‘Be Ye in Crucified Love’3 October 2023
The monk who strives to offer the Lord a mighty love, as He showed unto us, and tries to invent ways to find stronger contact with Christ so that his heart may confess this mighty love towards Him, will surely make progress. Monasticism is indeed a matter of love. I once told Father Sophrony that without the love of Christ it is better for man not to live even one day upon earth. He took it even further and increased my tension, answering: ‘Without the love of Christ it is better for him not even to come upon earth.’
The hymns of the Church say: ‘Thou hast shown us a mighty steadfast love, O Lord, for Thou didst give Thine Only-begotten Son over to death for us. Wherefore, in thanksgiving we cry unto Thee: Glory to Thy power, O Lord!’ In other words, Christ began a relationship with us, a bond of mighty love, which He manifested towards us, but which He also expects from us. He who enters this loving relationship and does all things in order to preserve this mighty love, will make quick progress. There is no logic in this. As he walked towards his martyrdom, Saint Ignatius the Godbearer was saying: ‘My Love is crucified.’ What does it mean? He had such pain and sorrow in his soul, such longing for God that he was raring to deliver himself to martyrdom. Only thus could his thirst and longing be quenched, only thus could his soul be satisfied.
Forgive me, I will use a language that may be misunderstood, but monks must be people in love. They should be in love, not with a human love, but as Saint Ignatius says, ‘My Love is crucified.’ If the monk keeps this state which is very dynamic and creative, he is likely to enter the communion of the saints. There is no other way. It is in this love that perfection lies, as Saint Paul says in his Epistle to the Ephesians: ‘Only with all the saints we can comprehend the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of the love of Christ.’ We are enriched by the gifts of the others if we bring our own little gift to join the rest of the Body.
In that communion all things are common and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit are contained therein. Only in this assembly, in this heavenly communion of all the saints is there fulness of salvation, fulness of divine love, for God saves all His people, all His generation, He does not save individuals. That is why He gave the two commandments, to love Him with our whole heart and our fellows as ourselves. We need both: to love the Head, the King of this communion of the saints, and to love all those who become the members of this Body. May God help us not to miss it.
Referring to divine love, Saint Paul uses two most striking images: the circumcision of the heart and the marks of Christ are the signs of those who are wounded by love. Christians should be people who have a circumcised heart, who bear the marks of Christ, who are wounded by love. Only he who finds the path of divine love becomes incorruptible: for it is divine love itself that makes man eternal. Such a one will not look around at the others and will not criticise anybody. He will see them as fellow victims of death, and he will be full of compassion for all.
The many worldly cares can drown this love if man has not learned to live by an unwritten covenant: to give to God that which is God’s, a part of his time, a part of his life, and offer Him steadily his whole heart. ‘For God loveth a cheerful giver,’ who gives from the heart. If man is thus accustomed and keeps a rule, then even the cares will not harm him, especially if those cares are for the Body of Christ, for the brotherhood.
It is a great help to get used to a rule of life and keep it. Even if those that are weak may stumble and remain behind for a while, they will come back to their rule because they have become accustomed to keep this habit, which will help heal the stumble and fill the gap. This is what the Fathers say: if man has learnt to repent, even if he falls into a certain temptation, he will find more rapid healing. It is a covenant of love. If you get used to give one share from your twenty four hours to God, and give it with longing, that is with tears – how else? – then the entire day will be sanctified. And if you have two or three such moments in the day, it is even better, although Saint Ephraim of Katounakia told me that, ‘Hot tears are shed only once a day.’ Perhaps he referred to shedding tears to the end. He said that for this reason, in monasteries, novices are kept busy with work all the time so as to increase their thirst and longing for the moment when they can withdraw to the solitude of their cell, stand before the Lord and pour out their heart to Him with tears. The aim is for them to acquire spiritual mourning.
This is how both Saint Ephraim and Saint Sophrony found grace. Our Father Founder had an inconsolable repentance; he was considering himself as an apostate because he had flirted in his youth with the oriental religions. He never became Buddhist, he never denied Christ, but for a while his mind stopped at that alluring philosophy and he flirted with it. Afterwards he would not forgive himself and his repentance would give him no rest. Of course, after a time of such repentance, his soul became crystal clear from every stain.
Imagine what a grace God has given him just from the statement, ‘I AM THAT I AM.’ He received such an enlightenment from these words. I would pass over them without noticing, my mind would not stop at them; other passages spoke to me more. Those words were exactly what he needed at that moment, the revelation that true Being is personal. After his encounter with the Divine, the rest of Saint Sophrony’s life was a martyrdom of repentance out of his crucified love for the Personal God.
In his introduction to the writings of Saint Silouan, he writes: ‘The witnesses to Christ’s love are so rare, because there is no more difficult, more painful spiritual effort than the ascetic striving for love; no testimony more terrible than bearing witness to love; and no preaching more challenging than the preaching of love.’ He lived himself in his own life the truth that, on this earth, divine love leads man to the Cross. That is why, in the hymns of his service, he is called a ‘crucified lover of the Crucified Christ’.