Man can rise up from the quagmire of his thoughts to the heights of sanctity. He is a mixture of holiness and mediocrity. We bear a piece of Heaven within ourselves. It’s true. When we see it within ourselves, we come back to earth and inspire others to be their true selves. Of course, it doesn’t give us the right to sin, because if someone recognizes his infirmities, it absolutely does not mean that he loudly declares, “If that’s how we are, then everyone, sin!”
Not at all. It doesn’t give a green light to freedom and promiscuity. At the same time, if someone wants to sin, what are you going to do? Forcibly restrain him? Sin and any fall conceal bitterness within. That means if someone does something sinful, unacceptable, or inappropriate, it will reveal itself to him and he will understand and feel that is sinful. Therefore, it’s not a matter of restraining people with a whip and intimidation: “Don’t do this, don’t do that!” No. Help them understand the reality of their nature.
Don’t raise the bar too high in front of them, pretending like you live by these heavenly, perfect, supernatural things and that everything is so easy. How can it be easy, when you yourself don’t do what you’re saying, and I also don’t do it? That is, how can I say, “Everything is very easy?” It’s not easy at all, but even quite difficult.
Elder Paisios says: “If God forsakes me, I’ll start loitering in Thessaloniki in bouzouki bars and go dancing there. When you see me standing at Vigil for fifteen hours, you understand that I like it. But it’s not because I’m so good, and you’re bad, but because God supports and helps me. Of course, I also cooperate with God—I give Him my hand, but God gives me His enormous help.”
It doesn’t mean that you are sinners, hooligans, and bandits, and we’re good. This knowledge grounds me, and you say: “Aha, father, do you understand me? Do you understand what I do, how I live, my sins, falls, negligence, vices, and vileness?”
How could I not understand you?! After all, I carry all that within myself.
“But you haven’t done it!”
Yes, I haven’t done it in deed, but I mentally committed it in my heart, in my imagination. You may not have eaten some treat, but when you think about it, your mouth starts to water, right? If I have to look at a pie… and I didn’t even touch it; I just admired it in the bakery display as I walked by, going down the street.
I went to London once to meet with some readers. They have many wonderful sweets in their confectioneries there. I didn’t touch any cakes; I was on a diet. I had doctor’s orders not to eat anything sweet for a while. I didn’t touch a single cake, but mentally I ate them all! I’m telling the truth—I didn’t touch them. The people that were with me know this. They said to me: “Eat one, father!”
That is, when someone comes to me and starts to repent of his gluttony, I can’t speak to him like his mentor: “You know, what you’re doing is impermissible. Gluttony is a terrible and deadly sin!” Perhaps I should have recalled how I consumed myself that one time, wanting to eat something?
What is this called? It is called understanding, mercy, and—a wonderful word—compassion. I pity you; I ache with your pain. I experience pain from your temptation, your fall. But to experience pain, I have to understand you. If I am pure, holy, and inaccessible, then will I hurt together with you? And how will you approach me to tell me the truth you’re carrying inside?
We should choose a spiritual father who labors ascetically, not making himself out to be something he’s not; someone who labors ascetically, but feels compassion, sympathy, and mercy for the sinner next to him. He falls, rises, struggles, labors, and makes an effort. He doesn’t make himself out to be an ideal Christian. He doesn’t set the bar too high for you so you get dizzy, and in the end you say: “There’s no way I can make it!” and then you’re tormented and say: “How I can confess to him how I live, what I want, what I think about, what thoughts I have? How can I put all of this on display when there is such holiness around me, when everyone is so perfect?”
That’s a lie. And you know what else touches me? That the most holy person on this earth after the Lord Jesus Christ, that person who does not judge us, does not scold, does not make remarks, but only loves, and therefore we all love her—is the Most Holy Theotokos. Is she not blessed, is she not the most blessed? Who does she judge? Who does she reprimand?
It’s rare for a person to be kind and not want to appear superior to others; it’s rare for a person to be perfect and say, “I just exist. I just radiate light, I just love. I just sanctify myself for the sake of the entire world.” The Most Holy Theotokos does it. She is the Most Holy for the sake of all people. What people? Those who want it. They therefore love the Most Holy Theotokos, because she is Mother, blessed, and at the same time majestic, the Most Pure, and the most luminous of angels and sunbeams, as is sung in our hymns. She respects you, nasty though you are, and loves you, and embraces, cleanses, washes, and protects you. Thus the person who wants to change changes—by the kindness, mercy, and tenderness that drives any fear and uncertainty out of his heart.
And you tell him: “Don’t be afraid!”
“Really? I can open my mouth? And not get hit in the teeth?”
“You won’t get hit.”
“And you won’t push me away? You’re so high!”
“Come on, what do you mean, high, my child? What ‘high?!’ I am below you.”
And what are “high” and “low?” Before God, we are all small and insignificant.
What did the Most Holy Theotokos say to St. Silouan the Athonite? “I don’t like the life you’re leading.”
She admonished him, and St. Silouan writes: “If you could only hear her voice! She scolded me, but with such love! She scolded me and melted the ice within me. She scolded me, and my heart was overturned!”
If you could hear the goodness of the Most Holy Theotokos and hear her voice, you would immediately change your life—not by remarks, cries, insults, or punishments, but by goodness. Do you understand the difference?
I’m not saying this so you’ll justify evil, but so you’ll understand, realize, and say, “That’s how he is. He can do it. I would have done the same, or even worse, in his place.” But speaking between us, I really do the same thing, and even worse, in my secret life, which no one knows except my confessor, if I tell him about it. That’s why some people can’t go to their confessor but look for somewhere to hide, where they won’t be seen, so that no one would find out about them.
But why? Why do you think: “How can I say it there? He [my confessor] inspired me with such a feeling that I cannot do such things, they are not spoken about, it’s impermissible?” Drop it: permissible—not permissible. Inasmuch as it happens to you, as you are this way, you feel this way, thus open your heart for all these questions.
Often, what you think is serious isn’t the worst or most terrible. The most terrible is that the Lord has condemned and judged on this earth—it’s not what brings you to terror, but what you don’t dare to see and say. It’s a movement of egotism, a manifestation of mercilessness, hatred, revenge, and malice—all of these unacceptable feelings, which bring all the rest with them. That is, your unbelief, uncertainty, and lack of trust in Christ, that you rely only on your own strength, not accepting His love and mercy—these are sins. And since you don’t receive His love and mercy, then you will easily accept love and comfort coming from any sinful act.
Then you go and confess only the external side of sin: “I did this and that!” But why did you do it? Why? There’s something else behind it, which is why you got to the point of sinning. But since Christ knows this something else, He does not accuse you.
We shouldn’t be cruel to other people. We have to show kindness, mercy, and forgiveness, as did the Lord Himself, Who understands us, not participating in our problems and sins. He loves us—especially those who are sinful.
And here a sinner confesses a sinner. It’s not angels that hear our confession; it’s people that confess us. Don’t they know about sins?
Do not say anything about anyone; do not comment on other people’s sins, because what you say about another, you will experience yourself. God will humble you. You talk about someone, that things are not alright for him, but there will come a time when you will begin to have turmoil in the family, in your room, in your business. You say that someone didn’t succeed in something, and you will fail in something. Not for revenge, but so that you internalize this lesson and see what grade you will receive. After that, you will understand that it’s easy to talk, but difficult to sympathize, to pray, to love, to forgive. And, in the end, what exactly are you forgiving? The life of another is none of your business—it’s his life.
How wonderful life would be if we were sincere and open; if not for this hypocrisy that sometimes so strongly takes hold of me, that I do not show my true self, my difficulties, my fears, my sins, my problems. I should at least reveal them in confession… at least there.
But, in order to reveal them to someone, these things cannot be concealed. That is, in a family, spouses should be sincere with one another, children with their teachers and teachers with children, parents with children, in such matters. I don’t mean you should go out on the balcony and scream out everything that happens to you—no, but at least open your heart a little; tell the truth.
However, we usually speak in riddles, hints, with omissions, in obscurity. We laugh when we want to cry. But think about it—if we cried every time we wanted to cry, wouldn’t it touch the person next to us, and wouldn’t he say: “Why are you crying, my child? What happened? Let me help you. I’m not heartless!”—wouldn’t we tell such a person the truth?
I remember one monk who constantly confessed and did not lose spirit. What does that say? That he opened his soul and went and confessed his sins: “Father, since this is how I am, I will say it.”
That’s wonderful! That is, the fact that you’re opening your soul and saying what really happened to you produces a healing effect.
You have to unscrew yourself, that is, reveal your heart and say everything indiscriminately, everything you’re feeling: “I don’t love; I feel useless and unnecessary.” What a person feels—even if it’s nonsense according to someone else—characterizes him. Uncovering what you call stupidity is very helpful in getting everything out so that the picture becomes clearer; so you can sincerely tell another what you are feeling and he could tell you what he feels, and we could communicate in love, truth, sincerity, genuineness, and all good things that Christ speaks about.
If someone says: “That’s not right—to shed my authority and speak of myself that way! I’ll become a laughingstock!”—it shouldn’t worry you. I have come to the conclusion that those who are happy in a family are therefore happy to the extent that they can be sincere among themselves and say such things. And the opposite happens when someone pretends, like one woman who said to her husband, “When you leave, I don’t care. When you want to get up, go away and leave me alone!”
In other words, she was pretending not to care, when in fact she did, and very much so. I said to her: “Why don’t you tell the truth?”
“Oh yeah? I should fall on my knees before him and beg?”
“We’re not talking about you begging. But it wouldn’t be a bad thing to ask him for love: You’re not asking some stranger, but your own husband. Or, what? You don’t want love?”
“I want to, but I won’t humiliate myself! I am a human being!”
She is a human being and therefore tells him: “Leave whenever you want.”
But her husband also had a lot of stubbornness and selfishness, and he left. Then she cried and screamed hysterically. And you ask her: “Why are you shouting?”
“Because he left!”
I asked her: “What did you tell him?”
“What did I tell him?”
“Didn’t you tell him: ‘Get up and go?’ You wanted to say: ‘I love you!’ but you told him: ‘Get up and go.’ You wanted to tell him, ‘I’m looking for love; I want to receive and give love,’ but you said, ‘Get up and go.’ Why did you say that?”
“Well, what if I said it?! Did he really have to do that?”
This will be a lesson for you, so you would understand how much sincerity helps us. All of this, of course, must be done with prudence, because people sometimes, being sincere, say things that sting others. Therefore, it is not enough to speak sincerely. For example, if someone came to me all covered in dirt and said: “What do you think of me?”
If I tell him that he’s covered in dirt from head to toe, he will fall into despair. But you’ll give him hope. It’s not a lie.
And the way you say it makes a huge difference, doesn’t it? I once told someone who had gained a lot of weight: “It looks like you gained a few pounds!”
“What few! Do you really not see how I’ve changed? I can’t even get through the door,” he told me.
So, had I been sincere, of course he would have been seriously hurt if I had said, “You can’t get through the door anymore?!” He would have felt bad. That is, it matters how you speak. Of course, we shouldn’t do it according to some plan. We should be distinguished by discernment. So let’s talk, open ourselves, and think about others with love, sincerity, freedom, modesty, and lack of pretense. A lot of things are tied up in this.
It’s good that you’re young and will make mistakes. Yes, but you blunder, make mistakes, get confused in all sorts of things—how else can someone learn? We learn from all this, from mistakes, from experience that we draw from temptations.
Therefore, we have to try to inspire others and instill them with hope, and not disappointing them. The greatest gain is to acquire the heart of a man that has been opened to you. That is, your child comes home and tells you that he smokes, that he tried some drugs, that he got drunk, that he has a relationship with a girl, that he was planning to do something, and has already done something, that your daughter has an unwanted pregnancy, she had an abortion… And your child begins to tell you everything to pour out this poison, to rid himself of it, to relieve himself. The trust you will gain is a great thing, unless, of course, you ruin the opportunity.
Stop pretending all the time! Aren’t you tired yet? Haven’t you had enough of pretending to be something you’re not? Many have already understood it: your wife (your husband), your children, friends. They can’t tell you about it, but you know that you’re constantly living a lie! Be real, be who you are, accept yourself as you are, and you will only gain—you will lose nothing.
“But how can I admit it, Father?”
When you acknowledge this and express your feelings to another, there can be a big misunderstanding, because our era and upbringing have taught us that we cannot make mistakes. But what does “cannot” mean, my children? I mean, who’s up there somewhere saying that? Does God really say, “cannot?” God said “cannot” only about one thing—that we cannot not struggle, but He did not say that we cannot make mistakes.
It’s like telling a child who draws that making mistakes is forbidden. You can’t categorically tell a child who’s starting to write his first letters with his own hand: “If I see that you write the letter ‘a’ incorrectly!... I wrote it for you and showed you—do it right!”
How many times we have written our first letters ourselves… We are walking the path towards holiness—is it possible not to make mistakes along the way? And who can forbid you to make mistakes?
“Well, yeah, I was taught that if I show that I make mistakes, I’ll be rejected. I will become an outcast.”
But whoever rejects you is a liar, a hypocrite, because he himself has made mistakes.
I went to one monastery once, and there was a monk there who was drawing something and correcting it, drawing and again erasing. He turned to me and said: “Don’t look—I’m not done yet!”
He understood what I was thinking. I was all ready to say it to him. And he said to me: “It’s going to be like on the wall. Look at the sample—it’s the same.”
“Yes, what you’re looking at now, how I’m doing it with a heap of mistakes and corrections—it’s the same as on the wall! The end result will be like this!”
The end result is important. Your mistakes, passions, sins, difficulties, and everything that strangles you—they’re not the end of your life, not the final picture that you’ll present to God. Do you hear what I’m saying? “The final picture before the Lord.” it’s not people who will judge the picture of your life, what you draw and do, but God. Therefore, when you see that someone is crossing things out in his life, everything is darkening, resulting in some kind of unacceptable state, say: “Now he has crossed something out; he will erase it and continue. The picture is not yet finished! When drawing this picture, he allows himself everything. Mistakes will be made and problems will be met. There will be fatigue, tears, and everything.”
But try to do your work correctly. What kind of work? Work that shows a genuine picture of your soul to people, whom God sends to you on your life’s way, to reliable people. It is a bold act to be your true self. If you don’t find many people, then at least before two or three, or even one: to your spouse, your family—reveal your heart to those whom you want to trust, and you will feel wonderful. It’s not terrible that you can’t tell everyone, right? It’s a great thing to have two or three people to confide in.
One day a girl came to me from very far away. She just wanted to tell me that she’d done something. I didn’t say anything to her. What is there to say to her if she knows it herself? I only said: “You know that God loves you. You know.”
Now you’ll say to me: “Come on, is that really all you could tell her? Couldn’t you talk to her and instruct her so she wouldn’t do it anymore?” Of course, it wouldn’t have been bad to tell her not to do it anymore, but her look… It was obvious that words were unnecessary.
I wish you to love yourself, and your brother, and your spouse, but most of all—God, Who when you love Him, will tell you again: “Love Me and yourself! When you love correctly,” says Christ, “then you love yourself correctly, you help yourself, and you love your own ‘self:’ Sometimes you pity it, and sometimes you educate it, sometimes you treat it severely, at other times you give it a cup of water to quench its thirst, for it has grown weary on the way, and so you find balance and gradually acquire discernment.
May God grant us to acquire this discernment, this great art and wisdom, which we must endure many pains and blows to obtain. We will pass through a lot, through temptations and a heap of sins, which, unfortunately, we will commit before we understand certain truths and correct ourselves. But it’s worth laboring for God’s sake!