Condemnation, which is sin, is one thing and discernment, which is a virtue, is another. Discernment is something that everyone should have and seek from God. Throughout the Bible, it tells how important it is for us to have judgement (in the sense of discernment and not of condemnation). Today, however, it is “fashionable” within the framework of Gerontism and Neo-Orthodoxy more generally, to confuse these two things. Discernment is presented as condemnation, i.e. as something reprehensible.
“Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live: and so the Lord God Almighty shall be with you, as ye have said, 15 We have hated evil, and loved good: and restore ye judgment in the gates; that the Lord God Almighty may have mercy on the remnant of Joseph” (Amos 5:14-15).
“Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, and between him that serves God, and him that serves [him] not” (Malachi 3:18).
“Jesus answered and said…‘Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment’ (John 7:21, 24).
Now let’s look at some things that St. John of the ‘Ladder’1 writes about obedience, an examination of which it becomes evident how all the things we saw at the beginning are vulgar misconceptions of ecclesiastical tradition.
“Obedience is necrosis of the members of the body, while the mind is alive” (St. John of Sinai, On Obedience, Step 4:3)
“In union with humility it is impossible that there should be any appearance of hatred, or any kind of dispute, or even a sniff of disobedience, unless perhaps faith is called in question” (St. John of Sinai, On Humility, Step 25:8)
It is a great irony that the Gerontistes claim that all their sick mental construction can be supported by the following statement made in the ‘Ladder’:
“But do not boast or rejoice when you bear insults and indignities courageously, but rather mourn that you have done something meriting your bad treatment and incensed the soul of your director against you. Do not be surprised at what I am going to say (for I have Moses to support me [cf. Ex. 32:11-14]). It is better to sin against God than against our father; for when we anger God, our director can reconcile us; but when he is incensed against us, there is no one to propitiate him for us. But it seems to me that both cases amount to the same thing” (St. John of Sinai, On Obedience, Step 4:121).
The gurus translate this as, “Better to disobey God, than to disobey the Geronda,” or, “Better to sadden God, than to sadden the Geronda.” St. John, however, does not tell the subordinate not to “disobey” the Geronda or not to “sadden” him, i.e. if his order is contrary to the will of God, but that would be an irreparable disaster for the subordinate if the sin was something that was directed not against God (namely, the one who in reality applies), but against the Geronda. The meaning of St. John’s words are very different than what they want to pass them as! So if a Geronda tells a monk to cooperate with him for something immoral and the monk says, “No,” then he disobeys the Geronda, he saddens him, but he doesn’t sin towards God! If he says “Yes,” then he doesn’t disobey the Geronda, nor sadden him, but yet sins against God!
Indiscriminate obedience requires the guidance someone receives to be in agreement with God’s will:
“Obedience is the tomb of the will and the resurrection of humility. A corpse does not argue or reason as to what is good or what seems to be bad. For he who has devoutly put the soul of the novice to death will answer for everything. Obedience is an abandonment of discernment in a wealth of discernment.” (St. John of Sinai, On Obedience, Step 4:3)
We read this the Bible: “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:17) The presupposition of complete obedience is the spiritual guidance we receive from the one we obey is correct, honest and responsible; namely, it is certainly in agreement with the Word of God. We know the will of God from the word of God.
During this sermon, St. John uses real examples to analyze how a monk must endure, without complaint if necessary, all the rigor of his Abbot (suffering, humiliation or punishment). This is what he speaks about here. He does not talk about participation in fornication, sodomy, greed, secular attitudes, heretical movements etc.
Also, it is worth noticing the following three statements, which hit all of this “Gerontolatry” in its heart:
“If you come to an unknown physician and hospital, behave as though you were passing by, and secretly test the life and spiritual experience of all those living there. And when you begin to feel benefit from the doctors and nurses and get relief from your sicknesses, and especially with regard to your special disease, namely, spiritual pride, then go to them and buy it with the gold of humility, and write the contract on the parchment of obedience with the letters of service and with the angels as witnesses.” (St. John of Sinai, On Obedience, Step 4:94)
“Do not be over-eager and do not be carried away when you hear tales of the silent1 and hermit fathers. For you are marching in the army of the First Martyr (Christ, that is, who ‘became obedient unto death’ [cf. Phil. 2:8])” (St. John of Sinai, On Obedience, Step 4:68)
“Let us judge the nature of our passions and of our obedience, and choose our spiritual father accordingly. If you are prone to lust, then do not select as your trainer a wonderworker who is ready for everyone with a welcome and a meal, but rather an ascetic who will hear of no consolation in food. If you are haughty, then let him be stern and unyielding, and not meek and kindly. Let us not seek those who have the gift of foreknowledge and foresight, but rather those who are unquestionably humble and whose character and place of residence correspond to our maladies.” (St. John of Sinai, On Obedience, Step 4:120)
1) The Ladder of Divine Ascent was written in the 6th century by St. John of Sinai, who is celebrated in the Orthodox Church on March 30th and the 4th Sunday of Great Lent. In some monasteries, it is traditionally read in the trapeze during Great Lent, in other monasteries, it is usually read at some point throughout the year. At one time, it was considered the 2nd bible for monks. In recent years, with the translations of Elder Joseph the Hesychast and Geronda Ephraim of Arizona’s books into English, these have become the new bibles after the Bible for monastics (at least within Geronda Ephraim’s North American monasteries). The reason for this is, “it is better to read Geronda’s books because they contain his pneuma and mindset, which is what you want to acquire. Also, some of the patristic books have a different spirit than Geronda, or some of their teachings contradict Geronda’s teachings and create confusion—especially in a new novice. Thus, it’s better to read your Geronda than other Gerondas or Fathers.” Along with these books, the biographies of Fr. Ephraim of Katounakia, Elder Arsenios the Cave-Dweller, and Papa Haralambos Dionysiatis are also recommended as they were part of Papou Joseph’s synodia. However, for some reason, Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi’s books are not really recommended (no real reason is given, though in some of Geronda Ephraim’s homilies to the monks, he mentions that Elder Joseph didn’t really have complete obedience to Papou Joseph). Again, it differs from monastery to monastery. Along with these recommended books, the monks and nuns are allowed to have various homilies uploaded onto their ipods. (It used to be that one could borrow cassettes from the cases in the hallways, now most of the monastics have ipods and can have them filled up by one of the monastics who has blessing to work on computers). Again, though the monasteries have the complete series of Archimandrite Athanasios Mitilinaios, Demetrios Panagopoulos, Metropolitan Athansios Lemesou, Fr. Savvas Filotheitis, and numerous other contemporary monastic fathers and lay preachers, the monastics are usually given the advice that it’s better to listen to the Geronda Ephraim homily series; to better know what he expects, to understand his pneuma, and hopefully, over time and repeated listening, to begin to develop his mindset.
Thus, in a 24 hour period (minus the 6 ½ hours of sleep a monastic is allowed—sometimes more depending on the monastery), a monastic may hear Geronda Ephraim’s book read twice at meals, listen to his homilies as he/she tries to fall asleep, and read a little bit of his book during their vigil.