Repentance and love

by Abbot Vasileios of the Monastery of Iviron

Here is something very characteristic. An old monk, a true ascetic, comes to our monastery from time to time to ask for a little help. With what he receives, he feeds himself and also helps others, older than himself.

One day he came for his usual visit and said to one of the brethren of the monastery,

"I hope I am not being too much trouble for you, coming and asking for your help. If I am too much bother, don't worry yourself, I needn't come again. Don't worry about it; a monk is like a dog. If you give him a kick, that does him good, and if you donít give him a kick, but give him a piece of bread instead, that does him good as well."

This old man, although he is more than seventy five, does not expect anyone to respect him. He thinks of himself as a dog. He bows to everyone and asks their blessing, not only to the monks but also to the novices and to the pilgrims who come to us. But he is full of such inexpressible grace that a sense of joy and celebration runs through the monastery every time he comes.

All of us, monks and pilgrims, gather around him to hear the words of grace which come from his lips, to be encouraged by the joy that his face reflects, without his ever suspecting it.

It is like that Father of the desert who asked God that he might not receive any glory on this earth, and whose face was so radiant that no one could look directly at him.

In humble men like this, who radiate grace, one feels that two great virtues are always at work; the mystery of repentance and the mystery of love.

They are not men who have been converted, who have repented. They are men who are being converted, who are repenting.

The Lordís call to repentance does not mean that we are converted once only, nor that we should repent from time to time (though one ought to begin with that). It means that our whole life should be a conversion, a constant repentance and contrition. We ought not to speak or think or do anything outside that atmosphere, that attitude of penitence and contrition which should fill our whole being.

At every moment this mystery of penitence, of contrition, of being raised up by the power of Another, should be at work in us. At every moment, being cast down, we feel ourselves raised up by Another.

We feel that we are fallen and He is the resurrection, that we are non-being and He is Being itself. It is by His infinite mercy that He brought us from nonbeing to being, and when we are fallen He raised us up, and He continues to raise us up at every moment.

Thus, as the spirit of repentance grows within us, we are led to say with the Apostle;

"We carry in our body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of the Lord may also be manifest in our body" (2 Corinthians 4:10).

Those who can say this live at one and the same time Good Friday and Easter Day. They constantly live the "life-giving death" of the Lord, the îsorrow which brings joy".

What they experience in their repentance, they experience also through sharing the mystery of love. In love also they see the way of sacrifice that leads directly and surely to eternal life. No effort which is offered out of love for God remains in vain. Everything which is offered and given up for love of the brethren is saved, kept intact, multiplied in eternal life.

Our neighbour is not simply an indispensable companion on the way of life. He is an integral part of our spiritual existence. Only in losing himself for God and for his fellow man, his brother, can man find the true dimension of his own life. "He who loses...finds". Only with this can the true glory of the human person be restored to him, a glory at once divine and human, without limits.

Only in this way can a man feel within himself that the foundations on which he builds are unshaken. These foundations are death, annihilation. The anthropological reality in which the new man lives from henceforth is the divine grace which embraces all things.

The reward given for the glass of water offered to our brother is the new Trinitarian consciousness which comes to life within us.

The other one is no longer the frontier which determines our individuality, which closes of our own living space, or simply flatters our complacency. He is not the shroud which envelopes our deadly isolation. He is not Hell. The other is the true place of our life, he is my most dear and irreplaceable self who gives me here and now, through my gift of myself to him, the meaning and reality of eternal life, an eternal life which has already begun. As the beloved disciple says,

"We know that we have passed from death to life because we love the brethren" (1 John 3: 14).

from The Orthodox Messenger, Nov-Dec 1995
published bi-monthly by the SA Central Youth

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