On Avarice (St. John Cassian, ca. 420 AD)

NOTE: The following article is taken from On the Eight Vices, which can be found in the Philokalia. Also see the Saint’s book: The Institutes of the Coenobia. 

Our third struggle is against the demon of avarice, a demon clearly foreign to our nature, who only gains entry into a monk because he is lacking in faith. The other passions, such as anger and desire, seem to be occasioned by the body and in some sense implanted in us at birth. Hence they are conquered only after a long time. The sickness of avarice, on the contrary, can with diligence and attention be cut off more readily, because ft enters from outside. If neglected, however, it becomes even harder to get rid of and more destructive than the other passions, for according to the Apostle it is ‘the root of all evil’ (1 Tim. 6:10).

kolasi-edited

Let us look at it in this fashion. Movement occurs in the sexual organs not only of young children who cannot yet distinguish between good and evil, but also of the smallest infants still at their mother’s breast. The latter, although quite ignorant of sensual pleasure, nevertheless manifest such natural movements in the flesh. Similarly, the incensive power exists in infants, as we can see when they are roused against anyone hurting them. I say this not to accuse nature of being the cause of sin – heaven forbid! – but to show that the incensive power and desire, even if implanted in man by the Creator for a good purpose, appear to change through neglect from being natural in the body into something that is unnatural. Movement in the sexual organs was given to us by the Creator for procreation and the continuation of the species, not for unchastity; while incensive power was planted in us for our salvation, so that we could manifest it against wickedness, but not so that we could act like wild beasts towards our fellow men. Even if we make bad use of these passions, nature itself is not therefore sinful, nor should we blame the Creator. A man who gives someone a knife for some necessary and useful purpose is not to blame if that person uses it to commit murder.

This has been said to make it clear that avarice is a passion deriving, not from our nature, but solely from an evil and perverted use of our free will. When this sickness finds the soul lukewarm and lacking in faith at the start of the ascetic path, it suggests to us various apparently justifiable and sensible reasons for keeping back something of what we possess. It conjures up in a monk’s mind a picture of a lengthy old age and bodily illness; and it persuades him that the necessities of life provided by the monastery are insufficient to sustain a healthy man, much less an ill one; that in the monastery the sick, instead of receiving proper attention, are hardly cared for at all; and that unless he has some money tucked away, he will die a miserable death. Finally, it convinces him that he will not be able to remain long in the monastery because of the load of his work and the strictness of the abbot. When with thoughts like these it has seduced his mind with the idea of concealing any sum, however trifling, it persuades him to learn, unknown to the abbot, some handicraft through which he can increase his cherished hoardings. Then it deceives the wretched monk with secret expectations, making him imagine what he will earn from his handicraft, and the comfort and security which will result from it. Now completely given over to the thought of gain, he notices none of the evil passions which attack him: his raging fury when he happens to sustain a loss, his gloom and dejection when he falls short of the gain he hoped for. Just as for other people the belly is a god, so for him is money. That is why the Apostle, knowing this, calls avarice not only ‘the root of all evil’ but ‘idolatry’ as well (Col. 3:5).

How is it that this sickness can so pervert a man that he ends up as an idolater? It is because he now fixes his intellect on the love, not of God, but of the images of men stamped on gold. A monk darkened by such thoughts and launched on the downward path can no longer be obedient. He is irritable and resentful, and grumbles about every task. He answers back and, having lost his sense of respect, behaves like a stubborn, uncontrollable horse. He is not satisfied with the day’s ration of food and complains that he cannot put up with such conditions for ever. Neither God’s presence, he says, nor the possibility of his own salvation is confined to the monastery; and, he concludes, he will perish if he does not leave it. He is so excited and encouraged in these perverse thoughts by his secret hoardings that he even plans to quit the monastery. Then he replies proudly and harshly no matter what he is told to do, and pays no heed if he sees something in the monastery that needs to be set right, considering himself a stranger and outsider and finding fault with all that takes place. Then he seeks excuses for being angry or injured, so that he will not appear to be leaving the monastery frivolously and without cause. He does not even shrink from trying through gossip and idle talk to seduce someone else into leaving with him, wishing to have an accomplice in his sinful action.

late-c15th-averice-pope-bisop-cardinal-monks-prince
Late 15th Century depiction of Avarice, with the Pope, a Bishop, a Cardinal, monks and a prince/king all receiving just punishment after death.

Because the avaricious monk is so fired with desire for private wealth he will never be able to live at peace in a monastery or under a rule. When like a wolf the demon has snatched him from the fold and separated him from the Hock, he makes ready to devour him; he sets-him to work day and night in his cell on the very tasks which he complained of doing at fixed times in the monastery. But the demon does not allow him to keep the regular prayers or norms of fasting or orders of vigil. Having bound him fast in the madness of avarice, he persuades him to devote all his effort to his handicraft.

There are three forms of this sickness, all of which are equally condemned by the Holy Scriptures and the teaching of the Fathers. The first induces those who were poor to acquire and save the goods they lacked in the world. The second compels those who have renounced worldly goods by offering them to God, to have regrets and to seek after them again. A third infects a monk from the start with lack of faith and ardor, so preventing his complete detachment from worldly things, producing in him a fear of poverty and distrust in God’s providence and leading him to break the promises he made when he renounced the world.

Examples of these three forms of avarice are, as I have said, condemned in Holy Scripture. Gehazi wanted to acquire property which he did not previously possess, and therefore never received the prophetic grace which his teacher had wished to leave him in the place of an inheritance. Because of the prophet’s curse he inherited incurable leprosy instead of a blessing (cf. 2 Kgs. 5:27). And Judas, who wished to acquire money which he had previously abandoned on following Christ, not only lapsed so far as to betray the Master and lose his place in the circle of the apostles; he also put an end to his life in the flesh through a violent death (cf. Matt. 27:5). Thirdly, Ananias and Sapphira were condemned to death by the Apostle’s word when they kept back something of what they had acquired (cf. Acts 5:1-10). Again, in Deuteronomy Moses is indirectly exhorting those who promise to renounce the world, and who then retain their earthly possessions because of the fear that comes from lack of faith, when he says: ‘What man is there that is fearful and faint-hearted? He shall not go out to do battle; let him return to his house, lest his brethren’s heart faint as well as his heart’ (cf. Deut. 20:8). Could anything be clearer or more certain than this testimony? Should not we who have left the world learn from these examples to renounce it completely and in this state go forth to do battle? We should not turn others from the perfection taught in the Gospels and make them cowardly because of our own hesitant and feeble start.

30 pieces of silver.Shekels on 350 year old Hebrew Manuscript.Judas Iscariot betrayal
30 pieces of silver.Shekels on 350 year old Hebrew Manuscript.Judas Iscariot betrayal

Some, impelled by their own deceit and avarice, distort the meaning of the scriptural statement, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’ (Acts 20:35). They do the same with the Lord’s words when He says, ‘If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come and follow Me’ (Matt. 19:21). They judge that it is more blessed to have control over one’s personal wealth, and to give from this to those in need, than to possess nothing at all. They should know, however, that they have not yet renounced the world or achieved monastic perfection so long as they are ashamed to accept for Christ’s sake the poverty of the Apostle and to provide for themselves and the needy through the labor of their hands (cf. Acts 20:34); for only in this way will they fulfill the .monastic profession and be glorified with the Apostle. Having distributed their former wealth, let them fight the good fight with Paul ‘in hunger and thirst . . . in cold and nakedness’ (2 Cor. 11:27). Had the Apostle thought that the possession of one’s former wealth was more necessary for perfection, he would not have despised his official status as a Roman citizen (cf. Acts 22:25). Nor would those in Jerusalem have sold their houses and fields and given the money they got from them to the apostles (cf. Acts 4: 34-35), had they felt that the apostles considered it more blessed to live off one’s own possessions than from one’s labor and the offerings of the Gentiles.

The Apostle gives us a clear lesson in this matter when he writes to the Romans in the passage beginning, ‘But now I go to Jerusalem to minister to the saints’, and ending: ‘They were pleased to do it, and indeed they are in debt to them’ (Rom. 15:25-27). He himself was often in chains, in prison or on fatiguing travel, and so was usually prevented from providing for himself with his own hands. He tells us that he accepted the necessities of life from the brethren who came to him from Macedonia (cf. 2 Cor. 11:9); and writing to the Philippians he says: ‘Now you Philippians know also that . . . when I departed from Macedonia no church except you helped me with gifts of money. For even in Thessalonica you sent me help, not once but twice’ (Phil. 4:15-16). Are, then, the avaricious right and are these men more blessed than the Apostle himself, because they satisfied his wants from their own resources? Surely no one would be so foolish as to say this.

Ananias and Sapphira (4th c. tomb)
Ananias and Sapphira (4th c. tomb)

If we want to follow the gospel commandment and the practice of the whole Church as it was founded initially upon the apostles, we should not follow our own notions or give wrong meanings to things rightly said. We must discard faint-hearted, faithless opinion and recover the strictness of the Gospel; In this way we shall be able to follow also in the footsteps of the Fathers, adhering to the discipline of the cenobitic life and truly renouncing this world.

It is good here to recall the words of St Basil, Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia. He is reported once to have said to a senator, who had renounced the world in a half-hearted manner and was keeping back some of his personal fortune: ‘You have lost the senator and failed to make a monk.’ We should therefore make every effort to cut out from our souls this root of all evils, avarice, in the certain knowledge that if the root remains the branches will sprout freely.

This uprooting is difficult to achieve unless we are living in a monastery, for in a monastery we cease to worry about even our most basic needs. With the fate of Ananias and Sapphira in mind, we should shudder at the thought of keeping to ourselves anything of our former possessions. Similarly, frightened by the example of Gehazi who was afflicted with incurable leprosy because of his avarice, let us guard against piling up money which we did not have while in the world. Finally, recalling Judas’ death by hanging, let us beware of acquiring again any of the things which we have already renounced. In all this we should remember how uncertain is the hour of our death, so that our Lord does not come unexpectedly and, finding our conscience soiled with avarice, say to us what God says to the rich man in the Gospel: ‘You fool, this night your soul will be required of you: who then will be the owner of what you have stored up?’ (Luke 12: 20).

Demon

 

Orthodox Church Fathers on Laughter

NOTE: St. John Chrysostom is known as the first to point out that Jesus never laughed. Instead he stressed that Jesus wept twice, once when he beheld Jerusalem, and the second time when Lazarus was raised from the dead. In Chrysostom’s time, at the end of the fourth century AD, there seems to have been a shared opinion among leaders of the Church that laughter challenged virtue and led to laxity. Laughter was conceived of as undermining the very foundations of the ascetic life from which the Christian Church was nourished. As John Chrysostom stressed, the thought of the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross ought to quench all laughter, once and for all.

geronda-ephraim-and-ladies-early-2000s

The firm stand of ascetic Christianity against laughter was not without precedent. The Pythagoreans boasted that Pythagoras never laughed. For the Essenes, a Jewish group living at the Dead Sea, laughter was reason for punishment: ‘Whoever has guffawed foolishly shall do penance for thirty days.’ In other words, the Christians shared with Greek and Jewish ascetics the ideal of the perfect human who never laughed.

Geronda Joseph (NY)
Geronda Joseph (NY)

Despite the Church Fathers’ best efforts, laughter was never completely shut out of Christian life. We know, for instance, of John Chrysostom’s complaint that his congregation burst out laughing when it should have prayed (Homilies on the Epistle to the Hebrews, XV, 8). Furthermore, the monastic rules against laughter found everywhere in the Christian world indirectly reveal that there still must have been much merriment among the monks; in some cases, laughter might even ‘happen pardonably’. If no one had laughed, there would have been no need for rules against it. Laughing Christians were found within the monk cells and monasteries; jokes even entered the vitae sanctorum, the descriptions of the lives of the saints.

Hieromonk Joseph (TX)
Hieromonk Joseph (TX)

The key to what was regarded as acceptable laughter and joking among Christian monks and virgins seems to be the word ‘pious’: pious laughter expressed spiritual joy, never carnal desires. Laughter could be a sign either of spiritual awareness or of spiritual ruin. The laughter the ideal Christian was repeatedly warned against was the laughter of carnality. Another aspect of Christian laughter was the laughter of spirituality. Spiritual joy could be reflected in a smile. Spiritual laughter was not related to the body; it was seen as a reflection of a Christian soul.

Fr. Alexios (NY)
Fr. Alexios (NY)

St. Pachomius († 348)

Behold the precepts of life that the elders have transmitted.  If during the chanting, the prayers, or the readings, someone talks or laughs, he will untie his girdle instantly and will go before the altar with his head bowed and downfallen arms.  After the father of the monastery had reprehended him there, he will repeat this same penitence in the refectory, when all of the brothers had gathered. (Precept 8)

Each of the chairmen will teach the members of their house how to eat, with discipline and modesty.  If anyone talks or laughs during the meals he will make penance and will be rebuked instantly in his place.  He will stand and will stay standing until some of the other brothers that are sitting stand.   (Precept 31)

†Agios Paxomios2

St. Ephraim the Syrian († 373)

“Laughter and familiarity are the beginning of a soul’s corruption. If you see these in yourself, know that you have come to the depths of evils. Do not cease to pray God that He will deliver you from this death…Laughter removes from us that blessing which is promised to those who mourn (Matt. 5:4) and destroys what has been built up. Laughter offends the Holy Spirit, gives no benefit to the soul and dishonors the body. Laughter drives out virtues, has no remembrance of death or thought of tortures”

†ephraimsyros

St. Basil the Great († 379)

The Christian ‘ought not to indulge in jesting; he ought not to laugh nor even to suffer laugh-makers’ (On the Perfection of the Life of Solitaries, Letter, 22).

St. Basil prescribed that whoever laughed in the monastery was to be expelled for one week (Epitemia, 7)

https://scottnevinssuicide.wordpress.com/2015/02/20/on-the-vice-of-laughter-st-basil-the-great/

Monastic snowball fight, Gregoriou Monastery, Mt. Athos
Monastic snowball fight, Gregoriou Monastery, Mt. Athos

St. John Chrysostom († 407)

Christ was crucified for thy sins and dost thou laugh? (Homilies on Ephesians, XVII)

I do not cease mourning for those who laugh. The present time is the time for mourning and grieving, because we commit many sins in word and deed. But gehenna will receive those who are guilty of such offenses as the above, and likewise the river flowing with a stream of fire, and, hardest of all, loss of the kingdom. With these threats hanging over you, then, do you laugh, and fare sumptuously? Though your Lord is angry and threatening, do you continue to be remiss? Do you not fear lest you may thus kindle for yourself the glowing furnace? [Homilies on John, Homily 60 (John 10.14-21)]

For example; to laugh, to speak jocosely, does not seem an acknowledged sin, but it leads to acknowledged sin. Thus laughter often gives birth to foul discourse, and foul discourse to actions still more foul. Often from words and laughter proceed railing and insult; and from railing and insult, blows and wounds; and from blows and wounds slaughter and murder. (Concerning the Statues, Homily, XV)

When therefore thou seest persons laughing, reflect that those teeth, that grin now, will one day have to sustain that most dreadful wailing and gnashing, and that they will remember this same laugh on That Day whilst they are grinding and gnashing! Then thou too shalt remember this laugh! (Concerning the Statues, Homily, XX)

Monastic snowball fight, Gregoriou Monastery, Mt. Athos
Monastic snowball fight, Gregoriou Monastery, Mt. Athos

St. Cyril of Alexandria († 444)

Blessed are ye that weep now, for ye shall laugh. From the He pronounces them that weep blessed, and says that they shall laugh. But by those who weep, we say that those are not meant who simply shed tears from their eyes: for this is a thing common to all without exception, whether believers or unbelievers, if ought happen of a painful nature; but those rather who shun a life of merriment and vanity, and carnal pleasures.—For of the one we say, that they live in enjoyment and laughter; whereas believers abandoning luxury and the careless life of carnal pleasures, and all but weeping because of their abhorrence of worldly things, are, our Saviour declares, blessed; and for this reason, as having commanded us to choose poverty, He also crowns with honours the things which necessarily accompany poverty: such, for instance, as the want of things necessary for enjoyment, and the lowness of spirits caused by privation: for it is written, that “many are the “privations of the just, and the Lord shall deliver them out “of them all.” (Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, Sermon 28)

St. Cyril of Alexandria
St. Cyril of Alexandria

Gerontikon (5th century)

A hermit saw someone laughing, and said to him, “We have to render an account of our whole life before heaven and earth, and you can laugh?”

The brethren used to tell how the brethren were sitting one day at an agape and one brother at table began to laugh. When he saw that, Abba John began to weep, saying, ‘What does this brother have in his heart that he should laugh, when he ought to weep, because he is eating at an agape?’

Monastic snowball fight, Gregoriou Monastery, Mt. Athos
Monastic snowball fight, Gregoriou Monastery, Mt. Athos

St. Benedict of Nursia († 543)

‘Prefer moderation in speech and speak no foolish chatter, nothing just to provoke laughter; do not love immoderate or boisterous laughter’ (Rule 4, 52–4).

Sts. John & Barsanuphius #455 (6th century)

Q: What is familiarity and unfitting laughter?

A: Familiarity is of two kinds: one proceeds from shamelessness and is the root of all evils; and the other proceeds from a happy mood, and this latter is not at all profitable for the one who has it. But since only the firm and strong can avoid both of these, while we, because of our infirmity cannot do this, therefore we allow sometimes that familiarity that proceeds from a happy mood, keeping watch lest through it we give a brother an occasion for scandal. Those who are among men, if they are not perfect, cannot yet be delivered from this second kind of familiarity. And if we cannot, then let this serve for us as instruction and not as a scandal, especially when we try to cut short a conversation bound up with this; because loquacity is not very profitable, even though in appearance it might not have in itself anything unbefitting.

The same thing should be said concerning laughter, for it is the offspring (of familiarity). In one to whose familiarity is joined foul language, it is evident that his laughter also will have foulness; but if the familiarity proceeds from a happy mood, it is evident that one’s laughter too will be only a happy one. But just as in general it has been said of familiarity that it is not profitable to have it, so also one should not tarry in laughter and allow oneself freedom, but one should restrain one’s thought so that this laughter should pass without unbefittingness. For let those who allow themselves freedom in this know that from this they will fall into sexual sin.

Saints Barsanuphius the Great and John the Prophet
Saints Barsanuphius the Great and John the Prophet

St. John Climacus († 649)

If nothing goes so well with humility as mourning, certainly nothing is so opposed to it as laughter. (Step 7:8)

He who sometimes mourns and sometimes indulges in luxury and laughter is like one who stones the dog of sensuality with bread. In appearance he is driving it away, but in fact he is encouraging it to be constantly with him. (Step 7:14)

I have seen some who, priding themselves on their skill in lying, and exciting laughter by their jests and twaddle, have pitiably destroyed in their hearers the habit of mourning. (Step 12:4)

Crabs are easily caught because they walk sometimes forwards, sometimes backwards. So the soul that now laughs, now mourns, now lives in luxury, can make no progress. (Summary # 39)

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St. Isaac the Syrian († 700)

If you are compelled to laugh, do not show your teeth.

He who is fond of laughter and of making a show before men should be no friend of yours, for he will lead you into loose habits. Do not allow your countenance to be glad with joy in the company of a man who has relaxed his discipline; but keep yourself from despising him.

St. John Damascene († 749)

A dispersed and dissipated intellect given to frivolous talk and foul language produces many vices and sins. Laughter and loose, immodest speech also lead to sin. (On the Virtues and Vices)

St Symeon Metaphrastis Paraphrase of the Homilies Of St Makarios of Egypt (10th century)

The signs that accompany those who are not producing the fruit of life are listlessness, day-dreaming, curiosity, lack of attention, grumbling, instability; and in their actions they manifest gluttony, anger, wrath, back-biting, conceit, untimely talk, unbelief, disorderliness, forgetfulness, unrest, sordid greed, avarice, envy, factiousness, contempt, garrulity, senseless laughter, willfulness and – the sum of all – darkness, which is Satan. (Patient Endurance and Discrimination, III:3)

St. Anthony’s Monastery Rules for Visitors

Loud talking and laughing are always inappropriate.

Χαράλαμπος ηγούμενος Διονυσίου, Εφραίμ προηγούμενος Φιλοθέου, Ιωσήφ μοναχός Βατοπαιδινός στη Νέα Σκήτη (φωτ. 1966)
Χαράλαμπος ηγούμενος Διονυσίου, Εφραίμ προηγούμενος Φιλοθέου, Ιωσήφ μοναχός Βατοπαιδινός στη Νέα Σκήτη (φωτ. 1966)

Prophecies of the Holy Fathers about Monasticism in the End Times

NOTE: In both the verbal and fax homilies that Geronda Ephraim gives to his monastics, he emphasizes “we are the monks of the last days; the holy fathers prophesied about our generation.” He uses this as a kind of encouragement for his monastics not to fall in despair for being weak and not gaining great spiritual heights as “this generation will not accomplish any great feats like the fathers of old.” It is also used to justify the secularization, worldiness, and lack of ascesis in contemporary Greek-American monasticism, to encourage the younger monastics not to have logismoi or be scandalized with the contrast between what is written in the monastic texts and what is actually practised and lived in the monasteries. These prophecies are also used as “leverage” as to why only blind obedience to Geronda Ephraim, the Prayer, and patient endurance are necessary.

Geronda Ephraim teaches his monastics that they are the last generation of monks whom the Desert Fathers prophesied about.
Geronda Ephraim teaches his monastics that they are the last generation of monks whom the Desert Fathers prophesied about.

The prophecies of Abba Moses the Ethiopian, do not appear in any of the Patristic writings of the time, nor his Synaxarion. Much like the “Constantinople Prophecy” of St. Methodius (believed to be the work of a 7th century Syrian Monophysite), none of the Church Fathers mention or quote these prophecies. They only appear in 20th century books about end-time prophecies.

(See Byzantine Apocalyptic Tradition)

The 20th century became a hotbed for the dissemination of spurious prophecies attributed to various saints. Many of these spurious prophecies were accepted as legitimate and incorporated into the eschatology of various contemporary Elders, especially on Mount Athos. Moreover, antiquated and heretical “prophetic” and “visionary” texts that were never accepted by the Church—The Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius; The Apocalypse of St. Andrew the Fool-for-Christ, etc.—contained so many Scriptural errors, heresies, and mythological traditions that only the passages that fit into the specific eschatological teaching of Constantinople’s liberation were extracted and the remainder of the texts ignored. Many contemporary books omit all the heresies and false histories and only publish the verses that are “prophetic”. They still print the verses that say all these things would occur in the 6th or 7th Millenium but these dates have already past. Over the years, various monasteries under Geronda Ephraim have sold (and still sell) books containing some of these spurious prophecies. Elder Ephraim has also given numerous homilies to his monastics and pilgrims quoting these spurious prophecies and affirming that everything will happen “just as the Holy Fathers say it will.” These spurious prophecies are taught as the “consensus of the Fathers.”

Interestingly, many of these prophecies accurately describe certain aspects of the life and atmosphere in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries. desert_fathers

Abba Ischyron

The Holy Fathers were making predictions about the last generation. They said, “What have we ourselves done?”

One of them, the great Abba Ischyron, replied, “We ourselves have fulfilled the commandments of God.”

The others replied, “And those who come after us, what will they do?”

He said, “They will struggle to achieve half our works.”

They said, “And to those who come after them, what will happen?”

He said, “The men of that generation will not accomplish any works at all and temptation will come upon them, and those who will be approved in that day will be greater than either us or our Fathers.”

An Anonymous Elder

“It is better to dwell together with three God-fearing people rather than dwell together with thousands who don’t have the fear of God. I tell you this because when the end of the world approaches, if, for example, there is a monastery with 100 monks, then it is questionable whether two or three monks from among them will be found who will save their souls. Again, even though the monks are 50, there will not be found even one amongst them who will save his soul.”

“All will throw themselves into food and their heart will love the dining tables, the belly, and money.”

“Nevertheless, do not be amazed so much on account of this, it is more amazing to see whether one soul will escape from the mouth of the enemy.”

Abba Pambo (d. 374)
Abba Pambo (d. 374)

Abba Pambo

“And I will tell you this, my child that the days will come when the Christians will add to and will take away from, and will alter the books of the Holy Evangelists, and of the Holy Apostles, and of the Divine Prophets, and of the Holy Fathers. They’ll tone down the Scriptures and will compose troparia, hymns and writings technologically.”

“Their nous will be spilled out among them, and will become alienated from its Heavenly Prototype. For this reason, the Holy Fathers had previously encouraged the monks of the desert to write down the lives of the Fathers not on parchment, but onto paper, because of the coming generation will change them to suit their own personal tastes. So you see, my child, the evil that comes will be horrible.”

Then the disciple asked: “So, then, Geronda, the traditions and the practices of Christians are going to be changed? Maybe there won’t be enough priests in the Church when these unfortunate times come?”

And the Holy Father continued: “In those times, the love for God in most souls will grow cold and a great sadness will fall upon the world. One nation shall face off against another. Peoples will move away from their own places. Rulers will be confused. The clergy will be thrown into anarchy, and the monks will be more inclined to negligence. The Church leaders will consider anything concerned with salvation—both for their own souls and the souls of their flock—as useless and they will despise any such concern. All will show eagerness and energy for every matter regarding their dining table and their appetites. They’ll be lazy in their prayers and casual in their criticisms. As for the lives and teachings of the Holy Fathers, they will not have any interest to imitate them, nor even to hear them. Rather, they will complain and say, ‘If we had lived in those times then we would have behaved like that.’ And the Bishops shall give way to the powerful of the world, giving answers on different matters only after taking gifts from everywhere and consulting the rational logic of the academics. The poor man’s rights will not be defended; they’ll afflict widows and harass orphans. Debauchery will permeate these people. Most won’t believe in God; they’ll hate each other and devour one another like beasts. They’ll steal from each other; they’ll be drunk and walk about blind.”

The disciple asked again: “What can we do in such a state?”

And Abba Pambo answered: “My child, in those times, whoever will save his soul and prompt others to be saved will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

St. John the Dwarf (d. ca. 405)
St. John the Dwarf (d. ca. 405)

Abba John

Abba John used to say, that he saw in a vision one of the old men in a state of stupefaction, and behold, three monks were standing on the shore of a lake, and a voice came to them from heaven (or from the other shore of the lake), which said, “Take ye wings of fire and come to me”; and two of them took wings of fire and flew over to the other side, even as it was told them. Now the third remained behind, and he wept abundantly, and cried out, and at length wings were given to him also, but they were not of fire like those of his companions, for they were weak and feeble wings, and it was only with the greatest difficulty, and after dropping down into the water, and with most painful exertions that he reached the [opposite] shore. And even so is it with this generation, for although it taketh to itself wings, they are not the powerful wings of fire, but it forceth itself to take weak and feeble wings.

St. Moses the Ethiopian (d. ca 405)
St. Moses the Ethiopian (d. ca 405)

Abba Moses the Ethiopian

Abba Moses, prophesying said, “In the last days of the seventh and a half eon, the monastic state will be completely neglected and in the future, the monks will despise the salvation of their souls. Therefore, the brothers will go about amidst the tumults and troubles: darkened, useless and careless, and they will not cultivate the virtues at all; enslaved in the passions of sin. For where the ancient strugglers burned Satan, that is where Satan is going to burn and set aflame those monks and he will defeat those negligent monks who despise the laws of the monastic life. But where righteousness abounded, there is to abound much more sin and iniquity, because the love of the many will grow cold, and without fear they will be going around the villages with gluttony and wine-drinking, and between the vanity of the world, sinning together in licentiousness and the impurities of the flesh.

“And in those days there will be hate, envy, contentious strivings, and fights in the coenobiums, until murder; likewise, even in the idiorhythmic lavras, from the evils of one towards the other one’s neighbors, on account of the canons and spiritual struggles being neglected.”

[NOTE: The fistfight at St. Anthony’s Monastery between two novices from Toronto—the brothers Eleutheris and Demetrios—is still talked about today. As well, the Athonite Fathers who are here in the States still talk about the monk at Filotheou who chased another monk with a knife throughout the monastery ready to murder him].

“They will elect abbots and shepherds: men without virtues, unbelievers, making no progress, anomelies, and uncouth—not discerning the right path from the left, careless and worrying about many things.”

“The abbots will seize their primacy with gifts and will take upon the abbacy without knowing how to catechize and admonish the flock of the brotherhood and without realizing that they should be the type and example in order to benefit their flock. But from such negligence and despisement of the shepherds, they will lead themselves into perdition.”

After these things, the salve of God Moses saw that a cloud and tempest—gloomy, dark, and more fearful temptations—fell upon the monks from the arctic and the monks were persecuted. And because of destructive heresies they will be forced to cast away the monastic schema and get married. Then the few strugglers who were tried as gold and silver in the furnace of many great afflictions, persecutions and grief—those who show themselves tried and victorious over these great afflictions and temptations—will be magnified, glorified, and honored by God more than those who endured the burden of the day and the burning heat and the cold of the night.

After these things, the slave of God Moses saw that the winter of afflictions, temptations and grief of the terrible heresies passed by and there was peace and calm.

Again, however, after the passing of some number of years, the Angelic Order of Monks will become negligent and worse than the first—temptations will rise up again and they will be more violent. He saw how the monks mingled dishonorably with the nuns and that the evil desire was mixed up together with the tyranny, so that even those who didn’t want to were corrupted. But the priests will be polluted with fornications and their prebyteras will commit adultery. Likewise, those men with whom the presbyteras committed adultery will go with other married women.

Then it will be done: The wrath of God consuming every evil generation there with fire, and they will be driven away into eternal fire.

Blessed, then, is whoever does not submit and bow down in the lawless work of debaucheries—which are more violent and heavier sins than murder—but they shall resist and reproach the lawlessness as John the Forerunner and they will be triumphant in reproaching the incest and they will be murdered by the vile, unclean, and licentious people of those times. They will be given comfort and rest in the bosoms of the glorious Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and they will dwell in the Kingdom of Heaven, adorned and gladdened along with all the Saints; whose share and portion may we also acquire through the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

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Abba Silvanus

As Abba Silvanus was sitting with brethren, one day he was rapt in ecstasy and fell with his face t the ground. After a long time, he got up and wept. The brethren besought him, saying, “What is it, Father?”

But he remained silent and wept. When they insisted on his speaking, he said, “I was taken up to see the Judgement, and I saw there many of our sort (i.e. monastics) coming to punishment and many seculars going into the Kingdom.”

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St. Nephon

NOTE: The Life of St. Nephon is one of Geronda Ephraim’s favorite books. He gave his spiritual child, Archimandrite Ignatios Apostolopoulos—who now resides at St. Anthony’s Monastery—an obedience to translate it into English.  It was published in 1989 under the title, Stories, Sermons, and Prayers of St. Nephon: An Ascetic Bishop. Fr. Demetrios Carellas, another spiritual child of Geronda Ephraim, wrote the introduction. Geronda Ephraim’s teachings are greatly influenced by this book and he paraphrases St. Nephon’s prophecies and visions in many of his homilies. Geronda Ephraim presents this particular prophecy as being fulfilled right now; i.e. this is the last generation of monks and the end of the world is just around the corner.

“The prophets of the Lord God will not disappear till the end of the world, just as the workers of Satan will never be absent. In the last days, however, all that work truly for Christ will hide from the people wisely. And if they don’t perform signs and wonders like today, nevertheless, they will always walk on the narrow path in all humility. In the Kingdom of God, they will be greater than the wonderworkers, because in their time there will not be anyone performing miracles, to incite them to spiritual struggles, since those who will occupy priestly offices throughout the world will be completely unsuitable and will have no trace of virtue. But the leaders of the monks will also be the same. They will have surrendered to gluttony and vainglory. Consequently, they will constitute more of a stumbling block than a model. That’s why virtue will be neglected. Avarice will reign everywhere. But woe to the monk who will prosper with gold, because they will be disgraced in the eyes of the Lord and will not see the face of God.

Monastics and laymen will lend money with interest. They will not prefer that God multiply it for them through alms to the poor. For this reason, also, if they do not withdraw from this greed, they will sink to the abyss. Then, as I said before, the majority will be misled by ignorance into the chaos of the broad and wide road of perdition.”

Fr. Seraphim (Sam) Lawson

Tales of Monks Who Fell (Abba John of Lycus)

NOTE: The following tales are from The Lausiac History of Palladius, chapters 44-45:

Lausaic History of Palladius

Chapter XLIV
A TALE OF ABBA JOHN ABOUT SOMEONE WHO FELL

There was a certain monk,” he said, “who lived in the nearer desert, keeping every proper discipline and working for his daily bread. After he had persevered for a long time in prayer and grown in virtue he began to trust in himself alone and in the beauty of his own settled life. The tempter then began to try him as he tried Job, and one evening showed him the image of a beautiful woman wandering in the wilderness. Finding the door open she came right in to his cell, knelt at his feet and begged to be allowed to stay, overtaken as she was by the night. He took pity on her and let her in, which he ought not to have done.

“A further mistake was to question her closely. She told him a long story, sprinkled with all sorts of flattery and falsehood, and spun out the conversation at great length. Little by little, she somehow enticed him on to thoughts of love. They chattered together, laughing and giggling. The way she talked fascinated him; she began to hold his hand, his beard, his neck, and finally captivated this athlete completely. His mind was in a turmoil, a safe opportunity of pleasure was presenting itself, the deed was as good as done, and he gave consent in his mind to all these thoughts. He tried to have intercourse with her like a foolish horse breaking out wildly in search of a mare. She suddenly cried out with a loud voice and vanished out of his hands, as nothing but a sort of shadow. The crowd of demons who had deceived him could now be heard in the air mocking him and laughing, and crying with a loud voice, ‘”He who exalts himself will be humiliated” (Luke 14.11). You were once lifted up into heavenly things, so now will you be cast down into the lowest depths.’

“He spent the night weeping, got up in the morning and continued to lament the whole day through. Despairing of his own salvation (which he ought not to have done) he went back to the world. This is what the devil wants. As soon as he makes a mock of anyone he reduces him to a foolishness from which it is not possible to escape. Wherefore, my sons, it is not good for us to live near the towns, nor to converse with women, lest images of them stay in your mind which you cannot get rid of, images which have been put there by what you have seen and heard. But neither should we let our minds be weighed down, driving us into despair, for those who do not lose hope will not be deprived of the mercy of the merciful God.”

Barren tree

Chapter XLV
A TALE OF THE SAME ABBA JOHN ABOUT SOMEONE WHO WAS LED TO REPENT

There was a certain young man in the city who had done many evil things and sinned gravely. He began to be sorry for his sins, inspired by God, and went into a graveyard where he fell on his face, weeping for his past life, speechless, not daring so much as to call upon God to ask pardon, so little did he estimate his life to be worth. So having shut himself up in a tomb and faced up to the sort of life he had been leading, he groaned from the depths of his being. At the end of a week the demons who had been leading his former life into damnation came shouting at him by night.

“Where is this profane wretch, sated with lust and pleasure-seeking, who now suddenly pretends to be honest and moderate in this untimely manner? Has he got beyond it? Does he now want to be a Christian, with upright and clean habits? As if you could expect anything good to become of you in future, stuffed full as you are with the wickedness we have given you. You are going to get out of here quickly, aren’t you, and return to what we are accustomed to give you. There are lots of brothels and taverns left for you yet. Will you not come and indulge your desires, since there is no other hope left for you? Doubtless judgment will come swiftly, but you are destroying yourself. Why rush madly towards your own punishment? Why are you so intent on being punished before the due time?”

They said much more. “You belong to us. You are enrolled in our company. You are familiar with every kind of wickedness. We all find you disgusting, but will you dare to flee? Aren’t you going to listen to us? Won’t you answer? And come away with us as well?”
He just kept weeping, shutting his ears, replying never a word, however much the demons kept on at him. When they saw that all their continued urgings were having no effect these wicked and disgusting demons took him and laid about him heavily with whips, beating every inch of his body. When they had finished their torment they went away leaving him half dead. He lay where they had left him, unable to move more than anything else. He came to his senses and began groaning again.

When his family came to look for him and learned the reason for what had happened to his body they begged him to return home, but he refused, even when they tried to force him. The next night the demons tormented him again worse than before. To prevent his relations persuading him to go back home they kept telling him that it would be better to die than return to his former sinful ways. On the third night they invaded him with such cruel torments that they pushed him to the limits of endurance and nearly made him give up the ghost. But they saw that he would not give in and they departed leaving him lifeless. As they went they cried, “You have won, you have won, you have won.”

No further harm came to him. For the rest of his life he dwelt simply in that tomb, cleansed of all evil, displaying nothing but pure virtue. He was very precious in the sight of God for his virtues and for the miracles that he did, for he led many to admire him and awakened their zeal to emulate the integrity of his way of life. Thus it came about that many of those who had given up hope for themselves were led into doing good things, and conducted their lives properly. In them the Scripture was fulfilled, ‘He who humbles himself will be exalted.’ (Luke 24.11).

So let us practise humility, my sons, the foundation of all virtues. A long spell of solitude at a distance also brings many benefits.

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Numerous other cautionary tales about monks and nuns who fell into delusion or fornication are found in The Lausiac History:

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Geronda Ephraim of Arizona & Ignatius Loyola’s Teachings on Blind Obedience

In a homily entitled, Papism as the Oldest Protestantism, Fr. Justin Popovich writes:

Essentially, Protestantism is nothing other than a generally applied papism. For in Protestantism, the fundamental principle of papism is brought to life by each man individually. After the example of the infallible man in Rome, each Protestant is a cloned infallible man, because he pretends to personal infallibility in matters of faith. It can be said: Protestantism is a vulgarized papism… 

Icon given to monks & nuns for their cells. In some monasteries, monastics have a blessing to prostrate before it and pray to Geronda Ephraim for help during difficult warfares.
Icon given to monks & nuns for their cells. In some monasteries, monastics have a blessing to prostrate before it and pray to Geronda Ephraim for help during difficult warfares.

Though a Geronda or Gerondissa is not “a cloned infallible man, because he pretends to personal infallibility in matters of faith,” the Orthodox Church and Orthodox Tradition teach that their words are (i.e. a disciple must obey the first words out of the elder’s mouth as from God; “The mouth of the Elder is the mouth of Christ,” as Elder Ephraim categorically states). So is every Geronda an individual, infallible pope? There is a circular reasoning answer to this: the Orthodox Church teaches that no man is infallible, thus every Geronda and Gerondissa are sinners. However, many Patristic texts emphasize that God speaks through the Elder and his words of spiritual counsel are infallible. Thus, it is not the person of the Elder that is infallible, it is their position, or rather, the words coming out of their mouth in spiritual counsel which are infallible. “Even if the command he is given is wrong, God will bless it anyway for obedience’s sake,” teaches Geronda Ephraim. Every monastery is essentially run by an “infallible pope.” By the very nature of blind obedience, the disciples of Geronda Ephraim view him in a very similar way to how a devout Catholic views the Pope.

There is little difference between Ignatius Loyola’s and Geronda Ephraim’s teachings on obedience and Eldership—in fact, they say almost the same thing verbatim. According to both Orthodox and Jesuit teaching, it is irrelevant if the Elder is a drunkard, a fornicator, a slave to vice, etc., because “an individual does not become a monastic for the Elder, but rather for Christ, and to do obedience to Christ through the Elder” (Geronda Ephraim, Homily on Obedience, given to the monks in the Gerontikon, AZ, 1998). So, even if a Geronda is cantankerous, physically abusive, and unspiritual—like in the story of Akkakios (The Ladder, ch. 4)the disciple only needs blind obedience, combined with ignoring his faults and viewing him as a saint, in order to be saved. Geronda Ephraim has reiterated this point numerous times to his monastics both in verbal homilies, his books and mp3s, and the faxes he sends to his monasteries now and again: “Remember Akkakios!

The Lord who makes wise the blind opens the eyes of the obedient to the virtues of their guide, and He blinds them to his defects. But the hater of good does the opposite. (Ladder 4:98)

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 Geronda Ephraim’s Teachings on Obedience

Though many of the monastic texts write about obedience, the novices in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries are encouraged to read and focus mainly on the teachings of Geronda Ephraim and Elder Joseph the Hesychast so they can acquire the proper mindset. Basically, a novice is taught that Geronda Ephraim’s teachings contain the sum and essence of the Holy Scriptures and monastic texts and his teachings are all that is necessary for a monk, if they want to find salvation. An abbot once said, “If all the patristic books and even the Bible were lost, just having Geronda Ephraim’s and Pappou’s book would be enough to find salvation.” Some key teachings that are emphasized in Geronda Ephraim’s teachings and monasteries:

  • He [the disciple] did not have his own way of thinking. His elder’s way of thinking was also his. This is why we say, “If we don’t have spiritual obedience, we haven’t achieved anything at all”. When we do not want what the elder wants, we are not in essence disciples—we do not have spiritual obedience. [Patristic Obedience]
  • One must have spiritual obedience. One should say, “Whatever the elder believes, thinks, and decides, I also believe, think, and decide in exactly the same way”. [Patristic Obedience]
  • It is not to our benefit to sadden and grieve those who struggle for the good of our soul. When we do not find rest or benefit in obedience, something is not going well; we are missing something. When a disciple is counseled by his elder about this or that, he should not take it merely as advice. In essence it is a command, even if it is not explicitly stated clearly as such. [Stories of Obedience and Disobedience]
  • When a monk does not obey every counsel and exhortation his elder gives him, he is being disobedient. Does the elder have to say explicitly, “I command you to do this and that”, so that the monk is afraid and obeys? Of course not. Commands are given only in particular circumstances. [Stories of Obedience and Disobedience]
  • So corresponding to how one obeys his spiritual father, he obeys Christ. [Stories of Obedience and Disobedience]
  • If we are spiritually separated from our spiritual father because we disobey and criticize him, how will we be fortified against the demons at the hour of death? Without the protection of his holy prayers, how will we stand in the presence of Jesus Christ Himself? When we ascend and meet the aerial toll-houses, whose prayers will deliver us? The elder’s? But they have departed from us because we grieved him in this life and so they have no power in our hour of need. [Reverence and Love for the Elder]
  • The spiritual father bears the living image of Christ, and the disciple is commanded to obey him and respect him solely for the love of Christ—not for the person of the elder, because he might be a sinful person; he might be on his way to hell, as I am. [Stories of Obedience and Disobedience]
  • This is why a person’s life is enriched when he is obedient to a spiritual father. At some point in the future, such a person will appear before God full of virtues, as a tree whose branches are heavy and abounding with plentiful fruit. [The Art of Salvation]

A Gerondissa of Geronda Ephraim’s once said: “If Geronda Ephraim says the sky isn’t blue, then I will believe it is not blue. If Geronda Ephraim tells me this black thing is white, then I no longer see it as black but as white. This is what obedience means, and this is the kind of obedience a disciple should have if they want to progress spiritually and be saved.”

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How Monastics are Expected to View Geronda Ephraim

In the monasteries, all the abbots and abbesses, and their second-in-commands, believe and teach that Geronda Ephraim is the holiest saint in the history of the Orthodox Church and that there will never be another human on this earth who reaches the spiritual caliber that he has attained. Besides the common miracle stories that are circulated about Geronda Ephraim’s feats and miracles, each abbot and abbess also has their own personal experience and stories to draw on which they also impart onto their brother/sisterhoods. In essence, a monk and nun are groomed over time to view Geronda Ephraim the same way as their Geronda or Gerondissa views him: the closest thing to Christ on earth.

Geronda Ephraim teaches, “a monk should say to himself whatever the Elder believes, thinks and feel I also believe, think and feel.” This is a very important concept because once a disciple reaches that degree of slavish devotion, where he/she truly believes “the mouth of the Elder is the mouth of Christ,” then they will accept without hesitation or examination, whatever comes out of their Elder’s mouth. As one monk in Arizona use to teach the younger novices, “Even if Geronda tells you to eat a romp roast on Good Friday, you do it without questioning the obedience, without examining the obedience, without criticizing the obedience or the Elder for instructing you to break the monastic canons.” In the monastic mindset, there is no sin or disobedience in doing blind obedience.

Each of Geronda Ephraim’s Abbots and Abbesses are his “ambassadors.” And the nuns and the monks in his monasteries are encouraged to see their abbot and abbesses in the same way as Geronda Ephraim: “holy, person of God and prayer, continuously enrapt in divine vision, a saint, etc.” Essentially, a disciple has to “deceive” themselves, and force themselves to believe things that are not true—like make-believe. The task of a disciple is to daily rewire their mindset—both in worldview and how they view their Elder—through a series of forced, repetitive mental exercises (i.e. continually telling themselves that their Elder is holy and an icon of Christ). They must also battle any negative thought or emotion against their Elder which they accomplish through changing into a positive thought or emotion or, if the negativity is too overwhelming, through beating themselves with a blunt object. Some disciples will venerate their Elder’s door, viewing his cell as the cleft in the rock where Moses saw God. Some disciples will do a full prostration outside their Elder’s door if they miss receiving his or her morning or nightly blessing. Some disciples do the sign of the cross whenever they pass their Elder’s cell, just as laypeople do whenever they pass an Orthodox church on the street. All these practices and exercises help reinforce the idea that the Elder is a deified human being.

There is an oral tradition on Mount Athos that the only time a monk is allowed to physically hit someone is if they insult their Geronda.
There is an oral tradition on Mount Athos that the only time a monk is allowed to physically hit someone is if they insult their Geronda.

Nocturnal Emissions (St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite)

NOTE: In Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, when a monastic has a wet dream, they are not permitted to venerate the icons, enter the iero, nor partake of Antidoron and Holy Communion. If the monk is an ekklesiastiko, he is not permitted to clean the church and the duty is given to another monk until after Vespers.

If a monk or nun falls into the sin of masturbation then they are penanced with no Holy Communion for 40 days. That day they cannot touch anything holy. Many times, the monk or nun will also have to go to the Lity daily and beg forgiveness on their hands and knees at the end of the Service until the last person leaves the church: “Forgive me brothers and Fathers, I am filthy (or disgusting) in both body and soul.” This is a common thing said in the Lity when a monastic falls into carnal sin.

About 10 years ago, a monk in Arizona was given 80 days in the Lity, and ordered to say the above statement . This news traveled through the other monasteries and it was noted that Geronda Ephraim had never given a monastic so many days in the Lity.

If a monk or nun accepts lustful thoughts until they reach ejaculation, it is also classified as masturbation and they are penanced as a masturbator. Sometimes, the monk or nun is ordered to go on their knees in front of all the other monks or nuns of their monastery and confess the carnal sin they fell into, i.e., “Forgive me brothers/sisters, last night I fell into the sin of masturbation.” This is usually followed by the abbot or abbess rebuking the fallen monastic and giving a cautionary homily to the other monastics.

The following article is excerpted from The Rudder:

St nikodemos 1

CANON IV OF DIONYSIOS, ARCHBISHOP OF ALEXANDRIA 

As for those men who involuntarily become victims of nocturnal emission, let them too be guided by their own conscience as to whether to indulge or not, and decide for themselves, whether they have any doubt about this matter or not, as also in the case of foods, “he that hath any doubt is damned if he eat” (Romans 14:23). And let everyone be conscientious in these matters, and out spoken, in accordance with his own inclination, when he approaches God. In honoring us (for you know you are, dear) by asking these questions, you have taken us to be like-minded, as indeed we are, and you are making us partners in your decision. As for me, it is not as a teacher, but as one who deems it fitting for us to talk with each other with all simplicity, that I have set forth my own conception of the matter for our common benefit. After finding that this conception of the matter meets with your approbation, my most sensible son, when you come to see whether it is so, you may write in turn about these matters whatever appears to you right and better. Farewell, my dear son, and I pray that this finds you in peace ministering to the Lord.

INTERPRETATION

In the present Canon the Saint is speaking about involuntary emission, or what is more commonly called a wet dream, which occurs during our sleep; and he says that all men who suffer this should make their own conscience the judge. For if the wet dream resulted without any obscene imagination and erotic thought, and furthermore without overeating and over-drinking, and instead nature alone did this of herself, as if it were a natural superfluity in the way of excrement, they are not prevented from coming to communion. But if it resulted from the causes above mentioned – that is to say, from imagination and erotic thought, or from excessive eating and excessive drinking, they ought to be forbidden communion, on the ground that they are not pure, not because of the emission itself of the semen (since this is not unclean, seeing that it is a natural product, precisely as neither the flesh is unclean in itself, of which the semen is an excretion), but because of the wicked contemplation and imagination which polluted the mind. Such men as these, then, are not conscientious, and accordingly they are not outspoken, owing to the wicked contemplation and imagination they give rein to. Hence, both as doubters and as being convicted or reproved by their conscience, how can they approach God and the Mysteries? For if they approach while thus doubting, they are rather condemned, and not sanctified, just like one who is condemned for eating the common and unclean animals forbidden to Jews, if he doubts and hesitates about these, as the Apostle says.

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CONCERNING MEN WITH NOCTURNAL EMISSIONS

Canon XII of Timothy is in effect a more detailed explanation of the present Canon. For it interprets this reproof of the conscience of one who has had a wet dream. Accordingly, if he is reproved and convicted of having had this happen to him as the result of a desire for a woman-or, in other words, an erotic thought and imagination-he must not partake; but if it was the result of the influence of demons that this happened to him, he may commune. Since, however, it is difficult for one to discern when the cause of his wet dream is traceable to the enviousness and influence of demons, without his providing any occasion for it himself, the safest way is not to commune. For a wet dream may result from either overeating or over-drinking or oversleeping, and from negligence and repose, and from languor of the body, and from pride, and condemnation, and aspersion, and from some illness of the body, and from a wicked habituation to fornication, and from toil and the drinking of cold beverages. Oftentimes it is due to fear of having a wet dream, according to Symeon the modern Theologian (and see the reply No.S of Anastasios the Sinaite, and Philokalia on page 908). For this reason too the Faster in his c. VI forbids one who has polluted himself in sleep from communing for one day. John of Citrus and Balsamon in Reply No. 1 likewise excludes priests and laymen for a day if they have had a wet dream, with the sole exception that in case of danger a layman may partake of the Body and Blood of the Lord, or a priest may celebrate Divine Liturgy, even though he has had a wet dream. So say also Symeon of Thessalonica in his replies No. 14 and 15, and the Lausaicum in the discourse concerning Dioscoros, and Barsanuphios the great one among Fathers.

But above all and on all scores the great and accurate nomograph of the Spirit St. Basil insists that one ought not to commune when he has his usual trouble (see his Epitomized Definition No. 309), and is not free from every pollution of flesh and spirit (Question 3 concerning Baptism). But a wet dream due to desire and imagination is a pollution both of the soul and of the body; that, on the other hand, which occurs without imagination or insensibly, is a pollution of only the body; and there is scarcely anyone to be found who when he has a wet dream thus or otherwise is not reproved by his conscience as having polluted himself, owing to the prejudice which men have firmly rooted about this matter in their imagination. But some critical individuals have attributed pollution of the flesh even to that little pleasurable moistness of semen felt by one in his generative member and caused either by erotic contemplation or by seeing and hearing erotically some passionately loved person; from which sort of pollution as this too those going to Communion ought to be free. I cannot conceal here by silence the great cunning and craftiness employed by the Devil in regard to this affliction of a wet dream, which cunning and craftiness that sage Nilus brings out in one of his letters. The heinous wretch, says he, goes to such great lengths to pollute miserable man with an erotic wet dream that he is not satisfied to have a man suffer this misfortune while asleep, but after the accursed one excites the malignant development in a man with the imagination of certain persons, and especially of those whom we have had time to make an effort, and after nature has already prepared herself for action, he awaken the man at that moment in order that he may feel more vividly, while awake, that impure pleasure and be enabled to remember it the better. Hence by taking a cue from this fact let everyone understand how precious a treasure virginity is, and how much the Devil envies and plots to steal him away from us, and let us be on our guard.

Archangel Michael Chapel @ St. Nektarios Monastery, NY
Archangel Michael Chapel @ St. Nektarios Monastery, NY

QUESTION XII OF TIMOTHY, ARCHBISHOP OF ALEXANDRIA

If a layman who has had a wet dream ask a Clergyman to let him partake of communion, ought the Clergyman to administer communion to him, or not?

ANSWER

If it is a case of desiring a woman he ought not. But if it was Satan tempting him in order to provide an excuse for excluding him from communion of the divine Mysteries, the Clergyman ought to administer communion to him, since the tempter will not cease attacking during the time when he ought to partake of communion.

INTERPRETATION

Having been asked whether a layman who has had a wet dream ought to partake of communion on the day after he had the wet dream, this Father replies in the present Canon that if the man suffered this predicament as a result of a desire or conation to enjoy a woman, the man ought not to partake of communion, because this impassioned conation, or impulse, to which the emission was due, has polluted his intellect.

But if no such desire and conation took place, but, instead, Satan merely tempted him out of envy in order to prevent him from receiving the sanctification conferred by the divine Mysteries, he ought to partake of communion, because if he fail to partake of them, Satan will not cease to tempt him and to keep on thus preventing him from doing so whenever he is preparing to come to communion.14 Read also Canon IV of Dionysius.

Vigil at Holy Protection Monastery, PA.
Vigil at Holy Protection Monastery, PA.
  1. JOHN THE FASTER, PATRIARCH OF CONSTANTINOPLE

CANON V

Consent is the cause and origin of penances.

INTERPRETATION

The present Canon decrees that whoever becomes polluted during the night by having a seminal emission in his sleep, must not commune on the succeeding day. But after reciting the 50th Psalm of David and doing forty-nine metanies, he is purified from this pollution. But in view of the fact that women suffer a wet dream in their sleep too, they ought likewise to be penalized along with men. St. Barsanuphius the Great also canonizes with this same penance persons who had had a wet dream. According to Balsamon, however, women ought to receive antidoron when they do not commune, in order to avoid incurring any suspicion from their husbands. See also Canon IV of Dionysios.

Panagia Vlahernon Monastery, FL
Panagia Vlahernon Monastery, FL

CANON VII

But one who has been polluted in body while awake is excluded from Communion for seven days, having also to chant the fiftieth Psalm and to make forty-nine metanies.

INTERPRETATION

But anyone who suffers a seminal emission while he is awake is forbidden the divine communion for seven days, according to this Canon, and on every one of these days he has to say the 50th Psalm, and do daily forty-nine metanies.

Holy Trinity Monastery, MI.
Holy Trinity Monastery, MI.

CONSENT IS GIVING IN TO PASSION

Consent is defined by Bryennius (ibid.) as follows: “Consent is the giving in and assent of reason to passion.” Coressius asserts that consent may be complete or incomplete; and that complete consent implies complete a complete understanding on the part of the mind and a complete assent on the part of the will; hence it renders sin persistent. Note, however, that assault, presumption, wrestling, and consent, these.

Holy Transfiguration Monastery, IL.
Holy Transfiguration Monastery, IL.

WET DREAMS, DIFFERENCES, MASTURBATION; PENALTIES

The emission of semen while one is awake is due either to a vivid imagination and image of the subject with whom he is in love, when that subject is not present, or to a pleasurable contemplation of the person, or to hearing the latter’s voice, or to touching or being touched by the subject loved erotically, when the latter is present. This predicament besets for the most part persons who are of a warm constitution and warm-blooded, and also those who have become accustomed to fornication for a long time; for the seminal passages of these latter persons, being wide open, easily ejaculate on the slightest provocation, according to physicians. Note, however, that there is extant a treatise purporting to have been written by Anastasios of Antioch which says of the seminal emission suffered by a man while awake the following: As for emission while awake, the person either does it to himself or to another. That which he causes himself to suffer is due either to handling with the hand, and that is canonized to forty days (because it is outright masturbation, or it is caused without handling with the hand.) This other variety results from an assault alone, and is canonized one day. Another variety results from presumption. That which is due to presumption either occurs without consent and without titillation, and it is canonized seven days. That, again, which is produced on another person, or caused to another person, is effected either by wallowing or without wallowing. That which is effected without wallowing on the one hand, either is due to manipulations and kisses, but without deliberate titillation, and is canonized twenty days, or, on the other hand, with deliberate titillation, and is canonized with thirty days. As for that which is due to wallowing, either it is a result of an engagement with one of the same species, in which case it is canonized seventy (or eighty) days; or else it is a result of an engagement with one of a different species, with lower animals, that is to say, in which case it is canonized seven years.

Holy Archangels Monastery, TX.
Holy Archangels Monastery, TX.

Also see:

The Monk as Merchant: Economic Wisdom from a Desert Hermit (Dylan Pahman, 2015)

NOTE: The following article is taken from Ethika Politika, January 12, 2015:

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Before Max Weber ever conducted his study of the “Protestant ethic” of hard work and commerce as a matter of one’s election before God, there was the ascetic ethic of the ancient Church. A story from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers illustrates this ascetic business ethic well:

A brother said to Abba Pistamon: “What am I to do? I find it painful to sell what I make.” Abba Pistamon replied: “Abba Sisois and others used to sell what they made. There is no harm in this. When you sell anything, say straight out the price of the goods. If you want to lower the price a little, you may and so you will find rest.” The brother said: “I have enough for my needs from other sources, do you think I need worry about making things to sell?” The old man answered: “However much you have, do not stop making things, do as much as you can provided that the soul is undisturbed.”

 

Gift Shop at St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc. (AZ)
Gift Shop at St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc. (AZ)

Weber knew about the monastic ideal, and there are some important differences between the desert ethic and what he called Protestant “worldly ascetisicm.” There is nothing here about “mak[ing] [one’s] call and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10) through material success in one’s work, but there is a lot about economics. Let’s examine this saying piece by piece to see how it can teach us about the good of production, exchange, subjective pricing, labor, and profit.

St. Kosmas 2
Gift shop at St. Kosmas Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc., (Canada)

The unnamed brother begins with what has been a common dilemma for some, even today: profiting from providing for the needs and uses of others. “I find it painful to sell what I make,” he says. He seems to find any participation in commerce at least a violation of his monastic discipline, if not in some way sinful. Abba Pistamon provides a different perspective: “There is no harm in this.”

Fundraising Event held on January 13, 2013 by Friends of the Monastery from St-Mary's Antiochian Orthodox church in Montreal.
Fundraising event for Panagia Parigoritissa Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc., (Canada)

Far from a gnostic allergy to any involvement with the material world, Abba Pistamon acknowledges the good of production and exchange, appealing to past precedent of other revered monks before him (“Abba Sisois and others”). Commerce, he says, was common. In fact, according to the size and expansive enterprise of ancient monastic communities, we can say that his assessment is more than anecdotal. In ancient Christian sources, contempt for the merchant and trader is common, but the reality is more complicated. Sometimes traders and merchants went by a more respectable name: monks. We should not be surprised, then, that Abba Pistamon displays a certain natural business sense. But he does not stop at the merely economic aspects of production and exchange.

WI GIFT SHOP
Gift shop at St. John Chrysostom Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc., (WI)

First of all, he’s against excessive haggling: “When you sell anything, say straight out the price of the goods.” He doesn’t want the brother starting high with the hope of reeling an unsuspecting patron into a price that he himself would not pay. However, Abba Pistamon seems to understand the subjective aspect of prices as well: “If you want to lower the price a little, you may.” This may be an accommodation for the brother who would rather give away his wares for free, but it may also be an acknowledgement that the price that the monk initially sets may not actually meet consumer demand. So while the starting price should be honest, there is room for a little haggling after all.

Holy Protection Bookstore
Gift shop at Holy Protection Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc., (PA)

Second, the brother is not completely satisfied with this answer and pushes the old man one step further: “I have enough for my needs from other sources, do you think I need worry about making things to sell?” This is an interesting oddity: The brother has left everything to live in poverty in the desert, but he somehow thinks he can get by without working—anything to avoid participating in commerce, apparently. Though dressed in rags, he has the luxury of leisure. Abba Pistamon, however, denies that leisure is enough: “However much you have, do not stop making things.”

WA GiftShop 2
Gift shop at St. John the Forerunner Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc., (WA)

In her study of wealth and poverty in the early Church, Helen Rhee notes, “The monastic poverty in reality was more patterned after economic self-sufficiency than destitution.” It is not enough for Abba Pistamon that the brother live in comfortable poverty; he has a responsibility to provide for himself. As St. Paul wrote, “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (2 Thess 3:10). Ancient Christians were known for their almsgiving and care for the disabled, so it would be a mistake to read Paul’s conviction in too absolute of terms. By Abba Pistamon’s response, however, we may safely surmise that the brother was an able-bodied man of relatively sound mind. As such, he needed to work to provide for himself and for others through exchange.

TX Monk bookstore
Gift Shop at Holy Archangels Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc. (TX)

The brother also needed to work for his soul. We may recall the common Benedictine adage, ora et labora: “pray and work.” Work—especially physical labor—wards off the passion of acedia, a sort of spiritual listlessness that causes laziness, boredom, and discontent. Even if the brother has all the material things that he needs, he still needs to work for his own spiritual good.

Florida Monastery
Gift shop at Panagia Vlahernon Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc., (FL)

Last of all, Abba Pistamon cautions against pursuing profit to an excessive degree, compromising one’s conscience: “do as much as you can provided that the soul is undisturbed.” Yet he does not say, “Do as much as you can until all your needs have been met” or even “only to meet your own needs.” Rather, he acknowledges that not all profit is necessarily bad. Assuming it is made licitly, profit is only good or bad depending on its use for good or evil, respectively. As St. John Chrysostom put it, “neither is wealth an evil, but the having made a bad use of wealth; nor is poverty a virtue, but the having made a virtuous use of poverty.” So too with profit.

MI Giftshop
Gift shop at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc., (MI)

Chrysostom’s comment acknowledges something of a common and timeless prejudice with which many still struggle today. It is the same problem that prompted the brother in this story to ask his first question: the presumption that the profit-motive is a species of greed, and therefore, by extension, that anyone who has profited greatly must have succeeded through selfishness. This is a common error from Ayn Rand (who thought selfishness was therefore good) to the Occupy crowd (which assumes that great wealth is therefore always bad).

NY Bookstore
Gift shop at St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc., (NY)

Reality, on the other hand, favors Abba Pistamon, St. John Chrysostom, and others like them. While one may profit unjustly or prove an unfit steward of the wealth one acquires, profit serves an extremely vital economic (and charitable) function: investment—in greater production, more workers, better employee benefits, new products, or even shares in other companies. Without gains beyond one’s expenses and without going beyond meeting one’s needs, one has nothing left over to use for the greater good of others. As Pope John Paul II put it, justly ordered profit is “an indication that a business is functioning well” and “that productive factors have been properly employed and corresponding human needs have been duly satisfied.”

TX Nuns' Gift Shop
Gift shop at St. Paraskevi Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc., (TX)

Paradoxically, denial of the potential good of profit may turn out to be the more selfish economic practice: to make enough only to provide for oneself can leave the unemployed without jobs, the entrepreneurial dreamer without investors, and the needy without benefactors. This is an error that Abba Pistamon, at least, bids us to avoid. Rather, with the important caution that we firstly tend to the peace of our souls, we ought to do as much good as we can through our labor, production, profit, and exchange. This economic wisdom from the ancient Egyptian desert proves timelessly prudent, still relevant for our own context today.

 

Le Troupeau Bénit

http://ethikapolitika.org/2015/01/12/monk-merchant-economic-wisdom-desert-hermit/