Moments of the Cross

The week of the Cross marks an essential change in Lent. This is the moment when we turn from descriptors of faith to faith itself; when we move from things which are about our faith to things which can only exist through faith.

Faith is a tool for life eternal, and to use it for anything else is a deadly waste. We are Christians for this reason only: so that we may survive death. All else is secondary and of no importance by comparison. The Cross – in Lent and in our lives – marks the moment when we see our faith for what it really is: either a Divine tool for life eternal, or a human tool to create nice, moral citizens of this world. There is nothing wrong with being nice and moral, but history has known billions of nice and moral citizens whom death has eaten alive. It is a deadly corruption of a Divine gift to reduce our faith in Christ to anything else except a sure hope in the Resurrection. It is deadly, because it corrupts the only chance we have to survive death.

A moment of crisis, a death, a disease, abandonment – when these come, life is cut in half: life as it used to be before them, and life as it is revealed to us now. Facing the Cross has this effect on us because we train ourselves well to reduce our faith to things which are not of the faith. When we reduce our faith to a set of customs, those customs will not carry us through a moment of the Cross. When we reduce our faith to any human value – social, political or moral; a philosophy or idea; anything created by our brain – when our faith is diluted to things of this world, the Cross will crush everything in its way.

And thank God that it is so! Thank God for the gift of the Cross, for this chance to see how we corrupt our own faith, so that we may start anew while we still can, and approach faith as a means to walk on water, not on the pavement. This is no longer about us looking at Christ walking on water – this has now become about us stepping outside the boat and walking alongside Him. The Cross marks this moment in Lent, just as it marks it in our lives – those moments when we can no longer function on logic, on the things we have been taught; those moments when things get real and the theory of it all is no longer sufficient to help us survive.

For the life and salvation of this paralysed world

This story of a paralysed man it hard to talk about. I’ve wanted to write something about it since last Sunday, when we read it in Church, but I keep postponing. Like always, I suppose it is difficult because it is so personal and it reflects so well my own spiritual life.

And yet, this is not a pessimistic story. If anything, this is one of the most inspiring moments in the Scripture. Despite the pain it hides, the story of this paralysed man is ultimately proof of Christ’s endless love for mankind, and that love is the foundation for all our hope.

That man could say no words. He could make no movement. No gesture. He could not express his faith in Christ, he could not reach out and touch Him. His body did not allow him to throw himself at Christ’s feet, as we see others do. His arms could not pour oil over Christ’s head.

This man is me (and most probably, you) – a metaphor for our own spiritual death, for the paralysis that makes our voices silent and our bodies inert. And yet, we need not despair, because – like the paralysed man – we have the Saints, we have our holy friends who found their way to Christ before us and who constantly pray for us.

Even more, we have reason to hold on to our hope concerning the entire world. Weak and sinful as the world may be, entirely paralysed by sin, unable to see the Light, unable to walk to the Light, unable to utter a word of repentance – even so, there is hope. Because we can join the Saints in their prayers and we can bring this world before Christ. And Christ never changes – He will do today what He did then, for His love never changes; He will forgive the sins of this paralysed world for the faith of those who hold on to their hope and pray for the world.

The world may be silent, but the prayers of the Church for the world should never grow silent. Because of its sins, the world may be unable to walk towards Christ, but the Church should never stop bringing it before Christ in its prayer. That is who we are, this is what we do, this is what makes us Christ-like: to die to ourselves (to the limits of our tribalism, our culture and selfishness) so we may offer ourselves for the life and salvation of the world.

Asking for forgiveness

We are failing the homeless on our streets. We are failing the hungry and the thirsty in our cities. We are failing those whom we scandalise through our falseness and our hypocrisy. We are failing those to feel the need to separate from the Church because of the ways in which we deform it. We are failing those who fear the Church and fear Christ because we suffocate the life-giving depths of our Tradition and we promote a God of fear, a God of authority and punishment, only to mask our own fears and lack of love. Every single day, we are failing the world for which Christ has died on the Cross.

Why are we not on the streets, asking forgiveness from the world we constantly fail? This is our chance, our opportunity to ask for forgiveness in a way that may (God willing) just have the power to change our lives. This is our chance to literally touch the world and be touched by Christ’s love for the world.

We, who are supposed to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world in the image of Christ; we, who should love so intensly, so sacrificially, so selflessly that the name of the Father should be glorified in us before the eyes of the world – we, the followers of Christ, we are failing the world.

Who asks forgiveness from those who sleep on the street? Who asks forgiveness from those who go hungry, unwashed and consumed by sickness and disease? Who asks forgiveness from those who are left prey to abuse, violence and inhuman humilities? Who asks forgiveness for our indiference, hypocrisy and ready-made answers for the real pain of the world?

Why do we look at the world and see an enemy, instead of our brothers and sisters who suffer and are lost? Why do we allow the devil to break our unity? What shall we answer when Christ will ask us about the suffering to which we closed our hearts? Has Christ not died for all of us? Is Christ not the maker of all of us? Has He not created us all out of the same Burning Love, in the hope of the same Salvation?

Please forgive me. This is about you just as much as it is about me. I just worry. I worry and I wonder what is happening to our hearts.

Small explosions of life

There is a sense of great freedom in understanding that one does not represent anything and anyone else except oneself. One can easily be crushed by the sense of responsibility that comes from feeling that we stand for anything else except for who we are. When you go through life thinking you represent anything else except yourself, when you allow the world around you to reduce you to a symbol rather than the person God created you to be – that can have devastating spiritual effects.

We are human beings, made of flesh and bones, not symbols of anything else, be that a symbol of our family, of our job, our gender, our race, or even of our faith. We are real human beings. We have real, personal feelings. At some point in our lives, each of us has experienced both the pain of sin and the joy of Christ’s forgiveness. We are only who we are, each of us representing nothing and no-one else except ourselves and our personal story of salvation.

I am not an institution. I am not a system of believes. I cannot be reduced to my gender, my age and my race. Both Peter and Judas were men. Both men crucified with Christ were thieves. The Mother of God and Eve were both women. Nothing, no logical criterion, no external sign can express our personhood, who we are in our personal relation to our Creator.

I travel constantly these months, and the temptation to reduce people to categories is always present. The opposite is valid, too – many people meet me during these travels, and I also sense their temptation to reduce me to my faith, because that makes it easier for them to interact with me. As a rule, it is easier to interact with ‘categories’ of people, with the generalities (that is, the prejudices and already formed opinions) concerning a category, than it is to risk meeting a real human being.

I pray both myself and the people I meet will find the courage to take this risk. I pray to remain simple and focused on just being myself. I pray to simply witness to nothing else except my personal experience. I pray we all remain open to love each other, open to enter a real relationship with our true selves – as human beings, as persons created in the image of God; not as impersonal categories, not as symbols of anything or anyone else.

Small explosions of life. Small miracles. This is what meeting each other should be like. The image of God meeting the image of God: a life-giving sacrament.

At home in the desert

I’ll try to write a few lines, just to keep my heart open and my mouth ready to speak. This always happens when I travel for a long time and I meet many people. A need to be quiet, a temptation to lock myself in a room and not come out takes over and I find myself in a bubble of silence that is very difficult to burst. This cannot be of Christ – the very purpose of my travels is to be here, to serve the Monastery, to meet you face to face, to speak to you, to ask you questions and learn from you.

Traveling is hard because it reveals to me the extent to which I have grown roots somewhere else in the world, when – in fact – I should be able to feel both at home and ‘in the desert’ everywhere. We belong everywhere, for there are no physical boundaries in Christ; and we belong nowhere, for we are not created for this fallen world, but for Christ’s Kingdom.

When I travel, I always think of St Brendan and his absolute freedom from the idols of this world, the way in which he refused to allow anything in this ‘valley of death’ to define him – always sailing further, always looking for Christ’s Kingdom, to the Resurrection: his real home, his real roots.

There must be a way in which we can interact with the world which is neither indifference, nor idolatry. There must be a way in which we can still get involved with the world, without getting trapped by it. Among all the saints I know, St Brendan is the one whose central quest seems to be precisely this: to love the world with a love that has its source in Christ – not in myself, nor in the virtues of the ones I love. To live in this valley of death in a way that does not suffocate the life in me, but brings new life into this valley.


Christmas is coming

Christmas is coming and we are all going home. But what if home is not that towards which we run, but precisely that from which we run away? What if home is not that which is familiar to us, but precisely that which is unfamiliar? Christ’s Incarnation is the ultimate act of inclusion, when God so humbles Himself out of His love for us that He puts on the flesh of His Creation, so that we may all become One.

What if home is actually this very Oneness in Him, this enlargement of our selves, this letting go of what is familiar in search of what we lack in our humanity? What if home is actually Christ Himself? Isn’t this the time to let go of these crumbling ‘selves’ we built ourselves, and embrace His Being as ours?

What wondrous beings would we become if we opened our caves for Him, with everything that Christ is? What would our humanity feel like if His Divine humanity entered our caves? If His meekness took over our hearts? If His forgiveness and sacrificial love invaded the darkest corners of our caves and inundated them with His Divine Light? What wondrous beings would we become in Him?

Christmas is coming and we leave the world as we gather our earthly tribes and shut the doors behind. Christ travels at Christmas too, but He does the exact opposite journey. He descends from the Throne of His Divinity to embrace the world, while we leave the world to hide within the walls of familiarity. We reject all that is not part of our identity, while Christ embraces the unfamiliarity of our created flesh and makes it part of His Divine Identity.

When you look at what Christ is doing by becoming Incarnate, and how we celebrate His Incarnation – we seem to be going in opposite directions. He is so enlarged by love that He overcomes the ontological difference of natures between God and Man, while we are so absorbed by our tribalism that we cannot overcome the imaginary differences of blood (and blood is dust), wealth (and wealth is illusion) or status (what status will ever overcome death?) within the human nature we all share.

How is it that we celebrate Christ’s ultimate Act of openness and inclusion, by marking our familiar territories and cutting ourselves from the rest of the world? Christ came into the world and the world rejected Him because He was a stranger to all. We closed the gates to our hearts, and we kept outside the Saviour Himself. Two thousand years later, have we not learnt that our salvation comes from opening ourselves to the world, from enlarging our being through love and the pain it brings?

Christmas is coming, and it brings us once again face to face with our Creator. May this be the Christmas when we hear His call and we open the gates of our caves to Him. May this be the Christmas when we let Him enter our being, so that all that He is becomes ours, and we may find our true selves, our true home and our salvation in Him.

The stags

The stags heard me as I approached. They all looked up, straight into my face, as if measuring me. There was no fear in those eyes, no movement; just a heavy sort of silence, as if they belonged to some strange world from very far away. The silence of someone taken away by illness, and the silence of someone taken away by grief. The silence of homeless people who no longer look you in the eyes when they beg in the street. The silence of bereaved people who feel that their time for mourning has finished, and the world around them moves on as they sink deeper.

Nature hides such wisdom in it, so many precious lessons, and it is so easy to not even take notice, to waste or even destroy it – for money, out of greed, out of lack of love for anything that does not translate into more power, more property, more dust to quench our desperate thirst for a fake immortality. It is overwhelming to suddenly feel with such strength and clarity that one is made by the same God Who made such beauty. It is overwhelming to suddenly become aware that we share our Maker with these stags, with these mountains, with the ocean and its winds.

I was driving from Iona to Kilninian when I saw them and stopped. The island is so beautiful in the winter, brushed by the ocean wind and covered with snow. There is so much knowledge hidden here, a treasure of self-understanding and faith waiting to be unearthed. I am beginning to wonder whether we should start organising one or two week-long prayer retreats in the future – either during Advent, or during Lent. A small group of people leaving together for a week, praying together, cooking together. Short walks by the shore, meditating on a theme and practising the Jesus prayer. Praying together at midnight. Waiting together in silence in the middle of the night for Christ to open a gate within us to His Kingdom. Evening talks in the living room, by the fire, well hidden in the warmth of the house as the storm rages outside. ‘Two or three’ gathered in His Name.

If something like this would interest you, let me know. If you feel you could benefit from such prayer retreats, I shall do my best to make them available.

Until then, pray for me, and may God bless all of us.

Those who suffer alone at Christmas

I feel the need to write this, despite it not being in the ‘Christmas spirit’ of the world these days. I fear it may be sad, or slightly painful, and I honestly wish nothing but the happiest Feast for all of us. But then, sadness and pain are realities of our lives, and there is something violent in the way in which we reject them during our moments of joy, for by banishing pain we do violence against those who are crippled by it. We force them into silence and condemn them to the deep loneliness of their suffering. There is something essentially not Christian, even anti-Christian, in the distance we impose between our joy and the pain of others.

I write this thinking about very specific (and, unfortunately, very many) people I know who are carrying heavy crosses on their shoulders, alone and in silence. I write this thinking of you, who are alone on hospital beds; you, who are trapped in your homes caring for your elderly parents; you, who have lost a loved one and feel the pain slowly suffocating you as Christmas draws closer; you, who look at your loved ones as they are stolen away by debilitating diseases, dementia or Alzheimer’s; you, who are abandoned by all in prisons; you, who are abandoned by all because you have lost one too many battles with alcohol or drugs; you, who could never recover from abuse, and for whom no one cared enough to really listen to you and help you get up and start again.

Christmas belongs to you, not to the world – have no doubt in your heart about that. Christmas is not about making merry with wine and gifts, putting our feet up and relaxing. Christmas is not ‘time off’, but the otherworldly joy of a Saviour who comes precisely for you. For you, who suffer. For you, who are alone. You are the reason for the Feast. Your pain is the reason for Christ’s Incarnation. Christ does not come to put His feet up and rest for a week – He comes precisely to start His Work of Salvation, His Ministry in the world.

He comes not for the merry-makers (although His love always includes and never excludes), but for those who labour and are heavy laden – heavy laden with sin, with pain, with sadness, with loneliness, with abandonment, with not being seen because your pain spoils the bubbly empty joy around you, with being silenced because what you need to express is ‘too sad’ for the Christmas period. How far have we fallen from Christ’s love when to express the pain of a human heart is judged as insensitive behaviour because it affects the lazy celebrations of the world’s ‘X-mas’? How far have we fallen when we deem it ‘insensitive’ to express pain and to reach out for the human interaction that could offer our neighbour a moment of freedom from the loneliness of the cross they bear in silence day by day, hour by hour?

But do not worry, and have no doubt. Christ is not of this world, and He comes precisely to transform (that is, to change) this world. Christ does hear. Christ does see. Christ does not even need you to reach out and beg for help, for He reaches out first and He begs you first to give Him your pain. Christ begs us to pile all our filth, all our sins, all our suffering on His Divine shoulders.

Christ does not come into the world at Christmas expecting to rest, but to act. Christ does not come to be pampered, but to start His journey to the Cross. The gifts He wants from you and I are precisely our sins, our loneliness, and our pain. He wants to take it all away from us, for He alone is Love.

I don’t want to write more, although my heart overflows right now. I started writing this post apologising, in case someone should be offended. I now realise that the very need to apologise is the result of the same pressure which is put on all of us to hide the pain we witness and experience, and to accept as normal the walls of indifference society builds against anything not ‘Christmasy’ enough. We should not apologise, for Christmas is ours, not theirs. We should not apologise, for the Coming of our Saviour is the real meaning of Christmas. Hopefully, if anyone is offended, they will find the grace to be troubled by, and to question the reasons behind feeling that way.

I just want you, the ones burdened with pain, to know that you are not alone for Christmas. In the silence of your loneliness, in the emptiness of your homes, in the abandonment of all people, in the stories you are not allowed to tell and the images of pain you are not allowed to share – in all of it, you have Christ within you. At Christmas, the world will have Christmas trees, rich dinners and gifts, but you will have Christ as the Divine Guest of your heart. You will have the Source of Life in the cave of your being. I am in awe of you, I bless you, and I ask for your prayers that miraculous night.

Come follow Me

Have you noticed that when the world suffocates you, when you barely have enough energy to keep breathing, when all is lost – those are the moments when Christ’s presence becomes tangible to us? When we are pushed against the wall and all is indeed lost – only those are the moments when we truly open up to Christ. It is as if we need to reach the point when we are dead to the world (dead to our selves, to our identity in the world) in order to find the spiritual resources to finally open up; as if we need that pain, that desperation to cut our hearts open and allow Christ to enter.

The world will always reject that which it does not recognise as its own. Christ has warned us about it, and He has shown us – through the example of His life – that one becomes fully human only on the Cross. It is painful to understand that the world rejecting Christ is the daily reality of our own ‘selves-in-the-world’ rejecting our ‘selves-in-Christ’. The world is hidden in us, and so is Christ – when Christ tells us we are not of this world, His word cuts deep into our being. We become ourselves only when we break free from our worldly selves on the Cross. We find our true voice, we find the voice of our true prayer, only when we lose our worldly voice on the Cross. What a painful paradox, that we only find Life when we lose our worldly life on the Cross.

Come follow me, Christ says. This is His call to perfection to all of us, but none of us – myself less than anyone – answers His call. We all hear His words but none of us allows them to enter our heart and grow roots there. Deep down, I think we all fear that, should we allow that call to grow roots in our hearts, the fruit of that seed may threaten our life as we know it. Christ’s words are dangerous because they have the power to erase the attraction of our earthly life, they have the power to take over our intellect, the power to overcome the limitations of our culture, society, heritage and all the rules and regulations with which we have surrounded ourselves like in a heavy blanket of death.

Externally, we look down upon these rules and regulations, but secretly we are paralysed with fear at the thought that they may crumble one day, and we may be left open before this dangerous Christ who knows our hearts so well. We fear He will take over and we shall lose control over our hearts. We fear we shall love Him, and that this Love will change us beyond recognition. The real danger, the thing that fills us with fear, is that our hearts may one day disobey these self-made rules and regulations, and they may open up and indeed follow Christ.

And yet, how much hope is hidden in this fear! What joy to understand that our deepest fear is to lose the world in us when we finally find Christ in us. Once this veil of darkness is finally broken, once the pain of the Cross cuts through the countless layers of worldliness with which we covered ourselves, we shall find nothing but Light, nothing but Love. There is immense comfort, inexhaustible hope in this knowledge, in this Good News: God is not our enemy, and death is not His will for us. At the end of it all, when the Cross makes us one with Christ, we shall find Life; and in that Life, we shall find ourselves.

Come follow me is a call to such perfection that no human can reach it on its own. But the things which are impossible with men are possible with God. In Christ, there is nothing to fear. What is there left to fear when God has loved us to His Death?

The day when we all say Thank You

Day by day, week by week, you have supported the Monastery through the most difficult year in its young life. You have been generous, you have been kind, you have believed in this Dream and have encouraged me to trust God’s will and keep working.

Today, I feel the need to thank you for it all. Thank you and may God bless you.

By God’s grace and through the many ways in which you have supported me, this year we have achieved three vital things for the future of the Monastery:

  • We have finished the complete repairs to the roof of Kilninian, our 1755 church of Sts Ninian and Cuthbert. The building works to make the church wind- and rainproof again lasted for one full year, but we saved this national heritage building for one more next generation.
  • We bought a house on the island, which means that I can move to Mull permanently in April next year and restart monastic life on the Island. The house is very close to Iona, St Columba’s holy island, and we shall use it as a Pilgrimage House after we build the Monastery at Kilninian.
  • We bought the land surrounding Kilninian. These five acres of land are essential for the Monastery, as this is where we hope to build the future monastic cells.

For all these things and for the countless ways in which you have made them possible, please accept my gratitude and my love in Christ.

Yours in Him,

fr seraphim