Most people – especially the young – do not care for mediocre situations, but rather the extreme and exceptional ones. We usually live a mediocre life, one that generates routine, which is why we seek something that deviates from the narrow limits of our daily lives: maybe just a few moments – or perhaps even a whole lifetime – beyond the limits!
This is only natural, if we (along with the Holy Bible and the holy, Christian teachers) accept that man is called upon by God to become similar to Him – something that would entirely deviate from the limits of life and man as we know them. With a prospect like that, it is only logical to seek the transcending of every limit.
But the question is: In which direction should I go, beyond the limits?
In which elements of my self? In which areas of my life? Which sentiments, which acts? If I exceed the limits of my temper and my anger tantrums, what will become of my life and my relations with those who love me? (Because there are those who actually love me). Is that what I want in my life?
If I exceed the limits in cruelty, I will turn into a beast. If I exceed the limits in my hunt for riches or my desire for a career, I will remove from my heart whoever doesn’t help me in my desires and I will end up alone. Should I exceed the speed limits with a car or a motorbike, putting my own life and others’ at risk? Should I indulge in the excesses of partying and entertainment? In abuses and in the “gathering of experiences”? Of course, I can choose whatever I like, but is that what I really want?
Exceeding the limits in my caring for others, in loving the others, is something that my heart tells me is beautiful. Provided I love others sincerely, and not love only what I want from others, because then my love will become oppressive and selfish. Should I exceed the limits in making sacrifices for others, in forgiving others? Should I be humble, beyond the limits? Everyone tells me that it would be extremely stupid: “Others don’t love you – why should you love them? Love only those who love you, for as long as they love you. Learn to not forgive, because they will exploit you. And don’t be so sensitive, because it will cause you grief – mainly over others’ problems.”
But, you know, that is exactly what Christ tells me to do. And it would be wonderful, if what Christ said could be done: for all of us to love each other. However, is it possible? Of course, not everyone loved Christ; so, if everyone didn’t love Him, just imagine my situation…. They flogged Him and the crucified Him. And yet, while on the Cross, He said “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing”.
NOW, THAT WAS TRULY AN ACT THAT WENT BEYOND THE LIMITS! It was a love that exceeded the limits! A love worthy of a God.
If one of us – you, me – seriously attempted to go beyond the limits in that direction (my heart wants to, but my brain is terribly hesitant), what will be the outcome?
Well, here’s what will happen: that person will become a saint.
He will open his heart and the most benevolent energy that exists in the universe will penetrate inside it – an energy older than the universe itself, and far brighter than the brightest sun! This energy (which the saints have received inside them) is referred to as “divine Grace”; it brings them an indescribable joy, and they all claim that it originates from that ancient Being Who is behind the creation of everything, and which we humans refer to (each in his own language) as “God”.
That’s what will happen.
I too desire divine Grace. But I am not able to love the entire world. I don’t even know if I want to love the entire world – does that include the murderer, the exploiter, the sadist? Oh…. this matter is so confusing…. It certainly is a life beyond the limits… But how far beyond? It is way beyond the limits of straddling a racing bike and stepping on it… I don’t know if I want to go THAT far!
So – are you now placing limits? Alright, let me tell you what my thoughts are, and you can then choose for yourself if you want to look into the matter further.
In order to apply what Christ said (yes, He told us to love all the world, including our enemies – that is, those who hinder us from doing what we want, those who hate us or harm us), I must embark on a struggle to achieve it. Do I get anyhelp from anyone?
Don’t rush into replying “No”. Let’s instead ask those who actually applied it in their lives: the saints. They claim that someone does help them: Christ Himself. He helps me, by providing the potential to open up my heart through prayer and offering me the divine Grace that will give me the strength for that struggle, and eventually, a nest will be created within my heart, ready to receive entire waterfalls of divine Grace!
He helps me. By providing me with the potential for repentance, i.e., the ability to change my choices, to change my behaviour, to combat my faults, which are the hindrances that won’t allow me to open up to love.
Yes, I have such faults; and if I can’t discern that, I will, if I read the Gospel and check out how Christ lived, and what He taught… Repentance (the “very modernmovement”) is a great help indeed, because, if it didn’t exist, my heart would turn darker and darker and would never receive divine Grace. Now, He Who grants gift packages of divine Grace because I repented (which fortifies me and encourages me), helps me by giving me «a mystery that stalks us since childhood» that is worth discovering because it hides a mystical charm that has passed from generation to generation.
But – you may ask – Did someone really do things like that? Show me some who actually lived beyond the limits, and how they ended up!
Well, here’s one who lived beyond the limits: Father George Kaltsiou, who wsa imprisoned for his Christian faith by the atheist regime of Rumania, and who, with his love and kindness converted into friends the murderers that the prison establishment had instructed to kill him!
Also beyond the limits was the philosopher and martyr of the Rumanian prisons, who lived, loved and believed – Constantin Oprisan:
“Whenever we quarrelled (in the prison cell), he would pray. His prayer was effective. We were embarrassed, because we knew he wsa praying. He didn’t pray out loud, but you could see it, in his altered features. He was in a wretched condition, because he had been tortured at Pitesti for 3 years. They beat him on the chest and the back; they had destroyed his lungs, but he prayed all day. He never said a single bad word about his torturers; he only talked about Christ… Once, when we were taken outside, when he took off his shirt I noticed that his back was full of stripes, like a zebra…like he had been skinned alive, burnt or flogged… God only knows…”
The same with the poet and martyr, Saint Valeriu Gafencu, whom you can meetin this analytical dedication in English.
Each and every ascetic has lived beyond the limits, when consciously denying his comfort, his well-being and consumerism in order to ennoble his heart and fill it with love for God, for fellow-man and all the creatures of the world. Of course we are speaking here of people with a humble heart, filled with love, and not of harsh individuals who live ascetically and toughen themselves in order to “attain power”. They could alienate themselves entirely from God and go beyond the limits, into meanness and darkness. That is not what I want. I don’t wish to become a “sage” – that is, exceptionally educated but cruel at heart – and imagine myself to be “spiritually advanced”. The humble yet uneducated saints of all peoples and ages who united themselves to God thanks to their kindness are far more advanced spiritually than me.
Also beyond the limits were the lives of all the martyrs who preferred torture and death rather than deny Christ and worship other “gods”. Many of those martyrs were 15-year-old girls, or even younger!
What happened to them? Well, here’s how: The contemporary Elder Porphyrios could sense from Athens the pain of the people who were being killed in Rumania during the uprising of 1989. That is how great a love he had for all the world.
Saint Marina, who lived in the 3rd century, appeared as a doctor in Houston in 2000 and assisted in the surgery of young Andreas Vasiliou from Limassol, Cyprus…
Also beyond the limits lives Edna King’s family, an Orthodox family in the USA, whose 8-year-old daughter left for Heaven and, instead of shouting in anger against God, says “We praise the Lord for the eight years that He gave us Maria Evelina and we lived with her”.
Beyond the limits was the life of the physiotherapist Gavriilia Papayanni (a very important, contemporary teacher of the Orthodox spiritual legacy), who travelled as far as India and other poor countries in order to serve “the most tormented people on Earth”.
Saint Maria Skobtsova also lived beyond the limits, in Paris, where – after helping thousands of poor people but also persecuted Jews during World War II – also took the place (it seems) of a condemned Jewish woman and died in her place, in the Ravensburg concentration camp.
Fr. Seraphim Rose who left behind the opportunity for a brilliant career in the University of California also lived beyond the limits and went to work as a waiter because he didn’t find in his university professors the same thirst that he had for the Truth!
Here also is one of the sexiest women of all the ages, who lived entirely beyond the limits!
Yes, all of them – and many more – have lived and continue to live beyond the limits. And they fought hard to achieve it. They weren’t under the illusion that they could do it on their own; they struggled with the help of Christ, in the manner that the holy teachers of Orthodoxy – old and contemporary – have indicated. And they were ecstatically happy when they succeeded.
Beyond those limits is Christ. Beyond those limits is Love. Beyond those limits are rivers and waterfalls of divine Grace, which awaits us to place it in our heart – which awaits you to place it in your heart.
That is where the Saints are, who await you to call upon them; that is where your Religious Teacher is, who awaits you to discuss all your queries; that is where your parish priest is, who awaits you to get started, through discussion or confession -that is the starting point. And of course He is there – the Crucified and Resurrected One (as much as you don’t dare to believe something like that) – Who says to you “Come as you are”… as mean as you might be, as pained as you may be, as angry as you may be, regardless how you are dressed or how you have adorned your body… He awaits you. COME AS YOU ARE. If, of course, you want to. Your freedom is your most inviolable right. And your second inviolable right is to meet with Him.