“You only discover the four rivers of Eden when thirst afflicts your heart…”
Offer a good intention and the Lord God will either give you an appropriate word, if the word suits the circumstances you are in, or He will give you silence, if silence is more fitting. In any case, you are not alone. You are not on your own. Love has another language. You have your Lord as a partner in your life. Love, by its nature, is togetherness. “I and the Father are one.” “You are not on your own.” “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Through love, for love, is God glorified. You do everything for the glory of God if your concern is to please Him. Pleased with pleasing. “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification” (Romans 15:2). And your Lord is your closest neighbor! So do not please God like slaves please their masters, with “service of the eye,” but as a friend, like Moses spoke to his Lord as a friend, or as a brother, since Jesus made us His brothers!
In relationships there is service and then there is service!
There is the service in which one is concerned with pleasing people (Ephesians 6:6). He does this out of fear, out of what he considers to be a duty, seeking reward, avoiding punishment, because he is forced, or because he is weak and knows he is weak and without any power or strength, or to give the impression to the one he serves that he is loyal or that he loves them. None of these things is from his heart or according to his heart. How do we know? On the surface, we cannot know. His deeds, in such a case, do not express what is in the depths of his heart. Nor can he act according to what is in his heart because his concern is to please people. In practice, he lies, acts hypocritically, pretends, deceives, and changes colors like a chameleon according to the ground he treads. From having roamed so much in foreign lands, he thinks that they are home and there is nothing else on the horizon and so that he is right. In any event, he is not right and does not know the truth. He accepts with his lips and rejects in his heart. He blesses with his lips and curses in his heart. He makes a show of sweetness while in his heart there is bitterness. He smirks while in his soul there is mockery and rage. He gives the appearance of loyalty while he harbors vengeance. He gives the impression of eagerness while hiding malice. “This people worships Me with their lips but their heart is far from Me.”
As for the other service, it is from the heart, as for Christ Himself, on every occasion. Christ alone is the knower of hearts. He cannot be lied to. How does one know if he is telling the truth or lying to Christ? There is a measure. The commandment is the measure, just like length and width have a measure. If you follow the commandment with complete faithfulness, then you are in certainty. Without equivocation. Without adulteration. Even if you stray, you are still in a state of uprightness. How? You stray out of human weakness. What does your Lord look at? At your aim, your intention, your heart! He justifies you. But in such a case, straying is an error, not a sin. Your Lord, who is master of all, permits it for nothing else than your own good, perhaps so that you will not fall into the abyss and think yourself to be perfect or a saint. Let your sin remain before you at all times!
God makes error into a cause for righteousness and not for judgement. It is to root you in humility preemptively, to prevent Satan from tempting you with hubris, vanity and pride. He wants to defend you, to protect you. You are very dear to Him. He protects you with good things and protects you with pain, if it is necessary. The important thing is that you understand, during the dark night, that He loves you! Therefore He protects you with antibodies. If you accept and agree to His purpose, you grow in humility and then in discernment between what belongs to Him and what belongs to the enemy of the good. And if you don’t accept positively, then you can at least realize, if you want, that there is within you a foreign impulse, an inclination towards self-righteousness and this estranges you from your Lord if it persists within you. You feel yourself constrained, bitter, agitated, stung in your very being. When this happens to you, you are given an opportunity to know something hidden within yourself, a sort of corrupt passion. What do you do then? You blame yourself. You judge yourself. The righteous person abides in hell and does not despair. He lives among beasts and is safe. So give thanks to God when this happens to you… when you regain consciousness. Awake, O sleeper, for Christ shines upon you! Do not blame anyone else then, or even your circumstances. The most important thing is that you are free from blaming God!
Whenever a person grows in hubris, reaching the point of pride, he becomes ready to blame his Lord, even if he doesn’t know it. Is this not what Job did, in a sense? The Lord told him, “You blame me to justify yourself.” God did not permit Satan to test Job, starting with his possessions, then his family, then his health merely because Satan is the accuser of God’s servants, but because the Lord God, by accepting Satan’s accusation, wanted to liberate Job completely from any trace of self-righteousness in his soul, so that he could be a model for all God’s people for all generations. What God wanted was to cause him to attain utmost humility. And Job reached this, in a sense, when God revealed Himself to him. At that moment, Job said to Him, “I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see You. Therefore I abhor myself and I repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:4-5).
Job was an image of the Messiah to come. The one speaking to him was the Father. Only Jesus, as the firstborn, attained utmost humility, as God in the flesh. Job would not have attained it had he not beheld the likeness of God. This, in any case, is an image, an icon.
As for the Father, no one has seen Him. The Son, who is in the Father’s bosom, reported. The disciples of the Lord Jesus, after Him, were the first to see the Father. Jesus told them, “No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him” (John 14:6-7). When Philip objected, “
Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us,” the Lord Jesus’ response to him, to the other disciples and to us was: “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me?”
In a very profound sense, the disciples saw the Father and did not see Him at the same time. How so? Seeing Him in the body, directly in this way is not possible. So the disciples’ seeing Him was a process, beginning with Jesus’ words to them, then through their seeing Jesus in the upper room, after His resurrection from the dead, and then it was completed with the descent of the Holy Spirit upon them at Pentecost.
The words of the Lord Jesus are not like the words of humans. When people talk, they transmit meanings and perhaps feelings. But when Jesus speaks, he transmits to people an earnest of what is to come for them. With your Lord, the present and the future are both present for Him alike. When your Lord transmits His word to you, he deposits, through prophecy, what is to come for you. Every divine word is prophetic by nature. Your own conviction, then, does not get a say. You are confronted with an act of faith deeper than intellectual conviction. You are confronted with an inner vision, with a revelation. You treasure the prophecy in your heart, like the Mother of God who kept everything in her heart, and you prepare yourself for it, by being present before Him. Only when the prophecy is fulfilled do you recall it. Before that, you remain between dread and hope.
Everyday concerns seize you and one thinks the words of prophecy never happened. But they exist and are hidden. They sleep in a wakeful heart like Jesus on the boat as the sea raged. Suddenly, the humble, broken heart recalls, at precisely the right moment, what it had been told, when the prophecy is fulfilled. That whole time between the word and its fulfillment, it is as though you are unaware of it. It does not grow within you into perceptible things. The most important thing is that it is not unaware of you. It holds on to you while you do not hold on to it, because when God’s word diffuses within you, His Spirit diffuses within you! This is the rule of God’s word, in any case. And the spirit of the word within you remains burning with a subtle fire that does not burn, like the burning bush, while you don’t know or perhaps you are covered in a deep sleep, like the disciples were covered as their Master poured out sweat like blood. The Spirit remains hidden in you until the hour comes and that which is within you is fulfilled. Then, you awaken because spirit is only pierced by spirit. “Comparing spiritual things with spiritual things” (1 Corinthians 2:13).
In this way you see Him in the spirit– in the body or outside the body, only God knows! Even if it is a fullness, here it is only an anticipation of a greater fullness there. “we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:20-3). Brother sees brother. He grants us to become His brother! “I said you are gods.” In this way we forever proceed from fullness to fullness to fullness. Your time in the perfect presence of your Lord, eternally, here and now, is in your progress in knowledge of Him, eternally, from knowledge to knowledge to knowledge.
You do not take in all of God. Nevertheless, He gives you Himself completely. “Take, eat, this is My body… !” You live forever in a paradox that you do not comprehend, not now and not in the future. Your story is the story of a creature who bears within his vessel something that is greater and beyond his createdness. Man remains man, even if he is spiritualized. Man sees God as He is, but as a man, and God remains in a luminous darkness. Thus man progresses from wonder to wonder, from surprise to surprise, like a child who sees everything, every day, anew. Great art Thou O Lord, and wondrous are Thy works and no speech sufficiently praises Thy wonders!!! Beyond praise and beyond transcendence forever!!!
Along this progression, the angels teach humankind on earth how to give praise. Then humankind gives praise with the angels. Then humankind, when they are spiritualized and behold God as He is, teach the angels how to give praise! The angels now look upon the face of the Heavenly Father. But they look upon it from the outside, even if it is spiritually. Man, however, when he is perfected, is granted to see Him from within, in Jesus, in the God-man. Jesus, the Son of God, did not become an angel, but rather a human! Therefore, there will come a time when man teaches the angels how to give praise beyond the Cherubic Hymn. In this way, man came to grow through the angels into the new man, then after that the angels grow in the new man until they are renewed in the knowledge of God, forever.
Thus man comes from saying to saying. From “What is man that You are mindful of him… For You have made him a little lower than the angels” (Psalm 8:4-5) to “The Father raised Him and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion…” (Ephesians 1:20-21)!
This is how man was and what he is becoming.., in Christ: a teacher to the angels!
Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan the Athonite
Sunday, June 7, 2020