Experience of God
This short story was extracted from a draft translation of the book, “The gurus, a young man and Elder Paisios”, translated by Fr. Nicholas Pallis and made available here with the permission of Rakovalis Athanasios who is preparing the final translation.
I still wonder and am amazed! My mind stops and I cannot contain it. If I try to understand the depth, I go crazy. As soon as I feel a bit that goodness and the mercy, I am crushed. The certain feeling of my unworthiness and my ungratefulness before all these things which were granted to me makes me freak, tremble and go out of my mind because of the condescension and warm welcoming. How much do God and His saints condescend to our unworthiness!!
Once I had the great honor and blessing to transport elder Paisios somewhere with my car. In his great simplicity and humility, I would forget myself and be swayed into a familiarity. I could see before me my father and would forget that God permanently dwelt within him. I would forget that he had realized to the uttermost degree the capabilities of human nature and that he had become a godbearer. I would forget that with his word he would chase out the demons, that with one word of his incurable illnesses disappeared, that his face shone like the sun before my eyes that, with unending gifts he had been honored and adorned by the Holy Spirit, the Grace of God.
I know well all these things and I guard them deeply within the depths of my soul and ask God with agony and tears to not ever let my raging enemy, the Devil steal them from me. And nevertheless when I was with the elder, many times his simple and unpretentious behavior, full of kindness and humor, would sway me to familiarity, from familiarity I would slide down to rudeness and audacity, and I opened my mouth with all my senseless and my stupidity and said.
“Elder, tell me about God, speak to me, how is he?”
The elder did not speak and I continued to drive, on curves furthermore on the mountain.
My God! I began suddenly feeling God everywhere. In the car, outside on the mountains, far in the distant galaxies. He was everywhere, he filled everything, but he was nothing of all of these things. An essence which pierced through all the other ones, without getting mixed up or being confused with these. A power present everywhere, which nevertheless no one perceives, outside of every viewpoint. Someone cannot discover it with this ownâ€¦haughty effort. A power which only is self revealed. All these mountains, stars, trees, people, existed and were maintained alive thanks to His power. He could in one moment annihilate them, for them to cease existing without noise or thunder or resistance. Just as we turn the switch and in one moment the light disappears.
He’s so almighty and nevertheless so courteous. He does not pressure anyone with his almightyness or his presence. He is so near us and so unseeable simultaneously, so that we do not feel any burden, some obligation from his presence alone. So that he does not burden us at all, to not create any obligation to us, to leave us completely free, to do whatever we want. Not for us to be forced by his beauty to some degree. He could easily impose his love not with fears and power and strength, but simply with the sweetness of His presence, which no one could resist. Yet, He does not do it, out of an infiniteâ€¦, incomprehensible respect for man’s freedom.
He doesnâ€™t do it, out of love for man. He loves us so much, he desires us so much strongly that his innards are burned, out of desire and love for us. For this reason he limits himself, he disappears from our perception and tries in a thousand ways, with infinite wisdom with dreadful attention and interest, as a â€œraging” lover to draw us to his love. To wake us up, to motivate our interest, to make us understand and love Him.
He sits and occupies himself with each one of us personally, and simultaneously with the whole universe, the infinitely powerful one. And because he has interest for this infinite universe the love and interest he has for each one of us personally is not lessened not even to the slightest degree, does not subside even in thought.
God wants our love. He does not demand it. Love is an emotion which is born and lives only in the air of freedom, outside of it, it ceases existing, it is perverted, altered, it dies. For this reason, God leaves us completely free to gain our love, which can be born only in this freedom.
What do we have and God loves us? Some beauty, some smartness, some power, some virtue? Nothing! We are nonexistent before Him and His gifts. And not only do we not have something worth it for one to love us, but we also have very many things which stink and push away and strongly urge someone to be averted from us and to hate us. We are fainthearted to His generosity. Of very slight intelligence before a vast intellect. Wicked before His smartness. Grabbers, at the moment when He wholeheartedly offers. That which He grants us richly, overflowing, we want to grab. We respond to His kindness with grabbing and mockery. Ungrateful to His benefactions. Haughty in behavior before His almightyness. Sly and insufficient before His Wisdom. He wants to grant us His Grace, He wants to give us beauty, life, Wisdom, power. We do not want to take them as gifts. Our egotism destroys them, our pride makes them filthy. We cannot keep any of His gifts due to our evil disposition. And if something of these remains in our soul, we immediately get puffed up from pride, as if we obtained them with our value, as if it is not a gift, without toil. We lift up our eyebrow and look down at our neighbor. The gift is lifted up and leaves from our soul. God opposes the prideful, while to the humble He gives grace” “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above coming down from the Father of Lights” (James 1:17).
What can I say? Where should I stop? A big bunch of horribleness we are. Our fallen human nature, which voluntarily remains fallen and sunk in the filth of the passions, only regurgitation and asphyxiation it calls forth from its filth.
As the prophet Isaiah also used to say. It does not refer to a wound which is rotting, of a deep wound which man.. has wholly from head to fingernails he is one wound. Where can you put gauze? Where medicine?…God Himself, Christ was needed to recreate from the beginning, with His birth, our nature which voluntarily and with rage we destroyed on our own. He out of kindness and love to reform it from the beginning.
This is human nature today. It was not thus always. We were not created thus, we ended up thus. Our choices formulated us thus. We constantly choose evil and thus destroy ourselves. And whereas we were created beautiful, bright, almighty, wise and honored, dominating the material world, immortal, we ended up today mortal, dark, subject to the needs of material life, to pain, to illness, to affliction, to corruption, to death. We do not have knowledge, we do not have wisdom, as blind people we go about in the world, we rip and fall and are wounded and don’t know where we tripped, because we fell, who puts us obstacles to trip on and he tries to throw us into wild valleys and to kill us, to laugh mockingly, and to celebrate in his wickedness, the man hater, the inventor of wickedness, the father of falsehood, the ancient dragon, our very ancient enemy, the devil.
And God loves us. He still loves us. With a love which burns, with a love which trembles with longing, with a love which overlooks the pain which we cause it, with a love which accepts to enter into our toil, which accepts to suffer from the craziness of our evil. O my God! How much pain do we cause you!
God loved us so much, that He accepted to become a man. He moderated His majesty in our humility. He accepted to ascend on the Cross. He accepted to leave the devil with his sly plots to put Him up on the Cross and there, to crush the head for the snake. Now henceforth we can defeat the devil whenever we want. And all these for our sake. For me and for you.
I continued feeling God and to understand Him with my heart. A deep calmness flooded me. Every fear was annihilated. Since the almighty God exists, since He knows everything, since He is so good, since He is so wise, since He loves me so much, what should I fear?
I am in His embrace! I am in His palm. Who can do anything to me?…I was certain of the beginning, the course and the end of the world. I rejoiced, because in the end, as always He will be the victor and kindness and holiness will triumph.
God is Spirit! The world is matter. The spirit surpasses matter, supports it in existence, brings it into existence, maintains it in existence, however it is a completely other thing from matter. Matter is destined to disappear. The spirit always exists. Time is a result, a quality of matter. In the matter the spirit exists time does not exist. Eternity is the manner of existence of the Spirit. Past and future coincide in a vast present. It is simultaneously everywhere from the infinite universe and in my car.
He is very simple in nature, however so mysterious. How deeply my soul was satisfied! How much I rejoiced! How much I was comforted! How much do I want to relive it again! I rejoice in the thought that when I die I will begin, I hope, to live near Him. So much that…I long to die. I would like to die today, if I knew that I would meet Him. I fear my sin, my evil, that it might separate me from Him.
I remember that I read in Saint John Damascene “We believe in one God, immaterial, unlimited, infinite, without beginning, eternal, almighty, immortal, timeless, noetic light…” (Saint John Damascene, “Precise Exposition of the Orthodox Faith”).
I don’t think that this state lasted a lot. If I judge from the road the car did, 3-4 kilometers probably, but due to the many curves I was going slowly.
I certainly was not, as I am now that I am writing. I had suffered a change… distinct. Man is altered from many things. From drink, from narcotics, from pleasure, from the climate, from water, from pain, affliction, fear, however… this alteration… does not have a match. It is unique.
I lived in a form of… ecstasy, a type of intoxication, without however having lost my senses and my contact with the material world. A “vigilant intoxication” as the ancient ascetics and Saints characterize it in their writings.
As if someone pulled away a curtain from my mind, from my soul, and I began living in the same world on the one hand, but in the whole world, whereas first I lived in a part of it.
Imagine a deaf person who suddenly begins hearing. He lived in the same world, but without the sounds. Now he hears too.
Imagine a blind person who suddenly begins seeing. The same world now has images and colors too.
So thus I also lived in the same world, just that I felt God also and within Him many many, deep, important, and beautiful things. I was suddenly a partaker of the material and of the spiritual world. I imagine somewhat thus must people have been. Adam and Eve in Paradise must have been much better, because as the Holy Scripture also says, they saw, heard and spoke with God. Then human nature had not yet suffered the destruction, which I have today. The sensorial spiritual instruments worked well. My own “spiritual eyes” no longer see. They were covered with the thick scales of my evil. “My spiritual ears” no longer hear. They were plugged up from the mud of my sin. “My spiritual language” became paralyzed from the laziness of the soul. I am wholly buried in the filth of my passions.
Someone took me out for one moment from in there, and I also lived as a human. Now I again live like a filthy and sick man, deaf, blind and senseless.
Do I truly desire I wonder to live thus? If they granted it to me again, I would accept it joyfully. Now I know the path to go there on my own. However I don’t walk this path and no one is at fault outside of my laziness. I know well, that, if I work in the vineyard of my Lord Jesus Christ, I will certainly arrive there. And the work is for me to keep His commandments. The keeping of the commandments produces a spiritual work. Some effort of soul mainly is needed. Keeping the commandments the soul learns many things and simultaneously is cleansed and the spiritual instruments begin slowly slowly functioning.
Unfortunately I don’t do that which each of you probably did. For this reason I believe that I am worthy of every shame and am responsible also before you and the whole of humanity that a treasure was granted to me and I don’t utilize it. So I am a useless and ungrateful person. The only thing that remains for me to do is to ascertain it, to admit it, to confess it. I don’t despair however, because I know His mercy and love. I hope to be honor loving… a bit… sometime… with His help.
If I were truly a man with love of honor, with good disposition, I would be struggling now with fervor and zeal, as the elder does.
Make notice of something else, too. Did you pay attention to the generosity of the elder, who imitates God, our Lord Jesus Christ?
What did I ask of him? A few words… Some discussions. How did he respond to my request? With a wholehearted fiery prayer, which moved God, and I the wretched one lived this incalculable experience. What wealth! What generosity! My God, forgive me!! How much must he love me to pray so fervently for me?
All these things I write without toil, without thought. I am not sitting to construct thoughts, soap bubbles of the mind without content. Usually the people of our age work with the… head. They sit, they think-think, pressure their mind, to produce thoughts and knowledges.
Because they think that the instrument of knowledge is only logic. Leave that some from the great pressuring they do to the mind… get unscrewed. Others less others more, and they run afterwards to the psychiatrists. Sunk in ignorance and darkness, we are ignorant not only of the outer world but also of the inner world, of our own self. Inside there, there is another instrument of knowledge. Faith. Within faith one lives many things. He lives them and does not think of them. Afterwards comes the mind, logic to arrange them, to make them thoughts, words, letters, whichever of these can become thoughts and words. Most things cannot be “translated” into human language. The soul is much more wealthy, deeply, penetrating and sensing than our language.
I pray all of you to want to live these things. To not just read them, to think of them, to discuss them, to criticize them and to consume them only. I pray that you will seek them in your life, as others seek money, glory. If you toil more than a merchant, if you show the same persistence as an athlete or dancer, you will achieve, I think. The Holy Mountain is a very good door, to enter into Orthodoxy, but there also exist “Athonites” aside from the Holy Mountain, people with gifts and love. Just as there exist non-Athonites, people outside of the Haghioritic Tradition, inside the Holy Mountain.
“Ask and it shall be given to you, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you” (Math. 7:7).
I get frustrated and grieve that I cannot describe this experience. I read them and it does not resound even one-thousandth from this experience from within this text. How can I describe? How can I say how true, how deep, how intense, how calm, so joyous, so satisfying, so healing how tender, how warm, how friendly, how protective, how life-giving… how joyous… how, how, how of all the good things it was.
I remember phrases from Christian ancient texts. “God becomes all things for those who love Him: he becomes nourishment, garment, comfort, consolation, knowledge, power… all things.
At some moment I began telling the Elder these things I am feeling. He was not speaking. He did not want me to speak of these. He did not want me to realize that he was the cause. What was I telling him the lost one? Come, dear father, to show you your vineyards, which our race also says.
Slowly slowly, little by little, it went out,.. it was lostâ€¦ it pulled back… or rather my perception closed. The gift finished…. What did it leave behind? Gratitude, deep satisfaction, but also unhealable thirst for Him. How can one be simultaneously deeply satisfied also, but also feel His deep lack? To be very joyous that he met Him, but also unto writing saddened that he lost Him? How poor the yogis and the Gurus seem! How false! How wretched! Sunk in the most basic ignorance, deceived in false imaginations, they praise themselves and get puffed up for these things they know… for their experiences! But if you don’t know God, then what do you know? If you don’t possess the most basic, the most central thing, then what do you possess?
They resemble some gypsies who dress themselves with flashy colors, with loud jewelry, with a loud and badly showing offing manner, far from coordination and fashion. And once they dress up thus, they go to an atmosphere aristocratic from many generations, to be praised without imagining the poor ones how much more they are humiliated.
We have a God who is a true aristocrat. We have a god who gave us the right to call him Father. We have a God who calls us His children. We have a God who became man for us, our Lord Jesus Christ, who is not ashamed not to call us, but to become our brother.
The poor things don’t have anything… Just false, lifeless, idols, thousands of imaginary deities, theories and practices, which don’t lead anywhere. They turn in the emptiness and don’t encounter anything except the false sense and the delusion with which the devil keeps them imprisoned. Until he destroys them or makes them his instruments… and both for their eternal hardship.