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Do not despair…

November 23, 2009

by Saint Amphilochius of Iconium

When, my brother, you feel too ashamed to raise your eyes up to heaven and you feel that your soul no longer belongs in the book of life, read these words of Saint Amphilochios, and you will find the power to struggle in life and to eventually be victorious, with the help of our Lord Jesus Christ. Persist in your struggle, and God will provide, for all of us!

St. Amphilochios on Avoiding Despair
from “The Evergetios: A Complete Text”, Vol. 1 of the First Book

A certain brother, overcome by the passion of immorality, sinned every day. However, each time, with tears and prayers, he would fall before the Master and Lord and receive forgiveness from Him. And as soon as he had repented, the next day, being misled again by shameful habit, he would fall to sin.

Afterwards, having sinned, he would go to the Church, where he would prostrate himself before the honorable and revered Icon of our Lord Jesus Christ and tearfully confess to Jesus: “Lord, have mercy upon me and take away from me this fearful temptation, for it troubles me fiercely and wounds me with the bitter taste of the pleasures. O my Master, cleanse my person once more, that I may gaze upon Thine Icon and see Thy holy form and the sight of Thy face, brighter than the sun, that my heart might be sweetened and thankful.”

And though his lips had just whispered these words, no sooner would he leave the Church than he would fall once again to sin.

Despite this, however, he did not despair of his salvation, but, returning from his sinful deed, would cry out in the Church the same words to God, to the Lord, Who loves mankind, adding the following: “My Lord, I swear to Thee on my word that I shall no longer commit this sin. Only forgive me, Good and Most Merciful Lord, whatever sins I have committed from the beginning to this moment.”

No sooner would he utter these awe-inspiring words, than he would find himself the captive of this evil sin. Let no one cease to marvel at the sweet love of God towards mankind and at His boundless goodness, with which He each day tolerated the uncorrected and evil transgression and ingratitude of the brother. Indeed, God, because of the greatness of His mercy, persistently accepted the repentance of that sinful brother and his inevitable return. For this happened not for one or two or three years, but for more than ten years.

Do you see, my brother, the measureless forbearance and boundless love of the Master? How He continually endures, showing to us kindness, tolerating our terrible transgressions and sins? And what evokes astonishment and wonderment with regard to the rich mercies of God is that He did not become wrathful with the brother in question, though the brother, agreeing not to fall to sin again, continually broke his word.

At any rate, one day when all that we have described again occurred, the brother, having fallen to sin, rushed to the Church, lamenting, groaning, and crying with anguish, to invoke the mercy of God, that He might have compassion on him and take him from the sin of immorality.

No sooner had he called on God, the lover of man, than the Devil, that evil of old, destroyer of our souls, seeing that he could gain nothing, since whatever he accomplished by sin, the brother expunged by his repentance, became infuriated and appeared visibly before the brother. Facing the Icon of Christ, the Devil said to our compassionate Savior: “What will become of the two of us, Jesus Christ? Your sympathy for this sinner defeats me and takes the ground I have gained, since you keep accepting this dissolute man and prodigal who daily mocks you and scorns your authority. Indeed, why is it that you do not burn him up, but, rather, tolerate and put up with him? … It is because one day you intend to condemn all of the adulterers and the dissolute and you will destroy all sinners.

“Actually, you are not a just Judge. But by whim your power is sometimes applied leniently and overlooks things. So, while I was cast from the heavens down to the abyss for a little breach of pride, to this fellow here, even though an immoral man and a prodigal, you calmly show your sympathy, just because he throws himself down in front of your Icon.

“In what way can you be called a just Judge, then? For, as I see it, you receive individual people with great kindness, but ignore justice in general.”

The Devil said all of this, poisoned with great bitterness, whilst there poured forth from his nostrils a black flame.

Having said these things, he fell silent. A voice was heard in response, coming forth from the divine sanctuary, saying the following: “O, all-cunning and ruinous Dragon, are you yet not satisfied with your evil and destructive desire to gobble up the world? Now you have even the nerve to try to do away with this man here, who has come with contrition to entreat the mercy of my compassion to devour him, too? Can you offer up enough sins that, by them, you can tilt the balance of justice against the precious blood which I shed on the Cross for this man? Behold my murder and death, which I endured for the forgiveness of his sins.

“You, when he turns again to sin, do not turn him away, but receive him with joy, neither chastising him nor preventing him from committing sin, out of the hope that you might win him over; but I, who am merciful and love mankind, who counselled my laudable Apostle, Peter, to forgive sins seven times seventy (St. Matthew 18:22), do I not show him mercy and compassion? Indeed, simply because he flees to me, I will not turn him away until I have won him over. Furthermore, I was crucified for sinners and for their salvation; my immaculate hands were nailed to the Cross, that those who so wish might take refuge in me and be saved. For this reason, then, I neither turn away nor reject anyone, even if he should fall many times a day and many times return to me; such a person will not leave my Temple saddened, for I came not to call the righteous, but to call sinners to repent.”

During the time that this voice was heard, the Devil was fixed in his place, trembling and unable to run away. The voice then again began to say: “We have heard from all that you say, O Seducer, that I am not just; to the contrary, I am just beyond all. In whatever moral state I find a person, in that state I judge him. Look at this man who a few moments ago repented, having returned from sin and having fallen at my feet with a sincere resolution to abandon sin, and thereby having conquered you.

“Therefore, I will accept him immediately and save his soul, since he did not lose hope in his hard toil for salvation.

“Look how much he merits by his repentance before me, for which he is honored. As for you, let your hate be shred to pieces and you disgraced.”

While this was being said, the repentant brother had thrown himself before the Icon of the Savior. With his face to the ground and lamenting, he surrendered his spirit to the Lord. At the same time that the repentant brother departed to the Lord, a great tempest fell upon Satan, like a fire from Heaven, and devoured him. From this incident, my brothers, let us learn of the limitless compassion of God and of His love of man—a good Master we have—, that we might never again be disheartened by our sins, but rather look after our salvation with zeal.

2. Again another brother, having repented of all of the sins that he had committed, attained peace (he no longer fell to any misdeed or sins). It so happened that almost immediately thereafter he stumbled on a rock and injured his foot. So much blood flowed from the wound that he lost consciousness and died. After his death, the demons immediately came, wishing to take his soul.

However, the Angels stopped them and told them:

“Look at that rock and see his blood, which he shed in struggle for his love of the Lord.”

When they had said this, the Angels ascended with him to Heaven, his soul free of sin.

3. Satan appeared to a brother who had fallen to sin and said to him:

“You are not a Christian.”

The brother, without being ensnared by this thought of the Devil, answered:

“Regardless of what I am today, from now on I will flee from you.”

Satan, attempting to cast him into despair, spoke again to him:

“I tell you that you are going to Hell.”

The brother, not losing his courage, answered a second time:

“You are neither my judge nor my God.”

So, Satan took leave, having accomplished nothing.

The brother then repented sincerely before God and became a valiant struggler.

4. A brother, possessed by sadness and melancholy, went to an Elder and asked of him:

“What am I to do? My thoughts present me with the idea that perhaps in vain I denied the world and that I cannot be saved.”

Thoughtfully, the Elder answered as follows:

“My child, even if we do not succeed in reaching the promised land, it is better that we should give our carcasses to the desert than return to the Egypt of fearful enslavement” (Numbers 14:29-33).

5. Another brother asked the same Elder:

“Father, to what does the Prophet refer when he says, ‘there is no salvation for him in his God’ (Psalm 3:2)?”

The Elder gave the following response to the brother’s inquiry:

“He is referring to thoughts of despair, which the demons place before the sinner, saying: ‘Neither now nor hereafter is it possible for God to save you.’ With such counsel they try to cast the sinner into despair. But a person must contrast these thoughts with the words of Holy Scripture: ‘The Lord is my refuge and He shall free my feet from the snare’ (Psalm 24:15; 25:15 KJV).”

6. One of the Desert Fathers relates the following beneficial story: In Thessaloniki, there was once a convent of virgins. One of the nuns of the convent, by virtue of the works of the Tempter, left the monastery and fell to prostitution. She remained in this loathsome sin of immorality for a number of years. Yet after some time, with the help of God, Who loves mankind, she repented and returned to her convent. But before she was able to enter into the convent, she fell dead at the gates. In the meantime, her death was revealed to a certain holy man. In this revelatory vision, he saw—among other things—the Holy Angels who had come to take her soul and the demons following behind the soul. On the one hand, the Angels claimed that the nun had returned to the convent repentant, and thus her soul belonged to them. But the demons answered: “She has worked so many years for us, and therefore her soul should be ours. Moreover, she did not even manage to enter into the convent. How, then, can you claim that she repented?”

The Angels, however, cut them off, saying that from the moment that God, Who is omniscient, perceived that the nun’s intention was aimed at repentence, He gladly received her and she was justified. “She was master over her repentance, in reaching the goal which she had intended; the Lord over her life, however, was the Master of all.”

After hearing these words, the demons were thwarted and departed, leaving the soul to the Angels.

The holy man who beheld this vision related it to others.

7. Abba Alonios said: “If a man but so desires, he can return to the divine standard and repent anytime, whether early or late.”

8. A brother posed the following question to Abba Moses:

“Let us suppose that a man beats his servant for a certain transgression; what should the servant say?”

The Elder replied:

“If he is a good servant, he will say: ‘My Lord, have mercy on me, for I have done wrong.”‘

The brother asked again:

“Should the servant say nothing else?”

And the Elder answered again:

“Nothing else. For, having admitted and confessed his fault and having said, ‘I have done wrong,’ immediately his Lord will take pity on him from the depth of his soul and forgive him.”

9. A brother said to Abba Poimen:

“When I fall to some deplorable sin, my conscience eats me up and sharply reproaches me because I have fallen to that sin.”

The Elder answered the brother as follows:

“If, at the very moment that he commits a sin, a person says, ‘I have sinned,’ his conscience ceases to be troubled.”

10. The parents of a young girl by the name of Taisia died and left her an orphan. The young woman converted her home into a guest house for the Fathers of a neighboring skete. For many years she thus welcomed them and showed them care through her hospitality.

After some time, however, having spent all that she had in her hospitable work for the Fathers, she fell into need and became poor.

So it was that she fell in with some perverted people who led her to change her way of life and to abandon the path of virtue. The result of these destructive associations of hers was that Taisia flourished ever more in the way of sin, ending up, in time, in prostitution.

When the Fathers heard of her plight, it much saddened them.

So, they called upon Abba John the Short and said to him: “We have learned that our sister Taisia is living in sin. It is well known that, when she was still able, she showed us her love and hospitality and gave us rest. It is now time for us to help her as much as we can. Take upon yourself the task, then, of meeting with her and try, with the wisdom that God has given you, to set her aright and to pull her out of the mud of debauchery.”

The Elder thus went to the den of sin where Taisia was staying.

“Inform your mistress, please, that I am asking for her,” he told the old woman who was the doorkeeper of the house of ill repute.

“Get out of here, monk,” the old women told him angrily. “You monks early on took all that she had and have left her poor now.”

“Please go and do as I asked you,” the Elder insisted, “because I aim to bring her great benefit.”

The old woman finally stubbornly went upstairs and yelled to Taisia. that some monk wanted to visit her.

“Those monks,” Taisia thought, on hearing who it was who was asking for her, “frequently live near the Red Sea and find valuable pearls.”

Having adorned herself with special care, she lay down on her bed and said to the old woman porter:

“Bring the monk to me.”

So, in fact, shortly Abba John entered the appointed room and sat near her. Looking carefully into her face, he said emotionally:

“What is it that you have against Jesus, and why do you blame him for coming to such a state as this?”

She, upon hearing these words, was totally paralyzed. At the same time, the Elder lowered his head and began to weep in sobs.

Shaken, Taisia then asked him:

“Abba, why are you crying?”

Abba John, raising his head a little, and then lowering it again, said:

“How can I see Satan playing on your face and not cry?”

At this remark, the sinful Taisia asked:

“Is there such a thing as repentance, Father?”

“Yes, there is,” the Elder replied.

“Then take me with you,” Taisia said, ” and direct me as you will.”

“So, let us go now.”

At the beckoning of the Elder, the repentant sinner immediately arose to follow him.

The Elder was beset by astonishment, since he saw that Taisia had no interest in settling her household matters, but left things just as they were and followed him.

By the time they reached the desert, it had become completely dark. Abba John prepared a little place to sleep for her and, having made the sign of the Cross on it, told her:

“Sleep here.” And after he had prepared for himself an improvised place to sleep on the ground, a short distance away, he completed his prayers and lay down to rest.

During the middle of the night he awakened and saw a strange spectacle; he saw a shining pathway leading heavenward from the spot where Taisia was sleeping and Angels of God leading the soul of the repentant sinner upwards along it.

Immediately he got up and, rushing toward Taisia, tapped her lightly with his foot. Once he realized that she was indeed dead, he prostrated with his face to the earth and entreated God to reveal to him whether He had accepted Taisia’s repentance. Praying in this manner, he heard a voice from God, which said to him:

“The single hour for which this women repented was more quickly received than that of many who spend years in repentance, since the repentance of the latter is not as earnest as hers.”

From The Evergetinos, Book I, Vol. I (Etna, CA: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 1991), pp. 17-38.

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