This talk was given at a conference for young adults held at St. Irene of Chrysovalantou Church in Rochester Hills, Michigan, on the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord, 2/15 February 2020. You can listen to a recording of this talk at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/the-call-of-god
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is with profound emotion and a sense of unworthiness that I greet you on behalf of our parish and welcome you to our little gathering today. Profound emotion, because I see before me men and women in the flower of their young adulthood who desire to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore to take up His Cross. A sense of unworthiness, because I know, as all preachers and teachers should do, that my deeds fall far short of my words, that my mediocre life does not match my exalted speech. Yet I must speak, for that is my vocation. God has called me, and I must obey. This calling, this vocation, this obedience, in the lives of each one of us, is what I wish to address today.
You Are Precious in the Eyes of God
Everyone wants to feel special, that his existence is somehow something unique, and that his life has a permanent and transcendent meaning that the world cannot give and cannot take away. We know that the ancestral sin distorts this intuition into egoism, we know that in pursuit of his dream of transcendence, man runs after the false transcendence of gratifying his passions, the false specialness of selfishness, and yet the intuition itself – that I am unique, that I am permanent, that I have a transcendent origin, purpose, and destiny – is true, and the distortion does not invalidate this intuition but only tragically prevents me from understanding and fulfilling its true meaning. We Orthodox Christians know the true meaning of this intuition: That the Holy Trinity created our race to enjoy most intimate communion with the All-Good God, to be the friends of God, and to live with Him forever in unspeakable delight, growing in the knowledge and love of God endlessly, forever. And this not en masse, so to speak, not as uniform, identical, merely individuated slices of a mass of human nature, but with our shared human nature enhypostasized in the radically unique yet radically related members of a vast choir of immortal existent beings, a harmonious ensemble of love enjoying a perfect unity not imposed by a soulless uniformity but bestowed graciously by Christ, according to Whose Image each unique person comes into existence by the sovereign will and foreknowledge of God. This choir, this ensemble, this joyful yet solemn army of uniquely precious yet intimately united brothers and sisters – we call the Church. This sovereign will, this foreknowledge, this predestination, this completely free decision of God, in all eternity, both to make each one of us according to the image of His Son, and then to re-make us according to His likeness by Faith and Baptism, should give to each of us an absolute confidence and serenity. On the night before He died, Our Lord said to His disciples, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27)
You are Called by God
This peace comes with a vocation from Christ, a calling, a unique obedience for each of us, for earlier in His allocution at the Mystical Supper, the Lord said this also: “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in Me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:1-2). In the heavenly kingdom, then, each one of the saved will enjoy a radically unique relationship with the Lord – his own mansion – while enjoying a radical unity in Christ with all the angels and saints. We can know this only by divine revelation, as a divine mystery, a paradox that is as radically true – and rings radically true in the inner chamber of the heart – as it is logically impossible to comprehend. And we do know this, because we are the Orthodox Christians, those chosen by God to know His inner mysteries, to be His friends.
Each one of you, then, is known intimately – most intimately – and is loved – infinitely – by God. He created you, and He holds you in existence this very moment. And, moreover – wonder of wonders – He became a man and died for you, and he would have died for you if you had been the only sinner in the universe. So you do not belong to yourself: By creation, by purchase, and by adoption, God owns you – you are a slave of God. St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?
For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (I Corinthians 6:20). In the context of the epistle, St. Paul is admonishing the reader to be chaste and avoid sins of the flesh, but we can also apply this to the whole of our lives: We belong to God, He owns us, and He expects something from us, the dedication of our entire body and spirit – that is, our whole selves. We may not, cannot, must not live on autopilot, just going through life aimlessly, from one experience to another, from one relationship to another, as our whim or passions or worldly ambition drive us. We must seek the will of God for our lives and seek to do it, with all of our hearts and souls and minds and bodies.
Discerning Your Vocation
So here you are, trying to discern: What is God’s will for my life? On the one hand, your call is the same as every Christian’s, and the path is the same. Your call is to live the promise given at Baptism, to renounce Satan and be united to Christ. Your path is the path of the Cross, taking upon yourself whatever sorrows result from obeying God’s commandments, a path full of difficulties here in this life but also many joys in this life, leading ultimately through death to eternal life. The Orthodox dogmas, the Orthodox morals, the Orthodox worship, the Orthodox spirituality, are the same for everyone, and all of the tools we need for prayer, worship, basic rules for living, and so forth, are abundantly available. But because each of us is also unique, and each of us has a unique path laid out for him in the mind and will of God, we are called not only to the general vocation of all Christians, but each of us to his own unique path of life, within the framework either of sanctified celibacy* or holy matrimony and family life.
I believe that, in the words of the first stichiron we will chant at Vespers for Palm Sunday, “The grace of the Holy Spirit has gathered us together.” Our call to be here today, now, in this particular gathering, is for a sacred purpose determined by God, and I venture to think – I humbly propose – that this purpose is to help each other begin a determined program of seeking the path of life for each of us. The first step is prayer, prayer specifically for the Lord to reveal His way, to open the doors we need opened, to send us the spouse or monastic guide – the father or mother in Christ – that He intends for us. Let us ask every day, not only for ourselves, but for one another, that the Lord’s will be revealed to us, and that we will have the wisdom and power to do it. “A brother helped by a brother is a strong city.”
In this particular task of seeking God’s will, there are particular prayers that are most appropriate. The most obvious is the Our Father itself, in which we say daily “Thy will be done.” In the Garden of Gethsemane, Our Lord Himself said to the Father, “Not My will but Thine be done.” We could repeat these very words many times a day mentally, asking God to take away all of our delusions, ignorance, and self-will, and replace them with His wisdom, knowledge, and self-sacrifice. We could ask Him to give us more accurate self-knowledge, ending with the final phrase of the Kontakion for the Holy Apostles: “O Lord, enable me to see myself as I really am, Thou Who alone knowest the secrets of the heart.” As you begin to understand yourself, you begin to understand other people, and also the right people become attracted to you and come into your life. This is a law of human nature.
One of my favorite books is The Love of God, the life of the Elder Gabriel of the Seven Lakes monastery in Russia, who reposed in 1915 (published by St. Herman Press). In his spiritual testament to his disciples, he advised them, when seeking enlightenment from God, to say the 17th Kathisma, Ps. 118. One prayer program you could undertake for a specific time period, when seeking earnestly for God to reveal His will for your life, would be to read all of, or one stasis of Ps. 118 every day for forty days. Or you could purchase the commentary of St. Theophan the Recluse on Ps. 118 from St. John of Kronstadt Press, and just read a verse of the psalm every day with the commentary until you are finished. And with reading, tell the Lord you seek to know and do His holy will.
I just wanted to make these few prepared remarks before we begin our roundtable discussion, to set the tone for our gathering: We have been called together today by the Holy Spirit, by the wisdom and will of God. Each of us is unique and precious in the eyes of God. Each of us has a path laid out for us by the Lord, which we should seek to discern. We must pray for the Lord to reveal His will, to open the doors we need opened, and to send the right people and perhaps that one, special right person into our lives. We should undertake the task of praying not only for ourselves but for each other, that the Lord’s will be done in our lives this day and always. God loves us, His will is to save us, and He loves the prayer of the contrite and broken heart. Let us approach the Throne of Mercy, which is His Cross, and come to Him in time of need. May His holy will be done in our lives, this day and every day. Amen.
* Note: I like to use the term “celibacy” sometimes instead of “monasticism,” because there is such a thing as a call to live a pious single life – we know so many examples of this throughout the history of the Church and in the recent experience of those alive today: dedicated and pious people who never married yet never received the monastic habit, who dedicated themselves in service to the Church. A recent, celebrated figure that comes to mind, for example, is the writer Alexandros Papadiamantis. In other words, someone is not a failure if he cannot find a spouse or find the right monastery to join. If he seeks the Lord’s will with all his heart and serves the Church, he most certainly is not a failure in the eyes of God. The Church exhorts us to seek matrimony or monasticism because it is so hard to live by oneself in the world without the support and the demands of family – whether the natural family or a monastic family. Therefore the ascetic feat of the pious single person who finds salvation and acquires holiness is, in some ways, even greater than that of the married person or one living in the monastic environment. It is dangerous, however, for most people to remain single – especially men – because everyone needs to sacrifice his egoism in order to be saved, and you have to be very proactive, a very special person with a special grace, to do that outside the structured demands of family or monastery.