Orthodox America

Grace Illumining the Soul  

Fr. Valery Lukianov
St. Alexander Nevsky Church Lakewood, New Jersey

In every man there are two aspects – the outward man and his inward content;, or, on the contrary,' these two aspects are bound together in complete harmony-.

What is the outward man? - It is the facade or "image" with which I appear before the world and society, Here, of course, if we show ourselves to others, it is with our most attractive side, Even without inward harmony, the outward man can seem very well brought up, orderly, correct, and polite, But this is only outward "self-control," Just take away the "world" before which one finds it necessary to show off., and there is revealed the inward content of a man's heart, which does not at all correspond to his attractive outward image, This can be seen best of all at home with one’s family, where a man feel himself no longer obliged to restrain his passions, And how sad it is for -a spiritual father to find out that in outwardly happy and model families there are often fighting, irritability, crudity, and the storm of passions !

But what do we see in a man whose outward image is in harmony with his hidden spiritual life? Here we see the beginning of the positive action of God's grace on a man's soul, the beginning of a reflection of the light of Tabor about which St, Gregory Palamas teaches, He explains that just as once the Divine light appeared visibly to the Prophet Moses on Mt, Sinai, and just as this light appeared on Mt. Tabor when our Lord Jesus Christ was transfigured, so also this reflection of the light of Tabor can appear even outwardly in a man, but under the unfailing condition that his life is sanctified by the grace of prayer, fasting, and other labors of ;self-renunciation, The clearest example of such grace-given illumination of the soul was manifested by the wondrous St. Seraphim of Sarov who: was truly "a heavenly man and an earthly angel", This flaming wonderworker of the Russian Church, who devoted his whole life to acquiring the Holy Spirit, was granted even here on earth the special gift of shining with the light of Tabor--to such an extent that, as Motovilov testifies, it was impossible to look at his face, for it shone and burned like the sun. The same reflection of inward peace and spiritual beauty was shown by our last Tsar-Martyr, Nicholas II, who, as is well known, had especially radiant eyes that won over not only his well-wishers, but even people who, out of spiritual faint-heartedness, were disposed against him.

If one looks attentively at the world around us, we see that God's Providence has placed an image of spiritual transfiguration even in inanimate nature, Let us remember nature as it is in winter-could anyone imagine that the naked branches of trees, when spring comes, would suddenly awake from a death-like sleep, become covered with new green leaves, and that on them splendid fruits would come forth to rejoice and feed men? And who has not experienced a special feeling of grace in those wondrous moments of dawn when a man observes how the night ends and a new day begins? What a wondrous, blessed stillness ! What a remarkable peace! What joy settles then in the heart of a man when he- sees the darkness transformed unnoticeably into light.., If a sensitive person can take so close to his heart such purely outward manifestations of nature, then how deeply and brightly must a Christian experience those hidden secrets of spiritual existence which open up when there .are planted in the heart the grace-given gifts of prayer, repentance, and forgiveness, accompanied by fasting and good deeds.

With our bodily eyes we follow the natural course of life; everything passes away: every happiness, family and social well-being, glory and honor, one's voice and hearing, memory and intelligence ...-.With the setting of the sun, spring passes over into dead winter!

But with our spiritual gaze we follow our earthly pilgrimage-life is not fading away, but on the contrary, an ascent from strength to strength, the acquisition of the spiritual gifts bountifully distributed by the Lord to those who seek Him, given through the Church of. Christ. How sweet is the awareness that still here on earth we have the promise of the victory of good over evil, the pledge of a joyful resurrection, How splendid and consoling is our existence in the Church where a man receives the wondrous opportunity t-d: renew his soul, to tear sin out of his heart with tears, and to be in communion with the spiritual world, in union with Christ,

Let us, then, treasure our joyful communion with the Church, for perhaps the day is not far distant when the Lord will call His faithful children to be confessors, And let us hope that if in this life, because of our unworthiness, the Lord does not illumine our gaze with the clear light of His mercy, then at least in that frightful hour when the soul is to be separated from the fragile remains of its earthly vessel, and when all sorrows and every vain thing remain behind, our soul might then be illumined by the wondrous light of Tabor so as eternally to be washed in the rays of God's grace and eternally to send up praise to its Creator together with the angels. Amen,