I have written earlier that I am an ignorant man. I am now translated into Romanian and French on that very topic. Apparently my 15 minutes of fame will come as an ignorant man. That’s doubtless a good thing.
But as we near the time that Orthodox Christians approach one another and ask forgiveness (Great Lent), we do well to remember the utter mystery that we confront. No one knows the things of a man save the spirit of a man that is in him, we are told in Scripture. It is obvious from even the smallest observance that we do not know ourselves. Least of all do we know God.
We thus stand surrounded by mystery. And not just the mystery of what is not known, but the mystery of the wonder that is another human being. I have always had a sense that one could largely understand how hurts and wounds can make people bitter or neurotic or all sorts of things. But in my experience I also meet many people who have suffered far greater things than others and are essentially healthy human beings.
In the town in which I live there is a woman, now in her later years, who spent time in Hitler’s camps. She tells her story willingly, has written books, and is simply pleasant to be with.
I can understand the wounds of evil, but I marvel at the sheer wonder of goodness that can be found where you would not expect it. It is a life such as Fr. Arseny’s that lives the contradiction of the cross. In the midst of a man-made hell he lives like an angel. Standing through the night in prayer, forgiving the unforgiveable. He stands as a witness of the resurrection because he is not the product of cause and effect – at least not the cause and effect of man’s world. He bears witness that the cause of all things lies finally beyond our control. Joy is found where it should not belong because God has put it there.
And this, it seems to me, is the great mystery of everything. Not that much that I encounter isn’t as I would have expected. But that so much that I encounter is completely unexpected. The incarnation of God and his inexplicable love are just such unexpected things. What must the soldier have thought when he heard the words of forgiveness spoken from the cross? What mystery is this?
And this is the great mystery that enfolds us day by day, drawing us ever deeper into itself. Speaking peace to our angry hearts, calling us out of the tombs of complacence, raising us up from the death of mess that we make for ourself.
Such mystery cannot be fathomed let alone explained. It can only be bowed before and adored as the wonder of wonders. That I stand before the mystery of another man or woman and say, “Forgive me,” invites me to step inside the mystery and become one with it. This is the great mystery of everything. May God give us such grace each day!
“because he is not the product of cause and effect”
Well, I am in the middle of reading this very auto/biography and I can barely recall how many times Fr. Arseny is described as pouring himself out for others in the camp–“expecting nothing in return–it is so numerous. And I suspect it is precisely because he was able to respond to evil in the most unexpected ways. Somehow he does not allow the laws of our earthly nature–of cause and effect–to rule in his life. Its stunning, really. And of course, you sum it up so succinctly. I just need to go sit on this “cause and effect” idea for a while now.
Lord have mercy.
Father Arseny is one of the most powerful and moving books I have read. It helped me on the way to becoming Orthodox, which, God willing, will happen this Holy Saturday.
Here are Pastor Richard Wurbrand’s recollections of some Orthodox Christians he encountered while in a Communist prison:
With My Own Eyes
What’s the status on Father Arseny officially being recognized as a Saint? I look forward to hanging his icon in my house.
“And this is the great mystery that enfolds us day by day, drawing us ever deeper into itself. Speaking peace to our angry hearts, calling us out of the tombs of complacence, raising us up from the death of mess that we make for ourself”
And let us not forget fearful hearts, for the anger is begotten by fear, fear by an unwillingness to surrender to the love of God. We would rather live in the transitory uncertainty of the world attempting to anesthesize ourselves with sin rather than face the pain of opening our hearts as Christ did in the Garden and on the Cross.
The “Gift of Tears” of which the Fathers speak I am more and more convinced is not just tears for our own sinfulness, but also, at least in some, the result of the pain of genuine empathy with others because of our Lord’s sacrifice on the Cross.
Pastor Wurmbrand seemed to appreciate the Orthodox as Christians, I was surfing last night and came across a Christian news org that seems to want them booted from the EU for persecuting religious freedom. The Orthodox will always be the wrong kind of Christian for some folks…
should I beg for forgiveness now?
forgive me 🙂
I have heard no progress on the case for Fr. Arseny (which, I believe was not his real name). Some have described him as a composite character, but the word I have from the Bouteneff’s (the translator) is that he was a single character and quite real.