The Purpose of the Book


     “Look,” [Elder Paisios] said, “the devil doesn’t want people to know that he exists, because it’s easier for him to fight them if they’re unaware of his existence.  You don’t protect yourself from an enemy unless you realize he exists.  But once you’ve detected him, there’s no reason for him to hide, so he then fights you out in the open.” (52)


Elder Paisios on Man’s Love Towards Man


     “Man is worthy of being loved just because he’s in the image of God.  It doesn’t matter at all if he’s good or bad, moral or sinful.  Man is worthy of being loved for what he is.  Christ loved and sacrificed Himself for sinful, corrupt people.  I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Matt. 9:13).  We should be the same way: we should love everyone without making any distinctions.  Just like the sun rises on everyone, intelligent and unintelligent, good and evil, beautiful and ugly, our love should be like the love of God – love that’s like the sun and shines on His whole creation without making distinctions” (Elder Paisios) (83)


The Author’s Impression of Elder Paisios


     I had the elder in mind.  I recalled the many miracles he had worked, such as the time he had taken by the hand a man paralyzed from birth and enabled him to walk around the room.  The elder had told me many details of my own life that even I had forgotten.  He would feed wild bears by hand, for nature was obedient to him.  He saw and conversed with saints, angels, and the Virgin Mary.  He could be in a distant location without having traveled. (92)


Elders, Saints an the Orthodox Tradition


     They wrote about how they lived with God, how and why one loses intimacy with Him, and how one can find it once more, in a fuller, purer, and more blessed way.  I was astonished by the fact that their views and experiences were the same, though they were separated by as many as fifteen hundred years, and I asked Father Christos about this.  He told me that this is what is meant by “Orthodox tradition.”  As I would come to discover, the ascetic and hesychast was a living link in that living tradition.  I would realize that he had been able to clarify the issues that these texts raised because he lived as their authors did and had the same experiences of Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and forever. (107)


God and Man


Later, the elder would tell me that, if God does not help man spiritually, it is impossible for man to approach the truth, and that this is why Christ came into this world. (120)


The Comparative “Caliber” of Elder Paisios


     I couldn’t consider the elder to be a member of an inferior faith, as all the groups influenced by Eastern religions portrayed Christianity to be, because I had never encountered anyone of his caliber with whom to make a comparison. (147)


Differences in “free will” (pt. 1 of 5)


     Suddenly, while I was watching him [Babaji] come down the stairs, I lost consciousness for an indeterminate period of time.  I was standing there but my mind and self-consciousness had been seized and taken somewhere else. (148)


Differences in “free will” (pt. 2 of 5)


     Babaji’s eyes roved around the room and at a certain point our eyes did in fact meet, although he wasn’t looking at me purposely.  As soon as this happened, I lost all contact with my surroundings and fell into an ecstasy.  It was as though I was looking into my chest, and in that inner darkness I saw my own heart in the most lurid colors and engulfed in flames.  The very next moment I regained consciousness and realized what had taken place.  I was quite impressed and continued to watch him carefully. (155)


Epistemological thoughts between Hinduism and Orthodox Christianity


     I stood there wondering which of these two utterly divergent perspectives was, in fact, correct.  I needed to find a criterion by which to determine what this teacher of teachers really was: if I could only find the proper set of scales, I would weigh him in the balance in order to discern whether he was a sorcerer or a saint.  I somehow had to find a gauge that would indicate if he was a god or a devil. (157)


Wrestling with Elder Paisios


     I couldn’t help being sceptical (sic) about the high spiritual level of a teacher who would resort to violence in order to protect his wallet.  In fact, I found such an idea downright amusing when I recalled a similar incident involving Elder Paisios.  There was a young man who had grown up around a Buddhist monastery and spent a lot of time around the elder.  Even though the elder was kindly trying to help him, the young man decided that he wanted to test the elder’s strength, and he grabbed Father Paisios from behind and tried to crush his frail body with his muscular arms.  Irreverently, he said, “Hey, let’s see if Saint Arsenios can help you now!”

     As the elder told me later, “As soon as I heard him say that I felt as though he had uttered blasphemy.  I moved my hand slightly, like this, and immediately saw him cast six feet away and slammed against the wall.  He afterwards came over and made a prostration, and I told him to ask forgiveness of the saint.”  From this example, I concluded that God protects spiritual people in a spiritual way, and not with their own use of the martial arts, which (apart from being potentially injurious) hardly reflects the character that befits a saint. (176)


Differences in “free will” (pt. 3 of 5)


     Suddenly, I became aware that I was jerking my head back and forth, as though I were trying to rid myself of something that had sat on top of it.  I rubbed my eyes vigorously in order to awake from this condition.  In the meantime, the crowd became alarmed and recoiled from me in fear, and many even fled the group.  I felt sure it was the work of the yogi.  Nevertheless, when I came to, I looked at him indifferently and though, “You huckster, you’re nothing to write home about.”  To me, he seemed to be showing off.  I blamed him, but I wasn’t angry with him: I had lost all interest in him and his powers.  Shortly thereafter, I returned to my hotel and went to sleep.

     When I later reflected on what had taken place, I realized that I couldn’t tell when I had lost control over my senses.  I didn’t know when this state had begun, how long it lasted, or what I did while I was in it… (184-185)


Differences in “free will” (pt. 4 of 5)


     The whole time the mantra Om Namah Shivaya” was stuck in my mind, as it would be for days after.  The melody was positively enchanting, but it still bothered me that it had been implanted there without my consent, and again I had cause to reflect on the opposite practice of the elder, who always asked my permission, respecting my person.  At daybreak, I returned to my room for some sleep. (197)


Differences in “free will” (pt. 5 of 5)


     I felt as though someone had stolen the keys to my consciousness, hypnotizing me from a distance while I was asleep and breaking into the house of my soul. (198)


Contours of Divine Knowledge


     I knew then that these are not matters to be judged by the intellect, which can hardly comprehend them.  Instead, they are the province of a divine knowledge born in the heart, which is much more certain and profound than what usually passes for knowledge. (230)


Elder Paisios in the Light of the Transfiguration


     One day some time later, when I was leaving Elder Paisios’s cell, I recalled something that was troubling me and I mentioned it to him: “Elder, that yogi, Niranjan, was able to produce a light.”  “What kind of light?” he asked.  “Once, when we were all sitting around him, his body suddenly started to give off a golden-yellowish light in the form of a continually expanding sphere, which eventually engulfed us all.  I wasn’t the same afterwards – It altered my way of thinking.  What was that light?”

     Without saying a word, the elder gently lifted up his hand and placed it on my head.  Suddenly, the entire yard was flooded with a light that welled forth from the elder and could be seen in all directions.  It was as powerful as a flash of lightning, but it was continuous, showing no sign of passing away.  Although it was intense, it didn’t hurt my eyes.  On the contrary, I couldn’t get my fill of looking at this sweet, immaterial, noetic light.  And, although the light was supernatural and rare – not like a white light, but more like glass, or water – there was still something so very natural about it that it didn’t startle me, but instead granted me a profound sense of joy.  This light was all-embracing and intoxicating yet it left my movements peaceful and my mind extremely lucid.  Although I was absorbed by the vision of this light, I continued to see my natural surroundings.  My five senses continued to function normally, while alongside of them another sense, a spiritual kind of vision, had begun to function as well.  Although it was around noon and the sun was shining brightly, when the immaterial light began to emanate from Father Paisios, the sun’s light seemed weak by comparison, like that of the late-afternoon sun.

     I didn’t say a word, but I understood many things.  Afterwards, when I reached the Monastery of Koutloumousiou, the monks could see that I was deeply changed and asked me, “You’re coming from Elder Paisios, aren’t you?”  I nodded my head.  The experience left a mark on my soul that I can still feel twenty years later, even though the intensity of my feelings waned within a few days.  It left my soul with a sweet peace, which deeply changed me in a mystical, hidden way.

     Truly, if I had remained ignorant of the light that came forth from the elder, I would have remained impressed by the enchanting light of the yogi – which was, in fact, truly remarkable.  But after my experience, I naturally made the comparison between the light of Niranjan and the light of the elder.  These two lights were as vastly different as an old piece of tin differs from a bar of solid gold, as falsehood differs from truth, and as man differ from God.  The elder’s invincible light not only surpassed the light of the yogi, but it utterly prevailed over it.  I had already heard so much from the elder about the light of the yogis, but words just weren’t sufficient to grant me true understanding, so he had granted me this spiritual gift so that I could understand the difference by experience.

     Once, when I was speaking with the elder about the lights that one sees during meditation, he told me, “We don’t want to see those kinds of lights, so we turn away from them.  When I was at the hermitage of Saint Epistimi in the Sinai desert, I would leave my cave at night and go to pray at the neighboring peak, from which I could see the monastery.  I would hold a lighter in my hand that I would light every so often so that I could see where I was walking on the rocks.  One night, when I had walked a few steps from the cave, there appeared  a light as bright as a spotlight that illumined the whole region as though it were day.  I realized that it was from the evil one and said to myself, “I don’t want to see that kind of light,’ and I returned back to the cave.


     As powerful as my experiences with the elder were, his words were of great value as well.  Of course, I can do no more than express what I understood of his words, along with the writings and spoken teachings of other spiritual strugglers.  From these, I gathered that the spiritual phenomena I had experienced were a result of the natural receptivity of the human soul to both divine grace and demonic influence.  On this plane, all depends upon a person’s free will, in accordance with which he opens the gateway of his soul to Christ or to the devil.  When people trample on their conscience, the law written in their hearts by God in order to guide them towards the good, they alienate themselves from Him, the source of goodness and light.  Their minds grow dark and they commit sins that give the devil the “right” to linger around them – and this is how people find themselves under demonic influence.

     If they continue further along this path, the evil spirits will enter them and they will become demonically possessed.  But the elders on Mount Athos had also known people, such as sorcerers and Satanists, whose minds were so perverse that they wanted the demons to enter them and actually invoked the demons so that the devil would come and seize their souls.  Some were motivated to do this because they lusted for power over others – so that others would admire them and be obedient to them.  And, often, they desired worldly goods and sinful pleasures in order to satisfy whatever passions might dominate them.

     In any event, when a person has become open to demonic influence, the devil can indeed grant him, or rather exercise through him, the considerable power the devil naturally posses as a spirit.  Thus, such a man might gain great physical capabilities, such as were possessed by the man who had an unclean spirit in the country of the Gadarenes, who was able to break his chains into pieces.  He might be able to alter his appearance, to speak with peculiar voices, to cause himself to levitate, or to make lights or different objects to appear.  He may seem to be able to foretell events, and he may be able to reveal a person’s hidden sins, amazing and frightening his hearers with knowledge of the past.  Moreover, acting through the demons, such a man can exploit others; imaginations in order to form images and sounds in their minds, and can also bring about striking physical effects, such as cracking a mammoth tree or shattering a large boulder.  I knew these phenomena well.

     Nevertheless, the elder told me, Christ has bound the devil, so that he cannot wreak all the havoc that he desires.  “The most insignificant demon has such power that he could make the entire earth collapse with a stroke of his tail, but God does not allow it.”  On another occasion he said, “Suppose the president were speaking on the balcony before a crowd of thousands watching him from below.  If God permitted the devil to appear on that balcony for just one moment, they would all drop dead from fear.”

     And yet, despite the terrifying visage of the devil in his true form, a person who has opened his soul to the devil’s power may appear to be quite virtuous.  The elder referred to a passage from the New Testament:  For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.  And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.  Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works. (II Cor. 11:13-15)

     On the other hand, when someone approaches God by keeping His commandments and participating in the Mysteries of Christ, God comes to abide in that person’s soul.  With the keeping of Christ’s commandments, man shows his love for God, and when a man loves Christ, he will keep his words, and His Father will love him, and They will com to unto him, and make Their abode with him (cf. John 14:23).  Then man’s soul is so closely united with God that he and God become one: He that is joined unto the Lord is one in spirit (I Cor. 6:17).  Thus, man’s soul experiences theosis and acquires by grace those traits that are God’s by nature: immortality, light, glory, knowledge of the future and the past, dominion over matter, authority over illness, and much more.   But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory (II Cor. 3:18).  In such a person, the light of Christ that is present in his soul is so intense that it also illumines his body, so that when that person so wills for reasons he knows best, he can reveal his soul’s glory to others.  He does so even as Christ revealed His divinity to His three disciples on Mount Tabor: Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, and was transfigured before them: and His face did shine as the sun, and His raiment was white as light (Matt. 17:1-2).

     In time I realized that Father Paisios could also be numbered in the company of these God-bearers.  By his words, deeds, and life, he manifested the light of Christ – and, when there was a need, he also manifested it in a special, supernatural way. (258-263)


The Difference Between the Jesus Prayer and the Yogi Mantras (282-285)


     Now consider how the yogis view the mantra.  First of all, thee are many mantras, and each refers to one of the many gods of the Hindu pantheon such as Krishna, Rama, Vishnu, or the goddess Kali.  There is not one standard explanation given by yogis for the mantras; rather, their explanations are tailored to the receptivity of each listener.  For beginners who are not disposed to worship idols, yogis give a pseudo-scientific, mechanistic explanation: they claim that the benefit accrued by repeating the mantra is due to certain frequencies produced by its pronunciation, which cause spiritual vibrations that activate spiritual centers within man.  (However, the existence of such centers in man can only be taken on faith – if someone willingly chooses to believe such a claim.)  For those who are inclined towards psychological interpretations, the yogis present the repetition of a mantra as a type of auto-suggestion that enables the practitioner to program his inner world according to positive models.  When addressing those who have become more involved with Hinduism and now believe in many gods, the yogis claim that the worshipper receives the blessing of whatever god is being invoked.

     What constitutes the infinite distance separating the Christian Jesus Prayer from the Hindu mantra, however, is that which lurks behind the name of the god being invoked in a mantra and invited into the soul.  Through the mouth of the Holy Prophet David, God declares, All the gods of the nations are demons (Ps. 95:5) – in other words, behind the names Krishna, Rama, or Shiva are demons lying in wait.  Once they are invoked by the use of the mantra, the door is open for the devil to begin his theatrical productions, using sounds, images, dreams, and the imagination in general in order to drag the practitioner deeper into deception.

     Another significant difference between the Christian Jesus Prayer and the Hindu mantra is the diametrically opposed viewpoints of the two faiths regarding techniques and the human subject.  I recall a conversation I had with Niranjan after he had given me permission to begin to practice some supposedly powerful yoga techniques.  I said to him, “It’s fine practicing the techniques, but what happens to the human passions of greed, lust for power, vainglory, and selfishness?  Aren’t we concerned about them?”  “They disappear,” he replied, “through the practice of the techniques.”  “Do they just disappear like that, on their own?”  I asked.  “Yes, they disappear automatically, while you are practicing the techniques.”

     What an astonishing assertion: physical exercises can wipe out the inclinations that a person’s soul acquired in life through conscious choices.  But, in reality, man, as a self-determining and free moral agent, can change the conscious aspect of his personality and his moral sense only by the use of his own free will to make conscious decisions in real-life situations.  Any external means to automatically induce such a change in a person’s consciousness without his consent circumvents man’s free will, obliterates his volition, and destroys his freedom, reducing man to a spineless puppet manipulated by a marionettist’s strings.  Hinduism’s relentless insistence on properly performed techniques with automatic results degrades man by depriving him of his most precious quality: the self-governing free will.  It restricts the boundless human spirit within a framework of mechanical methods and reflexes.

     Orthodox Christian Faith, on the contrary, recognizes and honors the gift of human freedom as a divine trait.  This recognition and approach help man to be actualized as a free being.  Precisely on account of the human freedom to choose, man’s often-unpredictable responses can’s be limited to the mechanical reflexes of a closed system, but can innovatively turn in any spiritual direction that he, as a free subject, wills.  This is why Orthodoxy is not adamant about techniques and methods.  In freedom and with respect, Orthodoxy seeks the human heart, encouraging the individual to do what is good for the sake of the good, and pointing out the appropriate moral sense of the soul before God, which an individual can hen freely choose to embrace.

     Genuine spiritual development entails a deepening familiarity with God and with one’s own self, acquired through moral choices that a person freely makes in the depths of his heart.  Spiritual progress is a product of man’s way of relating to himself, to his fellow man, and to God by the good use of his innate moral freedom.  This is why Christ calls out, If any man wills to come after Me, let him freely deny himself (Matt. 16:24) – that is, without being deceived, without being psychologically compelled, and without being forced, all of which are inappropriate to the spiritual nobility of the Christian life.

     Father Porphyrios had a small parrot that he taught to pray in order to illustrate the absurdity of some Christians’ empty repetition of the words of prayer, as well as the ridiculousness of the opinion commonly presented in Eastern religions that someone can make moral advances by physical exercises or breathing techniques.  Every so often, the parrot would mechanically say, “Lord, have mercy.”  The elder would respond, “Look, the parrot can say the prayer, but does that mean that it is praying?”  Can prayer exist without the conscious and free participation of the person who prays?” (282-285)




Who is Elder Paisios?


     “My child, I’m just a human being.  I pray to Christ and he replies.  If His grace abandoned me, I’d be just another bum on the streets of Omonia” (Omonia Square in Athens, known at that time for being populated by drug addicts, prostitutes, and thieves.) – Elder Paisios (288)


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