Father Arseny, La Malvialle. Words on the Sunday of the Holy Cross (18 March 2012)
In the middle of Great Lent, on the Sunday of the Holy Cross, we were glad to have among us Father Arseny and the nuns from the monastery La Malvialle in France, a monastery dedicated to "The Exaltation of the Holy Cross". This was a wonderful “coincidence” for our mind and soul journeying through Lent. Father Arseny talked to us about a verse from the Gospel of the day,
“Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Mark 8:34).
The father started with a maxim spoken on Mount Athos: "If you die before you die, you will not die when you die", and he talked further about two kinds of death: the death of our body, the end of our life on Earth, and the spiritual death. The fall of Adam and Eve from Eden exemplifies the latter: ”on the day you will eat, you will die” – a death that culminated in their exile from Paradise, their loss of the ambiance of communion with God.
But if there are two deaths, there are also two resurrections: the resurrection of the body and the resurrection of the soul. The importance of this understanding is given by the Mystery of the Holy Cross that is situated exactly between death and resurrection as a cure against spiritual death.
What does it mean for man to deny himself?
The self is understood as egotism, pride, everything that is related to the death into which he fell the day he disobeyed, the abyss of death into which he fell. It is here that the Cross intervenes: it stops us from spiritual death, it is that to which we cling when we fall into the abyss. To deny oneself means to cling to the Cross, to give up the idea of a life without God, to renounce the self that tells me that I can live by my own power. It is the moment in which we confront reality, in which we understand the fact that we cannot live by our own power. Denying oneself is tantamount to uniting oneself with Christ.
What does it mean for man to take up his cross?
It is desiring for God to take him out of the abyss. The cross is a cure, and the cure is shown to be the cross. I wish to suffer in my body and in my soul because I understand that this is a different path towards death. The union with Christ is achieved through denying oneself, and it awakens the body and the spirit, it makes them different.
What is the meaning of suffering?
It can be seen as an abyss that leads to death (of the body and of the soul), but its real meaning is that of a cure through which Christ helps you pass from (spiritual) death to resurrection. When you rejoice at everything God gives you, since He knows your needs best, and when you cease asking “why”, suffering becomes like medicine. Often affliction is lived as a joy since God is there, in its midst; in suffering we gain power from Christ. Death will end and it is followed by the Resurrection.
What does it mean to follow Christ? Christ took up His cross, He died and He rose from the dead. Follow Me is a promise: the one who takes up his cross will die but will also certainly resurrect.
And the Holy Cross is in the middle of the Lent to remind us of the Resurrection.
Through a series of questions and answers we gained new insight from Father Arseny:
Through asking so many “why’s”, we chase away the grace of God. How do we understand and accept our cross?
If we ask "why?” we do not understand the meaning of the union of God with man. What does it mean to touch God? Before His Ascension, He Himself said: ”Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father…” (John 20:17). He asked the apostles to insist in prayer, but after the Ascension and after sending the Holy Spirit, Christ touches us in another way: through Holy Communion, through which we receive a Person. It is a Person who enters us, and we unite ourselves to Christ. The meeting is a serious one, for Christ is manifested in me and gives me strength to do what He did. The saints submit themselves to ascetic practices precisely to let Christ work more in them. The more the sufferings are from freely assumed ascetic struggles, the less needs there will be. But to assume such sacrifices, and when we wish to engage in such ascetic practices or sacrifices, we must always ask for advice from our spiritual father.
How to love our enemies?
We should realize that it is not man that does evil, but rather the evil, unclean spirit behind him. It is not the man that is first and foremost guilty, but the evil one. We must feed our conscience with this.
How to fight against evil?
We do not fight against it, we avoid it – Christ went into the wilderness. Let’s focus on the good. As for stopping evil, we can only stop it through prayer.
How to find out the will of God?
The will of God always comes with peace, with interior fulfilment. It comes when you are always asking what God’s will is, even if you think what you are doing is already good. Spiritual scattering leads to a loss of that state of questioning.
How to humble ourselves?
The mirror is Christ. When you look into the mirror, you know how you really are. Look into the mirror to avoid pride. It is normal to wish to develop virtues. With Christ we grow multilaterally, He must be seen from all sides and dimensions. The better you become, the better you see Christ and so you are humble because Christ is infinitely better (for the measure of His goodness is untouchable). The first virtue of he who grows closer to God (for this is the true measure of our comparison!) is that he does not even know his own “measure”.
One word for the spiritual growth of our community?
To see its own shortcomings. To be realistic. There is no perfect parish here on earth.