Given at St. Michael the Archangel Orthodox Church, November 5, 2010 "Longing for God"
Disclaimer: I tried to get a full sense of what she was saying and write down as much of what she said as possible. I was not able to write down full quotations of Fathers of the Church, etc. I will transcribe the notes here and put them into complete sentences as much as I can. As a result, the words will be mostly my own, based on what I heard her say and the notes I took. Bear in mind that Mother Gabriella's first language is Romanian, and English is her second language. This comes through in some of the syntax, and I let it stand in some of the notes, and covered for it in some other of my notes.
I hope the topic is not "new" because God is always the same and our spiritual struggle is the same. But it is new because we change. As Orthodox Christians we live in the present, and there is always something new in each moment. The purpose of our earthly journey is to draw closer, always, to God. This talk is to remind us of our purpose, and that we may be encouraged in our struggle and know why we struggle.
St. John Climacus, in the 3rd step of his book wrote that even more than hunger, thirst which can so torment someone in the desert, describes our longing for God. The Psalmist writes the same thing "As the deer pants for the water, so my soul thirsts after Thee, O God."
What is this thirst for God? It is the calling to the human vocation, which is to become like God by grace. When we fulfill this calling, that is when we live our lives to the fullest. Every human being is created to receive the glory of God-to become like God. Gregory of Naziansus describes us as being both earthly and heavenly, both flesh and spirit, animal and yet rooted in another, heavenly, land...
In human beings, heaven and earth are united together. (We see this also in the Nativity of Christ when God took on our flesh and became human for our sakes.) We are here but we are on our way to another land. (heaven).
The human vocation is to take the universe into itself, and offer that back to God in worship, in order to articulate the worship which the universe secretly offers. Because we contain God (made in God's image, filled with the Holy Spirit) we are bigger than the universe.
Humanity is the only aspect of God's creating that is made in the image of God. We are the only part of God's creation that bear the likeness of imperishable beauty. When we turn to God, we become that which He himself is. The mystery is, that although He holds the universe, he lives in us. God says He will live and move in us. We have the qualities that God has: Intelligence, spiritual, etc. therefore we are always drawn to eternity, to that which is like us, but superior to us. We are drawn to God. We have in us the grace of the Holy Spirit along with the freedom God has given us.
God offers Himself to us, but doesn't force us. His power is love and love wants the freedom of the beloved. He knocks at the door of our heart and waits. WE have the handle on the inside to open to him if we wish.
Man (humanity) is to reflect the image of God and love that exists in the circle of the Trinity.
But man chose not to live in communions with God, and fell from grace. Adam lamented after he fell. We have a hunger and thirst that no one but God can satisfy, a nostalgia for paradise, which is the state of being in full communion with God.
Man will never find rest until he rests in the Lord. David says this in the Psalms. "Find rest, O my soul, in God alone".
Proof of God's limitless love for us is the incarnation, John 3:16. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."
St. Athanasius in _On the Incarnation_ writes his famous line: "God became man so that man may become god."
The incarnation is the essence of Orthodoxy. God is a personal God who speaks face to face. The Holy Trinity manifests that God IS life in communion.
We need one another, and we belong to one another. The only natural way of life is to deny our-self for the person next to us, giving of our-self.
Likes and dislikes are the fruit of pride and selfishness.
Each family, community, nation, workplace, have their own vocation to become a living icon of the Holy Trinity. Our mission is to reflect the communion of God's love. As individuals we can't be true persons. "We are responsible for everyone and everything." --Fr. Zosima
We are not saved separately. If we had the courage to live totally for one another we would transform the world.
Christianity is not a philosophy, rather a life to be lived within the community of the Church. There is nothing that's in the Church that is lacking. Everything we need is here. It is a "saint factory", and God wants us to be saved (turned into saints). There's a saying that goes: "God has need of everything that He has made."
Therefore we accept God's will and trust in God's will. Faith and grace are a gift, but we need to assemble it, and cooperate with God. (here the word assemble, I think is an example of M. Gabriella's English not being native...perhaps the word acquire would do better?)
Saint is someone who is "set apart" for God. Set apart from the rest of the world. The world will hate you...love one another, as St. John says in his epistle.
Be God-pleasing, holy, virtuous, to die to self-these things are not the worldly way. God has given us dignity and potential to rise above what is base. We are expected to rise above the cares of everyday life. Life is beautiful and it is the way we are destined to go to God. Life is a gift from God to be lived for God and to be offered back to God.
So, we offer our day to God in the morning. Start small but be constant in the remembrance of God and our purpose in life. There is only one way to true happiness and that is self-sacrifice.
After doing the Christian things such as going to Church, daily prayers, fasting, confession, receiving the sacraments, etc., what more is there? Meditate on God! We are to discover the depth of who we are and grow closer to God. Our spiritual growth is infinite. There's always something new to look forward to. By learning who we are, we learn about God, too. We need to have that desire for God because that is where we are traveling-there will be a time when we see God face to face, not as in a mirror. We shall see Him as he is and He will se us and we hope to be recognized by Him. That is the joy and excitement of the Christian life. "My desire is to be with the Lord."-St. Paul.