The following is an excerpt from Archimandrite Zacharias’ The Hidden Man of the Heart. As we draw closer to Pascha, my own heart is drawn towards that moment – the marriage supper of the Lamb. It is impossible to exhaust the subject of Pascha for within it is contained the whole of God’s plan for mankind. Here, Fr. Zacharias, working largely from the writings of the Elder Sophrony (his spiritual father) directs our attention finally to the Pascha of the heart.
In his book On Prayer, Fr. Sophrony also points out that when we gather all our being and install our mind in the deep heart, the entrances of the soul are protected against the temptations of the evil one, and only then do we stop falling into sin. This is also the moment when we become truly humble. The saints have given us many definitions of humility, but personally, I like that of St. Maximus the Confessor. According to him, humility is to know that we have our being ‘on loan’ from God, an acknowledgement that fills our heart with gratitude. Saint Maximus also emphasizes the significance of gratitude, saying that gratitude is equal to humility.
There exist different degrees of humility. According to Fr. Sophrony, however, man acquires true spiritual humility and finds his heart when he comes to realize that he is unworthy of such a God as Christ. Humility then enables him to receive and accept the revealed truth that Christ has given us. And in accepting it, he is given grace, and this grace functions as a tour-guide in our heart, allowing us to see all its uncleanness and filthiness, and giving us the courage to say, ‘Yes, Lord, I am a filthy rag, I am dust and earth. I am a worm and no man (cf. Ps. 22:6). I am the chief of all sinners’, to borrow from the words of the prayer of the Prophets and the Apostles. True humility involves sincerely standing before the truth revealed in Christ and confessing the uncleanness and filthiness which we bear hidden within us without realizing it. The grace of God then sheds light within our darkened soul, and in His light we see our own light. ‘In Thy light shall we see light’, as we sing in the Doxology (Ps. 36:9). Only when God illumines us by His grace are we able to see the true light of our own existence.
For Fr. Sophrony there is no greater miracle in the world than the moment when the Uncreated unites with the created. He pursued this very miracle all his life both for himself and for the people who came to seek his help. He never sought to be a wonder-worker, and attached no significance to the miracles that occurred through his prayers. But when the greatest miracle in existence took place, that is, the union of the created with the Uncreated, our Elder would rejoice, even if the person were dying physically.
This miracle is analogous to the Big Bang of the astronomers, and to the words in Genesis: ‘Let there be light and there was light.’ When it takes place in the heart of man, it reveals the ‘true man’.We recall the words of St. Gregory Palamas in his Letter to the Nun Xenia, based on St. Peter and the Psalms: ‘When the day will dawn and the morning star rises in your heart, the true man will go out for his true work.’ St. Gregory Palamas describes in beautiful poetic and theological language this spiritual event that occurs when the rays of uncreated Light penetrate our being, and the ‘deep heart’ opens, and man begins his ‘ontological work.’