The Truth about the Holy Mountain and its Monks (Dr Panagiotis Grigoriou, 2001)

NOTE: This article is taken from the Sunday Typos, June 10, 2001. It was written to refute Monk Michael’s accusations. Dr. Gregoriou is a Neurologist-Psychiatrist and director of the Psychiatric Department of the Halkidiki General Hospital.1 In this article, Dr. Gregoriou validates Monk Michael’s claim that there are Hagiorite monks who have mental disorders, see psychiatrists, and take psychiatric drugs. http://www.psyche.gr/lgreekdiasyndpsyttheo.htm

ΝΟΣΟΚΟΜΕΙΟ
Halkidiki General Hospital.

I was motivated to write this article when I read the Monk Michael Hatziantoniou’s interview with the journalist Peter Papavasileios (see the magazine “E” in the Sunday Eleftherotypia, April 22, 2001).

The reason I thought of myself to be a “substantive qualifier” is that I’ve practised psychiatry for 20 years. For the past 12 years, I’ve been the Director of the Psychiatric Department of the Halkidiki General Hospital in whose jurisdiction Mount Athos falls in terms of health coverage.

With my position, I know very well the question under dispute (the use of psychiatric drugs on Mount Athos). Moreover, the fact that I have regularly visited Mount Athos since 1974 (I was then a graduate student at the Medical School of Athens University) permits me to know the people and things of the area quite well.

Ιατρικής Σχολής του Πανεπιστημίου Αθηνών
Medical School of Athens University

Firstly, why did the news use the pompous title with the exclamation that “They Take Psychiatric Drugs on Mount Athos?” For a prudent and impartial reader, it has the same “originality” as “They take antibiotics or antihypertensive or anti-rheumatic medications on Mount Athos.” Psychiatric drugs are also medications that relieve and help the people who need them. I don’t understand why particularly on Mount Athos the mentally ill should not take psychotropic drugs. Is it not a shame to be excluded from the therapeutic means of modern medical science?

Fr. Michael rents his garments: “I cannot bear this situation,” he says. He maintains that anyone can cure their mental symptoms with personal effort. Something that is heard daily amongst the ignorant: “Banish your anxiety, pull the sadness from your soul, throw it out,” etc. Similar views proceed either from ignorance or out of some unconscious fear against mental illness and psychotropic drugs. If such counsels were effective then the existence of our psychiatrists would probably have been unnecessary.

Prozac

Another “scandalous revelation” Fr. Michael makes—that Hagiorites are visiting psychiatrists—pertains to the same spirit! But are we psychiatrists such defiled beings that all sensible and virtuous people must avoid us “so as not to be defiled?” The fact that Hagiorites visit psychiatrists constitutes an occasion of praise, not reproach. If they didn’t visit psychiatrists then they should be accused of medievalism and criminal omission.2

RESPONSIBILITIES

I stress here that the attitude of some religious people—even spiritual fathers—who claim that anyone who lives in God should never resort to psychiatrists or psychotropic drugs is, in every respect, incorrect.3 They believe that psychiatrists wrongly assume responsibilities that belong exclusively to God and the spiritual father. The Hagiorite monks, following the vibrant spiritual tradition, avoid such absolutes. They recognize the difference between mental and spiritual problems. Like all other diseases, they consider mental illnesses result from defects and the corruption of post-Fall man. They do not identify mental illnesses with outside demonic influences. The respect of the Hagiorites towards the proper use of its results is an example of wisdom and ampleness of spirit.

If I understood correctly, Fr. Michael implies amongst his contradictions that the way of life imposed upon the monks (militarization) is what causes psychiatric problems. He also insinuates that some Hagiorites (I wonder what percentage?) who regretted becoming monks were trapped in the system and because they were prevented from leaving the monastery occasionally they killed themselves or set themselves on fire.4 Then the abbots, in order to deter their escape from Mount Athos, issue them psychotropic drugs to bend their will and make them thoughtless, subservient zombies! Yet, Fr. Michael doesn’t complain that he had such a treatment when he decided to abandon his monastery. Contrary to what one not acquainted with such things might imagine, the way of life on the Holy Mountain is not disease producing but rather psychotherapeutic.

Thic Duc
On June 11, 1963, a Vietnamese monk named Thich Quang Duc shocked the world when he burned himself to death in public as a protest against the Vietnamese government, a gesture known as self-immolation.

The reference to famous boxes with mysterious contents is naive at the very least. The monasteries obtain their drugs from pharmacies, usually from Thessaloniki, because they don’t operate a pharmacy on Mount Athos. The medication orders for the needs of 80-100 people (with a large percentage of elderly) for a period of one or two months apparently have some volume and should be packed well in “boxes” to reach their destination safely. Usually, these boxes contain drugs of every kind and a portion of them are psychotropic drugs. Let he who doubts ask any pharmacy serving a population of 2,000 residents and let him learn what the current monthly consumption of psychotropic drugs is and a percentage of all drugs, but also an absolute number inserted in boxes and let him calculate their approximate volume. It should be taken into consideration that a significant portion of these drugs are consumed for the extraordinary needs of the numerous visitors as well as the hundreds of laymen who work on the Mountain.5

DISORDERS

Mount Athos is also entitled to have its mentally ill. It would be very unnatural if they didn’t exist since the percentage of those in the adult population who exhibit mental disorders at any given time has been estimated at around 15% for residents in the Western hemisphere.

Besides, as we know, one does not require a bill of health to become a monk, nor is a monk expelled from his monastery when some serious illness appears.6 Mount Athos is not an unrealistic place, nor does it aspire to present an outward image of an “elite” community, like the “caste” of Eastern religions or Gnostics or whatever else. The Athonite State, Panagia’s Garden, is an open space, social and genuinely human; a struggling society journeying towards God. The sick have their place and even honour in such a community! Where else would the remaining healthy monks show their love, patience and ministry if not to those who are beside them even if they happen to be sick?

Caste system

I cannot tolerate that Fr. Michael—the author of the article—professes the popular unscientific opinions: “Don’t go to the crazy doctor, he will make you completely crazy and you will be stigmatized for life!” Or, “Don’t take psychiatric medicine, they’re narcotics, you’ll become dependent and you’ll be rendered a vegetable!” Such positions need no response, this would be futile.7

As a doctor, my ascertainment is that the mentally ill on Mount Athos are treated more correctly, more scientifically and more effectively than whatever in the outside world.8 The monastic family surround the suffering brother with much care, love and tolerance and spare neither expense nor labor to ensure the best possible treatment and aid.9 He is provided a treatment rarely seen in today’s society, with respect to mental illness, the suffering monk’s soul and his dignity—a treatment that preserves the patient’s self-esteem.10 It should be made clear that in no way is an incompetent person involved in the treatment process. They follow the indication on the medication from the specialist physician, which is prescribed under the responsibility of the rural clinic in Karyes. Also, the administration of drugs and the assessment of the patient’s clinical progress are not made by upstart monks. Most of the monasteries have at least one or more doctor-monks with extensive experience who have impressed me with their scientific competence and awareness.11 The long existing journey of mentally ill Athonite monks is many times better than those who have mental illnesses in the world, where human dignity is trivialized with confinement in psychiatric asylums or the taunts of their fellow villagers.12

The Town of Karye
The Town of Karyes

Fr. Michael’s inappropriate parallelism of Bedouin doped out on hashish and the Athonite monks is an unfortunate verbal exaggeration.13 It might have been worthwhile before the interview was published to have a psychiatrist (of a trusted newspaper) examine the text and question whether Fr. Michael’s allegations have any scientific standing. I am certain that he would have agreed with me that the anti-psychiatry opinions usually belong to uneducated people.14

SCANDAL-MONGERING

Regarding Fr. Michael’s “showcase” allegation, Mount Athos does not claim to be a society of perfect men.15 Moreover, he stresses in the last paragraph of the interview (essentially negating everything previous): “The majority of monks are very nice guys! The love, they look at you with clean eyes. I speak for the majority because there are certainly a very small number of monks who have a pure heart…” If this is the case then what is with all the scandal-mongering throughout the rest of the interview? He did not clarify for us from the start of the interview that he was only speaking about a few exceptions! He allowed us to believe that this is the picture of Mount Athos in general. According to Fr. Michael, what is the real and representative showcase of Mount Athos? The 5-10 likeable mentally ill patients, 5-10 unruly monks and the one monk who set himself on fire? Do we not wrong the 2000 struggling monks who live imperceptibly with ascesis, a pure life and hard work, and are happy and normal?16

We were distressed in seeing the exceptions generalized. The error of one was aggrandized and expressed while the virtue of the many was hushed up. The Hagiorites know this and it is natural and imperative for them to take precautions. We accuse them of hypocrisy because they protect themselves? What family would voluntarily surrender the proclamation of their son or daughter’s deviation to public vilification and shaming? By protecting the reputation of the person who erred, as well as the family’s reputation, from the sneer of the voracious publicity, we hope to heal the wounds. Otherwise, “the last error becomes worse than the first.” Mount Athos is a community of true love where the erring sinners are neither ostracized nor pilloried or stoned.17 They are consoled and covered as suffering brothers and they are “economized” with sympathy and spiritual treatment so they are induced to “repentance and come to salvation.”

Elder Makarios

Fr. Michael’s interview saddened me. He light-heartedly accuses holy people—humble and obscure to the general public—but accomplished in the heart of whoever knew those who apparently “raised themselves as charismatic figures” to captivate souls! It is a shame for a monk to offer his brothers and fathers as victims to the Moloch of publicity in exchange for the silver pieces and the honorary title of “debunker” and “whistle-blower” who apparently tells everything out right. The monastic life starts out with promises of obedience, humility, and devotion to the brotherhood. Self-projection and self-complacency are not included in these promises. In searching for the deeper “why”, I would say that Fr. Michael’s position against the Holy Mountain, in a psychodynamic interpretation, serves as a personal apology.18

Finally, I want to reassure and cheer up those who were perhaps troubled by reading the publication of “E”. No! The Mountain is not a “concentration camp,” nor some “mental hospital” for dissidents.19 The Kassandres and those appearing as benevolent dirge singers have no place here!20 Mount Athos did not lose the “rota”, it is not sinking! The Holy Mountain continues to sail correctly as it has for centuries. For over a thousand years, the rowers stand vigilant night and day at their oar. The Captain—the Lady of the Mount—holds the steering wheel firmly and the compass firmly shows God’s Kingdom. It is not shipwrecked and it collects castaways!

AthosMap
The island of Amoulianni, off the northwest coast of Athos, was once said to be run like a sort of ‘concentration camp’ for naughty monks.

NOTES:

  1. A google search of Dr. Grigoriou’s name in Greek only produces results in connection to this article. There is no photo, articles or a record of him anywhere in Greece other than in relation to this article. Other doctors with the same name do not have the same credentials as listed here. There is a Dr. Panagiotis Dimitrios Grigoriou in the UK, GMC # 7015533. His primary medical qualification is listed as Ptychio Iatrikes 2006 National Capodistrian University of Athens and he is obviously not the same person as the author of this article.
  2. According to the contemporary spiritual fathers of Greece, all neuroses stem from the guilt of unconfessed sins. The monastery is a hospital where the sick go to be healed. However, if daily confession and revelation of thoughts, combined with frequent Holy Communion and the Jesus Prayer isn’t helping the monk, will a psychiatrist be able to help the individual monk more than his own spiritual father? Hierotheos Vlachos writes, “Orthodoxy is mainly a therapeutic science and treatment. It differs clearly from other psychiatric methods, because it is not anthropocentric and because it does not do its work with human methods, but with the help and energy of divine grace, essentially through the synergy of divine and human volition… I know that the term `psychotherapy’ is almost modern and is used by many psychiatrists to indicate the method which they follow for curing neurotics. But since many psychiatrists do not know the Church’s teaching or do not wish to apply it, and since their anthropology is very different from the anthropology and soteriology of the Fathers, in using the term `psychotherapy’, I have not made use of their views. It would have been very easy at some points to set out their views, some of which agree with the teaching of the Fathers and others of which are in conflict with it, and to make the necessary comments, but I did not wish to do that. I thought that it would be better to follow the teaching of the Church through the Fathers without mingling them together. Therefore I have prefixed the word `Orthodox’ to the word `Psychotherapy’ (healing of the soul), to make the title “Orthodox Psychotherapy”. It could also have been formulated as “Orthodox Therapeutic Treatment”.(Orthodox Psychotherapy, Introduction)
  3. Most contemporary spiritual fathers are not against their spiritual children going to psychiatrists and, in certain cases, taking psychotropics. See http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/11/elder-epiphanios-theodoropoulos-on_11.html However, some spiritual fathers do not agree with monastics seeing psychiatrists or taking psychotropic drugs.
  4. It is amazing that Dr. Grigoriou, with all his experience, is unaware of the vast amount of research in his field on the subject of blind obedience, authoritarianism, cult-like mentalities, and the emotional and psychological abuse that exist in such oppressive atmospheres. Evidence shows that these things lead to neuroses, PTSD, and various other mental illnesses. Studies on the emotional and psychological effects of confinement and feeling trapped are also in abundance.
  5. Dr. Grigoriou does not clarify if these medications are administered to laymen by monastics that are licensed professionals, or if these professionals have up-to-date training.
  6. This statement is not true, at least for the monasteries under Geronda Ephraim. There are numerous stories in circulation about the numerous monastics Geronda Ephraim sent packing on Mount Athos. The reasons ranged from not doing obedience, causing to many scandals, becoming a danger to themselves or others, homosexual incidents, or just so deluded that something really bad could have happened if they were allowed to stay. Geronda Ephraim has also sent a number of novices home from Arizona for various issues. As for prerequisites, homosexuals are generally not allowed to become monks. Geronda Ephraim has said it’s like inviting the devil into your monastery, and without going into specifics, he has hinted at the damage such men have caused in monasteries on Mount Athos. Also, people with mental illnesses are gently discouraged from becoming monastics in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries and are usually told it would be better for them to remain and struggle in the world.
  7. Monk Michael did not say those things in his interview. Perhaps Dr. Grigoriou heard read them in some of his other writings?
  8. As a layman who visits the monasteries and witnesses the front stage behavior—without actually living in a monastery or being a monk and witnessing the back stage behavior—Dr. Grigoriou is not in a position to make such a catch all statement. Monastics who make statements like this usually have a PR agenda.
  9. Sick monks—either physically or mentally—have all had their own experiences of neglect from their brother monastics. One who has to stay in his cell may be forgotten and not have meals brought to him, or the person who tends to them may get caught up in another obedience and not show up to help, etc, in some cases remaining in a dirty diaper for a day or so before his monk-attendant comes to change his diaper and bathe him. A monastic suffering from some ailment may not be able to go to a doctor for a long period of time due to whatever circumstances, thus prolonging the suffering. At other times, the Geronda may say do patience and one has to endure. Again, one may have been given specific instructions for recovery and the Geronda will cut it short, saying it’s not necessary, you’re fine and you have to work, now go.
  10. Again, Dr. Grigoriou is trying to paint an unrealistic utopia experience for ailing monks. Fr. Makarios of St. Anthony’s Monastery, AZ is a perfect example of how this is not always true. After he received his head injury and remained in a somewhat vegetative state, it put a strain on the brotherhood. Some of the younger monks giggled and mocked some of his newly acquired idiosyncrasies, especially during the services when he would stand up abruptly and say insensible things or pass wind in church throughout the night. Initially, Geronda said, “What use is he now? He has the mind of a baby,” and wanted to send him home. However, he did not send him away because he felt obliged to keep him (Fr. Makarios’ father is a priest who helps out at Geronda Ephraim’s nunneries). Of course, there was economia given to him due to his mental incapacitation but not all his brother monks had patience and understanding towards him. The reality in a monastery is once you start losing your usefulness you are made to feel like a burden. Woe unto those who get old and have nothing to contribute to the monastery; even more so if they need to take other monastics from more useful jobs to help them in their daily routine.
  11. In many of the monasteries, the doctor monastics do not keep up-to-date with their training. Thus, many times one finds a doctor with an outdated degree. Of course, the basics don’t change much but would you trust going to a doctor who graduated from university in say 1990, never had a practice, and has not kept up-to-date on his training or the new breakthroughs in science and medicine nor had his license renewed?
  12. Again, this is a far stretch of a statement. A perfect example would be the monasteries here in North America where fat-shaming is quite common among the monastics. The following information is not written to center anyone out or further fat shame individuals, but to point out that these things happen in the monasteries just as they do in the world. Furthermore, there is a complex link between obesity and mental illness and fat shaming is a method of stigmatizing. In the beginning, Fr. Germanos was constantly the brunt of jokes and taunts about his weight (both to his face and behind his back). In the mid-90’s, when Fr. Germanos was visiting Archangels Monastery in Texas, Geronda Dositheos walked up to him and said, “Do you know what we use to do to fat kids in school?” and he bumped his stomach into Fr. Germanos’ stomach. Also in the mid-late 90s, while Fr. Germanos was looking for property in New York, Geronda Ephraim gave many homilies to the Fathers in Arizona. In a couple of homilies, he’d joke about Fr. Germanos with his cheeks puffed, arms outstretched indicating fat, and wobble his body back and forth. All the Fathers would break out in laughter at this display. Though Fr. Germanos was not present for these homilies, he’d hear his brothers laughing and mocking him years later when these cassettes were digitalized and all the monasteries were given the DVDs. Another time, Fr. Germanos had forgot to erase his data from the treadmill they bought for the monastery. Fr. Kassianos, Fr. Michael and Fr. Kosmas had to move it from the living room up to the attic to make room for pilgrims and read the data which included his weight. These monks then joked about it and revealed to the other fathers, including Geronda, how much Fr. Germanos weighed. As time went on, stress-eating and high dessert diets increased in the other monasteries and the other superiors and second-in-commands also started to increase in weight and size; many hitting the 300lb + mark. As the other monastics’ weights increased, the teasing of Fr. Germanos decreased. Once, when the subject of how much weight all the abbots have been gaining came up, Fr. Germanos said jokingly, “It’s because you all judged me.” Taunts and shaming exist in the monasteries and neither the physically deformed, the handicapped or mentally ill are spared. Of course, those who become offended are given this explanation, “We do it out of love, not malice.” But in what universe can this be considered monastic, let alone Christian conduct? Sarcasm, contempt and mockery are not indications of brotherly love nor the presence of the Holy Spirit.
  13. It’s not a far stretch. For example, when Fr. Gergory was a hieromonk at St. Anthony’s Monastery, he drank skullcap, St. John’s Wort, and various other nerve relaxant teas around the clock. And he walked around like he was zoned out and doped up. Other monastics that have a blessing for sleeping pills or herbal remedies to help them sleep also have similar demeanors. The monastics who have a blessing to take Lorazepam for anxiety attacks, panic or stress also have similar doped out demeanors. However, the monastics who take antihistamines with pseudoephedrine are a little more alert and tweaked out (though in some monasteries the use of allergy medicine with pseudoephedrine is no longer blessed. This is because some monastics were abusing the medicine and taking it even when they had no allergy symptoms).
  14. Dr. Grigoriou opens his article with his credentials, familiarity with Mount Athos and the fact that there are Hagiorite monks on psychotropic drugs. These things, he states, make him a “substantive qualifier” to address Monk Michael’s interview. Now, Dr. Grigoriou suggests any psychiatrist is quite capable of analyzing the subject. Someone in Dr. Grigoriou’s position must be aware that many Greek psychiatrists are atheists and have biases and predispositions against Christianity, especially the monastic life.
  15. The deeper issue is when the showcase and external image of a monastery become more important than the individual monastics. How often does the showcase image lead to harm (either of a monastic or a laymen)? To what lengths will a monastery go—lying, perjury, gaslighting, cover-ups—what illegal activities will it commit, to ensure that its image remains spotless? And how do these methods damage individuals?
  16. This is a classic example of monastic minimization of serious issues. Not to mention, Dr. Grigoriou is actually stigmatizing the mentally ill by indirectly calling them “abnormal,” when he states that the other monks are “happy and normal.”
  17. Ostracizing does occur in monasteries. This usually happens when a monastic is not doing obedience or toeing the line. Many times, the superior may instruct the members of the brotherhood to ignore this individual, do not talk to him/her, walk away if this individual tries talking to you, etc. Ostracizing also occurs when one is punished in the Lity or given only rusks or one piece of fruit for a meal while everyone else has a full meal. Ostracizing erring monastics is suggested as an instructional technique by St. Basil the Great, St. John of the Ladder and many other Church Fathers.
  18. This resembles a spiritual father’s reproach to his spiritual child; the wording is attempted to instill guilt. The author is playing the Judas card; a classic amongst the Elders. A similar tactic was used in the HOCNA circles when former monastics started revealing the homosexual abuses perpetrated by their Geronda, Fr. Panteleimon Metropoulos. Ad hominen and straw man attacks and arguments were used against the former monastics that were sexually abused and raped. Gaslighting and dismissing them as deluded liars and Judas traitors was a common tactic used. In the last century, similar methods were used in other Orthodox scandal stories against the accusers/ whistle-blowers. In many of these situations, it eventually came to light that the accused were guilty and they ended up in prison or defrocked.
  19. The island of Amoulianni, off the northwest coast of Athos, was once said to be run like a sort of ‘concentration camp’ for naughty monks. (See Ralph H. Brewster, The 6,000 Beards of Athos, 1935, p. 26). Up to early 1900s, Ammouliani was a dependency of Vatopedi Monasteryof Mount Athos. In 1925, the island was given in the refugees’ families who had come from islands of Propontis (Marmaras Sea), after Asia Minor Disaster. The population of the island was developed quickly and today the island has over 500 residents. Nowadays Ammouliani is a touristic place with frequent transportation with the opposite coast.
  20. The Cassandra metaphor(variously labelled the Cassandra ‘syndrome’, ‘complex’, ‘phenomenon’, ‘predicament’, ‘dilemma’, or ‘curse’) occurs when valid warnings or concerns are dismissed or disbelieved. The Cassandra metaphor is applied by some psychologists to individuals who experience physical and emotional suffering as a result of distressing personal perceptions, and who are disbelieved when they attempt to share the cause of their suffering with others. In 1963, psychologist Melanie Klein provided an interpretation of Cassandra as representing the human moral conscience whose main task is to issue warnings. Cassandra as moral conscience, “predicts ill to come and warns that punishment will follow and grief arise.” Cassandra’s need to point out moral infringements and subsequent social consequences is driven by what Klein calls “the destructive influences of the cruel super-ego,” which is represented in the Greek myth by the god Apollo, Cassandra’s overlord and persecutor. Klein’s use of the metaphor centers on the moral nature of certain predictions, which tends to evoke in others “a refusal to believe what at the same time they know to be true, and expresses the universal tendency toward denial, [with] denial being a potent defence against persecutory anxiety and guilt.” (See Klein, M., Envy and Gratitude- And Other Works 1946–1963)
  • Filotheou Brotherhood late ca. 80s/early 90s [Geronda Paisios of Arizona, kneeling far right, Fr. Germanos of NY kneeling opposite]
    Filotheou Brotherhood late ca. 80s/early 90s [Geronda Paisios of Arizona, kneeling far right, Fr. Germanos of NY kneeling opposite]

Repentance and Confession amongst the Ancient Pagans (St. Nektarios the Wonderworker)

NOTE: This article is taken from Repentance and Confession, pp. 37-38; 45-47: http://www.stnektariosmonastery.org/literature.php

NY Entrance Road

The Ancient Greeks considered confession necessary and beneficial, because as they were initiated into the Eleusinian and Samo-Thracian mysteries,1 they would confess their sins beforehand (Plutarch, On Sparta: Sayings). Socrates spoke of confession as salvific: “If he is unjust, he should willingly go there, where he will give an account as quickly as possible as if to a physician, hastening so that the ailment of injustice does not remain for a long period of time and render the soul infected and incurable” (Plato, Gorgias).

A Samothracian relief showing Agamemnon being initiated into the Cabeirian rites
A Samothracian relief showing Agamemnon being initiated into the Cabeirian rites

Pythagoras would also say: “do not attempt to cover your sins with words, but to treat them with reproval.” And Aristotle asserts: “the person who confesses the sin committed honestly renders himself not far from sinlessness.”…

Medieval woodcut showing Pythagoras with bells and other instruments in Pythagorean tuning
Medieval woodcut showing Pythagoras with bells and other instruments in Pythagorean tuning

The most ancient civilizations, having sinned, would offer propitiating sacrifices to God. As they offered these sacrifices, they would confess their sins. These prayers sent up to God from every part of the world are a certain type of active confession of the human race to God. The propitiating sacrifices are a certain type of active confession of the sin and guilt of those who offer them. The person who does not confess his sin finds himself perpetually under the weight of guilt and distanced from God. This is why the soul suffers and pains.

The Person Who Has Sinned is Obligated to Satisfy the Divine Righteousness

The satisfaction of the Divine Righteousness, which has been offended through the creation of sin by the iniquitous person, is both i) something demanded by justice (in order for treatment of the soul to occur), as well as ii) an internal disposition of the sinful man to propitiate God.

The demand by justice and the disposition of the heart originate from the same source: the perennial nature of the Divine Law. Justice demands satisfaction on account of the everlastingness of the Divine Law, which sin has plotted against. Additionally, due to an internal impulse, the heart seeks to satisfy the Divine Righteousness, internally it desires and seeks the reign of the Divine Law, and it hastens to act on behalf of its eternal truth. This internal desire emanates from the concordance of the inner will of man with the Law of God.

St. Nektarios
St. Nektarios

The demand [by justice] and the eagerness [of the heart] are set forth to combat sin, because every sin is an adversary of God’s Law and an enemy of the peace and the kingdom of God upon the earth, which sin seeks to disturb and bring to confusion and disorder.

Sin, being undesirable by nature, is uncreated; as uncreated, it is something non-existent. However, it receives hypostasis when it is created by unnatural human desire. But since the entire creation is full of the Lord’s works, while His Law has been poured upon the entire face of the earth, this unnatural human desire and creation that receives hypostasis also receives some type of place and displaces the good that has been created by God. If then God created everything very well, it follows that this new creation that entered into the world also disturbed and harmed the reigning good and plotted against the Law of God. Therefore, sin is a great evil against God because it threatens to destroy the work of God. And since its creator is man, when man sins, he sins against God; this is why he is obligated to satisfy the Divine Righteousness, while destroying the evil he has created and working on behalf of the everlastingness of God’s Law.

The repentance of the Prophet David at the rebuke of the Prophet Nathan
The repentance of the Prophet David at the rebuke of the Prophet Nathan

Both the Jews and the Gentiles held this belief that every sin is referred to God. Both the Holy Scriptures and the writings of the Gentiles are replete with such testimonies. David, while confessing his sins to God says: “Against Thee only have I sinned and done this evil before Thee” (Ps. 50:6). While Hesiod2 says that justice is a virgin and daughter of God, honored and respected by even the gods themselves. When someone insults her by intentionally dishonoring her, she immediately sits by God and relates to Him the unjust opinion of people, so that the people may repay justice for the unjust actions of their kings:

“One of them is the virgin, born of Zeus,

Justice, revered by all the Olympian gods.

Whenever she is hurt by perjurers,

Straightway she sits beside her father Zeus

And tells him of the unjust hearts of men,

Until the city suffers for its lords

Who recklessly, with mischief in their minds,

Pervert their judgments crookedly….”3

From these verses, Hesiod appears to proclaim not only that every sin is referred to God, but also that no reconciliation takes place between Divine Righteousness and man unless the necessary satisfaction is given for the injustices committed.

"The Dance of the Muses at Mount Helicon" by Bertel Thorvaldsen (1807). Hesiod cites inspiration from the Muses while on Mount Helicon.
“The Dance of the Muses at Mount Helicon” by Bertel Thorvaldsen (1807). Hesiod cites inspiration from the Muses while on Mount Helicon.

NOTES:

  • Samothrace: a Greek island in the northern Aegean. Eleusis: a city in ancient Greece, northwest of Athens. The mysteries that took place in these two locations were secret religious rites of ancient Greece, celebrated every spring in honor of Demeter and Persephone; they symbolized the annual death and resurrection of vegetation.
  • A famed Greek didactic poet who lived during the 8th century B.C.
  • Hesiod and Theogenis, Works and Days, verses 255-261.

NY Winter-Fathers

On Unordained Monastics Hearing Confessions (St. Symeon the New Theologian)

NOTE: The following article is excerpted from the First Epistle of St. Symeon the New Theologian, entitled A Treatise to a Spiritual Child about Confession and who they are that have received authority to bind and loose as regards:

Epistles

…The possibility of making our confession to a monk who has not received the order of priesthood, ever since the vesture and clothing which is the mark of repentance was given by God to his inheritance and they were called ‘monks’, this you will find to have been open to everybody, as is written in the divinely inspired writings of the fathers. If you study them you will find that what I am saying is true. Before there were monks, bishops alone used to receive the authority to bind and loose, by right of succession, as coming from the divine apostles. But with the passing of time and with the bishops becoming good for nothing, this awe-inspiring function was extended to priests of blameless life and accounted worthy of divine grace. And when these also were infected with disorder, priests and bishops together becoming like the rest of the people, and many of them, as is also the case now, falling foul of spirits of deceit and idle chatter, and perishing, then this function was transferred, as I said, to the elect people of Christ, I mean the monks. It was not withdrawn from the priests or bishops, but they deprived themselves of it. ‘For every priest is appointed as a mediator between God and men in things pertaining to God,’ as Paul says, ‘and he is bound to offer sacrifice, as for the people, so also for himself.’ But let us start our discourse further back, and observe whence, and how, and to whom, this authority to perform sacred rites and to bind and loose was originally given. And thus step by step the solution which you asked for will also become plain, not for you alone, but for everyone else as well.

…They were the specially chosen eleven, and when the doors were shut, and they were assembled together within, he came and stood in the midst of them. He breathed on them and said, Receive the Holy Spirit. Whosesoever sins you forgive, they are forgiven them; whosesoever sins you retain, they are retained. And at that time he enjoined nothing on them as to penances, for they were to be taught by the Holy Spirit. As then I have already said, the holy apostles in succession passed on this authority to those who were also the occupants of their throne, while none of the rest dared even think of such a thing, thus did the Lord’s disciples scrupulously guard the right to this authority. But as we said, with the passing of time the unworthy were mixed and mingled with the worthy, and they strove for pre-eminence one against another. Indeed, after the occupants of the apostles’ thrones showed themselves to be carnal men, lovers of pleasure and glory, and after they fell away into heresies, the divine grace abandoned them as well, and this authority was withdrawn from such men. Accordingly, as they have given up everything else which those who perform sacred rites ought to have, what is demanded of them is merely this one thing, orthodoxy—and not even this, in my opinion, since someone who in modern times refrains from surreptitiously introducing a dogma into the Church of God is not thereby orthodox, but an orthodox is someone who has achieved a mode of life consistent with right doctrine. And it is he or a similar man whom the patriarchs and metropolitans down the ages either were looking for but never came across, or in place of whom, if they did find him, they preferred an unworthy man. They demanded only this of the man, that he should produce the confession of our faith in writing, and in him they welcomed only this, his being neither zealous on behalf of goodness, nor as regards evil an opponent to anybody—as if thereby they were securing peace for the Church, when that state of things is worse than all hostility and a cause of great confusion.

As a result of this, then, the priests became good for nothing, and as the Lord said, they have become like the people. For they did not reprove, hold in, and restrain, but rather they excused and covered up one another’s passions, and the priests themselves became worse than the people, and the people worse than the priests. Yet some of the people were even revealed as better than they, being seen as burning coals in the gloomy darkness round the priests. If indeed the priests had, in accordance with the Lord’s word, been shining like stars through their mode of life, and like the sun, the burning coals would not have appeared resplendent but would have looked dim by reason of that stronger light. But when only the clothing and vesture of the priesthood was left amongst men, the gift of the Spirit passed to monks and was disclosed by miraculous signs, because through what they did they were following the apostles’ mode of life. Yet there too the Devil again performed his characteristic work, for when he saw them, how they were proclaimed in the world as new disciples of Christ once more, and how they shone both through their mode of life and through their miracles, he mingled false brothers amongst them, his own tools. And having little by little increased in number, they became good for nothing, as you see, and they have come to be monks who are not really monks at all. So then the right to forgive sins has not been granted by God either to those who are monks in virtue of their habit, or to those who have been ordained and included in the order of priesthood, or to those honoured with episcopal rank—I mean patriarchs, metropolitans, and bishops—simply in this way and by reason of their ordination and the dignity it confers. Far from it! For it is only the performance of sacred rites which has been conceded to them, and I think not even that to most of them, in order that thereby they may not be burnt up, being grass, but [the right to forgive belongs] only to those amongst priests, bishops, and monks who can be numbered with the companies of Christ’s disciples because of their purity.

By what then will those who are included amongst the men previously described recognize themselves with certainty, and those searching for them do so? It will be by what the Lord taught us when he spoke as follows: These miraculous signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues—this is the divinely inspired teaching of the Word—;they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them;and again: My sheep hear my voice; and again: By their fruits you will recognize them. What fruits? When Paul reckons up the greater number of them, he speaks thus: The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, temperance, and together with these there is compassion, brotherly love, mercy, and the qualities that accompany them, and besides them a word of wisdom, a word of knowledge, endowments with power to perform miracles and very many others, which are all the work of one and the same Spirit, distributing them to each person as he wills. So then those who have come to have a share in these endowments, whether in them all or partially, as is expedient for them, those were included in the company of the apostles, and there also those like them now being made perfect are included. However, it is not only by these endowments that such people can be known, but also by the way they live their lives, for it is thus that with greater certainty both those seeking such a man will recognize him, and also each person of this kind will recognize himself: for example, if in likeness to our Lord Jesus Christ they considered being made contemptible and humiliated not shameful but the greatest glory; and if, like him, they displayed obedience to their fathers and guides with no dissimulation, and even more to those giving them injunctions in spiritual matters; if from their very soul they loved dishonour, insults, reproaches, and abuse, and welcomed those who inflicted these upon them as people supplying them with great benefits, and from their very soul prayed for them, with tears; if they considered all glory in the world worth nothing, and everything in it refuse;—and why prolong my discourse by saying many things?—if he has practised every virtue designated in the holy Scriptures, and likewise every good work, and has recognized his progress as regards each one of them, and the level he has reached, and if he is being raised to the height of divine glory; it is then that he both knows himself to have become someone who participates in God and his endowments, and he will be known as such by those who are clear-sighted, or even by those who are half-blind.

And thus men of this kind would confidently tell everyone: We are ambassadors on behalf of Christ, as if God were appealing to you through us, Be reconciled to God. For all such men have kept God’s commandments unto death, they have sold their possessions, distributed them to the poor, and followed Christ through their patient endurance of temptations, and for love of God they have lost their souls in the world and found them again for eternal life. And finding their souls, they have found them in a light which is spiritual, and in this light they have seen the light unapproachable, God himself, according to that which stands written: In thy light we shall see light. How then is it possible for someone to find the soul that he has? Pay heed. Each person’s soul is the silver coin which was lost, not by God, but by each of us, because he immersed himself in the darkness of sin; and Christ, who truly is light, has come and, in a way that only he knows, has met with those seeking him, and allowed them to see him. This is what it means for a man to find his soul: to see God, and in his light to become higher himself than all the visible created universe, and to have God as his shepherd and teacher. And in the power of God he, if you like, will both know how to bind and loose, and also because he has certain knowledge of this, he will worship the Giver, and he would impart the benefit of it to those needing it.

I know, my child, that to such men authority to bind and loose is given by God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, to those who are God’s sons by adoption and his holy servants. I was also myself the disciple of such a father, who had received no ordination from men, but who, by the hand of God, or that is to say, by the Spirit, admitted me to discipleship, and who /ordered me to receive in the right way, by means of the traditional form, the ordination which is from men. And let us pray, brothers, that we also may become men of this kind, in order that we may be participants in God’s grace and receive authority to bind and loose sins, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom it is right to ascribe all glory, honour, and worship, now and forever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

…ordered me to receive in the right way, by means of the traditional form, the ordination which is from men, being moved for a long time by the Holy Spirit towards this by his vigorous love. Therefore, brothers and fathers, let us pray that we may first become men such as this, and thus speak to others about deliverance from passions and receiving the disclosure of logismoi. Let us seek for a man of this kind as our confessor, or rather let us seek for diligent men such as this, men who are disciples of Christ, and with heart-felt anguish and many tears, for a specified number of days, let us beseech God to open the eyes of our hearts so that we may recognize one, if someone such as this is to be found in this evil generation. Let us do so in order that, having found such a man, we may receive forgiveness of our sins through him, while obeying his precepts and commandments with all our soul, just as he, by giving heed to those of Christ, has come to share in his grace and his gifts, and has received from him the authority to bind and loose sins, being inflamed by the Holy Spirit, to whom it is right to ascribe all glory, honour, and worship, with the Father and the Only-begotten Son, throughout the ages. Amen.

St Symeon the New Theologian

Additional note

Here and elsewhere Symeon fails to distinguish between two different kinds of succession: that which is ecclesiastical and authenticates contemporary bishops as rightful official successors of the apostles, and the different kind of apostolic succession which is manifested in personal holiness and is the mark of genuine spiritual fathers, ordained or unordained.

St. Symeon is convinced that without a personal experience of Christ, no one should dare to give absolution. Similarly, if one has not been enlightened by divine light, one should not presume to listen to other people’s disclosures of their logismoi, and teach and guide them.

St. Symeon does admit that priests have authority to forgive sins. Rather inconsistently, however, he then at once maintains that this is given only to those whom he is prepared to call really good priests, giving a detailed description of their character and behavior. It is they who have this authority, ‘and not those who obtain from men merely their election and their ordination’.

In his Catechism, St. Symeon says priests that live holy lives certainly have authority to pronounce absolution, while he explicitly denies that ordination could just by itself bestow this qualification. While bishops and priests were intended to have the authority, Symeon says in this letter that they deprived themselves of the right. On the other hand, he was convinced that all genuinely spiritual men do have the necessary qualification for giving or withholding absolution. St. Symeon declares that since many bishops and priests had been found lacking in spirituality, authority to absolve has been extended to monks, but only, of course, to such as are truly spiritual.

In spite of his severe criticism of unworthy priests and bishops and of his assertion that unordained monks, if truly spiritual men, might give absolution, St. Symeon was himself a priest.

The typikon of the monastery of Theotokos Evergetis, founded in 1048 or 1049, provides for the hegumen to authorize some of the priests, deacons, or pious brethren to receive the confessions of their logismoi made by the less educated monks and to forgive them. And an apparently unordained monk who heard confessions appears in The Life of St Andrew the Fool.

Krivocheine remarks that Symeon’s position ‘was never officially approved by the Orthodox Church and was practically forgotten over the centuries . . . However, it was never condemned by the Church, directly or indirectly, nor was it rejected by clerical opinion, particularly in monastic circles . . .’ (In the Light, p. 139).

imagesX8974D5N

Abortion: The Finishing Blow (Geronda Ephraim of Arizona)

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

The Art of Salvation

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.

http://www.orthodoxchristian.info/pages/abortion3.html
http://www.orthodoxchristian.info/pages/abortion3.html

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.

An Athonite Geronda had said abortion clinics were part of a Jewish conspiracy to kill Christian babies and lower the Christian population; he stated it was a form of ritual human sacrifice.
An Athonite Geronda had said abortion clinics were part of a Jewish conspiracy to kill Christian babies and lower the Christian population; he stated it was a form of ritual human sacrifice.

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

  1. prompt the interest of children during their elementary school years in such matters;
  2. “open their eyes” early—i.e., before their time; and
  3. 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.”

Christ the Author of Life.
Christ the Author of Life.

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.

Geronda Ephraim doing confessions at a spiritual child's house

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,[32] 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.

The Theotokos and Elizabeth embracing.
The Theotokos and Elizabeth embracing.

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.’”

help_birth

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.

lament-of-rachel

 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:

Conversion Techniques: Changing Minds & Persuasion (Part 3 – Confession)

CONFESSION

Confession may seem like an odd part of conversion, but it is particularly effective at enabling people to put an undesirable past behind them. As well as a conversion technique, it is also useful for retention.

It is very widespread method. Some religions make use of it. But so also do parents when converting unruly children into functional adults. Machiavellian people and groups, where the end justifies the means, may well use it to extremes.

Agreeing the rules

The basic idea behind confession is that there are some things which are bad, and which contravene defined rules and values. The stage before actual confession thus involves reaching a point where agreement is reached about what is good and what is bad.

Starting easy

Agreement over rules typically starts with generalized rules with which it is hard to disagree, for example ‘people should help one another’. There are many such common human values that provide an easy starting place.

Tightening the rules

These rules may then be gradually tightened over time. As people accept the basic premise, additional judgment criteria are added. Thus, for example, ‘people should help one another’ becomes ‘people should help one another at every opportunity’ to ‘you must always put the interests of other people before your own interests’ to ‘you are inferior to everyone’.

The assumptions of guilt and atonement

A basic assumption (and by implication a rule) that is often unspoken is that the person in question is already guilty. Guilt is an effective lever that casts the person as imperfect and inferior. The associated assumption is that guilt may be assuaged by atonement of some kind, whereby the person may be forgiven for the bad things they have done. This creates a two-sided force by which hurt and rescue may be applied.

Confessing sins
Having agreed what the rules are, individuals are encouraged to confess past ‘sins’. Again, this may start easily with trivial sins such as ‘Not helping John carry his bags’ and then progress to more significant ‘failures’.

The tension of guilt

This creates a tension between the person’s actions and their stated belief that the action is bad. The consistency principle thus leads the person to fully adopt the belief that the sin is bad and to distance themselves from repeating it. The situation is also encouraged by making non-confession to be a sin itself.

Release and atonement

Confessing thus leads to a blessed relief, especially when the tension has been exacerbated by declarations of how terrible sins are and how the person is understood to be basically good.

Confession under pressure can thus appear as a sudden breakdown, where a previous resistance suddenly collapses. This can lead to a sudden outpouring of information.

Confession provides an initial release, but further atonement may be demanded. This may start with simple chores or repeating of meaningful texts, but may also be escalated. Punishments may be meted out or may even be applied by the person themselves (thus further hammering home their guilt).

The subtle lever of authority

A subtle implication of all this is to position the sinner as inferior and the person to whom they are confessing as superior. This provides a lever of authority that the sinner cedes to the person receiving the confession, which then allows this superior person to control the person further. This control may range from defining new sins to giving direct commands outside of the confessional domain.

The building of trust

Confessing sins is to expose vulnerability, which requires trust. Confession thus acts to increase the bonding of the individual to those hearing the confession, as consistency principle provides the argument that if I am confessing, then those listening must be trustworthy. When we bond with others, they become our friends, and we will tend to adopt their beliefs more easily.

Public confessions

The whole effect may be intensified by making the confession public. It both increases the hurt of discomfort and also enables a greater rescue effects and consequent relief. The higher levels of emotion involved have a much greater effect in creating bonds with the listening group.