“He must increase. I must decrease,” said the Forerunner. “I live, yet not I, but Christ in me,” says the Apostle.
In the great book, The Brothers Karamazov, Elder Zosima says to his brother monks, “Truly each of us is guilty before everyone and for everyone, only people do not know it, and if they knew it, the world would at once become paradise.”
I have had cause to reflect on this over the last several weeks. It is a notion that is entirely mysterious, if even one is conscious of it. Perhaps some of us may come, after much prayer and internal struggle, to an apparent humility in which we can admit to ourselves our own sinfulness before others. But it is the next step, the one that ushers us into the entryway of humility, that is the hardest, discovering that we are guilty of the sins of others as well.
Do not misunderstand. I do not ascribe, nor, do I think is the character of Dostoyevsky’s monastic Elder ascribing, direct accountability for someone else’s sins to one. After all, God has given to each of us that wonderful and terrible freedom to choose life or to choose death in all our moments and all our dealings. None of us are ever coerced into sin or into good deeds. The record of our acts are, in the end, our personal authorship.
But in our world, we have failed to remember the inescapable connections that ground all our reality. We are never alone. All that we are and do is connected to everything else and to everyone else, all that is visible and all that is invisible. And thus, like the proverbial wing of the butterfly, we can let loose the tidal wave upon the world. Will it be a force for good and healing, or something else?
This is why prayer is not only vital but truly powerful. This is why it not only transforms us, those who pray, but our world. As St Therese of Lisieux points out in her autobiography, when we are drawn to Christ, all our connections are affected, and we draw all our loves with us. But prayer is powerful and effective only and precisely because it connects us with the Holy Trinity, the communal ground of all that is. The foundation of reality itself is the God who is Trinity. And as St Therese writes, “Archimedes said: ‘Give me a fulcrum and with a lever I will move the world.’ What he could not get, the saints have been given. The Almighty has given them a fulcrum: Himself, Himself alone. For a lever they have that prayer which burns with the fire of love. Thus they have moved the world, and it is with this lever that those still battling in the world move it and will go on moving it to the end of time.”
This love and the Holy Trinity meet in the act of prayer, and in the Sacraments which are quintessential acts of prayer, and the connection of ourselves with God and with all persons is enlivened. And such connections cannot but have their affect. The consequences may not conform to our wishes and desires, but we know that this God with whom we unite in prayer, and who condescends to unite with us, will work all things towards the ends of love and peace and mercy. And in such conformation, through our prayers, we find ourselves transformed.
The great mystery is that in the pathways of prayer we recognize, though we do not fully understand, how it is that love binds us to all. In Forgiveness Vespers we ask the mercy of all present, because we know that all our acts are ripples on the water that go far beyond what we know. But so, too, do our acts of love and kindness, and so, too, do our prayers.
And as we discover this co-responsibility for one another, and especially in prayer, we discover the law of humility: I must decrease, He (Christ) must increase. Prayer is the fire of love which inflames the candles of our souls, and the brighter the flame, the more our candles diminish. If God allows, our candles will become all flame, and love and joy.
I confess I am certain I don’t fully grasp this–indeed, I’m sure I’ve said things in error. May the Lord correct what’s wrong, and confirm what’s right.