“Search for me,
A needle in a haystack,
Find where I lie,
Pain hidden by a rag,
Here I hide – from you? –
Blood wounds, undried and shining,
I hide, fearing
Your loving hands hold salt”.
(from a Belarusian poem)
Source: Orthodox Research Institute
The Beginning of Love
True love starts when we let others be the way they are, rather than adjusting our impression of them to our own liking. Otherwise, we will love only our own fixed perception of them. It is necessary to understand ourselves and everyone else as God’s creatures, to see God’s image and dignity in ourselves and in others. He granted it to everyone of us, and if we hurt this dignity in others, we actually hurt ourselves.
We have no power to change another person, and we should not waste our time analysing why he behaves this way or that. Let him follow his own path. We should accept people as they are, otherwise our intrusion can prove to be destructive. A person might know what we expect of him and behave the opposite way.
Just as a sign of protest. Every person has his own stimuli and interior motives, which are not subject to our understanding. Therefore we must not violate the right of others to live the way they want. We have to liberate ourselves from concerns about anything that lies beyond human capabilities, and learn to depend upon the Divine Power, God. Otherwise, we reach a dead-end, where one unconquerable will tries to conquer the other unconquerable will. If God Himself has no power to lift the stone of man’s will that He has created, how much less is it within the power of man! Humility in this case signifies quiet and simple acceptance of everything that is beyond our power. We have to preserve energy for things that are within our power. Understanding that only God can make the other person change, we have to diminish all of our internal drives that oppose His power, so that it could start working in us and through us.
The only thing God cannot (or does not want to) overcome in us is our own free will, which we turn into tyranny and self-will. If we, however, are convinced that not everything depends on us and that many things, especially fateful, can be fixed only by God, then denying our self-will is paramount to saving a man, say, from despair. And we have to pay this price, if we want to obey God and offer Him the chance to work in us and through us.
If Christ occupies the most important place in our life, we do not need any technical or psychological tricks in order to restore our spiritual health and that of our neighbours. Let us assume we are suffering and can not find the way out, but this is only because we imagine that everything depends solely on us. We have to make a determined step towards God and stop tormenting ourselves, instead of trying to solve minor and numberless problems, for they only consume our energy and exhaust our spiritual potential. Let us admit our own powerlessness and thus get rid of our self-will, which blocks the way to God.
We must do only what we can, what we are supposed to do and do the best we can in that. The possibility of doing this is granted only for today. It is wrong to think that “time will come when I…”, for it means that we deceive ourselves. Right now we cannot conquer certain conditions, but if we entrust our life to God’s will right now, today, by rejecting our own will, we liberate ourselves from tension. There is no more need for struggle. However, it does not mean that we can relax and expect God’s will to work. God’s will means that I should not betray love under any circumstances in my life, no matter who I am or where I am. Relying on God’s will means to become aware that it is impossible to keep this loyalty without His help.
It is certainly possible, after the reliance upon God’s will, to turn our back not only on our problems, but even on God and our neighbour, expecting that all the work will be done for us and without us. Here and everywhere else we need a sense of measure, for such self-deception will only increase our problems.
To exclude self-deception from the very beginning, it is necessary to explore the genuine motives behind every decision, followed by concrete action. Otherwise, if we let ourselves be deceived in the very beginning, then all our hopes will be ruined by the expectation that life will be adjusted according to our own idea about it.
Therefore it is impossible to solve all the problems at once. We have to choose one aim and follow it steadily, gradually, and carefully, for slow movement, as known, brings one sooner to the destination, if we mean here the strict self-testing of genuine motives of our behaviour. And love of God is certainly the best stimulus for any action.
Our task is to learn to love by imitating Christ’s love. And the main condition here is overcoming our own egotism and self-will. This of course is not a simple task. Those, who were allowed to follow their will in childhood, have it the hardest. Obedience, i.e. renouncing your will, is an expression of love. For an adult, it means preferring someone else’s will through love. For a child, it is doing what you are told without questioning. If a man does not have this experience of obedience and love, then his psyche inevitably becomes unstable, vulnerable, and is overcome with psychological complexes and even with various diseases.
Even though God made us all potentially whole, to remain in this condition is very hard, at times just impossible. Bringing order into spiritual chaos, left by those who have been with us since the moment of our birth and “nurtured”, is not an easy task. Some resort to reading books and try to bring order into their spiritual world by changing their minds. But this way – from the outside inward – does not always bear good fruit. Very often, a person simply drowns in the whirlpools of his own thoughts, since it is difficult to bring life into this dead load of thoughts that are kept in our mind.
No work of mind can make up for the virtual experience of love, the only thing, which possesses the highest value, for it is only love that has access to the source of existence, God. As Antoine de Saint-Exupery puts it, “The human mind is not worth anything unless it is a servant of love”.
Spiritual love, according to the Holy Fathers’ teachings, destroys all kinds of passions and psychological complexes, and thus is a panacea for all diseases. It places everything where it belongs. At first, it helps us to discern the good self from the evil self. This first step of genuine self-knowledge is made through love, and we know that no spiritual progress is possible without it. This is the only way we can learn to separate ourselves from the burden of endless troubles, engendered by our “twin”. This does not mean that we will have no conflict with ourselves, for without it we would not be able to move forward. It does mean we have to have the right attitude to any provocation coming from outside or from our inside. Other people or our own motives will influence us only if we allow them to. Then we will be able to voluntarily accept pain that anyone is going to afflict on us, and this will be not as much pain, but rather joy and happiness of life according to the laws of love. Before we have achieved this state, our soul should not delve into anything that we cannot overcome, which forms a powerful protection against all evil around us.
What can words do to me, if I do not take them to my heart? Or my own complexes, if I do not attach any significant importance to them? Certainly, it is impossible to isolate myself completely from my own problems and those of my neighbour. It is however necessary to strictly observe how much to take on, conforming it with my own power and with the power of my love. The Holy Fathers say: “May each person dedicate himself to the ascetic battle only to the degree of his soulful love for God”.
Today is The Day of Salvation
However, waiting for the moment when we finally acquire love, when we finally become better and kinder, is sometimes very dangerous, especially when most urgent help is necessary. For example, hatred, rancour, and offence should be driven away from our thoughts immediately, before this poison spreads any deeper. And this has to be done as fast and as mercilessly as possible. We must not savour our emotions too long – feelings of depression, guilt, pity, and compassion towards ourselves. Otherwise, we will blow them up to the size of a tragedy, after which we can imagine ourselves martyrs. If we failed or were not able to choose the best – for example, to take offence or not, – and have already indulged into this feeling, then we need to know that we have sunk to the inferno of our subconsciousness, and it is not us who has life any more. It is our “twin” that has life. In this case, we have to sink even deeper, and then we will find that a thick layer of guilt, offence, and psychological complexes conceal our genuine Divine essence. This is how the respect for the present self will be restored, and how the contempt for our “twin”, i.e. sin, will evolve.
Man, like God, can freely determine the manner of existence of his own nature. God’s image does consist only of external freedom and reason, for in case of deficiency in these areas, man would turn into an animal. This would be an unfair punishment. The difference between a man and an ape is first of all the ability to respond to God’s love or to reject it. This ability does not depend on human physical or psychological functions. If it was not so, how can we have the ability of self-sacrifice, which even overcomes the instinct of self-preservation? No defect of reason can deprive a man of his inner self, of his ability to communicate with himself, similar to the counsel with Himself of the Holy Trinity. Our “I” is clearly aware of its difference from the nature it occupies. It simply expresses itself in psychological and physical functions. In doing this, it creates its own world where it lives and finds its own enjoyment (instead of enjoying Divine grace). Like Dostoyevsky’s Stavrogin, we identify ourselves with this world. God says: “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart… they defile the man” (MT. 15:18). And as grace in the heart increases, the man stops identifying himself with what proceeds from his heart, but identifies himself with Divine grace. Self-consciousness is not destroyed, but gets broader and deeper into “itself”, into its Divine likeness. Naturally then, it forgets all its personal interests. Therefore, the Holy Fathers say: “He who has deigned to see himself is higher than the one who has seen Angels”.
This all, however, requires strict measurement. It is easy to go to extremes if we do not observe a measure in good or evil. Concentrating upon one’s own merits only means reinforcing one’s egotism, and vice versa, taking up a back-breaking load of reproach to oneself means an utmost overstrain. In this case, we will indeed destroy the last bits of self-dignity in ourselves. It will be the ultimate catastrophe for a proud man, even for a believer, who is tempted with pride. He would like to be a person of worth, but turns into nothing in his own eyes, and therefore thinks he has nothing to give to God. Thus, it is very important in this situation to restore respect to one’s true spiritual self. So that a proud man would not lose his faith in holiness, this kind of lesser evil (respect or self-esteem) is allowed.
It is necessary to arm ourselves with tenacity and patience in order to be able to control ourselves without losing power over ourselves. Not everything can come at once, and we must not expect much for the present moment. We must thankfully accept all that God has given us for the present day according to our labour and zeal, instead of being vexed that life does not become any better. This may still not be humility, but it is the real perception of life. If I see my good qualities not as mine, but given to me by God, then I will be able to accept them with genuine humility. How many unrealized plans and disappointments do we have only because we expect too much from life! “Look at the child putting his hand into a jug with a short neck, an ancient sage said, if he grabs too many sweets, he will not be able to take his hand out”.
Let us think about all the good things God gives us in our life, and then they will increase and will oust all the bad ones. But here we have to bear in mind that good does not necessarily mean pleasant. If we savour details of our misfortune, we will be sucked into the swamps of sad thoughts with the danger of suffocating in our own mud. Saint Ephraim the Syrian said: “You will smell the stench of a dung-heap, as long as you stand beside it”.
Let us learn to rejoice at all the good things the present day brings with it, then we will not burden ourselves with solving our future problems. Jesus Christ says: “Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day” (MT. 6:34). In medical terms, the preoccupation with something that has not yet taken place is called a ‘dark perspective disorder’. The Gospel warns us against this disorder by proclaiming to live in the present day. It is necessary to turn from the past and cast off thoughts about the future in order to discover unlimited potential of the present day. This day is unique, for it will never be repeated again. It comprises the whole experience of my previous life and all the potential for the future. It belongs to me and I can do whatever I want with it. I can fill it with vain trouble and anxiety, or I can dedicate to God.
Today is the day God has given me. If I could realise what kind of gift it is to me, I would use every moment of it to make my life brighter and more meaningful spiritually. I would not look back to the past in disappointment, would not reflect anxiously about the future. I would try to live it the best I could. I would notice everything interesting and divine in my life and nature around me. Thirst for beauty, thirst for life is characteristic of every living thing, but it is conscious only in man. Today, by dying consciously for all that has nothing in common with the Divine life, we can be born into a new life in God, the name of which is love.
(Translated from Russian, July 29-31, 2000, Saskatoon)