Fr. Raphael Noica (of Essex)
May God guide you! The path [together] with God is the path of freedom. The freedom is, of course, dangerous – but I also got this image, when I was afraid to soar. I said to myself: But, if I won’t go… – let’s say we’re travelling to the Jerusalem above – if we won’t go on road because we’re afraid that something may happen to us on the way there, we’ll know only one thing for sure: we will remain here. If we’ll go, fine, maybe we won’t get there (which is not the case [when we are] together with God), but if we think [like] “Maybe we’ll get there, maybe we won’t get there”, we still have in our imagination 50% and 50%. If I stay, [if I remain], I have a 100% certitude I won’t get there!
I want, with all these, to give you a bit of courage. But with God, as long we stick to God, is impossible not to get there, as Christ said: “My sheep shall never perish, neither shall any one pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:28). And He added immediately: “My Father is greater than all; and no one is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand” (John 10:29). I emphasize this “no one is able”! Yet man is gifted with such a great Divine freedom, that in my freedom I don’t have my Salvation guaranteed – God didn’t put me in a concrete box. I have a frightful freedom, but this doesn’t mean God can’t support me until the end. I can’t express myself here more concrete, more correct, less clumsy, because we are at some boundaries where the human reason isn’t applicable anymore. We have for the one side absolute certainty that we will get there, because Christ said “no one is able to pluck them”, and for the other side my freedom, which could separate me from God in any moment; but if I add “God forbid!”, I can’t get separated.
There is one more thing: when we begin to see Who is the God of Love, Who is also Almighty, you’ll begin to see that you can’t get lost with this God – it’s impossible! [It is] when you see that our fallen nature is so evil, that everything God does for our Salvation we undo for our perdition, [that] you can’t save yourself in no way. We live, as a Serbian woman said many years ago, [thinking]: “I am tormented in Orthodoxy by this incertitude: that I may be saved, or I may be not. I would rather be like Protestants, who are sure that they are already saved!”
But something in her words “scratched” me and, after some time, I realized that we Orthodox aren’t living in incertitude, but into a double certitude. As I see myself, it’s impossible to save myself. Look, Christ spilled His blood for the Hebrew people and for the entire world, and the Jews called “His blood [to be] on us and on our children” (Matthew 27:25) as a curse. So, how can be saved such a man, even with the almighty love of God? And yet, when you see that God Christ, with divine power, divine word, tried to put off that curse, saying to the women of Jerusalem: “Weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children” (Luke 23:28) – meaning “weep for those upon you called some minutes ago My blood, as a curse, and I spill it for Salvation.” [We have] such a God, Who even then doesn’t get offended!… And [Who], when they put nails through His hands, says: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34); [Who], when He was dying by our hands, gives for our Salvation His body, broken by us; gives His blood, spilled by us – only if we want to. Well, with such a God, Who defeated even the Hell when He got there, making a path up to the staying to the right of Father – with such a God, how could you get lost?!
So, we have two certitudes: with me, salvation is totally impossible, and this is part of my confession. But, if I confess this, I also confess God – it is impossible to be lost with God. And, between these two impossibilities, I think God’s impossibility must triumph. It’s enough just to cling and stay, not to despair until the end because of enemy’s assaults – and [finally] God will drew me into his fishing net…
The most important thing is how to keep that Grace.
In this matter, I say to you, if you look to all the Philokalic Fathers, humbleness is the key. But what is humbleness? Because, beyond a certain pattern, we don’t know what humbleness is.
Father Sophrony [Sakharov] defined humbleness as that quality of divine love which gives itself to the loved one without returning upon itself. This “without returning upon itself” means the humble one doesn’t consider upon himself, but seeks towards his loved one. Yet humbleness doesn’t mean just humiliation and carelessness for humiliation, but also care for the fulfillment of the loved one. Why? Because it lives through the loved one. It seeks into the loved one, it empties itself into the loved one, for it to receive in its emptied ego the loved one – for the loved one to rest into it, and for it to rest into the loved one. And that, in our [ecclesiastic] language, is called “perichoresis” – Father Sophrony used to called this “the pharmaceutical language of modern theology” [Fr. Raphael smiles], but [it is] a word which is the essence of eternal love.
Humbleness isn’t a thing by itself, it belongs to love. Father Sophrony said to me one day: “You think that what Saint Silouan said were great things, but know this: the only great thing is humbleness, because the pride prevents love.” Pride dwells in itself, and then, if I live in myself, neither of you will have place [here], nor God. But if I learn to empty myself, to give myself with the aim that God and whole humanity will have place [in me], then every person become a bearer of God and of the entire Universe. This is humbleness…
Transcript from a conversation with youth of Association of Romanian Orthodox Christian Students, Bucharest, 14 March 2002
Tone 3 Kontakion (from the Lenten Triodion)
I have recklessly forgotten Thy glory, O Father; and among sinners I have scattered the riches which Thou gavest me. And now I cry to thee as the Prodigal: I have sinned before Thee, O merciful Father; receive me as a penitent, and make me as one of Thy hired servants!