When we love someone, we must remember that we have to live in harmony with them. That is, “I love” does not mean I will agree with you in everything. In the same way, if I don’t agree, it doesn’t mean I don’t love you and I’m going to raise a fuss or fight every time. But, although we sometimes have friction and I don’t always agree with you, I love you. I have a different opinion, but that doesn’t mean I don’t tolerate yours. We must be willing to accept contradictory opinions and hold discussions, otherwise we will have discord, because people do not have the same view on every question.
One time I asked someone, “What prevents us from having different opinions but still loving one another, from experiencing love for one another? What prevents us from getting along and staying together despite our disagreements?”
Christ had twelve disciples, and each had his own personality. I mean that we should make concessions for one another, not in matters of the dogmas of the faith and the core teachings of the Church, but in practical conduct. I feel one way, and you another. My personality produces one opinion, yours another. Yours is also good, but we must learn to express our opinions without malice or fear, and without severing contact with others or burning bridges of communication with other people… This is also a secret of the spiritual life. If we remember this, then we will be able to accept our spouse when he has a different opinion, or accept our child, and others close to us.
We must also remember that in the spiritual life we say one thing, but inside we are tormented and gnawed by another. No one has gone into heresy due to having a special “enlightenment” and “seeing the light,” as if the Orthodox faith is not true. No; someone, for example, lost a child, and cultists found him in a moment of pain, when he was abandoned by his parish, and no one was asking him, “Who are you? Where do you work? How’s it going?” A stranger among strangers. But cultists went to him and drew him to themselves. Then he told me:
“I found truth there.”
I replied, “If you poke around and delve into yourself, you will see what the real reason was and what drew you there. You were feeling pain, loneliness, abandonment, and dissatisfaction of soul then, but you found aid there.”
It happens to us all. Often when we have some difficulty in life and we speak about it, what we say usually lies on the surface. But dig a little into what you’re talking about, and you will see the real reason. And marvel at the fact that what actually preoccupies you has no relation at all to what you said.
There was one lady who was constantly telling me, “Father, you don’t give me time to confess, but I want to.”
I asked her, “Alright, what’s going on? You confessed not long ago at all.”
“I want to see you often.”
I told her, “Well, I can see that you don’t have any terrible sin, and what you want right now is not confession.”
However, she insisted: “No, I have to confess; I have problems.”
I told myself, “I’m not going to speak at all; I will be silent, because if I ask her about her children, the conversation will never stop…” I just wanted to let her express what she wanted to confess. I asked her what was on her mind and bedeviling her.
“Batushka, look, my daughter does this and that, my son this and that, my neighbor…”
I entreated her, “Confess for yourself.”
She turned and said, “Indeed, I don’t want to confess; rather, I want to see you, and feel that you love me.”
Well, then say it, admit that you’re saying one thing, and concealing another within yourself. It’s also not bad, but the way you’re trying to achieve this creates tension and misunderstanding.
We do not clearly say what is really worrying and preoccupying us. This happens with many spiritual matters. Many Protestants write to me on Facebook: “I am a heretic, but I want to listen to you.” But when I start to take an interest in their lives, I realize they’re just lacking a little love: “Can anyone give it to me? I will go wherever I can find it! If you give me love, I will come to you.”
What we say is not the most important thing, not the paramount problem, but something else; the main thing is what we are unable to accept or acknowledge in ourselves.
Judas asked, “Why all this expense?” about the myrrh used to anoint the Lord. Ah, Judas, what a good guy you are—you’re worried about the expenditures!
The Lord politely, so as not to humiliate him and not publicly hurt him, opened his window slightly to see what was hiding in his soul. And He said to him, “Judas, don’t worry! The poor there will always be—you will give them alms later. I soon will die. These expenses are for My burial” (cf. Jn. 12:3-8).
The Lord knew that behind this “love of the poor” hid the love of money.
We do the same thing. We speak of others’ issues and families out of curiosity and interest, while our own problem gnaws us internally; and so our own lives becomes false and artificial, and we reach eighty to ninety years of age without understanding ourselves, without understanding what is going on inside ourselves.
We turn into a showcase of spirituality without any substance, depth, or content. We are like the beautiful display in a store, in which, if you go by the back porch to the warehouse, you will find dirt, cardboard containers, and trash. But the storefront display is perfect.
Look at yourself truthfully: What hinders you? Where did you screw up? Why did you act that way, and not this way?
If you look into yourself, you will see what you really are… Digging is necessary not to horrify yourself, but to help you come to terms with yourself, to love yourself. But you have to look at yourself in truth to do this: What is hindering us, where did you go wrong? Why did you marry that woman or man? Why did you become a priest? Why aren’t you married? Why do you have this, and not another profession? Why do you hate one, but love another? If you explore these questions, you will see things that surprise you and open many truths for you.
One priest told me:
I became a priest to preach the word of God. But years later I realized that at first I was nobody in life, but when I became a priest, people began to kiss my hand from that very day. You know how lofty it is, that people kiss our hand, they bow, they call you “Father!” How wonderful it is that everyone considers you a father! And I understood that behind all of this hides a thirst for power, strength, and a desire to tell people what to do—it’s all very flattering. I feel very elevated, but in my soul I feel it as a problem, although no one knows about it. And before God I feel impure, and that my true motivations were different.”
That’s what it means to delve deep into yourself, which, rushing through life like a race, we never do. But when you do it, something remarkable happens. First you are stunned and confused, but then you purge everything and you say, “My life should be genuine and unfeigned. I should be real, and not as they say about some people: ‘He’s a person of appearances only’—not making something of yourself…”
I once asked a student who was crying pretty hard, “Why are you crying so much?”
“I suffer at home, Father!”
“But why? Aren’t your parents in the Church?”
“Yes, that’s why I suffer—because they’re in the Church! My mom goes to church, but she bothers us something fierce.”
This woman, her mother, forgot that what God wants from her is not excessive activity, shielding the disorder in her soul. The soul is the goal, but she lost touch with the essence of her soul, with the authenticity of its ethos, its disposition. As they say, “With the appearance of Аvva, but the disposition of Aga.”1 The character of her spirituality is the ethos of violence, and of authority over others, and death. You did not appear in this world to strain others. Show respect for everyone, but do as you please—you’re free.
Some ask me, “But how—do what you want?” But what else can I tell someone else? To not do what he wants? Do they really not know the correct thing to do? As Mother Gavrilia2 says, “What, they don’t see that I’m in a riassa? Doesn’t it tell them anything?” Do you see a priest with a beard, in a riassa and kamilavka? What else should he tell you? So what, I should lift a finger and start to scold them? And what do those who scold achieve? If you believe something can be achieved by accusations and fights, then do it.
Remember the story of Elder Porphyrios and the man who confessed to him but didn’t admit that he has a mistress? The elder didn’t start berating him, but only told him not to go out with her in the city, but to meet somewhere else, so his child wouldn’t see them. Thus, he led the man to repentance. Without any words of eloquence, the elder showed him his ulcer, not cloaking anything with his words—he simply struck him. He said, “At least respect your child so he doesn’t see you with your mistress.”
And this man changed his life. I would never have given this advice—and it would have been correct, because to do so requires a special enlightenment and inspiration from God.
I’ll tell you another story: The elder was just simple Fr. Porphyrios then, and many heaped all kinds of accusations upon him. The saints, while yet alive, take some risk upon themselves, and people say, “What is this? He’s in prelest.3” Then the years pass, and these same people say that they are saints. But while they’re alive, we literally drive them to the grave, and when they repose, we magnify them.
There is no life without risk. We need to have discernment, to know when to speak, and to not forget when not to speak. This happens over time, but we will make many mistakes while we’re still learning. We will have failures, misunderstandings, and all of that. And only turning fifty, sixty, seventy, we will be able to do some things more correctly.