We (humans) seem to have a deep fascination with hell, eternal fire and all related elements. We (the Orthodox) like to condiment our prayers with images of hell, we adorn our churches with huge icons of the Last Judgement or St John’s Ladder (or both), we have beautiful poetry about hell, we sing about hell, and we especially enjoy thinking about it during Lent.
I’m not saying there is no reason to do so. After ten years of monasticism, I’ve got the basic ideas about how one can use hell to feed one’s humility, prayer, compassion for other human beings and so on. However, I would be a liar if I said these ascetic ‘methods’ ever did any good for me. I’ve never done anything our of fear, and if the only way to God were by fear, I would probably not be in the Church. I left the world and followed Him precisely because He is not like the world: His love is not conditioned by my own deeds, His forgiveness and compassion are beyond ‘righteousness’, He simply loves. He IS and He LOVES, and there is no difference between these two.
I remember reading somewhere that God is like earth: no matter what you bury in the ground, sooner or later, the ground will return flowers and fruits. The world is not like that: if you make a mistake, you pay for it. Sometimes, you even pay for mistakes you haven’t made – people behave horribly for absolutely no reason. Well, God is like the ground: whatever you give Him (your lack of interest, your hatred, your sinfulness), He will continue to love and bless you. It is this Christ that won me over, this Love that I want to follow.
Not hell, not fear, but Love, always Love, beyond reason and logic, beyond right and wrong, beyond worthiness and unworthiness – this is Who won this war, once and for all: Love, always Love. All I must do is learn how to respond to this love. And Lent is the best time in the year to try harder to do just that: learn how to respond to Christ’s Love for me and the whole creation.
Aware as I am that one cannot generalise one’s own experience, I am still to meet a good Christian whose experience is based on fear and contemplation of hell. I’m not saying I haven’t met such people; unfortunately, I have (they tend to abound in traditionally Orthodox countries, especially in monasteries), but I have never felt love or compassion from any of them. Even as a confessor, these hell-obsessed people are (paradoxically, or not) the first to judge, condemn and separate themselves from the rest of the church.
Lent is not a period to fight the devil. Lent is not about the devil. Rather, it is the time we follow Christ to His Resurrection. There’s nothing we need to do over what He’s already done for us; there’s no-one to fight with, because He’s already defeated hell; all we need to do is to follow Christ, and to hold on to the Salvation He’s already granted us.
Nothing ever helped me except love and hope. Christ has never given me anything except love and hope. I would be a liar and a hypocrite to tell you otherwise. Have faith, hold on to your hope, get up and follow Him – He is our Sanctification, and He is ‘The Existing One’. As long as Christ IS, our Sanctification IS, too.
So look up, wash your faces and take courage. What is there to be frightened of?
Thank you for this reminder, Father. Holy Cross is praying for you.
Thank you for your support, dear Jeff. Some good news on St Cuthbert’s Feast Day: we are getting close to having raised a third of the money we need to buy the land; a few more donations is what we need.
Wishing you a blessed Saint Cuthbert’s Day! Have you heard about this story yet?
Dear Donna, I had no idea this is even possible! Have you heard of any other relic being sold at auction? What a strange, strange world we live in!
Many, many thanks for your post about the monastery. I owe you a cup of coffee (or tea); God willing, we shall have it at the monastery one day.
Dear Fr. Serafim,
Thank you for these wonderful lenten thoughts. I am an Anglican Priest who is a member of the Guild of St Alban and St Sergius, and who was blessed to study at the Institute of Orthodox Christian Studies at Cambridge for five years. I came to Christ simply because there is no escape from Love, I tried to lose him, but like the Hound of Heaven Christ found me hiding many years ago and brought me to Himself, and has kept me ever since, Your heaven sent quest to found a Monastery on Mull will be very much in my daily prayers. A Blessed and Holy Lent. Fr. Philip
Thank you so much, dear Fr Philip. Thank you so much for such warm and heart-felt words, I honestly needed to hear some words of encouragement today. Some days, it all seems so difficult, I can barely bring myself to get up and try again. Fundraising is tough on monks 🙂 I understand now why they would mostly send novices to do it. Do keep me in your prayers, and do talk to everyone about our monastery, each small donation helps – Christians should work together, not against each other. May God bless the work of our hands.
I learned of your efforts to build a monastery through Ancient Faith Radio. I was very excited at hearing your interview! I do not know much about the old Orthodox saints of Western Europe, but what little I’ve read brought me to a profound admiration of them. Their love of Christ knew no bounds and their missionary zeal Christianized many lands. I’ve hoped for some time that we can begin to re-evangelize Europe (as well as right here in the US). I (and someone through me) have given a donation and I’ve told others about Mull Monastery. It is of little consequence, but I wanted you to know I am not only Orthodox, but am black just to illustrate how saints of different times and cultures speak to all of us. In Christ, we are all one. I will continue to support the monastery through prayers and donations.
Thank you, dear Linda. With very few exceptions (for which we are extremely grateful), the money we’ve raised so far comes from donations made by simple, normal people like us. The more parishes decide to have a collection for the monastery (during Lent, for instance), the more we have a chance to actually buy that land in September. Orthodoxy is wonderfully diverse, you are right; in fact, I think that is one of most important thing we need to remember today – how rich and diverse Orthodox Tradition actually is. Many thanks, again, for spreading the word about the monastery!
Hello father Seraphim, I am Christos from Greece! I would like you to give me your blessing to translate in Greek this article because I loved it very much!
Also, if it is God’s will i will visit Lancaster from 6 until 13 of May.
Dear Christos, please do! Feel free to translate anything on this site and publish it on your blog; the more people find out about the monastery, the more chances we have to find the resources to buy the land this September. Just make sure to include a link to the monastery website, and also a line or two about what we are fundraising for.
Unfortunately, it looks like we shall have to postpone our meeting; I’ll be in the US until the very end of May, then heading to Glasgow for a week or two.
Thank you for your trust father Seraphim. As for our meeting, if it is God’s will we will meet some other time!
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