On the Vanity of Dabbling In End Time Mysteries

by St. Symeon the New Theologian

Let us therefore put aside every vain and unprofitable disputation, and let us not seek ahead of time to learn what is proper to that hour, i.e., the Second Coming, but instead let us be persuaded by the Master Who says:

“Search the Scriptures” (Jn. 5:39).

Search, that is, and not meddle! Search the Scriptures and do not busy yourselves with disputes which lie outside the sacred writings. Search the Scriptures so that you may learn about faith, and hope, and love. About faith, so that you may not be tossed about by every wind which comes from the trickery of unstable men, but are rather rooted in the true dogma of the apostolic and catholic Church and “rightly divide” the word of her truth (2 Tim. 2:15).

And not only this, but you should be taught as well to seek out the fruits of faith and the profit which derives from them through the practice of the commandments. When you have been enabled to find them, then indeed you shall be in possession of hope unashamed, and in the latter you shall possess the entirety of love for God. For it is impossible for anyone to possess perfect love for God otherwise than by grace of an unalloyed faith and a hope which is secure and unshakable. Why then do we abandon the examination of ourselves concerning these matters? And, if in fact we have that faith in God which He Himself – Who will judge us – says He will demand of us, why should we busy ourselves with matters which are beyond us, in particular when in truth we fail to see things which lie at our very feet.

Source

On Orthodox Spiritual Leaders

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by St. Symeon the New Theologian

Plead God with prayers and tears for Him to send you a guide who is dispassionate and holy. At the same time, also study the divine Scriptures by yourself and particularly the practical writings of the Holy Fathers; so that by cross-examining the teachings and works of your teacher and leader with these [writings] you may become able to see and to comprehend [his teachings].

And those teachings that are in agreement with the Scriptures, you should adopt and hold them dear in your mind, while the adulterated and foreign ones you should learn to perceive them as such and to turn them away, in order not to be deceived.

For know this: many deceivers and false teachers have come forth in these days”.

[Practical and Theological Chapters 32, by P. Christou in the Library of Greek Fathers — Philokalia of the Neptic and Ascetic Fathers 3, Patristic Editions Gregory Palamas, Thessalonica, p.242]

On the Saying “Those Whom He Foreknew, the Same He Also Predestined”

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“Predestination” is an excuse for sloth: God calls everyone to repentance

I have heard many people say:

“Because the Apostle says; ‘Those whom God foreknew, the same He also predestined; and those whom He predestined, He also called; and those whom He called, the same also glorified’ (Rom. 8:29–30) what good is it to me if I throw myself into many labors, if I give proof of repentance and conversion, when I am neither foreknown nor predestined by God to be saved and conformed to the glory of God His Son?”

We are naturally obliged to state our opinion clearly to such people, and to reply: O, you! Why do you reason to your own perdition rather than your salvation? And why do you pick out for yourselves the obscure passages of inspired Scripture and then tear them out of context and twist them in order to accomplish your own destruction? Do you not hear the Savior crying out every day:

“As I live … I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezek. 33:11)?

Do you not hear Him Who says:

“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2);

and again:

“Just so, I tell you, there is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:7, adapted)?

Did He ever say to some: “Do not repent for I will not accept you,” while to others who were predestined: “But you, repent! because I knew you beforehand”? Of course not! Instead, throughout the world and in every church He shouts:

“Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

Come, He says, all you who are burdened with many sins, to the One Who takes away the sin of the world; come all who thirst to the fountain which flows and never dies.

Does He distinguish and separate anyone out, calling one to Himself as foreknown while sending the other away as not predestined? Never! Therefore,

“you should not make excuses for your sins” (Ps. 140:4 LXX),

nor should you want to make the Apostle’s words an occasion for your own destruction, but should run, all of you, to the Master Who calls you. For even if someone is a publican, or a fornicator, an adulterer, a murderer, or whatever else, the Master does not turn him away, but takes away the burden of his sins immediately and makes him free. And how does He take away the other’s burden? Just as He once took away that of the paralytic when He said to the latter:

“My son, your sins are forgiven” (Matt. 9:2),

and the man was immediately relieved of his burden and, in addition, received the cure of his body.

So then, let everyone who wants approach Him, and let the one say:

“Son of David, have mercy on me”;

and, if he hears,

“What do you want Me to do for you?”

let him say quickly,

“Lord, let me receive my sight,”

and right away he will hear,

“So I desire. Receive your sight” (Luke 18:38–42).

Let another say,

“Lord, my daughter”—i.e. my soul—”is severely possessed by a demon” (Matt. 15:22),

and he will hear:

“I will come to heal her” (Matt. 8:7).

If someone is hesitant and does not wish to approach the Master, even if He comes to him and says,

“Follow Me” (Matt. 9:9),

then let him follow Him as the publican once did, abandoning his counting tables and his avarice, and, I am sure, He shall make of him, too, an evangelist rather than a tax collector. If someone else is a paralytic, lying for years in sloth, carelessness, and love of pleasure, and if he should see another, be it the Master Himself or one of His disciples, come to him and ask,

“Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:2–7),

let him receive the word joyfully and reply immediately:

“Yes, Lord, but I have no man to put me into the pool of repentance.”

And then if he should hear,

“Rise, take up your bed, and follow me,”

let him get up right away and run after the footsteps of the One Who has called him from on high.

Now, if someone does not wish, whether like the sinful woman to embrace the feet of Christ (Luke 7:38), or like the prodigal son to run back to Him with burning repentance (Luke 15:11ff), or like the woman with a hemorrhage and bowed with infirmity (Luke 8:43; 13:11) even to approach Him, why does he then make excuses for his sins by saying, “Those whom He foreknew, them also”—and them alone!—” He called”?

One may perhaps reasonably reply to the person so disposed that “God, Who is before eternity and Who knows all things before creating them, also knew you beforehand, knew that you would not obey Him when He called, that you would not believe in His promises and in His words, yet still, even while knowing this, He

“bowed the heavens and came down” (Psa. 18:19)

and became man, and for your sake has come to the place where you lie prone. Indeed, visiting you many times every day, sometimes in His own Person and sometimes as well through His servants, He exhorts you to get up from the calamity in which you lie and to follow Him Who ascends to the Kingdom of Heaven and enter it together with Him. But you, you still refuse to do it.

Then tell me, who is responsible for your perdition and disobedience? You, who refuse to obey and who will not follow your Master, or God Himself Who made you, Who knew beforehand that you would not obey Him, but would instead abide in your hardened and impenitent heart? I think that you will certainly say, “He is not responsible, but I am myself,” because God’s forbearance is not the cause of our hardness, Rather, it is our own lack of compliance.

Example of the emperor and the arena: God’s foreknowledge

symeonFor God knows all things beforehand, both past and present at once, and everything which is going to happen in the future up to the end of the world. He sees them as already present, because in and through Him all things hold together (Col. 1:17). Indeed, just as today the emperor takes in with a glance those who race and who wrestle in the area, but does not thereby make himself responsible for the victory of the winners or the failure of the losers—the zeal, or in other cases the slackness, of the contestants being cause of their victory or defeat—understand with me that it is just so with God Himself. When He endowed us with free will, giving commandments to teach us instead how we must oppose our adversaries, He left it to the free choice of each either to oppose and vanquish the enemy, or to relax and be miserably defeated by him. Nor does He leave us entirely to ourselves—for He knows the weakness of human nature—but rather is present Himself with us and, indeed, allies Himself with those who choose to struggle, and mysteriously imbues us with strength, and Himself, not we, accomplishes the victory over the adversary. This the earthly emperor is unable to do, since he is himself also a man, and is rather in need himself of assistance, just as we require it, too.

God, on the other hand, Who is mighty and invincible, becomes, as we just said, an ally of those who willingly choose to do battle with the enemy, and He establishes them as victors over the cunning of the devil. He does not, however, compel any who do not so choose to this war, in order that He not destroy the power of choice which is proper to our reasoning nature, made according to His own image, and bring us down to the level of unreasoning brutes. Thus God, as we have explained, sees us all at once as if in an arena, just like the earthly emperor looks down on the athletes in competition. But, while the latter does not know who will lose and who will win until he sees the outcome of their contest and, though he may prepare the victors’ crowns beforehand, he still does not know to whom he is going to present them; the King of Heaven, on the other hand, knows from before the ages exactly who the victors and vanquished are going to be. This is why He said to those who asked Him if they could sit at His right hand and His left in His glory:

“It is not mine to give to you” (Matt. 20:23),

but that it will be given instead to those for whom it was prepared.

God does not compel

This therefore what Paul himself also knew when he said rightly:

Those whom God foreknew, the same He also predestined; and those whom He predestined, He also called; and those whom He called, the same He also glorified. —Rom. 8:29–30

It is not God’s foreknowledge of those who, by their free choice and zeal, will prevail which is the cause of their victory, just as, again, it is not His knowing beforehand who will fall and be vanquished which is responsible for their defeat. Instead, it is the zeal, deliberate choice, and courage of each of us which effects the victory. Our faithlessness and sloth, our irresolution and indolence, on the other hand, comprise our defeat and perdition. So, while reclining on our bed of worldly affection and love of pleasure, let us not say:

“Those whom God fore-knew, them also He predestined,”

without perceiving just what it is we are saying. Yes, indeed, He truly knew you beforehand as inattentive and disobedient and lazy, but this is certainly not because He ordered or foreordained it that you should have no power to repent yourself nor, if you will it, to get up and obey. You, though, when you say this, are clearly calling God a liar. While He says,

“I came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Matt. 9:13),

you, lazy and unwilling to turn around and repent of your evil, contradict Him, as it were, and call Him a liar Who never lies, when you make such excuses as these. “Those who are going to repent”, you say, “were predestined, but I am not one of them. So, let them repent therefore whom God clearly foreknew, and whom He also predestined.” O what a lack of feeling! O shamelessness of soul and worse than the demons themselves! When did anyone ever hear of one of them saying such a thing? Where was it ever heard that a demon blamed God for its own damnation? Let us then not blame the demons, for here there is a human soul which thinks up blasphemies even worse than theirs.

So tell me, where did you learn that you did not belong to those who are foreknown and predestined to become conformed to the image of God’s glory? Tell me, who told you this? Was it, maybe, God Who announced this to you, Himself, or by one of His prophets, or through an angel? “No,” you say, “but I do suppose that I am not predestined to salvation, and that all my effort would be in vain.” And why do you not believe instead with all your soul that God has sent His only-begotten Son on the earth for your sake alone, and for your salvation, that He knew you beforehand and predestined you to become His brother and co-heir? Why are you not eager to love Him with all your heart and to honor His saving commandments? Why do you not rather believe that, having been slaughtered for your sake, He will never abandon you, nor allow you to perish? Do you not hear Him saying: “Can a woman forget her suckling child . . . yet I will not forget you” (Isa. 49:15)? So, if by anticipation you judge yourself unworthy, and willfully separate yourself from the flock of Christ’s sheep, you should understand that it is none other than you who are the cause of your own damnation.

Therefore, casting out of our souls all faithlessness, sloth, and hesitation, let us draw near with all our heart, with unhesitating faith and burning desire, like slaves who have been newly purchased with precious blood. Indeed, with reverence for the price paid on our behalf, and with love for our Master Who paid it, and as having accepted His love for us, let us recognize that, if He had not wished to save by means of Himself us who have been purchased, He would not have come down to earth, nor would He have been slain for our sake. But, as it is written, He has done this because He wills that all should be saved. Listen to Him say it Himself:

“I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world” (John 12:17).

 

Source: Fr. Joseph Gleason

On Spiritual Fatigue and Lethargy During Lent

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by St. Symeon the New Theologian

“My brethren, it is not possible for these things [virtues] to come about in one day or one week! They will take much time, labor, and pain, in accordance with each man’s attitude and willingness, according to the measure of faith and one’s contempt for the objects of sight and thought. In addition, it is also in accordance with the fervor of his ceaseless penitence and its constant working in the secret chamber of his heart that this is accomplished more quickly or more slowly by the gift and grace of God. But without fasting no one was ever able to achieve any of these virtues or any others, for fasting is the beginning and foundation of every spiritual activity.”

HT: Bishop Daniel (Brum)

 

The Aim of Living in God

dart hit the dead centre of target

by St. Simeon the New Theologian

“The aim of all those who live in God is to please our Lord Jesus Christ and become reconciled with God the Father through receiving the Holy Spirit, thus securing their salvation, for in this consists the salvation of every soul. If this aim and this activity is lacking, all other labour is useless and all other striving is in vain. Every path of life which does not lead to this is without profit.”

HT

Surrounded

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by St. Symeon the New Theologian

“When a man walks in the fear of God he knows no fear, even if he were to be surrounded by wicked men. He has the fear of God within him and wears the invincible armor of faith. This makes him strong and able to take on anything, even things which seem difficult or impossible to most people. Such a man is like a giant surrounded by monkeys, or a roaring lion among dogs and foxes. He goes forward trusting in the Lord and the constancy of his will to strike and paralyze his foes. He wields the blazing club of the Word in wisdom.”

— The Practical and Theological Chapters

The Three Ways of Attention and Prayer

schemamonk

by St. Symeon the New Theologian

There are three ways of attention and prayer, by which the soul can be lifted and become spiritually exhalted, or crumble and perish. If these three ways are used appropriately and at the right time, the soul will be lifted, whilst if they are used unreasonably and at the wrong time, the soul will perish. Attention therefore should be tied and inseparable to prayer, in the way that the body is tied and inseparable to the soul. Attention should have the lead and mind for enemies as a guard, and fight sin, and resist evil thoughts of the soul. It should be then succeeded by prayer, which will destroy all those evil thoughts which attention fought against earlier, since attention alone is not able to do this.

It is this war of attention and prayer on which both life and death of the soul depend. By attention that we keep our prayer safe and therefore we progress: if we do not have attention to keep it clear and we leave it unguarded, then it is inflected by evil thoughts and we become wicked and hopeless. Hence, the ways of attention and prayer are three, we ought to explain the features of each one and leave the choice to whoever may wish to find salvation.

The first way of attention and prayer

The features of the first way are these: one stands to pray by raising his hands towards the sky together with his eyes and mind. He imagines divine concepts, the good things of Heaven, the armies of the holy angels, the residences of the saints and, in short, he gathers in his mind all that he has heard from the Holy Scriptures. He recalls them in the time of his prayer looking at the sky, and he exhorts his soul to what seems to be love and eros of God. Sometimes he even has tears and cries. In this way his soul gradually becomes proud without realising it, thinking that what he does is by the grace of God’s compassion for him. Hence he pleads God to always grant him worthy of such deeds which are, however, signs of error.

A good thing ceases to be good, when it is carried out in the wrong way or at the wrong time. To such an extent this is the case here that, if this person finds perfect solitude, it will be impossible for him not to lose his mind. Should this not happen, it will still be impossible for him to acquire any virtues or detachment from the earthly. By this method are misled all those who see the Light with their bodily eyes, sense perfumes with their sense of smell, hear voices with their ears and so on. Some of them have been possessed, moving senselessly from one place to the other. Others have been misled by accepting the Devil who was transformed and appeared to them as an angel of light, and they have remained uncorrected until the very end, without wanting to hear any advice from their brothers. Some of them were even incited by the Devil and committed suicide, whilst others were crumbled and others became insane. Who can describe the various illusions of the Devil by which he misleads them!

Every reasonable person can understand the kind of damage that comes from this first way of attention and prayer. If it happens that someone by being accompanied by brothers (since these evils usually happen to those who are on their own) does not suffer any of the things we described, he nevertheless spends all his life with no spiritual improvement.

The second way of attention and prayer

The second way is this: when someone concentrates his mind in himself, detaching it from all that is earthly, guarding his senses, and gathering his thoughts so that they are not scattered to the vain things of the world. Sometimes he examines his thoughts and sometimes he pays attention to the words of the prayer he recites. Sometimes he returns to his thoughts that were trapped by the Devil and were drawn to that which is evil and vain, and sometimes with much effort and struggle he comes back to himself, after being defeated and possessed by some weakness.

Having this battle and war with himself, he cannot find peace nortime to do the virtuous good deeds and receive the crown of righteousness. For this man is like the one who fights a war against his enemies in darkness and night; who hears the voices of the enemy and suffers being stabbed, yet he cannot see clearly who they are, where they came from and how, and why they are attacking him. For this damage is caused by the darkness in his mind and the confusion in his thoughts and therefore he can never escape from his enemies, the demons, so that they will stop defeating him. The piteous suffers in vain, for he loses his reward being possessed by vanity without realising it, by thinking he is attentive. Many times he condemns the others and accuses them, praising himself and thinking that he is worthy to become shepherd of rational sheep, guiding others. He is like the blind person who promises to guide other blind people!

This is the second way; anyone who wishes to find salvation needs start by learning the damage that it causes to the soul, and be cautious. This second way is, nevertheless, better than the first, for the sky with Moon is better than the dark night without it.

The third way of attention and prayer

The third way is indeed strange and difficult to explain, whilst,to those who are not aware of it, it is often incomprehendable, appearing unreal and impossible that any such thing can happen. This is because in these days the third way is not found in many, but rather in very few. As I understand, this virtue abandoned us together with obedience, since it is the obedience one shows to his spiritual father which makes one trully free, leaving all the cares to him and staying away from the struggles of this world, whilst being a diligent artisan of this third way. (That is, if one finds a real spiritual father who has no error!) Thus he who dedicates himself and all the care to God and the spiritual father, by real obedience is no longer living his own life where he does his own wishes, but is free from any struggle of the world or his body. By what ephemeral thing then, can this person ever be spirtually defeated or enslaved, or what care or concern could he ever have? It is therefore by this way, together with obedience, that the devices and machinations of the demons to distract the mind towards many and various thoughts, are all defeated and dissolved. One’s mind then stays free, and has plenty of space and chance to examine the thoughts brought by the demons, having a greater dexterity to expel them and offer his prayers to God with a clean heart. This is the beginning of the true way of life and those who do not make such a start are struggling in vain, even without knowing it.

The beginning of the third way is not by looking up to the sky, raising the hands, having your mind in heaven and asking for help from there. As we have said, these are of the first way and they are false. Nor is it to guard the senses with the mind and concentrate exclusively on this, whilst neither being attentive nor seeing the inner wars of the soul conducted by the enemies. These are all of the second way. He who uses them is trapped by the demons and is unable to revenge those who trapped him, whilst the enemies are always fighting him both secretly and openly, making him proud and vain.

But you, my friend, if you seek your salvation you should start in this way: after the perfect obedience which we said you should have to your spiritual father, you should then conduct all your deeds with a clear conscience, as if you had God in front of you, for conscience can never be clear without obedience. You should keep your conscience clear towards these things: God, spiritual father, other people and earthly things. Towards God, it is an obligation to keep your conscience clear by avoiding the things you are aware that He neither likes nor give Him any joy. Towards your spiritual father you should do the things he orders you to do, doing nothing more and nothing less, living according to his plan and wish. As for the other people, you should keep your conscience clear by not doing to them any of the things you hate and do not wish them to do to you. Towards the earthly it is your obligation to restrain yourself from abuses, using them all appropriately, food as well as drinking and clothes. In short, you should do everything as if you had God in front of you, making sure that your conscience does not restrain nor condemn you for not doing something right. This is the beginning of the true and firm route of the third way of attention and prayer.

Source

 

He Promised, and is Not a Liar

by St. Symeon the New Theologian

Symeon_the_New_TheologianProvided they live a worthy life, both those who choose to dwell in the midst of noise and hubbub and those who dwell in monasteries, mountains and caves can achieve salvation. Solely because of their faith in Him, God bestows great blessings on them. Hence those who because of their laziness have failed to attain salvation will have no excuse to offer on the day of judgment. For He who promised to grant us salvation simply on account of our faith in Him is not a liar.