Today we celebrate the Triumph of Orthodoxy. The Holy Fathers explain that Orthodoxy is the unerring vision, and understanding, of the Holy Trinity and the entire Incarnate Dispensation of Christ, One of the Trinity; the correct teaching about created things; and the practice of the commandments which instill within us the purifying virtues, above all, humility and love.
The interior life of our One God in Three Persons, that life which is uncreated and self-existing, is love. “God is Love,” says the divine theologian John. This love cannot be tasted without humility, just as the Holy Trinity was not revealed in Its fullness until the Incarnation of Christ. His descent into our weak human nature manifests the heights of humility. If we do not now see the God-Man within every human being, we cannot truly honor and love them as Christ, like Christ. If we do not see others as more honorable than ourselves, we cannot truly love them.
So, let us focus on humility. We have passed through the first week of Lent, called Clean Week. I hope that all of us have come to understand by experience why this week is called “clean.” The hymns call this blessed beginning of the Lenten Fast “the springtime of our souls.” It is one filled with light, calm joy, stillness, and blessedness.
Here at the monastery we have just gone through our customary journey of Clean Week, when we perform all the Divine Services in their fullness, hear the many patristic readings, and keep the fast of one meal a day at the ninth hour. We have taken a reprieve as much as possible from daily work, and have unplugged from the reception of mail, the use of phones, email, and internet. I pray that we have all had a taste of Clean Week’s stillness.
Holy stillness—hesychia! Our beloved Abba Isaac says that outside of it there can be no true repentance. Many Holy Fathers have understood and taught the same. Even if we cannot enter into the depth of their hesychasm, we can still taste its profit. As Abba Isaac says, whether a man tastes a thimble-full of good wine or possesses the whole vat, he still perceives the fullness of its essence. So, let us be thankful for the thimble-full of the good and blessed wine of stillness which we have tasted.
Stillness of soul! Without it there is no chance for repentance, without which there can be no true humility. Why? Because stillness alone reveals what lies hidden within our souls. We come to Clean Week in order to taste this calm joyous stillness above all, as if we are scraping off much caked-on mud from a buried mirror, a mirror which shows us who we truly are.
Stillness of soul! This is what the world today is moving ever further and further away from. We are surrounded by the constant bombardment of distraction—whether through i-phones, laptops, bill-boards, or often most of all, our own memories, touched and extrapolated by the action of the demons; these full repositories of many idle, impure, violent, vain, and useless impressions which fill our minds and hearts with the constant agitation and unceasing movement of recollections and thoughts and ever new fantasies.
Do we have deep gratitude for what God has blessed us to experience here this one week of every year? Have we spent it wisely? Have we laid a good foundation? Hopefully, we cherished that blessed stillness which just started to dawn for our souls this last week.
But, even if we have cherished it are we taking it to heart? Or are we just going back to the hustle-and-bustle of our everyday lives? We cut out internet and media for a week. But, have those of us who keep up with current events and utilize the internet for other uses gone right back to where we were, trying to catch up on everything we missed?
We have many enemies of stillness today, and therefore many enemies which work against our own repentance, humility, salvation, and blessed life in Christ. The news will never grant stillness of soul. It will only convey the (often self-righteous) opinion and passion of those who portray it, infecting us with the same, rarely (if ever) moving us to broken-hearted and deeply-sympathetic prayer which is found in stillness alone. Nor will our various hobbies, distractions, past-times, day-dreams, and flights of fancy grant us stillness. Watching the news and having past-times are not wrong. It is not a matter of right and wrong, but one of devotion and profitability. Do we engage in these things more than prayer, spiritual reading, stillness in our icon corners, meditating on virtue, weeping for our sins, and cultivating that deep awareness of our weakness and poverty which opens the heart up to burning thirst for Christ more than anything else in the world?
The world is filled with news, war, rumors of war, conservatives against liberals, this party against that party, us against them. Where is Christ? Where is eternal life? Where is peace, love, humility, salvation? Are we wasting our lives with constant distraction, whether through media or our own restless minds? We may not use the internet, but our own minds are fuel enough for a multitude of vanities and sins. There is a story about a monk who saw a demon resting, and the monk asked him why he was not laboring to destroy souls. The demon responded that men today have become their own demons and therefore the demons have no work to do.
Have we become such? God forbid! If we have, let us wake up! Let us become sober! Let us realize why we exist! Have we been created on this earth in order to fill our minds with events, idle curiosity of what our brothers are doing, judgment, and endless criticism and discontent; to fill our bellies with wholesome foods; to give as much rest and pleasure to our flesh as possible; to go from day to day without a care for our souls?
Let us turn away from idleness, idle curiosity, that despondency which paradoxically numbs all the powers of the soul to sleep while making them run anxiously here and there wakefully searching for some unfindable consolation for their frustration. Let us turn away from vain ambitions, love of power and control, the feeling of being on the right side, the false power which harsh criticism vainly puffs the soul up with only to let it fall to the ground like a geyser which spouts only once, amazing the eyes for a moment, but dying forever beneath the dirt of the earth.
We all have our salvation ready at hand. It is found in humility. And humility is found in pain, weakness, inability, failures, sins, explosions of anger, fits of lust, vain thoughts, arrogant outbursts, falling short of the typicon, humiliations, insults, offenses, crosses, thorns, and all that makes us feel our own mortality. That is, humility is found in all these things if we are willing to find it there, and if we seek speedy repentance through it.
It is not automatic. It requires effort. It requires that we turn immediately to God, like a helpless and defenseless child who is scared, grabbing the hem of their parents’ clothes and crying out. This is humility. This is healthy dependence. This is the crucifixion of our imaginary and non-existent autonomy. This is the path of salvation, the beginning of the path by which our whole mind, heart, and soul journey into the heart of Christ.
This is the Orthodox Way, the Orthodox Life, the Orthodox Faith. This is the Faith which the Prophets typified, which Christ revealed, which the Apostles preached, which the Fathers taught, which we have received. What will we do with it? Will we continue to live our lives as if we were made for this world alone? Or will we realize the inevitability of our deaths, which are the doorway into eternity where we shall stand face to face with Christ our True Life, and truly live in Him now and forever?
Let us make a good beginning. If we have failed terribly even unto this very moment and breath, then let us cast off the shackles of sin and not despair, crying out: “O Lord Jesus Christ, my God, have mercy on me, the poor sinner! Grant me, who am perishing, to make a good beginning!” Let us humble ourselves before our All-Loving Father; love with deep affection our Savior Jesus Christ; and seek Him Who is closer than our very breath and thoughts: the Holy Spirit Who fills all things. Simple words and movements of prayer: this is the root of salvation. It is not complicated; it requires no degrees, nor worldly standing or knowledge, nor strength of body or intellect, nor honor in the eyes of men, nor is it denied to those who lack psychological stability, social prowess, aesthetic sensibility, or artistic cultivation.
Let us truly enter into that life of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Trinity worshipped by spotless angels, Whose glory shall be fully unveiled at the end of this world. May we then—through partial and ever-growing entrance into it now—experience God’s glory, not as burning flame, but as joyous light, deep stillness, fervent love, and overflowing gratitude. Amen.