Tag Archives: Elder Porphyrios

It’s about light and seeing.

This was a Sunday extra-full of intellectual stimulation, so much so that I feel I must write in order to debrief and process the swirling thoughts. (The church property was also graced with thousands of manzanita blossoms, with which I am decorating my post.)

As I have mentioned before, we are reading The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis this year in the high school class that meets, as they all do, after we have partaken of the Holy Gifts, toward the end of Divine Liturgy. Today I was amazed at the scope of philosophy and questions we touched on in half a chapter of the book: What is a person? What purpose should art serve? How can we resist the urges from without and within to imbibe and conform to the culture we are born into?

The fictional story is of ghosts who get a chance at Heaven by taking a bus trip from Hell. They have been in the process of becoming more or less human for a long time. Is it hundreds or thousands of years? Hard to say. Our narrator’s guide by the middle of the book is none other than George MacDonald himself, who explains a great deal of what is going on.

About one ghost who appears to the narrator not to be really wicked, but only “into a habit of grumbling,” MacDonald says, “The question is whether she is a grumbler, or only a grumble. If there is a real woman — even the least trace of one — still there inside the grumbling, it can be brought to life again. If there’s one wee spark under all those ashes, we’ll blow it till the whole pile is red and clear. But if there’s nothing but ashes we’ll not go on blowing them in our own eyes forever. They must be swept up.”

The blessed spirits journey for ages to meet the excursionists from Hell, and try to persuade them to cast off whatever hinders, and to stay in Heaven. Today’s reading included such an interview, between two men who had known of each other in the previous life, where they were both artists. When the ghost arrives, he looks around briefly and immediately wants to start painting.

“I shouldn’t bother about that just at present if I were you,” says the blessed spirit, and goes on to explain, “When you painted on earth — at least in your earlier days — it was because you caught glimpses of Heaven in the earthly landscape. The success of your painting was that it enabled others to see the glimpses too. But here you are having the thing itself. It is from here that the messages came…. If you are interested in the country only for the sake of painting it, you’ll never learn to see the country.”

I wonder if George MacDonald struggled to keep his artistic focus on “telling about light,” if he ever found himself writing for the love of his own voice and to promote his reputation as a writer and storyteller. If so, he must have noticed, and repented. The glimpses of heavenly realities he was able to give have helped thousands to keep their eyes toward their life-giving Lord.

As often happens, the homily we had heard an hour earlier contributed to our lesson. This time Father John was telling us about the word peculiar in the King James translation, used in I Peter when the apostle is speaking to us who have been “called out of darkness into his marvelous light.” It comes from a Greek word that tells us we belong to God; we are possessed. We mused about how this fundamental truth about our personhood can help us to come back again and again to that light, His light, and not get distracted forever from our purpose, and from His life-giving Spirit.

I was not through being challenged to think, and to try forming my thoughts into speech fast enough to contribute to a discussion, because our women’s book club from church was gathering around my table mid-afternoon. We certainly didn’t need to eat, but you know how it is, one may rarely have a gathering of any sort in our society without serving food, and it is fun! …so I did put out a few snacks, and tea things and mugs.

We were discussing The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende. A couple of the younger women had read it 20 years ago, and liked it then. But they have changed, and did not enjoy it much. None of us thought it was great, and I only read half, and won’t say more about it here. Next time we are reading Wounded by Love by Elder Porphyrios, picked from a half dozen suggestions of literary sustenance for our Lenten journey coming up in a few weeks.

Okay, now I’ve made my little report, and I hope I caught a ray of light somewhere in it. At least from the darling manzanita.

little goats now in the spring

The hymns of Pascha and Bright Monday are playing themselves in my mind every day, all day long, like heavenly prayers. Christ is risen indeed! And my house is filled with honeysuckle scent, as a consequence of a long gardening party I’ve been having with myself.

I’ve been on my hands and knees in the dirt quite a bit this week. Above you can see one perennial bed I’ve been thinning and re-planting. Eleven tomato plants have been tucked into various places all over the yard, and in order to make a sunny home for one of them it was necessary to severely prune the honeysuckle vine that was starting to bloom profusely. Beforehand, as I walked past it several times, the sweetness almost made me woozy, and reminded me of the lilies in church on Holy Friday, as at a funeral.

I couldn’t bear to throw all the prunings into the yard waste bin, so I cut carefully and put the trimmings in three vases to enjoy indoors. There were still so many left, I filled another jarful to give to a neighbor, but it’s still here, too. Even though the petals are drying and starting to fall on the table, all of this flowery flavor is still permeating my days.

A wonderful story was passed on to us on the blog Mystagogy, of the Athonite monk Elder Porphyrios (1906-1991) who on a Bright Tuesday visited his cardiologist, overflowing with Easter brightness and quoting a hymn:

What happiness is in the Resurrection! “And leaping for joy, we celebrate the Cause.” Have you ever seen the little goats now in the spring who jump on the grass? They eat a little from their mother and begin to jump again? This is what it means to leap – to jump. This is how we should also jump for unspeakable joy at the Resurrection of our Lord and our own.

It is a sweet and not long anecdote you can read here.

There is this lightness and heavenly singing, but pressing in on all sides, sorrow and pain. In the lives of extended family, and friends near and far, things happen even in Bright Week that reek of death. A husband commits suicide, a child dies suddenly and mysteriously, a sweet woman becomes incapacitated with irrational fears….

How to make sense of it all? How to carry the joy along with the burdens of the people you love? It probably requires a measure of the Holy Spirit I haven’t acquired in order to do a good job of it. My joy is often a shallow emotionality, and certainly my burden-bearing is hampered by laziness and the distraction of my own burdens that I needlessly carry.

Or is it needlessly? It was only a short time ago I was ruminating on the yoke of Christ — and He did say His burden is light. He was exhorting us to take up His yoke. I want to “be there” for people who are hurting, and often the only thing to do, and it’s not minor, is to bring them to God’s throne in my heart and prayers. If I will just stay there I should be able to hold on to this sweetness and Light as well. 

Christ is risen!