Afraid to be in Heaven



It seems to me that it is quite scary to think about being in heaven. However, we often hear of beautiful images of a realm with “white shores, and beyond a far green country.” And, as Pippin says, “then, that’s not so bad”:




But in this beautiful country I would be naked. All of my dark thoughts, my evil desires, my shortcomings, in one expression, all those things that I try to keep hidden from everyone who encounters me would be out in the open. 

I think it would be a similar feeling with finding myself naked in a public space; or meeting someone without brushing my teeth in the morning, without taking a shower–all methods of cleansing me of my stinkiness. 

One may say that in order to be able to get to heaven, I should do precisely this: cleanse myself of evil, so that I can be received in such a beautiful far green country. And I don’t deny it. If I did not think I would need to clean up when I go in public, I may just consider that one deserves to be accepted however one is. But there is something else that I think I need: overcome the fear to be seen just as I am. Not because I deserve to be accepted as I am, but rather because I am loved in spite of who I am. 

There is one way in which those who are in heaven seem to have overcome this fear: seeing the others in their nakedness, they run to take care of these people’s wounds, forgetting of their own putrid abscesses. Running to embrace others is equivalent with their acceptance of the Embrace. 

This (and, of course, Obi-Wan Kenobi) is probably my only hope to be in heaven: to be embraced by those who have forgotten their fear.

One may see here an explanation for why, in Orthodoxy, we pray to the saints: we ask them, who have already accepted the Embrace, to embrace us as well, so that through them we receive the power to overcome fear and accept the Embrace.

Victims and Useless Lives

Photo taken by Andrei.


In one of Valeriu Gafencu’s letters written from prison, he ends with these words, “Beloved brother, never consider yourself useless. Wherever you are, it’s by God’s will; and you have a call to answer.” Fr. Iustin Parvu, who was also imprisoned by the communist regime in Romania, said, “None of the hours of suffering in prison was useless.”

If you are not to consider yourself useless, then you are not to think that you can be a victim either. However, especially when we discuss persecution, we tend to say that those destroyed by violence and terror are victims. And we often deplore them. We often deplore ourselves as well because we are thrown into a life that we consider we do not deserve or because we experience events that we believe diminish our possibility to accomplish the high value of our lives.

Is one a victim when one does not find a place to give birth to one’s child? Is one a victim when one gives birth in a manger?

I have a call to answer. It may sound heroic, as if the salvation of the world were to rest upon my shoulders. But Gafencu was not speaking from such perspective. There is nothing heroic about this call, at least not if we consider the usual use of “heroic.” I have a call to answer may mean to wash dishes when they are dirty; it may mean to listen to my son when he talks to me; it may mean to always be present in the moment that is given to me, regardless of that moment, and not dream of a parallel life, away or in the future.

The call requires my presence. It wants me to live.

I am a victim when I do not answer this call in every moment of my life–if I consider myself useless. A victim of my own doing.

 

I live in hunger, by Valeriu Gafencu


This is another poem by Valeriu Gafencu that I translated into English. Even if you do not speak Romanian, you may want to listen to how the nuns from the Diaconesti Monastery in Romania sing it:




I am not happy with the translation (and it is one of my favorite poems), but I publish it here in hope that I may get some suggestions.


I live in hunger


by Valeriu Gafencu


I live in hunger, in great joy I live
a joy as a divine lily in Heaven.
The chalice of the flower’s always open
and filled with living water and with tears.
The flower’s chalice is the kingdom I live.

When  evil ones abuse and denigrate me,
My body burning with their boiling hatred,
The chalice of the tears, oh, how sacred,
Renews my soul all dry and slaggy.
I am embraced with Jesus Christ’s great mercy.

I bleed under the cross that presses me;
My body’s crooked, and I am quite helpless.  
From time to time an angel comes and blesses
and fills my soul with faith. No longer weary,
the triumph I approach: Jesus wins in me.

The sunshine rains on me in secret, ardent.
To drink from living water Jesus gives me.
The seed thrown in the tomb again can live
with its life fully dressed in wedding garment.
I live in hunger, in great joy I live.


Refrain:
Under the flame of burning love–my mantle,
I wait from dawn to night to be your conquest.
Even in night I call on you, head fallen on my chest:
Jesus, Jesus!
I slowly die, just like a candle. 


Here it is in Romanian as well, as it appears in Ioan Ianolide’s Intoarcerea la Hristos:


Dor

Traiesc flamând, traiesc o bucurie
frumoasa ca un crin din Paradis. 
 Potirul florii e mereu deschis 
si-i plin cu lacrimi si cu apa vie.
Potirul florii e o-mparatie.

Când raii ma defaima si ma-njura
si-n clocot de mânie ura-si varsa,
potirul lacrimilor se revarsa
si-mi primeneste sufletul de zgura.
Atunci Iisus de mine mult se-ndura.

Sub crucea grea ce ma apasa sânger,
cu trupu-ncovoiat de neputinta.
Din când în când, din cer coboar-un înger
si sufletul mi-l umple cu credinta.
M-apropii tot mai mult de biruinta.

Ma ploua-n taina razele de soare,
m-adapa Iisus cu apa vie,
grauntele zvârlit în groapa-nvie,
cu viata îmbracata-n sarbatoare:
Traiesc flamând, traiesc o bucurie.

Refren:
Sub flacara iubirii arzatoare,
din zori de zi si pâna-n noapte-astept.
Te chem si noaptea, ghemuit cu capu-n piept:
Iisuse, Iisuse!
Incet ma mistui, ca o lumânare.  
          


Giving thanks for shortcomings


Photo taken by my son, Andrei.

A few weeks ago, during confession, I told my priest of a recurrent problem in my life, one that I do not seem to be able to escape. The priest said, “We all have one or several problems that are given to us, and if they are given to us, it is in them that we can find our salvation. If you cannot yet be free of this problem, perhaps it is in your fight with it that you can go closer to God.” The priest did not say that I have to eliminate it for salvation, but rather that I need to accept that I have it, to not see myself above it, and to see in it a blessing for which I need to give thanks: it is my chance to approach God. There is no despair, no matter how long we may fight with our shortcomings and no matter how many times we fall again.

Of course, the priest did not say that I don’t have to do anything about it, but rather that I should trust I would receive help to overcome it when the moment has come. Now, if I still have the problem with me, even if I fight it, perhaps I have not yet learned what I am to learn from it.

My priest’s words still stay with me, and I often think of them. On the one hand, they gave me a certain joy: I am never alone on this path, but various energies are with me, some eating of my body, some nourishing it. And I have to give thanks to and for all of them. Then, there is something more to these words: if a shortcoming is a nail I put in Jesus’ body, but  it is also something that is given to me in the economy of salvation, how much love can there be in a gift that makes the giver suffer? What kind of love does God have if He allows me to do things that nail His body on the cross just because these things somehow may bring me to my salvation?




Another poem by Valeriu Gafencu


This is another poem by Valeriu Gafencu. Written in prison,  these poems survived because they were memorized by Valeriu’s friends. Gafencu was considered by many “the saint of prisons,” with a phrase consecrated by Nicolae Steinhardt.

As always, I would gladly entertain any suggestions for improving the translation.



Poem

by Valeriu Gafencu

My eyes are sorrow and my head is tired
by so much watchfulness and so much waiting,
my heart is sick, I feel my health required
by long and heavy running–it’s unending:
An injured bird–my heart is still on fire.

And when my eyes are close, I search within me
for strength, Golgotha I have to ascend,
and from my depth, a voice, en echo, tells me:
“Remember: Life is Jesus!” I consent.
“The precious pearl is in you.” A guarantee.

I contemplate the otherworldly morning
when You alive Rose from the tomb; I do,
again, with Magdalene, answer the calling
and so I kneel before You, crying, too:
I’m happy and I cry beholding You.




Have you prepared your boots?

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The eve of St. Nicholas. For Romanian children and probably for children coming from other traditions as well, this means that they have to prepare their boots and place them at the window. St. Nicholas, the one who brings gifts in secret, will pass by and leave something there: perhaps a coin of chocolate, perhaps an orange, or maybe just a piece of bread.

In my childhood, St. Nicholas’ night was filled with magic. We used to get oranges, which were unseen throughout the year in communist Romania (I have heard many people from those parts of the world saying that Christmas smells like oranges), so we were sure that St. Nicholas really brought them from some place far away. But we also used to get a little wooden stick, a “joarda,” so that our parents could use them if we were not good. Of course, they never did. In fact, I don’t even know whether it was a local tradition, but “joarda” never missed from out little bags that we found in our boots.

But really think about it: a “joarda” as a gift. Just like the oranges, “joarda” was not “deserved.” It was a gift, as all people in this life are, however they are. May I have my “boots” prepared for them.

Happy St. Nicholas day, all of you!

A gift; a poem by Valeriu Gafencu

This is a poem composed by Valeriu Gafencu during his last years in communist political prisons in Romania. Gafencu, considered by many who encountered him “the saint of prisons,” did not have a pen to write his poems; they survived because his friends memorized them and passed them from one to another. For many, the poems remained a source of normality in the middle of an insane world.
I translated the poem.

A gift

by Valeriu Gafencu                     


As a gift I send a lily,
Dear brother, from the garden.
It would give your eyes some comfort
With its pure, virginal garment.

Dear white, beloved flower,

How I’d wish that I could go

All embraced by your clean costume

To my Father, white as snow.

Seedling thus would I become,
In the most wonderful garden,
And my life would have as warden
Jesus’ love, from where I come.

In the night I cry all muffled
And I sigh with my faint voice:
Give to me the Wedding garment
With white lilies; I rejoice.

A lily as it appears in the drawings of Fr. Arsenie Boca (from his Living Words, published in 2014 by Charisma Publishing House)