Tuesday, March 23, 2021

St. Paisios on Fear of Germs and Holy Things

The following conversation that St. Paisios the Athonite had with one of his spiritual children, which is recorded in Elder Paisios of Mount Athos: Spiritual Counsels III: Spiritual Struggle, is of some interest, especially in the times we currently live in.

I remember also at the Coenobium we had a monk who as a layman had been a police captain. They made him a reader because was educated. He had been in the monastery for years yet was still disgusted by many things. He would not even touch a doorknob! He would try to open a door with his foot, or try to turn the knob with his elbow and then clean his sleeve with alcohol. He would even open the door of the Church with his foot. In his old age, God permitted that his feet developed gangrene, especially the one he use to open the door. I was serving as a nursing aide when he first came to the monastery’s hospital with his foot all bandaged up. The nursing orderly told me to untie it while he went to get some bandages. When I untied it, I gasped. It was covered with little worms. “Go down to the sea to wash it and get rid of the worms, and come to have me change the bandages.” I was at a loss seeing the condition of his foot, the degree of his punishment. The nursing orderly asked me, “Do you know the cause of his afflictions?” “Yes, it’s because he opens the door with his foot,” I told him.

-- And Geronda, did he continue to open the door with his foot?

-- Yes with his foot! And he had grown old as a monk.

-- Didn’t he understand in the end?

-- I don’t know. After that, I went to the monastery of Stomion in Konitsa. I don’t know how he died. But there in the Coenobium on Mount Athos some of the younger monks would eat the food left on the plates of the older monks as a blessing. Thy would gather the leftovers because thy had been blessed. Others would kiss the doorknob touched by the Elders, while the monk who was disgusted by everything would barely touch his moustache to the holy icons when he bowed to reverence them. One can only imagine what his poor moustache had to endure with the rubbing alcohol!

-- Geronda, when something like this happens with sacred things, is it not irreverence?

-- Of course; this is how things start, and then move on to further developments. The same monk reached the point of not kissing the icons because he feared that the monks who reverenced them before him had some illness!

-- In other words, if one is to avoid being disgusted, he must not be fussy or pay attention to such things?

-- People do not see what trash is mixed into the food they put in their mouth! Even if one has some phobia about getting sick, Christ will help if one makes the sign of the cross with faith. Many people who have various illnesses come by my Kalyvi*. Some simple folk who come will cross themselves when they pick up the tin cup I have there to drink some water. Others who are afraid do not touch it. Someone who held an important position in a company recently came to see me. He is so afraid of germs that he had bleached his hands white from frequent washings with disinfectant alcohol. He will even rub  the steering wheel of his automobile with alcohol. I felt sorry for him. Do you know what it is like to hold such an important position and to be like that? I gave him some loukoumi**, and he did not take It because I had touched it. But even if it had still been in the box, he would not have taken it because he would be thinking that someone else must have placed it in the box with his hands in the first place. I took the loukoumi and rubbed it on his shoe and ate it. I did a number things like that in order to help him free himself, even a little, from his feeling of disgust.

Today a young woman came here who was a hypochondriac. She would not receive a blessing when she entered because she was afraid of catching germs. And when she was leaving, after all I had said to help her, she still would not receive a blessing. “I won’t kiss your hand, Geronda, because I’m afraid of catching germs,” she told me. What can you say? Such people make themselves miserable (Elder Paisios of Mount Athos: Spiritual Counsels III: Spiritual Struggle (published in Greece in 1999, and in English, in 2016, by the Holy Monastery “Evangelist John the Theologian”, Souroti, Thessaloniki, Greece, pp.51-53).

*A little house.
**Also known as "Turkish delight"... but not by Greeks.