“DO NOT BE AN UNBELIEVER, BUT A BELIEVER” (Jn. 20:27)
It seems to some that faith can be found after hearing someone. However, it is not faith, it is sympathy to others’ experience or it is reliance on others’ experience, so to say. Faith is not an effort you make to verify something that you cannot comprehend or contain in your heart. Faith is a certain state of enlightenment of your mind and heart. But it is very difficult to explain. It is as if you were an unbeliever and have become a believer.
Once a funny story happened on Mount Athos. A Frenchman, a very educated person and atheist, came to the Holy Mount. His life was coming to an end, and as any man whose life is drawing to a close, he started thinking, “What do I live for, what was I born for, what have I become a professor for if everything ends?” And, among other things, he started looking for faith, which he did not have, and went to the Holy Mount.
He visited all the elders there so that they could convince him of the existence of God, and showed him faith. But none of them could prove anything, or he could not hear anything, to be exact. They all spoke to him, but he was not able to hear. Then one day he comes to the last monastery, the Docheiariou monastery, where the icon ‘She Who is Quick to Hear’ is. It is one hour and a half way along the sea from our Russian monastery. Father Charalambos, a Greek, still lives in the Docheiariou monastery. He is nearly ninety, and he has lived there since the previous brotherhood – old-dweller. Having a mind of a child, short in height, he is as a child himself, unremarkable, half naive, half God’s fool.
I met him for the first time when I came to the Docheiariou. Some frescoes were being restored and there were scaffolds inside the church. I go into this church, and the first person I see is Charalambos. He is almost running towards me and shouting in Greek, “Be careful, there is an iron beam, you may hit your head.” I bent down and walked under it. The second person comes in, and he also runs toward him, trying to protect… He was running for the whole service that way, warning everyone who went inside and outside. It ended with him hitting that beam and falling down.
And never had Father Charalambos told any wise teachings, and did not know much about difficult issues of theology…
So, our Frenchman came to the Docheiariou monastery, and the first person who got his eye was not an elder, not a theologist, but this “child” with naive eyes, at the age of ninety. Charalambos says, “Why have you come?” “I am seeking faith, I am a professor, I know the significance of Athos and would like you to convince me.”
There is a very deep well near the church in the Docheiariou monastery. Once there was a problem with water. The fathers prayed, Saint Michael the Archangel showed them this place, and now they have very good delicious water. Father Charalambos leads the Frenchman to this well and says, “How can you not believe in God? This well was given by Saint Michael the Archangel. We had not had water, and now, look, the well is full.” “So, what you are saying is that Saint Michael the Archangel came with a shovel and dug this well for you…”
And suddenly this skepticism and irony made Charalambos so enraged, that he grabbed the professor’s shoulders, started shaking him and shouting, “How dare you not believe in archangels!” Then he took some water and told him, “Here you go, drink this!”
And do you know what happened next? The professor drank the water – and became a believer. Suddenly something was revealed to him, something that he commented on with astonishment, “How could I not see it yesterday?”
He was an unbeliever and became a believer.
A few words about the guidelines of spiritual life
In the Lives of the Fathers you can find a guide given by an elder to his disciple that follows: when a strong and cruel enemy is going to attack, one monk gets armored, takes up arms and confronts the enemy. This is a stupid monk. A wise monk will climb up a tree.
The first one is stupid as he has overestimated his strength. Poor him, he doesn’t understand, he fails to realize that this is an uneven contest. So uneven that he would neither just stand up to, nor even stop the enemy for a moment. No one needs his seemingly brave death, except for his vanity. Those who think they can win using only their own strength, art and courage are already beaten by the spirit of pride and self opinion which prevents them from thinking soberly and without emotions.
A wise monk climbs up a tree, that means, firstly, he runs, secondly, not anywhere, but to the place where he is going to be rescued. He climbs the tree, up there, where his Christ is. The tree is an allegory, it means upwards.
A wise monk is naturally modest while estimating his capabilities and experience. Experience that has been gained from confession to confession, from fall to rise and from fall again. An inner weeping gave rise in him. A grief, and not even for being a great sinner, but more for having no self-control. As he grieves for his sins, but he can’t help committing them. He weeps, rises and falls again. He comes close to despair and there at the edge of doom, at the edge of the hell, he starts to yell, to cry: “O Lord! I can’t, I can’t do anything, I’m broken, I’m desperate. I’m eager to do something, but I can’t do anything. Only You can help me, and I’m nothing without You, just a zero! Lord, have mercy, I’m dying!”
And finally he comes to be a wise monk. Those who climb up a tree, in other words, run to Christ, have an experienced and endured wisdom which is their spiritual immunity that will work not only for their mind, but also for their intuition.
It is not by chance that I start with this example. In the course of our conversation we shall come back to this issue, because it’s a crucial one for us. We don’t fight against sin, but we avoid it.
It may work some other way for the perfect, but for us who are new in the faith, weak and stupid, it is all like that, and I make a point of it. We run, but not just run, we hurry to our Christ, Christ the Savior.
The beginning of a sin is in our mind. It comes to our thoughts in our sleep or from the depth of our sinful memory. It stays in our mind and keeps disturbing our heart looking for sympathy. A stupid monk takes up arms and fights against thoughts, while a wise one runs, he is afraid of slowing down. He knows well that after the Fall of our first parents Adam and Eve, humankind inherited a broken, split inner world. One’s mind, heart and will that used to work together had got scattered around. A man of faith with his mind realizes that the sin is bad, but in his heart he sympathizes with the sin against his mind. The heart is trying to fight, but there is no will, and that’s it. A wise monk understands it all and accepts it for granted as the result of the Fall, of corruption. That is why he’s afraid of slowing down, he runs at once, runs in his mind from those thoughts and feelings. He tries to avert his mind. And go straight to Christ. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner” – right here.
On the contrary, moving from an evil thought to a neutral or even a good one, from thought to thought, from impression to impression, our mind will come back to sin again.
Our sinful mind is like a dog let loose, wandering anywhere. It can find some healthy food, but also can wander into a dump, which is more probable.
In this respect I’d like to point out that our trouble is not just evil thoughts, but our mind let loose, wandering anywhere: in idle, even good, dreams, illusions, seemingly neutral thoughts. The problem is not that you think of something sinful and dream about something good, the trouble is that your mind is loose, it wanders and sometimes will surely find its way to the “dump”. A wise parent will try to engage his child in some activity (I’m not talking about work, but some activity), so that less time is wasted in idleness. So that he or she had less time for playing tricks. The same thing with our mind: leaving it idle we let it wander in dreams, in idle thoughts, and it can find its way…
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (Mt. 5:8)
Many people feel sure that a pure heart is a heart free of evil thoughts, but both heart and mind could be littered by good thoughts, just like a mess of good things. And so, the heart is pure when it is simple, not complicated, not hoarded by any stuff. A pure heart is free both from a sin and from a pile of complicated idle thoughts and feelings. Why shall the pure in heart see God? Because there are fewer obstacles between them and God, they look straight at Him. Their mind is not distracted by anything foreign or parallel. They look straight at God and only at Him.
We can’t think only about God, we need to pay attention to our earthly concerns. Surely, we can’t, but to be honest, like during a confession, we have many minutes, even hours, during the day and night, when we can say: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner”.
If we find some time for this exercise, our mind will get used to running away from evil thoughts and feelings. It will run to Christ and stand by Him inconspicuously, without visualization. It is very important. We should stand without visualizing Christ, without the illusion of the presence of God, but before God. The difference is that the God we try to fancy, imagine, invent is our imaginary god, while the real God opens up Himself, not otherwise when a man discovers Him on his own. That is why when praying we should stop our creativity, stop fancying and imagining and let God speak for Himself. For this reason, inconspicuously, without visualization, we keep our mind cold and simple, all simple, in order not to push into the background the image of God who always looks at us. The thing is that there is often our creativity which stands between Him and us. It fancies, creates, worries, i n t e r f e r e s.
I’d like to say a few words about discernment.
People talk a lot about it at present, but these talks are a little bit vague and indefinite. More often, I see that it is understood as the act of intellect. I believe that discernment, as a gift of God, is a charismatic state. Spiritual discernment is when you know the answer, neither the way it is, nor your own answer, but when you speak for the Holy Spirit.
Look, where he’s driving at…
That’s true, as the gift of discernment has always been considered to be the highest gift in the Church. Please note, I tell you again that this gift is not granted to academicians or professors, but to people of proper spiritual life. Careful, prayerful and concentrated life. They own this gift to the full extent. We become acquainted with this gift of the Holy Spirit, but to a lesser degree.
Our discernment should tell us that we are still not perfect and our life is full of mistakes. Therefore, we should be careful with our reasoning, more often ask for advice and don’t make hasty decisions. This would be a kind of discernment, not bad for us.
As a matter of fact, we usually know which option to choose, but our fanciful mind makes the issue more complicated by excessive reasoning, it confuses, distracts us, makes us panic. We had better pray. We had better pray properly, and during the prayer think about Christ, not about the problem. The purpose of prayer is not to explain to God what’s happened and why it’s happened. Could it be that God doesn’t know? The purpose of prayer is Christ Himself, which means that we should mentally find Christ and stand before Him. When you stand before Him there is no reason talking or explaining anything. You realize that He understands it all, knows it all, and thus simply say to Him: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner”. And it should be said in a simple, easy way. Otherwise complexity will lead you away from God.
I’d also like to talk about obedience. Oh, what a miracle, what a mystery it is! And I’d like to give it further understanding than just getting the job done. It doesn’t matter if you did it or not, but the way you did it, the way you describe it in your mind matters.
Two novices are carrying a log. One of them thinks a good thought: of course, no one needs the log to be there, but I carry it, because it’s my obedience, as the abbot told us, I must obey, and otherwise, it’s a sin. Another novice is carrying the log without permitting himself to say anything, except for: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me”. And so, the first one, even though he has a good thought, is in a tricky position, as his mind and heart do not always work together. His mind says: you have to obey, but the heart has a touch of distaste to the abbot, and he can’t help it, the heart wants what it wants.
The novice with his good thought brought distaste about his abbot due to his inexperience. An experienced one did not allow himself to think about the abbot at all, neither in a good or in an evil way. He kept his mind bound, bound to Christ. And the place where Christ dwells is pure.
Many Holy Fathers set obedience before fast and prayer. And it is really so, as a prayer will not work without obedience. A true, spiritual and deep obedience makes one’s mind simple, consistent and non-disputing. Such a mind can stand pure before God. In other words, a mind free from thoughts can stand face to face with God. People of the Western Church pay more attention to humanism and thus they are supposed to come to God. In the East people seek God and through God they have love for everyone.
When we hold back our emotions, good impulses, impressions it seems to be dryness, indifference… In fact we hold back what belongs to us, something touched by a sin, in order to get from God what is God’s. A pure and perfect sense of love and compassion for every living thing.
And it won’t be an illusion of goodness and love, it will be love itself.
Why am I speaking of illusions? Check yourselves and say whether your feelings, or relations are perfect. Tonight we say “I love you”, and tomorrow we’ll betray and get angry. That’s just the way it is. We are not perfect ourselves, but we can become perfect through God.
Due to that we don’t seek goodness, we seek God. And through God we get better, purer.
And it works for everything – first of all, we seek God, then – all the rest.
Many people say that by keeping the commandments they come closer to God. And I can’t keep the commandments on my own. I want it badly, I cry, but I fail. I believe everyone fails, because if there were only the commandments to consider, Christ would have left only the commandments. But He left us Himself and said: For without Me you can do nothing (John 15:5). That is the reason why we don’t attempt to act only visibly, but realize that our act of faith should be based on a proper tacit spiritual life.
Proper spiritual life brings one’s mind to Christ. And through Christ our visible feat takes a wise and sensible direction. Our visible feat will never be complete without spiritual life.
Spiritual life is not about inward struggle, it is about avoiding struggle. And running to Christ. In this case a struggle should be understood as a struggle with evil thoughts. We don’t need it. We should only struggle to keep our mind on Christ. Do not pay your attention to anything sinful. Even though you contradict a sin, you waste your time on it, wasting your spiritual strength. Just leave it to Christ. Even a struggle, an argument against a sin will all the same get your soul dirty and leave a memory of the sin, and one day your heart will respond with sympathy to it.
Let only Christ be in your heart.
You will admit that without thinking about our sins we may stop perceiving our imperfection, our corruption. But if, living a spiritual life, you keep approaching Christ, you will start to see clearly through Christ, hear through Christ and comprehend through the Holy Spirit. And this comprehension will allow you to have a clear-eyed view of yourself and of Christ. You will recognize yourself as a poor sinner, infinitely small in comparison to the great perfection of Christ, who shortens the distance coming to meet us.
A pure heart is keenly aware of a sin. That is the reason why the saints, getting more pure, kept crying more over themselves.
You may examine your sins, meddle with them and, thus, acquire humility. But also you can seek Christ who is the light, the purity, the spiritual vision and you will have a clear, keen and simple vision. That is to say, first of all, Christ, and then, repentance through Christ.
Not the kind of repentance you squeezed out of yourself or made up for yourself, but the one born from the Holy Spirit. And it will work for anything: first comes Christ, then (an unfeigned) repentance. First, Christ, then love (whereas Christ is love Himself).
Why did our Lord leave us the sacrament of confession? So that we, after having sincerely confessed our sins and having heard from Christ “I forgive and remit your sins”, could stop keeping the memory of a sin which is the dirt that stains our heart dwelling there even in contradiction with us. Pin up to your heart the memory of being a great sinner, but do not take the details of your sins for a treasure.
Keep your mind in a clean place. Let your heart experience only something good and pure.
Do not let in anything bad, do not pay attention to it or waste your feelings on it. Let only Christ be there, inside your soul.
Do not try to change the world by worrying about it. You will lose yourself and won’t save the world. You may present the world with something real instead of good but idle feelings. Give it sainthood, if this is too much, let it be your aspiration for it, sincere, not a false one. But in no case, your own sainthood, for it’s not true. Sainthood is the reflection of the light of Jesus Christ through yourself.
In order to reflect you need to be in His glory.
Always be with Christ. Your thoughts, feelings, emotions, concerns should not come from you, but they should come from Christ.
Christ is a Bridegroom and you are only His best man. It’s a position of trust and highest importance.
Why do we dare to practice the Jesus prayer? Why do we talk about spiritual life? Do we recognize ourselves as saints or at least righteous ones?
No, we pronounce the Jesus prayer specifically because we are sinners. Great sinners. We are dying and searching for a remedy of salvation, and can’t find some other one.
We need to do something, otherwise, it’s going to be hell.
And owing to our false humility, which is close to self-indulgence, it would have been very stupid to give up the remedy which Christ gives us through the Holy Fathers.
Arcpriest Sergiy BARANOV.
The day was overcast, wet, and grey. No. It was completely gloomy, black. This day was unbearable. The car was moving across the town bleakly and monotonously. I wanted it to move even slower, so that the car would completely stop, turn around – just not go there…
I was being taken to the funeral service of a little 4-year-old boy who was kidnapped by a maniac, brutally tortured and cruelly killed by having his small child head smashed with a hammer. For three days, the town was helping the parents, young people, look for their little angel. Nobody even suspected that he was so near, in the cellar of a neighboring house, in horrific torments, in his child terror that freezes one’s blood. We were going there.
I had no right to simply perform the rite and quietly leave.
-You just have to, father, you have to calm down the parents. Tell them words of comfort, support them.
I have to say something, explain what has happened, connect it to God’s providence, with His role, His plan in this horrific tragedy. If His name is Love, how then to explain and connect it all?
I had to…
But I’m just a young priest with a very short experience in life. I was weak, I can do nothing, I don’t want to get out of the car. What do I say to them, so as not to insult, not to offend in such a moment with an empty word, maybe sublime, but empty. Just a little bit wrong – and in this precarious position, when all the nerves are like a stretched string, a thoughtless word can not comfort, it can insult, kill.
They probably couldn’t make out the words then. There were two half persons in front of me: a half mom and a half dad in front of a small coffin.
Half – because with their consciousness, they were only half here. It was like they were drunken, or in a fog. In a critical situation, a protective function of the body was turned on: the consciousness was blunted. Otherwise the heart would burst, it couldn’t bear the problem in its full volume and sharpness.
I had to, I was told I had to comfort them. I could do nothing. I was just praying, I tried to read smoothly, just not to cry myself and not worsen a situation that was already hard.
I read, I sang the finishing prayers, amen. And all I could have said, I said in a few words: “Your little son is now where there is no crying, no insults, where nobody hurts anyone, where children are not killed. He is there now”. And that is it.
That’s when my words ran out. But that is also when I was faced with the questions: “Why?”. Questions that man always asked God in hard, critical, unbearable situations, when he’s no longer asking, but screaming them upward! Screaming with reproach, rebuke, even malice! Why?
For Your name is Love! For You can do anything! Why, answer me.
I started asking questions, and HE gradually, very patiently began answering them. Starting with the simplest, crudest, to the most delicate and spiritual ones.
I started to partially understand some of the WHY’s. It makes me a little stronger, a little less contradictory in His side. And sometimes, when my crude nature is able to look into the delicate moments of His providence about man, the heart is able to soften with gratitude, thankfulness to Him! Even in moments of grief and unhappiness it becomes able to say, “Glory to God for all things!”
From the simplest.
Why does pain even exist? For what?
If man is created for joy by the good Creator?
That is exactly why.
To be in joy, you need to be in conditions that give that joy, and, on the contrary, breaking those conditions of joy, we get the absence of joy, that is, sorrow.
It’s hard for man to reflect on these things, with his callous mind, after the fall, and sometimes, he just doesn’t want to work on these things with his lazy brain. Let it flow the way it flows. But when God can’t explain it through the mind, can’t get to a person in his crude, beastly state, He is then forced to act through instincts. One of them is called an instinct of self preservation.
Why is tooth pain part of the human physiology? Because if it didn’t exist, our teeth would last a week, maybe a month. We’d chew on bones, stones, we’d crook metal parts and lose our teeth.
But the loving God, when we do not hear His soft voice, begins to scream at us with that pain: “Stop! Stop! You can’t do that, it’s dangerous for you”. Just like any other physiological pain, for example, heart ache. We can run to some goal, run and run, speed up, run out of all resources of our bodies, reaching the critical stage, when the heart can just not bear it and burst, and in this moment, God is screaming to us through that pain in the heart: “Stop, child, you’ll overstrain, sit down, catch your breath, I care for you!”
This is how it is with any physiological pain.
But it’s the same with the soul. Any breach of the moral law will bring you pain. Pain as a scream from Him: “Child, you can’t do that, it’s unnatural, stop!”
The pain of betrayal, jealousy, envy, offense, the pain of anger, as the absence of peace in the heart, and so on.
Sometimes loving parents they watch they child make the first steps in life, not having the experience of pain, stubbornly get into the place where it’s dangerous. So then, mom and dad, not finding other ways to overcome the stubbornness of their little fellow, allow them this little experience of self-will. Let it hit them a bit, so that next time, they’ll be more careful, more attentive, safer. The heart of the parent breaks at hearing their child weep, but they do this in something small, so that they don’t get the full outcome in something big.
It’s all simple and understandable, but still, there is WHY.
Why do the righteous and the innocent suffer?
Why does Christ invite us to the Kingdom of heaven and then, right away, offers us the cross?
Why does His joy go through the Cross?
It’s very difficult for us, even more so, it’s unnatural. Lord, we cannot understand You, and without understanding, how can we accept You?
Before my eyes stand the parents of a young girl who committed suicide. In a young age where you can still live and live, and then, all of a sudden… It happens more and more often recently. I’m afraid to judge, so I’m trying to understand, why she and others became able to make this step. But this step is but a moment. What was going on before the person crossed that threshold? It happens sometimes that a person has died a long time ago. He was still walking, blinking, moving in space, eating, drinking, all by inertia, but the soul has already reached the point of no return, and suicide was already a logical point.
Any sickness is accompanied by pain as a signal, as an alarm bell: you’re sick, you need treatment right away, otherwise it’ll be lethal. The sickness of the soul is also accompanied by pain, and often even stronger than physical pain. And then it feels like itd be better if your arm or leg hurt, just not the soul. This pain in its critical stages can become even greater than the fear of death that is natural for man. It can be so unbearable that death can seem like the way out.
The thing is, where does this way our lead to. But the person doesnt think of that, he is in so much pain that he just needs a quick way out.
She was sick and that’s why she died. But what exactly is her sickness, why? I’ll let myself say one thing, that may seem like complete nonsense at the beginning. But that is exactly what I’ll say. Her negative experience of pain that led to a horrific end, happened as a consequence of an absence of positive experience of pain.
I want to explain this crazy phrase.
We were returning from our pilgrimage to the Holy Mount of Athos. The past days made my fellow traveler, not a church person, face many questions that he thought and asked me about.
In particular, the man couldn’t understand the reasons, the goals behind such extreme asceticism, the particular examples of which we had to encounter: “I don’t understand why to take such extreme ascetic practice. They could just pray for their souls, work in joy. Why redouble it, why to be on edge?”
That is why, my dear; try to understand what I’m going to tell you: their goal, their joy, just like ours, are in becoming one with God, there’s heaven in God, there’s delight – the Kingdom of Heaven.
But we can only become one with Him in likeness, when we become like Him in the features of our souls. Things that are like one another become one, and, on the contrary, opposites push away from one another.
We can be taken to heaven, artificially made to live there, but if our inner state will be contrary to God, we won’t find peace there. We’ll be in contradictions, and contradictions will bring discomfort and pain, and heaven will turn into hell. So, we can only unite to God in likeness [to Him].
And if He’s Love?
And what is the main attribute of love, I’d say, its point?
Sacrifice is the main sign through which we can see the presence of love, its quality. There’s love only where there’s sacrifice. Otherwise everything is an illusion, deceit, something different. A mother sacrifices her sleep, her strength, her habits and her health for her beloved child. She loves him, so she can’t do differently – that is the law of love. She’ll even die for him without thinking, because she simply can’t do differently, she’s a prisoner of love. And this captivity, although it can be hard, sometimes even unbearable, – it’s voluntary, it’s desired.
I’ll say even more: it brings you joy. Like a young man that sincerely loves dreams not only of speaking words of love to his beloved, he yearns for feat for her, for suffering, he longs to die for her. Because his true love compels him to action, and that action is his joy, his point.
But our likeness to God, our state of love should not be an illusion, a philosophical idea. It lives only in action. Love must be expressed, it must be. It must become our BEING with all its attributes and signs, the main one of which is sacrifice.
If you want to be My disciple, take up your cross and follow Me. The Lord does not say: I don’t want to see you without your cross – it’s just that without it, you won’t be like Him. You will be different, you won’t be love, love that can’t be without sacrifice.
The saints understood this, they experienced this very deeply and sensitively, so they took the feat of sacrifice upon themselves artificially, through asceticism. Through it, they stimulated sacrifice within themselves, fostered it, pulled its strings, bothered these sides of the soul, in order to nurture, grow this.
Sacrifice is the food of our likeness to God, its energy.
The saints understood it, desired it, sought it.
But our souls, simple, mortal, should also have this food and energy. Otherwise the static state of our inner world will become like a bog, will rot, die, will lead to the irreparable. So our life is constant dying through sacrifice. The expression of our true being, of living according to God is in dying for Christ.
This is the true life, point.
Now I understand the reason, the point of suffering.
A soul that is capable of suffering, one that is in sacrifice is an alive soul, there’s love in it, there’s God dwelling in it, there’s life happening there, there’s a point.
I began asking questions, and HE gradually, very patiently began answering them. Starting with the simplest and crudest ones, up to the spiritual, the delicate.
In the middle of the 20th century during the horrid world war, when humanity committed horrific things in the relationships between separate persons, between nations, countries, human sacrifices numbered millions: the elderly, women and children perished. In that time, still a young hieromonk, elder Sophronius of Essex wondered. The question that was a protest, the question that was a scream up there, upward:
Why is it unbearable even for me, sinful and insignificant?
Where are You? Why aren’t You there? And then He saw God, crucified on the cross, Who said to father Sophronius: “Was it you Who was crucified for them?”
He saw Christ – not that historical Christ, far-away, two thousand years ago, that was some time crucified for us. He saw the Christ of today on that very cross, in that very sacrifice.
He wasn’t the one who made people kill, make war, act brutally. He just left them to their own will. Left to get through to the hearts of people. To scream at them. My poor, unhappy people, please finally understand how sick you are. You absolutely cannot live by yourselves: the way that seems right, the way that you want. You will surely do everything wrong, you’ll start fighting, feud, kill. That all is in you. In everyone, in everyone… in each one of us.
Together with the mother of a tortured baby there, upward, with protest, also screamed the mother of the maniac: “Lord, why? He was a wonderful child, a kind-hearted teenager, why did he become like this and commit what he has committed?”
Because that is present in all of us after the fall. We are in an abnormal state, we’re all capable of sin, of murder. God is holding back our tumult, and in our well being we start thinking that everything is well. Our instinct of self preservation is faded, it seems like everything is going by itself, going well.
And then, to shake within us the sharpness of seeing the problem, He does not punish, He just steps away, and we begin punishing ourselves, going to the terrible, and in this terror we scream:
Why have You abandoned us?
Because victory still has not been attained, the battleground is our hearts, and God cannot, without our voluntary participation, attain victory. He is bounded by our freedom. He can only scream to us, implore us, offer us help.
God is screaming to us that the situation is serious, so critical that He doesn’t even leave the cross, and He isn’t on the cross for Himself, but for our problems. And just like He was receiving spitting from men on Golgotha two thousand years ago, He still is right now.
Spits and offenses, not understanding of the fact that people are themselves to blame for all of their problems. And He cannot fix anything without our participation, without our own work.
Coming back there, in my memory, back to that funeral of the baby, I involuntarily place myself in his parents’ shoes, in his own shoes, in the shoes of the maniac, and there’s room for me everywhere, for I am human. Human with a small h, yet, because I carry the flaws of the fallen nature. There’s sickness very terrifying, very horrible. And if I see it sharply, very sensitively, and will receive treatment, with God’s help, meaning that I will follow all of His commands and suggestions, then I will be able to overcome it. And on the contrary, if I just let it be, the sickness will progress and develop, and the terrible will happen: from a creature made in Gods likeness, I’ll become a beast, a freak.
The process of healing means receiving bitter treatments, procedures, the following of a regimen. All of this restrains my freedom, my “I want”. But it also gives results. I begin feeling well, my mood goes up, I begin experiencing the feeling of joy, and along with me, my loved ones rejoice and so does my Doctor – Lord God.
To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
PRAYER IS A DIFFERENT FORM OF BEING. OUTSIDE OF TIME
Saint Paisios of Mount Athos shared that once he stayed alone in his hermit cell, doing his monastic prayer rule. In the utter silence, his heart was set in quiet, peaceful and attentive prayer. At some point, his soul smoothly transferred to a state of contemplation, and he saw the Uncreated Light which filled the whole space of his cell, and Father Paisios himself. This Light penetrated the whole being of the elder and filled him with peace and non-ecstatic quiet bliss which instilled the feeling of humbleness and humility.
Father Paisios was not able to say exactly how long this contemplation of the Uncreated Light lasted. After this moment of grace, Father Paisios started to come to his senses and had to sit down. He grabbed a glass of water, had some food…, and suddenly cried. He was crying because just a moment ago, he was filled with uncreated grace, and now it had seceded and he was back to the mundane everyday things, like food and water.
After the Holy Spirit visited him, the elder more deeply felt his human imperfect nature that has its physical needs.
Father Paisios was thinking, “I am dust and ashes. I should have forgotten about food and about myself in general, after God visited me. I am still such a carnal man…”
When God visits a sinful man, this will always be accompanied by the feeling of unworthiness and deep repentance on man’s part, which differs from the feeling of delusion that often tempts hermits with a high opinion of themselves and their worthiness.
While using this example, I would like to focus on another moment also. Namely, Saint Paisios of Mount Athos, as well as all of the Early Church Fathers, noticed that when grace visits one, during this state of contemplation, they would always lose track of time. In a way, they kind of “dropped out of time itself”. Having united with God, in the state of deification, they assumed His characteristics, one of which is being “outside of time”. Both now and ever and unto the ages of ages eternally. The person does not realize how much time he spends in ecstasy, be it five minutes or the whole day. With the Lord, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.
I once spoke to my friend, a hieromonk who could not understand and as a result, could not accept the practice of saying the Jesus prayer fast. He was an educated person with a strong logical reasoning and I had to explain to him in a logical way.
“Can you tell me, please, when do you read faster: when you read out loud or in your head?”- “In my head, obviously.” “As an educated person, you are probably familiar with the method of fast reading, when you scan through the text, getting the meaning of the text, without focusing on the linguistic details of it.”- “Yes, sure.”
If this method works with a complex narrative, where the ideas and events are changing quickly, it is surely possible with a short prayer that repeats. We repeat it without pauses where unneeded things can interrupt it. Later when it becomes a habit, one wants to say it again and again. You finish one and the next one is coming, without losing your focus or getting distracted by something else. Our goal is not a full focus, our goal is God. Focus is just a means.
A very important moment in the practice of the Jesus prayer is being in an imageless state in which the mind does not live through logical and visual thinking, but exists in a simpler non-visual, inward thinking way. Such a mind is fast and light because it is simple. It can say the prayer fast and many times. Which carriage will go faster? The one that will have fewer obstacles on the way. The smoother the road is, the faster the trip is. Thoughts matter; they are the obstacles that slow down the movement.
Thoughts come from visual thinking and logical reasoning. Let your mind move into the area of a non-imaginary and simple state and you will have fewer obstacles.
This will also work better, if your mind is not in or out, but through constant work you will train it to be next to your heart. It is very peaceful, non-visual and focused there.
I used the word “next to your heart”, not “in your heart.” This is very important, because only grace can enter your heart, and our business is to stay by the door and knock at it, with humility. We cannot break in the door. It is the most Holy Place, the key for which is with God. No technical tricks will help you enter there by yourself. We are standing by the door with humility and knocking, or even better- just standing and waiting. However, if your humility, work and dedication develop your skill in finding the place next to your heart, this means a lot. It is peaceful and quiet there.
The threshold of the Kingdom of Heaven has a scent of the Kingdom of Heaven.
The prayer here occurs without any linguistic form but through impression, instantly, especially by a person who has a skill of prayer, for whom it works intuitively, very simply, but also very precisely. Without any illusions or fantasies. God is simple, He is also experienced simply, without obstacles and interferences. The Holy Fathers teach us not to overcome obstacles but to work around them while moving only forward, faster and faster. It is not surprising that their interior prayer of a Single Thought would accelerate. This acceleration would break them away from the earth; the laws of friction, of contact, and finally of movement that would change from horizontal and temporary to vertical – directly to God. The vertical stops time. It is the territory of the Holy Spirit.
Once someone told me that it is hard to pray for others with the Jesus prayer, because the image of that person distracts you from God. This would be true if you do not have the skill of interior prayer without using visual images. But if your mind did acquire this experience of prayer without imagining, the person you pray for will go though your prayer as an impression without distracting you from God. You would experience that person as a point without accompanying properties and other difficulties. And most importantly, you can experience two or more people, not like two or three points but like one. And the whole of humankind – like one simple united body.
When they teach you to play the piano, you first learn to hold your hand properly. If this is not done correctly from the beginning, the musician will not be up to standard all of his or her life. In any science, the basics are very important. In the science of all sciences, the Jesus prayer, the mentor forms the correct direction of the novice’s movement. It may not be very clear for a novice at first, he may not understand everything; but he simply trusts his mentor.
It is important to have fewer thoughts, impressions, emotions, fewer complexities and more simplicity, stability and hard work. Everything will come naturally. That is why they say, “Say the Jesus prayer and it will teach you itself. Your spiritual father will only keep an eye on you.”
Simple things can be done faster, for that exact reason they are not difficult. The Fathers of Athos are an example here – they are experts, whose experience cannot be understood theoretically without actively experiencing their holy work.
THE PRICE OF MY LIFE
I plead to our Lord and the Holy Theotokos for forgiveness, and they forgive me at once. This was all simple and easy. Before the moment when the Holy Theotokos explained to me the essence of repentance; everything became very serious and even frightening. In fact, They forgive you, and very fast. However, in order to stop the existence of a sin, someone needs to die. I do not die, I am forgiven. But the Lord dies again. He dies for my every sin and gives me one more chance for forgiveness, and then again and again… I confessed one more sin, one more betrayal of Christ, perceived His forgiveness, and, all of a sudden, my eyes met the eyes of the Holy Theotokos. She was very sad. Moreover, she cried. At that moment it came to me as a revelation, I was absolutely forgiven. But this forgiveness was bought at a high price, just like 2000 years ago, on Golgotha; the same happens now, at my confession. It is not a simple, “Forgive me” and “I forgive you”, and that’s it. Not at all. It ends for me. But what about Him? For Him it is again Death. As it happens, this is not that simple and easy. Giving my consent to a sin, I make it exist, I give it life, the energy of my soul. And it begins to exist, act, and poison everything in me and all around me. It becomes my suffering, my illness. I have not mentioned or controlled it yet, but it is going to torture and kill me. It co-exists with me. It is in me. When I realize it, I go to confession to Him, to my Savior. As giving life to a sin, making it exist, is in my power. While in order to get rid of it, or rather kill it, someone has to die; and I am not ready for that and not able to do that. That is when God takes my sin upon Himself and dies with it, stopping its existence. This is the way it happened there, on Golgotha. The Lord took upon Himself our flesh, in full, with existence of sins, except for sympathizing sins; He took this flesh and died with it, killing its sins. It is a dreadful sacrifice. And everyone should understand this sacrifice was not for His Own sake; He sacrificed Himself for the sake of a worthless person, for me. It was not only then, 2000 years ago; it happens every day, for my every sin. I was standing before the Theotokos, realizing this, and was afraid of asking for a penance, as a small co-suffering and co-dying with Her, and Him. I asked only for an absolute forgiveness, understanding, what price will be paid for it by Her. My not changing resembles the situation at Gethsemane, when the Lord suffered for us until sweating blood and told His sleeping disciples, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? (Mt. 26:40) For your sins.” I do not do anything, I do not want anything, I do not compel myself for a little bit. Christ bears everything for me. Until sweating blood. Meanwhile, I only tell Him, “Forgive me,” – He forgives and dies. And I am still living.
The university professor challenged his students with this question,
“Did God create everything that exists?”
A student bravely replied,
“Yes, He did!”
“Did God create everything?” the professor asked.
“Yes sir”, the student replied.
The professor answered,
“If God created everything, then God created evil because evil exists,
and according to the principle that our works define who we are
then God is evil”.
The student became quiet at his assertion.
The professor was quite pleased with himself.
He boasted to the students that he had proven once more
that the Christian faith was a myth.
Another student raised his hand and said,
“Can I ask you a question, professor ?”
“Of course”, replied the professor.
The student stood up and asked,
“Professor, does cold exist?”
“What kind of question is this?
Of course, it exists.
Have you never been cold?”
The students sniggered at the young man’s question.
The young man replied,
“In fact sir, cold does not exist.
According to the laws of physics,
what we consider cold
is in reality the absence of heat.
Every body or object can only be studied
when it has or transmits energy.
Absolute zero (-460 degrees F) is the total absence of heat.
All matter becomes inert and incapable of reaction at that temperature.
Cold does not exist.
We have created this word to describe how we feel if we have no heat.”
The student continued,
“Professor, does darkness exist?”
The professor responded,
“Of course it does.”
The student replied,
“Once again you are wrong sir.
Darkness does not exist either.
Darkness is in reality the absence of light.
We can study light, but not darkness.
We can use Newton’s prism
to break white light into many colours
and study the various wavelengths of each colour.
You can`t measure darkness.
A simple ray of light can break into a world of darkness and illuminate it.
How can you know how dark a certain space is?
You measure the amount of light present.
Isn’t this correct?
Darkness is a term used by man to describe what happens in the absence of light.”
Finally, the young man asked the professor,
“Sir, does evil exist?”
Now uncertain, the professor responded,
“Of course, as I have already said.
We see it every day.
Violence between people, many crimes and violence around the world.
These manifestations are nothing else but evil.”
To this the student replied,
“Evil does not exist sir,
or at least it does not exist unto itself.
Evil is simply the absence of God.
It is just like darkness and cold, a word that man has created to describe the absence of God.
God did not create evil.
Evil is not like faith, or love which exists as light and heat.
Evil is the result of the absence of Divine love in the human heart.
It’s like the cold that comes when there is no heat
or the darkness that comes when there is no light.”
The professor sat down.
The young man’s name was Albert Einstein.
What can I say about God?
What can I say to an unbelieving person about God?
What can I say to myself?
I often have nothing to say.
At times I can say very little, other times I can say more, at greater depth.
But there’s never a situation where I can say it all.
This would be an absurdity.
God is not an entirely clear subject. God is God.
And He remains like that until the unknown, infinity is there.
When believers try to explain and prove all the points, they do not understand that they humiliate God.
The God Who cannot be fully contained.
There must always be a doubt in a true faith.
It’s noble, it must be like that.
The ability to contain begins with an inability to contain.
I know that I know nothing.
This happens when one stands still before the Great Extraordinary. That is exceeding his measure.
But this is already an engagement.
And this engagement is with Him.
With The One Who is. And this is the main thing that we can say about Him.
All the rest we can describe only partially, according to our spiritual age.
Therefore I’m whispering about Him very carefully, fearing to distort it or being misunderstood.
But I can’t keep silent either, because He wants me to talk.
I want to ask you a very simple question.
You believers, if you are truly believers,
why don’t I see a miracle in your life?
Why did it happen so often in the far past 2000 years ago?
So far that its objectivity is eroded, any trust is being lost.
This is a miracle of one of those who were in distant history and who cannot wake up and confirm anything.
And where is your own miracle? This day’s miracle?
The lame walk, the dumb talk; if they drink anything deadly, it shall not hurt them.
They speak different languages.
Jesus Christ said,
“If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed,
you can say to this mountain “move from here to there, and it will move”.
But I don’t see you have such faith.
Or maybe you yourselves are non-believers
Or Christ was not telling the truth?
You’re disappointing me.
The most precious thing in a dialogue is sincerity.
It itself deserves respect.
Frankness encourages me to put those very same questions about faith to myself.
And it happens often.
It is vital that one does not pretend to have faith, but is looking for it with all one’s heart.
The verb “to look for” suggests an action.
Progressive movement forward from smaller to bigger.
My faith is little, paltry compared to the faith of the saints.
But it’s already within me, and faith urges me to move up, to search, to multiply it.
It is most likely that it all starts with finding meaning in life, with facing losses, disappointments, and instability for the first time, which then leads to a sharper sense of time.
All things will pass…
We’re constantly losing something, and in this regard, everything gets depreciated.
If I was born to die, then even if I lived a long life, a relatively long one, as in comparison with eternity, my life is a moment.
What’s the point of life?
Is it to give birth to children who will also die and ask the same question?
The wise Solomon asked these questions himself three thousand years ago in the book of Ecclesiastes,
perhaps in the final document of his eventful life: Vanity of vanities; .
All things will pass and all is vanity
This work could be described as deeply pessimistic, but the last lines were:
live like that and have fear of God.
In the New Testament transcription, the word “fear” can be safely replaced by the word “love”.
Thinking about the meaning of life is not yet faith, but it is well on the way towards it.
We’re peering at the world around us more closely, and curiously.
We’re still not seeing God, but we begin noticing His traces and traces of His creativity everywhere,
because wherever you look, you can see harmony and wisdom.
I often hear the response – this is just nature, and straight away I’m asking:
What or Who is nature?
Only “Who” can create the wise poetry of being.
There is no personal creativity in “what”.
You know, when something has already happened inside between man and God, often there’s no desire to prove anything at all.
Was asked and provided an answer, that’s it.
Hence in this topic of God’s being exploration
through His creativity around us and within ourselves, I’m satisfied with
the very first point…
The Big Bang, which is now being talked about a lot,
trying to explain where everything came from, everything has come from nothing.
Has anyone ever heard about an explosion that had great harmony in it instead of destruction?
You have to believe very strongly in a miracle
to claim that after the explosion instead of a cacophony of sounds the thunder spread around like Beethoven’s fifth Symphony and
instead of destruction – coherence and consistency.
Observing the harmony of the universe gives confidence that there’s a Creator,
with Whom you have not yet met as with an Individual Personality.
But everything around the whole universe speaks about Him.
This is already a faith and at the same time it is not yet faith, the faith that works miracles.
All this can be just a beginning in the seeking out for Him and to return to oneself as an image and likeness.
This is where the most difficult part begins, because that faith supposes a permanent, gradual movement towards Him.
This practice is called spiritual life,
which involves overcoming one’s self, one’s imperfections, limitations.
Limitations of vision and experience.
God is located precisely beyond these restraints.
And only those overcoming these join into a one -to -one communication with Him.
And this is no longer just a reflection on the meaning of life,
observation of the universe’s harmony,
not a belief in God’s existence, or a belief in Him, but a direct relationship with Him.
Not many people have achieved this.
But this particular state is called faith,
the faith that is capable of performing miracles.
Unfortunately, believers often live vicariously,
through the experience of saints, in whose lives this has taken place in an extreme, total way.
The Lord said about them the following, “they shall speak with new tongues; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them” and so on.
Yes, unfortunately, this is often not our personal experience, but rather trust towards those people.
But you have to trust someone in your life.
When you ask someone for directions, you often have to trust a complete stranger, and we do trust.
But I have much more confidence in a saint who deserves trust by his very righteous life.
He’s so decent that it’s impossible not to trust him.
If you are lucky enough to meet a saint in your life, believe me,
this meeting will not only inspire you with sympathy for his words,
but you will have an irresistible desire to experience his spiritual state.
You’ll just see a really happy person.
Made happy not by the external circumstances,
but by internal content that does not depend on the external one.
I`m sorry. May I interrupt you right now?
I don’t want to sound categorical, so I won’t use “ALL”.
I will use the word “many”.
Many members of the Church don’t correspond with what you’re talking about.
I’m not talking as much about holiness, but at least righteousness,
not in words, as you usually like to participate in, but in real actions.
Surely, you will say that it is not easy.
It is a massive task that shows you are actually moving ahead.
But from the outside, we’re seeing something completely different:
someone who is not moving anywhere,
because a very comfortable position is taken and all is jolly good.
So why would you strain yourself?
And some people have no intention of moving anywhere,
faith for them is a kind of fairy tale,
which does not oblige to do anything,
you can talk about it, discuss it, but nothing more.
You need God as far as He does not interrupt your life.
Why are you ready to talk so much about the saints and you really don’t want to do as they did and even get angry when you are told about Judas?
There’s plenty of those in church.
Of course, this is an allegory, no one knows the exact number, and of course it does happen.
I see what you’re trying to say.
I often hear this fair question.
We understand that there may be wicked people in the Church, it is clear that we are all human.
But why is the Church so laid-back in the struggle for self-purification, for decency within it?
I hear these questions and try to answer them.
In your worry about the presence of hypocrisy within the Church.
I can hear anger in your worrying and I am worried too, but for me it’s rather painful.
Our attitude to the same thing is of a different nature.
And everything is consistent.
You can’t have it in any other way.
As the Church is something external to you, a completely alien institution,
for me, it is my own mother, so it hurts.
Because it hurts, trust me, I care a great deal about that.
Instead of “laid-back”, I would use the expression “careful”.
For you to understand and accept the nature of this caution, I must explain to you one important thing.
The Church is far from being liberal, rather, it’s conservative in its traditions.
We have our own judicial and justice system.
And here is the most important point:
Is it the same sinners who are in charge of the punitive measures, the one’s whose morality is reviewed by the Church tribunal?
Sinners are judged by sinners.
Not by deliberately hardened sinners,
but by sinners who repent.
Who see in everyone’s sin their own propensity to any sin, as well as this particular one.
Do you know how difficult it can be to make drastic decisions when you are constantly judged by your own conscience?
And really wish there was an amnesty granted, another chance given, because you yourself are given it by God,
through all your life from confession to confession.
Do not judge, so that you will not be judged.
You can say that the clergy have high tolerance only for their own people.
Priests absolve thousands of people from millions of sins every day.
“I forgive and absolve” – these are the words that were blessed by Jesus Christ to the apostles to say as we know from the Gospel, followed by the blessing to clergy of the Church.
He had this authority from the Father and He had it as He was entitled to it.
At every judgment before God, there are always two defendants:
the one who is judged and the one who judges.
The defendant must demonstrate himself in repentance,
the judge in mercy and objectivity, and this is a heavy responsibility.
Historically, in both ancient and modern times, the people of the Church have accumulated a lot of illustrations of an amendment of life.
This experience encourages us to long-suffering, leniency,
and to wisdom that takes its time.
By and large, God is rarely in a hurry, more often He shows longsuffering.
And one more important thought:
in an aggressively acidic environment, the appearance of a small, delicate flower causes delight and awe.
This is regarded as a miracle, a treasure.
So, in our imperfect world, full of guile and sin, the birth of one saint is a great treasure,
precisely because he had to define himself and express himself in an aggressive environment.
And it’s worth a lot.
This is the price of the soul of each of us.
Whether we move closer to God or not
You talk a lot about a man, that every man can be treated with compassion because we’re all sinners, even saints.
But often I don’t get God, especially the One from the Old Testament Who gave his blessing to attacking whole nations.
And He punished people cruelly and mercilessly.
This is the same God, of which
the Gospel says that God is Love.
Is this love?
– I want to tell you an important thing.
There is a difference between the intellect and the mind.
Intellect is the ability to reason, and this is present to a greater or lesser extent in each of us.
And the mind (in Greek patristic theology it is called “nous” – cognition) is a knowledge of the essence of things.
The first is from the nature of our mind, and it is good, but not perfect.
And the second is more of a charismatic nature.
It’s like a revelation, and it’s from God.
As you, an unbeliever, would say from Nature.
Adam had this state of mind in Paradise when he named animals according to their essence.
He didn’t analyze anything, he just knew and had an intuition.
Why am I talking about this?
Because I will not be able to answer all your questions to satisfy you.
Not because there is no answer, but because there’s a need for the ability to listen, and that comes from intuition.
Different people reading the Bible in fact don’t read the same book because of their non-identical abilities to follow the same content.
It turns the entire consciousness of some people upside down and radically changes their lives, while others remain completely indifferent to the same book;
the same content and such distinctive actions.
Spiritual topics need a spiritual approach, not with pure cold intellect, but more with instinct.
It’s like in music, it is not composed logically, other mechanisms of our psyche must be activated.
And only then everything happens.
The questions you ask are also of my concern.
When I’m trying to resolve those questions, I dive into that area of my psychic existence where there’s a possibility to find the answers.
Complicated questions are not solved by intellect, it is rather a field of prayer, and you do not try to make it out, but ask God and get an answer,
an answer that we are able to hear and accept, otherwise there’s only silence.
The question of the cruel Old Testament God was also before me, and I queried that and was not happy with the answers.
That’s why I stopped asking the questions and stopped pondering.
I began to pray and got an answer that satisfied me.
But this is my answer, the response to me, to my spiritual state, if you will.
For you, it may not sound right in this case, I apologize I’ve got limited abilities.
All that we see around us and in the endless darkness of space is light.
Everything that is not light remains dark.
Light emanates from a source of light and also can be reflected from the surfaces of objects.
The first light can be called a pure light, virgin light, because it carries information only about itself.
The nature of the second one, the one being reflected, gets modified.
it includes the information of the reflected object, so, in fact,
we can see it with our eyes.
It is no longer a pure virgin light,
but rather a synthesis of it and its reflected object.
The Bible often speaks of God as the Light.
It is convenient for me to use this concept now.
God, as a pure virgin Light, floats in the existence of this world,
which He created within the boundaries of time and space.
This world reflects Him,
it reflects Him and fills it with the information about itself, as it is at this current moment in history.
God’s pure, virgin idea of the world includes the present state of this world,
the state of a free man who chooses between good or evil by his will.
The harsh God of the Old Testament and the God of Love of the New are the same.
There are no contradictions in Him,
it’s all about man,
who is not light, but only a reflecting object endowed with free will.
There is a concept that God permeates even hell, but hell remains hell.
Thus, a holy person in a state of Godlikeness partially refracts the virgin light of the Divine,
sharing His nature,
while a fallen sinner fills the virgin nature with information about himself.
And this happens both in individuals and in entire populations of a certain historical era.
That is always the case.
I suspect that when you have nothing to say, you talk in a difficult way to confuse and mess someone up.
I’m not satisfied.
Please don’t be angry with me.
I’m not being sly, I am being honest with you.
There are just things that are very tough to explain, and you can only experience them.
How can I explain to someone who has never loved in his life what love is?
I’ll just have to sigh with shrugging my shoulders and
trying to choose the right concepts, admitting eventually that that’s not possible.
You have to live it out.
Without personal experience, we will always come to a dead end.
Christianity is not a theory, it is a practice, it is life itself.
That’s probably the place to start.
All in all this does not matter that much, I would not only like to share the information with you, but to share love itself, as the energy of the Divine.
This is the main miracle and acquisition of my faith.
If there is love in me,
not delicacy, good breeding, good emotionality,
but love itself, in its highest manifestation-
to the point of love for enemies,
God will be in me, and here the word stops, just a slight smile and a kind look in your direction.
It’s just that we are different, we can say we’re “parallel”.
You live in your world, which is real for you.
I see and feel differently.
But I’m very happy.
A philosopher once said,
“If there were no God, it would be worth it to invent Him, because without Him everything collapses.
He is like a bracket that holds the whole meaning of being.”
I don’t need to invent Him, He is in my life.
And I’m so happy that I don’t want to argue, just a slight smile and a kind look in your direction.
When I proposed the theory of relativity, very few people understood me.
And what I tell you now to transmit to mankind will also meet the misunderstanding and prejudice in the world.
I ask you to keep this letter for as long as necessary.
until society is sufficiently developed to accept what I will explain below.
There is a very powerful force
that science has not yet found an official explanation for.
This force includes and controls all other phenomena that work in the universe.
This universal power is love.
When scientists were looking for a unified theory of the universe,
they forgot the most powerful invisible force.
Love is the light that enlightens those who give and receive it.
Love is an attraction
because it makes some people feel attracted to others.
Love is power,
because it multiplies the best
that is in us, that we are.
And it allows humanity not to be immersed in blind selfishness.
For love we live and die.
Love is God, and God is Love.
This power explains everything and gives meaning to life.
This is a variable that we have ignored for too long.
Maybe it’s because we’re afraid of love.
To understand love, I made a simple substitution in my most famous equation.
If instead of E=mc2,
we acknowledge that the energy for healing the world can be obtained through love
multiplied by the speed of light squared,
we conclude that love is the most powerful force,
because it has no limits.
Only through love we can find meaning in life and
Save the world
And every sensible or sentient creature.
To help our civilization to survive.
Perhaps we’re not ready to make a bomb of love yet.
A device powerful enough
to completely destroy the hate,
selfishness and greed,
all the things that devastate the planet.
However, each individual carries a small
but a powerful generator of love whose energy is waiting for its release.
When we learn to give and get this universe’s energy,
We endorse that love conquers all and it is capable of overcoming anything.
Because love is the quintessence of life.
I deeply regret
that I could not express what is in my heart,
which has quietly beaten for you all my life.
Maybe it’s too late to apologize.
But as time is relative.
I have to tell you
that I love you very much
and thanks to you I have reached the final answer.
A LETTER FROM ATHOS (scenario for the film)
Man, from the point of creation, is given a need of thirst. He wants to drink, to eat, he desires comfort and entertainment, he seeks interaction, yearns for creativity, knowledge, new impressions, friendship, love. He has a need to speak and to be heard. He wants to listen, there’s an interest within him. He strives to quench his thirst, in all its various forms, for the entirety of his life. And once he has gained everything, he still has that thirst for the unknown left within, a longing for something he doesn’t know, something he hasn’t yet experienced. He longs, he yearns, he’s not satisfied. That is just the way we were created by God; if one doesn’t dream, it means one’s soul is dead. Saints grow indifferent to everything of the world, but it does not mean that their thirst has ceased, it’s just that it has changed its course and direction. They hunger and thirst for the heavenly, for the spiritual. Man cannot get to know God in His full measure, it is beyond our ability. But it’s still the greater Good. That means there will always be the unknown. That means that movement, dynamics, and life will not cease. That means there will always be a point.
Greetings to you, my dear friend. It’s exactly how I’ll address you, with love and sincerity, despite the pivotal differences in our views: my precious, dear Orthodoxy and your dismal, bleak nihilism. Everything could change. I’ve been a witness to that more than once. It’s just that, may it only change for the better… Please, o Lord.
I’m writing to you from the Holy Mount of Athos, sending you my sunny, spring mood. It’s still early spring back home in Russia. It’s still all frosty and snowy in March back there, and here in Greece it’s already pretty warm. It’s all green here on the foreland, the so called “Paschal blossom”, or lilac, is in full bloom, bumblebees are fluttering around, and the birds are chirping. I breathe in the fresh, spring air deeply, joyfully, and wholeheartedly exclaim in delight, “Glory to Thee, O God, glory to Thee!”. I can’t get the last conversation we shared before I left out of my head. Or should I say, an argument, because we couldn’t succeed at holding a conversation. My extreme zeal is to blame. I ask you to forgive me, sincerely, from the bottom of my heart. It’s not how you are supposed to talk about God, He should be spoken about with love and long-suffering. So what I couldn’t convey face-to-face, I’ll do my best to express on paper.
I now, praise God, have no desire to overargue you. I only have the desire to share my treasure of faith with you. God help me to do it sensibly…
You sincerely wonder how you can believe something that cannot be seen, touched, smelled, or experienced. I’ll partially agree with you that with our senses, such as sight, touch, or hearing, it is difficult to behold God. But, pay attention to this, we do not see many things in this world, we do not feel them, how much is left out of the bounds of the spectrum of our sight, the scale of sound, how many subtle things, unavailable to touch.
Unbelievers often refer to science. But it’s the modern science that says that humanity on this stage of development sees, hears, feels, not only with the senses, but also with modern ultra precise devices a truly small percent of material and energy of the universe. The greatest portion is left out of the bounds of our knowledge. Absolutely elusive in hypotheses and guesses. All of this that is beyond today’s human possibilities, the scientists call the dark materials or the dark energy. Not in the sense of its negativity, but in the sense of it being unknown. And that which we do not know, is much greater than what we have experienced. You say: to see, to hear, to touch, to know. But knowledge has long divided from the senses. Modern science is no longer experiencing this world by touch, and has for long. We have gone out of these bounds. The scientists make their discoveries, already not just by looking through a microscope or a telescope, the greater portion of discoveries is made on paper through mathematical formulas and physical equations hypothetically. In the course of our conversations you once fervently said that to believe in God you must be out of your mind. I do not know what exactly you have put into these words, but in part, I agree: it is indeed so. If by sanity we understand logic, logical rational thinking. Here I’ll say to you, and any scientist will confirm this: the world is much wider than we can comprehend. Let’s take the quantum physics. To be in this field of science, one must partially give up on logic, the mind must become irrational, otherwise everything will crumble, break, clash. You trust your mind very much, your personal being seems objective, conclusive. You are the center of the universe. Well try to get to the height of the bird’s flight, and from there you’re already a point. Let’s fly higher, farther. From the space you no longer exist, and the Earth does not seem endless. Higher and farther – and in the blackness of space disappears the Earth. And the Sun became but a small star. Go farther – and there’s no sun. Other stars, other galaxies, farther and farther. You’re already not even the dust of the universe, the very objectivity of your being became an illusion, and we can still fly and fly… And that is about space, what about time? A snippet of your life is worth something, there are so many events and impressions in it. And in a thousand years, either forth or back in time? What about a million? A billion? Your life is not just lost in this scale, it loses its objectivity, it’s no longer even a moment, it just isn’t, at all. If we cannot understand such things as the endlessness of time and space, how then can we understand God? The insanity of faith comes to know the unknowable. In order to enter the field of the supernatural, one must leave the field of the rational. There, out of the boundaries of your mind, outside that bound, there’s life. Not a life of mind, but life of the spirit that goes according to its own, and often very different, laws. But it’s not an illusion, it is objective. The way the endlessness of space is objective, the point of your physical being. And all of a sudden, from the center of the universe, from “something” we become “nothing”. Nothing by ourselves, senselessness, zero. This weird reality makes us fall silent, tremble in endlessness, in the blackness of space and time.
And in this sad, eerie loneliness we start to need HIM. Him Who knows the point. Him Who is the point. God is in the sphere of outside the borders of our mind. But He can be known. This antipathy can be explained if we divide the notions of mind and reason. The mind contains reason, but it also lives different, subtle charismatic properties of our soul, that do experience the spiritual.
This is the state of prayer that by its nature differs from reflection. When the mind prays, it does not think within the frame of the usual. The state of the praying mind is not at all like wandering the labyrinths of logic. The praying mind acquires the objective knowledge charismatically, through inspiration. Here on the Holy Mount, are still retained the notions of the state of mind in prayer, and not just notions, it is practiced daily and nightly. This practice is known as noetic doing. The principle of which is the state of mind outside of logic, reflection. Reflection is subjective, for it is constantly connected to doubt. A person is inclined to either this or that. Faith is not inquiring conviction. It’s a state that does not need process. The Lord spoke of faith in the Gospel like this: “If you believe and do not doubt in your heart”. How precisely He described the state of prayer with one sentence – not doubt in your heart! Faith is not testing, not a controversy: yes or no. It’s a short “yes” that is like a bolt of lightning. A moment – and you’re in the light of mind. Everything is understood for you with no testing or reasoning. In the earthly life they call it: dawned on me. There you go – and that’s it! You yourself, not understanding this, said a very correct phrase: “To believe, you must be out of your mind”.
Truly! You must consciously give up on the worldly, crude, rational, logical mind, to live subtle spiritual states.
In the world, there is a lot which we are unable to comprehend, but are able to live, not understanding the nature of the phenomenon. Isn’t it a pity for you, you lessen the endlessness of this world to the narrowness of your own ability to understand it? I only believe in that which I can understand – how limited. Don’t you want to go out of the frames and borders of your logic? Exactly, go out, stepping there, beyond the line of your mind, there’s a whole world there, that your mind cannot contain, but that which a person can live with other means of the soul. Logic isn’t the whole me. I am wider, deeper. What I’m telling you right now, isn’t philosophy, it’s the life of the Athos monks. The usual life in the state of prayer. They do not speak of it, they live it. Naturally. Coming to the Holy Mount, they gradually are taught, by their elders and teachers, to live prayer in the state of no images or imagination. For the logical, image thinking to not contain them in the bounds of the understandable and crude. After years of dedication and persistence, they, still limited by the laws of flesh, go out into the endlessness of the moving toward God. They become spiritual eagles, able to ascend high above the earthly. And if fleshly people look at the horizon, the spiritual from their height, see far beyond it. You think that logic is your treasure, but in reality it’s chains that do not allow you to go far beyond it.
Here on the Holy Mount, there are many illiterate monks, illiterate in earthly sciences, etiquette, unable to speak beautifully. But among them there are those that you feel small, nothing next to them, acutely experiencing that theres a giant of spirit before you. His world is boundless in comparison to yours. You’re nothing, a pathetic, a lowlife with all your knowledge, talents and abilities, in the bounds of the earthly, crude being. And at the same time, they have long stepped outside these bounds into the spiritual endlessness. This doesn’t need to be proved, they don’t really strive to. You’ll just feel it with no words. There are situations in life when words aren’t needed. Forgive me, maybe I’m speaking in complex terms, unclearly. I want to say, only a fool understands everything. A thinking person always faces a mystery on every step and in connection to this, always sees his own limitations. Constraint, being captive to borders, that humanity has always wanted to broaden. This has always been like this in science, culture, religion. A person not thirsting for knowledge is a dead person, boring, wingless. One of the venerable fathers of our time said to his disciples: “Oh how I would love for you to become poets. Poets not in the literature sense, but spiritually. Fly outside of your earthly limitation, fly high. Let them say of you: they’re out of their minds. May we be fools, out of our minds for Christ Whom we have loved and desired. We need insanity for spiritual poetry”.
APPEAL TO MY CHILDREN. BE WISER.
Archpriest Sergiy Baranov
“Do not judge” (Mt. 7:1) as a part of the commandment “you shall love” (Mt. 22:39) theoretically is very simple. But as far as the practice, or, in other words, our real life is concerned, many questions arise in each specific case. And those questions may bring confusion. Thank God that it happens this way. Since primitivism is common only with fanatics. I use the notion “primitivism” instead of “simplicity” deliberately. Because I see the big difference between them. Simplicity comes from the Holy Spirit, while primitivism is the alternative of the evil one, who tries to reduce simplicity to absurdity.
The reasoning of fanatics is primitive. The mind of the saints is simple.
“Do not judge” is a short and seemingly simple phrase. But I ask myself: Then, what did the Holy Fathers do at the Ecumenical Councils? – They judged. One can reject it with a common phrase: “They judged the heresy, but justified the man”. Excuse me, but I cannot agree with it. They judged both the heresy of Arius and his proud stubbornness, which resulted in blasphemy. Moreover, they did not only judge, but they placed him under the ban, that is, punished him.
We received the commandment “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged” (Mt. 7:1) directly from Christ. At the same time, the topic of Our Lord’s conflict with the Judaic lawyers and their hypocrisy dominates the narration of the Holy Gospel. Christ judges them very obviously and passionately.
We may find contradiction and even confusion in this issue, if we will reflect primitively, but not wisely.
I trust in Christ, Who is the final authority for every Christian. And I try to understand Him in order to act wisely and in the way He wants me to do it.
During the first centuries of Christianity when the fundamental notions determining our faith were being formed, among the multitude of heresies there appeared the heresy of Manichaeus. The essence of their teaching was a denial of the value of the physical world and, in particular, of the human body which is the vehicle of soul. Therefore, they were indifferent to the fate of the world and neglected the process of history. They considered it irrelevant and non-spiritual. The Spirit is not interested in it. It is too earthly and alien for him. But what kind of spirit? The spirit of pride, which sets himself beyond the Earth. At the same time, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of impartiality, descends to any historical figure or event. He is always present everywhere in His entirety. He is unchangeable. It is a matter of people and our ability to live through any historical event correctly. I empathize, “to live”, to be a part of it, instead of staying out of it and considering it non-spiritual.
The difference between the Holy Fathers and the people who live through our history using their damaged mind is in the change of attitude to the transformation of this attitude. It is not in the denial, but in the change of attitude. The essence of this change is the presence of the Holy Spirit in your reasoning of any issue or event. The Holy Spirit gives a correct appraisal to everything. To speak through the Holy Spirit, you need to be in the Spirit, but not in the emotion of the moment. When we fight for truth, we need to realize that God’s truth may differ from the human truth.
At this moment I make a considerable note. The difference is not in the emotional contrast of the good and the evil, which is perceived partially, here and now. God thinks long-term and His actions will have a result in the future. Very often we do not understand it, and it argues with our limited “Self”.
The notion “the evil one” is the exact definition of the person who seizes the moment for upsetting the relations between God and a human. He shakes our faith in God and casts doubt upon our obedience to the providence of God with the help of our emotional goodness and a sense of justice. We end our relationship with an “unjust” God and wander away from Him to another, antagonistic, person. While this person is waiting for us, ready for understanding, reassuring and taking the place of God. If Our Lord is unjust, the antipode will talk about justice. If God is strict, the evil one will simulate love, trying to take the place of the real love. God is almighty, but He cannot be hypocritical. The satan can do many things, but he cannot become the truth. The truth, which is perceivable here and now, provided that you are in the Holy Spirit (as the result of your consistent, long and sincere life in repentance).
Otherwise, if you are not in the Spirit, you are in a state of excitement. And the evil one takes his part perfectly while performing God. The words “Christ” and “antichrist” differ only by the prefix, but they have the same root. Often we pay our attention to that “anti” and suppose that he will look like an antipode of Christ. In fact, the evil one will copy the visible part in detail. The difference will be in the deep and subtle matters, undistinguishable by a non-spiritual person. The antichrist will try to hide the prefix “anti” and lay an emphasis on the root “Christ”. He will try to imitate love, goodness, truth and justice. He has already succeeded in doing it in a post-Christian Europe, in a civilization where the Christianity with its values and unchangeable principles became outdated. The visible remnants of the architecture, history and art are still present. But the inner world is hollow and it is being filled with some other “culture” living off the Christian notions such as “do not judge” and “you shall love”. The mere word “love” became so relative that it is used to define all kinds of shame and a consent to it.
The philosophy of the “non-judgementalness” and the freedom of the individual have ardently rallied to the defense of the moral degradation. Moreover, at the same time, they fiercely turned against the traditional notions of the good and the evil and the purity and the truth of God. At this point we can see the prefix “anti”. The fundamental notions remain, but their sacred meaning is perverted. The word “love” remains, but being besmeared by what is alien to it. The word “freedom”, as a notion of the independence from a sin, is being twisted by permissiveness. The truth is determined by the momentary conjuncture. We are being deceived by the shape, and do not look inside.
There is a diptych at the gallery of Ilya Glazounov in Moscow called “Christ and the antichrist”. The two images are very hard to distinguish, as the outer shape is almost identical. I think the idea of the artist was to illustrate how much the antipode tries to imitate Christ outwardly.
Saying “outwardly”, I do not mean the appearance, but the words and ideas, which will not correspond to the essence of their content.
Nowadays the notion of God became relevant, as we do not know Who He is. God is Love. But this Love is perverted and besmeared. “Do not judge” has turned into permissiveness. “Thou shall not kill” has suddenly transformed into the defense of the Scandinavian maniac, who killed dozens of people and who is gaining the suits on the cold coffee against the prison administration.
Minor issues may be discussed, but the fundamental ones must remain unchanged. It is life-threatening. Moreover, it is dangerous for our spiritual life. Our earthly life will come to its end. While the space of the Spirit is eternal.
Once Solomon asked God for wisdom and gained all the rest together with it.
So, please, be wiser.
March 20, 2022
SEEK GOD IN PRAYER
Humility is the beginning of the Kingdom of Heaven, it is when nothing can disturb the stillness of the human soul, there is prayer in the human soul, and there is God in prayer. Humility is such a state when no circumstances, no enemies, no friends, nobody can disturb your peace. Only the perfect own it outright, in our case it is a procession to humility. If we strive for humility it rewards us with the means to achieve it. And, in reverse, if we do not desire to, we do not achieve anything.
One cannot be forced to be humble, one can easily be bullied and develop tricks of survival in the world of intimidation and severity, while humility is born in free will, it may be born when a person is willing to get it. It happens when he or she sees the point of it. A person cannot desire what he or she does not understand. When a person realizes what humility is he or she wants to practice it, to study and to own it. Humility gives happiness, peace, comfort, and love. On the other hand, if there is no humility, there are only troubles, misfortunes, quarrels, and disappointment. There is no monasticism without humility, but no one can make anyone practice humility. If one declares he wants to become a monk and he does not care to practice humility, thus he desires some other kind of monasticism, a kind he made up for himself. Just like Old Testament Pharisees: they wanted to be with God, but somehow without God. They made an ugly religiousness.
When you find God in prayer, you do not need to find excuses, it has happened already, there is no need for either explanations nor talks. The one who does not believe in anything should find excuses. And God needs no excuses from you, He needs you to find Him in prayer. Do you know what it is like to be with God when you find Him? It is as if someone put His arms around you, and nothing else matters. No excuses, no explanations. It feels good and that’s it. That is how it should be with God. A boss or a judge may want your justification, not God, but before God you may only cry with joy, recognizing your imperfection, as He wants you to know He loves you no matter what, He wants you to feel safe in His arms and doesn’t want to let you go. With such God it all works easily. And it’s very hard with God who makes your existence unbearable, judging your every step ready to punish you for any sin. Glory be to Thee, O Lord. It is very sad when Christians make some dreadful judge out of God, it’s sad for God and it makes me scream: “People, He’s not like that, He is not like that at all, that’s about us, not about Him”. There is a picture of the prodigal son, he has knelt before his face buried into dad’s knees, his dad has hugged his head and he is sobbing, this bad, lost son. There he is, crying tears full of shame, tears of gratitude and sympathy towards his father, crying with joy, as his father is so kind that he is ready to accept him the way he is, kissing and embracing him.
THE SENSE OF TIME. ARCHPRIEST SERGIY BARANOV. FROM THE BOOK OF ECCLESIASTES. JUNE 3, 2021
Reading from Ecclesiastes or Qoheleth (22:48)
There is such a notion in spiritual life as the “remembrance of death”. Remembrance of death is a gift of God, which is not perceived profoundly and spiritually by all people. “Remembrance of death” sounds a little fierce, I would call it “a sense of time”. Those who feel time come into the state of the all-wise Solomon the Ecclesiast. The sense of time brings a human to a sober and wise state. What do I mean by state? When people have a constant sense of time they take everything as ephemeral, everything they come across in their lives- both sorrows and joy. They welcome joy without exaggerative euphoria or unreasonable delight, as they know that the earthly joy is temporary. The same goes with sorrow, they overcome it humbly, mildly and patiently as they realize that the sorrow won’t last long. They come to realize these things, due to life experience, and it is also good when this realization also comes from the Holy Spirit. At that moment, people start to perceive time and feel the vanity of vanities in it. They see that everything comes and goes and passes away. Thus, their attitude becomes even. Neither happy moments make them too emotional nor grievances make them fall into despair and feel as if everything will end.
Therefore, ask God to award you with the sense of time. We can also call it the sense of death. When people have it, they become humble and bear everything with stillness of soul. On the other hand, we can’t take and insert it theoretically into our hearts. I suppose, we should suffer and live through hard times to achieve it. Grief and life itself wizen up a person. Some people consider our time as horrible, some think it is unusual and for somebody else, it is noble and wise. We have come to a point when everything is unstable in this world, we have no idea of what to expect tomorrow, whether we will have halcyon days or the end times will come. Now we remain in this state and wander. All we need is to have the understanding of the Ecclesiast in order to overcome these troublesome, dangerous, complicated and dark times without getting hysterical. Many Christians, waiting for the end times, catch this hysteria, which makes them do foolish things. The more complicated the time is, the more wisdom and patience we should have. But we can’t have them for nothing, we should gain them through our spiritual life. That is why, living in such a troublesome or even a frightening time we should speculate less and pay more of our attention to prayer and spiritual life. Speak less about the Last Day, plots and other scary issues and pray more. If God lets us live in these times we should not, as per St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov), “attempt to stop the flow of this river with our feeble hand”. In other words, do not attempt to stop the course of history.
We have to live through this time, but the way we will live through it, is up to us. People can’t interfere with the providence of God, but we can change our attitude and live spiritually or thoughtlessly. All that God gives is goodness, He doesn’t bring anything evil. We either draw something good from His wisdom or foolishly make things worse for ourselves. Now we should not argue, gossip, search for the news, but pray very hard instead. “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us”.
SERMON ON THE NIGHT OF THE TONSURE 03.04.2022
These are the following words of the Holy Gospel in the service of tonsure, which we have just heard, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Mt.10:37) People often hear these words, but only some of them – perceive. I deliberately say “perceive” instead of “understand” them; as “understanding” relates more to one’s mind, but “perception” is about one’s heart, which is more sensitive and lives in subtle and delicate states. Not everyone is able to perceive the meaning of these words intended by God. There is no disrespect for parents, or any desire for excellence on the part of God. These things are alien to God’s nature. The essence of these words can be explained as, when people get to know God through spiritual life, they have such a joy of Heaven, being close to God, that they simply forget everything, even their fathers and mothers.
Nevertheless, not all of those, who come to serve God, even after having been tonsured and having lived a monastic life, come to this state. As a rule, everything stays on the level of mind and in a raw state. The purpose of a life in monasticism is to come closer to God, as much as possible. When people achieve this, they have such a spiritual delight, that they even forget their fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, and everything, which used to be dear to them; and they do not need to compel themselves to do it. For them, God pushes everything into the background and nothing else matters.
However, I need to make an important remark here – a monk or a nun should not come to be indifferent to the world. He or she reunites with God in the mystery of monasticism and starts to perceive the world through God. While God is not indifferent to the world, He worries about it and takes care of it. God loves the world, even if it has walked far away from Him.
You need to understand this important issue right now, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Mt.19:26) If you think, “I will pray for the whole world and I will embrace everyone with my kind heart” – it will not work, as all of this is nothing, but your imagination. Only God can embrace the world. And the purpose of our monasticism is to reunite with God, and love the world through God, but not by ourselves. We should not play and pretend to be in love. In fact, this is all not true when you love for five minutes, then you do not. When you are in God, you will have it all. But the way to God goes through a cross, that is why you received these crosses tonight.
“The Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Mt.11:12) The Kingdom of Heaven should be gained through suffering: through your tears, pain, sweat, and blood. At the same time, Our Lord says, “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Mt. 11:30) When someone makes you do something, it is hard. When you are supposed to be paid for your work, it is easier, as you have motivation, but it is still hard. But when you do something out of love to your Heavenly Bridegroom, you try to please Him day and night, because you are a slave of this love, and all your efforts become blessed. Even though the notions of “work” and “effort” remain, they become blessed, as you give yourself to God all the time; and the more you give, the more you gain. I wish your monasticism were not some tragedy, and, at the same time, I would not like it to be gained without suffering. You should understand, it is hard work. But we should voluntarily give our consent to it. In this case, this work becomes a great pleasure and transforms into a big joy.