*Dedicated to a soul who is struggling, entangled in this net, in a deadly embrace. Buddhism wants you to empty yourself. Our faith is about filling yourself with Christ. When you empty yourself, the demons enter. With love and poor prayers
Impossibility of Aloneness
I’m an Orthodox Christian living in Homer, Alaska and experienced Jesus Christ in the Himalayas, in India.
I listen to the heartbeat of rain outside…
Cold, Alaskan fog blowing in off the bay, emerald hills now that autumn is here and summer chased away into the mountains. But a milky white fog spreads over the bay like a silken ghost. I used to visit Trappist monasteries, back when I was Catholic, at the beginning of high school, and searching for a relationship of love. I read plenty of philosophy then to know that knowing isn’t enough, that having a realization in the mind is entirely different from experiencing a revelation of the heart.
I spent two birthdays in the Himalayas…
Traveling along gravel roads that drop deep into icy gulches where the Ganges river rages below not yet packed with the filth and mud and newspapers of villages, not yet carrying remainders of Indians in her current, I found Christ found me. It’s a difficult and strangely compelling atmosphere to confront oneself, – – India, – – sandwiched with black corpses, white snow, pagan fires and virulent animals.
I took a bus north from Delhi. It was crowded, tight and cramped, flies buzzed between my face and the windows smeared with brown slime. It’s so polluted in Delhi, so much coffee-colored smoke, so much steam that you really can’t see the sun. You saw it, a rising orange-reddish ball burning over the horizon fifteen minutes in the morning, but then fifteen minutes slouching back down again, an exhausted head over the mountains.
I grew up Catholic but turned to Buddhism when introduced to a self-hypnosis class at my Catholic high school, experimenting with meditation and ‘mindfulness.’ I experienced serious symptoms of manic depression then, partially because I’d consciously turned away from the Judeo-Christian God, and also because life at home was very, very difficult for me. I grew anxious and got into extremely self-destructive habits, and so Buddhism seemed a perfect door to address – or not address – my turning from God and family, and focusing my energy toward dissolving into a Void, a dissolving bubble on an endless and personless river, Tathāgatagarbha. The element that got me is to dissolve my desire, and abandon my selfhood, in order to avoid suffering. But desire doesn’t seem so bad, especially when it is for love, which requires more than one person, and thereby voids any notion of abandoning self, – – and to love, to truly love, is to give, which may require sacrifice, and suffering – –
So Tibetan Buddhism kept coming up, because the meditation helped calm my anxieties and depression, and because the culture proved highly engaging, what with all her colorful flags, her skulls, and metaphysical explanations of things, – – but what is left, when ‘I’ disappear, and there is no one else for whom a relationship of the heart can exist? Not to mention, what did the experiences of the Gospels, the Cloud of Witnesses, the Holy Church, amount to? I knew nothing of Orthodoxy when I reached into the closet of Buddhism, but in light of it, now, what does it all add up to?
Mindfulness worked as far as cleansing the window, the mind, is concerned, which is important, but then many of its doctrines, – and I explored countless doctrines, – really stop here. Clear sky. But what it did not do, and could not, really, is orient me toward the sun, and the warmth of the sun, and the sunlight – – all religions seem to contain some seed of truth, but fail in witnessing to the Triadic God…and all my destructive habits, and relationships, and every mantra, and yoga, all of which I’ve had my fill…this is how Christ brought me to Him.
Back to the story, I’m in Delhi, on a bus. And after an hour or two of sitting in that cramped, stuffy and urine-soured air you hear the front breaks release, the bus finally stretching her arthritic joints and creak slowly forward. She rolls, head first, toward the busy main road. For fifteen minutes we cough and pop down the road, away from my filthy, but greatly lovable refuge of Manju Ka Tilla, a sort of Tibetan refugee camp criss-crossed with telephone wire, wet and narrow alleyways packed with dogs and diapered babies, and polio. Cobblestone streets and bakeries, copper trinkets and arms, this is the first place on earth I met leprosy, and her sister polio. The beginning of my spiritual warfare.
I usually saw them together, these two, – polio and leprosy – crowding in around a barrel of fiery rags, in the crayon-black darkness hands like chewed-up bread, teeth pencil yellow and cracked. I see a boy attacked by a skinny, vicious-looking dog with long, wet fur and crazy eyes – it looks like a red and yellow fox, – – a tangle of fur and blood and whimper. The taxi cab drivers, waiting on their afternoon customers near the stinking, feathered dumpsters launch after the monster in a terrible raid of madness and darkness. They chase the thing down with bricks loosened from neighboring grocery store steps leaving the boy warm and wet with his own blood, a hound’s tooth broken off inside his leg.
Here is suffering, and personhood, and sacrifice…
He looks young but his face shows no signs of innocence. His dark eyes follow me as I run a few feet away to pick up a bottle of water, then return. We look at each other. His long, dangling arms and fingers started rubbing the area of skin that have broken open and gush a strange, purple fluid.
Wet, mossy feet and the bitter odor of trash hang in the air. Cows streaked with vomit pick through spoiled food and milk cartons nearby at the dumpsters. He waits for a doctor but one never arrives. I don’t know what else to do. The boy looks through me, limping into an alley and disappearing in the terrible darkness.
I will live here a total of five and a half months. I will have arrived here practicing Buddhism and Hinduism for eleven years, and leave Christian…
I thought maybe I’d join a Buddhist monastery, or be discovered by wise sage in the mountains, spend the rest of my life in the Himalayas experiencing exotic mystery and enlightenment. I read dozens of sutras by various Buddhas, had an underlined and well-worn copy of the Bhagavad-Gita and Upanishads, and was reading all the California guys, Bhagavan Das, Ram Das, Krishna Das, and even met most of them, all the 60s ‘hippy’ idols who dropped acid and flew to India to go ‘find the guru.’ I read Be Here Now and did the whole drug scene, but despite all the colorful statues and marijuana and tantra, no matter how ‘empty’ I became, there wasn’t enough and I sensed…how can I say this…something was wrong.
I worked as a wilderness guide for at-risk youth in the sage deserts of Idaho. Teaching primitive skills, meditation and mantra, and working with psychologists to develop methods of emotional and behavioral therapy – – I was chased by a wolf, I killed a rattlesnake. And while out there, – this is in the middle of my life before Christ, – – toward the end of it, actually, – – I began experiencing strange things – not only while traveling through India, but before that, and not only me, but my girlfriend. We saw, and everyone involved with this recipe of mantra, meditation, yoga, – and a lot of it sober, – – we saw shadows and demons, experienced trembling and ungodly anxiety and fear. So I knew something was strange, something was going on. It is not all opinion, all belief, for if I have freewill, and exist outside the body, – and I had plenty experiences where I knew I was more than my body, – – and this is one of the things that helped me dismiss and eventually leave the bag of eastern religions, – in addition to God’s grace, – – that if I am more than my body, and I have free will, and can choose to either accept or reject love, then others can too, and this brought up the issue of good versus evil, of right and wrong.
Was what I was doing, right? Who was I following? Are these things, these deities, just archetypes, and if not, if they are ‘real,’ are they ‘good?’ It like jumping into an ocean and realizing there are many different things floating around in there, harmless creatures, some of them beautiful, and some, in fact, that will attack you, that are poisonous, and the astral life, the spiritual life, is like that. Very quickly, once I got to India, I understood this. And was scared.
The boy with the watermelon disease, his head swollen on a piece of cloth outside my guest room door, a cloud of black flies wriggling over an empty ribcage and hollow eyes, a human Jack-O-lantern, his mother’s long brown arm rung with silver jewelry begging for rupees.
So why did I leave a supportive and beautiful girlfriend behind in Oregon to experience this? I was beginning to mend my relationship with my parents, gain more confidence, and had read Way of the Pilgrim a number of months before, but it was with all my California stuff, and I never saw any relation to that and Orthodoxy, never once asked, where is a church that deepens one’s relationship with the living, loving, Truth? Where truth is a Person, as I’d later read from Father Seraphim Rose?
I’d head up to the mouth of the Ganges River, to Gangotri, – – into a mountain. On my 28th birthday, I listened to the heartbeat of the wind on the cliffs, on the water, and experience not a realization of the mind, though that did happen, sure enough, but only once the heart was struck by a sort of cherubim’s sword in my heart, experiencing a revelation occurring in meeting the living God, Jesus Christ, and myself peeling away from itself.
What can I say?
Everything I’d learned, practiced, experienced for all of eleven years poured out from my head, in one ear and out the other, replaced by their approximate Christian terms, fulfilled, actually, and I knew reincarnation is impossible through the resurrection, because I am a self, a soul, and I knew karma is impossible because it operates independently of ‘God’ and there is Divine Intervention, I’ve witnessed it, and experienced it. In the cave, a joyous ache in my heart, and in the cave, no more aloneness, no more aloofness. In the Himalayas, and I mean immediately, like I was zapped, I really met Christ, and was dumb for a moment, and in Eternity I saw in my heart the Person of God as Christ, and I could never, ever be alone. Maybe I’d FEEL alone, sure, (doubtful) but I ought to remember, the impossibility of aloneness. Maybe that should be the title of this letter.
So what happened after? I picked up a Bible and read the thing in a guest house back in Dharamsala, over 12 hours away, and then I’d return to America, after the shaking bus trips and gargantuan ceremonies of burning bodies and yellow and black gods and goddesses, and and I’d fall into the lap of the Orthodox Church, in Eugene, and, I’m only skimming over it now, due to time constraints, and I’d visit St Anthony’s Monastery, in Arizona, and all the monasteries and churches in between, long enough to fill a book, and pray to St Herman who could, by his intercessions, bring me straight to Spruce Island, and to where, kneeling before his relics, find home. In Homer. There is more, but I’ll write later. So much has happened to my heart. Forgive me for rambling, and going on. May the Father of Lights enlighten us, and have mercy on us. Amen.
“It is one thing to believe in God, and another to know Him.” + St Silouan
Editors Note: Joseph Magnus now lives in Port Townsend, Washington. He is a writer of children’s books and helps the Father Lazarus Moore Foundation. To visit his blog and read more of his poetry, short stories, and other writings, visit here: Servant of Prayer
Elder Paisios: Say this prayer every day and God will always be at your side.
The love of the Elder Paisios for the whole world is well known. The Elder has helped a whole host of people before and after his physical death. But the question is from where did he receive his ability to help people and to perform miracles? He received this heavenly power through his fervent prayers to God.
The following prayer of his was given to a convent which had asked the Elder for a prayer rule that could be used by the nuns in their evening vigils. This directive was given to the nuns during the final years of his life. The main emphasis of this prayer is his profound love for all of humanity.
This prayer can be used by every Christian believer since it takes in all the issues of life that need our prayers. Even the children can understand it easily since it is expressed in simple words. It can be used by families during their evening prayers.
Our Lord Jesus Christ:
Do not abandon your servants who live far away from the Church. May your love convict them and bring them back to you.
Lord have mercy on your servants who are suffering from cancer.
On your servants who suffer either from small or serious ailments.
On your servants who suffer from physical infirmities.
On your servants who suffer from spiritual infirmities.
Lord have mercy on our leaders and inspire them to govern with Christian love.
Lord have mercy on children who come from troubled homes.
On troubled families and those who have been divorced.
Lord have mercy on all the orphans of the world, on all those who are suffering pain and injustices since losing their spouses.
Lord have mercy on all those in jail, on all anarchists, on all drug abusers, on all murderers, on all abusers of people, and on all thieves. Enlighten these people and help them to straighten out their lives.
Lord have mercy on all those who have been forced to emigrate.
On all those who travel on the seas, on land, in the air, and protect them.
Lord have mercy on our Church, the bishops, the priests and the faithful of the Church.
Lord have mercy on all the monastic communities, male and female, the elders and eldresses and all the brotherhoods of Mt. Athos.
Lord have mercy on your servants who find themselves in the midst of war.
On your servants who are being pursued in the mountains and on the plains.
On your servants who are being hunted like birds of prey.
Lord have mercy on your servants who were forced to abandon their homes and their jobs and feel afflicted.
Lord have mercy on the poor, the homeless and the exiled.
Lord have mercy on the nations of the world. Keep them in your embrace and envelope them with your holy protection. Keep them safe from every evil and war. Keep our beloved Greece (we can add here all countries, all mankind) in your protective embrace day and night. Embrace her with your holy protection defending her from all evil and war.
Lord have mercy on those who have been abandoned and have suffered injustice. Have mercy on families that are going through trying times. Pour your abundant love upon them.
Lord have mercy on your servants who suffer from spiritual and bodily problems of all kinds.
Lord have mercy on those who are despairing. Help them and grant them peace.
Lord have mercy on those that have requested that we pray for them.
Lord grant eternal rest to all those who have passed on to eternal life throughout the ages.
At some point, the Cell’s door, of the old and poor building, would open and the Elder, who had been inside involved in discipline and heart prayer for the salvation of his soul and the souls of his brothers, would appear. His face was always exhilarated and his attitude cordial. He would receive us and ask us to sit in the “outdoors dorter” on seats made of pieces from tree trunks. He would shake our hands and at the same time offer us loukoumia and water according to the tradition of Mt. Athos.
There, under the trees, with the songs of the birds “as the vocal drone”, the Elder would start talking to us with “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68) either answering our questions or making comments on his own on the basis of information from “above” about the needs of each one of us. Here is the miraculous thing! The pilgrims were of various ages, professions, characters, spiritual and intellectual levels. Some of them were conscious of who was sitting in front of them and exactly what they were looking for. Some were there because they had heard something about him. Others were there with an ill-tempered and negative mood. He, guided by the Holy Spirit, offered “as every man had need” (Acts 2:45 ).
I will never forget, in relation to the above, the Elder’s behaviour towards a Spanish student of Fine Arts, follower of the Pope, who happened to be amongst us in the “outdoors dorter” at some visit. At some point, the Elder turned to him with affection and interest making use of some Italian words and phrases he remembered from the Italian occupation so that he could communicate with him. Then, he gave him many pieces of advice in the Greek language and revealed to him many truths that, as he explained to us, the Holy Spirit would help him feel regardless of the fact that the different language would not allow him to understand. More specifically, when another visitor made the comment that “the foreign student does not understand what you are saying to him in Greek”, he answered that “he will understand what he is meant to understand”.
His advice to all his visitors was to have a spiritual father. This is why after giving answers and advice to questions or problems put forward by the people, he would finally send them to their spiritual fathers to lay the burden of their sins, which were the cause of all problems, under their stoles.
Many Christians, therefore, leading autonomous lives, selfishly, as orphans, “as sheep having no shepherd” (Matthew 9:36 ) took his advice, found a spiritual father and started living according to the Church. Their lives and the lives of the ones around them changed. Here I would like to mention something that the Elder always recommended for his wedded visitors. “Have the same spiritual father with your wife. Because as the carpenter uses the same plane to work on two pieces of wood and make them fit, the same way the spiritual father will use the same “plane” to work on the character of both spouses so as to make them fit. Whereas if you have different spiritual fathers, you will face difficulties.”
I would like to mention something else extremely important that the Elder said on another occasion. I was with a group of people in the “outdoors dorter”, when another group came, amongst whom there was an assistant professor of the Medical School of the University of Athens who held the Elder in great veneration. The professor asked Fr. Paisios at some point with pain, interest and love: “There are, Elder, many colleagues of mine, doctors, who have good intentions, good feelings, “bowels of mercies” (Colossians 3:12 ) but do not believe. What can we do for them?” “Listen,” says the Elder”, “pray for them because under these circumstances they deserve God’s mercy.” He had said the same about some teachers and professors on another occasion.
The Elder, as a genuine man of God, had consolidated and immovable ideas “in the things he hast learned and hast been assured of” (2 Timothy 3:14 ). He knew and taught “by word and deed” (Romans 15:18 ) that in the issues of faith there is no swaying, negotiation or compromise. He clearly knew that there is no greater unhappiness and bigger danger for the Christian than to deny his faith and accept deceit. As we know, many deceived people, people that did not feel rest, urged by his reputation, went to meet him and discuss their existential problems. It is true that many of those people went there full of delusions and left repented, seeking then guidance in their spiritual fathers.
If, therefore, someone gets involved with some of the heresies and para-religions that have flooded our country mainly in recent years as well as if someone advances in the initiations, rites and other demonic activities imposed in order to become a member, this means a conscious or unconscious negation of the faith to the Trinitarian God, Christ, the Church and the Baptism, I once asked the Elder: “What should we do with these people when they repent and want to return to the Church?” “You will say,” he said, “the Service for the One that returns to the Orthodox Church. The people that return will denounce the bad faith with libel, they will confess the faith of the Church by reciting the Symbol of Faith and then you will anoint them with the holy unction.”
All of us are very much concerned about our dear departed, their state and what we can do about them. We used to ask the Elder about this and wanted really convincing answers. He would emphatically advise us to pray a lot for them. “Prayers,” he said, “memorial services, liturgies, mercies are very much to the benefit of the departed ones.” “You should pray more,” he added, “for the departed ones than the living. Because there is nothing they can do on their own any more, but we can help them attracting God’s mercy through praying and the other means we have mentioned so that their state can be improved or even change, because they are still under judgment.” And he concluded by saying in his characteristic way: “Is it a small thing to take our departed one from a sunless basement to a sunny apartment through our prayers?”
At some point, I remember, he mentioned something overwhelming as regards the departed ones and our stance for them. There was a suicide once, a person who put an end to his life by falling from a bridge into a river. This man, as the Elder said, repented while he was falling, asked for forgiveness, his repentance was accepted and his soul was received by a Lord’s angel. We must learn not to despair; and pray for our brethrens asking for God’s mercy and according to the words of St. Isidoros Pilousiotis: “do not forerun God’s judgment.” (P. G. 78, 377) and be judges of the others.
In the summer of 1975, I was blessed with going for the first time to the Garden of the Mother of God, Mount Athos (Agion Oros). I visited various age-long monasteries; I paid my respects to many of the priceless treasures of the Holy place, that is, holy remnants of martyrs and saints of our faith as well as holy icons. I participated in the daily all-night long masses which are concluded with the Divine Service early in the morning. I sat at the simple monastery table, where everything reminds you that you eat in order to survive and fight for your salvation and you do not live in order to eat, where the reading of the devout patristic text aims at transporting the minds of the table companions to heaven. I associated with conscientious monks who, inspired by the divine love and obeying the urging of Basil the Great, “take care of thy self”, have denied the world, but not man for whom they pray unfailingly with love and “with many tears” (Act. 20:19) in their cells and the church during the sacred vigils.
During my visit, I did not succeed, despite my wish, to meet Elder Paisios who was then an ascetic at the Stavronikita cell of the Holy Cross. This came later, “when the time was mature” (Gal. 4:4). What I realized about this full-of-grace person during my first pilgrimage to Mount Athos were the characteristic words of another co-pilgrim, today an assistant professor at the Medical School of the University of Thessaloniki, who had met him and told me that “his love breaks you apart”, something I verified myself later on.
I will deal with this genuine man of God briefly, as I had the opportunity to do in the past with my dear spiritual fathers, Elder Porfyrios and Elder Iakovos Tsalikis.
On Tuesday, July 12, 1994 , the late Elder Paisios, the Hagiorite, rested in the Lord, at the Holy Cemetery of St. John the Theologian, in Souroti of Thessaloniki.
This genuine man of God, whose secular name was Arsenios Eznepides, was born to pious parents, Prodromos and Eulabia, at Farasa, Cappadocia on the 25 th of July, 1924.
Due to the extraordinary and harsh conditions, he was baptized a few days later at Farasa, on the 7 th of August, by St. Arsenios Chatziefentis and was given the name “Arsenios”.
Barely a month after his birth, he was driven along with his parents, relatives and other citizens of Farasa away from his paternal home and became a refugee.
The boat with the refugees arrived in metropolitan Greece on September 14. The Elder’s family lived for a little while first in Piraeus , then in Castro of Corfu and in a small village near Igoumenitsa prior to settling down in Konitsa in 1926.
He finished the Konitsa Elementary School and, then, he worked as a carpenter until 1945 when he was enlisted in the army. His military service, during those unlucky years of the civil war, lasted for approximately four years, until 1949, when Arsenios Eznepides, the radio operator, received his discharge certificate marked with “excellent” conduct.
In 1950, he went to Mt. Athos aiming at realizing the dream of his life; that is to receive the angelic schema.
In 1954, he was tonsured at the Monastery of Esphigmenou where he was serving as a novice as a rasophoros monk with the name of Averkios.
In 1956, he was tonsured to the “Small Schema” in Philotheou Monastery taking the name “Paisios”.
In 1958, after being asked by the people of Konitsa who were spiritually in danger by a “raid” of Protestants who had managed to proselytize eighty poor families, he went to the Monastery of the Theotokos Birthday, at Stomio, next to the Aos River. He stayed there for four years and greatly helped the inhabitants of the area who visited the Monastery.
In 1962, we find him as an ascetic at the Cell of Saints Galaktionas and Episteme, in the desert of Mt. Sinai.
In 1964, he returned to Mt. Athos and took up residence at the Archangels’ cell, at the Scete of Ivira.
In 1966, he was operated on and had part of his lungs removed due to a serious illness.
In 1967, he settled down at Katounakia, at the Cell of Ypatios of Lavra, for more intense discipline.
In 1968, Papa-Tychon clothed him in the “Great and Angelic Schema”, at the Holy Cross Cell of Stavronikita Monastery. He remained in the Cell after the repose of Papa-Tychon on the 10 th of September, 1968, and stayed there until 1979.
In 1979, he moved on to his final home, the Panagouda Cell of the Monastery of Koutloumousiou, near Karyes. He stayed there until 1993 receiving many thousands of people who visited him in order to share their pain with him and ask his advice and prayer.
I was blessed by God to manage to visit him and talk with him during that blessed and fruit-bearing period of fifteen years that he lived in the Panagouda Cell.
I remember my eagerness when I went down the path that led from Karyes, the administrative centre of the Athos State , to the Elder’s cell. The sweet expectation of my meeting with this true man of God flooded my heart and gave wings to my feet.
The waiting in front of the yard’s gate at the Cell was short or long depending on the case. The Elder took good care to “make this waiting sweeter” having always in the Cell loukoumia or other sweets and water to offer to the pilgrims. The inscription written by him “to eat is a blessing” is characteristic. Apart from all the above, there were also makeshift seats so that the waiting pilgrims could rest and various articles of clothing to be worn by them so that they would not get cold as they were sweaty. Such affection, such love, such providence for everybody!
* I really do not know what ‘impresses’ me the most in this story: the role of St Paisios or that of the Guardian Angel. May the Lord have mercy on our souls and may we never give such a hard time to our Guardian Angels!
A soul in Hell
The Elder related: ”I knew an old woman who was very stingy. Her daughter was very good, and whatever she wanted to give as alms she would throw out the window so she could leave the house with empty hands, because her mother would always check to see if she was taking anything. But if she told her mother that ‘the monk’ [that is me] had asked for something, then her mother would be willing to give it up. ”After her death, I saw a young man [her guardian angel], and he said to me, ‘Come-so-and-so wants you.’ I couldn’t understand what happened to me, but we were standing in front of a grave in Konitsa. He moved his hand, like this, and the grave opened. Inside, I saw a grimy mess and the old woman, who had started to decay. She was calling out, ‘Monk, save me.’ ”My heart went out to her. Feeling sorry for her, I climbed down inside and without being repulsed I embraced her and asked, ‘What’s wrong?’ ”She said, ‘Tell me, didn’t I always give you anything you asked, willingly?’ ”Yes,’ I said, ‘that’s true.’ ”All right,’ said the young man, soothing her. He moved his hand like this again and closed the grave like a curtain, and I was back in my cell. ”The sisters from Souroti asked me, ‘What happened to you on the feast day of Saint Andrew?’ I answered, ‘Pray for so-and-so’s soul.’ Two months later, I saw her again. High above an abyss, there was a plateau with places, a lot of houses, and many people. The old woman was up there. She was very happy with the face of a small child that had just a tiny spot that her angel was also scrubbing to clean off. In the abyss, in the distance, I saw people being beaten and harassed, and trying to climb up. ”I embraced her out of joy. I took her aside a little, so the people in the abyss wouldn’t see us and be hurt. She said to me, come on, let me show you the place where the Lord has put me.’ ”
From the book, Elder Paisios of Mount Athos by Hieromonk Isaac