The Unmeasurable, Unending: the Mercy of God

I am often touched by the stories of Elder Paisios and his interesting life – an Orthodox monk, blessed with grace and wisdom. Some consider him to be a saint, and is canonized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. My favourite tale is regarding an alcoholic monk, upon whose death a battalion of angels came to collect his soul.

“Once on Mount Athos in Greece there was a monk who drank and got drunk every day and was the case of scandal to the pilgrims. Eventually, he died and this relieved some of the faithful who went on to tell Father Paisios that they were delighted that this huge problem was finally solved. Father Paisios answered them that he knew about the death of the monk after seeing the entire battalion of angels who came to collect his soul. The pilgrims were amazed and some protested and tried to explain to the Elder of whom they were talking about, thinking that the Elder did not understand.

Elder Paisios explained to them that this particular monk was born in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) shortly before the expulsion of the majority of Christians there by the Muslim Turks when they were taking Christian boys and forcing their conversion to Islam. So as not to take him from his parents, they would take him with them to reaping in the fields and so he wouldn’t cry and alert the Turks to his presence, they put raki (an unsweeted anise-flavored Turkish alcoholic beverage popular in the Near East) into his milk in order for him to sleep. Therefore he grew up as an alcoholic.

Having grown up in such a way, the elder told him to pray that God would help him reduce by one glass the glasses he drank a day. After a year, he managed with struggle and repentance to make the twenty glasses he drank into nineteen glasses. The struggle continued over the years and he reached two to three glasses a day with which he would still get drunk.

The world for years saw an alcoholic monk who scandalized the pilgrims, but God saw a fighter who fought a long struggle to reduce his passion. The moral of the story is this: without knowing what each one is trying to do what he wants to do, what right do we have to judge his efforts?

This particular version is extracted from “The Meaning of Grace for the Christian”, an article published here by John G. Panagiotou.

We are charged with the practise of virtue – humility is one of these. We have to know our place as children of God, and recall the inability we have with experiencing the ‘other’ limited by the confines of flesh and bone. We cannot judge someone, we cannot judge them for we don’t truly know them as God does.

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Cars don’t fit in Coffins

Eventually, eventually, we travel our way through life and learn to love those we love for whatever their meaning is to us. Sometimes the memory of unrequited love becomes a theme to our lives, and we stay attached to what we couldn’t have as if we had already had it but it was torn from us with great force.

Perhaps, we fall in love with a thing; a favourite toy or keepsake, perhaps with sentimental value. Perhaps it was a moment in the sand of time, a glimmer in which we saw heaven or felt the flames of hell. Then, we are stuck with that recollection through all the rest of the days in our short lives.

But when our last breath draws nigh and the angel of death descends at our last hour, we cannot say “ah just wait, I need my bracelet.” No, we take nothing of our earthly possessions. We leave all things unclaimed, for it matters not then. Our fate is eternal, and though the Lord might send us on a purgatorial quest on earth to some final battle or cleansing fire, we will never again require that which we had previously owned. We see this in the saints, who before us, have perfected humility and non-attachment. It is a virtue we ought to pray for now, since our attachment to the physical object in our ownership is a defining feature: it decides how people look at us, how we compare ourselves to the ‘other’, and which social class or societies in which we mix.

To be truly poor is to be rich. Consider how the great perfect imitator of the Sacred Heart, St Francis, abandoned all his wealth and nobility to pursue true love of his common man, exercising therefore a great understanding of the human condition and of God’s great goodness and love. He one said, “…if you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.” Does this mean to say then that the greatest possession we can obtain is virtue? I think so. In Aristotelian flavour, we can only become virtuous if we practise those virtues. This, we take to the grave because it is the key by which we open Heaven’s gate; it is the seed by which grace is planted and infused by God. Yet, by asking God for His grace, He gives us these virtues, through the hands of His Most Blessed Mother.

Now, this is not to say at all that being rich is at all a vice. Quite the opposite, in fact. Money is not a problem, it is the use of currency which is – its theft, by communism, being a major evil in this world. But, our wilful use of our riches to afford the poor a better living? A true commandment of Our Blessed Saviour, in true imitation of Him.

“Dies Irae” is a text commonly sung at Requiems and at the Office of the Dead. The second verse reads as following:

What horror must invade the mind
when the approaching Judge shall find
and sift the deeds of all mankind!

We don’t hear enough of this, do we? He is to sift the deeds of all mankind. And through which gate will we enter? I pray one with angels and saints.