Orthodox America

  What Matters Most

Hieromonk German Ciuba

Why are we here on earth? To show our love for God, to learn to love God more than sin, and to respond with our small love to the great love of God.   Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich

In the midst of our world cares and all the problems that trouble us even in the life of the Church, there is one thing that we must always keep in mind: the love of God. It is the only thing that matters, the only thing that consoles, the only thing that justifies our life, the only thing that gives meaning to everything else. Indeed, when a certain pious woman asked the meaning of all that God had done, she was given to understand that love is His meaning.

It seems to me a bit awkward to speak so forthrightly about the love of God in an age when, as our Lord foretold, iniquity abounds and the love of many has grown cold (cf. Matt 24:12). We deserve to hear more about God's unbending truth, His unerring justice, His impending wrath. But what we need is the miracle of faith, faith renewed in our hearts and in the hearts of those around us. And, as Saint Simeon the New Theologian said, one who cannot love God cannot believe in Him.  Even miracles cannot compel faith. The man who has hardened his heart in the dry wilderness of his soul looks at a miracle with an uncomprehending eye which is worse than blind; it is unseeing. In fact, when miracles occur, they are more likely to strengthen the faith of believers than to convert unbelievers.

Miracles cannot be ordered up like hamburgers. That was the mistake of the devil who tempted Christ in the wilderness to make bread out of stones (cf. Matt. 4:1-10). The very existence of stones and bred is a miracle to one whose eyes are open for spiritual sight. My dear old friend Father Dragoljub Sokich reminded me recently of a saying of the late great Serbian preacher and writer, Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich: The world began with a miracle, it continues to exist by a miracle, and it will come to end with a miracle.

Atheists cannot see miracles anywhere, because they do not believe in miracles. Even if miracles happen before their eyes, they will not see them, because they have excluded them from their categories of thought. If you are convinced that there is no such thing as a purple elephant, and you see one in your living room, your immediate reaction is not to admit the existence of purple elephants; you will say that they are the result of an optical illusion, a hallucination, an excess of alcohol. It is truly a miracle when an atheist is stricken with repentance and begins to believe in miracles.

For years we have been doing battle with atheistic communism using bullets, bombs, strategy and propaganda. Finally, atheistic communism, which was a kind of religion, collapsed, because it could no longer believe its own doctrines. At the same time, we see many Christian structures collapsing, because their people no longer believe their own doctrines. Now the danger comes from practical atheism, an atheism which believes nothing or everything to be true.

We must continue the battle against atheism. We cannot allow atheism to triumph, for that would be the end of the world as we know it and the beginning of a world turned into hell. As we lament the atheism of our contemporaries, however, let each of us look into his own heart and see how brightly the love of God is burning there. Is there a fire there? Is there even a spark? Or is there only dry wood, cold embers? Without a living, burning love for God, we cannot conquer atheism, for it will remain lurking within us, even as it attacks us from without. Ask yourself if you truly love God, and love Him above all things. Can you sincerely share the sentiment of the Christmas carol that declares, "And I love the Lord Jesus above everything"? If not, why not? What is it that is keeping you from the love of God? And what can you do to rekindle the flame of the love of God which the Holy Spirit lit in you at your holy baptism and chrismation? That is the most important task in your life.

In Willa Cather's wonderful historical novel of New Mexico, Death Comes for the Archbishop - which is full of such splendid scenery that I want to go and see it, and such great characters that I want to be like them - the bishop says to his friend, Father Joseph:

"Where there is great love, there are always miracles. One might almost say that an apparition is human vision corrected by divine love. I do not see you as you really are, Joseph; I see you through my affection for you. The Miracles of the Church seem to me to rest not so much upon faces or voices or healing power coming suddenly near to us from afar off, but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is there about us always."

St. Xenia Parish
Nepean, Ontario