We have been to another century, another dimension today. The Liturgy is boundless… We cannot limit it to human things, be they a chord or a unique way of singing. The Church is eternal life, and Liturgy is eternal life, too. Everyone wants to sing his tune but we have to make sure that sin does not silence it.
If we start to think about our life in earnest, it will change. How will it change? We should calculate exactly what we can or cannot do. We always go for extremes — either nothing or everything. This maximalism stems from pride. «A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush», people say. This is why we need to see our measure and find our tune in this choir. We should sing louder than the world that resonates inside us through passions, desires, seemingly correct assumptions and feelings. In fact, these sounds are too human, too transient. We should sing in an Angel-like manner. Does anyone know how Angels sing? Do they use Byzantine or Russian or English or American chant? Angels sing when God is with us, when there is peace inside our hearts, when we have truly repented and made up our minds to lead a different life — to live with God.
There is a frightening story in the Gospel: the young man’s decent and clean life wasn’t enough for him to be able to follow in the footsteps of Christ. We all carry such a young man inside our souls.
It is easy for a person who faces critical situations to pray. Archimandrite John Krestyankin used to recall, «I prayed a lot in jail but after that, my prayer became less zealous». When an individual finds himself on the verge between life and death, when he realises that his chances to survive are slim, that’s when true prayer begins. Right now, we are simply getting ready for it, learning words, reciting them, sometimes even attentively, but that’s not enough. Every cell of one’s body, one’s entire heart, has to be involved in prayer, and that’s when mountains start to move, indeed. Prayer is the ultimate stretching of one’s power. If only everyone prayed like that during the Liturgy, our church would be lifted up into the sky.
Do you happen to believe that this church will last forever? No, everything will disappear. We should not attach ourselves to any of the earthly things. The soul of a human, his body where God’s grace abides, where God dwells, is that church. Therefore, our task is to sing the Cherubic hymn correctly by laying aside all earthly cares, by being alone face to face with God the King and praising him together with Angels. We find this notion in our worship, where we are invited to praise God with one mouth and one heart. We have to love each other and be unanimous. We have to leave this church with peace and carry Christ in our hearts. Is it easy when there’s sin inside us, when we are self-loving and proud?
Orthodoxy is the real life where we have to notice our neighbour and greet him with a kind word. This life must not be an abstract philosophy or asceticism of sorts. Sometimes a drunkard is closer to God than a proud ascetic. The Good Thief did not say like the young man, «What lack I yet?» He was dying for his sins — his terrible sins — but he found himself in the paradise. The young man, on the contrary, was pure and enjoyed it, and he thought, «I’ve done everything and now I expect to hear that I am welcome in the Kingdom of Heaven». However, it turned out that he wasn’t yet ready to follow Christ.
So when I crawl and not walk, when I say that it’s all over now and I’m worthless, I’m the worst of all people, the most sinful, most filthy of them all, then will the words «Many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first» (cf. Matthew 19:28-30) come true. God turns the pyramid upside down, and we don’t know what to prefer: to suffer from the sin or to be proud of ourselves.
We haven’t started to sing the Cherubic song yet. It is waiting for us. Let’s get ready. Don’t sing high notes or you’ll strain your voice. I can attest to it: on the night of Pascha I sometimes want to sing so loudly as to make my voice heard to everyone, but it may be pride. You sing too high and you start to husk. You should sing lower notes if you plan to keep singing. Life’s no different. Father Sophrony used to say, «A person who begins with small feats, ends up with prayer for the whole world; but a person who begins with great feats, ends up with an empty drum».
Great saints did not see themselves as saints but those who want to show off keep saying that they are holy. A highly spiritual man says that he is the most sinful person. How beautiful it is! You don’t need anything else.
I spent a lot of time with Father Nicholas Gurianov. I remember him telling me, «Why have you come here? You’re wasting your time and money! You’ve got a family to care for». There were other people who invited me to visit them, «Come to me, I’m a prophet, I’m a man of prayer». Publicity — that was what they wanted. However, when you see a humble person, this is the most beautiful thing of all. When a person feels that he’s unworthy, God dwells inside him. When a person feels that he’s a hero, there’s nothing inside him but pride. That is why it is so essential to live with God and not to build castles in the air, not to be mesmerised. We should lead a simple life so that we would have «a hundred Angels around us». We don’t have to invent anything — we have everything we need: all we have to do is to be attentive and cautious. We should look carefully and see our neighbours.
A wife comes and says, «My husband is so terrible, I can’t get saved with him». Imagine, how dreadful! A nun comes and says, «Things are so bad in our monastery, everyone is so bad: the abbess is bad, and the spiritual father is even worse…» Everything is bad for a person who does not possess the Holy Spirit: the church is bad, priests are bad, the patriarch is bad, the government is bad, the prices are bad, the health is bad, the flat is bad. However, when the Holy Spirit enters that person’s soul, he begins to say, «Everyone is good, just remarkably good». Our way of looking at things defines the world around us. We see what we look at (cf. Matthew 6:22, 23). Some people are short-sighted, while others are far-sighted. The far-sighted can see everything that is far but they cannot see things that are right in front of them. The short-sighted see themselves but they cannot see people and objects that are far from them. We have to restore our eyesight to be able to see both near and far. You can move mountains but your family will suffer. Who needs your feats if anyone of your loved ones is about to perish?
Therefore, we should take our time to think, we should be in tune with the life. The tune of our lives is a permanent thought, a constant movement of our heart and soul looking for God. Where is God? How can I lose him? You can lose contact with God for a single word or a single thought; and then you’ll come across lots of torment and suffering. So let us think hard, let us learn to think and to see what is right and what is wrong.