So, late last night I was exiting my room to go out, and I ran into Anba Serapamon, Bishop and Abbot of St. Pishoy’s monastery in Egypt. He had been sitting on the balcony watching the view of the ocean and city lights, when a wind slammed his door shut, and he was locked out. The saintly man, who has severe arthritis, walked up a humongous hill and up two flights of stairs with the most peaceful demeanor, to come and ask if I could kindly unlock the cell for him.
+Christ is risen
So, late last night I was exiting my room to go out, and I ran into Anba Serapamon, Bishop and Abbot of St. Pishoy’s monastery in Egypt. He had been sitting on the balcony watching the view of the ocean and city lights, when a wind slammed his door shut, and he was locked out. The saintly man, who has severe arthritis, walked up a humongous hill and up two flights of stairs with the most peaceful demeanor, to come and ask if I could kindly unlock the cell for him. This, for me, was excellent, because in opening the door for him, I got to spend a whole hour with him. I want to share with you three things from what I received.
1. With simple eyes you can see God.
His Grace began by looking out at the view. He said, “Look at all the colours: red, orange, yellow, blue…It’s just like the rainbow, like the sign of God’s promise.” I told him, “Who would have thought that two human beings who didn’t have a shovel and were given the world, thousands of years later would have such sophistication?” To which he replied, “I think in Adam’s mind was a vision of all of this, but he couldn’t do it.” He then went on to meditate on the planes flying in the air and the helicopters and said, “All of these things are things that glorify God!” He was saying how the creative elements of man are a gift out of God’s creativity, and that we are participating in His work as we make these things. I wish I could articulate the look of excitement there was on his face. What was compelling to me, among these short comments and others that he made, was that in the smallest things he was seeing God. Sitting on the balcony alone, I don’t think the randomly coloured lights would have reminded me of the promise of peace. I would have been judging the revelers out drunk. Yet, because he is filled with God, because his heart is pure, he could see God in this.
2. Thought and Image Warfare
His grace spoke to me about monasticism and celibacy, especially because of the order to which I belong. What he said, though, is relevant to all. He spoke about how “the pure in heart see God” as we read every day in the Agpeya. But, he acknowledged how hard this is. He said the only way to protect ourselves is to truly fight our thoughts and the images that we see. “You must crucify every thought before you dialogue with it! We must!” He exclaimed, “Didn’t Eve fall because she was giving and taking with the devil? It’s because she dialogued. We can’t dialogue with the devil, we need to take the thought from the root, nip it in the bud, and get rid of it.” Then he lamented, “But, my beloved, the internet, phones and electricity have killed so many people, especially this terrible internet!” Before you guys get angry that he said that, think about what he’s saying, “People have internet on their phones, they see terrible terrible images, and these are the images that are so hard to destroy. The danger of this is that it starts with an image, and then it enters inside the person, but the greatest danger is when it enters the heart. When it enters the heart, it takes the person. The heart is supposed to belong to God, that’s why God says, ‘My son, give me your heart.’ But if we turn over our hearts to these images, then we fall and it becomes so hard to see God, because it is the pure in heart that see God. This was the devil’s plan all along. He gave all of us the tools to make sure we are far from God.” So, I asked, how does one fight this?
“To fight this, you need to practice discipline of your mind. If you see a beautiful person, imagine them diseased, or worse, rotting dead! We pay people in Egypt to get the corpse out of the house quickly because of how badly it stinks. Remember death and paint over the image with that imagery. Better yet, fight it with the image of Christ! On top of that picture in your mind, put an image of the Crucified Lord, or the Crown of Thorns! You will find that the images start to leave you. But more importantly than all of this, is the necessity of praying psalms regularly. By learning psalms, by spending time praying them in morning and evening, a person is guarded from the filth that enters the mind. If we pray them enough to memorise some, it gives less room for the devil to play or to give thoughts that take root in us.” Then he asked a question that we all need to ask, “If we are addicted to sensuality, pornography and fornication from such young ages, can you tell me, who would care to live a life of purity and righteousness?” The question is rhetorical.
“The Kingdom of God suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.” He began (quoting Matthew 11). “If we want be men in Christianity, we need to be violent on ourselves.” He explained further, “Christianity cannot be passive, all the things that we need to live a proper life require a lot of work. This generation is fought by negligence, not by pride. What works have we accomplished? None! The real warfare is against negligence. We must have some force or violence on ourselves if we want to be able to grow.”
These are three topics from our night that I thought would be relevant to all of us. For those of you familiar with stories of the desert fathers and monastic teachings, you will find in him the same spirit.
Glory to God in all things.