March 2023 - Our Orthodox Faith

Saint Paisios the Athonite on: THE ORTHODOX TRADITION

The following passage comes from With Pain and Love for Contemporary Man the first volume of a compilation of spiritual counsels from the holy Saint Paisios of Mount Athos.

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever"

Geronta, people often talk about “Church renewal” as if the Church is getting old and needs to be rejuvenated!

Yes, She got old...! Even people who do not have reverence but do have some sense cannot find comfort in the new things made these days; so they go off in search of things made in the past. New icons, for example, do not move them; they now appreciate the value of old icons. If this happens with people who have a little sense, just imagine how much more moved are those who have devotion! This should tell you how wrong all this talk about "renewal" is!

Today, even someone who tries, just a bit, to remain faithful to Tradition, to maintain the fasts, abstain from work on feast days, and is devout, is subject to ridicule: "Where does he think he is? Those things are no more; they're for the past!" And if you respond, they will continue: "In which era do you live? Nobody does those things today!" Slowly they are taking Tradition, fasting and reverence and making them into fairy tales. But do you remember what the Gospel says? Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever? If you cannot observe our Tradition, at least say, "My God, I have sinned!" Then, God will be merciful. But that's not what happens nowadays. These people, although they are spiritually weak, try to impose their views on others because their conscience bothers them. Take a person who is possessed by a demon and put him in a spiritual environment. He will not be able to sit still because he will feel coerced. It's the same with these folks. Their conscience
bothers them; they are under pressure, and they say all these things in order to suppress their conscience. They call our values "status quo" and try to replace traditional values with disorder. There is so much perversion out there! They consider spiritual beauty ugliness. Judged by their secular standards, spiritual beauty is worldly ugliness. Imagine grabbing a monk and cutting his hair - how ugly he would become! And yet, this type of ugliness is what worldly people consider beautiful.

You see, now they fight the Church to try to destroy Her. I understand their point: they don't believe in God and preach atheism. But why do they refuse to recognise the many good things that the Church has to offer and are always against Her? This is very malicious. Why don't they acknowledge that the Church actually protects children, keeps them from turning into little hooligans and helps them become good human beings? Instead, by propelling children on the path to evil, they give them free license to destroy themselves. This is not what the Church does. It teaches them, "to be prudent, to show respect to other people and to be chaste so that they will grow up to be good and wholesome human beings." This will not last. Things will fall into place again. In Russia, in a church, an old lady was praying on her knees, next to a pillar. A young woman, a great scientist, goes up to her and says, "This is old-fashioned!" And the old woman answered her, "Right here, by this very pillar where you
now see me weeping, you too will weep one day. Your ways will come and go; they will become outdated, but Christianity will never become outdated."

There will be a return to Tradition

In the future, people will appreciate how Christians today preserved the honour, faith and grandeur of the Church. There will be a return to Tradition. You'll see. The same thing happened with iconography. There was a time when they could not understand Byzantine art. They tried to tear down frescoes using axes to remove the old plaster, and replace it with new plaster so as to paint Renaissance-like icons. Now, after all these years, they recognise the value of Orthodox iconography. Ax-stricken frescoes are uncovered and restored by people who are not even pious or believe in God. The same thing will happen with so many things that are considered useless and thrown away today. Slowly, there will come a time when people will look for them.

Have you noticed how Byzantine music is taking its rightful place? Even young children are now studying it. A few years ago, it was difficult to find people that were trained in Byzantine music. Now that little children have learned it, many wonder at it. The "turns" of Byzantine music are so delightful! When it is authentic Byzantine, the turns are so beautiful, so sweet. Some are fine like the songs of nightingales; others are soft like lapping waves, and yet others are full of grandeur. They all convey and stress the divine meanings. It is hard to find chanting that has these qualities. Most chanters only go half-way; they chant in a truncated, formulaic way. They leave gaps, holes! And worst of all, they chant without inflection. It makes me wonder whether the accent marks have been left out of their books! It's like modern grammar that has done away with accent marks. There are those who do not make use of tones when they read. No matter what they say, it sounds the same - as if the
words have been steam-rolled flat! "Pa-Ni-Zo", "Pa-Ni-Zo", you hear them chant! They chant, but nothing comes out of it! Some stress syllables without emotion and end up shrieking. Others stress every syllable the same way, as if they are hammering nails rather than chanting! It's true! Their chanting is either too harsh or too flat. It does not move you. It does not alter you spiritually.

By contrast, authentic Byzantine music pacifies and soothes the soul. True, authentic chanting is the result of the overflow of the inner spiritual state. It is divine bliss! In other words the heart is delighted with Christ, and filled with joy, it converses with God. When the chanter becomes part of the chant, he is altered, in the good sense of the word, and so are those who listen to him. Some years ago, an old chanter visited the Holy Mountain and he became a laughing-stock. The Fathers there chanted in the traditional way. So they invited him to chant with them, but he could not sing the "turns"; he did not know how. The Fathers, the Haghiorites, knew them from tradition. He started having questions; others did too. A good concern took hold of them, and so they started researching, studying, listening to old traditional masters, and in the end they discovered how "turns" had been used in the past.

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