Love Has No History

St. Nikolai Velimirovich’s Prayers by the Lake are a theological feast. St. Gregory the Theologian wrote wonderful theological poems – it is a form deeply suited to theology but too little used. I first heard this poem on a broadcast from Ancient Faith Radio – it came at a very timely moment and allowed me to see and pray. Images such as “wandering through my soul like a wayfarer in the night,” has no counterpart in prose.  Worth pondering in wonder is: “Aimless wanderers and loveless people have events and have history. Love has no history, and history has no love.”  I offer this today with prayer that by God’s grace “love will meet love,” and that no events will befall you. 

XV

White doves fly over my blue lake, like white angels over the blue heaven. The doves would not be white nor would the lake be blue, if the great sun did not open its eye above them.

O my heavenly Mother, open Your eye in my soul, so that I may see what is what–so that I may see who is dwelling in my soul and what sort of fruits are growing in her.

Without Your eye I wander hopelessly through my soul like a wayfarer in the night, in the night’s indistinguishable gloom. And the wayfarer in the night falls and picks himself up, and what he encounters along the way he calls “events.”

You are the only event of my life, O lamp of my soul. When a child scurries to the arms of his mother, events do not exist for him. When a bride races to meet her bridegroom, she does not see the flowers in the meadow, nor does she hear the rumbling of the storm, nor does she smell the fragrance of the cypresses or sense the mood of the wild animals–she sees only the face of her bridegroom; she hears only the music from his lips; she smells only his soul. When love goes to meet love, no events befall it. Time and space make way for love.

Aimless wanderers and loveless people have events and have history. Love has no history, and history has no love.

When someone makes their way down a mountain or climbs up a mountain without knowing where he is going, events are imposed upon him as though they were the aim of his journey. Truly, events are the aim of the aimless and the history of the pathless.

Therefore the aimless and the pathless are blocked by events and squabble with events. But I tranquilly hasten to You, both up the mountain and down the mountain, and despicable events angrily move out of the way of my footsteps.

If I were a stone and were rolling down a mountain, I would not think about the stones against which I was banging, but about the abyss at the bottom of the steep slope.

If I were a mountain stream, I would not be thinking about my uneven course, but about the lake that awaited me.

Truly terrifying is the abyss of those who are in love with the events that are dragging them downward.

O heavenly Mother, my only love, set me free from the slavery of events and make me Your slave.

O most radiant Day, dawn in my soul, so that I may see the aim of my tangled path.

O Sun of suns, the only event in the universe that attracts my heart, illuminate my inner self, so that I may see who has dared to dwell there besides You–so that I may eradicate from it all the fruits that seem sweet from the outside, but smell rotten in their core.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



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44 responses to “Love Has No History”

  1. Margaret Avatar
    Margaret

    So beautiful! And so kind of you to share this today, Fr. Stephen! Glory to God for ALL Things!

  2. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Beautiful … though I´d like to think the events of my life and the history I am living through have a much deeper meaning now that I am in Christ, rather than simply reserving events and history for the wayward and the aimless.

  3. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    Fr. Schmemann once opined (just an opinion, not a dogma), that in eternity, all moments would be present. What we experience in the “moments” and “events” of our lives are, for the most part, things that collapse into themselves, having nothing but the energy of our own faulty and ephemeral memory to sustain them. But if any single moment were “married” to the divine, utterly present to eternity at the same time, it would be a sweetness that transcends anything we can imagine.

    There is a sense in which this is the true nature of the Liturgy. The Eucharist of which we partake is not a mere historical event (“wasn’t that a great Liturgy!”), but is the single Liturgy that began before the creation of the world and continues forever. Thus, when we eat and drink in that Moment, we eat and drink in the death and resurrection of Christ, and so on.

    It’s not that we want too much – we want too little.

  4. Drewster2000 Avatar
    Drewster2000

    This is soul-refreshing. Thank you.

  5. Brenda Johnson Avatar
    Brenda Johnson

    Truly beautiful! But I have a question, Fr. Stephen. How do I explain “Oh my Heavenly Mother” to my Protestant sister? I think that will be a stumbling block that will trip her up so as to miss the entire meaning.
    With gratitude!

  6. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks Fr. Stephen. I will really try to take your thoughts with me into the Liturgy this weekend.

    I am not very good at “marrying” the present moment to anything, much more Christ! I am normally thinking about the next step in a daily progression of events.

    The sweetness that transcends time, moments, history and events. Isn´t that what most people long for?

  7. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Brenda,
    I suspect that it would not share well with a Protestant sensibility. St. Nikolai of Zicha (the author) was a Serb without any real experience of Protestantism – so his poetry sails freely through the Orthodox mind. I was a little put-off at first – the Sun compared to the Theotokos, but I got it after a while – though, most commonly, the Sun is seen as a type of Christ and the Moon as a type of the Theotokos (her light is a reflection of His light). So, just savor it in private…

  8. Owen Kelly Avatar
    Owen Kelly

    A beautiful combination of prayer and poetry. The metaphors nicely reveal a non-mechanical perception of reality. No fragmentation, no system of compartments. Christ is everything and in everything (Col 3:11).

    St. Nikolai seems to see a continuity between inner and outer worlds. A scattered soul sees the world in separate pieces. But when the fragmentary “event” of the old man dies, we can experience Christ as the one eternal Event in all things.

    St. Nikolai, pray to God for us.

  9. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Father,
    I believe you rightfuly suggest cultural background to our respective and differentiated heartfelt responses to Orthodox poetry. It surprises me (although it probably should not) when I become aware of the cultural differences that I was brought up with in my childhood home. Since the Seminole culture dominated our home life, so much was unseen by me as a child and even as an adult. I often assumed and maintained a perception for many years that such cultural characteristics were residual ‘quirks’ (a very unfortunate teenage view in my opinion) that were antiquated.

    But now, my life in Orthodoxy has renewed my understanding of my childhood upbringing to appreciate what I had been given. I haven’t experienced the cultural blocks that others sometimes experience in the hymns and salutations given to the Theotokos. But I do sense a lack where I wish I could give her more love and attention. It is the awareness of the same lack and a desire and prayers to be faithful and loving to Christ, Our Lord, as well.

  10. Gretchen Joanna Avatar

    I love Saint Nikolai. His poetry makes a smooth path for my mind to follow into my heart. This prayer is perfect for me today; thank you, Father.

  11. William Gall Avatar

    25 years an Orthodox Christian, I still can’t wrap my heart around utterances like, “O heavenly mother, my only love.” Or “intercede for me, as you are my only hope.”
    My morning prayer to her: O most holy lady Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary, our wellspring of tenderness, our champion leader, inasmuch as thou art a wellspring of tenderness, look upon a sinful people, a most sinful man, ailing men and women; O thou full of Grace, most blessed among women, ark and palace of our God, indeed, our most holy mother, intercede with thy Son and our Lord for the salvation of our souls.
    Also, I replace “magnify” in our evening prayers with “revere;” magnify suggests one is making more of her than she actually is.
    A beautiful prayful poem by St. Nicholas, employing some hyperbole, and this is my response. 44 years a Protestant, 25 of them very intentional; they have never dissolved into nothingness. But the issue with the “onlys” is real. She is not the only in these ways, though she surely is the only Mother of God.

  12. Andrew Avatar
    Andrew

    Beautiful and profound. I recently picked up Prayers by the Lake and have been very slowly working my way through it. St. Nicholai’s contrast between “events” and the Lord as the only Event of his life stands out to me. In another prayer (33) he does something that feels similar in contrasting “hopes” and “hope” that also stuck with me:

    “Do not grumble against heaven because it does not fulfill all your hopes. Grumble against yourselves, because you do not know how to hope. Heaven does not fulfill hopes but hope.”

  13. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    William,
    For what it’s worth, the Scriptures tell us (as Mary is speaking), “He that is might hath magnified me, and holy is His name.” We are simply doing what God Himself has already done. There is wisdom and right doctrine in the prayers of the Church. Where we ourselves evidence the wounds of our hearts and minds.

    But I understand the struggle. May God heal our hearts!

  14. Owen Kelly Avatar
    Owen Kelly

    Andrew,
    Thanks for adding the prayer about hope. It’s a profound contrast St. Nicholai makes there. Only a poetic soul can make such spiritual subtilty and allusion seem natural. A saint, indeed.

  15. Owen Kelly Avatar
    Owen Kelly

    Dee,
    Thanks for your comment about Seminole culture. What do you think it was about that culture which left you more open to the Theotokos? Fascinating connection, so just wondering.

  16. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Hi Owen,
    It’s kind of hard to explain but essentially the women in the family were the ‘life blood’ in a spiritual way. As a culture they were matriarchal, matrilineal, and matrilocal. The influence however was also anti western feminism.—An odd combination in western thinking. They were traditionalists according to their traditions. One unexpected impact was how I responded psychologically to my daughter’s death. It’s hard to explain in that it not only was death to I child I loved, but a death to those who came before me. Not only individuals but the life of entire families, a context and a love of people and place. It was as if I had no longer a past or a future. I finally had to accept the influence the culture had on me before I was able to heal. This scenario might have been relegated to a form of grieving. But acknowledging the impact of my upbringing enabled the process of healing. Before that I had denied that the upbringing had any influence— go figure— a bit myopic.

  17. Owen Kelly Avatar
    Owen Kelly

    Dee, I am sorry for your loss. I have children too and cannot imagine. The cultural impact you mentioned is such an an important realization, I think. Thanks for a heartfelt response.

  18. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Mr. Gall, my way of working out such difficulties as you mention is that The Holy Mother, Our Lord and Savior and each of the Saints are people. We confess that even our Lord is “fully human”.

    When I remember that and open my all too human heart to them, the confusions tend to go away for me. It is a human trait to love descriptions of the Divine that seem exaggerated. However, if one can establish communications on a human level, that tends to raise our own humanity to more fully understand.

    God is with us.

  19. Gretchen Joanna Avatar

    I don’t know the Greek for “magnify,” but if we think of what happens when we look at something through a magnifying glass: We are not making it bigger, we are just seeing it up close and less blurry.

  20. Bonnie Ivey Avatar
    Bonnie Ivey

    Regarding the term “Magnify” – Having to deal with the eye disease macular degeneration has shown me something. Many times daily I must reach for a big magnifying glass in order to read text.
    The glass does not make the page and its text physically bigger than it is. But it allows me to perceive, apprehend, reflect upon, the meaning of that written passage which my unaided eye would see in a blurred and distorted way.

    His Mother said to the servants, ” Whatever He says to you, do it.” John 2:5

  21. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Dear Father,
    I love this passage. It is so beautiful and reveals so much of the love the author has for the Theotokos. May our Lord grant that we also might hold such love for her., that she might hear our prayers and help illuminate our hearts with the Light of Christ.

  22. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Dear Owen,
    Thank you for your kind words. I’m grateful for the short time I had with her. Indeed it is as this poem says, I believe she is with me forever in another way and prays for me. She brought beauty into my life that has no ending. Glory to God for all things. She helped me to truly love.

  23. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Gretchen,
    It’s interesting that in the Vigil of a Feast (such as a saint’s day), a key moment (in the Slavic practice) is called the “magnification.” The hymn that is sung is, “We magnify, we magnify thee…” and then offers a poetic comment on the saint. I like your example.

  24. Owen Kelly Avatar
    Owen Kelly

    Dee, what a tremendous gift. It made me think of another poem which says, “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.” Glory to Jesus Christ.

  25. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dee, Over the years I have been reading your comments, I have learned much and my horizons have been expanded. Thank you.

  26. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Dear Michael,
    It has been the same for me reading your comments from the very beginning when I was a catechumen to now. This blog has been a blessing for so many people.

  27. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Owen,
    Beautiful words, thank you!

  28. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    Michael, you are right about relating to the Theotokos and the saints as people. I grew up Roman Catholic, and the Mother of God was someone beyond human because of their understanding of original sin etc. I love her so much more now in the Orthodox Church, where she is known as fully human like the rest of us, and now, after Christ himself, the most fully human of all of us. And it was contemplating the stories of the saints, especially the Celtic ones and St Macrina, that began to make a way for me into Orthodoxy.

    Speaking of which, the Church of St Ninian on Mull is being dedicated tomorrow. Please pray for and rejoice with Fr Serafim and the monastics and guests/pilgrims who will be there!

    Thank you for the poem, Fr Stephen. Means a lot to me in this moment.

    Dana

  29. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    One of the reasons I love Orthodoxy is because it is not linear.

    As a history student, the question of time (what it is and how we humans intra-relate to and in it) is crucial.

    I learned that time, history and humanity are NOT linear, nor circular or any other geometric form. History is alive. Plus the teaching of my parents that all we are and do has an impact on everybody else and vice versa.

    That was all before I came to Christ and His Church.
    My parents taught that everything I do, think and feel has an impact on everyone else-individually and corporately.

    Put The Incarnate, Crucified, Buried and Risen Christ at the heart of that and the Orthodox Church is the only logical reality. Even as we often fail to live as we are called.

    Thinking in a linear manner lends itself to the suggestions of Satan, the temptations of worldly power and lusts of the flesh.

  30. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Hello Dana. Can you explain a bit more about the problems you had with the Catholic Church as it pertains to the Theotokos (Mary)? Thanks.

  31. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Matthew,
    I believe Dana speaks of the immaculate conception belief that the Roman Catholics hold.
    Dana has depth of understanding in the Orthodox Way, and she has been a compassionate commentator on this blog for a long time. Long before I came along. She often provides us with edifying insights in Orthodox theology.

  32. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks so much Dee.

  33. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Matthew,
    I hope I’m not too forward to share a little of my personal history of the beginning of my conversion to Christ. However what I’m about to share is relevant to what Dana is referring to.

    Archimandrite Maximos Constas has written a beautiful introduction to his translation of prayers to our (yours and ours) Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, entitled “The Light of the World”. In the introduction, he writes of the synthesis of mind and heart, knowledge and love, and the corresponding notion that theology and spirituality are not separate, self-contained activities in Orthodox life, but reciprocal and correlative components forming an integral unity. (This is almost a verbatim quote.)

    True theology is the fruit of prayer and love (which is expressed in prayer) and not an exercise that is independent or secondary to it. This is such a universal and foundational teaching of the Orthodox Church that not only does Archimandrite Maximos support this notion, but it was also taught to me as part of my catechism. I believe you’ve read Metropolitan Kalisto Ware’s (of blessed memory) books, where I believe this teaching is also mentioned.

    There are many ‘side’ stories about people who attempt to read theology without such a strong foundation of prayer. Such stories even express concern whether such a person would be saved, because it is perceived they are not likely on the Way.

    (again, paraphrasing Archimandrite Maximos:) Authentic theology is the speech and the silence of the blessed.

    Now, I come to my history with a little bit of trepidation because it would be easy to misunderstand within the Western cultural context and within the context that there are also many Orthodox still heavily influenced by Western Christianity (including myself).

    For nearly 60 years (counting early childhood, when I didn’t know theology), I abhorred Christianity as a general rule. There were beautiful true Christians that I met, but they seemed so much like outliers that I didn’t count them as representative of the entire group.

    I studied and conducted physical chemistry as an adult. Unknown to me, our Lord was providentially preparing me for my conversion in that field because I was trained to observe the unseen discussed in the language of equations and hypothetical models meant to convey what cannot be seen. Combine that discipline with the mentality of a young girl who had some exposure to noetic sight (via my mother’s Seminole side) and prayer of silence (via my father’s Quaker side). Unfortunately, I put these aside mentally, but in my heart, they were the hidden seeds that our Lord put there. Little did I know that physical chemistry would be just the ‘right kind of water’ to help them grow. Physical chemistry teaches students to extract information from equations and then project potential macro events from the nano/micro level to the macro level. I was trained to do this all the time, especially because I was also trained to convey such models (early training for icons) to other students.

    I was studying the Higgs Potential Energy field equations and conducting my study using the physical chemistry training that I described above. I came to the realization that I was observing a process of resurrection. And now this is the part that I must be careful about and allow what I saw to remain in silence, until such a day (God willing) I’m appropriately prepared to discuss it (after a longer life in prayer with Christ and His Church).

    What stumped me is that the Higgs Field was initiated (Glory to God for all things) at a specific time, a very long time before the earth was formed. Therefore I said to myself that this couldn’t possibly be a signature, so to speak (how I expressed it to myself), of the Resurrection, which was reported to have happened about 2000 years ago.

    For reasons indicative of the Lord’s way of hooking us lost sheep and bringing us to Him, I could not let go of the idea that I observed the Resurrection. At the same time, the very idea was abhorrent to me. I feared that if I believed what I saw, such a belief could eventually make me a Christian, and I feared such a result. However, the scientist in me pushed me to accept my conclusions rather than let my personal ‘biases’ get in the way of conducting true science. I need to add to this story that I was never an atheist. Believing in God (not in generalistic-modernistic terms- again, I am silent about this situation) has always been my way of being.

    The problem was, I never had any exposure to any Christian theology that would enable me to understand what I had seen. So I went on a hunt, reading both Roman Catholic and Orthodox texts to see whether I could find any hints of where I might find my answers. When I stumbled upon Met. Kalistos Ware’s books, especially the passages that discussed the theology of icons, I just knew at that point I was on the right track and started reading ever more Orthodox writings, including the Philokalia (or parts of it–bc it was mentioned the the Way of the Pilgrim).

    These readings, thinking, and praying took place over a period of about three years before I was prepared (had the courage) to step foot in an Orthodox Church in my area. During this period, I had read about the Orthodox notion of history. I didn’t fully understand it. But I knew once again that the more I lived the Orthodox Way in prayer and love, living in Christ, participating in Liturgy, the more I would come to a greater understanding of what Our Lord was showing me in the Higgs Field equations. I discovered also that across all my life I was on the hunt for Christ.

    If I describe what I saw of the Higgs Field in the Orthodox Way, I would say that the Lord showed me that He was slain before the world. Indeed, this is an Orthodox saying and teaching. I’m sure it is mentioned in the Fathers, and the Roman Catholic theologians are aware of it, too. But once again, it needs to be emphasized that this was taught to me as part of my catechism to become an Orthodox Christian. Such teaching and praxis (prayers at home and in the Church) helped me to see, truly see, that our Theotokos and Our Lord are immediately close to us, physically and spiritually. (Physicality and Spirituality are one in the Orthodox Church). I always pray before their icons if I can. I often say the Jesus prayer in the way I was taught by my priest, long before I noticed one might find such teachings on the internet.

    I hope that this long comment might aid in your understanding of what Dana was saying.

    Glory to God for all things, beloved Matthew.

  34. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dee, thank you and may Our Lord’s blessing continue in your life.

  35. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Thank you so much, Michael. I appreciate the reader’s patience with the long comment. Its length can be annoying.

  36. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dee, annoying only if it is redundant, immaterial or boring. It is none of those things. Rejoice, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Closer than hands and feet.

  37. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Hello Dee.

    Thanks ever so much for sharing a more comprehensive piece of your journey to Orthodoxy. It is really an incredibly wonderful testimony of how God can and does work in so many people´s lives. My hope and prayer is that more scientists in the course of their work would observe something that draws them closer to Christ.

    I carry my Orthodox knowledge and experience into the Catholic Church. I will now carry your story with me as well. 🙂

  38. Owen Kelly Avatar
    Owen Kelly

    Hey Matthew,
    Could you please reach out to me via email? I seem to have lost your contact info.😬

  39. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Hey Owen,

    I seem to have lost yours as well. 🙁

  40. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    I am always fascinated with your story, Dee. Thank you for sharing!

  41. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    Matthew, it is as Dee explained. The understanding of original sin in the Catholic Church leads to the necessity of Mary having to be without the “stain” of it in order to bear Christ. This is not simply about Mary’s worthiness, though I admired her very much and even took Marie for my Confirmation name. It also, more importantly to me the longer I’m Orthodox, touches on the union of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity with the human being Jesus of Nazareth, and the ability God created in our true human nature to be able to bear the existence of the GodMan, and thus be able to be saved – delivered, healed and ultimately united with Him, and through Him to the entire Trinity. It’s indicative of perhaps the deepest difference keeping the Catholic and Orthodox Churches from union.

    Dana

  42. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    Dear Dee, thank you so much for explicating a little more each time how you came to see It 🙂

    Glory to God indeed. And thank you for your continued kindness to me and all of us here.

    Dana

  43. hélène d Avatar
    hélène d

    Matthew,
    I would like to offer you this link concerning Marian devotion in the Catholic Church and Orthodoxy. Perhaps you will find interest in your questioning.

    https://orthochristian.com/161634.html

  44. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks so much Dana for taking the time to respond to me.

    You said:

    “It also, more importantly to me the longer I’m Orthodox, touches on the union of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity with the human being Jesus of Nazareth, and the ability God created in our true human nature to be able to bear the existence of the GodMan, and thus be able to be saved – delivered, healed and ultimately united with Him, and through Him to the entire Trinity. It’s indicative of perhaps the deepest difference keeping the Catholic and Orthodox Churches from union.”

    What you say here is lovely and it is what I love very much about my Orthodox way of thinking and being. While I know that original sin as understood in the Catholic Church differs greatly from the eastern mind and experience, I think what you share here about salvation and union no informed Catholic would disagree with, though I am open to correction. I have read two times in two different Catholic resources salvation being described as union with God.

    My prayer is for union not only with God, but between east and west as well.

    Thanks again Dana.

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