Once, I happened to witness an event that I will tell you about in closing…
I was a young officiating presbyter at the time, and I was serving at some village churches just outside Thessaloniki. At the same time, I was the assistant to a very important theologian at the school of theology. What I was going through, while writing for my diatribe at the school of theology at the same time, was one, huge contrast: On the one hand, at the school of theology I was in contact with everything grand and strange and incomprehensible that theology holds with its profound meanings etc., and on the other, I was a village priest to 10 different villages that my bishop had assigned me to at the time… and also another three or four villages, where I would act as sermon preacher…That’s what I did at the time… I felt desperately lonely because I felt that nobody understood me… either that, or I must have been responsible for their inability to understand me….
So, I would say four or five things to them, I would notice how the people sort of listened, then they would lower their heads and, well, they would just go back to their routines, as though nothing had happened. That sense of loneliness was a crushing one… I kept asking myself, “what on earth am I doing here as a priest, right now? What is the meaning of going back there on Sunday to speak to that village, if the people don’t……..” Yes, I just couldn’t handle it. I’m not saying it’s an easy thing, but as I said to you earlier, I have chosen to speak of something difficult…. I believe you are an audience which is capable of perceiving such matters…. Anyway, from that day on, I learnt many things, despite the difficulties encountered.
The miraculous event that I witnessed in that village was as though God conceded many different lessons to me…..
One of those Sundays, after the Divine Liturgy was over, the priest – a simple person – and two equally simple, very simple vestrymen – illiterate people – invited me to the village café for a cup of coffee with them, before going back. “Come on, don’t leave like that”, they insisted. So, after the Divine Liturgy, and myself still feeling very sad in my loneliness etc. etc., we went over to the café. Just as we were sipping our coffee, one of the vestrymen suddenly turned towards me, looked at me directly, and says to me:
“Well, father, me and mister John here (John was the other illiterate vestryman) have a query. Our temple here was never consecrated – they never did the necessary “things” – and we were wondering, since it was not consecrated by a bishop, are the sacraments and the Divine Liturgy that are performed in it not canonical?”
Wow! I thought to myself – what have we got here? Such a query? I was impressed! But he continued:
“So, you know what we did? We all decided to fast for three weeks in the hope that God would show us the answer. So, we did fast. And in fact, one Sunday, before the Bishop arrived to do the necessary “things”, we again saw that light during the Divine Liturgy.
I began to freak out:
“That light? What light?”
“That light – you know, the ever-shining one – when you look at the Sun afterwards and you think it’s darkness – a light that comes down and you see all sorts of things – many, many things, situations, the present, the past, the future etc, all in there…”
I began to quake… I was dealing with people here who had the same experience as Saint Gregory Palamas and Saint Simeon the new Theologian!
And the priest who was giving his blessings etc. was also concurring – yes, yes… and it was as if everyone there was inside the same ‘conspiracy’! This experience was earth-shaking for me… Of course, things didn’t end there; I now began an in-depth questioning of that simple person.
“Tell me, how do you live?” I asked him. (after the initial shock that would accompany me for years thereafter) “How do you live?”
“How do I live? Well. Frugally.”
“What do you do, how exactly does your day go by, what exactly do you do during the day?”
“I don’t do absolutely anything” (he replied). “I don’t have any special ‘things’ – I just love God, but I do practice a little patience. I practice patience.”
That person had patience! Do you know what “patience” means? “Patience” is that crucifix of freedom by which we embrace others. It is in there, that God reveals Himself.
And that was the majestic lesson here: that Hesychasm is an experienced physiology. Do not think – you theologians – that it is an individual’s accomplishment (as professed by Hinduists), or something like those who abolish their will in anticipation of spectacles. It is all about that “opening up” of one’s self towards society, through which major revelations are given to mankind… which I, as a candidate Doctor, was not honored with – nor have I ever been honored with….
Thank you for your patience.
Note: Father Nicholas Loudovikos has studied Psychology, Pedagogics, Theology and Philosophy, in Athens, Thessaloniki, Paris and Cambridge. He has a Doctorate in Theology of the University of Thessaloniki, and has also worked at the “research center for Primeval Christianity”, Tyndale House, Cambridge. He has taught at the Cambridge University’s School of Theology as well as the University of Durham. He is a Professor of Dogmatics and Philosophy at the Higher Ecclesiastic School of Thessaloniki; a scientific associate at the post-graduate Theological program of the Open Hellenic University and also a part-time lector at the Orthodox Institute of the University of Cambridge.
Translation by A. N.