Archimandrite SAVVA (Majuko)
As a child, I could spend hours looking at pictures in children’s books. The mouse is sitting in a hole. It’s so cozy and warm there. The bed is covered with a modest patchwork blanket, on the wall there is a shelf of books, a lamp, a portrait of the mouse’s grandmother… And the moon rises over the hole, and the forest is dark and damp, but this is not at all scary, because the mouse will finish the tea with cherry jam and put down the cup on the table, wrap himself in a warm blanket and, turning off the lamp, will listen to the night rustles, the dull sobs of the swamps and the soft tread of someone big and heavy in the distance.
Recently I was given a bed. Usually they give books or teddy bears, but the life of a monk is full of unexpected foolishness. In a monastery you somehow don’t think about beds – stupid and immodest – so I slept all the time on a narrow trestle bed, quite hard and ascetic, and did not think that it could be otherwise. Sleeping on a hard surface is useful and life-saving, although the sleep is not the same and you toss and turn all night like a hedgehog.
The new bed appeared unexpectedly and immediately began to influence the entire order of things, silently showing that it was a bed only in name, but in fact it was the organizing principle of the cell universe. The bookcases timidly made room, the desk moved shyly – the authorities of the past reckoned with the new owner. The bed, although a gift, required unexpected expenses: I bought a new blanket, a pillow with boats, and hung a rug on the wall. There is a lamp at the headboard – read books even until the morning. Everything is new, clean, soft – toss and turn as much as you want – you won’t fall out of nowhere.
Before going to bed I drank tea with cherry jam – delicious, sour. I put on a pea shirt, lit a lamp, and lay down. He tucked the blanket in on all sides and fluffed the pillow. So quiet and warm. It’s drizzling outside the window, the old apple trees are whispering sedately. Soft light, a soft bed, under the lamp – Virgil, and – there is still a lot of time until the morning, a lot, a whole mountain of time.
And this simple and accessible experience of comfort awakened in me something completely unusual, which cannot be called either a thought or a feeling, but rather an experience, a kind of total feeling that I am alive! The pillow smells of lavender, subtle, barely noticeable, the book breathes its incomparable aroma, I touch the yellowed page and feel the subtle relief of letters and lines, the woven pattern of the sheet echoes in the palm of my hand. I run my hand over the carpet and the books hanging over the bed. The books are silent, but I read their spines with a touch, their names kiss my fingers. This is what I’m reading!
I absorb the smells of the world around me, it is my heart that beats with joy and excitement, it is some wonderful melody that continuously sounds in my mind, not allowing me to come close and not letting me go far away from myself. And suddenly I realized that this experience of being alive and special is self-love. The Lord commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:39), but if I experience myself as alive and exceptional, then this coincidence of love and life shows me that in the same way I must learn to experience the life and uniqueness of another .
After all, my neighbor is not entirely alive for me: I do not feel him as alive as myself. He is external, he is not alive enough for me. Another person’s fingers, his hair, his lips – are they exactly the same as mine? Outwardly – yes. But in everyone lives the consciousness of some kind of special exclusivity: I am different, I should not and cannot perish in vain, there is something pricelessly important in me and this whole world will die with me if I die. But I won’t die, this can’t happen to me, I’m special, there haven’t been and won’t be:
I am the bearer of great thought –
I can’t, I can’t die!
Why does this consciousness of one’s own exclusivity, a strong faith in one’s own special path, faith in one’s indestructibility and specialness live persistently and restlessly in every person? What is this? Pride? Or is there something more fundamental and natural here, which is older in right and age than the most ancient vice? The gift of life, the joy of being, is the purpose and meaning of human life. Man was created to live and receive joy from it. The main work of our life is to learn to love our neighbor as ourselves. To learn to experience it as alive and unique as I am. My neighbor is like an alien planet on which I must discover life.
For a lover, the beloved is too alive, their lives are mutually permeable and mutually vulnerable:
Your pains hurt in me, your strength accumulates in me.
Both the pain and joy of a loved one are experienced as my own pain and joy – alive and real. The mother feels her child too alive, grows up with him, the two of them are teething and their tummy hurts, and it happens that the son grows up and moves far, far away, but the mother feels his life and dying, grief and joy even on the other side of the world.
Self-love in a person is so deep and cannot be reduced to self-care, no matter in what way it manifests itself, spiritual or material, or to anything else. This love manifests itself and emerges extremely rarely and, like many deep-seated human phenomena, often does not reach consciousness and therefore cannot be subjected to reflection. But this love is at the core of the human being, where the roots of self-consciousness and self-preservation converge and intertwine. This wonderful and unsteady edge of existence, called by the Creator from non-existence…
It is in this depth that one should look for love for one’s neighbor, because he is an inextricable part of myself. Moreover, this love is natural to man. It is unnatural not to love your neighbor, for this is suicide…
But there are so many people and they are so different. In the fact that there is such a huge number of people, often faceless and uninteresting, there is some kind of unjustified excess, something superfluous. But a cat is also something extra. This pet does not bring any practical benefit in most cases. Ask cat lovers: why do they need this useless animal? The incomprehensible impressionistic answers can be reduced to one remark: because cats are w-di-vi-tel-ny-e! The Lord gave us cats so that we would rejoice and be surprised by them. The Lord gives us our neighbors so that we learn to rejoice and be amazed at them as a miracle, as a mystery, as a beauty that is always abundant and inexplicable…
We are very inattentive to each other, frighteningly inattentive, and before indulging in ascetic deeds, we should learn simple human attention, about which the Apostle Paul tirelessly wrote: be brotherly loving towards one another with tenderness; warn one another in respect (Rom. 12:10)…
Most likely, I don’t love my neighbors; one might say, I have a strange attitude towards the love of neighbors itself. But I know too much that people are something truly beautiful, this is beauty that I will definitely learn to admire. People, like flowers, are useless and beautiful, there are many of them, they are capricious, but the Lord created them for the joy of an abundance of love, and I also participate in this joy. I hear the distant sounds of her melody and can’t make out the motive, but it’s something wonderful, they’re singing it to me!
Someone else’s joy is just like your own,
It torments her and breaks out of her heart,
And the girl rejoices and laughs,
Captivated by the happiness of existence.