Excerpt from the book Elder Porphyrios: A Spiritual Child Remembers by the late Constantine Giannitsioti, translated by Marina M.Robb.
Painting on Home page: “The Prodigal Son” by Vincent Van Gogh (Detail)
Elder Porphyrios, an Athonite monk, was a spiritual father and confessor in the center of Athens for over 30 years, helping thousands of people with his counseling and ministry. He is known as the monk who brought the Jesus Prayer to busy center of Athens, Omonia Square.
December 2, 2013: The Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, during its gathering today, moved to canonize Elder Porphyrios, under the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.
The canonization of the Elder will take place on December 1st 2013 in the Holy Women’s Hesychasterion “Metamorphosis tou Soteros” (“The Transfiguration of the Savior”) at Milesi, Attica]
For the life of St. Porphyrios, go to the Full of Grace and Truth website (new window will open).
One Should Feel Sorry for the Person Wounded by a Criminal
The author had asked the Elder about some apparent injustice he had suffered. Here he gives us the Elder’s answer. “One day,” he started to tell me,
. . .you are walking quietly on your way and see your brother walking in front of you, also quietly, when at one point a crook jumps out in front of your brother from a side road and attacks him. He beats him, pulls his hair, wounds him and throws him down bleeding. Faced with a scene like that would you be angry with your brother or would you feel sorry for him?
I was puzzled by the Elder’s questions and I asked him in turn: “How could I possibly be angry with my wounded brother, who fell victim to the criminal? The thought didn’t even cross my mind. Of course I would feel sorry for him and I would try to help him as much as I could.” “Well, then,” continued the Elder:
. . .everyone who insults you, who hurts you, who slanders you, who does you an injustice in anyway whatsoever is a brother of yours who has fallen into the hands of some criminal demon. When you notice that your brother does you an injustice what should you do? You must feel very sorry for him, commiserate with him and entreat God warmly and silently both, to support you in that difficult time of trial, and to have mercy on your brother, who has fallen victim to the evildoer, the demon. Because if you don’t do that, but get angry with him instead, reacting to his attack with a counter attack, then the devil who is already on the nape of your brother’s neck will jump on to yours and dance with the both of you.
I was amazed by the liveliness and the directness of the example. Once again the Elder had caught me without my “homework”, whereas others considered me to be well-read in matters of religion… The advice was obvious: the people who did me an injustice had fallen victim to the criminal devil, but I only saw the physical not the spiritual image. The result was that I got annoyed with them and the devil that was on the back of their necks also jumped on to mine, so all of us, victims and supposed victimizers would dance the demonic dance, in a group and without knowing it.
But the Elder’s example could apply to all interpersonal relations. It could function like a general spiritual rule. Not a day passed by without me remembering it, since that demonic dance as either a threat or a reality, would appear before every so often. Living in an age of tension and the spread of aggression of every kind, from the height of refinement to the depths of coarseness, I felt that the Elder’s message was a direct and timely wake-up call. Discernment and a prayer alarm were needed to confront evil. All my spiritually troubled friends, who heard this advice were impressed.
Correction not condemnation of the bad person
The Elder proved himself to be an anatomist and healer of both the human soul and human spiritual relations. He said to me with regard to this:
Our aim is not to condemn evil, but to correct it. A man can be lost through condemnation, but through understanding and help he will be saved. We must treat the sinner with love and respect his freedom. When a member of the family knocks a vase off the table and breaks it we usually get angry. If at that crucial moment, in a movement of spiritual elevation, we show understanding and we excuse the damage, we win both our soul and that of our brother’s. That is all our spiritual life: an elevating movement, from the annoyance that comes from egotism, to the understanding that comes from love.
Bad thoughts are dangerous
According to the Elder, this elevation began after earnest work. One day, when surrounded by thoughts of bitterness about some people who had criticized me unjustly, the Elder rang the alarm bells regarding my aggressive, as he put it, stance. I objected, saying that I had neither said nor done anything at all against my critics; I just had negative thought, which I hadn’t externalized and therefore I hadn’t hurt anybody. Then the Elder revealed one more secret of the spiritual battle to me, saying:
You shouldn’t get annoyed even internally about any unjust criticism of you whatsoever. It is bad. Evil starts from bad thoughts. When you get bitter and annoyed, even if only in thought, you ruin the spiritual atmosphere. You stop the Holy Spirit from working and you allow the devil to increase evil. You should always pray, love and forgive, rejecting each and every bad thought within you.
That is to say the Elder taught that our bad thoughts about one of our fellows on the one hand defiles our soul, and on the other, it can do harm to the other person. A bad thought sends out an evil power, which influences the other, as prayer helps him. Of course all this has to be understood correctly within the teaching of the Church about the existence of good and evil spirits and their work. The work of the evil ones is denigration, lying, commotion, dissension and so on, whereas for the good ones it is the service of those who are destined to inherit the Kingdom of God. A bad thought cannot be hidden. It affects the person we are thinking ugly thoughts about unfavorably towards us, even from a distance, even if the other person doesn’t consciously realize why he is opposed to us. We are obliged to be “pure in heart”, pure not only from evil works, but from bad and evil thoughts, especially from resentment and bitterness
The Elder considered the last thing mentioned, forgiving whoever has harmed us, to be fundamental. He often repeated the verse of the prayer, “First be reconciled to those who grieve you.” And in confession he paid special attention to this spiritual sin of remembering the bad things that another has done to us and to hold malice, or bitterness, or animosity against him. He wanted our souls to be free from resentment, full of forgiveness and kindness.
Don’t ask to be loved
Another day when I was upset because certain people didn’t respond to me with love, the Elder said, “Today, people ask to be loved and that is why they are disappointed. The right thing to do is not to care whether they love you or not at all, but rather, whether you love Christ and other people. This is the only way in which the soul is filled.”
The crown of love towards our friends contains foreign bodies (reckoning, reciprocation, vainglory, sentimental weakness, passionate liking) while the crown of love towards enemies is pure.” He also said: “Our love in Christ ought to reach out everywhere, even to the hippies at Matala. I wanted to go there a lot, not to preach to them or to accuse them, but to live amongst them ‘without sin’ and let Christ’s love, which transfigures, speak for itself. I saw the hippies and I felt sorry for them. They were like ‘sheep without a shepherd.
On the matter of social relations he advised me:
You shouldn’t carry out your Christian struggle with sermons and debates, but with real secret love. When we contradict them, the others react negatively. When we love them, they are moved and we win them over. When we love we think that we are giving to other people, but really you are giving to yourself. Love requires sacrifice. To humbly sacrifice something that is ours, which really is God’s.