It is natural for us to be drawn to the Supreme Good but our progression must begin with a descent into the abyss of hell. St. Paul, having repented of his past, says of Christ: ‘Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things‘ [Eph. 4:9-10]. And this is precisely our route after the Fall.
We are conscious of descending into hell since from the moment the image of pre-eternal man is shown to us we are more sharply aware of the depths of our benighted state. Our whole self is stricken with grief. The timeless anguish of the spirit surpasses any and every pain of the body. With all our might we pray for help from on High. Slaves of passion, cut off from God, out of the depths we cry, ‘Come and heal me from the death which holds me fast … Come and drive out the evil in me … Come and do Thy will in me, for I am powerless to perform any good deed. I am captive in darkness hateful to me’.
Pride is both wickedness and darkness. Pride lies at the root of every sin. The Lord began His mission on earth with a call to repentance. The Greek word for repentance, metanoia, betokens a radical change in our attitude to the whole of life—a transition from our previous philosophy to a converse iconographic perspective—through humility ascent to the All-high, since through pride we fell into the darkness of hell. Thus does our repentance begin, which has no end on earth—the end is perfect likeness to the Christ-God ascended to the Father. Our divinization lies in perfect God-like humility.
When God draws us to Him, prayer of sorrowful repentance becomes all-devouring. Mind and heart are consumed with longing for the Holy of Holies, for the Lord. And suddenly there is a miracle—something unthought-of, unheard-of, that has never happened before even in the heart [cf. 1 Cor. 2:9]: a ray of the uncreated Sun penetrates the blackness of the abyss wherein I lie. Is it possible to speak of the Light of this Sun? It comforts the grieving soul in His own peculiar manner. It brings peace to the agitated heart. It illumines the mind with a new vision. The soul that was dying is filled with imperishable life.
Our spirit yearns after the Father’s love. Our psychosomatic formation enters into this prayer but can only go so far. When the heart is consumed with thirst for God, prayer purifies us from all that is extraneous and concentrates our longing for the Lord Whom we seek. When this happens we may lose all awareness of our body and the material world around us. I cannot say how this occurs but I do know that it has not been given to every man to cross this threshold. Many, having reached the border, take fright and draw back. Others, engrossed in their prayer, do not notice anything, and in a way which they remain ignorant of are caught up into another sphere of being, and forget the earth. The Divine hand performs this with such caution that man does not detect the moment itself, just as one does not catch the moment of falling asleep. It is only after his return to his normal awareness of the world that he realises that his spirit had departed from its usual state and been united with God. After such an event all the things of the earth are seen as transient and brittle. The soul recognises that the point of her existence is to be with God, in Him, in His eternity …
Not many souls have the courage to step off the path trodden by the vast majority in this fallen world, to live according to Christ’s commandments. Unquestioning belief in the Divinity of Jesus naturally generates spiritual courage. In their eagerness to follow the Lord some believers have suddenly found themselves on the edge of an abyss, too late to draw back. However, we have all got to cross the abyss in order to attain to Divine eternity. But what is it exactly that I have in mind? I am thinking of the deep pit of ignorance, the hopeless anguish of those condemned to death, the power over us of the blackness of this world [cf. 1 Tim. 1:13; Gen. 2:17; Luke 22:53]. To get across this black pit we need the energy of blessed despair. The action of grace in us takes the form of determination. The Light is seen in the distance. Drawn to it with unsuspected strength, we decide to hurl ourselves into the unknown, having called upon the sacred Name of Jesus Christ, God our Saviour. And what happens? Instead of having our head smashed against the rocks hidden in the darkness, an invisible hand appears, to carry us gently across the gulf. Without this friendly hand of the Living God not one of us could hold out against the storms and vicissitudes that beset the soul at such times. Formed of the dust of the ground, we make up a tiny fraction of the massive body of mankind from which it is not at all easy to escape, especially in our day when practically the whole universe if under the control of officialdom in general. One cannot appear to the princes of this world for help: a small good turn from them and we risk losing our liberty [cf. John 14:30]. Our best ‘gamble’ is a childlike trust in God’s providence in the pursuit of a life where first place is given to Christ.