Saturday, January 27, 2018

Preparation for the journey
Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh.

Girding our Loins

CONTRARY to what many think or feel, lent is a period of spiritual endeavor… Lent is a time of joy because it is a time for coming home, a period when we can come back to life. It should be a time when we shake off all that is worn and dead in us in order to become able to live, and to live with all the vastness, all the depth and all the intensity to which we are called. Unless we understand this quality of joy, we shall make of it a monstrous, blasphemous caricature, when in God's very name we make our life a misery for ourselves and for those who must pay the cost for our abortive attempts at holiness. This notion of joy coupled with strenuous effort, with ascetical endeavor, with struggle indeed, may seem strange, and yet it runs through the whole of our spiritual life, the life of the Church and the life of the Gospel, because the Kingdom of God is to be conquered. It is not something which is simply given to those who leisurely, lazily wait for it to come. For those who would wait for it in that spirit, it will come indeed: it will come at the dead of night; it will come like the Judgment of God, like the thief who takes us unawares, like the bridegroom who comes when the foolish virgins are asleep.

This is not the way in which we should await the Kingdom and the Judgment. We must recapture an attitude of mind which, usually, we cannot conjure even out of our depth, something which has become strangely alien to us-the joyful expectation of the Day of the Lord-in spite of the fact that we know that this day will be a Day of Judgment. It is striking to hear in church that we are proclaiming the Gospel, the glad­dening news, of Judgment, but we are proclaiming that the Day of the Lord is not fear but hope and, together with the Holy Spirit, the Church can say: “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!” As long as we are incapable of speaking in those terms we are missing something very important in our Christian conscious­ness. We are still, whatever we may say, pagans dressed up in evangelic garments. We are still people for whom God is a God outside, for whom His coming is darkness and dread, whose judgment is not our redemption but our condemnation, for whom a meeting face to face is a fearful event and not the hour we long and live for.
Unless we realize this, spiritual endeavor cannot be a joy, for it is strenuous and confronts us with judgment and responsibility-because we must judge ourselves in order to change and become able to meet the Day of the Lord, the glorious Resurrection, with an open heart, without hiding our face, ready to rejoice that he has come. And every coming of the Lord is judgment. The Fathers of the Church draw a parallel between Christ and Noah and they say that the presence of Noah among his generation was at the same time condemnation and salvation. It was condemnation because the presence of one man who had remained faithful, just one man, who could be a saint of God, was evidence that that was possible, and that those who were sinners, those who had rejected God and turned away from him, could have done likewise. So the presence of the righteous one was judgment and condemnation upon his time. Yet it was also the salvation of his time, because he was the only one thanks to whom God looked with mercy upon man. And the same is true of the coming of Christ.

There is another joy in judgment. It is not some­thing which descends upon us from outside. The day will come when we shall stand before God and be judged, but as long as our pilgrimage continues, as long as we live in the process of becoming, as long as there is ahead of us this road that leads to the full measure of the stature of Christ which is our vocation, judgment must be pronounced by ourselves. There is a continuing dialogue within us throughout our life.
We very often walk in darkness, and this darkness is the result of our darkened mind, of our darkened heart, of our darkened eye, and it is only if the Lord Himself sheds his light into our soul, upon our life, that we can begin to see what is wrong and what is right in it. There is a remarkable passage in the writings of Father John of Kronstadt, a Russian priest of the turn of the nineteenth century, in which he says that God does not reveal to us the ugliness of our souls unless he can espy in us sufficient faith and sufficient hope for us not to be broken by the vision of our own sins. In other words, whenever we see ourselves with our dark side, as this knowledge increases, as we can understand ourselves more in the light of God, that is, in the light of the Divine Judgment, it means two things: it means, indeed, that we sadly discover our own ugliness,but also that we can rejoice at the same time, because God has granted us his trust.

He has entrusted to us a new knowledge of ourselves as we are, as he always saw us and as, at times, he did not allow us to see ourselves because we could not bear the sight of truth. And here again judgment becomes joy, because although we discover what is wrong, yet this discovery is conditioned by the knowledge that God has seen enough faith, enough hope and enough for­titude in us to allow us to see, because he knows that now we can act. All that is important if we want to understand that joy, and spiritual endeavor, go to­gether. Otherwise the continued, the insistent, effort of the Church, of the Word of God, to make us aware of what is wrong in us can lead to despair and darken­ing of the mind and soul. Then when we have become too depressed and low in spirit, we are incapable of meeting the Resurrection of Christ with joy, because then we realize, or imagine we realize, that this has nothing to do with us. We are in darkness, He is light. Nothing appears to us but our judgment and our condem­nation, at the very moment when we should emerge out of darkness into the saving act of God which is both our judgment and our salvation.

How often have I heard people say “Here are my sins”, then stop a moment to take a breath and begin a long discourse to the effect that had not God afflicted them with such a hard life, they would not sin so much. “Of course”, they would say, “I am in the wrong, but what can I do with such a son-in-law, my rheumatism or the Russian revolution?” And more than once I suggested, before reading a prayer of absolution, that peace between God and man was a two-way traffic, and I asked whether the penitent was prepared to forgive God all his misdeeds, all the wrong he had done, all the circumstances which prevented this good Christian from being a saint. People do not like this, and yet, unless we take full responsibility for the way we face our heredity, our situation, our God and ourselves, we shall never be able to face more than a small section of our life and self. If we want to pass a true and balanced judgment on ourselves we must consider ourselves as a whole, in our entirety.

Certain things in us belong already, however in­cipiently, to the Kingdom of God. Others are still a chaos, a desert, a wilderness. And it is for us by hard toil and inspired faith to make them into the Garden of Eden; as “Nietzsche” says, “One must possess a chaos within to give birth to a star.” And we must have faith in the chaos, pregnant with beauty and harmony. We must look at ourselves as an artist looks, with vision and sobriety, at the raw material which God has put into his hands and out or which he will make a work of art, an integral part of the harmony, the beauty, the truth and the life of the Kingdom. An artist must learn to discern the peculiar potentialities of the given material and call out of it all the beauty hidden in its depth. So must every one of us discern in himself under God's guidance and with the help of his wiser friends, his particular capabilities and characteristics, both good and bad, and make use of them to achieve in the end that work of art which is his true self. To use a phrase of St Irenaeus of Lyon, “the splendor of God is a man fully realized”. 

Note, about the author:
His Eminence Metropolitan Anthony Bloom (June 6, 1914 - August 4, 2003) was bishop of the Diocese of Sourozh, the Russian Orthodox Church in Great Britain and Ireland.During the Bolshevik Revolution his family had to leave Russia, and in 1923 they settled in Paris where the future metropolitan was educated, graduating in physics, chemistry and biology, and taking his doctorate in medicine, at the University of Paris. In 1939, before leaving for the front as a surgeon in the French army, he secretly professed monastic vows in the Russian Orthodox Church. He was tonsured and received the name of Anthony in 1943. During the occupation of France by the Germans he worked as a doctor and took part in the French Resistance. After the war he continued practising as a physician until 1948, when he was ordained to the priesthood and sent to England to serve as Orthodox Chaplain of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius. In 1966 he was raised to the rank of Metropolitan. At his own request he was released in 1974 from the function of Exarch, in order to devote himself more fully to the pastoral needs of the growing flock of his diocese and all who come to him seeking advice and help. His first books on prayer and the spiritual life (Living Prayer, Meditations on a Theme, and God and Man) were published in England, and his texts are now widely published in Russia, both as books and in periodicals.

Meditations, Metropolitan Antony Bloom,(1972)