Fr. Rafael Noica
I have received many letters to which I can never respond, I have spoken with many, and I have seen that every person today is a tragedy; every person is loaded with pain and despair. But listen to what Saint Paul says: “God has illumined our hearts to shine the knowledge of His glory towards Christ. This treasure we have in earthen vessels,” I am paraphrasing a little, “in order to understand that the excellency of the power is not of man, it does not come from us, but is from God.” Thus, the Apostle says, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus . . .” Why? “. . . that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body” (cf. 2 Cor. 4:6-10).
If Saint Paul would not have lived the love of God for man, oppressed on all sides, he would have been distressed; in confusion, he would have despaired; being persecuted, he would have felt forsaken – how many among us today feel forsaken by God; being cast down, he would have also been destroyed, as many which despair today – God forbid – cast themselves down, and it is difficult for them, or maybe even impossible, to rise again.
We should not forget that God loves man, and the love of God cannot abandon him. And whatever would happen to man, even if he no longer sees a way of escape, there is one thing left – the word of Saint Silouan, which is more relevant today than ever before: “Keep your mind in hell and do not despair.” Behold how Saint Paul, like him, keeps his mind in hell, as our Father told us. He sees himself oppressed, he sees himself in great perplexities, he sees himself cast down, he sees himself persecuted, but in none of these cases does he despair. What does it mean to not despair? It doesn’t mean that you don’t feel any despair, even to the limit sometimes, to when you no longer know what else to do. At the moment when you no longer know what to do, however, you find for yourself a random consolation, whatever is at hand, knowing that although you don’t feel it now, God loves you.
As I said to several people last year, to youths from abroad: when you feel that it is too difficult to reach any measure of godly virtue, you should know that it is not difficult, it is impossible. Your own nature witnesses to you, it gives testimony from within that this word is impossible, but from our God we should expect nothing less than the impossible! Nothing less than impossible since if God is our God, well then the impossible is that which we expect from Him and that which only He can do – for Him nothing is impossible. And the thing which is impossible, for the love and the power of God you will see working in you. I pray to God to receive this word and to strengthen your faith, which is both a prayer for me and for you.
The commandment of God is a divine revelation to intoxicate us, to sweeten us with the beauty of His Image, and to draw us towards His Kingdom. But this thing is not possible, and that which is impossible, for the love of God and for His almighty power, we expect to see working in us.
THERE IS NO NEED TO DESPAIR
Why were we told not to despair? Saint Paul tells us that in the strength of this divine love – which, if it tells us to love God from all of our soul, heart, mind, and from all of our strength, in His own divine way, God also loves creation, which He Himself fashioned. That is how God loved Adam. That is to say, from all of His Being, from all that He was and all that He had, He gave everything on the Cross. He sacrificed even to the last drop of blood out of fellowship with this person who sinned against Him since He was the only One Who was able to pass through hell and to resurrect from the dead and forge a new path towards life, to which life Adam had not reached, that is, the sitting at the right hand of the Father.
Therefore, in all of our despair, we should have a safety net, as circus acrobats put underneath them when they perform dangerous acts. The safety net is: do not despair. When He says “Do not despair”, God does not forbid despair, but He is saying that we do not need to despair. In this way we can live our despair, face it and say “Yes, this is how things might be, but for the sake of God I refuse to believe in despair!”, and continue our life as we are able. “Waiting I waited patiently for the Lord,” says a psalm, “and He was attentive unto me” (cf. Ps. 39:1) – until the Lord descends and attends unto us. And truly He will come!
Despair – those innermost depths of despair – are a threshold through which we must pass, which in the hands of God are nothing but a premise for our resurrection from that state, for salvation. The Apostle also says that “we the living are continually given over to death for Jesus.” Why? “So that the life of Jesus should be shown in our bodies of death” (2 Cor. 4:11). It is difficult for man to believe in the moment of despair that God gives to him this pain – or rather that He allows it since God gives nothing bad but only allows it. It is difficult for us to believe that this pain which is allowed to us to experience is given in order for us to also see the Resurrection of Jesus. Because if we, as Saint Paul says elsewhere, with the baptism of Jesus – baptism in Greek means submersion – are submerged with Christ into the death of Christ, it is only so that we can also know the Resurrection of Christ (cf. Rom. 6:4-5) as also the life of Christ may be in us, and the life of Christ is eternal life. Therefore, even in our animal and biological nature which we now live – and I say this without insulting but as the reality of our life – yet from our present state, still God wants to give us to know the conditions of resurrection, which after what we call death will be able to be seen with more strength, especially after the General Resurrection.
WHEN CONDITIONS ARE SO TRAGIC, THE POWER OF GOD ALSO MANIFESTS ITSELF
God always has salvation, and as long as salvation is possible, from now on you should know that it is paradoxical. There is no need to despair. “God,” I once said to someone, “will not conquer the world.” And when he began to panic, I added, “He has conquered it already; He no longer needs to conquer it again!” But there are paradoxical forms – the glorious things which God does in our world, perhaps more grand than ever before. When conditions become so tragic, when there is only one thing left to do and with a desperate hope that maybe Someone up there hears you, then the power of God begins to manifest itself.
An Orthodox nun from Beirut was telling me that on the night of Pascha they were deep in war in Beirut, and they didn’t know if they were going to be able to celebrate the Paschal services or not – yet the Orthodox decided to serve anyway. She told me that at any given moment a bomb, a grenade, a mortar shell, or who knows what could have fallen from anywhere. But nothing fell, and they served on the night of Pascha in the hope of the Resurrection and in the fear of bombardment. She said, “Never have I felt such a feeling of the Resurrection as on that night!” Again I say that during the most terrible moments is when you begin to live more perfectly the presence of this God, Who otherwise seems to not exist.
Brothers and sisters, these things which I am sharing with you not from theory but from painful experience, I am sharing with trust. May God do the rest, may He put into your hearts patience and trust. And you should know that man is powerless, but this does not mean that your life is compromised. For the days which are coming, man is more and more alone, and I do not know where this loneliness will end up. But if you remain alone in the whole world, do not forget that Christ was alone in the whole world, slandered by all, and those who loved Him were far from Him. Remaining alone, weak, and apparently abandoned by all, you are likened to Christ Who also was slandered – if you want a reason to not despair. We continue in those states, and coming God will come and will have mercy upon us. May God do this for you, and as Father Cleopa used to say, may we all meet each other at the gates of Paradise!