The Patience of the Saints

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Christ said, “In patience possess your souls” (Luke 21:19). Orthodoxy presumes patience on our parts. The services take patience – they last a good length of time and without patience your mind will never stop wandering.

Catechumenates can take a while.

Learning many of the things of an Orthodox way of life cannot be rushed. Only time can make a difference.

These are hard words in a culture where time is money and we never seem to have enough of either. But though our culture has changed, human beings have not. We still take 9 months to come to the fullness of time in the womb. We still have to go to sleep for about a third of our life. We still age about the same rate (the Bible speaks of 3 score years and 10, perhaps 4 score, and our span of life on average still has not reached 4 score).

But grace, this marvelous life of God that is given to us, also accommodates to our life as human beings. We do not receive grace and suddenly become angels. We receive grace, and the whole process of our salvation and sanctification (to use Protestant terminology) is a matter of years. I have been posting excerpts from Archimandrite Sophrony’s Saint Silouan the Athonite, and I continue with that today. This, on the acquisition of the Holy Spirit along with remarkable insight on the role time plays:

The history of the Church together with personal contact with many ascetics has led me to the conclusion that the experience of grace in those who have been granted visitations and visions is only assimilated deeply after years of ascetic endeavor; grace then taking the form of spiritual knowledge that I should prefer to define as ‘dogmatic consciousness’ (but not in the academic sense of the term).

The historical experience of the Church, in which I include the Apostles and the holy Fathers both ancient and modern, makes it possible to calculate this period of assimilation as lasting at least fifteen years. Thus St. Paul’s first Epistle (to the Thessalonians) was written some fifteen years after the Lord had appeared to him on the road to Damascus. Often the period lasts twenty, twenty-five, even thirty or more years. The Evangelists and other Apostles wrote their testimonies and epistles long after the Lord’s Ascension. Most of the holy Fathers acquainted the world with their visions and experiences only when their ascetic course was nearing its close. More than thirty years elapsed before the Staretz set down in writing, with final and mature dogmatic consciousness, his own experience. The assimilation of grace is a lengthy process.

Tomorrow I will offer more reflection on this “dogmatic consciousness.”

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  1. says

    XCVI

    Every creature frightened me when I was a child; but since the time I grew up I have felt compassion for every creature.

    Every creature seemed to me to be stronger than me while I was a child. Now I feel stronger than everything, and I feel compassion for everything.

    For I learned to stand beside You, my Lord, who are surrounded by immortal hosts like a mountain covered with pines. And I have been growing out of You, like a tree out of a mountain.

    While I was a child, I took each creature to be my teacher and spent some time with each of them. And I learned about infirmity and death and crying out to You.

    I searched for the strongest creature, so that I could grab hold of it and save myself from change and fluctuation. But my eyes never did see it, nor did my ears ever hear it, nor did my feet ever stumble upon it. Time raises all its children in order to wrestle with them, and in order to bend them as a joke and to snap them in two and tear them out by the roots as it laughs at the horror and terror of mortals.

    I grabbed hold of a flower and said: “In beauty it is stronger than I am.” But when autumn arrived, the flower died before my eyes, and I could do nothing to help it. So I turned away with tears and grabbed hold of tall trees.

    But with the passage of time, the trees were torn out by the roots, and fell to the ground like vanquished soldiers, and I turned away with tears, and grabbed hold of stone. “It is stronger than me,” I said, “with it I am secure.”

    But with the passage of time the stone crumbled to dust before my eyes, and the wind carried it off and I turned away with tears and latched onto the stars. “The stars are stronger than anything,” I said, “I shall cling to them and shall not fall.”

    But after I embraced the stars and began to converse with them in secret whispers, I heard the moaning of the dying, and I turned away with tears and latched onto people. “People strut erectly and freely,” I said, “there is strength in them; I shall cling to them lest I fall.”

    But with the passage of time I saw even