We stand at a spiritual crossroad today—two martyrs with insuppressible love for Christ are both commemorated today: St. George—the glorious, faithful and pure lover of Christ who was filled with divine love from His youth; and St. Photini—the repentant Samaritan woman, who, after Christ came to her and revealed her sins and told her plainly that He was the long-awaited Messiah of the Jews and the Savior of all mankind; after this, she acknowledged her sins, cast them aside and went straightway in her zeal with haste to preach this Good News to all her kinsman and fellow-neighbors.
I will leave the details of both the Samaritan Woman and St. George to the Saints whose words we will hear in Trapeza. I only want to speak a little, if I am able by the grace of God, about the inner life of these Saints and how it applies to us.
St. George first worked miracles by the power of Christ—even raising the dead—and then he confessed to the multitudes the words of Christ Who said: “He who believes in Me will do the works that I do, and even greater works than these!” Such a bold affirmation would be absolutely unbelievable to us if God Himself was not the one who said it with the lips of our very body of dust which He assumed in His incomprehensible love for us.
God’s holy martyrs suffered innumerable tortures: some experienced the raking off of their flesh; others endured the flames of furnaces; others were impaled; some were scourged and beaten until all their flesh came off, revealing their inner organs which spilled to the ground. How did they endure all of this? By nothing save the power and grace of God. It is said of St. George that when they tried to spear him, that by the grace of God, the spears turned rubber-like and did nothing. Only the transcendent, universe-creating and life-transforming power of God the Holy Trinity could do such a thing—so it is with all the divine manifestations which we see revealed in the martyrs in their time of trial.
Many prayed for their tormentors. Many wept and felt pain—not for their own bodies—but for their tormentors who remained in hardened sin and self-condemning blindness. Many of them had that Christ-like love which filled the Holy Prophet Moses and the Holy Apostle Paul: they had such divine love for all mankind that they desired to suffer eternal hell if only one person would be saved. This divine love indwelling men is the greatest treasure, the highest spiritual gift, the greatest miracle, the thing which according to St. Paul is to be coveted above all else.
We should constantly make ourselves conscious of this divine love of the Saints, which is only a tiny reflection of that supreme, insuppressible and incomprehensible love of Christ, Who, for the sake of sinners who willfully and shamelessly run with haste into eternal spiritual death, descended from heaven, ignoring, as it were, all of the countless hosts of angelic powers who ceaselessly sing His praise in purity of spirit. He, as it were, turned His back on them, searching for us, the lost sheep. His suffering over our sins is greater than the pain we feel for them, for who is more aware of our sins than the clear-sighted and all-seeing Lord? Many Saints testify to this love of God, but the words of St. Justin Popovich express it very clearly. He says:
“Each of my sins is a Great Friday for Christ…Each of your sins, brother, is for Him a greater torment than for you and for me. Committing sin you crucify Him…In every sufferer the Lord Christ suffers; in all sorrowing, the Lord Christ sorrows. In His limitless love of man…He ceaselessly takes on Himself the body of man, suffers with him, is tormented in him, sorrows in him…”
Such is the infinite love of God for us. Such love came to dwell within the Saints, yet not in the fullness of the measure in which it resides in Christ Who is Love Himself, the Source of the Saints’ love and their ever-increasing desire. If we would constantly immerse ourselves within the consciousness of this love, would we not see God, ourselves, those around us and all the world much differently? If we always had such love in mind, would we continue to live, to speak, to feel and act as we do now and have done in the past? Is it possible that the awareness of this love would not even destroy the stoniness of the hardest hearts, such as Hitler’s, Diocletian’s or Nero’s, if only they had just a tiny spark of desire to be transformed by this love and saved?
St. John of Damascus boldly states that for all eternity God always offers all the treasures of His eternal and blissful life to all, even to the devil, his demons and those who do not want His love and life; however, these remain forever unrepentant, never desiring this change which comes from the love of God for all eternity. This is probably not the state of any one in this church. But even if it does seem like we have reached such a state, we can cry out with that evening prayer of the same St. Damascene:
“Whether I want it or not, save me, O Lord. For to save a righteous man is no great thing, and to have mercy on the pure is nothing wonderful, for they are worthy of Thy mercy. But on me, a sinner, show the wonder of Thy mercy, in this reveal Thy love for mankind, lest my wickedness prevail over Thine ineffable goodness and merciful kindness; and order my life as Thou wilt!”
Now we can see more clearly what hell really is: the unveiled consciousness and heartfelt perception of this great love of God, which is everywhere present and fills all things. In eternity, all will be immersed and baptized within this great ocean of love which is God Himself. To those who seek this love and mercy from Him in this life it will be the pinnacle of all their earthly efforts come to a completion, the fulfillment of all their desires for God and His spiritual graces. However, for the devil, his demons and those who do not want to ever repent, this is hell. This is the Orthodox mindset which is revealed by God through the living experience of His Saints and their words.
If we always made ourselves aware of this love of God which we see revealed by the Saints, who were men of like passions and weak bodies as us, would we remain as we are? Holding ourselves within this awareness, we can see ourselves more clearly, we can see if we have any spot of vanity or self-love or trifling pettiness or impurity.
The world is crumbling around us as we speak. Men are becoming more depraved each second. Children are being exposed to things which fully-grown men fifty years ago never even had consciousness of, and this even before these children can speak. Schools, which should be a place of education, are de-humanizing children and young adults. Instead of learning they are becoming paralyzed mentally, spiritually and practically. So, what can we do? Does watching the news help? Does being aware of these things save mankind? Does quarreling about politicians and condemning them do anything useful? Does our selfishness against our family and neighbors add anything profitable to the face of this earth?
Of course we should be aware of what is taking place around us. But only to a certain degree. What should the greater part of our time be committed to? Prayer of course. Not just lip-service. Not just liturgical motions. But prayer from the depths of the heart. Pain in the soul, grieving for mankind, pools of tears, a burning longing which seeks to penetrate heaven and wound with love, as it were, the very Bosom of God, and incline His mercy of enlightenment to pour out upon all mankind: Christians and pagans, good men and vile sinners. All are loved by God; He desires that all be saved. Shouldn’t we also desire the same? But how can we acquire compunction and warmth of prayer if our minds are filled with proud condemnation of ignorant sinners? How can our mouths pour forth genuine prayers of intercession for all men if they are filled with gossip, slander, judgment, or even simply useless babbling about others’ affairs?
We started out by speaking of the great and superhuman miracles and deeds of the Martyrs and Saints. But the greatest of these miracles and gifts of which they were filled with is love. Such love as we have been speaking about. This is the greatest miracle which can take place within each and every one of us. This love is life-transforming. This love can wield, as it were, the heart of God, pouring forth His mercy and compassion upon all the world of benighted mankind. If we had this love we could penetrate the hardest of hearts, we could transform the most hardened criminal with a glance; and one word of ours could save the souls of others.
Are we far from this love? Do we see any speck of this love in us? Or do we often bite one another with hard feelings, angry glances, sharp words or even by imperceptible judgment of others in the subtly of our mind? If we Orthodox Christians—and even more us monks, and especially us clergy—if we spend our time as the rest of the world caught up in distraction and useless gossip, who is going to intercede for the world? Yes, of course, God will still have mercy. But let us not miss the opportunity to be included within the plan of God’s love and salvation. Let us not turn our backs on being chosen vessels of God’s grace which can pour out into every human heart. He desires our life in Him. If we cannot even turn from our evil ways a little, how long will the world continue? If we who possess the truth and grace, and who partake already of immortal life by having the very life-giving blood of Christ pulsing through our veins—if we do not become Christ-like, if we, the Body of Christ, do not cling to God and one another in the most intimate and inseparable unity of love, then this world has no hope!
Let us seek to enter into God. Let us not complain or gibber useless words about others who sin in ignorance. But let us blame ourselves and at least feel a little contrition and shame for our own poor state, and let us utter those words of St. Paisios of Mt. Athos, who, when he was asked how he could blame himself for, say, a divorce which happened half-way across the world, responded with these words: “If I were a Saint, and possessed true prayer, this would not have happened; for I would have known about it and could have interceded for them, stopping it; but because of my negligence and lack of holiness, these things have happened.”
Here is a miracle: when we wake up and realize the power of the gift of speech which God has given us; when we cast away useless bickering and idle chatter about the affairs of our co-workers, neighbors, politicians and all the world, and come to realize that our words have a divine power. We can turn our whole mind and heart to God, and speak profitable words of prayer, kind words which with their divine warmth penetrate the souls of the ignorant and heal the afflictions of those oppressed by bitter sin and untruth. The only hope we have for ourselves, and for the world around us, is if we start right this instant to arouse our sleeping minds and hearts with the divine zeal of Christ. And if we already possess such love, let us never stop our heaven-ward course, for God is infinite, and even if we are Saints we can always strive to come closer and to be more united with God. If we allow the awareness of His incomprehensible love to touch the deepest parts of our hearts and we are healed thereby, even just a little, then we can become divine wellsprings of salvation which stream forth invisibly, greatly benefitting all mankind. But if we do not want to listen to the Lord’s exhortation to be transformed in mind and heart, then we will not see any of these divine miracles of change within ourselves or the world around us.
May God help us to make a fresh beginning, for without Him we can do nothing; and may He grant us always to continue with fervency in an ever-increasing bond of unconquerable love and peace with each other, in unity with Christ, that all the world may see the Union of Love which is the Holy Trinity, and come to know Him and be saved by Him forever—even the God over all: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.