Archpresbyter Father Michael Pomazansky
Translated by S. Larin and Natalia Semyanko
Signs from above. The soul reaches out toward God. Religion ó joy. God ó not a subject for debate. Why we "walk by faith, not by sight?" Faith. Mental wolves. When there is no one to thank. Does life exist? Integrity of life and world vision. Mystery in lifeís experience. Staidness of the soul. Forces of nature. Flame from a flame. Atheism. The world ó reflection of Godís Grace. Life. What evil enunciates in the world. Beyond the curtain of that which is visible. Godís Judgments. Triune, Trinity God. So that faith is lifeís basis. To those who say: "I donít see God."
Signs from above.
News of an extraordinary phenomenon in March 1960 ó the shedding of tears from the eyes on an icon of the Mother of God, located in a house of young Orthodox Greek couple at Long Island, not far from New York ó impacted on even part of the American press. When the icon was triumphantly conveyed to the Greek cathedral, three doves hovered above the motor vehicle that was carrying the icon, and didnít leave the procession until the icon was carried inside the church. A month later, a similar shedding of tears occurred from another icon of the Holy Virgin, at the same location. When this icon was transferred to the cathedral, a third icon took its place in the house, and it too shed tears. As the Churchís experience states, the triplicity of this phenomenon was an inherent sign sent from above.
Mother of Godís tears! Manifestations that lead to trepidation and reverence. It gives witness to Mother of Godís nearness to earth. However, it would be better if these tears didnít exist! If there is no greater sorrow to the children in a family than to see their mother crying, then how strong and frightening a shock it is to Christians to know that because of them, the Mother of God is shedding tears!
Are they telling us of the general spiritual deterioration of mankind, and in part ó about our own spiritual decline? Are they crying over the suffering and misfortunes, already experienced by the world? Are these tears foreshadowing new ordeals? Are they giving witness that the Heavens do see the sorrows and hear the grief-stricken, and that the tears of the Holy Mother are giving a consoling announcement: "I am with you!"
The soul reaches out toward God.
The human soul stretches out naturally toward God just as a plant does toward the sun. The Psalter ó a book of the pre-Christian era ó gives witness with total potency about the natural, inherent character of this propensity.
"My soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water": without You, a spiritual thirst tortures me.
"My soul longs for You like a thirsty land."
"My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.
"Thou didst hide Thy face, and I was troubled."
"I will love You, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold."
"One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple."
Yearning for God, the need to pray to Him and the search for the path toward unity with God, has always belonged to the better part of humanity. But this yearning has never been expressed with more force than in Christianity, which has produced an innumerable multitude of the most chaste, bright and highly spiritual people, wholly dedicated to God and who joyfully sacrificed everything earthly for the heavenly. In this lies the psychological affirmation of the truth of our religionís substance, the witness to the truth of the Christian faith.
Religion ó joy.
In any of the philosophical systems, there could be some pessimism existing in its foundation. However, in the religionís basis, there always was and will be a feeling of joy. No matter how distorted many religions are (having replaced Godís truth with lies ó revering creatures instead of God), they were all nevertheless expressions of joy for life. It was Manís fallen nature that often dragged it into crude and base forms of expression. It is totally natural that the pure enjoyment of natureís beauty by sensitive people would evoke hymns of praise to God.
Christianity is a true and pure religion, and is the source of elevated and holy joy. Christian ordeals appear as proof of the indomitable, bright basis of Christianity, showing that no amount of deprivation and physical constraints are capable to eclipse the blessedness of life in Christ. "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing" (1 Thes. 5:16,17) ó as the Apostle directs. "Blessed are all they that fear the Lord; who walk in his ways," (Ps. 128:1) ó is repeated in prayers and Psalms. "May we arise in spiritual joy to praise Thee." And the most potent, sorrowfully repentant 50th Psalm "Have mercy upon me, O God" thrice enunciates about joy, asking for the return of a soul that has sinned.
God ó not a subject for debate.
Is it our business to: prove the existence of God, seek new contentions, defend the divine truth, and justify Godís works?
Our task is guarding ourselves from godless thoughts and straightening our mental path. Itís also our task to guard others as we do ourselves. We must find antidotes against our doubts, dark and alien thoughts that are hostile to our faith, which invade our minds. Our historical time is an era of rationalization, and rationalization is an enemy of religion. We are obliged to repulse it with a weapon ó logic ó, which is only an aid. We have a far more powerful armament ó faith. "It is victory, which has conquered the world, this faith of ours" (1 John 5:4).
Thatís why dogmatic discussions on God Himself should be brief. What can we say of Godís nature and His attributes? Our conversations about God should be elevated, extremely prudent, modest, plain, brief and without philosophising. Piety calls upon us to avoid the frequent use of Godís name in everyday conversations: "Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain" (Exodus 20:7). In ancient times, the Jews avoided even writing Godís main name ó Jehovah ó instead, replacing it with symbols or referring to Him in a common term, Lord. This attitude is in total harmony with the Commandment on having our mind and whole spiritual being, filled with venerable thoughts about God.
Why we "walk by faith, not by sight?"
Why doesnít God Himself appear to us in such a way so that we wouldnít have any doubt and uncertainty? This is because it is impossible for us as mortals to come close to God. Here is a comparison: as with any living thing on earth, our life is nourished by the sun. However, should we come close to the sun, we would be incinerated instantly. Yet how gently and tenderly does a blade of grass grows under it! And we are protected by the same nature from the many burning rays that radiate from it. Just as there is an aerial curtain between us and the sun, there is an invisible curtain between our nature and that of Godís ó notwithstanding His nearness to us ó and it is our faith that allows our soul to penetrate this curtain. "Thou shalt not be able to see my face; for no man shall see my face, and live," (Ex. 33:20) says the Lord to Moses. And the appearing images of God to people are essentially that ó only "images," because "God is a consuming fire." Nevertheless, God had allowed people to see Him through the appearance of the Son of God, in a truly physical form. "He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses." He is not like a consuming fire, but is a quiet Light, and we exalt Him with the words: "O joyous Light of the holy glory of the immortal, heavenly, holy, blessed Father, O Jesus Christ" (a prayer of Vespers). But even here faith is required. Just as faith is required so as to know God, His greatness and the incomprehensibility of His Nature, so it is required in order to see and acknowledge God and His meekness, humility and earthly degradation. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matt. 5:8). With purity of heart, faith attains such firmness and strength, and bestows such a blessed state, that it ranks equal to heavenly vision. Such is the faith of the Saints.
Religious faith, Christian faith, is an especial mysterious state of the soul, or the soulís abilities, simultaneously penetrating the mind, heart and will, an active power, beginning, capable of totally dominating the spiritual life, the beginning of everything, invigorating, guiding. Faith is the flame, rising above the level of inner life, the witness of "spirit," i.e. the highest structure of the soul. A believing person feels, that he has some kind of advantage compared to an unbelieving person. Faith is the power, the key to the power, but itís better to express it through the marvelous, figurative expression by Saint John of Kronstadt: "faith is the key to grace" Apostle Paul writes: "we have access by faith into this grace" (Rom. 5:2) in Christianity through faith. Apostle Peter refers to faith as "precious faith" (2 Peter 1:1). According to the ancient fathersí figurative expression, faith is a ladle that draws from the Divine source. It makes such achievements ó which would be completely impossible without faith ó possible: they are expressed in the gift of performing miracles. Christ promised, "In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover" (Mark 16:17) ó as confirmed thousands of times throughout the history of the Christian Church. Thus, faith provides the means for the human spirit to penetrate into the mysterious, spiritual, unseen domain, which "is the revelation (i.e. exposure of the activity of powers) of unseen things."
Ahuman soul is full of criss-crossing influences and diverse mental currents. It is through the mind that thoughts originate ó as the Apostle states, "their thoughts accusing or else excusing them," (Rom 2:15) bright or dark thoughts, elevated or base, affirming or objectionable. The mind lives in a relay of vigour and somnolence, sharp vision and blindness. Once, a novice complained to his "starets" (elder) that unhealthy thoughts kept entering his soul. "Open your cape and capture the wind" ó responded the "starets" ó "Canít do it? Likewise you cannot hide from that which flies around in the spiritual atmosphere." It does happen that during one of these gusts, and because of its intensity, the soul finds difficulty in coping with it: they are "mental wolves;" we should guard against them, just as we guard ourselves against sickness-bearing damp and cold air currents. We cope with others with difficulty, due to reasons of our temporary lethargy, apathy, falling in spirit i.e. that which the Fathers call depression.
"My soul faints for thy salvation: I have hoped in thy words" (Ps. 119:81)" laments the ancient psalmist. "O Lord and Master of my life, drive away from me the spirit of idleness, despondency, ambition and idle talk" ó we pray with the words of an Orthodox ascetic. All those who are toil speak of the possible visitations of the spirit of depression, and consequently their prayers contain frequent entreaties of deliverance from them. This feeling is an agonizing unholy state, as though the soul had been blinded ó until these feelings are replaced with a fresh surge of grace-filled faith and prayerful effort. The righteous prays: "open my eyes and I will understand the miracles from Your commandmentsÖ (Ps. 119:18) enlighten mine eyes, O Christ God, lest at any time I sleep unto deathÖ and through Thine angels cause demonic despondency to be driven far from me" (Prayers before sleep).
However, in the domain of faith, difficulties and confusion that arise in the mind are not always without benefit. Any kind of accomplishment occurs only through overcoming obstacles. With an increase in strength, a person becomes capable of surmounting greater impediments ó at times placing them before himself ó and conquering them, then rising to a higher level. The same occurs in the religious sphere, in the sphere of faith. And what a triumphant spiritual feeling that person undergoes when a new, bright thought illuminates his soul and vanquishes the mental barrier!
When there is no one to thank.
How pleasantly we pronounce the word "thanks." For every good wish, for every good turn we have a need to say: thanks (in Russian the word for thanks, "spasibo," is derived from Ďspasi Bozheí Ė God save). These words express inner feelings ó they are not simply an indication of a good upbringing, as they are dictated by instinct. When a person is in a crowd and an unseen individual shows him a small consideration, that person begins to seek out with his eyes: whom shall I thank? How often do people utilize the press so as to express thanks to known and anonymous individuals for condolences to their grief, for participation in their difficult times! Feelings of gratitude are not limited to words, they endeavour to be expressed in deeds, and subsequently continue to live as a grateful memory in the soul.
But if we are thankful for small things, how can we not express our gratitude for major things ó for the joy of being alive, for the ability to think, to love others, for our sight and hearing that open our eyes to life on earth, for the opportunity of communing with people, for natureís gifts that we enjoy? How can we not give thanks when we are delivered from danger, or when we are visited by what we call "good fortune"? But how unfortunate is that person who gives thanks for a glass of water, yet has "no one to thank" for the higher, for the greater, for the most important?
Does life exist?
Life! Itís all that I have, which I value and without which ó I donít exist! However, it would appear that in our era, there is a tendency to answer this propounded question with a negative response ó ostensibly in the name of science. There were and still are, learned individuals that are engaged through the means of chemical reactions, to reproduce a "living cell" as the beginning of all life. Laboratories, in studying the physiology of living matter, are attempting to gain access to the "growing mechanism in living matter." The scenario is to prove that at the core of our being lies a mechanism, and what we call life, is some apparition, just a form of our perception. As an example, there is mention in the press of a discovery of a new element in plants ó chloroplast, or a more fundamental enigma ó photosynthesis (the plantsí absorption of the sunís energy). This is explained as an ordinary chemical reaction, where there is an absence of any particular living force and which could be produced serially in a laboratory. However, would it be possible to explain all the mechanics of the world through this scientific approach?
One is loath to believe that such a tendency characterizes sciencesí approach about nature on the whole. It cannot be that the spirit of coarse materialism could capture the real nature in such a way as to do without the understanding of "life" in the explanation of natureís mysteries. It is left to wonder, how the mechanization of practical life in our existence, impacts on peopleís mentality, instilling that life on earth is but a mechanism, akin to an inanimate machine.
At first: "there is no God." Then: "there is no soul." Finally: "no life!"
In a short story "Euthemia" written by Veresaev during the Soviet era, a sick woman, sensing the slowly approaching death, is in raptures about the Greek philosopher-materialist Democritus: it was over 2000 years ago, he espoused that all things are made up of matter, while senses and thoughts ó just an alteration in the bodyÖ However, it appears that being an aesthete by nature, she loves poetry, avid reader of Tiutchev ó a poet that suggests nature is not a lifeless face, it has a soul, it has freedom, has love, it has languageÖ Consequently, apart from desires, a discord between materialistic understanding and natural inner feelings is uncovered in the Soviet person: the latter emerges from the covering of the first, just like a cobblerís awl from a sack. You wouldnít be able to hide an awl in a sack.
Integrity of life and world vision.
Gumilevís quatrain is quite excellent:
"There is a God, there is a world. They exist eternally.
While peopleís lives are momentary and wretched.
However, a person can accommodate everything,
Who loves the world and believes in God."
Of course you cannot dogmatise these words. Here, it is possible to retort against every pronouncement: perpetuity of the world is not the same as that of Godís; human life is but momentary, but the soulís life is not momentary; the world loves devious counsel, but it only believes in God. Nevertheless, this quatrain contains an excellent poetical expression of a deep idea: that the fullness of life consists of accepting the world as a creation of the All-Good God. In accepting life as a gift from God, a person lives with an optimistic and harmonious view of the world, creating a spiritual world and a bold, bright outlook on life.
A person has inner contentment when he doesnít have any spiritual discord. Such is the meaning of Polonskyís stanza:
"Blessed is he who is given two types of hearing:
Who hears the ringing church bells,
And hears the prophetic voice of the Spirit."
The obvious meaning of these words is in that a contemporary person lives a full substantive life, when his inner voice (be it a poetical or philosophical inspiration, or simply a general outlook on life), combines with the faithfulness of tradition, and with the religious faith that has been interwoven into him.
It has to be acknowledged that the Russian poetry of the golden 19th century age of literature itself possessed this quality and was therefore principled, ideal and wholly laudable.
Mystery in lifeís experience.
There would be hardly one person, even among the unbelievers, who would not have experienced a mysterious phenomenon at least once in his life ó like a prophetic dream, or an inexplicable event, where his life was preserved. But more often than not, people donít look back and therefore forget, or even try not to notice it. Many of us, when we are close to the end of our earthly span, can and must exclaim about ourselves in the words of the Psalmist:
" For You are my hope, O Lord God; You are my trust from my youth. By You I have been upheld from birth; You are He who took me out of my motherís womb. My praise shall be continually of YouÖO God, You have taught me from my youth; and to this day I declare Your wondrous works. Now also when I am old and grayheaded, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to everyone who is to come. Also your righteousness, O God, is very high, You have done great things; O God, who is like You? You, who have shown me great and severe troubles, shall revive me again, and bring me up again from the depths of the earth. You shall increase my greatness, and comfort me on every side" (Psalm 71).
Observation of oneís life is one of the reasons why people, indifferent to religion in their youth, but having personally experienced along the way the power of Godís right hand, grow to become deeply and genuinely religious in their old age. Whereas before they were unfeeling, they now become pious, God-fearing, prayerful. Piety is not an indication of old age. It is present in people of all ages, and its fervour is naturally greater in younger years. Yet "piety of old age" is an indication of the not lost, not neglected lifeís experience ó a sign of remembrance of the manifestations of Godís mercy.
Staidness of the soul.
Christian faith is a state of brightness, "diurnal." Belief in God, in the invisible spiritual world, in life after physical death ó is quite realistic, because experience has confirmed it through received manifestations, spiritual occurrences and revelations, which the Saints of the Holy Church were honoured with, as well as the faithís beneficence, felt by members of the Church. Thatís why mysticism should be alien to a Christian, because it differs through its departure from reality, and its conviction in its extraordinary nearness to the spiritual world and its ability to enter it. In this frame of mind, it is easy to be subjugated to delusion and lose the correct orthodox constitution of the soul. Thus, the workings of the imagination in a twilight state are capable of presenting to a person, images that are far divorced from reality.
Authentic faith is staid, and all guides of the genuine Christian life, place the "spiritual staidness" as the basis of spiritual works. Staidness of the soul safeguards oneself from self-delusion, from being self-opinionated, and equally, from being despondent and having a self-evaluation of being hopeless. This is a direct and simple outlook on life, on all those around ó an outlook that is illuminated with the light of faith. The Church asks in its prayers for the faithful, the granting of "staidness of the soul, forgiveness of sins, communion with the Holy Spirit." Father John titled his diary: "My life in Christ, or, minutes on spiritual staidness and contemplations, reverend feelings, spiritual reformation and serenity in God."
Forces of nature.
Nature lives its own inner life, unknown to us and almost inaccessible to science. The frightening forces hidden within her, even in the small parts of its substance ó were shown in the study of the atom and its release, or in splitting it. At the same time, how softly and docile these forces function in the life form of the world. What consonance in the activity of natureís elements, and what collaboration, mutual assistance! Consider the wind and cloud. They do not even have an individual existence, donít have their own living vigour, which is present in an insignificant blade of grass. They are fleeting manifestations: the wind came and went, the cloud thickened and was washed out with rain ó itís gone. However, note how intelligently they work together with the sun and with each other, and their collaboration is aimed for the welfare of others, especially for giving life to plants. The cloud gives them moisture and protects them against the sunís searing rays. However, the cloud doesnít have its own energy to move in the air, this task is undertaken by the wind. It drives the cloud, bringing it in and leading it out. The wind then dries the land, protecting the soil from acidity, which is harmful to plants, and at the same time shielding it from the effect of direct rays of the sun. Where are you hidden, you kind, intelligent powers that are active in these manifestations? Here we have a grove of trees, untouched by man and left alone. If the hand of man doesnít interfere with the life of the forest, itís arrangement would be organically whole as a collector of organisms: it surrounds itself with a border of thorny thickets for protection, permits the growth of a ground cover that is more beneficial to it, collects and stores the necessary reservoirs of water for itself, regulates the penetration of the sunís rays into its grove, preserves within it the less robust, the less hardy types of plants. Thatís why itís not astonishing that pantheistic images emerged in mankind, ideas of the presence of forest, water and other gods. Outpouring of feelings of nature among artists is akin to pantheismÖ e.g. from Tiutchev: "It is not what you imagine about nature ó itís not blind, not a lifeless image, it has a soul, it has freedom, it has love, it has a language." He further directly censures the then reigning materialism.
"They do not see and do not hear,
they dwell in the world as though in darkness,
to them there is no sun,
and no life in the oceanís waves.
The rays have never descended into their souls,
Spring has never bloomed in their breasts,
The forests did never speak in their presence,
And the starry night was mute;
And with an unearthly tongue,
disturbing rivers and forests,
thunder didnít counsel with them
in a friendly conversationÖ
But in this case, wouldnít even we arrive at pantheism? No, our mind must rise above this. It is not the atom that is divine, which people split and force it to serve them. That which is under our total control and that of animals is not divinity ó but only part thereof. When the same poet presents the world as Godís vestment, he is not thinking pantheistically: "Natureís fabric Godís universal vestment, maybe." This image is very close to that of the Bibleís, which is clearer: "Who cover Yourself with light as with a garment" (Psalm 103).
Natureís hidden wisdom awakens our thoughts. It instils into us that apart from matter and forces, it has something higher: it has its own audibility so as to fulfil Godís directives: "Let the earth bring forthÖlet the waters bring forth" (Gen. 1:11, 20) the fig-tree succumbs to the Saviourís words: "Let no fruit grow on you ever again" "Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward forever" (Matt: 21:19); and the stormy sea fulfils His directive: "Peace, be still" (Mark 5:39). Nature is permeated with a will to fulfil objectives directed from above; it praises God with all its being, fulfils directives of heavenly ranks: Principalities, Dominions and Powers. And we confess in the prayer (blessing of water): "Before Thee tremble supersensual powers; thee the sun praiseth, the moon worshippeth, the stars submit to Thee, the light obeyeth, the tempests tremble, the springs worship TheeÖ"
Flame from a flame.
In the first chapter of Apostle Paulís Epistle to the Romans, we read: "The righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith." This means akin to from flame to flame, and how we should guard this flame! Without it we are like unlit candles. The spark of faith must be preserved. We should watch out for opposing winds, i.e. society that is hostile to faith, books that detract from faith and personal mental rambling.
From faith to faith. Therefore, by succession. We learn faith from the Apostles, from their writings, which perpetually retain within themselves the live source of faith. Here, faith is imparted through the word. We learn from contemporary Saints: here faith is conveyed through their closeness to us, by the flame of the power of their faith. We learn in Church and from the Church, face to face with Her. Thus Apostle John wrote to his spiritual children: "I had many things to write, but I will not with ink and pen write unto thee: but I trust I shall shortly see thee, and we shall speak face to face" (3 John 1:14).
From faith to faith. Over a lengthy string of decades, faith is conveyed from one church generation to another church generation, from fathers ó to their children, from Martyrs, Confessors, Saints, Ascetics ó to people that have seen them, that learned from them, that lived shortly before us and preserved holy memories of them. This is a holy conveyance ó the conveyance of faith. Thatís why we especially value our knowledge and directives of Saints who lived in the period shortly before ours: we too can ignite with faith by coming into direct contact with theirs. And so the chain continues: "from faith to faith," from Apostolic times to our contemporary era.
In his book "Study of humans," Professor Nesmelov expresses the following: "Atheism is a construed knowledge based on lack of knowledge." The typecasting is quite accurate. Atheists do not see God, do not know Him, and therefore do not acknowledge His existence. The more cautious among them call themselves "agnostics," i.e. not knowing (followers of the English philosopher Spencer), and of course "not knowing," donít have the guidance of religious laws. People of more unrefined thinking, while logical but incorrect, reason rectilinearly: "I donít know God, therefore God doesnít exist."
The world ó reflection of Godís Grace.
We cannot deny the existence of reason in Nature, even though to us it is in an unknown form. We witness how a plant secures the necessary area for its existence, seeks and finds in the same soil, a variety of nutritious elements necessary only for this type of plant, and liquids, which are so varied for each type of plant, obtaining them through a proficient chemical decomposition of the soil. Likewise, we cannot deny the existence in the animal and plant kingdom the aesthetic and artistic beginning, which is revealed in the variety and harmony of colours and forms. In witnessing the amity, collaboration and willingness to serve, we can hardly reject the presence of none other than the seeming moral beginning in Nature ó when a blade of grass is prepared to present itself as fodder for the animal, or when the tree endeavours to produce better harvest for manís comfort; a willingness that is sometimes close to self-sacrifice. Some will say that you cannot call this a moral attribute, because morality suggests a free and intelligent will. Indeed, but if this is so, then it is necessary to seek the source of the sensibility and wisdom for this insensibility. Thoughts rise toward the Creator and the power of the Providence of Godís Spirit, granting all existing things "life, breath and everything" (words of Apostle Paul in the Athenian Areopagus according to the book of Acts).
In this sense, the world, Godís creation is a reflection ó be it weak and pale ó of its Creatorís attributes and it is toward this Primordial and Original, that it directs our thoughts. Let us here express the words of Saint John from his "My life in Christ." "The whole world: heaven and earth and everything that is in them, the sea and all that is in it is the endless effusion of Godís goodness, His intellect and eternal power and might, goodness toward the creations, which He created for joy and happiness, especially ó joy to the human race. The world is a mirror of goodness, intellect, wisdom and power of God. Therefore, we should attach ourselves to God and not to the world. ĎWho is there for me in heaven? And with You I want nothing on earth. My flesh and heart is exhausted: God ó is the firmament of my heart and is part of me forever.í"
What can be closer to our eyes, ears, mind ó to our whole being, than life? Everything lives, there is life everywhere. At the same time, what can be more puzzling to us than life? Even to this day, people have not come to an agreement on the question: is life an initial beginning or a secondary appearance? Is it an origin or an aftermath? The root of existence or its flower? To those that believe in God, there is no question. The vital beginning lies in the basis of all beings, and it is implanted by the Creator.
As soon as life leaves matter, it becomes dead. How it departs is inexplicable. Much as one would wish to catch her at this moment, it flees like quicksilver through fingers. Outlived, torn out, mowed grass ó and the form of life given to it by God, has left it. A person dies and his life leaves the body. However, it hasnít perished. In the destroyed body that has been surrendered to the soil, her place will be slowly occupied by much lower life forms. Yet its life bearing beginning, intellectual, conscious, which we assume consciously, its soul doesnít die. Before anything, it departs taking with it that which it brought to the body. It brought the person a consciousness in an individual, personal form ó and it carries it away, having filled it with substances worthy of eternity (and maybe not so worthy).
Thus surmises reason. However, the Christian faith gives firm and clear witness to the immortality of the soul. "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (Genesis 2:7). Godís breath can never perish! The body perished, and the "spirit shall return unto God, Who gave it" (Ecclesiasts 12:7). This is our God-revealed truth, this is our faith.
What evil enunciates in the world.
Alongside with the emergence around us in Nature of reason, harmony and beauty, we also see the appearance of a contraposition. We observe frightening catastrophes in Nature, which inflict suffering and death to living matter, we watch the blindness and deceitfulness of instinct in the animal kingdom; hostility, the devouring of the weak by the strong, and finally, illness and death. These manifestations open our eyes to Natureís true character, and they do not permit us to deify it. Thanks to them, we recognize the falsity of pantheism. It is inherent for a person to seek a higher beginning and worship it. However, although he sees the presence and activity of this beginning all around himself, Nature itself cannot be taken as that higher beginning: it possesses the positive and the negative, it has reason and irrationality, good and evil. By this, Nature itself suggests to us that there is another Beginning above it that is perfect and complete. And how can we acknowledge the deity of Nature when man himself becomes its master? The poet Aleksei Konstantinovich Tolstoy expressed the duality of Nature ó good and evil ó in artistic form:
"Only God is light without shadow,
Fused in Him
Is the indivisible unity of all manifestations,
The fullness of everyoneís brightness;
But Godís radiating power
Battles with darkness;
And around Him in times of alarm,
Is the majesty of peace.
The separation of creation
Vengeful chaos doesnít sleep;
Disfigured and overturned
Godís image in him trembles:
And always full of deceit,
Against Godís goodness
He attempts to raise
Turbid splashing waves.
And the efforts of the evil spirit
To whom the Almighty gave a will,
And the conflict of hostile beginnings
Is enacted once again.
In the struggle of death and birth,
Divinity has established
The eternity of creation,
And its continuance
Through the glory of eternal life."
Beyond the curtain of that which is visible.
It is doubtful that any one of us doesnít have memories of the past, about facts that speak of ties with the spiritual world ó facts that cannot be explained in a corporeal sense, which give witness that there is an Unsleeping Eye watching over us. Itís only that many people close their eyes and ears to them, so as not to see or hear. However, itís more often that while they remember those facts, they are not capable of reconciling their lives with what the facts are saying. During moments of spiritual reflection, this mystery surfaces ó only to return to the secret recesses of their mind. It is rare for people to give voice to such experiences. This could be because of a person being modest and unwilling to feature himself in print, or because of doubt ó whether he will be believed ó will they interpret that as an invention or the product of spiritual instability? Nonetheless, some of these facts do find their way into print. Even if these types of disclosures were accumulated over a year, they would easily form a book. However, while materialism reigns, would such a book achieve its aims? "Because seeing they see not; and hearing they hear not" (Matt. 13:13) and they donít wish to turn to Him, Who is ready to heal them ó those blind people who declare that on principle, they refuse to acknowledge miracles.
It is perfectly clear to a Christian that for his piety, for his faith, he shouldnít expect a worldly reward of a pleasant life. The Saviour didnít promise earthly abundance to His faithful. Itís no wonder that the symbol of Christianity is the Cross and Crucifixion. However, human feelings are not alien to a person and the heart asks: why are the blasphemers rejoicing and prospering ó where is Godís verity?
This theme has been posed since time immemorial. Among the very first locations that it can be found is in ancient writings, particularly in the Psalter. The Psalter presents it passionately, in very audacious and bold exclamations: "O Lord, Thou God to whom vengeance belongeth, lift up Thyself, Thou Judge of the earth, render to the proud their desert. Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked triumph? They sprate, they speak arrogantly: All the workers of iniquity boast themselves. They break in pieces Thy people, O Lord, and afflict Thine heritage" (Psalm 94). "But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men. Therefore pride is as a chain about their neckÖ And they say, how doth God know? And is there knowledge in the Most High?" (Psalm 73).
And in the same Psalm, the Psalmist himself answers his complaints and bafflement, as well as his despondency over the reigning evil. No, the scales of justice do exist and retribution does come in its own time. "Surely Thou didst set them in slippery places, Thou castedst them down into destruction. Howa are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! They are utterly consumes with terrors." And the Psalmist repents for his former lack of faith: "So brutish as I, and ignorant; I was as a beast before Thee." Now, his eyes have been opened: "Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee" (Psalm 73).
The Psalter speaks not only of retribution to the iniquitous, but comforts those that are true to God and place their trust in Him. On the other hand, its thoughts can be summarized by the words of a Psalm: "Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all" (Psalm 33:19) i.e. there will be afflictions, but they are transient. God bestows His goodness in the tranquil heart of those that are faithful to Him. "Oh, how great is Your goodness, which You have laid up for those who fear You, in the presence of the sons of men! You shall hide them in the secret place of Your presence from the plots of man; You shall keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues" (Psalm 31:19-20). The same joyous words fill the renowned Psalm 90: "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High."
And are there so few among us that after having endured various events in our lives, would not wholeheartedly repeat after the Psalmist, the whole of the 123rd Psalm:
"If it had not been the Lord who was on our side,
Let Israel now say ó Ďif it had not been the Lord who was on our side,
When men rose up against us,
Then they would have swallowed us alive,
When their wrath was kindled against us;
Then the waters would have overwhelmed us,
The stream would have gone over our soul;
Then the swollen waters would have gone over our soul.í
Blessed be the Lord,
Who has not given us as prey to their teeth.
Our soul has escaped as a bird from the snare of the fowlers;
The snare is broken, and we have escaped.
Our help is in the name of the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth."
Triune, Trinity God.
We profess Godís being as "inexpressible, invisible, incomprehensible.. All-Holy Trinity in One." God is a Trinity in three Persons, and there is not a senior or a junior Person among Them. His completeness is expressed in the Trinity; God is over us, God is with us, God is in all the creation and us.
Over us is God the Father ó the ever-flowing Source, according to the Church prayer, the Basis of all existence, our Father, our love and we are His children, creation of His hands.
With us is God the Son ó His birth was due to His divine love, in order that He may appear to people as a Human, so that we would know and see with our own eyes that God is with us, in a perfect image, "genuinely" uniting with us.
In us and all creation is God the Holy Spirit ó filling all things: Who fulfils everything, Lifegiver that Lives in everything and everyone with His own providential power, cascading His blessing of sanctity on God the Sonís Church, on the faithful so as to elevate and make them worthy of communion with God in this world, and make them worthy of eternal life in God.
Apostle Paul teaches us: "One God and Father of all, who is above all (as the Holy Fathers interpret, God the Father), through all (God the Son) and in you all" (God the Holy Spirit; Eph. 4:6).
During the Feast of Pentecost, our Church sings: "One Might, One Substance, one Godhead, which we all worship, saying, Holy God who created everything through the Son with the help of the Holy Spirit; Holy Mighty, in whom we knew the Father, and through whom the Holy Spirit came into the world; Holy Immortal One, the comforting Spirit, proceeding from the Father and resting in the Son; O Holy Trinity, glory to Thee."
So that faith is lifeís basis.
What is needed so that faith becomes steady, not shaky, that it controls us, directs our actions, is active, salutary, curative, comforting? What is needed so that lifeís questions do not agonize, donít direct us out of spiritual equilibrium? What is needed so that we are not like reeds that sway with every wind?
For this, we must belong to the Church ó both in spirit and body ó and live the one life with Her. A sole individual in the field of war is not a significant force. While in the Church ó one for all and all for one, under Christís guidance and in the grace of the Holy Spirit ó the situation is totally different. In Church ó like children in our parental homes ó we are protected on all sides, have concern over us, spiritual nourishment, spiritual warmth and light. We bring our sorrows to Her, and we find cures for our physical and spiritual illnesses in Her.
We find the fullness of Church life in the temple. In this holy place of worship, we are born through baptism for eternal life, and in this house, we will have our final farewell with earthly life. It will be here that memories of us will be preserved, and upon our death, prayers for us will be raised to heaven.
To those who say: "I donít see God."
Would you like to know a person who never demanded anything for himself from life and was always happy with his lot; who never worried about his health ó but was always full of energy, was always vigorous even nearly without any rest; didnít have riches yet gave away thousands; treated the gravely ill without reference to any medicines; never sought glory but was known to all the people; never sought any pleasures and was always joyous; who always has peace in his heart, predisposition toward people, devoid of malice, envy, animosity, feelings of umbrage: full of humility yet performs great deeds; whose mind is lucid and whose heart is open to all; who lives his own deep internal life and at the same time, full of active love for both those close and distant to him?
Such was Saint John of Kronstadt, a contemporary to the current older generation. From where did the Kronstadt pastor draw his strength? Father John responds to this question a number of times in his diary with one and the same expression: "The Lord is everything to me." Here are his words:
"Whatever calms me both in thoughts and in my heart, is submitted graphically into my memory for the continual tranquillity of my heart, among lifeís concerns and bustle. So what is it? That is the Christian, full of living trust and wonderful, calming power of the statement: the Lord is everything to me. Here is the priceless treasure! Here is a preciousness, with which one can be calm in any situation, with which one can be rich in poverty, and with the acquisition of wealth ó generous, and be affable with people; with which even after sinning, one doesnít lose hope. The Lord is everything to me."
"The Lord is everything to me: He is the strength of my heart and light of my mind; He directs my heart toward everything that is good; He strengthens it; and He gives me righteous thoughts; He is my tranquillity and joy; He is my faith, hope and love; He is my food, my drink, my attire, He is my abode. Just as a mother is to an infant: the willpower, sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch, and food, drink, attire, hands and legs, ó so is the Lord all this for me, when I totally submit myself to Him.
"The Lord is more perfect than all the goodness, what I think, feel or do. O, how boundlessly wide is the Lordís active grace within me! The Lord is everything to me, and so clear, so constant. Mine ó is only my sinfulness, mine ó are only my sins.
"The Lord is my being, the Lord is the deliverance from eternal death, the Lord is my eternal life, the Lord is the cleansing and deliverance from many sins and is my enlightenment, the Lord is the strength against my weaknesses, in my pusillanimity and despondency, the Lord is the life-giving fire in my coldness, the Lord is the light in my darkness, the serenity in my apprehensions, the Lord is the protector in my temptations. He is my thoughts, my aspirations, my activity ó love and thank the Lord incessantly! Praise the Lord my soul, and donít forget all His rewards that cleanse all your iniquities, cure all your infirmities, endows you with kindness and generosity, that fulfils all your good requests."
"The Lord is everything to us, and we by ourselves can do very little."
This is the source of strength and happiness and life that Saint John sees for himself, and which he is pointing out to us.
"Here stands a living person before us: his eyes are focused on us, his ears alert and listening; before us is his body and soul, which we see his body but not his soul. Meanwhile, while we do not see his thoughts, his desires, intentions, there isnít an instant that his soul was not thinking and living according to its lifestyle. In precisely the same manner, there is a visible nature before, near and inside us, the whole wonderful world of God; we see life in it everywhere, harmonious order, activity ó yet we do not see the Cause of life and order, we donít see the Artist. But in the meantime, He is there at all times and in every place, just like the soul in a body, only not confined by it. There isnít a short moment in which He, as the All-complete Spirit, All-wise, Omnipotent, Omnipresent, did not think, didnít pour blessings and wisdom upon His creation. There is not even a split-second when He doesnít apply His wisdom and omnipotence, because God is a self-activator that is eternally producing. Therefore, in viewing the world, note its Source ó God, as being everywhere in it, as the fulfiller, activator and arranger of everything."
"Godís omnipresence is spatial and mental, i.e. God is everywhere ó in relation to space and thought: wherever I go physically or mentally, I will meet God and He will be before me everywhere."
Arenít these magnificent words, uttered by Saint John, sufficient to convince the doubting mind?
Missionary Leaflet # E77c
Copyright © 2003 Holy Trinity Orthodox Mission
466 Foothill Blvd, Box 397, La Canada, Ca 91011
Editor: Bishop Alexander (Mileant)