Writings & Sermons of Elder Aimilianos
The Right Reverend Archimandrite Aimilianos (Vafeidis) - there are many spelling variations of his name in English, e.g., Aemilianos, Amelianos, etc. - is the former abbot of the Sacred Monastery of Simonos Petras (Simonopetra) on the Holy Mountain of Athos in Greece. He is also the founder and spiritual father of the Sacred Convent of the Annunciation of the Mother of God, Ormylia, Chalkidike, Greece, a monastic community of more than 120 nuns from various nations that is a dependency of the Monastery of Simonos Petras.
Only a limited number of his works have been published in English to date, including Spiritual Instruction and Discourses, vol. 2, The Way of the Spirit: Reflections on Life in God , tr.
with an Introduction by m. Maximos Simonopetrites and Preface by
Archimandrite Elisaios, current Abbot of the Sacred Monastery of
Simonopetra (Athens: Indiktos, June 2009); Spiritual Instruction and Discourses, vol. 1: The Authentic Seal (Ormylia, Halkidiki, Greece: Ormylia Publishing, 1999); The Church at Prayer: The Mystical Liturgy of the Heart, ed. The Holy Convent of the Annunciation, Ormylia, Greece (Athens: Indiktos, 2005), and in The Living Witness of the Holy Mountain: Contemporary Voices from Mount Athos,
tr. Alexander Golitzin (South Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon's Seminary Press,
1996). An English translation of the third volume of the Elder's
collected works and his Commentary on the Ascetical Homilies of Abba Isaiah are currently underway, as well. Selections from various English-language texts by and about Elder Aimilianos are also available on the Elder Aimilianos blog.
As to the history of the Elder's published works more generally, according to the Introduction to the second volume of the Elder's Spiritual Instructions and Discourses in English: "Publication
of Elder Aimilianos' works began in 1995 with a five-volume series
called Spiritual Instructions and Discourses (Convent of the
Annunciation: Ormylia, 1995-2006). Of these, an English translation of
the first volume, The Authentic Seal, appeared in 1999. The present volume, The Way of the Spirit,
is a translation of the second volume in this series, the Greek
original of which first appeared in 1998. All five volumes are now
available in French translation (Ormylia, 1998-2006). There are also
translations, in various states of completion, in Romanian (vols. 1-2,
1999-2000), Serbian (vols. 1-5, 2003-2006) and Russian (a 2002
anthology; and vols. 1-2, 2006). Two anthologies of the Elder's
teachings, each containing eight talks selected from across the five
volumes, and published in small, paperback format, appeared in Greek in
2004 and 2005. Of these, the first is available in English as The Church at Prayer: The Mystical Liturgy of the Heart (Indiktos:
Athens, 2005). Recently, a new series has been launched, of which two
substantial volumes have thus far appeared in Greek: (1) Commentary on the Ascetical Homilies of Abba Isaiah (Indiktos: Athens, 2005), with an introduction by Fr. Placide Deseille, and (2) Commentary on St. Hesychios, On Watchfulness (Indiktos: Athens, 2007), with an introduction by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware. A Romanian translation of the Commentary on Abba Isaiah appeared in 2006."
is the general consensus othat those who are called to monastic life
are not drawn to institutions, but rather to particular individuals in
whom they sense the presence of God. In the words of a contemporary
Athonite Abbot: 'Monastic life is a life lived with a particular
person. It is not the acceptance of an ideology, or the gratification
of certain longings; neither is it the application of principles forund
in a book. Monastic life means: I follow someone. And thus at the
centre of monastic life is a particular person, and that person is the
elder.' (1) In the words of Bishop Kallistos, it is the 'abba, rather than the abbey', that draws men to the Mountain. (2)
assessment of the past, then, and out thoughts about the future, will
need to address the phenomenon of charismatic eldership, both as a
factor in the revival of life on the Holy Mountain, and as the
principal source of its ongoing vitality.
The Friends of Mount
Athos will know that the recent revival of life on the Holy Mountain
was the result of both internal and external factos. We associate the
internal source of renewal with Elder Joseph the Hesychast, whose
disciples, between 1972 and 1987, repopulated half a dozen monasteries. (3)
Perhaps less well known are the external sources of revival, comprised
of five elders and their disciples, who, between the mid-1960s and
1981, came from various places in Greece and repopulated five
remarks in this paper will focus on one of these latter figures, namely
Elder Aimilianos, abbot of Simonopetra from 1974 to 2000. I begin with
a brief biographical sketch, after which my frame of reference will be
the extraordinary religious experience that the elder had in the winter
of 1961, shortly after his monastic tonsure and ordination to the
priesthood. We are fortunate to possess a written account of that
event, which we shall look at rather closely. As we shall see, this was
an experience that transformed the elder personally and became the
archetype for the innovative vision of monastic life that he put into
practice at Simonopetra.
In recasting the framework of an
Athonite monastery in the fire of mystical experience, the elder
skillfully combined the communal, liturgically oriented monasticism of
the great Athonite cloisters with the solitary hesychas, of the
outlying sketes and cells. The result was a synthesis of personal
prayer and corporate adoration that continues to give Simonopetra much
of its distinctive character and feel. My paper concludes with some
thoughts about the future of this sythesis, the survival of which
depends on the choices we make in the present, and thus we will say a
word about the elder's emphasis on the role of freedom in the spiritual
Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra
Elder Aimilianos (Alexandros Vapheides) was born in Piraeus, in October of 1934. (5) He took a degree in theology from the University of Athens
in 1959, after which he considered ordination to the priesthood, with
the intention of becoming a foreign missionary. He took the matter up
with an old friend of his, Anastasios Yiannoulatos, (6)
who was supportive, and urged the elder to prepare for such work by
spending time in a monastery. Yiannoulatos told him to contact the new
Bishop of Trikala, who, he believed, would be able to initiate the
young man into monastic life.
Thus it was that Alexandros Vapheides was tonsured a monk on 9
December 1960 and given the name Aimilianos. Two days later, he was
ordained to the diaconate, and, on 15 August of the following year
(1961), he was ordained to the priesthood. After he had spent brief
periods of time at various monasteries in the region of Meteora, the
bishop finally placed him in the monastery of St Vissarion, in the
foothills of the Pindus Mountains.
There he seems to have had a kind of spiritual crisis, followed by a
profound religious experience,, which radically transformed him and
left its mark on all his subsequent work.
Like the dramatic conversion of St Paul,
the elder emerged from that experience a different man, supremely
energized, and single-mindedly dedicated to the revitalization of
monastic life. In the wake of that momentous event, the elder was
appointed abbot of Meteora, and given additional duties as diocesan
preacher and confessor. He was a brilliant, mesmerizing speaker, and
soon took the region captive, especially its young people, who flocked
to hear him in great numbers. Many of them were attracted to monastic
life with the elder, and the first tonsures took place in 1963. Others
followed in rapid succession, and the young abbot was soon the head of
a large and dynamic community. The growing pressure of tourism,
however, made life at Meteora increasingly difficult, and thus in 1973
the elder, along with all of his monks and novices, accepted an
invitation from the government of Mount Athos to repopulate the monastery of Simonopetra.
The character and meaning of all these events, however, only become
clear in light of the elder's life-changing religious experience. Let
us now turn to that decisive moment and consider it in detail.
To begin, it seems clear that the elder's sojourn at the monastery
of St Vissarion was a time of trial and testing. We can be fairly
certain that he felt no great calling to monastic life, which for him
was simply a stepping stone to ordination and missionary work. He was a
bright, energetic young man with a future, and it was not about to
spend the rest of his life in a run-down monastery in Thessaly.
His monastic colleagues, moreover, offered him little inspiration, and
it was not long before he was making plans to continue his studies in Germany.
His bishop, however, would not hear of it, and told him that, for the
foreseeable future, he was not going anywhere. This was, then, a
difficult time, marked by increasing isolation, a sense of loss, and
perhaps disillusionment. It was followed, however, by a
life-transforming event of enormous magnitude. What exactly happened?
The elder's disciple and successor, Archimandrite Elisaios, tells us
the monastery [of St Vissarion], Fr. Aimilianos was granted a
revelation of the monastic life, or rather, a profound mystical
experience of the light of God, which inundated him at the hour of the
Liturgy. Henceforth, his every Divine Liturgy, prepared for by a long
vigil, was a sublime experience of God's glory [...]. As a result, he
resolutely made up his mind to partake of the ascetic tradition rather
than to assume ecclesiastical duties in the world. (7)
more detailed description of what happened is provided by the elder
himself, in a story he told before a large, public audience in 1983.
The story is allegedly about a 'certain monk he once knew', although it
is in fact an account of the mystical experience that forms the central
chapter in the elder's spiritual biography. As we shall see, it was an
event that transformed a twenty-seven-year-old priest monk into a
charismatic elder, and which would dramatically alter the structure and
organization of life at Simonopetra. (8)
The 'Story of a Certain Monk'
Permit me to tell you [runs the story] about a certain monk I once know. Just as all of us have moments of difficulty, he too was passing through a very critical period of his life. The devil had cast fire into his brain, and wanted to strip him of his monastic dignity, and make him a miserable seeker of alleged truth. His soul roared like breaking waves, and he sought deliverance from his distress. From time to time, he remembered the Prayer of the Heart, but it resounded only weakly within him, because he had no faith in it. His immediate surroundings were of no help. Everything was negative. His heart was about to break. How wretched man becomes when he is beset by problems! And who among us has not known such terrible days, such dark night, and agonizing trials?
Our monk did not know what to do. Walks did nothing for him. The night stifled him. And one night, gasping for air, he threw open the window of his cell in order to take a deep breath. It was dark - about three o'clock in the morning. In his great weariness, he was about to close the window, hoping to get at least a few moments of rest. At that very moment, however, it was as if everything around him - even the darkness outside - had become light! He looked to see where such light might be coming from, but it was coming from nowhere. The darkness, which has no existence of its own, had become light, although his heart remained in the dark. And when he turned around, he saw that his cell had also become light! (9) He examined the lamp to see if the light was coming from there, but that one, small oil lamp could not become light itself, neither could it make all things light!
Although his heart was not yet illumined, he did have a certain hope. Overcome with surprise and moved by this hope, but without being fully aware of what he was doing, he went out into the back courtyard of the monastery, which had often seemed to him like hell. He went out into the silence, into the night. Everything was clear as day. Nothing was hidden in the darkness. Everything was in the light: the wooden beams and the windows, the church, the ground he walked on, the sky, the spring of water which flowed continuously, the crickets, the fireflies, the birds of the night - everything was visible, everything! And the stars came down and the sky lowered itself, and it seemed to him that everything - earth and sky - had become like heaven! (10) And everything together was chanting the prayer [i.e., of the heart], everything was saying the prayer. (11) And his heart strangely opened and began to dance; it began to beat and take part involuntarily in the same prayer; his feet barely touched the ground.
He did not know how he opened the door and entered the church, or when he had vested; he did not know when the other monks arrived, or when the Liturgy began. What exactly happened he did not know. Gone was the ordinary connection of things, and he knew only that he was standing before the altar, before the invisibly present God, celebrating the Liturgy. And striking, as it were, the keys of both his heart and the altar, his voice resounded above, to the altar beyond the heavens. (12) The Liturgy continued. The Gospel was read. The light was no longer all around him, but had built its nest within his heart. The Liturgy ended, but the song that had begun in his heart was endless. In his ecstasy, he saw that heaven and earth sing this prayer without ceasing, and that the monk truly lives only when he is animated by it. For this to happen, he needs only to cease living for himself.
To be continued...
1. Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra, Commentary on the Ascetic Discourses of Abba Isaiah
(Athens: Indiktos, 2005), 2 (in Greek). In subsequent footnotes, the
following abbreviations will be used: Arch. = Archimandrite; KL = Katecheseis kai Logoi, 5 vols (Ormylia, 1995-2003); SIAD = Elder Aimilianos, Spiritual Instructions and Discourses, vol 1 (Ormylia, 1999), followed by volume and page number(s).
2. Bishop Kallistos Ware, 'Wolves and Monks: Life on the Holy Mountain Todday', Sobornost
5.2 (1983): 64; cf. id., 'One thing at any rate is beyond dispute: a
crucial factor [in the Athonite "reawakening"] has been the presence on
the Mountain of elders endowed with gifts of spiritual fatherhood and
capable of attracting and guiding disciples', in Elder Joseph the Hesychast
(Mount Athos, 1999), 18; and Alexander Golitzen: 'Outstanding elders
are certainly the sine qua non of the contemporary Athonite revival', The Living Witness of the Holy Mountain: Contemporary Voices from Mount Athos (South Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon's Seminary Press, 1996), 18.
As follows: (i) Fr Ephraim to Philotheou (1972; (ii) Fr Charalambos to
Dionysiou (1980); (iii) Fr Joseph to Vatopedi (1987); (iv) Fr
Philotheos to Karakalou (1980); (v) Fr. Ephraim (+1984) to Xeropotamou
(1980); (vi) Fr Agathon to Konstamonitou (1980).
As follows: (i) Arch. Vasileios of Stavronikita (1968; Iveron 1990);
(ii) Arch. Aimilianos of Simonopetra (from Meteora, 1973); (iii) Arch.
George of Gregoriou (from Evia, 1974); (iv) Arch. Alexios of
Xenophontos (from Meteora, 1976); (v) Arch. Gregorios of Docheiariou
(from Patmos [Kouvari], 1971). On the renewal of life on the Holy
Mountain, see: Makarios of Simonopetra, 'Iosiph ;'Esicasta e il
Rinnovamento Contemporaneo della Santa Montagna', in Atanasio e il Monachesimo del Monte Athos (Bose, 2005), 245-74; George Mantzarides, 'Joseph the Hesychast and the Revival of Athonite Monasticism', in id., Travelogue of Theological Anthropology (Mount Athos, 2005), 174-88 (in Greek); Graham Speake, Mount Athos: Renewal in Paradise
(New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002); George Sideropoulos, 'Agin
and Renewal of the Athonite Community during the Last Century', in id.,
Mount Athos: Studies in Human Geography (Athens: Kastaniotis, 2000), 145-55 (in Greek); and Golitzen, Living Witness, 13-20. For a detailed photographic documentary of the renewal, covering the period from 1972 to 1996, see: Douglas Lyttle, Miracle on the Monastery Mountain (Pittsford, NY, 2002).
date, published material concerning the life of our elder is limited,
but see the biographical sketch by Hieromonk Serapion, 'Outline of a
Life', and the essay by Arch. Elisaios, 'The Monastic Ladder of Elder
Aimilianos', in Synaxis Eucharistias: A Volume in Honor of Elder Aimilianos (Athens: Indiktos, 2003), 29-38; 17-28 (in Greek); 'Outlines of a Life' was reprinted in the magazine Pemptousia 14 (2004): 107-14, along with sixteen photographs
of the elder taken at different stages in his career. See also Arch.
Elisaios, 'The Spiritual Tradition of Simonopetra', in Mount Athos the Sacred Bridge: The Spirituality of the Holy Mountain, ed. Dimitri Conomos and Graham Speake (Bern: Peter Lang, 2005), 181-99 (previously published in Sourozh 90 : 1-14); and, in the same volume, Alexander Golitzen, 'Topos Theou:
The Monastic Elder as Theologian and as Theology: An Appreciation of
Arch. Aimilianos', 201-42. Further information concerning the elder's
life and work as a monastic leader can be gleaned from the pages of Simonopetra: Mount Athos (Athens: Hellenic Industrial Development Bank, 1991); and Ormylia: The Holy Coenobium of the Annunciation (Athens: Indiktos, 1992).
6. Currently the Archbishop of Albania.
7. 'Spiritual Tradition of Simonopetra', 189.
8. The 'Story of a Certain Monk' has had a slightly complicated history of transmission and publication. It was first told in the context of a talk ('The Prayer of the Holy Mountain: Yesterday and Today'), given by Elder Aimilianos, on 24 April 1983 in the Metropolis of Drama. The English version of the story, which appears below, has been translated directly from the original 1983 recording. Note, however, that the 'Story of a Certain Monk' was not part of the elder's 1983 written text, but was delivered ex tempore, and thus it does not appear in the two earliest published versions of the talk, which were based, not on the recording, but on the written text, compare: (i) 'Le Mont Athos: écrin sacré de la prière de Jésus’, Le Messager Orthodoxe 95 (1984): 7-18; and (ii) ‘The Prayer of the Holy Mountain’, Hagioreitike Martyria 3 (1989): 123-32 (in Greek). The English translations of the talk, published in (i) SIAD 1:301-22l; and (ii) Arch. Aimilianos, The Church at Prayer: The Mystical Liturgy of the Heart (Athens: Indiktos, 2005), 45-63, are based on the 1995 Greek transcription (= KL 1:351-76), which, in certain instances, does not accurately represent the 1983 recording. A more accurate translation is available in: ‘La Prière de la Sainte Montagne’, in Le Sceau Véritable, Catécheses et Discours, vol 1 (Ormylia: Éditions Ormylia, 1998), 309-31.
9. Compare St. Gregory of Nyssa, Funeral Oration on his Brother Basil the Great: 'One night there appeared to Basil an outpouring of light, and, by means of divine power, the entire dwelling was illuminated by an immaterial light, having no source in anything material' (PG 46.809C).
10. The 'descent of the stars', and the subsequent union of heaven and earth (resulting in the 'celestialization' of the terrestrial), is a kind of hieros gamos, which eliminates the distance between heaven and earth, and embodies definitively what was predestined and pre-existent within God, namely the Divine Word/Name uttered in the Prayer of Jesus, to which one may compare the 'holy city of Jerusalem' descending to earth 'out of heaven from God in the splendor of the glory of God' (Rev 21.10).
11. The main ideas in this paragraph bear comparison with Elder Aimilianos's 1973 remarks on Ps 18.1: 'The Heavens declare the glory of God (KL 3:210-11; 216-17; 224), which deal with the question of divine revelation in and through creation. In what seems an allusion to the courtyard experience, the elder notes that the 'awesome light, which reveals God as He is - the night which reveals the silent revelation of God - and the mystical "speeches and words" (o.e., the laliai and logoi of Ps 18.4) emphasized by Scripture: all of these things fill the world, and you think you're hearing a single voice which speaks about God.' In a related passage, the elder associates Ps 150 (i.e., the lauds of matins) with mystical ascent: 'I see my mind rising again, even higher, to the summit of a great spiritual mountain, from where I'll call on all creation, on "everything that has breath" (cf., Ps 150.5), to hymn the Lord. With our arms raised aloft, we'll look around and shout: "Come you plants! Come you birds! Run you rivers! Come you seas! All together, the whole of creation, the whole of nature, praise the Lord!"' (KL 2:101-102).
12. On the 'altar of the heart', compare St Maximos the Confessor, Mystagogy: 'The nave is the body, the sanctuary is the soul, and the altar is the intellect (nous)' (PG 672BC); St. Isaac the Syrian: 'You have made my nature a sanctuary for Your hiddenness and a tabernacle for Your mysteries, a place where You can dwell, and a holy temple for Your divinity' (trans. S. Brock, The Syriac Fathers on Prayer and the Spiritual Life [Kalamazoo, 1987], 349); St Gregory of Sinai, On Commandments and Doctrines 112: 'To eat the Lamb of God upon the soul's noetic altar is not simply to apprehend Him spiritually or to participate in Him; it is also to become an image of the Lamb as He is in the age to come' (Philokalia, 4:237; cf. p. 213, no.7); St Nicholas Cabasilas, On the Life in Christ 5.9-10: 'Man is a type and image of the altar... and if he recollects himself and bends in on himself and bows down, that makes God truly dwell in the soul and makes the heart an altar. The ceremonies are signs of these things' (ed. M.-H. Congrourdeau, SC 361 [Paris: Cerf, 1990], 18; trans. C. J. deCatanzaro [Crestwood, 1974], 161-52).
Marriage: The Great Sacrament
A Sermon by Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra, Mount Athos delivered in the Church of St. Nicholas, Trikala, Greece, 17 January, 1971
Nobody would dispute that the most important day in a person's life, after his birth and baptism, is that of his marriage. It is no surprise, then, that the aim of contemporary worldly and institutional upheavals is precisely to crush the most honorable and sacred mystery of marriage. For many people, marriage is an opportunity for pleasures and amusements. Life, however, is a serious affair. It is a spiritual struggle, a progression toward a goal: heaven. The most crucial juncture, and the most important means, of this progression is marriage. It is not permissible for anyone to avoid the bonds of marriage, whether he concludes a mystical marriage by devoting himself to God, or whether he concludes a sacramental one with a spouse.
Today we will concern ourselves primarily with sacramental marriage. We will consider how marriage can contribute to our spiritual life, in order to continue the theme of our previous talk . We know that marriage is an institution established by God. It is "honorable" (Heb 13.4). It is a "great mystery" (Eph 5.32). An unmarried person passes through life and leaves it; but a married person lives and experiences life to the full.
One wonders what people today think about the sacred institution of marriage, this "great mystery", blessed by our Church. They marry, and it's as if two checking accounts or two business interests were being merged. Two people are united without ideals, two zeros, you could say. Because people without ideals, without quests, are nothing more than zeros. "I married in order to live my life", you hear people say, "and not to be shut inside four walls". "I married to enjoy my life", they say, and then they hand over their children if they have children to some strange woman so they can run off to the theater, the movies, or to some other worldly gathering. And so their houses become hotels to which they return in the evening, or, rather, after midnight, after they've had their fun and need to rest. Such people are empty inside, and so in their homes they feel a real void. They find no gratification there, and thus they rush and slide from here to there, in order to find their happiness.
They marry without knowledge, without a sense of responsibility, or simply because they wish to get married, or because they think they must in order to be good members of society. But what is the result? We see it every day. The shipwrecks of marriage are familiar to all of us. A worldly marriage, as it is understood today, can only have one characteristicthe murder of a person's spiritual life. Thus we must feel that, if we fail in our marriage, we have more or less failed in our spiritual life. If we succeed in our marriage, we have also succeeded in our spiritual life. Success or failure, progress or ruin, in our spiritual life, begins with our marriage. Because this is such a serious matter, let us consider some of the conditions necessary for a happy, truly Christian marriage.
In order to have a successful marriage, one must have the appropriate upbringing from an early age. Just as a child must study, just as he learns to think, and take an interest in his parents or his health, so too must he be prepared in order to be able to have a successful marriage. But in the age in which we live, no one is interested in preparing their children for this great mystery, a mystery which will play the foremost role in their lives. Parents are not interested, except in the dowry, or in other such financial matters, in which they are deeply interested.
The child, from an early age, must learn to love, to give, to suffer deprivation, to obey. He must learn to feel that the purity of his soul and body is a valuable treasure to be cherished as the apple of his eye. The character of the child must be shaped properly, so that he becomes an honest, brave, decisive, sincere, cheerful person, and not a half, self-pitying creature, who constantly bemoans his fate, a weak-willed thing without any power of thought or strength. From an early age, the child should learn to take an interest in a particular subject or occupation, so that tomorrow he will be in a position to support his family, or, in the case of a girl, also to help, if this is necessary. A woman must learn to be a housewife, even if she has an education. She should learn to cook, to sew, to embroider. But, my good Father, you may say, this is all self- evident. Ask married couples, however, and you'll see how many women who are about to marry know nothing about running a household.
Once we reach a certain age, moreover, the choice of one's life partner is a matter which should not be put off. Neither should one be in a hurry, because, as the saying goes, "quick to marry, quick to despair". But one should not delay, because delay is a mortal danger to the soul. As a rule, the normal rhythm of the spiritual life begins with marriage. An unmarried person is like someone trying to live permanently in a hallway: he doesn't seem to know what the rooms are for. Parents should take an interest in the child's social life, but also in his prayer life, so that the blessed hour will come as a gift sent by God.
Naturally, when he comes to choose a partner, he will take to account his parents' opinion. How often have parents felt knives piercing their hearts when their children don't ask them about the person who will be their companion in life? A mother's heart is sensitive, and can't endure such a blow. The child should discuss matters with his parents, because they have a special intuition enabling them to be aware of the things which concern them. But this doesn't mean that the father and mother should pressure the child. Ultimately he should be free to make his own decision. If you pressure your child to marry, he will consider you responsible if things don't go well. Nothing good comes from pressure. You must help him, but you must also allow him to choose the person he prefers or loves but not someone he pities or feels sorry for. If your child, after getting to know someone, tells you, "I feel sorry for the poor soul, I'll marry him", then you know that you're on the threshold of a failed marriage. Only a person whom he or she prefers or loves can stand by the side of your child. Both the man and the woman should be attracted to each other, and they should truly want to live together, in an inward way, unhurriedly. On this matter, however, it is not possible to pressure our children. Sometimes, out of our love, we feel that they are our possessions, that they are our property, and that we can do what we want with them. And thus our child becomes a creature incapable of living life either married or unmarried.
Of course, the process of getting acquainted, which is such a delicate issue but of which we are often heedless should take place before marriage. We should never be complacent about getting to know each other, especially if we're not sure of our feelings. Love shouldn't blind us. It should open our eyes, to see the other person as he is, with his faults. "Better to take a shoe from your own house, even if it's cobbled", says the folk proverb. That is, it's better to take someone you've gotten to know. And acquaintanceship must always be linked with engagement, which is an equally difficult matter.
When I suggested to a young woman that she should think seriously about whether she should continue her engagement she replied: "If I break it off, my mother will kill me". But what sort of engagement is it, if there's no possibility of breaking it off? To get engaged doesn't mean that I'll necessarily get married. It means that I'm testing to see whether I should marry the person I'm engaged to. If a woman isn't in a position to break off her engagement, she shouldn't get engaged, or, rather, she shouldn't go ahead with the marriage. During the engagement, we must be especially careful. If we are, we will have fewer problems and fewer disappointments after the wedding. Someone once said that, during the period of getting to know me another, you should hold on to your heart firmly with both hands, as if it were a wild animal. You know how dangerous the heart is: instead of leading you to marriage, it can lead you into sin. There is the possibility that the person you've chosen sees you as a mere toy, or a toothbrush to be tried out. Afterward, you'll be depressed and shed many tears. But then it will be too late, because your angel will have turned out to be made of clay.
Don't choose a person who wastes his time at clubs, having good time, and throwing away his money on traveling and luxuries. Neither should you choose someone who, as you'll find out, conceals his self-centeredness beneath words of love. Don't choose a woman as your wife who is like gun powder, so that as soon as you say something to her, she bursts to flames. She's no good as a wife.
Moreover, if you want to have a truly successful marriage, don't approach that young woman or man who is unable to leave his or her parents. The commandment of Christ is clear: man leaves his father and mother, and is united to his wife" (Mk 10.7). But when you see the other person tied to his mother or father, when you see that he obeys them with his mouth hanging open, and is prepared to do whatever they tell him, keep well away. He is emotionally sick, a psychologically immature person, and you won't be able to create a family with him. The man you will make your husband should be spirited. But how can he be spirited when he hasn't realized, hasn't understood, hasn't digested the fact that his parents' house is simply a flower-pot in which he was put, to be taken out later, and transplanted somewhere else?
Also, when you're going to choose a husband, make sure that he's not an uncommunicative type in which case he'll have no friends. And if today he has no friends, tomorrow he'll find it difficult to have you as a friend and partner. Be on your guard against grumblers, moaners, and gloomy people who are like dejected birds. Be on your guard against those who complain all the time: "You don't love me, you don't understand me", and all that sort of thing. Something about these creatures of God isn't right. Also be on your guard against religious fanatics and the overly pious. Those, that is, who get upset over trivial things, who are critical of everything and hypersensitive. How are you going to live with such a person? It will be like sitting on thorns. Also look out for those who regard marriage as something bad, as a form of imprisonment. Those who say: But I've never in my whole life thought about getting married.
Watch out for certain pseudo-Christians, who see marriage as something sordid, as a sin, who immediately cast their eyes down when they hear anything said about it . If you marry someone like this, he will be a thorn in your flesh, and a burden for his monastery if he becomes a monk. Watch out for those who think that they're perfect, and find no defect in themselves, while constantly finding faults in others. Watch out for those who think they've been chosen by God to correct everyone else.
There is another serious matter to which you should also pay attention: heredity. Get to know well the father, the mother, the grandfather, the grandmother, the uncle. Also, the basic material prerequisites should be there. Above all, pay attention to the person's faith. Does he or she have faith? Has the person whom you're thinking of making the companion of your life have ideals? If Christ means nothing to him, how are you going to be able to enter his heart? If he has not been able to value Christ, do you think he will value you? Holy Scripture says to the husband that the wife should be "of your testament" (Mal 2.14), that is, of your faith, your religion, so that she can join you to God. It is only then that you can have, as the Church Fathers say, a marriage "with the consent of the bishop" , that is, with the approval of the Church, and not simply a formal license.
Discuss things in advance with your spiritual father. Examine every detail with him, and he will stand by your side as a true friend, and, when you reach the desired goal, then your marriage will be a gift from God (cf. 1 Cor 7.7). God gives his own gift to each one of us. He leads one person to marriage and another to virginity. Not that God makes the choice by saying "you go here", and "you go there", but he gives us the nerve to choose what our heart desires, and the courage and the strength to carry it out.
If you choose your spouse in this way, then thank God. Bring him into touch with your spiritual father. If you don't have one, the two of you should choose a spiritual father together, who will be your Elder, your father, the one who will remind you of, and show you God.
You will have many difficulties in life. There will be a storm of issues. Worries will surround you, and maintaining your Christian life will not be easy. But don't worry. God will help you. Do what is within your power. Can you read a spiritual book for five minutes a day? Then read. Can you pray for five minutes a day? Pray. And if you can't manage five minutes, pray for two. The rest is God's affair.
When you see difficulties in your marriage, when you see that you're making no progress in your spiritual life, don't despair. But neither should you be content with whatever progress you may have already made. Lift up your heart to God. Imitate those who have given everything to God, and do what you can to be like them, even if all you can do is to desire in your heart to be like them. Leave the action to Christ. And when you advance in this way, you will truly sense what is the purpose of marriage. Otherwise, as a blind person wanders about, so too will you wander in life.
What then is the purpose of marriage? I will tell you three of its main aims. First of all, marriage is a path of pain. The companionship of man and wife is called a "yoking together" (syzygia), that is, the two of them labor under a shared burden. Marriage is a journeying together, a shared portion of pain, and, of course, a joy. But usually it's six chords of our life which sound a sorrowful note, and only one which is joyous. Man and wife will drink from the same cup of upheaval, sadness, and failure. During the marriage ceremony, the priest gives the newly-weds to drink from the same cup, called the "common cup" , because together they will bear the burdens of marriage. The cup is also called "union" , because they are joined together to share life's joys and sorrows.
When two people get married, it's as if they're saying: Together we will go forward, hand in hand, through good times and bad. We will have dark hours, hours of sorrow filled with burdens, monotonous hours. But in the depths of the night, we continue to believe in the sun and the light. Oh, my dear friends, who can say that his life has not been marked by difficult moments? But it is no small thing to know that, in your difficult moments, in your worries, in your temptations, you will be holding in your hand the hand of your beloved. The New Testament says that every man will have pain, especially those who enter into marriage.
"Are you free from a wife?"which means, are you unmarried?asks the Apostle Paul. "Then do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you are not doing anything wrong, it is no sin. And if a girl marries, she does not sin, but those who marry will have hardships to endure, and my aim is to spare you" (1 Cor 7.27-28). Remember: from the moment you marry, he says, you will have much pain, you will suffer, and your life will be a cross, but a cross blossoming with flowers. Your marriage will have its joys, its smiles, and its beautiful things. But during the days of sunshine, remember that all the lovely flowers conceal a cross, which can emerge into your sunshine at any moment.
Life is not a party, as some people think, and after they get married take a fall from heaven to earth. Marriage is a vast ocean, and you don't know where it will wash you up. You take the person whom you've chosen with fear and trembling, and with great care, and after a year, two years, five years, you discover that he's fooled you.
It is an adulteration of marriage for us to think that it is a road to happiness, as if it were a denial of the cross. The joy of marriage is for husband and wife to put their shoulders to the wheel and together go forward on the uphill road of life. "You haven't suffered? Then you haven't loved", says a certain poet. Only those who suffer can really love. And that's why sadness is a necessary feature of marriage. "Marriage", in the words of an ancient philosopher, "is a world made beautiful by hope, and strengthened by misfortune". Just as steel is fashioned in a furnace, just so is a person proved in marriage, in the fire of difficulties. When you see your marriage from a distance, everything seems wonderful. But when you get closer, you'll see just how many difficult moments it has.
God says that "it is not good for the man to be alone" (Gen 2.18), and so he placed a companion at his side, someone to help him throughout his life, especially in his struggles of faith, because in order to keep your faith, you must suffer and endure much pain. God sends his grace to all of us. He sends it, however, when he sees that we are willing to suffer. Some people, as soon as they see obstacles, run away. They forget God and the Church. But faith, God, and the Church, are not a shirt that you take off as soon as you start to sweat.
Marriage, then, is a journey through sorrows and joys. When the sorrows seem overwhelming, then you should remember that God is with you. He will take up your cross. It was he who placed the crown of marriage on your head. But when we ask God about something, he doesn't always supply the solution right away. He leads us forward very slowly. Sometime[s] he takes years. We have to experience pain, otherwise life would have no meaning. But be of good cheer, for Christ is suffering with you, and the Holy Spirit, "through your groanings is pleading on your behalf" (cf. Rom 8.26).
Second, marriage is a journey of love. It is the creation of a new human being, a new person, for, as the Gospel says, "the two will be as one flesh" (Mt 19.5; Mk 10.7). God unites two people, and makes them one. From this union of two people, who agree to synchronize their footsteps and harmonize the beating of their hearts, a new human being emerges. Through such profound and spontaneous love, the one becomes a presence, a living reality, in the heart of the other. "I am married" means that I cannot live a single day, even a few moments, without the companion of my life. My husband, my wife, is a part of my being, of my flesh, of my soul. He or she complements me. He or she is the thought of my mind. He or she is the reason for which my heart beats.
The couple exchanges rings to show that, in life's changes, they will remain united. Each wears a ring with the name of the other written on it, which is placed on the finger from which a vein runs directly to the heart. That is, the name of the other is written on his own heart. The one, we could say, gives the blood of his heart to the other. He or she encloses the other within the core of his being.
"What do you do?" a novelist was once asked. He was taken aback. "What do I do? What a strange question! I love Olga, my wife". The husband lives to love his wife, and the wife lives to love her husband.
The most fundamental thing in marriage is love, and love is about uniting two into one. God abhors separation and divorce. He wants unbroken unity (cf. Mt 19.3-9; Mk 10.2-12). The priest takes the rings off the left finger, puts them on the right, and then again on the left, and finally he puts them back on the right hand. He begins and ends with the right hand, because this is the hand with which we chiefly act. It also means that the other now has my hand. I don't do anything that my spouse doesn't want. I am bound up with the other. I live for the other, and for that reason I tolerate his faults. A person who can't put up with another can't marry.
What does my partner want? What interests him? What gives him pleasure? That should also interest and please me as well. I also look for opportunities to give him little delights. How will I please my husband today? How will I please my wife today? This is the question which a married person must ask every day. She is concerned about his worries, his interests, his job, his friends, so that they can have everything in common. He gladly gives way to her. Because he loves her, he goes to bed last and gets up first in the morning. He regards her parents as his own, and loves them and is devoted to them, because he knows that marriage is difficult for parents. It always makes them cry, because it separates them from their child.
The wife expresses love for her husband through obedience. She is obedient to him exactly as the Church is to Christ (Eph 5.22-24). It is her happiness to do the will of her husband. Attitude, obstinacy, and complaining are the axes which chop down the tree of conjugal happiness. The woman is the heart. The man is the head. The woman is the heart that loves. In her husband's moments of difficulty, she stands at his side, as the empress Theodora stood by the emperor Justinian. In his moments of joy, she tries to raise him up to even higher heights and ideals. In times of sorrow, she stands by him like a sublime and peaceful world offering him tranquility.
The husband should remember that his wife has been entrusted to him by God. His wife is a soul which God has given to him, and one day he must return it. He loves his wife as Christ loves the Church (Eph 5.25). He protects her, takes care of her, gives her security, particularly when she is distressed, or when she is ill. We know how sensitive a woman's soul can be, which is why the Apostle Peter urges husbands to honor their wives (cf. 1 Pet 3.7). A woman's soul gets wounded, is often petty, changeable, and can suddenly fall into despair. Thus the husband should be full of love and tenderness, and make himself her greatest treasure. Marriage, my dear friends, is a little boat which sails through waves and among rocks. If you lose your attention even for a moment, it will be wrecked.
As we have seen, marriage is first of all a journey of pain; second a journey of love; and, third, a journey to heaven, a call from God. It is, as Holy Scripture says, a "great mystery" (Eph 5.32). We often speak of seven "mysteries", or sacraments. In this regard, a "mystery" is the sign of the mystical presence of some true person or event. An icon, for instance, is a mystery. When we venerate it, we are not venerating wood or paint, but Christ, or the Theotokos, or the saint who is mystically depicted. The Holy Cross is a symbol of Christ, containing his mystical presence. Marriage, too, is a mystery, a mystical presence, not unlike these. Christ says, "wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am among them" (Mt 18.20). And whenever two people are married in the name of Christ, they become the sign which contains and expresses Christ himself. When you see a couple who are conscious of this, it is as if you are seeing Christ. Together they are a theophany.
This is also why crowns are placed on their heads during the wedding ceremony, because the bride and groom are an image of Christ and the Church. And not just this, but everything in marriage is symbolic. The lit candles symbolize the wise virgins. When the priest places these candles into the hands of the newly-weds, it is as if he is saying to them: Wait for Christ like the wise virgins (Mt 25.1-11). Or they symbolize the tongues of fire which descended at Pentecost, and which were in essence the presence of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2.1-4). The wedding rings are kept on the altar, until they are taken from there by the priest, which shows that marriage has its beginning in Christ, and will end in Christ. The priest also joins their hands, in order to show that it is Christ himself who unites them. It is Christ who is at the heart of the mystery and at the center of their lives .
All the elements of the marriage ceremony are shadows and symbols which indicate the presence of Christ. When you're sitting somewhere and suddenly you see a shadow, you know that someone's coming. You don't see him, but you know he's there. You get up early in the morning, and you see the red horizon in the east. You know that, in a little while, the sun will come up. And indeed, there behind the mountain, the sun starts to appear.
When you see your marriage, your husband, your wife, your partner's body, when you see your troubles, everything in your home, know that they are all signs of Christ's presence. It is as if you're hearing Christ's footsteps, as if he was coming, as if you are now about to hear his voice. All these things are the shadows of Christ, revealing that he is together with us. It is true, though, that, because of our cares and worries, we feel that he is absent. But we can see him in the shadows, and we are sure that he is with us. This is why there was no separate marriage service in the early Church. The man and woman simply went to church and received Communion together. What does this mean? That henceforth their life is one life in Christ.
The wreaths, or wedding crowns, are also symbols of Christ's presence. More specifically, they are symbols of martyrdom. Husband and wife wear crowns to show that they are ready to become martyrs for Christ. To say that "I am married" means that I live and die for Christ. "I am married" means that I desire and thirst for Christ. Crowns are also signs of royalty, and thus husband and wife are king and queen, and their home is a kingdom, a kingdom of the Church, an extension of the Church.
When did marriage begin? When man sinned. Before that, there was no marriage, not in the present-day sense. It was only after the Fall, after Adam and Eve had been expelled from paradise, that Adam "knew" Eve (Gen 4.1) and thus marriage began. Why then? So that they might remember their fall and expulsion from paradise, and seek to return there. Marriage is thus a return to the spiritual paradise, the Church of Christ. "I am married" means, then, that I am a king, a true and faithful member of the Church.
The wreaths also symbolize the final victory which will be attained in the kingdom of heaven. When the priest takes the wreaths, he says to Christ: "take their crowns to your kingdom", take them to your kingdom, and keep them there, until the final victory. And so marriage is a road: its starts out from the earth and ends in heaven. It is a joining together, a bond with Christ, who assures us that he will lead us to heaven, to be with him always. Marriage is a bridge leading us from earth to heaven. It is as if the sacrament is saying: Above and beyond love, above and beyond your husband, your wife, above the everyday events, remember that you are destined for heaven, that you have set out on a road which will take you there without fail. The bride and the bridegroom give their hands to one another, and the priest takes hold of them both, and leads them round the table dancing and singing. Marriage is a movement, a progression, a journey which will end in heaven, in eternity.
In marriage, it seems that two people come together. However it's not two but three. The man marries the woman, and the woman marries the man, but the two together also marry Christ. So three take part in the mystery, and three remain together in life.
In the dance around the table, the couple are led by the priest, who is a type of Christ. This means that Christ has seized us, rescued us, redeemed us, and made us his. And this is the "great mystery" of marriage (cf. Gal 3.13).
In Latin, the word "mystery" was rendered by the word sacramentum, which means an oath. And marriage is an oath, a pact, a joining together, a bond, as we have said. It is a permanent bond with Christ.
"I am married", then, means that I enslave my heart to Christ. If you wish, you can get married. If you wish, don't get married. But if you marry, this is the meaning that marriage has in the Orthodox Church, which brought you into being. "I am married" means I am the slave of Christ.
1. I.e., "Spiritual Life", which appears below, on pp. 147-163.
2. See, for example, John Chrysostom, Homily on Colossians 12.6 "What shame is there in that which is honorable? Why do you blush over what is undefiled? In so doing, you slander the root of our birth, which is a gift from God" (PG 62.388). Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to Polycarp (PG 5.724B).
3. Symeon of Thessaloniki, Dialogos 277 (PG 155.508B).
4. C. Kallinikos, The Christian Temple and its Ceremonies (Athens, 1968), 514.
5. St. Gregory the Theologian, Letter 193: "I place the hand of the one the other, and place both in the hand of God" (PG 37.316C).
Many readers of the addresses of Elder Aimilianos, which have been published in the five-volume series, Archimandrite Aimilianos, Spiritual Instructions and Discourses (Ormylia, 1998-2003), have frequently expressed the wish for an abridged and more accessible form of his teaching. In response, we are happy to inaugurate a new series of publications incorporating key texts from the above-mentioned collection. Other considerations have also contributed to this new project, such as the selection of specific texts which address important, contemporary questions; the need for a smaller, more reader-friendly publication format; and the necessity for editing certain passages in need of clarification, without however altering their basic meaning.
Above all, the works collected in this volume reflect the importance which the Elder consistently attached to prayer, spirituality, community life, worship, and liturgy. Thus the experientially based works "On Prayer", and "The Prayer of the Holy Mountain", which deal primarily with the Prayer of the Heart, appear first, followed by the summary addresses on "The Divine Liturgy", and "Our Church Attendance". These are in turn followed by the more socially oriented discourses on "Our Relations with Our Neighbor", and "Marriage: The Great Sacrament". Finally, the present volume closes with the sermons on "Spiritual Reading" and "The Spiritual Life", which in a simple and yet compelling manner set forth the conditions for "ascending to heaven on the wings of the Spirit".
It is our hope that The Church at Prayer will meet the purpose for which it is issued and will serve as a ready aid and support for those who desire God and eternal life in Him.
From The Church at Prayer: The Mystical Liturgy of the Heart by Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra (Ormylia, Greece: The Holy Convent of the Annunciation, 2005), pp. 111-125. Posted on the website of the Orthodox Christian Information Center on 10/11/2007 and accessed here.
'Orthodox Spirituality and the Technological Revolution'
From The Authentic Seal: Spiritual Instruction and Discourses by Archimandrite Aimilianos, Former Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Simonos Petras, Mount Athos, GreeceIntroductionA great deal is made nowadays of "the technological revolution", as seen from both sides, those in favour and those who are very much against.In the realm of Orthodox theology, however, is there really any essential difference between the age-old problem of technology and today's reality?We could, of course, talk about the last century with the industrial revolution and all its consequences- social, political, moral, religious and so on.When people speak of a new era in the history of mankind, of the third, technological revolution, are they not perhaps exaggerating the extent of the undoubted change in the conditions under which we live? Would it not be more realistic, instead of talking about a revolution, to recognize a process which began long before the industrial revolution and reached its culmination in the developments and consequences there of?The basic feature which is new, however, in modern technology, is that it has turned everything on its head. While in former times people attempted to use science to improve their dominion over nature, it has now infiltrated into the very innermost laws of nature, with results likely to prove positive but also with terrible and limitless opportunities for intervention in these laws themselves. And where might this inversion bring us? To the further extension of these opportunities or to voluntary restrictions to ensure the sovereignty, dignity and survival of nature?For this reason, the problem is not, in essence, , that of the relationship between Man and Nature, but rather that of our felicity in choosing among what might be infinite possibilities, so that we do not fall victim to the works of our hands. Why mention this? Because with justification we recall the words of Job: "She has hardened herself against her young, as though not bereaving herself, she has laboured in vain without fear" (Job 39:16). In other words, our era acts with harshness and indifference towards its children, as if they were not its own. And its indiscriminate and foolhardy attitude reduces every attempt and effort to naught, and, in the end, misfires.Finally, it is not our function to note the revolutionary changes, but rather to point out to our contemporaries the true purpose of technology and to propose Orthodox theological and moral criteria.Let us now see when technology begins.A. Anthropology and TechnologyAdam in Paradise was "naked in simplicity and artless in life" (Gregory the Theologian, PG 36, 632C), unclad and without "art". His call, his essential occupation was contemplation, gazing upon God, sought and found in supervision of the tree of knowledge. Which is why He made Man "a farmer of immortal plants" (ibid.), so that through agriculture in Eden, he would be constantly occupied with God.Technology, therefore, makes its appearance after the Fall.Adam's first-born son (Gen. 4:1-26), Cain, was a farmer; Abel was a shepherd; both of them, therefore, bound up with nature.The third son, Enoch, became a mason and a builder of cities. Of the other descendants, Jobel founded the nomadic way of life. His brother, Jubal was the inventor of stringed instruments with the psaltery and harp. Thobel was a smith, forging iron and copper.Finally, the son of God-fearing Seth, Enos, loyal to the name of God, set up the first public congregation, thus instituting the worship of God, so that all these technologist descendants of Adam could find both a place and means of gazing upon God and could work wherever they went, until they achieved dominion over the earth.Through the blessings of God and wearisome toil, the gradual appearance of technology from agriculture through to industrialization thus provides Man with the opportunity to retain his position as lord over nature, despite the ancestral Fall. Technology is occasioned by Man's powers of reason and is a way of compensating for his weakness, as against animals, which have sufficient strength to survive, as against the forces of nature, the necessities of life (Gregory of Nyssa, PG 44, 140D-144AB) and so on.We might mention here that for the ancients and for Scripture, no distinction was made between art and artifacts (technology), which, if they corresponded to the needs of our nature, could hardly be foreign or hostile to "beauty". Art precedes mechanics, being of greater necessity, while technology developed, not to serve the highest concerns of Man, but with the aim of greater production and profit.In the course of its development, then, if Man is to live as overlord, technology in general must remain discreetly within a certain logical framework. It should not be an end in itself, but rather a disposition, a means to an end, and a conduit into the innermost laws and elements, not only of the earth, but of that which is above the earth. Because, according to Gregory of Nyssa, people have "an upright bearing, stretch up towards heaven and look upwards. In the beginning, these things and their regal worth are noted" (op. Cit.. PG 44, 140D-144AB).B. Control Over TechnologyThe automation of the industrial age and, particularly, the information technology of the post-industrial age, together with the ecological crisis, pose a single question: Why should we be served by modern technology, which is a gluttonous idol of worship, a machine beyond our control? Why should the whole of our society be organized technologically, simply to feed the machine? A distinguished Russian hierarch (Filaret, Metropolitan of Minsk), for example, has revealed that the entire production of the enormous iron mines was put to no other purpose than to make new mining equipment for the same mines!It is natural that the rapid progress in nuclear physics and in genetics should open up new scientific horizons, but also create problems and dangers for the human race, so it is obvious that there is an imperative need for moral intervention in the field of technology. What is worrying is the absurd and "carefree" optimism of many scientists and political agencies. According to them, technological development contains within itself the solution to the problems which it causes, and hence it ought not to be trammelled, so that "technical solutions" to the various problems can arise. For example, who can exercise control in an ideological regime, when they are deliberately seeking to create a type of technological man? The saying of Saint Paul applies here: "Let do us do evil, that good may come" (Rom. 3:8).There are also those, on the other hand, who, using historical arguments and invoking our inability to predict the way in which inventions will evolve in future, reject all moral intervention.Technology per se is not, of course, harmful, being the fruit of the reasoning and intellect of Man, who was formed in the image of God. But when, unrestrained and unbridled, it rushes headlong towards its destination, then it becomes Luciferous, though not bearing light but rather pitch darkness. The danger for us is the absence of accountability in the way in which technology is administered and exploited, a way which has as its aim the stifling domination of human life and the solution of problems by technical means, regardless of moral and metaphysical principles.Finally, however, let us hear the voice of our Orthodox Tradition.C. The Position of the Church Regarding This Particular ProblemThe Church of Christ retains in unadulterated form the Orthodox Tradition, a real, unique force, on which it draws from its life and experience, as well as from a never-failing spring of asceticism and the voice of its treasury of monastic tradition, which is always profound and vital.Monastic tradition can give applicable criteria of behaviour to the members of the Church as regards technology. The Church and monasticism are not hostilely disposed towards technological progress. On the contrary, monks over the centuries have proved to be powerful agents of scientific and technical invention.In the Medieval West, the monks restored civilization, which had been destroyed in the barbarian invasions. The monasteries became focal points for the natural sciences, where mathematics, zoology, chemistry, medicine, and so on developed. The most important inventions of the monasteries formed the basis of industry. Likewise, through their reclamation of large tracts of land, the monks created the opportunity for agricultural development.So that there would be no need for monks to miss services, our own saint Athanasios the Athonite built -- on the Holy Mountain -- a mechanical kneading device, which was driven by bullocks. This instrument, says the Life of the saint, "was the best, both in terms of attractiveness and art of manufacture" (Life of Blessed Athanasios on Athos, I, 179, Noret, p. 86, 1, 46). The same was true throughout the lands where Orthodox monasteries were established.The Orthodox monastery always lived as an eschatological reality and a fore-taste of the Kingdom of Heaven, and was therefore also a model for an organized society with a way of life faithful to the Gospel, embracing human dignity, freedom and service to one's fellows.Given this, the holy Fathers subjected technology in the monastery to two criteria, as Basil the Great characteristically remarks concerning work and the choice of technical applications.a) RestraintWith this criterion in mind, those technical applications are chosen which preserve "the peace and tranquility" of monastery life, so that both undue care and torturing effort are avoided. Let us have as our aim "moderation and simplicity". For Basil the Great, technology is "necessary in itself to life and provides many facilities" (PG 31, 1017B), provided the unity of the life of the brotherhood is preserved, undistracted and devoted to the Lord.In general terms, our watchword should be: "Let the common aim be the meeting of a need" (PG 31, 968B). And Saint Peter the Damascan adds: "For everything which does not serve a pressing need, becomes an obstacle to those who would be saved; everything, that is. which does not contribute to the salvation of the soul or to the life of the body" (Philokalia, vol. III, p. 69, 11. 32-34).These principles are certainly not for monasteries alone. They could be guidelines for control over technology, unless we want to be exterminated.b) Spiritual VigilanceThe most dreadful enemy created by post-industrial culture, the culture of information technology and the image, is cunning distraction. Swamped by millions of images and a host of different situations on television and in the media in general, people lose their peace of mind, their self-control, their powers of contemplation and reflection and turn outwards, becoming strangers to themselves, in a word mindless, impervious to the dictates of their intelligence. If people, especially children, watch television for 35 hours a week, as they do according to statistics, then are not their minds and hearts threatened by Scylla and Charabdis, are they not between the devil and the deep blue sea? (Homer, Odyssey, XII, 85)The majority of the faithful of the Church confess that they do not manage to pray, to concentrate and cast off the cares of the world and the storms of spirit and soul which are to the detriment of sobriety, inner balance, enjoyable work, family tranquility and a constructive social life. The world of the industrial image degenerates into real idolatry.The teachings of the Fathers concerning spiritual vigilance arms people so that they can stave off the disastrous effects of the technological society. "For the weapons of our warfare... have divine power to destroy strongholds" (2 Cor. 10:4), according to the Apostle Paul. Spiritual vigilance is a protection for everyone "containing everything good in this age and the next" (cf. Hesychius the Elder, PG 93, 1481A) and "the road leading to the kingdom, that us and that of the future" (Philotheos the Sinaite, Philokalia, vol. II, p. 275). Spiritual vigilance is not the prerogative only of those engaged actively in contemplation. It is for all those who are conscientiously "dealing with this world as though they had no dealings with it" (1 Cor. 7:31).In the industrial era, people became consumers and slaves to things produced. In post-industrial society, they are also becoming consumers and slaves to images and information, which fill their lives.Restraint and spiritual vigilance are, for all those who come into the world, a weapon made ready from the experience of the monastic life and Orthodox Tradition in general, one which abolishes the servitude of humanity and preserves our health and sovereignty as children of God.From The Authentic Seal: Spiritual Instruction and Discourses.
(Ormylia [Halkidiki], Greece: Ormylia Publishing/Holy Cenobium of the
Annunciation of the Mother of God, 1999), pp. 343-352. ISBN:
960-85603-3-0 and ISBN: 960-85603-2-2. Posted 28 November 2005 on OrthodoxyToday.org.
Excerpts on Prayer from The Authentic Seal: Spiritual Instruction and Discourses
By Elder Aimilianos of Simona Petra, Mt. Athos
On Prayer (pp. 197-205)
When we talk about internal prayer of
the heart, we do not say petition of the heart, but "prayer". When we
speak of petition, however, we mean that our prayer is directed towards
a particular person, its aim being union with that person. While prayer
is static..[an] enjoyment of a place where God also is. There is a
distinction you see. Petition, is turning to a person. It follows
that...the active presence of this Person must exist for me. I have to
be able to become familiar with His presence and His existence. Christ,
the indwelling [One] Who is everywhere present, becomes present for me
in my life through my participation in worship, and more particularly,
through my participation in Holy Communion.
It follows that worship and Holy Communion are indissolubly united. And
what do they do? They make God present and alive for me...and what then
remains? For me to speak to Him, to address Him Who comes to me. and so
He, through worship, tends towards me and I...tend towards Him, until
our total union occurs...I cannot say that I will go to church if I
have not been praying.
It is superfluous for me to go to church and unnecessary for me to
attend the Liturgy and useless for me to take Holy Communion if I am
not continuously at prayer. And it is superfluous for me to pray if I
have no part in what we have just been speaking about...You know how to
plant a flower: you dig the earth there, you put in manure..so that the
root will take. If you don't put in that fertilizer, if the soil is not
suitable...it's a waste of time planting the root.
Prayer is sterile and does not go higher than our heads -- how much
less does it reach beyond the clouds and up into the heavens - if it
does not have its mystical realm..which is in particular, vigil, study
and fasting. ...Do you know what it means for flesh to enter the realm
of the spirit? Flesh, [carnality] which does not inherit the Kingdom of
Heaven, to enter into God? Do you know what it means for God, Whom
nothing can contain, to find room in my soul?. ..So when I pray, I feel
at once this insurmountable obstacle blocking me off from God: the fact
that I am flesh, that is I am a carnal creature [in the sense of the
Gospel meaning here], the fact that I am flesh and He is Spirit...
With God's holiness and brightness I immediately comprehend my
weakness. I feel that I can do nothing and that I am starting a
dreadful struggle, a battle, as the Old Testament so beautifully
presents it to us with that battle, that..wrestling match of Jacob's at
his famous ladder. Here must I, a puny human being, break through into
Heaven and besiege God and..it follows that we experience prayer when
we start ..as a struggle. ..
Not a struggle in the sense that I want to go, for instance and eat
and I say: "No I shall continue to pray". I do not mean that struggle.
That is the ascetic struggle and..different altogether. I am speaking
of the struggle we have, not with ourselves - but the struggle we have
with God. I wrestle with God..When Paul said "contend with me in
prayer", he meant something like that. ..He was saying "You struggle
with God, too with your prayers, so that our struggles may be united
and in this way..we can wrestle with Him..[Just as Jacob did] and
defeat Him"... When you have an opponent, you tense up immediately.
Your punch gets stronger at once. You see your muscles ...and realize
you're hitting and being hit. When I do not have the sense of this
struggle with God, as you will realize, I have not even begun to
pray.....What matters is that there should issue forth [from the heart]
a cry from the depths, which like a powerful bomb, like an earthquake,
should shake the Heavens and make God answer, in the end, and [respond
to us]... .God wants us to sense Him first [and the struggle to reach
Him] with the powerful distress of the cry from the depths of our
beings which we raise to Him....
Posted on the website of the Descent of the Holy Spirit Orthodox Christian Mission, Los Osos, CA. The Authentic Seal: Spiritual Instruction and Discourses is available from Alexander Press, Montreal, Canada.
The Last Public Homily of Archimandrite Aemilianos
Given at the Sacred Monastery of the Holy Cross, Jerusalem, 23 May 1995
Archimandrite Aemilianos: I know that you love me very much. This is certain. And I believe that, every day, every night, you enter into my heart, and from there you leave and enter into the hearts of those persons who love. And we rejoice, we are loved. We enter into our heart, and you enter into yours. But yours is more, more.
Because this is what God wants, what He wants from us. This heart. What is there? The Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, This is the most beautiful thing, such that we know, that I live, you live; I want, you rejoice.
To the beloved, my beloved, with this joy that we give you, and you give much more than we do.
Archimandrite Dionysios: "Thine own of Thine own, my Geronta".
Archimandrite Acmilianos: "I believe it, because you believe, and you want."
Originally posted on the website of the Monastery of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Thebes, Boeotia, Greece and accessed here.
Elizabeth Key Fowden, Limni, Euboea (Greece)
A 'Friends of Mount Athos' Review (1999) of Spiritual Instruction and Discourses, volume 1: The Authentic Seal by Archimandrite Aimilianos
In December 1999 forty-six writers--including poets, novelists, historians, literary critics, and philosophers--were asked by the Times Literary Supplement to choose their 'book of the millennium'. The King James Bible came first, followed closely by Shakespeare and Dante. Those who selected the Authorized Version justified their choice by citing the indelible impression it has made on the English language. Some went even further and recalled the common culture with which it endowed past generations of English speakers. All three choices are deeply rooted in a God-infused world, even if those who selected them tended to appreciate them only for their style, psychological perceptions, and emotive force. Another popular book was Darwin’s On the Origin of Species which, together with a smattering of other post-Enlightenment works, represented the current of secularism that ran through what nearly all of these intellectuals had to say. One writer opined that 'if they [people of the third millennium] accomplish this thorough-going secularization … Darwin will be honored for having given his species greater self-reliance and greater self-respect.'
The end of the second millennium has seen the publication of three volumes in Greek by the Archimandrite Aimilianos, formerly Abbot of Simonopetra. They are books none of the TLS’s commentators will have heard of, or even have imagined to exist in this day and age. Now the first volume of the series has been translated into English, a daunting task since the Greek of the Gerontas is subtle and allusive, operating simultaneously on many registers in a way almost impossible in today’s English. In his use of words one hears the echo of countless hours spent in church offices, liturgies, vigils, and refectory meals during which saints’ lives are read aloud. It would not be an exaggeration to say that for its style alone Fr Aimilianos’s work will earn a place as one of the monuments of modern Greek literature. Volume 1 of the Greek edition is indeed prefaced by an essay on the Gerontas’s language by the philologist George Babiniotis, Professor of Linguistics at Athens University. But what makes this book great is, of course, that its style cannot be separated from the ideas conveyed. Spiritual Instruction and Discourses, vol. 1: The Authentic Seal presents Fr Aimilianos’s teachings in various different forms--formal documents, published lectures, and transcribed homilies delivered over the course of several decades to his spiritual children. As a message to increasingly secularized human society, these writings could be seen in part as reflections on the deeper meaning of the self in 'self-reliance' and 'self-respect', produced in a world not completely alien from that of Shakespeare and Dante. One of the most important aspects of this book is its profound and adamant witness that this God-infused world still thrives.
The first part of The Authentic Seal assembles writings which help retrace the early progress of the monastic revival in Greece that began in the 1970s. As Abbot of the Great Meteora, Aimilianos was a member of a special committee for the promotion of monasticism in Greece, organized by Archbishop Hieronymos of Athens. Three lectures he delivered in this context between 1970 and 1973 are reprinted here. These are followed by four texts that witness to the growth, both spiritual and material, of monastic revival. First come two addresses made at the inauguration of new communities under Fr Aimilianos’s guidance: the monastic sisterhood at the Monastery of the Saints Theodore at Meteora (the community that would move in 1975 to Ormylia) and the brotherhood newly installed at Simonopetra on the Holy Mountain, where they took refuge from the Meteora's 'Son et Lumière' in 1973. After these, the Gerontas’s introductory essays to the spiritual life of each community are reprinted from Simonopetra and Ormylia, the handsomely illustrated volumes that brought familiarity with these monasteries to a wider public. Finally, the Gerontas’s rule that he designed for the Holy Coenobium of the Annunciation at Ormylia is published in full.
Fr Aimilianos’s writings derive their authority from his many years of experience and reflection, but especially from his deep and conscious rootedness in the biblical and patristic tradition. The revival of Athos in which he played a pivotal role is arguably the most important development in Orthodox monasticism since the Kolybades movement in the eighteenth century. Fr Aimilianos’s writings are a precious record of how this recent revival came about. But their historical significance reaches beyond the particular developments they describe. What we see in these pages is the constant struggle, inherent in the monastic experience across time, to find a balance between episcopal influence and monastic independence, between openness to the world and preservation of silence, between hierarchy and obedience within the community and that 'seemly and legitimate freedom' which enables each monk or nun to 'have the perfect joy of Christ within them'. From this point of view, the first part of The Authentic Seal will be of interest to historians as well as theologians.
The strength of these writings lies in their harmonious fusion of the theory and practice of monastic life. For example, from his personal experience Aimilianos addresses practical issues such as the integration of the older pre-revival Athonites who lived in simple piety and the new generation of monks who often hold advanced degrees and have grown up in a world with increasingly secularized views of the Church and monasticism. The energy that has charged this integration derives from a shared understanding of monasticism as 'an embodiment of the Gospel ideal of tranquillity, cleansing and deification'. The pursuit of this common goal is buttressed by obedience, a quality carefully cultivated in both the public and the private life of the community. While a contentious manner proffers nothing good, 'the monk should not be a spineless creature, without opinions…Education should be encouraged, while obedience should be tempered with discretion, freedom and a great deal of love.' Through his or her education, as with all coenobitic activities, the monastic should aspire to polish his or her 'self' so as to become a 'spotless mirror of God', ready to receive the 'radiance of the Holy Spirit'. Quoting from Gregory the Theologian, Fr Aimilianos describes the coenobium as a community of individuals 'struggling in the solitary and pure life'. The reader comes away with a powerful sense of this solitary effort, the enormous and ceaseless acts of will required not to travel further towards fragmentation, but to be 'drawn by the vision of the Kingdom of God and live with their gaze fixed on precisely this aim of deification'.
The rule describes the denial of the old self that is required for entry into the monastery; the catechesis that follows describes the transformation of the self that is required to enter fully into the presence of God. What one must come to terms with is the mavrila, the blackness, almost sootiness, that threatens to asphyxiate our being. This blackness is one the Gerontas’s great concerns, addressed directly in the extraordinary 'Catechesis on prayer' in which his vibrantly demotic style is the perfect vehicle for the paradoxes he wants to convey. Prayer leads us out of our own blackness into the profound darkness where we may encounter the divine presence, the Light of the World. One also encounters God through his saints, whose presence is felt on every page as not only imitators of Christ, but as those who struggled with God and 'did whatever they wanted with God'. Fr Aimilianos teaches through the example of the saints--the everyday conversations of the married village priest Papa-Dimitris Gangastathis with the archangels, the Athonites who have borne witness to the spiritual rhythm of the Holy Mountain as they sojourn in the world. The refectory talk on St Nicholas contains the most penetrating description of the relationship of saints and their relics to the Holy Trinity that this reader has ever found.
Fr Aimilianos cannot be accused of living and writing in isolation from the increasingly secularized world and its problems. Rather, this volume reveals a deep engagement with non-monastic society and the results of its growing distance from the spiritual ideals of the Gospels, the Fathers, and the Lives of the Saints. What he offers is not some utopian vision to be easily dismissed by the cynical, but a 'continuous and gladdening reality' that exists and deserves consideration from those concerned with the diverse communities of today’s 'global village'. What is so radically different about this God-infused world is that, unlike the secular global village, it has a single centre. In the short 'Walk in Newness', Aimilianos describes the monastery as a place where '"like eagles", the monks flock together from various nations, with different languages, local traditions, levels of education, social status and so on, in order to experience in one Body, "in one place", the presence of God; and so the monastery where they gather is transformed automatically and permanently into the upper room of Pentecost and into a New Jerusalem'. What draws us to this centre is prayer. Using an image which painfully sums up the values of our contemporary society, the Gerontas writes that a 'heart which does not have that Prayer seems to me to resemble a plastic bag, into which you can put something now, but it will soon tear and be thrown away. What gives meaning to our whole life and existence, because it gives us God, is our prayer.'
Friends of Mount Athos Reviews, 1999
Review from the "Books of Athonite Interest' page on the Friends of Mount Athos (FoMA) website accessed here.