How Do We See Our Neighbor?

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This is a short excerpt from the book, The Monk of Mount Athos, by Fr. Sophrony on the life of St. Silouan of Mt. Athos. It says much about how we see one another, and how the transformation of the world has to begin with our own selves.

We see in others that which our own spiritual experience has shown us about ourselves, and so a man’s attitude to his fellow is a sure sign of the degree of self-knowledge he has attained. Whoever has experienced the deep and intense suffering of the human spirit when excluded from the light of true being, and, on the other hand, knows what it is to be in God, has no doubt that every human being is a permanent eternal value, more precious than all the rest of the world. He is conscious of man’s worth, conscious that ‘the least of these my brethren’ is dear in God’s sight, and so he will never think of murdering, harming or even giving offense to his neighbor.

The man who merely ‘believes’, the man with only a moderate personal experience of grace and a still vague sense of the reality of eternal life, will in the measure of his love for God keep himself from sin; but his love will be far from perfect and may not prevent him from hurting his brother.

But the man who pitilessly, for his own benefit and interest, harms another, who plots or commits bloodshed, has either become like a wild animal and acknowledges in his depths that he is a brute being – which means that he does not believe in eternal life – or has set his feet on the path of demoniac spirituality.

His vision of Christ gave the Staretz [St. Silouan] to experience man’s godlike state. He hailed all men as bearers of the Holy Spirit, of that Light of Truth which to some degree inhabits and enlightens every man. The man who knows this Light beholds it in others.

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