Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | December 26, 2010

Another Window into Joy from Archimandrite Zacharias

I hope it would not be an embarassment or temptation but a joy to an author to know that there are many who are thankful for his writing. And so it is that I’ll admit that there are just so many passages in Archimandrite Zacharias’s “Remember Thy First Love” that I’m somewhat challenged to pick out just a few… and find myself instead forced to admit that the old underliner got a little busier than it probably should have. Fact is, I seem to have underlined a goodly significant fraction of the book, and it almost seems as if there’s more of my blue ink than the publisher’s own black, but what can you do?

The forthcoming example seems to capture on first reading a sense for what it is that I love about this crazy church of ours and its wonderful people… and that is the insistence on getting at the heart of things… by… uh… pointing straight at the heart. There’s a time where we need to point… rude or not… and only later when we know what we’re about, are we likely to find we might actually leave off the finger, forget the pointing, and travel there straightaway. It’s an ambition… sometimes it can happen… but mostly, I’m a stumbler here and a beginner… and perhaps sadly as Professor Higgins once said, “… likely to remain so.”

And so it is this promise – remote, difficult and challenging as it may prove, this focus and this journey for which I became Orthodox rather than something else: the idea that this journey to the heart is indeed the center of our faith… this is just wonderful to see the good Archimandrite write about. And though his focus is on the taking of monastic vows, there’s a sense for each of us converts that on  becoming Orthodox, we have left behind a world we knew for one we don’t… especially for those of us who may have journeyed here without the whole of our families.

And while there can be tremendous stability and peace in our church for having settled so many things so long ago, the truth is that living amongst us as we do, we often find the Orthodox life can be anything but peaceful, and so often this seems scarcely a promise.  Not only do we have discontent within ourselves, but so often, the bile seems to float up and like a carbonated beverage, overflow our cup and spill out among the rest… disturbing the peace.

So many things can get colorful in so many ways so very quickly, that I’m frequently reminded we ain’t here for the scenery… but it sure does get rough and bumpy now don’t it? And yes, while there are surely beautiful services, great theology and wonderful prayers, too; and we do in fact eat the body and drink the blood of our holy blessed saviour and share in the intercessions of the Theotokos and all the saints… that don’t mean it ain’t over ’til the Fat Lady sings and we’re gone a-ding dong… and maybe not even then. Especially.

But when you start to think of it, in all truth, most of us can’t and don’t manage all these things. Nor do we likely manage much of the stilling of  our hearts in the silence that knows God, and healing of them in the love of Christ. We’ll remain broken and unfinished. And it may be that our accepting of this that leaves room for the Holy Spirit to complete the process we begin. So it’s not all the dead-end our so much wiser and better folks who call us fools insist… though of course they’re right… for we are fools if we’re wise.

But we can be thankful at least that we participate as part of the Body in the salvation of those few who do manage this journey… and that is a true wonder, a joy, and a mystery. And it’s a mystery I pray I never move beyond merely beginning to appreciate… for it seems to me this beginning is in a sense our childlike wonder… and prize we have always rushed beyond when it was our greatest. So let our ardour be deepened, always fresh, and never cooled; let it be humbled and softened in another, in each other, and through each other as it is through Christ. Lord have mercy!

“When a person is granted the grace of leaving the world, his heart is alive, he feels God and hears His voice. He senses His presence in the power of His Name. He finds strength to take a superhuman leap of faith in defiance of man’s fallen nature. Unfortunately it is all too easy to become accustomed to a certain way of life, especially when we begin to take for granted the grace which God gives us at the beginning and the state o heart that this inspires. This is the beginning of a slide into negligence which leads us back into the ways of the world. We begin to ignore and forsake our heart; we no longer discern the change that the presence of the Spirit of God has wrought in us. We then turn to rules and regulations to make up for our loss, and it is only a matter of time before we become self-satisfied in our observance of them, perhaps even believing that our salvation is thereby guaranteed. And since we no longer possess the treasure of divine consolation, we easily slip even further down to a way of life that is unworthy of our calling. This can continue for years if God does not pursue us in His mercy and rouse us from our lethargy and negligence. God forbid that we should end our lives in this state.

But it need not be like this. If the monk labors as he ought, he will be mindful night and day to enter into the chamber of his heart and to remain there, for this(and this alone) will make his life godly. He will be able to praise God in a manner that is worthy of Him. He will comfort and encourage his brethren.

Unless we endeavor to live within our heart, we remain blind to our untamed passions. The inclinations of our heart and mind remain beyond our control. We sin whether we want to or not. Sin can never attract the blessing of God, so unless we keep our hearts alive and alert, we will eventually become strangers to Him. The Scriptures say that the ‘heart is deep; God honors this ‘deep heart’ of man. All heaven hearkens to a deep heart athirst for God and ready to receive Him. But if our heart is indifferent to God, we are worth little more than dust and ashes. We must attend to our heart and cultivate it, for the hidden man of the heart is very precious in the sight of God. May God give us such a heart, a deep heart that is capable of divine and spiritual sensation.

We learn to enter into our “deep heart” through personal prayer in our rooms and attendance at church services. And if we take courage and enter therein, we shall behold the great miracle of the union of our life with God’s Life, for this takes place in the heart of man. Indeed, the aim of our entire ascetic struggle – our fasts, vigils and prayers – is to reveal the heart, to unearth it. … Voluntary physical weakness makes the heart luminous and sensitive. But above all we must practice obedience and live in the humility that comes of doing someone else’s will. Obedience is a shortcut to the heart, because humility detects and locates the heart and brings it to the surface. It can then be cleansed of sin and set free to invoke the Name of the Lord unto salvation. And this prepares it for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.”

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