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Excerpts from Paternal Counsels, Vol. I and II

by St. Philotheos Zervakos

The following excerpts are from Paternal Counsels, Volumes I and II, by St. Philotheos Zervakos. They are published by St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite Society, 2101 Ritchie St., Aliquippa, PA 15001. For more on this renowned twentieth-century Elder of the State Church of Greece, see Modern Orthodox Saints, Vol. 12, by Dr. Constantine Cavarnos.

The majority of hierarchs and priests see to it that their golden altars, vestments and cassocks shine, but not their works. I am not saying that the hierarch or priest should be filthy, unclean, and ragged—far from it! He should be seemly and clean, as a minister, servant, and representative of the Heavenly King, yet he should not only have garments and boast in them, but also have God-pleasing and shining works. Strive to walk worthily of the vocation to which you were called. Do not pay attention to the majority, but to the few and the elect. Do not walk the wide and spacious road which leads to perdition, but the narrow and sorrowful one, which few walk and which leads to life. In this way you will please God and the angels, and benefit yourself and our brother Christians as well....

But my soul in the last moment of my life is very sad and pained, seeing the mournful condition of the Church and her shepherds, who aside from few exceptions, aside from becoming light with their good works, became darkness and cause for the name of our Heavenly Father to be blasphemed in the gentiles.

I believe and hope that the founder of the Church and Ruler of peace shall crush them as the vessels of a potter, while His Church, which He sanctified through His all immaculate blood, He shall preserve from the danger of the flood.

While I am departing in peace, you be saved, as wise and prudent ones from the present wicked and corrupt generation. Strive to find a virtuous and discerning spiritual father, and follow his counsels. Pray and ask God to enlighten to not be deceived. And do not stray either to the right nor to the left, but walk upon the middle path, follow the straight and royal path. Walk upon the path of prudence and discernment, the path of the true Orthodox faith, of pure Christian love and hope, until you arrive in the calm and safe port of paradise and of eternal life, always having the most sweet Jesus Christ, the Deliverer and Saviour of our souls, and Your spiritual Father as a guide....

Everything that the all-wise Holy Apostles and the Godly-wise Fathers of our Holy Orthodox Church handed down to us, many of their successors today want to abolish and so dislodge the Church. However, they will be unable to do this, because the Lord will crush them like vessels of clay. And the few elect will be shaken, and few out of the few will remain unshaken. Let us force ourselves to remain faithful and unshaken in whatever we have received from the divine Apostles, the Holy Fathers, and the teachers of our Church ... do and write as much as you can, but today's generation has eyes and sees not, ears and hears not... [Jer. 5:21; cf. Ezek. 12:2, Ps. 134:16-17, Mark 8:18]....

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Truly the evil of the present age has exceeded the evils and sins of all other ages, and every spiritual father with the fear of God and a conscience is in a difficult position when it comes to applying oikonomia to sinners who confess. In the present wicked generation the spiritual father ought to use oikonomia, for if he uses strictness, either none of those who confess, or few and far between, will be found worthy of receiving communion. The greatest attention and discernment is demanded of the spiritual father, as well as zealous prayer to the Heavenly God and Father to enlighten him as to how he is to exercise oikonomia. According to the divine Gregory, he must "use oikonomia but not transgress." If he is going to transgress, it is preferable that he not hear confessions, so that he may not hear people saying, "physician, heal thyself" [Luke 4:23]....

The lamentable condition of people today is due on the one hand to the lack of virtuous, wise, discerning, God-fearing, pious, and experienced spiritual fathers, and on the other hand to the existence of spiritual fathers lacking fear of God and every virtue, ignorant, inexperienced, and in some cases impious, unbelieving and corrupt. One should not expect anything other than the mercy of the all-good God to send out capable and chosen men into His mystical vineyard or the coming sword to cleanse the earth from her iniquities....

The spiritual father must be knowledgeable, wise, discerning, experienced and prudent. He should have the Holy Spirit to give him guidance on how he is to tend and heal the souls of sinners. Above all, he should have love and loving care for those who confess. Such spiritual fathers, although rare today, nonetheless do exist. Whoever strives to find them is able to. What this is, God's wrath or abandonment of us, I do not know... Preaching is good and necessary, but virtuous spiritual fathers are more necessary. The spiritual father is the one who will wash us from the mire of sin, cleanse our wounds, give us medicines for the safeguard, cure and health of the soul, and reconcile and unite us with God... If we wish not to sin, we should remember death and reflect that God is before us. The spiritual father must not only be clean and free from sin, but he should also have the gift of discernment, because spiritual knowledge differs from medicine as the soul differs from the body....

Most people will not only not accept such counsel, but they even get mad, angry, and are hostile towards the doctor. For these reasons, the people of today's generation, aside from the other sins which they have, they also have pride, and being prideful they neither receive counsel, nor correction nor repentance. The teacher whether he is a priest and spiritual father must be careful to invent medicines and appropriate ways, to correct them. Neither should he be silent, nor should he censure them harshly and abruptly, because strict censures are bruises to prideful and impious ones, and if he abruptly censures them, he will lose them completely.

The teacher must become wise and very discerning, and because no one is wise in this world of himself, he must through fervent prayer ask God, the granter of true wisdom, to give him the gift of wisdom and prudence, like Solomon, to govern souls. Many times with the same medicine one person is healed and the other is harmed—the teacher and the priest must have the gift of discernment. Nevertheless a good, sweet, mild, humble manner benefits more (To a general in 1955)....

I am not able, my beloved child, to describe the joy which I experienced, when I read the letter, that you were obedient to my paternal counsel, and made fervent supplications to the Lord for those who are show enmity towards you, and that you began to feel fervency of sincere love both for those who love you and for those who hate you. These, my beloved child, are fruits of obedience and of love. He who has and does obedience, says the great and wise teacher the venerable Ephraim, is an imitator of Christ, who obeyed his heavenly Father unto death, the death of the Cross. And he who has wholehearted love for God and for all people, always remains with God, and God with him....

Strive to find a virtuous, God-bearing spiritual father, to whom you should confess, because confession must take place personally, not in writing. In writing it can take place in an absolute need, when one cannot find a spiritual father to confess to. Now my children be careful henceforth not to sin and if as men you sin, either out of carelessness or negligence or out of satanic cooperation, immediately run to confess without delay. Just as when you become ill physically you hasten to the doctor, also when you become ill in soul, that is when you sin, because sin is an illness of the soul, hasten to confess. One correction exists, true and sincere repentance. Repentance forgives everything and approaches man to God and makes him holy. Thank God, repent and God, being compassionate, will receive you with open embraces....

Do not cease seeking the counsel of holy spiritual fathers and brothers...Thus you shall be kept whole from the many crafty traps of the enemy, and will become a good soldier of Jesus Christ and a genuine servant, and will be useful to yourself, to your own people, to the Church and to the Homeland....

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Most of today's theologians, with a few exceptions, are opponents of Orthodoxy and friends of the Papist and Lutheran-Calvinist churches. There is a very great and urgent need for young, enthusiastic zealots of the Orthodox Faith and Church, of the Apostolic and Patristic Traditions, bravely stand up against and fight the impious and ungrateful wild beasts and to chase them far away from the flock of Christ. For this reason I approve of your studying, it with caution that you not be misled by certain Papophile professors. Have courage, faith, hope and ye, so that God maybe with you and you with God. When the Almighty God is with us He will crush every enemy and opponent and He will grant us His kingdom. May all people attain His Kingdom....

You do well, my child, to study religious books. Always study, for the reading of the Holy Scriptures is not only the consolation but also the salvation of our souls. Saint Chrysostom says: "reading the divine Scriptures opens up Heaven." And our Lord Jesus Christ instructs us: "You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life, and it is they that bear witness to me." [John 5:39]....

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As to which life you should follow, the married or the celibate, this is God's will, because often what men want is one thing and what God commands is another. Both the married and the celibate life are good, but the virginal life is better and superior, because the celibate takes care to be pleasing to God, whereas the married man strives to be pleasing to his wife and to the world [1 Cor. 7:32-34]. God compels no one towards either married or celibate life. "Whoever wishes to, come after Me" [Matt. 10:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23]. The man, if he wants, must choose on his own either one life or the other. If he wavers as to which of the two lives he should follow, then let him offer most fervent prayer with compunction and devotion, so that God may reveal to him which life is more advantageous and beneficial for him to follow. And God, Who says, "Ask, and it shall be given, seek, and ye shall find" [Matt. 7:7; Luke 11:9], will reveal it to you....

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Since there is need of much work in the mystical Vineyard of the Lord, since the harvest is great while the workers few, since financial obligations and family reasons exist, it is more pleasing to God for you to remain in the world working and struggling, and later on with the permission and opinion of your spiritual father, and if it is God's will, then you can go to the wilderness to worship and serve God there also. Now remain in that in which you were called....

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I do not agree with the attitude of those Old Calendarists who believe and proclaim that the sacraments of the New Calendarists are invalid because they lack the old calendar. The sacraments would be invalid in the event that priests were to call upon the new or the old calendar to descend from Heaven to sanctify the precious gifts. Nonetheless they call upon the Holy Spirit and He comes down, and the faithful partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. It is a great delusion and heresy for one to think that without the old calendar a sacrament cannot be performed ... Woe to the unworthy priests and in particular to those who have enmity among themselves. The holy angels stand by with fear and trembling during the hours of the sacred services and liturgies. Yet we sinful people stand by like beasts and then boast that we are genuine Orthodox, because we firmly cling to the old calendar in the belief that this alone is sufficient for salvation.

The calendar is not God, in case we should think that only the old calendar will save us, as certain fanatical Old Calendarists have thought and imagined. When Christ came into the world, He did not teach old and new calendars. He taught love, humility, meekness, patience, righteousness, abstinence and modesty. Read the Holy Gospel, the source of truth, light and righteousness, and you will see that it refers nowhere to the calendars. All the saints became sanctified, not by the calendars, but by prayers, fasts, vigils and other toils which they endured for the love of God and the acquisition of heavenly goods. All the people who are being saved and are going to be saved, will be saved not by old and new calendars, but by fervent faith and love towards God and by their good works ... So if you want to be saved, follow Christ and not calendars, because salvation is from God and not from the calendars....

Now if you don't feel comfortable with the calendar, follow the old...However don't let the enemy deceive you that you will be saved since now you are an old calendarist. Christ, when He sent His disciples into the world told them: Preach the gospel to all the world, and he who believes and is baptized will be saved. He did not say preach the old calendar and he who believes and is baptized will be saved in it.

The Lord commanded us to love our enemies and to pray for those who trouble, hate and treat us unjustly. The old calendarists are divided and one portion hates, criticizes and curses the other as heretical. They scorn the words of the Lord, who says that we should have love for one another, that we should love our enemies. And after so much hate, criticisms, anathemas, they self-title themselves as genuine [true] Orthodox! But since the one portion considers the other as heretical, which portion is the genuine Orthodox one? Since they don't have love, none of them is Orthodox, and since they do not keep the commandment of love nor shall they be saved, because whoever does not have love no matter how many virtues he has, even if he has prophetical gifts, apostolic gifts, and even martyrdom, without love does not save us. One cause which the paternal calendar does not return is the divisions and the lack of love in the old calendarists. If they repent, make up, and become peaceful with one another, and pray in humility and contrition of heart both for themselves and for the new calendarists, God shall hear their prayer and the old calendar shall return.... May the most merciful God who does not want the death of sinners grant repentance and return and not allow us to be lost but save us according to his great and rich mercy....

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Completely improper and against the Apostolic and Patristic traditions is the immodest dress of women. Most women have completely lost their minds. They cast away modesty and became naked to attract men. They enter fearlessly even into the sacred Churches not in order to pray, but in order to defile and scandalize those who are going to church....

The divine Chrysostom also bears witness to this in his 8th homily on 1 Timothy. "Those are not the garments of a lady making petitions how can you pray when you are wearing such garments?" These belong to mimes and musicians. None of them is proper for a woman, so do not imitate the harlots."

I think it would be good for such women to be forbidden to enter churches, as well as those who have cut their hair, until they mend their ways....

You have no need to paint yourself, and you gain nothing from doing so. You should not go to cinemas or theaters. Go to church, to sermons, and to spiritual people in order to benefit yourselves. Avoid idle talk, gossip, jokes, entertainment, and dances, because all these things harm the soul; if we do not cut them out and repent we will be punished in eternal life. Always remember God, my child, love Him, carry out His commandments; thank Him for enlightening you, and go to confession...strive to become children of God....

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Slander is false accusation. The slanderer is called a devil and is a devil, because just as the Devil falsely slandered God to the first-formed people and deceived them, so also the envious man, the slanderer, falsely accuses his brothers and convinces many to believe him. The slanderer harms himself, the one who is slandered and those listening as well... All those who are slandered, however, and have patience, and welcome and forgive the slanderers, are worthy of blessing. "Blessed are you when men shall hate you... and say all manner of evil against you falsely..." However, slanderers harm many of those who are slandered, because slander has sundered lawful marriages and beloved couples, caused enmity towards beloved friends, relatives and brothers, thrown innocent people into jails, and sent some into exile and others to death. For this reason slander is the greatest sin and the spiritual father should canonize [give a penance to] slanderers as murderers....

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As regards censure the God-bearing Maximos the Confessor says in one of his homilies. The Father (i.e. God) judges no one. He has given all judgment to the Son. While the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ commands: Do not judge, so that you not be judged..., and His divinely preaching disciple Paul, the mouth of Christ, says: Do not prior to the time judge any man until the day comes, during which the judge of all, the most righteous, the only one who has authority to judge all, shall judge and give unto each one according to his works.

Foolish people having grasped from the Son of God the right to judge, having left their own sins, judge and censure one another. The heavens are amazed at this and the earth trembles, while people do not understand, nor feel the great sin which they are committing!

We have the right to call Herod iniquitous and lawless, not lawful and righteous; to call Judas not a disciple, but a betrayer. Arius we should not call a saint, but a heretic, a raging wolf, and each heretic we should call unjust and unlawful. We should speak the truth whether one is good or evil, and as the Church, and God has them, thus should we also have them. But simultaneously let us say God shall judge them, we do not have the right to judge them, because we also are sinners and do not know unto the end what shall happen to us. Judas was a disciple, an Apostle, the thief who was crucified together with Christ was a murderer. In one moment the Apostle on the one hand became a betrayer, while the thief repenting, entered first into paradise. Be careful, be careful, be careful!

So neither I, nor you, nor anyone else has the right to judge kings, hierarchs, clergymen, lay people, young, old, men, women. If they go astray we should censure them, not with curses, with anger or agitation, but with meekness, love and a gentle manner, let us show them the correct, the righteous, the good, and let us pray that God gives them enlightenment and repentance. This is not censuring, but it is advice, counsel, it is interest and love to benefit them. However when we break out in anger, wrath, agitation, swearing, curses, anathemas, wickedness, we reveal their sins to others as well who do not know them, we broadcast them, we publicize them with passion and wickedness, then not only is it censuring but it also is lack of love and resentment. A good thing is not good if it is not done in a good way... A good manner many times makes the evil person good, whereas an evil manner makes the good person evil too.

Since you ask my opinion I advise you as a spiritual father, that silence is preferable and more beneficial, silence with people and inner noetic speech—prayer, with God. Flee untimely discussions, be silent and be saved. (It was sent to a Monk. Publishers note).

I shall probably seem annoying because I tell the bitter truth. I am doing my duty, just as fathers advise their children, for they often censure and scold their children when they go astray, and sometimes flog them. They do not do this because they envy them, but because they love them, in order to turn them away from evil. I also do this as a spiritual father. Because I love and care for you as my children, I have a duty to advise you and an obligation to censure you, not because I hate you, but because I love you and desire what is beneficial and advantageous for you, and conducive to your salvation. I advise you henceforth to refrain from deeds so hateful to God and harmful, and to give the money you spend to the poor, the orphans and widows, so that you may find it in heaven. I ask of all men and women, young and old, that we hate sin and approach God with our whole soul. Keep His commandments, so that here we may live a peaceful and happy life and be granted after the end of the present life to dwell in the beloved tabernacles of paradise.