Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Psychotherapy - Orthodoxy


Fasting during Holy and Great Lent

Fr. Ananias Koustenis interviewed by Metropolitan Fr. Ignatius on the TV program “ARHONTARIKI”

Fr. Ananias

Fr.Ignatius:  Greetings!  Today we are especially honoured and are very happy to have as our guest on “Arhontariki” Archimandrite Fr. Ananias Koustenis, who is most probably familiar to you for his characteristic voice, seeing how his broadcasts on the Radio Station of the Church of Greece have made him familiar to many listeners who listen to that station, and I would like to thank you Fr. Ananias, for coming to us today, on this solemn period for our Church, inasmuch as we are on the threshold of the Holy and Great Lent - the Triodion period of our Church - and would like very plainly to ask you: what could a period such as this signify to modern man?  I would have asked you about the faithful people, but they more or less (and I am talking about the faithful who go to church, who have some contact with the Church) know about fasting, and about this period. Quite often, both as a bishop and as an ordinary priest, I have pondered and have become concerned: yes, fine, but for modern man – for a person of this day and age – with so many problems, could such a period (of the ecclesiastic calendar) mean something to him?

Fr.Ananias: I thank you very much, Reverend, for being so kind as to invite me to your hospitable Arhontariki.  May God keep you well, to continue this lovely program for many more years. This subject that you have brought up is extremely significant, because our day and age is an age of lost sheep, but also an age of immense love by God for mankind in the world. We know that the Apostle Paul had said “Wherever sin abounded, Grace was even more abundant” (Romans 5:20).

Christ our God loves us pro-vo-ca-tive-ly! With this love of His, He even provokes the demon. He provokes the righteous, and He also provokes the pious.  Every day, He goes around the neighborhoods of the world, in every possible place, in search of His beloved ones… that maniacal lover of human existence... There was a man of God who used to say “If we only knew just how much the Lord loves us, we would be deliriously happy”.  After all, that is what we seek and what we want:  for others to love us, to take care of us, to prefer us, to not scold us… to “pamper” us, as a contemporary Holy Mountain monk liked to say.  And Christ does just that, to an extreme degree. 

And something else (you could say it’s our self-love that says this, but call it what you want):  We want others to love us exclusively, and no-one else. And if someone perceives that we also love someone else, they feel uneasy.  But Christ can do it - as God-man; He is able to love each and every one of us, u-nique-ly. We are u-nique to Him. He allowed Himself to be convicted on Calvary Hill, so that He might become unique to each and every one of us. He is our first and our last love; the Alpha and the Omega of our life. Even more “ours” than the ones we regard as “ours”.  He loves us so much, that it just couldn’t be more. Well, if we do perceive this, even if just a little (and especially us Romans), what do we do?  We tend to acquire a keener sense of honour, because as we said previously, that’s what we want, that’s what we seek, that’s what we strive for, and that’s what we long for.

And Holy Lent is precisely that:  Christ’s embrace opens up, e-ven more. E-ven more. And His challenge is even greater…

Fr.Ignatius Yes, Father Ananias, but one might ask you today: “where do I find Christ in our day and age? Where is Christ? It’s nice, hearing things like that; it does me good to hear things like that. I need it. Because I need that kind of love. But where is Christ?

Fr.Ananias Ah, that’s the question… Christ hides Himself; He is humble and democratic. He is the extreme example of humility, He is below everyone and everything, as Abba Isaac the Syrian says; and He is also a democrat, because He doesn’t want to extort our freedom. He could easily present Himself – and He does appear, whenever He wants – but He doesn’t do it, “so that He won’t override our independence” according to Saint Chrysostom… so that freedom isn’t ruined… but, He has all the means to show us His presence.  God…Christ…has two hands: “Your hands created me and fashioned me” and He uses them, to make His presence perceptible.  With His right hand He blesses us: He sends us health, He gives us our basic needs, He gives us wealth, He gives us many things… and then what happens? There are many brethren who are moved by this, and they exclaim “I thank You, my God!” - their soul “unlocks”...  The word “moved” contains two “movements”: one movement is Christ’s, Who always comes towards us (“blessed is the One Who comes, in the name of the Lord” and “Who was, is, and cometh”), and the other movement is ours, towards Him. The (Greek) word for the (sentimental term) “moved” is syn-kinesis, the prefix “syn” implying “along with”.  He always moves towards us, and we also move towards Him. We meet up with Him, inside a blessing. Inside the bounty that He provides us.

But Christ also has a left hand. That’s the one we are educated by, when Christ visits us “with a rod”. And what does the soul do then?  It broadens. It opens up. Some years ago, I observed in an Athens hospital a fellow-man of ours, who actually declared that he didn’t believe (there are many such theatrical non-believers like him) and also made various other human claims.  He had reached the end of his life, and Christ had blessed him with His left hand: He had thrust a difficult sickness upon him.  Then there came a moment of revelation.  Just when he was on the brink, between deterioration and incorruptibility – we could say he was accosted by the angel – the eyes of his soul were opened.  And what did he see before him?  The Master, Christ - kindness incarnate; because Christ is, precisely, God’s tangible kindness. He is the “good will to all men”.  So what did that man do?  He began to weep! He began to weep and rejoice!  He encountered Christ after His educative intervention and in a while, was able to utter words, and say to Him: “My Christ, forgive me; I didn’t know You existed”…

Fr.Ignatius:  Father Ananias, when we speak of Lent, the thing that prevails in many people’s minds is fasting. They say “It is the beginning of the fasting period”.  I would like us to say a few words about fasting, because here too, there are many misconceptions. Although, in our time, many people - whom you never expected – actually state “I intend to fast” - which has also resulted in restaurants providing fasting meals in their menu, as an exception.  This was never observed in the past, making one wonder “how did this miracle occur?” Therefore I would like to linger a bit on the subject of fasting, to examine how people approach it and what it is –exactly- for our Church.

Fr.Ananias:  Very well... The Lord wished to test His creation while in the terrestrial Paradise – it was a test of self-government, of freedom - so He gave just one commandment.  This commandment had a purpose, an expedience; that is, to test man (“You are not to eat from the tree of knowledge”), in order to see how man would handle freedom. But unfortunately, man chose to transgress, by introducing the spirit of “opposition”, as the Fathers call it; that is, of the devil. And so man chose to transgress. But, what was it that he wanted to transgress? Judging by how that transgression turned out to be a plague for him – a huge plague - man ended up as a major plague, as the Church says, and suffers because of it. Then Christ comes along and heals man, by observing the first commandment, which the first and ancient Adam had disobeyed, i.e.: He fasted, for forty days and forty nights, then the devil came and provoked Him, but He finally defeated the devil!   

So, what exactly is fasting all about?  God invites us to choose: either food, or Him! Nothing else! When we say “I am fasting”, it means “I choose Christ”; “I prefer Christ”; “I prefer love”; “I constrain my freedom” (or even better: “I force it” – Christ Himself had said that one who struggles, forces himself.  This is the only legitimate force, since it is self-inflicted. So then, what do we do?  We follow the Lord. This is not an easy thing; if fashion tells us, or if medicine tells us to fast, we do it with pleasure. But if the Church tells us to do it, noooo, we refuse, because there is someone else backstage (we could say it’s God’s political opponent, to use a modern term), who has his own reasons to oppose – besides, the word “Satan” in Hebrew means “the adversary”, enemy, opponent.  And that is precisely where everything pivots. But the time comes, when the adversary, who is also mentioned in the Scriptures as the wily one, does – what do you think?  He tires us! The (ancient Greek) term for a wily person –
 (pron. poh-nee-rós) – is derived from the verb poh-néo or poh-nó, which means “I work”, “I toil”, but it also means “I ache, I am tired”.  In other words, the devil becomes TIRESOME in the end. Man eventually becomes tired, from the many and ceaseless transgressions, and wants to rest. So, what does Christ tell us after that? “Come to Me, all you who toil and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matth.11:28)  And where does man want to go?  To his Creator!  To his Father! To his roots! To his wellspring!  It’s what the blessed Augustine had said: “You created us for Yourself, my God. Our soul is restless, until it rests with You!”  So what does man do?  He returns to God!  That’s why, throughout the ages, we have so many who return and many who convert.  Why?  Well, the Apostle Paul said why, when he addressed the Athenians from the Rock of Aries:  “…for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’” (Acts 17:28)  We originate from God (since we are ‘in the image of’) and we move towards ‘the likeness of’.  We are relatives. We belong to the “destiny on high”. So what does man do? He returns to his home – whether he realizes it or not!

Fr.Ignatius:  That is somewhat reminiscent of the Prodigal Son parable – you said ‘he returns to his home’.

Fr.Ananias: Of course!

Fr.Ignatius:  And it is an image that we shall have before us in the coming days.

Fr.Ananias:  Yes, we shall. And it will constantly be before us, for the duration... He returns to his home. And one recalls; one has memory – memory, as mentioned in Plato also – Platonic memory. And what did he recall?  That in the terrestrial Paradise (with the collective memory that he has), he recalls having lived a good life.  Similarly, the Prodigal son, who, before becoming prodigal, had lived a good life in his father’s house - his father had treated him in a noble manner… impeccably. But he wanted to leave, by misusing his independence. His father however did not hinder him; he didn’t force him to stay, like we often do… No… God isn’t like that. We are. “Go ahead, my child” the father said, “and take half of the inheritance, to have a good time!”  After all, if freedom didn’t exist, why would He have given us the element of self-government?  And if God had wanted to create man to be a robot – like the sun, that “knew its setting” (Psalms 103/104:19) as the Blessed Chrysostom had said – He wouldn’t have made man a self-governing creation. He made man a free being…

So the son departed, he went and squandered his inheritance, he emptied himself, he maltreated himself, he enslaved himself. But eventually, he himself realized (this is a very important detail: “when he came to himself” (Luke 15:17)) that he had made a mistake. He had imagined that by leaving, he would be better off. How many of us don’t likewise think and act the same way?  We too say to ourselves “I will leave, and it will be better that way”… He came to his senses… a flash of light brought the young man to his senses… and what was the first and foremost thing that he brought to mind?  He remembered his father. Why?  Because he had been living a good life there. We always remember where we have had a good time – even if it was in evil, or if we thought that was pleasant… 

Fr.Ignatius:  But sometimes, a person may think “nothing can be done for me – no way – I have reached a point where…” and you see many people who say “I can’t go back now – where can I return to?”

Fr.Ananias:  You said it very eloquently, Reverend, and it actually does happen, but - we need to be touched by “Circe’s magic wand”: that is, by Divine Grace, because repentance comes from heaven and “there is much rejoicing in heaven, upon the return of even one sinner” - when God discerns that deep down inside us we have the faith that will save. Or, as beautifully stated by R.Apostolides: “inside us, we harbour an unanticipated Spring”…  We now have Spring fasting; we have the conventional Springtime that’s coming now - and Great Lent is inside that Spring – and: what takes place then?  We are touched by the Grace of God – by the All-merciful God!  Then it’s what the great Goethe had said: “If daybreak finds the soul, the sun’s light might as well be extinguished”.  “Night has progressed, and daytime is near”.  If only we could all be Christ’s “plantation”; many people are basically good, but are unaware of it. They have faith inside them; they have “riches”, as our national poet Dionysios Solomos says.

Therefore, Man’s worst sin – according to Saint Simeon the New Theologian – is negligence; we postpone, and postpone, and postpone… it’s what you so eloquently said earlier: “nothing can be done for me… it’s too late, I’ve grown old in sin, I can’t change, I can’t do anything…”  And yet, it’s possible. We have countless incidents - both in the Holy Bible and in ecclesiastical writings, but also in secular and classical History. God invites. God visits and God frees.  Besides, God “circulates and is armed” – in the words of a modern song… He circulates among us, and is armed. With what is He armed? With love.  With His Providence. With His Omniscience. If you like, with compassion and with kindness. In the words of a contemporary theologian, “God’s compassion and mercy are as omnipotent as God Himself.”  And in the words of the great teacher of our Nation – Elias Meniates – the sins of all the world are like an inkpot full of ink which, if emptied into the Pacific Ocean, will disappear. God is infinite. God is Omnipotent. He is what we aren’t… we humans don’t know the magnitude of God’s love and we perish without reason.  And what about all those modern songs that I mentioned previously in the sermon – all those modern little songs with lyrics that speak of a lost love; “Whether together or alone, the aching is the same”… and so many more… In other words, people seek that lost love – the “Paradise Lost” that Milton wrote about… that is our God…

Fr.Ignatius:  At this point we will take a breath, father Ananias, and we will continue in a little while, to learn where God truly is, for the people in our day and age.  

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Father Ananias Koustenis is with us today; An Archimandrite, familiar to many from his broadcasts on the Church of Greece’s Radio Station, which is why many of you recognize him by his voice – and will recognize him again today, on our “Arhontariki” program; hence, I would like to thank him once again, because, in spite of his exertion – and his ailing health let me say – he has agreed to come and be with us today, so that on the occasion of Holy and Great Lent, we can discuss this topic; and you have told us so far, about the thirst displayed by the people.  Like you said, this is expressed in the lyrics of their songs… and how it’s about the youngsters who thirst for things, father Koustenis… I would like us to dedicate some time to them today: We have observed tragic images of late; we have seen youngsters –without masks on; without hoods – but ones who were seeking... seeking something. So I would like to pause a little on these youngsters, and would like you to tell us if we know how to listen to them, if we did listen to them and finally, what is it, that's hidden in their little souls?

Fr.Ananias: What youngsters want from us is: love, and example. They need to live something. Some fathers had visited an orphanage... they made a visit of love there - which is a very good thing... and a little child - one of the first - went up to one of the priests, grabbed his hand and placed it on its little head and said "Pappy, please, pat me a little bit... I need it so much..."  Pedagogy and psychology both say that if we happen to be in a company of people where there are also children, where we adults focus on our own conversation and our selves and we ignore them: what will those children do? They begin to wreak damages - thus telling us "We're here too! We may be tiny, but we too are people!" (Just like we say in our home towns 'We're individuals', meaning that we too have a name, we too have a hypostasis; we too have needs...we want you to pay attention to us too).  That is why children express themselves that way. And it is that which is written in the "Gerondikon" (the book of Elders): "Educate the children, lest they 'educate' you".  What does the ancient Greek term "educate" (Grk.: paidevo - pron.: pedéh-voh) imply?  It means "I train the child" - I train it. And teach it (Grk.: ek-paidevo - pron.: ek-pedéh-voh) means "I teach, I educate" - I remove the child from within the child... it has that significance too).  In other words, I mature the child. I mature it... I render it suitable for embarking on life and society, so that it will perform there accordingly... and be able to offer... and be vindicated.

Education - in short - (fortunately, with several shining exceptions) has become a drudgery. I'm sorry to say this, but, it is being observed by everyone.  Whereas in past times, education used to be (three quarters of it) a "Musical education" - our ancient forefathers used to say "make music and toil" - nowadays, it has become a bother: they keep children penned in for seven whole hours with a non-stop blah-blah-blah... how much can a person tolerate? It will drive them crazy, just listening for seven hours! It's a miracle, that our good children sit and listen to us at all!  They want us to become involved with them - for real - to love them! Otherwise, we will have problems, for sure! And we adults often have psychological problems too; and why?  Because we have unspent love inside us. How do we "spend" love?  By worshiping God and ministering to our fellow-man.

Fr.Ignatius:  To get back to our subject... it was a parenthesis I had asked for, on children, because perhaps here is exactly where the secret is hidden : that we don't know how to listen to them and that we are probably tormenting them rather than educating them.   But now I want to return to what you said earlier: that God is love and our fellow-man... What do these things mean, and how are they linked to Lent? Is this another area of Lent?

Fr.Ananias:  It certainly is. It is worship (latreia - pron. lah-treea) and it is also the tending to our house (latra -pron. lah-tra) - both these terms have the same root word. "I worship God" means "I give Him my love" - that's what the first important commandment of the New Testament says - and I also lovingly minister to my fellow-man, to my neighbour, or to the "poor little starving man" that Papadiamantis the author mentions in his narratives; to even the very least of our fellow-men... in the name of Christ.  He will tell us this, in His parable of Judgment Day: "I was hungry, and you gave me to eat..." etc...  Furthermore, man is a second source of love (remember, the creational and final purpose for the fashioning of man is Love);  God fashioned mankind out of His Love, and He also fashioned Man for Love - He created man to love...  If Man doesn't do it, then he is simply vegetating, he is living a very base life, he suffers - often even reaching the stage of depression.

Our very soul protests, so does our existence, because we don't love the Creator and His creatures, Nature and Creation, and subsequently ourselves, our immortal soul. And in the words of our contemporary theologians: during the Second Coming, that's when our self-government... or, to be more precise, our soul, will address our self-government and will scold it in the presence of the Creator and will say: "Hey, why didn't you let me love the Lord? Why didn't you let me love my fellow-man? Why didn't you let me blossom?"  This is very significant.  To remember what the author Stratis Myrivilis said, in his novel "The teacher with the golden hair": "Every sinner has a saint bound in chains inside him, and every saint has a sinner bound in chains inside him."  I won't explain this: we all understand what it means.

So, we are created by Love, for Love.  And, if we love children, they can perceive it.  I will mention an example by the late Mr. Philippides - professor of Religious History:  He was a teacher of Theology in Alexandria, and he had a very unruly student who used to put a number of little bags filled with sand under his desk. Whenever the teacher had his back turned to write on the blackboard, he would throw one at him every time. One bag would hit the teacher on the shoulder, and other bags elsewhere. The teacher knew who the prankster was. The children told the Headmaster of the school, so he called the two of them to his office. But the teacher told the Headmaster "leave him to me, Headmaster".  The teacher said that he went and found the boy, the two of them sat down together ("admonishing each other with tears" as Paul said), as he desired to make him a friend, to earn his trust, to open up the rough paths that were closed: the paths of communication. So he asked the boy what he knew best. "I know how to ride a bicycle, sir" the boy replied. The teacher Mr. Leonidas Philippides said "Well, I don't;  then, my child, please be my teacher and show me, as I don't know how to ride a bicycle."  So they would meet every afternoon and the boy would teach him how to ride a bicycle. The student would even scold him ("now I've made a student out of my teacher" he would think to himself). They became friends! And they even came to be fond of each other! And - just imagine - the student had now become the first and the best in his class!  He paid attention during lessons, he was respectful, he was happy; he blossomed, and he ceased his unruliness - his protests, essentially.  So, Mr. Philippides eventually left that school, he came to Athens, and he later became a Dean. One day, there, at the University's Deanery, a well-to-do gentleman came along, asking to see him. He entered the office, went up to Mr. Philippides, embraced him, in tears. "Who are you, young man?" he asked. "It's me, your student in Alexandria" he said. And he continued, with various reminders of the past.  The teacher then remembered also, and tears came to his eyes too. "Thanks to you, I am what I am today; I am a bank manager, I hold a good position there; I have a family of my own, I have a good name in society and I have a love for God... and I owe it all to you, to your manner towards me..."  They embraced again, they wept some more, then they parted.

Fr.Ignatius:  You mentioned trust - and lately, we have begin to realize, Father Ananias, that we are lately living in an age of distrust. We have lost our trust in one another, in the institutions, and - we have to admit this - that people have even lost their trust in us - the people of the Church - with our "exploits". So, could this be what we have been deprived of? Have we entered a vicious cycle of distrust and cannot exit it easily? Could this era be a par excellence era in which we should walk (as the Church says) with humility, with Confession, with Repentance, with Sacrifice? Could all these things perhaps be the foundations of a trust in God, in our brother, and even in ourselves?  You said this earlier: that quite often we don't even know how to love our own self...

Fr.Ananias:  Exactly. That is the medicine for everything that you mentioned, Reverend.  The medicine is, precisely, humility; it is the Church; it is the Grace of God. And what do people - our brethren - do? Christ illuminates them... at times, even when we pastors often don't have enough time, or we cannot, or we don't want to, this worries Christ, and He misses the people, so He arranges so that they come to us - both with His right hand and His left.  And as our national poet Solomos says "...and if the roads of our mind are many, God's roads for man's salvation are infinite..."  And that's why churches are always filling up, in spite of our many difficulties, despite the many accusations against the Church - many of which are staged - etc.: it's so that the beauty and the worth of the Church can stand out - and as the national hero Kolokotronis had said: "Have you ever seen anyone throwing stones at plane trees? No. They stone walnut trees, because they produce walnuts!"  Well, the Church has walnuts, because Christ is present, and extending through all the centuries.  And that is also why many people fast, and why food shops have lately been catering to and providing fasting food - out of necessity, because the law of supply and demand applies. We have cases of people returning - and there will be very many more cases - because people have become tired of others' goings-on, but also of their own. Because evil wears us out. The evil one wears us out. Lawlessness wears us out, and at times we reach the point that the prophet-king David had once reached, when he said "my soul refused to be comforted" (Ps.76:3)... I don't even want to be consoled, no way! So then, what do many of our fellow-men say? "When I take the garbage out in the evening, I want to leave myself there with the garbage, to put an end to it all."  You have heard this, we have heard this said, everyone has heard it. That is precisely why "...where sin abounded, there grace abounded much more." (Rom.5:20); this present century is the century of God, the century of the Church, the century of repentance, the century of God's provocative love, the century of the return of the prodigals and the strayed, back to our great Father, to our holy Church, which is Christ's embrace. All of us desire an embrace; all of us seek an embrace; well, that is Christ's embrace - Christ, Who plants Himself on the crossroads of our lives and our impasses - and stays there; then, feeling despondent with everyone and everything - even with our egotist self - we throw ourselves into God's embrace (at least those of us who are well-meaning), unconditionally and without limits.  So we surrender ourselves to God's love. And that is a miracle. God does not abandon His people. Christ doesn't leave us; He has paid for us with His blood and His life, and He misses us. He looks to His side and if we aren't there, what does He do? He becomes distraught! He roams the streets here and there and goes to to every place, all over the world, in search of the well-meaning. You may ask, what about the others?  Yes, He goes in search of the others too...because He loves them.  In the New Testament, Jesus sorrowed most of all for Judas - for His Judas - whom He had treated impeccably, and yet had said "it would have been better for him never to have been born"! (Not out of malice, but out of immense pain, because it meant the perdition of a person...). He did not want a single person to be lost, much less His beloved apostle, Judas. Hence the prayer where He had said "not one of them is lost, except the son of perdition" (John 17:12). There are some who attempt to vindicate Judas; but it is clear that he is vindicated by Christ's all-embracing love!  Christ mourned and He mourns for His Judas; He had given him charismas, He gave him all sorts of things... and His agony in the garden of Gethsemane will continue to be, throughout the ages, until the end of Time... until the last, hungering person of mankind enters the Church. Because, as our politicians say, "for Christ, there is no-one to spare" - no-one is redundant and Christ discards no-one... We may, but Christ doesn't, nor will He.  His love is provocatively obvious, especially towards the lost; He leaves the ninety-nine sheep and runs out to the mountains, wandering here and there, in order to find the one lost sheep!

Fr.Ignatius:  You mentioned at one point that there are those who are "hypocrites of faithlessness"; Why "hypocrites"?

Fr.Ananias: Because they feign faithlessness! There are others, who refer to "chance"! What is "chance"? They are too embarrassed to say "God" (Greek: theos) - note that they used the word "theos" in the Hellenistic years also, which meant "meeting" - so they say "chance"! Well, they are just giving God an artistic nickname; so many poets, so many actors, so many others have a "stage name" - shouldn't God have a stage name too? Let Him have one too! How does that strike you?

Fr.Ignatius:  I must admit I've never thought of it that way... Father Ananias, is Great Lent a major course? Where, finally, does it lead up to? What is its objective? Where do we arrive at?

Fr.Ananias:  It is a 40-day course together with our Christ, battling against Satan, the world and our self - our bad self - we travel together with Him, and we head towards the crucified Great Friday to be co-crucified, then on to the Great Easter Sunday, to celebrate both His Resurrection - His glorious Resurrection - as well as our own, personal resurrection; after all, Christ was crucified and resurrected "...for us men and our salvation..."  - He died, and He underwent everything for us.  It is, therefore, a course... forty whole days, keeping company with Christ... forty steps... climbing... "...I climb up steps and climb up slopes, to see your two eyes that lit fires in me..." as the love song says... But - divine love is found inside the Church... and as the memorable Venezis used to say, "Everything is Love" ... the loveless are to be pitied... then there are the two eyes of Christ's love, which light fires of repentance inside us when Christ looks upon us.  He had looked at Peter, then, in the courtyard of Annas and Kaiafas after his triple denial - what happened?  He filled Peter with repentance! With the light of repentance! Repentance is light!  Peter left the courtyard, and went outside and began to weep... So, it is a course. And it is also the tithing portion of the year, given that we can't fast and we can't dedicate ourselves wholly to God as we ought to, during all 365 days (or, let's say 400 as a round figure); the Church assigns one-tenth (of that period) and "imposes" it on us, and She tells us "well, take this, and whether you can or can't, then at least try to observe it"; in the past, when people were more conscientious, all of them fasted - even hypocritically (there is such a thing as "holy hypocrisis", if you read Saint Isaac the Syrian, who says "start practicing good, and you might eventually enjoy it - it too is a habit"...).  That's how things are... These days are dedicated, to God, which is why Holy Lent is called "Sacred Lent" - Great and Sacred - it is dedicated, that is why it is sacred and holy... We utilize these (40) days, by specially dedicating them to God, and what else do we do? We atone, for the remaining days;  we offer Him that tithe - the spiritual tithe. 

Fr.Ignatius:  Our time is nearing the end, and I would like - even in these last few minutes - to ask something of you, because quite a few parents watch this program Arhontariki (and we are certain of this, as we have actually counted the numbers): in a few words, when you encounter parents, what advice do you give them?    

Fr.Ananias:  To love their children; to not overwhelm them too much; to not catechize them in any unacceptable manner with unbearable sermonizing, and whatever they would like to say to them, to instead say it to God - Who knows by far what is best - and also that they themselves set a good example in everything; but most of all, to be to-ler-ant with them... "You should remember your doings, and forgive your children's"... as the oldies used to say.  Children do perceive when we love them, and they come to us; they will apologize, and they will behave in the best possible manner towards us. That's what I'd like to say. Let's love our children - let's love our children - let's love our children, and good will come of it; both to them, and to us... and - why not? - to all of Creation...

Fr.Ignatius:  And I would venture to ask what you would say to us bishops - to put it simply - because people will say to me: "you've been asking about others, but you haven't asked anything about yourself - what Fr. Ananias has to say to you"....

Fr.Ananias:  A flock can "sniff out" the bishop who cares about it, Reverend, and it will stay close to him; whoever cares somewhat less about his flock (because there aren't any bishops who don't care at all for their flock), the flock will say to him "care a bit more for us, so that we can come a bit closer to you"... Everything hinges on love, nothing else...

Fr.Ignatius:  I would like to thank you for coming here today with love, and to sincerely wish that God will grant you health and strength, because there are many whom you can benifit, with your words, your knowledge, your experience and your example. I thank you sincerely for your presence here, at Arhontariki* ...

Fr.Ananias:  And I too would like to thank you very much, Reverend;  Your blessing; and may you have the strength to continue, and I wish you a blessed Lent, in the hope that we can make it through....

Fr.Ignatius:   Amen. My thanks also to you, our television viewers. Father Ananias Koustenis was our guest today on Arhontariki. You can hear him on the radio programs of the Church of Greece and of the Church of Piraeus. I am certain that those of you who met him today will seek him out to hear him there; he is a person with experience, who essentially introduced us into the Great and Holy Lent.  


*Arhontaríki = lay term referring to the guest area of a monastery


A Biography of Fr. Ananias Koustenis


Archimandrite Ananias Koustenis is a spiritual figure of Hellenism and Orthodoxy. He was born in the year 1945 in the town of Dimitsana of Arcadia and pursued the path of monastic living to offer himself to God and man.  He had acquired secular education with studies in Theology and Byzantine Literature at the Athens University, utilizing his knowledge in the service of man.  He has translated Romanos the Melodian and his spiritual activities are inexhaustible.  His word is an honorable and noble word, of comfort and consolation, of hope and grace. His word inspires and enthuses; it teaches and relaxes, andit unites God and man.  Father Ananias Koustenis, like Theophanes, takes us gently by the hand and lifts us both in spirit and in soul, bringing light and the freshness of Spring into the heart. His is the gallant and simultaneously humble Hellenic soul, filled with inexhaustible kindness and generous love.  That is why his translation of Theophanes is not simply a rendition of his "Chronography" in Modern Greek; it is a deposition of his soul; it is a journey to the Byzantine world; it is an offering to our spiritual heritage!



Translation:  K.N.

Article published in English on: 14-6-2012.

Last update: 14-6-2012.