THE ELDER PORPHYRIOS
ON THE ISSUES OF SADNESS, SORROW & ANGUISH
Translated from the Greek by: Fr. Constantine (Charles) J. Simones
The important thing for us is to be part of the Church. It is important for us to be in unity with our fellow man, with the joys and sorrows of all people. We should feel like they are our people and that we should pray for everyone. We should pray for their salvation and forget about ourselves. We should want to do everything we can do for them just as Christ did for us. By being in the Church, we become one with every unfortunate and hurting sinner. No one should want to save himself without others also being saved. It is wrong for a person to pray for himself so that just he will be saved. We should love everyone and we should pray that no one is spiritually lost, that all of them should be part of the Church. That has value. It is with such an attitude that a person should leave this life.
In the Church, this attitude is where we have the sacraments that save us and there is no despair. We may be very sinful. We then confess our sins. The priest reads the prayer of absolution over us and our sins are forgiven and then we move on to eternal life without anxiety or fear.
Whoever lives with Christ becomes one with Him, with the Church. He lives a type of insanity because that life that he lives is different from the life of other people. It is joy, it is light, it is delight, and it is resurrection. This is the life of the Church, the life of the Gospel and of the Kingdom of God. “The Kingdom of God is within us.” (Luke 17:21). Christ enters us and we enter Him. It is like a piece of iron that is placed in a fire and it becomes fire and light. When it is taken out of the fire it again becomes dark iron.
All those who criticize the Church because of the errors made by its representatives make a big mistake. They supposedly do this to help and correct the Church’s wrongs. These people do not really love the Church. Neither, of course do they love Christ. We love the Church when we, through our prayers, embrace every member of the Church and do whatever Christ does. We sacrifice ourselves. We become vigilant. We do everything we can to do just as He did. “Who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return.” (1 Peter 2:23).
We should relate to the rituals of the Church. We should live the sacraments, especially the sacrament of Holy Communion. Holy Orthodoxy is found in them. Christ is offered in the Church, in the sacraments and especially in Holy Communion.
But for many people, Church is a struggle filled with anguish and agony. This is why these so-called religious people consider themselves unfortunate for they see themselves to be in a terrible state. And surely, if a person does not understand the depth of religion and lives its saving message, it becomes a fearful sickness. It is so fearful that a person loses control of his actions. He becomes inconsiderate and feeble. He is filled with anxiety and sorrow and acts with an evil spirit (under demonic influence). He does genuflections, he cries, he shouts, he feigns humbleness, and all this humbleness is simply a satanic act. Some of the people live their religion like some type of hell. In Church, they do genuflections, make the sign of the Cross, and say we are sinful, unworthy and as soon as they leave the Church they start blaspheming holy things when someone upsets them. It is clearly revealed here that this is demonic.
In reality, the Christian faith changes a person and heals him. But the most important presupposition for a person to have is to comprehend and understand where truth is. It is found in humbleness, for egotism darkens the mind of man. Egotism confuses him. It leads him to delusion and to heresy. It is very important for man to know the truth. Mixed-up people follow heresies. Mixed-up children come from mixed-up parents.
Many times, religious expressions such as genuflections and crossing oneself will not attract Divine Grace. These are mysterious things. The most fundamental thing to do is to abandon the superficial and go to the essence of things. Whatever happens, it should happen with love.
When we do not live with Christ, we will live in sadness, in sorrow, in anguish and in worry. We cannot live productively without Christ. If we live without Christ then many anomalies manifest themselves in our bodies. Our bodies are afflicted in our endocrine glands, in our liver, in the pancreas, and in the stomach. People tell you: “In order for you to be healthy you should drink milk in the morning, eat an egg along with two or three pieces of buttered toast.” But yet, if you live properly like being in love with Jesus, you will be fine by just eating an orange or an apple. The best medicine for you is to worship Christ. All things then are healed. All things then function properly. The love of God changes all things. It transforms everything. Things are sanctified. Things are corrected. They are changed. Jesus rearranges everything for us.
The love of Christ is something else in our lives. There is no end to it. It can never be satisfied. It gives life. It gives strength. It gives health. It gives, it gives, and it gives. And as much as He gives, so much more does man desire to be loved by Him while human love can corrupt man and make him crazy. When we love Christ, all other loves are diminished. Carnal love seeks to be satiated. In carnal love envy becomes a problem. Griping enters the picture and it can even end up in murder. Carnal love can be transformed into hatred but love in Christ never changes. Worldly love lasts for a short time but slowly, slowly fades away while divine love always grows and becomes more profound. Every other type of love can bring man to a point of dissolution. Divine love raises us up to the sphere of God and grants us peace, joy and fullness. The other pleasures of life tire us but divine love never tires us. It is an insatiable desire which a person never gets tired of. It is the greatest good in our lives.
When you love Christ, in spite of all your weaknesses and your awareness of them, you have the certainty that you have overcome death because you are in communion with the love of Christ.
We should feel that Christ is our friend. He personally verifies this when He says: “You are my friends” (John 15:14). As a friend we should look to Him and approach Him. Do I fall? Do I sin? We should hasten to be close to Him with a sense of familiarity, with love, and be confident. We should do this without the fear that He will punish us. We should approach Him with confidence and the understanding that He is a friend. We should say to Him: “Lord, I did it, I fell, forgive me.” But at the same time we should do this knowing that He loves us, He accepts us tenderly with love and forgiveness. Do not let sin separate you from the love of Christ. When we believe that He loves us and we love Him, we will not feel like strangers and separated from Him, even when we have sinned. We have secured His love and no matter how we act, we know He loves us.
The Gospel states specifically that which is unjust in life will find itself in that place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth because when one lives far from the God, that is the way things are. We know this from the Neptic Fathers of the Church. (Nepsis and hesychia constitute the essential point of life. Nepsis is the vigilance of the nous and the watchfulness of the gates of the heart.) Many of the Fathers speak about the fear of death and hell. They say: “Always remember death.” If we analyze these words carefully, there is a sense of fear of hell in them. A person who desires to avoid sin thinks this way so that his soul will be constrained from sinning by fearing death, hell and Satan.
All things in life have their purpose, their time and their circumstance. The meaning of fear is good during the first stages of spiritual development. It is good for beginners. It is good for the situation in which the old person still lives. A person in the first stages of spiritual growth, a person who begins to understand himself is held back from evil by fear. And fear is indispensable since we are matter and earth-bound. But that is one stage only. It is one of the lower levels of spiritual development in reference to the divine. Let us look at a specific situation since we desire to storm the gates of paradise and be rescued from hell. If we look at this issue of fear carefully it can be used for our benefit. I like this way of doing things. When a person proceeds and enters into the love of God, why does he need fear anymore? Whatever he does, he does it out of love and that has greater value. For a person who attempts to be good because of the fear of God, then this does not have much value.
Whoever wishes to become a Christian must first become a poet. If the soul is corrupted and becomes unworthy of the love of Christ, Jesus cuts off His relationship with it because He does not want fat souls close to him.
Nobody should be allowed to see and to observe one’s private moments of worship towards the divine. All these things should be done in private, mystically, just like in the life of an ascetic. Do you remember when I told you the story of the nightingale? It sings in the silence of the forest. Who hears it or praises it? How beautiful it sings in the wilderness. If it expresses love, it puffs up its diaphragm and it becomes like a hairy tongue. It may sit in a cave or in a ravine and mystically praises God. Scorn your passions. Do not have dealings with the devil and turn toward Christ.
The very slightest complaint against your neighbor affects your soul and as a result of this it cannot pray. When the Holy Spirit finds your soul in such a state, It does not dare to approach it.
We should always desire to seek after the will of God. That is to our benefit. It is the best thing for us and for those for whom we pray. Christ will give us everything most abundantly. But even if there is just a little egotism in us, nothing can be accomplished with prayer.
When God does not give us something that we insist on, He has His reason for doing this. We should know that God also has His secrets.
If you are not obedient to your father confessor and you are not humble, the Jesus Prayer cannot be effectual and there is the fear of us falling into delusion. Do not say the Jesus Prayer as if it is a difficult task for you. Forcing yourself to say the Jesus Prayer may bring about a negative reaction from within. It can create something harmful. Many people have become sick saying the Jesus Prayer because they forced themselves to say it. It is not healthy for you to force yourself to pray.
It is not important to gather your thoughts together to say the Jesus Prayer. It does not need a special effort if you have acquired divine love. Wherever you find yourself in your daily routine; on a bench, in a chair, in a car, everywhere—on the road, in school, in the office and at work, you can say the Jesus Prayer softly, without effort, and without being self-conscious about it. The importance of the Jesus Prayer is not the length of the prayer but the intensity of the prayer. Pray for even five minutes but offer this prayer to God with love and fervor. A person can pray for a whole month while a five minute prayer can be more effectual. Of course this is a mystery but that is the way it is.
A man who belongs to Christ makes all things in his life a prayer. Even in times of sorrow and difficulty this also becomes a time of prayer for us. Whatever happens to us in life we immediately start the Jesus Prayer. Prayer is profitable for all things, even the simplest of things. For example, if you suffer from insomnia: do not think about sleep. Get up, leave your room and then return to your room. Get into bed as if it were for the first time without thinking whether or not you will fall asleep. Concentrate your thoughts and say the doxology and after this say the Jesus Prayer three times and in this way sleep will come to you.
All things emanate from within us like our instincts and they desire to be satisfied. If they are not satisfied at some point they seek revenge which creates spiritual problems for us. Unless we can direct them in the right direction we are in trouble..
You do not become holy by hunting down the evil one. Leave evil alone. Instead look toward Christ and He will save you. Instead of you standing outside the door and chasing away evil, ignore it. Does evil come at you from a certain place? Look quietly in that direction. Evil is intent on embarrassing you. You should direct your inner being toward that which is good, to Christ. Pray: “Lord Jesus Christ forgive me.” He knows how to forgive you. He knows the proper way to deal with you. He knows when you are full of that which is good and you no longer turn to that which is evil. With the Grace of God, you yourself become good. If you are at this point, can evil find a place to enter your life? It disappears. Are you overwhelmed by fear and disappointment? You should turn to Christ. Love Him simply, humbly and without reservations. He Himself will unburden you.
Do not choose negative ways to correct yourself. It is not necessary for you to even fear the devil, hell, or anything else. I myself have a little experience in dealing with this issue. Our purpose is not to beat ourselves up and be uncomfortable so that we can improve. Our purpose is to live, to study, to pray, and to move forward in love, in the love of Christ, in the love of the Church.
Abandon all your weaknesses in a way that the evil one will not know that you are doing this. In doing this he will not have the opportunity to grab you, put you down and fill you with worry. Do not make any effort to free yourself from these things. You should struggle quietly and simply without struggle or sadness. Do not say: “I will now force myself; I will pray in order to acquire love so that I may become good etc.” It is not good for you to force yourself and beat yourself up in order to become good. In doing this, you will get a worse reaction. All things are done quietly, unhurriedly and freely. Neither should you say: “My God, free me from this, from anger and sorrow.” It is not good for us to pray or to think about a specific passion. When we do this something happens in our souls and we are in more turmoil. By throwing yourself with force in order to defeat the passions you will see how evil envelopes you, squeezes you, and your soul will be rendered helpless.
Freedom is not obtained if we do not first free our inner being from turmoil and passions. This is our Church. This is our joy. This is everything for us and that is what man is seeking today. Man takes harmful things like narcotics so that he can supposedly enter the world of joy which is false joy. The addict feels something at the moment he takes the drugs and the following day he is a broken man. One person feels ground up by this activity. Another person feels eaten up by this. Another feels like he has fried his brain. While on the other hand, a person given over to Christ is given life and joy. It makes him joyful about life. He feels strong and wonderful about life.
We need a specific plan to acquire holiness for our souls. A person can become holy anywhere. He can become holy even in Omonia Square (Athens) if he so desires. Even at work, whatever that is you are doing, you can become holy. This can be accomplished with meekness, patience, and love. Every day you should have a new routine, a new desire, with a sense of enthusiasm, love, prayer and stillness. We should not be anxious about doing this and feel it is an effort.
Deal with life’s problems with a sense of fervor, simply, quietly, without effort, with joy, exultation and a good attitude. Divine Grace comes to us we when respond this way. All unpleasant things that remain in your soul that bring about sadness, can become catalysts to worship God and they will then cease to cause you pain. Have trust in God.
When communication with Christ happens simply, quietly and without pressure, the devil will leave. Satan does not depart under pressure or by squeezing him out of our lives. He departs when he encounters meekness and prayer. He retreats when he sees the soul ignore him and it turns its love toward Christ. He cannot endure being ignored because he is haughty. But on the other hand, when he is pressured, the evil spirit becomes aware of your efforts and fights you all the more. Do not concern yourselves with the devil; neither should you demand that he leave. As much as you ask him to leave the more he will stay and afflict you. You should ignore the devil. Do not fight him face to face. When you fight him with spite he attacks like a tiger, like a wild cat. When you shoot bullets at him he will throw hand grenades at you. When you throw a bomb at him he will respond with an artillery barrage. Do not look at anything evil. You should look at the embrace of God and you should fall into His presence and proceed with life.
A humble person is aware of what is happening to his inner being even though it is ugly and he does not like what he sees. He should not lose his cool about it. But with an egotist, the opposite thing happens. In the beginning he is like a humble person. But if a person bothers him a little, he immediately loses his sense of peace and becomes nervous and upset.
When a person lives without God, without tranquility, without trustworthiness, but with agony, sorrow, and hopelessness he becomes physically and spiritually sick. Psychosomatic diseases such as neurosis and split personalities are demonic conditions. There is also a type of humbleness that is really demonic. They call it a feeling of inferiority. True humbleness does not speak. It does not say humble things, such I am sinful, unworthy, and the least of all. The humble person fears that these humble expressions will lead him to vanity. The Grace of God never approaches such a person. On the contrary, the Grace of God finds him wherever true divine humbleness exists which is complete trust in God. It is our complete dependence on Him.
A vain soul is banished from eternal life. Finally, egotism is unabashed foolishness. Vanity creates air heads. When we do something to show off we end up spiritually empty. Whatever we do, we should do it to thank God without personal interest, without vanity, without haughtiness, and without egotism; without, without…..
The soul should never complain and say “why did God do this to me? Why couldn’t He do it differently? “This indicates that internally we have small souls that object to God. It indicates what a high opinion we have of ourselves in our haughtiness and in our egos. When we ask why this tortures us, it creates that which the world calls a complex. For example; why am I so tall or the opposite, why am I so short? That type of attitude leads to nowhere. There are people who pray and do vigils for spiritual benefit but the opposite happens. This person suffers and becomes angry without accomplishing anything. While, on the other hand, with Christ, and with Grace, all evil things are banished. For a true believer there is that something down deep within us that says why, but the Grace of God protects us against this feeling. While the root of this question is a complex and beyond this a rosebush blossoms with beautiful roses as long as it is watered with faith, love, patience, and humbleness. In a situation like this, the devil will fail to have any power over us and will cease to exist. In other words, it does not disappear but it wilts. The less a rose is watered the more it wilts, it dries up, it disappears, and a thorn is formed in its place. Do you get the message?
We can trouble God when we ask something of Him. We become troublesome to Him when we are spiritually far away from Him. We trouble Him when we ask something of Him because our life is not in concert with His will. In reality, we live in opposition to God when the soul lives in sadness and agony. .
Your spiritual father could say to you: “How I would desire to be in a quiet place, a place where there are no responsibilities, where you could tell me about your life from the beginning, from that time when you understood who you are. A place where you could tell me all the events you remember in your life and how you dealt with them, not only the unsavory events but also the joyful ones. I do not mean only the sins but also the good things. And I would like to hear about your successes and your disappointments. I want to know everything, all the things that make up your life.
Many times I have used general confession with people and I have seen miracles result from it. At the time you speak to your father confessor, Divine Grace comes forth and It releases you from all your unfortunate acts in life, from our wounds, your spiritual afflictions and your guilt. This happens because when you speak to your confessor he prays fervently for the absolution of your sins.
We should not return to the sins that we have already confessed. Remembrance of past sins creates bad things for us. Have we already asked for forgiveness? It is finished. God forgives all things through confession. If I think that I have sinned, that I am not functioning well then I will pray about it. I do not close it up inside of me. I go to my father confessor. I confess it. It is finished. The important thing about confession is what we are going to do with the rest of our lives.
Despondency and desperation are the worst things. They are a trap of Satan in order to make us lose our desire for spiritual things and to bring us to a point of desperation.
Practically all sicknesses are the result of a lack of trust in God. This creates sadness. Sadness in turn creates an atmosphere which terminates our religious efforts. If you do not have love for Christ, if you do not busy yourself with holy things, surely you will be enveloped with sadness and evil.
One thing that can help with the feeling of oppression is work. Keep yourself occupied. These activities can be the garden, the plants, the flowers, the trees, the outdoors, and walking. All these things remove us from inactivity and create for us another desire other than sadness. These things act upon us like medicine. Our getting involved in the arts, music etc does a lot of good for our souls. But to that which I give a lot of attention is one’s interest in the Church, in the study of Holy Scripture and Church services. By studying the Word of God a person is healed without realizing it.
We should not be superficial, nor should we rush to judgment of people based on their outward appearance. We should try to enter the depths of a person’s soul. Maybe it could be a very good soul; it could have existential issues which express themselves revealed in an outward frantic way. The soul is dynamic. It has the power of expression. It wants things. It wants to attract the attention of others. But out of spiritual ignorance, the soul has perverted things. Just think for a moment if this soul could think about Christ. It would then believe and all the effort that it has been vainly putting forth will now be for Christ. It will then do everything it can to attract the Grace of God. It will become holy instead of haughty.
Many times in our struggles and fears, and with the ugliness of our souls, without our realizing it and without our understanding it, we do bad things to people that we love very much. We give you the example of a mother’s relationship with her child. The mother can sometimes transfer feeling of her sadness about life to her child. She transfers to the child her negative feelings about his health, about his progress and she does this without verbalizing it. This shows that our natural love that we have for loved ones can sometimes hurt them. But this does not happen when we have the love of Christ. This love elicits calmness through prayer and with the holiness of life. Love makes us holy and makes us peaceful because love is God.
Translated from the Greek by:
Fr. Constantine (Charles) J. Simones, Waterford, CT.