Another injection of Orthodox theologian Fr. Hopko’s gritty medicine for you to start your day. This is part of his response to a woman who says she thinks God plays favorites with saints by giving them spectacular spiritual experiences.
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…Chances are a married person — I would even go so far to say I believe that it’s the truth — that a married person cannot have the mystical experience of a St. Seraphim or a St. Sergius, because we’re too caught up in things, and that’s our vocation. God is not going to say to me, “Fr. Tom why did you never see the uncreated Light?” I do hope that he’ll say to me, “Fr. Tom, you did the best you could with what you had, and it was pretty tough, but you did the best with what you got. Enter into the Kingdom of God.” And I’ll say to the Lord, “I’m not worthy. I’m a sinner,” and he will say, “Your sins are forgiven for the blood of Christ.” That’s what I hope in, but I don’t think that we can say we are deprived if we don’t have mystical experiences like some saints — I had a student in class once who said, “If you don’t see the uncreated Light in this life, you’re not going to go to heaven, you’re lost.” That’s simply not true! Whoever could get such a kind of an idea?
You wouldn’t get it from the people who saw the uncreated Light because they don’t say that. They say something completely different. They say if you are who you are created to be and say the Lord’s Prayer three times a day and think about Jesus in between and try to do what you gotta do, you will have the rewards of the Theotokos. That’s what they tell us. And only they could tell us because they were in the combat of the desert. If I told that to someone, they’d say, “Who are you to say that, Fr. Tom? You’re a schmuck.” I’d say, “Okay, I’m a spiritual schmuck, but the guys who weren’t schmucks said it. And the women who weren’t said it, and I trust them.” And I trust also that when they tell me, “You’re not a schmuck, you’re loved by God. It’s just not your vocation to be that kind of a mystical person,” I have to humbly accept it, and humility is everything. Humility is everything.
And of course, in our time, we have a terrific example that Mother Teresa of Calcutta. A holy woman. She said that she had very great experiences of God as a young woman. She claimed even to see Jesus and to see the divine Light, and then when she finally got permission to form the Missionaries of Charity and to start her Order and then she said, “I’m going to love God more than anybody, I’m going to serve the poorest of the poor, I’m going to do this and that for Jesus,” and you know what happened? She had no sense of sweetness from God for the rest of her life. And if you don’t believe it, just read the book that was written about her just recently: Come Be My Light. Where God took away the sweetness from her, and I guess maybe that was what her vocation was: to do all these things without ever feeling the sweetness of God. In her kind of boldness she said, “I’m going to offer myself as a holocaust and nobody’s going to love God as I love God and I’m going to love God more than anybody,” maybe that’s why God did it. I don’t know. You have to ask God, but Mother Teresa said that was her life. She did not have the sweetness.
But I think at some point, we have to say, it ain’t about the sweetness. It’s not about the sweetness. It’s about the Cross. It’s about being who we are. It’s about accepting our own vocation. It is about being a schmuck if God wants us to be a schmuck and that’s what we think of ourselves. That’s what it’s about. It’s about stumbling around at the foot of the mountain, if that’s what God wants from us. But one thing is for certain, that doesn’t mean that he loves the Theotokos and St. Seraphim and St. Sergius more than you. It doesn’t mean that. More than us, I should say. It doesn’t mean that. It doesn’t mean that if I don’t have some euphoria and mystical experience of the presence of God, I’m less favored. Many saints had these favors but then they were taken away from them and then they had to suffer. The experiences were readying them for the trials. St. Silouan had that. St. Simeon the New Theologian had that. No, and we don’t know always know what was in the interior heart of many of the saints.
No one would have said that Mother Teresa was experiencing inner darkness when she was doing what she was doing, because her presence was so full of light and joy and peace, and that’s all she was thinking and speaking about, and witnessing in her acts. Whereas she had to bear the Cross, and she even died with the words: “Jesus, my love, you ask too much from us. You ask too much from us.” But God asks what he asks because of who we are, who our parents were, who their parents were, what our unique providence is, and so we’ve got to be the one God created us to be. We can’t say, “I want to be somebody else.” But once we accept who God wants us to be, then we can be at peace. And then also, we will really come to know that the truth of the matter is that God does not play favorites. In God’s eyes, each schmucky-yucky person is his favorite as much as any of the greatest of the saints that we know about.