About Love

Excerpt from an interview with Hieromonk Savatie Baştovoi

I would also like to ask you, whilst remaining in the area of our discussion so far: what were those existential experiences that made you become a monk?

– Usually, people who have gone through atheism expect or think that one must have had some sentimental breakdown prior to going into monasticism as well as before any common conversion to Christianity. In reality, things are different. Usually, one assumes that he or she has had some disappointments [in love]. I have recently received a letter from a friend of mine, a poet who lives in Iaşi and with whom I used to go to the same literary club, who wrote to me: “You know, I, too, read the Holy Fathers, I like their writings; I go to church. I have also thought many times about taking the step you have – but you see, I still believe in love”. And I could not help smiling there, because… I believe in love, too; don’t I? And I believe even in the love between a man and a woman. But I have come to understand that the difference between the love poems I used to write – albeit very sincerely – and true love is like the difference between the dead Lazarus and the resurrected Lazarus. Continue reading

The Icon – a Window into the Age to Come

According to the teaching that the Holy Fathers handed down to our Church, the first Sunday of the Holy Lent is dedicated to the holy icons and to those who suffered for them during the iconoclastic persecution. It reminds us of the victory of Truth over all the heresies that have shaken Christ’s Church throughout the history and particularly over those who despised the icons, stating that God cannot be represented in any way through the mere colours of a painted image.

Through His Incarnation, God gave humans the possibility to reach theosis; He gave all of those who believe in Him the power to become sons of God (John 1:12). Thus, by making Himself seen and felt, our Saviour can be represented in an icon, as a human. Today, icons are always present in any Christian’s life. Any prayer – whether it is done in church or in the peace of one’s own home – is accompanied by the holy icons. They accompany the Christian’s life everywhere.

The Tradition of the Church tells us that icons date back to the first centuries of Christianity. Eusebius of Caesarea, the most important historian of the Church of the first centuries, also states in his “Church History”: “I have seen many portraits of the Saviour, of Peter and Paul, which have been preserved until today” – which proves that icons were an integral part of Christianity ever since its foundation. Continue reading

Everytime We Love, We Restrain the Other One

Hieromonk Savatie Baştovoi

What I mean by that is that type of suffocating love, where one “takes possession” of one’s fellowman, and which starts to “model” everyone else according to oneself. I think that we have all done such things: for instance, parents who love their children to the point where children, when they grow up, they don’t know how to escape from their parents’ tyranny – which isn’t true tyranny, but which can be perceived as such in the other one’s heart. Therefore, one first misunderstanding, one first “hazard” of love is that of us acting like people who actually know what real love is about and who therefore think they can – or even must – impose it to others.

Love – says Apostle Paul – bears all things, believes all things, forgives all things. Loves does not get puffed up, seeks not her own, does not vaunt itself; love never fails. So in order for us not to get lost in our own deformed understanding of love, the Apostle lists the signs of true love: that is, to be near the other one as if you were not. Love does not seek her own. Every time we love, we restrain the other one’s space.

That kind of love never bears fruit. But humility has always convinced one. It has even convinced tyrants, many times.

(A fragment from a lecture by Hieromonk Savatie Baştovoi – “On the Hazards of Love”. Arad, Romania, Dec. 13, 2007)

How Can We Bear Witness, Today?

Father, how can we witness Christ nowadays?

– It’s very simple. Especially today, when Christ has so many adversaries. My dear ones, what we lack today is love for our neighbour – and THAT is our “homework”: “Do you say you love Me? Then give to the poor…” You know, it’s like Christ is telling us: “We will meet again, and it is I Who will ask you questions, and it will be more difficult for you then”.

And there’s no need for the world to know that I’m giving this shirt, for example, to someone; or a penny; or that I’m feeding a dog.

Let me tell you what happened to me once. Continue reading

Confessing upon One’s Deathbed

Another case – which was just as frightful – involved a man who was ill and whom we had hosted at our monastery for three days, to attend the Holy Oil service. His wife had told us about some heavy sins that he had done in his life. For three days, we asked him to confess to whatever confessor he wanted – since we had several of them -, gently and patiently explaining to him that God had left us the power to forgive sins through confession. Yet he would not hear about any of that.

On the third day, at night, while we were at the Holy Oil service, he started to howl, literally, all of a sudden, saying that these frightful dark creatures were coming to take him away and that he could see his own sins on them. Extremely terrified, he asked us to confess him right away (now he had become wise). So everyone else left the room where we were and in between shrill moanings, all he could say was: “…I have done… I have done…” and he died in my arms.

I said the forgiveness words more out of a feeling of pity for him, since it had been his last wish – but he was dead. This account was told and retold throughout that region for many years afterwards.

Now THAT is what doubt does – that guilty lack of faith and self-deception which makes one believe that upon one’s death, there will be no demons and no angels coming for your poor soul. What a source of anguish and fear during one’s last minutes on earth, at a time when peace is so necessary! And what things man does not expose himself to, if death takes him by surprise!

Excerpt from “Iată duhovnicul – părintele Arsenie Papacioc” (“Ecce the Confessor – Fr. Arsenie Papacioc“) – volume 2

About Abba Visarion

A man who was possessed by the demon came to the skete once and they prayed for him in church, but the demon wouldn’t come out, for it was a powerful one. And the clergy said: “What shall we do about this demon? Nobody can take him out, save for Abba Visarion. But if we ask him to do that, he won’t even show up in church. So let us do this: since the Abba comes in earlier than everyone else, let us ask the demonised man to sit on Abba’s place and when the Elder comes in, let us sit as if we are about to start our prayers and ask him: Wake up that brother, too, Abba!”

And they did so. When the Elder entered the church the following morning, they sat to pray and told him: “Abba, please be kind and wake up that brother, too.” And Abba Visarion turned and said to the man: “Wake up, get out!” and the demon left the man straight away, leaving him healed.  

Apophtegm by the Holy Fathers of the Desert

Teaching God

When we try to teach our children about God and we can’t seem to find the right words, let us not insist too much on explaining; rather, let ourselves be inspired by God and by the child’s very mind, because we will be able to help our children not only through our words about God, but also by simply dwelling in Him. One can talk about God without necessarily mentioning His name.

The best educational methods make it a point, above all, to teach children how to learn. There is a saying that goes: “Give your son a fish and he will eat fine today. But teach him how to use a fishing rod and he will eat well all his life.” It is in the same way that we should look upon our role as Christian parents and educators. Let us inspire our children the love for God, whilst showing them at the same time how to find out for themselves God’s will. If we teach children to love God and his Saints, then “all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

In the Christian families (especially in priests’ families), children suffer sometimes from what we might call an “indigestion”, because of an excessive talking about God and churchly matters. It is possible for these children to continue to listen to such conversations out of mere politeness, but we can see and feel that they are no longer interested in hearing people talk about God, that they’ve had enough of the topic. In school, during religion classes, when we notice great differences between children, depending on their ability and willingness to learn about God, we can cause them great spiritual harm if we don’t address every one of them according to his/her ability to understand. Let us try to inspire their interest but without forcing them. Each child may be more spiritually receptive in some moments than in others.

Mother Magdalena – excerpt from “Sfaturi pentru o educatie ortodoxă a copiilor de azi” (“Advice for an Orthodox Education of Today’s Children”)