On Raising Children
(Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain)
Many parents bring their children spiritual harm by demonstrating their love for them in an innapropriate manner. For example, out of an excessive human lovefor her child, a mother may hug and kiss him, and say to him, “ O what a wonderful child you are,” or “You are the best little boy in the world, ”etc. As a result, from a very early age(while he is still unable to comprehend or object to the meaning of those words), the little one aquires a high opinion of himself, thinking of himself as the best of brightest. Naturally, for the same reason, he will not sense a need for God’s grace, and will not know to ask God for help. Thus from early childhood, the chld will have a high opinion of himslef that is rock-solid, one that he will never be able to overcome and will take with him to the grave. Moreover, the frs to suffer from this haughtiness are the parents themselves. Really, will children quietly sit and lisen to parental instructions when they are certan that they are the best, that they kbow everything? For this reason, parents should be very attentive to their children’s spiritual development; they bear responsibility not only for themselves, but for their children as well.
Two Categories of People
I know from experience that in this life people are divided in two categories.
A third category does not exist; people either belong to one or the other.
The first one resembles the fly. The main characteristic of the fly is that it is attracted by dirt. For example, when a fly is found in a garden full of flowers with beautiful fragrances, it will ignore them and will go sit on top of some dirt found on the ground. If the fly could talk, and you asked it to show you a rose in the garden, it would answer: “I don’t even know what a rose looks like. I only know where to find garbage, toilets and dirt.” There are some people who resemble the fly.
The other category is like the bee whose main characteristic is to always look for something sweet and nice to sit on. When a bee is found in a room full of dirt and there is a small piece of sweet in a corner, it will ignore the dirt and will go to sit on top of the sweet. Now, if we ask the bee to show us where the garbage is, it will answer: It only knows the good things in life and is ignorant of all evil. This is the second category of people who have a positive thinking and see only the good side of things. They always try to cover up the evil in order to protect their fellow men; on the contrary, people in the first category try to expose the evil and bring it to the surface.
When someone comes to me and starts accusing other people and puts me in a difficult situation, I tell him the above example. Then, I ask him to decide to which category he wishes to belong, so he may find people of the same kind to socialize with.
The letter of the Law can be deadly
I had asked someone once: « What do you believe you are? Christ’s warrior or temptation’s warrior? Did you know that temptation also has its warriors? »
A Christian must not be fanatic; he must have love for all people.
Those who inconsiderately toss comments, even if they are true, can cause harm. I met an author who was extremely pious, but was in the habit of speaking to the (secular) people around him in a blunt manner, which however penetrated so deep that it shook them very severely. He told me at one time: “During a gathering, I said such and such a thing to a lady.” But the way that he said it, crushed her. “Look”, I said to him, “you may be tossing golden crowns studded with diamonds to other people, but the way that you throw them can smash heads – not only the sensitive ones, but the sound ones also.”
Let’s not stone our fellow-man in a…. Christian manner. The person who – in the presence of others – checks someone for having sinned, or speaks in an impassioned manner about a certain person, is not moved by the Spirit of God: he is moved by another spirit. The way of the Church is LOVE; it differs from the way of the legalists.
The Church sees everything with tolerance and seeks to help each person, whatever he may have done, however sinful he may be. I have observed a peculiar kind of logic in certain pious people. Their piety is a good thing, and their predisposition for good is also a good thing; however, a certain spiritual discernment and amplitude is required so that their piety is not accompanied by narrow-mindedness or strong-headedness (strong, as in “unturning”). The whole basis is for someone to be in a spiritual state, so that he may have that spiritual discernment, because otherwise he will forever remain attached to the “letter of the Law”, and the letter of the Law can be “deadly”.
The one who possesses humility will never act like a teacher; he will listen, and whenever his opinion is requested, he will respond humbly. In other words, he will reply like a student. Whoever believes that he is capable of correcting others is filled with egotism.
– Geronda (elder in Greek), when someone begins to do something with a good intention and eventually reaches an extreme point, does this mean that he lacks discernment?
– It is a latent egotism that is hidden beneath this action and he is unaware of it, because he does not know himself that well, which is why he goes to extremes. Quite often, people begin with good intentions, but look where they may find themselves! This was the case with the “icon-worshippers” and the “iconcombatters” in the past: both cases were extremes! The former had reached the point of scraping icons of Christ and placing the scrapings into the Holy Chalice in order to “improve” Holy Communion; the latter, on the other hand, burnt and totally discarded all icons….. That is why the Church was obliged to place the icons in higher places, out of reach, and, when the dispute was over, lowered them so that we can venerate them and thus confer the appropriate honor to the persons portrayed therein….
On Divine eros
– Geronda, is “divine eros” the love we feel for God?
– Divine eros is something far superior to one’s love for God. It is a kind of madness. “Love – eros – madness” – is along the same lines as “envy – hatred –murder”. A precise love of God – complete with sacrifices – simmers slowly inside the heart; then, just like steam, divine eros (which cannot be held back) bursts forth and unites with God. Divine eros can soften even the toughest bones so much, that a person can no longer stand upright; he actually falls down! He then
resembles a wax candle in a warm environment, which cannot stand firmly upright. It falls to one side, then it falls to the other side… you straighten it, but again it bends, again it falls, because of the heat of its environment, which is too hot for it to bear.. When a person finds himself in such a state and he needs to go somewhere or do something, he cannot… He struggles; he has to actually struggle to get out of that state….
– Geronda, when someone is in a state of divine eros, and if he is in pain, can he feel that pain?
– If the pain is very intense, it is subdued and becomes tolerable. If the pain is minimal, it disappears altogether… Haven’t you seen how people who are in love with each other are entirely oblivious? They can hardly sleep… A monk once told me: “Geron, a brother of mine has fallen in love with a gypsy girl and has lost his sleep over her. He keeps repeating her name, over and over again… Is he perhaps bewitched? I have been a monk for so many years, and even I don’t feel that much
love for the Holy Mother as he feels for that gypsy! I don’t feel my heart leaping like that!”
Unfortunately, there are spiritual people who are scandalized by the term “divine eros”. They haven’t perceived what “divine eros” means, and they are attempting to remove this term from the Menaia and the Paracletic texts, because they claim that it scandalizes. Where have things come to! On the contrary, if you speak to secular people (who have experienced “secular eros”) about divine eros, they immediately say: “That must be something a far superior thing.” There have been so many youngsters who have experienced “secular eros”, whom I immediately “aligned” when I mentioned divine eros to them! I ask them: “Have you ever lost your footing on account of the love that you felt for someone? Have you ever felt that you cannot move and you cannot do absolutely anything?” They then immediately comprehend how this must be a really superior state, and we understand each other perfectly thereafter. They usually respond with: “If we feel that way with something secular, imagine what that celestial feeling must be like!”
– How can one become dotty, Geron, by their love for God?
– Well, by keeping company with …other dotty ones, who will infect you with their spiritual dottiness! I will pray to one day see you… a complete madman! Amen…
I too have a small experience of spiritual madness, which comes from divine eros. In that state, a person reaches the stage of divine absentmindedness and wants to think of nothing else except God, the divine, the spiritual, the celestial… While divinely in love, he is deliciously ablaze internally, and he explodes externally in a mad manner – within the divine confines of modesty – and glorifies his God and Maker like an angel, day and night….
– Is that what we call “ecstasy”, Geron?
– Yes. That is when a person “takes leave of himself” – in the good sense, of course. That is also what we mean by ….”stand aside and shudder, o heavens” (έκστηθι φρίττων ουρανέ) [from the Eirmos of the 8th Ode of the Canon of Easter Saturday].
Divine madness takes a person beyond the earth’s pull; it lifts him up to the Throne of God, and makes him feel like a puppy at his master’s feet; a puppy licking His Feet joyfully and with reverence…
(Source: “Spiritual Counsels” – Elder (Geronda) Paisios of the Holy Mountain)