HOW CAN THIS BE?
by Monk Alexander
Translated by Bishop Basil (Rodzianko) of San Francisco and the West
Nicodemus asked this of Christ. Jesus answered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel and yet do not understand this? You must be born from above".
Each Christmas season our hearts can become like a manger, in which can be born the Saviour of the world. In order to see such a marvel as the birth of Christ, we need not got to Palestine to remember what happened there two thousand years ago. But, it is enough to look into one's heart, and we will see there the cave in Bethlehem, a manger, and the Newborn Christ Himself. How to do this? And with what kind of eyes do we need to see this?
The Holy Fathers and the Gospel tell us that besides the physical and material sight of things, God has bestowed upon us the ability to see some of that of the spiritual world, also. In order to see the Light with these spiritual eyes, we first of all need to know where these spiritual eyes are.
According to the teachings of the Holy Fathers, the 'heart' (this 'heart' does not mean a physical organ) is the 'very breath of life', for God Himself 'breathed' into the Man, and he became 'the living soul'; in other words, God Himself is by His energy dwelling in ourselves. This is the very Kingdom of God, which is within us (Lk. 17:21), according to Christ.
This divine abode is a 'door', which is Christ Himself. For it is said, "I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved" (John 10:9). But on the opposite side of the door, there is a different abode, in which lives another host: our soul. The Gospel says that Christ permanently stays by the door of this abode, day and night, and continuously knocks on it with His love. Why do we not fear this knocking? Why do we not see this door? May be we do not even know that such a door does exist.
If anyone even once tried to enter into the temple of one's heart with the help of prayer according to the World of Christ the Saviour Himself, "Enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father" (Mtt. 6:6), they know how hard or difficult it is to enter and then to close the door. It is difficult to enter because the abode within it is occupied by other 'hosts' — our passions — demons. Saint Theophan the Recluse said, "Whoever does not close the door of his house and allows beasts to enter therein, does wrong".
Whereby and from whence do these beasts come? It is easy to guess: through the open door of our feelings, through the screen of the television, through advertisements, through shows, etc. Even through various people. By means of all this we fill our souls. The beasts come at once, as soon as we see them. The Holy Fathers say that these public spectacles (listed above) are cause of many evil things. The Holy Fathers would rather put dirt on their faces than to watch the lawlessness of these public spectacles. What can we conclude from all this lawlessness?
Any innocent pleasure can bring with it some sort of passion or lust. Such beasts put the entire house in disorder. It is rare that when one returns to one's abode to find it in disarray that one attempts to fix it. (To reconsider anew his life values.) In general one does not have time or is too lazy to put everything in order. So, one leaves having done nothing because one's choices of escape are many; one has many places where one can be distracted or entertained or just forget. We know very well the names of these places where one can go to escape, probably for some it is an escape. Probably, for some it is difficult to understand these hints. But if we were to speak straightforwardly and clearly, and refer to each thing by its name, would it not create a storm of opposition and arguments? How dare we impinge on human 'freedom', on that which is dear to us, on that of which almost all our life consists? What is going on here? Truly, many lonely people advanced in years (and not only them) cannot be without TV or the radio. Emptiness of the soul frightens them. How frightening it can become in an empty house! Some go dancing, or busy themselves with sports in order to fill the empty vacuum of their soul. The realization of an emptiness is the beginning of understanding, of the return to one's abandoned house, of a return to one's mind, which is filled with these 'beasts': the material images of our life, our thoughts, our feelings, and all that which makes up our life. In our dungeon it is very dark and therefore we are afraid of it. When we look in our soul, anything, even the most innocent image, seems to us evil and threatening. We did not yet let to enter therein the Light Christ, Who said: "I am the Light of the world" (John 9:5). Neither did we step down into the dark cellar of one's heart with the candle of faith, trust, and love in Christ. In order to step down into this cellar, we must do it gradually, with the steps of prayer. We must do this carefully and sensibly. Prayer has its own rules and steps, and to skip even just one step means to fall. If we cannot see the next step - this means to fall. If cannot see the next step, it is better not to step at all. Furthermore, by the teachings of the Holy Fathers we cannot make the next step if we do not know which step we are on now. What helps us to visualize this state, in which we are now, is humility. When we are frightened to make any step for fear of falling, ask God to help and to hold us. After this, we begin to trust in God, humbly giving Him the opportunity to help us. Then, with gladness and joy, He leads us to the place where we would like to be if only we could understand what we really want from this life. Life is fulfillment of our desires. If our desires are not always realized, then it seems that as though life is unjust. If we ever desired something bad or un-useful, be assured that it has not disappeared. We planted it in our soul as a seed, it has materialized, and of course, it sometimes will give birth to incalculable troubles. Therefore, do not wish anything other than that which is good and necessary. This is the only defense against the evil, which surrounds us. Of course, the most necessary thing in our life is God Himself, Who is the only good of this world and of the next… We have to desire and love Him more than anything of this world. If we love something else more than Him (for example food, clothes, money), according to the words of the Holy Fathers, we weaken the strenght of our love on useless things. We become blind, for we wasted love of God for fulfillment of our material desires (or human passions). Let us force ourselves to follow His first commandment: "You shall love…" For "If God notices even a little spark of love for Him, He will try in any manner to help to turn this spark into a great flame".
The Lord, by His birth, life, and death, has left us an example of His love for people. He did this so that we would show our love to everyone without distinction. So, let us try, while it is not too late, to find this divine love. For when, according to the words of the Holy Fathers, it will be the Final Judgement Day and fire covers all the earth, many will say, "I did not know of this love, nor did anyone teach me about this love!" What will they do? Will they be able to say that they did not know the commandments of the Lord? They will not be able to do it, for Christ will say to them, "How many times did I teach you through prophets, apostles, and other servants of mine? Did you not hear the words "Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted"? (Mtt. 5:4) Did I not tell you that strait is the gate and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life? (Mtt. 7:14) But you were lying on luxurious beds, thinking of ways to fulfill your earthly desires. Did I not tell you that whoever would like to be first must be the last, and a servant to everyone? (Mtt. 20:27) But you did not want to help the poor. I told to treat everyone as you yourself would like to be treated (Mtt. 7:12). But you fulfilled only your selfish desires, pleasing only yourself. Did I not tell you to rejoice when you have troubles? (Mtt. 5:11-12) But if you encounter even the smallest of troubles, you have not even any desire to continue to live. You heard that there will be a Second Coming and Judgement, but you disdained my commandments. How you were not afraid to hold Me with your unclean hands and unclean soul! Why did you sell me for money as did Judas? Depart from Me, all ye workers of iniquity (Lk. 13:27). You yourselves, by your laziness and by your negligence allowed yourselves to be in that place where dwell those who disdained My commandments".
At that day Christ will tell us, "I yearned and thirsted for your conversion. Being neglected and pushed away by your passion, you did not fulfill My request. I was in the dark and unclean dungeon of your heart, and you did not want to visit Me". Then, He will turn to those who say that they know Christ but did not see His Divine Light. He will say to them, "If you know Me, then of course you know Me as light". For "I am the Light of the world" (John 9:5). If Christ is the Light of the world, and we say that we have never seen His light, then where will we find people more blinded than we are? If Christ is the Light, and we do not feel when we are clothed in Him, then what is the difference between us and the dead? If He is the vine and we are branches, yet at the same time do not understand a unity with Him, then it is clear that we are callous and barren. Dry branches feed only a fire. If we partake of communion and feel that it is nothing other than ordinary food, then it is obvious that we are taking communion of bread and not of God. If someone thinks that all this happens without feelings and understanding, then who can lament our insensitivity? Truly nobody. (We are not speaking here of infants, sick or dying persons).
For those who desire to seek and attain the Light of Christ and to see Him by the eyes of one's heart, the Holy Fathers offer wonderful advice. They say, "If the conscience is pure (which is achieved by obedience) and the mind is free from worries and passions, then be attentive to your heart and not to any thoughts or images that may come to mind. Drive away any thoughts with repentant prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner". When a humble heart is in such a state and keeps within itself the Name of Jesus, then the Lord, seeing such labour and zeal, will come and cleanse the interior of the heart. Then the heart will be able to see the Light of God, which is much greater than the sun. What is for unbeliever the sun, is for true believers God. If such a marvel happens within oneself, and one sees within one's soul the Newborn Infant Christ shining more than the sun, then we, together with one of the saintly Fathers, will thank Him exceedingly for such great mercy.
"I thank You, Lord, that You have shown upon me your great mercy, who am unworthy of any mercy, and granted unto me innumerable blessings, which I never expected. How could I know that You are Almighty, accepting all who come to You? How could I know that whoever received the Light of Grace received such mercy, such comfort? I had thought just by believing in you I had all that at the time. But I had nothing. How could I think that You, Who are invisible and inaccessible, could be seen and accessible? Truly, I did not know such things. Even though I read Holy Scriptures, I did not understand the meaning. How could I know that You could be luminous clothing for those who, on Your behalf, wear tattered and humbling rags? I had thought that all that would be in the next world and did not know that we have an extreme need for this clothing in this present world. None of that did I seek, but when recalling my sins, I asked only for the remission of my sins. I never believed those who told me that there were no longer such saints in this world, and I asked only "Lord, have mercy". Has the devil really become stronger than the Lord that he has been able to capture everyone on his side? For that, I think that You shone Your Light in me, so that night became lighter than the day. What can I say? How can I describe that which is unutterable by a word? So, I thank God for the marvelous blessings, which He renders unto those who seek Him all of their soul. Amen".
Translated by Vladyka Basil (Rodzianko), 1997