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a passionate repentance

> In the Temple of Broken Hearts > > by Monk Alexander…

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may God stand

> In the Temple of Broken Hearts
>
> by Monk Alexander
>
>
>
>
> _____
>
>
> "Search for me,
> A needle in a haystack,
> Find where I lie,
> Pain hidden by a rag,
> Here I hide - from you? -
> Blood wounds, undried and shining,
> I hide, fearing
> Your loving hands hold salt".
> (from a Belarusian poem)
>
> The Moral Schism
>
> The faith and love of every man is put to the test by something -
> misfortunes, psychological difficulties, moral perplexities, even by our
> happiness. Each of these tests is in one way or another, linked with
> suffering - the degree of suffering connected with the amount of
evil within
> and around his life. All of this entails the growth of self-knowledge, a
> probe of his depths, and painful as it might be, it is indelibly
linked with
> any spiritual progress.
>
> Tests come in life, and man looks into his soul. He becomes
conscious of his
> sin. He sees what lies on the surface of his consciousness - spiritual
> warps, moral inconsistencies, and defects of reason. He will, in
doing this,
> undoubtedly experience grappling thoughts and negative emotions. And the
> growing knowledge of his nothingness and powerlessness, of his need
for help
> from the outside - from God - is usually the beginning of the
Christian Way.
>
> The Way, through tests, introspection, and suffering, is hard and
has many
> pitfalls. There is a strong temptation to look for happiness and
consolation
> right from the beginning. If we experience disillusionment or
> disappointment, then we might start fearing that our journey to God
might
> turn into torment and punishment.
>
> We must face this fact: there can be no true comfort or consolation
without
> first passing through radical repentance, without deep
heart-knowledge of
> the horror and destructive force of our sin. The Christian Way is
ineffably
> consoling, but comfort is not reached by chasing after it. If we
look for
> Truth, Jesus Christ, and rejoice in our sufferings, according to His
> precepts (MT. 5:11,12), we might reach happiness and consolation in
the long
> run. But if we search for comfort, we will get neither comfort nor
Truth,
> only self-deception in the beginning and despair at the end.
>
> Only after we understand that a moral law exists, supported by God's
power,
> that we have broken this law and how we should properly relate to this
> Power, only then we begin to understand what True Christianity has
to say.
> It says that we have fallen into such a state that we simultaneously
love
> and hate good, and that is why we are afraid to look the facts in
the face.
> And that is because the facts are fearsome. Thus, there is nothing
to say to
> people who are not conscious of what they have to repent of and who
feel no
> need for forgiveness whatsoever.
>
> People, who live by the flesh, protesting their moral obligation to God,
> attempt to be guided solely by "love" in their search for Truth. To them
> Christianity appears to consist only of rules and regulations. It is
true
> that morality is not in itself sufficient; virtue exists for the sake of
> Truth, not vice versa. Love liberates us from the power of any law,
and, as
> Saint Macarius the Great says, "He who attains love cannot fall".
>
> But many deceive themselves, rejecting moral laws before time, having no
> love, but only a vague concept of it and even a more nebulous
concept of any
> moral obligation. And strangely enough, it is spiritual books and
study of
> everything spiritual that 'help' many to reach this miserable state of
> being. About the over-intellectualization of the spiritual, the Holy
Fathers
> say: "If anyone is diligent in reading and writing, but has no
corresponding
> increase of virtue, his end will be terrible". The most terrible
thing is
> the inability to love or to respond to God's love. This is the
beginning of
> infernal tortures. The cause of all this is not only idle curiosity
about
> things, which our consciousness cannot hold, but also seeking after
them in
> word and deed.
>
> It is very dangerous to translate the experience of faith into the
language
> of concepts. This is the beginning of numerous illusions and errors. A
> skilful sophist can successfully defend both thesis and antithesis,
but such
> resourcefulness and sharpness of mind do not make a man any nobler,
even in
> their most perfect condition. We can understand only what we are
aware of,
> but the one who has attained 'Christ's mind' does not pay any
attention to
> his thoughts or his earthly wisdom. He is simple in the Lord. Often
however,
> God's wisdom is taken as foolishness and insanity in this world.
>
> The Holy Fathers say that "God's grace comes not only to those who
search
> for it", He sends His grace where He will. God foresees the response
of a
> man to His grace, and this is the reason why we do not have Divine
Gifts,
> such as faith, love, the Divine mind, etc. Thus, before God starts
serving
> the man, the man should first serve God by faithfully performing his
moral
> duty. We cannot say that all of this is easy and pleasant. No, this
is so
> hard that the Holy Fathers compare this moral labour to death and
re-birth.
> Saint Gregory the Theologian says: "The first birth is parental, the
second
> comes from God, and in the third, man gives birth to himself through
tears
> of repentance and grief". This grief is somewhat comparable to the
magnitude
> of the Divine Gift. For, according to Saint Isaac the Syrian, "God
leads the
> soul into grief and temptations according to the magnitude of grace
given".
>
> Universal Schism
>
> Mankind was conceived as a single whole, a reflection of the image and
> likeness of God. Man's attempt to break away from this whole and to live
> independently (individually) constitutes the tragedy of Adam's
original sin,
> to which we once gave and continue to give our consent. Thus, a man
> developed two wills - one directed outward, the other inward. The
schism of
> human nature brought the schism of our universe. Evil was not made
eternal,
> but was ousted into the temporal, sensual, and material domain to be
> corrected and eventually annihilated. It does not mean that God hid from
> man, leaving him to his own devices, to the illusion of human
> self-sufficiency, which supposes the existence of the source of
being within
> oneself ("and you will be like God", GEN. 3:5). God does not turn
away from
> wicked men, for "It is silly to say, according to Saint Anthony the
Great,
> that the sun hides itself from the blind". It means that God,
allowing Adam
> to die a material death, saved him and us from a greater evil -
spiritual
> death in eternity (so that he would not eat of the Tree of Life and live
> forever).
>
> At present, during this mortal life on earth, we are to get our food
in the
> sweat of our face in order to keep our 'independent' existence. And
by doing
> this, we are to rectify the habits of our free will, which are
inaccessible
> to God, so that the gap between the mind and the heart, between the
spirit
> and the soul would be closed, and we could conform our own will with
God's
> will towards us, as befits the purpose of our creation. Overcoming the
> schism of the human nature is a matter of the whole life. Its last
step is
> death. Only by dying consciously and daily can we exhaust death "so that
> what is mortal may be swallowed up by life" (2 COR. 5:4). Only by having
> started to live as an integral person and not as a biological individual
> fixed upon ourselves and within ourselves, can we establish contacts
with
> other personae - with God and with men. Until we stop our 'independent'
> existence, we can never start life as it befits a man - after God's
image
> and likeness, in other words, become a true man.
>
> Restoring the Unity
>
> The first step on this path is to become oneself by a gradual elevation
> towards transformation into God's image and likeness - through
prayer and
> following the Lord's commandments, - for it is also possible to live
someone
> else's life, as a poor copy of someone. Saint Isaac the Syrian says:
"Sink
> into yourself away from sin, and there you will find steps of your
personal
> ascent". He is referring to a going down into the depths of one's heart
> through prayer. "To put on Christ" and "to put off an old man" is to
move
> away from the sinful self to my actual self, to my "image and
likeness". It
> has been called a flight from our sinful twin *.
>
> * - "Twin" is that with which we identify ourselves, our body and
the whole
> psyche connected with it, i.e. thoughts and all our five senses. Our
> thoughts and images get materialized in our soul and form a
different world
> with an illusory existence. When we enter it, we go away from our true
> selves into an imaginative reality. However, the genuine "I" is not
> something that belongs to me (my thoughts, features of character,
etc.), -
> all this is transient and vanishes as smoke. "I" is eternal and is not
> subject to any change.
>
> We fill up our consciousness with symbols, circuits, and terms as in a
> computer, but contrary to the machine, this play of imagination
disappears
> into non-existence. It turns immediately into flesh and life.
Image-building
> symbols are the reality we live, or better, we exist in. The ability to
> create existence out of "non-existence" is characteristic of a man,
but we
> are only "small-c" creators. For example, our thoughts cause a
change in the

> chemical composition of our blood, a thought of food brings
appetite, but
> thoughts of spiritual matters cannot spiritualize our nature. We can
only
> deal with our own energies, which are already created by God, but
> non-created energy, i.e. God's grace, is given only by God, provided
that we
> observe His commandment - love. To make the first step to ourselves,
we need
> to bring our feelings into their natural condition, i.e. to reject
sensual
> pleasures, exceeding natural needs. This, of course, does not
concern those
> for whom sin, a departure from grace-filled to sensual enjoyments, has
> become a natural necessity.
>
> To succeed in this, we should cultivate sufficient contempt for our own
> personal (narrow) interests and goals, no matter how important they
might
> seem to us. This is the only way we can make room in our soul for
another
> person. We must stop dialoguing with our own "twin". It means
overcoming the
> schism of human nature, my individualism, forgetting about and
working on
> sinful problem areas (sinful because they are my own), seeing myself in
> another human being. This is the greatest happiness of overcoming our
> loneliness. Only by starting to work on ourselves in this manner, can we
> come to know spiritual labour for the sake of another human being.
It means
> mourning over my own "dead" and starting to mourn for others and
together
> with others. During this labour, spiritual loneliness is overcome, an
> all-idealising love for all creation awakens. Despite the fact that
negative
> qualities can undermine our faith in a person, we must still have
faith in
> his Divine essence and potential until the end, no matter how low he has
> fallen. This focus on the positive brings us closer to the genuine
reality,
> to God's original image in man and mankind.
>
> If another person does not become higher and worthier in my own eyes
than
> myself, then my "ego" will never step over the limits of its
self-importance
> and individualism. That is why it is so important to place the centre of
> gravity outside myself, in another person. This means to be ready at any
> moment to renounce my own interests for the sake of someone else's
> interests, to cultivate in myself a precious feeling of undivided
concern
> for another person. It is hard to do all this, but it is extremely
necessary
> to do so, otherwise our "twin" will cause our degradation and the
decay of
> our consciousness.
>
> The main goal of our life is a permanent prayer for God's grace and
help in
> order to enable ever-increasing labour over myself in the name of
another
> person, to advance the departure from myself into the life of my
neighbour.
> This is Christ's paradise. In this way, it should not be hard for us
to make
> a step towards a person, rather than passing him by. We will not block
> ourselves from someone's joy or grief with our "twin", nor will we
prefer
> our personal goals and interests to sacrificing love for God and our
> neighbour.
>
> It is very important to understand that we are responsible not only for
> ourselves, our passions and desires, but also for the others, for
humankind
> is a single whole. However, in order to join this whole, we have to
ask for
> forgiveness not only for ourselves, but also for our brother - if
he, for
> example, is offended at me - to ask that he also be forgiven. This
is the
> only way God's image can be restored in man, through unity and mutual
> exchange.
>
> The more I pray for the others or grant them practical help, the more I
> receive myself, for it is impossible to receive without giving. This
is the
> law and axiom of spiritual self-perfection, perfection in love. We
forget
> about this great spiritual law and commit a grave error by blocking
> ourselves from God and people with our "twin", who suffers from
different
> psychological complexes and pursues personal goals (his own idea of
> salvation, perfection, etc.)
>
> Sometimes, it is necessary to distance ourselves from people in order to
> acquire love for them; but if we give them Christ's love, we acquire
it for
> ourselves. Thus, we will rise over our "personal" love, personal
grief or
> joy, and will derive enormous power even from our own suffering,
which would
> inspire the others. This is how we can fulfill the whole law, for
the Gospel
> says: "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ"
(GAL.
> 6:2). And we know that Christ's law is love.
>
> The Beginning of Love
>
> True love starts when we let others be the way they are, rather than
> adjusting our impression of them to our own liking. Otherwise, we
will love
> only our own fixed perception of them. It is necessary to understand
> ourselves and everyone else as God's creatures, to see God's image and
> dignity in ourselves and in others. He granted it to everyone of us,
and if
> we hurt this dignity in others, we actually hurt ourselves.
>
> We have no power to change another person, and we should not waste
our time
> analysing why he behaves this way or that. Let him follow his own
path. We
> should accept people as they are, otherwise our intrusion can prove
to be
> destructive. A person might know what we expect of him and behave the
> opposite way. Just as a sign of protest. Every person has his own
stimuli
> and interior motives, which are not subject to our understanding.
Therefore
> we must not violate the right of others to live the way they want.
We have
> to liberate ourselves from concerns about anything that lies beyond
human
> capabilities, and learn to depend upon the Divine Power, God.
Otherwise, we
> reach a dead-end, where one unconquerable will tries to conquer the
other
> unconquerable will. If God Himself has no power to lift the stone of
man's
> will that He has created, how much less is it within the power of man!
> Humility in this case signifies quiet and simple acceptance of
everything
> that is beyond our power. We have to preserve energy for things that are
> within our power. Understanding that only God can make the other person
> change, we have to diminish all of our internal drives that oppose His
> power, so that it could start working in us and through us.
>
> The only thing God cannot (or does not want to) overcome in us is
our own
> free will, which we turn into tyranny and self-will. If we, however, are
> convinced that not everything depends on us and that many things,
especially
> fateful, can be fixed only by God, then denying our self-will is
paramount
> to saving a man, say, from despair. And we have to pay this price, if we
> want to obey God and offer Him the chance to work in us and through us.
>
> If Christ occupies the most important place in our life, we do not
need any
> technical or psychological tricks in order to restore our spiritual
health
> and that of our neighbours. Let us assume we are suffering and can
not find
> the way out, but this is only because we imagine that everything depends
> solely on us. We have to make a determined step towards God and stop
> tormenting ourselves, instead of trying to solve minor and numberless
> problems, for they only consume our energy and exhaust our spiritual
> potential. Let us admit our own powerlessness and thus get rid of our
> self-will, which blocks the way to God.
>
> We must do only what we can, what we are supposed to do and do the
best we
> can in that. The possibility of doing this is granted only for
today. It is
> wrong to think that "time will come when I.", for it means that we
deceive
> ourselves. Right now we cannot conquer certain conditions, but if we
entrust
> our life to God's will right now, today, by rejecting our own will, we
> liberate ourselves from tension. There is no more need for struggle.
> However, it does not mean that we can relax and expect God's will to
work.
> God's will means that I should not betray love under any
circumstances in my
> life, no matter who I am or where I am. Relying on God's will means to
> become aware that it is impossible to keep this loyalty without His
help.
>
> It is certainly possible, after the reliance upon God's will, to
turn our
> back not only on our problems, but even on God and our neighbour,
expecting
> that all the work will be done for us and without us. Here and
everywhere
> else we need a sense of measure, for such self-deception will only
increase
> our problems.
>
> To exclude self-deception from the very beginning, it is necessary to
> explore the genuine motives behind every decision, followed by concrete
> action. Otherwise, if we let ourselves be deceived in the very
beginning,
> then all our hopes will be ruined by the expectation that life will be
> adjusted according to our own idea about it.
>
> Therefore it is impossible to solve all the problems at once. We have to
> choose one aim and follow it steadily, gradually, and carefully, for
slow
> movement, as known, brings one sooner to the destination, if we mean
here
> the strict self-testing of genuine motives of our behaviour. And
love of God
> is certainly the best stimulus for any action.
>
> Our task is to learn to love by imitating Christ's love. And the main
> condition here is overcoming our own egotism and self-will. This of
course
> is not a simple task. Those, who were allowed to follow their will in
> childhood, have it the hardest. Obedience, i.e. renouncing your
will, is an
> expression of love. For an adult, it means preferring someone else's
will
> through love. For a child, it is doing what you are told without
> questioning. If a man does not have this experience of obedience and
love,
> then his psyche inevitably becomes unstable, vulnerable, and is overcome
> with psychological complexes and even with various diseases.
>
> Even though God made us all potentially whole, to remain in this
condition
> is very hard, at times just impossible. Bringing order into
spiritual chaos,
> left by those who have been with us since the moment of our birth and
> "nurtured", is not an easy task. Some resort to reading books and try to
> bring order into their spiritual world by changing their minds. But
this way
> - from the outside inward - does not always bear good fruit. Very
often, a
> person simply drowns in the whirlpools of his own thoughts, since it is
> difficult to bring life into this dead load of thoughts that are
kept in our
> mind.
>
> No work of mind can make up for the virtual experience of love, the only
> thing, which possesses the highest value, for it is only love that has
> access to the source of existence, God. As Antoine de Saint-Exupery
puts it,
> "The human mind is not worth anything unless it is a servant of love".
>
> Spiritual love, according to the Holy Fathers' teachings, destroys
all kinds
> of passions and psychological complexes, and thus is a panacea for all
> diseases. It places everything where it belongs. At first, it helps
us to
> discern the good self from the evil self. This first step of genuine
> self-knowledge is made through love, and we know that no spiritual
progress
> is possible without it. This is the only way we can learn to separate
> ourselves from the burden of endless troubles, engendered by our "twin".
> This does not mean that we will have no conflict with ourselves, for
without
> it we would not be able to move forward. It does mean we have to
have the
> right attitude to any provocation coming from outside or from our
inside.
> Other people or our own motives will influence us only if we allow
them to.
> Then we will be able to voluntarily accept pain that anyone is going to
> afflict on us, and this will be not as much pain, but rather joy and
> happiness of life according to the laws of love. Before we have achieved
> this state, our soul should not delve into anything that we cannot
overcome,
> which forms a powerful protection against all evil around us.
>
> What can words do to me, if I do not take them to my heart? Or my own
> complexes, if I do not attach any significant importance to them?
Certainly,
> it is impossible to isolate myself completely from my own problems
and those
> of my neighbour. It is however necessary to strictly observe how much to
> take on, conforming it with my own power and with the power of my
love. The
> Holy Fathers say: "May each person dedicate himself to the ascetic
battle
> only to the degree of his soulful love for God".
>
> Today is The Day of Salvation
>
> However, waiting for the moment when we finally acquire love, when we
> finally become better and kinder, is sometimes very dangerous,
especially
> when most urgent help is necessary. For example, hatred, rancour, and
> offence should be driven away from our thoughts immediately, before this
> poison spreads any deeper. And this has to be done as fast and as
> mercilessly as possible. We must not savour our emotions too long -
feelings
> of depression, guilt, pity, and compassion towards ourselves.
Otherwise, we
> will blow them up to the size of a tragedy, after which we can imagine
> ourselves martyrs. If we failed or were not able to choose the best
- for
> example, to take offence or not, - and have already indulged into this
> feeling, then we need to know that we have sunk to the inferno of our
> subconsciousness, and it is not us who has life any more. It is our
"twin"
> that has life. In this case, we have to sink even deeper, and then
we will
> find that a thick layer of guilt, offence, and psychological complexes
> conceal our genuine Divine essence. This is how the respect for the
present
> self will be restored, and how the contempt for our "twin", i.e.
sin, will
> evolve.
>
> Man, like God, can freely determine the manner of existence of his own
> nature. God's image does consist only of external freedom and
reason, for in
> case of deficiency in these areas, man would turn into an animal.
This would
> be an unfair punishment. The difference between a man and an ape is
first of
> all the ability to respond to God's love or to reject it. This
ability does
> not depend on human physical or psychological functions. If it was
not so,
> how can we have the ability of self-sacrifice, which even overcomes the
> instinct of self-preservation? No defect of reason can deprive a man
of his
> inner self, of his ability to communicate with himself, similar to the
> counsel with Himself of the Holy Trinity. Our "I" is clearly aware
of its
> difference from the nature it occupies. It simply expresses itself in
> psychological and physical functions. In doing this, it creates its own
> world where it lives and finds its own enjoyment (instead of
enjoying Divine
> grace). Like Dostoyevsky's Stavrogin, we identify ourselves with
this world.
> God says: "But those things which proceed out of the mouth come
forth from
> the heart. they defile the man" (MT. 15:18). And as grace in the heart
> increases, the man stops identifying himself with what proceeds from his
> heart, but identifies himself with Divine grace. Self-consciousness
is not
> destroyed, but gets broader and deeper into "itself", into its Divine
> likeness. Naturally then, it forgets all its personal interests.
Therefore,
> the Holy Fathers say: "He who has deigned to see himself is higher
than the
> one who has seen Angels".
>
> This all, however, requires strict measurement. It is easy to go to
extremes
> if we do not observe a measure in good or evil. Concentrating upon
one's own
> merits only means reinforcing one's egotism, and vice versa, taking up a
> back-breaking load of reproach to oneself means an utmost overstrain. In
> this case, we will indeed destroy the last bits of self-dignity in
> ourselves. It will be the ultimate catastrophe for a proud man, even
for a
> believer, who is tempted with pride. He would like to be a person of
worth,
> but turns into nothing in his own eyes, and therefore thinks he has
nothing
> to give to God. Thus, it is very important in this situation to restore
> respect to one's true spiritual self. So that a proud man would not
lose his
> faith in holiness, this kind of lesser evil (respect or self-esteem) is
> allowed.
>
> It is necessary to arm ourselves with tenacity and patience in order
to be
> able to control ourselves without losing power over ourselves. Not
> everything can come at once, and we must not expect much for the present
> moment. We must thankfully accept all that God has given us for the
present
> day according to our labour and zeal, instead of being vexed that
life does
> not become any better. This may still not be humility, but it is the
real
> perception of life. If I see my good qualities not as mine, but
given to me
> by God, then I will be able to accept them with genuine humility.
How many
> unrealized plans and disappointments do we have only because we
expect too
> much from life! "Look at the child putting his hand into a jug with
a short
> neck, an ancient sage said, if he grabs too many sweets, he will not
be able
> to take his hand out".
>
> Let us think about all the good things God gives us in our life, and
then
> they will increase and will oust all the bad ones. But here we have
to bear
> in mind that good does not necessarily mean pleasant. If we savour
details
> of our misfortune, we will be sucked into the swamps of sad thoughts
with
> the danger of suffocating in our own mud. Saint Ephraim the Syrian said:
> "You will smell the stench of a dung-heap, as long as you stand
beside it".
>
> Let us learn to rejoice at all the good things the present day
brings with
> it, then we will not burden ourselves with solving our future problems.
> Jesus Christ says: "Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day"
> (MT. 6:34). In medical terms, the preoccupation with something that
has not
> yet taken place is called a 'dark perspective disorder'. The Gospel
warns us
> against this disorder by proclaiming to live in the present day. It is
> necessary to turn from the past and cast off thoughts about the
future in
> order to discover unlimited potential of the present day. This day is
> unique, for it will never be repeated again. It comprises the whole
> experience of my previous life and all the potential for the future. It
> belongs to me and I can do whatever I want with it. I can fill it
with vain
> trouble and anxiety, or I can dedicate to God.
>
> Today is the day God has given me. If I could realise what kind of
gift it
> is to me, I would use every moment of it to make my life brighter
and more
> meaningful spiritually. I would not look back to the past in
disappointment,
> would not reflect anxiously about the future. I would try to live it the
> best I could. I would notice everything interesting and divine in my
life
> and nature around me. Thirst for beauty, thirst for life is
characteristic
> of every living thing, but it is conscious only in man. Today, by dying
> consciously for all that has nothing in common with the Divine life,
we can
> be born into a new life in God, the name of which is love.
>
> Monk Alexander
>
> (Translated from Russian, July 29-31, 2000, Saskatoon
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