From 'Orthodoxy and the World'

Our Faith
On Godís Will
By Maria Gorodova
Dec 11, 2008, 10:00

Translated by Olga Lissenkova




(interview with Archbishop John of Belgorod by Maria Gorodova)


A chapter from the book by Archbishop John of Belgorod and Maria Gorodova Charity Suffereth Long



- Master. Letís talk of Godís will.  We pray to ĎOur Father,í and we repeat Christís words saying ĎThy Will be done.í  Every believer would like to adjust his or her deeds and his or her life to His will.  The meaning of a personís life is to fulfill His will.  But how can we tell what that is?  Itís understood that there is Godís general conception of the world and of us, there are commandments that Godís given to us.  On the other hand, every day a person faces a choice of how to act, and the solution is not always clear.  That is why itís very important to realize what Godís will is concerning you.


- We live in a world where everyone relies on only oneself.  Moreover, we live in a world where a cult of a strong personality exists that can overcome any obstacle and is ever successful.  Itís imposed on us.  But if we look closer at this advocated image of a successful, strong personality that seems up to every standard of our time, we shall see emptiness behind it.  As strong, powerful and successful as a person may be, he or she can lose it all at any moment.  Everything can fall to pieces if thereís no God behind it.  Christ compared such people to a man who built his house on sand, ďEveryone who keeps hearing these messages of mine and never puts them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and battered the house and it collapsed and its collapse was total.Ē  On the contrary.  A person who listens to Godís words and fulfills His will, compares to ďa wise man who built his house on a rock.Ē (Matthew 7: 24-27)  Godís will for man is that no one perish but that everyone have eternal life.  Godís will is that a person be saved.  God loves us though sometimes we can fail to understand His love because we might have our own idea of what this love should be.  Godís will is Godís benevolence to us,  His beneficial mercy on the person.  Once there was a Russian saying, ďGod pities him,Ē it means not only that God pities the person, but also that God grants the person His participation in the personís fate,  His visits.


- Godís will is always good, and we often forget this when we grumble at what we go through.


- Itís hard not to grumble when we deal with illness or sorrow.  But here one can remember what an old woman crying by the church said.  When the priest asked her what she was crying about, she answered, ďI think God has forgotten about me: this year I have never been taken ill and there has been no sorrow in my life.Ē


- Sorrow and suffering cleanse a person.  By sorrow one becomes stronger; one starts seeing the world and oneself in another light.  This is also a manifestation of Godís will when God grants the person something.  The person might misunderstand it at first but after such an ordeal, such a cleansing, he or she will see other people differently.  He or she will become a different person.


Our common problem is to co-ordinate our will with Godís will. Godís will does not depend on ours.  No one can interfere with its realization.  I will be frank.  A human being, Godís creation, cannot even enter this sphere, cannot intrude upon it.  On the other hand.  Humans were created by God, so, as any creation, we depend on the Creator and participate in realizing His intention. Being Godís beloved creation, a human being has a unique gift of free will.  Quite often thereís a contradiction within us between Godís will and our own.  We have a hard time understanding the gift of freedom in choosing.  Free will is first and foremost a will free from the burden of sin. And weíd think it means one can do whatever one pleases.


- So free will is Godís gift that we misuse, isnít it?


- Quite right.  Itís given to a person in order to have him realize the truth.  Our freedom and free will is always a choice.  For a saint itís a choice between the bigger and the lesser goodness.  For a usual person itís a choice between goodness and sin.  But even sinners are not deprived of this gift, of free will.  They also have a choice.  They can choose the lesser of two evils, of two sins.


- Master.  Iíd ask you to go into detail on the fact that a person cannot interfere with the realization of Godís will.  I think that misunderstanding of this fact often leads to our resisting the inevitable just because we find it to be inconvenient, unpleasant, etc.


- The Bible contains the Book of Jonah.  Itís a bit longer than a page.  Read it.  It tells of Jonah hearing, ďthe word of the Lordí to arise, go to Nineveh, the great city, and cry against it for their wickedness had come up before God.Ē (Jonah 1:1-2)  God, in His mercy, wished these people to be saved, ďmore than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand.Ē (Jonah 4:11)  But Jonah tries to evade fulfilling Godís will.  He does not want to go and preach.  He is not ready to become a prophet.  By the way, many people make the mistake of thinking prophets to be those who can foretell the future.  In reality, prophets are those who announce Godís will.  So Jonah, though heís been called by God to fulfill His will, tries to evade it.  He even boards a ship that is headed in the opposite direction in order, ďto flee Ö from the presence of the Lord.Ē (Jonah 1:3)  When we read this book, Jonahís character is easily understood.  He is just like us and his actions are just like ours though it all happened in the around 70 B.C.  Jonah could not evade fulfilling Godís will.  He did come to Nineveh and preached there.  The citizens of this city came to believe in God and repented. Godís will to save Nineveh was fulfilled.


- So it is impossible to evade fulfilling Godís will.  Otherwise God will punish you.  Is this right?


- This is no punishment.  ďYou have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,Ē (John 15: 16) as Jesus says.  A person who goes against Godís will is like Saul the king who finds himself beyond Godís grace.  Iíd like to illustrate it with an example from Metr. Innocentís life.  He was the first Bishop of Kamchatka, Aleuty, and the Kuriles.  In 1823 the Bishop of Irkutsk, Mikhail, received the decree of the Holy Synod that ruled to send a priest to the Russian-American colony on Unalashka (island) in the Aleutians.  The lot was drawn by a priest who refused to go, alleging his wifeís illness.  Father John, who was 26 then, felt it was his calling and volunteered to go to this farther district of the Russian empire.  His civil name was Ivan Popov and he was to become the sanctifier.  With his wife and a one-year-old baby he took the ĎKonstantiní ship overcoming lots of dangerous situations and misfortunes and finally reached the Aleutian chain.  Later he translated the Catechism, prayers, the Gospel, and the Acts of the Apostles into the Aleut language and wrote the famous book Guidelines on Finding a Way to Heaven in this language.  The book ran into scores of editions and was translated in many languages.  Metr. Innocentís children graduated from the Saint Petersburg academy, and he, Ďinter vivo,í was called the apostle of America and Siberia.  The life of the priest who evaded his lot was quite different.  He divorced his wife and there were canonical transgressions so he ended his life as a soldier.


- So a person who fulfills Godís will gets relief, donít they?


- I would not put it like this because it looks too much like a bargain.  Scratch my back and Iíll scratch yours.  The point is to feel oneís calling.  If one feels oneís calling one will follow it Ďtill the end whatever it is.  This is so because of the inner-stimulating relationship between the creature and the Creator.  How can we explain it when a person feels the calling?  Itís God calling him or her and the person must follow.  It does take an effort on his or her part.  Every time when a person starts fulfilling Godís will he enters an invisible battle.


- Will you please explain what the, ďinvisible battle,Ē means?


- Iíll explain it so that even those who do not go to church regularly will understand.  Let us recall how hard it is sometimes to get up in the morning and go to church even if you made up your mind to do so in the evening.   Lots of obstacles appear.  Of all kinds and that are not so common as every believer will realize.  These are obstacles that pertain to the spiritual world.  Youíre planning to go to God, not to the theatre for instance.  All these obstacles, whatever form they take, are against our good will to become closer to God. This example makes what ďthe spiritual battleĒ is more clear.  One is to understand that everyone who fulfills Godís will dooms oneself to a spiritual exploit but every human being is to perform such exploits.  Look, the word Ďexploití [in Russian] has the same root as the word Ďmovementí and a person must spiritually progress.


- But how can one tell what Godís will is?  What could a sign be that can be interpreted as a manifestation of Godís will concerning you?


- It can happen in many ways.  Sometimes these are life circumstances.  Sometimes we realize something while praying.  Sometimes we see a dream or hear something friends tell us.  But itís always by word.  Everything comes by word.  A person can hear a single phrase and it will change his or her life absolutely.  It happened with a man who was not close to church.  You can find this story in the book Pilgrimís Frank Narrations as Told to his Confessor.  When he entered the church, he heard the words from the apostlesí message, ďContinually be prayerful,Ē (1 Thessalonians, 5: 17) and suddenly these words defined his life from that moment on.  He wanted to know what it means to be continually be prayerful. Sometimes a person does not even understand what is going on with him but heís just ready to hear Godís will and fulfill it.


- When Bishop Vasiliy (Rodzyanko) was asked about coincidences that sometimes lead us through life he said, ďAs soon as I stop praying coincidences cease.Ē  Probably he meant such manifestations, didnít he?


- Probably.  But for a person searching for manifestations of Godís will, thereís a risk to sink into false mysticism when he might see a sign from God in anything.  One must address a confessor to prevent oneself from this risk.


- Master.  Is this recognition of Godís will a dialogue with God?


- Yes, of course it is.  But prayer is also a dialogue and the calling weíve been discussing today is from the word Ďto call.í  God calls us.  Itís because when we turn to God we hear an answer within.  Itís an inner answer.  The person feels capable to solve problems. All of these are states of a personís inner dialogue with his or her Creator.


- Master.  How can one nurture this ability to hear Godís will?


- Thereís only one way.  At first, a child learns to hear what the parents say and obeys.  Then itís obedience.  Then he or she goes to the church and learns to listen.  What is obedience?  The ability to listen.  Then comes the performance.  Here, it is very important to dwell on the motives of obedience, of performing His will.  A person who fulfills Godís will, who listens to God, must love God and trust Him in everything.


- That is right.  These are different motives: not out of fear, but out of love.  A person, loving God, trusts Him and relies on Him in everything.  What does it mean, ďto rely on Godís will?ď  To do nothing?   Not to try to change the course of things?


- To rely on Godís will means to manifest the sublime love and the sublime fortitude because it does not mean that you shun responsibility and that you donít live your life.  On the contrary, you manifest the supreme responsibility to be a conductor of Godís will, whatever it is.  Thereís a prayer written by Metr. Philaret (Drozdov), the Metropolitan of Moscow.  It was his everyday prayer. Read it and try to grasp its meaning.


Everyday Prayer of Metr. Philaret (Drozdov)


O Lord, I do not know what to ask from You? You are the only one who knows what I need. You love me more than I can love You. Oh Father, give Your slave that what I cannot ask. I dare to ask neither a cross nor comfort; I just appear before You with my heart open; see the needs I do not know. See them and do as You grace.  Strike and heal.  Depose and exalt me! I venerate and keep silence before Your sacred will and Your fates that are inconceivable to me. I offer myself in sacrifice to You.  Teach me to pray.  Pray in me Yourself.


Maximilian Voloshin



(a word for word translation)


Wasnít it me myself who has chosen the hour to be born,

The century and the kingdom, the district and the people,

In order to go through the torture and the christening

By the conscience, fire and water?


Thrown into the gaping jaws of the Apocalyptic Beast,

Having fallen lower than itís possible to fall,

In gnash and stench Ė

I still do believe!


I believe that the Supreme Powers are right

That they have let free the ancient wild elements,

And I speak out of the womb of a charred Russia,

ĎLord, Youíre right in Your judgment!í


Itís necessary to anneal the thickness of our being

Till itís hard like a diamond.

And if there is not enough firewood in the smelt-furnace,

O Lord, hereís my flesh, do take it!


October 24, 1921







© Copyright 2004 by 'Orthodoxy and the World'