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Τετάρτη, 20 Νοεμβρίου 2013

REGIME AND DISORDER Source: "ElderJoseph theHesychast: Struggles-Experiences-Teachings.





REGIME AND DISORDER
Source: "ElderJoseph theHesychast: Struggles-Experiences-Teachings.

A mong the duties which the ever-memotable Elder taught us during the first days of our life under him was that of good order and keeping to a regime, while  he described disorder to us in the blackest of colors. He often quoted to us the saying of St. Ephraim the Syrian, Those who have no guidance fall like leaves—which signifies, as he told us, the lack of any regime. He also referred to various incidents in the lives of more recent elders and particularly the life of the Elder Theophylact from the hermitage of St. Artemios, who was renowned for his virtue and spiritual gifts.
Elder Theophylact lived his whole life as an ascetic and hesychast, keeping a strict fast; he did not even eat oil. He once accepted a disciple, the future Father Arsenios, and told him laconically—because this blessed father was temperate even in his speech—"Listen, my boy: if you are going to stay with me, I want you to have order and regime in your life, because without these you will never become a monk. Look round at our few possessions as I show them to you. There's our jug, there's the cup, there are the bowls, there are the rusks and so forth, as you see them. I want them always to be in those places. If you happen to make a mistake, the first time I'll remind you of their proper location according to our rule, but I won't tolerate it the second time. If you continue this disorder a third time, I shall ask you to take your things and go so that at the least you won't trouble me, even if you yourself don't want to gain at all."


The ever-memorable Elder told us that he had heard that Elder Theophylact was a man of watchfulness, and that he often experienced visions because of the purity of his mind and his spiritual state. "Once," he told us, "I heard that the demons seized him and took him out of his cell, during the winter period and while it was snowing. They dragged him around in the snow, practically naked, all night long till morning, and then returned him home safely. On that same day, the other fathers brought him back some of his clothes, as they had uncovered from wherever the evil spirits had flung them. Perhaps they had done so to interrupt his mind in its contemplation, as they often used to do with earlier church fathers".
Once, it is said, a roebuck (male deer, Ed.) came to Elder Theophylact's cell at night and knocked on the door. When the Elder answered the door, it showed him its leg which was broken; the Elder bandaged it up and told it to come back in eight days, which it did, at the same hour. The Elder changed the dressing, re-bandaged the roebuck's leg and repeated his instruction to come again in eight days' time. When it came back the next time, the Elder saw that its leg was healed and told the roebuck not to come again, and it obeyed accordingly!


One of the main characteristics of these blessed spiritual warriors was their strictness in keeping their rule of life. We could see this also in our own Elder, and he demanded the same of us. He told us that the beginning of acquiring character and personhood lies in insistence on following an ordered and systematic way of life. By making the decision to maintain an invariable regime, man acquires resolve and bravery, something very important and essential in our life since our contest is a struggle and, indeed, a fierce one. Be sober, he vigilant; because our adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour. (i Pet 5:8). The presence of the serpent thus demands that we remain vigilant, and not just that he may not injure us somewhat; he can be confronted only with bravery and strength of resolve.
There is another equally imperative reason for order in keeping to a regime: It is the changeability of man's unstable character since the fall of Adam; and the general sinfulness which each of us carries with us also dulls our courage and resolve. Equally, our inexperience, our ignorance, the unknown form of the invisible war, and the inequality of this struggle naturally increase one's discouragement. There is no other human factor that is such an aid to success as our firm and steady resolve and a carefully worked out regime.


Particularly characteristic in the lives of the holy fathers is their insistence on order and the typikon as the principal elements in their way of life. Our Elder was particularly attached to the book of St. Isaac the Syrian, which he used almost as a manual. He would recite whole chapters to us by heart, particularly those concerning order and rule in our monastic life, from introductory "action" to the contempla¬tion even of perfection itself as far as is possible for man. I recall how many things he reminded us of from the saint's seventh discourse, "On Order among Beginners, Their State, and What Pertains to These." The main thing, which I still remember nowadays, is this noteworthy sentence: Wherever you are, consider yourself less than your brethren, and their servant.


From the beginning of his spiritual journey, our Elder had inclined towards the life of hesychasm and isolation, and it was only natural that this should dictate a generally more austere manner of living. This is of course commonplace in those who live permanently as hesychasts, whose situation and manner and the means they use are different from those of the common cenobitic form of life pursued by most monks. 


Even in earlier days, as the holy fathers write, people of this sort always seemed austere at first sight. As a result, mildness in behavior is not in their character; this probably comes about without their noticing, as a result of being isolated and somewhat antisocial. I remember something of the kind in the Life of Abba Palamon, to whom St. Pachomius (who later was destined to become great in virtue and the founder of systematic cenobitic monasticism), went as a novice.
We asked the Elder a few times about the austerity of his own regime and he responded with positive examples from the lives of the ancient fathers. Those ancient fathers were in no way unaware of the duty of loving one's neighbor, yet they gave priority to love for God and the form of their particular watchfulness in the hesychastic way of life. Since we were making our way towards the same end, he often quoted to us the words of Abba Isaac, that the essential precondition for the monk to make progress is to collect himself in one place and to fast always.
I paid more attention, however, to another point of orderliness, which though it may seem elementary, it nevertheless held great significance for our first beginnings. This was the help afforded by precise observance of the typikon, which we maintained wherever we were, regardless of place. By not contravening the typikon at all, our fervor was not decreased, nor our ardor, nor our prayer, nor our (generally) inspired state. But when it happened that we did contravene our usual rule, whether of diet or of silence or of being on our guard in general, then everything was thrown into turmoil and we had great difficulty holding onto our usual practice. After a number of mishaps, this finally became a clear lesson to us.
From time to time, in our childish naivete (state of inexperience or unsophistication, Ed.) we overstepped the bounds of propriety and on one occasion we asked the Elder: "Since in character you are not strict with other people, but very sympathetic, how is it that you seem so harsh in the regime of our typikon, which creates an obstacle for people?" He smiled and said to us, "I never expected you to have the face to ask me that, but I'll tell you. Testing and experience have convinced me to act in this way; otherwise, I would not be able to continue what God has led me to. St. Paul says: For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me. (i Cor 9:17). The Elder told us of his belief that his dedication to his hesychastic regime was not fortuitous, but a vocation from on high.
As he told us, "To accept people's demands with no restrictions is the common path of the all the fathers, and this, by the grace of God, is abundant in this sacred place. Anyone can easily find a response anywhere. But our duty of serving as all nor attainable by all. While St. Gregory Palamas was concerning himself with stillness during his days here on Athos, he would run away and hide and dig holes in the ground, and do everything he could to achieve isolation. Whom did he receive then, or whom did he meet? It is incontrovertible proof that regulation in life is the main factor in spiritual progress.


 This is the purpose of the laws and commandments which have been given to human life since most ancient times, whether by God or by men."
The disturbance in the integrity of our character following the fall of our first parents called for legislation to restore equilibrium to the faculties of soul and body which had been split apart. And when are law and commandments and regulation not necessary? Answer: when man regains his personhood through divine grace and the mortal puts on immortality [So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption. (1 Cor. 15:54)]. In St. Paul's words again, whatever is mortal is swallowed up—so to speak—by life [... that mortality might be swallowed up of life. (2 Cor 5:4)]. Then, and then indeed, no law is laid down for the just: The law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy andprofane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers. (1 Tim 1:9).


 Orthodox Heritage  Page 6 Vol. 11, Issue 09-10


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