The Spiritual Life In the World
Desire of Good.
According to its very nature, human soul seeks good and everywhere tries to find it. Good is like fibers out of which a person weaves his bridal garb, and in this vestment he will stand forever before the Thrown of God. Clothing made out of fibers of good and love will be white and shiny in the light of God. A garment weaved out of fibers of evil will become even darker in the rays of Heavenly light, it will put to shame and bitter torment the one who will be found wearing it. We put on either a robe of joy or a robe of shame with our own will, which is though imperfect and weakened by sin, yet free. This free will is the best of what the Lord gave to us as the crown of His creation, and He preserves the dignity of this will and does not put any pressure on us. We do not protect it and often carelessly enslave it to sin. And once it has been enslaved to sin, how can we restore good in it, when our strength is weakened? We cannot fix it with our own strength, but it can be done with the power of Godís grace, since everything is possible with God! While our soul is still on the way to the Kingdom of God, while there is still time, letís strengthen our weak and feeble will with the gracious power of God and find in it the necessary strength and support in struggle against evil.
Life is a great labor. One needs to live in Christ wisely, and then everything around us will make sense and have value for eternity. If we pay attention, then the circumstances surrounding us will teach us to obey God and help us go through life in patience and love and acquire salvation. Wherever we are, everywhere there is a chance of salvation; no matter how difficult the circumstances of our life, we can always see things spiritually and progress toward perfection. Any situation in our life can lead us to our good and to bliss, which can be attained even here on earth.
Importance and Power of Words
We communicate mainly through word, and it does matter how we do it. Our word is a reflection of the Incarnate Word. The Lord said, "Let there be light." And the invisible received its existence through word. Word is the greatest power in the world. "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth" (Ps. 33:6). So also in us the hidden things manifest themselves through word, and secrets become known. Therefore we need to use words with great care. It is so important for our word to have an atmosphere of good. When communicating through word, we seek benefit for ourselves; we want to have good in us. Words originating from good make our life brighter. If good word was powerful in a conversation, then we will long have a good feeling of something valuable, godly and common to us. Words should make us closer, unite us, but not corrupt and separate us. Words that we hear have the greatest influence and an immense importance in all of our lives.
Yet we live in a state of sinfulness. Our word is weakened by our sinfulness and does not reach our lives with the fullness of its sound. Only a word separated from sin can show its true power, because then it is united with the Word that created the world. If our words are not weakened by sin when originating from the secret places of our souls, then those words have the power of potential good in us. When such words come out of us, they bring good and light, being united with the Source of Light, God the Word. The words become incarnate.
When we waste our words without paying attention, we donít even think that these words might carry separation and corruption in family, in society and in the world around us. When we begin a conversation, we normally start by reasoning about something, and then quickly pass on to condemning someone, and we donít consider it to be a sin. Judging others is an ulcer that corrupts our lives. It separates us from one another and leads to the corruption of the good that is in us. Words are to build up our lives, to bring good, to make us closer to one another, to unite us, not to cause separation, corruption and death. It is so important that our word, which is a reflection of the Logos on earth, should bring us light and joy of life in the midst of enmity and separation amongst which we live. In our words we often ascribe to people the qualities they do not possess, suspect them wrongfully. Such use of word causes separation amongst us. But a good word, if it is heard, causes a great change and can move mountains. We see this throughout human history.
Our verbal communication is not unimportant. Word is eternal. Our words do not disappear, but go into eternity. We ought to use words remembering, that we will be held responsible for them on the Day of Judgment, for it is said, "Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment" (Mt. 12:36). We donít want to be condemned by the word on that day. The Lord said that not He, but the word will judge us. (John 12:48). Light has come to this earth, and we donít notice it. Goodness is diluted in us. Goodness that is not concentrated does not give us light, and we do not realize what power it possesses. In communicating with one another, we must seek what is in common, throwing away everything that separates us from one another. As far as our human sinfulness is concerned, the Lord will come to judge us and will eliminate sin and reward each according to his deeds. When we sin on this earth, we pronounce judgment upon ourselves. The Lord said, "I came not to judge the world, but to save the world" (John 12:47). So we also should try not to judge. We ought to seek good on this earth. The Kingdom of God, the light and joy, is here near us and, indeed, in us. We just need to fight our passions, to fight the darkness, which the evil one drives into our hearts. When we fight sin, we help the Lord to establish His Kingdom in our hearts and through us on this earth.
It is hard to fight sin. Love of self, judging of others, irritability and prideóall these are spikes that hurt us as well as those around us. Removing these spikes also hurts, but we have to do it. It is our cross. Yet when we change our hearts and allow the Lord into them, then we experience joy. Then the light of God illuminates our hearts. Therefore we sing, "The Cross brings joy unto the whole world." The cross leads to the establishment of Godís Kingdom on earth and to the glory of God. When we make an effort to overcome our sinfulness, we crucify ourselves along with our passions and lusts. This is the cross of which we all are so afraid. Of course, the cross if heavy, and Christ Himself was falling under the weight of the cross, but through the cross one can also see the joy o
f resurrection. The idea of resurrection is the idea of the triumphant power of good. Our resurrection is effected through the overcoming of sin. "O, risen Jesus, resurrect our souls!"
When we talk, we often become judgmental, but we are afraid to speak of good. We are afraid that people will laugh at us. So what? Itís OK to suffer for Christ. Evil is afraid of good word and laughs at it. Our good words are a creative power similar to the power of the God-Word. Like the power of God, the word overcomes evil. A word can also be present in silence: it is an internal word. A word, even if not spoken, has power. Often good word puts us through mockery and opposition, but one should not be afraid. The word comes through and breaks out of the ground like a seed. A good word has a creative element: "Everything came into being by it." Donít be afraid to say a good word. A word that fell on a good ground may produce an abundant fruit. If the evil one has contributed to the word, it loses its power. We have deprived the word of its power, having allowed death to come into it. And instead of righteousness, the word brings us separation and death. Having not deflected the attack of the evil one, I have contributed separation with my word, and it will be judged on the Day of Judgment.
At the moment when a word is being born inside of us, we must ask God for help. When we do this, the heavenly light comes into us, and then the word that is being born brings light into the world and is creative and uniting. Darkness is afraid of light. Our will is quietly weakened by a mocking smile of those around us. We are afraid to say a good word, to raise our word, and the evil one is happy about his success and our helplessness. The fullness of the energy of good is clouded by the fear of ridicule. We must say: we reject the power of evil and believe in good.
A human being is waiting for something all the time. Now we have nothing to wait for; we must act. One should not say: I am no warrior. You are a warrior with the armor that you have. You should try to say a good, kind word. The Lord has given this mission to every person. Good is bold. A good word brings light to good souls and uncovers darkness in dark souls. Sin brings us a false life, and good brings us a real life extending into eternity. When we say a good word, we as if it were open the heavens and enter into eternity. And our good words are the building blocks of the dwelling place being prepared for us by the Lord Himself, just as the one he prepared for the repentant robber in one hour. Good words bring us happiness in this life, and will bring us bliss of seeing God in the life to come. Just like the seed in the well-known parable, so also a good word will bring forth fruit when it falls into good soil; sometimes thirty-fold, sometimes sixty-fold, and sometimes a hundred-fold.
The Lord created the world by saying, "Let there be light." In our creative lives we are a reflection of the Creator Who created the world. When we direct our attention towards light, then good thinking appears within us as if it were a reflection of the creative thought of God. Good thought is light, as it comes from the Source of light. It is a creative beginning; it penetrates into the chaos of lifeís relationships of good and evil and creates a new life. It encourages us to overcome darkness. It is said: "Believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light" (John 12:36). Divine light is always pouring into the world. But it is repelled from us by the darkness of our souls. It is only when we dispel darkness that we are illuminated by the light. As if a beam of light falls upon us from heaven and enlightens everything in us and around us. It is a manifestation of the power of God. As if the Lord were saying through us, "Let there be light." And the light comes, and a new life appears before our eyes, the life we did not think existed. We can turn our mundane life into a new one, if only we focus our attention on good thoughts. Good thought moves our will to overcome evil; it enlightens us and opens a new way of life for us. In order to prevent it, the evil one makes all kinds of effort to blind our attention. We ought to always watch out and repel attacks of the devil.
The light of Godís will enlightens everything within us. It ought to be always active in us. Yet we are more willing to choose what appears to be easier for us, what appears to be more natural. We are often tempted and give in to the sinful flow of our life.
The main task of our life is to drive darkness out of our hearts. "Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light," ó says Apostle Paul (Rom. 13:12).When we replace the darkness of our heart with light, we are filled with the Holy Ghost. The Holy Spirit creates a new life, calling it out of non-existence into existence. We just need to labor to open our heart to God, Who will then enter into it: "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock" (Rev. 3:20). Of course, we cannot attain the Kingdom of God easily; we must take it by great effort. "The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force" (Matt. 11:12). The Kingdom of God is our well-being and our common good, and it is quite possible to realize it here on earth, not only there above the clouds. To this end we must stand up to fight against sin. This act will lead us to a new life, new experiences we do not yet know.
People often postpone the work of their salvation until they get older. We plan to start getting saved in the future; we forget that we may not live to become old. The future is always around us, it is connected with our repentance and improvement. The secret of true life is in that we should not postpone the care of our salvation to an indefinite future, that our every step should be enlightened by the light of Righteousness and the will of God and be corrected in that light. It is necessary to remember that, if we walk along the path of sin, then we are on the verge of perdition, and this realization is necessary in order that the light of righteousness may enlighten our lives.
We all are expecting outward joy, and we fail to notice what is within us. That is why we are surrounded by darkness, both inside and out. Our hearts are filled with sinful darkness, and we misinterpret what is around us. We get confused in details, get tired in daily cares, and donít do what we ought to do, we quarrel with each other. Thus we waste day after day, and each present moment passes without that divine content of life that could have filled it. We do not understand the significance of time: minutes, hours, daysÖ We appear to be blind. In our everyday lives we have to overcome obstacles every minute in order to be in fellowship with God and one another, yet we donít realize how important it is. We walk in darkness and stumble every moment, and because of this we suffer a lot. If we tried to overcome this darkness in ourselves, the world around us would have become brighter. If we achieve the moment of enlightenment, then everything changes, and people around us appear to be different.
Struggle against Sin
Any sin is a problem both for us and for those around us. Sin separates and repels us from others. Sin that has not been rooted out weighs heavily on the heart and turns people away from each other. Whenever we gain victory over sin, we win others and ourselves for a life of mutual understanding of all people. Victory over sin opens the way for mutual attraction and kinship of people according to their nature: when defeating oneís own sin, one helps another person, even without that personís cooperation, to reveal the better qualities of his or her soul and draws the other person toward good. When a person defeats sin in himself, reviving the better aspects of his inner self, he reveals a spiritual treasure in others and helps them see the things they could not see in themselves before.
Good finds a response in those who have it, but cannot yet see it. While a person is possessed by sin, he is afraid of others; but when he defeats sin in himself, he makes those around him good. It is important to understand and feel it, because in our normal state we are dominated by pessimism, and it seems to us that evil has taken full possession of the whole world. Such pessimism discourages us from fighting against sin or at least makes us less active in this fight.
When we first meet a person, we do not and cannot see the hidden treasure of good in that individual. When we defeat sin in ourselves, we begin to see this power of good in others; we begin to see the treasures of virtue in anotherís soul. When a sinful person sees someone else doing good, he gains strength to act as a Christian. To search for and find goodness in oneself and others is a great joy that can be compared with no other joy. The power of the grace of God manifests itself in multiplication of good in the world; it manifests itself in that it helps us to do things we would have not been capable of doing otherwise. It often happens in life that a person "does sin that he does not want to do" (Apostle Paul). This unwilling slave of sin can find in someone elseís goodness strength that moves him to do good in his everyday life.
To be truly happy, and not just have a fake feeling of happiness, we need to defeat sin in ourselves. We should always pay close attention to what motivates a personís outward actions and what possesses him on the inside, carefully examining his actions and desires. This is not easy, but our life consists in our relationships with other people. We need to brighten our relationships with the light of Christís Truth, so they will not be harmful to us and to those we interact with. If there is peace in our souls, then our joy shall never be taken away from us. On the contrary, lack of peace always brings unhappiness. If a person has peace inside, then his peaceful heart radiates light on everything around him. Peacefulness of heart is the main achievement. Actions, illumined by such a heart, turn all relationships for good. Sinful state that comes from someone else in the form of irritation turns out for our good, if we contain our irritation. It serves for our and the other personís spiritual well being; this way we also stop the other individualís irritation. This produces good both for the one who showed meekness and for the one who was irritated. This brings happiness in life. Victory over sin brings good, and caring for oneís own salvation brings good to society.
Being a positive force, the good develops and calls to life the good that is latent in other peopleís lives, the good which until now has been hidden under a layer of indifference and evil. Goodness creates an atmosphere that helps us fight evil in our Christian lives. It may sometimes appear that working on rooting out evil in oneself is selfish, that such a person is preoccupied with himself and does not care about others. But this is not so. A person, who has not yet dealt with his own sinfulness, cannot have a good influence on others, cannot help them and cannot support them in defeating their own sins.
Such a person cannot work for the common good with the same power and to the same extent as he could have, had he defeated sin in himself. Holiness is a great communal good and power. If we desire to really serve our neighbor, we ought to first clean ourselves from sinful habits and inclinations, become pure and live a God-pleasing life. We can be helpful to others in dealing with their problems only to the extent of our own progress toward perfection. This is the only way to serve those around us. The one who has achieved holiness is the one who has the most potential to serve others. To understand this, one need only recall the names of St. Sergius of Radonezh and St. Seraphim of Sarov. People came to them from everywhere, and they were able to help in every need. They served society in a perfect way, because they brought true good into the world: they experienced good themselves, and therefore were able to teach good to others. In the eyes of God humankind is one body. Each separate personal expression of holiness cleanses the whole body. Saving ourselves, we contribute to the salvation of humankind.
The inner person is primarily built up not in a moment of extraordinary spiritual feats, but in the course of everyday, mundane life. The purpose of a human being is to build up the inner life and to build the Kingdom of Heaven within oneself. Fighting against sin, we strengthen the Divine life in ourselves and in the world. Fight against sin also reveals dogmatic truths, and we get closer to the knowledge of Divine life. Such life is both the building of the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of God itself manifested in power. Then we can better understand the words of the Lordís Prayer, "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done."
When we defeat sin, overcome separation and become united, then we reach unity in thought and desire. In this unity of feeling and desire, we begin to understand the will of God and its demands upon us. This is the unity for which the Lord Christ prayed. This unity of mind and love is not an abstract ideal, but an active task of life. We can approach this unity by discovering our spiritual kinship. Salvation is not a theoretical concept, but a way of action. Unfortunately, not all people who go to church understand this. We ought to fight sin in order to become close to one another and to carry out the task that has been given to us in life.
Sin that lives in us blinds us and makes us look for excuses before ourselves. It is the devil that encourages us to justify ourselves. We are unlikely to realize our sinfulness until our conscience wakes up and is sensitive not only to individual sins. Due to our sins, we bring separation everywhere, and every desire of our hearts for good is something that goes to the scales of Godís Judgment. Our self-justification of our sinful acts is an enemy of our salvation. It is only when we realize the danger of sin that we can have a will to fight against it. We are indifferent toward sin until we realize that it deprives us of happiness. We consider sin to be our nature. "This is the way I am, and I cannot be any different." "This is my character." Yet character is not something we cannot fight. When we decide to resist sin, we ought to realize that sin is not an original part of our nature, but has attached itself to us. Our first ancestors were created sinless. Sin is something that entered our nature, attached itself to us and rose against those states of the soul that are natural for it as it was created in the image of God. Sin enslaves us, enters into our nature as a foreign element, and then everything else becomes mixed with sin. It is extremely important to understand that sin is foreign to our nature: this realization will help us fight sin. The moment of enlightenment from the Lord, the moment when we realize our sinfulness, has to do first of all with our will, because sin enslaves our will. The "weakness of will" is from the evil one. But if my nature is mixed with sin, then how can I fight myself? To develop the will to fight sin in myself, I need to know that sin does not belong in me. This knowledge strengthens the will to oppose sin.
Achievement of Intercourse.
To live a Christian life is to walk in light. Blinded by the daily cares of our lives, we do not see and do not realize the fullness of our mission on earth and the fullness of the gifts given us by God; we donít even know ourselves. The gifts of our soul are left unused. We see ourselves and other people as powerless and say, "We are insignificant average people. What can we do? We should only try to earn our living." Thus belittling ourselves we often weaken our will to act, even though we are not little and not weak, but each one of us has a mission. Every human being in this world has a purpose and is Godís messenger on this earth. The Lord needs every soul, and every one of us is responsible for his own life, as well as for the lives of others. The issue is not our insignificance, but our unwillingness to assume responsibility. We often say, "Thatís none of my business. Let someone else do it." By saying so we shift our responsibility onto others, thus blaming others; this causes us to be judgmental, which in turn leads to divisions.
To a large extent our life depends on ourselves. Since we are Godís messengers on this earth, each one of us has an influence on what is going on around him and thus on the world. If evil will neutralizes the power of good, then a will freed from sin has a great positive influence.
Every day we interact with various people, and in this interaction we can either show our worse side, or our better side. Unfortunately, we normally do not show that light and good that we have inside ourselves. The gifts we have are neutralized by the mundane nature of our life. We often do not know the value of our soul, and that is why our soul becomes somewhat darkened. Because in order to fulfill our purpose, we need to have our internal eyes opened, and only then will we see in our soul those values that are hidden from our internal sight. We need to discover those values in ourselves and help others discover theirs. Helping others to discover themselves, we get to know ourselves deeper. This is where fellowship with others is useful: it is our school of salvation and spiritual effort. Avoiding interaction with people is not always beneficial for a Christian.
In isolation a human being almost always becomes deficient. The more he separates himself from others, the more lacking he becomes. Living a solitary life, we cut ourselves from the common life, from the life of a whole body, and in this isolation we dry out because we are not being nourished by the common life. But when we interact with people, our undiscovered powers come into action. Thus fellowship with people enriches our soul, which blossoms when we get closer to others. An individual can compensate for what he is lacking by interacting with the whole body of humankind. People are Godís flowers; we should learn, like bees, to collect honey from these flowers, to enrich ourselves from individuality of others and open ourselves for others.
Often it is hard for us to interact with others, but we are called to a common life, and fellowship with others is a duty of every Christian. We can benefit a lot from every contact with another person. If we pay attention to those around us, then we will definitely find valuesóenlightenment and good. There is something beautiful in every human being, and it is only our sinfulness that prevents us from seeing that beauty. We meet people and most often evaluate them incorrectly, looking only at their outward appearance. We say, "This person is good looking, and that one isnít." Often, when we see some shortcomings in a person, we stay away from him, taking his external appearance for what he really is; we judge him without trying to overcome the obstacles separating us. We like to interact with people who are pleasant to us, when we naturally like one another. It is hard to talk to a person against whom you have a prejudice, but it is this difficulty that we must overcome.
The Lord wants to gather us together, but the evil one is trying to separate us. When we overcome separation, we recognize in each other that one and only thing that we have from God; the thing that comprises our strength and brings us good in life. Sin has placed separation throughout humankind. When people gain victory over sin, they get closer to one another, because they return to their original state of common human natureóone whole body of humankind. But sin steals from us. When we fail to overcome what separates us, we donít see true lives of others, but their masks, which we mistake for their real faces. Our separation and isolation distorts our lives.
Normally it appears to us that we meet people by chance. Of course, that is not so! The Lord places us next to each other in family and in society so we can enrich one another, so that by having interaction and friction with one another people can light up the sparks of light. The Lord says to us, "Here is your task. I have put you in touch with this person. There is a talent in your heart that I gave you. Open that talent." Sending every soul into this world, the Lord gives it some talent and an area of activity, so the soul can blossom in its spiritual life. Because each individual is spiritually unique, if he fails to open up his spiritual treasure, it will be a spiritual death, disappearance of Godís light at that point of existence. That is why every one of us must care for his spiritual world to allow Godís light to shine in that world and not disappear. Why are we so unwilling and slow in using those powers that are in us? When we fight sin in ourselves, we allow seeds of good to grow in us; we weed out evil from ourselves, and thus help reduce evil on earth. Even the smallest effort on our part breaks our inactivity, awakens the good that is dormant in us and manifests it.
Talents are given to everybody. The Lord will ask every one of us, "Why didnít you do what you were supposed to?" Everyone in his life must uncover and multiply the talent given to him by God. Usually people say, "I have no talent." By this they mean the talent of a scientist, an artist or a statesman. But far more important are the talents of the heart given by the Lord to every human being, such as for example friendliness and compassion. It is up to us to uncover these talents as natural qualities of our soul. Of course, these talents can be uncovered only through live interaction with others. We are tied to one another with various ties, and we must use these ties to create unity of life. It is painful to realize that so many people complain about being lonely. Indeed, separation from others depresses a human being, while unity, on the other hand, provides encouragement, because then the person feels that he is not lost in this world. Unity among people is a rope connecting earth to heaven, to God Uniting. Unity that comes from the heart of one person to that of another is actually directed toward the One center, God, because unity among people is life, and separation is death.
Unity among people is good, and it brings us the joy of life. It is a law of life, and people unavoidably suffer when they break it. We are all created in the image of God. This means that we are united by the image of God. Coming together, we can gradually achieve unity of thought, soul and will; the unity of which Christ said, "As Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us" (John 17:21). Yet in our mundane life we do not even consider our duty to look for the gifts we have from God, which can really bring us close to one another. We take separation as true existence and do not make an effort to break it. The state of separation deprives us of joy in our everyday life and prevents us from uncovering our true value.
We hear all the time: "There are no good people." How come? There are people amongst us who have education, intelligence and treasure of soul, and it is only because we are hiding inside the shell of our mundane life that we do not see it, thus hiding our talents and those of others. We are lazy slaves. We say that we cannot multiply our talents, even though it is said, "Knock and it shall be opened unto you." We ought to look for a treasure in each and every heart. People often search for treasure, but not spiritual treasure, and it is spiritual treasure that we ought to look for. Someone might ask, "Why?" Letís answer: "In order to get richer." We notice only peopleís outward appearance and take from them external things, but we donít notice and donít search for a treasure that each person has inside. We should be looking for the talent of heart; this treasure is a source of good. But how do we go about doing it? To do this we ought to exert effort and work hard. As a Russian saying goes, "Without working you canít even pull a small fish out of a pond." If even greatly talented people, having received a gift from God, have to labor hard to realize their potential, then an average person ought to work even harder.
When we approach a person, let us look closely at his heart, which is the center of a human being. Christ said that everything comes out of the heart: "A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil" (Luke 6:45). Goodness of heart is a gift from God, it can be multiplied tenfold, and it is easier to build up virtue upon the goodness of heart. St. John Chrysostom says, "Miracles do not consist in doing great and marvelous deeds, but when an evil person is transformed into a good oneóthat is a miracle, for it is then that the laws of nature are broken, an old person is discarded, and a new creature is built through fight against sin." When a person struggles against sin, he is perfected, i.e. becomes closer to God. By defeating sin in oneself, a person opens up the better aspects of his soul, at the same time discovering a treasure in another person, who did not even suspect that such a treasure existed. When burdened by sin, a person is afraid of other people, he does not walk through his life joyfully. He is thinking about how to avoid meeting certain other individuals. Having defeated sin, a person will easily approach others and share his goodness with them. If we look inside a person, we can see his true self. This is not easy, but we ought to force ourselves to do it.
When we are on good terms with people, we are illuminated with sparks of light; we receive something invisible which gives us life. The Lord sends us into this world, so that we can manifest the riches of our soul. If we gather all the small grains of goodness and light given to us even that will be a lot. If we gather specs of light, then we will also become saturated with light, and our hearts of stone will light up. This process of searching for light is a moment of spiritual enlightenment: then the beauty of what we are searching for fills our soul with beauty. While looking for a treasure in our soul, we will inevitably pluck the thorns and weeds out of our heart, and this cleansing is a true good, which will give us joy of life. This goodness is a step toward beholding God, as the Scripture says, "The pure in heart shall see God" (Matthew 5:8). By having such individual moments of bliss a person is preparing for himself a place in the abode of light.
Divine light that we discover in ourselves makes us able to see spiritually, and when we can see, we are not going to invest all the resources of our soul into things that are insignificant. With divine light, as if with a flashlight, a person lights his path, and then he will see the same light in others. This light is present in every individual, but it is hidden by darkness, so that we cannot see it in others. When we feel this light, we kind of wake up, and everything changes around us, and the attacks of the enemy are rendered powerless. When illuminated by divine light, we turn our soul to God and gather the scattered rays of light into focus; then we not only ourselves shine, but we also make visible the light in others.
When we have problems in relationships with others, when the evil one causes turmoil in our hearts and fills them with darkness, then we ought to call God for help, invoking His name in our thoughts. Being possessed by a passion and walking in darkness, a person can do and say a lot of stupid things. We should turn to the Lord as quickly as possible, and He will dispel darkness with His light. By this creative act of turning to God, a person calls upon light, and the light from God comes into his heart, i.e. the Lord Himself descends into the heart, enlightens it and begins to reign in it. When God lives in the heart, then darkness is overcome, and this victory brings us into another realm of existence, a new joyful life. Peace and joy dwell in our hearts, and then we begin to feel the unity for which our souls thirst so much. Working for the Lord, we are sort of transformed, entering into the realm of light, and the Lord Himself dwells in us, "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20)
Role of Family in Salvation.
The issue of salvation is the main issue in the history of humankind as well as in the life of each individual. Salvation is true happiness. Everything else is based on our salvation. In this sense, our happiness is in our own hands. It is achieved by defeating sin. The immediate environment for struggle against sin is the family as well as all those living around us. We look at the environment and situation of our life as if it was something accidental, and we donít view our family as the path given to us by God for our salvation. Life in a family seems to be something that happened by chance, and the most important aspect of family life evades our attention. According to the Apostle, family is a small church. It can especially help an individual in achieving the main goal of life. In family people look for happiness. But what do we mean by happiness? People usually give unclear answers to this question. This means that we donít take from this God-given state that which is the most essential.
Both sinful and spiritually right life takes place inside a person, and the environment is a means by which the person must look inside. We already mentioned that sin is a separating force. I will explain it with an example from everyday life. Letís say two people offended and insulted one another; they did not want to make concessions and went their separate ways. Thatís an unhappy situation. This tells us that we must fight against sin for the sake of our own happiness, because anger is an unhappy part of our life. A human being is created with a desire for happiness and must and can learn to fight for his happiness against unhappiness, i.e. against sin in the environment that is especially close to him, close to him in the flesh. Powers of sin and holiness are in a person as if it were in a state of equilibrium. Depending on how we touch a person, the power of good or the power of evil begin to act in him and in the world around him. We always need an environment that would cleanse our inner world and would enable us indeed to come to know ourselves.
Environment outside home, being a chance interaction of people, does not server this purpose. When faced with strangers, a person hides his unrighteousness, drives it inside and tries to look good. A person is ashamed of what others might think of him, ashamed of the opinion of society and therefore does not show his true self. It is only in the family environment, to which we are accustomed, that the source of evil lurking in us begins to show up. In this respect a family environment is a necessary tool for self-understanding. No wonder that we are often afraid of this family atmosphere. Running away from it, we are interested in many things and entertain ourselves in various ways, just to escape from the environment that helps us to learn more about ourselves.
Why does the family appear to be the environment most conducive to salvation? Because in the family a person directly opens up his feelings, but when outsiders are present he hides his inner world. In society a person controls himself, he hides his irritation, tries to show himself other than he really is. He shows his outward, not his inner character. But in the family he is not trying to hide his condition, he will show it, wonít be ashamed to display his sinfulness by word or deed. And his hidden sinful world is open before the family, before his relatives and before the person himself. Thus, in a family environment, a person who pays attention to his own salvation can easier understand his sins and what separates him from others. It is important, however, that this realization of oneís inner world should lead one to fight against sin.
The Great Lent.
During the Great Lent the Church makes an effort to wake us up to repentance. Heart-penetrating services, canons and frequent readings from the Old Testament are the tools for coming to realization of our sinfulness. The examples from the Old Testament caution us and, based on the experience of thousands of years, point us to the only way of grace: the way of communion with God.
led the Jewish people to His Truth and Righteousness by means of various tribulations, long years of slavery and devastating diseases. All of the Old Testament is the story of Godís Righteousness punishing for sin and showing mercy. But despite such a multitude of punishments, the Jewish people often hardened their hearts and did not want to receive Godís rebuke.
Such hardening of heart can also be observed amongst us today. The Lord strikes us with tribulations, pours grief upon the stone-like ground of our heart, so that it may be ploughed and made ready to receive the seed of Godís grace; i.e. our hearts are often not receptive to the mercy of the Lord, even when He is showing us mercy in obvious ways. Like animals, we are still possessed by the fear of death, but do we fear Godís Judgment? The Lord is waiting for us to see in our troubles the axe and mercy of God, not just a coincidence.
Thus comparing the Old Testament with our time, we can see than both then and now the Lord cares for His people, not allowing them to perish in carelessness and iniquity. In various ways He leads us to repentance, calls us to again be united with Him, Who is the Source of life. Truly the love of God surpasses human understanding! His love goes to the extent that, according to the prophet Isaiah, for the sake of His chosen ones, for the sake of a small part of the people, He spares the whole people. For the sake of a few saints the kingdom shall stand. Thus God was leading his servants, showing Himself sometimes as a terrible and rebuking Judge, and sometimes as Merciful and All-Forgiving for the sake of man, to establish righteousness on the earth. (Indeed, there is yet another aspect of love, its protective power.)
If the Lord cared so much for his servants, does he not care even more for His sons? The Old Testament is slavery; the New Testament is sonship. We are no longer slaves in the Masterís house, but sons in the Fatherís home. A slave strives only to please his master, and their relationship is measured by the slaveís work. But a son has a closer relationship with the father and is afraid of insulting him not only by action, but also by intention, lest he be separated from the love of the father; his relationship with the father is measured by feelings and thoughts. Yet to whom more was given, of him more will be asked. "We are children of God, but it has not yet been revealed what we will become,"-says the apostle; we have been given a lot, and it is up to us to multiply the Lordís gift. It is up to us to set our feet on the warrior path, the path of the warriors of Christ, fighting on the battlefield of our hearts for the Truth and Righteousness of God. It is up to us to make a good beginning, since the Lord appreciates even our intentions, and everything else we will be able to do with the help of Godís grace.
Our weapon is frequent prayer, creative prayer beyond a mechanical repetition of memorized words. The Holy Church offers such prayers to us in the touching services of the Great Lent. The goal of our struggle is to acquire the inner peace of the soul. When peace finds home in our hearts, then we begin our blessed journey toward communion with God. The state of communion with God is so great, that this communion itself is our reward, the Kingdom of Heaven inside of us. This is what the Lord has called us to, so that here on earth we could in separate moments acquire eternity for ourselves. Amen.
In Search of Happiness
Every one of us wants to be happy. The Lord gave us the Earth so we can live happily on it, sort of participating in the glory of God. Yet we constantly hear that our life brings us no joy. Every day we get up, work, get tired; we are bored with our monotonous life. Indeed, if we pay attention, we see that we spend our days taking care of business, being nervous, frustrated, irritated, quarreling over unimportant things and feeling ourselves unhappy, worthless and lonely. We are, indeed, unhappy, for we are slaves of material things; we live like machines and submit to the flow of circumstances. All of our energy is spent on things insignificant that we have today, but may not have tomorrow.
We fail to distinguish between our real life and our temporary life full of offences, judgment of others and envy. Irritated and despondent, we lose the peace of heart and are immersed into darkness. We donít like anything, friends appear to be enemies, even the light of the sun does not seem to shine for us, and the birds are singing for someone else. When we are in a state like this, the source of our well-being and joy is hidden from us. We donít see anything good in ourselves or in others. Everything appears bad to us. So, whatís the matter? What is it that makes our life miserable? We live with a darkened heart. We mistake this temporary possession of us by the dark forces, this sinful state of our soul, for reality, for our true self. We walk in darkness, but he who walks in darkness stumbles. Our evil that infected our soulóirritation, judging of others, angerómake us contentious. When we interact with others and do not have peace inside, we separate ourselves from them. When we feel separation, we sense that something is wrong; we are unhappy and indeed suffer.
So where is joy in everyday life? How can we enlighten our life? How do we find a path to light? The Lord is the source of light and joy, but the evil one brings darkness upon us. Yet we are slaves of the evil one. The enemy darkens our hearts, and in the dark we have a wrong perception of life. The darkness of our hearts distorts our lives. We make wrong moves, speak wrong words; we no longer see the true face of another person and make an incorrect judgment about him, taking his temporary condition for his true personality. Mistaking an illusion for reality, we are in a state that leads us to mutual unhappiness and separation. Our ancestors were created sinless. But since the time of the fall, sin has stuck to our nature and keeps us captive. Everything is diluted with sin, and because of sin we lose the joy of life.
Our everyday life is a means by which we build our true life. Yet we turned the means into the end. Our real actions, having an unreal source, bring evil, grief and suffering. We walk as if in sleep and, immersed in the darkness of sin and passion, see only the darkness. The evil one prevents us from seeing light. We are a blind weapon of the dark forces, and that is why we suffer. We are not creative masters in life, but are enslaved to it.
So, what do we do? We need to open our eyes. It is possible to achieve well-being. We just need to exert effort to obtain this treasure, which is hidden in ourselves and around us.
We want to live well and happily. But what are we doing for it? Even the morning and evening prayers do not reveal to us our perilous condition. It is imperative that we look into the meaning of prayers, and then we will come to the realization of our sinfulness and of the mercy of God. These prayers determine all our life and activity, they point out to us what we should do and what we ought to avoid.
In our evening and morning prayers we stand before the face of God and examine ourselves. These prayers reveal us to ourselves. It is important that we look in the light of Gods wisdom at those few things that we do during the day.
Our souls were created for eternity, yet we do not care for them at all. We are after all kinds of treasure, except for treasure eternal. We are bad business people and undersell our souls. Yet there is nothing more valuable than a soul. We only buy things that are worthless in eternity, but we do not acquire what is going into eternity. This is because we are so confused; all of our priorities are messed up: sin has darkened our understanding of reality. When we genuinely understand all the falsehood and wrongness of our life, then we will acquire what is really needed. Then a human being, enlightened by God, will begin to sort out the confusion of his or her life and strive toward things good and eternal.
It is important that not a single day goes into eternity empty; we must find value in our everyday life. We are given every day to extract at leas a minimum of the good and joy that are the essence of eternity and that will follow us into the life to come. In order to extract something of value out of every day, we ought to be creative about every moment of our life. By being creative, we can overcome our tendency to "go with the flow" and to shake free of the darkness of passions possessing our souls. Overcoming of sin leads to a joyful perception of the world and the knowledge of God; leads us to building a true life to which we humans are called.
How do we then live this creative life? The heart is the source of life. The heart if the field of battle between the evil one and God, and this fight is going on constantly. We must always watchfully guard our hearts, understand the attacks of the devil and fight back. Then we will be creative about every moment of our life. We are constantly balancing on the thin line between good and evil. It is up to our will to either force ourselves toward good or do nothing and submit to evil. The devil wants to possess us, but we must resist him. The evil one pushes us toward sin by an appearance of good and encourages us to do what is not good for us. He is offering us sin in the form of happiness.
In every human being there is more good than evil, but this good is mixed with evil. You might ask, "How come? Why is it that we see so much evil in others, a sea of evil?" Yes there is a sea of evil and an ocean of good. Evil easily comes out of us and strikes the eye, but good is hidden, scattered, diluted. Good is modest and humble, evil is not. Evil is darkness, sin, our powerlessness, decay, unhappiness and death. Good is light, unity, power, joy and spiritual life.
Every boring and uneventful day and hour can be illuminated and made joyful, if we take goodness, light and warmth from life. I must have a right view of the life around me. If I direct my inner eye toward light, I will see it. Attention is the greatest act of spiritual life. Struggle, force yourself to find light, and you will see it. It is written, "Seek and you shall find" (Matt. 7:7). Our being is two thirds filled with light, but we do not manifest this inner light. Overcoming darkness, we let the light, or the Lord, into our hearts. And this is not passive, but creative. We must be creative. Creating a new life, we can touch the Source of light that illuminates everything.
Good is eternal and, having its origin in God, it strives to return to God. This flow of good toward God is the building of the Kingdom of God on earth. We must make an effort to move toward good, and then good will come to us. I am coming to the Father, and the Father is coming to meet me (Parable of the prodigal son). When we drive the evil one out of our heart, we make there a place for the Lord. The Lord comes in and reigns in the heart, thus building up the Kingdom of God. This kingdom is a real good on earth; it is the joy of the Holy Spirit. Then the heavenly life opens up in us, and the ideal becomes real. We pray, "Thy Kingdom come."óthis is a real thing. To fight against sin is to be in the light, in holiness that comes from the Holy Spirit, which in turn comes from God, Who is the Source of Light. Therefore Apostle Paul states that "the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost" (Rom. 14:17). In such a state a person is united with God and feels joy of the Holy Spirit with all his or her being. This is because a person returns to God, his Father, to the Fatherís house.
Happiness cannot be achieved by breaking the law of Existence, by sin. So, how do we start fighting against sin? It is necessary to find a force that breaks sin and makes it powerless. We need to connect with the source of the power of good, with God, by praying Him to help us, because the forces of evil that possess us render our efforts weak, and without Godís help we cannot change our sinful nature.
The Lord is near and He immediately helps those who call upon Him. When in a time of a demonic attack against us we utter a short prayer to God saying, "Lord, help," we call our life from non-existence into existence. Calling to God is an act of will directed to the Source of light. The very thought of turning to God in time of darkness of the heart (annoyance, anger, envy or some other passion) by saying "Lord, help" goes straight from earth to heaven. In response to this prayer we receive help from heaven directly coming into our heart. A beam of light illuminates the darkness and dispels it. The thought about God is an act of the Holy Spirit inside us. Our will transitions into a different realm of existence when we call upon God. By directing our word to God the Word we receive Divine light, which serves as a bright star guiding us through our life. This light calls the energy of good to action, and the enlightened person brings life to this dead, indifferent, frozen earth.
The moment of calling upon the name of God is a conduit of light into our soul. It seems to be so insignificant to say, "Lord, help." Yet this short phrase opens to us the heaven with the habitation of God. The heaven radiates light and comes to us, and we become as if immersed into eternity. Eternity itself comes into our life bringing us closer to the source of light. This light gathers inside of us small particles of goodness out of the chaos of good and evil so characteristic of human life. The Lord comes to reign in our hearts building the Kingdom of God, which is joy and peace.
Fighting against sin, we become different: instead of being irritable, we become humble; instead of being stingy, we become generous; instead of being evil, we become good; instead of being cruel in heart, we become merciful; instead of being restless, we become peaceful and focused. We develop new feelings. Our eyes open up. The darkness of our heart is replaced by light, and it is a miracle, a manifestation of the power of God. It is a renewal, removal of the old (sinful) person and creation of a new one, a transfiguration. What is eternal and heavenly comes into our life, and as a result we come into eternity. Humans are given a great power to transform, with Godís help, the life of sin into the new life, building the Kingdom of God on earth. The Holy Ghost begins to act in us, and the fruit of the Spirit is "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance" (Gal. 5:22). Then every person becomes sort of a miracle worker, because by defeating sin he performs a miracle, revealing God through himself. Then we begin to see that our life is like a mirage.
Without calling upon God and following Him we cannot break out of slavery to material things and circumstances, we are their slaves. We need as frequently as possible to enlighten our everyday life with a beam of Divine light, open up a small window to heaven, so the heavenly light can pour into our hearts. The more enlightened moments we have in our life, the more our life will be enlightened by Divine light. We will see the world in its real beauty; we will see our true being and have the joy of life. Christianity is not a religion of sadness, but one of joy and bliss. Apostle Paul says, "Rejoice evermore" (I Thes. 5:16). This is the beginning of bliss of which it is written, "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man: the things which God hath prepared for them that love him" (I Cor. 2:9)
Heavenly Life on Earth.
A Christianís immediate task is to realize the divine life on earth. "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). Christianity is every human beingís duty. A Christian achieves the lost goodness, for which he was created, and fights against that which destroys this goodness.
But how can divine life be renewed in man here on earth? Christ came in the flesh in order to sanctify the earth and to give man a chance to come to know and feel the divine life through the human life of Christ, His suffering on the cross and His death. Therefore to crucify oneself with Him, to put off the old man and to put on the new one is the way to restoring the divine life, and this is done by fighting against sin: "The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force" (Matt. 11:12)
Giving himself over to passions and sins, a human being lives under the influence of the prince of this world, the devil, and is willing to worship him in order to receive "happiness" instead of true good. The devil told Christ, "All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me" (Matt. 4:9). Struggle against the evil one is a manís cross, but it is through the cross that God and his life begin to come to reign in the heart. Divine life is not of this world, it is the Kingdom of God on earth. At the same time this life is the very true and real life, the life in its highest manifestation, which is communion with God. Communion with God! ... This sounds so unachievable, how is it possible in the confines of this sinful and vain life? Yet one can achieve communion with God here on earth. In saints we see an example of the lost order of life being restored; we see harmony and return to the original state, which leads to the communion with God. This communion is the true and real good, which every person can achieve.
This path involves crucifying oneself with Christ. It is impossible to acquire good without following in the footsteps of Christ. Only by following Christ a person achieves his good. Christ came to this earth in order to save every sinner, to "pick up a stray sheep upon His shoulders" and to bring him to God, making him a partaker in Divine life. This Divine life is not a theoretical ideal, but a practical requirement. God cannot renounce his manifested love toward human race, wishing good to man. Christ elevates a sinner, showing to him that he is an image of God. He allows man to use his abilities to improve and to learn to live for the sake of good. Sin has obscured the image of God in us; we do not know ourselves and do not see this image in others. Christ has come to restore the darkened image of God in man. Fighting against sin, we scrape the dust and soot of sin off the Godís image in us, which image is our true person, and this image is renewed. Godís miraculous sign of our time, renewal of sacred images (icons), is a symbol and Godís call for us to put off the old man and to build up the new one. Maybe, this is Godís call to sinful humankind in the last hour.
Our sinful state is not normal and violates the harmony of life. What is necessary is a right relationship between the spirit, soul and body: dominance of soul over body, and then dominance of spirit over soul; this returns man to the original harmony. Then man is restored in his royal dignity and is again made the king of nature. We see that even wild beasts and the elements are obedient to those who do the will of God, such as St. Sergius of Radonezh and St. Seraphim of Sarov. And this is no surprise, for thus man returns to his original purpose in this world. Living the life of soul rather than that of spirit, we only sometimes feel the moving of the Holy Ghost: "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is everyone that is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8)
Usually the acts of the Holy Ghost are not manifested in us, because we are bound with chains of sin. The Holy Spirit begins to act in a person as he or she becomes free from sin. We see that holy men win over the world around them and work miracles. There is nothing strange in a miracle; it is an act of God in the power of His might. An unprepared heart does not accept miracles, and people explain them away and do not see the divine nature of the acts. Even during Christís life on this earth miracles were rejected as, for instance, the miracle involving the man born blind. Miracles worked by holy people do not violate the laws of nature, but restore those laws.
What is spiritual, or heavenly, life and how do we approach it? One cannot understand spiritual life without becoming closer to it. It is the opposite of carnal, sinful life. "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God" (1 Cor. 2:14). Spiritual and carnal people speak different languages: for one being in a church is joyful, for the other it is boring. A sinful heart does not hear the divine sounds of heaven. Just as it is impossible to experience emotions in music without being brought up in music, in the same way spiritual experiences are not available to people infected by sin and not struggling against it. It is only as a result of fighting sin that we begin to understand spiritual life. God is known in holiness. We are made closer to God by what makes us similar to Him. And these similarities are developed in us through the influence of the Holy Spirit. Holiness is a step towards communion with God. State of holiness should not be viewed as complete absence of sin in people, but as strengthening in them of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, such as peace in the heart, for example. State of holiness is strengthened in us through fight against sin and victory over some sinful states of soul and body. This fight is painful, has to do with the cross and spiritual labor, but leads to holiness. The ultimate goal is communion with God, but holiness is the path to this communion. God is revealed to us as a result of our willís effort and labor. "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13). He manifests His goodness to us, He gives light to both good and evil, for God is love.
How does one recognize spiritual life? It is known by its fruit. The Holy Spirit is the source of spiritual life. The fruit of the Holy Spirit grows as a result of union between human will, directed at fighting sin, and the grace of God. According to Apostle Paul, "The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance" (Gal. 5:22-23). But the works of the flesh are such that it is better not even to mention them; in the words of the Apostle, they are "adultery, fornication, uncleannessÖ strife," etc. (Gal. 5:19). In this world we observe the fruit of the Holy Spirit manifested in the lives of holy people. Christ himselfóthe incarnate God-the Wordówas in circumstances similar to ours, so that we do not become afraid of the shining of Divine light, but through man be able to understand the divine qualities. Christís life on earth revealed to people the divine life in earthly conditions. Here on earth Christ showed a little bit of His Divine glory, as happened, for example, at the Lordís Transfiguration on the mountain. As the Church sings in one hymn, "On the mountain Thou transformed thyself, and Thy disciples saw Thy glory, o, Christ God, to the extent they were able to comprehend it." When the Holy Spirit is active in a person, then peace, meekness and joy of the Holy Spirit dwell in that individual, the sinful man becomes enlightened or transformed. When the Lord comes to reign in our hearts, the Kingdom of God begins to be established inside of us, and the Holy Spirit begins to act in the heart. Every one of us can achieve this. Acquiring of the Holy Spirit is the most important task of our lives.
By an act of the Holy Spirit we reach the state of peace, which is the true, real life. This peace is achieved through daily struggle and overcoming of sinfulness, which is a part of human nature. Everything that there is good in us is a gift from God. A Christian must use this gift to build up his spiritual life. A Christian has the task of gaining victory over what is bad in him, and magnifying what is good. Thus getting closer to God-Father, a Christian is like that prodigal son, who finally decided to return to his father, having experienced a lot of hardship. As he was going to his father, his father came out to meet him. This is a mutual process between God and man. To our effort and diligence God responds with His grace, and this process is called salvation of the soul. Overcoming our sinfulness with the help of Godís grace, we transition into the state of holiness, as God is reflected in us. These moments of victory over sin are the acts of the Holy Spirit and comprise spiritual life.
Some think that Christian virtues are only expressed externally, such as through various works of charity. Yet numerous states of a Christian soul are internal virtues. Individual good works comprise virtues, which serve as stepping stones towards heaven. In beatitudes, found in His Sermon on the Mount, Christ laid out the steps that make us closer to God, and for those who follow these steps the results are evident even here on earth. Blessed are the pure in heart, the meek, the peacemakersÖ In the life to come we will see God face to face, which will be the fullness of bliss; but here, let us reflect the glory of God as He shows His light in us. Doing good, we are Godís co-workers. Doing good is life eternal. We will reap the fruit of the Holy Spirit, if we do not fail. "And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not" (Gal. 6:9)
When we acquire the Holy Spirit, the gates of eternity are open before us; we receive a dwelling place in heaven in the life to come, while here on earth we move toward the state of holiness, which is peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. The Kingdom of God begins here on earth, in our heart, when it is filled with holy feelings, which transform our life. Man is given the task of reflecting the glory of God, the Light of Christ. Being transformed and communing with God, we reflect the beams of His light, thus partaking in His glory. Holy people radiate the Light of Christ. The ray of heavenly light hits the earth, goes through a person, enlightens him by the power of Godís grace and is radiated back to Heaven. The ultimate purpose of the world is the glory of God; and the ultimate purpose of every human being is salvation of his soul and the return to his original state. Amen.
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