FINDING PEACE AND GRACE (From the book, Wisdom from Mount Athos by St. Silouan)

PP. 98-102

We have now come to a chapter about what we most long for: peace.

St. Silouan simplifies and sums up the nature of this quest:

…the man who likes to have his own way will never know peace…

It is as simple as that.

I think of my lifelong struggle to have “my own way:” persuading 3 different graduate schools to collaborate on my own concoction of an interdisciplinary doctoral program; exhausting myself to function independently and against the status quo in institutions I worked for; wanting to control others’ opinions of me; struggling to influence the course of things,  to persuade, change, even “punish.”

Getting one’s way in careers, child-rearing, business dealings or personal relationships is generally considered a sign of strength and success.

This leaves us stuck between longing for peace and devoting the bulk of our efforts and mindshare to the fulfillment of our own will; making the world conform to the script we created in our mind.

None of the remedies for salvation—virtue, prayer, fasting, charity—are adequate in themselves without abandoning our efforts at having things “go our way;” without humility and submission to God’s will. Without them, resentment and self-pity will rise within us and bring about turmoil and despair.

But if a man murmur against his fate he will never have peace in his soul, even though he fast and spend much time in prayer.

The acceptance St. Silouan advocates is not the same as resignation. Acceptance signifies the recognition that God’s will and not yours is in charge. Resignation means giving up in despair. In fact, resignation often follows disillusionment over our futile attempts to control.

Far from resignation, acceptance of God’s will is a difficult discipline of maintaining dispassion and inner peace in the face of hardship and pain.

…we are living through the final period, yet must we still preserve our soul’s peace, without which we cannot be saved.

The humble Christian, far from being weak or passive, is a spiritual warrior who does not react emotionally to circumstances and does not allow his soul to become de-stabilized by affliction and external circumstances, no matter how dire.

How do we acquire the strength to maintain peace and grace in our souls, regardless of “living through the final period?”

By loving others, St. Silouan tells us. He brings as an example Father John Kronstadt who maintained inner peace in the face of distraction “because he loved the people and never ceased praying to the Lord for us.”

Pray to the Lord to give you a tender heart which God loves,” St. Silouan exhorts.

Though a man pray much, and fast, but has not love for his enemies he can have no peace of soul.

When St. Paissy the Great prayed for his disciple who had denied Christ, the Lord spoke to him directly, recognizing that he had achieved likeness to Him and hence Grace:

Paisy, thou hast become like unto Me in thy love

Achieving and maintaining inner peace is not an aside activity. It requires consistent focus and a complete re-orientation toward God.

Explore God’s Law, day and night

We have seen in patristic writings how upon reaching the stage of theosis we are freed from complexity and fragmentation—circular thinking, ambivalence, conflicting priorities and truths, confusion, instability. Instead we experience clarity, peace and unity, driven by a single, simple and unclouded perception of the truth.

Without a complete re-orientation toward God we are vulnerable to the enemy and risk losing whatever peace we have achieved.

Then the enemy, seeing that the soul is not in God, causes ger to waver, and unrestricted he can instill what he will in the mind. The soul is then driven from one set of thoughts to another, so that she spends the whole day in this confusion and is unable to contemplate God with a single mind.

The Mystery of Humility (From the book, Wisdom from Mount Athos by St. Silouan)

Chapter 9, On Humility, pp. 91-97

As Christians, we constantly talk, read, or hear about the concept of humility. In this chapter, St. Silouan wants us to meditate on this concept and understand it on a deeper level, with our hearts as well as our minds.

“To believe in God,” he tells us (italics are mine), “is good, but it is more blessed to know God.” Silouan urges us to delve from the level of mere familiarity and theoretical understanding to that of divine knowledge and experience.

Humility is not simply a set of rules or pattern of behavior. It is a mystery, modeled for us by Christ.

The mystery of the humility of Christ is a great mystery, impossible to unfold.

Yet, unless we experience Christ-like humility in our souls, the Holy Spirit cannot dwell within us.

The Lord does not manifest Himself to the proud soul…Her pride will not make way for the grace of the Holy Spirit, and God is known only through the Holy Spirit.

God’s presence brings us peace.  Even then, however, there is the danger of the very humility we are experiencing generating pride for our accomplishment of having achieved it.

The moment the soul exalts herself above her fellows,” St. Silouan reminds us, “she is attacked by some thought of impulse unpleasing to God.” Inner peace is shattered, and the passions of envy, resentment, anguish, ambition, hatred, control, and others overwhelm our soul.

There is no other gateway to peace, love and union with God than humility.  “Thus,” St. Silouan concludes, “the whole spiritual warfare wages around humility.”

This is significant. Without humility, we cannot experience God and His peace. Our most fundamental, daily battle, therefore, must be against the first indications of pride in our hearts and the onslaught of passions it subsequently unleashes.

Paradoxically, true humility frees and uplifts our souls rather than make them subservient. This is because, free from the pursuit of glory and the fear of loss and humiliation, our inner peace no longer depends on external circumstances such as others’ approval or rejection.

The proud man fears reproach, while the humble man cares for nothing.

Silouan compares the state of such soul to the sea.

The soul of the humble man is like the sea: throw a stone into the sea—for a moment it will ruffle the surface a little, and then sink to the bottom…

St. Silouan does not minimize the difficulty in attaining and maintaining humility, however:

Humility is not learned in a trice,” he says. It takes a long time to cultivate.  Some, in fact, have grown old trying to achieve humility without ever succeeding. And, in the spirit of humility, he makes an astonishing confession

Day and night, all my life long,” he admits, “I have striven after humility, yet I am not able to capture it.”

We are startled by this passage. We have unknowingly assumed that saints and great patristic writers who advocate for virtues must already possess them. Yet St. Silouan is not afraid to admit to something that would jeopardize his “status” and reputation as a great, “saintly” figure.

His advice, then, is not theoretical but stems from soul-wrenching personal struggles and hard-earned conclusions and insights. Silouan does not talk down to readers delivering superior knowledge that he, alone, possesses. He addresses us as fellow sojourners and spiritual co-warriors and, hence, lifts up our souls through love.

Humility, he reminds us, starts with, as well as enables, love:

From love the souls wishes every human being more good that she wishes herself, and delights when she sees others happier, and grieves when she sees them suffering.

The acquisition of humility is a hard, life-long, and daily pursuit. Yet Silouan wants us to know that we are not alone in this struggle. God, himself, wants to dwell within us.

And the Lord desires to be with us Himself, and in us.

God’s absence, then, is due to our own choice of pride over humility.

The Lord is our joy and our gladness, and when pride causes us to withdraw from Him, it means that we deliver ourselves up of our own accord to suffering. Anguish if heart, dejection, and evil thought lacerate us.

In the end, St. Silouan holds out hope in the knowledge that God will give peace to “every humble soul:”

Blessed is the humble soul. She is beloved by God…

When the soul has given herself to the will of God the mind contains nothing but God, and the soul stands before God with a pure mind.

 

 

 

KEEP THY MIND IN HELL AND DESPAIR NOT. (WISDOM FROM MOUNT ATHOS, St. Silouan)

No pain or deprivation is worse than the state of pride. Hence no amount of sacrifice is too much to defeat pride and replace it with humility. This is one of the premises of this chapter by St. Silouan.

Pride and vainglory trap us inside ourselves and separate us from God. Under their yoke, we live in the grip of suspicion, jealousy, resentment, fear, and loneliness. We suffer constant anxiety over loss of status or material things.

Pride creates a constantly increasing shadowy corner within us that unexpectedly surfaces and fill us with darkness. This is where panic dwells over potential failure, loss of control, separation, disapproval, or ridicule. This is where we bury resentments, disappointments over things that did not go our way; exhaustion over pushing against the grain to impose our will; and a secret worry about being frauds; that the image of ourselves that we project does not correspond to our authentic selves.

Our minds are too weighed down with our own concerns to have room for God. “Our hearts are cold, and we have no understanding of Christ’s humility or love.”

The ailing soul is full of pride,” St. Silouan tells us. That is, if we are filled with despair and turmoil, the root cause is always pride.

Silouan, himself, experienced this loss of grace after the Holy Spirit descended on him. Caught up in the sweetness and peace of this presence, he took pride in it and lost track of his battle with the enemy. He recognized this as a pattern:

“…when my mind emerges from the fire the suggestions of passion gather strength again.”

Silouan realized that the state of grace is fragile, and we cannot let our defenses down. In the grip of fresh joy or success, we must always remember the hell we came from.

“Keep thy mind in hell and despair not.”

Without consciously keeping hell and death in sight, we fall into pride. Hence, we have only ourselves to blame if we fall from grace or never achieve it.

Silouan recognized the devastation the pride has wrought on our souls. It is especially tragic when we do not recognize pride as the cause of our pain. If someone does not know God and has not experienced grace, he may be “unaware of his poverty and ruin,” thinking himself fortunate or superior because of wealth or material successes, while experiencing the void of hopelessness and discontent, deep inside

Humility is the opposite of pride. “Humility,” St. Silouan tells us, “is the light in which we may behold the Light which is God as the Psalmist sang: ‘In Thy light we shall see Light’

Without having to fight for control, we experience peace and are open to God’s presence.

This is why, instead of asking for comfort, freedom from pain or material things, St. Silouan, asks for tears in his prayer. It is by embracing tears and keeping his mind in hell, that he can experience the greater happiness of humility and the presence of God.

Thou, O Lord, showest me Thy glory because Though lovest Thy creatures, but do Though give me tears and the power to thank Thee

Great pains are needed, and many tears must be shed to preserve the humble spirit of Christ; but without it the light of life is extinguished and the soul dies

St. Siouan makes it clear that, even if you have learned to “keep your mind in hell,” you are still not able to experience humility without the Holy Spirit. There is a difference, he tells us, between believing in your mind that God exists “and knowing God by the Holy Spirit.”

The spirit of the man who has come to know God by the Holy Spirit burns day and night with love of God, and his souls can form no earthly attachment

What if someone has never experienced the grace of God so that he does not know enough about what is missing to desire humility? Silouan gives us courage. Surely, we all have had a glimpse of grace, he tells us; a moment when God’s presence was palpable within us, though we may not have been able to identify the source.  We all have had enough of a glimmer of God that we experience a deep desire for Him, though we may be unable to pinpoint and name the nature off this desire. And, as Silouan tells us, “the Holy Spirit moves to God those who desire it.”

What we should do then “to have peace in soul and body?”

“Love all men and be prepared for death, St. Silouan concludes. “The man who is mindful of death is not beguiled by the world.

Emptying ourselves of pride will bring about the peace and love that stem from humility:

We will find that:

our “human soul wishes good to all men and in all things is content.” 

And we will be able to experience Christ’s love to the fullest:

When the Lord enlightens you your soul will feel His presence, will feel that the Lord has forgiven you and loves you…

These are the gifts of humility in heart.

 

Prayer Born of Love: (From Wisdom from Mount Athos, St. Silouan)

On prayer, pp. 82-85 (part II)

When St. Silouan hears the account of a soldier who claims that his life was saved in a battle because he prayed, he immediately believes him. He could tell by the attitude of his body,” that “he had been utterly wrapped up in God.”

True prayer, then, is not achieved through just the right words or posture but by our willingness to be completely “wrapped up in God” – oblivious to the world, the chores that we cram in our “to do” lists, the stories of future glory we fantasize about and the resentments and hurt feelings that dominate our thoughts.

This is why St. Silouan writes:

Uninterrupted prayer is born of love, but fault-finding, idle talk and self-indulgence are the death of prayer.

Understanding this concept, however, does not enable us to pray with our heart. Another danger awaits us.

Have you ever found yourself so eager to experience a state of ecstatic love for God that you become impatient and try to bring about the outcome on your own? Have you ever had such a yearning for total union with Him– a soul totally “wrapped up in God,” free of mundane worries and anxieties – that you “will” this state to happen, pushing yourself to feel strong emotions or mistaking sentimentality for true connection with God?

St. Silouan knows this temptation well and reminds us:

Some are there who have injured their heats in their efforts to force their minds to pray in their hearts, so much so that afterwards they were unable to say the words of their prayers with their lips either.

This is because by forcing our agenda about when to experience a prayer of the heart, we are following our own will and only listening to our own voice.

A man is beguiled by listening to his own self…” Silouan says.

The prayer of the heart does not come about through our own will but from God when we have emptied ourselves of worldly attachments, are humble and submissive to Him.

The Lord loves us and in his mercy, he gives us prayer …God bestows His gifts on the simple, lowly and obedient soul

 

Making the World a Church (From St. Silouan’s “Wisdom from Mount Athos”)

Chapter “On Prayer,” pp.79-82

I always thought of prayer as an act, within a finite space and time. That is, “always” until I read this chapter by St. Silouan.

‘He who loves the Lord,” he tells us, “is always mindful of Him, and remembrance of God begets prayer.”

“Always mindful” implies a continuous state of mind and relationship with God. You no longer need designated times to talk to God—when you attend church or it is time for your morning prayers. Prayer has become a habit and part of your life. Your mind and heart are always full of His presence while you walk, lie down, talk, work, shop or watch TV.

This means that, instead of searching for ways to render our prayer perfect, we must strive to cultivate a “prayerful mind;” a mind that is “intent on God and in humbleness of spirit stands before the face of the Lord, who knoweth the soul of him who prays.”

To get there we first need a guide. Humility and submission are prerequisites of true prayer. Reliance on our own resources puts our own will above all else and allows it to become a barrier between us and God.

Our distance from God, and a truly prayerful mind, starts with judgment. Since we hear only our own voice on what “feels” right, what the right approach is, whom to trust and whom to forgive, we constantly judge others.

Like C.S Lewis’ “Screwtape Letters,” this chapter offers us glimpses of the gradual erosion of trust and inner peace as judgment replaces submission. What if I know more about prayer than my priest confessor? “My confessor lacks experience and is occupied with vain things.” How can I let him guide me? I can’t respect a man with a dull intellect. I, on the other hand, am a very insightful and erudite person. Why can’t I learn through books?”

St. Silouan is unequivocal about what humility and submission to God are. Even if our confessor lacks the qualities we believe are necessary in a spiritual guide, he tells us, accepting his guidance gives us the humility and serenity that will enable us to enter into union with God and partake of his mercy.

After all, St. Silouan reminds us, we are not alone. “…The Holy Spirit dwells in your confessor and he will tell you what is right.”

Cutting off the temptation of judging others and eliminating the anguish of being the sole “experts” and drivers of outcomes, brings peace.  It is in this peace that we recognize our true kinship with God and our desire for union with Him grows.

My soul yearns after the Living God, and my spirit strains toward Him, my Heavenly Father, my kin.

The narrative here shifts from the external—criticisms of our confessor, theories, reliance on books—to the internal region of the heart, from description to exclamation, from rules about prayer to the state of a prayerful mind.

The Lord made us his Kin by the Holy Spirit. The Lord is dear to the heart—He is our joy and gladness, and our firm hope.

When our mind is prayerful, prayer brings more peace and complete reconciliation.

He who prays aright has the peace of God in his soul…The man of prayer should feel tenderly toward every living being. The man of prayer loves all men and has compassion for all, for the grace of the Holy Spirit has taught him love.

When prayer is a continuous state of mind, and takes place in our hearts, there are no unreconciled contradictions and conflicting allegiances.

Though we recognize and castigate wrongs, we still love and pray for our enemies. Our relationship with God is not one-dimensional and one-sided – from high to low and low to high. We can now love God, not only out of fear but because we recognize our kinship with Him and long to be one with Him.

Our prayer is no longer limited to place and time. It transforms our vision of ourselves and relationship with the world. It expands us and effaces limits.

For the man who prays in his heart, the whole world is a church.

FREEDOM IN GOD (From: St. Silouan, Wisdom from Mount Athos)

From the chapter, On the Will of God and on Freedom, pp, 72-78

St. Silouan talks about two paradoxes: giving free reign to your own will leads to enslavement, and, conversely, submitting to God results in the only true freedom that you can experience.

Let’s break down what St. Silouan defines as “slavery” and “true freedom.”

  • Exercising your will and enjoying the “quick fix” of removing inconvenient restraints brings about momentary relief without halting the tyranny of lingering resentments, obsessive and circular thinking, fear, and anxiety.

Submission to God’s will, on the other hand, lifts us above the quagmire of self-preoccupation that sinks us deeper and deeper into isolation from God and despair. It purifies and calms our souls and unites us with God.

The man who is given over to the will of God is occupied only with God. The grace of God helps him to continue in prayer. Though he may be working or talking his soul is absorbed in God because he has given himself over to God’s will wherefore the Lord has him in His care.

  • I know when I have truly distanced myself from God by the increased turmoil within me: impatience and irritability towards others; focusing on losses or fantasy over what I already have; unflattering comparisons between my life and that of others; discontent; mourning over speculations of what might have been or rehashing perceived insults against me—with each new recollection fueling a fresh wave of anger.

Submission to God frees us from the oppression of this treadmill of passions and brings us serenity, joy and union with God.

When the Holy Spirit dwells in us it feels like we have paradise within us.

  • There is an image I recall from a book or movie. It is of a mother waiting for her son to arrive from China at an airport. She is so worried about his safety that she comes up with a sort of mental exercise of continuously visualizing the airplane staying in the air and landing safely. She is afraid to interrupt her visualization even for one minute from fear that the airplane might crash without it.

Relying on our own will and resources gives the same delusion that, were it not for our efforts—worries, advice, interference, anxiety etc.—our world would collapse. Like the mother in this example, we are weighed down by the burden we take on of “holding the airplane in the air” through sheer will power, and become exhausted.

There is no empty space for God in a soul that is consumed by the effort of controlling what is not within its control and exhausted by its futile endeavors. It is a soul that is unable to experience inner peace, rejoice over what it has or pray.

Giving ourselves to the will of God frees us from the delusion of willing the airplane to remain in the air, allows us clarity, serenity and true prayer.

But the man who is entirely given to the will of God can pray with a pure mind, his soul loves the Lord, and he finds everything pleasant and agreeable.

The man who is given over to the will of God is occupied only with God. The grace of God helps him to continue in prayer. Though he may be working or talking his soul is absorbed in God because he has given himself over to God’s will wherefore the Lord has him in His care.

  • Holding on to grudges, judging the magnitude of others’ sins and deciding whom we are willing to forgive and who is unforgivable is another way that we allow our will to place a burden on us—appointing ourselves to be judges and becoming saddled with the unbearable weight of hatred and resentment.

Forgiveness of others and God’s forgiveness of us is fundamental to submission to God.

  • Cleary we cannot submit ourselves to God, and abandon the illusion of control, without humility.

I learned that freedom is with God and is given of God to humble hearts who have repented and sacrificed their will before Him

What blocks us from true freedom is pride. St. Silouan laments for the human condition of pride and the sorrow of losing paradise because of it. All he can affirm is the eternal longing for God and the glimpse he offers of paradise regained through submission.

Though man lives on earth…in his love for God he forgets everything that is of this world. But our trouble is that through the pride of our mind we do not continue in this grace, and so grace forsakes us , and the soul seeks it, weeping and sobbing and saying:

“my soul longs for the Lord”

On the Will of God and Freedom (From St. Silouan’s Wisdom from Mount Athos)

It is a great good to give oneself up to the will of God,” St. Silouan tells us.

What does submission to God really mean?

For one thing, it is manifested through the absence of fear and loss of anxiety, St. Silouan explains.

Resistance to God’s will is the result of pride; the delusion that we can handle everything through our own will and resources.

The proud man does not want to live according to God’s will. He likes to be his own master and does not see that man wisdom enough to guide himself without God.

This is how Silouan lived before he came to know God through the Holy Spirit. Once he submitted his will to God’s, however, his entire orientation to life changed:

My soul submitted to God and now I accept every affliction that befalls me and say: ‘The Lord looks down upon me. What is there to fear?’ …”

Is complete submission to God mere fatalism then? What emerged from our discussion was a resounding “no.”

Fatalism, we decided, was nothing but false serenity while true submission resulted in inner peace through union with God. Fatalism is stasis while submission is a continuous and dynamic journey of ascendance. Fatalism implies resignation and indifference while submission to God’s will is hope and love

Submission to God is not simply tolerating suffering. It gives us deep understanding of the will of God and, hence, the ability to see the world through His eyes and become united with Him.

 The most precious thing in the world is to know God and understand his will, even if only in part.

Fatalism implies surrender to random and arbitrary forces. Submission to God’s will implies the ability to discern God’s presence, love and divine plan behind everything, even pain, illness and hardship. It gives us inner peace found through union with God rather than resignation. The universe is neither random nor indifferent but replete with God’s love. In all circumstances the man who lives according to God’s will “knows that the Lord in his mercy is solicitous for us.”

The inability to discern and submit to God’s will is caused by pride. Pride and reliance on our own will is like “a wall of brass between us and God preventing us from coming near to Him   or contemplating His mercy.”

Acceptance of God’s will requires humility– recognition that we don’t have all the right answers; that our script for what life should be is not necessarily correct; that our sense of superiority over others is the result of our self-absorption preventing us from really listening and understanding. Pride—pushing against the grain to re-shape the world according to our will—leaves us exhausted, resentful, and angry. Accepting God’s will, on the other hand, fills us with gratitude and enables forgiveness.

It is good to live according to God’s will. The soul then dwells unceasingly in God, and is serene and tranquil.

 

 

 

 

“We are God’s Children,” Starretz Silouan, from Wisdom from Mount Athos

Theoretically, we all know that we are God’s children. Theoretically, we understand that we have been fashioned in the image of God. Yet, for most of us this knowledge does not transform our lives or our perception of our role and relationship to God.  What does this kinship with God really mean on a daily level? In this short chapter, Silouan looks at this kinship with new eyes and ponders its true meaning.

God has revealed to us his mysteries. He lives within us “and the sacraments of the church.” He calls us to Him constantly, nurtures us, loves us and has mercy on us. He leads us to “where we can behold His glory” yet very few are able to see it. Most of us do not spend our days filled with awe when we consider the supreme mystery of having been fashioned in His likeness and the privilege of being able to partake of His essence.

This is because, Silouan tells us, man can only behold God’s glory “according to the measure of his love.”

There are three levels of love and hence ability to behold the glory of God and connection with Him:

  1. Ardent love: “The more a man loves, the more ardently does he set his face toward God in yearning to be with the beloved Lord and therefore, he will approach the nearer to Him.”
  2. Moderate love: “…the man who loves but little will have but little desire for the Lord”
  3. Indifference: “and the man who does not love at all will neither wish nor aspire to see the Lord and will spend his life in darkness.”

Silouan weeps for this last category of people who do not know God and, thus, his mercy.

To show us the contrast between those who are near God and those who are deprived of His presence, he juxtaposes the light of the knowledge of God to the darkness of his absence.

Living in darkness is a choice, he tells us. It means that “we have accepted the darkness of the enemy.”

A parallel contrast is that between beauty and ugliness. As individuals pass from the innocence of childhood to the acceptance of darkness, their faces and expressions increasingly reflect the growing anguish and despair of a life without God.

We are, according to Silouan, the creators of our own darkness. He faults pride for choosing to believe that there is no God and that we can find salvation by our own means. We fall in love with our own cleverness and admire the conclusions we’ve reached, not realizing that these thoughts are not indications of brilliance and originality but are sent by the devil. Our perceived freedom from restrictions, rules, hardship and sacrifice is really slavery to darkness.

“If all people on earth,” he tells us, “knew how deeply the Lord loves man their hearts would be filled with love of Christ and Christ’s humility, and they would seek to be like Him in all things.

The Lord has made us kin with Him.”  By choosing alienation and faithlessness we squander that gift. By discerning God’s glory, yearning to be one with Him and being always aware of our kinship — “…without rest neither by day nor by night…” — we would never feel empty, desperate or alone.

 “Thus the Lord by the Holy Spirit makes us one family with God the Father.”

 

 

On the Mother of God and the Saints, from Wisdom from Mouth Athos by St. Silouan

pp. 53-63

As if completing a puzzle, St. Silouan adds another piece in the ecosystem of love and union with God. In the previous chapter he addresses Adam and asks for his advice and help in uniting himself to God, as he has done. He now calls upon the Mother of God and all the Saints—also human, like himself, yet living in the presence of God.

In this chapter, he gradually reveals the dynamic nature of love and explores the interrelationship among love, suffering, knowledge, and holiness:

The greatest the love, the greatest the suffering of the soul.

The fuller the love, the fuller the knowledge of God

The more ardent the love the more fervent the prayer

The more perfect the love, the holier the life.

Mary embodies these relationships. Her love for her son was the center of her life. Her suffering was therefore proportionately great. Yet it was this suffering that gave her true knowledge of God and love for His creation. Her love extended to all of us. She is the mother of the apostles, the saints, and all people.

Love is inexorably linked to suffering. The saints rose to sainthood through enormous suffering and repentance. They still experience sorrow for our sins.

Paradise is not static or cut off from humans. St. Silouan wonders how the saints could possibly know about all of our individual lives. He concludes that “…through the Holy Spirit they see too the sufferings of men on earth.”

The Holy Spirit, then, does not seal the saints from humans in a closed, distant paradise. On the contrary, it enables them to experience both heaven and earth through endless love.

In the kingdom of heaven, the holy saints look upon the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ; but through the Holy Spirit they see too the sufferings of men on earth. The Lord gave them such great grace that they embrace the whole world with their love.

St. Silouan told us that when he felt God’s presence in his soul, he immediately started loving others and weeping for their sorrows. “The Holy Spirit,” he tells us in this chapter, “gives His chosen such a wealth of love that their souls are possessed as it were by a flame of desire that all men should be saved and behold the glory of God.”

 It is in fact the Holy Spirit that enables Mary to be in constant relationship with us and “embrace the whole world with their love.”

The goal in our ascent to God is not to enter into a solitary, two-way relationships with Him but to find our role in God’s Holy Assembly:

Thither aspires the soul, to the wondrous holy assembly which the Holy Spirit has gathered together.

It is true that our connection to God is fragile and one single thought can destroy it, but we are not alone. St. Silouan presents us with a universe inhabited by this Holy Assembly and the possibility of our active participation in it.

The saints, he tells us, “are far only from those who have taken themselves away from them.”

St. Silouan, himself, can hear the Mother of God and take comfort in her guidance. His love for her uncovers and reveals to us what was veiled “in her heart in silence.”  He brings other examples of miracles that Saints performed for those who asked for their help.

Love, God’s love, is enabled by the Holy Spirit and becomes the glue that unites fragments into a whole through interconnected and dynamic relationships.

“…if they were to love one another, the world would know freedom from sin; and where sin is absent there is joy and love of the Holy Spirit , in such wise that in all sides everything is pleasing, and the soul marvels that it is all so well within her and praises God.”

 

Adam’s Lament, #3, Wisdom from Mount Athos, Staretz Silouan

St. Vladimir Seminary Press, pp. 47-55

This lyrical chapter is mostly put in the form of a poem. It is, in fact, a poem that borrows from the formulaic conventions of the ritual laments of Greece and their manifestation in the hymnography of lamentation in the Byzantine tradition.

One of the most prominent lament formulas is the dialogue between the living and the dead. The mourner addresses the deceased loved one with anger (why did you leave me? Why did you have to die this young? Why don’t you answer? Why has your beauty faded?)  The deceased responds, sometimes with comforting words but often with expressions of his own sorrow, through detailed descriptions of his state of death (the body being eaten by worms, his youth destroyed, Hades waiting, etc.)

In the living tradition of lamentation where a group of mourners sing laments together, theren is a process of gradual immersion in ever deepening levels of sorrow but also in deepening bonds with the community of mourners. As the hours, and even days, pass, mourners begin to contribute songs about their own grievances and losses to the communal sorrow, bringing grief to a head and forging through song a new order of connection between the living and the dead and among the living.

In “Adam’s lament,” Silouan enters a similar relationship with Adam, except that his destination is heaven rather than earth. Instead of theological explanations, St. Silouan helps us experience the depth of his sorrow and share in the eventual joy of the hope his dialogue with Adam reveals.

Silouan calls on Adam because he, among all the dead, had known God on earth, lost Him and regained Him in after life:

Thy soul didst know God on earth, Knew Paradise too, and the sweetness and gladness thereof…

St. Silouan engages in an imaginary dialogue with Adam in which their relationship progresses, the truths revealed are increasingly profound and there is a gradual shift from darkness to light.

As in ritual lamentation, Adam’s lament echoes and joins his own in the first part of the poem:

He [Adam] was heartsick for God and this was his cry:

“My heart wearies for the Lord and I seek him in tears

How should I not seek Him?…”

The merging of lamentation between Adam and St. Silouan makes the mourning for the loss of God deeper as well as more universal. The remembrance of Adam’s sorrow intensifies the grief experienced by Silouan until we become, ourselves, immersed in his darkness.

Halfway through the chapter, in part II, Silouan shifts from shared grief to requests for help. Adam regained Paradise after a bitter life of remorse, suffering and remembrance of his sin. How can we, bereft of God’s presence, can regain it, St. Silouan wants to know. He begs Adam for advice and a ray of hope.

Oh, Adam our souls are we are heavy-laden with sorrow

Speak a word of comfort to us.

Sing to us from the songs you hearest in heaven…

Just as the dead addressed in lamentations cannot truly comfort the living because they are no longer part of the material world, Adam is removed from earthly concerns and reluctant to leave the joy and peace he experiences in Paradise to help the living:

Leave me in peace my children, for from sweetness of the love of God I cannot think about the earth

Little by little, in the third part of the poem, Adam reveals his state in Paradise and the ultimate destination of an eternal state in God:

  • He sees the Mother of God and the prophets. How could he possibly tear himself away to speak to mortals?
  • He is no longer trying to recapture God’s presence in him. He is united and one with God. “For the Lord is in me and hath made me like unto Himself.”
  • His times of tribulation are past.
  • He does not have to fight passions because

From the beauty of Paradise, the sweetness of the Holy Spirit I can no longer be mindful of the earth

  • He understands and experiences the love of God

The more these glimpses into paradise increase, the brighter the hope that Adam holds out becomes. Paradise is attainable through humility and repentance, he instructs. Endurance and hope will open its gates:

I was plagued by sickness and all the afflictions of the earth, But I endured all things, trusting steadfastly in God

The dialogue that started in darkness and despair veers to a place of light and hope as it nears the end.

Yet the progress from light to darkness and back to light that Adam reveals is not a simple return to the origins. Adam did not simply regain the garden but entered into a higher level of Paradise– in heaven rather than on earth, an eternal rather than conditional state, in a community of saints rather than the company of only Eve.

In the end, Silouan has a glimpse of the ultimate destination that surpasses even the object of his longing. We are not simply trapped in a ping-pong like motion, from God’s presence to God’s absence and back. Instead, our path to God is one of continuous transformation and ascendance. Our union with Him at the end of our journey is higher and more complete that we ever experienced or imagined.

Adam lost the earthly Paradise and sought it weeping. But the Lord, through his love on the Cross gave Adam another paradise, fairer than the old—a paradise in heaven where shines the Light of the Holy Trinity