We present an English translation of this priceless instruction on remembering God in all things, by the well-known Greek elder, Archimandrite Athanasios Mitilinaios, in remembrance of his repose day, May 23.
remembrance of God is that precious virtue that kept Joseph from sinning while all alone and very young in Egypt, a country known for its immorality and idolatry. What is this memory of God? It is the very thing of which Saint Gregory the Theologian said: It is more important to remember God than to breathe. Since we breathe unceasingly, our remembrance of God must also be unceasing. One can ask, how is this possible? In the real world we have to work, we have to go to school, we have to study, we have to concentrate on so many different tasks on a daily basis; we have to talk, listen, drive, and give our undivided attention to our family members, among other things. This remembrance of God must be planted very deep in the innermost depths of our very existence. The remembrance of God must be in our blood so to speak; in our subconscious.
This does not mean that we must be reading and talking about God always; we can be involved in our daily affairs without losing sense of the presence of God. We do similar things in other areas of our life. Let’s say that your father happens to be sleeping in one of the rooms of the house, and you must be careful not to wake him up. You will find yourself whispering to your siblings or visiting friends so you will not interrupt your father’s sleep. You don’t need to remind each other at every second that your father is sleeping, you simply have the sense in the back of your mind that your father is home sleeping. Now we’ll use another example: let’s say that you are sleeping on the top bunk bed at camp. Assuming that you twist and turn in your regular bed, you don’t do this while you are sleeping on the top bunk bed. Something inside you is awake. Even though your body is asleep, deep in your subconscious there is this sense, that extra sense that is telling you, don’t twist or don’t turn, you are sleeping on a high place and you cannot move freely. It is this sense that will keep you from falling.
Similarly, the remembrance of God is not something that I must consciously maintain at all times, and keep reminding myself. It is a feeling, a sense that penetrates my inner being. However, for me to acquire this sense, I must exercise and continue to do so for a long time. My friend, if you happen to be a young person of the Sunday school level, this is your opportune time to attempt to acquire this sense, which will keep God constantly in your memory. This is extremely important: the sense that is God is constantly next to you, watching you, protecting you, following you, ready to assist you. This remembrance of God becomes a shield, a protection and a fortress for the practicing Christian. It will protect us from harm, idolatry and sin. Again, when Joseph was tempted, and seduced in a very provocative manner, he called out for this very presence of God. He said, “How can I do this evil deed in the presence of my God and sin against him?” Joseph was saved from a grave sin by keeping the remembrance of God in his daily life.
On the contrary, the forgetfulness of God is a very serious sin and the child of one of the seven deadly passions called sloth, or spiritual laziness. Sloth has two children: forgetfulness and ignorance. Forgetfulness of God can be the cause of much, much wrongdoing, while the constant remembrance of God serves as the spiritual compass for those who wish to travel towards paradise. It increases our piety, our fear and love of God and our overall Orthodox spirituality.
If we envelop ourselves with the memory of God, we will learn to appreciate creation and rejoice daily. When we gaze at a lovely flower, we will immediately be moved to ascribe glory to God: “What a beautiful lily God created!” What a beautiful day, a crystal blue sky, the breathtaking beauty of the freshly fallen snowflakes on trees, all these we will quickly attribute to the wisdom of God, glorifying him.
More importantly, especially in our days, the remembrance of God will serve as the antidote to today’s epidemic of loneliness, alienation and feelings of abandonment. The denial of God is responsible for today’s widespread psychological-emotional illnesses. I assure you from my own experience that if I didn’t have this remembrance of God, if I didn’t know God, I would look at my life without any content or purpose. The meaning of the purpose of my life I receive from this remembrance of God. St. Paul says we have no permanent country here, no permanent city (cf. Heb. 13:14). If we don’t believe in the Kingdom of God, then what is there to hope for? Without this blessed hope (Tit. 2:13), much like St. Paul I would ask myself, what is life all about anyway? Why do we exist? What am I doing? Are we all dust in the wind, as the song says? This loneliness and isolation can be a great plague, and it stems from the morbid philosophies of existentialism and nihilism, which likens the life of man to the life of a rain droplet that falls in the vast ocean of eternity and vanishes forever. This is undoubtedly one of the main causes of depression, hopelessness, substance abuse, suicidal attempts, and many other evils. The cultivation of the rembrance of God develops in us the sense of being connected with the loving care of our almighty Heavenly Father, the cause of all hope, joy and blessedness.
Having the remembrance of God, we also have the sense of the providence of God. During difficult times, when things often take a wrong turn and look dismal, we can pick ourselves up by asking this very simple question: did God die? No, God is ever-present. So why do we often act like God died? If people only knew how helpful this can be!
I borrowed the above from a five year old boy and his young mother who lost her husband. She wept for weeks and constantly repeated, “What are we going to do?” She was full of despair. At some point, the boy turned to his mother and said, “Mommy, did God die too? Daddy died, but did God die too?” The mother suddenly came to her senses, received new strength, and was able to pull her life together. This story can also help us overcome those tough moments, when the spirit of despair is beginning to set in and hover over us. We can question ourselves. God did not abandon us all these years—why would He do this now? He is here, He is watching us, and He will provide. We are in His hands.
So the remembrance of God strengthens our belief in His providence and in His guidance. God is our infallible guide through life.
Finally, the remembrance of God fills us with true spiritual joy, a joy not of this world. The prophet David writes, I remembered God and I became joyful (Psalm 76:3). St. Paul includes joy as one of the higher fruits of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22. This joy is a gift of God to His prayerful children and has nothing to do with the temporary fix of a new car, or a new watch, or a new office, or a new diploma. This is the joy of the Holy Spirit that accompanies those who remember God unceasingly and include Him in every aspect of their lives. Let us pray that all of us, young and old, can become filled by the joy stemming from the remembrance of God. And all those who remember God are also remembered by God, Who says about some people, I will remember them no more (Ps.33:16), meaning that God does not recognize those that went through life without the remembrance of God. It is the very thing that many Christians may hear from Christ at the end of time: Go away from me evildoers, I don’t know you (Luke 13:27.) How dreadful that time will be for those of us who did not yet start to repent! The angel told Cornelius in the Acts of the Apostles, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God. (Acts 10:31). Cornelius remembered God daily in his prayers and so God remembered him as well. He sent the apostle Peter to baptize him and his household and made them members of His Church.