Dear Parish Faithful,
At the Liturgy yesterday we heard the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. The rich man's indifference to Lazarus was "costly" indeed, as he found himself in hades following his death, and thus separated from the "bosom of Abraham." Jesus said elsewhere that a simple "cup of water" would be sufficient to display care for those who are suffering from want. Yet, beyond indifference there was a lack of love for a fellow human being who was suffering.
In our Fall Reading Circle, we are discussing The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. One of the main characters in this novel of "metaphysical and moral choices embodied in narrative form," is a Russian monk, the Elder Zosima. In fact, Book VI is entitled "The Russian Monk." And this one of the books we are now preparing to discuss at our next session (November 11). Whatever one may think about the character of the Elder Zosima, I find it rather extraordinary that one of the greatest of novels has such a character at the heart of its religio-philosophical center.
Be that as it may, I would like to share a passage from the Elder Zosima's teaching that Dostoevsky includes in the novel, a body of teaching that is meant to set an "active love" in opposition to the powerfully expressed atheism as articulated by Ivan Karamazov. This particular passage is presented under the heading, "Of Hell, and Hell Fire: A Mystical Discourse." (Dostoevsky was clearly influenced by the teachings of St. Isaac the Syrian in a good part of this discourse). I am sharing this opening paragraph of that section because, as you will read, there are some profound reflections on the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. According to the Elder Zosima:
Fathers and teachers, I ask myself: "What is hell?" And I answer thus: "The suffering of being no longer able to love."
Once in infinite existence, measured neither by time nor by space, a certain spiritual being, through his appearance on earth, was granted the ability to say to himself: "I am and I love." Once, once only, he was given a moment of active, living love, and for that he was given earthly life with its times and seasons. And what then? This fortunate being rejected the invaluable gift, did not value it, did not love it, looked upon it with scorn, and was left unmoved by it.
This being, having departed the earth, sees Abraham's bosom, and talks with Abraham, as is shown us in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, and he beholds paradise, and could rise up to the Lord, but his torment is to precisely rise up to the Lord without having loved, to touch those who loved him - him who disdained their love. For he sees clearly and says to himself:
"Now I have knowledge, and though I thirst to love, there will be no great deed in my love, no sacrifice, for my earthly life is over, and Abraham will not come with a drop of living water... to cool the flame of the thirst for spiritual love that is burning me now, since I have scorned it on earth; life is over, and time will be no more! Though I would gladly give my life for others, it is not possible, for the life I could have sacrificed for love is gone, and there is now an abyss between that life and this existence."
"The suffering of being no longer able to love." What a powerful description of that reality that we call Hell!