There are many things written in theology that are difficult to understand. Certain writers, certain realities are difficult if not impossible to grasp with reason alone. I can recall spending several days with a single sentence from Met. John Zizioulas’ Being As Communion. However, after several days, “the coin dropped,” as the saying goes, and it started a chain reaction that changed my life. Three days well spent. I am offering here a two paragraph’s from Fr. Nicholas Sakharov’s I Love Therefore I Am – his magisterial work on the life and thought of Elder Sophrony (Sakharov). It is worth noting that Fr. Nicholas is the grand nephew of the Elder and is himself a monk at St. John the Baptist Monastery in Essex, England, the Elder’s monastery. If you want to spend time with something – these paragraphs will be worth whatever it takes. At the very least it should make you want to read the works of Fr. Sophrony, as well as those of St. Silouan, his spiritual father.
Elder [St.] Silouan pays particular attention to the type of prayer “for the whole creation”: “Let the whole world come to know Thee.” Elder Silouan precedes Fr. Sophrony in using the expression the whole Adam, which indicates the ontological oneness of the human race. His chapter “Adam’s Lament” expresses his universal application of the term “Adam”: Adam is “the father of the universe” and, as such, he emerges as a collective personality. Christ-like love is the bond that links the whole Adam.
The universality of this love is often expressed by elder Silouan as “love toward one’s enemies,” which was central to his thinking to an unprecedented extent. It became his criterion for the authenticity of any Christian message. Christ’s commandment (Matt. 5:44) is a projection of the divine mode of being onto the level of human relationship, since it reflects the absolute character of divine love.
Fr. Nicholas Sakharov
This morning I’ve thought to add some meditation on Fr. Nicholas’ paragraphs. They can be difficult indeed. First, the thought on the “ontological oneness of the human race.” According to the teaching of the Church – humanity shares but one nature, our human nature, though in our fallenness there is something of a fragmentation of this in our experience. We experience ourselves as individuals – not connected to others. St. Silouan concentrated not on our “nature,” but on our person – that “individual-like” identity which is whole because it is connected with others (and thus is often treated as the almost opposite of “individual”). But the great saints teaching, as well as that of the Elder Sophrony, was that in the practice of love of neighbor (and love of enemy), we extend our personhood into a communion with others that enlarges the spiritual heart and unites us together as one. This common humanity, both men referred to as the “Whole Adam.”
More importantly in these paragraphs is the insistence by St. Silouan on the one hand that “love of enemy” was the only proper measure for authenticity in the Christian life. I have stated this elsewhere as, “You only know God to the extent you love your enemy.” It is a pure teaching. But, as noted by Fr. Nicholas, it is more than a mere moral teaching. Love of enemy is a “projection of the divine mode of being on to the human relationship” – which is to say that love of enemy is indeed that action which, by grace, makes us like God. Love of enemy becomes for us as well our “mode of being,” and not simply a good thing to do. Through such love we come to live more fully as a person in the “whole Adam.”
I attended a panel discussion earlier this week between an Orthodox priest, a Rabbi, and an Imam. At one point, in discussing forgiveness, the Rabbi commented that if he got to heaven and found Adolf Hitler walking around, he would be disappointed in God. It was clear in his remarks that “justice” was his greatest concern. His has been noted by Orthodox teachers that if we ask for justice we will all be in hell. The universe and “God’s mode of being” are not founded on justice. No where in the Scripture are we told, “God is justice.” He is, indeed, a just God, but the meaning of that statement is still a deeply hidden mystery. Far more clear is the revelation, “God is love.” If we cannot bear God’s love for our enemy, then our relationship with God will be deeply hindered, even broken.
The gravity and anguish of even contemplating God’s love of political mass murderers is the sort of thing that breaks, even crushes the heart. But we have hearts of stone that find themselves crushed by the love of God. We must pray that the outcome is a broken and contrite heart. There is not a limit on the love of God. May He have mercy on me and my stoney heart.