The fast of Christ’s holy Mother’s repose is in its third day, reminding us that we must prepare, we must repent of the sin which clings so closely, that we may, like her, be received in His arms and carried as a newborn infant to Paradise. For all that Christ did for her He has promised to do for His disciples and lovers, whom He declares to be His very own relations, saying, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice” (Luke 8:21). Let’s not only hear His words, but do what He commands and so stay near Him, following behind Him closely. Christ goes on before, clearing the path ahead endlessly, preparing a place for His disciples. Have mercy on me, Lord, and let me be counted among them, even as the least.
Some words, brethren, to keep us on the path of illumination which has only one destination, the holy death which is life immortal. First, a word on prayer…
Bishop Theophan the Recluse used to say that praying only with words written by another is like trying to talk in a foreign language using only textbook dialogues. Like many other Church fathers, he said that we must look for our own words in order to pray. I suppose that this is truly possible for us (if we dismiss artificially “invented” prayers of our own) only in moments of desperate need, real anguish, either for ourselves or for others. In such moments we do not “recite” prayers, we simply cry out to God, “Lord, please come to him and comfort him!” The audacity of prayer is born only in the audacity of love. Saint Makarios said, “Love gives birth to prayer.” Therein lies the mystery and the meaning of prayer.
We can recite endless litanies, we can endlessly finger our prayer ropes, but unless we have love, unless we have learned to grieve for others, we have not even begun to pray. We can thus go through all our life without having begun to pray. That’s why Abba Antony said, “Let’s learn to love sorrow in order to find God!” He did not say, “Let’s look for sorrow,” but “Let’s love it,” because sorrow is a cup offered us by Christ, and drinking it, we begin to partake of prayer.
Unless we are truly sympathetic to human suffering, we are merely carrying out a “prayer rule,” not really praying. To carry out a prayer rule is good and necessary, but only when we realise it is a means, not an end in itself. We must realise that it is only a spur to encourage our efforts.
Imagine a man peacefully fishing from the shore. Everything is fine, everything is according to fishing rules, the brightly colored float bobs on the surface. The man does not realise that there is no baited hook attached to the line. The float is just a pretence, and actually there is no fishing taking place. To many people their prayer rule is such a baitless float. Only the hook of suffering can catch real love.
And now, just a few more words, this time on fasting…
Fasting means trying to overcome that which is “too human” in us. It means trying to overcome the limitations of our nature and to introduce it to limitlessness, to make it breathe eternity.
Fasting must be understood, in the first place, as abstention from non-love, not from butter. Then it will become a time of light, a “joyous time of Lent.”
Non-love, animosity, is the most terrible form of indulgence, a gluttony and intoxication with the self. It is the very first, the original offense against the Holy Spirit of God. “I appeal to you by the love of the Holy Spirit,” writes Saint Paul (Romans 15:30).
Love is the opposite of pride and hatred. In our evening prayers, we ask forgiveness for those sins which are a breach of love.
…if I have reproached anyone, or become angered by something; or slandered anyone in my anger; or have lied or slept unnecessarily; or a beggar has come to me and I have despised him; or have saddened my brother and quarreled with him; or have judged someone or have allowed myself to be haughty, proud or angry …or have laughed at my brother’s sin…It seems to me that I have been found out. It’s all written down in the prayer book, all the things I’ve done! And before I was halfway through the prayer, my internal advocate was already reasoning my defense, making excuses for me. Why is that advocate so silent in me when it comes to defending others and overlooking their sins, not just my own?
Lest this post devolve into an academic exercise, I want to bring it to a close by returning to the theme of the time we have just entered.
Someone is coming for us. Someone who loves us more than our parents, our spouses, our kids, our friends. Someone is coming for us and in His arms we will be gently carried into the land of all joy, into Paradise. Actually, in His arms we find Paradise, because it is all in Him. The New Adam is Paradise, and just as His earthly Mother was made all-holy by being His chosen dwelling-place, so each of us is transfigured to the degree we let Him live in us while we live in this world. And as her repose prefigures the rapture of all who “will be taken up in the clouds,” we can look forward with confidence to our own repose, because like her “we shall stay with the Lord forever”
(1 Thessalonians 4:17).
With such thoughts as these you should comfort one another.
1 Thessalonians 4:18 Jerusalem Bible
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