Orthodox America

Called to Life  

By Saint Macarius the Great

Those who hear the word ought to give proof of the work of the word in their own souls. The word of God is no idle word, but has its own work upon the soul. For this reason it is sometimes called a "work," with a view to this "work" being found in the hearers.  May the Lord, then, grant the work of the truth in the hearers, in order that the word may be found fruitful in us.  For as the shadow precedes the body, but the shadow manifests the body, while the truth is the body itself, so the word is like a shadow of the truth of Christ  But the word precedes the truth.

Fathers upon earth beget children of their own nature, from their own body and soul, and when they are begotten they educate them carefully with all diligence as their own children, until they become full-grown men and successors and heirs. For the aim and whole care of the fathers from the outset is to beget children and to have heirs, and if they had not begotten them, they would have had great sorrow and grief, and on the other hand they had corresponding joy when they had begotten them. Their kinsfolk and neighbors likewise rejoice.

In the same way our Lord Jesus Christ, taking thought for the salvation of man, empowered from the outset all His providential care through the fathers and the patriarchs, through the law and the prophets, and in the end came Himself, and despising the shame of the Cross, endured death; and all this toil and care of His was in order that He might beget children from Himself, from His own nature, being pleased that they should be begotten of the Spirit from above, of His own Godhead.  And as those fathers, if they have no children, are grieved, so the Lord, who loved mankind as His own image, willed to beget them of the seed of His own Godhead; so, if any of them will not come to such a birth, to be born of the womb of the Spirit of the Godhead, Christ is submitted to great grief, after suffering for them and enduring so much to save them.

For the Lord wills all men to have the privilege of this birth.  He died for all, and called all to life. But life is the birth from above of God.

Without it the soul cannot live. The Lord says, Except a man be born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3).  And so, on the other hand, as many as believe the Lord, and come and receive the privilege of this birth, cause joy and great gladness in heaven to the parents that begat them; and all angels and holy powers rejoice over the soul that is born of the Spirit and has become spirit itself.  For this body is a similitude of the soul, and the soul is the image of the Spirit...

As the portrait painter keeps an eye upon the king's face and draws, and when the king's face is towards him, attending to him at his painting, he draws the portrait easily and well, but when he turns his face away, he cannot draw, because the face is not gazing at the painter; in like manner Christ, the good artist, for those who believe Him and gaze continually at Him, straightway portrays after his own image a heavenly man.  Out of His own Spirit, out of the substance of light itself, the ineffable light,  He paints a heavenly image, and bestows upon it its good and gracious Spouse.

If a man does not gaze constantly at Him, overlooking everything else, the Lord will not paint His image with His own light.  We must therefore gaze upon Him, believing and loving Him, throwing away all else, and attending to Him, in order that He may paint His own heavenly image and send it into our souls, and thus, wearing Christ, we may receive eternal life, and even here may have full assurance and be at rest.

As the golden coin, if it does not receive the imprint of the king's image, does not come upon the market, and is not stored in the king's treasuries, but is discarded, so the soul, if it has not the image of the heavenly Spirit in light unspeakable, even Christ imprinted on it, is not fit for the treasuries above, and is discarded by the good merchants of the kingdom the apostles.  He who was invited, and did not wear the wedding garment, was cast out as an alien into the alien darkness, for not wearing the heavenly image.  This is the mark and sign of the Lord imprinted upon souls, being the Spirit of light unspeakable...

He therefore that seeks to believe and come to the Lord, should entreat that he may receive here on earth the Divine Spirit; for that Spirit is the life of the soul, and for this cause the Lord came, that He might give life to the soul here on earth, even His Spirit.  For He says, While ye have the light, believe in the light....The night cometh when ye can no longer work (John 12:36; 9:4). Therefore, if any man has not sought, while here, and received life for his soul, even the divine light of the Spirit, when he departs out of the body, he is separated forthwith in the regions of darkness on the left hand, not entering into the kingdom of heaven, having his end in hell with the devil and his angels (cf. Matt. 25:41). ...In that day when Adam fell, God came walking in the garden.  He wept, as it were, beholding Adam, and said, "After what good things, what evils hast thou chosen!  After what glory, what shame dost thou wear!  How dark art thou now! how ill-looking! how corrupt!  After what light, what darkness hath covered thee!"  And when Adam fell and died from God, his Maker bewailed him; angels and all the powers, the heavens, the earth, and all the creatures mourned over his death and fall, for they saw him that had been given them for their king become the servant of a hostile and evil power. Therefore he clothed himself with darkness in his own soul, a bitter and an evil darkness, for he was made a subject of the prince of darkness.

This was he who was wounded by the robbers, and became half dead, as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. (Luke 10:30). Lazarus also, whom the Lord raised, who stank so that no one could go near the sepulchre, was a symbol of Adam whose soul had come to stink and was filled with blackness and darkness.  But thou, when thou hearest of Adam and the wounded man, and Lazarus, let not thy mind go off as it were to the hills, but be thou within in thy soul, for thou thyself bearest the same wounds, the same stench, the same darkness.  We all are his sons, of that dark race, and all partake of the same stench. The malady from which he suffered, we all, who are of Adam's seed, suffer from the same.  Such a malady has befallen us, as Isaiah says, It is not a wound, nor a bruise, nor an inflamed sore; it is not possible to apply a mollifying ointment, nor oil, nor to take bandages (Is. 1:6).  Thus were we wounded with an incurable wound; the Lord alone could heal it.  For this reason He came in His own person; because none of the ancients, nor the law itself, nor the prophets, were able to heal this wound.  He alone by His coming healed that sore of the soul, that incurable sore.

Let us then welcome our God and Lord, the true healer, who alone is able to come and cure our souls, after He has labored so much for our sake.  He is always knocking at the doors of our hearts, that we may open to Him, that He may enter in and rest in our souls, and we may wash and anoint His feet, and He may make His abode with us.  The Lord in that passage reproached the man who did not wash His feet (Luke 7:44); and again He says elsewhere, Behold, I stand at the door and knock, if any man will open unto Me, I shall come in unto him (Rev. 3:20).  To this end He endured to suffer many things, giving His own body unto death, and purchasing us out of bondage, in order that He might come to our soul and make His abode with it. For this cause the Lord says to those on the left hand in the day of judgment, that are sent by Him to hell with the devil, I was a stranger, and ye took Me not in; I was an hungered, and ye gave Me no meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink (Matt.25:42,43).  His food and His drink, His clothing and shelter and rest is in our souls.  Therefore He is always knocking, desiring to enter into us.  Let us then receive Him, and bring Him within into ourselves; because He is our food and our drink and our eternal life, and every soul that has not now received Him within and given Him rest, or rather found rest in Him, has no inheritance in the kingdom of heaven with the saints, and cannot enter into the heavenly city.  But Thou, Lord Jesus Christ, bring us there-unto, glorifying Thy name, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, for ever.  Amen.

The believer ought to ask of God to be changed in his purposes, by an alteration of heart from bitterness to sweet, and remember how the blind man was healed, the woman with an issue of blood likewise obtained healing by the touch of His hem, the nature of lions was tamed, the nature of fire was deadened. Because God is the highest good; and unto Him thou oughtest to gather up thy mind and thoughts, and to think of nothing else, but to watch expectantly for Him.

Let the soul, therefore, be as one that gathers in straying children and admonishes the thoughts which sin has scattered, and bring them home into her body, always watching for the Lord in fasting and charity, when He shall come and gather her in truth.  The future being uncertain, let her set her hope yet more upon her Pilot, with a good hope, and remember how Rahab, when living among aliens, believed the Israelites, and was admitted to share their privilege, while the Israelites in their affections turned back into Egypt.   As therefore Rahab received no harm by dwelling among the aliens, but her faith made her at home in the portion of the Israelites, so sin shall not harm those who in hope and faith wait for the Redeemer, who at His coming changes the thoughts of the soul, and makes them godlike, heavenly, good and teaches the soul prayer-prayer true, undistracted, unwandering. Fear not, He says, I go before thee, and will level the mountains; I will break in pieces the gates of brass and cut in sunder the bars of iron (Is. 14:2).  And again, Beware, He says, that there be not a secret thought of wickedness in thy heart; say not in thy heart, This nation is strong and powerful. (Deut. 15:9).

If we do not become slothful and give over the field to the unruly thoughts of evil, but compel our minds to obey our will, forcing our thoughts to the Lord, assuredly the Lord will come to us with His will and take us in unto Himself in truth.  All well-pleasing and all service are in the thoughts.

Therefore endeavor to please the Lord, always looking for Him within, seeking Him in thy thoughts, and forcing and constraining thine own will and purpose to stretch upwards continually towards Him.  Then see how He comes unto thee and makes His abode with thee.  In proportion as thou gatherest up thy mind to seek Him, He is far more constrained by His own tender compassion and kindness to come to thee and give thee rest.  He stands contemplating thy mind, thy thoughts, thy intentions, observing how thou seekest Him, whether with thy whole soul, not in-dolently, not carelessly.

And when He sees thy diligence to seek Him, then He manifests Himself and appears to thee, and imparts to thee of His own succour, and makes the victory thine, delivering thee from thine enemies. Having first contemplated thy seeking unto Him, and how thy whole expectation is without ceasing fixed on Him, He then teaches and gives thee true prayer, true charity, which is Himself in thee made all things-paradise, tree of life, pearl, crown, builder, husbandman, sufferer, incapable of suffering, man, God, wine and living water, lamb, bridegroom, warrior, armor, Christ all in all.

And as a babe knows not how to take care of itself, or do for itself, but looks only to its mother, waiting until she has pity on it and takes it up, so faithful souls always hope only in the Lord, ascribing all righteousness to Him.  As without the vine the branch is dried up, so is he who desires to be justified without Christ.  As is the robber and the thief, who does not enter through the entrance but climbeth up some other way (John 10:1), so is he who is justified to himself without the Justifier.

Let us therefore take this body of ours, and make an altar of it, and lay upon it every intention of ours, and beseech the Lord that He would send from heaven the great invisible fire, and consume the altar and everything upon it, and that all the priests of Baal, which are the opposing activities, may fall; and then we shall see the spiritual rain coming in the soul like a man's footprint, so that it becomes the promise of God in us, as it is said in the prophet, I will raise up and build again the tabernacle of David which is fallen, and will build again the ruins thereof (Amos 9:11), in order that the Lord with His own loving kindness may shine upon the soul which is dwelling in night and darkness, in the drunkenness of ignorance, so that it may wake to soberness and walk without stumbling, performing the works of day and of life. For where the soul feeds, thence is it nourished, either from the world, or from the Spirit of God; and God is there nourished, and lives and rests, and goes up and down.

To conclude, every one, if he will, shall prove himself, whence he is nourished, and where he lives, and what condition he is in, so that having thus perceived, and gained an accurate estimate, he may give himself perfectly to the movement towards that which is good.  Well, in praying, take heed to yourself at prayer, observing your thoughts and your motions, where they come from, whether from God or from the adversary, and who it is that supplies your heart with nourishment, the Lord, or the world-rulers of this age.  And when, O soul, thou hast proved and known, ask the Lord with labor and longing for heavenly nourishment and growth and the motions of Christ, according to the saying, Our conversation is in heaven, and not, as some imagine, in a shape of fashion.   Behold, the mind and disposition of those who have only a form of godliness are like the world.  Behold their agitation, and the fluctuation of their purposes, their unstable judgment, their timidity and fear, according to that which is said, Groaning and trembling shalt thou be upon the earth (Gen.4:12).  According to their unbelief and the confusion of their unstable thoughts, they are tossed about every hour, like all the rest of men.  Such men only differ from the world in fashion, not in mind, and only in bodily observances of the outer man; while in heart and mind they are pulled this way and that way in the world, and are involved in earthly ties and those of unprofitable cares, not having gained the peace from heaven in their hearts, as the Apostle says, Let the peace of God rule in your hearts (Col 3:15)-the peace which reigns and renews the minds of believers in the love of God and of all the brotherhood.  Glory and worship to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, for ever.  Amen.

(Selections from Fifty Spiritual Homilies, Eastern Orthodox Books, Willits, CA 1974.)

About St. Macarius the Great