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"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

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Friday, 24 January 2014

LOVE AND PRAYER: WORDS FROM ST ELIZABETH'S ORTHODOX CONVENT IN MINSK, BELARUS



I WOULD LIKE TO SAY A COUPLE OF WORDS ABOUT LOVE. SORRY IF I SPEAK TOO LOW”

Fragment of a meeting of the monastic sisters on December 2, 2013
Novice Yekaterina: I would like to say a couple of words about love. Sorry if I speak too low. Father, you asked us to think about it and share our thoughts during the meeting.

Father Andrew: Well, please share your thoughts with us, inspire the sisters.

Novice Yekaterina: I have noticed that it becomes more and more difficult day by day for me to attend our meetings and to listen. I often cannot understand why it happens.

I have been going through tough times in my life recently. My strength disappeared and everything was hard to bear. A self-critical thought dawned on me and showed me the way out of that dead-end: “I do not take care of the life of my soul and this is why I waste so much effort in vain.” This was what helped me.

How is it related to the topic of love? Love, as I feel it, is when you work hard to preserve your inner life, and this is how you can let God act through you, through your words and actions.

Father Andrew: In spite of your physical condition or mental state...

Novice Yekaterina: In spite of everything. God's love is when you have the courage to talk about the eternal life even while you are dying. You do not live in full accord with the spiritual truths, but you still “open your mouth” for the sake of the people around you. Or, in other words, you do not live what you preach but you still preach for others' sake. Thus, the Lord miraculously acts within your heart, and your soul can feel the support from above.

As a rule, the monastic sisters hold meetings with the staff of our workshop every Friday. I had to talk during one such meeting last Friday. I felt uneasy because of that. I thought, “I do not want to say anything, I feel empty inside.” First of all, I had to cheer them up, to tell them something positive and good. I did not fully believe in what I “preached”. I told them about trust. In the meantime, I came to realise that these words were aimed at me as well.

A beautiful bird flies high in the sky above the mountain peaks. It looks so nice; one can feel freedom and buoyancy in all its movements! Given all that, if the birds did not have the Godsent talent of proper “navigation”, they would die after hitting rocks and getting lost. I am convinced that a human soul is likewise wonderful and free as long as it hearkens to the divine harmony but as soon as it loses its connection to God, it falls prey to its own mistakes and shortcomings.

Father Andrew: So you were speaking with the people but in fact your words were aimed at yourself?

Novice Yekaterina: Yes, they were. This is perhaps what the spiritual life is all about: when you struggle for the sake of others every day, with every word, accompanying it with attention; when you toil and cultivate your soul. This kind of struggle takes place in the hustle and bustle of our daily routines. This is the love that lets one sacrifice their soul for their friends. I used to think that love means actions – acting nicely. I often see that I am incapable of “heroism” today. Anyway, I believe that working hard every day is more difficult in some respect than making a huge leap once. I simply try to be looking for the innermost, alternative reserves of power for the struggle with my sins and passions. First of all, I would like to see God’s image in all people.

I was very affectionate towards my relatives and friends since my childhood. Every single day, a person who is close to you becomes a revelation again. As I was growing up, I was thinking, “Before I endeavour to understand my neighbour, I have to get closer to the depths of my own soul.” The heart is said to be deep. Before we learn to love our neighbour properly, we have to learn how to love ourselves properly.

My obedience includes supply of raw materials to the workshop where I work. This is why I mostly talk with secular people. I would like to see God in them. Sometimes I see something that is too human or sinful in them, and I am very sad because of that. I look for a way out of this tunnel vision and this is when I face the issue of trust as a positive feature in conversation and cooperation. However I look at it, everything depends on me. If I shine from the inside, people will help the Convent, if I pray, grace will surely be made manifest.

Father Andrew: It allows the person to find God with your help and to overcome death and sin, to get straight with his or her life and change everything for the better.

Novice Yekaterina: I see that secular people are much more decent than I am, and they work a lot more. So I consider it nonsense to tell them how to live: it is me who needs to learn from them. However, I have the support of the Holy Church. The fact that the Lord allows me to be here in the Convent, to drink from this fountain of grace and stay close to it must be thanks to God’s Providence. The Lord wants to act through me: ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.

I was thinking about St Seraphim of Sarov and about other great servants of God. Some of their belongings still exist, and people kiss these things as if they are sacred. I am fascinated and inspired by the thought that one’s life with God sanctifies not only his or her flesh, but also even the material objects that they used during their earthly lives.

Father Andrew: Love restores to health. I can testify that when we were on a pilgrimage to Diveevo with some sisters, they showed us the bast shoe that St Seraphim had worn. They told me, “Put it on!” I said, “Come on, are you kidding?” I did not believe that I would be healed. However, I did recover: my leg was swollen but the oedema went away after I wore the Saint’s bast shoe. This is what true love is like: even if you do not believe in it, it still heals you.

Novice Yekaterina: An idea that has just crossed my mind is that the light you have within you enlightens everything around you. I mean, sometimes I feel that life becomes harder and harder for me. Speaking, reading, and sharing what God gives me with others is my refuge.

Father Andrew: Thank you, Sister Yekaterina. Your words were like honey for our souls. God's strength is made perfect in weakness, so everyone can reach out to God.


December 19, 2013


“YOU ARE ALSO IN THIS PRAYER”

Fragment of a meeting of the monastic sisters on December 9, 2013
Sister N.: Father Sophrony (Sakharov) used to ask his elder to pray for him many times but the elder simply prayed the Jesus prayer. Finally, the elder said, “You are also in this prayer.” Father, can you please explain this to me? 

Father Andrew: He prayed both for himself and for that person; he did not dissociate himself from that person. He prayed on behalf of the entire humankind, which calls unto God for help. Father Sophrony also was a part of this prayer. He was young and inexperienced at that time, and such an attitude towards prayer, worship, and obedience showed the excellence of the spiritual life to him, even though there were mistakes and misunderstanding on his way. Remember what St Seraphim of Sarov said? “Acquire peace inside you and thousands will be saved around you.” It does not matter who will happen to be around you: Manya or Tanya – anyone whom God sends to be around you will be saved. 

Moreover, it is said that every good action that you do, each prayer that you say, influences the whole world. However, we do not feel that we live in this eternity, we do not feel that we live globally; we only live in our own cells, doing our own little jobs and never trying to look out of the box. We feel bad even within our small limits: that sister snores, I am fed up with her, give me freedom. What freedom? Freedom from whom? From yourself? If only we lived within the frameworks of the eternity, our life would change drastically; we would no longer search for anything usable in the discarded stuff but look for the real things. In fact, God controls every situation. This is astonishing. The words “have mercy on me a sinner” may be thought of as including the entire humankind. This is the alternative dimension again. It makes one responsible for all other people. If I do not go to church now, if I am lazy or dozy, if I spare myself, how many people would suffer because of my sin, how much pain and evil I would inflict on them! If we realise all this, we are doing it the Orthodox way. This is why a monastic distances himself from his blood relatives in order to be able to accept Africans, Eskimos, Australians, and all nations as his brothers and sisters, or else everything is fake.

December 30, 2013

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