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.

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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.

St Symeon the New Theologian sees God

st-symeon-the-new-theologianOften when one thinks of the essence/energies distinction in God, one thinks primarily of St Gregory Palamas, since the issue rose to the level of controversy during his days. However, the distinction, and the vision of the uncreated light, have been discussed and addressed by many Fathers since at least the 4th century.

In this venerable line of tradition, we find very moving passages in the writings of St Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022). We commemorate his Feast day this Sunday, Oct. 12. Here’s an excerpt of his writings On the Mystical Life, where he gives a very vivid account of encountering God.

Here St Symeon describes his experience in the context of relating it to his monastic elder. It is almost as though what was prefigured in faint shadows in the life of the Prophet Samuel (1 Sam. 3:1-10) comes to fulfillment in a face to face, as it were, vision of God. And that does not leave him unchanged.

This, invariably, is just what occurs concerning the invisible God. Whenever someone sees Him revealed, he sees light. While on the one hand he is amazed at what he has seen, on the other he does not know immediately who it is who has appeared, yet he dares not ask Him. And how could he? He is unable even to lift up his eyes and look on that grandeur. With fear and trembling he looks instead, as it were, at his own feet, knowing fully only that it is Someone Who has appeared before his face.

And if there happens to be some other man who has told him beforehand about such things, as having known God from before, he goes to this man [St Symeon’s elder] and says: “I have seen.” And the other says: “What did you see, child?” “Light, O my father, so sweet, sweet! So much so, father, that my reason has not the strength to tell you.”

And, while he is saying this, his heart leaps and pounds, and catches on fire with longing for what he has seen. Then, with many warm tears, he begins to say again: “That light, father, appeared to me. The walls of my cell immediately vanished and the world disappeared, fleeing I think from before His face, and I remained alone in the presence alone of the light. And I do not know, father, if this my body was there, too. I do not know if I was outside of it. For a while I did not know that I carry and am clothed with a body. And such great joy was in me and is with me now, great love and longing both, that I was moved to streams of tears like rivers, just like now as you see.”

The other then answers and says: “It is He, child.” And, at this word, he sees Him again and, little by little, comes to be completely purified and, purified, grows bold and asks that One Himself, and says: “My God, is it You?”

And He answers and says: “Yes, I am He, God, Who for your sake became man; and behold, I have made you, as you see, and shall make you, god.”

– St Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022), On the Mystical Life (Vol. 2), pp. 53-54

Theosis? What are you, Mormon?

St Paul and the other apostles used many images and analogies when speaking of our redemption, and one concept that became central to the Fathers since New Testament times was that of deification.

Christ has shared in our poverty so that we may share in the richness of his divinity: for our sakes He became poor, so that through His poverty we might become rich (2 Cor. 8:9); Christ prayed that we might share in the perichoresis of the Trinity, “that they may be one, just as We are one – I in them, and You in Me, that they may be perfectly one” (John 17:22-23); we have been made “partakers of his divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).

If humans are to share in God’s glory, they are to become by grace what God is by nature, i.e., we are to be deified. As St Athanasius put it,

The Word was made man in order that we might be made divine [also translated, that we might become god]. He displayed himself through a body, that we might receive knowledge of the invisible Father. He endured insult at the hands of men, that we might inherit immortality. [1]

This is only possible because we are mystically and ontologically united to Christ through faith, in the Holy Spirit; therefore, our redemption and deification is only possible if Christ is fully God and fully human, and if the Holy Spirit himself is also fully God. In fact, this became central in the Father’s arguments for the deity of Christ and of the Holy Spirit in the fourth century.[2] No one less than God can save humanity, and so Christ must be fully God; but only if He is truly human, as we are, can we humans participate in what He has done for us.

Scripture states that human beings have been created in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26). Most of the Greek Fathers made a distinction between those two terms, arguing that the image of God refers to our intellectual capacities and our freedom of will, while the likeness of God refers to our conformity to God according to virtue. Our image has not been lost in the Fall for we retain our reason and human free will; but what Adam failed to do, and that which we must attain through the grace of God enabling our efforts – the synergia of God and man – is likeness to God. To become like God is to acquire divine likeness, to be assimilated to God through virtue, and therefore, to be deified, to become a second god, a god by grace.[3]

Adam and Eve were created in the image and likeness of God, but they still had to mature and progress to a greater likeness. Thus, human beings before the Fall were perfect not so much in an actual but in a potential sense, for, having the image, they were called to acquire the likeness by their own efforts, assisted by the grace of God (cooperation, synergia). As St Irenaeus put it,[4] Adam was in a state of innocence and simplicity, in need of growth unto perfection.[5]

Sin, Grace, Free Will

After the Fall the likeness is not something with which we are endowed from our first moment of existence; it is a goal for which we must aim, something we can only acquire by degrees. However sinful we may be, we never lose the image, but the likeness depends upon our moral choices, upon our virtue, our cooperation with the grace of God – and conversely, this likeness is destroyed by sin.

The Orthodox Church rejects any account of grace that might seem to infringe upon human freedom; therefore, we, as “fellow workers with God” (1 Cor. 3:9) must make our contribution to this common work – although always recognizing that what God does is of immeasurably greater importance than what we do. There are two unequal but necessary forces that cooperate: divine grace and human will.

The paradigm and supreme example of this is seen in the Theotokos, who said “may it be done according to thy will.” We cannot merit salvation, but we must work it out in fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12-13), for faith without works is dead (Jas. 2:17). Sin has restricted the scope of our free will but has not destroyed it.

Acquire the Holy Spirit!

St Seraphim of Sarov taught that “the true aim of the Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit.” Vladimir Lossky argues that this “sums up the whole spiritual tradition of the Orthodox Church.”[6] The acquisition of the Holy Spirit is nothing other than deification. The final goal at which every Christian must aim is to become god, to attain theosis; for Orthodoxy, our salvation and redemption mean our deification.

Just as the Persons of the Trinity inhere in one another in the divine perichoresis, we also are called to dwell in the Trinitarian God, to share in the life of the Trinity, and to dwell in one another in an unceasing movement of love. This idea of personal and organic union between God and humans – God dwelling in us and we in Him – is often highlighted in the gospel of St John[7] and the epistles of St. Paul;[8] again, St Peter speaks of our sharing in the divine nature.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (2 Peter 1:3-4)

A Fourth Member of the Trinity? Essence and Energies.

It is important to note that the idea of deification must always be understood in the light of the distinction between God’s essence and His energies, as St Gregory of Palamas stated, viz., union with God means union with the divine energies, not the divine essence. The latter remains transcendent, inaccessible to creation ontologically, as well as intellectually – thus the need of apophatic theology.

Union with God’s essence would constitute pantheism (or panentheism) which the Orthodox Church rejects. In the mystical union of God and man through deification, the Creator and the creature are not fused into a single being, but remain distinct. Human beings fully retain their personhood even after attaining deification, and their union with God is the analog of the Trinity, where there is unity in diversity. Of course, the distinction being that in the Trinity the Persons share the same numerical nature, whereas human persons only share their specific nature with other humans, and remain human even while participating in the divine nature.

We remain creatures while becoming god by grace, as Christ remained God when becoming man by the Incarnation. We do not become God by nature, but created gods, gods by grace or by status. Nonetheless, deified saints, according to St Maximus, are those who are worthy of God and have one and the same energy with him. Saints do not lose their free will, but when deified they voluntarily conform their will to the will of God in love.

Body and Soul, Heaven and Earth

Deification involves not only the inward person but also the body, for human beings are hylomorphic beings, unities of body and soul, and Christ took upon himself full humanity in order to redeem the whole person. Therefore, according to St Maximus, “our body is deified at the same time as our soul.” Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and we are to offer them as living sacrifices to God (1 Cor. 6:19, Rom. 12:1).

The full deification of the body must wait until the Last Day, when our redemption will be fully consummated and the righteous will rise from the dead and be clothed with a spiritual, incorruptible body. In that Day, the glory of the Holy Spirit which now shines hidden in the inward man will transfigure our bodies, coming out from within and shining visibly with the light of Mount Tabor. In the meantime, we receive the firstfruits of our redemption, and as such some saints have experienced tokens of the visible, bodily glorification.

St John Maximovitch

Reports of saints shining visibly in times of prayer include that of St Seraphim of Sarov, Arsenius the Great, Abba Pambo and others.[9] Here in San Francisco, the incorrupt relics of my patron saint, St. John Maximovitch, lie displayed for all to see and venerate at the Holy Virgin Cathedral.

Because the Orthodox are convinced that the body is sanctified and transfigured together with the soul, reverence for the relics of the saints is a natural outcome. The grace of God that is present in the saints’ bodies during their lives remains active when they die, and God uses such bodies as channels of divine power and as instruments of healing. In some cases, the bodies of the saints have been miraculously preserved from corruption; but the reverence and veneration of the relics of the saints is present even when this has not occurred.

Indeed, the doctrine of theosis, which informs a worldview of God suffusing human beings with his grace, in his energies, is also the framework for the understanding that God redeems not only human beings, but all of physical creation as well. Not only our human body but the whole of the material world will be eventually transfigured, for Christ came to make all things new, and God’s redemptive plan culminates in the establishment not only of a new heaven, but also a new earth. Creation is to be saved and glorified along with humans, and icons are the firstfruits of this redemption of matter.

The Incarnation, of course, is both the basis and means through which God redeems all of creation, including matter. Christ took flesh and thus the material order in him was united to God. From his Incarnation springs God’s cosmic redemption, and the Orthodox doctrine of the deification of the body, its iconology, and indeed its view of the holiness and even sacramentality of the created order are firmly grounded on it.[10]

In the Orthodox tradition there is therefore a profound sense of the intrinsic sacredness of the earth, a serious affirmation of the goodness of life and an increasing concern for man’s responsibility as the steward of the planet. According to Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios’ 1988 Christmas message, the world “should become a Eucharistic offering to the Creator, a life giving bread, partaken in justice and love with others.”

Six Points to Remember

Metropolitan Kallistos lists six points that must be made in order to avoid misunderstandings concerning the doctrine of theosis:

  1. First, it must be clear that theosis is for every Christian without exception. The process of divinization begins in this life for all Christians, and not for a select few. However weak our attempts may be to follow Christ and keep his commandments, of using our will in making choices that conform to the grace of God, we are already in some degree deified.
  1. Secondly, the process of deification does not mean that one becomes perfect or sinless in this life, or that one ceases to be conscious of sin. It was St Paul who called himself the “chief of sinners,” for it is characteristic of great saints to have an acute awareness of their own limitations. Deification always presupposes a continual act of repentance, and it is not for nothing that the Jesus Prayer begs, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” The doctrine of theosis is not mutually exclusive with a doctrine of ongoing penitence, but rather presupposes it.
  1. Thirdly, theosis does not come about through some esoteric or magical technique. Rather, the process of deification, in which we cooperate with the grace of God, takes place in one’s life through the means God has appointed  to bring that about.
    • Metropolitan Kallistos lists six such means:
      1. Church (i.e., participating in the liturgy and in the life of the community),
      2. The regular reception of the sacraments
      3. Perseverance in prayer
      4. The reading of the Gospels
      5. The keeping of God’s commandments
      6. Christian service.
  1. Therefore, fourthly, deification is not a solitary but a “social” process. The commandments are summed up in the love of God and the love of neighbor. These two are inseparable, for one cannot fulfill one without fulfilling the other. Only if one loves God – and therefore only if one loves his neighbor – can one be deified. As the Persons of the Trinity dwell in one another, so we must also dwell in our neighbors.
  1. Fifthly, and consequently, theosis is practical because love of God and of our neighbors must be practical, i.e., expressed in action. Obviously the process of theosis does not exclude mystical experience, but it certainly includes the service of love. In our efforts, our synergia, we cooperate with the grace of God by conforming not only our minds and hearts to him, but also in imitating his love through actions.
  1. Lastly, deification presupposes life in the Church, life in the sacraments, for they are the means appointed by God for us to acquire the Holy Spirit and be transformed in the divine likeness.

[1] On the Incarnation, 54 –  Αυτός γαρ ενηνθρώπησεν, ίνα ημείς θεοποιηθώμεν·

[2] Cf. e.g., St Gregory of Nazianzus’ orations on the Son and on the Holy Spirit against Arianism. Also, as theosis requires not only the full divinity of Christ, but also his full humanity (since he does not redeem what he does not assume), it became important for the Christological discussions concerning the human nature of Christ as well, over against Docetism, Monophysitism, Monothelitism, etc.

[3] “I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you” (Ps. 82:6). “Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’?’” (John 10:34).

[4] Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, 12.

[5] Metropolitan Kallistos points out that this is a different approach than that of Augustine, who viewed humans in Paradise in a state of realized perfection. It is interesting to note that the “magisterial” Reformers (Calvin, Turretin, et. al.) in Protestantism viewed Adam and Eve as being not in a perfect state, but in a state of probation, after the successful completion of which they were to attain glorification through obedience to the “covenant of works.” In that view, Christ came to fulfill that covenant of works as the second Adam, and thereby to impute his perfect obedience and righteousness to those united to him through faith. The idea of imputation (in the forensic, Reformed sense) was foreign to the Fathers (and arguably to the New Testament), but it is interesting to note some similar views the Reformers had with the Greek Fathers concerning Adam’s need to attain likeness to God, in contradistinction to Augustine and later Latin theologians.

[6] The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, p. 196.

[7] E.g., John 15:1-5 reads, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser . . . Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

[8] E.g., we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones (Eph. 5:30), we are members of Christ (1 Cor. 6:15); Christ lives in us (Gal. 2:20) and dwells in our hearts by faith (Eph. 3:17); He is in us (Rom. 8:10), and is to be formed in us (Gal. 4:19); etc.

[9] There are similar reports of such events in the Western tradition, the example of Anselm of Canterbury perhaps being the most famous.

[10] As C. S. Lewis has famously stated in Mere Christianity, “God likes matter, He invented it.” Indeed, he also has redeemed it.

St John Maximovitch on Divorce

The sanctity of marriage has literally ceased to exist and marriage has turned into an ordinary contract. Many respectable couples who have lived together for decades in happy and seemingly indestructible marriages have dissolved their marital bonds and tied new ones. Some have done this after being vanquished by passion, others to get ahead by their new marriages. They seek out all possible reasons and bases for dissolving their marriages, which often even turn out to be false under oath.

The new marriages, amongst the middle-aged and young people alike, are no more stable. It has become a usual thing to see requests for dissolution of marriage several months after their inception. The slightest misunderstanding or disagreement now becomes the cause of the end of the marital union, because the awareness of the sinfulness of violating marriage has been completely lost. The Church authorities have broadly condescended to the weaknesses of the present generation, greatly easing the conditions for dissolution of marriage. Nevertheless, the licentiousness seemingly knows no bounds, going around even those rules that now exist. After the dissolution of marriage, they quickly enter into new ones that are just as unstable, and then often enter into third ones.

Not being able to indulge their lusts by marrying and paying no attention to any Church and moral laws, many go even further, considering it unnecessary to turn to the Church for a blessing of their union. In countries where civil laws allow for registration of marriage and do not require Church weddings, cohabitation without a Church wedding is becoming more and more frequent, as well as the cessation of family relations through civil divorce, although the marriage was blessed in Church. They forget that the sinfulness of this activity does not lessen for the new, respectable name, and that any cohabitation that has not been blessed by the Church is fornication and adultery. Many live openly unlawfully, without even any attempt to hide their obvious wantonness. Some do this out of passion, others to get ahead through their cohabitation; suppressing all shame, they are not ashamed to show up everywhere in society with their cohabitants, whom they even dare to call their spouses.

From The Spiritual State of the Russian Emigration, 1938

St Seraphim of Sarov and the Vision of the Uncreated Light

For the sheer benefit of spiritual edification I wanted to reproduce here the section from Valentine Zander’s life of St Seraphim of Sarov, where we have the description of the uncreated light of the grace of God.

______________________________________________________________________________

St Seraphim of Sarov (1759-1833)

“[T]he Lord has frequently demonstrated before many witnesses how the grace of the Holy Spirit acts on people whom He has sanctified and illumined by His great inspirations. Remember Moses after his talk with God on Mount Sinai. He so shone with an extraordinary light that people were unable to look at him. He was even forced to wear a veil when he appeared in public.

Remember the Transfiguration of the Lord on Mount Tabor. A great light encircled Him, “and His raiment became shining, exceedingly white like snow” (Mk. 9:3), and His disciples fell on their faces from fear. But when Moses and Elijah appeared to Him in that light, a cloud overshadowed them in order to hide the radiance of the light of the divine grace which blinded the eyes of the disciples. Thus the grace of the All-Holy Spirit of God appears in an ineffable light to all to whom God reveals its action.”

“But how,” I asked Father Seraphim, “can I know that I am in the grace of the Holy Spirit?”

“It is very simple, your Godliness,” he replied. “That is why the Lord says: ‘All things are simple to those who find knowledge‘ (Prov. 8:9, Septuagint). The trouble is that we do not seek this divine knowledge which does not puff up, for it is not of this world. This knowledge which is full of love for God and for our neighbour builds up every man for his salvation.

Of this knowledge the Lord said that God wills all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth (I Tim. 2:4). And of the lack of this knowledge He said to His Apostles: Are you also yet without understanding (Mat. 15:16)?

Concerning this understanding [15], it is said in the Gospel of the Apostles: Then opened He their understanding (Lk. 24:45), and the Apostles always perceived whether the Spirit of God was dwelling in them or not; and being filled with understanding, they saw the presence of the Holy Spirit with them and declared positively that their work was holy and entirely pleasing to the Lord God.

That explains why in their Epistles they wrote: It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us (Acts 15:28). Only on these grounds did they offer their Epistles as immutable truth for the benefit of all the faithful. Thus the holy Apostles were consciously aware of the presence in themselves of the Spirit of God. And so you see, your Godliness, how simple it is!”

“Nevertheless,” I replied, “I do not understand how I can be certain that I am in the Spirit of God. How can I discern for myself His true manifestation in me?”

Father Seraphim replied: “I have already told you, your Godliness, that it is very simple and I have related in detail how people come to be in the Spirit of God and how we can recognize His presence in us. So what do you want, my son?”

“I want to understand it well,” I said.

Then Father Seraphim took me very firmly by the shoulders and said: “We are both in the Spirit of God now, my son. Why don’t you look at me?”

I replied: “I cannot look, Father, because your eyes are flashing like lightning. Your face has become brighter than the sun, and my eyes ache with pain.”

Father Seraphim said: “Don’t be alarmed, your Godliness! Now you yourself have become as bright as I am. You are now in the fullness of the Spirit of God yourself; otherwise you would not be able to see me as I am.”

Then, bending his head towards me, he whispered softly in my ear: “Thank the Lord God for His unutterable mercy to us! You saw that I did not even cross myself; and only in my heart I prayed mentally to the Lord God and said within myself: ‘Lord, grant him to see clearly with his bodily eyes that descent of Thy Spirit which Thou grantest to Thy servants when Thou art pleased to appear in the light of Thy magnificent glory.’

And you see, my son, the Lord instantly fulfilled the humble prayer of poor Seraphim. How then shall we not thank Him for this unspeakable gift to us both? Even to the greatest hermits, my son, the Lord God does not always show His mercy in this way. This grace of God, like a loving mother, has been pleased to comfort your contrite heart at the intercession of the Mother of God herself. But why, my son, do you not look me in the eyes? Just look, and don’t be afraid! The Lord is with us!”

After these words I glanced at his face and there came over me an even greater reverent awe. Imagine in the center of the sun, in the dazzling light of its midday rays, the face of a man talking to you.

You see the movement of his lips and the changing expression of his eyes, you hear his voice, you feel someone holding your shoulders; yet you do not see his hands, you do not even see yourself or his figure, but only a blinding light spreading far around for several yards and illumining with its glaring sheen both the snow-blanket which covered the forest glade and the snow-flakes which besprinkled me and the great Elder. You can imagine the state I was in!

“How do you feel now?” Father Seraphim asked me.

“Extraordinarily well,” I said.

“But in what way? How exactly do you feel well?”

I answered: “I feel such calmness and peace in my soul that no words can express it.”

“This, your Godliness,” said Father Seraphim, “is that peace of which the Lord said to His disciples: My peace I give unto you; not as the world gives, give I unto you (Jn. 14:21). If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you (Jn. 15:19). But be of good cheer; I have overcome the world (Jn. 16:33).

And to those people whom this world hates but who are chosen by the Lord, the Lord gives that peace which you now feel within you, the peace which, in the words of the Apostle, passes all understanding (Phil. 4:7). The Apostle describes it in this way, because it is impossible to express in words the spiritual well-being which it produces in those into whose hearts the Lord God has infused it.

Christ the Saviour calls it a peace which comes from His own generosity and is not of this world, for no temporary earthly prosperity can give it to the human heart; it is granted from on high by the Lord God Himself, and that is why it is called the peace of God. What else do you feel?” Father Seraphim asked me.

“An extraordinary sweetness,” I replied.

And he continued: “This is that sweetness of which it is said in Holy Scripture: They will be inebriated with the fatness of Thy house; and Thou shalt make them drink of the torrent of Thy delight (Ps. 35:8) [16]. And now this sweetness is flooding our hearts and coursing through our veins with unutterable delight. From this sweetness our hearts melt as it were, and both of us are filled with such happiness as tongue cannot tell. What else do you feel?”

“An extraordinary joy in all my heart.”

And Father Seraphim continued: “When the Spirit of God comes down to man and overshadows him with the fullness of His inspiration, then the human soul overflows with unspeakable joy, for the Spirit of God fills with joy whatever He touches . . . What else do you feel, your Godliness?”

I answered: “An extraordinary warmth.”

“How can you feel warmth, my son? Look, we are sitting in the forest. It is winter out-of-doors, and snow is underfoot. There is more than an inch of snow on us, and the snowflakes are still falling. What warmth can there be?”

I answered: “Such as there is in a bath-house when the water is poured on the stone and the steam rises in clouds.”

“And the smell?” he asked me. “Is it the same as in the bath-house?”

“No,” I replied. “There is nothing on earth like this fragrance. When in my dear mother’s lifetime I was fond of dancing and used to go to balls and parties, my mother would sprinkle me with scent which she bought at the best shops in Kazan. But those scents did not exhale such fragrance.”

And Father Seraphim, smiling pleasantly, said: “I know it myself just as well as you do, my son, but I am asking you on purpose to see whether you feel it in the same way. It is absolutely true, your Godliness! The sweetest earthly fragrance cannot be compared with the fragrance which we now feel, for we are now enveloped in the fragrance of the Holy Spirit of God. What on earth can be like it?

Mark, your Godliness, you have told me that around us it is warm as in a bath-house; but look, neither on you nor on me does the snow melt, nor does it underfoot; therefore, this warmth is not in the air but in us. It is that very warmth about which the Holy Spirit in the words of prayer makes us cry to the Lord: ‘Warm me with the warmth of Thy Holy Spirit!’

By it the hermits of both sexes were kept warm and did not fear the winter frost, being clad, as in fur coats, in the grace-given clothing woven by the Holy Spirit. And so it must be in actual fact, for the grace of God must dwell within us, in our heart, because the Lord said: The Kingdom of God is within you (Lk. 17:21). By the Kingdom of God the Lord meant the grace of the Holy Spirit.

This Kingdom of God is now within us, and the grace of the Holy Spirit shines upon us and warms us from without as well. It fills the surrounding air with many fragrant odours, sweetens our senses with heavenly delight and floods our hearts with unutterable joy.

Our present state is that of which the Apostle says; The Kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17). Our faith consists not in the plausible words of earthly wisdom, but in the demonstration of the Spirit and power (cp. I Cor.2:4).

That is just the state that we are in now. Of this state the Lord said: There are some of those standing here who shall not taste of death till they see the Kingdom of God come in power (Mk. 9:1).

See, my son, what unspeakable joy the Lord God has now granted us! This is what it means to be in the fullness of the Holy Spirit, about which St. Macarius of Egypt writes: ‘I myself was in the fullness of the Holy Spirit.’

With this fullness of His Holy Spirit the Lord has now filled us poor creatures to overflowing. So there is no need now, your Godliness, to ask how people come to be in the grace of the Holy Spirit. Will you remember this manifestation of God’s ineffable mercy which has visited us?”

“I don’t know, Father,” I said, “whether the Lord will grant me to remember this mercy of God always as vividly and clearly as I feel it now.”

“I think,” Father Seraphim answered me, “that the Lord will help you to retain it in your memory forever, or His goodness would never have instantly bowed in this way to my humble prayer and so quickly anticipated the request of poor Seraphim; all the more so, because it is not given to you alone to understand it, but through you it is for the whole world, in order that you yourself may be confirmed in God’s work and may be useful to others.

The fact that I am a Monk and you are a layman is utterly beside the point. What God requires is true faith in Himself and His Only-begotten Son.” . . .

And during the whole of this time, from the moment when Father Seraphim’s face became radiant, this illumination continued; and all that he told me from the beginning of the narrative till now, he said while remaining in one and the same position. The ineffable glow of the light which emanated from him I myself saw with my own eyes. And I am ready to vouch for it with an oath.

Apparition of St John Maximovitch

St John Maximovitch

This is an audio interview with Fr Wayne Wilson, whom I know personally. Fr Wayne was one of the Campus Crusade for Christ group that entered the Church in the 80s. Now he is the priest of a wonderful parish in Orange County (St Barnabas in Costa Mesa). I had met with him many times before I ever heard about this interview or story. He is a wonderful man.

In this interview, he recounts how St John Maximovitch appeared to him during a time of serious health issues. This is the kind of story that my naturally skeptic mind would have questioned – except, again, I know the man. Not to mention that this kind of experience with Vladyka John is far from being unheard of among devout Orthodox believers.

As I listened to that interview when it first came out, it did have a great impact on me; and of course I had no idea that soon afterwards I would end up in San Francisco, Vladyka John would become my patron saint, I would be renamed after him, and I would be privileged to be able to drive a few minutes to see his relics and pray, any day of the week.

The Communion of Saints is not a mere abstract idea. Saints who have fallen asleep in the Lord are more alive than we are, and they are present with us – praying for us, encouraging us. A universe without their presence with us is very poor and empty indeed, but thankfully it is not a true universe. The universe in which the Church exists is one where Christ has destroyed death and the ultimate separation between his people. Whatever grace he has poured into each individual will continue to bear fruit throughout eternity.

Visited By St. John Maximovitch