A Meditation on a Conversation
My wife and I had opportunity for a morning’s conversation with Archimandrite Zacharias of St. John’s Monastery in Essex during our recent trip to England. The conversation ranged from the general to the private. One segment has been a constant meditation for me since that morning. It concerned comfort.
Fr. Zacharias noted that God “wants to comfort us.”
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, (2Co 1:3 NKJ)
The Son is Himself the Comforter, the Spirit being “another Comforter” (Jn. 14:6).
This dynamic goes to the heart of repentance, which in many ways is the root of our true existence (so far removed from a legal and moralistic understanding). For it is when our hearts are broken and do not run away or hide that we can call on God to comfort us. And He does.
That comfort is the gift of His own life within us, a sharing of His own joy and love. The hardness of our hearts creates walls and obstacles that refuse to be comforted. In our suffering and pain we enclose ourselves and the ego anxiously seeks to escape (which is the source of most of our sin).
The Fathers wrote about the cycle of pain and pleasure that dominates us and creates the distorted passions within us. The seeking of pleasure brings pain from which we run towards pleasure only to find more pain and the cycle continues.
And so the Scriptures tell us that a “broken and contrite heart God will not despise” (Psalm 51). But we flee from a broken and contrite heart, refusing the suffering.
Fr. Zacharias said that instead of turning aside from this suffering, we should remain in that brokenness and call out to God to comfort us. I have had opportunity (as do we all) to practice this since the conversation. All that he said is true.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation. (2Co 1:3-7 NKJ)
May God comfort you!
This came at a good time for me. I have long been haunted (exaggeration,but poetry allows for that) by a line from one of Hopkins’ sonnets, “Comforter, where, where is your comforting?” because I feel that way sometimes, but then wonder if it isn’t selfish and not quite Christian to want to be comforted. Your conversation and subsequent meditation, with the references to Paul’s writings, dissolves that fear and provides a perspective I lost somewhere along the way.
Thank you, Father, for writing and maintaining this site. I read it regularly, often going back to re-read.
I like this. Bernard of Clairveux, in _On Loving God_, talks about the kind of person who takes comfort in the thought of God. He would say that there’s a kind of Christian that is afraid of God, afraid of being punished by God, so he can never be comforted by God.
Another kind of Christian wants something material from God, and so will be inconsolable because of his love for the world.
But there is a kind of Christian who wants God Himself, and so is actually able to be comforted by the thought of God, and that thought alone.
That is lovely. Both the article, Father, and Steve L’s response. Thank you.
Thank you Fr. Stephen, for another piece to the repentance puzzle.
Nothing outside of what is normal for an Orthodox Christian woman in Texas is acceptable to me,the church offers comfort to us and our Spiritual Father mine is David carries any burden so we can serve Amen in Christ Name
PLEASE ALLOW ME TO SUBSCRIBE TO YOUR BLOG. After reading about COMFORT I was amazed about how much comfort I have received from God following my accident [which 2 1/2 years later I am still in a wheelchair].
Be sure to use the subscribe option on the sidebar. May God raise you up!
I have felt such comfort from God since the death of my father in June.
At times, in my pride, I have thought, “Oh, I’m fine,” only to find out quite decidedly that I am not.
But when I have come to God, with broken, humbled heart, saying, “God, I cannot do this alone,” I find such comfort that my grieving seems oddly effortless – even joyful.
It seems much that way with other low points, e.g. when my spirit feels dull and unmotivated or my emotions hurt or complicated. I am gradually learning to thank God for such experiences because, when I bring them to Him in my brokenness, He offers such sweet and loving comfort.
I am reminded of St. Porphyrios’ words about looking on everything as an opportunity for sanctification. With such a Comforter, there seems little difference between the wanted and the unwanted experiences in life (unless I create the difference with my pride and sin).
I am currently reading Richard Wurmbrand’s “Tortured for Christ”, about the underground Church in Communist countries. There is no other explanation for how people could endure such torture with such a radiant faith.
Brought to God with humility and contrition, all experiences become joy.
This is so very true. I think of this also in terms of the ‘peace of God which passes all understanding’ in the midst of anxiety and fear. Just like Peter sinking into the waves, if we but call out to Christ he is there to catch us.
I’ve never been to the monastery (but am only 3 hours drive away from it) so really should go.
“when I bring them to Him in my brokenness, He offers such sweet and loving comfort.”
That’s very nice, Mary.
Thank you for offering a bigger vision of the depth, and width, and height of the mystery of repentance.
BTW, I just came across a book entitled “The Meaning of Reality.” In the “Foreward” (that is how it is spelled in the book)in which he says “the paradigm of the culture of modernity is creaking and ready to collapse.” I know nothing about the author, but I couldn’t help wonder if the author has played an influential role in the formulation of your convictions about modernity.
Thank you. I just happen to be reading his book The Hidden Man of the Heart.
“Sadness purifies us. Man is truly man in sadness. In joy he is changed, he becomes someone else. In sadness he becomes that which he truly is. And this is the way, par excellence, that he approaches God. He senses his weakness. Many times, when he is in glory, and joy, he feels that he is the ‘eye of the earth’ or if you prefer, the center of the universe: ‘I am and nobody else!’ In pain and sadness he feels like an insignificant ant in the universe, that he is completely dependent, and he seeks the help and companionship of God. Those of us who have passed through pains, either psychical or physical, know that we never prayed as hard and with such quality and length, as we did when were in the bed of pain or when some heavy psychical sadness tested us. While, when we have everything, we forget prayer and fasting, and many things. It is for this reason that God allows pain.” -Elder Epiphanios