Fragments of the meeting of the monastic sisters of St Elisabeth Convent on July 21, 2014
Nun Joanna: I would like to ask you a question that has been haunting me for a couple of years now. Certainly, something has been changing over time in my perception of this question. How do I ask a priest during the confession in order to hear God’s answer? I am aware of the fact that if I am not ready to hear the answer, I will not hear it even though God might utter it. Sometimes it seems to me that I ask an earnest question while in fact, deep inside my heart, I am reluctant to hear God’s answer to it, and therefore, I will not hear it. Sometimes the enemy makes me anxious by saying that I will only receive the answer I want to receive because it will be a human and a worldly answer. There are plenty of aspects like this. Sometimes my soul is at peace, there is no conflict inside, and I am through a more or less calm period of my life. And this is when the Lord acts through the absolution prayer, through your prayer for me, Father, when you pray that God would help me, lead me and reveal everything to me. However, it is very hard for me to receive aid through words. What should I do? I don’t understand. Sometimes this problem gets so acute that I can be on the verge of despair because I encounter a dead-end, a wall. I have questions with no answers.
Archpriest Andrew Lemeshonok: Most often, questions are related to one’s inner state. As soon as this state changes, the questions also change. There is one question that you have to answer when you are calm: “How can I remain peaceful?” And when you are agitated there is a different question: “What should I do? Where should I run?” Anyway, you address your question to God so it has to have an answer. Elder Paisius said that there is a cure for cancer, though no one knows about it, but it is near. Actually, everything is here, God has said everything. We cannot add anything to it. There are answers to all questions in the Gospel. How do we accept them, how do we hear them and apply to our own lives? I know some answers but I am not ready to accept them. Either the enemy may interfere or the person herself may be unable to cope with it, which is why she limits herself. I believe that I know everything I need for today. The issue is whether I apply this knowledge to my life or not. This depends on my trust in God and on how much I dare not spare myself. You know everything already, don’t you? You should love your sisters and not trust yourself when there is something that prevents you from loving them. You should renounce your own self but you prefer to trust the sin.
Nun Joanna: That is what I was about to say. I have a feeling that in my case it is not Christ in our midst but my sin that impedes me and distorts everything I see. Perhaps, only on few occasions did I see the true situation around me as it is in reality, undistorted by my own sin. Most of the time, I probably see everything through the lens of my self-love. It is extremely hard to reject this vision.
Archpriest Andrew Lemeshonok: You have got to fight with it. I can tell you about my personal experience. Sometimes it appears to me that everything around me is a total mess. However, I know for sure that this feeling is not sent by God. You need to calm down and come to your senses. If you are to change anything at all, you should do it peacefully, calmly, thoughtfully and meaningfully, not being overridden with emotions of despair, doom and gloom. So you should ask yourself at once: “What emotional state am I in now? Does the Spirit of God dwell in me now, or is there a bitter feeling of anger, reprehension, or resentment?” In such case you should postpone your dealing with certain issues until you come back to normal. You will probably have no questions then. You will see that the Lord acts.
Nun Joanna: It is extremely difficult for me to struggle for my love, if I seldom meet a certain person and whenever I meet him or her, I see him or her from only one side, that is, usually he or she is on the sunny side, but when I meet the said person, the sun does not shine, as a rule. The same person may be different in various situations. Often you can see only some of the traits of their personality, and you do not know what that person could be like in his or her dealings with other people. Perhaps, sometimes it is God’s Providence that tests me: I can meet the same person for years, and he or she will always be not much of anything.
Archpriest Andrew Lemeshonok: The problem lies not in that person but in you.
Nun Joanna: I know that the problem is in me. But when you cannot see a smile on the person’s face for years…
Archpriest Andrew Lemeshonok: Can it be that you cannot see it but it is there?
Nun Joanna: Maybe. I see that the person is always grievous-looking and aloof. I should be thinking that it is merely an illusion. I would like to ask for prayers because this is my personal problem and I do not want to place that burden onto anyone else’s shoulders. I feel that my weak strength is not enough to carry this load, however hard I try to do it throughout all these years, or maybe I must try harder and put more effort into it. I am fed up with that way of looking at things. I see that finally, I have to learn to see everything as beautiful as it really is. I have been reading Father Sophrony’s books lately. It took me many years to get to open his books but thanks to God’s mercy I started reading and understanding what he wrote. I have realised that if one does their best every day, only then will they humble down. I would like to humble down very much because it is my pride that separates me from my neighbour. If I do not put myself under the biggest stress I can handle, I will never achieve the most important thing. I simply wanted to share the thought I consider to be the most vital for me nowadays.
Archpriest Andrew Lemeshonok: Each one of us has his or her own acceptable level of stress, and we cannot judge other people. For one person, even one word is a big enough stress, and for another person many words aren’t. For one person, a prayerful sigh will be enough, and for another person incessant prayer is not the end of the game. This is dealt with on an individual basis, there should be nothing like a conveyor belt here. God teaches each one of us on an individual basis, and He treats each person delicately: He does not humiliate or abuse each person but instead He guides us humbly and waits until we are ready.
Nun Joanna: Father Sophrony is a great man, a great man of prayer, and a great ascetic. There is a huge gap between the two of us. Nevertheless, his book is still close to me because the Elder does not set any concrete standards in it.
Archpriest Andrew Lemeshonok: This is what freedom is all about, when a person does not insist or mentor you but simply shares his own experience of abiding in God. This is very beautiful and inspiring. If we manage to launch the Christian school here, we should take care to teach children with love. Unfortunately, it happens sometimes that many children do not return to church life after they graduate from a Sunday school. God brings them back ten years later, through various sorrows, and this is because the school had a wrong approach to their education. Why don’t children in families obey their parents? It is because the children do not see their parents as friends. The Lord says: You are My friends. We have to consider that. It is God’s trust and beauty, it is His boundless love towards human beings that can accomplish something. Even the most callous heart will reply to it. This is when the growth begins; this is when one starts to trust God. This is when one begins to see that God takes care of her. But this does not happen automatically. That is why we would like to help everyone but some people are not ready to receive our help. This is not because God cannot help, it is simply that one must be ready for it.
August 21, 2014
WATCH TO THE END: IT IS BEAUTIFUL