In Our Sorrows We Drink the Cup of Christ

by St Ignatius (Brianchaninov)

Excerpt­ed from Har­bor for Our Hope: On Acquir­ing Peace amidst Suf­fer­ing. Trans­lat­ed by Ele­na Borows­ki — Paper­back — 192 pages — 978–088465-429–2.  Avail­able direct­ly from the pub­lish­er at a pre-pub­li­ca­tion dis­count through April 30, or from any good book­store or online bookseller.

When over the gloomy and deep abyss of grief, sor­rows sud­den­ly open before us, car­ry on up on the wings of faith! Do not be moved by dis­be­liev­ing waves of human thoughts. Walk bold­ly over them with the coura­geous steps of your faith and under your feet they will turn from soft, moist waves into sol­id mar­ble or gran­ite plates. Fur­ther­more, timid­i­ty and doubt do not suit you. As you look upon the pow­er­ful winds there is one who calls upon you to walk among the sor­row­ful seas that sep­a­rate you from your brethren: It is the Lord Him­self. This call­ing is also a blessed elec­tion! Christ marks “His own” with the seal of suf­fer­ing. He found your soul use­ful for Him­self and that is why He marks it with his seal! And the small flock stands out, as part of Christ, from among oth­er peo­ple; Christ’s flock holds in its hands the sign of being cho­sen by Christ, the cup of Christ. On their shoul­ders there is a ban­ner: The Cross of Christ. Far, far were they flung from the chil­dren of the world! 

Faith lifts us from the earth, frees us of the shackles of sorrows, raises us up to Heaven, and leads us to spiritual comfort.

The mea­sure­less crowd, with noise and in strange rap­ture, chase after tem­po­rary com­forts and plea­sures. Time, in their sight, has been trans­formed into eter­ni­ty! They spend their care­less lives, suc­ceed­ing only at things that decay. For­got­ten by God they do not attract the antag­o­nism of the dev­il, because they are pleas­ing the dev­il and are a part of him. Christ’s chal­ice opens the way for the spir­i­tu­al mind that is the spir­i­tu­al state. Those who enter and take the Com­mu­nion meal of com­fort become dead to the world, sense­less to tem­po­rary tribu­la­tions and depri­va­tions. They begin their earth­ly pil­grim­age, so to speak, car­ried in the air above every­thing on the wings of faith. The fet­ters of the mind pull us toward the earth, the coun­try of tor­ment; being on the earth we can­not help but be exposed to tor­ments. As is writ­ten in the Scrip­ture,  For in the abun­dance of wis­dom there is abun­dance of knowl­edge. And he who increaseth knowl­edge will increase suf­fer­ing.1 Faith lifts us from the earth, frees us of the shack­les of sor­rows, rais­es us up to Heav­en, and leads us to spir­i­tu­al com­fort. Those who enter this peace rest in cool com­fort, tak­ing delight on lux­u­ri­ous­ly cov­ers, pre­cious rest­ing places with­in visions of God.

Here is an irrec­on­cil­able war, there is an end­less bat­tle, a bloody strug­gle between the Israelites and for­eign nations. Among the for­eign­ers who stand against Israel are the giants, the sons of Anak, sor­rows that bring us fear, paral­y­sis, and despair. The spy of Israel that is intel­li­gence pro­claims to her soul and forces: The land through which we went as spies is a land that devours its inhab­i­tants, and all the peo­ple we saw in it are of great stature.  2 Exact­ly! Rea­son­ing, based on a com­mon course of things, thoughts sub­stan­tial­ly and only human in ori­gin brings And there we saw the giants; and we seemed like grasshop­pers to them, but so we actu­al­ly were.3 But the true Israelite is faith­ful to God, is guid­ed by faith in God; he is equipped with com­plete armor.

I will pur­sue mine ene­mies, and over­take them, nei­ther will I turn back, until they are dead. I will smite them, and they shall not be able to stand; they shall fall under my feet. For Thou hast gird­ed me with strength unto the bat­tle; Thou hast crushed under me them that rose up against me. Thou hast made mine ene­mies also to turn their backs upon me, and thou hast utter­ly destroyed them that hat­ed me. They cried, but there was none to save them; even unto the Lord, and He did not hear them. I will grind them down as the dust before the face of the wind; I will tram­ple them as mud in the streets. 4

...success in the invisible battle with the lords of the air, with evil spirits and dark forces one needs armor, given to us by faith and by the power of Christ.

  Not endorsed in this war are the many and sub­tle reflec­tions, which the mind tries to force, enam­ored of itself, on its own pow­ers, rely­ing on the quan­ti­ty and reach of its own knowl­edge, resist­ing the crowds of press­ing strangers that are for­eign thoughts. The chil­dren of Ephraim, being armed and car­ry­ing bows” announces the Prophet– “turned back in the day of bat­tle. 5 Human rea­son can­not resist the thick legions of for­eign thoughts! They will mis­lead, pro­duc­ing resent­ment and con­fu­sion in the mind! —Then vic­to­ry is on their side!

For cer­tain suc­cess in the invis­i­ble bat­tle with the lords of the air, with evil spir­its and dark forces one needs armor, giv­en to us by faith and by the pow­er of Christ.  Because the fool­ish­ness of God is wis­er than men, and the weak­ness of God is stronger than men. 6 The rea­son­ing and teach­ings of faith are strange and ter­ri­fy­ing to the earth­ly mind; but no soon­er shall man see in his own expe­ri­ence, glimpse with his own inner sen­sa­tions, the pow­er of faith, then he will instant­ly and hap­pi­ly sub­mit to its lead. He will be as one who has received a price­less men­tor and turns away with con­tempt from the human wis­dom that has been reject­ed by God.

Here are the weapons that the words of Christ’s teach­ing give to the ser­vant of Christ for bat­tle with the sons of Anak 7 the bat­tle against dark thoughts and feel­ings of sad­ness that con­front the soul in images of fear­some giants ready to wipe out and swal­low it:

First, “Glo­ry to God for everything.”

Sec­ond, “Lord! I sur­ren­der to Thy Holy Will! May your Holy Will be done.”

Third, “Lord! Thank You for every­thing, that You were pleased to send me.”

Fourth, “Accord­ing to my deeds I will accept all; remem­ber me, Lord, in Your Kingdom.”

These brief words, bor­rowed, as you see, from the Scrip­tures, were used by holy monks with excel­lent suc­cess against for­eign thoughts of despon­den­cy. The Fathers nev­er rea­soned with the dark thoughts that appeared to them; no, no soon­er did the for­eign strange thought appear than they grabbed their won­der­ful weapon and shoved it in the face, right in the jaw of the stranger! That is why they were so strong, tram­pled all their ene­mies, became war­riors of faith, and by means of faith became instru­ments of grace and accom­plished super­nat­ur­al feats.

At the appear­ance of depress­ing thoughts or long­ings in your heart, imme­di­ate­ly grasp your weapon, and from the bot­tom of your heart, speak one of the above phras­es; enun­ci­ate it qui­et­ly, with­out haste, with­out heat, with com­plete atten­tion, loud enough for your hear­ing alone. Speak this phrase until the for­eign thought dis­ap­pears com­plete­ly and your heart sens­es the arrival of the Divine Grace to assist you.   This Grace arrives in your soul as a sweet, com­fort­ing peace, the peace of the Lord, and for no oth­er rea­son what­so­ev­er. In time the strange thoughts will again approach you, but grab your armor once more, as the inge­nious leader, Cae­sar, told his troops, aim direct­ly for the face of the ene­my: no oth­er part of the body is so dam­ag­ing as a strike in the face. Do not won­der at the strange­ness or appar­ent use­less­ness of the weapon of David! 8  Use it in your own bat­tle and you will see the sign! These weapons, the mace and the stone, will win more bat­tles than all the col­lect­ed, deep-think­ing judg­ments and rare the­o­ries of the­olo­gians or of any word­smiths, whether Ger­man, Span­ish, Eng­lish, or American!

You are brought into this unseen warfare in order to become a victor, and in this state, you inherit spiritual treasure.

  Using these weapons in your work will grad­u­al­ly trans­form you from the path of rea­son to the path of faith, and this will lead you into the immense and mar­velous coun­try of the spir­it. There one is served man­na as the hid­den meal; to this land Christ admits only the vic­to­ri­ous. You are brought into this unseen war­fare in order to become a vic­tor, and in this state, you inher­it spir­i­tu­al trea­sure. All this Christ gives you, hav­ing loved you, clear­ly count­ing you among “his own.” Gaz­ing from the very shore of this dark, deep sea of sor­rows, upon the dis­tance, the azure of the sea merges with the azure of the heav­ens. Look­ing at this dark, bound­less expanse that fright­ens faith, I lis­ten to the angry mur­mur of the waves, to their monot­o­nous and unfeel­ing splash­ing, but do not indulge in melan­choly or per­mit this sad sea of thoughts in my soul. There is more per­il here! It is eas­i­er to drown here in this inte­ri­or sea than in the exte­ri­or sea of sorrows.

You are on the seashore of sor­rows in order to swim to the oppo­site shore of joys: the oth­er shore is there, even though it is invis­i­ble to the eyes of human rea­son. That shore is an inner heav­en, replete with spir­i­tu­al delights. Those who reach this for­get, in their ecsta­sy of plea­sure, all the grief endured by them in the sea. Step fear­less­ly into the light fer­ry of faith and be car­ried as by wings over the wet hillocks! Faster than you imag­ine, you shall be car­ried over the sea, trans­port­ed into par­adise. But between spir­i­tu­al par­adise and earth­ly car­nal and ordi­nary life, where most peo­ple reside, there lies the vast sea that is the cross and the crucifixion.

In matters concerning God’s Providence, people are blind.

  There is no oth­er way to heav­en! Whomev­er God wants to ele­vate into heav­en, that per­son first begins his path to heav­en through the cross. “The sign of God’s elec­tion, wrote one ascetic Father, is when end­less sor­rows encom­pass a man.” Let us endure the sor­rows that mor­ti­fy our life on earth, in order to become wor­thy of receiv­ing the liv­ing God, with the help of the real, ful­ly per­cep­ti­ble aid of the Spir­it. Let us endure the decay of this world in order to acquire the Spir­it! Sur­ren­der to God com­plete­ly! Cast your­self into the sav­ing abyss of faith, as if into a sea from a high rock!

Leave peo­ple behind as instru­ments of Prov­i­dence! They are blind instru­ments them­selves who have no pow­er, no move­ment! You could have no pow­er at all against Me, said the Lord to Pilate, unless it had been giv­en you from above. 9 While Pilate, led by the judg­ment of men, admit­ted and argued (and with this, with­out any doubt each per­son agreed with him in his judg­ment) that he has pow­er to cru­ci­fy the Pris­on­er stand­ing before him, as well as the pow­er to release Him. Do not be con­cerned about any con­tacts with peo­ple, nor trou­ble your­self with expla­na­tions before them! Such inter­ac­tions and expla­na­tions only dis­rupt the peace in your heart and will not bring any ben­e­fit. Frail peo­ple are like flow­ers that appear for a short time on the sur­face of the earth! You dream a lot about your­self, you ascribe a lot to your­self, but you are all frail peo­ple! You hon­or your­self with self-rule, and nonethe­less you do not cease to be instru­ments, blind instru­ments, tools of oth­ers! And you can­not see and thus do not know that you are instru­ments! You are auto­crat­ic, that is so!  You can­not but take bribes for your own deeds.  But by virtue of the infi­nite wis­dom of God these inde­pen­dent ones are actors with­out the least bit of pow­er, with­out any auton­o­my.  Jesus of Nazareth, said the Apos­tle Peter to the Jews,  Him, being deliv­ered by the deter­mined pur­pose and fore­knowl­edge of God, you have tak­en by law­less hands, have cru­ci­fied, and put to death.  10  I know that you did it in igno­rance, as did also your rulers. But those things which God fore­told by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suf­fer, He has thus ful­filled. 11 In mat­ters con­cern­ing God’s Prov­i­dence, peo­ple are blind. That is why the Lord did not count peo­ple wor­thy, appar­ent­ly bereft of all pow­er, to have any answers! That is why He called up the chal­ice, pre­pared by evil-wish­ers, demons, and bod­i­less spir­its, as the cup giv­en by God himself.

Please accept these lines as an echo of the soul, which par­tic­i­pates with you and has sin­cere com­pas­sion in your sor­rows and earnest­ly wish­es you receive con­so­la­tion from our Lord. 

Let­ter 114, Let­ters to Monas­tics 

Cover image for Harbor for Our Hope by St Ignatius (Brianchaninov)

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