What the Heart Reveals

It has been said that “icons do not depict but rather reveal.” It is an insight into the intrinsic character of icons. Events that are seen in a merely historical manner do not reveal their true nature. The meaning of an event and its significance are almost never  apparent. Indeed, the world itself does not yield its significance to us by mere observation.

In St. John Chrysostom’s prayer of the Divine Liturgy, we offer thanks to God “for the benefits both revealed and not revealed.” It is one of my favorite thoughts within the liturgy. What we do not see in the course of a given day far exceeds what we do see. I did not see the many accidents that did not befall me today. Such things could be multiplied infinitely.

It is why our lives are properly defined by the state of our heart. Life cannot be measured or lived in a literal manner. Life cannot be reduced to what I see or know or understand. But the heart can see what the eye does not. The heart can be aware of the goodness of God and give thanks for His hidden hand.

The heart can also allow itself to become enthralled to the lies of the wicked one. Such a heart sees evil even where none is present. Fear is its companion and shadows mark its path.

This capacity of the heart and what it reveals is the meaning of Christ’s statement: “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (St. Matthew 6:22-23).

Yesterday a beautiful story was shared in the comments – worth bringing forward for more to read. It was printed in the September 1987 edition of AGAIN Magazine, a story told by the Lutheran pastor, Richard Wurmbrand. It is about the faithful witness of an Orthodox priest whom he met in prison.


Always Rejoice

The first man was a priest who was put in jail at the age of seventy. His name was Surioanu. When he was brought in with his big white beard and white pate, some officers at the gate of the jail mocked him. One asked, “Why did they bring this old priest here?” And another replied with a jeer, “Probably to take the confessions of everybody.” Those were his exact words.

This priest had a son who had died in a Soviet jail. His daughter was sentenced to twenty years. Two of his sons-in-law were with him in jail—one with him in the same cell. His grandchildren had no food, they were forced to eat from the garbage. His whole family was destroyed. He had lost his church. But this man had such a shining face—there was always a beautiful smile on his lips. He never greeted anyone with “Good morning” or “Good evening,” but instead with the words, “Always rejoice.”

One day we asked him, “Father, how can you say ‘always rejoice’—you who passed through such a terrible tragedy?”

He said, “Rejoicing is very easy. If we fulfill at least one word from the Bible, it is written, ‘Rejoice with all those who rejoice.’ Now if one rejoices with all those who rejoice, he always has plenty of motivation for rejoicing. I sit in jail, and I rejoice that so many are free. I don’t go to church, but I rejoice with all those who are in church. I can’t take Holy Communion, but I rejoice about all those who take. I can’t read the Bible or any other holy book, but I rejoice with those who do. I can’t see flowers [we never saw a tree or a flower during those years. We were under the earth, in a subterranean prison. We never saw the sun, the moon, stars—many times we forgot that these things existed. We never saw a color, only the gray walls of the cell and our gray uniforms. But we knew that such a world existed, a world with multicolored butterflies and with rainbows], but I can rejoice with those who see the rainbows and who see the multicolored butterflies.”

In prison, the smell was not very good. But the priest said, “Others have the perfume of flowers around them, and girls wearing perfume. And others have picnics and others have their families of children around them. I cannot see my children but others have children. And he who can rejoice with all those who rejoice can always rejoice. I can always be glad.” That is why he had such a beautiful expression on his face. ———–


The heart of such a man reveals the truth of our existence.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.





19 responses to “What the Heart Reveals”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Fabio Leite, Ζωντανό Ιστολόγιο. Ζωντανό Ιστολόγιο said: What the Heart Reveals: It has been said that “icons do not depict but rather reveal.” It is an insight into th… http://bit.ly/5CePCp […]

  2. Henry Avatar

    With one simple truth he (Surioanu) shows me the road to paradise. Sounds like a pretty good working definition of a saint.

  3. Yannis Avatar

    Father Stephen wrote:
    “Events that are seen in a merely historical manner do not reveal their true nature. The meaning of an event and its significance are almost never apparent. Indeed, the world itself does not yield its significance to us by mere observation.”

    So very true. It is the subtext rather than the content that holds the essence – the conscious mind and the ego that presides over it are a mere housekeeper living at the outter yard of the palace of the actual Lord.

    In that respect spiritual anecdotes act in a similar way as icons; they speak in the riddle-like language of dreams and of the always submerged and mysterious One that dwells in the deapths of the subconscious.

    This is the language of the scriptures too, hence why the Fathers isnist that they shouldn’t be approached other than after prayer and fasting. They are actually more like Zenic koans posing for descriptive text, and as koans one needs to integrate with them with his whole being in order to get answers, for they cannot be solved like intellectual puzzles.

    Given all this, it is of little surprise that they provoke a good amount of unwaranted attention from skeptics and unbelievers because although seeing they”see and not perceive”.

    Best Regards


  4. TheraP Avatar

    A shining face – the Presence of God shining out to all those prisoners. What a blessing in that dark place!

  5. easton Avatar

    father, thank you for this. it helps me “check the state of my heart”! could you give some examples of seeing evil where there is none?

  6. from Romania Avatar
    from Romania

    During his detention years in the communists prisons in Romania, the Lutheran pastor Richard Wurmbrand met, among many other Orthodox priests and believers, the one that is now called ” the Saint of the Prisons”, Valeriu Gafencu. This name was given to Valeriu Gafencu by Fr. Nicolae Steinhardt, a Romanian Jew who became an Orthodox Christian (and later a monk and a priest) while imprisoned by the communist regime.
    “The Saint of the Prisons”, by monk Moise, is also the book about Valeriu Gafencu`s detension years, including the moment of his death. It`s an extraordinary book, in which you can see both the anti-christ face of communism and the living miracle of true faith. You can find /find out more about the book here:

    And on this other site something about Valeriu Gafencu`s life and some pictures of him.
    From the site just mentioned:
    “Valeriu died on the 18th of February 1952, at Targu Ocna. His last words were: “Don’t forget to pray to God that we all meet there! Lord, give me the servitude that sets the soul free and take away the freedom that enslaves my soul!” His grave remains unknown for at that time all the prisoners were buried in a common pitfall and their head was smashed so that it would be beyond recognition. However, he asked to be buried with a small silver cross in his mouth and if God allows his holy relics may be found. ”

    So Valeriu Gafencu died in prison, in 1952 in Targu Ocna; Richard Wurmbrandt was in the same prison at the time, they knew each other, beautiful conversations of theirs can be found in Ioan Ianolide, “Intoarcerea la Hristos”/”Return to Christ”.

  7. coffeezombie Avatar

    easton: I’m sure Fr. Stephen will have better examples but here’s the first that comes to my mind:

    When you see a man giving a large sum of money to a charity, and say to yourself, “Oh, he’s just doing that for appearances!”

  8. Marsha Avatar

    This whole recent series on the Heart has been very helpful and illuminating, thank you!

    (Another book?)

  9. yeamlak fitur Avatar
    yeamlak fitur

    I second Marsha’s comment and others too. These past posts Father, is just making me think and think about my state of heart. You know you can pray, fast and then you have to guard your heart as well.

    Thank you

  10. Karen Avatar

    “The heart can also allow itself to become enthralled to the lies of the wicked one. Such a heart sees evil even where none is present. Fear is its companion and shadows mark its path.”

    I have considerably more acquaintance with this spiritual dynamic than I would like in my own soul and in that of others I love! I have a relative with Paranoid Schizophrenia (and others in my life just with a tendency toward paranoia). I remember studying the curious phenomenon dubbed “self-fulfilling prophecy” as a psychology major in college, which I believe is related. What has long been observed now by social scientists is that we have an uncanny way of anticipating what we fear (or even expect in a positive sense) in such a manner that it influences us to make decisions that actually result in the eventual realization of those fears (or expectations). One example would be the husband who is so insecure about his wife’s love for him that his constant questioning of her love and demands for proof of her love lead to the death of what love she has for him and drives her away. There is an odd psychological payoff here that may partly explain why we do this when it has such self-destructive and painful relational consequences–that is, the apparent vindication that we “knew” what was going to happen when it comes to pass as we feared gives us an illusory sense of control and of our own power of “foresight,” which is what we crave when we are fearful. It seems to me this is a very powerful form of self-perpetuating idolatry. There are many and various subtle ways we may play these sorts of dynamics out in all our relationships. On the macro level, all the conflicts we see in our world are the result of this. What we believe about reality influences mightily what we perceive and pay attention to in the world around us, react to, and, consequently, what our hearts and lives become. This is why the revelation in Christ of the gospel is so powerful. It alone can give adequate reason for hope and trust in One greater than ourselves in the face of all we cannot control–that is, almost everything in our experience–and lead us to the true freedom of humility in which we may learn to love, rather than fear, even our enemies.

  11. yannis Avatar

    Thank you for the nice post Karen.

    Best Regards


  12. Karen Avatar

    From Romania, thank you so much for those links. God is wonderful in His Saints!

  13. Michael Avatar

    Does anyone know why the good pastor never felt the desire to convert to Orthodoxy? He does always seem to have nice things to say about his Orthodox co-prisoners.

  14. Steven Avatar

    To paraphrase Kalomiros in The River of Fire (1980) man can trace all his ills to “the cooling of love” which is a direct result of “the dark cloud of sin which does not permit God’s light to reach our eyes.” He goes on to say that:

    “…The devil managed to make men believe that God does not really love us, that He really only loves Himself, and that He accepts us only if we behave as He wants us to behave; that He hates us if we do not behave as He ordered us to behave, and is offended by our insubordination to such a degree that we must pay for it by eternal tortures, created by Him for that purpose (and) … who can love a torturer?”

    Thus does Satan slander both man and God. From this we get the word hate (Old Norse hata and Goth hatan).

    St. John tells us that whoever loves is of God.

  15. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Michael, perhaps Rev. Wurmbrand had no need to convert. He was called by God to a particular work. It is doubtful to me he would have been able to complete that work in the Orthodox Church.

    He certainly honored his calling because the only reason I know of his fellow prisoners who happened to be Orthodox is because of his testimony–not the testimony of the Church.

    Why do you suppose that is?

  16. fatherstephen Avatar

    I assume Pastor Wurmbrand remained a Lutheran because he continued to believe in it. It is a testimony to the kindness of his heart that he generally held all in good regard – Orthodox and non-Orthodox – even his captors. Once hatred (for anyone) finds a place in our heart – it will not cease even when it comes to our brother.

  17. Kate Avatar

    Father, bless

    Where in the Divine Liturgy does it say “for the benefits both revealed and not revealed.”?

  18. fatherstephen Avatar

    It’s in the anaphora (the prayer of consecration the priest prays over the bread and wine. Some translations say, “For the good things known and unknown.” etc. I use the translation of Archbishop Dmitri (retired bishop of Dallas).

  19. Michael Avatar

    Michael and Fr. Stephen:

    You are both right. I just found this, including Pastor Wurmbrand’s own words. Glory to God!


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