I am working my way slowly through Father George Calciu: Interviews, Homilies and Talks. I was surprised when I ran across the statement above. My surprise came from the fact that some of the things Fr. George does say about the Jesus Prayer earlier in the book proved to be very helpful and encouraging for me. He spoke of the meaning of breathing a certain way when saying the Prayer: Breathe in while mentally saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God”; and breathe out while saying “have mercy on me the sinner.” This practice, he says, fills us with Christ with every breath and offers to God both our sin and our petition for mercy with every breath. I found this very encouraging (but I have not been able to practice it for more than a minute or two at a time).
Fr. George also talks about how the Jesus Prayer saved him from insanity during interrogations and torture. He speaks of the Prayer being a shield for him that kept his mind in order during terrible ordeals. However, God did not give him Light (the uncreated Light of Mt. Tabor) through the Jesus prayer–neither did he ask for this Light. Fr. George says that in his attempts to practice the Jesus Prayer he would progress to a point of darkness–a darkness full of God–but a Darkness he did not have the courage to enter. And when he did “jump” to enter the Darkness, he found himself “at the beginning of the Prayer.” And so, Fr. George concludes, Christ had “censored” him from progressing any further in the Prayer.
It is not that Fr. George did not see with his physical eyes the Uncreated Light of Mt. Tabor. Twice while he was in prison he experiences this Light. The first time is during his first imprisonment when on Pascha morning he is filled with such joy that he says to his brutal guard, “Christ is risen!” And to his surprise his guard responds, “He is risen indeed.” At that moment, Fr. George, “little by little” ,saw himself full of Light: “The board against the wall in my cell was shining like the sun; everything in my cell was full of Light. I cannot explain in words the happiness that invaded me then…. In a short time this Light disappeared, but the happiness lasted for many hours.” And from that point on, his guard was a changed person and no longer beat prisoners.
The second time Fr. George experiences the Uncreated Light in prison is after having survived for several weeks in a cell with two murderers who were instructed to kill him, but for for some unknown reason didn’t. Fr. George gets up the courage one day to ask them to let him celebrate a Divine Liturgy in the cell; and they consent. “This is what happened: When I turned to them after receiving Communion, I saw them on their knees and surrounded by the Light…. God just opened my eyes to see this Light, and they were surrounded by it. I noticed that the whole cell was full of Light….This Light transformed their souls! Not my prayers or my serving at the Holy Liturgy. God transformed their souls by pouring this Uncreated Light upon them. By this Light we were able to love one another, to pray and to feel that we had something in common…. I don’t know if they realized the presence of the Light that I saw in the cell, but this Light operated in their souls and transformed them into my brothers. The Energy of Jesus Christ changed them from criminals into, perhaps, saints.”
And so with all of the suffering and Grace manifest in his life, why doesn’t Fr. George “succeed” in saying the Prayer? Fr. George doesn’t know. I certainly don’t know. God knows.
Not knowing is a good thing. It is good not to know why, and to be at peace not knowing. It is good not to know why our lives are one way and not another, and to be at peace not knowing. It is good not to know why God seems to be near us at some times and not at others, and to be at peace not knowing.
I am not Fr. George Calciu or Elder Porphyrios or Mother Gavrila or Fr. Arseny or Archimandrite Sophrony. I can read their lives and their words and be inspired, but I cannot be them. Their experiences will not save me: I must struggle with my experience–whatever it is or isn’t. Their experiences may illumine mine somewhat, and their words may enlighten me somewhat, but I must encounter God and my sin and my place in the world myself. Not by myself. All of the Saints and Angels and my beloved Fathers and Mothers and Brothers and Sisters are with me. Nevertheless, they cannot live my life for me, nor can I live theirs. Only Christ has lived my life, and now I must live His–as me.