This Little Light of Mine

 

I had a discussion once with a Baptist minster friend who wondered if the Orthodox were saved, or  “born again.”  I affirmed that we were but what did that mean and how was it accomplished (in his understanding of things)? After he gave me the evangelical response,  I asked him to consider the Scriptural reference from the Gospel of St. John. Nicodemus came to Jesus and he asked what a man had to do to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Making a bit of a serious joke, I said that Jesus replied, “Well, you must go to the Temple, and when the priest preaches a convicting sermon, you must be convinced that you are a sinner (the “a-ha” moment), go down to the front of the Temple and pray ‘the sinner’s prayer.’  Then, you would be born again.”  No, of course that isn’t what Jesus said at all. He said that conversion was a matter of the Spirit that comes and goes like the wind. We have no idea where it comes from or where it goes.  Certainly, all of us must be “born from above”, but the model of the evangelicals is not a requirement to the process of salvation. It is a behavioral model that came from the so-called “Great Revivals” of the protestant church in the previous two centuries.

The minister asked me if I was born again. I replied that I was in fact born again, so he asked me when this had occurred. I replied that I was born again in AD 33 or thereabout. (Y’all know how I am!)

We Orthodox believe that salvation is a process that begins with the unmerited Grace of God that first draws us and then enters us in ways that we hardly know or understand (like the wind, its a mystery). Just like the natural process of birth, this beginning in my life means that I am an infant, and the rest of my spiritual life is a process of growing up into “the fullness of the stature of Christ.”  There is another way to see this.

We just celebrated the Transfiguration and there on the mountaintop, the Lord is radiant with the Uncreated Light, the glory that he shared with the Father before the foundation of the world. As believers, we don’t find this to be surprising, but does it have any meaning for us personally?

St. Peter writes, “And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts…” When we are baptized, we are called “the newly-illumined.”  This is just the beginning and we are infants newly born.  In St. Peter’s model, this light that is in us is like the light of the early morning. This light will grow brighter and brighter until the full light of the sun rises and shines in all its strength in our hearts.”  To me, this sheds some light on theosis, the process of salvation.

How long does it take until the full light of day? Well, it varies from person to person. You read of some who come from the waters of baptism and the growth of light or grace within them is quick and powerful. But it seems that for most of us, the time from first light until the rising of the sun takes much longer, if not a lifetime. Along the way, the Lord sends us the grace and presence of the Holy Spirit, a grace that fills our lamps with oil. But it is up to us to trim the wicks and clean the glass of the lamp and to see that whatever light we have is not placed “under a bushel.”

How bright can the light become? It can be as bright as the light of Tabor. Throughout the ages, prophets and saints have seen this Light. Was it just an internal intuition or some intellectual realization? No, like the Apostles on Tabor, they saw it with both their hearts and their eyes. Moses saw it in the burning bush. Elisha saw it in the chariot of fire. Motovilov  saw in St. Seraphim of Sarov. For those unfamiliar with the story, let me give a part of it that applies to this topic:

“Then Father Seraphim took me very firmly by the shoulders and said: “We are both in the Spirit of God now, my son. Why don’t you look at me?”

I replied: “I cannot look, Father, because your eyes are flashing like lightning. Your face has become brighter than the sun, and my eyes ache with pain.”

Father Seraphim said: “Don’t be alarmed, your Godliness! Now you yourself have become as bright as I am. You are now in the fullness of the Spirit of God yourself; otherwise you would not be able to see me as I am.”

Then, bending his head towards me, he whispered softly in my ear: “Thank the Lord God for His unutterable mercy to us! You saw that I did not even cross myself; and only in my heart I prayed mentally to the Lord God and said within myself: ‘Lord, grant him to see clearly with his bodily eyes that descent of Thy Spirit which Thou grantest to Thy servants when Thou art pleased to appear in the light of Thy magnificent glory.’ And you see, my son, the Lord instantly fulfilled the humble prayer of poor Seraphim. How then shall we not thank Him for this unspeakable gift to us both? Even to the greatest hermits, my son, the Lord God does not always show His mercy in this way. This grace of God, like a loving mother, has been pleased to comfort your contrite heart at the intercession of the Mother of God herself. But why, my son, do you not look me in the eyes? Just look, and don’t be afraid! The Lord is with us!”

After these words I glanced at his face and there came over me an even greater reverent awe. Imagine in the center of the sun, in the dazzling light of its midday rays, the face of a man talking to you. You see the movement of his lips and the changing expression of his eyes, you hear his voice, you feel someone holding your shoulders; yet you do not see his hands, you do not even see yourself or his figure, but only a blinding light spreading far around for several yards and illumining with its glaring sheen both the snow-blanket which covered the forest glade and the snow-flakes which besprinkled me and the great Elder. You can imagine the state I was in!” (quote from the New Savov Press.)

Now that is what I would call bright indeed.

We are enlightened, dear ones. The Holy Spirit is with us and in us. At the moment it may seem like a small light, but do not despair because it can become as bright as the light of Transfiguration.

So to quote an old Sunday School song, “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.”

Pray for us, St. Seraphim of Sarov!

 

One Response to “This Little Light of Mine”

  1. Chuck Hawkins Says:

    This story of Fr. Seraphim is the key that led me to orthodoxy.

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