From Blessed Elder Sophrony Sakharov’s book St. Silouan the Athonite. (“Staretz” is a Russian term for a spiritual elder, and the term is used affectionately by Elder Sophrony for his mentor and spiritual father.)
I remarked to the Staretz that there are people who interpret freedom from passion, not as love for God but as a particular kind of contemplation of being, ranking higher than distinguishing good from evil, and they rank such contemplation above Christian love. To this, the Staretz replied,
‘That comes from the devil. The Holy Spirit teaches otherwise.’
And listening to the Staretz, I could not help thinking to so-called ‘supermen’ who ascend ‘on the other side of good and evil’.
The Staretz used to say,
‘The Holy Spirit is love, and He gives the sould strength to love her enemies. And he who does not love his enemies does not know God.’
This last criterion occupied an absolutelyexclusive and incontestable place in the Staretz soul. He would say,
‘The Lord is a merciful Creator, having compassion for all. The Lord pities all sinners as a mother is compassionate with her children even when they take the wrong path. where there is no love for enemies and sinners, the Spirit of the Lord is missing.’ (104-5)
What follows is one of my favorite stories from St. Silouan’s life that illustrates his exceeding love.
I remember a conversation between him and a certain hermit, who declared with evident satisfaction,
‘God will punish all atheists. They will burn in everlasting fire.’
Obviously upset, the Staretz said,
‘Tell me, supposing you went to paradise, and there looked down and saw somebody burning in hell-fire — would you feel happpy?
‘It can’t be helped. It would be their own fault,’ said the hermit.
The Staretz answered him with a sorrowful countenance:
‘Love could not bear that,’ he said. ‘We must pray for all.’
And he did, indeed, pray for all. It became unnatural for him to pray for himself alone. All men are subject to sin, all ‘come short of the glory of God’. The mere thought of this was enough to distress him — in the measure given to him he had already seen the glory of God and known what it was to fall short of it. His soul was stricken by the realization that people lived in ignorance of God and His love, and with all his strength he prayed that the Lord in His inscrutable love might suffer them to know Him. (48-49)