Tag Archives: St. Macarius of Optina

We seek a happy and peaceful path.

“Woe to our times: we now depart from the narrow and sorrowful path leading to eternal life and we seek a happy and peaceful path. But the merciful Lord leads many people from this path, against their will, and places them on the sorrowful one. Through unwanted sorrows and illnesses we draw closer to the Lord, for they humble us by constraint, and humility, when we acquire it, can save us even without works, according to St. Isaac the Syrian.”

+ St. Macarius of Optina

The clear eye on the map.

The Poem-a-Day selection for yesterday was about maps, by Carl Sandburg. I read it when I came home from church this afternoon, after hearing a homily about a map. In Liturgy we learned that the map to the Kingdom is in our heart — but many other things are in the heart, as is obvious from our own lives and from the daily news. One consequence that can result from contemplating the news of the world is an increase of fear and anxiety in our hearts.

The experience related in Sandburg’s poem seems to echo what St. Macarius describes, following the Prophet Jeremiah,  who said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

St. Macarius: “Within the heart is an unfathomable depth. There are reception rooms and bedchambers in it, doors and porches, and many offices and passages. In it is the workshop of righteousness and of wickedness. In it is death, in it is life….The heart is but a small vessel; and yet dragons and lions are there, and there likewise are poisonous creatures….rough, uneven paths are there, and gaping chasms.”

EXPERIENCE

This morning I looked at the map of the day
And said to myself, “This is the way! This is the way I will go;
Thus shall I range on the roads of achievement,
The way is so clear—it shall all be a joy on the lines marked out.”
And then as I went came a place that was strange,—
’Twas a place not down on the map!
And I stumbled and fell and lay in the weeds,
And looked on the day with rue.

I am learning a little—never to be sure—
To be positive only with what is past,
And to peer sometimes at the things to come
As a wanderer treading the night
When the mazy stars neither point nor beckon,
And of all the roads, no road is sure.

I see those men with maps and talk
Who tell how to go and where and why;
I hear with my ears the words of their mouths,
As they finger with ease the marks on the maps;
And only as one looks robust, lonely, and querulous,
As if he had gone to a country far
And made for himself a map,
Do I cry to him, “I would see your map!
I would heed that map you have!”

-Carl Sandburg

Our pastor was preaching on Matthew 6, where Christ teaches us:

The light of the body is the eye. If therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!

No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

Therefore I say unto you, take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?

Behold the fowls of the air, for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?

It’s interesting to look at several translations of the words describing the healthy or unhealthy eye: cloudy or clear, evil or single, diseased or unclouded. Of course, Christ is our Light, He said so Himself, and if we keep our eye on Him, He will light the path, He will be the map in our heart, so that we find the best things that St. Macarius tells about:

“The heart is Christ’s palace…There Christ the King comes to take His rest, with the angels and the spirits of the saints, and He dwells there, walking within it and placing His kingdom there….the heavenly cities and the treasures of grace: all things are there.”

When Christ places His kingdom there, we understand that our heavenly Father is obligated to take care of us — He loves us and is, after all, our Father. Much more than any earthly father He loves us and wants to provide for our needs.

Today I also read a poem by Wendell Berry, on this blog, and he expresses and heeds the exhortation in today’s Gospel:

THE PEACE of WILD THINGS

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

-Wendell Berry

What a contrast Berry’s focus is to Sandburg’s narrator who wanders where “no road is sure,” and who longs for a good map. “We have been given the map!” I want to tell him. Keep your eyes on Christ, and walk on past the dragons and gaping chasms. Cling to Him, keep bringing your focus back to Him as a light that is far brighter than your “mazy stars,” and you will find your way to Christ’s palace, and take your rest, too, with the saints and angels, amid the treasures of grace.

He is the Radiance of the Father.

Icon of the Transfiguration, Sinai, 12th century

It’s been four years since I first posted these thoughts on the Feast of the Transfiguration, and I’m finding them worth considering afresh. May He Who is the Radiance of the Father shine on and in us.

Light and Love

This quote was brought to my attention today, on the eve of the Feast of the Transfiguration.
St. Macarius of Optina:
None of your suffering has come by chance. Nothing can happen to us without our Lord’s consent; and His consent is not only wise but always dictated by His love of us. Carefully examine your conscience and your life, and I am sure you will understand what I mean. Sorrow weighs you down? Never mind. The grateful heart, humble and wise – the heart which has become grateful, humble, and wise – will be greatly consoled and blessed with serene joy.

As I was looking for an icon of this feast, I ran across a phrase “transfiguration of suffering,” and I realized that–of course–these thoughts are connected. As I have heard regarding Orthodox theology from the beginning, it’s difficult to put it into a systematic theology, because “everything is connected to everything else.” God won’t be boxed into our human and finite categories.

Just as Christ was revealed in all his glory, as much as the disciples could bear, that is, so every Christian has the potential to shine with the light of the Holy Spirit. Suffering can be used as a tool to accomplish this, as we see in the lives of many of God’s people. One person who comes to mind is Father Arseny, whose life of suffering in the last century one can read in two books of firsthand accounts. Reading about him, I caught a vision of what it might mean to be truly a Christian, a “little Christ.” There is a short review of the books about him here.

I have little suffering to bear, but if I do accept it with thanksgiving and patience, it might make me more able to show forth His light and love. This is a good thing to keep in mind and heart for the Feast.