Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The sign of the Cross

To confess the Orthodox faith means to be crucified, to become all things to all men so that all may be able to partake in the one life. For if you have truly tasted this life even once, you are never going to forget it. You do not simply remember it; you are flooded with it, and it becomes a spring of water welling up. You become ‘mad,’ in the words of Abba Isaac, so that the rest of your brothers may become partakers in the quality of Christ; so that the children of our forefather Adam may become partakers in the New Adam, in the Paradise of delight and the food which is broken but not divided.

Being sacrificed here means being lost to life and flooded with eternity. The other person is myself. In the words of Evergetinos, ‘The other person is my God.’

The Orthodox, the saint, loves all people and things even before he knows them. He knows them through love. When you draw near to the saint, you see that he cares for you; he knows you and embraces you before he sees you. You see that he loved you before you realized it; that he is your innermost self, your own depths, at once familiar and unknown, and not something alien. In him you come to know love. He puts love before himself. His own self emerges from love and is nourished by being offered to It; ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8).
At this stage of sacrificial love, the saint becomes by grace the icon of the Son of God who first loved us, and who sheds His blood mysteriously, from before the ages, like the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world in Revelation 13:8.

Anyone who does not love is not free. Love casts out fear. It burns everything up. A merciful heart is…

‘a heart which burns for all creation, for men and birds and animals and demons, and for every creature. As he calls them to mind and contemplates them, his eyes fill with tears. From the great and powerful feeling of compassion that grips the heart and from long endurance his heart diminishes, and cannot bear to hear or see any injury or any tiny sorrow in creation. This is why he constantly offers prayer with tears for dumb beasts, and for the enemies of truth, and for those who hurt him, that they may be protected and shown mercy; likewise he prays for the race of creeping things, through the great compassion which fills his heart immeasurably, in the likeness of God’ (Abba Isaac, Logos 81).

Stretched upon the wood of the Cross man is at peace, when he is crucified as an offering of love to others. There is no state or place in which human nature is at peace more deeply, more truly and theanthropically, than in crucifixion and on the Cross of love. There is no greater comfort than this pain. Then he is not upholding just one part. He is not interested in anything partial, and cannot live in the hell of halves and hatred. He cannot watch another suffer. He embraces everything. All things are his. He is crucified for them all. He is someone universal and serene.

An Orthodox icon of the Lord’s Crucifixion does not show us the pain of someone suffering from his nail wounds, but manifests the tranquility of the One, the ‘King of Glory’ who is at peace in the calm of love. He is nailed to the Cross, offered voluntarily for the life and salvation of the world. And this act cannot be called death, but is life and increase without end.

When the Orthodox creates theology, works, or is crucified, he is lost in order to leave room free for the entry of Him who saves everyone. This occupation by the Lord, this coming and the expectation of universal salvation, the price of which is the death of man’s own soul, constitutes man’s personal salvation; it bestows upon him his true dimensions and the calm of Paradise which he earnestly awaits, and takes him up into a state of trinitarian self-awareness.

‘One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor’ (Luke 18:22). This is the ‘one thing’ that all of us always lack. This is what all of us always need to do in order to live: to sell what we have and give it away, to lose it. What comes from this ceaseless sale is an offering for us to give to the ‘poor.’ This is how treasure is laid up in heaven; and that treasure is something we must not and cannot sell or give to anyone, because it belongs in its entirety to everyone. It is the symbol and the fact of the unity, the unification of all, and at the same time the extension of each to the dimensions of all.

The Orthodox is someone universal: what is Orthodox concerns, summarizes, and saves the whole. It leaves nothing outside. Its extent is the infinity of death and its structure the freedom of the Spirit. What is not Orthodox is partial, inadequate and unsteady, provocative and misleading for everyone.

The Church bears the sign of the Cross and of tranquility on its brow (Revelation 7:3); it bears the mark of the Trinity as the mainstay of its life and existence.

Archimandrite Vasileios, Hymn of Entry, pp. 94-96

“Remember who your teachers were…”

2 Timothy 3:14

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