How a Dead Mother Stopped Her Son From Suicide

Nein!

The most painful NEIN in cinema’s history…

To a person who had to choose between suicide and begging

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St. Velimirovich letter 

29 December 2016

You write that all your worldly goods were sold off to a third party. When you found yourself out on the street with nothing and nobody, you headed to the cemetery, bent on killing yourself. You had no doubts or second thoughts about this. Exhausted by the vexations, you lay down on your parents’ grave and fell asleep. Your mother appeared to you in your sleep and berated you, saying that in the Kingdom of God there were plenty of people who had been beggars, but not a single one of those who had done away with themselves. That dream saved you from suicide. Your beloved mother really did save you, by God’s providence. You began to beg and to live off begging. And you’re asking if, by doing so, you’re transgressing God’s law.

Take courage. God gave the commandment: ‘Don’t steal’. He didn’t give any commandment ‘Don’t beg’. Begging without any real need is stealing, but in your case it isn’t. The general and emperor Justinian was left blind in his old age, with no possessions or friends. He would sit, blind, outside the courtyard of the throne and beg for a little bread. As a Christian, he didn’t permit himself to consider suicide. Because, just as life’s better than death, so it’s better to be a beggar than a suicide. 

You say that you’re overcome with shame and that your sorrow’s deep. You stand at night outside the coffee-shop that used to be yours and ask for money from those who go in and out. You remember that, until recently, you were the owner of the coffee-shop and now you don’t dare go in even as a customer. Your eyes are red from weeping and lamentation. Comfort yourself. God’s angels aren’t far from you. Why are you crying about the coffee-shop? Haven’t you heard of the coffee-shop at the other end of Belgrade where it says: ‘Someone’s it wasn’t; someone’s it won’t be’? Whoever wrote those words was a true philosopher. Because that’s true of all the coffee-shops, all houses all the castles and all the palaces in the world.

What have you lost? Something that you didn’t have when you were born and which isn’t yours now. You were the boss, now you’re poor. That’s not loss. Loss is when a person becomes a beast. But you were a person and have remained so. You signed some papers for certain of your prominent customers and now your coffee-shop’s in the hands of a stranger. Now you look through the window and see everybody laughing, just the way they used to, and you’re wandering the streets with tears in your eyes and covered in shame. Never fear, God’s just. They’ll all have to answer for their misdeeds. But when they attempt to commit suicide, who’s to say whether the merciful Lord will allow their mothers to appear to them from the other world in order to keep them from the crime? Don’t consider them successful even for a moment. Because you don’t know how they’ll end up. A wise man in ancient Greece said: ‘Never call anybody happy before the end’. It’s difficult to be a beggar? But aren’t we all? Don’t we all depend, every hour of every day, on the mercy of Him Who gives us a life to lead? Now you’ve got an important mission in the world: to engage people’s attention so that they remember God and their soul and to be charitable. Since you’re forced to live in silence, delve into your soul and talk to God through prayer. The life of a beggar’s more heroic than that of a boss. ‘For gold is tested in the fire and accepted people in the furnace of humility’ (Sir. 2, 5). But you’ve already demonstrated heroism by rejecting the black thought of suicide. This is a victory over the spirit of despondency. After this victory, all the others will be easy for you. The Lord will be at your side.

Peace and comfort from the Lord!

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Keep Your Mind in Hell and Despair Not

Not for the faint of heart!

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“No one on this earth can avoid affliction; and although the afflictions which the Lord sends are not great men imagine them beyond their strength and are crushed by them. This is because they will not humble their souls and commit themselves to the will of God.”

 

These words seem to sum up soberingly D. Balfour’s tumultuous life, and indeed in so many respects ours…

 

SPEECHLESS! “It seems ludicrous to rate a book like this according to a certain amount of stars…I searched for it after reading the book I Know a Man in Christ — a great book about our holy and blessed Elder Sophrony, which mentions this correspondence with the amazing Englishman David Balfour. I imagine that the only reason why anyone would be interested in this book would be to learn about this incredible spiritual friendship. (No! There are so many more reasons to want to study this book) And this book does allow for that — and much more besides. I’ve read letters of spiritual direction before. These letters go way beyond that. They give insights to the Elder and to St. Silouan which are simply impossible to convey otherwise. And this David Balfour — he went from Catholic hieromonk to Orthodox hieromonk to British Army major and intelligence officer to diplomatic interpreter to midlife husband and father to Oxford Byzantine scholar in old age. A biography of him wouldn’t go amiss, although I don’t think we’ll see one. And underlying his whole life is the gaining and the losing and the eventual regaining of that inestimable treasure, the Holy Orthodox Christian faith and Holy Grace. Not for the faint of heart.” (D. Kovacs )

 

 

Not for the faint of heart.” Most certainly!

 

What an intense book which can be read on so many levels! A heart-rending spiritual biography of a brother in Christ struggling for his faith and the salvation of his soul amidst staggering trials, temptations and tribulations! A sobering warning too to all of us to be deadly serious with our faith and never forsake our obedience to our spiritual father at any cost! Hell indeed broke loose when Balfour decided to disobey St. Silouan and use his own mind instead for his life-decisions! To give you just one example: After converting to Orthodoxy and becoming an Orthodox hieromonk, Balfour disobeyed St Silouan’s ‘suggestion’ to move to France, and then to England, and went to Greece instead. Things went well at first, but with the outbreak of the Second World War, Balfour was forced to flee Greece and started wandering all over Europe, while undergoing a very dark period of disobedience, disillusionment, doubt and eventual loss of his faith, to the extent that he decided to shave his beard and defrock himself in Cairo, Egypt! I cannot even begin to imagine how traumatic all this experiences must have been for him!

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What a most sobering book! “For Whom the Bells Toll” indeed. How often have I betrayed the Lord and disobeyed my spiritual father in the past! How dire the consequences of my disobedience have always been! Indeed, how fragile our faith is, how precarious our decision to follow the Lord at any cost like a true disciple, how unpredictable our falls and how uncertain our salvation until the very last moment of our life!

 

Striving for Knowledge of God: Correspondence with David Balfour is a treasury of wisdom distilled from Fr. Sophrony’s reading of the Fathers of the Church, from his conversations with St. Silouan, and from his own experience. Since most of these letters were written to someone new to the Orthodox Church and to Orthodox monasticism, they are of greatest interest to anyone contemplating converting to Orthodoxy.

 

In particular, the correspondence touches and elaborates on the difference between Eastern Orthodox and Western thought, in both Christian and philosophical writings. Thus Fr.Sophrony mentions Schleiermacher, Spinoza and Kant, and St John of the Cross (The Dark Night of the Soul). He dedicates a few pages to the concepts of the heart and prayer. In Eastern Christianity, he argues, the spiritual heart is not an abstract notion but is linked with our material heart and has its physical location. In opposition to the Western search for some visionary mystical experience, Fr.Sophrony advocates the prayer of repentance, which is the basis of all spiritual life.

 

As a reply to Balfour’s doubt over the importance of specifically Eastern ascetic and dogmatic traditions, Fr.Sophrony asserts the organic integrity and integrality of ascetic life, dogma and the Church. Criticising Schleiermacher in connexion with this issue, he writes:

 

“There are three things I cannot take in: nondogmatic faith, nonecclesiological Christianity and nonascetic Christianity. These three – the church, dogma, and asceticism – constitute one single life for me.” – Letter to D. Balfour, August 21, 1945.

 

“If one rejects the Orthodox creed and the eastern ascetic experience of life in Christ, which has been acquired throughout the centuries, then Orthodox culture would be left with nothing but the Greek minor [key] and Russian tetraphony.” – Letter to D. Balfour.

 

Fr.Sophrony also warns against attributing to intellectual reasoning the status of being the sole basis for religious search:

 

Historical experience has demonstrated that natural intellectual reasoning, left to its own devices, fatally arrives at pantheistic mysticism with its particular perception of reality. If this takes place in the soul of the Christian who does not want to reject Christ (as in the case of Leo Tolstoy), he arrives at Protestant rationalism or at spiritualism, which stands mystically close to pantheism… I am convinced that the rejection of the Church will lead to the rejection of the Apostolic message about Сthat which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes… and our hands have handled (1Jn.1:1) [148].

 

 

On a more general level, these letters are full with profound theological and spiritual insights. What a most blessed golden ‘chain’ of Grace and Sainthood! Elder Sophrony, already under consideration for glorification, was ordained to the diaconate by St Nicolai (Velimirovic) of Zicha and became a disciple of St Silouan the Athonite. Can you imagine? All these Saints were also ‘connected’ with the greatest probably Saint of our century, St. John Maximovitch! St. Nikolai Velimirovich is often referred to as Serbia’s New Chrysostom. St. John Maximovitch, who had been a young instructor at a seminary in Bishop Nikolai’s diocese of Ohrid, called him “a great saint and Chrysostom of our day [whose] significance for Orthodoxy in our time can be compared only with that of Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky). … They were both universal teachers of the Orthodox Church.”

 

Coming back to the book, of all theological concepts touched upon in this book, the one which most interests me  is the concept of Godforsakenness, as outlined by Fr.Sophrony, who worked out a distinction between two types:The first one is when man deserts God: To the extent that we live in this world, to that same extent we are dead in God. The second one is when God hides from man: a horrific state of Godforsakenness. When man has no more life in this world, i.e. cannot live by this world, the memory of the divine world draws him there, yet despite all this darkness encompasses his soul. He explains: these fluctuations of the presence and absence of grace are our destiny until the end of our earthly life. Fr.Sophrony saw suffering as a necessary stage in ascetic development: Divine grace comes only in the soul which has undergone suffering.

 

“We must have the determination to overcome temptations comparable to the sorrows of the first Christians. All the witnesses of Christ’s Resurrection were martyred. We should be ready to endure any hardship.”

 

“The most important thing in the spiritual life is to strive to receive the grace of the Holy Spirit. It changes our lives (above all inwardly, not outwardly). We will live in the same house, in the same circumstances, and with the same people, but our life will already be different. But this is possible only under certain conditions: if we find the time to pray fervently, with tears in our eyes. From the morning to ask for God’s blessing, that a prayerful attitude may define our entire day.”

 

“Whoever gives up his cross cannot be worthy of the Lord and become His disciple. The depths of the Divine Being are revealed to the Christian when he is crucified for our Savior. The Cross is the foundation of authentic theology.”

 

Not for the faint of heart, indeed!

The Parable of the Publican and Pharisee

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Imagine now that we are patients in this hospital of the world. The sickness that every one of us is suffering from has the same name – unrighteousness. The word includes all the passions, all lust, all sins – all the weakness and enervation of our souls, our hearts and our minds.

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The sick are one thing at the beginning of their illness, another at its peak and yet another in its healing. But such are the characteristics of these illnesses of the inner man that only those who are healed are aware of the terrible sickness from which they had been suffering.

 

The sickest are the least aware of their illness. In physical illness, a man with a high fever is unaware of himself or his illness. Neither does a madman say of himself that he is mad. Beginners in unrighteousness feel ashamed of their sickness for a while, but repeated sinning swiftly leads to the habit of sin, and this to the inebriation and delirium of unrighteousness in a state in which the soul has no longer any sense of itself or its sickness.

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And just imagine a doctor going into a hospital and asking: “What is wrong with you?” Those whose illness is in the early stages are ashamed to admit they are sick, but will say: “Nothing!” Those whose illness has reached its peak will be angered by such a question, and will not only say: “Nothing’s the matter with us!” but will begin to boast of their health.

 

Only those who are on the way to healing will sigh, and reply to the doctor: “Everything is wrong with us! Have mercy on us and help us!” Tertullian says, in a homily on repentance: “If you are afraid to confess your sins, look at the flames of hell that confession alone can extinguish.”

 

Ponder, then, on all this; listen to Christ’s parable and decide for yourself how apt it is. If you say in amazement: “This parable does not apply to me”, then this means that you are sickened in the illness known as unrighteousness. If you protest: “I am righteous; this applies to the sinners around me”, then this means your sickness has reached its peak. If, though, you beat your breast in repentance and reply: “It’s true; I’m sick and need a doctor”, then this means you are on the way to healing. Don’t be afraid then; You’ll get well.

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This icon is a pictorial version of the parable, which is presented below:

[Jesus] spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:

Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.

God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are...God, be merciful to me a sinner!The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself:
‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector [or Publican]. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’

And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying: ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 

I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

(From: Luke 18:9-14)

 

The Justified Publican and Unforgiven PhariseeO Lord, You condemned the Pharisee who justified himself by boasting of his works, and You justified the Publican who humbled himself and with cries of sorrow begged for mercy. For You reject proud-minded thoughts, O Lord, but do not despise a contrite heart. Therefore in abasement we fall down before You Who have suffered for our sake: Grant us forgiveness and great mercy.

*

 Let us flee the proud speaking of the Pharisee and learn the humility of the Publican, and with groaning let us cry to the Saviour: Be merciful to us, for You alone are ready to forgive.

 

 

* By St. Nikolai Velimirovic on Luke 18:10 – 14

 

 

 

Banquet for Worms

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valley of death

II.

Who put me in this bed of worms? Who buried me in the dust, to become a neighbor of snakes and a banquet for worms?

Who pushed me off the high mountain, to become a companion of bloodthirsty and godless men?

My sin and Your justice, O Lord. My sin stretches from the creation of the world, and it is swifter than Your justice.

I count my sins throughout my entire life, throughout the life of my father and all the way back to the beginning of the world, and I say: Truly, the name of the Lord’s justice is mercy.

I bear the wounds of my fathers on myself-wounds that I myself was preparing while I was still in my fathers—and now they have all appeared on my soul, like a spotted hide on a giraffe, like a cloak of vicious scorpions that sting me.

Have mercy on me, O Lord, open the floodgate of the heavenly river of Your grace, and cleanse me of leprous evil, so that without this leprosy I may dare to proclaim Your name before the other lepers without them ridiculing me.

At least raise me up by a head above the rotten stench of this bed of worms, to inhale the incense of heaven and return to life.

At least raise me up as high as a palm tree so I can laugh at the serpents chasing my heels.

O Lord, if there has been even one good deed in the course of my earthly journey, for the sake of that one deed deliver me from the companionship of bloodthirsty and godless men.

O Lord, my hope in despair.

O Lord, my strength in weakness.

O Lord, my light in darkness.

Place just one finger on my forehead and I shall be raised. Or, if I am too unclean for Your finger, let a single ray of light from Your kingdom shine upon me and raise me-raise me, from this bed of worms, O my beloved Lord.

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A Thorn on the Road

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Prayers by the Lake (I) 

By St. Nikolai Velimirovic

Who is that staring at me through all the stars in heaven and all the creatures on earth?

Cover your eyes, stars and creatures; do not look upon my nakedness. Shame torments me enough through my own eyes.

What is there for you to see? A tree of life that has been reduced to a thorn on the road, that pricks both itself and others.

….

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FSH7UolJsuU