Father Raphael Noica, a Hesychast
of the mountaintop in the Western Carpathians of Romania
“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” —Matthew 5:14
One of the paradoxes of Orthodox missiology is that in order to reach the world with God’s message, the saints have often been sent into the wilderness. From there, their lives radiate the power and grace of God in such a way that the world flocks to them, and “the wilderness blossoms like a rose.
For the fullness of the Christian gospel that has been preached by Orthodox Fathers and Mothers through the centuries does not consist simply in intellectual propositions, but in the power of lives transfigured, “deified,” through communion with God. “That . . . which we have seen with our eyes . . . and our hands have handled . . . we declare to you” (1 John 1:1-3).
Such a paradox in our times is represented by Father Rafail Noica, the modern-day Romanian sihastru who lives on a remote mountaintop in the Western Carpathians. The word sihastru means “solitary” or “hermit,” but also has connotations of quietness, being related to the words “hesychast” and “hesychasm”—that state of union with God marked by profound clarity and peace of soul.
Father Rafail received the call to monasticism and entered the Monastery of St. John the Baptist in Essex, England, where he was tonsured in 1965 by Archimandrite Sophrony, the disciple of St. Silouan. In 1993 Father Rafail, still under obedience to the same monastery, withdrew to the silence of the mountaintop in the Western Carpathians of Romania, where he carries on his secret mission of intercession and of being a spiritual father to those the Holy Spirit brings to him.Aside his most important and great help to the world by his prayers, Father Raphael translated into Romanian the works of his Elder, Archimandrite Sophrony, and of Saint Silouan the Athonite, his spiritual “grandfather.”
Father Rafail is a “spiritual grandson” of St. Silouan the Athonite, and a disciple of Elder Sophrony Sakharov from Essex, and his skete is under the protection of the same saint. It has been jokingly said that practically the entire Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church has made the climb up to St. Silouan Skete to try to persuade Father Rafail to come down and serve as bishop, but he cannot be moved from his obedience of retreat from the world.
Father Rafail is quite serious about his mission of prayer and communion with God, so much so that he does not receive many visitors. In each case, he seeks guidance from the Holy Spirit, and only if he feels the Spirit gives him a word for his visitor will he meet with him. Father Rafail sees his words as holy mysteries, as part of the holy mystery of confession and the mystical relationship between the disciple and the duhovnic, or spiritual father. And the words of the duhovnic to his disciple are not to be discussed with others.
His whereabouts are only vaguely known, and those who manage to find him are begged not to tell anyone where he is. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).
Fr. David Hudson
This article originally appeared in Conciliar Media Ministries’ Again Magazine, Vol. 22.1
Father Raphael Noica says: “God, by commanding these things to us, does not expect us to be able to do them, because He knows thatwe do not have the power within us to fulfill His Word.”
How can this be? Does it mean then that God is asking us “the impossible”?
Yes, and in a certain sense, this is what He asks of us! For His commandments are not merely moral requests accessible to the simple human’s will. God’s commandments are “a revelation of the divine life” to which Christ calls us. They are Divine commandments and not human commandments.
What saves a man is, again, not what man does in his helplessness, but what the word of God does dwelling in us.
Even in the Old Testament, the Ten Commandments, God says to man: “Be holy, because I am holy!” He does not say “be holy because it is good, it is nice”.
It is God speaking that word by Moses. To Moses he revealed that “I AM.” God is He Who Is. And he wants to bring man to the same state of being. He shared something of this in the beginning; and to the degree that man allows himself to share in this word of God, he finds in that word of God the vigour of life.
And we ask God that He cultivates in us that which man cannot accomplish by himself, according to His word: “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.” And, more so than any other time we must say this prayer more frequently: “Lord, come and abide in me and You Yourself work in me the things that are pleasing to You!” From the things that are pleasing to God, nowadays, we need Faith that is able to take us through the hardest events that are becoming more and more unimaginable. Not only is this not the time to lose hope, but it is the time to hold on to the pole more than ever, until the wave passes. Who knows what will be and in what way?
Fr. Rafail – The power of example in the spiritual life