The earliest Christians, who lived in constant expectation of dying for their faith, found strength in the daily cycle of prayer services (which were themselves an outgrowth and fulfillment of the Jewish tradition). Jesus said, “My Kingdom is not of this world.” (Jn 18:36) Today, in the face of the increasing emptiness and alienation of our modern society, we need more than ever to regain this ancient understanding of the meaning of life, which leads us to the fount of true joy and sacrificial love.
After the legalization of Christianity in 313, many God-seeking men and women left the tumult and mediocrity of worldly life, and headed into the desert, giving rise to the monastic movement. After years of prayer, repentance, and toil, many of these strugglers were genuinely graced by God with tangible holiness, and became fountains of hope, consolation, and spiritual guidance to pilgrims from the world who sought them out. Their lives and writings remain such for us today.
“My joy, I beg you, acquire the Spirit of Peace. That means to bring oneself to such a state that our spirit will not be disturbed by anything. For one must go through many sorrows to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. This is the way all righteous men were saved and inherited the Heavenly Kingdom.
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.” – St. Seraphim of Sarov
“We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendor or beauty anywhere upon earth. We cannot describe it to you: only this we know, that God dwells there among men, and that their service surpasses the worship of all other places. For we cannot forget that beauty.” – Envoys of the Russian Prince Vladimir, after experiencing the Divine Liturgy at the Church of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople in the year 987.
The ancient Orthodox liturgical services engage the whole body, mind, and spirit, through all the senses, with their timeless, otherworldly beauty. Written by saints inspired by God, the prayers and psalms lift us out of the fallen world and transport us into the heavenly realm, where we join the angels and saints in worshiping God which is the fulfillment of our heart’s deepest longing and that for which we were created.
“Leaping up with joy, let us and all the faithful cry aloud today: How marvelous are Thy works, O Christ! How great is Thy might!” – (Matins service, 1st Sunday of Lent)
Lovers of Truth
The search for truth is a matter of Life or Death. One cannot stop halfway, appeased by deceptive satisfactions. But the search is not merely a horizontal survey of all the world’s ideas. One must honestly dig deeper into oneself, and reach higher into heaven. Love for Truth is the cornerstone of spiritual life.
“Why do men learn through pain and suffering, and not through pleasure and happiness? Very simply, because pleasure and happiness accustom one to satisfaction with the things given in this world, whereas pain and suffering drive one to seek a more profound happiness beyond the limitations of this world.” – Fr. Seraphim Rose
“True Christian love is not just a feeling or a pleasant disposition of the soul. It is a self-sacrificing, ceaseless, life-long act of heroism unto death. It is fiery yet dispassionate, not dependent on anything, not on being loved in return or having a kinship of blood. One no longer thinks of receiving something for oneself. One can be spat upon and reviled, and yet in this suffering there is such a deep, profound peace that one finds it impossible to return to the lifeless state one was in before the suffering. One blesses life and all that is around one, and this blessing becomes universal. Such love can only come from God. This is the only love that Christ is truly interested in the love He came to earth to show and teach humanity. With this love He gave up His Spirit on the Cross.” – (Monk Damascene, Orthodox Word #175)
Freedom from the Tyranny of Fashion
If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. – Mark 8:34
For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth – Heb 12:6
Our modern shallow age has almost entirely lost any understanding of the value of suffering; of the virtues; of qualities of the soul worth struggling to acquire. Immersing oneself in the lives and writings of the ancients makes possible the restoration of our true nature.
“Very many wish to be vouchsafed the Kingdom without labors, without struggles, without sweat; but this is impossible. If you love the glories of men, and desire to be worshipped, and seek comfort, you are going off the path. You must be crucified with the Crucified One, suffer with Him that suffered, that you may be glorified with Him that is glorified.” – St. Macarius of Egypt
“The most interesting thing about Christianity is the ascetics, because they make all of Christ’s talk about the Kingdom of God make sense… the saints are three-dimensional, because they have sought and attained the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. They try their best to get it across to us, and it’s only our denseness that prevents us from understanding their experience.” – (From Not of This World, St. Herman Press, P. 466)
The lives of the saints and martyrs give hope and inspiration to a world sorely lacking in heroes. The accounts of their lives could be considered “the continuation of the Acts of the Apostles from A.D. 57 to the present”. Their self-denying love and martyric witness is a convincing proof that Christ’s kingdom is “not of this world”.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, despising the shame (Heb. 12:1), seeking to live in oneness of soul, in the inner desert, building a fervent community of co-strugglers, nourishing our souls daily with food from this ancient holy way of life.
If it were not for women, who else would defend the Church?” – Bishop Damascene of the persecuted catacomb church in Russia
A demon, constrained by the might of God to reveal his secret to Elder Sophronius at Niamets monastery in the early 1800’s, said “It is true that there is no longer anyone to fight against us as of old, since your love has grown cold and you have become engrossed with worldly and earthly affairs. But there is still one thing left in this monastery that disturbs us and causes us anxiety. It is those filthy rags, I mean the books – perdition take them! – that you have in your library. We live in fear and trembling lest any of the younger monks ever take them into his hands and begin reading them. Once they begin reading those accursed rags, they learn of your ancient piety and your ancient enmity against us, and the little upstarts begin raging against us. They learn that the Christians of old, both lay and monastic, used to pray unceasingly, fast, examine and confess their thoughts, keep vigil and live as though they were foreigners and strangers in this world. Then, simple- minded as they are, they actually begin putting that foolishness into practice. Furthermore, they even take all of the Scriptures seriously They rave and rail against us like wild beasts; let me tell you, one of those hot-headed fools is enough to chase us all out of here.” From Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky – St. Paisius Abbey Press, p. 261
Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. Matt 22:9
The source for this article is the website of The Saint Innocent of Alaska Eastern Orthodox Church in Roanoke, Virginia <http://www.stinnocent.com/>. Saint Innocent is a member of our diocese, The Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Diocese of the USA, Canada, and Australia. The article is reprinted with permission.
Not unlike us with St. Seraphim Bookstore, one of the primary means of outreach for the Saint Innocent mission is their St. Innocent of Alaska Eastern Orthodox Bookstore.
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