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“My Life in Christ.”


What was St. John really like? We have seen him from different sides, as he appeared on the outside. To delve into his "inner man," while, at the same time, to catch the growth of his personality, to comprehend the external facts of his life, it is not essential for us to examine a mountain of documents and attestations — as is usually required and which represents a task of enormous difficulty, which may be done only gradually, after intense labor by investigators over a period of decades and, sometimes, centuries. St. John represents in himself the only individual in the world who has himself said everything necessary to reveal his personality, and that to the very end.

All are familiar with the diary of his heart. My Life in Christ— a work which has no "precedent" not only in lay, but also in religious, literature. His confession, in which there is nothing "personal"! A life — truly "in Christ," for what do the daily entries reveal? Rejection of oneself — a voluntary, willing, reasonable laying of the cross upon oneself — following after Christ — being joined to Him... There is not a trace of "selfness," not a whit of "self-pity" or self-justification! There is no glancing aside at people, at society and its opinion — in the sense of seeking approval, sympathy, acceptance. There is no looking back upon oneself — that terrible "devil’s mirror" (in the words of Hieromonk Methodius, a remarkable servant of the Church who died quite young in Harbin), so common to our divided consciousness, deprived of "chastity"! A confession — in the exact sense of the word, i.e., opening the soul to God, total, complete, forgetful of self, full of hatred toward sin and lovingly directed toward God. And simultaneously — a confession of faith, merging inseparably with praise of God, bursting from the heart. A humble revelation of one’s weakness and sinfulness — but only in the light of ceaseless battle against them, a battle which was unfailingly victorious — through the strength of unshakeable faith in God’s aid. Thus it is a way for all to partake of the saving depths of the spiritual experience which transforms human weakness into the power of God. Thus, it becomes, then, a proclamation of salvation, not abstract, but set forth as experienced: by showing what? The ladder of ascent from the depths of sin to communion with God, by showing the whole natural weakness of human nature — not only in the light of constantly overcoming this weakness, by showing the whole blessed "simplicity" of such overcoming, by showing the fragrant "simplicity" of holiness coming to full bloom — literally in front of one’s eyes — out of the depths of the human heart, should it only submit itself to the influence of the grace that acts within the Church, voluntarily following Christ... And at the same time here, finally, is all the unspeakable power of the grace of priesthood, the full majesty of God’s performer of Mysteries, revealing in his person Christ-God to people and becoming a participant with Him in the Holy Mysteries, a daily participant in the awe-inspiring Eucharistic sacrament...

‘This is a man who tells God and people only what his heart tells him: in his voice he reveals as much emotion, to people he gives as much attention and kindness, as he feels in his heart, and will never let his lips say more than what he has within his soul. This is the highest form of spiritual truth, which brings man closer to God."

The above, witnesses Vladyka Anthony, was said by Bishop Michael Gribanovsky. This is a weighty statement, and to appreciate the full weightiness of it, it is necessary to supplement it by pointing out that this was not merely a formal truthfulness, which was in evidence here, but something greater, something different. True, St. John speaks this alone, and only to the degree that it was alive in his own heart, but at the same time, what is it that defines the nature of his personality? The concern of his whole life — all-determining, all-enveloping, solely — for what? Only that his heart be totally filled with Christ-God, so that the life of his heart be always and completely a life in Christ. Life in Christ — not an aim, reached at certain moments, but an everyday reality, which is achieved by life-long and ceaseless labor, by ceaseless struggle. It is only small traces of this great labor that we find in St. John’s blessed diary, but this labor lies in its foundation. These "tribulations and labors," which reach a tension of utter martyrdom, are mentioned by hints and short comments: we guess at them rather than know anything definite. St. John does not hide them, nor does he reveal them. One thing we do know for certain, however: he does not rest, does not lay down his arms, does not cease his labors — the force of which we are barely able even to imagine! — until for every given moment he does not cease that spiritual "simplicity" of his "inner man," that God-like beauty and purity of him, which allows the human heart to be an abode of Christ-God and which creates conditions under which man — alike within himself, in people, in nature, in everything and everywhere — sees God!

And from this, what is it that arises and forms a blessed and fragrant mystery in St. John’s personality? What arises is that there is no need for him to search for measures of his feelings toward men and God, for all human measures already refuse to serve! It is in the spirit that St. John abides — remaining at the same time completely ordinary in his appearance, completely ordinary in his dealings with people, in the midst of all the worldliness of his relations with people! This is the very thing, the impossibility and unattainability of which was asserted by Bishop Theofan, but which was revealed, however, to the world by the phenomenon of St. John!

Here there is but one comparison, one confrontation, one likening which arises naturally and inevitably. And it is only in relation to St. John that this does not sound sacrilegious: the events of the Gospels.

But not only does St. John "confess" himself, carrying Christ’s Gospel to the world. Sometimes, just as "simply" as he speaks about everything, he speaks also about himself, tells people about himself, reveals himself to them, acquaints them with how he sees himself!

To see oneself! To whom is this given? Usually, a person sees himself differently from what he actually is, and consequently every self-portrait has to be interpreted, by removing the "author’s" stylization — no matter where it may be directed, in the direction of light, or darkness. To see oneself! The holy fathers profess that this ability is the very peak of what man can achieve! It exceeds the ability to see angels and to resurrect the dead, for the presence of this ability evidences that verily a person’s spiritual eyes have been opened...

But this precisely was St. John’s blessed achievement!

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