Love and True Faith

In the life and teaching of St. Silouan of Mt. Athos, it is interesting to note that what he considered to be “true faith” was the manifestation of the love of God in us towards all the world. It would have certainly been the case that as an Orthodox monk, St. Silouan would have believed all of the Church’s teaching without question. And yet when he spoke of the true faith it was the state of the heart that he considered rather than running a doctrine check on somebody.

True doctrine is of great importance because it reveals the nature and truth of God and the world to us. But such knowledge is not the final goal of the Christian life. Our final goal is indeed the true faith – that is – the love of God towards all the world dwelling within our hearts. From Father Sophrony’s book on St. Silouan:

The Staretz [St. Silouan] interpreted both the incarnation of God-the-Word and Christ’s whole earthly life as love towards the whole world, though the world is totally hostile to God. Similarly, he knew the Holy Spirit in the love which with its advent drives away all hatred, like light cancelling darkness; in the love which likens man to Christ in the inmost impulses of his soul. And this, according to the Staretz’ teaching, is true faith.

There is no opposition to rationality in any of this and certainly no opposition to true doctrine. But there is a recognition that the very simplist of all things – available to children and the weak minded (perhaps more truly available to them than the rest of us) – is the love of God dwelling in our hearts. Without this there is no true faith, no true salvation, no theosis, no true conformity to the image of God.

It is for this reason (at least) that the Church sets aside entire seasons of the year (such as Great Lent) so that we may pray and fast and give ourselves over to God in such a way as to acquire His love for the world in our hearts. And though true doctrine is found in every service, and there are feast days on the calendar to celebrate the great Ecumenical Councils – there is not anything like a season of the year set aside for the people of God to acquire “true doctrine.” It is simply the case that if we do not know the love of God for the whole world in our heart – then we would never be able to know true doctrine. The words spoken by the Deacon at every liturgy when he summons us to repeat the Nicene Creed say everything: “Let us love one another that with one mind we may confess: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Trinity one in essence and undivided.” We may say the words for the rest of eternity – but unless and until we love one another we will not truly know or believe a word of it.

And thus we are called to love.

24 comments:

  1. Fr. Stephen,

    The phrase from the Divine Liturgy, “Let us love one another that with one mind we may confess…”

    Is this word “mind” the same as the Greek word “nous”? Obviously St. John’s Liturgy was originally written in Greek and I’ve heard it said that “nous” is often translated from the Scriptures (poorly) into English using the word “mind”.

    I’m curious as to what that phrase really means, practically. “One mind” can come off as something different than your remarks in this entire post if viewed incorrectly. Could you please clarify?

    Thank you,
    John

  2. It must be a hard fate for clerics to dedicate all their lives trying to preserve, justify and spread a particular doctrine in practice while, at the same time, having – nominally at least – as their “true” goal to reach it’s essence by transcending it’s limitations – the very limitations that define it and thus make it possible for it to be preserved, justified and spread ie to be a doctrine.

    It’s certainly a worthy challenge to be sure, but i wonder how many of them clerics do really succeed, let alone believers.

  3. John,
    The phrase uses “omonoia” (same or one mind) and is similar to St. Paul’s admonitions for us to be of “one mind” or of “the same mind.” But, nous, the root word in these phrases, also carries the sense of “heart” (certainly not “mind” as conceived by modern rationalism). Thus, the Creed (and its doctrines) cannot be rightly confessed when we are not at peace with one another, or not loving one another. Doctrine is more than rational proposition, it is, in the words of Fr. Georges Florovsky, a “verbal icon of Christ.” The reasonable part of us participates, but so must the heart as well. Thus we must love. This is the “true faith.”

  4. It seems to me that if God is love and we are made in his image then we are made to love as he loves. I realize that this is difficult, our hearts being so fickle but God is capable of purifying our hearts if we ask Him to do so. I love the prayer, “Save me, whether I want it or not!” Keep saving me God, keep healing me, we can cry out!

  5. I appreciate the words of Fr. Sophrony: “he knew the Holy Spirit in the love which with its advent drives away all hatred, like light cancelling darkness.” I am wondering if all true love experienced by any human being is evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit?

  6. Father Stephen,

    I know very little about Orthodoxy, other than the major differences between Eastern and Western thought. However, I am curious about the concept of “loving God” or “loving Jesus”, of relationship, in Orthodox theology.

    Maybe it’s just my ignorance, but it doesn’t seem to me this is emphasized in the Orthodox world nearly as much as in the Western world. Why is this? Or am I wrong about this.

  7. Very well-written piece.

    The concept of how truth without love is arrogance is one that I’ve had to struggle with in my journey – so long as truth is without love, it will always be deficient; but so long as truth is placed within love, then we are able to fearlessly proclaim it, as is most expedient.

  8. Gilbert,
    The emphasis on love of Jesus and loving God, of relationship, could not possibly be stronger than what is found in Orthodoxy. It is a pity that you have not seen nor heard this of yet. It is quite strong. And without equal in the Christian world.

  9. @Gilbert – Many of our liturgical texts refer to a ‘good God who loves mankind’ – through our Divine Liturgy and in our other prayer services (Matins, Vespers, etc) as well.

    On the contrary, one will be hard pressed to find a reference to God damning people in Orthodox service books. The seeming-exception, when the Liturgy refers to ‘a good defense before the fearful judgment seat of Christ’, is because of an incomplete translation – the original word is the same word we get ‘crisis’ from…because at that crisis-point, we have to make the decision to love him back (or otherwise).

  10. Gilbert, to expand on what Fr. Stephen has said, the cornerstone of Orthodox theology is the concept of communion, beginning with the eternal communion that exists between the Three Divine Person of the Triune God and going from there to the communion that Christ restores between humanity and God and between humans within the Church.

    Perhaps what you are misunderstanding is this communion is never conceived of in individualistic terms: never just “me and Jesus”. No, this communion is mediated in, with, and through the Church and the Church’s celebration of the mysteries of the Christian faith, especially the Eucharist.

  11. I stumbled across this one again and remembered how, even though reading the book “St. Silouan the Athonite” would be classed as a secondary resource of information on God, I always thought that there is a certain distinctive quality to it that differentiates it from many other such “secondary sources”…
    There will always be an inevitable disparity between reading, studying or being told about an experience, as compared to experiencing it yourself; even more so when the experience in question is a direct encounter with someone astonishingly unique, someone tremendously alluring as compared to hearing about him from secondary sources. How much more so when that someone is God! The only true, the most personal and intimate encounter of one’s life! To taste and behold Him and have that etched on your mind is what St. Silouan’s words convey.
    And it somehow, sometimes jumps out of the book as a personal encounter with the Saint’s most loving heart…

  12. Dino, the longer I am allowed to hang around and participate in the life of the Church, the more blessed I know I am. His life just seems to seep into any crack or crevice that I allow don’t have closed up.

    We can certainly speed up the process if we do a little gardening and open up the cracks and pull the weeds on a regular basis, but once we say yes to Him in Baptism and don’t turn back and keep turning back, He works on us.

    I knew a man who had been in the Church his entire life and was widely known as a mean and cantankerous person. Not many folks had a good word to say about him. He got sick and new his illness was unto death so he arranged to go to the bishop for regular and deep confession. One example of the transformation is the day that I had a brief encounter with him that was some what abrupt. That was on a Saturday afternoon. When I came into Liturgy the next morning, he was waiting for me to apologize and make sure everything was OK with us (even our encounter on Saturday was the first time I’d ever spoken to him personal or him to me).

    He died not long after that. I, regretfully, did not attend his funeral, but our bishop conducted the funeral and eulogized the man for his Christ-likeness.

    We have the opportunities every day to encounter our Lord and ignore them. At least I do.

    He is with us and His love is overwhelming. I can’t even begin to imagine what it is like to meet Him so intimately as St. Silouan did/does. I don’t think I’d be able to stand it.

    Of course one of the attributes of His love is that our true being is revealed with all of our sins no longer hidden. Surely, I would weep in terror were that to occur suddenly. Fortunately, He is patient, but persistent. His life-giving water slowly, inexorably changes our stony hearts.

    May He grant us many years, the gift of real contrition and a painless, blameless death with a good defense before His dread judgement seat.

  13. Amen Michael,
    Single minded ascetics who “take the bull by the horns” from their youth – like St Silouan – do seem to have a certain head start…! But the time is quickly coming that virtually all will be rather saved through tribulations and their special ‘blessing’…
    I remember this touching story from Father Zacharias of Essex:

    I knew a sixty-year old Cypriot lady who had cancer. She came to the monastery, and told me, “I have cancer. The doctors told me that in six months I shall die.” I said to her, “Androula, then go for the meeting with the Lord, hold on to His word: ‘whether we die or live we are the Lord’s’ (cf. Rom. 14:8), and prepare for this meeting. You have six months. Wonderful! It is the greatest moment of your life.” She was a woman of prayer. I never console people, “Ah, you will live, it will pass.” I say rather, “Prepare for the meeting”, even if they live afterwards. The woman accepted it, and started saying, “Glory be to Thee, O Lord”, all the time. One day she said to me, “I want you to promise me just one thing: when I will not be able to come to the monastery any more, that you will come to see me once in the hospital, before I die.” I agreed, and before she died I went twice.

    The first time I went she was in a pretty bad state, but very peaceful, and I asked her how she was. She said, “Thanks to God, I am well”, even though she was not well – she was dying. She kept saying, “Glory be to Thee, O Lord”, and she was saying another prayer that I had asked her to say, “Lord, I am Thine, save me” (Ps. 119:94). “Just surrender to the Lord with this prayer”, I said to her, “you do not need any other prayers.” After a while, I went to see her again. Her situation had worsened. They phoned me, and I left for the hospital taking Holy Communion with me, although I was not sure if she would be able to partake. I arrived and I saw her: her tummy was like a balloon, from the cancer. The only part of her body that was free from cancer was from the throat up.

    I asked her, “How are you, Androula?” Her face was pale, but luminous. She started crying. I thought, “Oh, my God, I hope she is not fainthearted.” So I said, “Why are you crying?”
    Do you know what she told me? “Am I worthy to be given such a Grace to bear this monstrous thing? Who am I? Glory be to the Lord!” She was in such deep humility. She could not thank God worthily for the grace that she had been given to bear that terrible cancer…. And she departed like that, like dazzling lightning…!

    After that, I returned to the monastery, and the next day I celebrated the Liturgy. During the Liturgy, these words were sounding in my heart: “She is saved.” “She is saved.” “She is saved.” I was crying and could not control myself. Fr. Symeon – the oldest priest of our monastery-, asked me, “What is the matter with you today?” I said, “I just cannot control myself.” I had such joy, and the only thing that was sounding in my heart was, “She is saved.” It was such a beautiful liturgy, and I thanked God who informed my heart that she was received as a Saint in the kingdom.

    ~Archimandrite Zacharias

  14. Dino, I want to thank you for your posts, especially you recent ones. They have resonated in my heart in a joyous way, lifting up my heart. A genuine blessing.

  15. The words of the Elders of our times such as Sophrony or Aimilanos, indeed make me feel just how you described it Michael: lifting up the heart in a joyous way…
    I thank the Lord for providing us with such powerful Fathers. They have (their words) a most useful, most necessary for us ability to rekindle ‘the flame’ – those words of those Fathers are indeed the most

    genuine blessing

    concerning the ability to do this very thing…
    I would like to see more of them in English, as the most dazzling gems are still only available in Greek.

    Concerning the most fervent and singularly concentrated prayer of the (still somewhat unknown) Elder Aimilianos (especially since he is still alive – although completely unable to speak or see anyone other than those who have the blessing to be his caretakers – he resides in Ormylia Monastery), the famous (in Greece) clairvoyant Elder Ephraim of Katounakia one night went out on his balcony and saw 20 flames and said to the Mother of God in wonder (he had a special familiarity and boldness concerning Her person), “what are these flames my ‘Panagia’?!”
    and he heard the answer:
    “these are the night-time prayers of the 20 monasteries on Mount Athos”
    But looking at Simonos Petras he saw a gigantic fire which connected the Earth directly to the Heavens, and in awe and terror he exclaimed, “and what is THAT???”
    the answer he received was:
    “that is the Elder Aimilianos praying!”

  16. We here in the United States need to be much better grounded in the Apostolic faith if we are to endure and prosper in the coming hard times.

    You are correct, we need more resources in our own language. While nice, it is not sufficient to just have the litugics in English (and to my understanding not all of those yet).

    I also understand there are many treasures in Arabic languages that have yet to be translated. I am sure the same goes for Russian resources as well.

    I pray God to raise up and empower the people who have the abilities to properly translate such resources and the money to get them widely published.

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