You may have found that the title of this series of talks, which I intend to give, is strange. To oppose what C. S. Lewis calls “churchianity” to Christianity, and to realize or try to understand how much of churchianity there is in us and in our midst, and how imperfectly Christian we are is a very, very important task. I have been reflecting on the difference between the two for years now, not theoretically, but looking at my own life — inner life, outer life. And it has become so clear to me, that I have found year after year so much inspiration and joy in the life of the Church, in the words of prayer, in the structure and the depth of the services, in the writings of the spiritual fathers. And at the same time that I applauded all this, I drank all this in — and I remained barren. And I think that if at the end of my life, towards the ends of it, I can pass such a judgment about myself, it reflects also on many other people. I cannot be the only one about whom the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete could say, the Prophets have spoken in vain. The Gospel lies idle in your hands. The writings of those who were inspired by the Spirit are bearing no fruit. Here am I — barren and empty. This was said by St. Andrew of Crete, neither by me nor anyone of our contemporaries; it was his reflection upon his own life. However much more should we reflect upon our own? As I said, I have been thinking of the relation between being a churchgoer and enjoying the life of the Church, even believing in earnest, what is the Gospel, the message of Christ, looking at the example of Christ with deep feeling — that all this could be churchianity.
I have had a couple of days ago a dream, which I think epitomizes these thoughts. I dreamt that I was in Russia, and at the end of the service, as I was about to come out and to preach, the priest said to me something which I was told some twenty years ago by a very respected priest: “Please do not preach. We have had too many sermons.” This came back to me in my sleep. And then (this is not what happened in reality, but it happened in my dream) I turned to this priest and said, “No, it is my role to preach, but I will… I will tell the truth.”
And I came out and said, “I was just told that you do not want to hear one more sermon. Too many bishops, too many priests have been speaking to you, and yet, you have not seen in them an expression in life, in personality, in holiness of what they said, and so their words appeared to you to be a lie. They were not a lie. They were the truth, spoken by people who knew it and did not live up to it, people who will be condemned, as the Gospel puts it, by every word they have spoken.
“But then, have you ever thought of your own selves? How often have we heard in the reading of the Epistle Christ’s own apostles speaking to us, unfolding before us God’s vision of life, telling us of the ways in which we can be the disciples of our Saviour? How often have we heard the Gospel, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself invisibly standing in our midst, while His words were read without a word of comment, He was speaking. In a sense, the priest, or the deacon, who read the Gospel played no role, he was only a voice. And how often have you heard people, who however unworthy of the message they delivered, were delivering a message of truth. A message that remains true despite the fact that they themselves were unworthy of the very words they were speaking.
“And so, why not make a decision, a decision which is frightening, but which would be true? Why not make a decision, that you,” (this congregation to whom I was speaking) “that in your midst no Epistle will be read, no Gospel will be proclaimed, no sermon preached, that the Lord’s Prayer will not be sung?
“Because in the Lord’s Prayer we proclaim that our whole-hearted will is that the name of God may shine, that His will be done, that His kingdom come, and that we undertake to cross a Rubicon, to cross from the land of death into the land of life by forgiving anyone and all those against whom we have got anything — because this is the absolute condition for God to forgive us. And that we should stop proclaiming the prayers of saints whom we applaud but do not emulate, who move us emotionally but do not stir us into newness of life.” I ended my sermon by saying, “If you want to be true, both to God and to yourselves, do this. And so shall I.” And then I awoke.
I think we should all think both of the words of St. Andrew of Crete and of this presentation which I have made, which is not an invention, which I have not worked out in order to teach you anything or to convey to you any thought of mine. Oh, I do not mean to say that this was a revelation to me. But somehow it came from the deep, it presented itself to me as an objective statement that condemned me. But also, if it does not condemn you, challenges you in the same way.
There is a difference between being a churchgoer, loving the Church, serving the Church, proclaiming the Gospel — and being a Christian. I do not even refer ourselves to such passages as the end of the Gospel according to St. Mark, in which he says, and here are the signs of a believer. They will cast out devils by My name. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will be healed. They shall drink poison and shall not be poisoned, and so forth. If we think of ourselves, and if we think of one another, indeed if we think of the whole Christendom, who can stand the test of such a passage of the Gospel? And there are so many other passages. I have given you an example for you to follow… I am sending you like sheep among the wolves… There are the Beatitudes. There is the Lord’s Prayer. There is the Creed, — the Creed which is the proclamation of a God Whose nature is Love. The kind of love which is described by Christ when He says, no one has greater love then he who lays down his life for his neighbour, for his friends. And in a way more than this, because we can lay down only our mortal life for our friends; the Immortal One gave His life for us while we still were His enemies. These are not my words, it’s words of St. Paul.
So I want to go with you into an examination of a number of things. Ask ourselves what the Church is. Ask ourselves what we mean by proclaiming the Creed, and by adhering and preaching the doctrine of the Church; what we mean by the services which we perform, or in which we take part; what we mean by everything which is our churchmanship.
The expression churchianity was coined by C. S. Lewis. Isn’t it a word that describes the parable of Christ — or rather, the event in which the Lord Jesus Christ pronounced His condemnation on the barren fig tree? Had it been barren, leafless, dead, Christ would not have condemned it. He might even have spoken a word of life and brought it into newness. But this tree stood there gloriously adorned with leaves, telling everyone around that it was enough to come up to it in order to find a harvest of ripe fruits. But there was nothing but leaves. The appearance was there; of reality, there was nothing. The words spoken by Christ are frightening. He said, there will be never a fruit on your branches until the end of the world.
Sinners came to Christ who needed salvation, who indeed were barren, but who did not hide their barrenness under any appearance. Remember the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee. The Pharisee could pride himself before God of all sorts of deeds. He was pious. He did more than even God had commanded to do in the law. But when he praised God, he praised Him for one thing only — that God had created a man like him, and not a man like the Publican. He had covered himself, as though with leaves, with all the good deeds he could imagine—uselessly. He had learned nothing. There was appearance; he had still to learn reality. And God did not condemn him because there was time for him. But what of us?
When I say “what of us”, it is because we have so much more than the Pharisee had. He had, oh indeed, a great deal, all the Old Testament — but only the Old Testament. We have more. We have not only the New Testament as a teaching: we have Christ, the Son of God incarnate, in our midst, as our teacher, as our companion on the way, as our Saviour, as an example, as the one who can give us life.
The Publican stood on the very limit of the realm of God because he felt he had no place in this realm. He did not hide from God the evil or the imperfection of his life. He stood there, indeed, in all truth. And because he was true, he could be received by the One Who is the Truth. And he could go back home more forgiven than the Pharisee by He Who was the way and the life.
Now, I want to start our examination of things by a short reflection on what the Church is. As a necessary background, there are things in what I will say which we all know. And perhaps this is the worst of all: we know them, but what is the result of our knowledge? We know that the Church, for those who look at it from the outside, is a body of people possessed of a common faith, proclaiming the same doctrine, celebrating the same mysteries in Churches like the ancient Churches — bodies with bishops and clergy within a long line of apostolic succession. But this is what only an outsider can see of it. We need that kind of description for people to be able to locate the Church in space, in time, in the same way in which we could describe the outside of a cathedral, a church, or any other place for people to be able to recognize it. But unless they enter into this place, whether it be a church or a museum, they will not ever understand what it is about.
And if we enter the Church, what we discover is that the Church is a strange living organism, which is both simultaneously and equally human and divine. The fullness of God abides in it. And also, all that is human is in it — what is fulfilled and what is in the making, what is tragic and what is already shining with glory. The fullness of God abides in it in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God become the Son of men. The fullness of God abides in it by the presence of the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost. And the fullness is in it because in Christ and in the Spirit we are in God. The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is our Father, our God. But it is also human — and in many ways, not simply in one. In the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, we have a vision of man: man as he is called to be, but Man as he truly is, a human being at one with God. Less than this is not a human being in the full sense of the word, according to the mind of Scriptures. He is the only true Man because He is the only perfect Man. And perfect means fulfilled, brought to perfection.
But in the Church there is also another dimension of humanity: us — imperfect, in the making. But we are imperfect in two different ways: we may be imperfect while we strive God-wards; we may be imperfect when we turn away from God. It is not a matter of success; it is a matter of direction. St. Ephraim of Syria says that, the Church is not a body of saints, it is a crowd of repentant sinners. And by ‘repentant’ we do not mean wailing sinners, but people who have turned God-wards and move God-wards, who may fall but will stand.
But there is also another dimension in our humanity which is neither the tragic dimension of sin, repentance, struggle against, or the glorious dimension of the saints. There is a dimension, which is mean, which is small, which in a way is a betrayal and a renunciation — the fig tree covered with leaves, and barren. This dimension we can find in ourselves, if we are truly attentive and honest. I find it. And I doubt that there is any one of us in whom there is not something of it. It’s a way in which we renounce our vocation, while we still want to remain of the Church. Christ came into the world to save the world. He has left His task, this task to us. In the words of Doctor Moffatt in his translations of the Epistles: We are a vanguard of heaven. Our home is heaven. And heaven is any place where God is in our midst, or where we are where He belongs. He has told us that He has given us an example: that is, that we are to follow not only in His footsteps, but to follow His example and be in life what He has been, within the limitations of our understanding, of our strength, or, rather, of our openness to the power of God which is manifested even in human weakness, if this weakness is surrender to Him.
And yet what we see is that we treat the Church as a place where we can take refuge; we run away from life into the Church. We hide from life in the Church. How often it happens that instead of coming out of the church in order to be sent like sheep among the wolves (I repeat this phrase because it is so real in so many countries, in so many places now), we go out, ready to run away from all danger, to hide, to refuse to face any challenge. God tells us to go out into the world for his salvation; we run back to be hidden under His cloak. And this not only in great things, I’m not speaking of martyrdom, I am speaking of our everyday life. We do not live our lives on Christ’s own terms. We want God to live on ours. We want Him to be our protection, our help, our safety. We almost (we do not say that of course, but our lives say that very often), we almost say to Him: “Die for me, I’m afraid of dying, both for myself or for my neighbour, or even for You.”
There is this dimension, which is so frightening. I do not mean to say that we should be missionaries, that we must go around the world proclaiming something. I’m speaking of choosing something, of taking a stand in life, of being one thing or another. In the course of these talks I want to ask ourselves, what does the proclamation of the Creed or the profession of our faith mean? Is it just a world outlook, one of the many possible philosophies, something that satisfies us more than the other? Or, is it an undertaking, and is it an experience or knowledge that binds us? And the same applies to so many other things.
The way in which I put it may sound to you so sad. Yes, it is sad. But I do believe that the truth can save. There is no point in telling a patient that he is well and allowing him to die of his illness. There is no point in not telling a traveller that he has taken the wrong road. Each of us, we all belong simultaneously to the several aspects of the Church. We are of the Church; we are God’s own children. Christ is to us, not only our Saviour and our God, but our brother in humanity, in prayer, in sacraments. In the silence of our spiritual growth, our struggle, we already belong to this glory, which is the Church, which Samarin described as an organism of love, equally human and divine. We are also part of this crowd of people moving God-wards with hope, with faith, with incipient and growing love, with a degree of faithfulness, rejoicing in Him, crying over ourselves, grateful for His love, that He loves us as we are. But there is in all of us — I believe (or perhaps am I slandering you and judging only from myself?) that there is also so much that is still of the Old Testament, so much, which is neither repentance nor fulfilment, but rampant betrayal. In a recent retreat I mentioned a number of characters of the Old Testament who still live in us — Adam, Eve, Cain, Lamech, so many others — not in the crude form in which they are revealed to us in the Scriptures, which gives us a vision of them as God sees them, but in attenuated colours. But it is not the sinfulness, it is the fact that we close our eyes and do not want to see. It is a way in which we are satisfied with being given . ?. . living, I was about to say, as parasites of God, not people whom He can trust and send, people for whom He is protection, haven, at times almost entertainment. Theology can be an intellectual entertainment.
I would like you to think of this in the way in which you would think of yourselves if you intended to go to see a doctor, because there is something, which is not all right, there is a pain here, there is something, which is not a fullness of life. There is weakness, there is tiredness, there is pain, there is depression, there is misery, there is fear, so many other things. How attentively we think of ourselves when we are physically ill, so as to describe it to the physician, for him to be able to understand and advise us how to come to health. And this process is a creative one, because it is a way of breaking barriers, of emerging into freedom, of renouncing passivity in order to become active, creative — to turn from death or illness into health and life.
I will end at this point this introductory talk. Do not take it as being the voice of pessimism. In a way it is a voice of hope, the voice of certainty that if we can see things truly, we can put them right. And I don’t even say “with God’s help”. Of course God’s help will be offered. But there is so much that we can do ourselves in His name, in our name, because of the already existing greatness there is in us, for the sake of God’s own image in us, for the sake of beauty, of health, of life, of truth. So think of what I have said as an opening into a new fullness, a call to conquer.
I will go on speaking of a certain number of things, which I believe God has given us, and we misuse. But I think we must also share our thoughts, discuss them. And so after my second talk, the third one will be an open discussion. I will ask you to give thought to what I have said today, to reflect on what I will say next time. And if you can, send me written questions, so that I can think them out but also organize them, because quite often, the same problem is expressed by several people in ways complimentary. And an answer to two or three questions in one can be more complete and more meaningful.
And then we will continue. I would like you not to be frightened by the long list of talks, which is on the board. I do not intend to devote all the time to this subject. I would like us to spend four or five meetings on it, and then we’ll see. Father John [Lee] may start another series of talks, or perhaps I will continue. But I think a short, sharp series is good — perhaps only for me. Perhaps it is good for you to see me as I am, a little bit more than you do. And ask yourselves, how is it possible that, after a little bit more than seventy-five years of life, this man finds himself below zero, aware of not having begun to be a Christian.
Before I come to the subject of today’s talk, I want to say a word about some reactions, which I had to my previous one. The first remark, which I got, was that I had no right to spread gloom over us all because my role was to give encouragement and inspiration. My answer to this is, that I am not attempting at spreading any gloom. I am attempting to dispel the darkness, which wraps us as a congregation, and the Church as a whole, to dispel it by casting a ray of light, by telling the truth about our situation, in the same way in which a physician speaks the truth and searches for the truth in order to be able to heal and to help a person towards wholeness.
I have no doubt that there is in each of us, and in our midst, a great deal of light, and of truth, and of beauty. But I know that there is also a degree of darkness — of unfaithfulness to Christ, to the Gospel, to one another, to our own selves. And it is not enough to envisage these things when we come to confession. They must be faced singly, but also collectively, faced daringly, searchingly in order that things should change. I ended my talk by saying that this may well be something of a way of the Cross — an ascent to a point when the old man must be crucified with all that is unworthy, both of God and of each of us, and of the Church of God.
But we must remember that the way of the Cross leads beyond the Crucifixion to the descent into hell, and beyond this to the Resurrection and the glorious Ascension. And so, it is not to our execution that we are moving, it is not that we are going to the place where judgment will be pronounced, and where we will have to pay for our errors. We are coming to the place of tragic healing in Christ in order to have the wholeness of Christ. So that all that I am doing now, I’m doing with hope, with faith, with a passionate faith in each of you and in the Church of God. I would even say that I am speaking with faith in myself — not with confidence, but knowing that if God has created each of us, called each of us into existence, into the tragic world in which we live, it is because He has faith in each of us, that He trusts us, that He hopes all things from us. And this should be enough for us to find inspiration and courage.
The second thing, which was said to me, is that it is unfair of me to undermine whatever degree of trust or respect you may have for me by exposing myself in the same words as I expose the tragedy of the Church. I do this because I believe that I am part and parcel of it. And if I speak as I do, it is because I have been trying to look deeply, honestly into my own self, aware indeed through the confessions I heard, through the forty and more years I have spent in your midst, of the fact that I am not alone in the wrong.
But there is a phrase, not a Christian one, but an Oriental one, a saying of Zen that, if an archer flies a shaft towards a target, and this shaft does not pierce his own heart, this arrow will not pierce the target either. And so whatever I can say is a shaft that hits me, and it is also an arrow that is flown towards you. Some of you will receive the message, some will not; some will hear my words as being hard sayings and unfair. To some, they may be encouragement and help. But I think a time has come for me, in the time that is left of me — maybe ten, twenty years, or a day — to sum up the best and the worst and share it with you because I feel we are so one, our destinies are so deeply interwoven. And so, let us try to think together with honesty, with reverence, with compassion, and with daring — and with a desire to see the truth, and to work the truth in life.
This being said, what I want to speak about is our situation as Christians — to the Gospel, to the Creeds, to the Lord’s Prayer. And these are examples, because each of these points could be analyzed a great deal more than I can do it.
The Creeds and the teaching of the Gospel — the revelation of God about Himself, about men, about the world — can be approached in two ways. The one is barren and can bear no fruit: the Gospel can be seen as a beautiful vision of what could be, a vision of things which we can accept partly and partly pass by, accomplish to a certain extent and to a very great extent let go because it is beyond us. In that case the Gospel appears to us as a wonderful panorama, as a vision of what could be if we lived in a world different from ours, in which both we, and others, would be so dissimilar from what we are.
And when we think of the Creeds and the doctrine of the Church, again, far too often we think of them as though they were expression of a knowledge possessed by others, of a knowledge which others — whoever they are, the Saints of God, the Divines — share with us, and which we can accept as they are, making them part of our world outlook. But is that the aim of proclaiming a creed? Is that the aim of the rich theology that resulted in the doctrine of the Church? And I’ll come, come, if we have some time do this today, to the Lord’s Prayer, also in this context.
We begin the Nicene Creed, at every Liturgy, by saying I believe. Each of us takes responsibility for saying this. We do not say we believe, leaving the all-ness of belief to others, we proclaim our own faith. Now what does that mean? If we think of the Apostles, of the Saints, it is quite clear. The Apostles, when they said that they believe in Christ, were saying: We have known Him all our lives. We knew Him as a child when we were children, as a neighbor when we were older; we knew Him as a young man among other young men. And from the beginning, we had perceived that He is different from us, that there is in Him something that we did not find either in ourselves or in one another. And gradually, by being with Him, we discovered who He truly was: first, our guide and our master, and later, our God — the Living God, become a living Man, the True God, who had become true Man. And this is the message which they brought to everyone around them: that God had become man, that God had come into this world, that He had united this world to Himself so intimately, that He bore a human flesh, while the fullness of God abided in the flesh.
They spoke of His death upon the Cross as an act of supreme, unthinkable, yet real solidarity with God in the face of mankind, and with man in the face of God. They spoke of the descent into hell as a conquest of all darkness, victory over sin, or Satan, and of His resurrection on the third day. And all this they knew; they knew experientially, and they could say: “I know it all, I have seen it. I have perceived it. There is no doubt in me about it.”
Paul had not been among them. He had been an adversary. But when he found himself face to face with Christ, with Jesus of Nazareth crucified and alive, shining with the glory of the Godhead before him, he knew who He was, and gave his life to Him, and later for Him.
Whatever they said about Christ, whatever they wrote in the Gospels, whatever we can read in the Epistles, whatever tradition has brought to us, the unwritten tradition, the memory of the Church was a living experience of theirs. They knew because they had seen, they had heard. They knew it with certainty. And so did many of the saints, who could say: “I know that God exists because I have met Him. I know the resurrection because I have met Christ. And I know it not as an event outside of me, but because having met Christ made me into a new being. I was dead, and lo, I am alive.”
But this is not the situation of each of us. To what extent can we say that we believe? To what extent, in other words, are we entitled to proclaim the Creed? None of us would be here if, at some moment of his life, he had not touched the hem of the vestment of Christ. Each of us, in one way or another, has been reached by a certainty. Oh, it may have been a moment, but it was and remains a certainty that, even if I had lost it, I have known it.
Speaking of this kind of passage, from actual experience to the moment of faith, of what the Epistle to the Hebrews calls certainty concerning things unseen, Saint Macarius of Egypt gives an image: that of a man lying in a small boat, in the night, with all the sky above him, gazing into its depths, in the stillness of it, and in the beauty of the stars, and feeling that his boat is carried by the waves, feeling their motion, being like a child in a cradle. And then hours pass. And a moment comes when the tide goes back, and the skiff remains lying on the sand. At that moment, he does not actually sense the waves carrying his little embarkation. And yet, he still feels within his body — as though it was still continuing — the sense he had when he was on the boat and then, even that was fails. And the morning comes, and the sky becomes bright, and he doesn’t see the stars anymore; everything has changed. And yet something is there unchanged. He knows with certainty what he has experienced during the night before.
A French writer Leon Bloy has said, Suffering passes, to have suffered, never passes away. And one can say that every experience passes, it cannot remain actual continuously. But once it is absorbed, possessed, it remains ours forever. And in that sense, each of us must have had, at one moment or another, an experience that made them certain, however deeply, however acutely, of the fact that they know that God exists, they know Who Christ is — however little, however tentatively — and they can continue.
It may happen in a variety of ways. I remember a saying from Mount Athos that, no one can renounce the world and give himself completely to a life in God who has not seen on the face or in the eyes of at least one person the shining of eternal life… We may have an inkling of what that may be from what we read of the life of Saint Seraphim, in his conversation with Motovilov, who saw him in glory; when we also imagine what it could have been when Christ healed the man born blind. He was born a blind child. He had lived all his life without ever seeing anything around him. And the first thing that he saw was the face of God Incarnate and the eyes of Divine Mercy and Love looking into his eyes. What an experience!
But in miner ways, it happens also at moments when we discover it on the face of the most only person, who at that instant, or in that period perhaps, has been touched by grace, or has become transparent, translucent to the light of God — having been deeply shaken and moved, and therefore could allow light to stream through him or through her.
There are other ways also when faith can reach us. I remember a man in his forties who came here. He was an unbeliever, an active one. And when he came to this church and sat at the back because he had brought a parcel to a parishioner of ours, as he put it, he became aware of a presence that filled the place. He came back when there was no service, and he discovered that the presence was still there — real, objective, not created by the singing, the candles, the icons, the prayer of the people, a presence which was nothing but God’s own presence. This is again a way in which something touched him.
And I remember a young woman, who received communion as an act of challenge to God: “My family, Your priests, Your Church have never been able to convey anything to me. I was baptized but You don’t exist for me. Give me a sign!” She received communion, and she wrote to me, “I don’t know yet whether God exists, but I know that it was not bread and wine simply, which I received in communion.” This was again a beginning.
There are others who read a passage from the Gospel that penetrated into their minds and soul, in such a way, with such power, that they knew it was true. It was not born within them, it was beyond them. Saint Paul spoke of the word of God, which is like a two-edged sword that divides everything within us. And Christ said that He brought a sword that divides between darkness and light. All these ways are ways in which some people, in a personal manner, with greater or lesser intensity, for a longer or shorter while, experienced a reality — objective, transfiguring. But the result of such experiences never remains their own alone.
In the fact that we are all together, in the mystery of our sharing, of our communing, in prayer, in presence, or in word, or in writing, we outgrow our own experience into something vaster and deeper. To begin with, this experience of ours is like a spark in us. And then we discover that around us there are other people, in whom the same spark exists, but in whom this spark shines brighter, illumines things which we are unable to see because our light is too dim. And because we have in common a root experience, a basic experience, we can begin to commune to an experience which is beyond us and outside of us, to trust another person because of what we have in common, and accept more than we know in order to commune to his own experience; and so on, from one person to another, from one age to another, from one situation to another — so that our faith becomes vast, and deep, and elaborate.
And a point comes when we reach something, which is essential, perhaps without which all our knowledge of God is in vain: the moment when we realize that God remains a mystery. And by mystery (and I have said that more than once), I do not mean ‘mysterious‘ in the colloquial sense of the word, but one before whom one remains spellbound, one in whose presence thought, and emotion, and volition, and everything becomes immobile in an act of adoration and contemplation — what Gregory of Nyssa called the Divine darkness. Not because God is dark, but because His depth is such that it is unplumbable for us. And so, whatever concrete faith we can express, a moment comes when this knowledge leads us to adoration, when knowledge is suspended and communion begins.
Now, all the creeds which we possess, all the theological statements which we possess are statements, which try to express in words a knowledge possessed by those who had the deepest, the most perfect knowledge of God, but a knowledge that could be shared with others. But it is knowledge of God which is expressed in the creeds; it is not information about Him. It is knowledge of the things and the ways of God, which are expressed in doctrine and dogma, not an elaboration, intellectual and refined, about the data of Scripture. And this is why, if I say I believe, I am being challenged by what I proclaim. I am being challenged and judged.
You certainly remember that in the Liturgy before we proclaim our Creed, before we say «I believe», the deacon or the priest turns to us and says, Let us love one another, that so with one mind, we may acknowledge the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. And if we read the Creed attentively, the whole Creed has nothing else to say to us than we believe in a God who is perfect, sacrificial Love, te God, who creates us, calls us into being in an act of love in order to give Himself to us. But as Saint Maximus the Confessor puts it, God can do everything but one: He can force no heart to respond by love to His love. And by creating us, He accepts rejection. He accepts that His love be refused.
This is the first move of the mystery of the Cross. And then we proclaim Christ, the Son of God who came to be crucified for us, and the Holy Spirit, Three Persons, one sacrificial love. At the same time an exulting love, a glorious love, a love which is victory because beyond the ultimate sacrifice of self — life, the fullness of life triumphs!
Can we then pronounce the words of the Creed as though it was a description of God in whom we believe? A description that speaks of Him, and that has only one way of relating to us; that we are the object of His love, the cause — I said the cause—and also, the object of His sacrifice. Doesn’t proclaiming the Creed force us, compel us to respond? If I say in one phrase that sums up the Creed, I believe in God Who is Love, and at the same time do not respond, expect only that His love will be lavished on me, and that I will be the recipient of it at whatever cost to God, then I have no right to recite this Creed. And this is the way in which the Creed challenges us every time we pronounce it. There is no way out of it. It’s not a description of God or of the ways of God.
How can we answer? To say that we must respond to love by love is perhaps more than what we can do. But we can begin, at least, to respond to love by gratitude, to be aware that the Creed says nothing else to us than, Children, I love you with all My eternity, all My incarnation, all My life, all My death, all My resurrection, all My victory. I love you… And for us there is only one way — to look and to be grateful.
And if our gratitude grows deep, if our own gratitude can move us sufficiently, if our gratitude is not only a momentary cry and a tear and a moment when we are spellbound before the wonder of God that results in living in such a way that God could say, I did not create these creatures free at My own cost, I did not become man at My own cost, I did not send My Holy Spirit to quicken them at My own cost, because they have understood, and they respond. If we can make all our life into an attempt at giving God the joy of having been understood, then we may grow gradually into loving God.
And I can’t speak of what it means because I do not know what it means. I know a little of what it means to be grateful; I can’t say that I know what it means to love God, as the Old Testament and the New teaches us, with all our minds, all our hearts, all our strength, all our being. Oh, I understand intellectually what it means, but I cannot say that I know. And who of us does? But, who of us lives by gratitude — by a sense of wonder that leads us to be grateful in mind and heart, in will and in action, a gratitude that will take the whole of us and make us into true worshipers of God but also into His likes?
Because if we believe in that God who has become one of us, He has become one of us that we should become like Him, not only on some sort of moral level, I have given you an example, follow it! No, in another way: identify with Him gradually, ever deeper, so that one day, in the words of Peter the Apostle, we should become partakers of the divine nature.
And here we are confronted with something which is very important. How do we treat the Creed? Is a world outlook that is more satisfying than any other? Is it a shared knowledge of how God is made or what He is like? Or is it an open door to communion, change, healing, transfiguration? And who of us can say that, when we recite the Creed, this is the way in which we perceive it: as a revelation of something of unsurpassed beauty, and a beauty, which is tragic and glorious at the same time, and which says to us: this is what you are called to be?!
And in the same way, one could think of the Lord’s Prayer. I want to attract your attention only to one word, for the moment, in the context of which I have been speaking. We say our Father, and it is universally accepted that it means that we are aware that we are all a body of people, that no one can say: “God is my father and not his and hers.”And this is true, but there is something infinitely more important and challenging.
Do you realize? Of course you do, but have you ever paid attention to the fact that it is the Lord Jesus Christ who gives this prayer to His disciples? And when He said Our Father, He meant, Mine and yours; not only yours among you, but My Father. This implies something very important: that if we speak of Christ, in His own words as our brother in humanity, when we say in the Lord’s Prayer Our Father, we are challenged to the root of our being, because it means that we can say this prayer only on Christ’s own terms, not otherwise. On Christ’s own terms: What are these terms?
To this I would like to come in our next talk. Let us keep quiet for a little while. And then let us pray together and go in peace, but a peace which is a new depth, a peace which is a serenity born of a new knowledge and a new determination never to say words of faith without accepting their implications in our life, and the fact that they call us to greatness.
III 8 March 1990
I have received quite a number of questions, in writing, in the course of the last two weeks. And so, I will attempt to answer them. Some are long, complex, some are brief and simple. I will not aim at answering all the questions tonight: I think it is more important that I should answer them as fully and intelligibly as I can; and if I do not manage to answer all of them, then our next session will again be a question-session, because I think that my talks matters much less than the response they elicit in you, and the questions which they bring forth.
The first question which I would like to touch upon could be defined as maximalism versus the possible. In what I have said, in the description which I have given of our shortcomings it was quite clear that there was an ideal, an absolute standard towards which we should aim. At the same time it is obvious that none of us, indeed, not even the Saints whose lives we can read have, have or do fulfill this perfection; there is always something unfulfilled, imperfect. What the Gospel says in general terms about the condition of the created world with regard to God applies to each of us in our inner self and in our striving towards the best. Saint John’s Gospel says to us, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot comprehend, receive it, but neither can it quench it.” And in each of us, as in each community, as in the whole of Christendom of the world, we have got this tension between the light that does shine, and the darkness, or the twilight which are pervaded by it to a greater or lesser extent but are not yet made into light.
And yet, I remember bishop Alexis van der Mensbrugghe saying to me that there is one thing wonderful about the light: even when we do not see the light itself, even when we look at the smallest possible candle burning in an attic, we must realise that in the whole of the created world there is a little less darkness. With our senses, we do not perceive it, but objectively speaking, every spark of light pervades all the darkness of the Universe. And if we turn this saying of bishop Alexis’s to our inner self, or to our communities, then we must realise that, yes, there is so much imperfection in us, so much which is still dark, so much which is still in the twilight; but both collectively and singly, we know that there is light. And we could not know it, if we did not experience it, because we can know nothing of what we do not experience. This is true for our senses, this is also true for our inner self.
And so, when we speak of an ideal towards which we tend, when we speak of absolutes, when we say that the only real, true and perfect Man is the Lord Jesus Christ, perfect not only in His humanity as such, but because His humanity is at one with God, with His divinity, because the fullness of the Godhead abided in the flesh in Him. And this is absolutely true; and this is the ideal; and this is what we long for — to allow God, the Divine Grace, the Divine Presence gradually to fill us. But for one thing, we cannot measure the progress of this Divine pervasion, or invasion of us; and on the other hand, even a touch of the Divine given us makes us so different, and should make us so grateful, so full of awe, not only with regard to God, but with regard to ourselves.
I remember a passage from the writings of Saint Symeon the New Theologian. He was then an old man; after Communion he came back to his cell, a little hut of mud and wood; there was nothing in it except a wooden bench; he sat on it; and looking at himself, he exclaimed, “I look at these ageing limbs, and I am filled with awe; because now they are filled with the presence of God! And this hut, so miserable, is wider and greater than the Heavens because God is in it.” He had no illusions about himself, he did not think that he was a saint or that he was already transfigured; but he knew, he knew experientially, but he knew also by faith, by the certainty of things unseen, not even perceived, but known by the total Church of God, he knew that God was in him.
Saint Paul speaking of us, of our bodies, says that our bodies are the vessels of the Holy Spirit. We may well remember that we are earthen vessels, that we carry the Holy Things in vessels unworthy of the holiness of what they contain — and yet, we can look at our bodies, and souls, and minds, and hearts, and will, and the whole self with a sense of awe: God is within us…
And so, there is a tension between the absoluteness of the vision, the perfect and only true Man Christ, and the imperfect creatures which we are. And in what way then can we say that we relate to Christ? I think we relate to Christ if we are open to His action; we relate to Christ if we long for Him, we relate to Christ if we are in motion towards Him.
And this is a very important thing. There is a passage in the writings of Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk who says, we do not reach the Kingdom of God from victory to victory; more often from defeat to defeat. But, — he says, — it is those people who after each defeat instead of sitting down to bewail their misery, stand up and walk, that arrive…
And when we put together this thought of Tikhon Zadonsky and the parable of Christ of those who were called to the banquet of the king, we can see what happens to those who arrive in rags, unprepared — only longing. You remember the man who had bought a piece of land, the man who had bought five pairs of oxen, the man who had taken a bride — they all refused to come; they were fulfilled; fulfilled by what was earthly. And then the king sent his servants to collect from the byways, and the hedges, from all the recesses of his kingdom the poor, the halt, the lame; and he called them to his banquet. They all walked prompted by this call, indeed shepherded by the servants, possibly hesitant, afraid of coming into the presence of the king: in rags, unwashed, with a past which they probably did not even want to avow to the king; what would be the meeting face to face with him who to them was justice, and the law, and the righteousness? And what happened, it is not described in detail, but what happened is that they were met at the gates of the palace by the Angels of God; they were taken in; and they were made ready to enter into the halls, the kingly halls. Their rags were taken away from them, they were bathed, their hairs were anointed, they were clothed in decent cloths and taken into the hall. One only proved unworthy, one who refused to be washed, and dressed, and anointed; one who probably said, ‘I have not come here to be groomed, I have come here to eat’ — and made his way straight into the dining hall. He was thrown out. But no-one else, because everyone had come with a vision of the greatness of the king, of his or her unworthiness; none of them tried to look what they were not; they came in truth, as they were — and they were received in compassion and charity.
And this is a tension in which we all are; unless we have a vision of the absolute, we cannot tend towards it. At the same time we must not despair of what we are, because we cannot judge our own condition; we can judge only one thing: the degree to which we long for fulfillment, the degree to which we long to be worthy of God, worthy of love, worthy of compassion; and worthy not because any achievement of ours, but because of the longing, the hunger and the trust which we can give to the Lord.
So that when I present — in a talk, or in confession, or in a sermon — when I present an absolute measure of what there should be, we must remember that unless we have the vision, we will not follow the star, but we must follow the star as we are, because it is our moving towards it, towards this goal that will change and transform us.
And we must realise that up to the last moment it may not appear that we have attained the goal. There is a story about Saint Macarius of Egypt; when he died, one of his disciples saw his soul ascending towards Heaven; and the devils had put across his path sort of custom-benches, so that at every step he was tried on one or another sin, one or another way in which he had been unfaithful to his vocation and to his God; and he passed them one after the other. And he was already standing in the gates of Paradise when the devils thought of a last way of bringing him down; they clapped their hands and cried: Glory to thee, Macarius! Thou hath overcome us! — hoping that at least vanity will bring him down. And he turned, and said to them: Not yet! — and walked into the Realm of God.
We must realise that in the course of all our life we will not achieve this ideal; but at the same time, what matters, is our motion, and we can not judge our success; and so, it is important for us to move on remembering what Seraphim of Sarov said: that the difference between a perishing sinner and a sinner that finds salvation is only his determination to follow the path — not the success, but the struggle.
And at times, the struggle may be more important than the success. In the lives of the saints of Kiev, of the disciples of Anthony and Theodosius of the Caves, there is a story of a priest-monk who had been put in charge of baptising, and among those whom he was to baptize there were women. And he felt a great struggle within himself with lust. His name was John; he had been baptised under the vocable of Saint John the Baptist; and so he turned to him in prayer and asked him to deliver him from temptations so that he could fulfill his mission with total purity; and John the Baptist said to him, ‘God could free you; but, if you are freed without struggle, you will lose the crown of martyrdom. It is better for you to fight, to struggle, to be in torment, but conquer with pain and faithfullness in the name of God and for the sake of those whom you baptise.’ He accepted the challenge; and all his life he fought, and in the end he conquered.
And I remember Vladimir Theocritov who was my predecessor in this parish, speaking to an old man who was saying to him, ‘It’s wonderful: with age there are so many temptations that fall off without your having had anything to do about it!’ And the answer was, ‘Don’t rejoice in that: make haste to fight with all the temptations that are left, because if they die without your killing them, you will not have worked for God.’
So this is the strange balance which there is between the vision of all, and the imperfection which is ours.
The second question which I would like to touch upon is quite different; I was asked in what sense is the Holy Spirit ‘The Comforter’.
We must realise what the word means; the word in ancient languages has three basic meanings; the one is, ‘the One Who consoles’ — in the way in which we say that a person in grief needs comfort. The second meaning is, ‘the One Who gives strength’; and the third meaning is ‘the One Who gives joy, fulfillment’. And the Holy Spirit is the Comforter in each of these three ways: as One Who brings consolation, He can bring consolation to us if we are in need of the comfort He can give. And He can give us comfort in more than one way. You remember that Saint Paul says to us that the Holy Spirit of God speaks within us in unutterable groanings, but also at times clearly calling God Himself ‘Abba, Father’. When we are in misery, when life is hard, when true suffering comes upon us, the Holy Spirit speaks within us in prayerful groanings; it is not only our own sighs, our own cries — it is the Spirit of God Who within us prays Godwards, gives to our human misery, to our human cries another dimension.
I would like to explain this, perhaps, by an analogy. In the writings of a Hebrew scholar of the I2th century, Maimonidis, there is a remarkable passage in which he describes the prayers in the Temple of Jerusalem. You know that the name of God which is expressed in the Bible by the four letters Yod, He, V, He, which we read as ‘Jehovah’ or ‘Yahve’, conventionally, because no one knows how it is to be read — that this Name of God was unknown to the people of God; only one person knew it — it was the High Priest. And he alone was allowed to pronounce it, but not in the hearing of people, but only in the hearing of God. And Maimonidis describes the great services of the Temple, and says that at the moment when the whole people was bringing forth their prayers, the cry of their whole life Godwards, the High Priest bent over the banister of his balcony and whispered the Holy Name that run like blood through the prayers of people and gave them life, and brought these prayers, made live through the Holy Name, to the Throne of God.
This is what I mean when I say that even our human pain, and suffering, and misery can be quickened, made deep with a depth which is beyond the human by this ineffable, unutterable groanings of the Spirit within us. And in that there is a soothing power, a power of peace; because we cannot touch the fringe of the Divine Presence, we cannot (bathe (base?) in however dim a light coming from God without something softening and changing within us: The heart of man is deep, says the Holy Scriptures; and it is then, because it is so deep and broken into depth by pain and suffering that it engulfs the Presence.
There is another way in which the Holy Spirit is the Consolation of the afflicted, of a certain number of afflicted, perhaps of few, perhaps of many — this is something no-one can say. If we only could say like Saint Paul: For me, life is Christ and death would be a gain; because as long as I live in the flesh, I am separated from Him… His whole longing was to be with Christ Whom he had met once as his God on the way to Damascus while he has pursued Him with his hatred in the days of His flesh. He longed to be with Christ… So do the Saints; and indeed, so do we also, sinners, at moments of depth, of light, of serenity, when we feel of a sudden, perhaps for a very short moment when we feel that we are on the frontier of eternity, that one step more — and fulfillment is there… And then we see that we cannot cross this line; it is too soon for us… And we come back, like orphans, saying, ‘Where are you, O Lord? Why doth Thou hide Thy face from me? Why is it? — And then we stop because we say, ‘Of course, I know why: You are close, but I am so far!’. And then the Holy Spirit speaks words of consolation to us; because He tells us, perhaps what the Spirit said to Pascal: You would not search for Me had you not yet found Me!’ He says to us, ‘If you are so lonely with God (?), it means that you already know Him; if you so long for Him, it means that without knowing it you love Him, you worship Him, you see in Him your fulfillment, your aim — everything you long for… In that sense — and this is a major sense in which the Holy Spirit is the Comforter Who consoles — in this sense we must be sure that whenever longing, hunger, a deep sadness comes upon us because we are so far, that the Spirit, if we only listen to Him, is saying, ‘No! Don’t despair! Your very hunger, your very thirst, your very longing is a sign that you belong together with the God Who so loves you…
And at that point, consolation becomes comfort in the sense of strength. If that be true, o then, however lonely I may be on earth, however desperate a situation may be, I will not give way, I will not (?be) afraid, — as a Psalm says: Even if I walk in the valley of the darkness of death I shall not be afraid because Thou art with me… And the Spirit says: Be strong! Be not afraid — invisibly, the Lord is with you! Be strong with the strength of God; not with your puny human strength — this strength cannot achieve things eternal! But you are strong with another strength…
Although at times God entrusts us a fight. God trusts us enough to allow us to fight without being aware of His presence. In the life of Saint Anthony the Great there is a story of his many temptations. One day, or over a period, he had fought, and fought, and fought; and in the end he lay prone on the earth, exhausted but having conquered; and then Christ appeared to him. Anthony looked at Him even unable to stand up or to kneel before his Lord, and said, ‘O Lord! Where were You when I needed You so much!?’ — And the Lord said, ‘I was standing invisibly at thy side, ready to intervene, had you given way.’
And lastly — the One Who gives joy. If what I have said previously is true, then how deep our joy can be in the Spirit and through Him! He is the One Who comforts us in our loneliness, Who gives us strength in our trials, Who assures us by His presence that nothing can separate us from the love of God. And in these various ways He is the Comforter, the Paracletes; He is also, putting all this together, our Advocate, the One Who from within us speaks to God and says, “He is orphaned — don’t abandon him! He is frail and struggling — give him Thy grace which deploys itself in weakness! Rejoice him, because unknowingly, or knowingly he calls You ‘Abba, Father.’
There is a third question, about the love of Go:; can we say that we love God, or can we say, should we say that we must recognise that we do not love Him? — Both are true; we love Him with all within us which is capable of loving; and our love is undermined, anemic, frail because we are still frail and unfulfilled. Both are true. We can say in all honesty: there is no one I love as I love God; I love Him with all my mind, and all my heart, and all myself — but we must say: Yet, so imperfectly! I look Godwards, and I see Him as though I was looking through a darkened glass, the way one looks at the sun when one wishes to observe an eclipse, not to be blinded by the light. At times one looks Godwards, and for some reason, in this darkened glass, one sees one’s own reflection; instead of seeing through one looks into a mirror. At such moments one must not despair; one must say, Yes! I don’t see the Living God, I see an icon; an icon which I can’t even recognise as such, an icon which I cannot decipher, an icon so damaged, so darkened, — and yet, it’s a vision. It’s a vision of the Incarnation, because each of us who is united with Christ through Baptism, who has become a real limb of the ever-extending, complex, multiple Body of Christ, — each of us is a vision of Christ; darkened, at times unrecognizable to our own eyes, or to the eyes of those who have lost sight of the vision — but it is there.
On the other hand, if we truly loved God we would be concerned with what is His concern. When we love a person we wish to be with this person; when we love a person we want to give joy; we try to live in such a way as not to dishonour our friendship. Can I, or can we say that this is the way in which we love God? Aren’t there so many things which keep us prisoners: attachments which tie us down. Remember the young man who came to Christ and wanted to follow Him; Christ said to him: Leave behind everything and come with Me!.. It needn’t mean, I believe, only his material riches, but his attachment to these things. Saint Paul said, I have learned to live in wealth and in poverty — he was as free a man whether he was rich or poor; not so the young man. He was not free to follow Christ.
In that sense we are not free either; and in that sense we cannot say that we love Him with all there is of us, although it is at the same time true that we do… And so, we can say about loving God what the father of the lunatic boy said about believing: I believe, Lord — help my unbelief!.. I love the Lord, and yet, I fall so short even of my own loving, so short…
And so, both things are true. We can say honestly, Yes — I love God. At the same time with the same honesty we can say — And yet, I don’t love Him.
And again, it is the same problem of the total, perfect vision versus the reality, and I am not saying the sad reality, because reality is not sad, provided we are in the making; it is sad indeed if we become static. If we are imperfect but in progress — it is all right; if we stop, become immobile, then, no — something has gone wrong.
And so it is with the love of God…
Also, a question about grace: is grace a pure gift? What is the gratuity of grace? Is it that God gives grace to the one, refuses it to the other? Or is it that we can deserve the gift of grace?
On the one hand, grace is a gift, in the sense that we have no claim on it; in the same way in which love is a gift — we have no claim on it; it’s a gift which we can receive on our knees, it’s a gift which is a wonder. And yet, although it is totally undeserved in the sense that it cannot be bought or forced out of a person or out of God, what is given must be received. It is not received in proportion to our virtues; it is received in proportion to our longing, to the value which we attach to the gift. Our longing opens our hearts, our mind, opens wide our life towards the gift; but this gift must be received with veneration, worshipfully, reverently… And the gift of grace is not like a present which we receive and which we can keep safe. The gift of grace is like light, like fire. If we try to keep it under the bushel, hide it away from others to possess it completely, it dies out. It can be received only through longing and openness, but it remains with us only if we are prepared to share it, to let the light shine, to let the warmth reach others. This gift is always offered; it is not always longed for, not always received. But also at times it frightens us, because love Divine, when it reaches us, does not claim us as its possession; it says to us: All that I have given you, all that you have received — let others possess. ’Feed the soul of the hungry’: this is God’s words to Isaiah.
And so grace is gratuitously given; it must be shared with the same gratuity, the same generosity which God shows in giving it.
22 March 1990
The (first) question which I would like to touch on is a very big one, and one that cannot be answered with great simplicity.
It’s a question about the judgment of God, the possibility of salvation, and also the possibility of damnation, of being condemned, rejected, become an outsider to the things of God, and therefore to all creation — human and cosmic. This question was born quite naturally from number of passages of the Holy Scripture which were read and which I quoted in the course of the weeks of Preparation: first of all, the parable of sheep and goats, then the words of Christ that unless we forgive one another, we shall not be forgiven. And again, the Lord’s prayer, ‘Forgive as I forgive’, the words in another passage that judgement will be without mercy to those who have shown no mercy; not to speak of number of other passages in the Epistles.
This sets the tone in a tragic way; and I think it is worth coming back again and again to this theme, to find a balance, because if there was nothing in the Gospel but such, or these passages we could consider ourselves as condemned each and all: because who can say that in the course of his life he has shown mercy with all his heart, and all his life? Who of us can say that he forgives those who have trespassed against him, or her? We do it in intention, we do it at times for a moment or for a longer while; and then something happens, and all the resentment, the bitterness and the rejection well up in us as though we had never forgiven. And if we think at the best moments of our life, ‘Have I forgiven him, or her, even people who have offended, or who we imagine have offended us ages and ages ago? we discover that, no, we wish them well, we wish God to forgive them, but there is still not only a scar, but a wound in us.
On the other hand, we must be aware not only of other passages of the Gospel, but of the whole Gospel, of the Good News which the Gospel proclaims: that God has become man to redeem, to save all those who will turn to Him, and, in more than in one passage of the Scriptures one has a clear intimation that He has come to save everyone. Hasn’t He said that it is not those who are healthy but those who are sick who need a healer? Don’t we find so many passages in which forgiveness seems to be — indeed is — granted freely, gratuitously, is a grace, passages which show to us that a person can change only in response to forgiveness as part of gratitude.
And so we are between a variety of passages and situations: the certainty that God has become man to save us, to save us without distinction, all of us; as Paul puts it, He has come to us while we were His enemies to save us; what about us being unworthy friends? Is it possible that then salvation is farther from us? No, it cannot be.
And there is the question of justice: can justice be set aside for the sake of mercy without any more reason than because God is merciful? Can we be forgiven everything simply because God is love? Is it thinkable? Centuries back Saint Gregory of Nyssa, feeling that it is impossible that the God Whom he knew, Whom he knew as a God of triumphant love, of exulting life should ultimately reject and condemn His people, the people whom He had created, loved into existence, to whom He had revealed the depth of creation, the depth of their souls, and even His own presence and depth, that it wasn’t possible that He should condemn, reject them; he preached universal salvation. But his teaching was not accepted by the Church on his terms; and I think it is important to think that it was not on his terms that it was rejected; because his terms were, and I have mentioned them already, that a God of love cannot reject anyone. But as I have tried to convey to you on more than one occasion that it is not enough to be loved, it is not enough to be forgiven, it is not enough to be offered any gift: we must accept and receive forgiveness, love, mercy. We cannot be forgiven if we reject forgiveness; we cannot be transformed and transfigured by love if we reject love.
And so, what Saint Gregory of Nyssa experienced may well be true; but the way he expressed it — no, could not be accepted. All this seems to be far from the question which is asked: it isn’t; it’s at the very core and heart of it. Judgment is a certainty; judgment as an act in which good and evil, darkness and light are discerned and separated from one another: it’s a crisis; it’s a moment when the twilight in which we live gives place to a clear-cut difference between light and darkness. But what is then the situation? What can happen then?
I remember having spoken once to Fr Lev Gillet about this subject of redemption, of my passionate certainty that in the end no-one will perish; and he said to me that he agreed with me, but that we had no right to call this a certainty of faith, in the sense that we could not simply found it on the words of the Scriptures, give formal evidence for it; but that we could daringly, humbly, with joy proclaim it as a certainty of hope, that the God Whom we know, however little, but Whom we know is not a God that has created anything that it may perish afterwards. And Isaiah had said that very clearly.
How do we then stand with this subject of judgment, of condemnation? May I take a few images which are not particularly theological or elevated, but which I think are adequate for what I want to convey.
If after our death we stand before the face of God, and we see His unsurpassed beauty, His holiness, and if we see Him as life-giving Love, we may well shudder in horror at the thought, indeed, at the feeling, the sensation that all that was offered us from the beginning, and we had passed it by. But can we also think that this God will simply look at us and say, ‘You see — you have missed your earthly opportunity; it is now too late — away from Me…’ Can we imagine, however high we deam justice, that any mother, any father, any friend, seeing his child or his friend of a sudden in all the horror that is invisible to us would say, ‘Away from me!’ Wouldn’t anyone of us, heartbrokenly, lovingly say, ‘Come! And cry… Come and cry… and I will try to console you of the life you have wrecked, of the past which cannot be changed or redeemed; but a past which is no longer what you cling to, because you have seen it in all its horror… Come, cry — because I don’t reject you!’
Christ is called the Faithful One in the Book of Revelation; He is the One Who is ultimately faithful to all His creatures. The Incarnation is an act of faithfulness; having created us, having granted us the freedom to good and evil, He takes all responsibility for His gift. He becomes man, He carries all the weight of the world; and because of this, because He becomes the universal victim, He also has power to forgive; power to forgive because He is the Son of man, and power to forgive because He is the victim of all the evil of the world. Forgive them, Father — they do not know what they are doing… He said this about His crucifiers, those who were actually murdering Him; but these words, don’t they extend also to those who had pronounced iniquitous judgment against Him? Do they not extend to those who had brought forth witness? Do they not extend to those who had not understood, and having received Him with branches of palm, a few days later shouted, ‘Crucify Him, crucify Him! He has betrayed our hope — we wanted a victorious king, we do not want a sacrificial God…’
And beyond them, because He has taken upon Himself all the sin of the world — doesn’t His word reach out to all those who are prepared to receive this word?.. Yes, we must receive it; we cannot be forgiven or redeemed while we reject the redeemer and him who forgives. And I am not making now a statement about believing in Christ and being a Christian and passing by every other creature…
But then, what is the judgment, the first judgment which confronts us: the vision of who we are? And in the story of sheep and goats it is so clear that God is asking us: ‘Have you been simply human? Unless you have been human in the simplest terms of mercy, of compassion, of charity — how can you go beyond humanity into communion with Divinity itself?..’ He does not ask those whom He judges about the tenets of their faith; He asks them, ‘Have you fed the hungry? Have you visited the sick? Have you or not been ashamed of recognising in the one in prison a friend, and have you visited him?’ — and so forth… The in-carnation, that is the pervasion of our humanity by God is possible if this is humanity, not below. So, this is the first question; and so simple in a way; a question which can be addressed universally to the whole of mankind: have you been merciful, compassionate, human? If you have — you can then receive God.
And we have in the Scriptures a certain number of passages to that effect. Saint Paul says somewhere that according to what we have build with, what we have build will survive or not. If we have build of straw or of wood, when the fire of judgment will come, all that will be burnt; but if we have build of silver and gold — what we have build will remain. God is a devouring fire; if we are not human, if we have build of straw and wood a semblance of humanity — this semblance cannot resist the fire; there is something that must be burned; but if not, it will.
And there is another image in the Old Testament of the way in which the fire can touch and not consume: it is that of the Burning Bush, the Bush which Moses saw in the wilderness, aflame with Divinity, and yet, that was not being consumed; filled with the presence of God as though it was aflame, and yet not burnt to the ground. And this is what we are called to be and to become.
Now, when we think of the judgment, again, in the terms of Saint Paul, we are confronted with a kind of judgment which is very different from our courts of law. Whether it is our personal confrontation with God, or whether it is the final judgment of all of mankind — and to this I will come back in a moment — the imagery of the court of law is inadequate. In a human court there is a law which is established by a legislative power, a power that establishes the law but does not apply it; then, there are the judges who do not work out the law but who apply it; they are submitted to the law, they are obedient to it, they are those who make the law into living reality. Then there is the jury, and the culprit, and the witnesses for the defense, and the witnesses for the Crown, and the prosecution, and the defense. And we can see how it works: badly, or well, but there is a logic in it.
But when we think of the Judgment of God, what we see is that He Who judges is also the Law-giver; He Whose image, the perfect humanity which He reveals to us is our condemnation, is also our Redeemer and our defense. And what about the witnesses? More than one spiritual writer has written that no one confronted with the Divine judgment will ever have the courage, the daring to raise his voice against a brother, a sister because at that moment he or she will be seeing themselves as unworthy of God, stand condemned by their own conscience. Remember the story of the woman taken in adultery, how Christ turned to the righteous Jews who wanted to stone her, and said, ‘Let him who is without sin cast the first stone’ — this is an image of what may happen: who will cast a stone?..
And then, there is something else. I have said that so often that I am shy of repeating it, but our life does not end at the moment when we departed this earthly life. Of course, at that moment our body can no longer act, our soul is separated from it; but we have left a mark in the world in which we live, a mark which is indelible: every person whom we have met, every word which we have spoken, every gesture of ours, every action of ours — everything that was us or was done by us, proceded from us has left a trace in this world. And we cannot say that because a person has died, his responsibility, for better or worse, for good and evil, is no longer in motion, in action. Can we say for instance, that the French writer Gobineau who is completely forgotten, who wrote in the XIX century a short treatise on the inequality of races, which no one reads any more, has no responsibility for the fact that he inspired Hitler in his vision of the inequality of races. He wrote his essay as an intellectual exercise — and here was a man who applied all his thoughts and went beyond them. Can we say that Gobineau is without responsibility for everything that has originated in his thought and reached others through his writings? And this will continue as long as the world stands, and as long as the problem of inequality of races, of nations, of individuals is not solved. Can one say that he has died and therefore is free? Hardly… And at the same time we can, at the other end of the spectrum think of the great heroes of the spirit: the saints, but also the great inspirers of mankind, in philosophy, in art, in literature who have left behind thought, experience, vision which have made mankind to grow century after century, with ups and downs, through tragedies, but who have been beacons of truth and of light: they also have not ended their lives.
And this is why we can see in the Book of Revelation a passage in which we are told that a time will come at the end of time, when time shall be no more, when nations and kingdoms will bring before the throne of God their glory — one could also add: their shame… But it will no longer be a matter of rehearsing individual judgments, the assessment which God and each of us can make at the moment of our death when we first stand before God; it is not a question of making public individual judgments; it’s a moment when the total interwovenness of all mankind, all creatures will be revealed; and if it were not like this — and I have mentioned it already so I will not repeat that, — then the very genealogy of Christ would be totally meaningless, if each of us was a separate individual and not a drop in a current of a stream. And then we will all stand as a human race before God.
But then what is our hope of redemption or our danger of condemnation?
First of all, quite a lot has been written in this century by Orthodox theologians like Mochulsky and others about the meaning of the word ‘eternal’ when it applies to the text of the Scriptures. It means two things; when we speak of God, and we say that He is eternal, we mean that He has neither beginning nor end, that He is beyond time. But when we read about things called ‘eternal’ — eternal torment — the word used is the word that signifies a length of time; or if you prefer, it means ‘as long as time lasts so it shall be’. But when the end comes, time is no more. And the End is not a moment of time, the End is not something, it is Someone; the End, — and I am contradicting myself because I have no other way of putting it — is the moment when God fills all in all, and when there is no time in the sense in which we know it on earth; there is a growth into God; there is a fulfillment of things, and yet, there is no longer the linear time which we know. And several theologians have attracted the attention of believers, that when the Scripture speaks of eternal torment, what they say, is that as long as time lasts, an long as we are in becoming, before the final, great summing up of history, there will be pain and anguish. But pain and anguish that is not obligatory the result of an act of divine retribution, but the acute pain and the deep sadness which we can have, experience when we discover that we have betrayed the hope of One Who loves us with all His life and all His death, of One Who gave His life for us — and we shrugged our shoulders and continued in our own ways.
So that there is this eternity, but an eternity that will be swallowed up by an other eternity. There is a moment, in the words of Saint Irenaeus of Lyon, when the whole of mankind will become by the power of the Spirit one with Christ, so that having become the sons of God by adoption through Baptism, through faith, through our relative faithfulness to God, we will, in the Only Begotten Son become, in our togetherness, the only begotten son. Adoption will be left behind, sonship alone will remain, and God, in the words of Saint Paul, shall be all in all. This is our hope, this can be legitimately be our hope; and it is our joy. And it is a peculiar thing, that the salvation of the world, in the end, lies in the hands of the victim; the Supreme Victim of all evil, the Lord Jesus Christ, and all the victims of history who, confronted with their own sins, will no longer be able to judge and condemn others, the victims of history who will be able to turn to God and undo the evil by a power truly divine of saying, ‘Forgive as I have forgiven’.
This does not take away from us our responsibility; it does not make things easy, because to respond to love is infinitely more exacting than responding to the law; to submit to the law may be hard but possible; to love as we should is so difficult.
And St John Chrysostom says in one of his writings, that the terrible thing is when someone dies that we look at the person whom we loved, and say, ‘And yet, I have been unable to love him, love her to perfection…» But then we must remember that life does not cease with death, that life continues, that for God all are alive, and that our mutual love, our mutual power to forgive go beyond the grave and beyond time. This is what Father Lev called ‘a certainty of hope’. It is perhaps even, to a great extent, a certainty of faith if you define faith as certainty of things unseen. And also, if our faith is grounded on what you will read in the Scriptures — not only words but the image of the Living God that stands out in all its glory, all its humility, all its wonder [from the Scriptures], so that we must walk in life wearily, trying to be worthy of what God has done by calling us into existence, by giving us life, by revealing Himself to us: worthy through gratitude, worthy of the love first given, of His faith in us, of His having set so much hope in us.
And remember, that no one of us will ever be saved apart from everyone else; and that we carry a total responsibility for each other. When St Paul says, ‘Carry one another’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ’ he points out perhaps to this: we are mankind; we are more than a community — we are a living body; and this living body must grow to become the Body of Christ — and that is beyond judgment. But how arduous the road, how exacting the claim of our neighbour for salvation, and how great the hope of God…
Let us keep quiet for a moment, pray, and go in peace, stand before God’s judgment, our own judgment; and remember that we are all in a total solidarity of salvation and condemnation. Let us forgive one another, let us accept forgiveness and let us grow into that communion with God that will set us beyond judgment.
V 5 April 1990
In the talk which I gave before our two question periods, I attracted your attention to the fact that the Creed is not simply a declaration of fact, a way of stating about God, His creative activities, His Incarnation, our salvation, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the meaning of Baptism: that the Creed is much more than just a statement of fact, however true, — and indeed, I believe, they are rigorously, historically true.
But the Creed is also a way in which, by asserting the things in which we believe, we undertake to live up to the meaning of the belief which we proclaim. Before we sing, or recite the Creed, the deacon or the priest says ‘Let us have love to one another that so with one mind we may acknowledge the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Holy and Undivided Trinity’. We can pronounce these words of the Creed about God Who is love, about God Who reveals Himself in this very Creed as love manyfold, complex, rich, glorious, tragic, saving, only if we have, however little, love for one another and love of God. And whenever we pronounce the Creed, our conscience is there to pass a judgement on ourselves.
The same applies to the celebration of the Liturgy as a whole. The Liturgy is addressed to God the Father, from end to end; and it is addressed to God the Father in Christ; in other words we can speak to God as we do only in the terms of Christ. What we say in the Liturgy is not an expression of our condition — it’s a proclamation of Christ’s own attitude to the Father.
I will put it differently: Christ is the only Celebrant of every sacrament, and supremely — of the Liturgy. He stands before the Father as our Intercessor, our Savior, and He says words in which we participate. Now, this is a very severe judgment, again, on ourselves: how much are we capable, or willing, to say these words as Christ would have said them? How much — singly, and as a congregation, a community can we stand before God, and say all these things in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself? And ‘in the name’ doesn’t mean that we say words which He would say without participating in them, in the way in which we can read aloud someone else’s letter, a letter that has nothing to do with us but which we are to convey to a third person; how much do we intend so to unite ourselves to Christ as to be able to say these words simultaneously in His and in our own name? And not only in intention, a vague intention, but with an effort to identify through these words with the mind of Christ, to acquire what Saint Paul calls the mind of Christ, so that we should think as Christ thinks, feel as He feels, that His will should be our will. To use the words of Fr Serguei Bulgakov said many, many years ago, our vocation is to be on earth an extension through time and space of the incarnate presence of Christ. Are we this? And more than this: do we intend, do we want to be this? And do we imagine that this happens by means of our Baptism, of Chrismation, of taking part in the Holy Eucharist if we remain passive, if these things are done to us, or if we do them without truly identifying with them? Of course we cannot identify with Christ completely; we cannot be ‘Christ’ in the full sense of the word; but we can aim at thinking, feeling, willing, living in the terms of Christ.
And apart from the Creed, apart from the general (tenure (?) of the Liturgy, there is another thing which I touched upon at the end of my second talk; I said, we stand judged by the Lord’s Prayer; I have spoken of the Lord’s Prayer in great detail on other occasions, and I will not repeat anything of what I said about the Prayer as a whole; but I want to attract your attention to something that strikes me time and again, time and again. When the apostles asked the Lord to teach them to pray, He said to them, ‘Pray thus: Our Father’… Now, in all the literature I know, — I grant you that I know a limited amount of it, but still, a certain amount of it — the ‘Our’ is always explained as an appeal to the disciples to feel that they are one body, that they are the members, the limbs of one body, and that no one can turn to God as his Father without discovering that he is the brother of everyone else.
But there is something else in this ‘Our Father’ which of course we know some while, but which we do not feel very much about. When the Lord said ‘Our Father’ He took His disciples into the Fatherhood of His Father, and the ‘Our’ meant ‘My Father and yours’: you are My brothers, we have one Father, you and I… Doesn’t it involve us very deeply into what Christ is? If He could call the disciples His brethren after His resurrection, it was not simply in the terms in which we speak of other Christians as our brethren in Christ; He was saying something, I think, much more decisive. It was not an emotional brotherhood, a friendship that had become so great that He could call His friends ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’; it was a proclamation of the fact that He, Who was His Father was also theirs — of course, in a different way and to a lesser degree. We are told by Saint Paul that we are children by adoption; yes, we are not born of God in the way in which the Only Begotten Son is born; we are integrated into this relationship of father and children through our faith in Christ, through uniting ourselves to Him, through dying through baptism to everything which is not Him, or His, to everything which is the cause — and not only was, but is still — the cause of His Incarnation and of His crucifixion; because still, as long as the world is not saved, tragedy has not departed from the mystery of Christ, of God; Christ still bears the wounds of the crucifixion, unhealed, as long as there is one sinner who needs salvation.
Our being the brothers and sisters of Christ, our being the children of God by adoption is however only a beginning. Saint Iraeneus — and I have quoted this passage to you, — in one of his writings says that when all things will be fulfilled — in other words, when salvation will have been won by God for us, and wholeheartedly received by us, and completely en-acted by us, we will be so united to the Only Begotten Son of God by the power, the transforming, the uniting power of the Holy Spirit, that we will become, singly and in our togetherness, the only begotten son of God. Then adoption will have passed; something unfathomable will happen.
But for the moment we are still in a state of adoption, and this adoption must be transcended by us, not only by faith, but by a faith that becomes action. A faith without deeds is dead. It is only by faith indeed that we know God, that we live in God: but this faith must be a power of life; it must make us live and act in accordance to Him in Whom we believe.
And this raises a question of all our living. To say ‘Our Father’, to recognise that we are prospectively the sons of the Living God, that adoption must be transcended into true sonship, means that every word of prayer, every word of the Creed must become life in us; we must live accordingly.
The problem did exist from the very beginning. You remember how, on the way from Cesarea Philipae to Jerusalem the Lord spoke to His disciples, foretelling His passion; and at the end He said, ‘and on the third day the Son of God shall rise’. And James and John came up to Him, asking whether on the day of His victory they could sit on His right and left hand… — as though they had been completely deaf to the announce of His passion, as though that was irrelevant, as though His role was to die so that they may live and they could rip the fruits of His Passion. All that He had said about the horror of the passion week seemed to have been unheard; the only word that reached them was that He would rise again on the third day: then victory would be won, tragedy would be over — they were safe. And Christ turned to them without a word of rebuke, but with a question: Are you prepared to drink My cup? Are you ready to be merged into my ordeal?.. He took them back to Passion week, because one does not enter into the glory of the Resurrection otherwise than by the way of the Cross and through Calvary. We can enter it in Christ if we grow to such a measure of saintliness that gradually we identify with Him; but we may also enter this tragic road, and reach its goal, the Crucifixion, death that frees us from our sins like the good thief, the thief that recognised that he was justly crucified while Christ was crucified against all justice, and at the hour of death asked the Lord to receive him in His Kingdom.
But in order to be a Christian, to be able to pronounce the words of the Creed, to say the Lord’s Prayer, to participate in the Liturgy, we must at least determine — not only have a velleity, but a determination firm and clear to live the words which we pronounce, to live our whole life on Christ’s
own terms. Otherwise we are spectators of the life, of the crucifixion, of the death of Christ, we are onlookers, we are interested listeners that may well be moved by one thing or another, but like the barren earth or the roadside of the parable we may well receive the seed for a moment — or not receive it at all; and then, however much we proclaim our faith as an objective, intellectual truth, it does not reach us.
And this is a very important thing for us to realize and to remember because that is how we all live more or less except the saints who take seriously, who have taken seriously throughout history the things which I have just mentioned. It does not mean that we cannot find salvation without being totally heroic; but if we cannot be heroic, if we cannot act with all our courage, all our energy, all our love of God and faithfulness to Him, we can at least be brokenhearted, be aware, repent.
And this is also something which is so lacking in us; because we repent, indeed, of single, individual actions; we repent of attitudes of mind; but we don’t know yet, most of us, to repent with all our being for not being in Christ. Saint Paul said that those who have been baptised have rejected all passion, that they are carrying in their bodies the deadness of Christ, that in baptism we die — and we rise again; we die to everything which is not Christ, we rise again clothed with Christ. Of course, it should begin with an act of faith, it should begin with a determined choice after a long testing of oneself; it should be an act which is the summit of a process, not simply a passive beginning. Our determination should be tested; our courage should be measured; we should ask ourselves questions about us, God, Christ, and the world in which we live: what do we prefer? Whom do we love more? What do we chose?
So that we stand again under judgment; if we were capable of — no: if we were willing to face judgment every time when it presents itself, we might become Christian, that is an extension of Christ’s presence on earth. People meeting us might say, as the Romans said, the pagans said about the early Christians: What is the matter with them? There is between them a love which we have never seen — how is that? No one would say that about us. Singly, we are not in the midst of the world in which we live a presence of Christ; and in our togetherness we are not a community of Christians. And here are two very important things.
And furthermore: how do we treat the Church to which we belong? It is to us a refuge; it is to us a place of safety. But is it our vocation to be safe? Is it that which Christ said to His disciples — He commanded them to be in the world but not of the world; He said to them that He sends them like sheep among the wolves; and we do about the disciples of Christ what John and James were doing about Christ’s crucifixion: we are so grateful to them for their sacrifice of their lives! And yet, it is to us that these words are addressed.
I began by speaking of the Lord’s Prayer. Think of the first words that follow ‘Our Father’: ‘hallowed be Thy Name, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth as it is in Heaven…’ To say ‘Hallowed be Thy Name’ — blessed, glorious be Thy Name is not just a wish, it is not a way of prompting God to appear in glory — it’s an undertaking to make the Name of God holy, venerated among people, to make people whom we meet turn to God in adoration. When we say ‘Thy Kingdom come’ — again, it’s not a wish, it’s an undertaking: the Kingdom of God on earth comes where two are no longer two but one. But also we are called to build a city of man that would be such as to be transfigured into the City of God: a city of man so deep, so spiritually vast, so holy that its first Citisen could be only true and perfect Man — Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God become the Son of man. Is it that that we are aiming at? Is it our purpose in life? Is it what we are doing — let it be in small ways, but is it our intention? And when we say ‘Thy will be done’ — don’t we always hope that God’s will will coincide with ours, and then it will be easy to accept the will of God? But when circumstances, people seem to be destroying everything we hoped for, everything we long for — are we prepared to say, ‘God has given, God had taken — blessed be the name of the Lord!’ And in the Greek text of the Book of Job it says also, ‘And so, Job did not accuse God of madness’. Can we bless God for the bitter things, the tragic things as we thank Him for things bright, and light and happy?
And then again, there is this passage in Saint Paul, in which he says, ‘For me, life is Christ, and death would be a gain, because as long as I am alive on earth, I am separated from Christ’; ‘and yet, — he adds — it is more expedient for you that I should live, and so I shall.’ Who of us can say, in the context of what I have already indicated in such a sketchy way, who of us can say that Christ is my life, that to be in harmony with Him is the only thing that matters, that to do His will is the only desire of my heart, that to enact on earth His work of salvation is the only thing that matters to me? Who of us can say that I live in Christ and He lives in me: that He lives in me, that is that whatever I think, I feel, I will, I do is Him at work through me — who can say that? But of course we cannot say that and imagine that this is already reality in our life — but can we say that this is what we want, this is our intention, this is our longing, this is our determination, this is our struggle, and fight against ourselves — can we?
And Saint Paul’s attitude to death: do we really long to leave this life because the moment we leave it, we will be face to face with the love of our life, the Lord Jesus Christ? Can we say that honestly? Can we say that for us to die is not to loose our precarious, transient earthly life but it is to be clothed with eternity? And at bright, at wonderful moments when we come near to feeling this, can we then say, ‘Lord, let me live on earth because I am needed! I am ready to be separated for as long as You need me on earth’ — are we prepared to be orphans all our life, because Christ has called us to be His presence, to be His witnesses, to be His eyes and His word and His hands in the proclamation of the truth, in enacting love, in building the City of God within the city of man.
That we are not doing it is sad; but what is particularly sad is that we are not aware of it, and we don’t even do it in intention. The Church that should be the place where we discover life, truth, beauty, meaning should be the place from which we go into the world to bring to others what we have seen, a glimpse of, perhaps, tasted a little, as witnesses who would say, ‘I have touched the hem of His garment — I can tell you at least that with certainly — come, come and see yourselves!’… The Church has become to us a place of refuge, an infirmary; we come to it indeed infirm, but alas — we want to remain infirm, we want to be cared for, protected by God; when there is danger we run away from it to God: Protect! Save! Defend me!.. It’s a place of oblivion — let me forget the tragedy, let me have a moment of rest… Fr Serguei once said at a meeting, ‘The Church, we treat it as though we were trying to return to the womb of our mother.’ Isn’t that tragic? We were already born, and we want to go back into the safety of oblivion, as though we are saying to God, ‘You want us out into the cold — no! You are the risen Christ — we want to ripe the fruits of Thy resurrection, like John and James, forgetting the cost.’
We must reflect on these things; we must ask ourselves, to what extent is my life Christ; we must ask ourselves, What is death to me? My own? The death of those whom we love? The death of those who were my enemies — what is this death? Can I say when my nearest person has died, ‘Blessed is the Lord’? Or is it simply an exclamation at a beginning of a service that has no meaning? Am I blessing the Lord at that moment? And we could look at everyone of our services and ask ourselves: Am I truly integrated into the service? Am I partaking in it? Or am I a spectator? Or am I only being carried by its beauty and carried away, carried away from all the Gospel stands for?
About this I want to speak next time.
VI 26 April 1990
Many years ago a historian of Church art called Grabar has written an essay on the architecture of the Church and in this essay he tries to show – and I think, convincingly – that the architecture of the Church was meant to convey to people what could be the world if it was built according to rules of harmony, of true beauty, not seeking for aesthetics, but for meaning. And in the same manner research has been made about the cathedral in Chartres and it had been proved quite conclusively that it was built in such a way as to correspond to musical scales and harmonies, again speaking of beauty, of harmony as revelation of what the world could and should be if we, Christians, to whom God has revealed so much about His ways and His thoughts, tried to built a world worthy of men and worthy of Him. And again the same or a similar feeling struck me when I first went to Russia and when having traveled through streets that were poor and between houses that were drab, among the grayness of life I walked in one of the churches and was suddenly confronted with unimaginable beauty, – the beauty of the structure itself, the greatness of the screen, the individual beauty of icons, and within it the beauty of the celebration, and above and beyond it all, the response of a crowd of people of all types, all ages, who responded to it and were transformed, transfigured even for a short moment by what they perceived.
Later they would come out of this church and walk in the streets between the drab houses, the grayness of life with all the heaviness of their condition but what they had experienced they could not erase from themselves, from their [?] inner self, because as a French writer has put it, «suffering passes, to have suffered never passes»; and one could say, the actual experience passes away, but to have gone through an experience never passes away. We are made into other people through an experience once perceived even if we forget about it later, if consciously we are not aware of what happened to us once upon a time. And in that sense beauty, harmony, perfection of structure are elements that give us a message, and if in the church we learned to be completely open to the message which it conveys to us, we would leave the church every time, we would leave a service, go back into our ordinary life renewed, different, – however, on one condition: that beauty should not acquire for us a value of its own, that beauty should be conducive to the understanding of meaning, consciously and beyond our conscious mind, that beauty should not be made into aesthetics. And I could illustrate, descripte this sentence of mine by a remark which I heard once. Someone was saying: when confronted with an icon an unbeliever may say, «what a beautiful piece of art», a believer will make a sign of the cross and pray. Both would have perceived the objective beauty of the icon but for the one this beauty would have remained exterior, it would belong to the realm of aesthetics; for the other one beauty would have brought him or her into the realm of worship and within worship to the unfathomable depth of meaning.
And this is a very important demarcation line, a point which we must be aware of in our own lives because it is so easy to be captivated by beauty and to lose its meaning. And yet as Plato has said: «Beauty is a convincing power of truth”. Unless confronted with the truth in any form in which it is presented to us, we can say «how beautiful!» — it has not reached our heart. It may have touched our mind, we may analytically explain why a proposition is true, but it has not made us partakers of that truth. And in that respect whether we speak of the architecture, the icons, the music or the form which acts of worship have in the Church, unless they reach us at the level of worship, they remain exterior to us. And the danger of all beauty in all its forms, in all the walks of life is that it may acquire a value of its own and displace meaning, become a screen instead of being a revelation. We are told that an icon is like a window, — it must remain a window. Confronted with an icon, facing one, we may well at one moment or another examine it and admire the perfection of the work as a work of art, but at that moment we are not meeting the icon in the way in which it is intended to be met, or rather, meeting it in that way must at a certain moment cease and all that we have received of understanding through this analytical vision of the icon must be gathered together in the understanding of the message. Unless this happens, an icon remains a work of art among so many other works of art and may be categorized as beautiful or ugly, as inspiring or totally uninspiring. And yet an icon which we may call ugly may convey to us more than the loveliness of religious paintings.
Now, this applies also to everything in the church. Everything in the church must convey meaning, in other words, must become transparent, must be such, or rather, be received by us – and that requires an act of self-denial, — must be received by us not on the level of aesthetic emotion, but beyond it. There is a passage in the writings of St John Chrysostom that surprises many. He says, «If you want to pray place yourself in front of an icon, then close your eyes and pray to whom the icon represents». And so often I have heard people say, “but what is the point of standing before an icon which I do not see?” The icon must have evoked a presence, and then it must disappear from our awareness, so that only the presence with all its depths, all its awesome intensity should remain before us. And again, this should apply to the music, and to the architecture, and to the action of the service. It happens, in fact, as we become more and more familiar with the sequences of a service, we are no longer arrested and surprised by its various movements.
But here again there is a danger. The danger lies in the fact that the more we are familiar with a liturgical sequence or the setting of the Liturgy or of the various services, the less we become capable of being reached, hit by them. And it is only if we train ourselves in prayer, if we learn
to go beyond the words, beyond the sound, beyond everything visible, to become inwardly as silent as we can (one could call that contemplative, that is completely open, with the eyes of our soul wide open, like the eyes of a child who looks at something in amazement) that we can receive every time the same message with a new depth, so that it unfolds itself within us evermore throughout our lives.
I remember having met many years ago an old Russian deacon, he was in his 80s. He sung alone one of the evening services and I stood by reading from time to time or following his reading and his singing. And he read and he sung with such a velocity, so fast, that I could hardly follow the text with my eyes. And when the service was over, arrogantly I said to him (I was then in my late teens): «Father Euthymius, you have stolen all the service from me by reading so fast and singing so quickly. And what is worse – you have stolen it from your own self because you could not possibly be aware of the words which you were pronouncing.” And he began to cry and said to me: «Forgive me! I have forgotten that you have not yet heard these services long enough. But you know, I was born in a very poor family in a very hungry village. My parents could not keep me, I would have died of hunger. So when I was 5 or 7 they gave me to a neighboring monastery for me to do there what I could to help and to be fed. And I never left this monastery until the revolution came. I grew there, learned to read, learned to sing, I was made a server, then a deacon, and all my life I have read and sung and heard the words of the services. And you know, with years my soul has become like a harp. When I see a word it is as though a hand had touched one of the cords and my whole soul begins to sing.» So he was not reading every word as something new, he was recognizing in every word a message that made his whole being sing the praises of God. If we only could learn this!
But this cannot be easily learnt. To a certain degree it can be learned if we prayed at home, if we gave a long time to prayer, if we meditated deeply the words which we pronounce, tried to perceive their strict meaning, but also the poetry which is enclosed in them, if we became aware of the thought, but also of the imagery, if gradually every word of Scripture, every word of the services became like a hand touching our heart and making it to vibrate worshipfully with awe and with joy. But all too often we do not reach this condition and then the services somehow are betrayed by us. Prayers which were wrung out of the souls of men and women at moments of agony or gushed out in song at moments
of elation, of gratitude, of worship, of joy, all these words become only words, sounds often heard and, therefore, no longer interesting. If we think of the psalms and the way in which they were born within the experience of the Psalmist, if we imagine the 50 Psalm run wrung out the soul of David at a moment of desperate repentance and yet of overwhelming hope, because he knew the God to whom he spoke and he could hope all things from Him, we could not read it as we do, or if we read it coldly with our mind, we would be ashamed and hurt in our heart, in the same way in which we would be hurt if we read someone’s tragic letter written from the front before the soldier’s death and glance through it with an appreciative glance thinking, «yes, even at the hour of death this man could write well» – what a blasphemy it would be! And what a blasphemy in a way it is, perhaps, a minor one, but an ugly one when we hear the prayers of the Church, the cries of the saints and either find them too long, boring, many-worded, or when we attach our attention to nothing but the aesthetics of it – “such saint writes well, such other is really poor in the choice of words and imagery». And yet, the one as the other have poured their soul into these words as they could. And at times we could imagine a poor little phrase being said with tears, and we can imagine that God listened to these few words and saw the tears, and as these tears gave a fragrance to the words, a beauty which no literary production can give.
There is a danger to be made prisoners of the beauty and because we find it such, not to be to able to let it fill us and transform us. We may leave it outside of ourselves to be able to contemplate, to handle, to enjoy. This is not the purpose of beauty. Beauty is there to reach us and make us capable of receiving the message in a way that convinces us totally, — “totally” meaning: to the extent of which each of us is capable of receiving the message, as completely as we can contain it, but completely.
And this is particularly hurtful in two situations. The one (and I spoke of it to Fr. Michael and he felt much the same as I), the one are the services in Holy Week and the other one is the Liturgy. The services of Wednesday evening and Thursday, and Good Friday, and Saturday are so incredibly beautiful by their setting, by their text, by their music, and yet they may be either a revelation or a screen. And they are a screen to anyone who is not prepared to renounce himself and to see beyond the beauty – the tragedy. The one does not undo the other, because in the Sacrifice of Christ there is an unutterable beauty, but not the aesthetic beauty which so many people visiting a church may find in the service. In the middle of the church on Thursday of Holy Week stands a Crucifix. It is great and beautiful, and it reveals to us all the beauty that we are capable of expressing and of receiving of the love of God given, of a God who so loved us that He became one of us, lived our life, faced all the consequences of the human fall, all the ugliness of human relationships, who faced lack of understanding, misunderstanding, treacherous questions, deceit, who faced the cowardice of His closest friends, who was abandoned by them all, who faced betrayal, who faced the renunciation of Peter, who faced the rejection by a whole nation of Him, because He stood by God, and the sense within His humanity of the loss of God because He has chosen to share with men all, all our tragedy. We can see that, and culminating two phrases: «My God, My God, why have Thou forsaken me» and also: «Forgive, Father, they do not know what they are doing».
All that is inexpressibly beautiful, not in terms of aesthetics, but in terms of a spiritual, inner, eternal beauty. But how easy it is to look at a beautiful Crucifix and not to see in a heat of the day on a naked little hill of Palestine a rough cross on which a young Man just over 30 years of age was dying because He so loved mankind. No one has greater love than he who gives his life for his friends. And Paul adds to it: “Few would give their lives for their friends, but God has given His life for us when we were still His enemies”. Do we see when we look at the Crucifix the crucified Christ or is it that because we know of the Resurrection, we can see only, even on the cross, Christ who enters into the sleep of death?
There are so many situations in which in our days similar things have occurred, people giving their lives for others, people living because others had died. When it happens, the people who were the beneficiaries of this total, ultimate sacrifice never could forget it, their lives were transfigured, transformed. Oh, they were not saints, they did not become perfect, but they lived with the awareness that if that was the price someone paid for me to remain alive, I must live so as not to make nonsense of this sacrifice. But in order to say that, through, in transparence, as it were, through the Crucifix with its beauty, harmony and peace – the King of Glory and whose Glory is humility and not power, beyond this we must see the rough, rude Cross of Calvary, the milling crowd, the insulting High Priest and Pharisees, the loneliness of death, of the death of one abandoned; and the tragedy of the Mother who stood by the Cross without a word of protest, giving once more Her Son into the hands of God, into the hands of God which He would reach through the hands of men. And this applies to so many services, to so many situations.
And the second situation which I want to mention is the Liturgy. The Liturgy is a service that is addressed from end to end to God the Father, and it is addressed to God the Father by the Lord Jesus Christ. We enter into this mystery, we celebrate this mystery as it were from within our oneness and communion with Christ, in Christ and from within Christ. The assembled congregation is as it were, to use the words of father Sergei Bulgakov, an extension of Christ’s Incarnation. We can speak these words, sing, stand, pray, offer the Holy offering in peace, proclaim our Creed, say the Lord’s prayer and ultimately receive Communion only in Christ because at that moment mystically we identify with Christ. The Last Day Liturgy is the Last Supper.
Are we in the Last Supper? Are we aware of it, or we have come to a service which is been celebrated by the clergy in the sanctuary helped by acolytes while we are present at something which is done for our benefit, or are we the tragic Body of Christ? Where are we?
And then a last thing. What happened after the Last Supper? After the Last Supper Christ went out first to the Garden of Gethsemane and then to Calvary. And He had said to us in the Gospel: «I send you like sheep among the wolves». He is sending us from this Holy Table in the power of the Spirit, united to Him in body, soul and spirit into the world to be His presence, to be a living message, but beyond and above all to be His real presence. As real it should be as real presence of God in the bread and wine. Are we aware of this? Do we come to Church for this reason or to be served, to be given, to a place of shelter? One speaks so much of the gathered community. Yes, the gathered community, the community that gathers in order to receive from God a commission. But the Christian body is primarily and first of all the scattered community of people who, scattered, remain one. When the priest breaks the Bread before Communion, he says: «The Lamb of God is broken and distributed, which being ever broken, never is divided”. This is what the Church is and should be.
I will end this talk at this point and I will give you, probably, one more talk on the subject of Churchianity and Christianity, after which we could have one or two evenings of questions, because I have quite a number of yet unanswered questions and if you want to add questions to those which I have already received and not yet answered, do so. But if possible, ask questions on the subject of these talks primarily.
Let us be quiet for a moment and then pray together.
VII 10 May 1990
In my previous talks I have been trying to contrast the ideal which we pursue, and more than this — all that is given us as an actual possibility, and what we make of it. I have concentrated on things personal, individual, on the way in which each of us is called to be a Christian in the fullest sense of the word: in the image of Christ, and on the way in which we are, in fact.
I want now to come to another dimension of things, because there is an old saying that there is no such thing as a single Christian; to be a Christian is to be part of the Body of Christ. And when we think of ourselves collectively, we are not simply a collection of individuals; we are a very mysterious body, and it is about this body that I want to say something, and continue in the next talk to try and understand how we can together become this body: not simply by becoming ourselves more holy, more Christian, but by doing it in togetherness, by a concerted effort, consciously and at the same time carried by the grace of God.
I will, as I always do, repeat things which you have heard more than once, but in this context, I believe, they are important.
If you look at the catechism, you will see that the Church is described as a body of people that are united to one another by a community of faith, by the same sacraments, by the same hierarchy, by the same commandments of Christ. And this, as far as it goes, is true; but it is a description which could be compared to that of someone, explaining to a tourist how to find Saint Paul’s Cathedral, or our church: it’s a description of externals, because all this are things which one can study, and see, and be aware of, while one remains completely alien to what the Church is. It is like the walls seen from outside. But what do we see inside, what is happening inside?
When we turn to attempts at seeing what the Church is, we see a number of things in the Holy Scriptures. For one thing, the Church is defined as the House of God; it is a place where He dwells; it is a place where He is at home, it is His home. When we use such words in the context of our lives here, they sound symbolic, and trite; but when we think either of heathen countries in the early days, when the first missionaries came, or of the countries of the ancient world, and the modern world indeed, when the Christians were persecuted, when the name of Christ was reviled, when all that He stood for and we believe of Him was rejected as false, then we can realise that the Church, understood either as a building, or as a company of people, (were (?) a place of refuge: God’s home, the only place where He had a right to be because He was welcome.
There is an old Hebrew saying that God can enter everywhere provided someone opens for Him a door. And in that sense, to say that the Church is God’s house, God’s home, God’s place of refuge is something which is great not only as far as He is concerned, but as far as we are concerned: it is given us to give asylum to God, Who is unwanted, or ignored, or rejected, or persecuted. And when I say «we», I do not mean a building, I mean a community. ‘When two or three are gathered together’, says Christ, ‘I am in their midst’… When two or three are gathered in His name, He has a home on earth; otherwise, He is a pilgrim, hunted from one place to another, taken for a tramp, for a thief, for an impostor. In the Church, when two or three are gathered together, He has a home.
This is a first definition, which I believe is so important because it is so moving: it speaks of the need of God, and it speaks of our freedom to respond to this need. If we realise this, whether we speak of the inner depth of our own heart or of the company of people whom we are, few or many, we can see how much we matter to God: not only because He loves us all, but because there is within us, or (?) because we are a small remnant of people who make it possible for Him to be present in a world He has come to save. That establishes a very moving relationship between us and God: a relationship of mutuality: He is our Savior, and yet, we offer Him a roof, a place where He can rest, a place where He is welcome, a place where He is worshipped, loved, cared for; a place where there are people who want to be His disciples, and people who want to be His messengers if He chooses to send us out into the world to speak of Him, — to speak of man, of the greatness of man, of the vocation of man: to be as great as God. There is a remarkable passage in the writings of Angelus Silesius who was a German mystic, in which he says, ‘I am as great as God, He is as small as I’. This is something that to me relates to this idea of the Church being God’s home: the Kyriakon Doma of which the Greek spoke, the House of the Lord.
And then, there is the word which has given in the West the word ‘Eglise’, Ecclesia. In ancient Athens the ‘Ecclesia’ was the sum total of all the citizens who had a right of vote, all the citizens who had full rights in the city. And so, to say that we are the ‘Ecclesia’ means on the one hand, yes, because that is also one of the roots of the word: people chosen; but not chosen in terms of favoritism: people whom God had selected because He could trust them, and to whom He given the right to be His companions.
You remember what Christ did when He chose His Apostles: He called out of the crowd twelve men; and in a passage of the Gospel He says, ‘It is not you that have chosen Me — I have chosen you’… They had chosen to be disciples, yes, but He had chosen them to be apostles; He had given them a function in the mystery of salvation: not of their salvation alone — of the salvation of the world. They were full citizens — of what? Of the city of men that had acquired a new depth; a city of men into which they brought the divine dimension, a city of men which through their presence, because they were there, because they were the doorkeepers that kept a door open for God, began to grow in depth, in width, in holiness, incipiently becoming the City of God. This is another dimension of the Church.
But who are we within these various dimensions? In the service of Baptism, we are told that we die with Christ and rise with Him. The symbol of the waters, apart from anything else they may mean in terms of cleansing, of purity, — the symbol of waters is so clear for a human being: to be merged into the waters means death, unless he emerges. And this is why Baptism, in the ancient Church, and still in number of Churches is performed by a total immersion; the word ‘baptism’ in Greek means that; it’s an experience of being merged into an element which means death; and coming out of the waters of Baptism is a moment when we can breathe again: we are alive again. We were potentially dead, we are really alive. And it is not only a symbol, that is an image; it is something very real if what we intend is to be merged into Christ. Because in a way, Christ is both life and death to us. That He is life, is so clear from all we read and see and hear, but He is also death, the death of the old man in us, that is of the old man which lives out his mortality… Saint Paul says in one of his writings: We carry in our bodies the deadness of Christ… Who could be more alive than Christ, in His very humanity filled with Divinity? But He was dead to all that was separation from God, evil, all that was the cause of death and destruction. And this is what we are called to experience; and this is why it is so important when an adult wishes to be baptised for him to be aware of what is going to happen, what he undertakes. He doesn’t undertake to join a religion by a rite — one of this many curious rites which mankind has invented — no, it is something terribly real: these waters are Christ, the deadness of Christ; and when we merge into them, we must become partakers of His deadness to everything that kills, that is evil, that is separation, that is brokenness; and we emerge into life clad with Christ: we emerge still, as it were, wet, the life of Christ is our clothing. One could draw a parallel, and remember the words of Saint Paul, that for him to die does not consist in divesting himself of temporary life, it is to be vested, clothed in eternity: this is what happens: Christ is our death — to death, and He is life eternal, sown into us, given us, not yet fulfilled, not yet realised, not yet completed — but there. I remember Fr. George Florovsky saying to me that in Baptism we become like a field into which a seed is sown, the seed of eternal life; but we are also like the gardener, or the peasant whose calling consists in allowing this seed to grow, and to bring fruit. Here our freedom comes into the picture: all is given; incipiently, all is received because at the moment when we receive we don’t always realise what it entails; we perceive the gift, we do not perceive sufficiently, deeply enough, — because it is impossible to perceive it — all the responsibility. It’s a call to greatness, but to a greatness so great that we cannot even imagine it. I have quoted so often the words of Saint Peter, that we are called to become partakers of the divine nature; but can we realise that? We cannot realise it before we have tasted of the experience, before we have known within our body and soul, mind and heart, within our will and our whole being that something is happening, that something is a fulfilment of our human nature of such quality, that it is not an increase — it’s a transfiguration.
And so, this is the beginning; and it is our freedom that comes into play afterwards. We can let the seed die — we can look after it; we can accept the deadness of Christ in our whole self, but we can also shake it off at any moment, for a moment, or for a long period. It is there, it remains with (in (?) us as life remains with (in (?) us; but it remains dormant. A moment will come, must come when it is revived. And this is our relationship with Christ: we relate to Him in this strange way in which both His death and His life indwell us; and at the same time He accepts us within Himself; because through His incarnation, in His incarnation He has chosen to identify with us — all of us, but also each of us. And when we think of the Church, then, in this context, we can have again another vision: Christ, true Man, and at the same time, true God.
True Man in the sense of being real: not a mirage of a Man, but a true reality of a Man, of a human being, but also perfect, that is fulfilled, because to be a human being in the full sense of the word, to the total extent of the word means to be at one with God, to be a human being which is in total communion with God, in whom God dwells, and who dwells in God. Christ, the Son of God become the Son of man — we, the sons of Adam, become in the Only Begotten Son the sons of the Living God. Incipiently, the sons in the plural; but ultimately, when God shall be all in all, in the daring word of Saint Irenaeus, by the power of the Spirit, in the unity of Christ we are called to become the only son of God, the whole of mankind become the son of God in the Only-Begotten.
Our life begins at our birth, at our Baptism, our life begins as a sonship by adoption, and this adoption gradually melts, fades, becomes transparent until there is no adoption left — there is only sonship… I am using the word ‘sonship’ because I have no other word, but this means daughter-ship, sonship, a relationship between us and God which makes us His real children: not by adoption, although it begins in adoption, but it is fulfilled in reality.
And in the Church we have Christ Who is a vision of what man is, a human being is; but in the Church we have also ourselves, what we are; and we are, as I said in the beginning, incipiently, potentially the likes of Christ, but not yet fulfilled; all is given — it’s for us not only to receive, but to make all that is given bear fruit for us to attain the full measure of the stature of Christ of which Saint Paul speaks: to grow into His measure of humanity filled with Divinity.
And the Church, as far as we think of the Church in Christ, is simultaneously these two things: the perfect Body in Him, and the imperfect body in us; but ‘imperfect’ in a very different sense from ‘alien’, imperfect in a static sense: imperfect because it is not yet come to perfection, it is not yet fulfilled, it has not reached its greatness, but it is in motion towards it. And here, a word, I think of Saint Ephraim of Syria could be remembered, which I think is so important when he says that the Church is not the assembly of those who are already saints; it is a crowd of repenting sinners — and ‘repenting’ not in the sense of ‘bewailing their sins’, but tearing themselves away from all temptation, from all evil, from all Godlessness, from all self-centredness, from all rejection of one another, and turning their face Godwards, and moving Godwards.
And the condition for it, and here the quotation of Saint Seraphim is right who says that the only difference between a perishing sinner and one who grows into saintliness is determination; it is in our hands.
And so the Church has got these two polarities: on the one hand we see mankind, we see ourselves, we see the Church perfectly fulfilled, in all glory in the Person of Christ; and at the same time we are aware that we are still pilgrims, still on the way, and yet we are pilgrims. In what sense? In a sense in which our City, the place to which we belong is in God, the place to which we belong is the City of God, the place to which we belong is that fulfillment which we see in Christ, and that relationship that there is between Christ, the Son of God, and His — and our — Father.
This is the Church in motion, in becoming in us, already revealed in Him; in becoming, in which each of us has a total responsibility not only for himself, herself, but for the whole body and the whole destiny of mankind, because if one perishes, the whole is incomplete... This is something so great, and so frightening; no one can be satisfied or at peace, if he or she grows into God, while another person falls away, and drowns ever deeper: if one perishes, the whole body is lost.
You remember probably, how Moses was commanded by God to take the people of God from Egypt into the Promised Land; and what he said to the Lord was, ‘If You do not come with us, there is no point in our going!’ How wonderful, how daring a word, how beautiful a thing: if God doesn’t go with us, there is no point in the pilgrimage, we are no longer pilgrims — we are tramps. It is because we have a city, an abiding city, as the Apostle puts it, that we can on earth be pilgrims, in the sense that we do not belong to it completely, but we are sent into it: not of the world, yet in the world.
And that gives scope both to our struggle for saintliness, and, at the same time, for the awareness of the incompleteness, imperfection of the total body because each of its members is incomplete; and at the same time, of the fact that our incompleteness cannot destroy the wholeness of the Church, because the wholeness of the Church, God in man and man in God, is realised in the First-Born of the Church, in the Lord Jesus Christ.
In that sense, the Incarnation was an eschatological event; and the word ‘to eschaton’ in Greek means something which is either final, or decisive. Final it will be, decisive it is already, it has already happened, and it is still to happen. We are all already in Christ — but we must reach the full stature of Christ; the Church is still imperfect in its members, in its structures, in the quality of community which we represent, and yet, at the heart of it, there is the fullness of the divine victory.
But the Church is not only in Christ; the Church is also alive in the Spirit; the Holy Spirit that precedes from the Father, and Who is send by the Son, the Comforter. But not only the Comforter. The Comforter would be an outsider, One Who consoles us from our separation from Christ and the distance that separates us from God, our Father, the One Who would give us strength to fight, the One Who will give us the joy of fulfillment to the extent to which we already can experience it — this would still be an outsider; but the Holy Spirit is more intimately linked with us than this. The Lord sends us the Spirit, and we are called, again, in the words of the Apostle, we are — not only called, we are the dwelling place of the Spirit; He lives in us. He lives in us, fighting for us, in one of the English translations, moulding within us the image of Christ, speaking within us the words of sonship: Abba, Father!.. And when we are incapable of pronouncing these words of sonship consciously, still speaking to God in unutterable groanings, in the groanings of one who groans, and longs, and is blind, and cannot find his way, and is in fetters, and yet, who longs desperately for the only thing that can be his fulfillment while he does not know what this thing is; who feels that within himself there is a vastness which seems to be terrifying, a desert, and yet who feels that unless this desert comes to life, — he will die in this desert. And the Spirit teaches us this groaning, and revives in us the longing, and the hunger, and the thirst, makes us indeed to know ourselves as the parched earth, longing for the dew, and longing for the rain. And the same Spirit abides in each of us, in the same way in which each of us is a living member, a living limb of the body of Christ.
How do we relate then to Christ and the Spirit? There is in Saint Paul an image, that of the olive tree full of sap, full of life to which a little dying branch can be grafted; a dying branch which will be grafted to this tree and live by the sap which runs in it. The Tree is Christ; the sap — the Spirit, perhaps… But when we pursue this image, we see something which is both wonderful and tragic. If a gardener discovers a little twig that could live, and yet, is dying, he will detach it from its roots. At that moment, the ephemeral, the transitory, the precarious life which still existed in this little twig, runs out of it in drops of sap; it is death, more death than there was in the precarious life before, and a wound; and then, using his grafting knife, the gardener will cut into a branch of the life-giving tree, and tie the little twig and the life-giving branch wound to wound… And this will allow the little twig to live by the sap of the tree… The tree will give it life, but it will not make it different from what it is; this little branch which would have died, will not be made into what it is not: on the contrary, all its potentialities, all that it can be will be enhanced, fulfilled, brought to perfection, it will blossom out in all its potential glory… So are we linked with Christ: dying in Baptism, that is death to death, wound to wound, and becoming alive through our communion with Him; and in our terms, there is a moment when communion acquires a peculiarly great sense, mysterious and yet experientially clear to all of us to a certain extent: it is communion to the Holy Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist; it is the humanity of Christ to which we become partakers, a humanity which is filled with the Divinity of the Son of God.
And what happens to us is so close to what happens to the Bread and the Wine. God fills this Bread, God fills this Wine, they become His Body and His Blood — and yet they remain bread and wine, because God, when He unites Himself to the created, does not destroy what He has created: He fulfills it.
And in the end, the image which is the most adequate image of the Church when it is seen in Christ and in the Spirit, is perhaps that of the Burning Bush, the Bush which Moses saw in the desert aflame; aflame with the fire of God; aflame with the fire that did not consume, but which assimilated the bush to Himself, to make the Bush into a fire, and the fire identified with the Bush.
This is what the Church is in her essence, in her being, and in Christ and in the Spirit it relates in a way too mysterious to be spoken of perhaps, to the Father, because that is something for the age to come, when all things will be fulfilled, when all things will have come to fruition, when God shall be all in all. This is the image of what the Church is in her essence, in her nature, but also in her becoming, because this is going on, this is happening in each of us, in all of us: it is happening, and we are not sufficiently aware of it! We look at one another, and what do we see? We see the most habitual persons; we recognise one another, we call each other by our secular names; even our baptismal names in a way are names of history, of time: there will be a moment when each of us will know his or her name. The Book of Revelation speaks of it when it says that at the end of time, each of us will receive a name which no-one knows but God and he who receives it; perhaps is it the name by which each of us is called when God created him, calls, loves him into existence — I do not know; but a name that will be us, totally, and we will be it totally.
This we can see already fulfilled in the Angels of God. You know, that the Angels of God are many, and each of them has a name; and each of the names sums up what he represents in relation to God: ‘No-One Like God’, ‘The Strength of God’, ‘God Heals’, ‘God is Light’, ‘Prayer to God’, ‘The Blessing of God’, ‘The Ascent into God’… And if we only could see ourselves, however little, in those terms, then we could see in ourselves something so great and so holy that we would treat ourselves in a way in which we do not treat ourselves habitually.
And I want to conclude by reading to you a passage from a book called “The Different Drum” by Scott Peck who is an American psychologist, who starts a book on community by a legend.
The story concerns a monastery that had fallen upon hard times. Once a great Order, as a result of waves of antimonastic persecution in the XVII and XVIII centuries, and the rise of secularism in the XIX c. all its Branch-Houses were lost, and it had become decimated to the extent that there were only five monks left in the decaying Mother-House: the Abbot, and four others, all over 70 in age; clearly, it was a dying Order.
In the deep wood surrounding the monastery there was a little hut that a Rabbi from a nearby town occasionally used for a hermitage. Throughout many years of prayer and contemplation the old monks had become a bit psychic, so they could always sense when the Rabbi was in his hermitage: The Rabbi is in the woods! The Rabbi is in the woods again — they would whisper to each other… As he agonised over the imminent death of his Order, it occurred to the Abbot at one such time to visit the hermitage, and ask the Rabbi if by some possible chance he could offer any advice that might save the monastery? The Rabbi welcomed the Abbot at his hut, but when the Abbot explained the purpose of his visit, the Rabbi could only commiserate with him: I know how it is, he exclaimed! The Spirit has gone out of the people — it is the same in my town! Almost no-one comes in the Synagogue any more… So, the old Abbot and the old Rabbi wept together. Then, they read parts of the Torah and quietly spoke of deep things. The time came when the Abbot had to leave. They embraced each other: It has been a wonderful thing that we should meet after all these years, the Abbot said; but I have still failed in my purpose for coming here; is there nothing you can tell me, no piece of advice you can give me that would help me save my dying Order? — No, I am sorry, the Rabbi responded; I have no advice to give; the only thing I can tell you is that the Messaiah is one of you.
When the Abbot returned to the monastery, his fellow-monks gathered around him to ask: Well, what did the Rabbi say? — He couldn’t help, the Abbot answered; we just wept and read the Torah together; the only thing he did say just as I was leaving, — it was something cryptic — was that the Messaiah is one of us: I don’t know what he meant.
In the days, and weeks, and months that followed the old monks pondered (on) this, and wondered, whether there were any possible significance to the Rabbi’s words? — The Messaiah is one of us? Could he possibly have meant one of us, monks, here, at the monastery? If that’s the case — which one? Do you suppose, he meant the Abbot? — Yes! If he meant anyone, he probably meant Father Abbot! He has been our leader for more than a generation… On the other hand, he might have meant Brother Thomas; certainly, Brother Thomas is a holy man! Everyone knows that Thomas is a man of light… Certainly he could not have meant Brother Elred — Elred gets crotchety at times; but come to think of it: even though he is a thorn in people’s sides, when you look back on it, Elred is virtually always right! Often — very right! Maybe the Rabbi meant Brother Elred?.. But surely not Brother Philipp — Philipp is so passive! A real nobody! But then, almost mysteriously, he has a gift for somehow always being there when you need him! He just magically appears by your side — maybe Philipp is the Messaiah?.. Of course, the Rabbi didn’t mean me, he couldn’t possibly have meant me, I am just an ordinary person! Yet, supposing he did, supposing I am the Messaiah — o, God, not me! I couldn’t be that much for You — could I?.. As they contemplated in this manner, the old monks began to [treat?] each other with extraordinary respect on the off-chance that one among them might be the Messaiah; and on the off-chance that each monk himself might be the Messaiah they began to treat themselves with extraordinary respect… Because the forest in which it was situated was beautiful, it so happened that people still occasionally came to visit the monastery, to picnic on its tiny lawn, to wander along some of its paths; and even now and then to go into the dilapidated chapel to meditate. As they did so, without even being conscious of it, they sensed this aura of extraordinary respect that now began to surround the five old monks and seemed to radiate out from them and permeate the atmosphere of the place. There was something strangely attractive, even compelling about it! Hardly knowing why, they began to come back to the monastery more frequently to picnic, to play, — to pray! They began to bring their friends to show them this special place — and their friends brought their friends… Then it happened that some of the younger men who came to visit the monastery started to talk more and more with the old monks; after a while, one asked if he could join them, then another, and another… So within a few years the monastery had once again become a thriving Order, and thanks to the Rabbi’s gift, a vibrant (centre?) of light and spirituality in the realm.
I will end my talk at this point, and leave you to meditate the meaning of this; and if we could achieve something of this attitude to one another, if we could begin to ask ourselves: is so-and-so not the Messenger of God? Is he, or she not, by any chance, the one who reveals Christ, God, man to me? — we might perhaps begin to create a Christian community.
VIII 31 May 1990
In my last talk I spoke of the Church and tried to give you an image of the Church as it is invisibly already fulfilled, already in full glory. Because in the Church the Lord Jesus Christ, true man, is also true God, and in Him we see all things already fulfilled, we see our humanity exemplarily before us in all its greatness and splendor.
We also see in His Incarnation, and not only we see but the whole created world sees
itself, all its materiality united to the Godhead in glory. And in the holy Ascension of Christ we see humanity and all things created entering into the depths of the Divine mystery and man sitting at the right hand of Glory. Yet, on earth what is already given, the victory which is already won must be assimilated step by step by everyone of us from generation to generation, and in this we can see also clearly that the Church is both already fulfilled in Christ, in process of fulfillment but so close to the goal in the saints of God and at the same time so frail, so much in becoming in each of us and in all of us. And I think we can apply to the Church, that is to us, the words of Christ that the light shines in the darkness but that the darkness cannot quench it, cannot put it out. Because in each of us there is this seed of life eternal, this spark of eternity which nothing can quench, nothing can destroy, not anymore than the image of God imprinted in each of us can ever be undone. It is holy and it is within each of us. And so in each of us there is already the image quickened, made dynamically powerful by our union with Christ through Baptism and filled again dynamically, powerfully in the mystery of Chrismation by the Holy Spirit. We are already an extension through centuries and thousands of years, through all the space of the earth, we are already an extension of the incarnate presence of Christ. At the same time, we are not yet complete and yet fulfilled. And there is in the Church this sort of duality: on the one hand we are right and we are within our right to say all we say about the Church in its greatness, holiness, unity with God: that it is an organism of love, that it is a body unique. And at the same time we must realize that in each of us and in us collectively it is still in motion and not obligatory in motion towards victory because at every moment we waver between life and death, between eternity and time, between God and darkness. And yet we can be sure of the victory.
Now, what I want to speak about in this context is not of darkness, is not even of imperfection as such, but of the fact, of the necessity in which we are of achieving more than we possess already, and achieving it by the grace of God, yes, but also by our own efforts. Because there is what the Greeks called a synergy, a working together between God and us, and St. Paul already said it when he said that we are co-workers of God, and co-workers of God not only in and for the salvation of the world but in and for our own fulfillment. We must grow to the full measure of the stature of Christ. This is a command, this is not optional or if you prefer it is not a command, it is a call. God saying to us «You will never be fulfilled unless you reach that measure, and you will never reach it unless I do not help you. Without Me you can do nothing». And again St. Paul hoped for strengths in order to achieve his vocation and fulfill his mission, and was told that he needs not strength, that «My strength deploys itself in weakness», not in slackness, not in cowardice, not in laziness, but in surrender, in flexibility, in transparency. And having discovered that, discovered that he is weak and that he can do nothing of himself, later he exclaims: «And yet all things are possible onto me in the strength of Christ who sustains me.” This is our condition. Indeed we are not all of the stature of Paul but we are all moving in the same direction as Paul. And it is so encouraging to think that the greatest need the same help as a weakest, the greatest saints up to the last moment can fail their vocation but at no moment are they left bereft of God’s help.
Those of you who were here last time may remember that I read a passage, an introductory prologue, to a book by Scott Peck called «The Different Drum». In brief it is a story of group of monks who were the last remnant of a flourishing monastery that had gradually died and they were the last remnants, no one was coming. And in trouble, in worry one of them went into the woods and met a rabbi who had a hut there, and asked for advice: how to revive this monastery, what to do about it? And the rabbi had nothing to offer except that he said a very strange thing. He said: «There is only one thing I can tell you: one of you is the Messiah.” And this monk returned to his 3 or 4 brothers and told them what he had heard, and they puzzled. Was it really true that one of them was the Messiah?! Who could it be? Could it be him, or the other, or the other? Or they asked themselves: could it be myself? And because everyone of them, including the one that was asking the question, could be the Messiah, they began to look at one another with new eyes, see one another differently, treat one another differently, treat one another as though this brother, that brother could possibly be the Messiah and therefore, deserved all the care, all the veneration, all respect, all the service, all the love, all the forgiveness, all the forbearance, that the Messiah had a right to. Although it was not only reverence and love, but also forbearance and patience because each of them was imperfect and needed the support of the brotherhood to grow into the full measure of being the Messiah. And they began to treat themselves accordingly: «What if I am the Messiah, potentially? How worshipfully I must treat myself.” And the result was that a new relationship was established between all of them, so that the people who came saw a brotherhood that they had never seen before, people who treated one another as though there were God in their midst, the Anointed One in their midst, and behaved as though they might themselves might be the Anointed One, the Christ. And gradually more people came, settled around them.
But the point is not so much about what happened as a result of this discovery, but of the use we can make of these thoughts. We know, we proclaim, we profess that each of us is made in the image of God, that each of us has got the Divine image imprinted in him that cannot be erased, can be profaned, but cannot be destroyed. We all know that because we have believed or sustained the belief which was offered us when we still were incapable of choosing, because we believe in Christ, because we were baptized into Christ, into His death and into His Resurrection, because we have been filled with the Spirit of God in the way in which Christ was filled in His humanity, when He was baptized by John in the Jordan, that we can both behave and treat ourselves accordingly. We do not realize this because of course it is easy to see in each other and in ourselves how imperfect, what a distorted image we are, as though we saw one another and ourselves in a distorting mirror. You know this passage in the Gospel that «if your eye is clear you can see but if it is not clear, everything is distorted». Well, that is it. Our sight is like one of those strange curved mirrors that give a completely distorted, ridiculous or frightening image of what the person who stands in front of them. We must learn to see in ourselves the Image and in others the Image. It is very important to be able to learn to see it in ourselves because if we cannot see through the twilight, through the darkness, through the distortion, through the sinfulness, through the frailty, through all the wrong that can be in us, if we are incapable of looking deeper than that and see in ourselves the Image, we will never be able to see it in others, because the opacity is greater, there will be two opacities, as it were, to pierce, our own and that of the other person. So, when Christ says «love your neighbor as yourself», it is something absolutely central. We must learn to love ourselves in order to be able to love our neighbor. But to love ourselves does not mean to wish to gratify all our whims, give way to all our desires and so forth, no, it means to look into ourselves and see this beauty which God sees in us, which is imprinted in us, and rejoice in it, and feed it, and strengthen it, and free it from fetters and give it full freedom, and support it, and in this process discover the beauty of every other person, through, in spite of all that is repulsive, all that is difficult, all that we wish we could reject. This is not an easy task, only saints managed this. Only Serafim Sarovski could say to every person who came: «My joy». We can’t say that to one another. We can say this at times more or less fully to one or another person but we cannot look at one another, at each other and say, «You are my joy». A French sister, Elizabeth of the Trinity in her diaries says: «Lord, I cannot spend much time in chapel, because I am busy with people. But I know that each of them is an image of You and I can worship You in each person while I am working with them». That is something we could do, if we set out to do it, if apriori we said: «I will meet with darkness, I will meet with imperfection, I will meet with things that repel me, that I condemn with all the fibers of my heart and yet I will believe that beyond this there is the hidden Image.” Saint Ephrem of Syria in one of his writing says that the whole Kingdom of God is at the core of each person. God places it there when He creates one of us and the purpose of one’s life is to dig and dig into depths until we reach this point where the treasure is hidden. This applies to each of us but is applies also to us in relation to others. And this is the only way in which we can however incipiently, however imperfectly, but with true reality try and create a community of people which is not a mockery, a mockery against the very notion of community and against the Church whiсh is community, a community vaster than we are, because God is intrinsic to it. It’s a body simultaneously and equally human and Divine in Christ, in the Spirit, in the Father, and incipiently already in us. Those of you who have read or begun to read «The Different Drum» will have discovered that Peck points out to the building of a community, how one can do it when it does not exist, and he says that to begin with, every community of people, every assembly of people is a pseudo-community, is a false community. I will not repeat his argument without comments so don’t take it as quotations from him. The mistakes are mine and the thoughts are his. A community is defined by having something in common. What have we got in common? We have got in common our God and our faith, that is certainty about things unseen, but this certainty about things unseen, as I said a moment ago, should extent to the image of God in each of us. We have also in common God’s call to become not only an assemblage of people, but to become a Body, a living Body, so that each of us perceives the other as a limb of a body to which he belongs as another limb. And Paul says, if one limb suffers the whole body suffers, we know that when we suffer physically or mentally. So here is a problem for us. We have all that, what do we make of it and why? We are not a community in the full sense of the word, because what we have is an objective knowledge, things are objectively there, but subjectively they do not affect us sufficiently, with completeness. We have been speaking of ecology in Effingham. Well, we live within a world, but we don’t integrate it to our spiritual experience, but we do not integrate even our neighbor to it, there is no such thing. And why? Partly because we are used to glib relationships that present no danger for one another. We have learned, all of us, the whole of humanity except at moments of crisis and violence, we have all learned that if we avoid to speak bluntly, to tell the truth as it is, if we learn enough ways of avoiding to hurt and even more, if we learn to move between rocks so as never be hurt ourselves, we can have such smooth, painless relationships with one another and these painless relationships allow us to be quite happy with one another until we discover that we are in a state of crisis. And then we see that the way in which we have been relating to others does not allow us now to relate with such completeness as to be helped and vice versa, if necessary, to help another. Fear of being hurt, fear of being exposed, fear of being known is a thing that prevents us from opening ourselves but also from accepting that another person should open herself to us, because it is frightening. I have seen it so often and so much, and so painfully when people come to visit the sick, a dying person, for instance, or a person who will die eventually and who is in a hospital bed and one can see and perceive the fear in the person: «How shall I cope, how shall I face it, how shall I relate, so as not to hurt and not to be involved definitively in something which I cannot face?” And so often I’ve heard a visitor say: «How are you today?» And seeing the expression of the eyes, the tentative, frightened tune of the voice, the sick person says: «Thank you, quite well in fact.» It is untrue, but it is the response to the untruth which is within the question. And then the other person out of fear and with the joy of being let off would say, «Oh, I am so happy that you feel better». And this is the end. There will be never any help received and any help given.
But this is something which affects so many of our relationships in the whole world indeed, but it is particularly painful, untrue in the Church which is meant to be a place of mutual trust, of the kind of love which is described by Christ in the Gospel and so forth. What is it that prevents us? The fear of being wounded that prevents us from being open, the fear of being seen as we are, instead of presenting an image of what we are. And at times to be seen as we are is the only way in which we can place ourselves in such a situation that we can begin to change freely, daringly, joyfully, because there is nothing to hide anymore.
I remember a man in prison, I used to visit Wandsworth/?/ prison quite a lot over a period, and one of the men who was there, an Orthodox, said to me: «I am so happy, I have been found out, arrested, put into prison.» And I said to him with great surprise: «What you are happy about?» He said: «I was a professional thief, but I realized how wrong I was. But whenever I tried to change my ways, I saw that people looked at me with suspicion: what is wrong with him that he is becoming different from what he was or from the man we knew or thought he was? And so I did not dare change radically because it would have exposed me and I was afraid of it. And then I was caught. And people looked and said: «Oh, that is what he was, that is what he is and perhaps his efforts to do something different were his attempts at changing”. And instead of simple rejection people looked at me, he said, with curiosity. I was not simply a thief; I was a thief with a problem. And he said, «I will do my time in prison, three years, and then I will go back to the same place, but I can change radically: I have no reason to hide anything.” And so often it would be such a help if we could do that, perhaps not to a whole community, because we are not ready for it, we are not mature enough for it but at least with regard to a small group of people – two, three gathered together in God’s name, in whose midst we could say: «Look, that is what I am, can you carry me or not?»
You know, the Early Church had no private confession, there was only a public confession. When someone felt, that he had become alien to the Church by what he was or what he did, he came to the meeting of the Christians and in the presence of all he said: «This is what I am. Can you accept me as I am and are you prepared to carry me? — because I cannot promise, simply because I renounce inwardly my past, to be able to live up to this change of heart”. And then it was for the congregation to say: “Yes, we give you gratuitously our trust, we will support you, we will carry you. You come back to us whenever you stumble or slip. We make ourselves responsible for you, not because we are superior, better than you, but because we are one living body of people and if you perish, we all perish, in the same way, in which a body that undergoes an amputation is no longer whole. This is so important. It cannot be done in the vastness of Christendom, but it can be done between 2, 3 people, 5 people, 10 people who would be prepared to say: «Look, I have hated you all my life” or: «Look, this is what I have been hiding from you ever since we have met. Can you help me out? Can you help me out?»
I have told several of you on occasions the story of a man who in the 20’s came to confession to father Alexander Elchaninov at one of the Russian Student Christian Movement conferences. He had been an officer during the First World War, during the Civil War, he had become a hardened man; and he said to father Alexander : «I can confess before you all me sins, but a thing I cannot do is to feel sorry for them. My heart is of stone, I can give you a list of them, tell you that intellectually I reject them, but that is all I can do.» And father Alexander said: «No, don’t do that. It will be no use, because unless your heart breaks, unless your heart melts, your confession will give no fruits.
I will tell you what to do. When all the conference will be gathered together for the Liturgy, before the service begins you’ll come forward and you will make your confession in the presence of all those who have gathered here. This is your salvation.” And the man accepted the challenge. And before the Liturgy he came out and explained what he was about to do. And he began to speak. What he expected was to see people recall in horror, turn away in disgust, look with coldness. What he saw were people who looked at him with all the compassion they were capable of, all the admiration they had for a man who for the sake of integrity and resurrection, his own, could speak such truth in their presence. And seeing these open hearts, seeing the way he was listened to with reverence, with awe, he burst into tears, and he could make his confession, and his heart was melted.
This is an example of what should be possible in our midst. It is not, you could not do that possibly in a parish at large, but again and again I say: we can to do it with one another, to one another, in groups. I do not mean to have special groups of people who pour out their souls to one another. But there must be in our midst this possibility. And then the pseudo community which we are, of people who are well protected against each other and well protected even against themselves, could become an incipient community at least. And what happens to us when we protect ourselves, is something which happens to the corals. You know, the corals are very frail organism that live in the sea. They are so frail that for their defense they secrete a shell, this beautiful coral colored shell and they are safe within it until, soon, they die, because what they needed was the water that surrounded them, but this water was both their food, their milieu, but also full of danger, their death. And they chose protection, and they died of it.
And this happens to all of us to a certain degree. We must accept to become vulnerable, we must accept to be both judged and saved, we must accept one another. St. Paul says: receive one another as Christ has received you. How does He receive us? He receives us as we are, not conditionally. He receives us simply because we come to Him, and when we do not come, He comes to us not claiming our confidence, but being there until we feel we can speak to Him. Openness means to be vulnerable, and this can be done only if we want desperately to reach wholeness and integrity. We can be such beautiful massifs of corals and people would look and say: «What a forest of corals and how beautiful they are!» And they are dead. That they will not say, because they will see only the exterior. And this is a problem in each human community, but in the Church it is a problem that stands before us as an absolute challenge because unless we attempt achieving it, we are failed in becoming the Church singly and collectively. Of all people I’m probably the worst in that respect, because I’m a lone wolf by character, I have been trained to be alone to function. I am aware of that. But we must try.
I will end at this point my talk. Think of it, if it makes any sense, and then next time I will try to go deeper into this question of — how can we from being a pseudo community, harmonious, gleam/glimp ?, well-behaved, become a community, have a common life, a real human life within us and the life of God within us.
IX 28 June 1990
This is the last in the series of talks which I have chosen to give on “churchianity” versus Christianity. The aim was to look at the ideal which is offered us by Christ and in Christ, which is revealed to us also in the lives of the saints, and contrasted with the way in which we live. Not in the sense that, of course, we cannot live up to the saintliness of the great heroes of the spirit, or that, although Christ says to us, “I give you an example for you to follow”, that we can imagine that we can give an adequate image of Him; but in the sense that, in more than one way, when collectively or individually we do not correspond to the ideal which is offered us, it is not because of our weakness or our imperfection, but because we make the wrong choices; because we aim at something which is less than our glory; because we try to build a society which is less than the Church. And this is why I insisted so heavily on what makes us so different from the ideal which we proclaim. It is good that we are aware of this ideal. It is good that we proclaim it as perfectly as we can, with the greatest possible wholness and integrity and beauty. But then we must do all that depends on us to achieve it, and achieving an ideal is always a very costly thing. It is not in vain that Christ says, “If anyone wishes to follow Me, let him renounce himself, let him turn away from himself, let him forget the exclusive interest which he has in himself. Let him look beyond himself, let him look Godward, let him look at Me, says Christ, let him look at all those people who have been faithful to our Lord, who took up their cross and walked step after step in the footsteps of the incarnate God. Let us look at people around us and see them with new eyes, with eyes that are capable of discerning good and evil. And let us build together – not a society of men, which is more livable, perhaps, than societies that have been attempted in the past; but a society which is perhaps eternal, a society in the making, a society which may at times be chaotic, but which aims at wholness. The German writer Nietzsche once said, “One must carry a chaos within oneself if one wishes to give birth to a star”. This applies not to individuals alone, perhaps less to individuals than to societies, to groups of people. I have spoken last time of the false community which we are, which all communities are to a greater or lesser extent, communities which are characterized by the fact that everyone does all he can or she can not to be wounded and therefore locks himself or herself up. There is a self-being that we do not disclose to ourselves or one another, either for better or worse, but we cannot either communicate to one another. We are well protected, [?] we are we are hard. We are like crustaceas. There may be immense frailty inside, but it is inaccessible from the outside.
But this is not all there is to it. In a false community everyone protects himself against everyone else. Everyone tries not to be known, except in ways he or she chooses. Everyone tries to work out ways in which all relationships will be smooth. This is not community. There is in the writings of St. Hermes, one of the seventy disciples of Christ, a vision: he sees the angels of God building the city of God, the new Jerusalem; and he sees that there are, that they chose square stones with sharp edges, and place them next to one another, cementing them together. And then there are stones which seem to be so beautiful in their material, so smooth in their shape – round, oval — and they are rejected. Because it is only those stones that can be fitted together and cemented together that can be used for the building of these walls of the Heaven Jerusalem.
And when we try to create a society in which everyone of us is safe from the other, aren’t we creating a society of people who are smooth, [?], rounded and which can in no way be fitted together with others? What is needed then is a hammer that will break the smoothness and reshape them.
But this is only one side of the problem, there is another side. No one of us is capable of enduring this complete aloneness. No one is capable of being locked in to himself. No one of us is capable not to see in others those features which frighten and cause us to shut ourselves in. And so suspiciousness grows, fear grows, dislike develops, hatred appear. And this cannot be contained within one person or another, it must have expression one way or another.
The true expression is given us by Christ in the Gospel: If you have ought against your brother, go and tell him. If he refuses to listen, speak to him in the presence of two or three witnesses; if then again he pays no heed to your words, tell the whole community. And if he then refuses to listen, then only, but only then let he become to you a stranger.
This is the way in which we may break through our fears, our suspicions, our dislikes, our hatreds. But instead of this the false community has developed other methods of getting off one’s chest these various emotions. They may be simply evil: it is gossip, it is slander — when 2, 3, 5, more or less people who have a grudge against another person or a dislike or hatred, crowd together to say about the person who they dislike all they are not in a position to say to this person face to face or in presence of witnesses. Gossip around us ripes, slander develops, and divisions increase, because around every person who has a ought against anyone, a nucleus of people forms who share in that attitude. And then there is perhaps a more monstrous way of acting, a ‘pious’ way in which slander takes a face of piety, in which a person says to another ,“I know how much you love so and so, respect so and so, and yet I have discovered something evil about him or her; and I want you to pray for this person. And then comes the description — the flood of all the evil that has accumulated in the mind and heart of the other person. And this [?] the door of compassion, of piety, of brotherliness that evil becomes rampant. I am ready to end or [?]
I have read lately talk with it … a passage from a book that Scott Peck, describing a small monastic community that was dying out and that remark made by a rabbi which was met by the superior who was sharing with him his agony about the community. “I don’t know what you should do about it, but I can tell you one thing for sure: one of the five of you who remain is the Messiah”. And then the story goes, that each of them began to ask himself a question: is this brother, that brother of mine, the Messiah who I am incapable of recognizing? Could I possibly be the Messiah?.. And the result was that each of these five brethren began to look at one another with new eyes, treat one another as the possible Messiah, and behave also, each of them, as though they were the possible Messiah. And the whole situation changed. A relationship grew between them that had never been there before. They were not unaware of what was wrong in themselves or in others; only they wondered — is it possible that despite all such and such characteristics, that I see so obviously, my brother can be God’s anointed one, the one that saved my soul?..
If we could look at one another in this spirit, oh, we can of course, do that easily when we are away from each other, we can do that easily when theoretically we know that each of us is made in the image of God, that this image is imprinted deeply in everyone’s soul, that if I don’t see it, it’s because it is partly distorted [?], face, partly defaced and partly hidden. But I can believe that it’s there, as I can believe, strange though it may sound to myself, that I also have in me the image of God.
But this is something which we can do theoretically. There are other things which we must do actively. Because we know that theoretically, all of us, but it does not teach us in fact, in actual fact, to behave to one another as though we were icons of Christ. Can you imagine what would happen if we were given an icon, badly damaged, desecrated. We would take it in our hands with both a deep sense of reverence and a deep sense of compassion. We’d look with the sense of horror at the damage and with the sense of awe at what remains of the holy face of God. There are moments when we can do that concerning one another. There are moments when we are at peace, in a strange peace which God can give, which nothing else can give. And then we become unaware of ourselves and can see another person, and see both the damage and the beauty, the little, perhaps, of what is left of the glory – and the darkness. And instead of judging, condemning, hating the darkness, deep compassion. This happens to every priest who hears a confession. This happens when someone opens his or her heart to another person, and when they discover that apart from the ugliness there is suffering, there is pain, there’s agony of mind – not agony of mind concerning the circumstances of one’s life, but the agony of mind about being as we are, being as I am.
If we could look at one another and see that in the darkness there’s a flicker of light, and that the person who is plunged into this darkness cries desperately, longs desperately for this flicker of light to extend, to pervade the darkness, to annihilate it. We would then hear the cry of agony much more loudly than we see the darkness itself. If we only could realize that there is no evil in a person which is not at the same time a suffering in this person. Not, perhaps, the kind of suffering which we would like to see in this person – repentance, broken-heartedness, humility; but the pain and the suffering and the agony of a person who feels that he or she is drowning in evil and does not know how to save himself or herself. We could at times see that better if we’re determined to see, but we are not determined to see; and this is why churchianity overwhelms Christianity; this is where what is pagan in us speaks louder than what is Christ in us.
And so there are two sides in this process. We are told that we should not judge, but we are not told that we should not assess things. We are not told to confuse good and evil, light and darkness, truth and untruth, and so forth. We are called, to use the words of St. Paul, to learn to discern the spirits; to look at situations and see them not for what they are visibly, ostensibly, but see them as God sees them. This is a truly symbol of the Old Testament: it is a history of mankind written not from the point of view of a historian, not from the point of view of [?] onlooker or scholar. It is a history of mankind written as God sees it. And there are passages which are so puzzling: king so and so lived and reigned 26 years; and in his time the Jews began to worship on the hills, and the punishment of God came upon the nations. What is the logic of such a statement? Is there nothing in the 26 years of reign to be mentioned except this triviality of the place where the Jews worshipped? And why has punishment come? Simply because in these 26 years the Jews had begun to worship in a pagan way on the summit of the hills, and the King had allowed them to fall away from the true faith into the faith of the evil and it was the end.
If we could look at one another and at ourselves in the same spirit, look at one another to the extent to which we can – and we can to a very great extent – look as God looks, and assess evil where there is evil and in the name of false charity and false Christianity not to shut our eyes at it, and certainly not call by the name of good what is simply evil. But at the same time see evil as the greatest misery that can wound a person, come upon a person. See, [perhaps/person?], that to be sinful, to be evil in one way or another, to one degree or another, is the greatest tragedy – then we would be able to see evil with compassion, to see evil with the desire to help, and not to reject. We would see that our task is to help and to heal, not to turn away like the Levite or the priest who passed by the man who had fallen into the hands of the robbers on the way from Jerusalem to Jericho.
But then there are two sides to the problem. On the one hand, we must be prepared to open ourselves and be seen; and this may be a very frightening thing – and I’m not speaking of being seen in the sense of other people seeing the bad actions, the evil actions of our life, but ugliness of our face, the degree to which the image of God has not only been simply distorted, but has become a caricature in us. And the other thing is the readiness to look and to accept. It is accepting on both sides to be vulnerable, to be wounded very deeply by what we see, and be wounded very deeply by being seen. Are we prepared for that? It is only if we are prepared for all these complex motions that we can gradually break through to one another, break through and meet. Meet with the sense of awe, meet with the sense of horror, meet with the sense of compassion. Meet with tears of shame and tears of pity. To what extent are we capable of this? Willing, prepared for this? This is the main question which we must ask ourselves. It may be done at times in a small circle of people who already trust one another – it may be the family, it may be a small group of friends, it may be any unit of people who have grown to trust one another, trust one another enough to say, “Look, I will tell you what I am, and I’m not what you imagine I am”. To someone who would be able to open himself to the wound or disillusionment of horror, of pain, and, at the same time, on both sides to have a sense of deep gratitude, because one would be liberated, would be freed from imprisonment, from being a prison of self but also a prison of the blackmail of equal tell the one — I shall also be summoned, says the adversary to us, until one day we stand before God and he also stands there, but this time as our accuser; and, on the other hand, the friend, the brother, the sister, who will be prepared to receive the shock, to receive the wound of discovering the ugliness of him or her, in whom he saw only beauty, harmony. This is not possible to do in a wider community, as our community is. Sad, but we can’t trust one another at large. We cannot trust that everyone of us will listen to someone’s confession with compassion, with broken-heartedness, with reverence, with prayer, with readiness to carry the other person’s burden unto salvation, indeed to carry the other person as good shepherd carries the lost sheep, or as our Savior who carries the cross, but not only for a while. It may be sufficient: Simon of Cyrene helped Christ carry his cross, but it is Christ who brought it to Calvary, and on Calvary Christ had to die upon it. This is also something which is within the possible. It may terrify us if we imagine that we would have to do this alone, but it is not alone that we will do it. There is a story about two martyrs of North Africa. They were in prison. One of them was pregnant, and the time came for her to give birth to her child, and she cried and wailed. And the guard of the prison laughed at her and said, “Look at the misery you are for a thing as natural as childbirth. What will you do when beasts will tear you apart in the circus?” And the saint said to him, “I am now suffering natural suffering, but when I will be in the circus, Christ will be in me”. And indeed, she died the serene and tragic death of the martyr. In her the words of St. Paul came true that ‘all things are possible unto me in the power or Christ who sustains me’.
So we could begin to create cells of true community within our wider community, not by clogging together among people who are already akin to one another, but also including into this people who we find difficult. Not the people whom we cannot carry, but people whose burden we feel we could attempt to carry; open ourselves and allow another to open himself; suspend judgment. When things become too difficult, too terrifying, say – “Look, stop. I can’t endure it anymore. Let me live with what you have already disclosed to me. Let me pray about it. Let me try to learn and accept what I now know about you without disclosing to me more that I can’t…”. And it would apply also to the other one saying “I will tell you as much as I can, not everything. Because I’m still afraid – afraid of you, afraid of rejection, afraid of increasing alienation, afraid of increasing solitude and loneliness, afraid of creating contempt and hatred where there was only simple indifference”. It’s a difficult process.
But then what is our ideal? An ideal identified once in a small leaflet by professor Zander called “The social implications of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity”, where he said that the Holy Trinity is the perfect image of what a society should be. Three persons, each of them united to each other without intrusion, without rejection. The problem of the third one is a touch stone of the community. Can we accept the third one?
And so, in this last talk what I would like to say as a conclusion is that I’ve tried to present to you various aspects of our church life which are legitimate, but which, instead of being an expression, full of beauty, of the life, the common life of the church, have become self-sufficient; divine beauty revealed to us becoming aesthetics; rules of life which are commandments of life, which are ways in which one can live, becoming rules that kill life. And communities which are so smooth, because there is no acceptance and no rejection of one another, only mutual protection against each other, and self-protection. I’ve spoken so often of the Holy Trinity, reminding you of what St. Gregory of Nazian says that God is three Persons, because only three persons can be an image of perfect love, or the exultation of oneness and a total readiness to lay down one’s life, the Cross and the Resurrection – simultaneous because a moment comes when the Cross is the sign of victory, not the instrument of defeat.
So what I suggest – to myself, to all of you: let us make an attempt at, if not achieving, at least at attempting the kind of relationship, out of which can develop a community. How beautiful it would be, if beginning with small nuclei, with small groups, with two, with three – the barriers of estrangement, of rejection, of fear, of hatred, of indifference could gradually melt or be broken through. If we accepted to be vulnerable so that we should not be frightening; if we accepted to be open, to receive and to give — in truth. If we think of the Church as an organism, simultaneously and equally human and divine, in which the fullness of God abides and all that is human is in the making. If we could think of ourselves as being limbs of one body, the destiny of which depends on the destiny of each, if we realized that no one of us can hope to be saved without the others – how creative our community could be.
Well, this is all I wanted to say on the subject. What I suggest as further exercise as it were; there are a couple of books which you could read between now and the autumn. I’ve already mentioned “The Different Drum” by Scott Peck. You could have read in the newsletter revealed by Helen Leon on The Road Less Traveled.
There’s also another book which perhaps could be of great interest to all of us. This is a sequel to The Road Less Traveled. Groups of people took it seriously, took seriously also the meetings which Scott Peck organized, and worked according to the lines he had indicated and produced a collected …(обрыв звука) attempts. I think it’s called a sequel to this book, or some such title. Read it, reflect on it, and see what can be done. It is worth creating groups of people who will try and achieve; small communities within the larger community that will later coalesce, enframe (?inflame) [pervade?] the whole community , and then we will really become the Church.
When the autumn comes, I think what we could do is to have 1-2-3 meetings without a talk, meetings at which (as we have done…) everyone would stand or speak in turns of the effect of creating, thinking, sharing, discussing with others this question of a community which must become an icon of the Holy Trinity.
Perhaps it will help us
Well, the meeting is about to end. Shall I require a few moments and then pray.
O Lord, I know not what to ask of Thee. Thou loveth me more than I know how to love, even myself. Help me to see my real needs which are concealed from me. I dare not ask either a cross, or consolation. I can only wait on Thee. My heart is open to Thee. Visit and help me, for Thy great mercy’s sake. Strike me and heal me, cast me down and raise me up. I worship in silence Thy holy will, Thy inscrutable ways. I offer myself as a sacrifice to Thee. I could all but trust in Thee. I have no other desire than to fulfill Thy will. Teach me how to pray. Pray Thou Thyself in me.
O Lord, absolve, remit, forgive our transgressions, whether wittingly or unwittingly committed, whether in word, in deed, in thought, whether by day or night, forgive us all. Thy Lord art merciful and Thy loveth mankind. Forgive, O Lord, those who hate and wrong us. Do good to those who are doers of good. Grant the petitions of our brethren and sisters in prayers which are for their salvation and eternal life. Visit those who are sick, and heal them; guard those at sea; travel with those who travel; look down in mercy at those who are in prisons; give Thy support and guidance to our rulers; to those who help us and are merciful to us grant forgiveness for sins; on those who charge us unworthy as we are to pray for them – have mercy, according to Thy great mercy.
Remember, O Lord, our parents, our brethren, our sisters, who had fallen at sea, and give them rest. … Remember, O Lord, those who bring … fruits, do good works in Thy holy churches and grant them all their petitions that are from the good of eternal life. ….and lonely, sinful, unworthy selves. And lead us into the path of Thy commandments, by the prayers of Thy merciful Mother and of all Thy saints. Thou art blessed from ages to ages. Amen.
Most glorious Ever Virgin Mother of Christ our God, bring our prayers onto the Son of God and by Thee let Him save our souls.
O Father, Thou art my hope, O Son, Thou art my refuge, O Holy Spirit, Thou art my protection, O Holy Trinity, glory be to Thee. Amen.