PART ONE SIN AND THE DEVIL
11 We taste bitter poison when we live apart from sweet Jesus.''''
It Is Fashionable to Sin
Geronda, did you tell anyone that there's going to be a war? That's what we heard. Is it true?
Ι have not said anything of the sort, but people come up with things. Even if I knew something, to whom would I say it?
- Geronda, war is such a barbarous thing.
- If people did not have the "courtesy" of sin they would not have reached this barbarous state. Even more barbarous is this moral degradation. People's bodies and souls are falling apart. Someone told me, "They call Athens a 'jungle' but no one is leaving the city. Every one calls it a 'jungle' and yet everyone still gathers there." Human beings have come down to the level of animals. You know what animals do when they enter the stable; they defecate and urinate... Then, as the manure ferments, they feel warm and don't feel like getting themselves out of there. The same happens with human beings; they feel the comfort of sin and don't have the heart to leave. They smell the stench, but they stay anyway. You see, if someone were to come inside the stable he would not be able to stand the stench; but those who have got used to it are not bothered.
- Geronda, some people say that it's not only today that people are sinning; this has been going on ever since ancient Rome.
- Yes, but the Romans were idolaters. And when the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, he was writing to baptized idolaters who had gone back to their bad habits.1 We should not take as example a decadent era. Today, they have taken sin and made it fashionable. Have a look at us, an Orthodox Tiation and yet, we are in such a state! Imagine how other nations must be! And the worst thing is that today, that the sin has become so fashionable, if people see someone who does not go with the flow, avoids sin and is pious, they consider him old-fashioned and backward. For them not to sin is considered an insult and to sin is considered progress. And this is the worst thing of all that could happen. If today, all those who live in sin would only acknowledge their condition, God would have mercy on them. Instead, they justify the unjustifiable and they glorify sin. This is the greatest blasphemy against the Holy Spirit: they take sin to be progress and morality the status quo. For this reason, the wages of those who struggle in the world and maintain a pure life are great and of great worth.
In the old days, if one were a pervert or a drunk, they would be ashamed to appear in public because people would scorn them. A woman who had strayed even a little did not dare to come out of her house; and in a way, this was a sort of restraint. These days, if someone is upright, say a young woman who lives a life of piety, people will say, "Look at how she lives." Back then, when lay people sinned, poor souls, they felt their sinfulness, bowed their head a bit and would not mock one who lived a spiritual life. On the contrary, they actually admired them. Today, people have no sense of their guilt and there is no respect. All standards have been levelled. And people make fun of those that don't live a worldly life.
The Checks of Conscience
Although France is an advanced nation - it's not underdeveloped - recently, eighty thousand people converted to Islam. Why? Because they have turned sin into a fashion. You see, they are bothered by their conscience, they know that something is wrong and they want to set their conscience at ease. And just like the ancient Greeks made up the twelve gods in order to justify their passions, these people seek a religion that would put their souls to rest. Islam is, in a way, the best suitable solution. It allows them to take as many women as they want for wives, it promises in the next life "mountains of rice, lakes of yogurt and rivers of honey"! And no matter what their sins are, once their dead body is washed with hot water, they are cleansed! They go to Allah clean! What else could they ask for? It's all so convenient. But these French converts will not find rest. Although they are trying, they will not find rest because the passions can never be justified.
No matter what people do, even if they are insensitive, heartless and soulless, they will not find peace and rest.
They try to justify the unjustifiable, but inside they are tormented and agitated; that is why they are constantly craving entertainment, listening to loud music, getting drunk, and watching television. They want distraction in order to forget because their conscience bothers them. They can't even rest when they sleep. You see, there is the conscience. The first "Holy Scripture" that God gave to Adam and Eve was conscience, and we inherit it from our parents like a photocopy. Not matter how hard we may try to run over our conscience, it is still there checking on us. That is why people say, "This thing is eating him up." Indeed, there is nothing sweeter than having a clear conscience. One feels like he has wings; he soars.
Separation From God Is Hell
I cannot remember even a day without divine con-solation. Sometimes, of course, interruptions occur and I feel bad. Then, I can understand how horrible are the lives of most people, who live without this consolation because they have distanced themselves from God. The more one distances himself from God, the worse things become. One may have nothing else, but having God is all that he needs. That's it! Even if one has everything but lacks God, in his heart he will be tortured. That's why it is important to get as close to God as possible. It is only next to Him that we can find true and eternal joy. We taste bitter poison when we live apart from sweet Jesus. When a sinful man becomes a man of God again, a prince, he is fed with divine pleasure, with heavenly sweetness and feels the delight of Paradise; though he lives on earth, he gets to taste the joy of Heaven. Every day that goes by, his joy grows bigger and he gets to wonder if there is in Heaven something higher than what he experiences here on earth. Such is his situation, that he cannot do any work; his knees bend over like candlesticks from that divine warmth and sweetness while his heart leaps and tries to shatter its thin cage to run away, because earth and all earthly things appear to be worthless.
In the beginning, man had communion with God. Later, however, when he moved away from the Grace of God, he was like someone who used to live in a palace and then was banned from it and now views it from a distance and weeps. Just as a child suffers away from its mother, man also suffers when he is distanced from God. We are tormented. Separation from God is hell. The devil has managed to distance people from God so much that they have reached the point of worshipping statues and sacrificing even their children to them. It's a horrible thing! Where do the demons find all these deities? The god Chemosh! Just hearing his name is enough. But the devil is the most tortured being of all because he is the farthest removed from God, from Love. When love departs, hell sets in. What is the opposite of love? Evil and malice; evil equals suffering.
One who has distanced himself from God becomes prone to demonic influence, while the other one who is close to God receives divine Grace. He who already has God's Grace will be given more. And he who has only a little and scorns it, he will lose it all. The Grace of Godis missing from most people today because by sinning they throw away whatever small portion of it they may have. And when divine Grace is gone, the demons rush at human beings and take possession of them.
Depending on their distance from God, people are in constant pain in this life and will be in eternal pain in the other life. For the taste and joy of Paradise begin, to an extent, in this life, depending on how much one lives according to the will of God. Either we shall experience a portion of the heavenly joy here on earth and will then go to Heaven, Or we shall experience a portion of hell here and, God forbid, we shall end up in hell. Paradise is good-ness. Hell is malice and evildoing. When we do something good, we feel joy. When we do something wrong, some-thing evil, we suffer. The more good one does, the more joy he feels. The more one causes harm, the more his soul suffers. Can a thief feel any joy? He cannot. But the one who does good, he feels joy. Even if one finds something on the street and keeps it for himself, he will not find rest. Although he doesn't know to whom it belongs, nor has he harmed anyone or stolen it, he cannot find peace. Imagine if he had actually stolen it! Even when we receive something, a gift, we still do not feel the same joy that we do when we give. How then could someone who steals or takes away unjustly, feel joy? That is why one can look at people who live unjust lives and see on their faces so many grimaces!
The Boss You Work For Will Pay Your Wages
People who live away from God are always without consolation and are doubly tormented. If one does not believe in God and in the future life, he is not only deprived of divine consolation but also brings eternal condemnation upon his soul. The boss you work for will pay your wages. If you work for the devil, he will pay you by making your life miserable here on earth. If you work for virtue, Christ will pay you. And the more you work for Christ, the more you will shine and find bliss. But we say, "Am I a fool to work for Christ?" Isn't this horrible that we do not recognize Christ's sacrifice for humanity? Christ was crucified to save us from sin, to cleanse mankind. Look at what Christ has done for us. What have we done for Him?
People want to sin, but they also want God to be good to them. He should keep forgiving us while we continue to sin. We want to do whatever we like and we want Him to forgive us. He is supposed to forgive us no matter what we do. People don't have faith in God and they rush to commit sin. All that is evil begins from lack of faith. People don't believe in eternal life and for this reason nothing stops them; they treat others unjustly, they abandon their children... The things that take place so many grave sins. Not even the Holy Fathers had foreseen such sins in the Sacred Canons. It's like Sodom and Gomorrah when God had said, "I don't believe that such sins exist; I should go and see for myself."
If people don't repent and return to God, they will lose eternal life. Man must be helped in order to feel the deeper meaning of life, to come to his senses and to experience divine consolation. The goal is to rise spiritually, not simply to avoid sin.
CHAPTER TWO These Days the Devil Is Roaming Free
When We Sin We Give Rights to Temptation
ft here is so much demonic influence in the world M today. The devil is roaming free because people have given him the right to do so and they are vulnerable to horrific attacks by him. Once someone rightly said: "In the old days the devil was preoccupied with human beings; not anymore. He shows people the way, tells them 'farewell', and off they go." It's terrible! You see, when the demons wanted to enter the swine in the country of the Gadarenes, they asked for Christ's permission - since the swine had not given the devil an excuse, he did not have the right to possess them.1 Christ allowed this to happen so that the Israelites, who were forbidden from eating pork, may be punished.
- Geronda, some people say that the devil does not exist.
- I know; someone told me that I should take out of the French translation of Saint Arsenios the Cappadocian all references to demonic possession, because Europeans will not understand it; they don't believe in the existence of the devil. You see, they explain everything with psychology. But if they took to psychiatrists the possessed of the Gospel there would be no end to electroshocks. Christ has removed from the devil the right to do harm. The devil can harm us only if we allow him to have power over us. Those who do not participate in the Mysteries of the Church give rights to temptation and become vulnerable to demonic influence.
- Geronda, in what other ways can one give rights to the devil?
- Rationalism, contradiction, stubbornness, willfulness, disobedience, and insolence all are qualities of the devil. People are vulnerable to the degree that they have these qualities. But when the soul is purified, the Holy Spirit enters a man and fills him with Grace. On the contrary, when it is infected with mortal sin, the unclean spirit dwells in him. When, again, the soul is not mortally infected, then, it is merely under the influence of the evil spirit.
It is unfortunate that nowadays people don't want to curb their passions and their will; they do not accept anyone's advice. From this point on, they speak with insolence and reject the Grace of God. As a result, anything they undertake does not prosper because it is subject to satanic influences. Man is beside himself because the devil directs him from the outside. The devil is not inside the man, God forbid, but even from the outside, he can take over and run a person's life.
When divine Grace "departs" from a man, he becomes worse than the devil. For, there are things that the cunning devil himself will not do; instead, he will urge men to do them for him. He does not, for instance, commit crimes; he has man do them for him. That is how people end up being possessed.
Confession Deprives the Devil of His Rights
If people only went to a Spiritual Father to confess their sins, the demonic influence would cease, and they would be able to think more clearly. Nowadays, they can-not even think because of demonic influence. Repentance and confession deprive the devil of his rights over us.
Recently, a sorcerer came to the Holy Mountain and blocked the road with sticks and nets, near my Kalyvi. Anyone passing through there, who had not been to confession, would have been harmed and would have no idea why. As soon as I saw them, I crossed myself, went through and broke the spell. Later on, the sorcerer came to my Kalyvi and told me about his evil schemes and burned his books. The devil has neither power nor dominion over those who have faith, go to Church regularly and receive Holy Communion. He just barks a little "arf, arf!" like a dog without teeth. But he has great power over one who has no faith and gives him the excuse to take over. He can lynch him and tear him to pieces with his teeth. The devil's authority upon a soul depends on the rights this soul has granted him.
Even when a soul dies in good order, as it rises to Heaven, the devil follows behind. It's like a train moving with tremendous speed, while dogs are running after it and in front of it, barking and occasionally some of them getting run over. But if one is not in good spiritual order, the train cannot go with speed, because its wheels are damaged, dogs will enter through its open doors and bite some passengers.
When the devil has been allowed to acquire great rights over a man and has him in his grip, the cause that will bring his power to an end must be found. Otherwise, no matter how intensely the others pray for someone, the devil will not leave him. The devil will cripple a man. Priests may do exorcisms over and over again, but the possessed man ends up paying the price since the devil will then torture him even more because of the exorcisms. Unless we repent and go to confession, and destroy the rights that the devil has over us, he will not go away and we will always be troubled. As long as the devil has these rights, he will not go away even if one reads and rereads exorcisms for days, weeks, months or years.
The Devil Will Not Approach a Pure Creature of God
- Geronda, why am I am overwhelmed by passions? - If one gives in to temptations, he is seized by the passions. What God wants from you - which is for your benefit too - is to take your passions and throw them at the devil's face. Turn your anger, your stubbornness and so on against him. Or, what is even better, "sell" your passions to the devil and use the money to buy "stones" to throw at him and keep him at a distance. Most often, we human beings allow the enemy to harm us by giving him all kinds of excuses either through carelessness or through proud thoughts. The devil can even take advantage of the will naturally have greater authority over him. The devil acquires more and more rights.
- Geronda, suppose a person who has lived carelessly by giving the devil authority over him decides to start a new life, by putting things in order and living carefully, will that person be fought by the devil? - When these people turn around, God gives them strength, illumination and divine consolation to get them started. But as soon as the struggle begins, the enemy will fight them fiercely. At that point patience and perse¬verance is needed. Otherwise, how can the passions be uprooted? How can the old man shed his garment? How can pride go away? This is how we realize that we can do nothing on our own, and we humbly ask for God's mercy; it is then that humility comes. The same happens with someone who wants to give up a bad habit, for instance smoking or drugs. At first, he feels happy with his deci¬sion and throws them away. Then, he sees other people smoking, drinking or whatever and a fierce battle begins. If he overcomes the temptation, he turns his back to the habit without difficulty. All of us need to resist a little. The devil does his job; shouldn't we do ours?
We Should Not Start a Conversation With the Devil
All of us have some inherited weaknesses but these cause us no harm. For instance, one may be born with a little mole on the face. A mole might make someone look beautiful, but if it is scratched it might also cause cancer. We should not let the devil scratch our passions. If we let him do that, "cancer" may occur.
- Geronda, the demons scare me.
- What are you afraid of? The devil has no power. Christ is All-powerful. The tempter is rotten. Don't you wear a cross? The devil's weapons are weak. Christ has armed us with His Cross. Only when we abandon our spiritual armour is the enemy strong. An Orthodox priest had only to show a small cross to a sorcerer and the demon he had invoked started trembling.
- Why is the devil so afraid of the Cross?
- Because when Christ received the spitting, the blows and the beatings, the kingdom and the power of the devil were crushed. How wonderful is the way in which Christ defeated the devil! "The devil's dominion was crushed with a reed," used to say a Saint. When Christ was given the last blow with a reed, at that very moment, the devil's power was destroyed. In other words, patience is our spiritual defence and humility our greatest weapon against the devil. The greatest balm that Christ's sacrifice on the Cross gave us is the crushing of the devil. After the Crucifixion of Christ, the devil is like a snake with no fangs, with no poison; he is like a wild dog without teeth. All poison was removed from the devil; all teeth were removed from the wild dogs that are the demons. So, they are now disarmed, while we are armed with the Cross. There is nothing, really nothing that the demons can do to a creature of God when we ourselves don't hand over rights to them. They only make noise; they have no authority over people.
Once, when I was at the Kelli (Cell) of the Holy Cross, I kept a wonderful vigil! A whole bunch of demons had gathered at night on the roof of the Kelli. At first, they banged the walls with a sledgehammer and then made
- Geronda, did the demons become so ugly when they fell and from angels they became demons?
- Of course! And it's like they have been struck by light-ning. When lightning strikes a tree, doesn't it turn into a charred stump? The demons look like that. For a while, I used to say to the devil, "Come by so that I can see what you look like and avoid falling into your hands. Just a look is enough to see how evil you are. Should you get me, there's no telling how much I will suffer."
The Devil Is Dumb
- Geronda, does the devil know what we have in our heart?
- Know the human heart? That's the last thing he is fit to do! Only God has knowledge of our heart and it is only to those who belong to Him that He occasionally reveals - and that for our own good - what is in our heart. The devil knows only the mischief and the evil that he plants in those who serve him; he does not know our good thoughts. Sometimes, he figures it out from experience but even then, he usually misses the point. And if God does not permit him to do that, then he is constantly off target because he is in the dark; visibility, zero! For instance, he has no way of knowing a good thought that crosses my mind. But if I have a bad thought, he is aware of it, because he planted it there himself. If, say, I want to do something good, to save someone, the devil does not know this. But when he puts a thought in the mind of someone and tells him, "Go and save that person," he will also plant pride in his heart and that's why he knows this thought. The moment we accept pride, we
provoke temptation. These things are very subtle! Do you remember the incident with Abba Macarios ?
Once Abba Macarios ran into the devil who was com-ing back from a nearby desert where he had gone to tempt the monks. The devil said to him, "All the Brothers are very angry with me, except one, who is my friend and obeys me, and when he sees me, he spins like a wheel." "And who is this Brother?" the Abba asked. "Theopemptos (Godsend) is his name," the devil answered. Abba Macarios went to the desert and found the Monk. He found a way to make him reveal his thoughts to him and. in this way the Monk was helped. When Abba Macarios met the devil again, he asked him about his Brother monks and he said, "Everyone is very angry with me; and the worst, even my friend has now changed, I cannot figure out fiow, and he is the angriest of all." The devil did not know that Abba Macarios had gone to the Brother and helped him, because the Saint acted with humility, out of love, and the devil therefore had no power over that particular thought. If Abba Macarios had taken pride in what he did, he would have dispelled the Grace of God, and the devil would then have acquired rights over him. Were that the case, the devil would have known, because it would have been him who caused the Abba's pride.
- If we tell someone a good thought that is on our mind, can the devil hear it and tempt us afterwards? - How could he hear it since the thought has no "devil" in it? But if he says what is on his mind in order to brag, then the tempter will get in the way. In other words, if there is a predisposition for pride and one brags, "I will save this man," the devil will interfere and will know that thought. But if one acts with humility, out of love, the devil will know nothing. We need to be careful. These are very fine and subtle things. That is why the Fathers say that the spiritual life is the "science of all sciences".
- How come, then, Geronda, a fortune teller can tell three women that the one will get married, the other will suffer a misfortune, and the third will remain unmarried, and things actually turn out that way? - The devil is experienced. Just like an engineer can determine when a house will collapse by merely looking at it, so too, the devil can look at how we live our lives and has the experience to tell where we are going to end up.
The devil is not clever; he is actually very dumb. He is all tangled up; he cannot be unraveled. He does some smart things and some dumb things. His deceptive machinations are crude. God has mercifully seen to that, so that we can recognize him. One must be too blinded by pride not to realize who he is. When we are humble, we can recognize the devil's traps, because humility enlightens us and brings us into kinship with God. It is humility that disables the devil.
The Reason That God Allows the Devil to Tempt Us
- Geronda, why does God allow the devil to tempt people?
- So that He can select His children. "Do whatever you want," God tells the devil, because no matter what he Νgood; we should believe this. He lets the devil be so that man may keep up the fight. No pain, no gain. If the devil did not torment us, we would have taken ourselves for saints. Thus, God allows the devil to attack us with malice, because these beatings clear out all the dust from our dusty soul. Other times God lets him bite us hard so that we may seek refuge in Him. God is constantly calling us close to Him, but we usually stray away and will run to Him only when we are in danger. When man becomes one with God, there is no place for the evil one to enter and there is no reason for God to permit him to tempt us so that we may take refuge in Him. Whatever is the case, the devil can benefit us; he helps us become holy. This is the reason that God tolerates him.
God has given freedom not only to human beings but also to the demons, because they do not and cannot damage the human soul; unless of course we ourselves want to harm our soul. On the contrary, evil or careless people, who unwillingly harm us, provide a gain for our soul. Why do you think the Abba says, "Take away temptations and no one will be saved"? Temptations can do us great good. Not that the devil can ever do good - since he is all evil - but our Good God blocks the stone he throws at us to break our head, puts it in our hand, and gives us a handful of almonds to crack and eat! God, in other words, allows temptations not because He wants the devil to torment us, but in order for us to take in this way our "exams" for the next life and have no unreasonable expectations for the Second Coming. We must realize that we are at war, and we have to go on fighting against the devil himself as long as we are alive. During this lifetime, we've got a lot of work to do to improve our souls, but we also have the right to take spiritual exams. If we die without having passed the test, there will be no other chance. There will be no make ups!
The Devil Does Not Want to Repent
The Good Lord created Angels, but some of them fell because of pride and became demons. God created man, His perfect creation, to replace the fallen Order of Angels. This is why the devil is so very jealous of man, God's creature. The demons are always complaining, "We erred only once and You are still punishing us, but they who err so many times, You always forgive them." Yes, but people repent, while they, who were Angels once and then became demons, do not repent and, instead they become even more cunning and malicious and have set on destroying God's creatures with a vengeance. Lucifer was the most luminous Order of Angels. And in the end, because of their pride, they distanced themselves from God, thousands of years ago, and continue to do so, remaining unrepentant. If they would only say, Lord, have mercy on us, God would do something for them. If only they cried once, "We have sinned." But they don't. If the devil were to cry out "I have sinned," he would become an Angel again. God's love knows no bounds. But the devil has a strong will, obstinacy, egoism and does not want to relent; he does not want to be saved. How horrible! And he used to be an Angel!
- Geronda, does the devil remember his previous state?
- Of course he knows! But his pride does not allow him to repent. He is also cunning and is now trying to win over people. He is thinking to himself: "If I get more and more followers, at the end, God will be forced to have mercy on all His creatures and He will take me in too!" This is what he is thinking. And that is why he wants to gain more and more followers. Do you see what he is up to? He is saying to himself: "I have so many people on my side that God will have to show mercy on me too." He wants God's mercy, but he does not want to repent! Didn't Judas do the same thing? Judas knew that Christ would liberate the dead from Hades. But he said to himself, "I will get there before Christ does so that He will liberate me too!" Do you see how cunning he was? Instead of asking Christ for forgiveness, he went and hanged himself. And you know that God's mercy bent the fig tree, but Judas raised his feet so that they would not touch the ground, and he died. And he did all that to avoid saying even one "Have mercy on me." What a dreadful thing! Similarly, the devil, the master of selfishness and pride, does not confess that he has sinned, but continues to work hard to increase the number of his followers.
Humility Destroys the Devil
Humility has great power and destroys the devil. It is the strongest shock that we can give the devil. Where there is humility there is no place for him. And where there is no devil, there are, of course, no temptations. Once an ascetic pressed a devil to recite, Holy God, Holy Almighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us. The devil said, Holy God, Holy Almighty, Holy Immortal, but he did not say, have mercy on us. The ascetic insisted, "Say, have mercy on us." But to no avail! Had he complied, he would have become an Angel again. The devil will say anything except for, have mercy on me, because this requires humility. To say, have mercy on me requires humility indeed, and the soul receives the requested great mercy from God, our Good Father.
No matter what we do, we need humility, love and nobility. Things are simple. It is we that make them difficult. To the extent possible, we must do what is difficult for the devil and easy for man. Love and humility are difficult for the devil and easy for man. Even a sickly man who cannot become an ascetic can defeat the devil with humility. In just one second man can become either an angel or a devil. How? By choosing pride or choosing humility. Do you think it took hours for Lucifer to turn from an Angel into a devil? Not at all; it only took him a few seconds! The easiest way for us to be saved is through love and humility. That is why we must start with love and humility, and then go on to the rest.
Pray that we might continuously give joy to Christ and distress to the devil, since the devil happens to like hell so much that he does not want to repent.