St Bede – To Know through Love

I look at St Bede’s life and it becomes obvious to me that the madness of the world in which we we live feeds on our lack of love for each other. We can scream at each other at the top of our voices – we shall never hear what the other one says, because they don’t speak out of love, and we don’t listen in love. There is no oneness between us. There is no humility. No genuine openness. We are paralysed in our ‘truths’, our righteousness – ultimately, we are consumed by the idols we have created. Our world is falling not because of sin, but because of selfishness and lack of love. I look at St Bede, I look at St Silouan, I look at all these wondrous holy people, and their silent prayer reminds me that the way to salvation – for myself and for the world around – does not come from screaming my truths louder than everyone else. Quite the contrary, what we all need is silence, so that – in this blessed silence – we may hear the Voice of the One Truth – that Truth Who is also the Path and the Life.

There is a story about a meeting between St Silouan the Athonite and the other Elders of the Russian Monastery of St Panteleimon on Athos, when the Saint was asked why he does not read the papers. Does he not want to know what happens in the world? Does he not care about the world? After all, those were the horrid years of the Second World War. In his humble and quiet way, St Silouan replied to say that one does not need to read the papers to know what goes on in the world. One simply needs to pray with love for the world, and that opens one’s heart to feel the pain that torments the world. That is still knowledge, but not knowledge of the mind, information collected from the outside, but knowledge of the heart, that comes through shared experience of the same reality.

There are many stories like this about the Saints. Ancient or modern, their way of ‘knowing’ has very little to do with the cold manner in which we relate to gathering ‘information’. Their love opened them to the world, made them one with the world, and this oneness told them all they need to know about it. I’ve heard this many times in confession, too – mothers who tell me they ‘know’ when their children are going through a rough time, although they live thousands of miles away. Husbands and wives, live-long friends – people connected by love know each other in ways unrelated to ‘information’, but to a sort of shared experience.

St Bede entered the monastery when he was about seven, to access the best available education of the time. Except for a few brief visits to other monasteries, he spent his entire life in his Monastery. This is not an extraordinary fact. To this day, many monks and nuns – from Athos to monasteries in the Holy Land, Egypt and many other countries – never leave their monasteries and never interact with the ‘outside’ world in any other way except through prayer. Yet this self-imposed distance, this physical separation does not generate a spiritual separation from the body of the Church. On the contrary, when their asceticism is offered with love, they become one with the world and they know it in ways that remain inaccessible for the rest of us.

St Bede spent his life in his Monastery, but wrote over sixty books on topics as varied as history, canon law, poetry, grammar and chronology. If one takes the time to listen with patience to all those whom God brings in our lives; if one is not obsessive with promoting one’s own opinions about things, but rather listens and discerns; if one is not overcome with the need to control others and impose one’s own righteousness upon them – if one simply allows others to exist freely around himself and opens oneself to them in love, then no physical distance can come between us.

Only lack of love can separate and break  us.

Commission going to Oxford, England.

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St Ita – raising up Saints

St Ita is known as the Foster Mother of God’s Saints, because so many of the children she raised became holy. I am very grateful for this particular commission, because it very much deepened my relationship with St Ita and it helped me put into words something I had intuitively known for long intuitively concerning the education of children.

One way of another, parents of all sorts – adoptive, natural, spiritual parents – are given the responsibility of other human beings, and they have to somehow help their children reach the holiness of their full potential in Christ. Parents are given their children to love and educate, to guide and direct towards Christ, through the maze and swamp of a world that is filled with temptation and sin.

How does one turn one’s children into holy people? How did St Ita manage to plant the right seeds into the hearts of her children, at the right time, in the right manner so that they grew and brought forth the fruit of Christ’s image into their being? How did she manage to set the spiritual foundation so that these children would grow to become the likes of St Brendan the Navigator?

I knew in my heart, and it now became clear to my mind, as well, that the central thing is to always point them in Christ’s direction. I learnt very clearly from St Ita that parents have to clean their eyes first, so that we let go of our obsession with the sinfulness of the world and focus our whole being on the sparks of holiness that lie hidden in the world. Once our spiritual eyes learn to focus (almost instinctively) on that which is holy in the world, once we learn to turn ourselves towards the manifestations of Christ’s presence in the world (the way flowers always turn to follow the sun, and never turn to reflect the darkness of the sky) – then and only then we can pass that wisdom to our children.

Ita means ‘thirst for holiness’, for the saint spent her life looking for holiness, thirsting to find it in the created world and within herself. We all grow spiritually through what we consume spiritually. If we feed ourselves on fear, bitterness and an obsessive need to look for the evil in the world, that evil will end up shaping who we are. When we invest our time and effort looking for what is wrong and dark around us, we are in fact enslaved to that darkness and we shall ultimately become its reflection. We shall wither away, like a flower that forgot to look at the sun and always turned to face the dark.

Look at world trying to find Christ in it. Look at every situation, look at every human being, in any context and try hard, try very hard to always identify the signs of Christ’s presence. Once you find them, point them out to your children. Teach your children to spend their lives looking for Christ. Teach them to always turn their spiritual eyes to face His light. Teach them to allow Christ’s presence in the world to shape them, rather than to become obsessed with the sinfulness of the world.

Let darkness pass by, let dirt wash away, let temptation fight itself and do not let it touch you – teach your children to look for Christ, teach them to identify Him in any context, and help them always follow Him. Christ has made your children free. Do not enslave them to the fear of sin to the point where they are frightened to open their hearts to the world. Your children are free, they are loved and they are immeasurably valuable in the eyes of their Creator. Help them find that love of Christ, and teach them to hold on to the seeds of that love in their hearts – if later in life they chose to water these seeds through the choices they make as they grow up, you have raised a Saint.

Commission going to Saskatchewan, Canada.

More photos of the icon are posted on the bookstore site: