St. John the Baptist said of Christ that His “winnowing fork is in His hand.” (Lk 3:17) That farm implement is a tool for separating the wheat from the chaff, that is, to separate the edible part of the wheat from the husk that is to be discarded. It is, in that sense, an instrument of judgment. The character of Christ, who is the Image according to which we are created, is such that human beings are more fully revealed to be what they are as they draw near to Him (or as He himself draws near to us). There was a point in time when the eleven disciples did not know Judas to be a traitor-in-waiting. Indeed, they trusted him enough that he served as their treasurer. Christ, we are told, always knew Judas to be what he was, but patiently bore with him until he was revealed as a betrayer.
In a similar manner, I think, there is evidence that Christ also saw the other disciples to be what they were to become. Simon is named “Peter” long before he evidenced anything of a “rock-like” character. He was loud, opinionated, capable of trying to correct Christ at any number of points. There’s nothing rock-like in such behavior. Nevertheless, I suspect that, in the presence of Christ, Peter felt some stirring of the rock within himself. In His presence, those who could not walk felt the stirring of strength in their limbs, just as blind eyes strained towards the light of sight. Unbelieving individuals discovered an ability to believe they would have thought impossible. Christ’s presence reveals us.
That the winds and the seas obeyed Christ’s voice was not contrary to their nature – it was the fulfillment of their nature – as they at long last heard again the voice of Adam (now the Second instead of the First) command them. They groaned and travailed across the ages, waiting for the glorious liberty of obedience. At the voice of Christ, the winds and sea became their true selves.
I have no words of wisdom about those who are revealed to be “lost” in some manner, those for whom the presence of Christ seems to reveal their alienation from God. In my experience, this has not been a common thing. Goodness, though it seems fragile, is, in fact, quite strong and frequently victorious. That which has been alienated from God has no grace to sustain it. Nothing “energizes” it. Nevertheless, there is something of an ontological entropy that sets in from time to time, a “falling” into nothing. I recall, in the face of that, Christ’s descent into the lowest Hades so that in the furthest reaches of that dark entropy a redeeming light shinesl.
On any given day, I dare not think long or hard about this entropy. The very remembrance of it can come as an invitation to join its downward spiral. Christ warns in Scripture that the “last days” will be so difficult that very few will retain faith. I suspect that the culprit will not be pain or suffering, but simple despair. Even now, I hear its fearful, tired voice in the complaints of many.
Are we in the “last days”? In the first week of Great Lent, we sing:
My soul, my soul, arise! Why are you sleeping?
The end is drawing near, and you will be confounded.
Awake, then, and be watchful, that Christ our God may spare you,
Who is everywhere present and fills all things.
+ The First Week of Great Lent, Kontakion, Tone 6
The “end” that is drawing near is Christ Himself. It is not the machinations of governments and hidden cabals that mark the last days. That evil becomes more manifest is a secondary effect of the “drawing near” of Christ. Human events in no way determine God’s timing. If we are watching such events, our eyes are being distracted and we are likely living in delusion. Writings about such things are usually accompanied with the admonition to take care for our soul.
St. Paul’s last letter was written to the Philippians from prison. He is hopeful that he will be released, but he is also uncertain about the outcome that awaits him (he was executed). (Phil. 1:20) It is of great note that this is called his “epistle of joy.” As the end is drawing near, the brightness of his soul is increasing. He offers this advice:
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. (Phil 4:8)
This admonition is far more than the Apostle urging us towards pleasant things. There is nothing naive within his spiritual life. This is a direction for the heart, a specific instruction that allows us to prepare ourselves for the end. Those who think on the ugliness of the world, or the rumors of terrible things and intentions, are, in fact, sleeping. It is a sleep that lulls us into a despair that will make shipwreck of our faith in ways that we cannot imagine.
There is a great spiritual battle that is being waged in the human heart. It is the battle of the true, the noble, the just, the pure, the lovely, the good report, the virtues, and the praiseworthy, all of which have true being and are upheld by the hand of God, versus the lies, the fears, the imagined danger, the ugly and the dark, all of which ultimately have no substance and will pass away like the wind. This battle is the true struggle of our time. These adversaries are the “spiritual wickedness in the heavenly places” that St. Paul describes in Ephesians 6.
There is a reason that St. Seraphim of Sarov says, “Acquire the Spirit of Peace and thousands around you will be saved.” We have, in large part, exchanged the true spiritual warfare of the heart for the ideological struggles of our age. As such, we place ourselves on a level playing field with every secular argument and action. Political temptations abound because we remain within the delusion that things of great value are being established in that process. The delusion is that so long as our goals are noble and stated correctly, the result will be equally noble and correct. St. Paul warns: “For the kingdom of God is not in word but in power.” (1 Cor. 4:20) The power (clearly referenced by St. Seraphim) is not in our arguments but in the quiet victory gained through union with the in-dwelling Christ.
It was this same power that raised Christ from the dead.
But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. (Rom. 8:11)
This is the life that saves thousands around us. I find that every time I write in this vein, there is a pushback from some that accuse me of “Quietism,” which is an odd critique from the Orthodox. “Hesychasm” is the Greek form of the same word, and is seen as the very heart of the faith – in belief and practice. The history of “Quietism” in the West is not the same as Hesychasm in the East. Still, it seems to be an easy target for criticism. We believe in our politics.
Here is a word that is worth pondering. It is from Alexander Kalomiros, the author of the article, “The River of Fire.”
Hesychasm is the deepest characteristic of Orthodox life, the sign of Orthodox genuineness, the premise of right thinking and right belief and glory, the paradigm of faith and Orthodoxy. In all of the Church’s internal and external battles, we had the hesychasts on one side and the anti-hesychasts on the other.
The very fabric of heresy is anti-hesychastic.
Again, Hesychasm is found in practice, not in rhetoric. I believe that it was Hesychasm that parted the waters of the Red Sea. It caused the walls of Jericho to fall. It has raised the dead and cleansed lepers. Demons tremble in its presence.
The Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him.