Concerning the Emulation of the Mother of God
It is necessary to seek out the authentic and religious, the deep grounds for this, so as to comprehend and justify the attraction for man, the love for man, the path amidst brothers, and people.
But there sounds a caution note from two different sides. On the one side, the humanistic world, as far as having accepted the fundamentals of Christian morality within inter-human relationships, it simply has no need of taking them at their ultimate depth, nor at whatever their justification, nor of anything issuing forth from them per se. It dwells in its three dimensions, and from these three dimensions it derives all its being. On the other side there is the world as connected with the Church, and likewise it has its cautions: often the very theme of man seems to it something secondary, removed from that which is the primary and sole thing, from genuine communion with God. For it Christianity — is the attitude towards God. Everything else — is a Christianisation or Christianification.
It is necessary to hearken to both these cautions. It is necessary not only to suppose, it is necessary to know, that the first of them, issuing forth from the godless world, annihilates the very idea of man, who is nothing if he is not the image of God, but the second in turn annihilates the idea of the Church, if it does not presuppose within it the individual man, and all mankind.
It is necessary not only to hearken to these cautions, — it is necessary to be convinced, namely that in the question about the authentic, the religious, the deep attitude towards man that all the questions be met as a Christian, and thus this also even from the godless world, for even this godless world awaits from Christianity its word, as that which solely is capable to heal and renew all, and perhaps sometimes even resurrect the dead.
But together with this, the Christian soul perhaps some centuries already is taken ill with a certain mystical Protestantism. For it, it fully suffices but to sound out the combination of the two words: God and I, God and my soul, and my path, and my salvation. The modern Christian soul would more easily and naturally be inclined to say: “My Father”, rather than “Our Father”, “deliver me from evil”, “give me this day my daily bread”, etc.
And upon these paths of the solitary soul, having striven towards God, it is as it were a matter of having it all traversed, having all the path measured out, having considered all the cautions of danger, all the familiar slip-offs from the precipices. Here it is easy to find guides, — be they the ancient authors of ascetic books or else those, steeped in their teachings, the contemporary continuers of the ancient ascetic traditions.
But here is this path, that of having a genuine religious regard for people, wanting neither an humanistic simplifying-away of human relationships, nor the ascetic contempt for them.
In terms of this first it is necessary to conceive, upon what in its own mystical depths is to be based that portion of human religious life, which consists in the words: God and my soul.
If we responsibly and seriously resolve to fulfill the Gospel truth, upon which hangs in balance our human soul, then we ought to be done with doubts, as we go forth in each partial aspect of our life: we ought to renounce everything that we possess, to take up our cross and follow after Him.
The sole thing, that Christ leaves for us, is this path, leading after Him, and with the cross which we, in emulating Him, bear upon our own shoulders.
It can generally be asserted, that Christ calls to us to emulate Him, to imitate Him. In this comprises the significance of the whole of Christian morality. Yet how variously indeed have various centuries and various people understood the actual meaning of this imitation, to which all the ascetic teachings of Christianity reduce down to.
The wilderness dwellers emulate the forty day dwelling of Christ in the wilderness. The fast-keepers keep fast, because He fasted. The prayer-makers make prayer on His example, the virginal guard their purity, etc. The “Imitation of Christ” — is not by chance the title of a book by Thomas A Kempis, for this is a generalised command of Christian morality, as though a generalised title for the whole of Christian asceticism.
I shall not here attempt to characterise the varied trends of this imitation, and sometimes perhaps also deviations from what in the Gospel defines the path of the Son of Man upon the earth. These interpretations are varied, just as people are, and deviations are inevitable, since the human soul is sickened with sin and mortal frailty.
Another thing is important. It is important, that in all these varied paths there has been pointed out by Christ Himself this solitary standing of the human soul before God, this renouncing of everything else — which is all the world: father and mother, in the precise Gospel expression, not only of those living near and dear, but also of the near and dear deceased in the grave, — of everything, in a word. Naked, alone, freed from everything, the soul sees only the image of Christ before it, on His example it takes up its cross upon its shoulders and goes after Him, in order to take on its own gloomy night of Gethsemane, its own suffering Golgotha, and through it to pronounce faith in resurrection, in unfading Paschal rejoicing. Here thus is all that is actually comprised by the words: God and my soul. All else that remains — is that, which He has called me to renounce, meaning there is nothing and naught else, only — God — and my soul, — and naught else.
No, it is not altogether nothing. It is not with empty hands that the human soul stands before God. More fully would be such: God — and my soul, and the cross, its taking up. There is still the matter of the cross.
The significance and meaning of the cross is inexhaustible. The Cross of Christ — is the eternal wood of life, invincible power, uniting heaven with earth, an implement of horrid execution. But what such is the cross on the paths of the imitation of Christ, in what ought our crosses to resemble the singular Cross of the Son of Man?
Indeed even upon Golgotha it stood not alone, for there were there three crosses, — the Cross of the God-Man and the crosses of the two thieves. Are not these two subsequent crosses as it were symbols of all the human crosses, and dependent upon us as to which of them we express?
Our way of the cross is in any event inevitable, but we have the choice, and we can voluntarily go the path of the blaspheming thief — and perish, or go the way of acclaiming Christ — and be with Him now in paradise. In the same span of time the thief, choosing perdition, shared the same fate with the Son of Man. He was condemned the same and sentenced to the cross, he alike suffered the torment of the cross. But this does not mean, that his cross was in emulation of the Cross of Christ, or that his path led him to the feet of Christ.
In the image of the Cross is the most essential, the most defining thing — the necessity of freely and voluntarily wanting to accept and lift it. Christ accepted upon Himself freely and voluntarily the sins of the world, and He lifted them upon the Cross, and by this He redeemed them, and conquered hell and death. Free acceptance of the deed and responsibility, the free crucifixion of one’s sins — herein is the meaning of the cross, when we speak about bearing it upon our human paths. Freedom — is the inseparable sister of responsibility. The cross is this freely accepted responsibility, with open eyes and soberly so.
Having taken the cross upon his shoulders, a man forsakes everything, — and this signifies, that he ceases to be a certain part of this everything, — of this natural world. He ceases to be subject to its natural laws, those which free the human soul from responsibility. Natural laws not only set free from responsibility — they deprive of freedom. In actual fact, what sort of responsibility can there be, when I act, as the unconquerable dictates of my nature lead me to do, and what sort of freedom can there be, when I am totally subject to these laws of nature?
And so herein the Son of Man pointed out to His brethren in the flesh rather a super-natural path of freedom and responsibility, which in this sense is not merely human but God-manly. He told them, that the image of God within them makes them likewise God-manly and he calls them to theosis, to deification, to that wherein they actually should become sons of God, should come to this filiation to God, freely and responsibly lifting up their cross upon the shoulder.
The free path to Golgotha — herein is in what consists the genuine imitation of Christ.
It would seem, that in this also consists all the possibilities of the Christian soul, and in like manner, the formula “God and my soul” actually encompasses all the entire world. All however that yet remains, that from which on its path it has forsaken, appears only as a certain impediment, weighing down my cross. And how should it not be weighed down, how should the human suffering not be lodged upon my shoulders — this is all indeed my cross, which defines my personal path to God, my personal following in the footsteps of Christ. My sickness, my grief, my loss of those near and dear, my relationship to people, to my vocation, to work, — these are details of my path, not ends in themselves, but certain touchstones upon which my soul is honed and sharpened, the certain at times likewise noble proclivities of my soul, the particulars of my personal path.
If so, then the question certainly is comprised in this. It can vary only endlessly, when reckoned with individual particulars of epoch, culture, separate people. But essentially everything is clear. God and my soul, bearing its cross. In this is affirmed an enormous spiritual freedom, activity and responsibility. And this is all there is to it.
It seems to me, that everything in following out this line of thought would have to go suchlike a path of Protestant mysticism. Moreover, — insofar as the world at present lives a mystical life, for an overwhelming majority it is infected with this Protestant, this insular and individualistic mysticism. In it there is certainly no place for church, for any principle of Sobornost’ as communality, for a God-manhood receptivity of the whole Christian process. Simply it is that in the world millions of people are born, and whatever number of them that hear Christ’s call then forsake everything, take up their cross and follow after Him, in whatever the measure of their abilities, their faith, their personal exploit to go upon this vocation. And by this they are saved, they come to encounter Christ, they as it were make their life confluent with Him. All however that yet remains — is as it were a certain humanistic after-thought, a certain adaption of those basic Christian principles to those areas of life, which lay outside them. In a word, a certain Christianification, essentially not a bad thing, but bereft of any authentic mystical roots, and therefore not inevitably necessary.
The Golgotha Cross is the Cross of the Son of Man, whereas the crosses of the thieves are the crosses of the thieves, and our own personal crosses namely are personal, and through such a countless forest of these personal crosses we move along upon the pathways towards the Heavenly Kingdom. And this is all there is to it.
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Not so very long ago I happened to be in a military cemetery. Hundreds of precise, tightly squeezed one after the other row upon row of graves occupied an enormous square. Over each grave was a cross, no, not actually a cross, but a cross-shaped sword. The sword blade went down into the ground, and the cross-beam forms as it were the cross-beam of a cross. The sword handle — made for the upper part of a cross. Such a confluence of cross and sword we know of in the Middle Ages. Back then the cross-beam was set very wide, so that the sword should remind of the cross, and into its handle was set a locket with relics. Moreover, I happened to remember also a journalistic connection once of these short but enormous words. These connections have played a large role, they have veiled off the pathos of war, they have justified violence. Irregardless, this connection has been something frequent;
frequent has been the urge to merge the sword and the cross.
And in a quite singular, altogether different sense we have this connection also in the Gospel. “And for Thee Thineself a sword shalt pierce the soul”. The double-edged sword of the Mother of God. There is here a primary difference from the generally employed connections, and very essential. When our journalists say “cross and sword”, they presuppose under the cross a passive endurance of suffering, and the sword appears for them a symbol of activity. But in the Gospel it is not so. In it the cross is something voluntary — and it means, actively — that it is lifted up by the Son of Man. The sword however delivers the blow, it cuts within the soul, which passively accepts it. In the Gospel sense, the sword — is the symbol of suffering, passively undergone but voluntarily chosen, and it is inevitable, — the sword, piercing the soul. The Cross of the Son of Man, voluntarily accepted, becomes the doubled-edged sword transfixing the soul of His Mother, not because that She voluntarily chooses it, but because She cannot not suffer the sufferings of Her Son.
And this double-edged sword is not something unique and unrepeated, connected only with the fate of the Mother of God, — it teaches us all something and obliges us to something. In order to understand this, it is necessary to sympathetically sense the path of the Mother of God upon the earth, to see all its entirety both in that which is exceptional, and that in common.
The Orthodox consciousness bears always within its depths a sense of the mystery of the Mother of God. For it, She is not only the suffering Mother at the Cross of Her Crucified Son, She is also the Queen of Heaven, more honourable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim. The Orthodox consciousness perceives Her, the Virgin from the tribe of Judah, the Daughter of David, as the Mother of all the living, as the living and personal embodiment of the Church, as human Body of Christ. By the protection of the Mother of God the world is safe-guarded, and She is the mother of the damps of the earth. Herein this lattermost image is in connection with thoughts about the cross, having become a two-edged sword, and gains therein a yet new power. The ground of Golgotha with the cross planted into it, piercing it, the ground of Golgotha, scarlet with blood, — is not this the mother’s heart, cut by the sword?
The Golgotha cross is the weapon piercing through the soul of the earth — of its mother.
And if we divert from this, wherein the Mother of God is manifest to us in glorified image, if we perceive Her only in Her earthly path, then it is there, where it becomes possible to speak about an “imitation” of Her, then it is perfectly proper, that the Christian soul should understand the sort of special possibilities, opening before it. Upon this path namely of the Mother of God mustneeds be sought out the justifications and foundations of our hopes, to find the religious and mystical meaning of an authentic human communality, which outside of this eludes us.
It can be directly asserted, that an authentic and religious attitude towards man in all its extent, with all the particular and personal details, reveals itself only then ultimately, when it is sanctified by the path of the Mother of God, set in accord with Her footsteps. It is in light of Her.
And herein is the very chief thing — to have a sympathetic sense, of what the Golgotha of the Son was for His Mother.
He undergoes the voluntary sufferings on the Cross, — She involuntarily
co-suffers with Him. He bears the sins of the world, — She
co-works with Him. She
co-suffers, His flesh is crucified, — She is
The degree of the Golgotha torments was beyond measure. Their measure is not given us: the Cross of the Son in all its vast extent, in all its weightiness becomes the double-edged sword, transfixing the Mother’s heart. These torments were on the level of the immeasurable. The difference is only in this, that the torments of the active, free and voluntary acceptance by the Son becomes the passive, inevitable
co-acceptance by the Mother.
Upon Golgotha the words of the Annunciation, “behold the handmaiden of the Lord”, resound not triumphant, in then is drowned out any thoughts about, that “henceforth all generations will call Me blessed”. On Golgotha She was the handmaiden of Her suffering Son and God, the handmaiden of His suffering. It was the same submissiveness, that was also there on the day of the good-tidings Annunciation, the same
co-participation in God’s arrangement and plan, yet there however it was a path to the Nativity, to the
co-sharing in the angelic song: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will to men”, and here however — this was a
co-sharing in the praeternally inevitable Golgotha torment, in the “extreme humility” of the emptying kenosis of God. The stones and scales were rent asunder, the earth did split, the curtain of the Temple was torn in twain, the weapon of the cross did pierce the soul of the Mother, the Son consigned His spirit into the hands of the Father.
Certainly, the Mother of God had Her own particular fate, Her own cross. But can Her fate be termed a cross, freely chosen and lifted ashoulder?
It would seem to me, that Her fate was the cross of Her Son, having become the sword piercing the soul.
Her whole mystery is in this
co-uniting with the fate of Her Son, from the Annunciation and the Nativity, through Golgotha to the Resurrection, to the Pentecost, to the eternal heavenly glorification of the Uspenie, the Dormition, the Falling-Asleep.
Always — His will be done, — the Handmaiden of the Lord had open to Her His fate, His being pierced upon the Cross.
Thus it was in the hour of Golgotha, and in the 33rd year of our century, — and thus it will be eternally. Eternal is the Golgotha of the Son of Man, eternal are His torments of the Cross, and eternal are the torments from the weapon piercing the soul of the Mother.
There is much in this maternal torment that we can also at present discern and recognise, and draw conclusions, concerning our human torments.
Foremost, and chiefly, — we see the humanity of Christ, the Church of Christ, the Body of Christ, to which the Mother of God is likewise Mother. And this expression is not only a certain bit of pious lyrics, — it also precisely corresponds to the very understanding of the Church as the Body of Christ. And if so, then also in relation to the Church as eternally alive is that, which She experienced in relation to Her own Son. The Mother of God-manhood — is the Church, She also at present is pierced through by the torments of this Body of Christ, by the torments of each member of this Body. In other words, all the innumerable crosses, raised up by mankind upon its shoulders, in order to follow after Christ, are turned into a likewise innumerable number of swords, eternally piercing Her maternal heart. She continues to
co-suffer with each human soul, just as that selfsame day on Golgotha.
This is a main thing. And in this sense She always goes with us along our own way of the cross, She is always here, alongside, and our every cross — is Her sword.
But there is another thing also, no less essential. Each man — is not only the image of God, an icon of the Divinity, not only brother after the flesh of the God-Man, by Him deified and by Him vouchsafed a cross, each man in this sense is also a son of the Mother of God. Each man likewise is also the image of the Mother of God, giving birth to Christ within, from the Holy Spirit. In this sense therefore, each man in his depths is manifest as a two-in-one icon of the Mother of God with the Divine Infant, as is thus revealed by this two-in-one mystery of God-manhood. This is easy to see and simple to follow out, how the Old Testament mankind prepared itself for the Birthgiving of God, how all God’s promises to it tended namely to this promise of the Birthgiving of God. And the Virgin Mary in full measure was connected with this hoped-for Birthgiving of God from the house of David, from the tribe of Judah, from the seed of Abraham. And we, the New Testament Church, having grown forth from the Old Testament one, in this aspect have lost nothing. In this sense it might be possible to speak about a physical communion-sharing of mankind, — and by this to signify, that each separate man, — shares in the birth of the Son of God. But concerning this it can and ought only to be spoken of in a very mystical, a very deep plane of the human soul. And indeed, ultimately the analysis of suchlike a literal equation: the Son of God — is the Son of Man, renders demonstrable the birthgiving of God by man.
And thus, the human soul combines within it two images — the image of the Son of God and the image of the Mother of God, and through this itself the soul ought to be a participant not only in the fate of the Son, but also in Her fate. Both the Son of God, and His Mother — are praeternal archetypes — thereby symbols, in accord with which the soul orients itself upon its religious paths. And in this sense it not only ought to imitate Christ, but also to imitate the Mother of God. This means, that it ought not only to take up the cross upon its shoulders, freely chosen. It ought also to know the mystery of the cross, rendered into a sword. First, the Golgotha Cross of the Son of Man ought to be the sword piercing into each Christian soul, it ought to be a lived-through experience as a
co-suffering together with Him. Yet besides this, it ought to be an acceptance of the crosses-swords of its brethren.
In actual fact, we shall endeavour more to the point and precisely to examine the legacy of the path of the Mother of God for the human soul, in which each shares to some or other degree.
If man is not only the image of God, but also of the image of the Mother of God, then also in each other man he ought to see likewise the image of God and the image of the Mother of God. In the human Mother of God aspect of the human soul there is not only annunciation of the birth of the Son of God and not only the birth of Christ, but there is also keenness of sight towards the vision of Christ’s image in other souls. And in this sense the Mother of God aspect of the human soul begins to accept other people as its own children, to af-filiate them under wing to itself. The utmost of the Mother of God aspect — is to catch sight of the God and Son in others, — something ultimately attainable only by the Virgin Mary. But insofar as we ought to strive to follow in Her path and Her image imaged in our human souls, just the same we ought to catch sight of the God and Son in each man. The sight of God — in accord with the God-image and the God-likeness of the Son of God — allows the human soul, having given birth to Christ within itself, by this as it were to af-filiate itself in sonship with all the Body of Christ, all God-manhood, and each man separately also.
Be it however it may, it is upon human shoulders, upon the pathways of human God-likeness, there lies the cross. The human heart ought still to be transfixed by the double-edged swords, by weapons the crosses of others sundering the soul. The cross of one’s neighbour ought to be for the soul a sword, piercing it. It ought to
co-share in the fate of neighbour, to
co-suffer. And it does not choose these swords, — they are chosen by those, who accept them as a cross, lifted ashoulder. In the likeness of its archetype, the Mother of God, the human soul is drawn to Golgotha, in the footsteps of its son, and it cannot not be drawn there, it cannot not bleed.
It seems to me, that herein lies the authentic mystical grounds of human communality.
And it ought not to be confused as it were with an outwardly arrogant and haughty declaration, that our souls should relate maternally to whatever the other souls. A mother is not greater than her children, and often even less. And this maternalism signifies neither some aspect of spiritual growth nor measure of exploit, — it expresses merely an humble and submissive striving to
co-share in the Golgotha of an other, to the passive acceptance of it, to the opening up of its own heart for the blow of the double-edged sword. All this possibly can be said more simply in a single word. This maternalism signifies — love.
It is not along the line of a certain loss of weight, still more of increasing the weight of our crosses, it is not along the line of a pious proclivity, a duty of developing our virtue, — that we ought to relate towards man.
Only one sole law exists here. Our attitude should be defined only by this, that we ought to catch sight in the other man of the image of God, and from the other side, we ought to af-filiate him as a son. And herein duty, virtue, pious proclivity, — all fade out.
She that assumed the exploit of love teaches us humble acceptance of these crosses of others. She summons each Christian soul to incessantly repeat after Her: “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord”, ever flowing with blood, even while sensing the sword slicing at the heart.
Such is the measure of love, such is the extent, to which the human soul ought to strive. It might even be said, that such is the sole obligatory attitude of man towards man. It is only when the soul takes hold the cross of another man, his doubts, his grief, his temptations, downfalls, sins, — only then can one speak about an obligatory attitude towards the other.
And likewise, just as the sole obligatory bearing of the cross in the world was the bearing of the Cross by Christ, so likewise the sole obligatory acceptance of the cutting sword was its acceptance by His Mother, standing at the foot of the Cross. In this was the uniqueness of Her sanctity. In this indeed was also Her praeternal measureless height of sanctity, an unattainable height of sanctity. And if it be thus unattainable, then every other attitude to the cross and to the sword, is a various degree of sin, — whether from the rarely fallen and unflagging Christian path in the consciousness of the ascetics, right down to a full and total refusal of it.
And herein here it is necessary to take the measure of our sins upon this Mother of God’s path of our souls. It is essential, that they be all the sins against man — both against the God-likeness and the af-filiative of sonship, that they include the sins against the Cross of God and against the human crosses, sins hindering their admittance into one’s heart as a double-edged sword.
One might think it reasonable, that for each man it would seem, that from his heart there would be nothing left, it would all flow empty of blood, if he were to open it not even only for the innumerable swords of all God-mankind, but even only for the single sword of an other very near and dear, very beloved from amongst one’s brethren. And it is difficult to object to this. It is difficult to deny the legitimacy and naturalness of a certain inner self-defensiveness of the human soul from whatever the things inundating it from all sides and weighing it down with things unneedful for it. It is difficult in context of natural law. And natural law, by whatever the false path having penetrated its way into the supernatural realm of spiritual life, definitely says: bear thine own cross responsibly, freely and honourably, and as occasion warrants open up thine heart for the cross-swords of thine near and dear, — and that is all there is to it.
But if for the natural laws the Cross of Christ be a temptation or folly, then for them also the two-edged weapon, piercing the soul, has to be likewise a folly and likewise a temptation. For the Christian there is not only the cross, but also a cross having become a sword, without any limitations, without any attempts at a rational accounting of its powers, it has to be by the power of God and by the Wisdom of God. Moreover, everything that fails to be a fullness of the sword, taken to heart, is sin.
And if from suchlike a measure of sin we take stock of our attitudes towards people, then we shall see, that each of these is sinful. It is sinful ultimately our attitude towards the furthermost, when we fail to accept them as in the image of God, and whom we make no sort of attempt to af-filiate in sonship. It is sinful also the attitude towards those, whom we as it were both hear, and help, but yet fail to be wounded by them, fail to sense all the intensity of their cross, as a weapon, transfixing the soul. Finally, sinful also is the attitude towards the very near and dear, whom we sometimes accept in a full measure of obligatory relationship, — i.e. we are pierced by their crosses, and we see in them also the image of God, and we af-filiate them in sonship, — but we do this only in whatever their special moments in our life, and then anew we stumble down into a natural, i.e. a sinful lack of discernment in relation to them. Ultimately, sinful also is our towards the Man from among men, towards the Son of Man, since rarely also is His Cross accepted by us as a weapon, transfixing our soul.
And wherein is the hindrance?
What makes all our human community inwardly sinful and defective?
It is this, that in our spiritual pathways we are guided under the measure of natural laws and by calculation of natural powers, forgetting, that upon the Christian path our powers are supernatural, — and therefore also inexhaustible. It might more precisely be said, that what hinders us is the shabbiness of faith.
In Christian life there ought to be not only the folly of the cross, but also the folly of the sword, not only the crucifixion with oneself, but also a
co-crucifixion with oneself, the standing at Golgotha, at the foot of each human cross. The Christian soul ought to be both filial as son, — i.e. a cross-bearer, and maternal as mother, i.e. taking to heart one’s sword.
It becomes terrible to look back upon one’s life, taking stock of its fidelity to the cross-sword. There seems to be nothing, besides a falling-away, betrayals, coldness and lack of discernment. Each such attitude towards man — is only sin, and always sin. Always in accord with the laws of this world, never in accord with the image of God. And the sinister reason of mind confirms the inevitability of these natural laws, the lack of measure and unbearableness of the cross, the lack of measure of the sword. What to do, if literally the cross be not folly, nor temptation?
The Son of God, the eternal archetype of every human soul, besought the Father in prayer: Thy will be done. And the same were the words spoken by the Mother: behold the Handmaiden of the Lord. And this the same we find in the very depths of our human hearts, imaged of God and maternal as to their spiritual essence.
This endows us a sort of power, — not in that we are delivered from sin in relation to God and to people, — but, in extreme measure in this, that we perceive this sin as sin, and not as a legitimate and natural condition, justifiable and reasoned as natural.