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Monday, April 30, 2012

Elder Paisios on Grudges

I often have difficulties with books on Orthodox Christianity, mostly because the translations are bad or the author's thinking is so culturally different that I really can't tell what he's saying.  So, I usually avoid books without several recommendations, and almost never buy them unless I am desperate.

Last week, I visited a Greek convent with my family (only five hours away!), and came across Elder Paisios of Mount Athos Spiritual Counsels III - Spiritual Struggle.

I probably should have bought Volume I, but my mind does not work that way: I looked at the Table of Contents for all three volumes and saw a lot about thinking, which is my biggest problem.  So, I decided to give it a shot with the last book.  I bought it, and opened it up when I got home.

It is really good.

Alcoholic and addicts also have a problem with thoughts.  Some of you may remember the admonition of the Old Timer I posted a while back:

"Kid, there's good news and bad news for you about this disease.  The good news is that this disease is a problem of perception.  The bad news is, that's a big [darn] problem!"

Thinking is generally what gets most of us in trouble.  We may also say someone isn't thinking ("Next time, use your head!"), but really we are talking about an utter failure of the thinking process.

Anyway, much of what Elder Paisios (in Greek, 'elder' is γερονδα, pronounced ye-rohn-dtha) has to say so far as I have read is absolutely wonderful.

When we hold even the slightest grudge, a small bad thought about anyone, any ascetic discipline we may undertake, such as fasting, vigils and so forth, will be in vain. What will be the use of such ascetic disciplines, if one does not struggle concurrently to prevent and reject all evil thoughts? Why not first empty the vessel of any impure residue oil, which is only good for making soap, before putting in the good oil; why should we mix good oil with filthy residue? 

People in recovery can relate: you can't stay sober holding onto grudges, despite going to meetings every night and a dozen service commitments.  Resentment is the #1 killer of sobriety.

The problems is that resentment soils the entire mind.  We like to think that we can contain our 'bad thoughts' in a hermetically-sealed container in our heads, just to indulge in on the side (when nobody is looking, of course).  The truth is that the mind does not work like this.  It is all one, big, interconnected network of memories and desires.  What he points out is that the desire to resent another person is based on a passion that must be treated.

If we hold onto grudges, then there is no treatment.  Thus, the passion will only grow worse unless it gets treatment, and so holding onto it means things will deteriorate over time.  This deterioration will inevitably lead to a relapse. 

As I plow through this book, I'll share more quotes.  If you can get a copy, then you can read it for yourself.

The nuns at the Monastery of the Life-Giving Spring have the book in stock, and you can get their contact information here:

No, they don't do email or internet, so you have to call them the old-fashioned way.  Don't worry, they are very friendly, and I recommend visiting there if you need a spiritual retreat (like I did).  Contact the Ranch for a room once you talk to Abbess Markella. 

I'm thinking it would be a great place to hold a 12-Step retreat if I can get enough people interested. 

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