Archimandrite Lev Gillet, who signed many of his books “A Monk of the Eastern Church,” was one of the great Orthodox spiritual guides of the last century. His biography, written by his longtime friend Mme. Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, has been translated into English and offers invaluable insight into the life of Fr Lev, as well as of the circumstances surrounding the growth of Orthodox Christianity in Western Europe, especially following the Russian Revolution.
In 1990, St. Vladimir’s Seminary published two essays of Fr Lev in a volume titled Serve the Lord With Gladness. The first, “Our Life in the Liturgy,” is a simple and highly accessible introduction to the Orthodox Divine Liturgy or Eucharistic service. The second, “Be My Priest,” is a profound meditation on the significance of the priesthood, which appeals to both ordained clergy and others who make up the “universal priesthood” of baptized believers.
In this series of webpage columns dedicated to “Life in Christ,” we will be offering occasional translations of chapters from another of Fr Lev’s books, Amour Sans Limites (Love Without Limits), published in 1971 by “Ιditions de Chevetogne,” a Roman Catholic monastery in Belgium (where the monks celebrate both Western and Byzantine rites). It is difficult to render Fr Lev’s lyrical French into English, but we hope that these efforts will provide readers with something of the spiritual richness and profound theological insight that characterized this humble monk, who was truly a modern Father of the Church.
I have never ceased loving you, speaking to you, or calling you. Sometimes it was in silence and solitude. Sometimes it was there, where others were gathered in my name.
Often you did not hear this call, because you were not listening. At other times you perceived it, but in a way that was vague and confused. Occasionally you were at the point of responding with acceptance. And sometimes you gave me that response without any lasting commitment. You were deeply moved to hear me. You recoiled from the decision to follow me.
Never thereafter did you finally submit, totally and exclusively, to the calling of Love.
Yet now, once again, I come to you. I want to speak to you once more. I want you wholly for myself. Let me repeat: Love desires you, totally and exclusively.
I will speak to you in secret, confidentially, intimately. I will place my mouth close to your ear. Hear, then, what my lips want to speak to you in hushed tones – what they want to murmur to you.
I am your Lord, the Lord of Love. Do you want to enter into the life of Love?
This is not an invitation to some realm of tepid tenderness. It is a calling to enter into the burning flame of Love. There alone is true conversion: conversion to incandescent Love.
Do you wish to become someone other than you have been, someone other than you are? Do you wish to be someone who lives for others, and first of all for that Other and with that Other who calls all things into being? Do you wish to be a brother to all, a brother to the entire world?
Then hear what my Love speaks to you.
My child, you have never known who you really are. You do not yet know yourself. I mean, you have never really known yourself to be the object of my Love. As a result, you have never known who you are in me, or all the potential within yourself.
Awake from this sleep and its bad dreams! In certain moments of truth, you see nothing in yourself but failures and defeats, set-backs, corruption, and perhaps even crimes. But none of that is really of you. It is not your true “me,” the most profound expression of your true self.
Beneath and behind all that, deeper than all your sin, transgressions and lacks, my eyes are upon you. I see you, and I love you. It is you that I love. It’s not the evil you do – the evil that we can neither ignore nor deny nor lessen (is black actually white?). But underneath it all, at a greater depth, I see something else that is still very much alive.
The masks you wear, the disguises you adopt might well hide you from the eyes of others – and even from your own eyes. But they cannot hide you from me. I pursue you even there where no one has ever pursued you before.
Your deceptive expression, your feverish quest for excitement, your hard and avaricious heart – all of that I separate from you. I cut it away and cast it far off from you.
Hear me. No one truly understands you. But I understand you. I can speak about you such wonderful, marvelous things! I can say these things about you. Not about the “you” that the powers of darkness have so often led astray, but about the “you” who is as I desire you to be, the “you” who dwells in my thoughts as the object of my love. I can say these things about the “you” who can still be what I want you to be, and to be so visibly.
Become visibly, then, what you already are in my mind. Be the ultimate reality of yourself. Realize all the potential I have placed within you.
No man or woman is capable of realizing any inner beauty that is not equally present within you. There is no divine gift toward which you cannot aspire. Indeed, you will receive all those gifts together, if you truly love, with me and in me.
Whatever you may have done in the past, I will set you free, I will loose your bonds. And if I loose your bonds, who can prevent you from rising up and walking?