After Pascha ... Then What?
St. Seraphim and the Aim of the Christian Life
By Fr. Patrick
Great Lent, Holy Week, Pascha...and then? Unfortunately, many of us are at a loss after Pascha. Our bodies are confused as we begin to eat all foods, and we lose the focus that we were either searching for or were granted during Great Lent. Then, as a consequence of our loss of focus, we begin losing the joy of Pascha.
When asked about this problem common to many, an Athonite Hierodeacon suggested we look towards St. Seraphim of Sarov, and his conversation with N. A. Motovilov on the aim of the Christian life. In this text St. Seraphim shares a method for acquiring the Holy Spirit, the acquisition of which is, for him, the aim of the Christian life. Perhaps this will text will help retain the Grace of Pascha until it is confirmed again with Christ’s Ascension, and throughout the entire season of Pentecost.
St. Seraphim begins:
"The Lord has revealed to me...that in your childhood you had a great desire to know the aim of the Christian life, and that you continually asked many great spiritual persons about it ... But no one has given you a precise answer ... Now poor Seraphim will explain to you in what this aim really consists."
Prayer, fasting, vigil, and all other Christian practices, however good they may be in themselves, do not constitute the aim of our Christian life, although they serve as the indispensable means of reaching this end. The true aim of our Christian life consists in the acquisition of the HOLY SPIRIT OF GOD. As for fasts, and vigils, and prayer, and almsgiving, and every good deed done for Christ’s sake, they are only the means for acquiring the Holy Spirit of God. But mark, my dear, only that good deeds done for Christ’s sake brings us the fruits of the Holy Spirit.”
Acquisition of the Holy Spirit through good deeds done for the sake of Christ! This is the method that has been revealed through St. Seraphim.
St. Seraphim explains further:
"if prayer and watching gives you more grace, watch and pray; if fasting gives you much of the Spirit of God, fast; if almsgiving gives you more, give alms. Weigh every virtue done for Christ’s sake in this manner. Through this weighing of our virtues we will acquire the Holy Spirit.”
By evaluating our actions in this manner we will avoid doing good works that lead to pride and human glory. The testimony of the Fathers and Christ himself unanimously warn against this fallen good. Christ entreats us: ‘Take heed that you do not do your alms-giving, nor your praying, nor your fasting before men; otherwise you will not have your reward from your Father in heaven’ And St. Maximos states “God searches the intention of everything that we do, whether we do it for Him or for any other motive” and that if we do good with any other motive than for Christ we “undergo the labor and still lose the reward” So we must do good for Christ’s sake, measuring our intentions and motivations, continuing to do more of that which brings the Holy Spirit.
St. Seraphim continues his discourse, bringing to remembrance the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, remarking that the foolish “supposed that the Christian life consisted merely in doing good works” These foolish ones were mistaken, and were not allowed to enter the bridal chamber because they had not focused on whether or not their good deeds brought the Holy Spirit. Their supposed good, was not good, since it was done with the wrong intention. Their example should inspire us to heed St. Seraphim’s admonition: “Trade till I come (Luke 19:13), redeeming the time, because the days are evil (Eph. 5:16), that is to say, make the most of your time for getting heavenly blessing through earthly goods” In other words, make the most of your short life! Do all for Christ’s sake in order to acquire the Holy Spirit, without which we will not know God in this life or in eternity.
But, is this practical? How can we begin to make this our aim? In the midst of our tumults and worries all of this talk of good deeds and the Holy Spirit may sound fantastic.
“O my brethren, on my knees I beg you to believe in God, believe that there is a Holy Spirit Who bears witness to Him in every church, and in my soul.” (St. Silouan the Athonite)
Even if it seems fantastic, let us allow the testimony of the Saints and of the Church to supplement our faith. With this faith we can say a simple prayer. And by saying a simple prayer we have already made a beginning! For St. Seraphim states, “every good deed done for Christ’s sake gives us the grace of the Holy Spirit, but prayer gives it to us most of all” And also that “Prayer is always possible for everyone, rich and poor, noble and humble, strong and weak, healthy and sick, righteous and sinful.”
This should bring us great joy! Whatever our current situation, let us pray, and the Holy Spirit may also bear witness quietly in our own souls. His presence will bring us through the season of Pascha, Ascension, Pentecost and any time; eventually leading us along with Motovilov (who conversed with St. Seraphim on this topic) to know “such calmness and peace...that no words can express.”
Holy St. Seraphim pray to God for us!
Prayer to the Holy Spirit, by the one who already sees Him, by St. Symeon the New Theologian:
Come, true light. Come, eternal life. Come, hidden mystery. Come, nameless treasure. Come, ineffable reality. Come, inconceivable person. Come, endless bliss. Come, non-setting sun. Come, infallible expectation of all those who must be saved. Come, awakening of those who are asleep. Come, resurrection of the dead. Come, O Poweful One, who always creates and recreates and transforms by Your will alone. Come, O invisible and totally intangible and impalpable. Come, You who always remain motionless and at each moment move completely and come to us, asleep in hell, O, You, above all the heavens. Come, O beloved Name and repeated everwhere, but of whom it is absolutely forbidden for us to express the existence or to know the nature. Come eternal joy. Come, non-tarnishing crown. Come, purple of the great king our God. Come, crystalline cincture, studded with precious stones. Come, inaccessible sandal. Come, royal purple. Come, truly sovereign right hand. Come, You whom my miserable soul has desired and desires. Come, You the Lonely, to the lonely, since You see I am lonely. Come, You who have separated me from everything and made me solitary in this world. Come, You who have become Yourself desire in me, who have made me desire You, You, the absolutely inaccessible one. Come, my breath and my life. Come, consolation of my poor soul. Come, my joy, my glory, my endless delight.