ON POSITIVE THINKING- Part three
“For perverse thoughts separate men from God” (Wis 1:3)
We once asked Father Paisios:
- Father, you constantly tell us to have positive thinking. We would like
you to give us some advice on how to deal with the following problem:
- Often people come to us to tell us that some priests charge a lot of money
for performing the Holy Sacraments; they say that they smoke, or hang around
coffee shops; they even say that some priests are involved in immoral acts,
and in general, make strong accusations against them and present evidence to
justify them. What answers can we give to people who accuse the clergy?
The Elder started telling us:
- I know from experience that in this life people are divided in two
categories. A third category does not exist; people either belong to one or
the other. The first one resembles the fly. The main characteristic of the
fly is that it is attracted by dirt. For example, when a fly is found in a
garden full of flowers with beautiful fragrances, it will ignore them and
will go sit on top of some dirt found on the ground. It will start messing
around with it and feel comfortable with the bad smell. If the fly could
talk, and you asked it to show you a rose in the garden, it would answer: “I
don’t even know what a rose looks like. I only know where to find garbage,
toilets and dirt.” There are some people who resemble the fly. People
belonging to this category have learned to think negatively and always look
for the bad things in life, ignoring and refusing the presence of good.
The other category is like the bee whose main characteristic is to always
look for something sweet and nice to sit on. When a bee is found in a room
full of dirt and there is a small piece of sweet in a corner, it will ignore
the dirt and will go to sit on top of the sweet. Now, if we ask the bee to
show us where the garbage is, it will answer: “I don’t know. I can only tell
you where to find flowers, sweets, honey and sugar; it only knows the good
things in life and is ignorant of all evil.” This is the second category of
people who have a positive thinking and see only the good side of things.
They always try to cover up the evil in order to protect their fellow men;
on the contrary, people in the first category try to expose the evil and
bring it to the surface. When someone comes to me and starts accusing other
people and puts me in a difficult situation, I tell him the above example.
Then, I ask him to decide to which category he wishes to belong, so he may
find people of the same kind to socialize with.
Elder Paisios was constantly stressing the importance of pious thinking in
spiritual life. He used to say that a single positive thought equals a vigil
in Mount Athos. Once, he told us the following incident:
“One day someone came to see me, but as I was busy I told him to wait in the
chapel. Later on, when he left the chapel to come into my guestroom, I did
not notice that he had forgotten to take his cigarettes and had left them on
the chapel’s seat. Meanwhile, another guest arrived; he also went into the
chapel to wait, until I was free to see him. When I called him in, he asked
- Elder, do you smoke?
- No, I said. Why are you asking?
- I saw a pack of cigarettes in the chapel, that’s why.
- The person who was there before you must have forgotten them, but I did
not notice it.
After he left, a child came to visit me for the first time. He knocked on
the door and I immediately asked him what he wanted:
- I wish to see Elder Paisios. Is he here?
- I’m afraid he is not, I replied. He went to Karyes to buy cigarettes.
The child answered innocently:
- It does not matter, Father. I will wait for him to come back.
You see the difference between the two ways of thinking, said the Elder. The
first person, who found the cigarettes in the chapel, had negative and
suspicious thoughts, whereas the child, even when I told him that Elder
Paisios went to buy cigarettes, reacted in the opposite way. He simply said
he would wait without asking if the Elder smokes or what he needs the
“One day, a young man, who was full of negative thoughts, visited me and
expressed his desire to become my disciple. I explained to him:
- I do not wish to have disciples. I always have many visitors and they
would end up neglecting their spiritual duties in order to take care of my
guests. Moreover, I have been a monk for many years and among the virtues I
have acquired, I also have developed some weaknesses, which I haven’t
managed to get rid of. So, if you come to live here, my virtues (prayers,
fasting, vigil) will harm you, as you will be unable to follow my strict
schedule; my weaknesses will also do you harm, as they will be impossible
for you to bear. For these reasons, I cannot take you as my disciple. He
finally left to go visit other monasteries.
After a few hours, I was sitting in the garden eating two plain tomatoes
without oil and a small piece of bread, thinking of all the good things God
has given me. He gave me a nice house situated in such a beautiful area that
even rich people envy; I do not have to pay any rent unlike so many people,
who struggle to earn their living; I have my daily food without having to
work hard in some factory; the monks around the area I live are nice. As I
was filled with these thoughts, I felt a sweet grief inside me for being
ungrateful to God, and I started crying being unable to continue eating.
While I was in this state, suddenly, I saw the young man, who had visited me
earlier and had asked me to become my disciple standing by the fence. I
didn’t want him to see me crying, so I went inside to wash my face and then
I opened the gate to let him in. Looking disturbed, he said to me:
- Don’t pretend to be an ascetic! I saw you eating meat and when you saw me
coming you went inside to hide it from me. Now I know what you really are!
I started laughing, but did not give any excuses; I was stunned by his way
of thinking and the way he ‘cultivated’ his negative thoughts.”
Elder Paisios had a very positive thinking. Even under the worst
circumstances, he thought positively. He even managed to extract good out of
the most harmful things, by using them in a special way. Once, one of the
visitors, who had been greatly assisted by Father Paisios, asked him, as he
was departing, if there was anything he could send him. The Elder explained
that he did not want anything. Since the visitor insisted, he finally said
to him jokingly:
- Well, send me cigarettes!
The visitor left and after some time Father Paisios received a package
through the mail. It was a big box containing many packs of cigarettes. When
the Elder saw this, he was astonished. What was he going to do with all
these cigarettes? On the one hand, he could not throw them in the garbage
wasting all the money spent for purchasing them. On the other hand, he did
not want to give them away causing harm to health of other people. In the
following days, Father Paisios asked one of his visitors if he smoked. He
nodded his head.
-How many packs a day? asked the Elder.
- Three, he answered.
- Look, said the Elder, smoking so many cigarettes is harmful to your health
and also very expensive. Let’s make a deal. During the next few months, I
will offer you the cigarettes for free, but you will only smoke one pack per
day. He agreed and Elder Paisios gave him the cigarettes feeling satisfied
for not throwing them away and for helping someone restrain his passion.
“The spirituality of a person is defined by the quality of his thoughts. One
day, three men were sitting in a park chatting. Suddenly, a young man
hastily ran by them. When they saw him, they all thought of something.
The first one thought: ‘He must have stolen something, so he is running to
escape’. The other one thought: ‘He must be late for his date with some girl
that is why he is running.’ And the third one said to himself: ‘Most
probably he is a chanter in a church and runs to be on time for the
Three men had three different thoughts for the same person. However, only
the last one, who had a positive thought, was benefited, whereas the other
two were spiritually harmed.”
Father Paisios always insisted by saying:
“When one of our brothers has a negative thought, we must try to kindly and
humbly correct it. It is our duty to do so. Today many people, unfortunately
including some of our spiritual fathers, instead of trying to correct
falsified thoughts, they either consent to them, or even distort the
positive ones. I will give you an example so you can understand the way they
Suppose a young man says to his spiritual father:
- A friend of mine did this and that to me.
And thus, he starts telling him his negative thoughts about his friend. His
spiritual father, instead of trying to change his thoughts and make him love
his friend again, views his problem from a social point of view, and wishing
to be nice, says to him:
- Since you know what kind of person your friend is, do not pay attention to
him. Just ignore him.
The young man may superficially feel better after listening to the words of
his spiritual father, but his negative predisposition towards his friend is
still inside him. Now, when his friend goes to the same spiritual father to
tell him the same things, the spiritual father faces the problem in the same
way. He once again regards the problem from a social point of view and calms
him down. He lets him, however, keep inside him the negative thoughts he has
for his friend.
This way, the Elder said, I can even please the devil if I wish to. You will
now see what happens next, since divine justice exists in our lives. At some
point, the two friends, who still have negative thoughts inside them, meet
and begin accusing each other: “You are this and that…I talked to my
spiritual father and he also thinks the same way of you.” Eventually, they
discover that what their common spiritual father tried to do was just to be
nice to them. As a result, they end up losing their trust and respect for
him. The correct way of dealing with similar cases is the following which I
A married man came to me to discuss the problems he was facing with his wife
and how her behavior has affected his thoughts. I immediately started
finding excuses for his wife’s behavior. In the end, I told him that he
should glorify God for the wife He gave him and he is the one responsible
for destroying their loving relationship. I made him question his behavior
and love his wife again, by convincing him that he is in the wrong, and that
he should get rid of all his negative thoughts. I did exactly the same thing
with his wife, when she came to see me. I also scolded her, so both of them
got rid of their negative thoughts, and ended up loving each other again.
Moreover, they also understood why I scolded them, as they realised that my
only aim was to bring them back together.”
“Thoughts are like airplanes flying in the air. If you ignore them, there is
no problem. If you pay attention to them, you create an airport inside you
and permit them to land!”
Once, a young man visited the Elder for advice. Being simple-hearted,
however, he couldn’t restrain from listening to negative thoughts. These
thoughts were acting as an obstacle to every good work he was trying to
accomplish. Father Paisios, due to his discretion, realised that his
negative thoughts were the cause of his problem and told him the following:
-There was a man who used to say: “If I get married and have children, and
my children are boys and there is war, they will have to join the army and
finally they will get killed. So, there is no reason for me to get married.”
Then, the Elder turns to him and says:
- Isn’t that a silly thought?
- Yes, the young man replied.
The Elder went on:
-Be careful, because you are doing the same thing. Bear in mind that you
will never achieve anything good, if you think and act this way.
I always wondered how our saints managed to willingly endure their martyrdom
and how will we be able to acquire their tolerance, since the slightest
headache can make us feel totally helpless. One day, as I was heading
towards the cell of Father Paisios, I met him by the river situated five
hundred meters away from his cell. He had given the river the name ‘Nile’.
He was cutting some wood from a chestnut tree in order to make a small
bridge, so people could cross the river without getting wet. He had just
stopped his work and was ready to return to his cell, because he had cut his
left hand with the sharp edge of a piece of wood and was bleeding. I could
detect in him a spirit of joy as he was looking at his hand over and over.
Suddenly, he turns to me showing the bleeding palm of his hand and says:
- You see, it looks like the crucified palm of Christ.
When we arrived at his cell, we sat at the guestroom and I asked him:
-Father, what made our saints, not only endure their martyrdom but also
constantly feel joy about it, while we can’t even stand the bite of a
- Everything has to do with having a correct thinking. If our thoughts are
firmly secured in our faith, no one can ever take them away.
Then, he brought the Old Testament and told me that section 4 in the Book of
Maccabes explains very clearly how positive thoughts can help us disregard
pain and torture. He began reading the text and explaining it to me. When he
finished, he told me:
- This text from the Old Testament clearly indicates that man is free and
with his good thoughts, he can overcome his passions and desires and
whatever else derives from them.
Father Paisios explicitly stressed that the words “I can’t” have no validity
in man’s life. It is the words “I don’t want” or “I don’t love” which lead
man to say “I can’t”. When people are tortured by a specific passion, they
claim that a certain power prevents them from restraining and being good.
They should know that this power, which acts as an obstacle, is rooted
inside them; it can make them love, but it is turned to the wrong direction.
Since they love their passions, it is natural that they are unable to get
rid of them. When you love something, you want it, and you cannot let it go
because you do not want to lose it. First, they must hate their passion and
then find something better to direct and transfer their love to. Otherwise,
they will keep on suffering.
Many times, people said to Father Paisios:
- Father, I smoke and I cannot stop. What can I do?
- Do you want to stop smoking? He asked in return.
- Yes, I have tried many times without being able to stop.
- Well, that’s it! As of this moment you will not smoke again and God will
Then, the person, who suffered from this passion, said:
Father Paisios interrupted him before he was able to conclude his sentence,
and said with a sharp, but trustful, tone in his voice: - There is no
‘perhaps’, it is over! Do not consent to the thoughts that tell you that you
might not make it. Father Paisios wanted to stress that we are free and
self-dependent. If a passion rules our lives, it is because we consent to
it. If we remain enslaved by it, we do it because we love our passion and
want to be its slave. From the very moment we yearn for our spiritual
freedom and wish to abide in Christ, and we really want to, we are freed
from our passions and become servants of God. All commandments are given by
Christ to those who are enslaved by sin, and He tells them to leave sin
aside and follow Him instead. For this reason, God says to the thief: “do
not steal”, to the unjust person: “do not be unfair”, to the adulterer: “do
not commit adultery.”
If we are forcingly, and not willingly, enslaved by sin, then why is God
asking us to leave sin aside and come close to Him? Since He is telling us
to do so on our own, it means that we are being subdued by our passions
because we love and want them. The moment we hate them and direct our love
towards God, we immediately become free. Therefore, it is of primary
importance to realise our “illness” (that is, willingly siding with evil)
and hate it and love good instead; then we instantly acquire it.