Protopresbyter Georgios Dorbarakis
‘We don’t shoot the darkness; we just turn the light on’ (Saint Porfyrios Kavsokalyvitis)
The great contemporary saint and much-loved Elder Porfyrios is talking about an ordinary experience: if we want to get out of the dark, we don’t take violent action, such as taking potshots at it. All we do is turn the light on. He said this in order to emphasize that the same is true in the spiritual life. What’s that? Given that we live in a world which, because of sin, has lost contact with the light which is God, and are therefore living in spiritual darkness- ‘God is light and there is no darkness in Him’ [Jn. 1, 5]- the only thing we can do is to turn to the light. In other words, to turn to God.
But what do we actually do? Do we turn to what should be considered self-evident: the light of Christ and God? We’re not talking here only about those who are outside the Christian faith and the Church- they have excuses enough that keep them outside the light of Christ. We’re talking in particular about those who are in the Church, about ourselves, whose ‘alignment’ with the world is often so great that we’re virtually living as atheists. Why? Because the world has trapped us in its coils, and repentance, as the path to the Lord, seems like attempting Everest. Instead, our way is, ‘Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die’. As a result our day is shrouded in the pall of our passions and the ‘moonless love of sin’ [cf. the tropario of Kassiani, Mattins, Great Wednesday] which, as in the case of the harlot in the Gospel, has cast its veil over us. So what do we do?
There are moments when we do want to change. This is because the grace of holy baptism continues to work in the depths of our heart, even as a mere glimmer. It’s particularly the ‘wages of sin’, which crash over us in great waves. The sorrow, worry, melancholy, sudden rages and turmoil we feel are what often make us envision the light and wish it to be in our life. That’s a time of God’s grace and we should make good use of it, because such a moment of light can stamp the whole of the rest of our life. At the moment when we remember Christ, we shouldn’t waste the opportunity. ‘Lord, save me’, Peter cried out when he was sinking. The Lord grasped him by the hand and saved him.
And beyond that: the above words of Saint Porfyrios also hold true for those who are more advanced, ‘perfect’ Christians, we might say, who at some stage or stages in their life are wearied by their spiritual struggle, relax its intensity, become disappointed, ready to despair. It seems that the temptations of the devil are getting the upper hand. In these instances, then, in the difficulties of the spiritual life, we need to remember the words of the holy Elder: ‘We don’t shoot the darkness; we just turn the light on’. At another point, the same saint explains: ‘Every time I saw temptation, i.e. the darkness coming, I did what a frightened little child does: it turns to its father and falls into his arms’. In a similar example, the holy abbot Saint John the Short says: ‘When I see temptation threatening me like a wild animal coming at me, I climb up into the tree of prayer’.
The darkness does, indeed, often come to visit us: the devil doesn’t take time off. And our passions aren’t easy to shake off, either, for as long as we’re in this world. The solution and the ‘exit strategy’ are well known and right before us, however. We have to turn decisively and with a fervent heart to Our Lord Jesus Christ, ‘Who alone is able to save’ [Heb. 5, 7] . Even just transferring our attention to the icon of Christ, Our Lady, the saints, is enough to get us started on overcoming the difficulties of these times. We just need to want the light rather than the darkness.