ON SINCERITY IN PRAYER
On Mount Athos I visited a hermitage where there is a grave of St. Elder Joseph the Hesychast, the place where he died. And the fathers told me a very moving story. Once there lived a father whose disciples were constantly leaving him. He barely found a disciple, lived with him for some time and very soon the disciple left. They were confused by his smoking, in addition, his temper must have been bad. The father was not young and getting weaker, so he prayed: “Most Holy Theotokos! Please, send me anyone, let him be lame, cock-eyed, disabled, may he just cook some food for me”. He had prayed at night, and in the morning he climbed down to the berth. A boat moored to the shore and the father saw a young man land, he was lame and cock-eyed. This father still lives, though he is an old man already. He had no skills in anything, but people still call him for panigiri – patronal festive days – as he is an extremely good cook, and is able to treat everyone. You see, Our Holy Theotokos listens and wants to help even such a monk who lost his disciples, something wrong was with him, but even his prayer was heard, as it was sincere. And She sent him that lame and cock-eyed novice.
Do you remember the moment when Our Lord drives a legion of demons out of a demon-possessed man? “So the demons begged Him, saying, «If You cast us out, permit us to go away into the herd of swine”. (Lk. 8:31) And God meets even the prayer of demons. Who is worse than demons? He could have said: “No, I won’t even listen to you”. For another thing, what is the point of it? The main thing is that nothing changed for the demons. God meets their request, they go away into the herd of swine, madden it and “run violently down the steep place into the sea, and perish in the water”. (Mt. 8:32) In other words, God is ready to meet the requests of every one of us, but this is not enough. We also should bring some diligence and sincerity. Love conquers all things. “Love suffers long and is kind” (1Cor.13:4) – the Holy Gospel says. How should one suffer? Love will suffer it all. Seek this basis. No philosophy, idea or profit will help you overcome suffering, as love does. You may admit, where do we, who are egoistic, cold, proud and selfish get love? But even a strong desire for love, a grief for love, a breath taken for love is the step made in the direction of love. This is a tiny winy love. I was holding the liturgy tonight and looked at Konstantin out of the corner of my eye. And thought: “I don’t know this man at all, but I already love him so much” (hugs father Konstantin). And then I looked at the other side and saw another father Konstantin. My dear! I know him a little bit longer, but still not enough. And it doesn’t matter, as a true love loves someone for nothing. Why am I looking at him? I don’t know. He might be a hypocrite. Oh, no! While my heart suggests: “No, he is good”. You can’t deceive a heart. You may play games with somebody, but won’t deceive the heart. The heart says: “I love you!”
Father Sergiy is presented with the icon of Saint John of Shanghai.
– You know, I came to San-Francisco and venerated his relics. Then I visited his orphanage, sat in his armchair. And I remember one thing: at night we drove from the Cathedral to the Church of St. Metrophanes, bishop of Voronezh. And one of the children, whom St. John brought over from China to the Philippines, and then to the US, San-Francisco, was among us. This child, who was an old man already, told us a very moving story: You know, whenever you meet anyone of the children saved by the Archbishop, every one of them would say: “He loved me most of all.” In fact, that would be true as St. John had such a big heart, that he loved everyone equally and everyone perceived and received his love in full from his heart.
May the Lord save you! He is an amazing saint. It feels so good when you stand by his relics. He remains incorrupt. Beard, hair. Only his body darkened a little bit due to the time he had lain in the grave. But it is absolutely imperishable. Those people who witnessed his act of faith used to say: “Even for the Orthodox Christians, who read the Lives of Saints every day and know many wonderful stories, his life seems extraordinary.” The act of ascesis was on the second place for him, but the act of love was on the first one.