Love and Suffering – Can It Be Redemptive?

antonie-de-suroj3_bAmerican Christianity, by and large, is not very comfortable with the idea of suffering as redemptive in any sense.

I appreciate this interview with the late Metropolitan Anthony Bloom (of Great Britain) in which he addresses suffering in the context of love. I try to watch it at least once a year, and Lent is a particularly good time for it.

Here are some excerpts from the interview (and the video below)

Roy: I did an interview last year with Eli Weisel, a Jewish author for Man Alive. He contradicted the Christian notion of suffering. He said for example that in the Jewish faith life of suffering is completely alien to what they believe. Life should be celebration, should be joy. And suffering had no redemptive power as far as he was concerned.

Metropolitan Anthony: Well, I think it’s difficult to uphold this view completely in the face, for instance, of the image of the suffering servant in the book of Isaiah and of quite a few other passages from the Old Testament. I think that he’s right when he says that life should be a celebration. But then life should not be marred by the condition of men in which we live.

Roy: Do you think God wants us to suffer?

Metropolitan Anthony: I would say, I’m sorry to be so stubborn, I would say He wants us to love not to suffer. But suffering is always inherent to love in a world which is disharmonious, ugly, violent, aggressive, and so forth. He does not want us to suffer. He wants us to love. Yet, he warns us, love means death, the shedding of blood, heart blood or physical blood.

Ideally, yes, it should be celebration. But in the face of a world of disharmony, of hatred, of mutual antagonism, of contrast in a position, then suffering is inevitable, is a fact. And it can be turned into a redemptive experience.

Roy: Is the notion that suffering is redemptive unique to the Christian faith?

Metropolitan Anthony: Well, for one thing, in itself, suffering is not redemptive. Suffering is redemptive only if it is connected with love and when the suffering is a result of giving one’s life or giving something of oneself. In itself suffering as such may be a curse and a hell without any issue out of it.

But I think that this being said it is true that suffering,when endured in the name of love, for the sake of love, ultimately for the sake of God and of men, in a personal way, is redemptive. And I think it is only in Christianity that it has all this fullness. Because I believe that only in Christianity has history and the physical world a complete significance.

Metropolitan Anthony: Well, St. Paul I think made it extremely clear when he said that if we do not suffer the right way we suffer in vain. And also in the Epistle to the Corinthians when he speaks of love and says that even if I gave my body to be burned but have no love it would be vain and empty.

I think it is the love that gives meaning to the suffering. Otherwise it’s a purely physical event . . . I think lots of people miss this point, and many other points indeed, in the Gospel and in life in general. Because it’s much easier to work out of a world outlook in which enduring suffering is meaningful than to say to endure suffering is nothing if I do not love. And loving is infinitely more difficult than enduring.

Enduring is a passive state. Once suffering is inflicted, it takes courage, determination to undergo it. While to love does not mean undergo, it means volunteer. It means take upon oneself. It means give what is not claimed. And that is a much more difficult thing.



Hell – An Orthodox Perspecive

As we prepare to enter the time of Great Lent, the Church reminds us that our lives belong in a greater context than the mundane and immediate things of everyday life. In the Sunday of the Last Judgment, the Church reminds us that we trust in Christ’s love and mercy, and yet we must not forget His righteous judgment when He comes again in glory. Fasting and praying are ways to prepare our hearts towards true works of love.

Recently our Bible study group was discussing how hell is not a “place” because it is outside time and space, and it is a subjective (and real) state. It is not a specific location where God sends people in order to torture them there. This would be a view that imagines God as the great torturer, who will have his blood, either from Christ on your stead in a legal fiction, or from you (a view common in Protestantism).

Rather, to experience the disembodied state, beyond physical death, as we discussed, is the experience of the unveiled presence of God who is a consuming fire – for those who love God, that fire is the uncreated light of the unending day that warms, purifies, deifies, and fills with joy and love.

gollumFor those who have rejected the love of God, his unveiled presence is not experienced as the fire of his love, but a fire that burns. Hell is not the absence of God (which is impossible); it is the presence of his fiery love. A fire that is not desired, but rejected, alien.

Burning bushIt is not experienced as the burning bush, filled with the glowing fire of God but never consumed; but as the fire that burned Sinai.

This has been the common view of the Church since the beginning, as seen in many of he Fathers.

It occurred to me that CS Lewis, in the Great Divorce (my favorite book by him, and I haven’t read it since college) paints a picture that is not entirely different. The people leave the beautiful land of heaven because they can’t stand the grass, which hurts them. So they return to the Grey Town.

eternityIn Lewis’ allegory, he sees everything in heaven (grass, rocks, trees, water, etc.) as “much solider than things in our country” in contrast to the people coming from earth who are transparent and ghostly. They have thought of their world as the “real” one, the one with substance, while thinking of heaven as the less substantial spirit world. If they are not changed, Heaven will have no appeal to them. They cannot live there, and neither will they want to live there.

Conversely, a small taste of hell is already experienced here, even if temporarily, by those who love God and by those who don’t. God uses suffering in this world to refine and purify his people. As St Paul said, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

From Old Testament times, the prophet Malachi had already said,

“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.” (Malachi 3:1-4)


Excerpts from the Letters of Cyril to Nestorius, and the 12 Anathemas.

cyrilApproved by the Council of Ephesus, AD 431.

“To the most religious and beloved of God, fellow minister Nestorius, Cyril sends greeting in the Lord . . .

The holy and great Synod therefore says, that the only begotten Son, born according to nature of God the Father, very God of very God, Light of Light, by whom the Father made all things, came down, and was incarnate, and was made man, suffered, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven. These words and these decrees we ought to follow, considering what is meant by the Word of God being incarnate and made man.

For we do not say that the nature of the Word was changed and became flesh, or that it was converted into a whole man consisting of soul and body; but rather that the Word having personally united to himself flesh animated by a rational soul, did in an ineffable and inconceivable manner become man, and was called the Son of Man, not merely as willing or being pleased to be so called, neither on account of taking to himself a person, but because the two natures being brought together in a true union, there is of both one Christ and one Son; for the difference of the natures is not taken away by the union, but rather the divinity and the humanity make perfect for us the one Lord Jesus Christ by their ineffable and inexpressible union.

So then he who had an existence before all ages and was born of the Father, is said to have been born according to the flesh of a woman, not as though his divine nature received its beginning of existence in the holy Virgin, for it needed not any second generation after that of the Father (for it would be absurd and foolish to say that he who existed before all ages, coeternal with the Father, needed any second beginning of existence), but since, for us and for our salvation, he personally united to himself an human body, and came forth of a woman, he is in this way said to be born after the flesh; for he was not first born a common man of the holy Virgin, and then the Word came down and entered into him, but the union being made in the womb itself, he is said to endure a birth after the flesh, ascribing to himself the birth of his own flesh. . . .

We, therefore, confess one Christ and Lord, not as worshipping a man with the Word (lest this expression “with the Word” should suggest to the mind the idea of division), but worshipping him as one and the same, forasmuch as the body of the Word, with which he sits with the Father, is not separated from the Word himself, not as if two sons were sitting with him, but one by the union with the flesh. If, however, we reject the personal union as impossible or unbecoming, we fall into the error of speaking of two sons, for it will be necessary to distinguish, and to say, that he who was properly man was honored with the appellation of Son, and that he who is properly the Word of God, has by nature both the name and the reality of Sonship.

We must not, therefore, divide the one Lord Jesus Christ into two Sons. Neither will it at all avail to a sound faith to hold, as some do, an union of persons; for the Scripture has not said that the Word united to himself the person of man, but that he was made flesh. This expression, however, “the Word was made flesh,” can mean nothing else but that he partook of flesh and blood like to us; he made our body his own, and came forth man from a woman, not casting off his existence as God, or his generation of God the Father, but even in taking to himself flesh remaining what he was. This the declaration of the correct faith proclaims everywhere.

This was the sentiment of the holy Fathers; therefore they ventured to call the holy Virgin, the Mother of God, not as if the nature of the Word or his divinity had its beginning from the holy Virgin, but because of her was born that holy body with a rational soul, to which the Word being personally united is said to be born according to the flesh.

These things, therefore, I now write unto you for the love of Christ, beseeching you as a brother, and testifying to you before Christ and the elect angels, that you would both think and teach these things with us, that the peace of the Churches may be preserved and the bond of concord and love continue unbroken amongst the Priests of God. . . .

Confessing the Word to be made one with the flesh according to substance, we adore one Son and Lord Jesus Christ: we do not divide the God from the man, nor separate him into parts, as though the two natures were mutually united in him only through a sharing of dignity and authority (for that is a novelty and nothing else), neither do we give separately to the Word of God the name Christ and the same name separately to a different one born of a woman; but we know only one Christ, the Word from God the Father with his own Flesh. For as man he was anointed with us, although it is he himself who gives the Spirit to those who are worthy and not in measure, according to the saying of the blessed Evangelist John.

But we do not say that the Word of God dwelt in him as in a common man born of the holy Virgin, lest Christ be thought of as a God-bearing man; for although the Word tabernacled among us, it is also said that in Christ “dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily”; but we understand that be became flesh, not just as he is said to dwell in the saints, but we define that that tabernacling in him was according to equality  But being made one kata fusin, and not converted into flesh, he made his indwelling in such a way, as we may say that the soul of man does in his own body. . . .

And since the holy Virgin brought forth corporally God made one with flesh according to nature, for this reason we also call her Mother of God, not as if the nature of the Word had the beginning of its existence from the flesh. . . .

The 12 Anathemas, Proposed by Cyril and accepted by the Council of Ephesus:


  1. If anyone does not confess that Emmanuel is God in truth, and therefore that the holy virgin is the mother of God (for she bore in a fleshly way the Word of God become flesh), let him be anathema.
  2. If anyone does not confess that the Word from God the Father has been united by hypostasis with the flesh and is one Christ with his own flesh, and is therefore God and man together, let him be anathema.
  3. If anyone divides in the one Christ the hypostases after the union, joining them only by a conjunction of dignity or authority or power, and not rather by a coming together in a union by nature, let him be anathema.
  4. If anyone distributes between the two persons or hypostases the expressions used either in the gospels or in the apostolic writings, whether they are used by the holy writers of Christ or by him about himself, and ascribes some to him as to a man, thought of separately from the Word from God, and others, as befitting God, to him as to the Word from God the Father, let him be anathema.
  5. If anyone dares to say that Christ was a God-bearing man and not rather God in truth, being by nature one Son, even as “the Word became flesh”, and is made partaker of blood and flesh precisely like us, let him be anathema.
  6. If anyone says that the Word from God the Father was the God or master of Christ, and does not rather confess the same both God and man, the Word having become flesh, according to the scriptures, let him be anathema.
  7. If anyone says that as man Jesus was activated by the Word of God and was clothed with the glory of the Only-begotten, as a being separate from him, let him be anathema.
  8. If anyone dares to say that the man who was assumed ought to be worshipped and glorified together with the divine Word and be called God along with him, while being separate from him, (for the addition of “with” must always compel us to think in this way), and will not rather worship Emmanuel with one veneration and send up to him one doxology, even as “the Word became flesh”, let him be anathema.
  9. If anyone says that the one Lord Jesus Christ was glorified by the Spirit, as making use of an alien power that worked through him and as having received from him the power to master unclean spirits and to work divine wonders among people, and does not rather say that it was his own proper Spirit through whom he worked the divine wonders, let him be anathema.
  10. The divine scripture says Christ became “the high priest and apostle of our confession”; he offered himself to God the Father in an odour of sweetness for our sake. If anyone, therefore, says that it was not the very Word from God who became our high priest and apostle, when he became flesh and a man like us, but as it were another who was separate from him, in particular a man from a woman, or if anyone says that he offered the sacrifice also for himself and not rather for us alone (for he who knew no sin needed no offering), let him be anathema.
  11. If anyone does not confess that the flesh of the Lord is life-giving and belongs to the Word from God the Father, but maintains that it belongs to another besides him, united with him in dignity or as enjoying a mere divine indwelling, and is not rather life-giving, as we said, since it became the flesh belonging to the Word who has power to bring all things to life, let him be anathema.
  12. If anyone does not confess that the Word of God suffered in the flesh and was crucified in the flesh and tasted death in the flesh and became the first born of the dead, although as God he is life and life-giving, let him be anathema.


Some thoughts on Orthodox/Protestant dialogue.

GrahamI was sent an article written by the late Fr Seraphim Rose on “The Proper View of Non-Orthodox Christians” and I would like to share some thoughts on its argument.

While I do not disagree with the general intent and purpose of the article (how to cultivate φιλανθρωπία, or the love of neighbor), I do believe that the article is not as effective as it could be because it does not take into account the many nuances and complexities of Orthodox/Protestant dialogue in the 21st century.

Maybe that is because Fr Seraphim wrote during a time when globalization and the Protestant awareness of Orthodoxy in America had not grown to the extent it has today. Be that as it may, I’d like to address some of the article’s arguments. (Please note that I am addressing only the content of the argument, not making any appraisal of Fr Seraphim, his writings, or anything like that).

The article is available in many places online, e.g., here.

After making some general remarks about how Orthodoxy is the Church, the article starts by saying that

It is not for us to define the state of those who are outside the Orthodox Church.

I think Fr Seraphim begins by unintentionally committing the fallacy of poisoning the well when he asserts that it is not for us to define the state of those who are outside the Church. It assumes that criticisms of error and debates about the church and doctrine, at least in the majority of times, consist of people judging the personal state of those with whom they were interacting; but that is not always the case. Plus, this is not the topic of the article to begin with.

It goes on to say,

About those Christians who are outside the Orthodox Church, therefore, I would say: they do not yet have the full truth. Perhaps it just hasn’t been revealed to them yet, or perhaps it is our fault for not living and teaching the Orthodox Faith in a way they can understand.

Here, I believe Fr Seraphim equivocates on the concept of “the truth not being revealed to them yet.” Of the several possible meanings of this idea, which one is intended here? One could think that he means that people never heard in their entire life about the Orthodox Church and of Christian doctrine, and if so I think this could be a valid point.

However, most interactions in a place like the United States today are not of the sort. On the contrary, they are interactions between Orthodox people and Protestants who know what the Orthodox Church is and what it teaches; and they often are very happy to deny her teachings, in its most central dogmas, and explicitly call Orthodox people non-Christians. So they know. And they reject it.

The only other possible meaning of “God has not yet revealed that to them” would be a subjective, Calvinistic idea of God conveying some secret revelation to people in their hearts. I don’t know if Fr Seraphim meant this, but this meaning would be problematic for several reasons: first, because it is not for us to inquire about secret and hidden things; also, because the Church in its history did not simply tell those who opposed Christian truth by saying, “maybe God didn’t reveal it to you.” Well, maybe God didn’t, but truth is truth, and error was rejected. Explicitly. In many councils.

The article also makes some vague statements about using the terms “heresy” and “heretic.” For example,

Among Western converts to Orthodoxy there is indeed a temptation to speak too freely of “heresy” and “heretics,” and to make the errors of the non-Orthodox an excuse for a certain pharisaic smugness about our own Orthodoxy.

Perhaps it is true that people might use those terms too loosely at times. However, the clear, intentional, informed, obstinate, and deliberate denial of the central tenets of Christianity by many Protestants is also a reality.

It is a common experience of many practicing Orthodox people in a place like United States, who have friends and relatives who are Protestants, to be told explicitly things like, “there is no such thing as the Eucharist, there is no such thing as the bread and wine becoming the Body and Blood of Christ. This is idolatry and paganism. Communion is just a memorial, it’s just bread and wine, or better, crackers and grape juice.”

Or, “the Virgin and Theotokos is neither a virgin nor the mother of God. This is idolatry and paganism; she is only the mother of Jesus, she was just a pipe through which God sent the physical body of his Son.”

Or, “The Orthodox Church is not the Church; it is not in the Body of Christ. It is at best just another denomination, at worst a pagan group developed after Constantine, and people in it deny Christ and go to hell.”

Or “asking for the help and prayers of the ‘saints’ is idolatry, necromancy, paganism, it is empowered  by demons, and it is a sure sign that one is going to hell.”

I could go on with many other examples. These I report from personal interactions and listening to Protestant public teaching, from the pulpit, media, etc.

Maybe one is prepared to be confronted with such things and shrug if off in the name of love. After all, there is some truth in Protestantism (as it is inevitable – there is much truth in Buddhism and Islam as well), and, as Fr Seraphim says,

Almost all of the [Protestant] religious Christmas carols are all right, and they are sung by Orthodox Christians in America (some of them even in the strictest monasteries!).

Maybe Fr Seraphim was thinking of some of the classic Protestant hymns of John Newton and the Wesleys, not the, shall we say, interesting things sung in modern pop evangelical Jesus-is-my-boyfriend Christian rock.

Be that as it may, I don’t think that true love, in this situation, is one not to address truth. This would be simply superficial indifference and compromise. And I don’t think the Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils who gave their lives to defend truth and evangelize the world would agree with that approach either.

yelling1Many Protestants say these things outlined above to Orthodox people. They deny the Eucharist, the Church, the Mother of God, the communion of saints, the Mysteries (Sacraments), and Orthodox Christology. They actively teach the erroneous alternatives to the Christian Faith.

They also say these things to other Protestants. Pastors and teachers say these things from the pulpit. Protestant churches use all available media tools to spread these errors and to keep people from being joined to the Body of Christ. I have heard, read, or been told these things hundreds of times.

The article ends by affirming that we should view or non-Orthodox people as potentially Orthodox, and live peaceably with them and not be harsh towards them.

In the end, we should view the non-Orthodox as people to whom Orthodoxy has not yet been revealed, as people who are potentially Orthodox (if only we ourselves would give them a better example!). There is no reason why we cannot call them Christians and be on good terms with them, recognizing that at least we have our faith in Christ in common, and live in peace especially with our own families. A harsh, polemical attitude is called for only when the non-Orthodox are trying to take away our flocks or change our teaching.

I think this is a very problematic equivocation, and here’s why.

It assumes that opposing these errors I listed here, and many others, is automatically, and by definition, equivalent to being harsh, to considering people as lost causes, enemies, or wanting not to be peaceable with them.

Not only this is not true, very often the opposite is true. We speak the truth in love with the hope that people will embrace the truth and reject error, not because we don’t consider them as potentially living in the Truth.

We live in a society where truth has been, by and large, demoted from the public square and reduced to personal, subjective preferences. The  popular idea that “truth is relative” is something that many people actually believe. And one offspring of such darkness is the increase in hatred against opposing views.

We already see this in the current socio-political condition of this country, where “toleration” is something that one only wishes to apply to his or her opinion, but never to extend to the ones who disagree with him or her. More than ever, people do not accept opposing views, and express hatred against those who hold them. We are living in an increasingly fascist society when it comes to ideas and freedom of speech. It probably won’t be too long before people can be jailed for simply saying particular Christian beliefs out loud which are out of step with current popular opinion.

This carries on to the religious arena as well. Ironically, very often, the same evangelical Christians who complain about not having the liberty to believe as they will in the secular world, will not tolerate being questioned in their beliefs by other Christians either.

I cannot count how many times I have witnessed Protestants reacting with hatred at the mere mention that their views are in error. Not necessarily by an Orthodox –  it could be a Lutheran questioning Word-of-Faith preachers, or many other combinations.

Protestants are often very eager to affirm the things I outlined above, but if one tries to explain why the affirmations are erroneous, the reaction is something like, “how dare you? Who do you think you are? How dare you judge me? You are rude and judgmental and harsh!”

Image result for yelling womanMost often, it would not matter if you were to oppose their views on your knees and holding out flowers and a box of chocolates. The mere objective mention of their error, or the defense of the Christian faith and truth, is a cause for hatred and the accusation of rudeness, arrogance, and of being judgmental.

It is no surprise that those who have been wounded by the zeitgeist (as we all have some way) get angry when confronted with the truth, even if the “confrontation” is done with respect and even gentleness.

I do not doubt that many people have failed to be gentle and respectful in their theological interactions. I am sure I have at times. We should all heed the call to gentleness and respect.

But I am convinced that more often than not, the problem is just the opposite. It is that people knowingly and deliberately reject the truth they do know, much like the Pharisees of old; they do not like being opposed in any way that does not suit their personal preference. Because for many Christians in America, Christianity, either in itself, or in its different “expressions,” is a matter of preference, not ultimate truth. That is why many Protestants now, more than ever, incessantly pursue the Holy Grail of being “relevant” to the public preferences du jour.

I do not even need to list the numerous passages in the New Testament where St. Paul and others command their co-workers to “rebuke sharply” those who oppose the truth.

I worked for a few years in countercult apologetics when I was a Protestant. I have seen how cults operate. Groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and so on. They might be “potential” Protestants and Christians, but they are not Protestants, and they are not Christians. They’re cults. They jeopardize peoples’ lives spiritually. Maybe God has not yet revealed something to them either.

Often they also react with anger and hatred against those who very gently, objectively, and respectfully speak and publish against their serious errors. Against people who have spent their entire lives, as a calling, reaching out to them and “speaking the truth in love” to help pluck them out of the fire.

Many of those people speaking the truth are former cultists. I have met them. Many of them are very thankful that somebody reached out to them. They are thankful that people were not afraid to be hated or thought of being jerks by simply telling them the truth. They are thankful that people cared and reached out and spoke the truth to them.

Our friends and family members who are Protestants may not be in cults. But, as I mentioned above, they can very clearly, deliberately, and obstinately espouse very serious error and spread such errors against the truth of Christ. They do it here in this country. They also send missionaries to Orthodox countries to “evangelize” them – i.e., get them out of the Church and into their own groups and versions of “Christianity.”

I believe Fr Seraphim’s article, which I have seen circulating on the interwebs, and which is well-intentioned, does a disservice by implying that presenting truth is, automatically and by definition, unkind; and that we should “live in peace” and quiet alongside outspoken error and heresy for the sake of being nice and not being thought of as rude.

On the contrary, we should speak the truth in love.

As I write this, I’m reminded that last night I was invited by a friend to attend the Service at the old ROCOR Cathedral in San Francisco, when in a couple of weeks he (a Protestant convert) will be made an official catechumen so he can be baptized and Chrismated into the Church. Because people who cared (including me) spoke the truth in love and took the time to answer his questions.

Glory to God!

St Symeon the New Theologian on the Theotokos and the Eucharist

st-symeon-the-new-theologian“The same undefiled flesh which He accepted from the pure loins of Mary, the all-pure Theotokos, and with which He was given birth in the body, He gives to us as food.

And when we eat of it, when we eat worthily of His flesh, each one of use receives within himself the entirety of God made flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ, son of God and son of the immaculate Virgin Mary . . .

He is present in the body bodilessly, mingled with our essence and nature, and deifying us who share His body, who are become flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone . . . This is the mystery all full of holy terror which I hesitate even to write, and tremble in recounting.

Thus, while from His immaculate mother He borrowed her immaculate flesh, and gave her in return His own divinity – o strange and new exchange! – He takes no flesh from the saints, but He does make them sharers of His own deified flesh. . . .

Just as we all receive of His fullness, so do we all partake of the immaculate flesh of His all-holy Mother which He assumed, and so, just as Christ our God, true God, became her son; even so we too – O the ineffable love for mankind! – become sons of His mother, the Theotokos, and brothers of Christ Himself . . .

The Mother of God is lady and Queen and mistress and mother of all the saints. The saints are all both her servants, since she is the mother of God, and her sons, because they partake of the all-pure flesh of her Son . . .

The saints therefore are triply her kin: first in that they are related to her from the same clay and breath of life given Adam;

Secondly, that they have communion and share with her in the flesh which was taken from her;

Thirdly and last, that on account of the hallowing which has come to pass in them through her by virtue of the Spirit, each conceives in like manner to her within himself the God of all, as she bore Him in herself.

For, if indeed she gave birth to him in the body, yet she always possessed all of Him in the Spirit, and has Him now, and will ever have Him inseparable from her.

So this is the mystery of the marriages which the Father arranged for His only-begotten Son, Who with Him is co-everlasting and of equal dignity. And He invited many, and sent his servants to invite those who were called to the weddings, and they would not come.”

St Symeon the New Theologian, c. 1010 AD
First Ethical Discourse

St. John of Kronstadt: “We must carefully tend the field of our heart”

saintjohnofkronstadtWhy is it necessary to pray at home, and to attend divine service at the Church? Well, why is it necessary for you to eat and drink, to take exercise, or to work, every day? In order to support the life of the body and strengthen it. So also it is absolutely necessary to pray in order to support the life of the soul, to strengthen the soul, which is sick with sin, and to cleanse it, just as you employ some kinds of food and drink to cleanse the body.

If you do not pray, you behave inadvisedly and most unwisely, supporting, gratifying and strengthening your body in every way, but neglecting your soul.

Our soul, as a spiritual, active being, cannot remain idle; it either does good or evil, one of the two; either wheat grows in it or tares. But as every good comes from God, and as the means of obtaining every good from God is prayer, those who pray fervently, sincerely, from the depths of their hearts, obtain from the Lord grace to do good, and, before all, the grace of faith; whilst those who do not pray, naturally remain without these spiritual gifts, voluntarily depriving themselves of them by their own negligence and spiritual coldness.

And as the wheat of good thoughts, inclinations, intentions, and works grows in the hearts of those who labour and pray fervently to the Lord, so in the hearts of those who do not pray, the tares of every evil grow, smothering the small amount of good that has remained in them from the grace of baptism, chrism, and subsequent penitence and communion.

We must by every means implant in the field of our heart the seeds of the virtues, faith, hope in God, and love for God and our neighbor, fertilize it with prayer, patience, good works, and not for a single hour remain in complete idleness and inactivity, for in times of idleness and inactivity the enemy zealously sows his tares. ‘While men slept, the enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way’ (Mt. 13:25).”

We must carefully tend the field of our heart, lest the tares of every vice should grow in it; we must daily weed it – at least by morning and evening prayers – and water it with abundant tears, as with rain.

It is good for me to draw near to God, said David, who had tasted the sweetness of prayer and praising God. Other men confirm this, and I a sinner also. Observe, that to draw near to God is a good and blessed thing (even here on earth) while we are yet in the sinful flesh. What bliss, then, will it be to be united to God there in heaven! And the bliss of union with God here on earth is a specimen and pledge of the bliss of union with God after death, in eternity.

St. John of Kronstadt (1829 – 1908), Spiritual Counsels.

Staniloae on Knowledge of God and Pain

staniloaeEvery Christian knows God in his providential action by which the Christian is led in the particular circumstances of his own life, sometimes having good things for his lot, at other times – as a kind of training – being deprived of them. This latter form of guidance Saint Maximos calls leading through judgment . . .

Everyone knows God in the qualms of conscience he feels for the wrongs he has committed and, finally, everyone knows him in his own troubles and failure – temporary or lasting – in his own illness or that of those close to him that results from certain evils done or as a means of moral perfections and spiritual strengthening; but everyone also knows God in the help that he receives from him in overcoming these and all the other barriers and difficulties that stand in his way. This knowledge helps in leading each man on his own way of perfection.

It is a thrilling, burdensome, painful and joyful knowledge; it wakens within us our ability to respond; it gives fervor to prayer, and it causes our being to draw closer to God.

In this knowledge, our being experiences in practice the goodness, power, justice and wisdom of God, his attentive care for us, and God’s special plan in its regard. In this connection the human person experiences a relation of particular intimacy with God as supreme Personal reality. In this knowledge I no longer see God only as the creator and the providential guide of all things, or as the mystery which makes himself visible to all, filling all with a joy which is to a greater or lesser extent the same in all cases; but I know him in his special care and regard to me, in his intimate relations with me, in his plan whereby, through the particular suffering, demands, and direction that he addresses to me in life, he leads me in a special way to the common goal.

This intimate relationship which God has with me certainly does not remove me from solidarity with others or from obligations I have towards others, towards family, nation, my home, my age, all the contemporary world. But God makes himself known to me through the appeals that he addresses to me especially, so as to stir me up to fulfill my duties, or through the remorse that I feel when I have not fulfilled my own special duties . . .

This is why God puts me in circumstances like those described, and through them makes himself transparent on account of the interest he takes in me. It is especially with this purpose in mind that he is the mysterium tremendum.

christ-praying-620x349The difficult circumstances which pierce our being like nails urge us towards more deeply felt prayer. And during this kind of prayer the presence of God is more evident to us . . . the state of prayer is a condition in which through an increase of sensibility, we apprehend God as a “Thou” who is present . . .

The existential experience of God is combined with the apophatic experience of him [and these two combine] with the knowledge of God as creator and providential guide of the world (cataphatic knowledge) . . .

Through these three kinds of knowledge [cataphatic, apophatic, and existential] the personal interest God shows towards man, together with his mystery and greatness that are beyond understanding, come into relief. Through all three, God is known as lover according to the measure of our love for him and for our neighbor.


Dumitru Staniloae, The Experience of God (Orthodox Dogmatic Theology vol. 1), pp. 117-122.