From Fr. Sophrony’s We Shall See Him as He Is
Divine Love begets reverent audaciousness. Thus a handful of Apostles, hitherto faint-hearted, after the descent of the Holy Ghost were filled with courage and took on the whole of the rest of the world in spiritual struggle. Nearly all of them suffered martyrdom. When the governor of Patras threatened St. Andrew with crucifixion the latter made the marvelous reply, “If I feared the cross, I would not be preaching it.” And he was crucified, and hanging on the cross extolled the death on the cross of his Master, Christ.
Inestimable are the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Every true gift is none other than a flame of love. But for our hearts to become capable of receiving the love of Christ in its glowing manifestations we must all, every one of us, endure many trials. People who live lives of ease atrophy spiritually and remain impervious to divinely universal, Christ-like love. They live and ide without their spirit rising upward to heaven. Gifts from on High are commensurate to our ascetic struggle. All who walk the way of Christ’s commandments are regenerated in their very following of Him – some more, some less, depending on the ardour manifested. Through being crucified together with God the Word-made-flesh, grace descends on the believer, likening him to God made man. This great gift also embraces in itself life-giving theology through a real dwelling in the Light of love.
This passage from Fr. Silouan’s writings should in no way be interpreted as though we were “earning” gifts from God. Gifts are gifts. But neither would our Heavenly Father give to us something that would harm us. Spiritual gifts come to us after great ascetic struggle (which itself is impossible without Grace) because we have been prepared to receive such gifts for our salvation and not our condemnation.
I had experience with the Charismatic Movement in the early 1970’s (indeed I lived in a commune as part of that movement). I was quite young in every way – as were most of the people with whom I came in contact. I shudder sometimes when I look back and see the damage we did to one another in the name of Christ, either through claiming gifts we did not have, or by misusing and abusing gifts we did have. Spiritually it was a dangerous period in my life.
To a degree, I continue to see danger in such movements – where great gifts are boasted – but great fruit not borne.
Orthodoxy itself has little contact with the modern Charismatic movement, but it does not mean that there is no one whose spiritual life is not more governed by delusion than reality. True ascetic effort should move us towards Christ, and particularly Christ Crucified. It should beget patience and humility and a love for all things. If such love is absent then whatever we are encountering is not of God.
This is also the danger in theology that we only know intellectually. “Knowledge puffs up,” ( 1 Cor. 8:1) particularly if it is a knowledge that is not also grounded in the heart and in love of God. I believe that it is for this reason that there is as much argument surrounding Christian theology (not there there is no place for argument but much of it lacks charity in my experience). We are in too far great a hurry to gain knowledge that we ourselves have not received from God. To read the Fathers and use them as the grist for theological warfare – is a waste of time. Like Scripture, they must be read in humility and patience with much prayer in hope that they are properly assimilated into our life as grace and not simply added to our brain as information.
But I come back to that delicious phrase that Fr. Sophrony puts forward: “reverent audaciousness.” What a marvelous term to use – to encourage us to be “audacious” in our pursuit of God (reverently of course).
May God grant us the Grace to pray more than we read and to be audacious in our pursuit of God.