St Anthony of the Desert

Orthodox Christian Mission

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Fr Gabriel

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The Easter Message for Beautiful Losers

A friend back in Pennsylvania led a vibrant mission church. I asked him, before I moved to New Mexico for this mission, if there was a secret to the church. He replied without blinking, “We’re all losers. We’ve all failed in life. I was a drunk. A lot of people have been divorced. Some of us were addicted to drugs; some lost businesses. We are all losers but we found in the Gospel the way out. That’s how you get the message of the Gospel: if you admit you are a loser, then God can work on you to rise above it.”

We bask in the light of the resurrection, the cornerstone of Christian faith. In the Gospel of St John Jesus says, “ I am come that they might have life and have it abundantly.” This is not a counsel for losers. The Christian Way is about the fullness of life that begins here and now. Jesus the compassionate healer brings wholeness for the broken. We are granted new life and set on a path of transformation “from glory to glory.”

How then shall we live? Not as losers who have no hope, no faith, no love, no freedom. Contemporary monastic Mother Raphaela says, “Only God living within us gives us total freedom. Addiction, possession, magic, all leave us at best passive, at worst crippled or dead.” We are healed by the power of Christ’s resurrection from inside out.

Healing requires enormous effort and struggle. You have to cooperate with the prognosis in order to heal. Many people truly desire wholeness when they come to the Church. For these people Jesus came and died and rose again from death.

Healing requires faith, hard work, discipline and commitment. It takes a lot of work to move out of being self-centered, which is one of the conditions of our deadness. It takes the miracle of grace.

The gifts of the faith are pure grace, freely offered by God; nonetheless with St Paul we hold that you have to “work out your salvation in fear and trembling.” There is no conflict between free grace and spiritual labor for the gifts of grace. These two moves are simply how the process works.

Only the dead can be raised. That’s the prognosis: death is the human condition, because we are bound up in selfishness, but we can move out of this spiritual condition into new life that begins here and now.

This transformation is grounded in continual repentance (the renewal of heart and mind), in prayer, and in self-giving love toward others. We are called to purge all that separates us from God, beginning with our self-indulgence.

St Silouan, a monk of Mt Athos, said, “Keep your mind in hell and despair not.” He meant that we must be aware of our godlessness, especially the pride that rejects God’s love. We despair at the constant war in our soul against God’s free love in Christ. “Despair not!” says this wise monk: God has overcome our alienation and lostness in the resurrection of Christ. Fr Sophrony, Staretz Silouan’s spiritual heir, interprets: “Man’s consciousness that he is unworthy of God, and his condemnation of himself for every sin, in strange fashion makes him kin to the Spirit of Truth, and sets his heart free for divine love.” This is the work we undertake when we are being healed.

You don’t have to remain a loser. Though it requires constant vigilance and work, the promise of wholeness is yours in the Easter Light. In that Light we move out of selfishness and self-indulgence to embrace others in love. This is the ultimate healing, that we become truly human.

April 2012