Guarding the Sense of Touch (St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, 1801)

NOTE: The following article is taken from Peter A. Chamberas (trans.), Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain: A Handbook of Spiritual Counsel, pp. 120 – 131.

Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain - A Handbook of Spiritual Counsel sm

CONTENTS:

  • The Sense of Touch and Its Activities
  • One Should Not Even Touch His Own Body if It Is Not Necessary
  • A Hierarch Ought Not to Stretch Out His Hand to Receive Gifts out of Greediness, Nor to Strike Anyone or to Ordain Those Who Are Unworthy
  • The Use of Luxurious Clothing and What Its Use Implies
  • The Usefulness of Clothing. The Early Bishops Did Not Wear Expensive Clothing
  • The Present Things Are Vain and Temporal
  • Luxurious Clothing Is the Cause of Many Evils and All Clergy Must Avoid It
  • Luxurious Garments Are Scandalous to Both Men and Women
  • Soft Beds Should Be Avoided for They Are the Cause of Many Evils
  • The Clergy Must Not Play Games of Chance Nor Take Baths
  • Notes

 

5-senses-how-our-senses-work-15-638

The Sense of Touch and Its Activities

We have reached in our discussion the fifth sense, which is the sense of touch. Even though the activity of this sense is generally considered to be concentrated in the hands, it actually encompasses the entire surface of the body so that every feeling and every part and every organ of the body both external and internal becomes an instrument of this sense of touch. Guard yourself then with great attention from such tender touches that arouse strong feelings, feelings that are mostly in the body and most vulnerable to sin. St. Gregory of Nyssa, in interpreting a passage in the Song of Songs, commented that the sense of touch is the subservient sense, the one most likely created by nature for the blind. It is most difficult for one to be free from the power of this sense, once it has been activated. This is why one must be careful to guard it with all his power.

Even though the power of the other senses seems to be active, it nevertheless seems to be far from the enactment of sin. But the sense of touch is the closest to this enactment and certainly the very beginning and the initial action of the deed.

One Should Not Even Touch His Own Body if It Is Not Necessary

Be careful not to bring your hands and your feet close to other bodies, especially of the young. Be especially careful not to stretch your hands to touch anything, unless it is necessary, nor upon members of your body, or even to scratch yourself, as St. Isaac the Syrian and other holy Fathers have taught. Even from such minor activities, the sense of touch becomes accustomed, or to put it more correctly, the devil seeks to arouse us toward sin and at the same time to raise up into our mind improper images of desire that pollute the beauty of prudent thoughts. This is why St. John Climacus wrote: “It so happens that we are polluted bodily through the sense of touch.”1 Even when you go out for the natural needs of your body respect your guardian angel, as St. Isaac has reminded us.2 Elsewhere this same father has written: “Virgin is not one who has merely preserved one’s body from sexual intercourse, but one who is modest unto oneself even when alone.”3

The pagan Pythagoras taught that even if there were no other spectator of human evils in heaven or earth, man should have a sense of modesty and shame for himself. When someone does evil, he dishonors and degrades himself. The ancient Athenians had a temple dedicated to the goddess of modesty that would act in the place of God upon the true conscience. Now, if these pagans taught this and had such shame for themselves, when alone, how much more should we Christians be ashamed of ourselves when we are alone in a closed room, or in an isolated lonely place or even in the darkness of night? For it is only right that the modesty and reverence we feel when in a holy temple be also felt for ourselves, since we are a temple of God and the grace of the Holy Spirit. “For we are the temple of the living God” (II Corinthians 6:16). Again St. Paul wrote: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?” (I Corinthians 6:19). St. John Chrysostom has taught us also that our bodies are even more honorable and more revered than a temple. We are a living and rational temple, while a building- temple is lifeless and irrational. Moreover, Christ died for us and not for temples.4 Therefore it follows that more shame and modesty should be kept for ourselves and for our bodies than for the temple. For this reason, then, anyone who would dare to degrade the holy temple of his body by committing some sinful deed will in truth be more sinful than those who would desecrate the most famous temple.

Again, our pagan forefathers sought to teach men to avoid shameful deeds by asking them to imagine the presence of some important and revered person. If the imaginary presence of mortal men can avert one from doing evil when found alone, how much more can the true and abiding presence of the true and omnipresent and immortal God, who not only sees the external deeds of men but also knows the inner thoughts and feelings of the heart?

Most foolish then are those who are by themselves alone in an isolated or dark place and who have no self-respect and shame, nor remember the presence of God. They may say: “I am now in this darkness, who can see me?” God condemns such persons as being foolish. “Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? . . . Do I not fill heaven and earth?” (Jeremiah 23:24). “A man who breaks his marriage vows says to himself, ‘Who sees me? Darkness surrounds me, and the walls hide me, and no one sees me. Why should I fear? The most High will not take notice of my sins.’ His fear is confined to the eyes of men, and he does not realize that the eyes of the Lord and ten thousand times brighter than the sun” (Sirach 23:18 – 19).

receptors

A Hierarch Ought Not to Stretch Out His Hand to Receive Gifts out of Greediness, Nor to Strike Anyone or to Ordain Those Who Are Unworthy

Be careful not to stretch out your hands to do evil. For as David said, “The righteous ought not to put forth their hands to do wrong” (Ps. 125:3), that is, to receive bribes, to be greedy, to be unrighteous, to be graspy. Moreover, it also means not to seek shameful profits, not to carry out shameful beatings, and not to ordain unworthy candidates to the priesthood. God himself forbids the taking of bribes. It is written in Holy Scripture: “And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the officials, and subverts the cause of those who are in the right” (Ex. 23:8). St. Basil too has written: “He who has not first placed true righteousness in his soul, but is corrupted by money or by considerations of friendship,5 he who defends enmity or besseches power cannot direct and obtain justice.”6

Do not stretch out your hands in greediness, in wrongdoing, in stealing, for the Apostle has written: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9). Do not therefore stretch out your hands to acquire unlawful gain or to strike anyone. For according to the Apostle, “a bishop must be above reproach…temperate, sensible, dignified, no drunkard, not violent but gentle, nor quarrelsome, and no lover of money” (1 Tim. 3:2). Any hierarch or priest who strikes with his hand or with a rod anyone is deposed, according to the Twenty-seventh Apostolic Canon. “A bishop, priest or deacon who strikes the faithful who may have sinned or the unbelievers who may have done wrong, and who does this for the purpose of disciplining them through fear, must be deposed. The Lord has never taught us to do this. On the contrary, he was struck but did not strike back. He was abused but did not abuse others. He was beaten but did not threaten others.” The same discipline of deposition is required by the Ninth Canon of the Protodeutera Synod.

Do not be hasty to place your hands for ordination upon unworthy candidates. The Apostle again has instructed Timothy about this matter: “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor participate in another man’s sins” (1 Tim. 5:22). The bishops who have ordained unworthy candidates must render an account to God for all the sins that have been committed and may be committed by those whom they have so ordained. St. Chrysostom has also emphasized this point. “Do not tell me that the presbyter has sinned, or that the deacon has sinned. The responsibility of all these is placed upon the heads of those who have ordained such unworthy candidates.”7 Who then, as the Prophet David has asked, can inherit the mountain and the kingdom of God? He who keeps his hands pure from all these. “Who shall ascend to the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart” (Ps. 24:3-4).

The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America
The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America

The Use of Luxurious Clothing and What Its Use Implies

The use of soft and fine clothing is another matter that we can relate to the sense of touch. Now, if I may be permitted to be more blunt, I want to emphasize especially to hierarchs and priests that they not fall into the error of fantastic apparel which unfortunately many experience because of their bad habits from childhood and the bad examples of others. St. John Chrysostom, first of all, reminded us that the very custom of covering the body with clothing is a perpetual reminder of our exile from Paradise and our punishment, which we received after our disobedience. We who were previously in Paradise, covered by the divine grace and having no need of clothing, find ourselves now in need of covering and clothing for our bodies. The forefathers were naked before the disobedience but not ashamed; after the disobedience they sewed fig leaves together and coverings for their bodies (Genesis 3:7).

Therefore, what is the reason for this reminder of our sin and punishment to be done with bright and expensive clothing? “The use of clothing has become a perpetual reminder for us of our exile from the good things of Paradise and a lesson of our punishment which the human race received as a consequence of the original sin of disobedience. There are those who are so affected in their vain imaginations that they say to us that they no longer know the clothing that is made by the wool of the sheep and that they now wear only clothes made of silk . . . . Tell me now, for whom do you so clothe your body? Why are you glad over your particular set of clothing? Why don’t you heed St. Paul who wrote: “If we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content” (I Timothy 6:8).

Creation-Mosaic-Adam-and-Eve-600x600

The Usefulness of Clothing. The Early Bishops Did Not Wear Expensive Clothing

According to St. Basil the usefulness of clothing is to protect our bodies from the cold in the winter and from the heat in the summer. “What is the difference for one who is sensible to have long robes with a flowing train or to wear foolish and unnecessary clothing that do nothing to keep you warm in winter and to protect you from the heat in the summer?”9 For the clothes to be made of silk and other expensive materials is a vanity that derives from unreal fantasies and misleading desires of the heart. In other words, such vanity is a shadow, smoke, dust thrown into the air, and bubbles that are blown around and broken. Solomon at first experienced the use of expensive clothing but later condemned them. I agree with him when he wrote that they are a vanity of vanities and a deliberate choice of one’s spirit. But what is this choice of one’s spirit? St. Gregory the Theologian considered it to be “a desire of the soul that is irrational and a temptation of man deriving perhaps from the ancient fall.”10 Is it characteristic of a prudent person to follow such vanity? Should he ever allow himself to seek the shadow of dreams? No, please do not accept to do this. Perhaps you will argue the pressures of your youth is forcing you to do this. But what is youth? Solomon again has told us that “youth and the dawn of life are vanity” (Eccl. 11:10). Therefore one vanity loves another vanity, but never prudence and right reason. Perhaps you will say that it is the office of being a bishop that prompts you to wear expensive clothes. Well! Take a look at those ancient bishops. See the poor garments of St. Basil and St. Gregory, the cape of St. Athansios and the cape of Bishop Serapion. Moreover, those blessed men traveled great distances on foot and alone. They did not use animals and horses of great value11 that were richly saddled, and without the accompaniment of many persons leading and following the procession. One can see from this vain fantasy that having expensive clothes is not a substantive element but rather a destructive one for the office of a bishop.

The Dormition of St. Anthony the Great
The Dormition of St. Anthony the Great

 

The Present Things Are Vain and Temporal

Leave such vanity, brother. Remember that according to the Apostle: “The form of this world is passing away, and those who deal with the world [live] as though they had no dealings with it” (1 Cor. 7:31). Remember also, “We look to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18). For death comes and death is unknown. Judgment follows death and this judgment is quick. After judgment comes hell, an endless hell. When death comes, youth passes away, so does vanity. Every luxury of clothing and all the pleasant things of this life come to an end with the end of the life of each person. Where are your predecessors and those before them? Having the same vain imaginations, have they not played out the short scene of life and the empty sentiments? Are they not now also deceived by the shortness of life and are already earth and dust in a forgotten place, according to David? What do you think? Will you not in a short while follow them? Will you not follow the same way of life and will you not reach the same goal of the grave?

According to the psalmist David and St. Basil who interpreted him, this life is likened to a journey on account of the tendency to reach the goal of each created being. Listen to what he said: “Those who on board a ship are sleeping are nevertheless led to the harbor automatically by the power of the prevailing wind. Even though they may not be aware of it, their journey is continued toward its goal. So is it with us in passing the time of our life. In a certain unique movement that is continuous and ceaseless we are pressed on the unknown course of our life that is appropriate to each of us. You may be sleeping and yet time passes on. You may be awake intellectually active and yet your life is spent, even if it escapes our perception. We are all indeed on a journey, each of us running toward our appropriate goal. This is why we are all on the way. In the case of those who travel, once the first step is taken the next one will follow and the one after that in succession. Consider the affairs of life if they are not similar. Today you have cultivated the earth, tomorrow another person will do it.  And after him still another will continue. Therefore isn’t our life a journey on which we partake differently from time to time and on which we all succeed each other?”12

In the book of Job, Zapar the Naamathite, wanting to indicate the shortness of human life, said: “Though his height mount up to the heavens, and his head reach to the clouds, he will perish for ever…Those who have seen him will say, ‘Where is he?’ He will fly away like a dream, and not be found; he will be chased away like a vision of the night” (Jb. 20:7f.). These examples and even the mere meanness, the vicissitudes and the disorder in human affairs and good things, all of these I hope will convince you to turn down such a vain quest and irrational desire.

job20-zophar-talking
Zophar suggests that Job’s suffering could be divine punishment, and goes into great detail about the consequences of living a life of sin.

What are gold and silver and all those precious stones (as one moralist noted) but bright products of the earth? When these are kept locked up in treasuries they also hold therein the heart of him who has so locked them up and they thus prevail over their owner. What are those famous compliments and honors but smoky emissions which come out of the mouths of the public and are diffused in the air and which are often mixed with the criticisms of envy? What are those supreme, those hierarchal, those patriarchal offices and those great kingdoms, but great servitudes in which those who rise to them find also at the same time their fall? And those who seek after extreme honors find extreme catastrophes. What sort of thing is pleasure but a change that is irreconcilable with self-control? What is good health that we so desire, but a mild and well-tempered condition of the four liquids in our bodies that are always combated by the other four opposing qualities of the elements? What is life but a flow of successive moments in which one is born when the other dies, so that man begins to die just as soon as he begins to live? Finally, what is this body of ours that we so care for but transformed clay and an extolled hospital that contains more diseases than members and nerves? And, speaking in general, what are all the external and useful and so-called good things, but the common properties of the plants and the irrational animals? By the way, these irrational animals are in a sense more well off than we, by realizing less than we do that they can be deprived of these good things, which are after all always united with opposing suffering.

With all this in mind, St. Gregory spoke well when he said: “Do not marvel at anything that does not remain, and do not overlook anything that does. Do not moreover try to grasp at something that simply escapes us when held.”13 A certain wise man also said: “If you are a mortal, O great man, you will concern yourself with mortal things.” Another one said: “The shadow of glory is glory itself. No one who sees a loaf of bread in a painting will ever reach to take the drawing, even if he is a thousand times overcome by hunger. Now, if you want to receive glory, evade glory, for if you seek after glory you will fall away from it.”14 St. Isaac said: “He who runs after honor causes it to flee from before him. But he who avoids it, will be sought out by honor that becomes a herald to all of his humility.”15 Now, meditating on these things prudently, dear brother, say to yourself the words of the wise Joseph Vryennios:

“Soul, be a stranger to all these things; soul, you have been redeemed by the precious blood of the immaculate and spotless Lamb—Christ; soul, for you the good shepherd has offered his own soul; soul, raise up your eye to your Creator, be sober, see your redeemer, know and love the Savior; acquire a blameless conscience…Why do you stand before those things that do not exist? Why do you fret over the things that are corruptible? Why do you find joy with vain things? Why do you trouble yourself with what passes away? Why are you attracted by imaginations? Why do you delight in things that you will abandon as if you will not? And of whose vision will you be deprived in eternity? How long will you be deceived by the eyes, by the attraction of pleasures, by random preoccupations, by evil thoughts, by thoroughly vain glories—all of which cause you to be separated from the vision of the most sublime and desired spiritual reality?”

I find myself out of breath in struggling in every way, dear brother, to find supportive arguments and proofs to show you how empty and vain a thing it is to preoccupy yourself with fine clothing. For I love your salvation as I love my own. And in order to make my words more understandable, I bring the example of the reflux of water of Euripus where the tide changes so often that the ancients chose to refer metaphorically to the frequent changes in human affairs with the term euripus. What else is this troubled life but a strait of troubled waters that flow to and fro? A place where good and bad, happiness and misery, are always flowing and mutually replacing each other; sometimes sending man to the depths of goodness and happiness and sometimes leaving him on the dry shore and in misfortune. Therefore learn even from this name of Euripus and put an end from here on to the desire and the fantasy of these fleeting vanities.

monk-crucified010
`The Crucified Monk` Icon

Luxurious Clothing Is the Cause of Many Evils and All Clergy Must Avoid It

Up to now I have assumed that luxurious clothing is a simple vanity. I am afraid however that it is more than that. It also nourishes vainglory; it is the mother of pride; it is the way to prostitution and it is the panderer of virtually all the passions. I said that it is the nourishment and the mother of vainglory and pride because the soul naturally has the tendency to be fashioned internally according to the body. Now, if the body, as it should, wears humble clothes the soul will also be humbled. If the body wears vainglorious and prideful clothes, the soul too will be vainglorious and prideful, as St. John Climacus has written: “The soul becomes similar to its external appearance and pursuits; it is impressed by what it does and fashioned according to such deeds.”16 I also noted that luxurious clothes lead to prostitution. St. Basil has said: “A person who beautifies himself and is so called is like being promiscuous and a schemer against other marriages.”17 St. Paul disallowed luxurious clothing in women, who are by nature beings who love beauty and who love to dress themselves up: “Women should adorn themselves modestly and sensibly in seemly apparel, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly attire” (1 Tim. 2:9). St. Peter too did not permit women “the outward adorning with braiding of hair, decoration of gold, and wearing of fine clothing” (1 Pt. 3:3).

If women are not permitted such luxurious apparel, how much more then are we to assume that this is not permitted either among men and especially among hierarchs, who are to keep modesty and propriety in all things. This is why the Sixth Ecumenical Council decreed, through its Twenty-seventh Canon, that the hierarchs and all the clergy be dressed modestly and not use secular and luxurious clothing. The canon says in part that “no one among the clergy should dress with inappropriate clothes while in the city or while traveling on the road. They should wear the apparel that has already been determined for the clergy, that is, modest and simple. Anyone who disregards this rule will be deposed for one week.” Similarly, the Seventh Ecumenical Council with its Sixteenth Canon decreed the following: “Every foolish beautification of the body is foreign to the priestly order. Those bishops and priests who dress themselves with luxurious apparel must be reprimanded and corrected. If they persist in their wrongdoing, they must be given a penance.”

From early times every priestly man was dressed with modest and moderate apparel. Everything that has no practical use but is merely cosmetic only adds to our condemnation, as St. Basil noted.18 They did not wear clothing made out of silk, nor did they add colorful decorations on the edge of their clothing. They heeded the sacred word saying, those who wear the soft and fine apparel are in the palaces of kings (cf. Mt. 11:8; Lk. 7:25). St. Basil once asked, “Have you ever seen a man of high principles wearing a flowery garment made of silk? Despise such things?”19 St. John Chrysostom also noted, “When you see a man wearing silken apparel, laugh him to scorn!”20 St. Isidore Pelousiotes also, explaining the seamless garment of the Lord, noted: “Who can overlook the simplicity of that garment which the poor Galeleans used to wear? In fact they had a special skill in weaving such garments. Imitate the simple garments of Christ. For if the roughness in apparel here on earth is foolishness, wearing the garment of light in heaven is certainly not.”21 The prophets of God too used modest humble and poor garments. Listen to what Clement of Alexandria said of them: “Prophet Elijah wore a garment made of sheepskins which he tied around his waist with a belt of animal hairs. The Prophet Isaiah went about virtually naked and with bare feet. Oftentimes he would wear sack cloth as a symbol of humility and mourning. Jeremiah too only wore a simple linen garment. As the strong members of the body are seen clearly when uncovered, so also is the beauty of virtue demonstrated magnificently when it is not entangled with a great deal of idle talk.” The Synod at Gangra in its Twelfth Canon pronounced anathema upon those criticized for wearing velvet and silk garments. Finally, the same Synod in its Twenty-first Canon decreed: “We accept and praise the simple and modest garments, but we avoid those which are soft and luxuriously ornamental.”

Geronda Epraim Great Entrance

Luxurious Garments Are Scandalous to Both Men and Women

Let me leave aside the sense of folly and looseness that is created on the body, especially on a body of a young person, by the luxury of clothing. I leave aside also the uselessness of such clothing, as St. Gregory the Theologian noted.22 I keep silent about the greed for money that is incited in those who desire to acquire such clothing. I also sidestep the vanity and pride and all the other passions that act as so many poisonous fruit of this death-bearing tree. And I consider only the common scandal that it is for both men and women. It is indeed a great scandal for men to see their bishop dressed in such luxury, and wherever they are they comment that the bishop is altogether given over to a desire for fine garments and an air of haughty pride. It is even a greater scandal for the women. For as they themselves often scandalize the men who look upon them and excite in them certain passions, in the very same way the men who are decorated in fine clothing, especially bishops and priests, scandalize the women and kindle the coals of passion in their souls.

Even if we assume that it is permitted for you to be so dressed, even if you guard yourself and are a prudent person in dressing yourself well, should you not take into account the scandal of those misfortunate souls? Should you not consider the evil desires and the spiritual harm that may be caused in their souls? Who will give an account for this? Certainly no one else except you, for in seeking to serve your foolish desires, it is you who have allowed all these evils to come into being. And this because you have not chosen to imitate the holy hierarchs of old, who dressed humbly and spent their days in great humility. I had the opportunity to know St. Macarius of Corinth, who in his diocese and in his later life always wore humble black clothing. How serious is the punishment for creating a scandal is noted by the Lord himself: “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Mt. 18:6). Listen to this story and be informed: When St. Anthony was about to die, he ordered his disciples to give one of his garments to St. Athansios and the other to Bishop Serapion. These two churchmen received the garments with all of their heart and used to wear them on the dominical feasts. These simple and coarse monastic garments did more to dignify them in a most reverent way than any royal garments ever could in all their luxurious splendor!

Having learned about the luxury of garments and the many evils which come from them, strive to avoid such luxury as harmful to the soul.

nun-procession-st-kosmas-monastery-2
Procession at St. Kosmas GO Monastery, Canada (Proper monastery dress codes not enforced)

Soft Beds Should Be Avoided for They Are the Cause of Many Evils

In this sense of touch we must also include the soft and comfortable beds and everything that has to do with our comfort. Inasmuch as these may contribute to our spiritual harm, they must be avoided by all, but especially the young. Such comforts weaken the body; they submerge it into constant sleep; they warm it beyond measure, and therefore kindle the heat of passion. This is why the prophet Amos wrote: “Woe to those who lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches” (Amos 6:4). Once a young monk asked an elder (monk) how to guard himself against the carnal passions. The elder replied that he should avoid overeating, avoid slander and all those activities which excite carnal passions. The monk however was unable to find the cure for his passion even after observing carefully all the admonitions of the elder. He would return to the elder again and again for advice until he became a burden for the elder. Finally, the patient elder got up and followed the brother to his cell. Upon seeing the soft bed where he slept, the elder exclaimed: “Here, here, is the cause of your struggle with carnal desire, dear brother!”23

Heracleides has also noted in the Lausaikon about Iouvinos, the famous bishop of Askalon, that on a very hot day near the Pelousion mountain he washed with a little water his hands and feet and laid out a camel skin to rest a little in the shade. This was done in the presence of his most holy mother, who directly began to reproach him. “Oh son,” he said, “you are most daring to flatter your body with such care and at such a young age. The more you fuss over it the more it becomes agitated like a serpent against you, seeking to harm you. I am already sixty years old, and I have not yet washed my face and feet in such a way, except for my hands. Even though I suffered certain illnesses and the doctors advised me to take advantage of therapeutic baths and other cures for the body, I have never entrusted in my body nor have I allowed myself to flatter it in any way, knowing full well the enmity that exists between it and the soul. For this reason, my son, I have even refused to recline in a soft bed to sleep.”

Behold what an ascetic reaction is prompted by the simple laying out of a camel skin to rest upon it. Behold how a little washing prompted such austere criticism by a mother to her son. Do you see, dear brother, what great exactness and care is needed and especially by the young? Once the Patriarch of Alexandria, St. John the Merciful, seeing that he had need of it, accepted a precious bed covering offered to him by a certain ruler. Throughout that night the blessed hierarch struggled with his thoughts and was most critical of himself for having accepted such a precious covering when so many poor brothers did not even possess a straw mat to lie on. He finally threw it away from his bed and in the morning had it sold in the marketplace, distributing the money to the poor. Notice well how what is for the comfort of the body, or (what amounts to the same thing) what is unnecessary and more than what we need, was used then by the hierarchs of that time.

In the Psalms the Prophet David has made a distinction between “bed” and “couch.” The bed is commonly used for sleeping, while the couch is in the area prepared for sitting. Now, if your sitting room is furnished with soft chairs and couches, this, I believe, is not harmful since it is also thus prepared for the comfort of guests.

blessed-repose

The Clergy Must Not Play Games of Chance Nor Take Baths

In this general sense of touch must be included the playing of cards and dice and all other such games that one plays with his hands. I beseech you as strongly as I possibly can to avoid these completely. Such games are improper and altogether alien to your high character and profession and they are the cause of much scandal among Christians. They may even become the cause for deposing someone from the hierarchy. The Forty-second Apostolic Canon decreed the following: “Any bishop or priest or deacon who spends his time playing the dice and drinking must either be defrocked or deposed.” Going even further, the Forty-third Apostolic Canon provided that a lay person who is involved in such games of chance is excommunicated. Why do I simply say that you must not play such games? You must not even look upon those who do. The law of Photios decreed the following:

“Any bishop or clergyman who plays the dice or other such games of chance, or who simply keeps company with those who do and sits beside them when they play, must be deposed from doing any of his sacred duties and must not receive any of the provisions given by his diocese for a certain period of time until he repents. If he should persist in his evil even beyond the given time for repentance, he must be entirely banished from the ranks of the clergy and may become a secular officer of some kind for the province where he had been a clergyman.”24

According to Aremnopoulos, the One hundred and twenty-third Law of Justinian requires that they clergy who become drunkards and those who play the dice must be confined to a monastery. I say nothing of all the harm that comes to those who play cards and other such games, about which St. John Chrysostom wrote the following: “The vice of dice brings blasphemy, anger, harm, abuse, and a myriad more evils greater than these.”25 Aristotle himself, even though a pagan, numbered the gamblers among the thieves and robbers: “A dice player, a thief and a robber are among those who are not free, for they acquire their gain shamefully and illegally.”26

You have already heard above from the holy nun and mother of Iouvinos how harmful even simple bathing can be, especially to the young. In the act of bathing the sense of touch is certainly sorely tested and tempted. As we read in the sayings of the Fathers there were many ascetic fathers who hesitated even at the crossing of rivers, not only because they were ashamed to bathe their bodies but also because they did not even want to uncover their legs. These holy men were often in a flash transported across the river by an angel of God. St. Diadochos, bishop of Photiki, has written that the avoidance of baths is a manly achievement. “It is a manly and prudent thing to avoid baths. This way our bodies are not effeminate by that pleasurable flow of water over them, nor do we come to a remembrance of that shameful nakedness of Adam, so that we too seek to cover the shame with the [fig] leaves of a second excuse. Those who desire to keep their bodies spiritually pure are especially required to be united with the beauty of prudence and chastity.”27 Of course, it is understood and acceptable that occasionally one must bathe out of necessity for the sake of health and the requirement of an illness.

Achilles and Ajax playing dice
Achilles and Ajax playing dices

Notes

  1. The Ladder, Step 15.
  2. Homily 26.
  3. Homily 56.
  4. Homily 14, On Ephesians; Homily 20, On 2 Corinthians.
  5. Cleon the king of Athens was highly praised when he was made king against his will and then proceeded to call all his most dear friends and with sighing and sorrow took his leave from them, fearing that he might be forced to transgress the law because of their friendship. As a prudent man he had realized that friendship and authority cannot sit together at the same time upon the same cathedra. He who would exercise justice must put friendship aside. The story is also told of Routelios, the dear friend of Skouros. When Skouros requested an unjust favor from his friend Routelios and did not receive it, he was disturbed and retorted: “And what need have I of your friendship if I cannot get one small favor from you?” To this reproach Routelios replied: “And what need have I of your friendship if I am to do for you unjust deeds?” And their friendship came to an end. Above all the praise goes to Pericles the Athenian, who was being beseeched by a friend to take a false oath in order to support him. Pericles responded with the famous saying: “Friend up to the sanctuary,” that is to say, “I want to be your friend but only until we come up to the holy sanctuary” (where it was customary to place the hand when taking a public oath). It is necessary here to grieve bitterly! For if these persons who were far from the grace of the Gospel were able to rise to such heights of virtue with only the natural law, you who are an Orthodox Christian, a leader, a bishop, a ruler, what do you think? Can you disobey the law of God? Do you think that you will be saved? You are deluding yourself!
  6. Homily on Proverbs.
  7. Homily 3, On Acts.
  8. Homily 18, On Genesis.
  9. Address to the Young Men.
  10. Funeral Oration to Caesarios.
  11. The Lord himself through his own example taught us to travel in a humble manner. He himself used the humble donkey to enter Jerusalem and not a stallion. However, when the road is difficult or long it is permissible for bishops and Christians in general to travel with horses and mules, but these should not be animals of great value nor richly saddled and adorned.
  12. Commentary on Psalm 1.
  13. Homily on the Lord’s Day.
  14. Quoted in the Life of Cyril Phileotos.
  15. Homily 5.
  16. Homily 25, On Humility.
  17. Address to the Young Men.
  18. The Short Monastic Rule, 49.
  19. Homily on the Hexaemeron.
  20. Homily 11, On 1 Timothy.
  21. Epistle 74 to Caton the Monk.
  22. Homily on the Birth of Christ.
  23. From the
  24. The first Book of the Codex, Statute 34, Title 9, ch. 27.
  25. Homily in the Statutes.
  26. Nichomachean Ethics, Book 4.
  27. Diadochos of Photike, ch. 52.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s