Liberation from the Delusion of the False Desire for Martyrdom

"The Great Watch". The cell notes of Hieromonk Jerome.

Once he [the monk Paisius] came to me for confession and said: “Father! I have a great desire to become a martyr, bless me to go to Thessaloniki or to Smyrna to be tormented for Christ, I really want this, my heart burns day and night, everything draws me to lay down my life for Christ.” Hearing this from him, I was surprised and asked him: “Where did such a strange thought come to you from? What is this for?” “So that,” he answered, “Firstly, by these means I can sooner be saved, and secondly, I will be forever in the rank of martyrs who are most glorified in the Kingdom of God. That’s why I want to be a martyr.” I told him a lot from the Scriptures regarding this; I tried to convince him that every Christian, especially a monk, should be ready, if necessary, to sacrifice his life for God, and this is Christian selflessness. But we are forbidden to go into temptations without permission, but, on the contrary, we are commanded to pray so that we are not led into temptation. “And you,” I continued, “you needlessly dare to do such a terrible thing. Your desire is correct, but bringing it into practice is not God-pleasing and it is very dangerous for your salvation because of the weakness of our nature. Remember the example of Peter the Apostle, and besides him, there were many unfortunate examples of people who dared for such a great thing without a high calling and could not stand the torment and fell away from Christ. It can easily happen to you.” But he was little convinced by my exhortations. After our conversation with him, the thought of martyrdom bothered him for more than a year, and he himself did not understand that it was not the love of God that attracted him to martyrdom, but his love for himself, in order to become famous and in order to surpass others. And this idea was born in him from a misunderstanding of the essence of selflessness. But, when I invited him to make sure by his own experience in small and even insignificant matters of the difficulty of selflessness, or of cutting off his own will, then he was quite convinced that cutting off his will is a true torment.

It was that way. Seeing that he was not convinced by my exhortations and was still striving to go to torment, I told him: “If you do not believe that obedience is true martyrdom, as the God-bearing fathers testify, then experience it yourself and be convinced of the truth. If you truly want to become a martyr and join their rank, then I will help you in this matter and show easy and convenient means for this to you. If you do not shy away from carrying crosses, that is, the internal and external sorrows, then you will become even a great martyr. For example, you have been given four crosses of external obedience: 1) go to church for any worship to its beginning and stand until its end; 2) to be a sacristan in our small church; 3) to do writing work; 4) to come to the monastery once a week. If you are doing all this honestly, diligently, without laziness and grumble, then you bear these crosses. Obvious ridicule from others, as well as reproaches, abuse, slander belong to the external crosses.

If in such cases you do not repay evil with evil, then you carry these crosses. And the inner crosses, or secret ones, are made up of thoughts and desires - for example, if you enjoy evil thoughts, angry, or lustful, or proud and conceited, then you do not bear your secret cross or heaviness, but, finding delight in such thoughts, you do not have the patience and courage to fight them. Fighting evil thoughts is a kind of martyrdom. So you want to be tormented for Christ, so that the Turks would cut off your head for your faith, and you don’t know that you can make yourself a martyr by small deeds, because small deeds that we do for God’s sake become great.

If I give you even the smallest commandments, and even insignificant ones, but you cannot stand the test of arrogance, then they will seem terribly difficult and even impossible to you, and you will refuse them.”

Paisius objected to this: “I’m ready for everything, but maybe I don’t understand myself, but I want to fulfill everything that you order me, if only I could be equated with the martyrs. Try, teach and instruct me as you please.” “Well,” I say to him, “we will begin, with God's help, to ascend to the martyr degree from the bottom up, as if by stairs, and not from above, as you wanted. Now listen and heed, and then do the deed. The martyrs fasted, and you eat four times a day. So from now on, eat twice a day. The martyrs did not even know tea, and you drink it twice a day, and six and seven cups each, and it will be enough for you to drink tea once a day and three cups. The martyrs slept little, and you sleep eight hours a day. Be content with six hours. The martyrs performed the vigil diligently, and you always doze at church services. Force yourself not to nap in the church. The martyrs suffered terrible torment, and for the sake of the crown of martyrdom you should endure at least fleas and bugs, not acting cowardly, and if they bite you, then you endure for the sake of God, do not scratch yourself.”

Paisius, hearing these words, smiled bitterly and said: “You, father, are laughing at me like I am a silly boy. Do I not know whether it is possible to obtain a degree of martyrdom by such insignificant deeds? ” “Well, let’s see,” I told him, “will you still fulfill these insignificant little things. But do not forget, first of all, what I said that the common main means of martyrdom is not to evade sorrows, but to endure them with complacency. You boast of faith in the Mother of God, if this faith is correct with you, then you can ask Her for the gift of martyrdom and gain the crown of martyrdom. For it depends much on faith, and faith will help a lot. But look, if when you are given any excruciating passion or illness, you have to bear it as well, do not be faint-hearted. For I know that some people asked for a cross, and then began to growl. So make sure that this does not happen to you either. And through these my worthless commandments you will see your weakness and forget about martyrdom.” “If I really can’t do it,” Paisius said, “then after that, what is the use of me? No, I’m sure that I’ll do this and even more, just help me with your prayers and bless me to start from now on.” And bowing to the earth, he accepted the blessing and left.

From this time on, Paisius really began to do so, as he was told. This went on for more than a year, then he began to weaken, sometimes he was overcome by excessive sleep, or by drinking more tea, or ate more, sometimes complained of a nap in the church. The command was given to him to be silent at the meal, and since he liked to speak, he could not keep the commandment for more than a month. One day he came to me and said: “Father, I’m fulfilling all your other commandments, though imperfectly, but I can’t fulfill this very commandment, which I considered completely insignificant. Look, I am embarrassed, tormented and can’t do anything, I ask you, release me from it.” “What is this commandment so heavy that you cannot fulfill it at all?” He replied: “You gave me the commandment not to scratch, when fleas bite me, but to endure for the sake of God, but whatever I did, no matter how much I endured, how much I gathered courage, I could not bear it and I can not do it at all. After all, it so happens that it is as if a demon has taught this cursed bug to bite in one place for a long time and sting like a needle. I tolerate, endure, and scratch that place, and then I am embarrassed, conscience rebukes that I have transgressed the commandment. And sometimes I’m so angry with these tormentors that I’ll start scolding them.” I laughed and remarked to him that the martyrs suffered even more. “Yes, however, not from fleas,” Paisius objected. “It seems to me that no one will tolerate fleas,” he added, “they are such cursed tormentors, if only they would drive anyone to desperation. You are right: experience is a trustworthy teacher, I didn’t know this before, therefore I laughed at your commandments, which fulfillment you often remind me of and ask me.” “Yes,” I told him, “now I will ask you the same thing. And the other commandments, why aren’t you exactly fulfilling?” “Because”, he replied, “I didn’t know from the experience what was said in the Gospel: Without me ye can do nothing (John 15: 5). But my little experience showed me that without the special power of God I can do nothing good and my desire for martyrdom was nothing but a temptation or zeal without knowledge. As far as martyrs are concerned, even if I’m in the last rank of saints, now I have stopped thinking about martyrdom. I see myself weak in all the commandments of God and the elders, and I have only one hope for the Mother of God and your prayers.” “This is what I needed”, I concluded, “praise God that He has taught you.”