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Interview with Abbot Father Petroniu Tănase

Words of wisdom, offered to a group of Orthodox pilgrims from Melbourne, by Abbot Father Petroniu Tanase from the Romanian Skete Prodromu (the Forerunner), at the Holy Mount Athos (on 23rd May 2005)

The Romanian skete Prodromu (“The Forerunner”) from the Holy Mount Athos is certainly a very welcoming place.  One of the greatest things that anyone could have noticed was the Abbot bowing down to the ground in front of the door, waiting in this position until all the pilgrims, after meal, have left Trapeza.  This Orthodox greeting could be ‘translated’ as such: I wish you to humble yourself, so you can gain the Heavens!  Do not practice tourism, even in Sacred places, but act according to what God expects from you: look for Him, and He will be right next to you!  Get rid of your ego, so the Truth can dwell in you.

Father Petroniu Tanase: These people, the hermits (the monks living in wilderness / desert) live in reclusion and prayer.  They gave up the bodily needs, without saying many prayers, limiting themselves to “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner”.  In order that one could reach that spiritual stage, as it is found in Philokalic writings and at Saint Symeon the New Theologian, one can not go straight to this Hesychastic experience.  There is a need for a long preparation.  In other words, man must be at peace from four directions.  They are:

  1. to be at peace with God, because He is our Maker,
  2. to be at peace with his neighbour,
  3. to be at peace with the material world (food, clothing, etc.) – because we can not use all these things as we like; otherwise these things lead us to gluttony, for instance, which is not from God,
  4. to be at peace with ourselves, because we are not the masters of this “machinery” – our body.  This machinery can run quite well, but it does not depend on us.  In other words, our beating heart is made by Someone Else, so we must be at peace with our body.

If all these things are fulfilled, we can start praying… And another thing: to reach the stage of passionless.  What is to be passionless?  It is the control of passions – gluttony, fornication, love of money and riches, hatred towards brethren – etc. first of all we have to get rid of all these things, reaching the stage of being passionless.  Nevertheless, after sinning we still have the marks of sins, which we wear: they are inclinations to sin and these leanings towards sin are difficult to drop, therefore a passionless life is hard to achieve.

Once that man is at peace with God, with his neighbour, with the material world and with himself, he also must be passionless.  Who can do all these things in today’s world?  In today’s world the Hesychastic prayer is not anymore possible.  Only the hermits can reach to this prayer.  Saint Basil the Great says, explaining the Apostle’s words of “pray unceasingly”, that to God we do not need to say many things.  Therefore, let us fulfil the Apostle’s words: either you drink, or you eat, thank to the Lord.  We believe, as our Saviour promised to us, that He is with us until the end of the age.  We do not say that we are here and God is in Heaven.  God is with us!

The Power of God sustains our existence and is everywhere.  As a proof that this is the teaching of the Church, it is the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father who art in Heaven” and not our Father who is in Heaven!  We speak directly to God our Lord!  He is not at one kilometre away.  He is present next to us all the time!  But we can not understand with our limited minds, as He sees and hears us…  In spite of this reality, why do we forget this, as if He is not present… We imagine that if I do something during night time, locked in my room or cell, He does not know me and He does not see me… Saint Basil the Great says to follow exactly what the Apostle said.  When we wake up from sleep we must say: thank God that I am awaked.  Likewise in everything; when I start working I thank God that He gives me health to be able to do that job.  This is the prayer that the Apostle is talking about: pray unceasingly.  So, it is different from what the Hesychast living in desert does…

An example: a well-known Hesychast from Romania, St Paisius Olaru from Monastery Sihastria told us this story.  An old woman comes to him asking: ‘What should I do, because I am illiterate, I can not read.  I do not know many prayers from books.  Shall I be saved?’ ‘How do you pray?’ asked the father.  ‘Like this’, answers the old woman.  ‘When I sweep the room, I say: cleanse, O Lord, my heart of all the rubbish as I clean of dirt my house, to make room for Thee and to please Thee as I like a clean the house.  Likewise, when I wash clothes I say cleanse, O Lord, my soul of dirt in the way that I cleanse my clothing, so I shall be pleasing to Thee as I like my clothes to be clean.  Is this a good prayer?’  Saint Paisius answered with ‘pray only like this!’  So this woman was praying unceasingly haven’t been reading from Saint Basil the Great.  We need to make no confusion between the Hesychastic prayer form wilderness and the continuous prayer that man in the world could and should do.

Holy Fathers say – Saint John of the Ladder – that there is no communal life when you have a scattered mind.  The Hesychastic prayer is difficult to be reached.  You’d rather say: Lord, have mercy!  In the church we have a Liturgical life.  During Pascha we say: Christ is Risen from the death!  We do not just say: O Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner!  There are feasts when we do not necessarily say: Lord, cleanse me of my sins.  The Liturgical life comes with other and different states of the soul – and besides, living together with others, in the monastery or in the world, differs from the life that the hermits have.  If you are interested in the prayer of the heart, the Hesychastic prayer, do not believe that you can do it in Melbourne.  You would rather try and do what Saint Apostle Paul advises us: either you eat or you drink, give thanks to God our Lord.

The Saints, the hierarchs and Saint Basil the Great know what they say.  You live in this so-called Western civilisation.  Does it not look unnatural and abnormal?  Especially this continuous obsession with sexuality?  After the monk’s life, everything can be explained very simply.  The first thing which you have to abstain from in a monastery is eating too much.  Without this refrain from filling up your belly, that is fasting, all the other things simply fall.  If our belly is stuffed up, straight away the demon of fornication enters the man’s heart.  In this ‘society of consumption’, from a good living, psychologically talking, all the other things unfold.  The ‘promotion’ of a full belly is something completely abnormal.  The insistence on these things is coming from the devil; we should keep our human dignity of men as created by God.

Answering questions, as posed by pilgrims:

About the Orthodox family

Here at the monastery, we do not have a family as you know it.  But no matter of how the situation is, we must live a Christian life.  We know the Teaching of our Saviour.  The Psalmist says in the First Psalm: ‘blessed is the man who walketh in the law of the Lord’.  The Church teaches us all the good things: the sacraments, how to fast, alms giving, prayer – we have the Right Teaching, the Orthodox Teaching.  If we hear differently do not get involved; it is not our business.  Every one who teaches differently will be judged by God.  The Church does not teach wrongly.  The Orthodox should not be a stranger to the True Teaching.  There are many books available.  One of the heavy sins is ignorance.  One can teach erroneously from a lack of knowledge.  Holy Fathers clearly name these sins: lack of knowledge, carelessness and forgetfulness – and they can generate all the other sins.  But if we keep everything that we have: the New and the Old Testaments, the Orthodox services, fasting, etc., we will not fail.

About the influence of the worldly (Masonic) teachings

We should not have anything in common with such teaching.  We do not go to those people.  As Holy Fathers say, if you touch the dirt you are getting dirty.  We have nothing to take from them.  Our Teaching is fulfilling and sufficient for our salvation.  We should not discuss with others and be influenced by them.  They need Orthodoxy.

About commemoration of the pope of Rome

It is wrong.  The priest must pray for his bishop.  Personally, in his private life, the deviant one can pray for the pope and for the pagans – but with a price: damaging his soul dangerously.

About families where members belong to other religions (Catholics, Protestants, etc.)

This is a mistake.  The family must be united, so that it can not be broken.  I hear similar things from Romania – there are only troubles and misunderstandings, because people look for material interests.  If one of the members of a family is of another faith, he must be brought back to Orthodoxy.  The Catholics and Protestants have wrong teachings, which can not harmonise because of the mentalities resulting from those teachings.  For instance, the Catholics preach that the pope is God’s deputy on earth!  The Orthodox does not believe that because it is not true.  The Saviour, when He ascended to Heaven, says: I am with you until the end of the age.  Christ God is the One Who leads His Church, so it could not be a creature, a man leading the Church.  Holy Fathers say: if only one hour the man would live, he will be full of sins.  There is no infallible man.  There is no logic in what the Catholics say that the pope would have a special charisma.  There is nothing like that in the Holy Scriptures.  This is an invention, and here at the Holy Mount, we do not recognise the Catholic baptism.  When someone wishing to come to Orthodoxy arrives here, we baptise him.

More important details:

Some twelve years ago we have been to the Holy Mount Athos, in a pilgrimage. We were ten people, and i was the only Romanian, as the other ones were Orthodox faithful from Melbourne, Australia, of different origins: Lebanese and Russian. Interpreting during our presence at the Romanian Skete was not an easy task…

In the context of the blasphemies arranged at the Cretan “synod”, part of this article tried to correct and to answer in an Orthodox manner to these stumbling things. At that time, in 2005, we knew about diverse heresies found in patriarchs and bishops and other people of the Orthodox Church, but the urgency that we live presently we did not feel then… Our path to these holy places was full of Orthodox teachings of great help: fixing family problems, finding jobs, understanding all things around in an Orthodox manner – all resolved! Of course, a few wounds and scratches happened too, after the Orthodox gains! But we could see clearly what Orthodoxy means, Who is NOT A RELIGION, but the ABSOLUTE LIFE INTO CHRIST!

And another detail: shortly after arriving back to Australia, personally i was a witness to a miracle. I was looking for a job, and this job i received on the day celebrating Holy Unmercenary Doctors Cosmas and Damian, at the Greek Orthodox College Saints Anargiri Cosmas and Damian!!! The Holy Relics of these Saints from Prodromu Skete and the prayers, as done by the dwellers living there, made the miracle! Glory to God, glory to Thee, O Lord!

Many more pictures with the Abbot can be found at: http://www.orthodoxphotos.com/Orthodox_Elders/Romanian/Fr._Petroniu_Tanase/index.shtml


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