[Spotify/Apple Podcasts/Google Podcasts] This English translation of the sermon of Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol (Cyprus) was recorded for otelders (Orthodox Teaching of the Elders) by Peter Eliades.
The original Greek sermon titled Θέλεις να δεις τον Θεό was delivered in 2020. It is available online here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kroLjiJCRQY
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Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol:
The issue I will try to discuss today is “Do you want to see God?”. One, might, right away, answer back “Is there truly a need to see God? I don’t want to see God, I don’t feel the need to”. “Why should I enter this process, this race and start forcing myself to do things others subject me to in order to see God”. “And what is truly the need to see God for me who face so many cares and responsibilities and difficulties every single day. Am I not burdened enough already?”
Indeed, justified worries. In our days, man is so burdened, so tired, so full that he or she can’t lift anything else, doesn’t want you to burden him or her with any extra weight even if it is necessary. So, is it truly necessary to see God? What is the practical effect in our everyday life?
Indeed, my dear brothers and sisters, it is the greater need of all to see God. Why is that? Because by seeing God, we see ourselves. We cannot function, we cannot live, we cannot exist, we cannot partake in this world unless we see God. How am I supposed to be a husband, a father, a man, a friend, unless I know God? Unless I know God, I will never know myself. I will never understand who I am and why I am here, how do I function and, even more, how do I function in a proper way. Since man is an image of God. What God is by nature, man is by Grace.
And I will try to put it even more simply, not in accurate terms but for the sake of making it more understandable to you. If we assume that we could take a picture of God, He was standing in front of us and we could take him a picture. This picture would be the image of God. This image of God is what man is. He is what God is. Not in His essence, but by Grace. He is the image of God. This image of God, at some point following the fall of man, broke. Fell and broke. Just as a picture hanging from the wall falls and breaks into a thousand pieces. So, how can the picture come back to its first state? You need to observe what is it that it was initially portraying, pick the pieces, and restore the beauty of the picture in its original state. This is what happened with man. Man, the most beautiful creation of God, the most important creation of God, who was blessed with all the beauty of God, fell and broke. Everything that God gave him as gifts, man distorted them and was filled with passions and sins. The passions and sins are the distortions of the image of God. And we are having right now before us, ourselves, broken, fragmented. Beautiful on one hand, but broken on the other.
How am I to bring him back to his first beauty, back to what he was?
Each and every one of us can witness inside him or her the reality of this distortion. Is there someone around us who can say that we are not disappointed by ourselves? Why did I act like that? Why did I not prevent this? I could have avoided this etc. And I end up hurting others, I hurt myself, I hurt my relationship with God, my relationship with the environment. I make others sad. How can I find my lost self?
Just like a lost man who is searching to see where he comes from and he is looking for his parents so that he discovers who he really is, in the same way we need to see God. It is a need of our existence to see God. Unless we see Him, we cannot rebuild ourselves. We cannot behave right. We cannot become right, balanced, perfect men as beautiful as God created us. Still the question remains: “How can I see God?”
Thus, so far we have reached the conclusion that “Yes, I need to see God!” “Why?” “Because, by seeing Him, I need to put back together myself.”
“So, how does one see God?” “Is it possible?”
A lot of times, I visit the schools of Lemessos. Thank God, we have 100 elementary schools and 35 middle and high schools. We discuss with the students of the third class of middle school and third class of high school and a lot of students ask me:
“Father, Is there God?”
“Of course, there is God!”
“Have you seen Him?”
“Of course, I have seen Him! I am seeing Him every single day! Do you guys also want to see Him?” I ask them…
“Yes!” They answer
“Great, I am going to give you His number. You are going to call him and He is going to pick up, He has a mobile, He is going to answer anytime soon, don’t worry you are not going to miss Him. Not only is He going to answer you, He is going to send you a text, maybe even a sticker. You will see God, the most natural thing, the largest movement of our existence is towards Him.
Is it ever possible guys to live and to love something I have never seen? Think how naïve we would be if we loved someone we have never seen. It’s like marrying you to a girl that you don’t know, you haven’t seen her, neither will you ever see her, and I have just told you that I am going to marry you to her. It’s not possible! Our relationship with God is a relationship of love. I cannot love something I have not seen, I merely believe it. Indeed, I believe it, belief is the first step, the perfect, however, is not belief, it’s love. We are not called to believe in God. This is just the introductory step, we are called to love God. To love someone, I need to see him and not just see him, to talk to Him, to touch Him, to unify with him and become one. So, what church invites us to do…to love God and unite with God, would be a deceit, a mockery unless we could see God. We can see God! How and where?
Christ himself answers that question. “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God”. What is the meaning of this phrase among other things Christ said? Just like our eyes can see the outside world, the visual mean that sees God is our heart. Which heart? The one with the valves and arteries. Of course not! When the Gospel and the Fathers speak of heart allude to the center of the spiritual and physical powers of the human personality. Our “being”. Hence, we see God with our heart. When?
When the heart is pure? What is the meaning of that? Is there a heart that impure? Of course! Christ says so. The passions and the sin infect the heart of man, corrupt the vision of the heart, act like clouds around the heart and obstruct her from seeing God…and what follows? The church arrives, this good infirmary, the hospital of Grace, and receives each and every one of us. First of all with the Holy Baptism. You must have attended the mystery of the Holy Baptism, from its first intervention, the church seals the heart of the catechumen with the sign of the Cross and calls every impure spirit hidden and lying in the heart of the baby to leave. We are baptized, we have been clothed in Christ, we are chrismated and we walk inside the church with the remedial medication. This hospital named church has medications, because it is indeed a hospital, because it cures man and the commandments of God are not legal orders, orders of a legal code but they are medical prescriptions. Similarly to a doctor who advises you to cut on cigarettes, alcohol, candies or exercise more, do this and that etc, the doctor is not a policeman, he is not a judge. The same with the church. The commandments, the whole ascetic education of the church is the one that heals our heart. It sets us free from our passions. And our eyes start seeing what is happening around us. What is the first thing we are going to witness, God himself?
He is the good doctor and the great doctor, but when our vision starts cleansing, the first thing we will see is ourselves. We will see who we are and how we are. We will see where we are, what is happening around us just like a man who is in a dark room and when the light starts illuminating his surrounding is revealed. A dark room, a tidy one that needs putting it back in order. As you walk in the struggle, the next thing we will see is our brother, the other man, our brother, not our enemy, not our adversary, not someone we are afraid of, but our brother.
Afterwards, we will see our God the Father. How? Not in His body. God is not like us. Nor we will see Him with visions. But we will see him as true light. Then we will truly see what means God and how much He loves man and how we are similar to Him, how we look alike Him, we are the same with Him. And by watching how beautiful is God and how ugly we are in our sin, through pain, through fight, through effort, we initiate our return as we listened yesterday in the Gospel of the Prodigal Son, who returned to the Father. On top of everything, we realize that this God is not something unknown and alien to us, but He is our Father, He who created us with so much Love.
I remember, my brothers, a story to tell you that happened when I was a university student in Thessaloniki. An only daughter of a widow once was lost from her home in Thessaloniki. Thessaloniki is a big city, the widow mother could not find her, a lot of things were said about her disappearance. Once it was heard that this girl had made a mistake and was working in night centers, the kind of which you can imagine. How was the mother supposed to find her? After some time, when the mother tried to find her, the girl left and went to Athens, an even bigger city, the situation was even worse as you understand. What did the mother do?
She went to Athens and started wondering all night centers to find her daughter….it was impossible…how was she supposed to find her? It was nearly impossible. Two years had passed looking for her already. What did the heart of the mother do that thinks of everything and invents everything for her child as a Greek saying goes? The mother took pictures of herself, printed them and posted them in the entrances of all the night centers and wrote on the poster “My dear daughter, I lost you, but I have not forgotten you, I am waiting for you. I am your mother”. At some point, the girl saw this picture of her mother and this was enough to break her down. To take her out of this tough slavery she had entered and go back to find her mother. Because when you see—regardless of whether you like it or not—that you are His creature, then you cannot bear it anymore. When you see God, whom you feel to the last cell of your existence that He is the God who brough to the world, who is your Father, who loves you endlessly and has gifted you so much wealth and yet you have ended up so poor and has given you so much beauty and you ended up so ugly …then indeed you break everything and say what the prodigal son said in the Gospel yesterday “I will set out and go back to my father” , I will not stay another moment here feeding pigs, but I will go back to my father and there, even as a slave, at least I will be filled with his presence and his love.
This, my brothers and sisters, is what we need. And how is it proven that this is true? For example, one might say “Father, those things you say are really nice… where is the proof that all those things you speak of are true? And when will these things take place? In case we reply that they will take place after our death, then we must all start laughing. Father, all these things, you have been describing all this time are for after we die. Do we have someone that died and came back and told us that they are indeed true? No! Is there someone who is dead and can prove something of all these? No! Who can prove any of these and when are we to see them?
Allow me at this point to recite the example of Saint Paisios who said: “If the church heals the man only after death … so in that case there is a man who follows all commandments of God, receives the remedial treatment by the church and when he dies, he goes to paradise and sees God …. this example is similar to one of a charlatan doctor who provides you with medication while you are sick and tells you that “when you die you are going to be just fine. After death, you will be alright!”. Who is that naïve, to receive medicines or undergo an operation in order to be healed after death? The same would apply to church, my brothers and sisters, if she provided us with all that ascetic treatment and instructed us to do everything the Gospel commands only to see that after you die, everything is real. Naivety at the greatest extent!
Going back to the question then, “When does man see all these things?” In the present life! Starting from this life and going on to the next life by beating death. From the present life, man sees God. Proof? All these people that saw Him. They are not 1,2,3,5 or 10 people. Countless number of people saw and are still seeing God and everyone who gives his heart, his whole existence to this ascetic treatment of the church sees God.
From the first instance that you will say “I will come back”, God is present. And when the time comes for your eyes to open in this treatment you will see that God was present in your whole life, even when you could not see him, even when you did not want Him, even when you drove Him away, you persecuted Him, or you cursed Him or you denied Him daily with your life…God was present, He was next to you, He was looking for you, just like this mother who filled the whole place with her photos to remind you that she is looking for you. He lost you, but He never forgot about you.
This is why we say in the Vespers “Your mercy, O Lord, shall ‘pursue’ me all the days of my life.” God is pursuing us. Everywhere and always he is by our side. He does not speak, he waits. God is not stressed, He does not rush, nor panic…because He has absolute benevolence for man and he awaits for him, awaits and awaits until the man awakes and comes to understand what is going on. And then God is given in his entirety, God falls into the embrace of man and man into the embrace of God. Man and God are united in one communion of absolute love. And what are the results of this to conclude?
“When we will see Him, we will become like Him because we see Him as He is” says John the Theologian. The picture of God will not arrive afterwards, it has arrived already and goes on eternally. The man of God, my brothers and sisters, becomes just like God. Sweet, peaceful, tranquil, balanced, he has the fruits of the presence of God on him. And in order not to be deceived what does Apostle Paul say? The fruits of the presence of God, of the Holy Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, restraint, benevolence, faith. All these are proof that God is present. So, the man that sees God bears all these proofs, he is full of all the virtues I mentioned.
And how is this useful in our times? Today, my brothers and sisters, we are tormented by many things. We previously listened to father Sotirios with a lot of pain informing us about the struggles of our parish, of its residents. Insecurity, fears, anxiety. What is going to happen tomorrow. What is in store for our children, our families, the whole world? Everybody talks with a lot of concern about the future of mankind. You only have to turn on the radio, the TV to watch the news and you will only come across sad things. Deaths, disasters, disappointments, lies. All these give birth to uncertainties and fears and anxiety, loneliness. We are alone in our home, with a thousand people around us, yet how many amongst us have the torment of loneliness?
To all these, God answers. Because he is “Who is everywhere present and fillest all things,” as the prayer says. He leaves nothing. When God is present, man rests. What does rest mean? He relaxes. When you are tired and you find a beautiful bed to relax and you say “I rested”. This is how God is, my brothers. He is the rest of tired people. All of us who are tired, filled in our sins, our passions throughout the course of our lives. God is the answer to our problems. He is the answer to our existence. Without him, we cannot act. Inside family, when God is by our side, we become sweet spouses, loving parents without sick things, we do not idolize our family, nor are we indifferent and tough. Not to the one extreme of toughness, nor to the other of hyper-sensitivity, but in the balance of the middle ground which is characterized by the maturity and the stability which is derived by the presence of God inside the being of man.
I am concluding by saying that we have a need to see God in order to become men. And our church provides us with the way to see Him. She also indicates the place where we see Him. She indicates how we see Him. In the end, the very proof that we see Him and this proof is the life of the men of God, these most sweet men who are spread amongst us. Simple, everyday, unseen, humble men who are, nonetheless, gifted and decorated with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Thus, I wish for all of you that this presence of God to be the experience of our lives so that we can function rightly as spouses, as parents, as people of this world, wherever we are. Without God, my brothers and sisters, we are sick and deficient…with God, we are full and healthy, so let the Grace of our Christ be always with us.
Thank you very much!
This English translation of the lecture of Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol was recorded for otelders, Orthodox Teaching of the Elders, by Peter Eliades.