joi, 23 octombrie 2014
The Saints challenge us to reach beyond the common conception of salvation that predominates in the West. For the Orthodox Church, salvation is more than the pardon of sins and transgressions. Salvation is more than being justified or acquitted for offenses committed against God. According to Orthodox teaching, salvation certainly includes forgiveness and reconciliation, but by no means is it limited to them.
For the Saints of the Church, salvation is the acquisition of the grace of the Holy Spirit. To be saved is to be sanctified and to participate in the divine life of God.
Forgiveness of sins is not the end of salvation; it is only the beginning. It should lead ultimately to knowledge of God and to the acquisition of the gift of love for all humankind. In the words of St. Silouan, “I began to beseech God for forgiveness, and He granted me not only forgiveness but also the Holy Spirit, and in the Holy Spirit, I knew God. … the Lord remembered not my sins, and gave me to love people, and my soul longs for the whole world to be saved and dwell in the Kingdom of Heaven …”
This is one reason why so many people are attracted to the Orthodox Faith. They are coming to realize that the Saints give guidance on how to base our life in Christ. Through the example of their lives, and the testimony of their teachings, the Saints embody man’s true spiritual potential.
The importance of appropriate guidance in spiritual life is immense. In the present day, the need for true Orthodox spiritual teaching is especially crucial in the face of the influx of the numerous pseudo-Christian religious movements that are invading our society. Under the guise of offering a ‘Christian spirituality’, many deceivers today are leading even well-intentioned believers astray from the authentic apostolic message of the Gospel.
The teaching of St. Silouan is especially relevant because it manifests our Orthodox Spiritual Tradition to contemporary society. His life and writings are becoming increasingly popular among a wide variety of people from many different backgrounds.
While many have the impression that the Saints lived ‘saintly’ lives from their youth, St. Silouan shows that this is not always the case. He indulged in many of the same activities and pursuits that could characterize the youth of today.
Even if some of these appear at the outset as rather mundane, they are nonetheless among the more notable aspects of his life to which many readers can relate. For instance, it is recorded that in his youth, St. Silouan was fond of music, socializing with the opposite sex, and even drinking with his friends. In fact, he was known for his great tolerance for alcohol, especially vodka.
His good looks and popularity even led him into sin. As Elder Sophrony relates, “Young, strong, handsome, and by this time prosperous, too, Simeon [St. Silouan’s name ‘in the world’] revelled in life. He was popular in the village, being good-natured, peaceable and jolly, and the village girls looked on him as a man they would like to marry. He himself was attracted to one of them and, before the question of marriage had been put, what so often happens befell late one summer evening.”
St. Silouan never forgot his sin, and he repented greatly for his fall. He prayed fervently for a clear conscience. According to his biographer, Elder Sophrony, while he was away on military service, the young woman fell in love with another man, and together they lived happily and raised a large family.
Another incident that highlights St. Silouan’s familiarity with the common experiences of today’s youth concerns his great physical strength. It is written that during a village celebration, the young Simeon was approached by two brothers. The older one—tall, strong, bad-tempered, and drunk—tried to grab away Simeon’s accordion in order to show off in front of the others.
St. Silouan himself explains what then happened, “At first I thought of giving in to the fellow, but then I was ashamed of how the girls would laugh at me, so I hit him a hard blow in the chest. His body shot away, and he fell backwards with a heavy thud in the middle of the road. Froth and blood trickled from his mouth. The onlookers were all horrified. So was I. ‘I’ve killed him,’ I thought . . . It was over half an hour before he was able to rise to his feet, and with difficulty they got him home, where he was bad for a couple of months, but luckily he didn’t die.”
These incidents from St. Silouan’s youth, such as the drinking, the romance, his fondness for music, and the brawling—mundane and coarse as they appear—may actually appeal to the general reader. These are things that many people can immediately and intimately identify with in their own personal lives. His life shows that even the common man from the most ordinary of backgrounds, who has tasted the brutal bitterness of sin, can indeed still hope to acquire the grace of the Holy Spirit and attain to holiness in Christ. For many of us today, this is a source of great inspiration, as we struggle in pursuit of our own salvation.
–To Be Continued–
miercuri, 22 octombrie 2014
It is interesting to observe the increasing interest in spiritual life among many people around the world. Many people are seeking a personal experience of God. They desire a tangible and dynamic experience of His presence within their daily lives. Furthermore, many today are trying to satisfy this inner need through a variety of methods and means. The recent growth of the various pseudo-Christian cults and other such religious groups bears witness to this change in attitudes. The steady interest in ‘spirituality’, whether from the Near, Middle or Far East, is another indication of the spiritual thirst of contemporary people. Another clear manifestation of this inner human need—with completely negative results—is the rising popularity of satanic and occult practices, as well as witchcraft, the neo-pagan rituals, and other such ceremonies of the New Age religious movements. If we add to this the tremendous interest today in anything even remotely connected with the world of psychic phenomena, the need for some kind of communion with the divine becomes most obvious. At times, it seems as if modern humanity is searching frantically for God. This widespread search for spiritual life, no matter how flawed or misguided, reveals the fact that an innate desire for participation in divine life is basic to the human being. Indeed, this is exactly the reason why we were created. Life in communion with God is our natural orientation. When this spiritual need is not satisfied through conventional means, then its fulfillment is sought elsewhere. However, a look into the spiritual state of the contemporary Western world will reveal a profound paradox. On the one hand, as has been noted, there is clearly a growing interest in almost anything that has to do with ‘spirituality’ or the ‘spiritual’ world. Yet on the other hand, there is also such a flagrant disregard for the divine, as well as an obvious coldness toward Christ, that it could be said that the pursuit of true Christian life has been nearly abandoned in our day. It has become socially acceptable—even academically fashionable—not only to disregard, but even to deride and scorn the teaching and ideals that have been revealed to us in the Gospel of Christ. It seems as if modern people are striving to convince themselves that they can live their lives in an abiding and persistent renunciation of the commandments of Christ. At the same time, one sees an increasing number of conscientious believers who are finding true inner fulfillment in Orthodox spiritual life. There are many sincere and dedicated Christian believers who are no longer satisfied with the spiritual life offered by many of the Western denominations of today. They are searching for a different, more dynamic and deeper spiritual life in Christ. This inner search reveals a general discontent with the vast changes prevalent in the church practices, ethical values, and theological teachings of many of these Western Christian confessions. There are those who are coming to appreciate the fact that there exists another Christian teaching that differs from the conventional denominations of the West. More than a few are coming into contact with the living legacy of Orthodox Saints and the spiritual teaching of the Eastern Christian tradition, which offers a more profound Christ-centered spiritual life. St. Silouan of Mount Athos is a good example of such a saint. St. Silouan is especially relevant today because of the significance of his teaching and the way in which he addresses the needs of contemporary people. His writings were made available to the world at a most appropriate time. St. Silouan was born in Russia in 1866; he arrived on Mount Athos in 1892 and entered the Russian Monastery of St. Panteleimon. He fell asleep in the Lord in 1938 and was canonized a saint in 1988, by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. His writings were first published in 1952 in Russian by his disciple, Elder Sophrony. St. Silouan serves a direct link between the ancient ascetic Saints and our modern era. In this series of articles, we will learn more about Saint Silouan’s life and teachings, and we will highlight the strength and comfort they can bring to modern people facing the complexities of modern life.
–TO BE CONTINUED–