Saturday, November 21, 2015

In the light of His face

During this season of pre-Christmas Lent, besides the fasting, alms-giving, and prayer that are expected of us, we can also benefit from meditation on our life in Christ with the help of a spiritual movie. One of the best in recent times is The Island, a Russian film about a community in the far north, where live the monks with Fr Anatoly, Christ’s lamb, of whom the world is not worthy.

This film, though it is purely fiction as to fact, yet it is utterly true as to act: it depicts vividly and authentically what we know as Christian Orthodoxy, a way of life, an orientation of the heart, an irrevocable friendship with the Father, through the mercies of Christ, and in indefectible fellowship with the saints. This is no religion. This is the salvation of the whole man: it is health of spirit, soul and body in this world, and eternal life in the world to come—a life which begins here in the form of a grain of wheat which must be buried so that it can rise again and produce thirty-, sixty-, and a hundred-fold.

The glory of God is the gift of His mercy, our sanctification pure gift of His grace, and the Holy and Orthodox faith of the apostles, martyrs and witnesses of Christ the Word of God and only-begotten Son of the Most High, the Holy One of Israel, El Elohim Yahweh (Psalm 50:1, Hebrew)—this is the treasure hidden in the field of this world, for the sake of which a man will sell all he has, so he can purchase that field (Matthew 13:44). ‘Happy the man who never follows the advice of the wicked, or loiters on the way that sinners take, or sits about with scoffers, but finds his pleasure in the Law of Yahweh, and murmurs His Law day and night’ (Psalm 1, Jerusalem Bible).

I can’t explain this to anyone. I can’t describe it. I can only walk in it, following Jesus who is the only Holy One, in company with all those who follow the Lamb wherever He goes, who are purchased from among men and offered as first-fruits to God (Revelation 14:4).

I don’t argue this, or try to convince. Only ideas can be handled this way, but this is not an idea, not something men think, something they make up, not even a work of art their hands have made. Not salvation, not eternal life, not unity within the Holy Triad through becoming adoptive sons of God, none of this is of works, only of grace, and only of our response to God’s mercy and good will towards us—that is, our faith.

Like Fr Anatoly praying for the healing of a crippled boy, all things are possible if we only believe (Mark 9:23), that is, if like him we trust God for salvation, really trust Him. The boy’s mother came with him to what she thought was a staretz, a holy man, so that she could say she tried everything, even had a saint pray for a miracle, and so if her boy wasn’t healed, she could blame it on God. She did her part, brought the boy, and Fr Anatoly did his part, he prayed. She then wanted to leave immediately, but he wouldn’t let her.

He asked her, ‘Do you think I am just playing a game with you?’ He insisted that they must stay overnight so the abbot of the monastery could give the boy the mystery of Christ’s Body and Blood, to seal and to complete the healing. Orthodoxy is reality, or it is religion, it is nothing. Reality demands obedience, for only the obedient believe.

Brethren, forgive this ramble, but I am overcome not by watching this film, which is only a kind of ikon, but by the reality behind it. That reality is the mystery of Christ among us.

We have only one life and only one chance to come fully into that mystery, and not for ourselves, not to be happy, not to feel justified or righteous, not to indulge in the intellectual luxury of thinking we have the correct faith or belong to the true Church, not to partake of mystical experiences, or emotional charges, not to be able to claim the promises, or to testify that we are saved, not to be prosperous in this world or to be able to boast of being an ‘overcomer,’ no, not even so we can know we are going to heaven.

Everything we are and that we have is wholly in the hands of our loving Savior and God, Jesus Christ, and to follow Him in this world with complete abandonment to His will and His love, trusting, yes, trusting absolutely, that only He knows us, knows all, provides for all, carries all, cares for all, denies none, deserts no one, but welcomes us into the presence of His Father, prepares us for the mansion He has built us, desires us as His beloved, invites us to dine with Him at the wedding feast, and all for a price that has already been paid, for we have been purchased from among men.

We have only one life, so let’s live it in the light of His face, for only there is mercy, and like Fr Anatoly give ourselves without defense into the hands that molded us, those hands that were pierced for us.

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