Abbot of the Holy and Great Monastery of Vatopedi
According to Abba Cassian the monk seeks to obtain the kingdom of heaven and aims to purify his heart through repentance. By extension this applies to all believers and laity who wish to struggle and are already struggling for their salvation. read more…
When we talk about repentance we do not mean feeling remorse for our sins (this is a psychological event and it is possible for one to stay only at this level and not to experience the pious, spiritual event), neither do we mean the sacrament of confession which is the confession of our sins and the accounting of our thoughts , but mostly we mean the situation in which the entire human being – mind, intellect, heart, soul and body of man- is inspired by and directed towards God. It is about the ontological union of man with God through the non-physical fire of repentance.
Repentance is a priceless gift of God to man given after the fall. Through repentance man not only cleanses his heart but also acquires sanctification and deification.
The path of repentance is not easy; it is a long ascetic process, a fine science and art which one learns and receives from an experienced guide, the Elder, who has experienced all the stages of repentance. And this essentially is the essence of the Patristic tradition: to conveying the spirit of repentance, the art of sanctification from generation to generation.
The monk after initially making the abdication, ie after refusing his family, relatives and friends, scientific and professional career because of his fervent love to Christ, he then should refuse all of his passions.
To recognize one’s passions and sins is such an important event, that the Fathers consider it even more important than the vision of angels. Because recognizing one’s passions means to view the sinister and most dark abyss in the human heart, many laity- not knowing that this condition is treated through repentance and essentially is a state of self-awareness, which will shortly lead to the knowledge of God- fall into despair and abandon the struggle for the purification of their heart from their passions.
The most comprehensive and great passions are those of ambition, sensuality and greed, and are fought by the basic virtues and promises of obedience, chastity and indigence which the monks give.
In the monastic community the first passion which is completely exterminated is avarice, ie greed. With greed man is trying to gather lots of material goods for personal enjoyment. Under the guise of need infiltrated the passion of greed. Greed shows the size of the selfishness of man as well as of his infidelity to God.
In a commune, where everything is common and there is nothing personal, nothing which is one’s «own», where there is no private fortune and the monk does not control even the most worthless material thing, there is no place for avarice and greed.
Many times, we see the Fathers showing such strictness against the passionate acquisition of material goods that they behave in such a way as to even refuse what is absolutely needed. Abba,Dositheos was given once a very good knife , necessary for his activity. But because his Elder, Abba Dorotheos, saw that he had a passionate attachment to this knife, he did not give him a blessing to use it.
This correctness of the Fathers was not applicable in the old days but also during our times. The blessed Elder Joseph once gave Elder Ephraim Katounakioti a simple pen (Bic) to write with and Elder Ephraim was very pleased, because he could write well.
Elder Joseph offered to give it to him but because he did not accept it, Elder Joseph said that he would buy him another one from Daphne.
The same night, but at midnight ,comes the Elder Ephraim of Katounakia at New Skete to our elder’s cell- having made a roundtrip of more than three hours- and begged him not to buy the pen because he saw in prayer that was passionate about this little thing.
This spirit of true indigence, of detachment from material things, was passed on to us by our Elder Joseph, He had received it from Elder Joseph the Hesychast, when they lived as a monastic company at the New Skete, and then we preserved it after 1990 when the community was re-planted and manned the great priory of Vatopedi.
It may seem paradoxical but the heart of a coenobic monk can be more easily set free from all material attachment than that of a hermit. Abba Gelasios was a hermit, a recluse. Then according to the will of God he became an abbot in a large monastery, with many monks who had many farms and animals.
When a famous fellow ascetic visited him- one with whom they had struggled together in the desert- and expressed concern that his mind would have been captured by the property owned by the monastery, the apathetic, considerate and perceptive Abba Gelasios told the hermit: «From what I see, your heart is more attached to a pin, than mine to the estates of the monastery. «
The ideal social life of the Church is embodied in the monastic community. The purpose of a coenobium is the emergence of a community of persons. That is why the institution of monasticism has a very enduring importance to the life of the world. But even within monasticism institutions are properly honored.
The second passion, sensuality, is associated with the second monastic pledge of chastity. Of course, the monk has left the causes and thus practical sin. But to achieve a purification of the heart not only one ought to be removed from any practical sin, but also from sinful thoughts.
The enemy, passions, submits continuously to the mind thoughts of sensuality. One needs great watchfulness and alertness of the mind to watch and discern the thoughts which incite passion, but also have the power to intercept these thoughts. It is not that easy. The war of thoughts is arduous. Keeping one’s mind is the most strenuous effort, which any Christian can launch.
What strengthens the mind in this race is the permanent state of repentance and the constant invocation of the divine Name, called ‘single thought prayer’, the «Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.» Says Paul: «no one may speak the name of Lord Jesus, if not through the Holy Spirit» (I Cor. 12.3). So each time you invoke the name of Christ, the Holy Spirit is with us, and where the Holy Spirit acts no kind of vice and passion can stand.
The prayer, by the observance of the mind, will gestate the cleanliness of the heart and will bear the fragrant flower of purity in the heart of monk.
The passion which keeps fighting man until the last moments of his life and when mastered makes the heart of man very hard and dark is that of ambition, with its consequent passions of pride and selfishness.
Only the humble mind can resist this passion. And a humble mind can acquire only those who obey in Christ. Obedience shows our reference, our dependence on God the Father; namely that we have no confidence in ourselves; that we do not believe that we are something and that we think that whatever good we have comes from God.
On the matter of obedience, I believe, monks are more advanced that Christian laity. The monk lives in such a way that all his life is a continuous, uninterrupted obedience-which cannot be achieved in the outside world-and is also tasting in abundance the fruits of obedience.
The real obedient is a meek, humble, sweet talking, obedient, sociable, hesychastic, forgiving and loving person; He has acquired the mindset of Christ.
The monks, or the lay people who strive for the purity of heart through repentance, slowly begin to taste the virtuous condition and divine illumination. However, it takes many years, usually 15 to 20 years and more, depending on the personal struggle and divine providence, for one to consolidate his virtues and assimilate divine Grace. Then, virtues will become second nature or rather the true nature of man. Prayer, purity, gentleness, humility, forgiveness, love will all become his natural condition.
The man would then not be able to act with malice, or with some passion; He could not be angry. In Gerontikon, there is a story about two Elders, who had never quarreled. One said the first day, «Let’s try to quarrel and be like the laity, to see what this thing is about, how they feel when they quarrel.»
Then the second says: «And what will happen?» «Let’s get a brick”, says the first monk, “and say that it is yours. Then I will take it and I would say that it is mine and so we will quarrel.» The second elder takes the brick and says, «It is mine», «No”, says the first monk, “it is mine”. «Well, as it is yours, take it”, the second Elder says. And they could not quarrel intentionally, because in their hearts lived the «peacemaker» Holy Spirit.
This virtuous state achieved through repentance in Christ must not only be experienced by monks and lay Christians, but also by the leaders of the institutions of Church and State, who must selflessly offer their services to save others and act for the good of the country.
In the Old Testament we have the example of Pangalos (all virtuous) Joseph-which is particularly shocking to our times-who was jailed for his virtue for failing to commit adultery with the wife of his master. This same virtue, however, later made him ruler of Egypt.
He was accepting the illumination from this virtue on how to govern the whole country, how to increase the production of material goods, so that at times of crisis and of the great famine to enable not only the residents Egypt to survive, but to feed other nations as well.
«The virtue”, says St. Gregory the Theologian, is admired by the enemy.» Indeed, he who is virtuous in practice and not in some moralistic way impresses with his wisdom and honesty others and inspires them to follow his example.
In our country we experience a crisis in the institutions. The family, monasticism, the Church as institutions, have been allowed to perish.
What has made modern people to challenge and deny these institutions? On one hand, we have the external imposition, the treatment of people as numbers, and the mechanization of social life. On the other hand, we have the internal reason, which is the ignorance of virtue by those who are in power. This dissolves institutions. Also the absence of repentance in those who are representing them degrades human personality, thus changing the institutions to become impersonal and inhuman.
The Church through repentance and the acquisition of virtues provides the institutions with the dynamics of honest persons, blessed with divine wisdom and prudence, which in turn give the institutions prestige and respect.
The institution is the glass and the person is like water in the glass. The institution is the casing and the person is its contents. The institution is the tree and the person is the fruit. The institution is the form and the person is its essence.
The essential value is the person. The institution honors the person. If the people are not living consciously and are aware of their statutory role then automatically the value of institutions disappears.
Basically today we have no institutional crisis, but a crisis of the human person at all levels of society, politics, economics, art, science, and at any form of administration. So the crisis is found in the anthropological, ontological level.
The postmodern man has forgotten that his ontological essence is godlike. He does not live in repentance and neither strives to become virtuous. And therefore, he does not want a family, does not understand what monasticism has to offer, does not love his country, does not want to be ruled, but also cannot himself govern properly.
These days, we observe the new phenomenon of «the outraged citizen» and the striking protesters. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in the streets protesting at what is happening in our country.
How useful would it be if all these people understood the spirit of repentance and were praying in the churches? Wouldn’t the merciful and benevolent God change the current situation? God, who accepted the repentance and heard the prayers of the people of Nineveh and the city was not destroyed -despite His original intention-can do the same in each case.
Greece has passed other major financial crises and painful situations in the past wars and has endured and survived, because there was still a good understanding of the institutional role of individuals as persons, who acted as antibodies. We need repentance, widespread repentance, deep repentance, repentance with knowledge and God will not abandon us.
The economic crisis is the result of the institutional and essentially, the anthropological crisis. How can a man of passionate mind, who is obscured by selfish interests, properly manage material goods? Says the prophet David: «the rich have become poor and went hungry but those seeking the Lord will not be deprived of any good» (Ps. 33.11).
Who were these wealthy that went hungry? They were the bad managers of wealth, those who did not live in repentance along with the practice of virtues, but were ruled by selfishness and by satisfying all their sensual passions. And who are those who will not be deprived of any good? Those, who invoke the name of the Lord, those living in repentance and keep God’s commandments.
Blessed Elder Ephraim Katounakiotis was telling us that during the difficult times of the German occupation, the communities in Mount Athos who kept their spiritual preoccupation were not lost, felt no hunger, unlike the others who had rich material things but had neglected their spiritual lives.
This spirit we have received from our Elders and our desire is to pass it on to the next generation. That is, to prioritize the spiritual struggle, to insist on the purification of the heart through the fiery spirit of repentance, to desire Christ and cling to His love and to worship the living, personal God.
Hence during this difficult period for our Monastery when our accounts had been frozen for about two and a half years, nothing was missing in the Brotherhood. We have the special care of our Lady Mother of God, who takes care of anything. The Brotherhood multiplies, is peaceful, united and loving for the glory of Christ.
The Vatopedi monastery has a precious spiritual and cultural tradition. In the course of the centuries it became one of the largest centers of Orthodoxy, experiencing hesychasm, bringing to light numerous saints, while performing extensive missionary work in and outside Greece.
The Brotherhood surrounding today Vatopedi Monastery is fully aware of the spiritual and cultural tradition of the monastery and feels responsibility towards the Greek Nation and Orthodoxy, and its activities are always in the context of love for others and in accordance with the spirit of the blessed Elder Joseph The Hesychast and the late Elder Joseph Vatopaidinos.
Everything you have seen in the documentary that preceded and what we are planning to do, will be accomplished for the glory of our Church and of Orthodoxy in general, but also for the good of our country. Our country has found itself in a very difficult juncture in its history, and we are praying that the alien forces that impinge on it will not prevail.
Finally, I would ask all of you to pray for everyone, in whatever way one can -these days we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit-so that the Holy Spirit gives all- Greek rulers and laity -as well as to all the people of the world the spirit of repentance, of prudence and peace. Amen.
translated from greek by Olga Konnaris-Kokkinos, journalist