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Σάββατο, 21 Ιουνίου 2014

MY PRAYER TO JESUS CHRIST IS THAT ALL SOULS IN THE WORLD WILL FIND SALVATION




MY PRAYER TO JESUS CHRIST IS THAT ALL SOULS
IN THE WORLD WILL FIND SALVATION



Dear People,

            I recently shared with you my thoughts about the recent meeting of Patriarch Bartholomew with Pope Francis in Jerusalem.  The meeting was the fiftieth anniversary of the meeting of Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Pius the VI in Jerusalem in 1964.  At this meeting these leaders of the Greek East and the Latin West lifted the excommunications that East and West hurled at one another during the Great Schism of 1054.  Since that time, the two Churches have engaged in an ongoing dialogue to heal the spiritual rift between the Church of the East and the Church of the West who for the first one thousand years of the Christian made up the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.  There are those of us in the Orthodox Church who often takes a very dogmatic approach to issues of faith and tradition.  We Orthodox Christians of the East feel that we have kept inviolate the faith and traditions from apostolic times up to the present day.  In response to the recent meeting of Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis, I responded with a commentary that was written by Saint Ambrose of Optina, Russia.  This Saint takes a very dogmatic stance toward the Roman Catholic Church using terminology that is often insulting to our Christian brothers and sisters of the West.  In reviewing the statements by other Saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church, I would like to share with you another approach to dialogue that is espoused by a contemporary Saint of the Orthodox Church. I believe this is the spirit that Jesus wants us to have who believes in His saving message.

ELDER SILOUAN THE ATHONITE
            Saint Silouan the Athonie has a profound take on salvation of those who believe in the reality of Jesus Christ.  I am sure that most of our fellow Christians in the Western world do not
know anything about this 20th century Saint of the Orthodox Church.  He was born in 1866 of devout parents who came from the village of Sovsk in the Tambov region of Russia.  His worldly name was Simeon Ivanovich Antonov.  At the age of 27 he received the blessings of Saint John of Kronstadt and went to Mt. Athos where he became a monk at the Russian Monastery of Saint Panteleimon.  He received from the Mother of God the gift of unceasing prayer and was given the vision of our Lord Jesus Christ in glory while in the Church of the Prophet Elijah which adjoins the mill of the Monastery.  After this first grace from God was withdrawn from him, he became oppressed by profound grief and great temptations for fifteen years.  His struggle with grief was responded to by Jesus Christ when He said to him: “Keep thy mind in hell, and despair not.”

            It was fifteen years after the Lord had appeared to him, and Silouan was engaged in one of those nocturnal struggles with demons that so tormented him.  No matter how he tried, he could not pray with a pure mind.  At last he rose from his prayer stool, intending to bow down and worship the icon of Jesus, when he saw a gigantic demon standing in front of the icon of Jesus waiting to be worshipped.  Meanwhile, his monastic cell filled with other evil spirits.  Father Silouan sat down again, and with bowed head and aching heart he prayed: “Lord you see that I desire to pray to you with a pure mind but the demons will not let me.  Instruct me what must I do to stop them from hindering me?”  And in his soul he heard, “The proud always suffer from demons.”  “Lord, said Silouan, “teach me what I must do that my soul may become humble.”  Once more his heart heard God’s answer, “Keep thy mind in hell, and despair not.”

            After many years of spiritual trials, he acquired great humility and hesychia, inner stillness.  He prayed and wept for the whole world as for himself, and he put the highest value on love for enemies.  Thomas Merton has described Silouan “as the most authentic monk of the twentieth century”.  Saint Silouan reposed on September 24, 1938.  He left behind his writings which were edited by his disciple and pupil, the Elder Sophrony who lived with him for many years on Mount Athos.  Father Sophrony left Mount Athos, went to England and established an Orthodox Monastery in Essex.  Father Sophrony has written a complete life of the Saint along with the record of Saint Silouan’s teachings in the book Saint Silouan the Athonite.


THE MONASTIC PENINSULAR OF MOUNT ATHOS

            Saint Silouan is one of the most beloved contemporary Saints of the Orthodox Church having been canonized in 1987.  He was a simple monk who attracted pilgrims from all over the world.  His teachings emphasized the absolute necessity of love and humility for authentic Christian life.  As is evident from the story below, the Saint believed these virtues should guide all aspects of Christian witness, including how we interact with and preach the truth to those in error or heresy.  Father Silouan’s attitude towards those who differed from him was characterized by a sincere desire to see what was good in them and not to offend them in anything they held sacred.  He always remained himself, he was utterly convinced that salvation lays in Christ-like humility, and by virtue of this humility he strove with his whole soul to interpret every man at his best.  He found his way to the heart of everyone in his capacity for loving Christ.

SAINT SILOUAN THE ATHONITE

            I remember a conversation he had with a certain archimandrite who was engaged in missionary work.  This archimandrite thought highly of the Staretz and went to see him many times during his visits to Mount Athos.  The Staretz asked him what sort of sermons he preached to people.  The archimandrite, who was still young and inexperienced, gesticulated with his hands and swayed his whole body, and replied excitedly, “I tell them, your faith is all wrong, perverted. There is nothing right and if you don’t repent, there will be no salvation for you.”  The Staretz heard him out, then asked, “But please tell me, holy archimandrite, do they believe in the Lord Jesus Christ—that He is the true God?” “Yes, they do believe that.”  “And do they honor the Holy Mother?”  “They honor her but they teach erroneous things about her.” “And what about the saints—do they acknowledge their existence?” “Yes, they do, but ever since they have severed themselves from the Church, what kind of saints could they have?”  “Do they perform services in Churches? Do they read the Word of God?”  “Yes, and they also have temples and services, but if you could only see how inferior their services are to ours—how cold, how soul-less they are!”  “Holy archimandrite, their souls obviously feel that they are acting correctly in believing in Christ, in honoring the Holy Mother and the Saints—whom they invoke in their prayers.  That is why, when you tell them that their faith is illegitimate, they will not listen to you.  But if you told the people that they are right in believing in God, that they are right in honoring the Holy Mother and the Saints, and in going to Church for services and praying at home, that they are right reading the Word of God and all the rest, except that here and there they have a few incorrect theories which should be corrected, then everything will be just fine and pleasing to God, and by the Grace of God, everyone will be saved. “God is love and that is why a sermon needs to always spring from love.  Only then will the preacher and the listener both benefit.  But if you censure them, then the souls of the people will not listen to you and no benefit will be achieved.” 
           
            As the Saint reveals in this passage from Saint Silouan the Athonite, in today’s context a polemical approach to those in theological error is not only bound to fail, it is incongruous with the precepts of Christian love and humility—and a detriment to spiritual growth.

Compiled and edited by:

+Fr. Constantine (Charles) J. Simones, Waterford, CT., USA, June 20, 2014

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