also adorn the angels. If we sincerely love them, if we want to live in the same place that they do, we must compel ourselves to resemble them. The monastic way of life is called the angelic life by the Church Fathers. This is because monastics must live a life similar to the angels. However, when they do not live like that, but live a life contrary to it, they will be ranked with the evil angels. Struggle, my children, my joy and consolation, so that you attain the angels’ level of obedience, love, prayer, and chastity, and so that you may also live together with the angels in the life after death! Amen; so be it.

9. The more you perceive the mercy of God, my child, the more lovingly you will be united with Him. And the more you fathom the magnificence of God’s majesty, the more you will immerse yourself in your nothingness, with a corresponding ascent to the state of spiritual knowledge. The more humility you mix with your unceasing prayer, the more intensely you will feel Jesus, and your heart will feel like another burning bush. Raise your mind up above where our life and joy are, for according to the Apostle Paul, “our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20 ). Long whole-heartedly for the things above, and this holy longing will make monasticism light and very sweet for you. During rapture of the nous by the grace of God, wonder will follow upon wonder, and it will stand completely ecstatic before the abundant light of apprehending the knowledge of God.

10. When Christ lives within you, fear nothing. In order for Christ to live within you, much humility is needed. Mentally fall at His immaculate feet and weep, saying: “My Jesus, Thou alone art left for me in this humble life of mine as light and life. Show me Thy spiritual beauty, so that I may be filled with divine eros and run after Thy myrrh and cry out, ‘My soul has cleaved to Thee, Thy right hand has helped me’ (Ps. 62:8 ). Oh, my Jesus, when shall I come and appear before Thy face? (cf. Ps. 41:2 ). When, O light of my soul, shall I see Thee and be filled and say, ‘Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!’” (Rom. 11:33 ). Yes, my child, love humility above all, and then you will obtain Jesus, Who is lowly in heart, as an everlasting possession in your soul. Inhale Jesus; exhale Jesus, and then you will know what Jesus is! Where is earthly love then! Is it possible for a firebrand to fall upon a parched forest and for anything to survive? The same thing happens with the twigs of human thoughts when the love of Jesus falls upon them.

11. Take courage, my child; through many tribulations we shall ascend to the boundless, divine light of Mount Tabor, and there we shall hear the divine voice of our beloved Jesus. “How beloved are Thy dwellings, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs and faints for the courts of the Lord. My heart and my flesh have exulted in the living God” (Ps. 83:1-2 ). Yes, O Giver of life, Christ our God. “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (Jn. 10:10 ). Yes, I pray that Christ, the eternal life, will live and reign within you, so that you cry out, “Abba, Father!” (Gal. 4:6 ). Oh, what is more delightful than Jesus! Who has tasted Christ’s love and then desired another sinful love? No one! For this love is so potent, that even if one goes through a life of afflictions for a hundred years and then feels divine love for only a short time, this love is able to dispel all the afflictions and leave him astounded before God’s majesty.

12. Out of His infinite goodness, and wanting to impart His innumerable spiritual blessings to us, God invites and exhorts us to seek them from Him—and He wants to give them to us; He wants us to knock at the door of His mercy, and certainly He shall open it for us. God wants us to knock, but the devil—that primeval evil, God’s enemy and ours—what does he do to make man not believe God’s exhortations? He gives us thoughts of unbelief, and then thoughts of hopelessness and despair, so that we will not believe that God shall by all means fulfill His divine words. Then he tells us, “You are a sinner, you are a loser—God won’t listen to you; He won’t pay any attention to you, so cry out all you want”. In this way, he weakens our faith and willpower.

13. Christ does not need us, for He has thousands of angels who serve Him impeccably. In addition, by a word He is able to create thousands more of these most holy beings. Byt His infinite love constrains Him to be corcerned about us, without being disgusted by our stench and our festering wounds. So let us remember this love of God at every moment of our life, so that we shall do our worthless deeds solely for the love of God. Just think—we were not crucified for our Christ, our Savior, whereas on behalf of us monstrosities, He endured death on a cross for the sake of obedience!

14. May the grace of Christ be with you, within your soul, my child, to enlighten you and increase your love for Him, so that you may be kept near Him and not be swept away by the current of worldliness and fall away from God and lose your immortal soul, which is worth more than the entire world. The amount of grace that came to you is small; the saints, though, had much grace. In order to increase it, you must humble yourself. If you become proud it will leave, and then you will weep. So be very careful to bear in mind your sins and passions, so that vainglory will not sprout in you and drive away the Jesus prayer.

15. The goodness of God sometimes seems like a rod that disciplines man—for his own good, though. When He sees that the rod is too burdensome, He changes His approach, and it becomes a cane that relieves the burden and thus comforts man’s soul, so that everything turns out for his benefit and spiritual progress. When a person lacks spiritual knowledge, he thinks that the rod, the “chastisement of the Lord”, will kill him, and that it will stay like that forever. But along with the temptation the good God brings the way out, that is, the end of the temptation. Man has discernment and can determine, for example, how much an animal can carry, so he does not overload it. How much more discernment does God have not to overload us with a temptation beyond our strength! So it is not God, but our faintheartedness that leads us to impatience, which makes our burden seem so heavy. Sometimes, however, God allows very strong temptations to come upon people who have much pride and conceit dwelling in them, in order to crush their haughty spirit. But in the end, He does not abandon them; His mercy will come back again. Oh, how good God is!

16. “Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One”. What can I, the unworthy and filthy one, say about the grandeur of the innumerable dispensations of the Most High God! I am astonished and unable to look directly at it as I contemplate this mystery. How did God condescend to be an infant in a cave of irrational beasts? How was He wrapped in swaddling clothes and carried in the holy arms of the holy Virgin, He Who was born by the Father without a mother! “Great art Thou, O Lord, and wondrous are Thy deeds, and no word sufficeth to hymn Thy wonders!” “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Rom. 11:33 ). My soul shall rejoice in the Lord; I shall noetically smother with kisses that most sweet and blessed Infant, so that He may deliver me from my irrational passions.

17. Christ commanded that we forgive our enemies seventy times seven every day. How much more so does He forgive, He Who is the Abyss of forgiveness! If you were able to count the drops of rain and the grains of sand, you would be able to measure a small part of the infinite compassion of the infinite God.

18. Let us fall down before the heavenly Queen, the immaculate Theotokos, the Maiden quick-to-hear, that she may help us, for “no one who runs to thee is turned away ashamed, but he asks for a favor and receives the gift from thee, to the profit of the request” (from the Small Supplicatory Canon to the Theotokos ). After God, only she is able to help us. Let us trust in her, and we shall not be put to shame.

19. I pray from my heart that you are well and rejoice in peace of soul, for the peace of God is nothing but a place of God, repose, bliss, and divine delight. The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7 ), is given to souls that struggle as a prize and royal gift; it is a property of the children of God. In order for it to dwell in the soul of a Christian, first, godly labor is necessary—labor of a spiritual nature. Then it takes discernment and a blameless, clear conscience shining brighter than the sun, which knows that one has done what he should. Then this soul receives the precious gift of “the peace of God” and delights in it and converses like a bride with her most beautiful Bridegroom Jesus about their eternal marriage and the spiritual riches of heaven. And while one thinks about these things, the peace increases, and one ends up in very sweet tears. The peace of God is one’s betrothal for the future wedding with the slaughtered Lamb. O peace of God, come even to me the trouble-maker, who does not know Your beauty! Come and refresh my wretched, condemned soul!

20. I pray that the love of Jesus will inflame your heart with love, that you will run like a thirsty hart to the monastic fountains of spiritual water and drink your fill of heavenly nectar. May you become entirely spiritual, entirely devoted with divine eros to worshipping Him Who loved you to the point of death, even death on a cross. Only in God will you find true happiness and joy, for the unchangeable and true God is the source. The enjoyment of earthly things is obtained with much labor and hard work, and afterwards it turns out to be harmful, meriting punishment. “Truly all human things are vain; riches do not remain; glory does not accompany one to the other world; when death comes, it obliterates all these things” (from the funeral service ). Do you want to live a pleasant and peaceful life? Keep the commandments of God; keep the fear of God in your every thought, as well as in everything you say and do. The fear of the Lord is the beginning and the end of wisdom (cf. Prov. 1:7 ). Just as a lamp illuminates the path we are walking on, in the same way the fear of God illuminates us spiritually so that we can see how we must walk the path of our salvation. Also, as a lamp keeps us from tripping and falling, likewise the fear of God frees us from the obstacles of sin and guides us to our destination, which is the acquisition of God.

 21. What defense shall we have when our Christ shows us His pierced hands or His speared side or His immaculate head pricked by the thorns or His dry lips embittered by the vinegar and gall, and says, “For you, my dearest soul, did I suffer all these things, out of the great love I have for you. Now show me your marks of love for Me, which will be like balsam on My wounds”. Then, my children, what shall we show? Our ingratitude, our negligence, our ego, our disobedience, and the multitude of our other passions? And then, instead of balsam, we shall put poison in the wounds of His love! So then, onwards! Let us compel ourselves. From now on let us be careful to put balsam on His wounds and be called His true, beloved children.

22. “The Divine is beyond explanation and understanding”. We do not know the nature of our nous; we do not see it, and yet the nous directs everything in man. So how can our finite nous see the infinite Nous, God, in order to believe in Him? God is beyond spirit, beyond everything that man can think of. “Oh, the depth of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (cf. Rom. 11:33 ).

23. I, too, my child, have my sickly body as a thorn along my way. It does not allow me to progress, and thus I remain behind until God has mercy on my weakness. Sin gives birth to all evil, but out of His goodness, God transforms the chastisement of sins into forgiveness, but also into a means of acquiring boldness towards Him. Oh, how great is the love of God for man! Who is able to look directly at this ocean of love? One cries like a baby when his nous is enlightened and sees even in a small way how much God loves him. But how much he must labor beforehand to be given this enlightenment! For it is a gift from above, from the Father of lights; it comes as dew, as a delightful spring day to souls being scorched by the hardships of various trials.

24. Man has failed to recognize his own Father, the Most High God, Who brought him into being out of nothingness. Oh! How harmful this failure to recognize Him has been! This is the cause of all human suffering, the first transgression of Adam and Eve. And their sin of disobedience and lack of repentance brought upon their children—upon us—all the evil results, and we harvest the thorns and thistles of various tribulations. “You shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17 ). Death is corruption of our former incorruption, with all of its attributes: illness, affliction, misery, pain. However, the good God did not overlook His own creation, but gave grace through the death of His Son on the Cross—“by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:5 ). Just as the evil one used the crafty serpent as a tool, in a like manner did our Lord Jesus Christ put on human nature to deceive the devil. O Lord Jesus Christ, the light of my darkened soul, the goal of my life, how great has our guilt become with the passing of time! One disobedience resulted in bringing God down to earth—and where did it lead Him? To be crucified at Golgotha! And the small taste of the forbidden fruit was paid by the awesome drama of the God-man. Oh, how much God loves man! So let us be confident in our repentance, my fellow sinners. :Though your sins are like scarlet, I shall make them as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, I shall make them as white as wool” (Is. 1:18 ). So, my child, let us cleave with love to such a merciful God. Amen.

25. Yes, my child, Jesus alone will become everything to you. Put your trust in Him Who said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deut. 31:6 ). Never lose your courage. Always stand tall with Jesus as your boast and with your nothingness as your pride. When the devil raises you high, humble yourself and bring yourself down below the earth through self-reproach; when he brings you down to hell, to despair, fly to the heaven of God’s grace and love—this is the game you should play with him. Do not fear him; you have put on Christ; you are the inheritance of Christ; you have been enrolled with the saints. You still have much to go through to show the measure of your love towards Him to Whom you have devoted yourself. Do not accept any thoughts of pride suggested by Satan, but constantly criticize yourself, for that evil rascal has defiled us with disgraceful passions, so how can we be proud? We need weeping and a river of tears to wash away our filth and sores. Bear in mind the humility of the crucified Lord: “Learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt. 11:29 ). Only by achieving true humility shall we find tranquility and peace in the tempestuous state of our soul.

26. Man suffers because of his sins. However, the goodness of God counts the pain as spiritual work, and He gives wages and a reward. How can we not love such a God? How can we not devote our whole life to worshipping Him? But unfortunately, despite all this, we forget Him—and I do more than all—which is why we transgress His commandments. For if we remembered God, we would remember what God commands, and fear of Him would make us law-abiding and careful; we would remember the Judgment, the fire of hell, and we would shed tears of repentance. The farther we are from tears and mourning, the more attached we are to earthly and corruptible things. Concern for things above engenders the desire to inherit those everlasting good things, and this good concern breaks our sinful attachment to corruptible, transient things that seem good. May God the Lord give us the good sense to take care of our soul before we depart for the other world.

27. I pray with all my heart that the love of Jesus Christ be poured abundantly into your hearts, and that by His grace you will be counted worthy to live in purity of soul nd body all the days of your life. “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:35 ). Thus spoke the life-bringing fountain, our Christ. He also said” “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit” (Jn. 15:4-5 ). With such sublime imagery our sweetest Jesus teaches us that if we do not stay beside Him, it is impossible for us to bear the fruit of eternal life. And in order for us to be near Him, we have to approach Him by practicing His divine commandments. His commandments are not burdensome (1 Jn. 5:3 ), but indolence and our soul’s lack of humility render the commandments an overwhelming burden; yet it is through these very commandments that Christ has secured for us the dominion of happiness and peace. When love establishes its throne in the soul, it bestows the most beautiful spiritual springtime. Everything glistens with the breeze of love’s refreshing fragrance, for it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, thinks no evil (1 Cor. 13:7,5 ), does not act wickedly, sees everything simply; love covers everything. For this reason, it has earned the crowning achievement: “Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:8 ). When a bride adores her bridegroom, night and day she thinks about him, imagines him, and lives only for him. Not a single moment goes by without him passing through her thoughts and dripping into her heart the sweetness of love and of hoping to meet. In this way she communicates with her beloved unceasingly. So in the same way, we too should remain with our Lord Jesus Christ. It is not permissible for us to limit our love by offering it only to a particular individual, be it to parents and relatives, or even to another member of the synodia, which the Fathers label as “particular friendship”. All of the above are considered to be kinds of spiritual adultery, for the soul exchanges the eternal love of an immaculate, spotless Bridegroom for the love of earthly and corruptible men. Humble yourselves, my children, if you do not want God to let you fall into temptations. For corresponding to the pride we have, temptations will follow us. Temptations will not cease until we humble ourselves with knowledge and consciousness of soul.

28. There were ten lepers in the holy Gospel, and the divine bath—the command of the living Logos of God—cleansed all ten of them. But only one returned to give thanks to his great Benefactor. And then Truth itself, Jesus, asked, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” (Lk. 17:17-18 ). Therefore, in every good turn of events, but also in attacks of misfortune, in good health, as well as in encounters with illness, in joy, but also in sorrow, we should always offer up the fragrant incense of our thankfulness before the throne of God as unprofitable servants who have received mercy through the precious blood of Christ. “Our dear Christ, our good God, give us the gift of thankfulness, so that we will not be condemned even more—the guilt for our other various sins is enough”.

29. Fear nothing but God. Have the fear of God as a lamp, and it will illuminate your path and show you exactly how you should walk. For without the fear of God, we can neither form a clear conscience, nor confess frankly, or ever obtain spiritual wisdom, for the beginning of wisdom and the end of wisdom is the fear of the Lord (cf. Prov. 1:7 ).

30. The death of the Lord on the Cross brought us back to our former status as sons, in which the children of God cry out, “Abba, Father!” (Gal. 4:6 ). The terrible sufferings of the Lord made us worthy to become children of God, heirs of God and joint heirs of Christ! (Rom. 8:17 ). I am so filled with elation when I reflect that I am a child of God and that the good Father has a place of ineffable repose and bliss prepared for me! “O death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? (1Cor. 15:55 ). What joy the Christian feels when he considers that when the time comes for these physical eyes to close, at once the eyes of the soul will open, and he will see a new world, new beings, new creations, incomparably superior, incorruptible, eternal! The heavenly kingdom is not eating and drinking, (cf. Rom. 14:17 ), but spiritual ambrosia of the holy love of God, eternal delight, unspeakable joy. “I desire that they may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory” (cf. Jn. 17:24 ). Oh, the infinite depth of God’s love! How much has He honored wretched man by exalting him up to God Himself and bestowing upon him eternal glory and blessedness! So shall we deprive ourselves of such glory and blessedness for the sake of a short-lived, sinful pleasure? May God show compassion on all Christians and enlighten them to follow the path of salvation and repentance. Amen, my Panagia!

31. If one meditates on the crucified Lord and penetrates the mystery of God’s love for man, he sees how much the Lord endured for each one of us personally. What shall we render unto the Lord for everything? (cf. Ps. 115:3 ). Man, however, was not found worthy of this great and immense love. As soon as we do something good, we see our ego jump up as if we have created heaven and earth. Whereas God made everything out of nothing, and yet He humbled Himself so much! The compassion of God has no bounds, and blessed is the man who through prudence has come to realize the love of God. For the sake of earthy, disobedient, insubordinate man, who had become a prey to the passions and demons, the Son of God Himself came down and was hanged on the Cross! Alongside this we see our own laziness, coldness, indifference, while God on the other hand shows us His providence and love in many different ways. Truly, man is a mystery. Boundless and unlimited is God’s patience! What doesn’t He hear and see within each person! When we see some ingratitude in a person close to us; when we see him behave harshly, ungratefully, inhumanly, mercilessly; when we see that he does not say at least one “thanks”, we hold it against him. How many things could God hold against us men who behave callously and abominably towards Him? Every person in this world, every one of us, is more or less ungrateful. God feeds us, He clothes us, He protects us, He has given us a guardian angel, He feeds us with His holy Mysteries, with His Flesh and Blood, He has prepared a vast kingdom for us, He puts up with us when we go astray, He welcomes us when we repent. But we are impious, we blaspheme Him, insult Him, disregard Him, and He is forbearing and tolerant; He awaits our return. But as if God were indebted to us, we never even think in passing about the fear of God, reverence for Him, or the piety we should have when we remember His presence. We forget that we should bow our heads in veneration of this great God—the most wondrous, inexpressible, unsearchable, boundless, and most sweet God. If each one of us had thousands of mouths, we would still be unable to extol Him worthily and fittingly for His countless gifts for us! This is why the Apostle Paul, after repeated ecstasies and theorias and delights of God, was often overcome with amazement and cried out those immortal words: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways beyond finding out!” (Rom. 11:33 ). “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor?” (Rom. 11:34 ). Who can know how the infinite Nous works, not only in the heavenly realm, but also in the earth and the underworld? Just think—effortlessly, without toil, He feeds every living thing: men, the animals, the fields, the reptiles, the fish, the microbes, the millions of living creatures. He cares for everything and looks after everything. “How magnified are Thy works, O Lord! In wisdom hast Thou made them all; the earth is filled with Thy creation” (Ps. 103:26 ). “He spake and they came to be; He commanded, and they were created!” (Ps. 148:5 ). Let there be light, and there was light; let there be earth, and there was earth; let there be stars, sun, and moon (Gen. 1:3-18 ), and there were these stupendous creations, these colossal, huge bodies, hanging and moving in space, which illuminate and beautify the sky—all came to be at a single command of God! “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:14 ), the Word of the Father. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn. 1:1 ). He came and took on flesh and became man, and the world came into being through Him—He made the world! He gave us the right to become children of God (Jn. 1:12 ). He came to His creatures, and they did not receive Him. Now just think—He made the world and the people, and they were cold and callous and did not receive Him. He came as a stranger; He was given hospitality on the wood of the Cross instead of on a mattress; He was given hospitality in a grave; the earth was shaken, the veil was rent, the sun was darkened, the universe was terrified! “What god is as great as our God? (Ps. 76:13 ). “Great art Thou, O Lord, and wondrous are Thy deeds, and no word will ever suffice to hymn Thee fittingly!” The Word became flesh (Jn. 1:14 ). What grandeur this hides! God became man, He descended from the heavens; the bodiless God, the infinite, incomprehensible Spirit came and dwelt within human nature in order to save it. He became a slave to deliver us from slavery; He became man, so that we may become gods by grace; “You are gods, and all of you are the sons of the Most High” (Ps. 81:6 ). We have become a special people (Tit. 2:14 ), a holy nation (1 Pet. 2:9 ), a priesthood of God, through the advent of the divine Child! The divine Word—Who lives, reigns, and governs all of creation—the Only-begotten Word of God, the boundless sweetness of God’s existence, the glory and hymn of the martyrs, the endurance of the holy monks, the sole Bridegroom of pure souls. And as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God—who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, but of God (cf. Jn. 1:12-13 ). Those who will be saved are not born of the will of the flesh and desire, but of God, and they will reign beside Him. “We have received grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn. 1:16-17 ). He gave us the ten commandments; He gave us precepts in the new grace of the Gospel, and disregarding the gratitude we owed Him, He gave us even more grace! And from His fullness we have received grace for grace (cf. Jn. 1:16 ). God was not deprived by giving us His glory, but He gave out of His abundance. He was not diminished by giving and creating the whole world, but rather the complete, infinitely perfect God created man and the angels, so that there would be other beings to delight in Him, so that other spirits would become blessed, and that other souls and beings would possess free will—not subjugated slaves, but free beings that obey and glorify Him freely. “I do not want slavery”, says God. “I do not want them like animals which are enslaved by man and led wherever he wants. I want free will”. This is how great the magnificence of God is. Oh, what the demons lost by falling away from such an infinite, most sweet, inexpressible God! What did the dominion of God lose by the insubordination of Lucifer? Nothing: God has no need of anything or anyone. It is we who have need of God—gratuitously He saves man. God is perfect, incomprehensible, blessed unto the ages of ages; He came and saved us gratis. We owe Him our entire existence—and even if we gave it to Him, we would have done nothing, we would have merely done our duty. He is our Creator; He is our Savior.

Taken From The Book "Counsels From The Holy Mountain"by Elder Ephraim Of Arizona(Philotheou Mt.Athos)

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