“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (A John, 4, 18)
When you love Jesus, despite your many weaknesses and your awareness of them, you rest assured that you have overcome death because you are in communion with Jesus’ love.
We ought to feel that Jesus is our friend. He is our friend. He confirms it Himself when He says: ‘You are my friends…” (John 15, 14).We ought to look up to Him and approach Him as our friend. If we fall, if we commit an offence, we ought to approach Him with love and courage and be filled with trust bestowed to us by our mutual friendship without fearing His punishment. We ought to tell Him: ‘Yes, Lord I have done this, I have fallen, forgive me”. At the same time we ought to feel that He loves us, that He receives us with tenderness and love and that He forgives us. Let our trespasses not separate us from Jesus. If we believe that He loves us and that we love Him, we will not feel strangers, neither we will feel separated from Him, not even when we commit a sin. We have secured His love and no matter what we do, we know that He loves us.
The Gospel, speaking allegorically, warns that the unjust will be taken to the place where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25, 30); indeed this is how it is going to be for someone who lives away from the Lord. Several of the Niptic fathers also speak about the fear of death and of Hell. They say: ‘You must always remember death’. Such words, if examined deeply, cause the fear for Hell. Someone who is trying to avoid committing a sin nurtures such thoughts, so that his soul is overcome by the fear of death, of Hell and of the devil.
Everything has its own importance at the appropriate time and the right circumstances. The fear of death is appropriate at the early stages of spiritual struggle. It is right for the novices, for those whose old-self is still active. The novice, who has not yet had the chance to be ‘sensitized’, is kept from sinning by this fear. Fear is necessary since we have a physical nature prone to wickedness. However, this is an elementary stage, an early level of relating to the divine. At this level the relationship with the Lord becomes a transaction: to gain Paradise and to avoid Hell. If we examine this properly we will see that it reeks from some kind of selfishness and self-interest.
I do not like this route. As soon as one progresses and enters the love of the Lord, why does he need fear? Whatever he does, he does it out of love and this is more important. It is not worth that much if someone becomes good because he fears the Lord and not because he loves Him.
Whoever would like to become a Christian ought to become a poet first. Once the soul is knocked about it becomes undeserving of Jesus’ love; Jesus interrupts the relationship since He does not want ‘thick’ souls with Him.
When you are worshiping the divine make sure that no one sees you nor recognizes what you are doing. You ought to do all these in secret, like the ascetics. Remember when I mentioned the nightingale? It sings in the forest, when there is silence, so that no one hears it neither praises it. What a magnificent singing in the desert! Did you notice how its throat swells? The same thing happens to the person who loves the Lord. As soon as he experiences this love, his ‘throat and his tongue swell”. He runs in the wild, in the desert and communicates with the Lord in secret, “with inexpressible sighs”.
You ought to ignore your passions; do not preoccupy yourselves with the devil. Turn towards Jesus instead. Divine grace teaches us our duties. We must employ love and longing in order to draw divine grace. The grace of the Lord needs divine Eros.
Once we have acquired love, then we are ready to pray. The Lord comes to such a soul by Himself as soon as He finds some pleasing things: a good intention, humility and love. Without these we are not able to say: ‘Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me”.
The slightest criticism against someone else, affects our souls and we become unable to pray. The Holy Spirit does not dare approach such a soul.
We ought to let the Lord do what He wants with us; this is more beneficial and more appropriate for ourselves and for those whom we are praying for. Jesus will hand over all things in abundance. However, with the slightest selfishness, nothing can happen. The Lord has His own reasons for not giving us whatever we ask of Him. He has His own ‘secrets’.
Unless you obey your spiritual father and show humility, Jesus’ prayer (Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me) will not work and you risk being deluded as well. Do not recite this prayer as a chore. If you apply pressure you may be harmed. Several people have fallen ill because they were reciting Jesus’ prayer under pressure. It can be done, of course, but it is not a healthy way to pray.
You do not have to concentrate excessively in order to recite Jesus’ prayer. You do not need special effort when you have divine Eros. Any place is appropriate for this prayer: sitting on a low chair, on an armchair, in the car, while on the road, at school, at the office, anywhere. Just say ‘Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me’ gently, without pressure or feeling any tightness.
Intensity and not duration is more important in prayer. Pray even for five minutes, but your prayer ought to be offered to the Lord lovingly and with longing. This five-minute prayer may be more valuable than prayer which lasts all night. This is, certainly a mystery, but it happens.
by Elder Porphyrios of Kafsokalivia (+) (Mount Athos)
Translated into English by: Olga Konaris Kokkinos