NOTE: The liturgy of Preparation, also Prothesis or Proskomide, is the act of preparing the bread and wine for the Eucharist. The Liturgy of Preparation is done quietly before the public part of the Divine Liturgy begins and symbolizes the “hidden years” of Christ’s earthly life. This is where particles of the prosphoron are taken out for commemorating both the living and the dead. This is also the point of the Service where the names of the living and the dead are read. Every monastery has printed copies of name commemoration sheets either in the narthex by the candles or in the reception area. For an explanation of the Proskomide, see: http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith9561http://www.anastasis.org.uk/Proskom02+notes+diag.pdf
Orthodox Christians give names whenever they go to the monasteries but this traffic greatly increases during the two forty-day Lenten periods of Christmas and Pascha. In the male monasteries, the fathers go into the altar to read the names during the Proskomide. When they’re finished reading all the typed name lists, they then have a blessing to read their own personal list of names. Most monks have a notebook with the names of their family, friends and those who ask them to pray for them.
Every monastery has their own special list of names which are read every Liturgy during the Proskomide by the priest celebrating the Liturgy. Every list starts with Geronda Ephraim’s name, all of Geronda Ephraim’s monastics who have died, all the monastic names of that monastery, and all the benefactors of the monastery. The hieromonks of the monastery may have their own names incorporated into this list as well.
For the monasteries, benefactors fall into two categories:
The financial donors. This could be either huge donors, donors who give nice sums regularly, people who regularly donate large amounts of expensive supplies, people who organize large groups to come to the monastery (there is usually an extra fee placed on top of the cost of the seat, whether it be bus or plane, that is then given as a donation to the monastery), etc.
The donors of time and work. Not everyone has the means to give large sums of money to the monastery. Many of the pilgrims are working-middle class and in lieu of money will donate their time and effort to help build the monastery or to help keep it functioning.
Men with trade skills might help do construction, carpentry or electrical work for free. Women may help in the kitchen, or cleaning the guest houses, doing laundry, dusting furniture, etc. Depending on the seasons and monasteries, there is also help in gardening, shoveling snow, sweeping desert dust off the walkways, etc.
So these particular pilgrims, depending on the capacity of their aid, will end up on the permanent altar name lists that are read every Liturgy. They are classified as builders of the monastery. The only time they get removed is if they do something really bad to betray the monastery or join another religion and can no longer be commemorated.
Now due to the huge influx of names that the monasteries continually receive throughout the year, problems in reading them all in time before the Proskomide finished started to arise. In larger monasteries where there are 20+ monastics, it isn’t so much a problem. In smaller monasteries, it becomes difficult. However, Geronda Ephraim devised a strategy for his monasteries to sort the names they receive into different categories to lighten the burden:
Under $40: These lists get read only once and then are thrown out. They are put in a pile separate from the name lists that will be typed up on the computer. The 1x folder in the altar is always the thickest.
$40-$100: Though this category varies slightly form monastery to monastery, this pile of name lists is put in the “few times” category. This means the name lists will be read more than once in the Proskomide, but not the full 40 liturgies.
Over $100: This category of name lists usually makes it into the 40 day pile. This means the names will be typed up on the computer, printed out and placed in the 40x folder in the altar. Each monastery has their own system of tracking how many times a sheet of names has been read. After the list has been read for 40 Liturgies, it is thrown out.
There is another category of name lists that don’t even get read: the ones that are so illegible that no one can even make out what names are written.
So, if one wants to sort of guarantee that their names will be read for the entire 40 Liturgies, they should donate at least $100 or more with their list. Or, at the very least, they should donate large amounts of their time to help the monasteries with anything they require. In this way, the Abbot or Abbess may feel compelled or obligated to enter their name list into the 40x folder. The worth of a pilgrim is measured by their dedication and filial devotion to the monastery, whether it be donation of time, money, work, effort, etc.
Time is money. Reading thousands of names also takes time and effort on the part of the monastics. Not to mention, many of the monastics are eager to read their own personal name lists of family, friends from the past, pilgrims, etc.
NOTE: This is the 9th Homily of The Art of Salvation. Though many times the Trapeza reading is continued until a book or chapter is finished, there are times that specific content is picked by the superior either targeting certain faults of the monastics in the monastery, or certain largely perpetrated sins in a visiting group. Many times, if this specific chapter on Abortion is picked for the Trapeza reading, it is a good indicator that the group visiting contains many women who have committed one or more abortions. Ironically, Geronda Ephraim’s homily contains a vision of women who have committed abortions, in hell, eating the blood of their own aborted fetuses. Not exactly appropriate dinner conversation but nevertheless this chapter is read.
Geronda Joseph, abbot of St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY, has spoken about abortion on many occasions to pilgrims. In an attempt to convey the “wisdom of the fathers” as well as the “grave seriousness of abortion,” he has taught, “The Fathers teach that it is better to have your baby, baptize it, and then kill it rather than aborting the child. This is because when you have an abortion, the baby dies unbaptized. The canona is less for murdering your baby than it is for abortion.” [The canona for abortion is usually 3 years minimum no Holy Communion, whereas murder is only 1 year].
One of Geronda Ephraim’s long time spiritual children, Fr. Demetrios Carellas, has been very active in the pro-life movement for years and has many additional things to say about this topic: http://orthodoxheritage.org/MOM%2003%202013.htm
My beloved children,
Today, our earth is constantly being saturated with torrents of blood from wars and various other events. It is also saturated, however, with blood that is more innocent than that of Abel’s: the blood of executed infants. It is the blood of innocent babies—these defenceless children—, which is spilt by their very own mothers.
Clinics and obstetricians’ offices have become the “new” slaughterhouses of Herod. Millions upon millions of babies throughout the entire world have been thrown into garbage cans and septic tanks. People don’t even dispose of cats in this way! As we have seen in a startling video documentary, the doctor, obstetrician, and murderer initially kills the child within the mother’s womb using a scalpel. Then with a special instrument, he proceeds to crush the infant’s delicate head, and, finally, removes it. The mother, of course, witnesses none of this and very peacefully departs for her home.
A few days ago, I came across an article written by a physician, and I would like to read it to you, as I think it will help you to understand what abortion is from a practical and scientific point of view. The title of the article is: “The Finishing Blow.” I will read you the original text.
“As the daily media informs us, there will be a vote. In particular, a vote on what will be the most villainous bill ever to pass through the Greek Parliament. At a time when the Greek nation is on the verge of extinction, this decision will serve as the ultimate finishing blow. Unfortunately, this crime is becoming legal. Before, however, members of the parliament approve the aforementioned legislation, we wish to make the following two recommendations:
1) Members of the Parliament should see the film entitled “The Silent Scream.” This video features ultrasound images of the inside of the uterus recorded during an abortion. It is a tragic sight!”
The article continues: “When the instruments of assassination enter the womb, the fetus senses that something foreign has invaded his environment, and he reacts by withdrawing violently from his natural position. Simultaneously, his heart rate increases from the normal 140 beats per minute to 200 beats per minute. The moment the fetus is struck by the medical instruments of execution, something hair-raising occurs! The fetus stretches his mouth wide open and lets out a silent scream as his life comes to a barbaric end! The producer of the video recording, who is a medical doctor and gynecologist, who performed over 10,000 abortions between 1949 and the present, was shocked when he witnessed this heartrending scene and until then unknown spectacle. He not only decided never to perform another abortion, but also became a leading pro-life activist.
If members of the Parliament view this videotaped recording, we are certain that they will prefer to have their right hand cut off rather than to vote in favor of such a deplorable law.
2) Our second recommendation is the following: Members of the Parliament should see to it that this video is aired on national television, so that the Greek people can be informed that the 300,000 abortions take place in Greece each year are not merely surgical procedures, but in fact 300,000 felonies. If, however, this proposed bill is not rejected, then the blood of these defenceless individuals will become a pool in which Greece will drown. And then, our nation’s various enemies will raise a sorrowful sign that reads, ‘Greece has vanished.’ For the enemies, this title will be the cause of villainous joy; for true Greeks and Christians, however, the cause of deep sorrow and great shame.”
Now let us examine what the “democratic” women of Greece are planning to do in relation to this matter. Several such democratic women’s associations exist here. “Through a series of programmed events—the first function already took place with the theme ‘Why YES to Legalizing Abortion’—they seek to remove criminal penalties for abortion and to allocate state funding for the costs of such surgical procedures. This will mean another new burden for the government and the budget, which means new burdens on the backs of the taxpayers. They want information concerning contraceptive methods to be widely circulated. In other words, they want to disseminate shameless and injudicious propaganda in favor of nefarious homicides, as if we have a mission to eradicate our historic nation. They seek to introduce sex education into the educational curriculum, in order to
prompt the interest of children during their elementary school years in such matters;
“open their eyes” early—i.e., before their time; and
avoid, supposedly, undesirable mishaps. In reality, however, this system itself will push children in the direction of misfortune.
Finally, they seek to establish centers for family planning throughout Greece. One of the purposes of these centers will also be to institute the above-mentioned objectives; in other words, to rigorously and systematically impose the beliefs of these ladies upon the entire Greek nation.”
We will say no more. We will only exclaim the following to these women who, as it seems, have forgotten their purpose, and who are determined to uproot everything sacred that God has implanted within them: Is this “democratic” demand you are making humane? We are deeply saddened on account of this plummet and perversion. Do you see how deplorable and grievous the sin of abortion is? Unquestionably, it must come to an end. These innocent human beings must not be assassinated so lightheartedly, on the pretense that one cannot raise another child. Are we going to determine how God should deal with us? Are we going to decide whether or not we will be able to handle all the children that God grants to our family? Will we direct God and tell Him how to take care of us?
Day by day, this crime takes on increasingly dangerous dimensions. Women, at last, must comprehend how horrendous it is! They must attempt to stop it, and prevent other women who, under demonic influence, plan to have an abortion, because women usually end up committing this crime due to sheer ignorance, intense family pressure, or an internal personal conflict. The main contributing factor, however, is the devil, who supplies various unsupported reasons, excuses, pretenses, and weaknesses, such as: “there is not enough money … my husband is pressuring me … my health is compromised…” and so forth. The devil takes advantage of all these factors and craftily persuades mothers to commit this grave sin.
I am not sure if you are aware of the fact that these embryos, these infants, these beings do not cease to exist once they are aborted. On the contrary! Each embryo is a complete human being, especially with respect to the soul. These children live in the other world, and, as you can understand, many millions of children now comprise an entire army in Heaven. All of them protest. Their innocent blood cries out to God that they were killed unjustly, that they did not receive Holy Baptism, that they did not become Orthodox Christians. Who is responsible for this? It is self-explanatory and does not have to be spelled out. When this blood is spilled, God’s computer documents the crime. How will this blood be washed away? When someone becomes dirty, how is he cleansed? Only with clean water. Likewise, water is needed in this case as well. It must flow forth continuously from two faucets, which are the two eyes. Internal repentance should be externalized with a lifelong, never-ending stream of tears.
The sin, of course, is forgiven from the moment it is set forth before the sacred and all-powerful Mystery of Confession, where nothing remains unforgiven. God is love, and “he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (1 Jn. 4:16). However, He is also righteous (vid. Ps. 10:7; 88:15). For this reason, women who have had abortions should not feel at ease by virtue of the fact they confessed this sin. They must pour forth tears of repentance throughout the remainder of their life. Many of these women do not feel at peace even though they have confessed. Why? Because they still have not repented internally, they have not shed the appropriate amount of tears required to wash away the blood of the abortion or abortions. Repentance is indeed vast and endless. Our very existence and the fact that man is permitted to continue living after committing such a crime is proof of God’s steadfast love and compassion. Man is still alive: this means that God is waiting for him. Since He is waiting, man must not remain indifferent but take advantage of the opportunity.
The penance given by the spiritual father, with respect to this extremely serious sin and specific crime, also requires special attention. The penance serves as an adjunct in the therapy of the soul; but as we have said, the faucets of tears must also be opened. These will wash away the blood of abortion, so that a person may subsequently feel communion with God. Confession alone, therefore, is not enough. What counts, what will change and alter God’s embittered and poisoned heart, what will restore it to its original condition prior to man’s sin, are the tears of repentance flowing from the two faucets of the eyes. Before departing from this life, we must alter God’s heart.
I will use a simple example. Let us suppose that a child was disobedient or disrespectful and saddened his mother. When the child approaches his mother and says, “Forgive me, dear mother, for what I did. I will not do it again,” she will reply, “You are forgiven. Don’t do it again.” At that moment, the child indeed receives forgiveness. If, however, he also falls into his mother’s embrace and begins to cry, sob, plead, and beg his mother to forgive him with all her heart, then not even a trace of sadness or bitterness will remain within her heart. This is precisely what occurs with the person who repents and returns to God after committing a particular sin.
Some people ask, “Why do people who have repented cry continuously (especially they who have worn the raso, who have gone to dwell in the desert, and who have drawn near to God and devoted themselves to Him), even though they have confessed, stopped sinning, received forgiveness, and changed their way of life?” The answer is simple: the more a person repents, and the more tears of repentance he sheds, the more God’s heart is altered. Profound reconciliation takes place between sinful man and God, especially in the case of this crime of abortion, where an unending stream of tears is required. Tears should not cease until one’s last breath.
I will recount an event that serves as an illustration:
In northern Greece, at a church visited by many pilgrims and dedicated to a miracle-working saint, people were preparing for a festival. At that particular church, there was a virtuous elderly lady who would light the vigil lamps. She had worked hard cleaning and preparing the church that day, so in the late afternoon she decided to lie down and take a nap before continuing with the remaining tasks.
She went to sleep, but she couldn’t wake up! She slept for days. A local doctor was called to see what was wrong with her. He instructed them, “Don’t wake her up. Something is definitely occurring that we cannot explain medically. However, at some point she will certainly wake up.”
After several days—I don’t remember how many—she came to her senses. As soon as she opened her eyes she asked, “Has the vigil started yet?” She was under the impression that she had slept for only a few hours. The people surrounding her responded, “No, it has not started. It will begin shortly.”
She believed them. When she was fully awake, she said to the members of the church’s parish council, “Please, call all the women from the village to come here.”
When all of the women had gathered at the church, the lady recounted the following:
“Listen to what I saw! A radiant guide appeared and led me downward. We descended into the depths, to the heart of the earth, where I saw dungeons, darkness, prisoners, and many other dreadful things. Amongst the many people who my guide was showing me, I saw the women who have had abortions eating the blood of their aborted fetuses! I was horrified at this sight, and I heard the angel say to me, ‘Now, when I take you back up to the earth, call all the women and give them an account of what you have seen down here. Urge them to avoid this crime because if they do not repent accordingly, they will also end up down here in this abysmal state.’”
All of us should help prevent this crime. When we learn that someone is contemplating abortion, we should immediately take a firm stand and advise her against it. Usually women who have abortions do not see and are unaware of what takes place within them medically. With the slightest difficulty—it also has become fashionable—they proceed to the physician and have an abortion, as if they are disposing of a dog or a cat. We should dissuade them from proceeding to have the abortion, by telling them that this is the worst possible crime a person can commit.
As a spiritual father, I advise the following to anyone who has committed this sin, either once or repeatedly: try to heal yourselves spiritually with tears. To speak in human terms, try to efface the sorrow and bitterness from God’s heart. When a person repents, cries, struggles spiritually, and strives to make amends (all of which serve as a form of asceticism), he softens God’s heart. The great Fathers of our Church declare that repentance can accomplish wonders. It can actually reach the point of completely erasing the recollection of sin from God’s heart; that is, it can completely obliterate the existence of man’s sin.
Behold the magnificence of repentance! What then is required from all of us, and first of all me? Repentance! Every time a person says, “I have sinned,” God responds, “May you be forgiven.” Afterwards, we must also proceed to receive the seal of forgiveness from the epitrachelion, through the power invested by the Law in the Mystery of Holy Confession. With the courage we receive from the Mystery of Confession and from the realization of the limitless, unceasing, and continuous power of repentance, we will proceed to the throne of the grace of God (vid. Hb. 4:16).
We should not be apprehensive! We should not lend an ear to despair, but rather race toward the Mystery of Confession. Never despair! This is the key! No matter how sinful you feel, never accept despair. Tightly hold on to hope. Never permit yourself to perish by falling into the depth of despair. After having fallen from one cliff, do not jump off another because this will dishonor and insult God’s glory.
Exalt God in your heart to the height that befits His grandeur, for He has the ability to erase every sin. If God erased all of humanity’s sins with His Crucifixion, what are your sins in comparison, O sinful man.
This is why we accept everyone who approaches the life-saving bath and harbor called confession. This is where every ship battered from the storms at sea sets anchor. Whether it has been beaten by winds, exposed to tempests, or invaded by pirates—no matter what the case may be—it comes and slowly docks next to the spiritual father. It may have lost its mast and sails; possibly all that remains intact is the vessel’s framework. But when it enters the shipyard, all these components are repaired, and the ship becomes new again.
One day such a wounded soul came to me. A woman approached the Mystery of Confession. I, of course, felt extreme sympathy for this poor lady who confessed that she had fifty abortions! Now consider that this is brought to be assessed before the judgment of the spiritual father. Fifty infant homicides! Indeed, since God kept her alive all these years, it was a guarantee from Him that He was patiently waiting for her. In which case, what spiritual father would treat her any differently? I spoke to her with much compassion and love, I tried to put things in order for her, and I gave her the spiritual medicine she needed. [NOTE: It is said that this Illinois lady was forbidden communion until her death bed].
Think of how many years had passed. This sin was torturing her, but she did not have the courage to confess it! Glory to God: She left with the hope of salvation. God’s love is awesome! But so is the joy of the angels! “There is joy in Heaven on account of one sinful person who repents” (cf. Lk. 15:7). When a person repents and cries for his lamentable condition, not only does God save him, but also immediately there is great joy in Heaven. All of Heaven rejoices as the angels hymn and praise God for the salvation of an immortal soul!
“Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and they whose sins are covered” (Ps. 31:1). In other words, fortunate is the person who has been counted worthy of having his sins forgiven. What type of gratitude can one express to God? Consider this: I may have lived for a thousand years, I may have committed every type of sin imaginable, I may have been the world’s worst criminal; ultimately, however, God in His mercy may enlighten me. I can return to His loving embrace, and, within a couple of minutes, confess everything. In an instant, I can be justified, washed, cleansed, and find myself in Heaven! What happened to the thousand years of sin? They’re gone! Don’t even think about them! They no longer exist! They have vanished! You are no longer accountable! They were automatically deleted from the demonic memoirs. God has given an order! Every time you deposit a sin before the spiritual father, God presses the delete button on the keyboard, and “click,” the computer registers “forgiveness!” “Click”- “forgiveness and remission!” The grand total is zero. A clean record! How is it possible not to worship this merciful God? How is it possible not to fall down before Him and shed tears of divine love, adoration, and devotion?
For this reason, my children, we must pass from the darkness of sin that engulfs us into the light of repentance and hope. When we hope in God’s mercy, we glorify and honor the God of love and mercy. Let us pray with repentance, with confession, with love, and with hope in God in order to advance united, hand in hand, toward salvation. I pray that this small and insignificant offering you have received flourishes a hundred fold in your souls, that it remains deeply rooted within you, that you mark out a new spiritual road, and that repentance always accompanies you. Struggle as much as you possibly can to preserve the purity of your soul and body, because purity has enormous boldness before God.
I pray that the grace of the Holy Spirit overshadows and preserves all of us in Christ. Amen.
The Art of Salvation has been uploaded to Scribd. The typesetting and format used for the book is very jarring and makes it difficult to read:
NOTE: At St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY, Fr. Germanos tells a story to various groups of pilgrims about a young couple from Montreal who lost their baby. Though it brought them much grief, the death brought some of the relatives who lived lives very far from the Church, closer to God and back to the Church. One of the couple’s father was very impious, a blasphemer, against the Church, etc. The funeral moved him in such a way that it brought him to compunction and repentance and he went to confession. From that point, he started changing his life, going to church regularly, etc. Now, apparently, the young couple praises God for the death of their baby for all the good that has come out of it.
There is a small treatise by St. Gregory of Nyssa entitled Concerning infants snatched away prematurely, that is to say, taken from life before they had tasted the life for which they were born. The treatise was written for Governor Hierios of Cappadocia, who had asked St. Gregory of Nyssa what we ought to know about those who depart from life very early, whose death is joined with their birth [Gregory of Nyssa: On infants early deaths, NPNFns, vol. 5, p. 372-382.]…
Without presenting his thoughts rhetorically in antithetical words, he proceeds to deal with the topic by a rational sequence…
The fourth point which St. Gregory analyses is why God permits a baby to die at such an age. Having analysed previously that as far as participation in the divine Light is concerned, the number of years which we have lived does not play a great role, he now goes on to explain why God permits sudden departure from this life.
In answer to this question he says that no one can put the blame on God in cases where women murder their children because of illicit pregnancy. But as to the cases in which infants leave this world through some infirmity even though their parents have cared for them and prayed for them, we must look at them within God’s Providence. For perfect providence is that which does not simply heal the sufferings which have taken place, but it protects the person from even tasting things which would happen in the future. Whoever knows the future, as is the case with God, will naturally prevent the baby from growing up, so that he will not be brought to a bad end. Thus in the latter cases it is precisely because He sees the infant’s bad future that God does not permit him to live. God does this out of love and charity, without essentially depriving him of any of the future blessings, as we have seen.
In order to make this economy of God understandable, St. Gregory offers a beautiful and descriptive example. Let us suppose that there is a rich table with many appetizing foods. Let us go on to suppose that there is a supervisor who, on the one hand knows the qualities of each food – which one is harmful and unsuitable and which is suitable for eating – and on the other hand is very familiar with the temperament of each dinner guest. Let us still further suppose that this supervisor has absolute authority to permit one person to eat the food and prevent another, so that each one will eat what is suitable for his temperament and the sick person will therefore not be tormented nor the healthy one fall into loathing because of excess of food. If the supervisor should find out that one person had become drunk from much food and drink, or another was beginning to be drunk, he would get him out of that particular place. There is the case of a man who was put out of that place and turned against the supervisor, to accuse him of depriving him of the good things through envy. But if he were to look carefully at those who remained and suffered from sickness and headaches because of drunkenness, and expressed themselves with ugly words, then he would thank the supervisor for saving him from the pain of overeating.
This example matches human life. Human life is a table at which there are abundant foods. Life, however, is not sweet as honey, but also has various disagreeable foods such as salt and vinegar, which make human life difficult. Some foods arouse boasting, others make those who share them go into a frenzy, losing their heads, and in others they cause sickness. The supervisor of the table, who is God, takes away from that table promptly him who behaved properly in order not to be like those who suffer from excess of pleasure because of their gluttony.
In this way divine providence cures illnesses before they are yet manifest. Since God, with His prognostic power, knows that the newborn child will make bad use of the world when he grows up, He removes him from the banquet of life. The newborn child is detached from life so that he will not use his gluttony at the table of this life. On this point too we see the great love and philanthropy of God.
The fifth point, which results from the foregoing, is the question of why God makes a distinction in His choice, why he takes one away providentially, while he lets the other become so bad that we wish that he had never been born. Why is the baby taken from this life providentially while his father is left, who drinks at the banquet until his old age, strewing his evil dregs on himself as well as on his fellow-drinkers?
In answer to this question he says that what it means is a word “to the most grateful”, to those who are thankful to God and, naturally, are well disposed. Besides, these are mysteries which man’s reason cannot grasp, precisely because God’s “reason” is different from man’s reason.
St. Gregory maintains that what God arranges is not fortuitous and without reason. God is word, wisdom, virtue and truth, and He will not accept what is unrelated to virtue and truth. Thus sometimes, for reasons which we have mentioned, babies are snatched from life early, and sometimes God permits something different, because He has a better end in view.
It is also permitted and granted by God that evil people should remain in life so that some benefits may be derived. Referring to the Israelites, he says that God permitted Egypt to oppress them in order to teach the Israelite people, just as He also brought the Israelites out of Egypt so that they would not become like the Egyptians and acquire their customs. With poundings on the anvil even the hardest iron, which does not soften in fire, can take the form of a useful tool.
Another argument is dealt with as well. Some people maintain that not all people in this life have banished the fruits of wickedness, nor have the virtuous benefited from the sweating labours of virtue. To this St. Gregory of Nyssa replies that the virtuous will also rejoice in the next life, comparing their own blessings with the loss suffered by those condemned. This is said from the point of view that the comparison of opposites becomes “an addition of pleasure and an increase for the virtuous”. To be sure, it does not mean that they rejoice at the condemnation of other men, but they thank God for their salvation, because they are experiencing the happiness of virtue in contrast to the unhappiness of sin and the passions.
Therefore infants are snatched away from life prematurely in order that they do not fall into more dreadful evils. If some live and become evil, this has other reasons which are in the Providence and wisdom of God. Nevertheless some benefits will come, since God does not do anything without a reason and a purpose.
The fact is that the infants who depart from life prematurely neither find themselves in a painful state nor become equal to those who have struggled to be purified by every virtue. They are in God’s Providence. Anyway, the journey to God and participation in the uncreated Light is a natural state of the soul, and infants cannot be deprived of this, because by the power of divine grace they can attain deification.
NOTE: The Orthodox Fathers have an entirely different view than modern science and psychology on the subject of humiliation and its effects. Patristic texts encourage Christians to seek every opportunity to be embarrassed, humbled, shamed, derided, insulted, bullied, etc. Though research shows many of these things can lead one to various neuroses and psychopathological disorders, the Fathers teach these things to be part of the narrow path to theosis, and the only way to salvation. Geronda Ephraim said in a homily on struggling to acquire humility: “If you’re praying to God to give you humility, you are essentially asking him to humble you and you are asking to be humbled…” Geronda Ephraim places a lot of emphasis on acquiring humility, which is holiness. Blind obedience is taught as the shortcut to acquire humility. The following quotes are from the Ladder of Divine Ascent, also known as The Monastic Bible. In many monasteries, it is a tradition to read this book during Trapeza meals throughout Great Lent.
Let us pay close attention to ourselves so that we are not deceived into thinking that we are following the strait and narrow way when in actual fact we are keeping to the wide and broad way. The following will show you what the narrow way means: mortification of the stomach, all-night standing, water in moderation, short rations of bread, the purifying draught of dishonour, sneers, derision, insults, the cutting out of one’s own will, patience in annoyances, unmurmuring endurance of scorn, disregard of insults, and the habit, when wronged, of bearing it sturdily; when slandered, of not being indignant; when humiliated, not to be angry; when condemned, to be humble. Blessed are they who follow the way we have just described, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. (Step 2:8)
Exile means…desire for humiliation… (Step 3:1)
Obedience is the tomb of the will and the resurrection of humility. (Step 4:3)
And there was to be seen among them an awful and angelic sight: venerable and white-haired elders of holy beauty running about in obedience like children and taking a great delight in their humiliation. There I have seen men who had spent some fifty years in obedience. And when I asked them to tell me what consolation they had gained from so great a labour, some of them replied that they had attained to deep humility with which they had permanently repelled every assault. Others said that they had obtained complete insensibility and freedom from pain in calumnies and insults. (Step 4:20)
…But knowing that Macedonius was telling him an untruth and that he sought punishment only for the sake of humility, the Saint yielded to the good wish of the ascetic… (Step 4:31)
When their physician noticed that some liked to display themselves before people of the world who were visiting the monastery, then in the presence of such visitors he subjected them to extreme insults and gave them the most humiliating task, so that they began to beat a hasty retreat, and the arrival of secular visitors proved to be their victory. (Step 4:33)
From obedience comes humility, and from humility comes dispassion … Therefore nothing prevents us from saying that from obedience comes dispassion, through which the goal of humility is attained. (Step 4:71)
I have seen a religious who used to snatch the words from his superior’s lips, but I despaired of his obedience when I saw it led to pride and not to humility. (Step 4:79)
Insults, humiliations and similar things are like the bitterness of wormwood to the soul of a novice; while praises, honours and approbation are like honey and give birth to all manner of sweetness in pleasure-lovers. But let us look at the nature of each: wormwood purifies all interior filth, while honey increases gall. (Step 4:103)
Let us trust with firm confidence those who have taken upon themselves the care of us in the Lord, even though they order something apparently contrary and opposed to our salvation. For it is then that our faith in them is tested as in a furnace of humiliation. For it is a sign of the truest faith if we obey our superiors without any hesitation, even when we see the opposite of what we had hoped for happening. (Step 4:104)
When a foolish person is accused or shouted at he is wounded by it and tries to contradict, or at once makes an apology to his accuser, not out of humility but in order to stop the accusations. But when you are being ridiculed, be silent, and receive with patience these spiritual cauterizations, or rather, purifying flames. And when the doctor has finished, then ask his forgiveness. For while he is angry perhaps he will not accept your apology. (Step 4:116)
I saw there [i.e. the Prison] some who seemed from their demeanour and their thoughts to be out of their mind. In their great disconsolateness they had become like dumb men in complete darkness, and were insensible to the whole of life. Their minds had already sunk to the very depths of humility, and had burnt up the tears in their eyes with the fire of their despondency. (Step 5:10)
Others out of unspeakable humility condemned themselves as unworthy of forgiveness, and would cry out that it was not within their power to justify themselves before God. (Step 5:11)
Not every desire for death is good. Some, constantly sinning from force of habit, pray for death with humility. (Step 6:8)
A vivid remembrance of death cuts down food; and when in humility food is cut, the passions are cut out too. (Step 6:12)
A characteristic of those who are still progressing in blessed mourning is temperance and silence of the lips, and of those who have made progress—freedom from anger and patient endurance of injuries; and of the perfect—humility, thirst for dishonours, voluntary craving for involuntary afflictions, non-condemnation of sinners, compassion even beyond one’s strength. The first are acceptable, the second laudable; but blessed are those who hunger for hardship and thirst for dishonour, for they shall have their fill of the food that does not cloy. (Step 7:4)
If nothing goes so well with humility as mourning, certainly nothing is so opposed to it as laughter. (Step 7:8)
Drive away with the hand of humility every transitory joy, as being unworthy of it, lest by readily admitting it you receive a wolf instead of a shepherd. (Step 7:57)
It is not he who depreciates himself who shows humility (for who will not put up with himself?) but he who maintains the same love for the very man who reproaches him. (Step 22:17)
Vainglory incites monks given to levity to anticipate the arrival of lay guests and to go out of the cloister to meet them. It makes them fall at their feet and, though full of pride, it feigns humility. (Step 22:22)
The Lord often brings the vainglorious to a state of humility through the dishonour that befalls them. (Step 22:38)
The beginning of pride is the consummation of vainglory; the middle is the humiliation of our neighbor… (Step 23:2)
It is one thing to be humble, another to strive for humility, and another to praise the humble. The first belongs to the perfect, the second to the truly obedient, and the third to all the faithful. (Step 25:19)
Humility is a divine shelter to prevent us from seeing our achievements. Humility is an abyss of self-abasement… (Step 25:26)
It is impossible for snow to burst into flame; still more difficult is it for humility to dwell in an unorthodox person. This is something which the pious and faithful achieve, and then only when they have been purified. (Step 25:32)
If the limit and rule and characteristic of extreme pride is for a man to feign such virtues as he does not possess for the sake of glory, then it follows that a sign of the deepest humility will be to cheapen ourselves by pretending to have faults that we do not possess. (Step 25:44)
We should unceasingly condemn and reproach ourselves so as to cast off involuntary sins through voluntary humiliations. Otherwise, if we do not, at our departure we shall certainly be subjected to heavy punishment. (Step 25:55)
The ever-memorable Fathers laid down that the way to humility and its foundations is bodily toil. And I would say obedience and honesty of heart, because they are naturally opposed to self-esteem. (Step 25:62)
Being told you’re wrong when you’re wrong may make you a more knowledgeable person, but not necessarily a happier one. Even if you’re not the kind of person who needs to have the last word in a debate, you may still feel a sting when someone else points out your errors. The pain can be particularly sharp if you’ve got an audience—reminding you perhaps of stumbling over a new word while reading aloud to your fellow third graders, being shown to be incorrect when others are in earshot can make you feel embarrassed and humiliated.
Even some of our closest friends and loved ones can be brutal and insensitive when faced with our errors. They gleefully point out your mistake in pronouncing a difficult word (bringing back those childhoodmemories) or shout, “I told you so!” to anyone within earshot. Depending on the thickness of your skin, you may dismiss the entire episode, but it’s more likely you’ll retreat sulkily into the corner, wishing you could just disappear altogether. Culture also plays a role in determining people’s responses to humiliation: In some societies, saving face is valued above all else, and to be proven wrong constitutes a significant violation.
Bottom of Form
Being told you’re wrong doesn’t have to involve humiliation. Your kinder and gentler friends and family will point out a mistake tactfully, perhaps in a private moment when no one else is nearby. If you’ve put the forks on the right instead of the left of the plate while setting the table, a genteel older relative may take you aside and correct you quietly, or may just make the swap for you when you’re out of the room. If the mistake is one that could create problems for you down the road, this person might instruct you in the right way to handle the situation to prevent you from subsequent embarrassment.
So being corrected doesn’t always have to mean you’re humiliated. However, if you’re being corrected in a way that causes you to feel shame, it’s unlikely that you’ll feel that good about yourself, regardless of your cultural background. Taken to the extreme, instilling humiliation in a victim is a basic tactic of torturers, prison guards, and certain kinds of domestic abusers. Even in the famous Stanford Prison Experiment, when the “guards” were ordinary college students, humiliation became a part of the drill. Similarly, from the playground to the workplace, bullies seem to revel in the opportunity to humiliate targets, particularly when there’s an audience to impress.
Humiliation is defined as the emotion you feel when your status is lowered in front of others. You may feel annoyed with yourself when you make a mistake or fail to know an answer, but unless others are around to witness it, that’s all you’ll feel. You generally need someone else on hand in order to feel humiliated by mistakes.
As you may recognize from your own experience, then, humiliation is a highly negative emotional state. Surprisingly, it’s one that is studied relatively infrequently in the field of psychology. Other negative emotions—anger, anxiety, jealousy, and fear—are more likely to be the subject of lab investigations, perhaps because addressing them has such obvious practical implications: Anger is bad for your health; anxiety can impair your performance; jealousy can lead to relationship conflict; fear can set the stage for developing a phobia. Humiliation is unpleasant, but at least on the surface, may not seem to have as many consequences.
However, given the central role of humiliation in victimization, it seems worthwhile to investigate its potential effects.
Psychologists Marte Otten and Kai Jonas of the University of Amsterdam decided to peer into the brains of participants while they were exposed to various emotion-inducing scenarios. They compared the electroencephalograms (EEGs) of participants who were led to feel angry, happy, or humiliated. The humiliation scenario took the following form: “You see your internet date at the arranged location. Your date takes one look at you, turns around, and quickly walks away.” I think we can all agree that this scenario is one that could make you feel humiliated.
Otten and Jonas were able to measure their participants’ responses in terms of whether their brains registered a negative affect and how intense this affect was. Comparing the three conditions, they concluded that the participants’ responses to humiliation were both more negative than to anger, and more intense than to happiness.
From this pioneering study, we can see that your brain doesn’t like being humiliated. You not only feel badly, but the degree to which your brain is activated is more pronounced than with other emotion-inducing conditions.
It’s perhaps expected that being brought down in status in front of others will cause you to feel badly. But if you’re the one causing the humiliation, you’re exacting far more hurt than you may realize. If that’s the goal you’re hoping to achieve, your method is working. However, if you think you’re “helping” friends or family members by pointing out their mistakes or in some other way bringing them down a notch, you’re probably wrong. There are kinder and gentler ways to impart corrective messages to those we care about, want to teach, or otherwise want to help. Making sure your criticism or teaching is presented in a way that preserves the other person’s self-respect is the most basic way to avoid causing humiliation.
Turning the tables, how can you manage your own feelings of humiliation when someone else proves you wrong? Elsewhere, I’ve discussed how to handle criticism. Dealing with humiliation is similar, but because it is an emotional state, it is particularly important for you to manage your negative feelings.
As with all emotions, handling humiliation depends on how you construe the situation. According to cognitive theories of emotion, the way you feel is a direct function of the way you think. Hamlet said it best: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” If your skin isn’t that thick, and you hate being shown wrong in front of others, you might benefit from taking a look at the thoughts you feel while in the situation. If humiliation is an emotion that follows from feeling loss of status, perhaps you should redefine the situation to de-emphasize the status piece of the equation.
It’s possible that a friend, loved one, or teacher just wants to help prevent you from making the same mistake again, and so the slight in status is only an imagined one. Redefining the situation to deemphasize the loss of status will ease the pain considerably. However, even if the other person or people have more ominous motives, you can still benefit. By not allowing yourself to feel a loss of dignity, self-respect, or position, you’ll be detracting from their pleasure in watching you squirm. It’s possible that, like the learning process of extinction, their aversive behaviors will eventually diminish.
In either case, if you feel justifiably aggrieved, there are ways you can seek recourse: If it’s an innocent misunderstanding between friends, take a page from the kinder-and-gentler playbook and speak to the person privately, with just the two of you present. If your rights are truly being violated, though, you may need to take the problem to others who can help rectify the situation.
Humiliation comes in a variety of forms, from being rejected to being publicly shamed for a mistake you made. By understanding its connection to your brain’s reactions, you can better cope with, and perhaps avoid, this negative emotion’s intense pain.
Also see Humiliation: Its Nature and Consequences
Also see Humiliation: Assessing the Impact of Derision, Degradation and Abasement.
Otten, M., & Jonas, K. J. (2014). Humiliation as an intense emotional experience: Evidence from the electro-encephalogram. Social Neuroscience, 9(1), 23-35. doi:10.1080/17470919.2013.855660
NOTE: Unfortunately, in some of Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, there are monastics who have substance abuse issues. There are not a few former alcoholics and drug addicts in the ranks of the monasteries. However, there is also the phenomenon of monastics who like wine too much. These monastics can go unnoticed for awhile if they don’t confess their sin. However, sometimes another monastic who sits beside them will inform the superior, other times the superior will notice. In the early years of St. Anthony’s Monastery, there was a short-lived trend of monks who would eat an overabundance of artoklasia soaked with wine, “because it had to be finished.” For some of the monks, this was an excuse that validated eating enough wine-soaked artoklasia to get drunk. Other monks felt that they were doing their duty of brotherly love and helping the ekklesiastikoi finish the bowl. Some monastics have been outright banned from drinking wine on Sundays, Feast Days, etc. Other monastics have been permitted to drink only a 1/4 cup on special occasions. In some monasteries, wine is not served to the monastics except on big Feast Days, and sometimes then, not even. There is also the other issue of hard liquor in the monasteries. Some pilgrims bring Metaxa, and other types of booze as donations to the monasteries. This can also present temptation for monastics. Some superiors have at least one glass a wine daily for reasons of “health benefits.”
Once on Mount Athos there was a monk who lived in Karyes. He drank and got drunk every day and was the cause of scandal to the pilgrims. Eventually he died and this relieved some of the faithful who went on to tell Elder Paisios that they were delighted that this huge problem was finally solved.
Father Paisios answered them that he knew about the death of the monk, after seeing the entire battalion of angels who came to collect his soul. The pilgrims were amazed and some protested and tried to explain to the Elder of whom they were talking about, thinking that the Elder did not understand.
Elder Paisios explained to them: “This particular monk was born in Asia Minor, shortly before the destruction by the Turks when they gathered all the boys. So as not to take him from their parents, they would take him with them to the reaping, and so he wouldn’t cry, they just put raki* into his milk in order for him to sleep. Therefore he grew up as an alcoholic. There he found an elder and said to him that he was an alcoholic. The elder told him to do prostrations and prayers every night and beg the Panagia to help him to reduce by one the glasses he drank.
After a year he managed with struggle and repentance to make the 20 glasses he drank into 19 glasses. The struggle continued over the years and he reached 2-3 glasses, with which he would still get drunk.”
The world for years saw an alcoholic monk who scandalized the pilgrims, but God saw a fighter who fought a long struggle to reduce his passion.
Without knowing what each one is trying to do what he wants to do, what right do we have to judge his effort?
* Raki is a Turkish unsweetened, anise-flavored hard alcoholic drink that is popular in Turkey, Greece, Albania, Serbia, and other Balkan countries as an apéritif.
NOTE: The following is an analysis of the above story from Orthodoxy and Recovery, A blog about the direct connection between the spirituality of Orthodox Christianity and recovery from alcoholism, drug abuse, and other addictions.
Anyone who has dealt with alcoholics knows what happened here. Basically, the monk was left as many are in the modern Church to ‘fend for himself’ when it came to his alcoholism. You can hardly imagine in the Desert Fathers a monk being permitted to continue drinking with only his prayers to rely on.
Just for clarification, I want to make a few points:
Elder Paisios does not condemn the alcoholic monk.
He reports that the monk’s suffering in life, with no one really helping him, was met at death by God’s own army coming to bring him to heaven. This type of ‘psychopomp’ is generally reserved for saints and ascetics, since they have repented. In this case, the monk received the help he did not receive from men.
The deterioration in the monk’s condition, whereby at the end he was getting drunk with only two or three drinks, is common with end-stage alcoholism. Over time, as the alcoholic’s body gives out, his tolerance diminishes. He clearly drank himself to death.
The monk’s elder apparently had no idea what to do with him, and so simply put him in his icon corner and waited for a miracle.
Elder Paisios describes the physical allergy aspect of alcoholism in describing his exposure at a young age.
Give the time frame of the story (referencing the massacres of Greeks in Turkey in the 1920s), this monk’s experience of Mount Athos was during the ‘idiorrhythmic’ period ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Athos#Ottoman_era) when the monks lived separate lives and the common life of monasteries had not yet been reestablished. This lasted until the 1970’s, when the renewal efforts began and the monasteries reestablished communal life. From the Wikipedia article: “After reaching a low point of just 1,145 mainly elderly monks in 1971, the monasteries have been undergoing a steady and sustained renewal. By the year 2000, the monastic population had reached 1,610, with all 20 monasteries and their associated sketes receiving an infusion of mainly young well-educated monks. In 2009, the population stood at nearly 2000.“
This tragic story ends on a positive note: even the alcoholic who received no help with his disease can count on God’s mercy in the end if he desires it. However, it also portrays how many in the Church have handled the disease of alcoholism: judgment without help. To be fair, most ‘normies’ either inside or outside the Church have no idea how to help addicts. Yet, the Church has always had the tools necessary to treat addiction through ascetic struggle, like what we see in the 12 Steps.
Yes, the Steps are an ascetic struggle. Don’t be fooled. Most people are more willing to go on a diet rather than do the Steps. Food is easy to give up when it comes up against being honest with one’s self. Shallow and careless people can diet, but they certainly won’t take the actions the Steps demand.
If the Holy Mountain had been a healthier place (as it is now), undoubtedly this monk would not have been permitted to go so long without any help. Mind you, there are still plenty of Orthodox who do not understand the Tradition well enough stop themselves from demanding the alcoholic ‘try harder’ to quit.
But, in my experience of talking to Orthodox monastics, when we discuss the matter of addiction and how the Steps work, they enthusiastically agree that what they do in their monasteries is essentially the same process. The rejuvenation of monasticism is actually happening throughout the Church in recent years, and with this renewal (Mt. Athos is now harder to get into than Harvard) will come more opportunities for people to have the benefit of proper assistance in battling addiction.
NOTE: On May 25, 2012, a few weeks before he committed suicide, Scott Nevins created the Elder Ephraim Facebook Community Page. The purpose of this page, which has recently been deleted from Facebook, is stated thus: “This facebook page was created to expose Elder Ephraim…I speak for all of the monks and nuns who were buried alive by Elder Ephraim; one-thousand voices crying out, ‘justify me!’”
On September 13th, 2014, a young man named Philip Ephraim Aaron Drake trolled the page and posted the following comment on the page’s wall:
May Jesus Christ Our Lord have mercy on Scotts soul, and healing for his family. I disagree that this was Geronda Ephraim’s, or Geronda Piasio’s fault. When someone decides to commit suicide that person is deeply depressed, and needs to find treatment, support, and love the latter of these two were not lacking in his life. This is mental illness, and sadly Scott did not seek appropriate treatment. Please look at the real enemy, and stop doing the devil’s work by sowing the seeds of enmity and division. Over the years I stayed many times at Saint Anthony’s Monastery, at one time I was thinking about becoming a monk. I have spent time with both Geronda Ephraim and Geronda Piasios and have had discussions that were truly life changing. I was never coerced into doing anything that would be destructive to me or my body. This page needs to shutdown because it is purely for evil ends, and does nothing good for peoples salvation. You are preaching the devils word, not God’s. You may say hey people need to know about this and that, ok, write SCOBA, write to the Bishops, and write the Patriarch if needed. I hope you find healing in Christ, but please stop dragging the Church and her monks through the mud.
Photo Album with captions from the Elder Ephraim Facebook Community Page
The next photo is of a monk beside a pile of skulls which is the only photo with no download option [thus is not here]; it is also the cover photo for this Facebook page.
On June 25, 2012, David Constantine-Wright posted:
The ends never justify the means. If deception and wrongful practices have to be used to support something, thinking people will call into question that which is being supported.