One of the great old men was at recreation with his disciples in a place where they’re were Cypress trees of different shapes and sizes, some large, some small. And he said to one of his disciples: Pull up that Cypress over there. It was a very small one and immediately the disciple pulled it up with one hand. Then the old man showed him another one, larger than the first, and he said pull up that one. Working it backwards and forwards with both hands he pulled it up. The old man showed him yet a larger one, and with much more trouble he pulled that up too. Then he showed him and even larger one and with much more labor, straining backwards and forwards and sweating profusely, he finally lifted that one too. Then the old man showed him still a larger one, but for all his energy and sweating he could not pull it up. And when the old man saw that he could not pull it up, he turned to another brother and told him to get up and help him, but even the two of them together could not pull it up. Then the old man said to all the brothers: So it is with our evil desires: insofar is they are small to start with, we can, if we want to, cut them off with ease. If we neglect them as mere trifles they harden, and the more they harden, the more labor is needed to get rid of them. But if they grow to any degree of maturity inside us, we shall no longer be able to remove them from ourselves no matter how hard we labor unless we have the help of the Saints interceding for us with God.
If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast.
If any man be a wise servant, let him enter rejoicing into the joy of his Lord.
If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense.
If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward.
If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast.
If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings, because he shall in no wise be deprived.
If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing.
If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him also be not alarmed at his tardiness;
for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first;
he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour,
even as unto him who has worked from the first hour.
And He shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first;
and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts.
And he both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention,
and honors the acts and praises the offering.
Wherefore, enter ye all into the joy of your Lord, and receive your reward,
both the first and likewise the second.
You rich and poor together, hold high festival.
You sober and you heedless, honor the day.
Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast.
The table is fully laden; feast sumptuously.
The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.
Enjoy the feast of faith; receive all the riches of loving-kindness.
Let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shone forth from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free:
he that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it.
By descending into hell, he made hell captive.
He embittered it when it tasted of his flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, cried:
“Hell was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions.”
It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked.
It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown.
It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face.
It took earth, and encountered heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.
O Death, where is your sting?
O Hell, where is your victory?
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown.
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen.
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice.
Christ is risen, and life reigns.
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.
For Christ, being risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
To him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.
Human beings are blessed with the ability to focus on what is most important. So much of what we do at work or school, for example, requires that we tune out distractions and give our minds to the task before us.
St. Paul reminds us that we especially need to do so in the Christian life by giving our minds to what is true, noble, just, pure, lovely, virtuous, and praise worthy. Palm Sunday is a time that we all need this reminder as we enter into the mystery of our salvation as Jesus Christ journeys to His cross, descent into Hades, and glorious resurrection.
Nothing about this week comes naturally or easily to us. We understand wanting our enemies to suffer, but not freely suffering for their sake. We understand religious people judging others with self-righteousness, but not loving sinners to the point of dying on their behalf. We understanding wanting our side to win, but not that true victory comes by laying aside all that looks like power in this world. We think that we understand a remote God in the heavens who does not understand how hard life is down here, not One who hangs on a cross, occupies a tomb, and descends to Hades.
There are times when what has been cloudy and confused becomes bright and clear, when what has been hidden is made manifest for all to see. Today is one of those times. For Jesus Christ, who revealed that He is the resurrection and the life by raising His friend Lazarus from the dead, now enters Jerusalem as the long-awaited Messiah to the welcoming cheers of the crowd.
But even before He gets to Jerusalem, the forces of darkness had decided to kill Christ because they could tell that someone who could raise the dead was a threat to their power; for He was neither a conquering general nor a Pharisee-like interpreter of the Law; and those nationalistic religious leaders had no use for a Messiah who did not serve their schemes of domination.
On Palm Sunday, it becomes clear that the Savior Who enters Jerusalem today is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He is the Passover Lamb whose death and resurrection will conquer death itself. Mary, Lazarus’ sister, performed a prophetic act when she anointed Christ with the same kind of costly ointment that was used to anoint the bodies of the dead. This Messiah, this One who is truly anointed to save His people and the whole world, will be rejected by the leaders of the Jews and crucified under the authority of the Romans. And when He is lifted up upon the Cross, He will draw all who believe in Him– Jew, Gentile, male, female, rich, poor, all nations, classes, and races—to the life of a Kingdom that transcends this world and our petty divisions.
Jesus Christ will not reign as a soldier, a politician, or a rich man, but as a Suffering Servant, a slaughtered lamb, a despised victim of torture and capital punishment. The crowds are right on Palm Sunday to welcome Him as a conquering King in Whom God’s promises will be fulfilled. But they misunderstand what kind of King He is and how He will conquer. For He rules from a cross and an empty tomb; instead of killing Roman soldiers, He kills death by allowing Himself to be killed; in the place of a magnificent stallion fit for a king, He rides a humble donkey that would impress no one.
The crowd is right, “Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel.” They shout “Hosanna,” which is a plea for God’s salvation to come upon the earth. And it does through the Lord’s death and glorious resurrection. But that’s not what the crowds expected; it’s apparently not what the disciples or anyone else anticipated. For it goes against all our preconceived notions of what it means to be successful, to be powerful, to rule upon the earth, and to be respectable and religious.
And it’s still a very hard lesson for us to accept, for there is too much of the world in all of us and the demons never work harder than when we are trying to grow closer to Christ. That’s why we need to follow St. Paul’s advice to focus on what is truly holy this week, to rejoice always, and to “let your gentleness be known to all men.” As St. Paul wrote, “The Lord is at hand” which is never more true than on this feast as He enters Jerusalem to the cheers of the crowds.
In Holy Week, what had been cloudy becomes clear; the truth is out in the open and we cannot ignore it any longer. Jesus Christ is the Passover Lamb, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world. He is our Champion, our Savior, our King, yet in His humility and love, the incarnate Son of God suffers on the cross as the lowest of the low in order to bring us to the heights of heaven and the joy of life eternal through His empty tomb.
And this week we journey with Him to that cross, becoming participants in His passion. Like Lazarus, we sit at table with Him. Like Mary, we anoint Him for burial. Like those gathered in Jerusalem, we welcome Him with palms and praises. Like the disciples, we eat the Passover with Him; like His mother Mary the Theotokos, the other faithful women, and the Apostle John, we kneel before His cross. Like Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, we bury Him. And like the stunned myrrh-bearers and the doubting apostles, we will marvel at the unspeakable joy of His resurrection. For what looks like complete failure is actually total triumph, as we will see in the early hours of next Sunday.
Holy Week is the climax of Jesus Christ’s life and of ours, too. For He goes to the cross for us; He dies and rises for our salvation, to bring us into the unending joy of eternal life, to defeat our ancient foe. So it’s time to lay aside our usual distractions, excuses, and obsessions, and enter into the passion of our Lord by worshiping Him in the services of the church, as well as in every thought, word, and deed this week. If we can’t attend literally every service, can all pray at home, read the Bible passages for Holy Week, and give less attention to the world and more to God.
It’s time to embrace the great mystery of our salvation, of our Savior’s infinite love and mercy, and thus share already in the blessedness of the Kingdom of Heaven. Holy Week is the time to enter into the Light that shines brightly even from the terror of the cross and the darkness of the tomb. Yes, our Savior has endured all these evils for us purely out of love; and He will soon rise over them triumphantly.
On Palm Sunday, it is clear who Jesus Christ is: The Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world. How will we respond to Him as He goes to the cross for us? Hopefully, with the fear of God and faith and love, we will draw near and not abandon or disregard Him.
Yes, that will take intentional focus and the discipline to turn away from temptations, distractions, and unholy thoughts that become obstacles along our path. Nonetheless, we must follow St. Paul’s guidance to “Be anxious for nothing” and allow “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding…[to] guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
“Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel. Hosanna in the highest!”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Saint Proclus of Constantinople was a disciple of Saint John Chrysostom, from whom he received a profound understanding of Holy Scripture and learned to elucidate his thoughts in a polished form. Serving as Patriarch of Constantinople from AD 434 through 447, he was esteemed for his ascetic life, his concern about the downtrodden, and his preaching. Many of his sermons and other writings have survived to the present day, including his sermon on the Annunciation, excerpts of which appear below. Best known are his discourses against the Nestorians, two tracts in praise of the Mother of God, and four tracts on the Nativity of Christ, setting forth the Orthodox teaching about the Incarnation of the Son of God.
Our present gathering in honor of the Most Holy Virgin inspires me, brethren, to offer her a word of praise, of benefit also for those who have come to this holy celebration. It is a praise of women, a glorification of their gender, which (glory) she brings to it, she who is both Mother and Virgin at the same time.
O desired and wondrous gathering! O nature, celebrate that whereby honor is rendered to woman! Rejoice, O human race, that in which the Virgin is glorified. “But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” [Romans 5:20]. The Holy Mother of God and Virgin Mary has gathered us here. She is the pure treasure of virginity, the intended paradise of the Second Adam, the place where the union of natures (divine and human) was accomplished, and the Counsel of salvific reconciliation was affirmed.
Who has ever seen, who has ever heard, that the Limitless God would dwell within a womb? He Whom the Heavens cannot circumscribe is not limited by the womb of a Virgin! He Who is born of woman is not just God and He is not just Man. He Who is born has made woman the gateway of salvation. Where evil poured forth its poison, bringing on disobedience, there the Word made a living temple for Himself, bringing obedience there. From the place where the arch sinner Cain sprang forth, there Christ the Redeemer of the human race was born without seed. The Lover of Mankind did not disdain to be born of woman, since She gave Him life (in His human nature). He was not subject to impurity by being in the womb which He Himself arrayed free from all harm. If this Mother had not remained a Virgin, then the Child born of her might be a mere man, and the birth would not be miraculous in any way. Since she remained a Virgin after giving birth, then how is He Who is born not God? It is an inexplicable mystery, for He Who passed through locked doors without hindrance was born in an inexplicable manner. Thomas cried out, “My Lord, and my God!” [John 20:28], thus confessing the union of two natures in Him.
The Apostle Paul says that Christ is “to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness” [1 Corinthians 1:23]; they did not perceive the power of the mystery, since it was incomprehensible to their minds, “for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory” [1 Corinthians 2:8]. If the Word had not settled within the womb, then the flesh would not have ascended onto the Divine Throne with Him. If it were disdainful for God to enter the womb which He created, then the angels also would have disdained service to mankind.
He, Who in His (divine) nature was not subject to sufferings, through His love for us subjected Himself to many sufferings. We believe that Christ was not made God by some gradual ascent toward the divine nature, but being God, He was made Man through His mercy. We do not say, “a man was made God,” but we confess that God was incarnate and made Man. He Who, in His essence did not have a mother chose His servant as Mother, and He Who appeared on earth in the image of man does not have an earthly father. How is He both without a father and without a mother, according to the words of the Apostle [Hebrews 7:3]? If He is only a man, then He cannot be without a mother, but actually He had a Mother. If He is only God, then He cannot be without a Father, but He has the Father. Yet as God the Creator, He has no mother, and as Man, He has no father.
We can be persuaded of this by the very name of the Archangel who spoke to Mary: his name is Gabriel. What does this name mean? It means “man of God.” Since He Whom Gabriel announced is God and Man, then his very name points to this miracle beforehand, so that this act of divine dispensation is accepted with faith. It would be impossible for a mere man to save people, for every man has need of the Savior, “for all have sinned,” says Saint Paul, “and come short of the Glory of God” [Romans 3:23]. Since sin subjects the sinner to the power of the devil, and the devil subjects him to death, then our condition became extremely desperate: there was no way to be delivered from death. Physicians were sent—i.e. the prophets—but they could only point out the malady more clearly. What did they do? When they saw that the illness was beyond human skill, they summoned the Physician from Heaven. One of them said, “Lord, bow Thy heavens, and come down” [Psalm 143/144:5]; others cried out, “Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed” [Jeremiah 17:14]; “Turn us, O God, and cause Thy face to shine; and we shall be delivered” [Psalm 79/80:3]…. Still others said, “But will God truly dwell with man upon the earth?” [3/1 Kings 8:27]; “Let Thy tender mercies go before us, O Lord, for we are greatly impoverished” [Psalm 78/79:8]….
He, Who by nature is Lord, did not disdain human nature enslaved by the sinister power of the devil. The merciful God would not allow it to be under the power of the devil forever, the Ever-Existing One came and gave His Blood in ransom. To redeem the race of man from death He gave up His Body, which He had accepted from the Virgin. He delivered the world from the curse of the law, annihilating death by His death. “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law,” says Saint Paul [Galatians 3:13].
Know then that our Redeemer is not simply a mere man, since the whole human race was enslaved to sin. But neither is He just God, Who does not partake of human nature. He had a body, for if He had not clothed Himself in me, then neither would He have saved me. But, having settled in the womb of the Virgin, He clothed Himself in my fate, and within this womb He effected a miraculous change: He bestowed the Spirit and received a body.
And so, Who is made manifest to us? The Prophet David shows you by these words: “Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord” [Psalm 117/118:26]. But tell us even more clearly, O prophet, Who is He? The Lord is the God of Hosts, says the prophet: “God is the Lord, and has revealed Himself unto us” [Psalm 117/118:27]. “The Word was made flesh” [John 1:14]: there the two natures were united, and the union remained without mingling.
He came to save, but had also to suffer. What has the one in common with the other? A mere man cannot save; and God cannot suffer in His nature. By what means was the one and the other done? He, Emmanuel, being God, was made also Man. He saved by that which He was (God), and He suffered as that which He became (Man)….
He alone is both in the bosom of the Father and in the womb of the Virgin; He alone is in the arms of His Mother and rides on the wings of the winds [Psalm 103/104:3]. He, before Whom the angels bow down in worship, also reclined at table with publicans. The Seraphim dared not gaze upon Him, yet Pilate pronounced sentence upon Him. He Who the servant smote is also the One before Whom all creation trembles. He was nailed to the Cross, and ascended to the Throne of Glory. He was placed in the tomb, and He stretched out the heavens like a curtain [Psalm 103/104:2]. He was numbered among the dead, and He emptied Hell. Here on earth, they cursed Him as a transgressor; there in Heaven, they glorified Him as the All-Holy.
What an incomprehensible mystery! I see the miracles, and I confess that He is God. I see the sufferings, and I cannot deny that He is Man. Emmanuel opened the doors of nature as man, and as God He preserved the seal of virginity intact. He emerged from the womb at birth the same way He entered through the Annunciation. Wondrously was He both conceived and born: He entered without passion, and He emerged without impairment. As the Prophet Ezekiel says concerning this, “He brought me back by the way of the outer gate of the sanctuary that looks eastward: and it was shut. And the Lord said to me: This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no one shall pass through it; for the Lord God of Israel shall enter by it, and it shall be shut” [Ezekiel 44:1-2]. Here the Holy Virgin and Mother of God is clearly indicated. Let all contention cease, and let the Holy Scripture enlighten our reason, so that we too may receive the Heavenly Kingdom unto all eternity. Amen.
The holy Apostle of Christ, Andrew the First-called, was originally a disciple of St. John the Baptist who prepared the people to receive the Messiah, When the Saviour came out of the wilderness, the Forerunner told the people: “Behold, the Lamb of God” (John 1:36). Immediately Andrew followed after Him. Turning round and seeing him together with John’ s other disciples, the Lord asked them: What do ye seek? They answered: Master, where dost Thou dwell? He said to them: Come and see. The disciples saw where He lived and spent the day there with Him. Soon after this the Lord called Andrew and his brother Peter to follow after Him and told them that they were to become fishers of men unto the salvation of many. From that time forth, they remained with Christ; they were faithful to Him to the end and gave their very lives out of love for Him.
Dear brothers and sisters on this day I would ask you the same question: What are you seeking? Why did you come to church today? What are we all seeking in our lives? Are we seeking Christ, as He was first sought by tile humble fishermen, among whom was the Apostle Andrew?
What is it that people seek in life: health, riches, success, acquaintances, friends, prestige, various worldly pleasures, vain knowledge… Only a few seek Christ the Saviour. Some may even think it strange to seek Christ. They say, we call ourselves Christians after Christ, we see His holy image both in our homes and at church; we pronounce His sweetest name and hear it in God’s temple. It appears we have no need to seek for Christ. People seek that which they don’t have, that which they need. But we seem to have Christ.
It’s true, we have icons of Christ, but we do not have Christ Himself; we have His name, but only on our lips—not in our hearts; we know Him, but only in word—not in deed. Here, beloved, is a big difference; it is the same difference as between a shadow and the object which casts the shadow, It is, however, precisely with the heart that Christ is truly known, that is, in our inner man—in our soul; because Christ, as God, is Spirit, “Who is everywhere and fillest all things.”
The kingdom of God is within You (Luke 17:21), says the Lord. The holy Apostle Paul earnestly desired that through faith Christ would dwell in the hearts of Christians. He wrote:
May God grant you according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith. (Eph. 3:16-17)
We have to admit that most of us do not have Christ in our hearts. Instead, our hearts are occupied with that which is opposed to Christ—our God and Saviour, that which is opposed to our own good, which hinders the salvation of our souls. And because of this we do not lead a genuine Christian life.
What is it that occupies our hearts? God alone, Who searchest out the hearts and reins (Ps. 7:9) sees what is in our hearts, its attachments. If the Lord granted us to see the full depths of our hearts, we would turn our eyes away in horror from such an overwhelming accumulation of filth. Let each of us look into his heart and say before the witness of our conscience what it is that occupies our hearts most of all. Passions, sins voluntary and involuntary—are these not our heart’s constant inhabitants?
But where does Christ dwell? —in pure hearts, hearts that are humble and contrite, there where He is not grieved by doubt or unbelief, by indifference towards Him Who is God and Saviour; there where men do not prefer the temporal sweetness of sin; where the idols of the passions have been chased out; where crude materiality is not preferred to the Kingdom of God. where Christians often turn their thoughts to the heavenly, as those created for heaven, for eternity; there where they seek God’s truth, where every day and every hour they are attentive to His commandments. Here is where Christ dwells. And what does He do there? If only we knew (some, of course, do know) what He does in souls worthy of His abiding presence—what rest, comfort and joy He imparts, what paradisal bliss He gives them to experience while still on this earth…
Having once embraced Christ, the holy Apostle Andrew became entirely committed to Him, and no matter what difficulties, sorrows, misfortunes and persecutions—unavoidable in preaching the Gospel—came his way, he remained faithful to Christ, enduring everything out of love for Him, even crucifixion.
It is of utmost importance that we seek after Christ—and find Him. Without Christ, who will save us from our sins which ensnare us every day and hour, and from the eternal torments? Only the Son of God has power on earth to forgive sins; He alone has the keys to hell and death, the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and life.
To find Christ is not difficult. He is everywhere, filling the world with Himself. God says to us through His prophet Jeremiah: “I am a God nigh at hand…and not a God afar off” (Jer. 23:23) …. As soon as He sees our hearts incline to receive His grace, He immediately enters, bringing with Him peace and comfort. I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me (Rev. 3:20), says the Lord. Oh, how often He converses with His faithful servants, as with true friends. Christ Himself is seeking you: if you but incline your heart toward Him, you will surely find Him.
But how are we to know if we have found Christ and are close to Him? Those close to Christ often turn to Him in prayer with faith and love; they often pronounce from their heart His sweetest name, often call upon Him for help; they often read or listen to His word with childlike simplicity and love; they seek frequent union with Him in His life-giving Mysteries; they are satisfied with whatever they have and accepting of what happens to them; they strive according to their strength to fulfill Christ’s commandments… It happens that they also experience trials which are allowed by the loving Master—in order that their hearts be cleansed of every sinful impurity. Those who desire to be with Christ must not run away from trials, but even in times of joy, they must not forsake the carrying of their cross.
My dear brothers and sisters! Seek Jesus Christ with faith and love. Do not forget that He gave His life on the Cross for our sakes, to deliver us from sin and eternal torment, and to dwell in our hearts, that we might have great joy. Do not forget, we have all been bought with the price of His blood, and we should belong to Him, as to our Redeemer.
Our days are numbered. Every stroke of the clock reminds us to seek Him Who created time and Himself stands above the measure of time. He alone is able to pluck us out from the ravaging torrent of time… Every stroke of the clock tells us: Be watchful! You now have one hour less until you must cross the threshold into life after death which knows neither days nor hours. Do not be seduced by the momentary sweetness of sin which vanishes like a dream, leaving the soul empty, ailing, anguishing; it steals away precious time and ruins it forever. Do not waste time in useless occupations or idleness. Every one of you has a God-given talent to put to use. Busy yourselves in acquiring incorruptible wealth in the Kingdom of Heaven. Take the example of the thousands who have gone before you, having attained eternal rest and joy through their ceaseless labors in this temporal life, through sweat and tears. Make haste to uproot from yourselves sin in all its various manifestations, through the help of Christ the Saviour. Remember, man sows what he reaps (Gal. 6:7), according to the immutable law of God’ s righteousness.
While there is still time, therefore, let us hasten to find Christ and in faith create for Him an abode in our hearts that we not fall prey to the fire of gehenna, as it is written: “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:6). Amen.
Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You! (Ps. 119:11)
Years ago, I heard a statement from an American monk: “The contemplative need go no further than his own heart to find the source of all violence in the world.” It struck me as true then and has only seemed more so as the years have passed. At the time (not long after the Vietnam War) this monastic was remarking on the many young people whom they had visiting his monastery who were “so deeply angry about peace.” The statement echoed an experience I had some years earlier when I was in high school.
A well-known peace activist, a Catholic priest visited our campus. There was a public discussion surrounding his presentation on the War (Vietnam). I got very involved in what became a vitriolic debate (I was arguing for peace). After the event, the priest said to me, “Stephen, there’s more than one way to do violence to a person.” He saw my heart and its danger for me.
Those early lessons were lost on me, but not forgotten. They haunted me when I first read Dostoevsky. His novels never present “evil” characters. Instead, they present the reality of the human heart. It is there that the source of all violence can be found. Discussing the topic of beauty and debauchery, Dmitri Karamazov examines the contradictions within our experience: “…the devil is struggling with God, and the battlefield is the human heart.”
When the battlefield within the heart is ignored and projected outwards, the result is a world of black and white, good and bad, friend and enemy. But both friend and enemy have hearts that are themselves a mass of contradictions, a battleground of good and evil. Solzhenitsyn famously saw this very thing:
If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
I am daily reminded of those early lessons on violence. If my generation was angry about peace, today we are angry about everything. The battleground within is strewn with the dead bodies of those whom we imagine being against us. No holocaust of violence could ever cleanse the world and bring peace to the heart. None of our projects will make the world a better place. The world is the projection of the human heart, and little more.
It is this very battlefield that the Lenten path to Pascha asks us to see.
“Grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother…”
So we pray as we repeat the prayer of St. Ephrem. Everything we see (or imagine we see) in those we judge is present within our own heart. It is only when we know that this is true that repentance can begin and the battle turn towards God’s favor.
Without repentance, every public display of outrageous violence only provokes us to more violence within. The mind races to fix blame and argue solutions. Repentance would, I think, produce silence, as we confronted the shame that the latest carnage should provoke in us all. In a sublime passage that echoes the teaching at the very heart of Orthodoxy, Dostoevsky’s Elder Zossima offers this:
“Love one another, fathers,” the elder taught (as far as Alyosha could recall afterwards). “Love God’s people. For we are not holier than those in the world because we have come here and shut ourselves within these walls, but, on the contrary, anyone who comes here, by the very fact that he has come, already knows himself to be worse than all those who are in the world, worse than all on earth … And the longer a monk lives within his walls, the more keenly he must be aware of it. For otherwise he had no reason to come here. But when he knows that he is not only worse than all those in the world, but is also guilty before all people, on behalf of all and for all,2 for all human sins, the world’s and each person’s, only then will the goal of our unity be achieved. For you must know, my dear ones, that each of us is undoubtedly guilty on behalf of all and for all on earth, not only because of the common guilt of the world, but personally, each one of us, for all people and for each person on this earth. This knowledge is the crown of the monk’s path, and of every man’s path on earth. For monks are not a different sort of men, but only such as all men on earth ought also to be. Only then will our hearts be moved to a love that is infinite, universal, and that knows no satiety. Then each of us will be able to gain the whole world by love and wash away the world’s sins with his tears … Let each of you keep close company with his heart, let each of you confess to himself untiringly. Do not be afraid of your sin, even when you perceive it, provided you are repentant, but do not place conditions on God. Again I say, do not be proud. Do not be proud before the lowly, do not be proud before the great either. And do not hate those who reject you, disgrace you, revile you, and slander you. Do not hate atheists, teachers of evil, materialists, not even those among them who are wicked, nor those who are good, for many of them are good, especially in our time. Remember them thus in your prayers: save, Lord, those whom there is no one to pray for, save also those who do not want to pray to you. And add at once: it is not in my pride that I pray for it, Lord, for I myself am more vile than all …1
And this is the way past our violence and the path to peace.