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ΚΥΡΙΕ ΙΗΣΟΥ ΧΡΙΣΤΕ ΕΛΕΗΣΟΝ ΜΕ

ΚΥΡΙΕ ΙΗΣΟΥ ΧΡΙΣΤΕ ΕΛΕΗΣΟΝ ΜΕ
ΥΠΕΡΑΓΙΑ ΘΕΟΤΟΚΕ ΣΩΣΟΝ ΗΜΑΣ

Τετάρτη, 28 Μαρτίου 2018

CONSCIENCE AND OBEDIENCE Source: “Counsels from the Holy Mountain, ” selected from the Letters and Homilies of Elder Ephraim, St. Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery, Florence, AZ (1999), pp. 130-136.

When a person remains completely obedient to his conscience and implements whatever it tells him, he is not reproved by it anymore— not that its voice has weakened, but rather because of his good obedience, his conscience has nothing to reprove. The Apostle John says that when a man’s conscience does not condemn him, he has confidence toward God. (cf. ijn3:2i).

It is impossible for a person to proceed without ever stumbling somewhere, because from all sides the devil, the world, and the flesh are continuously inserting obstacles into his life, and he stumbles in proportion to his carelessness. Therefore, when he falls, he should arise at once and seek forgiveness. When one repents in proportion to the gravity of his fall, his conscience, which used to bother him, stops reproving him.
We must guard our conscience on three points—with respect to God, with respect to our neighbor, and with respect to things. One guards his con-science with respect to God when he avoids the various sins. He guards his conscience with respect to his neighbor when he does not grieve him, judge him, slander him, scandalize him, or push him towards evil deeds. He guards his conscience with respect to things when he does not cause destruction or damage to material things through carelessness, negligence, or unscrupulousness.
When you see something burning or being damaged and you do not pick it up and protect it, this is unscrupulous-ness. When your clothes get torn and you neglect them, and then they get completely ruined, this is unscrupulousness. When you are able to work but instead of working you wander around here and there, this is also un-scrupulousness. When you leave your food out and it goes bad and you throw it away, this is unscrupulousness be-cause you should have taken care to eat it before it went bad. Therefore, unscrupulousness is when one errs in any way with respect to material things, and also when one offends God in any way.

The greatest wealth is obtained when one strives to preserve his conscience unburdened. But in the event that he senses that something has wounded him, he should correct it immediately, and thus he will return to his prior state.
How many times has our conscience reproved us! The more a person listens to his conscience, and the more he attends to it, the more precisely it guides him. And the more discreetly it guides and reproves him, the more he ascends in purity.
There is also the so-called “evil con-science,” which often comes with the pretense and shape and form of the good conscience, yet in essence it is the evil, perverted conscience, the conscience which is opposed to God. The evil conscience is that voice which teaches things deceitful, perverted, and contrary. The good conscience has humility and obedience as its starting point, source, and foundation. The evil conscience has pride and disobedience as its source.
When one does not obey the Elder, when one resists, when one is deceitful, when one does not listen, then one has what is called self- reliance; such self-reliance is the evil conscience.
Humble-mindedness gives birth to the good conscience. Since the two consciences are entangled, one often asks himself, “Is this the evil conscience or the good one? Should I believe this thought or that one?” So to learn—or rather to be taught—what is the good conscience, one needs to have humility; but above all, he needs to place himself under the guidance of another, his superior, his leader, his spiritual father, and to obey whatever he says. Then little by little he will begin to perceive which thoughts are evil and which are good, what is the hue of the good conscience and what is the hue of the evil conscience. Thus, on the one hand, through the teaching and guidance of his spiritual father he avoids falling, and on the other hand, in time he is taught what the hue and appearance of the two consciences are and becomes a perfect man.
It is those who are without obedience who have suffered harm. For man is pressed by both consciences; the one works to save him and the other to destroy him, and many times he does not know which one to listen to. He who is under obedience avoids this danger and little by little becomes experienced and skilled in discerning the evil conscience from the good conscience.
Abba Poimen had two thoughts, and he went to tell them to his spiritual father, who lived very far away—he set out in the morning and arrived in the evening. He forgot one thought, however, and told him only the other one. When he returned to his cell, as soon as he put the key in the door, he remembered the second thought. So without even opening the door, he went back again to tell him his other thought. When his spiritual father saw his labor and his  exactitude, he exclaimed, “Poimen, Poimen, shepherd of angels! Your virtue will make your name known in all the world.” (The term “poimen in Greek means shepherd).
For one to become experienced enough to distinguish the voice of the good conscience from the voice of the evil conscience, he must pass through obedience. If he does not pass through obedience, he is deficient. He may have gifts; he may be a good soul; he may do various good works—but you will see that he always hobbles in discernment and humility. The virtue that submission to an Elder gives is, first and foremost, discernment, which comes through humble- mindedness. That is to say, obedience forges a man’s character and gives him, above all, discernment and humility.
Ask your Father, says the Scripture, and he will tell you '. (Deut 32:7). We see this in the patristic path the saints walked. We read in the Lives of the Desert Fathers that a certain Zacharias saw a vision, but his spiritual father was not in a position to elucidate whether it was from God or from the demons. So he rebuked his disciple, telling him not to pay attention to visions. The disciple went to a discerning Elder who told him, “The vision is from God, but go and submit yourself to your spiritual father,” thus showing that being obedient is more important than seeing visions
How much the Fathers have left us for our instruction! The  best road, the most correct, the safest, the most free from responsibility, is the road of submission to an Elder. “H; who practices obedience,” says Abba Palamon, “has fulfi-r: all the commandments of Christ.”
“The disciple has chosen the best road,” says Abba Most “Run, children, to wherever obedience is. There  peace, brotherly love, unity, vigilance, consolation, crow- and wages.” But when we want to put forth our owr as disciples, then the road becomes difficult, rough, and dangerous. When one practices obedience, he finds himself in love, in forcefulness, in brotherly affection, in crowns, in sanctification, in salvation.
Self-will is a great barrier, a great obstacle—it is a wall between the soul and God. Just as when a wall is in front of us and blocks the sun, the place is damp and unhealthful and does not bear fruit because the sun does not shine there, the same thing happens with the wall of self-will. When it stands in front of the soul, the soul is darkened and remains without fruit. The Sun of Righteousness is Christ; when the soul is not obstructed, the rays of Christ come and illuminate it, and man bears fruit and is sanctified.
Only the one who has tasted the fruit of obedience can speak about it. Obedience is the most grace-filled road. Above all, one who is obedient casts out the evil demon of selfishness and pride—which causes all evils—and brings humility and freedom from care.
We read in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers about two brothers who decided to become monks and left the world. One became a disciple in a coenobitic monastery; the other became a hermit. After two or three years the hermit said, “Let me go and see my brother who is in the monastery, living in the midst of cares and worries. Who knows how the poor thing is doing in the midst of so much bustle.” He was confident that through his ascesis he had reached a high spiritual level. He went to the monastery, and with the excuse that he supposedly needed his brother, he said to the abbot, “I would like to see my brother a little.” His brother came, and the abbot, who was a holy man, blessed them to go off by themselves and talk.
When they had gone some distance from the monastery, they saw on the path a dead man who was almost naked. The hermit said, “Don’t we have any clothes to cover the man with?” The monk from the monastery, in his simplicity said, “Wouldn’t it be better to pray for him to be resurrected?” “Let’s pray,” said the hermit. They both prayed, and the dead man arose. The monk from the monastery did not attach much importance to the miracle; he believed it came about through the prayers of his Elder. The hermit, however, said within himself that the miracle occurred because of his own virtues—because of his ascesis and fasting, his nightly vigils and the hardship he endured, his sleeping on the ground and all his other achievements.
When they returned, before they had a chance to speak, the abbot said to the hermit, “Brother, do not think that it was because of your prayers that God raised the dead man—no! God did it because of the obedience of your brother!” When the hermit saw that the abbot immediately read his thoughts, that he had the gift of clairvoyance and was a holy man, he believed that in reality he himself was deluded, and that his brother, who he thought was anxious and worried about many things within the monastery, was actually above him.
Think with what confidence the disciple said, “Let’s pray for him to be resurrected!” Here you see simplicity, guilelessness, faith. The hermit considered it impossible, but the monk from the monastery considered it natural; he trusted in the prayers of his Elder. What a struggle he must have undergone to reach such humility! How his egotism and pride must have been smashed in the monastery! What
person coming from the world does not have egotism and pride? How many disciples were sanctified and gave forth myrrh after death!
On the Holy Mountain, in the region of St. Anne’s Skete, there was a monk who hauled sacks of wheat up from the harbor with much labor and sweat. At one point he began to say in his thoughts, “I wonder if we will have a reward for all the sweat and labor we endure in order to obey our Elders?” As he reflected on these things, he sat down to rest a little. A light sleep came upon him, and as he was half asleep, he saw the Panaghia before him. “Do not be dismayed, my child” she said to him. ’’This sweat which you shed to haul your provisions for the sake of obedience is counted as the blood of a martyr before my Son.” Then he came to himself, and his thoughts and distress left him. The fathers inscribed that event on the stone wall there, and whoever passes by there reads it.
Near the main church of St. Anne’s Skete, there is a little house called “The Patriarch’s.” A Patriarch by the name of Cyril lived there in ascesis; he had abandoned the patriarchal throne and came to live as a simple monk. The fathers hauled their things on their backs, but they said to the Patriarch, “You are old, your All-holiness, and not accustomed to our way of life. We will get you a little donkey to load your provisions on.” So they got him a little donkey, and he went up and down the mountainside with it. 
One day, as the Patriarch climbed up with the animal and the other fathers had their provisions on their backs, they sat down to rest a little. And as the Patriarch was half awake, he suddenly saw the Panaghia together with the Angels. The Panaghia was holding a vessel and was giving a drink to the fathers who were carrying their things on their backs; the Angels were holding handkerchiefs and wiping away their sweat.
He saw with surprise that they even wiped the sweat from the donkey, and he begged them, “Wipe me also, please.” Then the Panaghia said to him, “Father, you have not sweated; we will wipe the donkey because it has.” Then he woke up and came to himself. He said to the fathers, “Take away the donkey, because I am missing out on many blessings. The Panaghia and the angels wiped the donkey and not me!” From then on, he also carried his things on his back.
How very many such things have happened in the lives of the Fathers! If only we were there to see them! Now such things are rarely encountered; they have all been lost.
So let us be attentive to our conscience. Let us acquire a good conscience through obedience, contrition, confession, and humble-mindedness. Let us avoid self-will, which begets self-reliance and the evil conscience. Amen.


https://apantaortodoxias.blogspot.gr/2018/03/conscience-and-obedience-source.html

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