Mikhail Nesterov's Evening on the Volga Loneliness (1932)
Man is indeed an enigma. The tragedy of our age and (more particularly, perhaps) the wholesale withdrawal from the Church and from Christ compel us to approach the problem boldly. St Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
‘Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world… but we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory… God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God… Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God, that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God’ (I Cor. 2:6 et seq.).
This is normal Christian understanding, without which we cannot ‘walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called (cf Eph. 4:1). But, it may be objected, could not such temerity lead to pride? To counteract any tendency to conceit we have only to remember Christ’s warning: ‘And thou Capernaum, which are exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell’ (Matt. 11:23).
For a clearer picture of the Christian journey, let us adopt the method resorted to by the fathers of the Church, and draw an analogy.
When we see a centuries old tree with its branches reaching to the clouds, we know that its roots, deep in the earth, must be powerful enough to support the whole. If the roots did not go down into the bowels of the earth – perhaps as far down as the tree is high – and if they were not as strong and widespread as the part we see, they could not feed the tree. They could not support it – a slight wind and the tree would fall. We can observe something similar in the spiritual life of man. If, like the apostles, we recognize the greatness of our calling in Christ – that is, of our election in Him before the creation of the world to ‘receive the adoption of sons’ (Gal. 4:5), it makes us humble, not proud. This lowering, this humbling of ourselves is essential if we would preserve a genuinely Christian disposition. It is expressed in a constant awareness of our nothingness, as radical and all-round self-condemnation. And the deeper one goes in self-condemnation, the higher God raises one.
‘Until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force… He that hath ears to hear, let him hear’ (Matt 11:12,15).
from the book: His Life is Mine by Archimandrite Sophrony