Sermon by the Spiritual Father of the Convent of Saint Elisabeth

With God, our Capabilities are Boundless

May 21, 2020

social ministry

Being solid and constant is a virtue. In the spiritual life, constancy is very important. But on the other hand, we all need to change from time to time. We are too quick to be settled in the ways of sin and to stick to our habits in conducting our relationships with God and other people. We may say a thousand times “Lord have mercy on us” but not hear anything.

In our spiritual lives, we go through many different stages. When we live through the stage of God’s love, we feel saturated with it, and we are inspired; we feel empowered by His spirit and might. Just remember what you were feeling and thinking as you first entered the Church: ‘I am so small and sinful, but the Great God sees me and loves me!’ But then we come to lose much of this feeling, which is indeed a necessity. Otherwise, we will be tempted to claim things that belong to God. For some, this lesson in humility will be painful: we will really have our noses rubbed in the dirt. For many may indeed imagine themselves being more worthy than they really are and think too much of their power. We should be wise enough not to puff up our abilities, but learn to accept our life circumstances for what they are. There is still a lot of work in store for us, God willing.

We all have our plates full with the challenges that life puts up in front of us, like doing our work well; meeting our obligations to our families; staying on good terms with others. All these things are already enough to look after. Let us not imagine anything beyond that. Know your limitations, and take care of what is on your plate. Do not go looking anywhere beyond, or at things on other people’s plates. There is nothing to be found by doing so, other than envy or judgement of others.

There are a lot of undercurrents and inner motivations to be found in any person. Sometimes, we find that the models of our spiritual lives that we construct for ourselves are just too frail to withstand even a minor storm. We must thus challenge ourselves to change from within. However, it is hard to change everything at once; it would be best to approach the task little by little: start with one thing, then go over to another. This way, we would go about it as a gradual process. However, there is also the risk that our effort to change will be mired in all sorts of compromises, and little progress will be made as a result. On the other hand, we might part with our past ways immediately, once and for all: “I will not sin again once, come what may! I will not allow myself a single improper thought!” Yet, in our hearts, there will still be doubt about our success. We do not sound confident even in the way we say it. We will accomplish it - or maybe not... On second thought, we might find living with our sin comfortable enough, and change our minds about parting with it all together...

Many of the difficulties that God sends us may seem to hard to bear. We must always remain on our toes, without having pity for ourselves. Again, we emphasise the need for being sober and alert. We are reminded that whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much. We understand that the change starts from the heart: “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Matthew 12:34). There is no good to be found by someone whose heart is filled with scorn. Inevitably, the sin, reprehension, disdain, faint-heartedness and self-pity dwelling in our hearts will be visible to others.

The sisters at this Convent have the great privilege of doing obediences. When we, the sinful people, reach out to others, God speaks through us. A Cinderella is turned into a princess! This does not happen by performing some ascetic exploit, by simply doing obedience. How does it happen? But when she returns home, she goes back to her original state. This should not surprise us. For she had reached the high standard and greatness of spirit through the workings of God, but then she lost her ground and retreated. Realising that, the sisters add great value to doing obediences, for their own sake and for the sake of the infirm; they see this as their chance to do good and to contribute. They act as channels of God’s love that lights their eyes and empowers them to find the right words. But when the obedience ends, the light is suddenly turned off.

Artists, filmmakers and musicians who are sincere in their faith do not declare their creations as their property. In truth, art and creativity are about conveying through one’s heart the spirit of God’s goodness to the extent of one’s understanding of it, and one’s willingness to share this understanding with others. All things are in God’s hands, and none of them is truly ours.

One of God’s Apostles wrote: “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (scripture7:15). He also wrote: “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do” (scripture 7:19). On the other hand, we also read: “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:12). Yet, this is not a contradiction. Through God’s workings, our possibilities are boundless, but on our own, we can do nothing.

At Church, we become a part of the ecumenical life of the Church in its entirety through our acceptance of Christ and Christ’s omnipresence. But in our everyday lives, we can be small and mundane by being unnerved by petty discomforts, like being pushed accidentally by a sister, or hearing something said about us. This is an immense distance to fall, from towering spiritual heights back to the ground, not knowing how to go up again. However, we still manage to pull ourselves together to survive our falls with a minimum loss, and then go back to doing our obediences. Things may seem bad indeed for now; at times, we may feel like crying out: “I am so exhausted, I cannot go on”, but will say instead, “Life is so beautiful. I enjoy every minute of it.” This will not be acting, deception or cunning. It is a struggle. The sin inside the person is saying: “All is bad, nothing is working out, l cannot go on”. But what we do say instead is exactly the opposite, because God is acting through us. Now here is a miracle indeed. There are two persons inside us. One’s telling us that things are all bad and unfair, while the other is the voice of goodness.

We are all waging an inner struggle for our spiritual lives; we fight against falling into despondency and despair so we can go on doing good at the place to which God had despatched us. We fight to continue to do so to the best of our ability, so we continue to gain instead of spending. This is our ultimate task. Of course, we will find ourselves too exhausted to continue without the sacraments, confession, and Communion. So we must refresh our powers and come to the Cup. In this way, our energy is replenished - by virtue of our acceptance of God’s gifts. This is a way for God to tell us: “I am with you. My power is manifest in weakness”. This is a true miracle of God for which we extend our thanks to Him. We embrace this experience of the spirit in which God transforms us from a lifeless, powerless object, which we all are, into a human being full of life and beauty. This act of transformation will be very important for us in our dying hour. No-one can escape their dying hour in this world. But we will be reborn anew under a new sky in a new world that is free from sin and death for a life eternal.

Archpriest Andrey Lemeshonok

More on the topic
Comment