The last several weeks I have shared insights from my recent reading in the book, Wisdom From Mount Athos: The Writings of Staretz Silouan 1866–1938. Staretz Silouan was an Orthodox monk who lived on the mountain in Greece that is most often associated with monasticism in the Eastern Church, at least outside of Russia. The term Staretz means “Elder” and is a title given to the Orthodox monks of a particular spiritual development. Silouan was a Russian peasant whose only formal education consisted of two winters at a village school. It was on Mount Athos that he received his education through a tradition that reaches back to the beginnings of Orthodox monasticism. His wisdom, according to many of the Orthodox, is akin to that of the more famous Desert Fathers.
This compilation includes material on subjects such as the knowledge of God, the soul’s yearning for God, the likeness of the Lord in his children, prayer, humility, peace and grace, spiritual warfare and thoughts on departing this life. I have quoted from his writings on love because of my deep need to learn more of the love of God and to learn how to live this love in relationship with God and then others.
Staretz Silouan writes of various degrees of love for God. He defines these degrees in the following way:
- A person fears to distress God by sinning in any way. This is the first degree of love.
- The person whose mind is undistracted has love in the second degree.
- A third, and still greater love, is when a person is aware of grace in the soul.
- Finally, the person who has the grace of the Holy Spirit both in soul and body is in a state of perfect love.
Silouan writes: “There is no man on earth so gentle and lowly in spirit as our Lord Jesus Christ. In Him is our joy, in Him our gladness. Let us give Him our love, and He will lead us into His kingdom, where we shall behold His glory.”
Then he writes:
“There forty years, ever since the Lord through the Holy Spirit gave me to know the love of God, have I grieved over God’s people. O brethren, there is naught better than the love of God when the Lord fires the soul with love for God and our fellow-man. The man who knows the delight of the love of God—when the soul, warmed by grace, loves both God and her brother—knows in part that ‘the kingdom of God is within us.’”
“Blessed is the soul that loves her brother, for our brother is our life. Blessed is the soul that loves her brother. The Spirit of the Lord lives manifest within her, giving peace and gladness, and she weeps for the whole world.”
He writes of the Christian loving the Creator who has “not remembered” all his sins but then speaks of his own soul being “surrendered to profound and sorrowful weeping that the Lord might have mercy on every soul and take each one into His heavenly kingdom.”
The Elder concludes: “And my soul weeps for the whole world.”
Is your soul silent? Do you grieve for the people of God? Do you care deeply about the whole world? Staretz Silouan writes of living forty years in the grace of the Holy Spirit who had “taught [him] to love mankind and every created thing.” I love some of mankind I think, and parts of creation, but I am in great need of this experiential love that Silouan speaks of so simply and movingly.
Frankly, this type of language sounds very odd to most Western Christians that I know. Perhaps this is why I read this and then decided to write about it in these Lord’s Day blogs over these last several weeks. If you doubt the wisdom of this simple, holy man then recall the words of the apostle who said:
“We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death” (1 John 3:14)
But divine love is not simply a deep feeling about people, though it should include such feelings for sure. John adds, “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?” (1 John 3:17). Thus, “Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action” (1 John 3:18). John is not saying our speech doesn’t matter. He is clearly saying that it matters when it leads us to the truth and holy action. The truth is in Christ alone, not in your system of truth, and action flows from his love at work in you and me by the Holy Spirit. Never does the Scripture suggest that love for God or others is demonstrated by simply holding to right ideas, even orthodox ideas as important as they are in protecting the church from heresy. Love is demonstrated as real and genuine only when it leads to truth (read Christ alone, who is truth to John) AND action (read deeds/acts toward others) .
“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7–8).