an essay by Father Peter
'For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
of the Community of the Servants of the Will of God
For no one can lay any other foundation than that which is laid which is Jesus Christ.
(1 Corinthians 3:11)
...you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the cornerstone,...
...God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets...
(1 Corinthians 12:28)
...(Christ) gave the apostles, the prophets...to equip the saints for the work of ministry,...
Matter for thanksgiving
One of the many personal fruits of the Messages of True Life in God has been a continuing thanksgiving over the 40 months I have known of them: for Vassula and her ministry, as well as for the Messages and for all the readers. Yet the Messages are more than subject matter for thanksgiving. They have a unique character coming as they do from the Holy Trinity, conveying God's Word, and to respond to them is to participate in his will and so to abide forever (1 John 2:17).
Addressed to whole Church
For this reason, it is for me a matter of concern that we in the Church have not really taken on board the momentousness of what is happening through the ministry of Vassula. Not since the Apostle John on the island of Patmos received the Revelation that now forms the concluding book of our Christian Scriptures, has the Lord spoken in such a way, directly to the entire Church, that is prophetically, and through her to the whole world. It is true that he speaks in every age through the hierarchy he establishes in the Church, but a prophetic word is by its very nature addressed to the whole People of God, including the Church's hierarchy, as well as to the world, and to specific times and circumstances in its direct appeal for a response.
Visions and revelations
How might we begin to assess the meaning of this event for which the main precedent appears to be only that of the Scriptures? The receiving of 'visions' and 'revelations' is not something strange in God's Church and certainly not something new. To begin, we might recollect that the Christian Faith itself is the work of visionaries. The Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, received in his manhood visionary experiences: He heard the voice of the Father (God), saw visions (of Satan falling from heaven Luke 10:18) received messages from heaven (Matthew 3:17), was in continual prayer and dialogue with the Father. The truth of the incarnation at the heart of the Christian faith falls apart once we dismiss the message Mary his mother received from the Archangel Gabriel. What of Paul, the Apostle of the Christian faith to the whole (gentile) world, and his experience of the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus? How are we to understand his description of being 'taken up into the third heaven' (2 Corinthians 12:2-4)? The Apostle and seer John in his Gospel and Revelation, saw visions: indeed the whole of the last book of canonical Scripture is nothing but a prophetic vision. What of the witness of the apostles and Mary Magdalene to the Resurrection? If spiritual phenomena - visions, revelations - are suspect by the canons of modern thought and therefore not to be relied on, where does that put us in relation to the Christian Faith, whose origins are rooted entirely in such phenomena?
In the history of the Church, we know that there have certainly been a number of inspired revelations and visions to individual saints. One thinks in the East of St Symeon the new Theologian and his hymns to the Holy Spirit, and in the West of Saint Gertrude and St Margaret Mary on the Heart of Jesus; in England itself, of blessed Julian of Norwich's Revelations of Divine Love. In these visions/revelations, it is important to emphasise that nothing new (no innovative additions to the faith) was ever claimed - there are no additions but only a confirmation of what Christian believers have always believed. These 'visions' were given to the recipient 'for building up the Church' to use St Paul's words, following the guidelines he commended for all special charisms in the Church (1 Corinthians 14:26).
The Messages are prophetic
The Messages of True Life in God, however, are something more than a 'vision' or 'revelation' for building up the Church. This is on account of their content. They were not given simply to Vassula and those around her. As Vassula herself has remarked, if these Messages were just for her and her acquaintances, how much easier that would have been! She could just have stayed at home and lived a pious life with her family, savouring the revelation, without any pressing call to go all over the world publicly proclaiming these Messages. The Messages of True Life in God are no individual, private revelation but are clearly addressed to the entire Church: to everyone from the Pope and Patriarch to the ordinary churchgoer; they are also addressed to the world, to every single human being. Each reader is bidden by the Lord to put his/her own name in the place of Vassula's so that the Messages are read as a direct and personal word to the reader from Jesus, the Lord. The contemporary references in the Messages - to abortion, to the ecological crisis, to the wars in Serbia and Africa, to 9/11 and the tsunami - together with the urgent call for response further underline the nature of the Messages as prophetic in the fullest sense.
A difficulty - New Testament prophecy
To speak of prophecy since the era of the Gospel and New Testament appears to present a difficulty in our age due to an unthinking misunderstanding. There is a general assumption today (mistaken, I believe) that the words 'prophet(s)' in the New Testament refers to the Old Testament era, to those prophets of the Mosaic Covenant who called the People of Israel to turn to God in repentance and to hope in the coming of God's Messiah/Christ. However the quotations cited above from 1 Corinthians and Ephesians make it clear that there is a prophetic charism in the New Testament also. For it is transparent from the context that the term cannot be referring simply to prophets of the Old Testament: 'God has appointed in the Church... first apostles second, prophets...' 'Christ gave the apostles, the prophets...to equip the saints for the work of ministry' (Ephesians 4:12). In other words, Jesus Christ willed and established a prophetic ministry in the Church. Indeed, the prophetic calling constitutes 'with the apostles' the very foundation of the Church 'of which Jesus Christ is the cornerstone'(1 Corinthians 3:11;Ephesians 2:20).
What is New Testament prophecy?
Interestingly, it would appear that in the Orthodox Church, there is no such misunderstanding, but rather a ready expectation of a prophetic ministry. In their understanding, this ministry is not only consonant with the consecrated life of prayer but its expected fruit. In a recent book about Orthodox spiritual life and the Jesus Prayer, there is an account in the meeting of the Gerondas (spiritual father or elder) from Mount Athos with his disciple, that bears on our theme. The Gerondas is speaking about the stages of the Jesus prayer, and the goal of unceasing prayer in the life of perfect discipleship of Jesus Christ. The monk continues:
The Fathers say that when a man is enraptured in the divine Light during the Jesus Prayer, he ceases praying with his lips. The mouth and the tongue remain silent, the heart is silent too. The athlete then delights in the theoria (vision) of Taborian Light. He receives the uncreated energy of God. It is the same Light of Mount Tabor, which the disciples saw; it is the Kingdom of God - eternity. According to St Gregory Palamas, the Light is 'the beauty of the age to come', 'the substance of future good' 'the most perfect vision of God' 'the heavenly food'. Those who become worthy of seeing the Uncreated Light are the prophets of the New Testament. For as the prophets of the Old Testament would surpass time and could see the Incarnation of Christ, the first advent, in the same way those who contemplate the Light surpass time and see the glory of Christ in the Kingdom of Heaven. 1 (The emphasis is mine)
In this understanding, 'prophets' are those 'elders'/'spiritual fathers' (startzi in Russia) whose lives have been so purified by God through the life of prayer and contemplation that they 'speak out of knowledge' (a term of Fr Gilbert Shaw), not from rational/scientific or 'book' knowledge but the true gnosis spoken of by St Paul. It is a personal and intimate, experiential knowledge of God Himself, the Holy Trinity, given through the purification of the heart in the life of prayer and contemplation. The life of these spiritual 'athletes' (following the simile of St Paul - 1 Corinthians 9:24ff, Galatians 2:2, Philippians 2:16, 2 Timothy 4:7) has progressed to a degree of holiness, such that it has been transformed into a perfect union with the life of Christ Himself. It is not surprising to learn that such a one speaks as a prophet, with the authority of God Himself. Indeed even the monastic (contemplative) life constituted for this purpose itself possesses a prophetic character, as both Fr Gilbert Shaw and Fr Gregory of this Community have pointed out in their teaching.
We will not be surprised to learn therefore that as part of her own preparation, Vassula herself underwent such a purification. She has spoken in her public addresses both of the intensity and thoroughness of that inner work of God in the human heart, preparing it eventually to receive none other than God Himself. It is clear too as we read through the Messages that this searching purification is continuing through the years they are being given. Vassula spoke of this purification when she addressed a meeting at our former monastery in Hove:
Now the Bible is not so difficult to understand. Even children understand the words of the Bible. However, when I read what I read at that time, I didn't understand anything. It was like another language; not a word penetrated my mind. At that particular moment when I didn't understand anything, I knew what was happening. I was totally blind and in darkness. I did not know anything about the Word of God. That was like a shock within me. I realized how wretched I was, and I wept bitterly. God made me see myself the way he saw me, and it burned. I cannot explain it. It hurts so much to realize in reality who you are in front of God - not the way you believe you are, or how people outside praise you - but how God sees you. This is a purification.'
As though confirming the meaning of this purification, the Lord himself refers on a number of occasions in the Messages to the prophetic ministry that is laid upon Vassula. 3
Fr Gregory: 'Should one say perhaps that it's the beginning of purification?'
Vassula: 'It's the beginning of purification, and it never ends. It's the "Day of the Lord." In fact, it is called "the Day of the Lord" when He visits you. It is purification, and I went through that for three weeks non-stop; but He didn't give me the whole dose because I would have died. He gave it to me bit by bit, reminding me of things that I had done in the past that offended God. Previously, I had seen them the way we normally see things here. But now I saw them with God's eyes. Where I had thought they were tiny, little things, they were huge and horrible in God's sight. So I really started to hate myself. I was telling my angel things as though I were in a delirium: "I don't even deserve to be alive or be among people because my presence would only dirty them," I used to say. "I don't even deserve to have a normal death. I should be hacked into small pieces, and thrown to the hyenas." It was horrible the way I felt about myself. It was awful, but I went through it.'
'After that, I heard the Father speak, not Jesus. It was the Father. But I was in such a state, worn out from the purification, whatever happened, I didn't care any more. It was the Father who stepped in, and this was another shock for me because the way I thought about God - the Father especially - was totally wrong. I had made God out to be a severe judge, and that was all. There was no sweetness, no tenderness. He was rigid, ready to judge, and severe, very severe - not the Lord that I have met now. 2
A new grace of the Holy Spirit
Why should God act in this special way in His Church? Why does He choose Vassula, and send her all over the world, speaking about these Messages to those who have invited her? It would appear that what we are witnessing is the desire on God's part to impart a special grace to the whole Church. We can call it a fresh Pentecostal outpouring of the Holy Spirit, since the Messages use the term "a Second Pentecost" often in the later books, and also "the new heavens and new earth" (first spoken of by the Apostle and seer John in his Revelation (21:1-5a). In short, God is wanting us to make space in our hearts for the Holy Spirit to come with an increasing fullness, so that He can be more fully operative at all levels of our life as Christians.
It is this overriding concern of God to give Himself in His Holy Spirit that explains the pattern and content of the Messages. How is it to happen? Two strands in the Messages are directed to the work of purification: in one, the Lord exposes the humanistic ways of thinking in the Church - termed "rationalism" and "liberalism" in the Messages. We can see that something akin to this has already been under way in the Church during the last 40 years, and more intensely in the last 10-15 years. A second concerns itself with the effects of humanistic thinking in the falling short of virtue and holiness of life. So we see that a lot of 'dead wood' in us and in the Church has to be cleared away. There has to be a metanoia (repentance) - a turning away from this way of thinking, if we are to be in a ready state for receiving the new grace God wills to give.
Repentance and purification
As with the Fathers, the saints and as with Vassula, so with ourselves: a metanoia means undergoing inner purification. Such cleansing of the human heart involves the exposure of our human sin: our frailty and shortcomings, if we are to be fit vessels for the Holy Spirit. The Lord himself spoke in the Gospel of this purifying of our hearts:
'for from within, out of the heart come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and they defile a man.' (Mark 7:21-23).
The Gerondas from Mount Athos cited earlier confirms this from the Orthodox tradition:
Repentance too is light, which shines in the soul of man and guides him to the pool of the second baptism, where the eyes are cleansed from spiritual cataracts. All Christians who fight the good fight enjoy this light, especially those who pursue purification from the passions and they enjoy it, of course, according to the degree of their struggle. St Gregory the Theologian says that "where there is purification, there exists illumination: because without the first the second is not accorded." 4
With the special grace, unity
The grace that God wants to give is none other than the Person of God the Holy Spirit Himself, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity. It is the gift of His HolySpirit that illuminates the third strand of the Messages. Here we learn of the call for the Churches to unite: for the Gift is to be the Instrument of that unity. The Holy Spirit is One Person, the Principle of Unity in the Godhead Itself. He Himself is Unity and so the Instrument who will effect the unity.
East & West: One Church
The necessary prelude to ecclesial unity comes in a request from the Lord for the Eastern and Western Churches to agree on a single date for Easter. We note as we go to press that Pope Benedict and Patriarch Bartholomew are about to meet in Istanbul. Every meeting of Pope and Ecumenical Patriarch constitutes a step, however small, in the direction of the healing of the division of a thousand years. It is a sowing of the seed that will finally bear fruit in One Church of East and West. The meeting is therefore something for which to give praise and thanks to God. At the same time, we give thanks to God for sending Vassula, and ask for that grace of holy fear that we may not fail or fall short in our opening up to God for this fresh input of His grace. We look with a certain awe and eager longing for the fulfilment of his word, which Isaiah prophesied in powerful and memorable images:
neither are your ways my ways ,
declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth...
so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose
and shall succeed in the thing
for which I sent it.' (Isaiah 55:10-11)
Fr Peter CSWG
1 A Night in the Desert of the Holy Mountain by Metropolitan Natpaktos (Quoted from Section 6i The Fruits of the Jesus Prayer).
2 Vassula Comes to the Monastery (CSWG Press 2005 pages 2-3)
3 True Life in God: Vassula: Conversations with Jesus See Messages for 13/12/92, 12/2/00 and 13/9/02 Books III, XI & XII. These are just 3 of many referring to Vassula's prophetic ministry.
4 Metropolitan Natpaktos, op cit, Section 6i.