Friday, 17 January 2014

Elder Joseph The Hesychast and his battles with Demons

 Chapter 6 pages 167-171
Throughout his life Elder Joseph fought tooth and nail with the demons.Those apostates of God's love fought against him in various ways;sometimes with thoughts,other times with illnesses that god allowed,and other times with their visible presence.Later they manipulated weaker brethren and disciples of his and made him bear the burden of their temptations.
One winter night Geronda(Elder) and Fr.Arsenios were in their hut up in St.Basil's Skete while a snowstorm raged outside.The wind was howling fiercely,and the cold pierced them to the bone.
Even so,they followed their program and struggled with their vigil,the remembrance of death,tears of repentance,thousands of prostrations,and primarily noetic prayer.
This did not please the jealous devil at all,so he raised a series of attacks against Geronda with thoughts,fantasies,distractions,noises,threats,and anything else he could think of.
He tried three or four times to ruin Geronda's vigil,but all his attacks failed because by then Geronda was an experienced fighter.
Finally,the devil became so infuriated with him that he entered through the door in the form of a violent burst of wind.He threw the door aside and then lifted the roof into the air.
Geronda remained thunderstruck in his hut watching the roof with tons of rock on top of it flying through the air like a glider.
There had been strong winds before,but what happened that night was not just a strong gust of wind but a demon.
The roof crashed onto the rocks on the other side of a ravine, and the remains of their roof became a pitiful sight on top of the snow.As a result,the two ascetics ended up being exposed to the snowstorm.Despite this, they still didn't end their vigil!
What did they do to keep from freezing?They did prostrations all night long.When a monk came the next morning and found them with snow in their cells and even in their beards,perplexed he asked,'What happened here?' "My child,"Elder Joseph replied,"Don't trust in man;trust in God."
Another time,Geronda(Elder) was keeping vigil saying the prayer,and a demon appeared before him.
Apparently,the demon,s intent was to start beating him up.But Geronda was so brave and had so much fury against the demons that he immediately charged at him to crush him.After wrestling a little with the demon,Geronda managed to get a good hold of him,and then he called out to Fr.Arsenios;"Arsenios! Bring some fire so that we can burn him.Now that I've got him,he's not getting away."
But while Fr.Arsenios was trying to light a fire,the demon transformed himself into a crow and flew away.
These stories may sound trivial,but only people who have experienced tangible demonic assaults can fully appreciate Elder Joseph's courage and bravery.Saint Seraphim of Sarov,who had experienced numerous demonic appearances found it sufficient merely to say about them,'They are atrocious!"
During their blessed life at St Basil's Skete,Geronda's(Elder) demonic warfare continued relentlessly.
One day Mr.Sotirios Schoinas came from the world to see him.Up there in those abrupt precipices,however,they didn't have any place for him to stay.So Geronda had him sleep in his own cell,while he went to their little chapel to do his vigil.
That evening,the demons came to Geronda's cell as usual.When they started beating the visitor,he started screaming!The man was horrified-he almost lost his mind.As soon as Geronda and F.Arsenios heard the screams,they came running and asked him,"What's wrong?"
"The demons nearly strangled me!" he said."They almost beat me to death!"Indeed,he was black and blue from their hits."Don't be afraid,"Geronda told him."They won't hit you again.Every evening they beat me,but tonight they thrashed you by mistake!"
The visitor fell at Geronda's feet in tears and begged him;'Take me back to St.Anne's quickly!I can't stay here anymore."
Geronda told him cheerful things to calm him down,but it was impossible.He could not stay in that place of Martyrdom.He was terrified and kept looking left and right,begging to leave.So in the middle of the night,Geronda led him through the ravines back to St Anne's.
At the outset of their ascetical life,both Geronda and Fr.Arsenios were frequently tormented by the demons.But it was primarily Geronda who was beaten up,because it was his prayer that really burned them.They didn't attack Fr.Arsenios so much,partly because he was not on the same level as Geronda,but especially because he was a disciple.When a disciple is properly obedient and confesses frankly,he eliminates the demon's right to attack him.Geronda,on the other hand,had an unending struggle throughout his entire life.Years later,he wrote to someone;

I have been furiously and bloodily wrestling with the demons for more than twenty-five years in this world.I have descended to the bottom of the sea,devoid of any complacency and self-will,in order to find the"pearl of great price."I conquered Satan himself along with all his army,skill,and cunning.Having shackled him through humility,I asked him,"Why do you have so much rage towards us and fight us with so much fury?"
And he answered;So that i may have many companions in hades and brag to the Nazarene,"I am not the only transgressor-see now many others are with me?!"
Then once again I ascended to the heavens through grace and spiritual theoria and saw the ineffable beauty of Paradise,which God has prepared for them that love Him.
And after all this,grace was lifted away a little,and my feet were well nigh shaken.Then i fell into a little negligence,and sleep took me captive and deprived me of many blessings.Shortly thereafter,I rose once again and waged war and a bloody battle.But after I won,I fell into drowsiness,and once more negligence,the mother of every evil,began to eat away at my bones.Yet once again I rose and waged war against all the spirits."

His temptations were so severe that many times he told us;'If I describe to you my struggles with temptations,you will not be able to bear it because my entire life has been a martyrdom.But the goodness of God and our Lady the Theotokos,who always protected me,gave me a kind of persistence and toughness so that I would not yield.In difficult times,what really helps and saves you is tears.but everything depends on the goodness of God."
During his great trials,Geronda experienced the grace of God tangibly.This was because God's response is proportional to the magnitude  of the temptation that one bears for His Love.
When a person works for God with very good intentions,it is not possible that God will let him be tempted beyond his strength.
Furthermore,his reward from God will also correspond to the magnitude of the temptation.This is why Geronda wrote;
"Don't be surprised;that is how a monk is.The life of a monk is a continuous martyrdom.Our sweet Jesus reveals Himself through afflictions."As St.Isaac the Syrian says,"God does not grant great gifts without a great trial."

St.Isaac also warns us;

But if a man's soul has an infirmity and has not strength enough for great temptations,and she therefore asks that she should not enter into them,and God hearkens to her,then know for a certainty that inasmuch as the soul is insufficient for great trials,in the same measure is she insufficient for great gifts;and in so far as great temptations are prevented from entering upon the soul,to the same degree great gifts are withheld from her.
This means that whoever wants to experience great grace from God must be patient with temptations.He must hold the battlefront with trust in God.

Taken from the book "My Elder Joseph The Hesychast" By Elder Ephraim of Arizona

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