An Irish Welcome

Céad Míle Fáilte friend and rover ...
Wherever you come from and whosoever you may be.
That's an Irish greeting and it means

you are welcome
a thousand times over.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

On Cowardice and Negligence

(To a novice nun)

My beloved child, may our Panagia strengthen you in your spiritual struggle until the end.

I see your soul's discouragement; you are like the "tyros" in a war, that is, like the newly recruited soldiers who are taken to the battlefront. As soon as they see bullets flying, bombs dropping, etc., they lose their courage and want to flee. But the experienced generals make sure to mingle them with old, seasoned soldiers, and they encourage them until they grow accustomed to war.

I commend your desire and your wish to attain perfection and dispassion. All your efforts should aim at this goal. However, you must not forget with whom you have to wrestle. You have to wrestle against rulers, against principalities, against very wicked, dark powers, (Eph 6:12) against legions very experienced in battle; furthermore, you have to wrestle against the flesh and the world of passions, which are like painful wounds, and it takes skill, time, patience, and diligence to heal them.

As for your discouragement, know that this is an attack; cannon-shots of the enemy; it is one of the wounds of the passions. Therefore, it takes patience, perseverance, courage.

Do not let this darken the heaven of your hopes.

Trust that God knows all the inclinations of each person and that He has never overlooked good intentions and efforts without rewarding them sooner or later.

We see that the Holy Fathers in their early years endured droughts, terrible discouragement, and other deadly temptations. But they held on tightly to patience and forcefulness, and then grace visited them, in proportion to what they had previously endured.

You say that the eldress's mentality frightens you, as does your inexperience and the environment in general, as if it were inconducive to perfection because of temptations, etc. All these things are swept aside through humility and self-reproach. In other words, cast the blame on yourself. Say, "I am the cause of my discouragement, either because of my pride, or because I am still shortsighted and unable to orient myself properly, so it is only natural that I lose my hope." Likewise, the cloud can also be brushed aside through faith in your spiritual guide---as long as you abide by the rules of the fight.

We know from our patristic and hesychastic tradition that in the old days, young monks, after obtaining the blessing of some great Elder, would build cells and live by themselves, and only from time to time would they visit their Elder, tell him their thoughts, receive guidance, and depart again. And even though they did not have their Elder constantly hovering over their heads, they attained great heights of virtue only through his counsels. Know, my child, that above all these things in Christ---not only above our head, but even within us---and he rewards every good intention and effort.

Often humility, not genuine humility, of course, but humility poisoned by the devil---advises us with "humble" thoughts such as: "I am weak, so I need this and that in order to make progress, and since I am not given them, how can I be saved?" and so on. When we believe such thoughts, our spiritual nerves begin to be cut, resulting in spiritual torpor, etc. Whereas we should have been fortified by the counsels of an experienced spiritual father, so that we would not suffer this torpor. For we know that the devil transforms himself into an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14) and that every virtue can end up being extremely harmful in the abscence of experienced discernment. This is why the Fathers said, "Above all is discernment."

My dear child in the Lord, cast away your discouragement and say:

"I will compel myself until death. I will pursue perfection and attain dispassion. And if I do not attain it either because of my weaknesses or because my death intervenes, or for any other reason, I trust that, according to the teachings of our Fathers, God will rank me with the perfect."
"But I am seeking to enjoy the blessedness and the peace of God!" you might tell me. Yes; say to the enemy:

"God is within me. If I compel myself with prayer, humility, and tears, He will show me His holy face! Not only here in the monastery, but even if I were in Sodom, like Lot, God is able to grant me this holy desire of my soul."

So just attend to yourself and to your sins, and I trust that you will find more than you expect.

-- Selected from Counsels from the Holy Mountain from the Letters and Homilies of Elder Ephraim