Priest as Mediator between God and Man (conclusion)

Priest as Mediator between God and Man (conclusion)

Although I feel as though I may have said enough, and anything I add would be a counter climax, yet I will still continue and refer to St. Sophrony of Essex in England.
A short time before he reposed he expressed the following:
“The content of the Person of Christ is the self-emptying love unto the end, by which He accomplished the salvation of the world.
“Man likewise proves himself a person when he acquires love for God to the point of self-hatred, pure prayer which accompanies this, and prayer for the world similar to Christ’s prayer in Gethsemane.” (Man the Target of God, Archimandrite Zacharias, p. 147)
Fr. Zachariah comments on these words as follows:
“In this state of prayer for the world, the mind of Christ is transmitted to man and his heart is enlarged to embrace heaven and earth and to bring before God every creature. The true calling of man is become a true hypostasis, a true person in the image of Christ’s Person, a new Adam bearing in himself the whole of humanity and presenting it before God in intercession for salvation.” (ibid.)
What is it to “become a true person in the image of Christ’s Person? It is to acquire “self-emptying love unto the end” since this is “the content of the Person of Christ.” And what is “love for God to the point of self-hatred”? It is to no longer desire salvation but to “wish (or pray) that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren” (Rom. 9:3). Fr. Zachariah continues:
“Christ came to the earth with one desire in His heart; He prayed in Gethsemane, ascended onto the Cross and went down into the tomb so that the world should be saved. Of course, when He rose again, He rose again with the same content in His heart.” (ibid.)
As the Apostle Paul writes that God, “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (ITim. 2:4). And so, he who acquires the grace of the Holy Spirit cannot be otherwise. Let us continue with some words from the experience of St. Sophrony.
“When abundant grace touches the heart of the Christian, animated by the love of Christ acting in him,… following after Christ, becomes like Him.”
“In proportion to his strength man takes upon himself the burden of his brothers. The intensity of the pain endured in this life fills his heart with deep compassion for all who suffer. The love that feels for others is ready for sacrifice–total sacrifice–for the good of others, while at the same time sweeping the whole man up to God, mind, heart and body itself. The entire being is drawn to God in ardent prayer, weeping for people, sometimes for a particular individual, known or unknown, sometimes for all humanity since the beginning of time….
“‘To pray for the world is to shed blood.’”
“And we have seen and witnessed that Blessed Staretz Silouan, in praying for people, for the world, for all mankind, all Adam, did in this prayer lay down his life.
“Prayer like this is repentance for men’s sins, and as repentance for the whole world it means to a certain extent bearing the burdens of the world. But to have the audacity for such prayer one must first attain to a certain degree of personal repentance, since to continue to dwell in sin and passion, then instead of bearing the burdens of one’s fellow men, one lays a burden on them. To know the ‘fellowship of Christ’s sufferings’, to be a partaker with Him, we must ‘cease from sin’.” (Phil 3.10 Pet. 4.13, 4.1) St. Silouan the Athonite pp. 239-40
St. Sophrony and Fr. Zachariah are referring again and again to the same theme: Personal repentance leads to the acquisition of grace, the acquisition of grace leads to love and love leads to intercession and this intercession is universal repentance.
In a chapter in his book, His Life is Mine, titled The Prayer of Gethsemane, St. Sophrony interprets the aforementioned prayer. As he begins this chapter he writes:
“Christ’s prayer in the garden of Gethsemane is the noblest of all prayers by its virtue and its power to atone for the sins of the world. Offered to the eternal God the Father in a spirit of divine love, it continues to shine, a light that cannot be extinguished, forever drawing to itself souls that have preserved their likeness to God. Christ included the whole human race in this prayer, from the first Adam to the last man born of woman. We lack existential knowledge of such love and so its permanent significance is hidden from us. Victorious in eternity, Christ’s love in the earthly plane spells extreme suffering. No one has ever known such suffering as Christ endured. He descended into hell, into the most painful hell of all, the hell of love. This is sphere of existence, which can only be apprehended through spiritual love—how far we can penetrate the mystery depends on the measure of love that it has been granted us to know from on high. It is vital to have experienced, if only once, the heavenly fire which Christ brought with Him; to know with our entire being, what it is to be even a little like Christ.” (His Life is Mine, Archimandrite Sophrony, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press 1977, p. 91)
In ending this chapter he concludes:
“When, as I have said, a shadow of a likeness to Gethsemane prayer is granted to him, man transcends the boundaries of his own individuality and enter a new form of being—personal being in the likeness of Christ. By participating in the sufferings of His divine love we too, in spirit, can experience a little of His death and the power of His Resurrection. ‘For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death’ (in deep prayer for the world and consuming desire for the salvation of all) ‘we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection (Rom. 6.5) When it is given to us from on high to enter this new sphere of Being, we arrive at ‘the ends of the world’ (I Cor. 10.11) and pass into the light of Divine eternity.
“And every man on whom God has bestowed the rare and dread privilege of knowing to a minute degree the agony of Christ’s prayer in the garden of Gethsemane1 will stumble on, slowly and painfully, to a cogent awareness of the resurrection of his own soul and a perception of Christ’s undeniable, ineluctable (irresistible or inescapable) victory. He will know ‘that Christ being risen from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over Him’ (Rom. 6.9) And his spirit within him will whisper: My Lord and my God… now, O Christ, by the gift of Thy love which surpasses understanding I, too, have crossed from death to life…” (ibid. p. 95)
This brings to mind the words of St. John the Theologian, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren.” (IJohn 3:14) Then St. Sophrony ends with a rather bold, or we could say hyperbolic statement:
“Now—I am.” (Ibid. p. 95)

1. In his Homily 146 on the Gospel of St. Luke, St Cyril of Jerusalem similarly says that the great grief of our Lord in Gethsemane was “for Israel the firstborn, that henceforth He is not even among the servants”. (Commentary on the Gospel of Saint Luke, Studion Publishers, Inc., 1983, p.582) Likewise Gerondissa (Eldress) Makrina Vassopoulou believes that Christ suffered great pain knowing that through His Crucifixion all of mankind would not be redeemed because all would not accept him. (Words of the Heart, translation St. John the Forerunner Greek Orthodox Monastery 2018, cf. p. 323)

Priest as Mediator between God and Man (continuation)

Priest as Mediator between God and Man (continuation)

We have talked a little about repentance, so let’s now move on to saying something about role of prayer in this. Elder Joseph the Younger (aka Joseph of Vatopeidi) in his book about his Elder, Elder Joseph the Hesychast: Struggles- Experiences – Teachings, categorizes his Elder’s teachings. In the chapter, “On Prayer”, he writes about these points I have brought up, and so he relates the following. (Note that in the quotations that follow – for the sake of greater clarity – I have paraphrased a few phrases for this particular blog. My clarifications are noted in brackets []. )
Elder Joseph writes:
“Protracted and uninterrupted prayerful attention of the heart—which is the most difficult of all ascetic exercises and struggles—produces permanent sensation within the heart. In parallel, the mind with its incessant mourning also regains its natural illumination, becoming a ‘Christ-mind’ (cf. 1 Cor. 2:16); upon which the experience of God abiding and acting within him, transports the small and limited human being to the sphere of Godlikeness. ‘I say, You are gods and sons of the Most High, all of you’ (Ps. 82:6). In consequence, as an ecumenical totality [as an all- inclusive completeness] he contains his neighbor within himself and communes with him, ‘rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep’, as the Apostle puts it.” (Rom. 12:15) (Elder Joseph the Hesychast: Struggles – Experiences – Teachings by Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi, 1999 The Holy and Great Monastery of Vatopaidi, p. 202)
In another place he relates:
“The paternal quality [characteristic] of the grace of true prayer experienced by the Elder was crowned by his communion with the suffering of all mankind, something that we saw him living out intensely and almost continuously. Many times we would see him immersed calmly in himself and he seemed not to be with us; then his expression would change, and in a sorrowful manner he would sigh gently. ‘What the matter Elder?’ we would ask out of youthful curiosity. ‘Someone is suffering children’, he would say. The confirmation of this would come a few days later, when we received a letter describing some incident that had occurred. ‘How does it happen Elder, that those who pray more are more communal that other people?’—because we could see that such people felt everyone to be their neighbor and communed with each person in a very practical way, despite the fact that these men of prayer are virtually hidden and unknown. He then gave us to understand, in his own words, the universality of prayer, the chief bearer of ecumenicity [this term is superlative and implies the bringing together of or connecting the universe]. Through prayer the unity of all in God is realized in a more perfect way as everything is brought to unity with Christ and to communion with God. Perhaps at times he somewhat lacked the power to express himself in the subtle philosophical terms of theology when speaking of these subjects which he ‘underwent’.” (ibid. pp. 200-201)

Although Joseph the Younger says, “at times he somewhat lacked the power to express himself” I believe, “the universality of prayer” is further explained in the following excerpt:

“The Elder used to tell us that the experience of love for one’s neighbor is revealed to him who prays in truth; and more specifically, ‘When grace is operative in the soul of someone who is praying, then he is flooded with the love of God so that he can no longer bear what he experiences. Afterwards this love turns toward the world and man, whom he comes to love so much that he seeks to take upon himself the whole of human pain and misfortune so that everyone else might be freed from it. In general he suffers with every grief and misery, and even for dumb animals, so that he weeps when he thinks that they are suffering. These are the properties of love, but it is prayer that activates them and calls them forth. This is why those who are advanced in prayer do not cease to pray for the world. To them belongs the continuation of life, however strange and audacious this may seem. And you should know that if such people disappear, then the end of this world will come.’” (ibid. pp. 206-7)
Here, Joseph the Younger continues:
“God as self-same consummate love [since He Himself is all love] communicates [imparts] and transmits a part of His consummate goodness to His creatures, in a manner and to a degree known to Himself. It follows as a consequence of this that the same should be done by His deified servants, who through their prayer and supplication also communicate something to the world [ impart “love”—the Greek text reads “love” in place of “something”— to the world]. The conclusion is that if love is the body, its energy and power is prayer; and the proof is that through prayer the fulfillment of love can be achieved with great success on a world-wide scale, where so many other means are powerless.”
“Abba Barsanuphius mentions in his discourses that in his generation there were three people who were able by their prayers to pacify warring nations and in general to keep the world from destruction. At other times we find that the Saints by their prayers have dispelled the threat of calamities, famines and pandemic plagues. What manner of practical contribution or personal service could bring such benefit to whole peoples and countries as does prayer? And again, the general practice of people asking others to prayer for them—is not this an indication of the priority of prayer, that prayer is the greatest surety of success?
“This also reveals the character of prayer as ecumenical [that is, it is available to all, all can participate in it, it is open to all]. Prayer alone can include within it and encompass what is far off and what is scattered, making them one (cf. John 11:22), and can bind together members that are at odds with each other, that they may recognize his neighbor as members of one another who nevertheless live separately. Prayer for human suffering in general shows love, as does prayer for the enlightenment of those who have gone astray and for their return and repentance and knowledge of God. But prayer for enemies is the climax of the rational perfection of beings in whom ‘what is mortal is swallowed up by life” (cf. 1Cor. 15:54). Those who pray for their enemies, becoming and remaining deified, reflect in their godlike character that godly property of praying ‘if it were possible, to be accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of these brethren who have wronged me!’ (cf. Rom. 9:3). This also is the last word of our Lord on the Cross, as He prays for those who have crucified Him”. (cf. Luke 23:34) (ibid. pp. 207-8)

Although Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi is speaking of a high spiritual state that few attain, we are still responsible to struggle according to our strength to advance in this direction. It is awesome and fearful to be faced with the reality of what is open to us. (to be continued…)