With Pain and Love for the Contemporary Man
(By Elder Paisios of Mount Athos)
Reviewed by Emmanuel N. Stamatiou
The blessed elder Paisios, Arsenios Eznepides in the world, was born on 25 May 1924 in Pharasa, Cappadocia. He grew up in Konitsa, became a monk on the Holy Mountain, where he spent the greater part of his life. He died and was buried at the Sacred Hermitage of St John the Theologian in Sourote, Thessalonica, on 12 May 1994. While still alive, he was considered a Saint by many. There are hundreds of signed witnesses of miracles he performed.
In this book Elder Paisios talks about the “signs of the times” and the influence of the devil on the lifestyles of the people of the apostolic age. These are the signs which emanate from their current secular way of life where people have turned away from God, either by their pre-occupation with other things, or by their active warring and indifference towards Christ and His Holy Church.
The signs of this age are the signs of unrest, they are the signs of spiritual death that come from self-love, greed and lawlessness.
Elder Paisios says, “Most people nowadays have been educated in a secular way, lacking the fear of God. They have lost direction and walk around in a daze. What we see in all nations is a gathering of storms and confusion. The evil that started with a few flakes of snow has now turned into an avalanche. Only a miracle can save us. We have not yet realized that the devil has set out to destroy God’s creatures. He is even more vicious now because he knows that his schemes are short-lived. (Rev 12:12) The world is on fire, burning. Only prayer can put out this spiritual fire started by the devil.”
Elder Paisios describes with great pain and sadness that the more people distance themselves from God, the greater the power Satan has over them and the more intense their suffering becomes through anxiety, depression, ill-health, etc. He says, “People are suffering so much. Entire families are breaking up. So many homes are full of distress, anguish and anxiety. Only families that follow God’s will are doing well. Others walk around dependent upon medications or addicted to drugs. They end up in divorce, bankruptcy or ill-health, full of misery. They feel the greatest insecurity because they are estranged from God. They feel abandoned and indifferent to all things. If they do not unite themselves to God they will go on suffering. We must be careful not to be swept away by the secular stream and drawn by this excess of evil. It is easier to do evil than good, because we struggle to do good deeds whereas with evil, it is the devil who comes to our assistance. People are easily influenced to do wrong. Often a few will get together and start a new religion. Others are sick and tired of their lives and want to commit suicide or cause something bad in order to make trouble so as to be written up in the newspapers.”
Elder Paisios goes on to describe that it is fashionable nowadays for people to sin. They have become anaesthetized to sin. The voice of their conscience has become a dull murmur. He says, “Human beings have come down to the level of animals. You know what animals do when they enter the stable? They defecate and urinate, then as the manure ferments, they feel warm and don’t feel like getting themselves out of there. The same happens with human beings, they feel the comfort of sin and don’t have the heart to leave. They smell the stench, but they stay anyway. They have become used to the stench and are not bothered by it. Today, men justify the unjustifiable and they glorify sin. This is the greatest blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. They take sin to be progress and morality, the status quo. In the old days a pervert, a drunk or a person of loose morals felt their sinfulness, bowed their head in shame and would not mock one who lived a spiritual life. Today, people have no sense of guilt and there is no respect. All standards have been levelled, and people make fun of those who don’t live a worldly life.”
The Elder describes how the devil has confused people and led them away from the truth. Many people who are seeking spiritual union with their Creator are deluded by the wiles of the devil who promises them peace and rest in religions which will only lead them on the path of destruction. He says, “In France, recently, 80,000 people converted to Islam (Nov 1988). Why? Because they have turned sin into fashion. They are bothered by their conscience and seek a religion that would put their souls to rest. Islam, in a way, is the best solution. It allows them to take as many women as they want for wives. It promises in the next life, “mountains of rice, lakes of yoghurt and rivers of honey.” And no matter what their sins are, once their dead body is washed with hot water, they are cleansed. They go to Allah clean. This is what is said in the Koran. So what else could they ask for? But they will not find rest because the passions can never be justified. Inside they are tormented and agitated.
The devil has managed to distance people from God. That is why they are tormented. Separation from God is hell. They are in constant pain in this life and will be in eternal pain in the other life. For the taste of joy of paradise, begins, to an extent, in this life, depending on how much one lives according to the will of God. People don’t believe in eternal life and for that reason nothing stops them, they treat others unjustly, they abandon their children and constantly seek self-gratification in all material things without limit. If they don’t repent and return to God they will lose eternal life.”
The Elder talks at length on the influence of the devil over man which is evidenced by the frightful realities of our time such as, legislation to legalize abortion and prostitution, acceptance of same sex marriages, homosexuality, the changing of sexual identity, drug addiction, ordination of women, experimentation on human embryos, paedophilia, environmental degradation, escalation of conflict between nations, euthanasia, youth suicide, erosion of family life, high rate of divorce and so on. He says, “Because people have given the devil the right to roam free they are vulnerable to horrific attacks by him. The devil can harm us only if we allow him to have power over us. We give rights to the devil by submitting to the qualities of the devil. That is, the vices. The devil directs an evil man from outside. The devil is not inside the man. He makes man sin by intrusive thoughts, images and fantasies which give rise to passions. Repentance and confession deprives the devil of his rights and man is released from demonic influence. The devil has no dominion or power over those who have faith, go to Church regularly and receive Holy Communion. As long as the devil has these rights he will not go away, even if one reads and re-reads exorcisms for days, months or years. Only repentance and confession destroys those rights. The demons are very skilful. They strike fast, looking for some passion, some weakness to start fighting against us. We must be careful to keep the doors and windows of our senses shut and leave no crack open for temptation that will let the enemy in.
When these people turn around, God gives them strength, illumination and divine consolation to get them started. But as soon as the struggle begins, the enemy will fight them fiercely. At this point patience and perseverance is needed to uproot the passions. We cannot do it alone. We must humbly ask for God’s help, God’s mercy.
Never start a conversation with the devil. Even if all the lawyers in the world were gathered together they would not be able to compete with the tiniest of devils. Playing games with the devil is like playing with hand grenades. We must scorn all his cunning thoughts.
The devil has malice and hatred, but he does not have power. It is God’s love that is all-powerful. He tries to appear strong, but he is powerless. Many of his destructive schemes fail even before they start. Christ has armed us with the Cross. All you need is to show him a small cross and he will start trembling and leave. One should not fear the devil, because when Christ received the blows, beatings and crucifixion, the power of the devil was crushed. Patience is our spiritual defence and humility over our greatest weapon against the devil. After the crucifixion the devil is like a snake with no fangs, no poison. He can do nothing unless we, ourselves, give rights to him.
People to not understand how much God, the Panagia and the saints are keeping us from harm. With all the dangerous means available to us we would have destroyed ourselves were it not for God’s help. If you only knew how much the devil hates mankind and wants to annihilate it. But God does not let him. He destroys his plans. With God’s permission, a strong joy will come our way. Difficult times lie ahead. We will be greatly tested to force us to labour spiritually. However, a time will come when even those who don’t believe, or believe a little, will change their minds and will admit that religion is a good thing and that it helps man and society. Things will happen which will shake the nations. It will not be the Second Coming but divine intervention. People will be searching for someone to speak to about Christ. They will pull you by the hand. Come here, sit down to tell me about Christ. That is why the devil’s time is limited. He is roaming around like a lion ready to devour anyone near him.
The devil does not know what we have in our heart. Only God has knowledge of our heart and it is only to those who belong to Him that He occasionally reveals (and for our own good) what is in our heart. The devil knows only the mischief and the evil that he plants in those who serve him; he does not know our good thoughts. Sometimes he figures it out from experience, but even then, he usually misses the point. And if God does not permit him to do that, then he is constantly off target because he is in the dark, visibility zero! For instance, he has no way of knowing a good thought that crosses one’s mind. But if you have a bad thought, he is aware of it because he planted it there himself. The moment we accept pride, we provoke temptation. For example, if one brags, “I will save this man,” the devil will interfere and will know that thought. But if one acts with humility, out of love, the devil will not know anything.
God allows the devil to tempt us so that He can select His children to spend eternity with Him. For example, Herod killed 14,000 infants, but in doing so he made 14,000 martyrs, angels which will be with God for eternity. Diocletian (284 – 305AD) brutally persecuted Christians, but against his will, he did great good to the Church of Christ because he enriched it with Saints. He left countless relics for us to venerate and made the Church of Christ stronger.
God allows the devil to attack us with malice for our benefit so that we go running to God for help, when we are in danger. When man becomes one with God there is no place for the evil one to enter and there is no reason for God to permit him to tempt us so that we can take refuge in God. The reason God tolerates the devil and does not wrap him up and send him to hell is because he helps us to become holy. Abba Evagrios says, “Take away temptations and no one will be saved.”
The devil does not want to repent. They complain, “We erred only once and you are still punishing us, but they who err so many times, You always forgive them.” Yes, but people repent, while they, who were angels once and then become demons do not repent and, instead they become even more cunning and malicious and have set on destroying God’s creature with a vengeance. If the devil were to cry out, “I have sinned,” he would become an angel again. God’s love knows no bounds. But the devil has a strong will, obstinacy, egoism and does not want to repent, he does not want to be saved.
The devil remembers his previous state. He is infuriated because he does not want others to become angels and replace him. And he is getting worse. As time goes by, he is becoming more malicious and jealous. The devil’s fall can be countered only if he is humiliated. But he cannot be corrected because he does not want to.”
Elder Paisios prayed to God to take pity on these wretched demons. And while he was praying with pain, he saw a dog’s head appear next to him, sticking his tongue out and mocking him. God allowed this to happen to inform Paisios that He is ready to accept the demons if they only repent, but they have no desire to be saved.
The devil knows that God loves even the demons, but the devil’s pride will not allow him to repent. He is also cunning and is trying to win over people so that God will be forced to have mercy on all His creatures, including the devil. Judas did the same thing. He knew Jesus would liberate the dead from Hades but he thought that he would get there first and Christ would liberate him too. Instead of asking Christ for forgiveness, he went and hanged himself. And God’s mercy bent the fig tree, but Judas raised his feet so that they would not touch the ground and died. And he did all that to avoid saying even one, “Have mercy on me.”
Humility has great power and destroys the devil. Once an ascetic pressed a devil to recite, “Holy God, Holy Almighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.” The devil said the first part but he could not say, “Have mercy on us.” Had he complied he would have become an angel again. He could not because to say this requires humility and the soul receives mercy from God. This is difficult for the devil but easy for man.”
Elder Paisios goes on to discuss “the secular spirit; injustices in the world; the era of comforts; God’s wisdom and the environment; simplify your life to avoid anxiety; too many worries distance us from God; the spirit of God and the Spirit of the world; rationalism in our times; the new generation; imprudence and lack of respect, etc.
This book is an offering to all people throughout the world to participate in Elder Paisios’ experience of God which was always real, living and dynamic. It is a book which can be read in a spirit of peace, with no anxiety in understanding new concepts or learning things under pressure. It provides a greater understanding of the “new generation”, a generation which cares only for convenience and comfort, and spells out the dangers of losing themselves in earthly pursuits.
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