Freedom from Suffering

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The moment we accept death, true life can begin.  (Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra)

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The secret to his freedom does not lie in the rejection of his suffering, but in his joyful acceptance of them. He will be truly free only when he lets go of wanting to be free of his sufferings, for all freedom and all life depend on our being in right relation to God. When he accepts his death; when he allows himself to hear the sound of his footsteps descending into the grave, he will find that death no longer has a hold on him, for now he is with God. The darkness will vanish and he will see only light.

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If he accepts to become an instrument of God’s will, he will emerge triumphant; but otherwise he will fail.

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If “l” exist God cannot exist, for there cannot be two gods, and so it is either God or the self. When someone sees only his own suffering, God cannot answer him, for it is precisely the mistaken, negative attitude toward suffering that constitutes the separation between him and God. But if “I” cease to exist, if my relation to my suffering changes, then I can be united to God. This union depends on the denial of my self, so that God can come into my life.

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I must learn to accept suffering with joy, to find joy within my suffering, to realize that even in my moments of glory, I am nothing but “dust and ashes” (Gen 18:27), a pelican in the wilderness (Ps 102:6), lost in a desert land, seeking shelter in a landscape of ruins. I must realize my sinfulness, my nakedness, my alienation from God; I must realize I am like a sparrow alone o a house top (Ps 102:7), not because I have some psychological problem, but because I have been separated from God. … In this cry, this calling out, there exists the hope that I will hear the sound of His footsteps, and these will overtake my own and lead me to salvation.

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Source: Psalms and the Life of Faith, by Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra, pp 104-10
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From Hell to Paradise

 

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A unlit candle among the burning candles in the candle stand of Vatopaidi Monastery (Mount Athos). Blessed are the humble ones because they have the true light and ceaselessly give it to the others within a burning joy. They feel united with the others, even with the lesser and worst of all people, and for this humbleness God gives them His blessing, his peace.  The proud one prematurely feels the singularity and darkness of hell from this life. Source: The Ascetic Experience 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following is the story that Elder Aimilianos told of his own mystical experience, but he told it in the third person:

“Permit me to tell you [runs the story] about a certain monk I once knew. Just as all of us have moments of difficulty, he too was passing through a very critical period of his life. The devil had cast fire into his brain, and wanted to strip him of his monastic dignity, and make him a miserable seeker of alleged truth. His soul roared like breaking waves, and he sought deliverance from his distress. From time to time, he remembered the Prayer of the Heart, but it resounded only weakly within him, because he had no faith in it. His immediate surroundings were of no help. Every­thing was negative. His heart was about to break. How wretched man becomes when he is beset by problems! And who among us has not known such terrible days, such dark nights, and agonizing trials?

Our monk did not know what to do. Walks did nothing for him. The night stifled him. And one night, gasping for air, he threw open the window of his cell in order to take a deep breath. It was dark – about three o’clock in the morning. In his great weariness, he was about to close the window, hoping to get at least a few moments of rest. At that very moment, however, it was as if everything around him – even the darkness outside – had become light! He looked to see where such light might be coming from, but it was coming from nowhere. The darkness, which has no existence of its own, had become light, although his heart remained in the dark. And when he turned around, he saw that his cell had also be­come light!He examined the lamp to see if the light was coming from there, but that one, small oil lamp could not become light itself, neither could it make all things light.

Although his heart was not yet illumined, he did have a certain hope. Overcome with surprise and moved by this hope, but without being fully aware of what he was doing, he went out into the black courtyard of the monastery, which had often seemed to him like hell. He went out into the silence, into the night. Everything was clear as day. Nothing was hidden in the darkness. Everything was in the light: the wooden beams and the windows, the church, the ground he walked on, the sky, the spring of water which flowed continuously, the crickets, the fireflies, the birds of the night – everything was visible, everything! And the stars came down and the sky lowered itself, and it seemed to him that everything – earth and sky had become like heaven!And everything together was chanting the prayer [i.e. of the heart], everything was saying the prayer.And his heart strangely opened and began to dance; it began to beat and take part involuntarily in the same prayer; his feet barely touched the ground. He did not know how he opened the door and entered the church, or when he had vested; he did not know when the other monks arrived, or when the Liturgy began. What exactly happened he did not know. Gone was the ordinary connection of things, and he knew only that he was standing before the altar, before the invisibly present God, celebrating the Liturgy. And striking, as it were, the keys of both his heart and the altar, his voice resounded above, to the altar beyond the heavens. The Liturgy continued. The Gospel was read. The light was no longer all around him, but had built its nest within his heart. The Liturgy ended, but the song that had begun in his heart was endless. In his ecstasy, he saw that heaven and earth sing this prayer without ceasing, and that the monk truly lives only when he is animated by it. For this to happen, he needs only to cease living for himself.”

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An Antidoro from Elder Aimilianos’ many teachings available in print due to the tireless efforts of the Ormylia nuns for the last 23 years after Gerondas receded into silence. More would have survived had not Elder Aimilianos set fire on his own manuscripts decades ago in an act of self-effacing humility before the horrified eyes of his disciples

 

Welcome, illness, welcome, failure, welcome, suffering!

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Christ, Man of Sorrows, end of 15th century

“Unforeseen things turn up constantly in our way because we have our will and our desires. Those unforeseen things are contrary to our will and desires; this is why they appear unforeseen to us, although they really are not. Because the person who loves God expects whatever may come, saying always “your will be done!” Rain will come, a storm, hail, thunder? “Blessed be the name of the Lord!” These are unforeseen because they come in contact with our ‘fleshly’ way of being. Therefore, in order not to be unsettled every time and to be upset, not to fret and succumb to anxiety, you have to expect all, and bear whatever may come. You must always say: “Welcome, illness, welcome, failure, welcome, suffering!” This will bring about meekness, without which there cannot exist a spiritual life.” (Elder Aimilianos Simonopetra)

 

 

Elder Aimilianos and Christ Pantokrator

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Please have a look at the eyes of the Elder how much they resemble Christ’s ‘different’ eyes and left vs right features in that famous Sinai icon*. Isn’t this a striking similarity? I am completely mesmerised, if I may use such an expression, with this photograph of the Elder, and I have been spending really a lot of time simply looking at him, ever since his repose in Christ. Compassionate, Peaceful, yet Stern too. It feels like an icon to me, and not a photograph. Your thoughts?

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Many (1) agree that the icon represents the dual nature of Christ, illustrating traits of both man and god, perhaps influenced by the aftermath of the ecumenical councils of the previous century at Ephesus and Chalcedon. Christ’s features on his left side (the viewer’s right) are supposed to represent the qualities of his human nature, while his right side (the viewer’s left) represents his divinity.

(1) Cf. Manaphēs, Sinai: Treasures, 84; Robin Cormack, Oxford History of Art: Byzantine Art (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 66.

 

Elder Aimilianos Simonopetritis Has Departed This Life

Gerondas Aimilianos

Newly reposed Elder Aimilianos, 23 years of illness. Memory Eternal! Such a special spiritual father! I have known him through his books, homilies and my friends’ testimonies, how he intervened and changed their lives.

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You have made known to me the ways of life; you will fill me with joy with your countenance (Ps. 15, 11)

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*As for the little city hermit, he has disappeared because he has to undertake a Mission Impossible at his Spiritual Father’s word. Prayers are requested since it does feel like a Mission Impossible.

A sip of raki

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When one sins, he is heavy because of his selfishness. He can neither read nor pray because praying and kneeling seem daunting. Since then, you cannot pray, nor keep vigil, at least force yourself to study the Psalms. The Psalms express prayer, repentance, praise, thanksgiving, and contain feelings and experiences that can raise even the weakest man. Just like, when the other loses his senses, you give him a bit of raki, and you revive him, precisely so, read the Psalms, and they will resurrect you again.(Elder Aimilianos)