LOOKING BACK AT LIFE, VALUES, LOVE, ELDERS!
As the year wraps up or winds down, everyone is seemingly prompted to take stock or look back; almost like the daily examen of every night. The TV channels insinuate it by looking back at 2022 every now and then, not so much as nostalgia but summary.
Looking back at the end of each day or each year is always meant to recall how loving or loved, how excited or exciting, how productive or constructive, how selfless or satisfactory one/life has been – and the failure, denial or absence of the same.
Looking back, as with recap or daily examen, one tends to think of the most important virtues and values lurking or lacking. Call it LOVE. The one thing that does endure (1Cor 13). The love of a lover, a mother, the queen; the love of a father, a friend, a colleague, a neighbour, a Christian, a sibling, a relation.
Every now and then Henry Nouwen’s classic “The Wounded Healer” strikes me wildly with his description of our generation as fatherless, rebellious…. And perhaps motherless too.
This year, as I look back at how many books I have read, I am just musing on Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov” in which Father Zossima stands out, or rather fades away though most needful.
The elder, the splendid elder, the honour and glory of the monastery, Zossima. The elder Zossima was sixty-five. He came of a family of landowners, had been in the army in early youth and served in the Caucasus as an officer. He had no doubt impressed Alyosha by some peculiar quality of his soul. It was said that so many people had for years past come to confess their sins to Father Zossima and entreat him for words of advice and healing; that he had acquired the keenest intuition and could tell from an unknown face what a newcomer wanted, and what was the suffering on his conscience. He sometimes astounded and almost alarmed his visitors by his knowledge of their secrets before they had spoken a word. Alyosha noticed that many, almost all, went in to the elder for the first time with apprehension and uneasiness but came out with bright and happy faces. Alyosha was particularly struck by the fact that Father Zossima was not at all stern.
He carries in his heart the secret of renewal for all; that power which will at last establish truth on earth, and all men will be holy and love one another, and there will be no more rich or poor, no exalted nor humbled, but all will be as the children of God, and the true kingdom of Christ will come.
What is such an elder? An elder was one who took your soul, your will, into his soul and his will. When you choose an elder, you renounce your own will and yield it to him in complete submission, complete self-abnegation. This novitiate, this terrible school of self-abnegation is undertaken voluntarily, in the hope of self-conquest, of self-mastery, in order, after a life of obedience to attain perfect freedom, that is, from self; to escape the lot of those who have lived their whole life without finding their true selves in themselves.
This institution of elders (fathers) is not founded on theory but was established in the East from the practice of a thousand years. The obligations due to an elder are not ordinary obedience; the obligation involves confession to the elder by all who have submitted themselves to him and to the indissoluble bond between him and them.
What a description of an elder. What a pearl and treasure to find. What a discipline and a challenge. What retrospective yearning for self-mastery, for love and virtue from and through a father, a mother, an elder! Some of us may have found one this year or may find one next year.
Emmanuel Mbeh MHM, December 2022.