True Testimony ( 01.02.2008 )
“Also I say to you, whoever confesses (bears witness to) Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God.” (Luke 12:8)
At each stage of spiritual growth they who properly struggle confess and bear witness to Christ in the respective different way. He who still purifies his heart from the passions does not have the same power of witness compared to him who has already illumined his mind; not to draw a parallel with him who is deified. So that we understand how we should confess and bear witness to the Godman Christ as early as at the first stage of spiritual growth—the stage of purification of the heart from the passions—(knowledge that should interest most of us), we must first realize how we should properly struggle at the same stage. True testimony to Christ is inseparable with the proper mode of struggle.
Yet, how do we know or how do we determine at which of the stages of spiritual growth we are? Our spiritual age is most easily and solely determined by the quality of prayer. We will all agree, using natural logic we have, that it is not possible the same prayer to be practiced by one who still purifies his heart from the passions, one who still illumines his mind, and one who is deified. Therefore, according to the Holy Fathers, the prayer of the former is oral and of the intellect, while of the latter it is mind-and-heart prayer and unceasing mind-and-heart prayer, respectively. Let us also recall here that we should not confuse intellectuality with illumination. The devil is the greatest intellectual, yet he does not have a grain of illumination. Hence, when almost all of us, through the above-described examination, find ourselves at the first stage, it is good for us to know the following, too…
At the first stage of spiritual growth, according to our Fathers, proper struggle consists in: first, non-identification with thoughts, desires, and feelings, and their regular checking with the spiritual father; second, proper confession, at which we mainly reveal our heart’s reactions at the fall into temptation and do not blame anyone else but ourselves; and third, continuous ascetical-hesychastic struggle (fasting, prostrations, regular attendance with standing at the church services, vigil, prayerful struggle etc.) until the moment of opening of the heart or until the moment of discovering the place of the heart—struggle through which we likewise trample on our self-love and the habit of self-indulgence of our fallen nature and we set the framework, the foundation, the atmosphere for mourning, by which the road to the gift of tears of repentance is opened to us. The aim of these rules is to place our mind in a state of submission to another mind—that is, to put our proud, distracted, and darkened mind into a process of healing and illumination, and our heart into a process of purification from the passions.
Certainly, there are also anomalies and obstacles on the road. First obstacle is disobedience to the spiritual father, which stands opposite the rule of obedience i.e. opposite the rule of non-identification with our desires, thoughts, and feelings and their regular checking with the spiritual father. Second obstacle is judging and condemnation of our fellowman, which is opposite the rule of proper confession, the principle of which is: ‘it is all my fault’. Third obstacle is non-continuous ascetical-hesychastic struggle in periods of withdrawal of grace, opposite the rule of continuity in the struggle exactly in these periods, by which we show a son’s rather than a hired servant’s relation to God and use this by God granted period for our spiritual growth and perfection.
Now that we already know the rules, we can easily describe also the manifestations of the proper and the incorrect struggle—that is, the manifestations of the proper witness (and confession) to Christ, the Son of God, and the manifestations of the incorrect preaching or witness to God.
For instance, how must he behave who ought to check his thoughts, desires, and feelings with his spiritual father and ought to confess properly—meaning, ought to confess without blaming even a little bit anyone else about the sin committed or about the temptation arisen? In other words, what should be de conduct of him whose mind and heart are still captured by passions and he therefore does not have the gift of the mind-and-heart prayer and illumination? Should not such one humble himself, obey, ask, examine himself, seek counsels, strive all the more to be silent and listen, learn, blame himself, struggle…? All the previously described manifestations are also manifestations of true testimony and confession of the Godman Christ! By true testimony and confession even he who is at the stage of purification can draw others towards Christ and contribute to the salvation of them who watch his way of life.
Now then, how does he behave who does not lead a proper spiritual life? Does not such one have a high opinion of himself; does he not listen to no one, ask no one, not check himself with the spiritual father, not take advice; does he not talk a lot, show off, self-justify himself, slander, judge and condemn, teach others; is he not impatient, argues, uses lies, unfoundedly or exceedingly criticizes, while he usually does not struggle but—if at all—only intellectually builds up himself…? There also such, of the same kind, who compensate their poor intellectual capacity with seemingly stricter struggle, yet they are alike with the former in everything… It goes without saying, their subject of discussion are usually the canons and the “guarding” of Orthodox faith… There are likewise various types in between. All the previously described kinds of behaviour, which arise from their incorrect way of life, have been explained into details by the Holy Fathers. All the manifestations and kinds of behaviour of the wrong way of life are only food for the passion of pride, of high self-esteem, of vanity… Instead of getting healed, we become worse and more harmful to the Church even than the unbelievers. Why?
All the previously described kinds of behavior are also manifestations of wrong testimony and confession and preaching the Godman Christ! Such a way of behavior, which arises from incorrect struggle, causes all other temptations, enmities, splits, discords, schisms, and heresies, from which the Church of Christ suffers. The extent of harm depends only on the position in the Church of him who behaves in that way. One kind of harm can cause he who does not have a priestly rank, another kind he who has some of the lower priestly ranks. The greatest harm can be caused by one who has the episcopal rank.
A most normal and simplest logical question imposes itself: all right children, how do we do all these things without illumination of the mind—that is, without us constantly illumining our mind in our heart’s depths, where Divine grace of Baptism resides, through several-hour mind-and-heart prayer? How do we, without illumination of the mind, so self-confidently discuss, persuade, persistently claim, teach, explain etc. what is—let us say—“allowed”? Even worse: how do we so easily slander, judge, and condemn? Or is it exactly because of our non-illumination that we do it… Not to mention envy, lie, libel, and all other similar sins. Is it not clear to us that without illumination of the mind, we look at the world and all in it through our passions, of which we are still not purified? Is it not clear to us that without illumination we do not have the clear picture or, even better, is it not clear to us that we have the wrong picture about the things around us? Do we not realize that all we do is only nourishment for our passions? Do we not see we have entered into an endless circle of self-defilement and self-affliction?
By this I do not wish to say one must not air his opinion. God forbid! However, he must be careful about few things, particularly when he talks with his equals… Firstly, it is his inner state, so that he can express his view calmly, not in moments of irritation and anxiety. Secondly, if he cannot do it calmly, then let him at least mind not to cross the red line of Christian behavior. And thirdly, he must not seek to impose his opinion at any expense, however correct it may be. Here is what Saint John of the Ladder says about it: “He who in a conversation with others stubbornly insists on imposing his opinion, be it even correct, should realize he is ill with the devil’s illness. If he does it in a conversation with his equals, he might still be healed by the elders’ punishment; yet, if he behaves that way also with the elder and smarter (more experienced) than him, then this illness cannot be healed by people.”
It takes a great effort for the one who does not have illumined mind to fulfill the patristic rule: hate the sin, yet love the sinner. Usually vanity carries us away in the opposite direction: to identify the sinner with the sin, and respond with evil to evil… It is good if we repent afterwards; the harm has been done, though. From the above-mentioned, I think it becomes clear to all of us why our discussions, regardless of how they happen and how they start, often boil down to a quite low level: talking about worldly things, slander, libel, judging, condemnation, self-praise, cheating and lies, retaliation for the evil with evil… Particularly when these happen outside the frames of due respect because of the immediate hierarchical subordination.
Therefore, for instance, if you remember the question from some ten days ago at Preminportal’s forum, “What kind of forum do we want?”, in my opinion, it should mean nothing else but “What kind of forum do the faithful need?”. And the faithful, who are at the stage of purification of the heart from the passions, need a forum with rules, just as young stem needs a strong stake to be fixed to, so that it neither grows askew or the strong wind breaks it. Growing askew is being imbued with wrong teaching and practicing a wrong way of life, while being broken by the strong wind means the scandal that alienates people from the Church. The faithful need a forum that will not nourish their passions; a forum that will match their spiritual age; a forum that will help the process of their purification; a forum that will help them build themselves up intellectually as well; a forum that will bear witness they are true disciples of Christ (before all who visit the forum for the first time); a forum in which they will learn how to love—first ascetically, and then gracefully… There is either a need to provide such a forum for the faithful, or there is no need of any other… If one should ask me…
I dedicate this homily with great love and great respect for their investment of effort to the editors of Preminportal.
Metropolitan Nahum of Strumica