11 April 2013
Awareness of God
Awareness of God
By Archpriest Nicholas Deputatov
Four Chapters Translated From His New Book [new in 1976]
I. "Knowing Everything" Versus Deification
In great antiquity a certain disciple told his teacher ecstatically about a certain scholar. "How is he remarkable, and what does he do?" asked the teacher. "He reads all the time, day and night." "You say that the scholar reads all the time, but... when does he think?" The disciple was confused and did not know what to answer.
The same thing may be said also of the contemporary scholar. Much knowledge has been gathered over the centuries, and a scholar of today must know a great deal. Science has obeyed the evil counsel of the tempter: "Ye shall be as gods, knowing everything." To know everything – this is the aim of science. Whether or not it is necessary, whether it is useful or harmful, there is no question of this; one must only know! Look at the immense libraries; these are the Egyptian pyramids of materialized thought. If men could collect all this into their awareness, would they not become like gods? But human awareness has its limits, and knowledge becomes ever more fragmented. The curator of a museum, a scholar, was speaking with enthusiasm to visitors concerning the treasures of his field of knowledge. But when he was asked about the next compartment, with a dry voice he replied, "I do not know, that is not my compartment." There will come a time when you will go to a doctor to have him treat your nose, and he will say to you, "Pardon me, I cannot treat you; you have a pain in the left nostril, but I am a specialist in diseases only of the right nostril."
Knowledge becomes broader, but man becomes ever narrower... Oh, if only he who has tasted the fruit of the tree of knowledge would understand that he is naked...
We walk by faith, not by sight, said the Apostle Paul (II Cor. 5:7). We do not see the Lord with our bodily eyes, because the body separates us from the Lord. Bt nevertheless He exists and He is near, although we do not see Him. There will come a time when we shall see Him and be with Him.
The rational forms of knowledge are erected on the top of a building under which lies a mystical foundation. The mystical roots of our spirit can say to the scientific branches the same think that was said in the fable: "Remember the difference between us, how that every spring a new leaf is born, but if the root will dry up there will be neither tree nor you!" What an absurdity may be heard in such words as "Show us God in a telescope, or the soul in a microscope; give us some dogmatic formulæ to put in a test tube and heat under a low flame..." "Give us some miracles for an experiment," cry out the soulless rationalists who are incapable, all the same, of believing. But neither thought nor history allow themselves to be experimented upon. If Christ and the Apostles must be subjected to experiment, then the same way should Alexander of Macedon, and everybody – all the Karls and Fredericks – all should be subjected to experiment. Into the test tube with them! However, this is all a conversion into nothingness – nihilism. Rationally, no one has ever seen God. Rationally, "it is impossible for man to see God" (Irmos of 9th Canticle, Tone 6). For this there are other methods, other paths. The pure in heart shall see God: here is the sweet truth which is unchanging and precise. The spiritual is not obtained by rational thoughts, but is given by grace. It is essential to be purified for this by repentance. "Many, not understanding Divine things, philosophize about them; and being filled with sins, they theologize about God and everything concerning Him without the grace of the Holy Spirit which gives meaning and understanding. My spirit trembles, is terrified, and in some manner comes out of itself, when it reflects that, whereas the Divinity is unattainable for everyone, still we, not knowing either ourselves or even what is right in front of our eyes, brazenly and without fear of God begin to philosophize about what is unattainable for us, especially when we are empty of the grace of the Holy Spirit which enlightens and instructs us in everything... We must first of all pass over from death to life, receive in ourselves from above the seed of the living God, be born of Him, spiritually, become His children, receive in our souls the grace of the Holy Spirit – and only then, under the action of the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, begin to converse about what touches on God, in so far as this is accessible to us and to the degree to which we are enlightened by God Himself" (St. Symeon the New Theologian, Homily 61).
The tragedy of theologizing is the very same tragedy of rationalism. Authentic theologizing is always integral. In it shines the Christian soul which has attained perfection to some degree or other. Adam wishes to be a god, but he understood that he was naked from the self-will and self-assertion which has taken him captive.
How difficult it is for us now, after all manner of deceptions, as it were by force to conduct oneself to the idea of DEIFICATION and to become established in it. Deification is the true religious ideal. It has been carried through the ages by the Orthodox Church, together with the light-bearing truth of the DIvinity of her Founder, Who was incarnate for us, the Only-begotten Son of God. We have the commandment and have received the possibility to become like God Himself by spiritual growth.
The Church, in so far as it has remained the Church in all its truth, has not lessened the beauty of the religious ideal. Right up to the present time, our psalm-readers sing in the Church's hymns about the same ideal of deification, concerning which St. Irenæus wrote in the second century, for which St. Athanasius the Great suffered in the fourth century, about which the greatest poet, St. John Damascene, sang in the eighth century. It is by this ideal also that our life should be defined. In the unique and indivisible organism of the Church, there continue to dwell the same Divine powers, which lead also to life and perfection. "The Church is the image of God," in the expression of St. Maximus the Confessor; "it, like God, unites the faithful."
Falling away from the Church leads to the cessation of spiritual life, the cessation of development, of the growth of moral personality, and leads to spiritual death. Only in the Church is it possible to have happiness and blessedness as the consequence of inward perfection. The Christian hope is a hope which is joyful and bright. And theologizing has as its aim and meaning that it serve for the development and preservation of Church life. Only in the Church is there possible a new, grace-given life, for the sake of which the Son of God came to this sinful earth. Only in the Church is possible the true progress of our spirit. The progress of which our proud age boasts has no value whatever in the eyes of a Christian. What benefit is there in it for eternity, for the salvation of the soul? Who is nearer to God and the Kingdom of Heaven: the proud conqueror of space and the planets, who goes about with a speed that makes the head swim, or a humble, God-fearing old woman who can barely drag herself to church, to a miracle-working Icon?... In this old woman there is the warmth of life, which is worth the whole earth!
Progress in the Church brings with it blessedness. But does the progress of man, torn away from God and the Church, bring with it happiness? In truth, it does not. It brings destruction... And if this is so, then there is nom other path for us in the world than the path of deification. Souls who are faithful to God and are seeking deification, in giving themselves over to Christ truly find it in the treasure which can be compared with none other – in the most heartfelt and dedicated love for the Lord.
II. The Knowledge of God
This is what our pious ancestors were most of all concerned about, and to this they inspire us from a distant, gracious past.
The Lord, Who is invisible in His essence and grace, is visible for those who have become like to Him. In Christ has been given the most perfect self-revelation of God, a knowledge most accessible, one that is near, akin, understandable to the heart. No one knows the Father but the Son, and he to whom the Son wishes to reveal Him (Matt. 9:27). Christ is the perfect image of the invisible Father (Col. 1:15). Christ demands that we love the Father in Him. The Holy Spirit, the Continuer and Perfecter of the redemptive work of Christ, testifies of Christ (John 15:26), and glorifies Christ (John 16:14). We love the Tri-hypostatical God in Christ. Our salvation is inseparably bound up with knowledge of the Son of God, accepted with the whole heart and mind. For the knowledge of God, revelation has been given. But the Son reveals Himself not immediately, but through the Spirit of Truth, Who teaches all things and instructs in all truth (John 14:26, 16:13). The highest sphere of spiritual, Divine knowledge is revealed exclusively by the Holy Spirit. Knowledge of God without the keeping of the commandments, is a lie (I John 2:3-4).
St. Isaac the Syrian acknowledges the extraordinary sweetness of the knowledge of God; and St. Maximus the Confessor considers the beginning and end of salvation to be wisdom, which in the beginning is manifested as fear, but in the end as love. The Fathers speak unanimously about the necessity for knowledge of God and, in general, for spiritual knowledge which is living, bright, and blessed. Of course, God cannot be the object of thought; thought presupposes division. Thought in its essence is a mutual activity of "one who thinks" and "that which is thought" But he who goes deeper within himself, renouncing what is external, unfailingly is exalted to the heavenly. Such self-forgetfulness of the external is already an immediate touching upon the Divine. Thus, in the soul there is no movement of activity of any kind, no kind of thinking. The soul is exalted above all thought, above all outward knowledge...
For the knowledge, for the beholding of God, a man must decisively renounce the very process of thinking. St. Isaac truly says that the Kingdom of Heaven is not acquired by study, but can only be instilled by grace (Homily 49). Spiritual knowledge is not acquired by the outward path of the natural faculties of the soul. No one can have this spiritual knowledge if he will not be converted and be like a child, that is, will place himself in an infant's manner of thinking (St. Isaac, Homily 49).
In the profound gnosiology of St. Symeon the New Theologian, "a Christian is called faithful because there are entrusted to him in faith from God mysteries which even the Angels did not know before us" (Vol. 1 of his Works in Russian, p. 330). "Christians are instructed by the Holy Spirit in all knowledge and understanding and in every word of wisdom and mystical knowledge. That which the unbelievers do not know, we, having been vouchsafed to become believers, can know, can think and speak about, being instructed and enlightened by the grace of the All-Holy Spirit. In truth, the key to understanding is the grace of the Holy Spirit which is given for the sake of faith. The grace of the Holy Spirit opens up our closed and darkened mind, and communicates to it true knowledge and understanding of divine enlightenment" (Vol. 2, p. 59). "God is known by us to the extent that one can see the limitless ocean, standing at its edge at night, with a small lit candle in one's hands. Do you think that such a one will see much of all that limitless ocean? Of course he will see only a little part, or almost nothing. At the same time, he sees well the water and he knows that before him is the ocean, that the ocean is limitless, and that he cannot take it all in with his glance. So is it also with regard to our knowledge of God... Neither vigil, not solitude, nor fasting nor non-possession, not physical labor, nor any other kind of virtue can, without the Holy Spirit, grant to us a word, or knowledge, or understanding; because all this is the path leading to the Light, but not then Light Itself. Without the Spirit no one can either learn himself nor instruct others; for how can He Who is above all mind and thought be known to our mind which was created by Him, if it will not be enlightened by Him and joined to Him?" (Vol. 2, Homilies 61 and 87).
The mysteries of our Faith are unknown and not understandable to those who are not repenting. And those who are unbelievers or have little faith do not see them, and cannot see them. Therefore, let no one "ever mislead you by vain and deceptive words, saying that one may know the Divine Mysteries of our Faith without the instruction and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit (Vol. 2, p. 343). The greatest Christian philosopher, St. Isaac the Syrian, in his grace-given spiritual experience has depicted the mystical procession and ascent of the soul which seeks God. "As it is with a fish out of water, so is it with the mind that has left off the remembrance of God, and is soaring in the remembrance of the world. To the extent that a man goes away from converse with men, to such an extent that he cuts off from himself the consolation of this world, to such as extent is he vouchsafed the joy of God in the Holy Spirit... And just as fish perish from lack of water, so also the movements of the mind which arise from God disappear in the heart" of man who becomes established in the vain and worldly... (Homily 8).
"Nothing can compare with the sweetness of the thought of God and glorifying Him (Bishop Theophan the Recluse).
The heart which loves the Lord finds only here its sweetness and repose. Here is the Paradise of the heart, because it has as its God only the One Lord. Help us O Lord! "Do Thou Thyself grant now the petition of Thy slaves for what is useful, granting us in the present age knowledge of Thee and Thy truth, and in the future, life eternal" (Third Antiphon, Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom).
Warm our hearts, O Lord, and turn them to Thyself, so that in striving for the knowledge of God we may always fill ourselves with unutterable joy and repose.
III. Go Ye
From the pages of the Gospel the Lord calls out, "Go ye, go ye. There are few workers. Preach My Word."
There is a picture: Christ is on a mountain peak. His face filled with suffering, is illumined by a marvelous light. His large and beautiful eyes look into the distance with love; with their glance they embrace those both near and far. His outstretched hand, with the wound of the nails, points into the distance. Christ says, "Go ye." His whole image, His movements, the wounds, the eyes, the outstretched hand, all express one and the same thing: "Go ye" ... And it seems that everywhere, not from the distance only, but also nearby, people are stretching out their hand toward us. From all regions; from the slums; from the streets; everywhere there are those who have lost Christ and are seeking Him. They are languishing, they are gasping without air. As it is not possible to live without water, without food, so also is it impossible to live without Christ.
We have heard this parable. For more than thirty years, Christ wandered on earth. An in Heaven they became lonesome for Him and could hardly wait for His return. And behold, the hour came, and everyone was crowding around Heaven and could not get their fill of the desired Face. And the Father! How He greet His beloved Son, how He kisses His wounds endured for men – wounds on the forehead, on the hands, on the feet! All the choirs of Heaven surround the Divine Bearer of the Cross, and the Angel's and Archangels bow down before Him.
Suddenly a voice is heard. The Archangel Gabriel opens his mouth and asks: "Lord, did You die on the earth for the whole world?"
"Yes, for the whole world," replies Christ.
"Did You suffer much?" asks the Archangel further, looking into the Face which bore the traces of suffering.
"I suffered much," the reply is heard.
"And does everyone know about this?"
"Oh, no, only a few in Palestine and thereabouts."
"And what will happen further, O Lord? How will the world find out that You died for them? How will You inform men?"
"I have entrusted this to Peter, James, John, Andrew, and a few others," replied the Teacher. "I gave as My testament to them to lay down their lives so as to tell others, ever farther and farther away, until every man in the farthest region of the earth will hear the Good News and test its power."
But Gabriel knew what people were like. He did not trust them. He did not hope for success, and again he asked a question: "And what if Peter does not fulfill the assignment? What if John wavers and does not tell others? What if their descendants are so drawn away by various secondary matters that they will not tell anyone about this? What then?"
The firm, Divine voice of Christ replies: "My disciples cannot help but continue My work. They will not keep My treasure a secret for themselves. They will pass it on to all" ...
Yes, the Apostles did not hide the treasure of Christ. They spread it about, through the whole world. In torments, in sufferings before the face of death, they told the good news of Truth, of Life, of Light, of the fount of salvation and the only way into the Kingdom of God. Without fearing death, bold, brave, they sowed everywhere the Divine seed. By means of miracles they strengthened its might and power. With what a fire their faith was burning! How great, how limitless was their love for the Saviour! In truth, they abandoned everything; more than father or mother, more than son or daughter they loved Christ and the glory of God. Therefore they received an incorruptible crown. The Kingdom of God is taken by violence. Without us, the Lord will not save us. Weapons do not help a soldier unless he takes them in his hands and knows how to use them. Thus also is it with the sacrifice of the Son of God, thus also is it with the Holy Spirit sent down upon us – without us, and without our striving, they will not save us.
We are like a man who, seeing pearls scattered about, is too lazy to get up, bend down, and become the possessor of a priceless treasure. We are like that senseless guest who, being invited to a luxurious exclusive feast, considered it a great labor for himself to stretch out his hand to the food, and he departed hungry.
What hardness of heart and what a profound lack of understanding of our great calling! There is a language of heaven and a language of earth. Our only purpose in this world is the firm walking, full of hope, in the will of God. This unfailingly will bring us to the desired final, blessed aim... The Apostles knew that he who does not himself confess and preach the Lord by his deeds and words – is His betrayer. And the Son of Man will not acknowledge him at His judgment.
Flaming souls pass along the earth without fanfare, but, like splendid blossoms, everywhere they leave after themselves a fragrance. O my God! If even flowers when fading leave after themselves a kernel of fruit, then will not these striving souls produce imitators of themselves who will desire to continue their grace-giving labor of rejoicing? Increase, O Lord, the workers in Thy vineyard! Weeds and bushes harm Thy Divine vineyard, planted by Thy loving hand. Preserve it, O Lord, and lead into it yet more workers who are full of care, who will unmurmuringly and sincerely desire its flourishing! Firm is the hand of the Lord which guards and guides the path of our life into His Kingdom. Help us! To Thee we go, O Son of God, our Saviour. For this Thou didst found Thine unvanquishable Church. And happy are we that we belong to it and love it with our whole heart.
IV. A Message for the Orthodox Christians of the Last Times
In those days the persecuted preachers of Christ will still find the opportunity to manifest their Christian worth and reveal the power and savingness of the teaching of Christ. They will boldly and openly reveal their devotion to the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ and with great power of inspiration will show the truth and savingness of His teaching.
The speech of these preachers will be profoundly effective, breathing power and grandeur, because the Lord Himself through the Holy Spirit will give them wisdom and the power of understanding; they will receive this gift in order to battle successfully against the increasing evil. Thus was it also in the first period of the existence of the Church of Christ, when the power of the persecutors threatened the destruction of the work of God. The history of the martyrs is filled with descriptions of miraculous manifestations of God's help...
The believers of the last times will have to be men of high spiritual exaltation. Their own spiritual powers and the gifts of God will give them then possibility of remaining firm in faith and purity amidst the corruption of the majority of men. But the power of evil will not weaken just because believers will stand against it with the help of God. Opposition can kindle yet greater ill will and hatred on the part of the lost because of the good of men.
But even if it is thus – how can the enemies harm believers, even if they will commit outward acts of violence against them and even kill them? If the soul is preserved, the death of the body means nothing. Be not afraid of them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul, said the Lord (Matt. 10:28). From this one may be consoled: if the soul has not perished, there is nothing to grieve over in the temporal destruction of the body: after the general resurrection it will again rise in complete inviolability.
May God grant us the strength to be courageous and not cowardly. Everything is in His power. He has said: But not a hair of your head shall perish, and in your patience ye shall win your souls (Luke 21:18-19). May God grant that we all may be God-bearers and Christ-bearers, temple-bearers and saint-bearers, being wondrously and unutterably transfigured into the new, heavenly man.