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Saturday, 6 June 2015

Strife & Reconciliation...

 Taken from "The Meaning of Suffering and Strife & Reconciliation" by Archimandrite Seraphim Aleksiev

IT HAS NOW been sufficiently shown what a deadly vice strife is – the man who carries spite in his breast is rearing a poisonous snake in his bosom. You know, kind readers, from your own experience, how heavy your soul is when you have quarreled with someone. It is as if a mountain weighs you down; you cannot breathe lightly and freely. You feel like a captive and even worse than that, because for the captive the body is bound but the spirit is free. For you, the spirit is bound with the chains of satanic strife, and the body also feels weakened because of this. The man who quarrels with his neighbor is a slave of the devil. Are there any happy slaves? If the bird, confined in a cage is happy, then the wretched captives of sin can also be happy. No! No happiness can bloom among the weeds of sin, and even less among the thorns and thistles of hatred and strife. While you are feuding with your brother, peace cannot rise in your heart!

On the other hand, how light your soul feels when you are reconciled with your enemy! You want, like a bird freed from a cage, to fly up to the skies with joy. You rejoice more at reconciliation than at the discovery of a treasure. Indeed, you have found something more precious than riches; you have found love, won over your enemy, and have turned him from a foe into a brother. Simple folk express it very well: “Strife is a work of the devil.” This is why it brings such darkness into the soul, oppresses it, and torments it as if it were already in hell. The grace of God which brings peace and joy to the heart flees from the spiteful. If strife is a work of the devil,” reconciliation is the work of God. Peace is one of the most precious of God’s gifts. With the arrival of reconciliation, darkness disappears from the souls of those who until then have been filled with spite; and the peace of God, the light of God, and the joy of God settle there. God’s grace descends on the reconciled, and they feel as if they were in Paradise.

Here are two examples from life in Russia.

In a village there served a priest who was constantly quarreling with the church reader. The reader had not finished seminary and thus he could not become a priest, so his dream was at least to be made a deacon. Unfortunately, he could not count on the support of the priest whom he hated and with whom he rudely quarreled. Once during service the priest and the reader quarreled over something; the priest raised his voice, the reader did not yield and answered with insulting words. The priest was enraged and tried to hit the reader with the incense burner. The latter threw several heavy books at the priest, until in the end they literally began fighting, to the great chagrin and temptation of the people. The rumor of the fight of the priest and the reader in God’s temple spread all over the village, and the case was reported to the bishop in the city as well. This bishop was a very wise man. He called the priest and the reader to himself to question them and find out who was to blame. He called the priest first and asked him:

– “Tell me how it all happened. Honestly confess the truth!”
– “I, holy Bishop, was serving in the church,” the scared priest began to justify himself, “and I told the reader to read more slowly, but he attacked me with insults, began to throw the church books at me, and even hit me with his fists. I grabbed the incense-burner to defend myself, but I did not do anything to him.”
– “So he is to blame?” asked the prelate.
– “Yes, holy Bishop, he is to blame!”
– “So he started the fight?”
– “Yes, Bishop, he started the fight.”
– “Then you are a martyr,” continued the prelate. “You poor man, how long you have put up with this spiteful reader, and you have never complained! This is what I have thought of to reward you with a compensation: tomorrow I will elevate you to the rank of archpriest. Do you hear, child, even tomorrow! Get ready!”

The priest was moved by the unexpected rum of the matter and said: “But, Bishop, I am not worthy to be an archpriest. I am guilty of the quarrels too, and, it seems, my guilt is greater than the reader’s. I started the quarrels!”

– “So, there is a conscience in you? Praise God, praise God!” rejoiced the prelate. “Then you fully deserve the rank of archpriest.

The priest, repenting, began to cry.

Then the bishop sent for the reader. The reader came in worried and saw that the priest was crying and that the prelate . did not stand grim and stern, but was smiling in a fatherly way.

– “What do you say? Who started the fight?” asked the prelate.
– “It was not me, but the priest!” said the frightened reader to justify himself.
– “The priest said the same, that he is to blame. That means that you are innocent. Because you endured innocently, like a martyr, the insults of the priest for such a long rime, I have decided to ordain you as a deacon tomorrow! Are you ready?”

The reader expected a punishment, but now he was being offered the deaconship that he had dreamed of for so long! Yet his soul was so disturbed! He felt so unprepared because of his quarrel with the priest. Suddenly, he fell at the feet of the bishop and said through his tears: “Holy Bishop, I am not worthy to be a deacon. I am more to blame than the priest.”

The bishop lifted him up from the ground and, embracing him, said: “It is today that you are most worthy, because you repent, just as the priest repented. That is why I will certainly make him an archpriest and you, a deacon. Make peace!”

The two recent enemies embraced and forgave each other with deep contrition. On the next day, during the Divine Service, the bishop rewarded both of them with clerical ranks and sent them to their village in peace.
They returned reconciled and joyful, to the wonder of the whole village. From that day they lived like true brothers and never quarreled again.

Here is another example-again from Russia.

The priest and the deacon in one church hated each other immensely and constantly quarreled. It must not surprise you, brothers and sisters, that the clergy too may quarrel sometimes. They defend the spiritual fortress-the Church-and so the devil attacks them most. The priest and the deacon lived in strife for a long time, and, in the end, their hostility reached such a level that they could not even stand to look at each other. Their life was poisoned. At last, the priest could not endure living in this way any longer and went to a hermitic saint for advice. He told the hermit everything: how he and the deacon fought over the smallest things; how their hatred grew with each day; how the deacon, even though he was of lower rank, did not honor the priest; how he, the priest, could not stand him any longer and had decided to leave the parish. “What is your advice?” asked the priest in the end.

The holy hermit gave him the best and the hardest prescription: “Hold your tongue and have patience! Endure forever, and God will help you to turn your enemy around and win him over.” The priest decided to try this as a last resort.

When he went back, it happened that he had to perform a service with the deacon. During the rite, he asked the deacon gently:

– “Hand me the cross.”
– “Take it yourself.” answered the deacon crossly. “I am not your servant.

The priest, without saying a word, went and took the cross. The deacon was surprised that the usual abuse and insults did not follow. The next time when the two had to serve together, the deacon scolded the priest for some reason, but the latter meekly endured and put up with everything. This went on for quite a while. The priest always endured quietly, until at last the deacon began to recover his senses and was ashamed of his behavior.

“How bad I am!” he thought. “I am a deacon, and I bully the priest. He is greater than I, but he does not scold me and puts up with me! I will go to him and ask for his forgiveness!”

How surprised and moved the patient priest was when he saw the deacon coming to him in his house, bowing down to the ground before him, and asking for forgiveness with tears in his eyes. They embraced and forgave; and as much as they hated each other before, they loved each other afterwards. Such are the marvelous fruits of mutual forgiveness!

“If the highest aim of virtue is that which aims at the advancement of most, gentleness is the most lovely of all, which does not hurt even those whom it condemns, and usually renders them whom it condemns worthy of absolution.”
- St. Ambrose
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Item Reviewed: Strife & Reconciliation... Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Tom Manakis
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