Monday, October 21, 2013
Two hundred thirty-five years ago, on November 20th, 1778, Prokhor Moshnin, a tall, blue-eyed, light red-haired youth, the son of a Kursk builder-contractor, entered the Monastery of Sarov. He was leaving the worldly life because he wished to live constantly and wholly in God. He “loved Christ from his youth” and when yet a boy ten years of age was touched by the grace of the Lord: he was healed by the Mother of God, through her miraculous Icon of the Sign. This icon is now with us, in the Russian Diaspora.
Years passed. The youth Prokhor passed through all the monastic obediences, and eight years later was tonsured a monk with the name Seraphim; later, he was ordained to the rank of hierodeacon, and finally, when he had reached the age of 34, he was elevated to the rank of hieromonk, on the very day, the 20th of November, when he had entered the monastery. He withdrew to a cell in the forest wilderness and began the great, mystical life of a hermit, a man of silence, a stylite. But seventeen years after this, he returned to the monastery and began the new, even more difficult struggle of a recluse, which he bore for ten years. In 1820, he opened the door of his recluse’s cell, but lived for several more years in silence, after which, finally, he began his ultimate struggle of elder, teacher and comforter of the Russian people.
But on January 2nd, 1833, he left Sarov and the people entirely and departed to the Lord God. He serenely, blessedly, fell asleep during prayer, kneeling before the image of the Mother of God. Peacefully did “wretched Seraphim,” as that humble hieromonk of the Monastery of Sarov called himself, leave us, in bast sandals or leather stockings, in a sackcloth cassock, with a leather mantle on his shoulders, a brass cross on his breast, bent over, leaning on a hatchet. Seventy years after his repose, on July 19th, 1903, around his grave gathered, perhaps for the last time, Holy Russia, with its pious Tsar. It gathered there reverently to bow down and kiss the holy relics of “wretched Seraphim.” In ecstasy, Holy Russia chanted “Christ is risen!” and glorified the venerable Seraphim, the beloved chosen one of the Mother of God, who had acquired the love of Christ, the great ascetic and prophet, wonder-worker and theologian, comforter and healer, man of prayer who wept for the Russian people.
St. Seraphim of Sarov
Many times did people come to him, and we would teach them attentively and carefully, like a mother, about the kingdom of God, life in God, the meaning of life on earth, and through those with whom he conversed with such love he now tells us that we should live in continual fellowship with God, the Holy Spirit. Faith in God is faith in what He is, and that He is love; and also that there exists an invisible, divine world, eternal and more real than the visible world, and in assuming its nature man prepares himself for life everlasting: “he will not come to judgment, but will pass from death to life.” Man must come to know this world, to become aware of it every time he is touched by it. This touching comes like a good gift, and the venerable Seraphim called this touch “grace.”
The meaning of life, in his words, consists of the acquisition of grace, so that, more and more frequently, and finally as an exalted attainment, we may be ever with God the Holy Spirit, abiding in Him always, becoming His child, a fellow heir with our Lord Jesus Christ. “But how can I know if the divine world has touched me? How can I learn to recognize the grace of the Holy Spirit?,” they would ask the venerable one; and he would point directly at the person he was conversing with and say: “We are in the midst of grace right now,” and he taught them and us that it is recognized by spiritual peace, because the heart is warmed by perfect love, by peaceful, humble, spiritual compunction. “They always said to you, reverend sir, that the meaning of life consists of doing good deeds, keeping the fasts, going to church; but this is not how they taught you,” said the venerable one; and he explained that “these works are only the means for living life in God; these works are merely the oil in the lamp which the flame burns, only the wares we trade in; to amass the capital of grace we must perfect those virtues from which the fire of love will burn more brightly.”
This is the meaning of life, and this is what guided the venerable one. The peace of God, the fire of divine love, the venerable one loved with all his soul, and to live in it and only in it the saint departed for the monastery, for the wilderness hut, for the recluse’s cell; and while he was thus making himself steadfast in spirit, he did not wish either to see or speak with men, avoiding all contact with them. We can conjecture that he so carefully and humbly approached his final struggle as elder, consoler and healer of the people because he had tested himself as to whether he could live with men and among men without breaking his fellowship with God.
When the venerable one ended his reclusion, the faithful, Holy Russia, began to descend upon him from all the ends of the land. He stood before it as a living witness to the peace of God, one who shared therein, a living bearer of the fire of grace and the light of divine love. He received the people with a kiss, blessing them and saying, “Christ is risen!,” and calling them “my joy, my treasure.” In the bright light of love, tender, burning love for the people, his image stands forth in our heart. But while rejoicing in this his love, we must remember that in this feeling there lurks the danger that we will oversimplify his image and liken it more closely to ourselves, to our shallow, short-sighted understanding. Do we not, in rejoicing in his love, begin to forget that this was the love of Christ?
Yes, the last years of his life he lived with us and among us; but let us not forget that for thirty years before this he was not only not with us, but with all his loving closeness to us did not want to speak or even to see us. He is not only “ours,” because he was not raised in our midst. He came to us not because he had any need of us: he came to us for the sake of Christ. In the vision he received during his illness, the Mother of God came to him and aid, “This man is one of us.”
We ought never to forget this. On the day when the doors of his cell were opened, there stood before us both a man and a denizen of heaven, because he lived in the divine world, and from thence he brought his own greetings, his own love and care for sick, weeping and loving hearts. His love, compassion and joy are in no way similar to the analogous moods of ordinary men who are good, yet of the soul, not the spirit. Such men easily fall into sentimentality. In the saint there was not the slightest trace of this feeling. He imposed upon people such struggles, the fulfillment of which, as for example the struggle of voluntary poverty on Manturov, for many long years elicited tears and sufferings from those close to him.
Yet the venerable one was not troubled by such tears. Hearing of the sufferings of the fool-for-Christ’s-sake Pelagia Ivanovna, how neither beatings, nor torments of which it is difficult to hear, were able to break her resolve to be a fool-for-Christ’s-sake, he rejoiced in her strength, but did not embitter her with afflictions. The venerable one not only did not approach life like an ordinary man. He lived as though the laws of natural life had lost their power over him. At a distance of seven miles, he saw how a girl was giving alms, and he prayed, falling prostrate on the ground. This is revealed to us by a witness to this miracle, and we are determined to believe that it was given by the Lord to teach us to glorify the saint in a fitting manner.
Yet this picture of the venerable one will not be complete if we do not consider his encounter with a young officer, traditionally held to be one of the Decembrists, when the saint angrily pushed his hands away: “You plotted such a thing, and now you come to me for a blessing? Get away from me!,” he said to him. This meeting is an encounter between revolution and Holy Russia more than a hundred years ago. And how wrathful Saint Seraphim was, seeing the beginning of that villainy! This was a collision of two world views. “One thing is needful: seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you,” says the icon of the venerable one. “Nay,” the face of the officer replies to him, “what is secondary to you is what is most important for us. What you must hold to, we fashion ourselves, in our own way. You submit yourself and your life to God; we do not submit ourselves to anything or anyone.”
This movement prevailed in Russia for a hundred years. The Tsar was slain; the Patriarch was tortured; the people enslaved. But why did this have to be so? Where was the Holy Russia which so loved the venerable one? Its history and life were pushed into the background by secular Russia. This was also Russia, but not profoundly so: a Russia of the soul, not the spirit; of the secular world, not the Church. The venerable Seraphim was a contemporary of Pushkin, Lermontov, Tiutchev, and others. Studying their lives, one would never know that the venerable Seraphim lived at that time, and that Holy Russia, many millions strong, knew him and journeyed thousands of miles to meet him. The writers and poets did not know him as a living man; but seventy years passed, and all of Holy Russia came together with the pious Tsar to kiss his bones and chant in ecstasy, “Christ is risen!”
This secular, soulful Russia, is not alien to the Church. In the writings of Pushkin and Lermontov there are moments of religious inspiration; but all of these are lacking in depth. The Lord Jesus Christ said: “He who is not against you, is for you.” Who will say that this Russia was against? Nay, but on another occasion the Lord also said: “He who is not with you, is against you.” This means that if at the moment when the confession of the Faith is required, a man or society or nation does not have the strength to say, “Yes, I am with you, Lord!” They have apostasized from Him, they are against Him. Soulful, shallow Russia, spiritually indolent, lukewarm, and not fiery, was unable to say this “Yes.”
The venerable one foresaw the great storm and trials of Russia, and said that the Lord would save Russia. He said that, in the eyes of the Lord, there is no better national life than that which is governed by a pious, Orthodox king, that for such a Russia do all the martyrs, righteous ones and saints pray. Of such a Russia did the venerable one speak in spiritual ecstasy, leaping about and clapping his hands, as King David did before the Ark of the Covenant. Such a Russia does not now exist. Or have these men of prayer turned away from us? But what do they want from us? They want what the venerable Seraphim desired and taught. He expected faith from us; he wanted, first and foremost, that we seek the divine world, the kingdom of God and His righteousness, as Christ said in the Gospel (Mt. 6:33). He wants us to submit to this goal ourselves, our thoughts and desires, so that in our life we are not guided by our senses, by our passions and sympathies, but on the contrary, that we eradicate or recast them according to the voice of the righteousness of God. He expects struggle from us, expects commitment to God, expects that we will be fiery, and not lukewarm, spiritual, and not merely soulful. The Lord God has need of men! The righteous pray for us; the venerable Seraphim prays for Russia, and the Lord wishes to save it; but He has need of men, and all the more of Orthodox men, because without them Orthodox Holy Russia cannot be established.
The venerable one calls us to the straight path which is faithful and without compromise. Let us follow him. And when questioned, “Are you with the Church? Are you on the side of righteousness?,” let us answer steadfastly in the affirmative, “Yes!” This is the first and only thing needful, and everything else “will be added unto us,” says Christ.
The content, in brief, of a speech delivered in Belgrade at the solemn assembly of the Brotherhood of Saint Seraphim, on January 15th, 1933.
A prayer of our holy father St. John Chrysostom, which he would say to our Lord Jesus Christ every day
1. Lord, deprive me not of Thy heavenly and eternal goods.
2. Lord, deliver me from the eternal torments.
3. Lord, if I have sinned in word or deed, with my mind or in thought, forgive me.
4. Lord, deliver me from every need, all ignorance, forgetfulness, indolence, and stony-hearted insensitivity.
5. Lord, deliver me from every temptation and abandonment.
6. Lord, enlighten my heart which evil desires have darkened.
7. Lord, I as a human continuously sin, but Thou as a generous God, have mercy on me.
8. Lord, look upon the weakness of my soul and send Thy grace to help me, so that Thy
holy Name may be glorified in me.
9. Lord Jesus Christ, write the name of Thy servant in the Book of Life, and grant me a
good end to my life.
10. O Lord my God, I have done nothing good in Thy sight; but through Thy compassion,
allow me to make a beginning.
11. Lord, sprinkle into my heart the dew of Thy grace.
12. O Lord, the God of heaven and earth, remember me the sinner, the indecent, the evil
and unclean when Thou comest in Thy kingdom, according to Thy great mercy.
13. O Lord, receive me in repentance and do not abandon me.
14. O Lord, lead me not into temptation.
15. O Lord, grant me good thoughts.
16. Lord, grant me tears, remembrance of death, and compunction.
17. Lord, grant me to confess my thoughts.
18. Lord grant me humility, to cut off my will, and obedience.
19. Lord, grant me patience, long-suffering, and meekness.
20. Lord, plant within me the root of all blessings, Thy fear.
21. Lord, allow me to love Thee with all my soul and mind and heart, and always to do Thy
22. Lord, protect me from evil people, the demons, and passions, and from every inappropriate thing.
23. Lord, as you command; Lord, as you know; Lord as you wish, may Thy will be done in
24. Lord, may Thy will be done, and not mine; through the intercessions and prayers of the
Most-Holy Theotokos and all Thy saints. For Thou are blessed unto the ages. Amen.
Lord Jesus Christ, my God: Thou didst weep for Lazarus and shed tears of sorrow
and compassion for him. Accept my bitter tears also.
Heal my passions through the suffering of Thine holy Passion. Heal the wounds
of my soul through the wounds which Thou didst suffer. Cleanse my blood with Thine
holy blood and unite my body with the fragrance of Thy life-giving body. May the gall
which Thou wast given to drink by Thine enemies sweeten my soul from the bitterness
that the devil has given me to taste. May Thy most-holy body that was stretched upon
the Cross elevate my mind, which has been lowered unto the earth by the demons.
May Thy most-holy head, which Thou didst bow upon the Cross raise my head, which
has been humiliated by the opposing demonic powers. May Thy most-holy hands
which were nailed to the Cross by the transgressors raise me to Thee from the depth of
destruction, just as Thy most-holy mouth hast promised. May Thy face which received
blows and spitting by the impious Jews illumine my face which has been defiled by sin.
May Thy soul, which was upon the Cross and which Thou didst hand to the Father,
lead me to Thee through Thy Grace.
A contrite heart that is required to seek Thee have I not. I have no repentance.
Neither have I compunction nor the tears that return children to their own homeland.
O Master, I have no tears with which to beseech Thee. My heart has become cold from
the multitude of temptations, incapable of being warmed with the tears of Thy love.
But Thou, O Lord Jesus Christ my God, the treasure of all good things: Grant
Thou me perfect repentance and a fervent heart that I may wholeheartedly come forth
to seek Thee. Without Thee, I will become estranged from all good things. Therefore,
grant Thou me Thy Grace, O Good One. May the Father Who didst beget Thee from
His bosom recreate in me the image of Thine icon. I have abandoned Thee; do not
forsake me. I have separated myself from Thee; come forth to find me. And when Thou
findest me, lead me into Thy pastures, and number me amongst the sheep of Thy select
flock, and nurture me with Thy divine mysteries, which dwell within a pure heart,
wherein the brilliance of Thy revelations are made manifest. This brilliance serves as
consolation and refreshment for them who toil in sorrows and various dishonors on
account of Thee. May we all be worthy of receiving this illumination, through Thy grace
and compassion, O Jesus Christ our Savior, unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Βουντού ονομάζεται μια μορφή αφροαμερικανικής μαγικής λατρείας
Η λέξη “Vodoun” (γνωστή και ως: Vu, Vodun, Vudu, Vodou)
Η κυριολεκτική σημασία είναι “αντλώ νερό” και χρησιμοποιείται για να υποδείξει την πλήρη διαδικασία του κύκλου της γέννησης, ζωής, θανάτου και αναγέννησης
Αρχικά παρουσιάστηκε τον 18ο αιώνα στα νησιά της Καραϊβικής και κυρίως στην Αϊτή μεταξύ των μαύρων
Σήμερα συναντά κάποιος τη λατρεία Βουντού εκτός από τα νησιά της Καραϊβικής, κυρίως στις Η.Π.Α.
-Tο Βουντού αποτελεί απ’ τον Απρίλιο του 2003 επίσημη θρησκεία στην Αϊτή.
Σε τι πιστεύουν οι οπαδοί του Βουντού;
-Οι οπαδοί του Βουντού πιστεύουν σε μία υπέρτατη θεότητα το Αγαθό πνεύμα, σε διάφορους αφρικανικούς θεούς που θεωρούνται κατώτερες θεότητες και σε θεοποιημένα πνεύματα προγόνων. Αυτοί οι θεοί και τα πνεύματα ονομάζονται Λόα (Loa).
-Τα Λόα, απαιτούν πιστότητα και αφοσίωση από τους λάτρεις τους. Τα πιο φοβερά και πλέον δαιμονικά Λόα ονομάζονται Guede και έχουν σχέση με το θάνατο, το σεξ, τη μαύρη μαγεία.
-Κάθε οικογένεια ή επιμέρους ομάδες ανθρώπων, συγκροτούν λατρευτικούς κύκλους ενός ή πολλών Λόα, με υποχρεωτική την παρουσία κάποιου ιερέα
Γνωρίσματα της λατρείας Βουντού
-Ο εξαιρετικά έντονος φρενήρης και εκστατικός τελετουργικός χορός.
Η έκχυση αίματος κατά τη διάρκεια της τελετουργίας συνήθως μέσω θυσίας ζώου.
-Η παρουσία ιερέως”χάνγκαν” ή ιέρειας”μάμπο” ως ενδιάμεσου για προστασία.
-Η κατάληψη κυριολεκτικώς των οπαδών -λάτρεων κατά την έκσταση από τα πνεύματα (Λόα).
-Η επικοινωνία ενός πιστού με ένα πνεύμα είναι τιμή για τον πιστό, καθώς το πνεύμα μπορεί την στιγμή της έκστασης να του αποκαλύψει κάτι απ’ το μέλλον του, να δώσει μια προφητεία, έναν οιωνό, ένα σημάδι, μια συμβουλή.
-Η έκδηλη παρουσία του μαγικού – δαιμονικού στοιχείου.
-Δεν είναι σπάνια η ταύτιση με την άσκηση μαύρης μαγείας.
-Ιδίως στις Η.Π.Α. και κυρίως στη Νέα Ορλεάνη, είναι γνωστές οι κούκλες Βουντού, που στις διάφορες αποκρυφιστικές και μαγικές τελετές χρησιμοποιούνται ως υποκατάστατα και ομοιώματα των ανθρώπων, στους οποίους θέλουν να προξενήσουν πόνο, ασθένεια ή κακό.
-Τον τελευταίο καιρό πολλά ηλεκτρονικά παιχνίδια έχουν παιχνίδια Βουντού όπου όταν χάνεις κάτι παθαίνεις
-Επιχειρείται έτσι η εξοικείωση ακόμη και των παιδιών με αυτή τη μορφή μαγείας έτσι ώστε όταν κάποιος έρθει στην πραγματικότητα σε επαφή με -παρόμοιες καταστάσεις να τις θεωρεί γνωστές και ακίνδυνες
Η αγορά γέμισε από κουκλάκια Βουντού
-Και από σχετικά «φυλαχτά»
Μπορεί κάποιος με Βουντού να μου κάνει κακό;
-Συμμετέχω συνειδητά στο μυστήριο της εξομολόγησης kαι της Θείας Ευχαριστίας
-Είναι σημαντικό να φορώ πάντοτε σταυρό και να αποφεύγω να φορώ σύμβολα που δεν γνωρίζω
Του τομέα αιρέσεων και παραθρησκείας Ι.Μητροπόλεως Καστοριάς
«Η αυθεντικώς αγία έμπνευσις, η Άνωθεν εκ του Πατρός εκπορευομένη, εις ουδένα επιβάλλεται δια της βίας, αλλ’ αποκτάται, ως και παν άλλο δώρον του Θεού, δι’ εντατικού αγώνος προσευχής.
Τούτο δεν σημαίνει ότι ο Θεός, τρόπον τινά, αμείβει δια τους κόπους, αλλ’ ότι παν το δια συνέσεως και δια παθημάτων αποκτώμενον γίνεται αναφαίρετον κτήμα του ανθρώπου δια την αιωνιότητα.
Είναι απαραίτητον εις πάντας ημάς, όπως αναγεννηθώμεν πλήρως δια της ενεργείας της χάριτος και αποκαταστήσωμεν εν ημίν την ικανότητα να προσλάβωμεν την θέωσιν…Ο Θεός παραδίδει όντως εις ημάς την ζωήν Αυτού, ως προσωπικόν ημών κτήμα, υπό την πλήρη έννοιαν της λέξεως.
Η προαιώνιος Θεία δόξα κατοικεί εντός των λελυτρωμένων υπ’ Αυτού, και τούτο, ουχί ως τι επιπρόσθετον –αλλότριον της φύσεως ημών-, ουχί ως παρουσία εν ημίν πράγματος «ξένου» και «αδίκου». Ουχί. Η αληθής θέωσις έγκειται εις το ότι η λογική φύσις μετέχει της ανάρχου ζωής του Ιδίου του Θεού κατά τρόπον ενεργόν και αναφαίρετον εις τους αιώνας. Εν άλλαις λέξεσιν, η ζωή του Θεού «υποστασιούται» εν τω ανθρώπω δια του αυτού τρόπου, δι’ ου σαρκωθείς ο Θεός ενυποστασίασε –προσέλαβεν εν τη υποστάσει Αυτού- την κτισθείσαν υπ’ Αυτού μορφήν της υπάρξεως ημών.
Εν τω μέλλοντι αιώνι η ενότης του Θεού μετά του ανθρώπου θα καταστή πλήρης εν παντί τω περιεχομένω του Είναι Αυτού, εκτός, εννοείται, της ταυτότητος κατά την Ουσίαν. Η τελευταία αύτη είναι αμέθεκτος υπό των κτισμάτων και παραμένει πάντοτε απρόσιτος εις πάσαν κτισθείσαν ύπαρξιν: Αγγέλους και ανθρώπους. Δια της συνεπούς διαμονής εν τη σφαίρα των εντολών του Χριστού θεραπεύεται ο εκ της αμαρτίας ημών θάνατος, και η ζωή ημών άπασα διαπεράται υπό του Ακτίστου Φωτός της Θείας Αιωνιότητος.
Όταν η ψυχή κατά τρόπον υπαρκτικόν άπτηται της αιωνιότητος ταύτης, τότε εκπίπτουν αφ’ ημών τα χαμερπή πάθη. Απαλλασόμεθα της αδελφοκτόνου πάλης προς απόκτησιν επιγείων προνομίων, κατέρχεται εφ’ ημάς η «ειρήνη του Χριστού» και λαμβάνομεν την δύναμιν «να αγαπώμεν τους εχθρούς»… Η ειρήνη του Χριστού είναι πολυτιμοτέρα παντός θησαυρού, πάσης χαράς και απολαύσεως επί της γης. Είναι αρκετόν εις ημάς να έχωμεν ολίγην τροφήν, να είμεθα υπό στέγην και το σώμα ημών να είναι κεκαλυμμένον ένεκα του ψύχους και της αιδούς, προκειμένου ο νους ημών –το πνεύμα ημών- να είναι ελεύθερος να βυθίζηται εν τη μελέτη του Θείου Είναι, του υπό του Χριστού αποκαλυφθέντος εις ημάς».
(Απόσπασμα από το βιβλίο του γέροντα Σωφρόνιου Σαχάρωφ, «Οψόμεθα τον θεό καθώς εστί»)
Lord Jesus Christ, sweetest Father, God and
Lord of mercy, and Creator of the entire universe:
Look upon my humility and forgive all my sins
which I have committed all the years of my life up
to this very day and hour. Send forth Thine All-
Holy Spirit, the Comforter, so that He may teach,
illuminate, and safeguard me so that I no longer
sin, so that with a pure soul and heart I may adore,
worship, glorify, thank, and love Thee with all my
soul and heart, my sweetest Savior, Benefactor, and
God, Who is worthy of all love and worship. Yes,
good eternal Father, co-eternal Son, and All-Holy
Spirit, count me worthy of enlightenment and
divine spiritual knowledge, so that by beholding
Thy sweet grace I may bear the burden of this vigil
tonight, and render unto Thee my prayers and
thanksgiving, through the intercessions of the
Most Holy Theotokos and all the Saints. Amen.
Schema-Archimandrite Gabriel (Bunge)
You’ve asked me to speak to you about prayer. It’s doubtlessly one of the most important subjects in a Christian’s life, because when one scrutinizes the Holy Fathers’ doctrine on prayer, one notes very quickly that the human person is only himself in the act of prayer. I shall return to this aspect.
Like everything else in life, prayer is a process that grows and evolves according to the rhythm of our human life. Therefore, I’d first like to speak to you about the ages of the spiritual life. I’ll base myself essentially on the teaching of Evagrius of Pontus, because I know him the best and also because he was one the first Desert Fathers to synthesize and put into writing the doctrine of the first monastic Fathers about prayer.
You might know that Evagrius was the disciple par excellence of Macarius the Great, who was himself the disciple of Anthony the Great. Therefore we are at the third generation of monasticism, which had already accumulated a rich experience. Thanks to his exceptional philosophical, theological, and spiritual culture, Evagrius was able to present the process of the spiritual life in a coherent manner. Evagrius had first been a disciple of Basil the Great, and then of Gregory the Theologian, and later in the desert – as I’ve already said – of Macarius the Great, as well as of other Fathers of this era. Thus, one simultaneously finds in him the stamp of the theology of the Cappadocian Fathers and the spiritual, and even mystical, experience of the Desert Fathers.
In a manner that might at first glance appear a bit unsophisticated, Evagrius defines Christianity as the doctrine of Christ our Savior that is divided into praktike [ascetic discipline], physike [natural contemplation], and theologike [theology].
Praktike is the practice of the Evangelical commandments. Physike – physis is “nature” – is the indirect contemplation of God by means of His works, of His creatures. Finally, theologike – theology – is the immediate knowledge of God Himself and coincides with what we today call, using a modern term, “mysticism.”
In modern terms, we can speak of three different ages because, as in normal physical life, we pass from one phase to another. Man progresses slowly but, contrary to normal physical life, there is nothing automatic between the various stages of the spiritual life. That is to say, many people remain their entire lives at the level of the practice of the Evangelical commandments.
The goal of this first stage or age – which is that of infancy or childhood – is to attain, with God’s grace, purity of heart. Therefore, this is a very important aspect, because one cannot speak of the spiritual life and of the following stages – contemplation of God, first indirect and then immediate – without purity of heart.
Thus, with the grace of God, man can arrive at purity of heart (this is also referred to using a term from ancient philosophy: apatheia), which itself has Christian charity as its daughter. Thus, freedom from the passions (apatheia) is the fruit of praktike, but also has a daughter: Christian charity (agape), which is the Christian virtue par excellence. This charity, Evagrius says, is the door to natural contemplation, that is, to the contemplation of God’s works.
But the next step or age – that of seniority or wisdom, of the contemplation of God’s works – is not arrived at automatically, because for man to be able to know God immediately, God must reveal Himself to him; He is free, He is a Person. He does so only when He judges man to be worthy of such a revelation.
All of this might seem a bit abstract to you, and you might pose some questions about it. But I think that it’s important in the spiritual life to know the road; not to believe, for example, that one can satisfy oneself for one’s entire life only reciting or listening to the Psalms or to conventional prayers.
You can also easily imagine that corresponding to these three ages of the spiritual life are three manners of praying. At first, man recites the Psalms and conventional prayers – which is, of course, excellent. But when he is called to ascend higher, when he contemplates the works of God, then his prayer, which had previously been supplication (as it is in the Psalms), becomes a prayer of praise. Man sings the praises of God for all that He has done. Then at the summit of this height something very mysterious takes place, about which one can no longer speak with the usual words and concepts. Evagrius does not do this; he speaks in Biblical images. This is a highly symbolic language, which one needs to known how to decode. And even if you have decoded it, ultimately you can understand exactly what it means only if you’ve had this experience.
But one can say – and Evagrius does say – that this is a dialogue or conversation with God without any intermediaries. What are these intermediaries? Above all, the creatures that speak about God, but aren’t God. These are the concepts that our spirit forges through its contact with reality. These are concepts or ideas about God, but which aren’t God.
I will stop here, but something very mysterious then happens, something in which God completely takes the initiative. Evagrius’ language on this subject is very significant: he speaks of manifestation, apparition, visit, et cetera, on God’s part. All this language indicates that there’s someone, the supreme Person of God, Who reveals Himself to His creature and makes Himself known and understood by him. But the curious thing – which is where I’ll stop – is that the man who has reached this stage is not conscious. The contemplative – the one who sees God – is, as it were, in a state of sleep. When we sleep, we do not know that we’re asleep. Thus, curiously, the contemplative doesn’t know; he finds himself in an entirely peculiar state; he is here and is not here. He isn’t conscious. It’s not ecstasy, in which man goes out of himself or where he loses his consciousness. It’s nothing like that.
I will conclude this short exposition with a word from the Curé d’Ars, whom you might not know. He was a French priest of the nineteenth century, a saint of the Catholic Church. One day he found an old man, an old peasant, in his church, sitting on a bench and not appearing to be doing anything; he wasn’t even praying the rosary. He asked him: “What are you doing here?” In his old French, he said: “I’m looking at Him; and He’s looking at me.” That is the mystery.
God’s providence leads us through life; and how good it is for those who can hear it in time, who try to understand God’s will for themselves. If we make plans for one thing or another but find numerous obstacles on our path to attaining it, we have to slow down and try to discern—is this plan God’s will for us? Sometimes the Lord protects us from danger, holds us back from our impulsive race through life, but we don’t understand it, we keep fussing, insisting upon our own will, instead of simply stepping back, waiting a bit, trying some other way...
God’s will is revealed through circumstances in our life. St. Ambrose of Optina used to advise people, “Go where they lead you, look at what they show you, and always say, ‘Thy will be done!’” This seems very hard for us in the modern world; in fact it seems downright impossible. How could we, intelligent people, who know everything and are the creators of our own destiny, go wherever they lead us?! Why, they could lead us anywhere! But the saint was in no way talking about breaking the commandments; he was instructing us to see signs from God in our lives, to seek God’s will in circumstances, in coincidences that are not really coincidences at all.
The elder taught: “Every human destiny is in God’s hands. The person who commits himself to God’s Providence is under special care.” Also: “An asked-for cross is hard to carry; it is better in simplicity to give yourself over to God’s will.”
His faithful spiritual friend St. Joseph of Optina advised, “You should live as circumstances dictate, because they do not dictate accidentally, as many of our modern and new-fangled know-it-alls think. Everything happens to us through God’s Providence, which continually cares for our soul’s salvation.”
These thoughts came into my head when I heard my first spiritual instructor, Fr. Savvaty, tell me about the life of Nun Paula. I myself knew her—I recall a short, helpful, amiable sister of the Kazan Convent of St. Triphon. She was no longer young; she had suffered a stroke and moved about with difficulty. But God’s Providence was very clearly seen in her fate.
Liudmila, as she was called in the world, learned from her pious grandmother how to pray and go to church when she was still young. She loved to make pilgrimages to monasteries. Once when she was visiting a Moldavian monastery she became acquainted with the Abbess—a frail, tiny woman, outwardly ordinary in every respect. She wore an old ryassa, and performed the most menial tasks, like taking out the garbage. Liudmila learned that this seemingly unremarkable woman was respected as a very spiritual eldress.
The eldress talked with Liudmila and gave her some advice: to go to a monastery. “My child it will be better for you in a monastery than in the world.”
But Liudmila decided not to follow this advice—she got married. Family life did not turn out well for her. Her husband died, and all her hopes for family happiness were shattered. Not long after this her mother also died, and then her uncle. She had no other relatives, and so the young woman was left completely alone. She worked as a nurse, and went to church often. As time went on, she recalled the abbess’s words.
She lost all interest in worldly life, and nothing here attracted her. When Liudmila turned forty, she signed her one-room apartment over to an elderly woman entirely unrelated to her and left her home to live at a church somewhere. She was sitting in a bus station and thinking, where should she go now?
Have you ever experienced a similar situation, when it seems that all the doors are shut but you still have to decide which one to knock at? Or you think perhaps you should simply wait until one of them just flings open? It seems to me that I understand what Liudmila felt at that moment.
I felt roughly the same way one cold morning in January in an empty apartment—all the doors were closed. It seemed like yesterday all was joyful and noisy, and I was happily busy with my children, my husband, and a job I loved, where I had worked for twenty years. My husband died. My children grew up and had their own families. Of course they still love their mother, but they no longer need me like they did before. Then the reorganization and merger of several organizations left me and my colleagues without work overnight. How much of my strength and soul I left at that job, and suddenly I was no longer needed.
I remember that morning, how I arose early and drank a cup of coffee. Then, without turning on the light, I sat down in my armchair. A dark, winter morning was progressing and I just sat thinking—I am no longer in any hurry. No one is waiting for me.
But just when it seemed that all the doors were closed, the Lord clearly and authoritatively revealed His Providence to me: I had been given a blessing to go to Optina. Work, obedience, and a place to live were found. I began to write. When my first story found its reader, I wept. And my spiritual father said that the Lord was beside me throughout all those trials.
So there was Liudmila, sitting as I once sat, undecided, and it seemed to her that all the doors were closed. She waited for of sign, some indication. There were only a few people at the bus station. Suddenly she saw a familiar priest—Fr. Savvaty had come to Chusovoy on monastery business. Liudmila had visited that monastery, and when she recognized that priest, she went to get his blessing. The Lord arranged that she should feel like sharing her problems and anxieties with the priest. Fr. Savvaty listened to her story, and blessed her to go to the Kazan Convent of St. Triphon.
She went, and stayed there till to end of her life.
The Kazan Convent of St. Triphon is located on Miteinaya Hill. From the lofty hill you can see the forest, the fields, and the Chusova River, which is rather wide in these parts. In the summertime there are a profusion of greenery and the buzz of insects, the chirping of birds, all is awash with sunshine, warm rays caressing and warming. In the monastery garden grow vegetables, potatoes, and fragrant herbs, bursting with the juices of summer. In autumn are the golden forests and auburn grasses, the smell of falling leaves, frost crunching under foot... The first snow falls gently upon the river slipping into winter slumber...
In all, this land is beautiful every season of the year. Liudmila never wearied of admiring the ever changing views and colors of this vast landscape spreading from the top of the hill.
She lived in the monastery for twelve years, conscientiously fulfilling her obediences, which were: carrying water on a yoke to the bathhouse and kitchen, and later working in the almshouse for the aged. She had taken upon herself the ascetical task of caring for the bedridden elderly women. This is a particularly difficult obedience; you have to treat their bedsores, and endure the unpleasant smells of sickness. On Miteynaya Hill even now there is no running water, none of the comforts of the city, and in those days they did not have all the items for personal hygiene, pampers and so forth that we take for granted. Especially during the summer heat this task was not an easy one, and not everyone was able to bear it.
Liudmila never murmured; she put her whole soul into caring for the babushkas; and when one of them would die, she would wash her in preparation for burial, and read the psalter over her.
Despite all the hardships in her monastery, Liudmila found peace and rest for her soul, and finally felt that this was the place where she was destined to live. Such strange things these are—peace and rest of the soul. You can lose them in the most comfortable circumstances, overflowing with money and surrounded by expensive accoutrements, having a successful career and a powerful position.
But you can find it in a poor monastery, in prayer and obedience. Rejoicing in every minute of your life—the long, beautiful monastic services, an amiable meal in the refectory, the living waters of the holy spring that renew your strength. You immerse yourself in the spring, climb the hill, and there you see the chapel, the field and forests, and your spirit soars. The Lord sends such abundant grace that it seems you could simply fly away across the expanses, unburdened by the everyday buy-and-sell, light and free.
Sometime she would share her longings with her spiritual father:
—Batiushka, well, I pray to God and ask Him, “Lord, I am so afraid of a long, hard death! I will bear everything without murmuring, but still I ask You for a shameless, blameless, peaceful end, having received the Divine Mysteries. Please, don’t let me be bedridden for a long time, don’t let me suffer overmuch, so that others will not have to suffer taking care of me, let me die easily, without any bedsores...”
And by her prayers, the Lord gave her just such a death. At first she had a minor stroke. She received the small monastic tonsure, went to church, and prayed. One time, Sr. Paula was at the services and received Communion. She listened to the prayers of thanksgiving, felt a weakness in her legs, sat down on the bench in the church, and five minutes later her soul passed peacefully on to the Lord.
The Lord grant thee according to thy heart, and fulfill all thy purposes.
For Thou, O Lord, art good and gentle, and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon Thee.
Translation by Nun Cornelia (Rees)