Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Counsels in the Spiritual Life for Orthodox Youth (Elder Daniel Katounakiotis)

The following letter of Elder Daniel Katounakiotis, who reposed on September 21st 1929, is a reply to a letter written by two young brothers who sought from this holy man of Mount Athos some guidance in the spiritual life. Elder Daniel's primary aim is to encourage the two brothers to stay away from vice and to love God-pleasing virtue. The letter was written in 1902.

To the beloved brothers Constantine and John, I pray from my soul.

With great joy, I recently received your two letters, which I read with great zeal and diligence. It is my duty that I answer and guide you accordingly. I will, however, address my response to both of you, since the two of you are God-loving brothers, and both of you have equal need of spiritual guidance and education. You are therefore obligated not only to ask, but to listen to what the Fathers have said.

It is true that I was distressed, reading in your letter that you have been negligent in your obligations and have fallen away into many childish foolishnesses. I was also overjoyed that you have come to repentance and desire that I instruct you in which road of repentance to take, in order that you may receive the mercy of our Benevolent God, Whom you have, by your childish misbehavior, seriously grieved.

To offend God and to stray from the straight path of His commandments is not unusual; all human nature easily slips and quite often falls into sin. However, to remain in evil is a grievous mistake, and we must be very careful, for woe unto us if we are found unrepentant at the time of our departure.

Among many of the methods which the devil -- the enemy and destroyer of our souls -- uses to deceive those who correctly practice Orthodox Christianity, particularly youth, is to present another trap, by which he has been able to deceive many young men and completely lead them to perdition.

The evil one first presents this trap under a guise which appears to be good and sympathetic, making it appear as an enticement to youth, and urging them to freedom, laughter, joking and gesticulations, outspokenness, and finally to the use and misuse of alcohol, all of which do not appear disastrous to the world, but which are characterized as a means of “freedom”, by use of political and clever auspices. Thus, getting used to bad habits, youth become filled with passions and are then mocked by demons and men alike. The trap is covered with a heavy shadow and with abstract justifications, making it appear that all these are very small sins and after the passing of this age all of these will be averted; and after all, these are things only hermits and monastics in the mountains should avoid.

If only they could fathom what a great slipping away is brought about by these claims, they would want to depart from these pretexts and applicable excuses as from a deadly snake. It is the aim of the baiting Satan to first instill in a youth all these small sins, and thus paralyze his senses, inciting him to joking, indecent pictures, facetiousness and drunkenness, which gives birth to all the passions.

I beg you to ask, with much supervision, a passionate friend, lewd and unrepentant, to tell you how he was driven to such abominable passions. In answer you will learn from him that the main reason and beginning of passions were a result of his first beginnings in carelessness and indifference to the above causes. Just as the carnal passions come from negligence in small things, so also in the spiritual: from childish foolishness a person comes to the level of unrepentance and despair.

It is true that our Lord Jesus Christ, seeing the slipping away of human nature, receives with open arms the returned sinner. At the same time, however, He says: “Watch and pray, for ye know not the day nor the hour when the Son of Man cometh.” He thereby motivates us to be always prepared and to have in our vessels the oil of repentance and every other virtue, so as not to be excluded from the bridal chamber like the foolish virgins. True, there exists repentance, and when a young man is pure and avoids bad company and drunkenness, but deviates slightly, then repentance quickly wipes out the young sins. When, however, through bad habits the body becomes a slave to sin, it becomes very difficult, and out of many, only a few will be able to be liberated from the [enemy’s] sophisticated snares.

Knowing these things, my beloved Constantine and John, from henceforth do not, for God’s sake, surrender yourselves to the paralyzing laxity of your senses, not to flirtations and joking, nor drunkenness and bad companions, from which the fear of God is lost and you are captivated by the demon of self-love and profligacy. But choose rather the virtuous life according to God, imitating your spiritual father in everything. He is the only one who will educate you in the state according to God and will show you forth as heavenly citizens.

In order to travel firmly the path of God you must:

1. Show great obedience, trust and acceptance towards your spiritual father, always telling him the truth.

2. Stop entirely talkativeness and joking, because, as we have said, where there is talkativeness (outspokenness) the fear of God departs.

3. Have a specific time each evening for prayer, which your spiritual father will assign.

4. When you are in church, be entirely concentrated on listening to the Divine Liturgy, so that the grace of the Holy Spirit will enter your heart.

5. Keep without fail all the prescribed fasts of the Church, and do not imitate the ruinous ways of today’s generation.

6. Whenever possible, avoid wine and particularly alcoholic drinks which arouse the carnal passions.

7. When you have free time, spend it by reading Patristic books.

8. Be careful of some spiritual fathers and teachers, who pretend to teach you virtues and repentance but introduce voluptuousness, by doing away with the fasts and discouraging youth from asceticism, temperance and from reading Patristic texts, and also speak against the monastic life. What harm this brings to pious young men is useless to mention, for I have seen many, who were enticed by these deceptive exhortations, become unwitting victims.

9. Have great reverence especially for our Lady Theotokos, who will always guide you on the path to your salvation.

In closing, I reverently kiss you,

Monk Daniel Katounakiotis

Katounakia, Holy Mountain

June 19, 1902