Orthodox America

  Building a Life With God

Hieroschemamonk Seraphim (+1981)

          A man can live with God--or without God, as some people do. It is possible to live with God by reason of His good pleasure for man to do so, and also by reason of a man's own positive inclination. Here, the circumstances of the man's life appear either favorable or unfavorable; i.e., it becomes evident that what is essential here is not outward circumstances but the person's own predilection, his desire, his intent.

       In order to live with God, to make this a reality, on e must leave space for Him in one' s daily activities--give Him room!

        ..[The desire to live with God must be joined in the heart by the remembrance of God.] A person is free to choose, according to his desire or lack of it, whether or not to incorporate the remembrance of God into his life. From this point, this choosing, the two paths increasingly diverge. One man desires it, another doesn't give it a thought; he doesn't seek it. It may be that outwardly they live side by side, i.e., in similar circumstances, similar surroundings; but one lives with God, the other--without God.

       And so, the first thing is--desire. Next in order of importance is the extent to which a person is caught up in his external affairs, to what extent he is enslaved by them, how important and urgent he considers them-whether because his boss or superior makes demands of him at work: "Finish this," and, "Have it done by.. " or he has personal needs or close ones requiring his attention. Whatever the case, it means being caught up in outward activities, and this greatly hinders remembrance of God. And without remembrance of God, how is it possible to live with God? One must set a goal for oneself: to battle for liberation [from this enslavement] in order to maintain within oneself the remembrance of God--no matter what! This is a task which is both lawful for man, right before God, and possible within the conditions of man's earthly life, Try it and see yourself. The obstacles to this goal are only apparent~

          It' s true, the beginning is difficult. But this is only because we are not accustomed to it and not because the remembrance of God actually disturbs whatever it is we are doing: Not at all. He who so desires and looks into this matter will find the possibility of attaining it within himself. This will both amaze him and convince him that remembrance of God is of great help in all his endeavors. It even makes him more peaceful, and mere successful in his undertakings. Life becomes more enjoyable; he is happier. Here calls the words of the Psalmist: "Those who remember God shall rejoice."

      Once the soul's enslavement by outward affairs weakens, it becomes possible to "make room" for God in the midst of these affairs and thereby to live with Him. Man's life is occupied by human affairs, but if among them a place can be found for God, there, too, is life with God.

       But how, practically speaking, is this accomplished? Remembrance of God is the beginning. Next there are the feelings of the heart. These are the very life of a man. Think about it. Throughout a man's life, in all he does, his feelings (such a diversity!) move in him; they live, change:, accompany his every action, share in every part Of his outward life. Pleasure, displeasure, irritation, joy, distress, jealousy, striving towards or repulsion from something--these inner feelings accompany all the outward activities, his whole life. They exist. They are not imagined!

       Among these feelings are those which are akin to the remembrance of God, conducive to it: fear of God, faith, piety, gratitude towards God (how patient He is with us great sinners! He even showers gifts upon us!), trust in Him, a readiness to entrust oneself to His care (He is good, mercifully kind, even like a tenderhearted mother: "Can a woman forget her sucking child...? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee" (Is. 49:15), love for Him, hope.,. These and similar feelings must be found in the heart, singled out from among other feelings, and nurtured. With their help the desired aim can be achieved--to live with God!

       Together with remembrance of God, one must join these feelings, these good inclinations to one's actions, i.e., to one's outward activities which, like some kind of bubbles or vessels, can be filled (and they do indeed fill up)with these or other feelings from the heart. In remembering God while you work, concentrate also on those feelings which are akin to the remembrance of God. These feelings will be with you as you go about fulfilling your earthly tasks. Here already you have the be ginning of your life with God. For this is just what it is!

       The Lord desires to be with man: "My delights were with the sons of men" (Prov. 8: 31), "and they shall be My people and I will be their God" (Jer. 31:33), "and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee" (Is. 62:5). Here is the basis our hope to live with God. It remains for man to cooperate with this will of God. In his fallen state (and the Lord knows this; He takes it into account, humanly speaking) man can cooperate through remembrance of God, through his feelings towards Him--even though these are weak and confused. What is most important here is-desire, and effort (both rest on faith !). The Lord will fulfill and strengthen whatever else is necessary. Therefore, begin with confidence !

    "Enslavement" comes from the influence of the external world upon, a man. You must resist it. What is necessary is necessary, but these externals must never be allowed to control the heart. One can do what is necessary and the heart can be either at liberty or in bondage, Keep your heart at liberty, because a free heart can remember God and give attention to god even as you attend to your tasks. This opens up the possibility to live with God--and gives it a beginning. The balance can shift: [spiritual] vigilance and a desire to be with God can become strong enough to outweigh the soul's enslavement to mundane, outward activities. The activities themselves are not eliminated; they remain, but their power over the soul weakens altogether. A shift occurs in the inner life which attends the outward actions. Previously the latter fully occupied the person's attention, while the inner life passed unnoticed; the person gave it no heed (how it was sustained was quite unknown-- "by itself," like abandoned children left to grow up by themselves .) But when the power of the external world over the man is weakened, there is a shifting of positions: external things become unimportant to the soul, they lose their former significance, while the inner life draws all the attention to itself and acquires preeminence. This allows for the very real possibility to live with God, when the thoughts and feelings of the heart are with Him!

       In such case one shouldn't race about in the "doing" of one' s affairs, nor be overly concerned about them--all this is only a hindrance. I t obstructs the effort to "live with God" while one is about one' s business. Previously the "doing" was everything, and the inner life was, by contrast, some kind of fog which was ignored; all attention focused on the "doing." But now these things, these activities, are but a covering, a covering beneath which is carried on the principal activity which is, in essence, life with God ! This is a source of joy, happiness, light! - here we can say: shining "upon the world as the light of knowledge" (from the Nativity Troparion).

        It appears, then, that without outward activity it is more difficult to "live with God"; there's nothing to secure the attention, and feelings towards Him (after all, they are weak in the beginner, just as his attention is scattered) easily dissipate. Without outward activity a person is left like a plant pulled from the ground--its roots have no firm support, nor do they absorb strengthening juices. So, too, without any outward activity a person's inner life weakens, and he loses the possibility of life with God. The Lord established human life. Take heed! God gave men earthly cares so that they wouldn't fall into something worse! "Vanities" are earthly activities undertaken without God, but they are preferable to the actions of irrational and destructive passions and sins to which fallen man is so prone. And if these "vanities," i.e., these earthly, human affairs; are undertaken with the thought of God, with the aim of salvation, they become a pathway leading to heaven.

(From the diary of Hieroschemamonk Seraphim (+1981)of Mt, Athos; translated From Pravoalavny Put' for 1986, Jordanvalle)