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Progress in Spiritual Life

July 22, 2010

Bishop Athanasios of Limassol

Notes from a talk on a pilgrim ship returning from Kos (27/6/01)

In the Gospel the Lord says that the person who struggles is like the good merchant who found the pearl of great price [Matt. 13: 45-6]. When he found that pearl of great price he went and sold all he that had and bought that pearl, which was worth as much as all his possessions put together, and so gave himself many riches. Thus, Christ compares the Kingdom of Heaven with this pearl of great price, and the person who makes great spiritual effort with the good merchant. However, this pearl of great price does not just show a simple commercial success on the part of the merchant; it also something else that he does.

The Fathers of the Church say that after any undertaking a person should sit and consider what came of the thing he just did. Just like a merchant who, at the end of the day or the week, counts up his takings, looks at how much he has sold, how much profit he has made, how much loss, and then uses this knowledge to manage his business in the future. Thus, he makes sure that he doesn’t get things wrong and knows how to do even better. The spiritual person should do the same thing with his own life. Every day, or after every undertaking, he should sit down and consider the profit, the loss, and make a reckoning accordingly.

With God’s help, we’ve also made an undertaking[1]. Well, we set off a week ago, and we let ourselves be taken on this journey. As you will remember I said at the beginning this is a spiritual undertaking. Its sole purpose is not just to venerate at the various places of pilgrimage, or to see new places and holy spaces but also to have a good look at ourselves. For, when one lives with many other people, in quite different circumstances that we cannot always control, as the days go by, who you are becomes clearer and clearer. Many things come to the surface about ourselves which – at home, or in our professional lives, in our own space, as it were- we might not have seen, noticed or recognised. We are now at the end of this trip, and we want to weigh up what happened throughout the whole journey.

It’s a fact that everyone who came here was somewhat tired from their own daily life. Everybody came here with their own everyday problems. Everybody has problems; nobody is without them in this world.   “All hearts are sad and all heads are in pain” as the Scripture says [cf. Isaiah 1: 5 LXX literally “The whole head is in on pain and the whole heart is sad” ].  That is, each heart of man has its own sorrows, and each head has its own toil and headaches. Every person, wherever they may be, has their own problems and concerns, and so we all came here carrying these things with us. Yet, each of us looked forward to finding some rest, some consolation, something, maybe even an answer through the pilgrimage, and in the few hours that I had available and I was able to talk with people I saw that really, each and every one of us has his own cross to bear. You carry it yourself, you recognize it yourself, and each and every one of us has his own unique cross. It may seem small to us, but to the person carrying it is great, his own cross, that is. So, we set off on this journey, this pilgrimage, as an outlet – let’s say – from our problems, as a journey for spiritual strengthening, as something that is a kind of  restful break within the passage of our life. Indeed, that’s what we set out to do, as a kind of pastoral pursuit with the people of God; a kind of pastoral care and attention for all of us.

However, it is a fact that, in our life in general, we have to learn an important lesson, which starts with small things. I have noticed myself from my own personal life and also from the slight experience I have listening and spending time with other people that a true person, great saints, don’t show themselves to be great saints in the great things in life. Yes, the saints of God achieve great things of faith, and had great struggles, and made big decisions and fought bold battles, as we read in their lives. However, when one has a living experience of the saints, and looks at their life and sees how those people conduct themselves, they see that yes, indeed, they did do great things. However, before achieving great things, they took care in the small things. The man of God is seen in small things, in the slightest things. As the old adage goes, “You can tell a lion by the tip of its claws”. That is to say, the greatness of a lion is not seen in the size of its fangs or its roar but by the least of things the end of its claw. You can understand a person through the details. Indeed, spiritual life and the cultivation of a person start with this attention to detail. A spiritual person is distinguished by the details in his life. It doesn’t show in the great things. The great things will only come to us once or twice in life, if they come at all, it is not at that moment that the greatness of a person will show itself. To be faithful in great things you must first prepare yourself to be faithful in small things. As the Gospel says, “he who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much” [ Luke 16:10]. And he who is unfaithful in what is least is also unfaithful in much, as Christ alludes to in the Gospel.

We also see this in our lives. It is something that we really do lag behind in. It is something that we see, for example, in marriage, within the toil of marriage. Where, if we understood the reason we got married and the purpose of the marriage itself, then we would understand and have a much better stance towards the everyday problems that face us within a marriage.

The same thing applies to monasticism. When we understand the reason why we became monks or nuns, and what awaited us upon entering monasticism, then we would have the right stance and struggle well and skilfully. That is why in monasticism, in perhaps the most detailed service, when someone is going to be a monk, they make a complete list of all the difficulties he will encounter. “For you must be hungry, and thirsty, and endure nakedness, and accept insult, ridicule, persecution … ” and so on … and so on “and lay up many grievous sorrows” says the service and “when you have suffered all these things, then…. “Rejoice with gladness, be glad with exultation” and so on… Indeed, they tell us monks and nuns these things before we become monastics, they point out all the bad things that will happen to us, let’s say, and then it says “Do you confess all these things in the hope of the power of God?” Do you accept to go hungry, thirsty, to work hard, be insulted, mocked, to go naked, to be a stranger, to be exhausted… and so on and so forth … all these things … will you accept all these things and endure them gladly? And there you say “yes”. “Yes, with the help of God, Reverend Father” and thus, you make a confession.

However, within marriage, you can’t say all these things, perhaps for social reasons. You can’t say, for example, “Will you tolerate your wife insulting you, nagging you, contradicting you, denigrating you, doing this, that and the other….?” And then for the Bridegroom to say “Yes”. Then to say to the bride, “Will you tolerate your husband being harsh, going over to his mother’s house ten times a day, for your mother-in-law to call up and say “my darling son” and to ignore you altogether, will you tolerate this, that and the other ….?” We don’t say these things. However, they are things that people should know. Indeed, in a certain ancient marriage stipulation it says,  that before the priest takes them forward to commence the mystery (sacrament) the priest will ask the bridegroom, “Mr. So-and-so do you take Miss So-and-so as your wife?” and he says “Yes”. Then he asks the bride if she accepts this man as her spouse. This means that we have a full understanding and knowledge of what we are about to do. Thus, this struggle begins in the place and situation that we already find ourselves in. Whether it is within a monastery, a desert, a church, a parish, or marriage, family, house, work, occupation, whatever situation, place etc. that a person finds himself in. Thus, in whatever situation a person is in, he or she starts to see “the race that is set before us” [Heb. 12:1]. Scripture is referring to the challenge that he has before him at this precise moment, not the one we had yesterday or the one we will have tomorrow, but the one that we have now, at this very instant.

Abba Poimen says that “our will is a brass wall which separates us from God.” Why? Because, we want to do things in the way that we want to do them. What’s worse is that we want to advise God, on how He should deal with our problems! We tell Him “do this” or “do that thing” saying “do it like this” in this situation, or “like that” in the other situation. We don’t have that happy and blessed hope in God Who manages all things. However, in order to get there means that we have to begin with the details as we said earlier. How can we have our hope in God when we don’t leave the details to Him? Well, we say, for example, “I wanted my room to be like this..”, “I wanted my trip to be like this …”, “I expected it to be like this or like that”, “this is how I wanted it, this is what I planned, this is what I expected, what I was looking forward to, this is what I dreamt of…” All the problems arise from these sorts of expectations and plans; and we get distressed, become demanding and get ourselves into a state.

However, a person should learn to accept things as they come and be patient.  I don’t mean that a person should become an indifferent, passive ‘recipient’. However, the good merchant takes whatever is set before him at that instance, takes advantage of it and converts it into a spiritual effort. Thus, if you accept what comes with a certain sobriety and transforms it into spiritual work, regardless of what is set before you then you really are the ‘good merchant’. It’s like what they say [in Cyprus] about certain tight-fisted, miserly people that “he could even get fat out of a fly!” I mean, what sort of fat has a fly got, but a penny pincher who wants to squeeze the last drop out of everything has got the ability and the inventiveness to get fat out of a fly! Thus, a spiritual person is the one who, within his everyday existence, can really reap benefits.

Now, let each one of us sit down and measure the days that have just passed. Let each of us considered where he or she grumbled, where they were mean-spirited, irresolute, improper, complaining, so on and so forth. Then, having seen them, sitting down and saying, “things should change”.  You know, for things to change it never depends on other people; it always depends on our own selves. The moment a person justifies himself, he cannot change. Self-justification will never allow a person to change; it will never allow you to repent. Self-justification will assuage the matter and make you place the burden on someone else, on the circumstances, but not upon your own shoulders. You’ll say “Why’s it my fault if they treated me unfairly, if they snubbed me, if they chucked me into room next to the ship’s engine and I couldn’t sleep all night… Is it my fault?” You are not to blame, but spiritual conscientiousness says that you should lay the things, the events aside, and consider how you can benefit from this situation. If a person does this in his life, in whatever situation he finds himself, then he will acquire a generosity of spirit. He won’t be troubled. It’s like a heavy ship, such as the one we are in, that goes straight through the waves. It only sways slightly, and if it was just a little bit larger it wouldn’t sway at all. Yet, little rowing boats are upturned by the smallest wave, because they are light-weight; they have no depth. The person who cultivates his faith in God is the person who believes that his life, even the tiniest speck of detail of his life, is within God’s care and providence. This doesn’t mean blaming God for whatever happens to him. Rather, it means seeing God’s care and providence through life’s events and having the unshakeable belief that God governs all things.

In the Gospel, Christ says that we shouldn’t ask for things like the idolaters, what you will eat, and what you will drink, and what you will wear, but that you should first seek the Kingdom of Heaven and I will give you everything else [cf. Matt. 6: 31-34]. Your Father in Heaven knows what you have need of [Matt. 6:32] and don’t be concerned about anything because not even one hair on your head falls without your heavenly father wanting it [cf. Matt. 10: 30] (By the way, he didn’t say your hair wouldn’t change colour either … because now it changes colour!) So why did Christ say this? Do you think God is bothered about hairs and how many we have on our head and that He’s going to decide which particular hair is going to fall off our head when we comb our hair in the morning? Of course not! He says this to show God’s great care and providence for human beings. Elsewhere, he says about the sparrows that are sold for a couple of copper coins (assarion) [Matt. 10: 29] or about the grass which exists today and is thrown in the oven tomorrow [Matt. 6:30] God has so much care for all these things, how much more so will He care for us. If we cultivate within our souls this blessed and happy hope in the providence of God then you know we’ll solve a great contemporary problem: The problem of anxiety, angst and worry about our problems that eats us up inside. We really do have these kinds of problems. It’s true that people do fight against us and give us a hard time, but you know all those things should only be up to a point. We should know that above us, behind us, and before we even existed there is a God, heavenly Father, Almighty, bearer of all things, who loves our children more than we do, our husband or wife more than we do, our health more than we do, and our family, and our job, and everything, much, much more than we do. Since he loves all these things much more than we do then, we should have trust in God, who is good and will not abandon man. Someone may go through difficulties, for example we may see our children misbehave and do dangerous things. It’s natural that as parents we’ll be concerned and we’ll pray for our children. However, in the depths of our hearts we must have this hope in God, because God is able to draw many good things out of bad situations.  At the end of the day, God holds the thread of man’s life. Man is not abandoned to his fate. God knows. He could save a man at the very last minute of his life, or that person has to go through all these exploits in order to develop.

We see so many examples. Look at St. Paul the Apostle, who we celebrate tomorrow! He was a persecutor of the Church like hardly any others. He did many terrible things against the Church. The Christians heard his name and trembled. Such was the extent of his obsessive hatred against the Christians. He was present at the death by stoning of the first- martyr, Stephen. He guarded the clothing of the Jews so that they throw stones at Stephen more easily and thus, kill him. Stephen’s face shone like that of an angel, and despite this Paul took part in this death by stoning of St. Stephen the first-martyr. Why did Christ leave him alone at that point? Why didn’t he go and visit him before this event? Because he was not yet ready. He waited until the right moment, to come to him, to be with him, for him to have matured somewhat through the various events and situations.  He waited for the right opportunity for the Grace of God to visit him.

It is not an easy thing for a person to know God. Nor is it something for any old moment, or any old hour, it has to be a moment when that person will be capable of discovering this relationship. If he hears it now, therefore, it is because now is the time when he is able to hear this voice of God within his own being, when he is capable of understanding this energy/working of the Holy Spirit, which calls man to communion with God. If we understand these things then we really can stand before the things in our life with a great sense of peace. This peace will help us not be carried away, not to be discouraged, and first and foremost to understand this merit of Christian life that we are human persons, and the human person has limitations. A human being doesn’t have limitless powers. Yet, as a human being he will do what he can. The works of man are marked with imperfection, mistakes, defects and many deficiencies. Hence, we can stand before God with repentance. We don’t remove the burden from ourselves. When we understand that we have the difficulty and the problem. Then we really can repent, we can correct ourselves, and we communicate with other people correctly. It’s true what Christ said that each person should look at the beam in their own eye [Matt. 7:3-5]. Each person should look to himself and see where he is weak. He will see this within his everyday life, from things that are around him.

The race that was set before us these past few days was this ship and this excursion. When we disembark we are going to find our old life again. Everyone will go back to his own place, and will find the same old trials, the same old crosses, and his own difficulties. So when we get back we’ll all dive back into our own sea, and we’ll see how we will sail across this ocean which has storms, has calm, has harbours, has reefs and barriers and all sorts of things. However, if we place faith in God at the steering wheel of the ship then we will move untroubled as we have done so many days on this ship. We didn’t have to worry about where the Captain was taking us. Can you imagine that we suddenly became anxious and started telephoning the Ship’s Captain every moment demanding “Where are we right now? Are you awake? Are you sure we won’t hit a rock? Have you had a good look at the map? Are you sure we are going to reach that place?” Do you see? Not only will we drive ourselves crazy, we will drive the other person crazy too. We got up in the morning, we ate, we drank, we enjoyed ourselves, and we weren’t concerned about where we were going. We knew that the person who was up there on the helm was in charge and would take us where he wanted to go. We chose where we would like to go, and he took us there. We were peaceful. This is what the man of God is like. He puts God at the helm of his life, and gives himself over to the hands of God. He knows that God is a Father. He knows that God doesn’t do bad things in our life. However, when difficulties come, and they will come, then God gives us the strength to convert this difficulty, bitterness, pain, sorrow, in fact any misadventure whatsoever… into eternal life.

We cannot avoid the fact that just as this trip had a beginning, a middle and an end our life is just the same. Our life is like a journey. We start our life. We had the course of our life for as many years as God gives us, we had storms, had calm, we had havens, but the time will come when we are asked to hand over our passports, take our luggage and leave. The trip’s over. Can you imagine how empty headed and ridiculous a person would be to say “Well, I really liked this ship, I will build a house just like this ship and live in it”? Yet, whether you want to or not, you’ll have to get off the ship at some point. You won’t stay on board, the boat doesn’t belong to you. The ship took you on a journey, brought you back, it’s over. That’s the way it is. St. John Chrysostom says “Remember that you are you are a traveller, not a citizen, you won’t remain in this place.” [Homilia de capto Eutropio PG 52: 401]  As St. Paul says, “For here we have no remaining city, but we seek the one to come” [Heb. 13:14]. However wonderful the ship is with all the beautiful things inside we still have to get off at some point. So, quite often the difficulties that we come across quite often help us detach ourselves. Just like when we hit a storm and get tired and we start saying to ourselves “Oh for goodness sake! When are we going to arrive home and get some peace, we’re dizzy, we’re tired and we’ve had enough!” You look forward to going home; it’s where you belong. So, a person gets to the point (not out of despair, but out of a kind of nostalgia for the father’s house), a person gets to the point of looking forward  to the hour of rest within the embrace of God. This trip ends, and the sensible, happy, blessed, the wise, the truly clever person is the one who took various things from his life’s journey to take back home with him. Just like we went shopping and bought various things to eat, drink, to decorate our homes. We didn’t but them for the ship. We didn’t say, “Well, I bought these icons to decorate the ship!” Did anyone buy something to leave on the ship? At most, we might take something from the boat with us!![2]

This is true wisdom for a man to know that at some point our journey will end. Blessed is the man who made the most of his life skilfully, in a spiritual manner, in each and every minute and moment of his life.  He knew that “here we have no remaining city, but we seek the one to come” [Heb. 13:14]. Therefore, the sorrows and “sufferings of the present time” will be nothing “compared to the future glory to be revealed in us.” [Rom. 8:18]. When a person sees what is being prepared after the futility of this life, then a person can easily endure the difficulties of his life, its sorrows, trials, hitches, sickness and everything and looks forward to the Kingdom of God. He knows that these short and temporary things are nothing compared to the future glory that will be revealed to the children of God, those who struggle correctly. That is why the true reckoning of this trip would be for each of us to sit down and look at himself and say “We went to so many places!” First of all, what spiritual benefit did we receive within. Secondly, he should ask “Where did I show smallness of character? My weaknesses? My faults? My contrariness?” It’s bearable on a boat for a week. However, when you are like that in your family, at work, in your neighbourhood, it’s something to think about.

I’ll tell you something else. Sometimes we see couples with various difficulties. You look for the problem and see that the problem lies in the fact that these people have not learned to be pleasant to each other. Sometimes I say to myself, if you were in the position of that girl or that man would you be patient with the other person, and sometimes I realise that I wouldn’t be patient. Sometimes we are such burdensome people sometimes, so difficult with others, so ill-mannered, that we really do make things difficult for others.

An Elder once said that the person who belongs to the Church who is difficult and bad-mannered is like a stinking corpse, which they threw perfume on and it becomes twice as bad. It isn’t bad enough that we are difficult and bad-mannered but we also belong to the Church! So we give a very bad impression of the Church, and of God, and of ourselves, and we become a burden to other people. Whereas we read in the lives of the saints and St. Paul says in his Epistles, “be pleasant” [ Col. 3:15]. From this detail the rest of our spiritual life follows. As St. John the Theologian says, “You are deceived if you think you love God, yet hate your brother” [1 John 4: 20]. If you can’t do the small thing how can you do the great thing. Something else we say in the monastery, if you don’t give rest to your Elder, to your brothers, how can you give rest to God!

This is why our struggle should turn upon ourselves. We should look at how we work within ourselves. One sees this everywhere from the youngest child to the oldest man. Even with the people you work with everyday. If you work with a person and they are pleasant, as soon as you see them you get a pleasant disposition yourself, and even if they make a mistake, you accept it gladly. However, someone else may try, but because they are solemn and impatient and difficult and downcast and depressed even their very presence, despite the fact they don’t have a bad disposition, creates an aversion, creates conditions that will bring about bad results. This is why we should be careful. Sometimes, we don’t have so much need of high spiritual subjects, like when I first came from the Holy Mountain and I brought speakers on prayer of the heart, and the uncreated light, and I wasn’t really down to earth, I thought I was still on the Mountain. I was telling people about the uncreated light, without realising that here people had to learn to say “good morning” to each other! People need simple things, to learn how to communicate with their spouse, their child etc. If you cannot communicate with the people around you, how can you communicate with God. You are deceived! Don’t take this route. Your stature will be shown in the small things, in the slightest things. You won’t be shown in great things. When great things come you won’t be ready. You will be distinguished in the moment of everydayness. Where you live, in your situation, where you are speaking, in the smallest, slightest thing. Abba Isaac says that the man of God is seen in the way he speaks, laughs, the sits and so on. We end up thinking that our relationship with God is found by doing various religious duties. “What will we eat? Oh we’ll fast today but put oil on our food tomorrow and so on”; “What should I do in order to have Communion?”; “What prayers should I say in the morning and evening?” Of course, we need to do all these things, but did we ever ask ourselves, “Are the people around me pleased with me? The people who depend on me, do I make it easy for them?”

I remember once a novice went to Papa-Efraim at Katounakia and said “Elder, I’ve come here to see if you give me rest so that I can stay.” The Elder turned to him and said, “You’ve made a terrible mistake, even before beginning. I won’t give you rest, my child, you will give me rest. I’ll see if you’ll stay here, not you. I’ll see if you give me rest, otherwise I will send you away.” Of course, he was a two edged sword and didn’t go in for niceties! This abruptness set things in order.

Once he had a young man there and the Elder left him to himself, to freely make a decision. When he made the wrong decision in the Elder’s view, the Elder threw him out of the community, without any pity or compassion. He didn’t bend at all. This stance wasn’t from malice and certainly not from lack of love, but a kind of healing love that sets things in order. He is not going to tease you with candy-sweets, but is going to show that you are sick and weak and you must act in this particular way. Since, until you understand this thing, it will always be someone else who has the problem, not you! It’s never you – it’s always someone else. And we go to spiritual fathers and elders, and everywhere else and we look for magical solutions. We ask the Elder what we should do with any particular problem … but, of course, it’s always somebody else’s problem. We never – or very rarely – confess that we have the problem ourselves. The other person may be wicked, dissolute, unjust or whatever…However, he’s not the problem. He is whatever he is. I cannot intervene for the other person. How can I live with that person? How can I learn to live with him? If I manage that then some sort of correct spiritual work has started to take place within us. Then the pilgrimage that we undertook takes on meaning.

The places we went to benefitted us because they gave us great grace. Since, you know,  grace remains in the places where people were sanctified. We were at a vigil in a church dedicated to the Mother of God of One-Hundred-Gates in a church that was 1,700 years old! Imagine how much prayer and how many liturgies have taken place in that church building. It’s the grace that remains. Like that on Mount Athos, or in the relics of saints, with the blessings of the Fathers! Think of all the places we made our pilgrimage to! All these things are like getting some sort of energy. However, we should make best use of this energy. If we don’t make use of it, then it won’t stay, it’ll leave. Then, when we get home we are going to be just the same as we were when we left. Maybe we’ll even be worse. So then, the people who know us, our children, will be asking why we even go to Church. “This Church hasn’t changed you. It hasn’t transfigured you. It hasn’t helped you transcend your mortality. You have transcended the corruption of sin. Well then, what use is the Church to you?” Is it the Church’s fault? Of course not! It is well-proven that it benefitted other people. Who’s to blame? We are, because we did not make best use of the Church and of life within the Church. Instead of turning ourselves into a church, we want God and the Church to be according to our measurements. We want them to serve our needs, our affairs, our preferences, because that’s the way we want it! That’s the way we prefer it! We don’t want the pain of working on ourselves. We can’t work on our souls, unfortunately, without feeling pain. We must enter into the process of pain. To cut off your own will, to deny the thing you like, to do what the other person wants is a kind of pain. To be able to accept everybody else’s foibles is difficult and painful; it is a cutting off of our own will. However, this is the only way to do it; it cannot happen any other way. We cannot prune ourselves back if we don’t feel pain. As long as we send pain away, then we will also send away our only true therapy.

I won’t say anything more. Now that we’ve come to the end, let us give thanks to God, who helped us, and we will be home in a few hours. Let us make good spiritual use of all the good things we saw. When we get back to our own situation let each of us become truly, “the fragrance of Christ” as St. Paul the Apostle says [2 Cor. 2:15], let us smell of this spiritual struggle. Today, when we want to offer the presence of the Church of Christ to the world, the greatest presence and the greatest proof is we ourselves. We are the ones who will show if this Church has done something to us, or if we remained the same, and simply dipped ourselves in some religious dye. If our faults and deficiencies and quirks and the old man are just the same as before, showing through this dye, then not only will we be of no benefit to other, but unfortunately, we will be a bad example and we will become a reason for people who are far from God to point at us and think “Look, those are the people who go to Church! They haven’t even learnt to get rid of their faults. Indeed, they are even ready to quarrel because someone took their turn!”  I remember one time at the monastery of Macheras two women were fighting each other directly outside the door of the confessional. It’s not funny … they really did have a physical fight, pulling hair and shirt collars to see who would go in to confess first! I’ve also seen it in Limassol. I’ve let someone in earlier because I know they have to be somewhere, they’ve got an invalid at home, or some other urgent reason. I ask the others to wait and I’ll see then in a bit and immediately I get a complaint “but we’ve been waiting and it’s our turn!” and so on. At that moment you realise that, my child, you really haven’t understood anything, anything at all!

I remember once a spiritual father in Thessaloniki, a person with gifts. Well, a young man went to him who led a really dissolute life, I mean sinful to the extreme. He went to confess. He went and said “Father, I would like to confess!” The priest asked him to wait. He waited in the church from the morning until twelve midnight.  Then the priest came out and said, look I can’t manage to hear your confession right now, come again on Wednesday. He went the following Wednesday. The priest came out and said, “wait here and I’ll see you”. He waited and waited and waited. Again, midnight came around, and he still didn’t see him. This happened three times, four times, six times, and he waited and waited each time. Until, eventually he burst and lost his temper. I can’t do it anymore – how much longer do I have to wait. He was just about to leave when the spiritual father called him and said – come on now, it’s your turn. Indeed, this eventually became a reason for that person to live a life close to God. The Elder used this way to show him that repentance is not something that happens within 5 minutes in the confession room.

Repentance is a lifelong process. If you get frustrated outside the confession room, and cannot even wait or show charity by giving your turn to your brother, but instead you grumble and complain, and get angry and scandalised, and you start saying “How long are they taking in there? What are they doing? How much have they got to say? There in there for an hour and it only takes us two minutes!” These things happen. “We went to the spiritual father, and it took two minutes. He said ‘off you go and may God help you’ whereas he spent a whole hour with the other person! But with us nothing!” These are all examples to show that we really haven’t learnt anything yet. Nothing has stuck to us. We really haven’t learnt the essence of the life in Christ. I see this in myself sometimes, and in others, and it’s really a great pity that often secular people are often much, much better than people who belong to the Church. You see them waiting and being patient, putting up with things without getting upset, being tolerant, having love, being dignified and so on. Often, we look for these things in us, who are supposedly people of God, people of the Church, and we don’t find them. We don’t find them and start asking ourselves, “Well then, what did the Gospel say to us? Did it tell us anything?” Where is the repentance, that spiritual state that a person should have when they go to meet God in confession. “We were made alive who were dead in trespasses and sins” [Eph. 2:1] we were “raised in Christ” we became images of Christ, we are witnesses of Christ in this world [cf. Eph. 2:5] We will not become sinless, or infallible, nor will we have some sort of complex thinking that we are someone special. We will live humbly, with repentance, patience, love for our brothers and sisters, and first and foremost, the great hope that above us is this God who cares for everything regarding our own lives.

We have, therefore, every blessing! Go back to your homes and continue our struggle in our own situation, in our everyday life, the “race set before us” and we should take care of the small things, the details so that God will make us worthy of the promise, the great reward, of the Kingdom of God. We should remember that the journey of our life will have an end and blessed is the person who has sat down and thought about what he will do when he disembarks from the ship of his life and how he will prepare a dwelling place at his destination. You know – sort of like getting on the telephone and saying “We’re coming back in the afternoon. Is the house ready? We’d like to eat and so on. Come to the port to collect us. Etc.” This is what we should do with the Kingdom of God. We should prepare a place there, because that’s the real place, here it is just a journey that will end. Every blessing, then, to all of you and may God protect us with his Grace. Amen.

[1] Aside: Somewhere – where we just went -one of the Father’s who received us said “We are so pleased that you undertook this excursion (ἐκδρομή)”. I replied  “This isn’t an excursion, but an incursion (ἐπιδρομή)! – 500 people, 800 people  – a foreign incursion. Glory be to God – out of love – we were very well received.”

[2] Aside: You know some Cypriots went to Russia once and they didn’t let them off the plane till they returned all the cutlery!! And you know, it was a religious trip, led by an Archimandrite and they kept them on the plane until they  returned the very last teaspoon! One by one the pious Christians gave back the knives and forks to the air stewardesses! So the crew here should be quite happy that we won’t take their things with us!!

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