On the fear of God and the resurrection of the mind
(based upon the miracle of the resurrection of a widow's son in the town of Nain
and according to Reverend Symeon the New Theologian)
The Gospel According to St. Luke 7:11-16
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Once more, today we celebrate, by the mercies of God, the Resurrection of Christ, which is on the twentieth week after the feast of Pentecost. And today the Holy Church is also honoring the memory of the great God pleasers, such as the great martyr Parasceva, also called Friday, reverend Job the hegumen and wonder-worker of Pochayevsk, the sanctifier Dimitry the metropolitan of Rostov and the blessed saint Theofilus for Christ's sake God's fool, wonder-worker of Kiev.
On this day the Holy Church offered us the Gospel of Luke, in which we find the story of the resurrection of the only begotten (that is, the one and the only) son of a widow from the town of Nain.
As it is written in the Gospel, the Lord went to the town. The Lord, being God, knew that woman's sorrow. And He purposefully went to that town knowing where and how He was going to meet with the funeral procession. The Scripture preserved for us the name of the town Nain. "…many of His disciples went with Him, and a large crowd", that is, an amazing procession with the Lord leading them, with His disciples following. Notice what is written: "many of His disciples", that is, not only the Apostles, for 12 men (even if we added 70 more) are not a multitude. Thus, the Lord had many more other disciples who were not counted Apostles but were followers of the Lord and listeners of His teaching. By words "a large crowd" the Scripture separates many of His disciples from the multitudes who were not disciples but, seeing great miracles and sensing an extraordinary power proceeding out of that Man and not even realizing that He is God (we see that many people didn't understand or embrace that), understood clearly that that was from God, for there had never taken place such a number of miracles, such power and such teaching in Israel.
Approaching the city gates, the Lord and all the multitude with Him saw another procession, that is another fellowship of people who were walking in great sorrow. Those were people of a different mood and of a different spiritual state, differing from those who were following the Lord. Those were inspired by His great teaching they had just heard, their hearts were burning and everyone was containing His words, according to their capacity. All of them were under a great and marvelous impression of His person, of the charm of this Great Divine Person, incarnated in Jesus Christ. And, in the gates of Nain there happens a collision of two human communities which are in different moods and spirits. And there takes place a marvelous event: the Lord brings together both of them through an obvious, great and awesome miracle. He brings the differences of those two communities to one feeling, which is very important, and we will trace it.
When we read such passages in the Gospels and in the Holy Scripture in general, we ought to always remember, that they have two aspects:
1) historical when there is a narration of an actual fact or event
2) spiritual when there is always an application to the inner man.
The Lord always has a deep spiritual meaning and teaching for our souls in every external event. That's why, when we are pondering upon, looking into this event, at the same time we must see what was happening then, feel compassion for the widow, for her sorrow and at the same time we must see what meaning it has for our inner man, that is, who is the widow within us and who is the dead youth within us? And then we'll see that that miracle of the external resurrection of the youth has a deep meaning for our souls. The Lord was purposefully doing what he was doing. By those actions He was also pointing to the internal meaning of His words and of that great miracle.
And so, imagine, in what kind of sorrow that not very old woman must have been? (We don't know her age for sure but, taking into consideration that her son was a youth, she wasn't old). She had already suffered the death of her husband, for she was a widow. (The Scripture reiterates that she was a widow). And so, a not very old woman, being left alone, is accomplishing the exploit of widowhood. Certainly, all of her hope was in her son, moreover, he was her only son and she had no other children. (The Scripture points out to us that he was her only son). These circumstances show the overall sorrowfulness of her situation. For some reason (we don't exactly know, why) she loses that only hope in her earthly life, for the mother's hope, after her husband's death, is in her son. Even if she has a daughter, she will leave her home and get married and will have her own family. All of the widow's hope is in her son, says the Scripture.
And behold, this human support, this hope is taken away by God's providence. What kind of sorrow must that woman have been feeling? That sorrow moved a multitude of people of her town to show compassion for her, for it is written, "And a large crowd from the city was with her". This phrase, "And a large crowd from the city was with her", shows us that that woman was godly, for hardly anyone would have followed a prostitute or a sinner. There might have been few sympathizers but it's impossible to move a multitude with compassion without being godly. That's why, knowing nothing of her life, we can presume that she was righteous in the eyes of her fellow citizens given this one fact. She was worthy of that kind of compassion. If we read the Scriptures attentively, we'll see the people's character in these words not knowing anything specific, but this eloquent fact speaks of nobility of her soul.
The Lord the Incarnate Perfect God perfectly knew where and to whom to go, for there were many dying in Israel at the time of the Lord's ministry. That wasn't the only son who had died in Israel, but the Lord purposefully came to that place, knowing of the nobility of the widow's soul, knowing of her character, and He had prepared the most amazing gift no one could have imagined to be possible. And it became the reward for her godly life.
And behold, in the city gates meet two crowds: one is following the Lord, and the other is following the godly widow with compassion and sorrow. And they happened to meet exactly at the exit, that is, when the mourning crowd had gone out of the city gates. It's not by accident that the Scripture points out to this place of meeting. It's very important that people leave the town, leave this world, in the inner sense. It's because the death of a close relative very often makes a person revise all of their life and separates them from the outer temporary, passing, carnal earthly life. It shakes the person's foundations and makes them stop and think about their life's purpose. What is my life's meaning? Why death takes away the closest, the most loved the most precious person? In moments like those, God has an access to a mourning soul, for it has, for a time at least, to forsake its appetite for this world under the influence of the strongest sorrow. It loses interest to what it will eat, drink, wear or to where it will lodge tomorrow or to other earthly problems. The widow is walking and expressing her sorrow in tears. And the Lord, being the most merciful, the most gracious Lord and seeing her the Scripture says had compassion on her and said to her, "Do not weep". That is, the Scripture hasn't told us yet that she was weeping; we could only suppose that people weep at funerals. The Lord verbalized it. He conveyed to us that she was weeping. What kind of weeping was it? How profound! How desolate! How strong! That the Lord had compassion on her seeing her.
The Holy Church Fathers say, too, that the Lord's ways with men are such that He can't leave a person without comfort when He sees them a truly weeping one. He can't pass a weeping one by, for the Lord is the Tenderness Itself, the Goodness Itself! And that's why a person becomes accessible to God ONLY when they are weeping! For the man weeps only when he is deeply sorrowful in view and in realization of his perdition.
Unfortunately, we can't go out and meet God in any other state. We are so arrogant, we are so self-contained, so foolish, blind, ignorant, so confused in this life and in pursuit of illusory and temporary wells that we can't even fathom the possibility of fellowship with God. And even if we believed, we don't know how to do it. Then God's providence comes to our rescue. He takes away a close person so that we would become crushed for that reason at least. Through the state of weeping, brokenness and great sorrow we become accessible to the merciful and compassionate God, Who will surely have compassion and will come with comfort to such a soul, for the widow is symbolic of our soul and the dead youth is a type and a symbol of our spirit which is dead unto God and to eternity. We made ourselves dead to eternity! We killed ourselves to God and, seeing it, are in the funeral procession to bury our spirit. And what can the soul do about it? The only thing weep and mourn for its great and incomparable loss. The only most precious thing that the soul has is its spirit, the center, the place for containing God in it, and it's DEAD, the spirit is dead, there is no entrance to God. And that's why the Lord judges passions, that's why the man is buried by every day's vanity, he falls into the dark, loses hope and doesn't see any solution.
But if a man is godly, well-intending and prudent, he sees this. He separates the worldly life from his inner being and acknowledges the dead state of his spirit. He leaves the city limits, this world, at least in his thoughts and feelings. He leaves by means of repentance, of brokenness; he leaves by weeping, which expresses a great inner sorrow of disagreement with this wrong condition, because it's a perversion. My only son cannot be dead it's wrong, something's wrong, that's why I mourn and weep. My spirit, intended to abide with God, which was created for eternity and blessedness. My soul longs for God! It longs for it's spirit, which alone could unite it with God, is dead. It's over! It's a catastrophe! Death rules in the man.
The Lord goes to meet such a man. He had compassion on the weeping soul. He had compassion on the weeping widow. That was a twofold compassion of the Lord: both on the specific person mourning over her only son and on every single of our souls which mourns over its own perdition, over its loss of God, over its own incapability to fellowship with God. She mourns, she weeps and the Lord comforts her saying, "Don't weep", the time of your mourning is over, I the Perfect, the True God, the Life and the Life Giver am come to show you a miracle and to grant you great mercy. I'm about to revive that which you have lost! I'm about to resurrect that which has died in you. And God does it by one word and one touch. "Then He came and touched the open coffin", says the Scripture. Why do we need this detail, why?
If it was written that He simply resurrected the dead one in some way, we would believe, thank God and praise Him. But no! Every detail on the Lord's actions is important!
Some people were carrying the dead youth, thus it was a progression, and it was a procession! It wasn't just a widow sitting at the lying dead body of her son. No! It already was a progression. And the virtues of that woman or of our souls are carrying our dead spirit. They are sustaining it in its dead state, but in some coffin, that is, our repentance must have a shape, must be specific, precise and must be supported by some virtues even before the resurrection of our spirit. Then the Lord, in return, starts moving towards this procession, this progression, which moves towards Him.
Even without understanding or realizing, a man entering into repentance moves toward the Lord while not expecting when and where He will appear. But we see from the Scripture that, if the Lord was walking towards the widow and mother of the dead youth and towards all the people who surrounded her, then it becomes clear that they were walking towards Him, too. So, from this we understand how important repentance, brokenness and weeping are.
"Those who carried him stood still" but when the encounter takes place and the Lord COMES to us in our exploit of repentance and touches the coffin, then everything that has been important and significant before this moment, must be abolished. That's it! The goal has been reached we met with God, with the very Life, that's why let everything human, everything virtuous, every exploit be silent and let even the mourning stop, for the Lord says, "Don't weep".
Encounter with God brings only comfort, revival, resurrection, only good feelings! A man cannot go on, still sorrowful or suffering, after having met with God. He can't! And everything else stops: the funeral, the repentant, sorrowful and weeping movement of soul, for the Lord will turn this mourning, this weeping into great joy, unexpected and sudden joy!
But who does the Lord address? The widow? No. Those who were carrying the coffin? No! The crowd? No! He addresses the main source the human spirit, of which that youth is a symbol of. "Young man, I say to you, arise!" To you! To you! You are the main thing, if you don't arise, everything else is meaningless, needless! It will be of no use neither to the soul, nor to the people, nor to anyone who is following. That's why the Lord speaks here of none other than of our spirit's resurrection "I say to you, arise!" God is powerfully commanding our spirit to arise, to be resurrected, to be revived, to see God, to start feeling anew.
And the Scripture testifies further, "So he who was dead sat up".
This is not a simple passage. If I don't show you now, you will never see what is hidden here. Never, unless the Holy Spirit comes upon you and makes you see.
If it were written: "the resurrected one sat up" it would be obvious. The resurrected one sat up that would be normal. But the Scripture says that "he who was DEAD sat up", that is, still DEAD! Yet before the resurrection miracle happens another miracle: the dead one sits up. This is very important for the inner man. It's not as important for the outer man. He could have been resurrected while lying down and then sat up alive and everyone else would be rejoicing all the same! None would pay attention to it. But it is very important for the inner man. Our dead spirit hasn't been yet revived, but by the power of God's WORDS, of the Word of God for God is the Word even our dead spirit sits up, that is, it comes into the proper position, calms down and takes the position in which it will be able to be revived, resurrected and to testify to its resurrection. By what does our spirit testify to its own resurrection? "…and began to speak". Speak what? A prayer! How? By prayer! "To speak" but what to speak? Some delirium? No! He began to pray! Our spirit arises in prayer and arises when it begins praying truly in the Spirit, thanking God, praising Him for the unspoken mercy of its resurrection.
"And He presented him to his mother" it's after this that a combination of all powers of a soul occurs, of all powers of the human being: the soul unites with the spirit; the spirit is given back to the soul the mother and, accordingly, the reason and, finally all of the body submits; and the man becomes an entity, becomes whole, undefiled, the way God created and re-created him! But more than that takes place for this resurrection gives way not only to the recreation of the human nature, as it was in Adam prior to the Fall, but far beyond, as we can find it in Christ, in the human image of Christ, in His human Hypostasis, that is a perfect and a united one. The three-part human being is united for, prior to that, the man was divided by sin, he was disarranged, that's why we often say, without giving it a thought, "Oh, I'm disarranged today". Why is it? Because we consist of three main parts of our being which are separated by sin. When we sense this, we express it not even noticing it, "I'm disarranged". Actually, we are all disarranged before that miracle takes place, the repentant resurrection of our spirit! Sin divides our being and we were born that way and we got used to it and think that it's normal. It's not! It's death! It's a perversion! And, prior to our resurrection, we have never experienced (if anyone has ever experienced it) what it means to be whole.
But the orthodoxy must lead to this wholeness! To a holy, beautiful, gracious wholeness given by God through the Holy Spirit, to this chastity. God will not accept any other chastity, no matter what a man will do or how he will live! Let him be a virgin, let him stand on a rock for a thousand years, if IT doesn't happen on the inside he is disarranged by sin, he is a sinner in the eyes of God! No virtues carrying the coffin with his corpse, with his dead spirit, will help understand this! Nothing is going to help him apart from the resurrection of the spirit! Understand this and immerge yourself into the saving repentance, into weeping, for God can knock in with us and enter in only when we are weeping, in our deep inner mourning for our perdition, our disarrangement, our mutilation by sin. This is the true Orthodoxy; this is the true life-giving faith! Everything else is a lie, a fraud, an enticement and that which keeps people in the deadly enticement. Dying, they think that they are pious, but they go to hell and fill up the confinements thereof because no one has told them the truth! Although the Scripture says it, they cannot see it, moreover, cannot fulfill it, namely, acquire this resurrection and reunification of the human being by God's grace!
But how does this great event end? "Then fear came upon all" this is a very important, the most important experience! This is the most important thing testified of by the Holy Scriptures. If we don't understand this, we won't understand anything. Why fear? What fear? Animal fear? No, it doesn't speak of this kind of fear. There is no other word in the human vocabulary to express the feeling which a man or a man's soul experience after being touched by God. There is nothing to express it, that's why we use the word "fear", but actually, this fear is so vastly different from what we usually mean fear before wild beasts, fear of death, etc. There are a lot of reasons for fear, but, as heavens are distant from the earth, so one fear is different from another. Here it speaks of the fear of God, that's why the Scripture goes on, "and they glorified God, saying, "A great prophet has risen up among us"; and, "God has visited His people".
They could not yet contain that it was God Himself, not just a prophet. They knew that both prophets Elijah and Elisha raised the dead and because of their own idea, they rightly draw the conclusion that that was a Prophet, at least. But that was a mere tribute to the stereotype thinking and to the human experience but the following words that "God has visited His people" are the true expression of fear.
Thus, fear came upon all and they were saying that God has visited His people. We see a marvelous combination: fear and God, God and fear. That is, people touched God and became fearful. This is a gift of the Holy Spirit. This represents the first spiritual, the right, the true feeling of the spiritual life fear OF GOD. This is the pure Fear of God, that is, they call it pure fear, as opposed to the regular fear. It cannot be any other way. That is, the feeling of repentance is the first and the most important one, but it can be present in a person even prior to his encounter with God and must prepare him for that encounter. Weeping prepared the widow for the encounter and for the resurrection miracle, but the first spiritual feeling upon the encounter with God is the fear of God! This is the true spiritual feeling, the purely spiritual feeling, which a man who has never experienced it cannot imagine or describe as it is.
Prior to experiencing the fear of God, a person does not have the right understanding of God. Let him read all of the books about God ever written on the earth. Let him memorize all of the Holy Fathers who have written about God. Let him keep literally all of the Church's teaching the most right way, all of the Church's tradition and let him convey all of this to others. But, if in his personal home or closet prayer he has not personally experienced the fear of God because of having touched with that Ocean of Life, that unspoken Glory, then he has no idea what the glory, the greatness, God and life are all about no matter how much he talks about these things. Believe me, it is known experientially only.
Prior to this first experiential contact with God and before the appearing of the real sensation of fear, a man does not have the right view of God. He cannot stand before God rightly, for he realizes not, before Whom he stands. He has a bookish God, understood by him to one extent or the other. His God is an idea, more or less correct. But we cannot communicate with an idea, even with the most right one, the brightest one or the noblest one. An idea won't help us, it won't resurrect our soul. Only the Living God and the live Fellowship with God can resurrect.
This is the mystery of Christianity, this is the mystery of the Orthodoxy, it's its central place, and everything else is but a means, ways, possibilities, conditions. All of this serves to unite man with God. For this purpose God came down to the sinful earth, for this purpose He received the human nature and by means of that He provided the most comfortable and easiest way unto Himself. He united God and man in Himself. It has already taken place in the Person of Jesus Christ, but it will serve us no good if we don't unite in ourselves with the True and Real Living God.
But when we compete the right way, when we believe the Church's teaching, the Holy Fathers, we begin praying rightly, when we urge ourselves, then our dead man sits up and starts speaking because God visits him for his repentance. And this visitation transforms our soul, transforms all of the human being because the man for the first time has received the experiential knowledge of his God Whom he knew not before. The experiential knowledge of God and of himself the man has not through what he's been told by others and not through the most correct and holiest descriptions. He touches the One Who he's read and heard about, in Whom he believed and Who he's aspired for. At last this encounter has taken place and here the man feels, "God, what a fool I have been! I had no idea that you are SO Great, Glorious and Awesome. You're Awesome not in the sense that You frighten us, no. Awesome in Your limitless Majesty because we, being limited, come in contact with the Very Ocean of Life. And that's why involuntarily, there takes place this comparison: me, limited in time, space, being constantly in great weaknesses, sinfulness, mutilation, as a grain of sand. I'm but a bug and I stand before This Abyss of Life! When you experience this, you will understand what I mean, experientially.
Only then all human pride is brought to silence and we begin to understand that we've been walking in arrogance. Prior to that, no matter how long we've been told…
- you are prideful, prideful, prideful…
we don't believe it anyway. We acknowledge it superficially, we repent of it formally, but in reality in the deep of our spirit, we don't believe it because we don't have an object comparison. We don't have anything to compare ourselves with, and, compared to other more prideful people, we seem pretty humble in our own eyes. We begin having this false feeling because we see that others walk even more prideful and brazen-faced and don't believe in God at all and scoff at His commandments, while we go to church, pray, read and aspire for God. And, out of such comparing of ourselves with them, out of what we see, we draw a false portrait of our spiritual well-being. But we ought not to compare ourselves with other sinners at any time!
This is the most deceiving mirror of all to compare ourselves with monsters and perverts. We can't do that! We ought to compare ourselves with the best of best. And who is the best? GOD is, He Who demonstrated Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ so that we could compare our humanity with His humanity. But prior to the personal encounter, this comparison derives only from the Gospel image, to which we are greatly inferior, for any honest man, when comparing himself with the way of life of Christ, will say, "Oh, no. I'm so far away from this; I can't act like that and have never acted like that". But still, that would be only a superficial comparison. So far it's right, it's great, it's useful, it's saving to compare ourselves with the Gospel image of the Lord Jesus Christ: with the way He walked, the way He acted, what His Majesty is, His nobility! It's humbling, but still, it's only a superficial comparison. Only after an inner encounter with the Lord in prayer we'll understand all of the Lord's greatness, which cannot be described in any human terms and cannot be conveyed to us. Only then we'll humble ourselves with the true humility, we'll prostrate ourselves before our God the Creator, the Savior and the Redeemer with only one thought to cease existing, to dissolve, to disappear with only one cry or groan: Your will be done!
And then, with the first gift of the Holy Spirit already as a spiritual quality (and we know that there are seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, as the prophet Isaiah wrote, one of which is the gift of the spirit of fear of God) the Lord begins to transform the man in repentance. Then the man receives the experiential understanding of God and will never again dare to frivolously or carelessly stand before Him. And that is why we marvel at the power of the Holy Fathers, at their prayer, their concentration, not realizing that they went through that, they entered into the fear of God and communicated with God out of fear of God. And the fear of God gives birth to the only right, true and God-pleasing attitude towards God which is expressed by the word "REVERENCE".
It's impossible to revere the One Whom you don't know experientially, Whom you've never felt. It's impossible to revere an idea, a totality of knowledge or information, even the most correct or true. We may marvel at these, we may even get puffed up because of them; we can boast about them and ruin ourselves, saying, "Oh, how much I know about God! Oh, I'm not like other people", and go to hell with all that knowledge. But the ignorant, the illiterate muzhik and a country woman, who, in simplicity of heart stood before God and sensed Him there they are theologians! For the true theologian is the one who truly prays, and truly prays the one who stands before the Living God in feeling, sensing Him in prayer.
That's why this old lady or a woman, or a man or a child, anyone who has experienced the fear of God, he the one who prays truly, he is the true theologian, even if he can't speak eloquently, he is a theologian in spirit. He understands before Who he stands and has the greatest advantage over all the wise men of this age! He has entered into the fellowship with God and is happy about it, he bears the fruit of it and he enters the Kingdom of God and there God will teach him and will give him all the wisdom. Such is reality. And, according to this teaching of the Holy Fathers, there is no greater sin than to pray without fear of God, without attention or reverence.
Thus, if we haven't realized all of this now, haven't learned what had been said before, we would have a hard time understanding this thought of the Holy Fathers at once is it that it's greater and worse than to murder a man, to commit adultery, to rob? Yes, it's greater! Yes, it's worse! It's a sin to pray without the fear of God, without attention or reverence and even a worse sin than all those other sins. Why? It's because here lies the beginning of the man's fall! Here his attitude towards God is revealed. If he turns his back on God, then will he not murder, will he not rob, despise or commit any other evil? If he didn't humble himself before the Abyss of Life and is willing to fearlessly sin, then how will he abstain from the rest? It's when we come in contact with God in our spiritual life, shall we know how it's terrible to sin even with a shadow of a thought. Prior to that, everything is false within us: we have a misconception of sin. It's as this: sin is what was written: thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not commit adultery, etc. Well, if it's written, ok, I believe, that these are sins and I can't commit them. Such is the most primitive understanding.
And it's inevitable in the very beginning; we can't have anything else, because it's a part of our journey. But the right understanding of sin will only come when we realize Who we insult with it, because prior to that understanding there is a blasphemous protest in our souls. Doesn't matter what we say, but every man, if he separates himself from God, has pride within himself and a protest: "But why?" we say in ourselves, "but why, if I lit up a cigarette, shall I go into eternal suffering? Why shall I go into eternal suffering for two bottles of wine? Why, if I took a purse from my neighbor or took it away from a passer-by yes, it's a sin, I understand, but punish me, sentence me to one year in prison, beat me with sticks and there will be satisfaction, but why for this sin I'm going into eternal suffering, which is horrible, unspeakable and incomparable?" "No"- say we to God, "something is wrong here, You are unjust, and I am smarter than You, I would punish myself for this sin this or that way and that's all. And then, welcome me into eternity to give me rest". Inside, we experience this, not saying those words. Why? We don't have understanding, we don't have experiential knowledge that it's not about what we did: took what didn't belong to us or smoked a cigarette or said a bad word about our neighbor, it's not about that, sin is not in that but in the fact that we dispute with God, we go against, that is, we blaspheme the Abyss of Life that we call God, and that's why any sin before Him, even one thought against Hs will demands eternal punishment.
God is Limitless, Unchanging, Eternal and that's why our sin is laid upon the Eternal God, the Abyss of Life and expands and … it's over! doesn't matter, what sin. The essence of sin is in pride, the essence of sin is in carelessness, in despising God, in insulting God and whether you insulted Him through either a cigarette, through insulting you neighbor in any way, beginning with words, by putting your hand into his pocket, taking away his possessions, it's only means and ways of offending your neighbor, of despising him, of unrighteously treating him. But, unrighteously treating our neighbor, we express our hate and our despiteful attitude towards God, for He is the One Who said, "Don't do that". This is the profound meaning of sin! All sins are the same in essence: we spit at God by committing any kind of sin from the first thought which is against God's will, up to terrible mass murders.
The essence of sins is one and the same; it starts here, in prayer. We've been given access to conversation with God; we came to believe in Him, it's a great honor and blessing, but also the greatest responsibility. And if we already stand before God, we ought to understand Who we stand before, to stand properly so that that which gives us salvation wouldn't cast us into eternal death. That's why Christians who pray wrongly are worse than the heathen, than Satanists and other evildoers worse! They declared openly, "We don't believe in God, we don't want to know Him," and they sin and go to hell. But these say, "We are Yours, Lord, we love You, we treasure You, we can't live without You", and insult Him the very next moment.
We know that the worst insults come from the closest ones! The worst thing is when your own betray you. The enemy is the enemy, why talk with him? But when a man says, "I'm yours, I'm yours, I'm yours and then hits you in the back or sticks a knife in it what can be worse?
This is the way to understand it, why it's terrible to sin before God and why there's no greater sin than to pray without fear of God or attention, or reverence.
The Holy Fathers develop this thought further: whoever prays or sings psalms the way he pleases or carelessly, he doesn't obviously know Who God is, he is ignorant and is being inattentive. That's why God from Whom proceed forgiveness of sins and every good gift, would forgive him but can't because of this attitude and is rather more wrathful. And it would be better for such a one not to pray at all, say the Holy Fathers, than to pray with only his lips. It's not characteristic of the soul to pray with lips but with the mind. And the one singing psalms or praying and excluding his mind out of the prayer, which he says, is doing an incongruous thing, thus provoking God, to Whom he prays, to wrath. That is, instead of God's mercy, man gains wrath. As the mind sees and hears, it's necessary that the mind pray with use of lips. Whoever prays not, he does not acquit himself of his duties and remains a debtor to God. Prayerlessness is a sin. If a man does not pray, demons some into him and that's bad. But if anyone comes to his senses, he can ask for his debt's forgiveness before God, "Oh, forgive me, Lord, how foolish and mindless have I been, I haven't prayed, I confess," and starts praying, than it's recoverable.
But the one who prays negligently, carelessly, is provoking to wrath God, who is the Debt Forgiver, to Whom he is praying, for such a one prays to God with his lips, but his mind is conversing with demons. And that's the worst kind of spiritual adultery a treason to God. From whom should he await mercy after that? From no one! He cuts at the root, he destroys the source of mercy to himself. Thus, he ought to pray to God verbally with both his lips and mind. But, since it's impossible for the mind to pray along with lips before it receives enlightenment from the work of the Holy Spirit, then, firstly and fore mostly, it's necessary to care first about receiving enlightenment and the grace of the Holy Spirit in order not to pray only with lips and not to endanger oneself of becoming a recipient of God's wrath instead of being a recipient of His mercies.
Again, it's pointed out here that the main goal of Christian life is continual receiving of the Holy Spirit without reaching that goal we won't be able to pray the right way and will be condemned, even having prayed for 100 years. For there is no other sin which brings more wrath of God than when someone is praying with lips while thinking inappropriate and shameful things in his mind. Such a mind has not yet been appropriated by Christ and does not want to be and, since it does not want God to reign over it, is an ENEMY of Christ the King (Luke 19:27).
Think about it! A believer who prays to God with lips only, can really become an enemy of Christ. While not killing, not robbing and keeping all commandments superficially, he in reality is an enemy to Christ.
Thus, it's inappropriate to pray to God without fear or reverence. Whoever does not have fear or reverence, let him first ask for the enlightenment of the dear of God this is the Holy Fathers' commandment and teaching. How perfectly the Holy Father put it: first of all, the LIGHT of the fear of God. He calls the fear of God light, for we remain in the dark, in a deep night without the fear of God. Let him who prays know (in this light, for the light allows us to see things for what they are) before what an Awesome God he stands and prays to receive what he is asking.
This is an answer to those who ask why we don't receive what we ask. How can an enemy of God receive what he asks of Him, an enemy who prays with his lips only and with his mind commits adultery? No way! For he who's come to know how awesome God is, he will be filled with the fear of God and the fear of God will teach him the appropriate prayer. And again, the fear of God is that position and condition which teaches how to pray truly, that's why we must ask this of God. Who of you asks for the fear of God in your home prayers? Who? And why do you not ask? Do you already have it? I would be happy and blessed if my children had the fear of God. For he who has the fear of God, he is feared of by demons, as the Holy Fathers teach. Since you don't have it, it's irrational to live and not ask for it. It's the first thing we must receive through prayer in the first place and then we'll learn how to pray. Then we'll have the armor and defense and power, and grace. Whoever has not come to know this, he is still in the darkness and cannot pray the way he ought. While the sun is not yet up and the darkness covers the earth, who can see things clearly? And he, who has studied grammar, rhetoric and philosophy and has enriched himself with the knowledge of all things, can't read books containing such knowledge without light. And the novice who has just approached this teaching, what can we see without light or what can he learn? Nothing. Similarly, every soul needs the hidden light of Divine knowledge, so that it see and learn and study the power and meaning of Divine words of the psalms and of other prayers. For this hidden light of Divine knowledge is some imperative mental power which surrounds and mobilizes the agile mind, which usually runs to and fro, while listening to or reading divine words, and keeps the mind in itself so that it pay attention to what it's reading or is listening to. But if this divine light doesn't enter someone, then he will pronounce or read a prayer and will listen with his ears, but his mind will remain without fruit. And not only this, but his mind won't remain in one place, but will go in circles here and there and will think an inappropriate thing and will hold this thought as if it has without delay to think it over and to take care of what it is enticed by, not realizing that it has become a slave to the devil, the thought tyrant, and is being torn to and fro by thoughts.
That's why this ailment is dangerous and perilous, because when my enemy draws my mind to and fro, I begin to think that all of this environment of my mind, all of these troubles and cares are my own and are urgently necessary for me. Here lies a trap. This kind of thing can't happen during prayer without satanic intervention. This is the first and the greatest of all ailments of the soul. It's the first because we ought to overcome it first thing and to receive healing, and it's also the greatest in quality and in depth and in size, that in order to heal it as being the most prominent, the worst and the strongest among all other ailments of the human soul, we need to resist it unto bloodshed.
This is what kind of an exploit is shown to us by the Holy Fathers. So great and fearsome is this ailment that, in order to come and pull together one's mind and to make it stand before God as it ought, we must resist unto bloodshed. This is no joke. And it's not an easy task. It's a great exploit which we must approach with great self-denial and zeal.
For it, that is, this ailment prevents us from praying as we should and does not allow the prayer to ascend directly to God. It is a big and strong wall that does not allow our mind to approach God, Who is omnipresent and all-powerful. That is, God is here, with us: be it in a temple or in a house or in an apartment, in a room or in a cell He is here, He is close, and we are separated from Him not by some great space but by this ailment. It stands like an impermeable WALL between us and God bringing to null all of our prayers and labors.
This obscuration of the soul is the beginning of the pandemonium that is, it is hell in itself and we need no other sign besides this: if we, during prayer, don't subdue our mind and are not able to pull it together and don't concentrate it on the words of the prayer, while remembering that we stand before the Living Great and Glorious God in awe and reverence, it already shows that we are already in hell! Everything else, whatever we are doing, is meaningless. We already have this ailment of the soul in us and whatever we add to it or subtract from it, it doesn't matter at all, we are going to hell. This is the teaching of the Holy Fathers, the teaching of the Church. And both the Church and the Holy Church Fathers desire to pull us out from this hell and to show us the right path. But the false shepherds, the backslidden and traitors of Christ teach a different thing: it's sufficient, they say, to come into some of their structures, to go to a temple, to light candles, to donate money or property, and that's all, don't worry about anything, you're saved, what a great and deadly lie. And if Christ does not diffuse this obscuration of the soul in everyone who strives for being saved, no one will see the Lord! That's why we call upon the Lord! That's why we call upon His almighty name: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, save me, enlighten my soul. And then the Lord comes, as an answer to this call, which proceeds out of the depths of the soul through a concentrated and attentive prayer. If this never happens, we'll never see the Lord. That's why David says, "By my God I can leap over a wall" (Psalm 18:29).
It speaks of the wall between man and God which only God can go through. And Christ the Lord, the One Who diffuses this darkness, announces, "I am the light to the world" (John 8:12). If this darkness is not going to be diffused or cast out before all other evils, than every Christian's faith is futile, it's in vain that he bears the name of a believer, futile are his fasts and pernoctations, it's in vain that he labors and calls out in his singing of psalms, this is what is stated by the Holy Father. If rocks fall into a tight canal or a tube and block them, then it's impossible to take out the rock at the very bottom or in the middle or even the one close to the first rock unless you first take out the first upper rock and then the rest of the rocks, one by one. The same happens to people. People sin in three ways: in the mind, in the word and in the deed. The first sin, committed in the mind, is the reason of all the other sins which people commit by word or by deed. For it's not the mind that accomplishes the sin but the word and the deed do what has been invented by the mind. Thus, which one of the three should and above all needs to be made whole by Christ? Obviously, the first one, that is, the mind. For when the mind becomes whole and sanctified, when it comes into a good state and will not bear with whatever said or done against God (that is, anything going against the will of God, which is sin. Everything which is not according to God's will, is sin, remember it's sin), then the soul will be guarded from every other sin, too. Thus, will all the strength we have, we ought to resist so that our mind be sanctified by Christ, having received the grace of the Holy Spirit.
That's why Jesus' prayer is so important, that's why it's so important to call upon the name of the Lord with repentance in mind. There is no other way. Only by Christ is our mind enlightened and only by the name of Jesus Christ is our mind sanctified. And the grace of the Holy Spirit is given for having done this for the repentant calling upon the name of Jesus Christ.
For this reason only, Christ, being God, became a Man. This is the reason why, as shows the Holy Father, God came to the earth. Think about it, this is the main reason to heal our mind and spirit by grace there has never been or is any other reason. And, if not for that great ailment, the Blessed God would have no good reason to leave His blessedness and to go to the Cross in the human body. So, what is this ailment that we moved God to be incarnated and to go to the Cross? The terrible one and incurable by any means, only by the grace of the Holy Spirit. For this only Christ was crucified, being God became a Man, died and rose again. This (i.e. the sanctification of the mind) is indeed the resurrection of the soul in this life, consequently to which we can count on the future resurrection of the body to the glory and blessedness. This is taught by the Holy Fathers. Would there be no resurrection of the mind and, therefore, of the soul, there would not be resurrection of our body for our good, that is, it will be resurrected, but will go into torments after the soul! That's why let us try diligently to, first of all, change our mind, so that it would stand soberly in itself when we pray or read and study the Divine Scriptures or listen to a sermon. For if we don't change the mind, everything else is useless, and our souls will not gain any success.
Understand that this is the foundation of foundations of the Orthodoxy, of salvation! Our mind is a testimony to our perdition and everything else is in vain! We may do good things and avoid evil ones, we may fight against bad language but if we leave our mind without healing, we will be vainly deceiving ourselves, saying, "Oh, look, I don't commit great sins, I don't smoke, neither do I drink, I don't steal nor kill, all of that, I'm good enough. Nothing of the kind! That's a lie! Terrible deception! That's why God allows such a deceived man to sin. Let him sin until he realizes that the essence of the total healing of the mind and of the whole man is in the grace of the Holy Spirit.
That's why you better keep sinning at least you'll acknowledge yourself a sinner and will be humbly calling out, "Lord, what shall I do, I'm lost, I'm perishing!" rather than you hew out some good works and say cultural things without any insults or swear-words and think that you are already in God's bosom, that God's Kingdom is awaiting you. That is one great deception.
Everything is futile if our mind is not fixed and our soul is not capable of receiving a well-being. Many people, calling themselves Christians, writes the Holy Father, but not truly being such and not knowing that they carry within themselves this great and terrible ailment, fall into vanity and high self-esteem, they think that they are above other brothers, are prideful and get puffed up over other men, who are congenerical to them, and despise them when this ailment makes them equal to all, for it is common with all of mankind, as are common corruption and death. It means that all people: both believers and unbelievers, saints and sinners, all die, all are destined for corruption and all inherit this ailment, except for those who will forsake it. This is the common which unites all men. That's why it is the foundation of non-arrogance, of non-judgment of any people because we differ only in quality of deeds, but the essence of the ailment , its foundation is the same for all. God simply everyone ought to think this way of himself used His conditions and circumstances to keep me from putting into practice the deeds that a thief or an arrant sinner. But had He decided to allow me, I would have gone even further. Believe me, any of us would have gone further and would have overdone any thief. It's not our merit, for this terrible ailment is already in us and it would have carried us into all the worst sins. That we haven't gone that far, is not our merit, it's the mere mercy of God which was restraining us through circumstances.
But the point is in another thing: many people, calling themselves Christians but not really being such, are ignorant of the fact that they carry within their souls great an ailment.
1000 years ago St. Symeon the New Theologian wrote about this. Even then Christians had already lost the right understanding of this ailment. What, then, can be said now, when it's been over two thousand years since the Birth of Christ, when a terrible apostasy and the destruction of local churches have taken place? Who teaches these things now? Who explains? But those who are called to teach, namely, bishops, priests, pastors they have this fierce ailment themselves. They are of corrupt mind; they are foolish in the spiritual sense. What can they teach us? How can they save us? With what? By belonging to a church structure? Where does it say that such belonging saves? What saves is HEALING from this fierce ailment. But they, not knowing this, abide in vanity, high self-esteem and complacency. This complacency causes them to become lukewarm and, because of this they glory even more in themselves and puff themselves up even more, not seeing their perdition.
This ailment more often gets healed in the simple and the illiterate than in the learned or the wise. If the simple get healed sooner, then it's obvious that they are better than the wise and are closer to God, Who knows and enlightens them sooner, and then they come to know Him, too. Though, to everyone, according to the measure of their mind's transformation, is given a measure of knowledge both of themselves and of God, i.e. as each and everyone's mind is being changed, sanctified and enlightened, so everyone comes to the knowledge of himself and of God,
to Whom be glory forever.
November 10th, 2002
Fr. Oleg Molenko (Toronto)