|Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries||Psychotherapy|
How not to despair
By Saint Amphilochios
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!
A certain brother had succumbed to the sin of lust, repeating this sin every day, but every day he would also beseech the Lord’s mercy, with tears and prayers. By acting this way, his bad habit always fooled him and he would repeat the sin again; but again, after sinning, he would go to the Church and, upon seeing the holy and venerable icon of our Lord Jesus Christ, would fall to his knees and with bitter tears would say: “Spare me, Lord, and rid of me this tortuous temptation, because it plagues me terribly and harms me with its bitter pleasures. My face is not worthy to look upon Your holy icon, so that my heart might be consoled.”
That was the sort of thing he would say, but whenever he left the Church, he would again fall in the mire. Yet he never lost his hopes for salvation, and immediately after sinning, he would again return to the Church and say the same things, praying to the benevolent Lord God: “Lord, be my warrantor that from now on I won’t sin again; but please, Lord, forgive all of my sins, from the beginning, up to now.” And after making these grandiose promises, he would again return to the same, terrible sin. And one could discern the sweet benevolence and infinite goodness of the Lord, in tolerating and enduring this incorrigible and grave violation and the ingratitude of this man, and how, in His great compassion, the Lord desired the repentance of this man and his definitive return; because this sin was being repeated, not for one, two or three years, but for ten and more.
Brothers, can you see the immeasurable tolerance and infinite benevolence of the Lord? How He shows forbearance and kindness every time, by enduring our gross iniquities and sins? What is more staggering and provokes our wonder with regard to God’s wealth of compassion, is that although our brother kept promising and would agree to desist from that sin, he proved himself a liar.
One day, after our brother had fallen into that sin again, he went running to the Church, mourning and moaning and in tears, beseeching the compassion of the merciful God to spare him and save him from the mire of incontinence. While this brother was begging the benevolent God, the wicked devil, the destruction of our souls, realized that he had achieved nothing, because while he was sewing with sin, the man was fraying it with his repentance. So the devil impudently appeared before him visibly, and, turning his face towards the venerable icon of our Lord Jesus Christ, started to cry out, saying: “What ‘s it going to be with us two, Jesus Christ? Your infinite sympathy defeats me and degrades me, whenever you accept this lecher, this wanton, who lies to you every day and disregards your authority. Why then don’t you burn him? Why are You so forbearing and tolerant towards him? You are supposed to be the one who will judge the adulterous and the licentious and will eliminate all sinners. In fact, You are not a fair judge, because, wherever Your authority considers it befitting, You judge unfairly and You overlook things. With me, because of the small infraction of pride, you cast me down from heaven, whereas with him, who is a liar, a lecher and a prodigal, because he merely knelt before You, You imperturbably grant him Your favor. So, why do they call You a fair judge? From what I can see, You simply give Yourself to people out of Your great goodness, and You overlook justice.” As the devil was saying these, all choked up by his bitterness, flames and smoke came out of his nostrils.
After the devil had finished speaking, he became silent, and immediately, a voice was heard coming out of the altar saying: “You wicked and pestilent dragon, your wickedness wasn’t satiated by swallowing the whole world, and now you are trying to grab and swallow this man who found refuge in the infinite mercy of My compassion? Can you present any sins that are heavier than the precious blood which I shed for this man, on the Cross? Mark well, that My crucifixion and My death forgave his sins. Besides, you didn’t send him away when he headed towards sin, but you accepted him with joy and you neither abhorred him nor hindered him, because you hoped to win him. Well then, I, Who am so merciful and benevolent, who had instructed my high Apostle Peter to forgive any man who sins daily up to seventy times seven, will I not forgive and spare this man? Yes, I say to you, and because he sought refuge in Me, I will not turn away from him, until I have made him mine. Because I was crucified for the sinners and it was for them that I extended my immaculate arms, so that everyone who wants to be saved, will seek refuge in me and be saved. I do not avoid anyone, nor do I send anyone away, not even if someone sins a thousand times in one day and then comes to Me a thousand times; he won’t leave dismayed. Because I did not come to call the righteous to repent, but the sinners.”
As soon as these words were heard, the devil stood fixed in place, trembling, unable to escape. And the voice spoke again: “Listen, impostor, with regard to what you said about me being unfair : because I am fair to everyone, and in whichever condition I might find them, I will judge them accordingly. Look at this man, I found him in repentance and returning back, fallen on his knees in front of Me, and your conqueror. I will therefore accept him and save his soul, because he did not despair about his salvation. And you, when seeing the honor that I grant him, will impale yourself out of envy and be put to shame.
And just as the brother lay there, prone and weeping, he gave up his soul; instantly, a fury as great as a fire fell upon the devil, and it consumed him. Therefore my brothers let us learn from this incident of God’s immeasurable compassion and philanthropy, what a kind God we have, and that we must never despair or not tend to our salvation.
Then there was another man who, after repenting over his sins, retired in seclusion. It so happened, however, that he stumbled on a stone and wounded his leg and lost so much blood from the injury that he died of hemorrhaging. So, the demons came along, seeking to take his soul; but the angels said to them: “Take a look at the blood that he shed for the Lord.” And upon these words of the angels, the soul was released.
To a certain brother who had committed a sin, the devil appeared to him and said: “You’re not Christian”. The man replied “Regardless of who I am, at least I am better than you”. Satan then said: “I’m telling you, you will be going to hell”. To which, the brother replied: “You are neither my judge, nor my God”. Thus, Satan went away empty handed, while the brother showed sincere repentance before God and became worthy.
A brother who was overcome by grief asked a Geron (Elder): “What should I do? My thoughts are telling me that I wrongly rejected the world and that I won’t be saved.” The Elder replied: “Even if we never manage to enter the Promised Land, it is to our advantage to leave our bones in the desert, rather than to return to Egypt”.
Another brother asked the same Elder: “Father, what does the prophet mean when he says ‘There is no salvation for him, by his God’? and the Elder said: “He is referring to the thoughts of desperation that are sown by demons in the mind of the man who has sinned, telling him: ‘There is no longer any salvation for you from God’, in their attempt to tumble him into a state of desperation. One must contradict these thoughts, by saying. “The Lord is my refuge, and He shall free my feet from the trap’”.
One of the fathers narrated that outside Salonica there was a hermitage for nuns. One of the nuns, having being prompted by the common enemy, departed from the monastery and fell into prostitution, and remained in this vice for quite some time. Eventually, however, with the help of merciful God, she repented and returned to the monastery. And, upon reaching its gateway, she fell down, dead.
Her death was revealed to a saint, who saw the holy angels that came to take her soul, and the demons that followed behind them. In the dialogue that took place between them, the holy angels said that she had come back repented. The demons however argued that: “She had been subjugated by us for a long time, therefore she is rightfullly ours. Besides, she didn’t even manage to enter the monastery, so how can you say that she had repented?” And the angels said: “From the moment God saw that her intention was bent towards this goal, He accepted her repentance; Repentance itself was of course within her power, because of the goal that she was set on, however, her life was within the power of the Lord of the universe.” With these words, the demons were put to shame and they departed. And the one who saw this revelation, is the one who is narrating it to those present.
Abba Alonios said that, if a man wants, he can reach divine standards by the end of one day.
A brother asked Abba Moses: “If someone beats his slave because of a mistake that he made, what will the slave say?”. The elder replied. “If he is a good slave, he will say ‘Spare me, for I was wrong’”. “Nothing else?” asked the brother. “Nothing else”, replied the elder, “because from the moment he acknowledges his error and admits he is wrong, his master will immediately show mercy”.
A brother said to Abba Poemen: “If I commit a lamentable mistake, my thoughts devour me and accuse me of my fall”. The elder said: “If, at the time the person makes the mistake, he says “I have sinned”, the thought immediately ceases”.
There was a young girl with the name Taesia, whose parents had died and she had remained an orphan. From that moment, she turned her house into a hostel for the Fathers of the Scete and for a long time she received them and offered them her hospitality. But when she had spent everything that she had, she began to feel the hardship. Then, certain perverted people approached her and lured her away from the straight path. And she began to live in sin, to the point that she ended up in prostitution.
When the fathers learnt of this, they were saddened very much, so they called Abba John Kolovos and said to him: “We have heard about our sister that she lives in sin. She, whenever she could, had shown love to us. Now it’s time for us to help her. So, you should take the trouble and go to her, and with the wisdom that God gave you, tend to correcting her.”
So the father went to her, and said to the old woman guarding the door: “Tell your mistress that I have come”. She drove him away, saying: “A long time ago, you devoured all of her fortune, and now she is poor.” The elder insisted: “Tell her, and she will see much good from me”. So the old woman went inside the house and reported to the young lady about the elder. On hearing this, she thought to herself: “These monks always travel around the Red Sea and they find pearls”. So she preened herself, sat on the bed and instructed the old woman: “Bring him here”.
When Abba John entered, he sat near her, and looking into her face, said to her: “What made you reject Jesus, so that you would end up in such a condition?” On hearing his words, she froze; and the elder bowed down his head and started to cry, full of bitterness. “Abba, why are you crying?” she asked him. He lifted up his head, but again turned it away, saying: “I can see Satan dancing in your countenance; how can I not cry?” “Is there repentance, Abba?” the girl asked. “Yes”, the elder replied. And she added: “Take me, wherever you think is best”. “Let’s go”, said the elder, and instantly she rose up and followed him. The elder noticed that she didn’t leave any instructions about her house and he wondered at this.
When approaching the desert, night fell. And the elder prepared for her a small pillow; he blessed it and told her to sleep there. Then he made one for himself a little further off, and after finishing his prayers, he also lay down to sleep.
At midnight he woke up and saw something like a path of light, which led off from the girl and ended in the sky, and he saw angels of God carrying up her soul. He rose up, approached her and nudged her with his leg. When he realized that she had passed away, he kneeled, with his face to the ground, and prayed to God. And he heard a voice saying to him that her one hour of repentance was more welcome than the repentance of many other people, whose repentance may last longer, but is lacking in fervor.
Translated by: J. K.
Article published in English on: 4-4-2006.
Last update: 11-9-2008.