By Danion Vasile
I was getting more and more scared. I felt that the nervous tension was reaching breaking point; I actually thought I would go out of my mind. I also thought that if I fell asleep the devil would get hold of me. It is so difficult to explain but it was what I felt and what I thought… I kept dropping candle wax into my palms, on different spots, so that the burns would keep me awake. I prayed and prayed,
“God, by the grace of the hegumen’s blessing, have mercy on me! God, by the power of obedience, have mercy on me!”
I could not say the Jesus Prayer at all; all I did all night long was to read prayers from a prayer book from beginning to end; as soon as I finished it, I started reading the same prayers all over again…
Then, there was another temptation that really topped the previous ones. All of a sudden, I saw this huge animal walking into the cave through its very narrow entrance; he stepped in and took three big steps. The first step made me lift my head, the second step made me quite apprehensive, and the third one was the pits. It was a big animal alright and it could only have been a bear. I thought,
“I do not have room to get out of the cave, not even if I tried to slide by him. If I try to fight him, I do not stand a chance of defeating him. Best thing is to die in prayer.”
I was positive that I would die right then and there – so I just prayed without turning to look at the bear… Realizing that there was no longer any noise behind me, I turned to the cave entrance, but there was no animal anywhere in sight… It had been a demonic temptation that had frightened the daylights out of me… Maybe there were bats and mice in that cave but there certainly was no bear, because a bear could not get out of that cave without making the same kind of noise it had made when stepping inside it – since the entrance was so very narrow… Those who are familiar with the cave know what I am talking about and will definitely agree with me…
God did see that I had not entered the cave to brag about my ascetic efforts afterwards, but that I was desperate and I wanted to pray to Him and entreat Him to show me the right path. I was afraid that the Orthodox faith was not the true path either and that I would have to look for another spiritual group. I had rather die than exchange an erroneous path for another one. I prayed to Him,
“God, let me die rather than live far from You and teach others to take the wrong path”…
The night after the terrifying night spent inside the cave, I had a dream that changed my life. I dreamed I was looking in a canonical book on the expiation of sins, searching for a canon that would be suited for my sins. In the dream, I heard a clear and powerful voice, which woke me up. It said,
“Here is your canon: you shall teach the others about the philosophy of the Church Fathers.”
I awoke at once, trying to understand why the canon I had been assigned, which I had perceived as a divine message, did not refer to my teaching other people about the theology of the Church Fathers, not about their philosophy. An experienced father confessor explained to me what that meant: God did not want me to think that the dream had been induced by self-suggestion, so that was why I heard the word “philosophy” instead of “theology”. To be sure, at that time I did not know that the philosophy of the Church Fathers was in fact their theology, i.e. speaking with God and about God…
The divine voice that came to me in that dream marked a turning point in my life. I went back to the reverend father that had chased me away twice and told him I wanted to embrace the Orthodox faith and become a churchgoer. I prepared myself for confession – I wrote out my sins on paper (there were seven pages overall) and then I went to confession. I felt that my soul was cleansed from sin and that my life changed completely… Although I was still unworthy of it, I received the Holy Eucharist, following the reverend father’s advice and with his blessing.
Since then I gave up my belief in reincarnation, the yoga practices, and sexual debauchery. There were some hard times, some very hard ones, but I always felt Christ was near me… Saying these words to you and thinking about my past feels as if I were telling someone else’s story. It is difficult for me to remember that I was a yogi; it seems it had not been me… In truth, repentance purifies the mind and cleanses the soul.
After a few years, I got married and I had the feeling that I was a virgin; I really had the feeling that I had not known any other woman before and that my wife was the first woman in my life… In fact, a life of sin does not resemble a family life – not in the very least. Although on the surface they may seem similar, they are two altogether different things.
What happened after my first confession of sins? I started attending church services, I went to college and studied theology, graduating from the Department of Orthodox Theology and then taking a master’s degree in Denominational Studies and Ecumenism (focusing on the aberrations of the New Age Movement). When I was in high school, I met a priest who lived like a saint; at present, a book is being written about his life and about the miracles that he performed. He told me that I would write very many books, which would meet spiritual needs… After having written my first books – by now their number has exceeded twenty – a fellow Christian I met when visiting a monastery told me,
“You know, ever since you were in high school Father X (and he named the saint-like priest) said that you would write many books. I see that his words turned out to be quite prophetic…”
I started writing in order to convince those who are far from the Orthodox Church that they are far from the Truth, from beauty, and from inner fulfillment. My first books were against aberrations and spiritual delusions, against astrology and horoscopes, against belief in reincarnation, against the Gnostic Gospels. A Journal of My Conversion – From the Goddess of Death to the Emperor of Life – describes my conversion to Orthodoxy, while one of the latest books I have written, The Gospel according to Judas, attacks not only the Gnostic Gospel attributed to Judas, but also Judas’s way of thinking as it is reflected in the contemporary theology, iconography and literature. I have realized that writing for those who have been deluded by the New Age Movement is not enough: those who are “lukewarm” [Revelation 3:15] and lead a mediocre Christian life need help too. I have written books for young people, as for instance, The Wedding Book – How to Start a Family and Young People and Sexuality, pointing out the way in which debauchery perverts the minds of young men and women in our day and age… I have also written books for mature people, dealing with ways in which one should face troubles and disease, and commentaries on the Paterikon…
I am fully aware of the risk I am taking… In Orthodoxy, it is not the young people who should speak up, but the elderly who have a solid spiritual experience… I write because I owe obedience to my spiritual father who said that he regretted that I did not have four hands so I could write more… He also said that I had to write because my redemption depended on it. When I came to Greece for my Ph.D., the first thing I asked a reverend father here was,
“Is it all right that I should write so many books, taking into account the fact that I am so young and inexperienced, just because I owe obedience to my spiritual father and because I am under his spiritual authority?”
His answer was,
“If your spiritual father prays for you and he sustains you by his prayers everything will be fine. Show obedience to him and everything will be all right.”
I had my doubts about obeying: should I or should I not follow the path of obedience? I was even tempted to leave my spiritual father because it seemed to me that he was not the best guide and advisor I could have. One night I had a dream. I dreamed I was inside a church in which there were the holy relics of Saint Nektarios. My spiritual father was praying on one side of the coffin and I was standing on the other side. The saint started moving in the coffin… and I asked him to give me his blessing. He had a big metal cross in his hand and started making the sign of the cross on top of my head. He did it several times, saying,
“Bless you, bless you…”
On awaking and recalling the dream, I was afraid it might have been sent by the devil, so that I called my spiritual father on his cell phone. I said to him
“Father, you know that I do not take dreams seriously, but here is…”
– and I related my dream to him. Then I asked him,
“Do you think it came from the devil, from my subconscious or from God?”
“How could it have come from the devil when this very morning I was praying for you over the relics of Saint Nektarios? I am in Greece, don’t you know that?”
No, I had no idea he was in Greece. I thought he was in Romania, but he had activated his roaming and had answered his cell phone from Greece… I also told my dream to an elder leading a saintly life in a monastery in Greece and he said to me,
“Your spiritual father could not have come out and say outright to you that your dream had come from God, lest he fell into the sin of pride – particularly as you saw him next to the saint’s coffin. It was indeed a dream from God. Saint Nektarios wants to encourage you to walk right on along the path of being a witness to Christ…”
That dream was the encouragement I needed in order to go ahead. The road is bumpy, the temptations are great, but I nurture the hope that Christ will help me take another step and then another one…
My life in Christ has been extraordinarily beautiful… The greatest thing for me has been that I came to know the Truth and to know that the Truth is love… In the Orthodox Church, I have learned to love. Christian love is warm – it is not like yogic love, which is cold and superficial… I have discovered the beauty of family life, which is indeed a treasure. Next to my wife and to our three children I have the distinct feeling that I am in the middle of a beautiful dream… It seems to me that people speak and write too little about Christian families. Getting married was almost like a bet in a way: I was hoping that it would be a beautiful life, but I was not sure. My family life has been much more difficult than I had anticipated but also much more beautiful…
I give witness to the beauty of the Orthodox faith because some of those who have practised yoga have serious communication problems and are socially maladjusted although they have formally converted to the Orthodox faith; they have received the Christian teaching but they still have a yogic behaviour.
I confess that I am overjoyed at being an Orthodox believer… In the past, I was afraid that I would get bored with it and I kept asking myself, “Will Christian life become commonplace for me?” Moreover, I have discovered that a life lived in communion with God, with the Theotokos, with the saints and martyrs of the Church can be anything but boring.
On the contrary, I believe that the life of a Christian is extremely captivating. In addition, one should be a real hero in order to live like a Christian in this world, which is so full of sin and so fond of heresy.
My purpose has been to convince you to reach out to those who are far from the Church. Usually after a conference, people collect funds for the poor or for Christian missionaries in African countries or for various and sundry social activities.
I shall not ask you to put money in a box but to put a part of your soul in it and to realize that right next to you there may be so many people who have been deluded by different religions and denominations. You could make a difference. You could help them through living a truly Christian life.
These people have had enough of empty words and unconvincing Christian sermons. They need shining examples of a Christian way of living. They want to see in you a living icon of Christ.
Do not force anyone to come to Christ, but win them over with your Christian love. No one can resist love. Today’s world looks for love in the wrong places and all that people find is fake love.
Offer them true love, sacrificial love, and you will change them. Even those who have decided never to change will start out on the path of conversion – slowly, but surely.
Look, I am just sending out to you this unseen box, inside which I am not asking you to put money but I repeat, something far more precious – a part of your soul. Are you up for such a donation?
You would make so very happy! May God assist you in all your good works and bestow His grace on you. Amen.