A friend once said to me, “I wouldn’t even want to sit and have a cup of coffee with the ‘me’ I used to be, with the old ‘me.’ I mean, I look at the old ‘me’ and I can’t accept how I used to be. But now I have changed,” and he said how.
That is, a man, as he is today, cannot remain the same as he was last year, and cannot be how he will be in a year. The taste of God changes in our mouths and hearts. God, of course, remains the same, He is unchanging, but we, if we progress spiritually, will inherently understand God differently every time. However, we must be careful with this, to not fall into despair from this, but to perceive it with great joy and optimism, and to see in it proof that we are truly thriving.
When you are progressing it means that the English you possessed in your first year of studying now seems meager, because today you can already read serious books and newspapers and watch films in it. That is, you knew English then, and you know it now, and you will know it later, when you are succeeding, but only it’s not the same English. it This happens not only with the English language but also with the angelic language—the language by which you come into contact with God’s space: It also cannot remain the same as before. Once you believed in God rather primitively: Children believe God sits somewhere on the moon or high in the sky, and that means He’s not here; therefore, they run into the kitchen or their room, hiding in the bathroom, and they think they have hidden from God. They believe in God, yes, but with an imperfect faith.
Our approach to God always depends on our experiences, spirituality, the inner content and prayer which we offer, and the time we devote to all of this: to prayer, reading, inner work, self-knowledge, and contact with other people; because it is from here that we draw experience and a genuine sense of God, and not from a book. At some point, books fade into the background, and life experience appears, connected with the true existence of God Himself and with the people around you.
Therefore, we say it’s one thing to read a book about marriage, and another to live the family life. That’s what happens with God. One of my monk friends once said that it’s one thing to read books about monasticism, and another to be a monk. Before I became a monk, I read a lot, imagined a lot—imagined the whole world—but when I became a monk I saw a different reality, in some ways more positive, and in some more negative. Then I realized that life is different from what we read. That means God exists beyond books, beyond what this or that person tells you. It’s one thing when someone tells you about God, and another when God Himself tells you in your heart, when He whispers something to you. There’s a huge difference.
I remember what the now-glorified St. Porphyrios said:
When I was young, I had one image of God—extremely strict, one-sided, formulaic. I built well-known schemes and set limits, I looked at people and thought that God agreed with my logic. But the more time passed, the more I came into contact with people, and my soul intermingled with their souls, I saw the reality of their lives, looked at their feelings, heart, and battles—the more a different God revealed Himself to me every time. And if I began with The Rudder1 and strictness, templates and absolutes, then after some time I looked at everything differently and evaluated people’s actions differently.
It’s because the elder looked at what stood behind the visible and saw what others could not understand. Thus, looking at very sinful people, he saw them only as seekers of truth and happiness, and he gave another explanation for what sin is, what a bad person is, and what a good person is.
Why did he begin to perceive it all this way; why did he start to sense it this way? Because his taste of God changed, and his sense of what God means; as in the time of God people also thought they knew God, but Christ—Himself God incarnate—showed them that their conception of God was wrong. When the disciples said to Him, “Call down fire from Heaven and burn this city because they did not receive you,” they thought it was according to God’s character. But Christ said to them, “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of (Lk.9:55). You have not understood my temperament. I bring love; I do not bring revenge.”
“But that’s the kind of picture we have of God!”
“Yes, I’m not berating you, but I’m coming to help you, so you can rise higher.”
We have no reason to fight with someone who looks at everything his own way: It’s one of the stages of his life, it’s a phase that will pass. We can’t condemn him or alienate him, we can only understand and respect him, stand in his place, and see that in his place we would look at things the same way. That is, he had his own reason to do what he does—his idea in his mind, his own preconceptions.
I have never seen a saint whose heart was wide at first, and then it as if narrowed down and he became more capricious and difficult in communication. Holiness means the opening and widening of the heart, and such a breadth of mind that accommodates all, understands all, forgives all, and loves even vicious, sinful women, as St. Porphyrios, who found one such establishment on Omonoia Square2 and blessed them with the cross on Theophany. He told all the women to go out onto the street, and they spilled out half-naked, straightening their little outfits to cover up, but he said,
“Searching souls live here.”
What happened with this man? This is what happened—he flung open his mind and perceived God with a different sense.
A man whose views are one and the same at twenty and at eighty (and usually when we say, “one and the same views,” we mean “one and the same one-sided and rigid views”) did not understand something in the goodness of the Lord; he didn’t understand the words Taste and see that the Lord is good (Ps. 33:9). That is, taste in order to see how good the Lord is: God is not the way you imagine Him to be. God has nothing to do with what you say about Him.
Christ always said, “You do not understand.”3 For example, when they spoke with Him in order to put Him in a difficult position: “The Law tells us to stone this woman.”
That is, in saying “the Law,” they mean: “God said so-and-so through Moses.” And Christ said, “Well, come on! If you are without sin, then throw them!” (cf. Jn. 8:7).
You see, He always takes them to another level of thinking; He always grabs them where they are and moves them to another place.
Christ’s endeavor, that we would not leave our spirituality stagnant, means the abolition of the static, it means an ever-flexible mind, that we would constantly “knead” our existence and look at what happens differently—always through the eyes of Christ.
Do not utter the truth if the truth can outright slay another. Do not speak the truth when it is sharp as the needle of a cactus and thereby draw blood from another. I can’t wipe a baby’s eye with a carpet brush because it will hurt him. When you want to do good, you must do it in a good way; and to do that, you must firmly understand that God abides beyond our schemes, our formulas, and these patterned movements, when we endlessly copy one and the same action. What we did once, we do again now.
Elder Porphyrios didn’t do this, for he said, “I used to be strict; now, however, I’m not that way.”
Elder Porphyrios would take you by the hand and say, “Learn to see a search in sin, a sincere search, only one gone down the wrong path. Look at the search, the beauty of the soul, seeking for something, and this ‘something’ is absolutely true.
No one seeks vice, or darkness, or corruption in the depth of his soul, but he seeks joy, God, splendor, the flowering of the soul, beauty, peace, and happiness. And when you realize this, you become a comfortable person, you can meet anyone and love, respect, and honor him. Tell him, “I understand you, I sympathize, I have compassion for you,” and seeing how you handle it, he lowers his weapon, his resistance breaks down, and he surrenders; because finding himself before a man with such an understanding of Christ and such Divine forbearance, he feels he has no need to shut himself up anymore, no need to fight, to have enmity, and no need to stand up and express his arguments about how good he is. He surrenders himself and tells you, “I am nothing, I am very sinful, I am bad, I have passions!”
“Why are you telling me all of this?”
“Because you radiate beauty and warmth, and your warmth doesn’t horrify me or make me wall myself off, lock myself up, or fear you.”
People are afraid of us today, considering themselves spiritual people, because our spirituality is unconvincing. The facts tell us this—it’s not just me saying it. It shows people’s attitude towards us: It’s not easy for them to get closer to us, to reveal their souls, precisely because they don’t see in our faces the God Who will understand them, love them, and caress them in His love for mankind.
I can make some kind of philanthropic gesture at first, to say to someone else, “Come”. But then as soon as he comes—“Ah, come here! I finally got you!” and we squeeze and smother him. Therefore, many people come to us, making the first step, but they don’t go further than that.
Many come to us, look at us, and leave. They come, they give us a taste, and feel bitterness, they don’t feel sweetness, as it’s written: Taste and see that the Lord is good—they don’t feel this goodness of the Lord, this kindness and mercy in us.
And I say this from the bitter experience of my own incorrect actions and behavior, for so many years resulting in others looking at me, being horrified, and leaving.
If you are close to God and live a truly spiritual life, then you will understand this through the change which you will feel in your relationship to God.
To change, you have to destroy the old. You say, “But I built this up and lived this way for so many years!”
But this is what Christ comes for. If you want to rejoice, that your heart would truly be revealed, you can’t fear to break the old man. You’ll survive one such breaking, and inwardly you will become not what is not true, not what is not of the true God, but something new will appear. It’s worth the effort, and you should go through this destruction and ruin, because what will be created, the new, will be much better, much more beautiful, and it will make you much happier, and others will look at you and say:
“What a change God has wrought! God has truly touched this man and changed and transfigured him.
You will be seen the way that you will look at God, and the way that you convey God’s message to others…