Orthodox America


  The Heart: a Door Into the Kingdom


God's Guidance In Our Hearts When we are baptized into the Body of Christ, together with the gift of faith, we are given the power to confess the truth. A member of the Church acknowledges before God that the wording of the Creed defines the narrow way we accept to tread, avoiding entanglements in beliefs incompatible with the gospel of our salvation.

    We are given the power to proclaim that same truth to the world: salvation is through the truth God has given us, and not through any "spirituality" invented by people.

    Within the Church, our hearts and minds are transformed, sanctified and guided by the Holy Scriptures. St. John of Kronstadt used to say that the Word of God is like God. Of course, he did not mean that the Bible is God; it is not the essence of God, but it is His revelation. It is living truth from God. A mind which has accepted and absorbed the Word of God so as to live in complete obedience to it, is not left in darkness but knows how to express day by day God's gift of spiritual freedom and eternal life.

    Within the Church, the Orthodox Church, the human heart experiences how the Holy Spirit has shaped the life of the Body of Christ through the centuries. A vast landscape is constantly before us, showing how the Holy Spirit has guided our holy Fathers and Mothers. And the Spirit-filled body of the Church, never deserted by the Holy Spirit, checks us when we are in danger of going off into delusion.

    Besides this already abundant guidance-not an oppressive, legalistic structure, but the glowing presence of the Holy Spirit within the whole Church--the Lord never refuses to grant personal inspiration to those who, with wholehearted faith ask Him what they should do in a given situation. It should be normal for a Christian to be able to distinguish between the inner voice of personal wishful thinking and the voice of God in the conscience and the heart.

 

The Cleansing of the Heart

The voice of God is better heard in a clean heart. We can only hear God in a most distorted way if the lenten prayer of Saint Ephraim the Syrian has not become active as a "cleansing agent" within the heart., As long as we do not see our own errors and go on judging our brothers and sisters, we won’t hear God's voice properly. We should see other people's evil as an accidental misfortune, a temporary illness, a bad dream. We should see all people as images of God: the dirt on the image can always be removed. Our neighbor is never intrinsically evil. It is not a lie to speak of other people as if they were without their defects: on the contrary, to think and speak of them as if they were already cleansed images of God, the holy icons they are called to be, is a revelation of a deep spiritual truth,

     When we feel irritated and resentful, we know that we must be suffering from pride. The proud, the aggressive are self-righteous; they cannot benefit by God's grace because they rely on themselves. Those who rely on God keep them selves gentle and humble and are freed from resentment. Above all, they are freed from the demonic joy of noticing sins in other people. Instead, they see others as temples of God, or future temples.

     While the sinner must beloved, denunciation of sins, especially of apostasy and persecution; is a duty which does not make anyone proud; Saint Athanasius the Great denounced Arianism, Saint John of Kronstadt denounced the false teachings of Tolstoy and of the unbelieving intelligentsia. The Church acclaims them for having done it so bravely.

      Anger inevitably finds its way into the heart at times. If we do not allow our anger to express itself in words, actions or even looks, peace will soon return to our hearts. But if we express our anger, it will become an overwhelming flood. If we express it frequently, peace will vanish from our hearts.

     For that reason we should not pass on to others reproachful words heard about people, but kill the bitter deposit in our heart by prayer and quiet suffering. 

Active Love and Missionary Work

   Refraining from harming people is much less than loving them actively. Our heart must go out to people in the way described by Saint John of Kronstadt: "We must help incessantly, without making any difference between rank, race or creed, and we must always remember that we will never be more generous than God, since all we give belongs to God."

     Our first responsibility is to give of what we have received. The training and education we have received, the responsibilities we have been given at work, within the family and in the parish--al! this must be used for the benefit of others. Our basic generosity must consist of doing our job properly. No "religious extras" will have any meaning if they are done at the expense of the fulfillment of our duties in life. Often, "religious activities'' done at the expense of obvious, commonsense duties, have made religion abhorrent to people.

     Our next responsibility is the stewardship of our money and of our other possessions. Life is meant for service. The consumer society is greedy; it is difficult nowadays to tune our consciences so they hear the voice of God and not the voice of greed. God does not require that we impose on our families intolerable strains; but there is a great gulf between a conscience properly tuned on Biblical lines and a conscience tuned in to the advertisements of the consumer society. We cannot abolish the horrors of third-world poverty, but we are certainly not excused from trying to help.

      Finally, we must share our greatest wealth-the Gospel, salvation in Christ. Saint John of Kronstadt said in his lifetime, and still says to us Orthodox today: "We need not ask whether we ought to spread God's glory by writing, preaching and works; all this we are obliged to practice as far as it is possible. We must express our talents in deeds. If we begin to question this simple fact. then, very likely, the devil will suggest to us that we should only consider inner spiritual activity." 

(Reprinted from the newsletter of the parish of Saint John of Kronstadt, Bath, England; April, 1988)


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