Nostalgia For Paradise
The Christian life is nostalgia for Paradise, a deep knowledge that we are foreign travelers in a passing and vain world, far from our true Fatherland. The saints dwelt in Paradise even in this life. When we read their writings, we feel as if they are taking us by the hand and leading us to a fragrant garden of beauty, of tranquility, of eternal life. This is how nostalgia for Paradise is born in us.
Nostalgia is a great force. It contains something of sorrow, something of love, and something of joy. The Fathers make us nostalgic for God. Anyone who is nostalgic for God labors to return to Him. This is the labor of Christians. They stand before the angel’s flaming sword and, weeping like infants whose milk has been taken from them, they wait for the angel to step aside. Exiled from two paradises, the paradise of men and the Paradise of God, they are strangers and sojourners, transients in this world.
In contrast with the animals, man has an infinite thirst. For within him lives the memory of the grace he received with the Breath of Life but lost by his disobedience. This is why absolutely nothing can satisfy him except the Infinite One. Without Him he will always thirst.
The devil does not care whether we are moral or immoral. What concerns him very much is only whether we are close to God. The devil casts us into immorality because it takes us far from God and darkens our mind’s sight. However, he is also careful because sin can push us to repentance, and then he would lose us. Even virtue is a useful tool to him, and he has often used it to draw many people away from God. His most secure prisoners, after all, are those who are morally irreproachable but also have a grand idea of themselves. And unfortunately there are many of them.
Pascal said quite correctly, “Everyone fears God. Believers fear that they may lose Him, and unbelievers fear that they may find Him.” But why should people fear that they may find God? This is the great tragedy of recent centuries which has left its mark on all aspects of our life and thought. God was slandered by the theologians of the West, Papists and Protestants alike, who presented Him as an eternal, punishing avenger. They made God out to be the cause and creator of perdition, and they failed to attribute perdition properly to the creature, the person, who uses his freedom and rejects the love that God offers, and isolates himself eternally in the perdition of his own “aloneness”. Instead, they attributed perdition to the very Source of Love. They said that God is not really love to everyone but only to those who do His will; to everyone else, He is only eternal hatred and revenge because He is bound to a higher, blind and impersonal necessity which forces Him to be just. This idea grew and became the complete overthrow of Christianity and, deep down, the cause of contemporary atheism.
In affliction with joy.
“And ye became imitators of us and the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit.” (1Thes. 1:6)
The affliction is our own contribution, and is the knowledge of our smallness and unworthiness. The joy is a gift of the Holy Spirit and it presupposes affliction. God is close to the heart that grieves. Only such a heart has peace and tastes of joy, and it alone loves. He who does not know affliction does not know the truth, for only affliction can make us see. But there is a healthy affliction and an unhealthy affliction, one leading to life and the other to death. The first is tranquil and the other agitated.
Laughter hardens the heart; tears soften it. The first agitates the soul; the second gives it tranquility. The one reveals pride, the other humility. Laughter and despair are province of Satan. Deep down, gladness in affliction is joyful, and it is the province of God. Gloominess and dejection have nothing to do with God. The joyful sorrow in Christ glows, illumines, and gladdens. It jests spontaneously, wisely, and fruitfully. Raucous laughter and gloom are both of the devil. A smile and gladness are of God. The convulsive laughter of worldly people is typical of hopelessness. These who have no hope laugh to forget their despair. On the other hand, the tears of those who hope have come from the light of the soul, that is, from repentance, humility, gratitude, and love.
He who anguishes over evils that have not even befallen him but fears that they may come carries a heavy cross with no help. When evil do come, they never come alone. Divine help accompanies them and does not permit evils to weigh more heavily on us than our shoulders are able to bear. We avoid affliction and become slaves of fear. But only affliction shapes a man and guides him to the peaceful joy we are nostalgic about. The irony is that a man finds joy in affliction. Yet, in the happiness that he had once pursued, he found nothing but affliction.
We have no permanent earthly city.
Christians do not live for this world. All of the things that people of the world pursue are things that perish and pass away. Christianity prepares no earthly kingdom, no earthly city. It has nothing in common with civilizations and worldly systems, with Caesars and Caesaropapists. Christians have never accepted this world of exile as their Fatherland, neither have they wished to adorn it as if they were to live in it forever. They may have been born on this earth, but they live on it as refugees nostalgic for Paradise, nostalgic for the Fatherland they lost.
In this life, Christians already think, live, and move in a world without decay, looking to the life of the age to come. The Fatherland lives in their hearts, and in their every step they hear it calling them. They long for the moment of the trumpet (1Cor. 15:52), the moment when they will stand before the serene eye of their Lord and His gladsome countenance will face their countenance.
It is impossible for a pure heart that genuinely loves Christ to live in a state of compromise with the world and with the “prince of this world” (Jn. 12:31), even for a second. Our heart must truly love the Lord Jesus Christ more than it loves the world and the things of this world; it must make no compromises in this, and it must not serve two masters. Everything hangs on this.
“Nostalgia for Paradise”; “Guideposts on the path to the true Fatherland through our life in Christ.” By Dr. Alexander Kalomiros; Translated and edited by George S. Gabriel