Fr Ion Bria, Professor of Orthodox Theology
A former Director of the Unit 1 Unity of Renewal of the World Council of Churches, Geneva, discusses the book, “Fire of Love”, a collection of extracts from “True Life in God” which speak of the Holy Spirit.
Within the fellowship of God’s people, commitment to Christ constitutes the foundation and core of the life and ministry of all believers, priests, teachers and bishops. Some are called to a discipleship in which their personal identity and faithfulness to Christ is of paramount significance, or to a distinctive calling which may represent an intensification of a close familiarity with the Risen Christ. Out of this intimate proximity and abundant dialogue, the faithful disciple is committed, under a solemn vow, to echo this unique joy. He/she is not sent to disclose a new revelation, but to re-tell and re-write anew what has been already revealed and manifested; “I find it necessary to write and to appeal to you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints”(Jude 3).
Fire of Love is a story written by a reminder of The Reminder. At this stage of history and in this particular place and situation, the reminder’s name is Vassula. Her analysis is realistic. Facing the present human unbelief, disobedience to the church, false prophecy, all speaking “the language of the world”, there is no time for complacency and lack of discipline. Christ wants a disciplined community with disciplined faithfulness to God. Where there is faith, God works through the feeble and the powerless, but where there is no repentance and faith, the weakness is weakness. There is an urgency of time, for the intruders and “traders” of Christ are increasing the ignorance of God, perverting and undermining the grace of God, and rejecting our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (Jude 4). By saying: Christ is risen, one goes beyond denouncing this world. One becomes a witness to the new world which will not pass. This introduction is not meant to canonize the content and method of Vassula’s Spiritual Conversations, nor to judge her as a skilful writer in various styles: doxological, sentimental, poetical, penitential. Rather it is to see how the two arms of God, the Son and the Spirit, (St Irenaeus about 130-2) take a disciple and do mighty works through her.
Jesus Christ taught us the Word of God, being Himself the living Logos of God. When the Jews reproached Jesus for not himself having been taught, He answered: “My teaching is not from Myself: it comes from the One who sent Me; and if anyone is prepared to do His Will, he will know whether My teaching is from God” (John 7:16). Jesus insisted on the content of love: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My Word…. Those who do not love Me, do not keep My words. And My word is not My own: it is the word of the One who sent Me” (John 14:23-24). And the Good News has a certain objectivity. He refers to “My commandments”, to what is written in the Book of Psalms (Luke 20:42), in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets (Luke 24:44). Jesus did not remain in the desert, but explained the passages from the Scriptures in the Temple, and in encounters on the road (Luke 24:27-32). It is precisely by His teaching that He created a circle of disciples: “Because He taught them with authority, and not like the scribes” (Matt 7:29). All His life and ministry are in “conformity” with the oikonomia of the God of Salvation. He was absorbed by His Father’s affairs, (Luke 2:49). He went about the Holy Land but finally He turned back to Jerusalem, where His Crucifixion became His glorification.
The Risen Christ is now active in the Spirit, as becomes clear on the day of Pentecost. He needs the Spirit to communicate with us, therefore He enjoins on us: “Do not suppress My Spirit”. The Spirit is the Truth, who “will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you” (John 14:26). The Spirit is His witness, “another witness” (John 5, 6), since He will not speak as from Himself, but will say only what He has learned, and will teach you of the things to come” (John 16:13). But the Spirit is freedom, like a wind blowing where it pleases. Where there are false teachers and teaching, the Spirit repeats strictly what Jesus said. Where there are faithful disciples, the Spirit reveals the hidden jewels of God’s wisdom. The Spirit will complete in us the perfect love of the Risen Christ. “do not say that all I had to say to you has been said; why limit me as yourself?” Jesus imparts gifts, abilities, ministries, through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, who is present everywhere and fills all things, goes out to reach the whole world.
“For you too will be my witnesses”. Here is the role of the reminders of The Reminder and witnesses to The Witness, who are not selected and appointed to an office, but blessed and anointed to testify that Christ is Risen! “I am free to send you new portents and fresh wonders”. Their quality is perfect love and loyalty, and when it is necessary Jesus Christ asks them to rewrite His message. What a lesson about the “schola” character of Christianity! The Gospel is not imposed by imperial edict, decree of a magisterium, decisions of a council, by intellectual oppression or cultural conformism. The Christian is a scholastics absorbed in a master-disciple colloquium and gracious mutual communications. It could be turned into conversion, renewal of mind and heart. The scholastics will then say: “I vow to remain faithful to You; this is my solemn vow; help me keep this vow forever and ever.” The disciple of the Master remains a student, a pupil.
Fire of Love utters a heavy word and warning for ecumenical Christianity. The symbol of ” three iron bars” is true, and corresponds with the “rigidity” of Churches petrified in the sleep and lethargy of division. This is also here a matter of commitment to Christ. In His Message, Christ asks for some urgent “reparations”, at least to celebrate Easter on a common date. Only the fire of the Spirit can melt and bend the immobile bars. If not, Jesus will reject Christians like “rotten wood”. In an age when so many sectarian and fundamentalist groups retain all our attention and leave no time for remembrance of God, Christians cannot be completely deaf to the persuasion and advice of Vassula in regard to new signs of unity, here and now. There is something universal in this message, recalling that “all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).
Tradition specifies no limits to the material and medium to be used in communicating the Gospel message, requiring only that it be appropriate. The historical practice retains a strict number of teaching ministries: pastors, priests, teachers, theologians and bishops. Could we interpret Tradition as being concerned with other kinds of communication, e.g. exceptional charismatic reminders? Does it provide sufficient ground for taking as comprehensive a view as possible of those who are bearers of a vision of Christ, communicating through written words, received from above? The Church then has to recognize the gifts of the faithful, to develop and integrate them into the life of the whole Body. Discerning them, restraining some and encouraging others.
The author of Fire of Love possesses a visible testimony of her experience through her hands. The task of the voice and hand of the Reminder is not a mechanical one. She has to cope with her humanity, strengths, failures and weakness. She needs to come before God in penance and prayer. She needs to be sustained by the communion of believers and saints. Her stubbornness to say “Christ is Risen” as an unceasing prayer can irritate many. She is under the scrutiny of those who are questioning the objectivity and history of her apparitions, revelation and prediction. Her strength pointing beyond herself to Christ. She must be aware that she takes a great risk, because her authority is a subject-authority, itself under the judgement and correction of God. The Risen Christ, like the widow, keeps bothering her (Luke 18:5). Her availability, as a late comer, is already a grace, allowing the Lord to transform and to use her: “I have pleaded with the Lord three times for it to leave me but He said ‘My grace is enough for you: My power is at its best in weakness’. So I shall be very happy to make my weaknesses my special boast so that the power of Christ may stay over me, and that is why I am quite content with my weaknesses, and with insults, hardships, persecutions and the agonies I go through for Christ’s sake. For it is when I am weak that I am strong” (2 Cor 12:8-10).