№ 4. 2007
NOTHING HAPPENS ACCIDENTALLY IN THIS LIFE!..
Father-Superior Peter (Pigol), first prorector of St. Apostle Ioan Bogoslov’s Orthodox Theological Institute, director of informational and publishing sector of the department of religious education and catechism of Russian Orthodox church is visiting us today. When you speak to him, you can tell that there is a real monk in front of you, who devoted all his life to the God holding nothing back. Father-Superior Peter spent a considerable part of his life on the Sacred Mountain of Aphon, learning prayerful traditions of this world-famous insular monastic state on practice. Aphon experience got into flesh and blood of Father Peter. You can find strict inner world, prayerful concentration and sincere openness to interlocutor. Of course, being prorector and publishing works take lots of time and strength. While our conversation was going, some young people carefully came up to the Father with student's record-book and eternal supplication in their eyes and tried to arrange about the retaking of some subject. Employees of publishing house turned to Father Peter with their crucial problems. His cell phone did not become silent. I looked at him and thought that it is probably not easy to be in this fuss. Definitely, all of those are main church obedience, important and necessary spiritual concerns: students’ progress, published books. Apparently, The Father Peter achieved this level of spiritual experience when it is the right time to share it with people. By the way, it is one of the purposes of real monasticism – pray for salvation of the world, give curative spiritual advice to people who need it, lead them throughout the narrow road of salvation.
Father Peter’s experience in his coming to the God, phenomenon of inner transformation of person, understanding of grace and laws of its effect on human soul is the topic of our conversation today.
- Father Peter! People come to belief in different ways. Some - through crisis in soul, others - through tragedy, in various ways. Sometimes man has been thinking about the God and soul since childhood because he received appropriate education. To tell the truth, nowadays the number of such families is decreasing. Anyway, this coming is a divine gift. And everybody uses it differently. Could you tell us when in your life you came up closer to understanding of the God.
- Fairly they say that God’s ways are not inscrutable. Everybody has a special destiny. God’s Providence is reflected in it. The God cares for everyone of us, wishing we all would come to the reason of the truth. But vision of God’s Providence does not come right away. The same happened to me. Though I was bred in traditional Orthodox family with believing parents, I accepted this belief not by mind but by heart. I knew about the God since infancy but this knowledge was abstract. I think, my uncle by mother who was a priest contributed to good transformation in my soul. Apparently, he prayed for me a lot. That is why events, that could affect my life badly in youth, happily bypassed.
I felt the God closer when I served in Northern fleet. This feeling sounded in me like afflatus. And suddenly I realized that the succession of certain events that occurred in my life was not accidental. I clearly saw their undercover meaning. It stroke me. What exactly? The fact that somebody cares for me, leads me and protects from danger.
- What was it expressed in?
- Secularly speaking it was expressed in series of “insignificant” cases that one day should result, as everybody expected, in a terrible catastrophe. But it did not happen. Our submarine met an accident and there was a fire. But it did not have as sad consequences as it could have. We extinguished the fire before it came to the level of inevitability. There was another occasion when I came off from above and fell down. But I did not get any injures. For most people it is just luck. I do not think it is that simple.
- Yes. The fire is always a matter of life and death of the whole crew.
- Exactly. I had this logic in my spiritual thoughts. The succession of events happens. More or less serious. But it does not touch you. Then there comes another event of this succession – neither bigger nor smaller. And suddenly against its background all their meaning as an expression of Providence about you is opening for you.
- What specific event crowned the succession of preceding events?
- The most striking event that I always recall with a special keenness is the fire on submarine. At that time I was repairing and tuning up hydroacoustic stations, providing connection between submarine and ship. Second device - generator – is located at the very bottom, in tank, next to radiator. Radiator is in water. The contact between them is rather problematic because the stuffing-box is leaking and water needs to be pumped out. Somehow we missed this moment. We opened hydroacoustic tank up, but is was full with water up to hatch. Automated mechanism failed to function and the generator turned out to be in water. But salty water affects complicated devices and after salty water it is difficult to repair them. You have to blow them out with steam under pressure in order to get rid of all salt.
We washed it out as we could but partially we had to change the most complicated devices. I was ordered to repair the hydroacoustic station. I managed to do this, I tuned it up and it started functioning again. But we still did not check it at full , when high voltage of 5 thousand Volt on output unit is given. There go a command from central tank: turn station on full power. When it was done, high-voltage cables got inflamed from high voltage and the fire began. It happened at great depth and the fire in this condition is especially dangerous and terrible. I still kept in memory the tragical story of submarine “K-19”, when lots of people died because of the accident. The same story could happen to us. But we managed to extinguish the fire. It was God’s mercy, nothing else.
Nevertheless, the extent of our reaction to the voice from above, sounding throughout events of past years, after all is more important than something that brings us to reason. And – right conclusions. As prophet David said (Ps. 142, 5): “Learn from old days doing something.” Fire on the submarine, along with other events, that I realized a little bit later, clearly showed me that we all walk under the God’s care. And the best for the person is to submit to God’s strong hand and go there where he leads us. And follow His Sacred will not creating your own. In other words – submit to His Providence and see the meaning of life in this.
- Probably, traditional and orthodox way of life of your family and prayers of your uncle-priest contributed to the right perception of the whole succession of events. It is more difficult to understand the life for unprepared person, that does not have any traditions of belief in his past.
- Undoubtedly, that is true. Anyway, conscious remembrance of the God helps better build your life and feel adequate responsibility for your actions. My inner overturn happened in the seventies. Though events of that time – service in navy - were rather hard for me, I recall them with great gratitude.
I can not say that my life has changed a lot at that time. I just treated it with more responsibility. I tried to do whatever gave satisfaction to the deepest requests of my soul. I did not do something that was only pleasant, prestigious or fashionable. I started looking for those inner questions that always bothered me.
- It is interesting that lots of people sometimes experience the influence of the same strong factors but they do not go to the God. They are limited in settling problems with psychoanalysis, psychotherapy and psychosynthesis. What is the matter?
- At Soviet time when Scripture and sacred literature were not available, we were looking for answers to a bunch of questions in those sources that were allowed to use. The point is that the God brings every person to reason in a special way. I had a mood not to cheat and look for what my soul demanded. The choice of reading was determined by those demands. Light reading did not satisfy me. It was the time when after service in navy I began working in merchant fleet and putting out to sea for a long time.
Duration of trips and atmosphere of emotional scantiness and sameness – setting up and down a ladder, working fish up – all of this contributed to appearing of certain thoughts. There was a small library in the ship, where you could find mostly classics. I noticed that I like those things described by Dostoevsky, Tolstoy (as an artist). I opened that some of the books by their content brought me inner satisfaction. Later, when I was studying in Theological seminary, I realized that the reason of disposition to some classics was determined by their closeness to Orthodoxy.
By the way, my interest in spiritual issues was not limited only with classics it developed into interest in psychology – psychoanalysis and different strategies with exercises. At that time education was pretty available and through it I began studying the world of my soul. Exercises in auto-training seemed the most impressive to me. It was on submarine, when we were given out special brochures, containing complex of auto-training lessons. It was aimed to help concentrate in the case of emergency. Moreover, I read plenty of literature on the history of auto-training, I learnt that these methods first appeared in Europe and Protestant priests just borrowed them. But it turned out to be that Protestants took these methods of auto-training from eastern spirituality, Indian yoga. I thought that these exercises could be applicable to Orthodox Christian in his fight with sinful passions. It took me a while to find this mistake. Seminary and my personal experience about the importance of chances in my life helped out. Thanks God at that time I already admitted that a person might make mistakes and then apply to the God through the prayer.
- Why does auto-training attract people? What is its effect? Does it teach how to use your reserve strength, how to get rid of all problems on your own?
- It is clear from the name of this method “I train myself, improve myself and solve my inner and outer problems.” This complex works and gives some result right away, which, in fact, attracts. But it is only seeming effect, because the basis of this method is self-suggestion. Yes, it is resulting. But, first, this method does not solve deep inner problems and, second, it might lead to locking in yourself and closing soul and heart from the God.
- If you imagine that you are Saint and you will try to achieve this state through the method of auto-training, outwardly you probably will look like a Saint but inside you still will have the same stuck passions. That is why self-suggestion is no more than illusion that will break down and disappear – and will cruelly disappoint you. It might cause depression and suicidal mood.
- Right. And the saddest thing is in the following: the person makes himself believe that he has all strength inside to solve any problem. What is more, he is trying to reveal this strength and use it properly. But in fact the person fully depends on his Creator. The source of life and all human strength are not in us but in the Creator. This dependence destroys self-suggestion that set you to “self”. According to words of well-known Russian Saint Theophan Zatvornik “self” – is one of the main obstacles on the way to right spiritual life and salvation.” You can meet salvation only in God and only with his help. Through enlightenment with grace and purification heart from sinful dependence. But this problem is very deep. It does not lie on the surface and, unfortunately, it does not open up quickly.
In order to comprehend this way, you have to form deliberate appeal to God inside yourself. There should be a prayer. Any sincere prayer, any tearful appeal to God will be heard. And this appeal will gradually direct the person to the right way. Unfortunately, self-suggestion and “self” do not allow even a thought of real appealing to God.
- Nowadays person, as a rule, is spiritually ignorant and unbelievably pretentious as well. He often says: “The God is in my soul.” And he prefers going to psychotherapist instead of priest with his spiritual problems. I wonder who you managed to get out of this seclude but so “nice”, pleasant human self-esteem state?
- Appealing to God and attentiveness to arisen circumstances from the experience of past – one good day after a number of preparatory circumstances all this leads to afflatus. It was prepared by several critical essays and books on the interesting for me topic, I read them all very attentively. Then there were hagiographies and statements of some Saint Fathers which I got to know at the same time. So the right conclusion came one day. Circumstances, formed from different sides at the same time, brought me to this. I realized that the way of “self” and self-suggestion closes heart from divine grace and holds us away from the God. Incomprehension of this fact sooner or later will bring the person to the state of “fascination” – wrong opinion about himself. If he has this “self” mood, he will never understand Savior’s words: “You can not create anything without me.” He will not realize the meaning of first commandment of Grace as a stage of growing in spiritual life: “The poor in spirit are blessed, they belong to the kingdom of Heaven.” But the right understanding of this is possible only if the person wants to reunion with God, if he wants God’s enlightenment, if he appeals to God himself for help and precept – and if he does his best following commandments and God’s precepts, His Sacred Will. And do anything God wants him to do. This practical spiritual life brings you to conclusion that the person with his strength, without God’s help, can not get over even the simplest negative obstacles and definitely can not extirpate sinful passions.
- When you had been just admitted to seminary, what impressions did you get from your studies?
- In 1980 when I was trying to enter seminary for the first time. Right after the trip. I did not have any time for adaptation. They say I came like out of the frying pan into the fire. But I liked it a lot. I meet lots of interesting people, that thought in the same way I did. That is why my decision about the choice only confirmed. I was not even confused with the fact that I could not answer to the simplest question: “What eparchy do I belong to?” I did not even know what it was, because I came to seminary from totally different, sea atmosphere. But I should give due to teachers –they were wise aged men who saw the main in the person - the sincerity of his intensions, love to God and desire to study. That is why I was accepted as a candidate for admission in case if during the year a seat will become available. So, I had one more year to think about it, consider it and settle everything with the fleet. Of course, my family was not against it. As for me, at that time I already was very determined young man. The fleet bred me that way: if you take decision – show your will and fulfil it. That is what I did. I believed that I live in a free country and I am free to solve the question about my inner views on my own. Later my father told me that some people were interested in me and they even came to my house. They asked who and what I am, why I made up my mind to enter Theological seminary when I already received good education in the nautical school and technical school. They said I had good opportunities and so on. Special services were interested in me. But I did not feel any obstacles from their side, though I was warned that they might have been. When I was studying in the first year of seminary I was struck by words of one of my teachers. They sounded exactly like my secret thoughts. He said: “According to human measures no one of you could be within these walls. But God’s Providence has an effect on you – and all obstacles are far behind.” Recalling these years at Moscow theological seminary I can say that it was the best time in my life, the time of spiritual rise and bright hopes.
- You have an interesting and rich spiritual life. You are experienced Aphon’s monk, first prorector of well-known in Russia theological institute. How could you define what Grace is, which God sends down to believing person? Yes, it comes through the right spiritual way, fast, prayer and participation of Orthodox believers in Church Sacraments. How does it appear?
- God calls Man to perfection. It is not limited with anything. Holy Scripture says: “Be as perfect as your Heavenly Father.”(Mf., 5, 48) According to Saint Fathers’ teaching, man is called to be close to God through the grace. It happens to every person and it starts here, on the earth. It is said: “The God wants everybody to be saved and to come to the reason of truth.” (Tim.1 ,2,4) God puts man in such circumstances in which his exhortation goes in the most productive way. Consecration of the person through the grace is often happening imperceptibly for him. Everyone gets so called premonitory or initial grace, God’s strength. It helps him get into the atmosphere where this grace will be given him more abundantly. Throughout this way the person grows in sanctity, going up from strength to strength. This consecration takes place in church like in God-human organism where set by God Sacraments act. The main purpose of church is to bring people in, involve them in the action of Sacraments which are performed and act only in church atmosphere like in God-human organism.
Certainly, person does not have to cheat himself and be satisfied with half measures – with those spiritual substitutes that do not give full satisfaction to the soul. He is supposed to seek the truth that is coming from God and which is God himself, our Jesus Christ. When we are looking for the truth and put it to the first place - even above friendship, – that is good. We are created for this. In Athenian Areopag apostle Paul pointed at this necessity when he said that man should be looking for God and there might be a tragedy if instead of the truth man prefers something different.
- If we are not eager to see it, we will not see it…
- Of course. If there is an aim and an aspiration for God, God will help the person in every way. As it is said in Holy Scripture, “get closer to God and He will get closer to you”.
- How does the God influence the person to make him go along the right way? It is obvious, that every case is individual, but nevertheless?
- If the person is attentive to his fate, life, he will definitely notice a number of these cases that are an action of God’s Providence and that help him orientate himself correctly. And the most important is to be open to God. Reverend old man Siluan Aphonsky advices: “I address to all believers and unbelievers, as personalities, appeal to Personal God and tell him: “God, if you really exist, open up to me and I will serve You with all my might.” And see what will happen.” The saddest thing now is that not too many people turn to God for help and advice. I read from Saint Fathers that the biggest guilt of all mistaken heretic is that they did not appeal to God for exhortation. They were so sure of the right of their mistake that considered it unnecessary to appeal to the Most High. But the God gave us free will and he is taking this into account. In general, if we sincerely with penance turn to God for help and advice, we will certainly get the response.
Appealing to Him is like a pledge of the fact that He will talk to us and influence on us through different circumstances and situations. Then the person will come to church like to Corpus Christi, where not only his further exhortation but consecration and purification. How? With the help of grace’s action through Church Sacraments. Entering Church comes through first Sacrament – Christening, where the grace is sowed in the person like a seed that should grow up later. Like a ferment that, as it is said in The Gospel, makes all dough sour, all person. It is the pledge of the kingdom of God, the beginning of blessed salvation that later will be developed into the Sacrament of receiving communion to Corpus and Blood of Christ. Communion will unite him with Christ and give him great strength for fighting with sin for finding sanctity and unity with God. Salutary source, received during Christening, will mysteriously become stronger in him and through Sacrament of penance as a constant renovation of grace, received during Sacrament of Christening. There are sins that we fall into again and again because of our innate feebleness. But penance with confession washes them away. Serious attitude to Sacraments changes the person. It is inviolable law of the right spiritual life.
- After Sacrament of penance sincerely repented person clears off from terrible filth and feels like he just washed himself with spring water…
- Exactly. And the biggest loss for people is in underestimating the effect of Sacraments.
- Sacraments start working for the person only if he prays and if he has living cordial distress about his sins, do not they? It is not that simple to achieve this state. Are you agree?
- Yes, that is right. The meaning of church and its purposes should be admitted not abstractly but as an actual fact. You can not know the taste of a drink if you do not try it. The same about all values of church life. You will learn them only in practice. Church in divine service through 33rd psalm of tsar David appeals to people: “Try and see how good the God is.”
The time of abstractions ends only then when we embark on the path of salvation offered by church. Empirical way. I mean when we start living according to its advices and century-old spiritual practice. And results will never delay to show up. But along with this there should be belief in God and trust in Him. Experience will just confirm our belief and give it nutritious basis.
- Normal person can not help loving the Gospel. Everything is so honest, pure, high, holy and perfect there! Everything depends on the person: what he has inside and what he wants from life. Being the winner and walk on corpses, feast at the time of plague, enjoy sins and finally repent and give up everything that inevitably brings to death and non-existance… Thank you, Father Peter, for interesting and cognitive interview. Do you want to say anything else to our readers?
- I have something to say. Many people think that the main things in church life are keeping the fast, pious way of life, going to temple, taking part in Sacraments, ascetic exercises, keeping to church purposes and so on. Undoubtedly, all this is very important – it is constant effort and aspiration for consecration and finding God’s grace. But according to sacred fatherly experience, all this human efforts and aspirations are always insignificant in comparison with what the God gives us. “Glory to Your name, not to us, God, not to us!” (Ps. 113, 9) Yes, our efforts are rather important as well, as it is said: “The kingdom of Heaven can be achieved by those who really want it and the God appreciates it.” (Mf., 11, 12). Saints say about it that the God saves but not without our help. So, our will and aspiration are necessary, but only God is able to save His creation. And it happens through Sacraments. Their effect is not comparable with all our human efforts. Saints, like Ioan Kronshtadsky, almost every day served mass, administered Sacraments and lived in Church. Father Ioan always pointed that real good change of the person takes place only in Church and thanks to Its Sacraments. He has even didactic system of children’s upbringing, where the key point is put on regular participation of children in Sacraments – Confession and Holy Communion. Saint righteous Ioan gave the best meaning to these Sacraments in comparison with teaching theoretical disciplines. That is why the main task of children’s teacher is to bring kids to The Main Teacher, Source of life, to Christ. Their participation in Sacraments will open their souls and hearts to the action of God’s grace and bring them in the salutary bosom of His church through restoration of once lost purity and integrity. As for piety and church purposes they will just contribute to this process. Unfortunately, the meaning of Sacraments is not estimated today in our society as it should be.
But I already told about it.
Interview was prepared by
перевод на англ. Марии Просвиряковой
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