Elder Paisios in “With Pain and Love for Contemporary Man”
Secular people say, “How lucky are the wealthy people who live in palaces and have all kinds of conveniences:” In truth, blessed are those who have succeeded in simplifying their lives and freeing themselves from the yoke of worldly progress, of the many conveniences that have become inconveniences, and have consequently rid themselves of the dreadful anxiety that plagues so many, people today. If man does not simplify his life, he will end up tormenting himself. But if he simplifies it, all his anxiety will go away.
A German man at Sinai told a very intelligent Bedouin boy, “You are intelligent, you can become literate.” “And then?” the boy asked. “Well, then you will become a car mechanic.” “And then?” the boy repeated. “Then you’ll open a car shop.” “And then?” the boy asked again. “Then you will grow up and you will hire others to work for you, and you will have your own staff.” “In other words,” the boy said, “I will pile one headache on top of the other. Isn’t it better now that my mind is free of worries?” Most headaches are the result of all these thoughts we have about doing this and doing that … But if our thoughts were spiritual in nature, we would feel divine consolation and be cured of headaches.
These days I stress simplicity to lay people too, because many of the things they do are not necessary and they end up being consumed by anxiety. I speak to them of austerity and asceticism. I constantly scold them, “If you want to get rid of anxiety, simplify your lives!” That is how most divorces start. People have to do too many things, too many obligations and they get dizzy. Both parents work and abandon the children. The result is fatigue and nervousness, which causes small issues to turn into large quarrels and then to automatic divorces; that’s “where they end up. But if they simplified their lives, they would find rest and joy. Stress is catastrophic.
Once I was at a very plush house where they told me in conversation, “We live in Paradise, while other people are in such great need.” “You live in hell,” I replied. “God said to the rich man, Fool, This night your soul is required of you (Lk. 12:20). If Christ were to ask me, ‘Where should I put you in a house like this or in prison?’ I would reply, ‘In the dark prison.’ Because a prison would do me good; it could remind me of Christ, the holy martyrs, the ascetics who lived in the holes of the earth, it would remind me of monastic life. The prison would resemble my cell a bit and I would be happy. But what would this palace of a house remind me of and how would that help me? That is why I find prison cells much more restful than a worldly living room. I even find it more restful than a beautiful monastic cell. I would rather spend one thousand nights in a prison cell, than one day in a plush house.”
Once, when I was staying with a friend in Athens, he asked me to receive a family man who could only see me very early in the morning, at dawn, because that was the only time he had available. He arrived in a cheerful mood praising God in every other word. He was full of humility and simplicity and begged me to pray for his family. This brother, who was about thirty-eight years old, had seven children. At home, they were eleven souls, because his parents lived with him, and they all shared the same room. He spoke with great simplicity, “The room fit us all if we stand up, but if we lie down it is a bit tight. ”Thank God, now we are constructing a shed to use as a kitchen and we are doing fine. Father,” he said “at least we have a roof over our head, while other people live in. the open air.”
The man was an ironer. He lived in Athens and had to leave everyday before dawn to arrive in Peiraeus in time for work in a dry-cleaning shop. He was suffering from varicose veins as a result of having to stand up all that: time and his legs bothered him a lot, but his love for his family made him forget his pain and discomfort. In fact he pitied himself constantly for not having, as he said any love in his heart, because he did not do any acts of Christian charity and praised his wife for being charitable Apparently, besides taking care of her children and her parents in-law, she would wash the clothes of some elderly men in the neighbourhood, tidy up their homes and even cook a little something, like soup, for them. You could see divine Grace depicted on the face of this good family man. He had Christ in his heart and was full of joy, just like his one-room house was filled with heavenly bliss. Compare this man with people who do not have Christ in their heart; they are filled with anxiety. Take two of then and try to fit them in a house large enough for eleven people; they will not find a way to fit.
Even some spiritual people will sometimes not be able to live together, no matter how much space they have available, because they don’t have the fullness of Christ in their heart. If the women of Pharasa could see our luxuries, especially in some Monasteries, they would say, “We have abandoned God and He will send down fire to burn us!”
I remember them performing all their chores in matter of seconds. They had to take the goats out, first in the morning, and then tidy up the house. After that they would go to the Chapels or gather in caves and those who could read would read the Life of the Saints of the day. Next they would do their prostrations and say the Jesus Prayer. And they would work and work without getting tired. Those days, a woman had to know how to mend clothes. And they would mend the clothes by hand; there were a few sewing machines in cities but no sewing machines in the villages and if I remember right, in the whole town of Pharasa there was one, maybe two they used to sew their family’s clothes and they were very comfortable to wear. They would also knit socks by hand. They had a caring taste (meraki) but they also had enough time for all these chores because they did things in a simple way. The people of Pharasa did not pay attention to details. They enjoyed the joy of monastic life. And if, for example, the blanket did not sit right from one side of the bed and you told them, “Straighten out the blanket,” they would respond, “Why, does it prevent you from praying?”
This kind of joyful monastic life is unknown today. Most people believe that they should not go into any trouble, or be deprived of anything. But if they thought in monastic terms and lived with more simplicity, they could find the peace they are seeking. Instead, they are filled with anxiety and despair. They say, “So and so was very successful because he built two apartment buildings, or because he learned five languages and so on. And I do not even own one apartment and I do not even speak one foreign language. Oh, I am good for nothing!” A person with a car thinks, “This man has a better car; I should buy one too.” So he buys the better car, but he feels no joy because someone else has an even better one. He buys even better car but then he learns that others have their own private aeroplanes and he is unhappy again. There is no end to this. But a person who doesn’t have a car rejoices when he praises God. “Thank God,” he says, “even if I do not have a car, I have strong legs and I can walk. How many people are there in the world who do not have legs and cannot take care of their needs and go for walks? I at least have my legs!” And a lame person says, “There are some people who are missing both legs,” and that makes him rejoice.
Ingratitude and greed cause a lot of harm. The person possessed by material things is always possessed by worries and anxiety because he trembles at the thought that he may lose both his belongings and his soul. One suet wealthy man came from Athens and told me, “Father, my children will not listen to me anymore, I have lost them;” “How many children do you have,” I asked him. “Two” he said. “I raised them in luxury. They had everything they wanted. I even bought them a car,” In the course of the conversation, I found out that he and his wife each had their own car. “Dear man,” I said, “instead of solving your problems you made them worse. Now you need a large garage to put all the cars and a mechanic to service them. You will have to pay him fourfold and moreover all four of you are in danger of killing yourselves at any time. On the contrary, if you had simplified your life your family would be united and you would have understanding for each other, and none of the problems you are describing. It’s not your children’s fault. It is your fault for not trying to educate them in other ways.” A family does not need four cars, a garage and a mechanic and so on. Let one of you reach his destination a bit late. All these conveniences beget difficulties.
Another family man arrived at my Kalyvi (monk cell) once. He had family of five. He told me: “Father, we have a car and we are thinking of buying another two. It would help us a lot.” I said “Did you think of how difficult this is going make your life? If you have one car you can easily park it somewhere; where are you going to put three of them? You will need a garage and an extra tank of fuel. And moreover, you will put your life in danger. It’s better to have only one car and limit your outings. You will have time to see your children. You will have peace of mind. Simplifying one’s life is the most important thing.” “I never thought of that,” he replied.
– Geronda (Elder in Greek), a man told us that twice he could not stop his car alarm. The first time it was due to a fly and the second time, he tried to get in the car the wrong way.
– People’s lives are sheer misery because they do not simplify things. Most of the conveniences we have cause difficulties. Those who live in the world often suffocate from abundance. They have filled their life with gadgets and devices but this only makes it more difficult to enjoy it. If we don’t simplify things, one convenience will result into numerous difficulties and we will end up miserable.
When we were little, we used to cut off the spool at the end and put a wedge in it, turning it into a nice and enjoyable game for ourselves. Small kids enjoy playing with a toy car much more than their father enjoys his new Mercedes. If one asks a little girl, “What do you want, a doll or an apartment building?” you will see that she will say “a doll”. But in the end, small children too get to know the vanity of the world.
– Geronda, what helps the most when one is trying to grasp the joy of austerity?
– It helps if you can grasp the deeper meaning of life seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you. (Mt. 6:33). Simplicity begins from there, so does every proper approach of life.
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