Later that evening we gathered around the fire once more, and Father Davidson continued his story:
“Elder Lazarus was abbot of Mar Saba back then, and it was he that I met as I lay floating along the edges of the stream. He regarded me silently, betraying little emotion. He motioned for me to follow him, and then turned and climbed the steps to a small gate at the lowest corner of the monastery wall. I gathered my things and ran up to meet him. I spent the next two years with him, and the other inhabitants of that holy, miraculous place. I experienced many things while I was there, but most of all I experienced how sacred-stillness slowly makes its home within a human being; and then how this stillness opens a man to wonders beyond his imagination.”
“At first it comes to one as a terrifying menace—a stillness that is the destruction of everything we think is joyful about life in this world—and for what can be a long time, or a short time, depending on the person, it remains a menace and a terror while it shows us the emptiness and the loneliness which permeate our inner life. We struggle to avoid this; some run back to the world, others create fantasies to hide us, while others resist it with every passion of their body. But eventually, for the one who remains long enough in the presence of stillness—it becomes a friend, then a beloved brother, then a teacher and an ever-loving father.”
Just then an owl screeched from a nearby tree and Adam commented, “So much for stillness!” We laughed, as Father Davidson continued:
“But genuine inner stillness does not depend upon silence. At first it may, but in time it is no longer dictated to by silence, or by noise, or by the outer environment in any way; but instead stillness takes hold and transforms the environment. Most people can only resemble their environment—even those who supposedly influence the culture, even they are merely taking the pieces, and rearranging them in apparently new and titillating ways. But for the few people who learn stillness, they no longer simply mirror their environment, but instead they are able to mold their outer environment in ways that resemble their inner life.”
“Ah, well this is easy to misunderstand. There is really much more to it but this is an introduction at least…there is also the gift of God, the grace of God, and giving up our lives to gain true life, and loving God of course—and doing His will above all else—but this is a start. Saint Seraphim once said, I’m guessing you may have heard it before: ‘Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.’ This is what I mean; this is the way one who has found stillness causes the environment around him to mirror his own inner life.”
“Peace on Earth,” Tara said with emphasis, “I want it!”
“But first peace in heart,” answered Father Davidson. “Without peace in heart, no chance of peace on earth.”
“Tell us more about Elder Lazarus,” I interjected.
“Elder Lazarus spoke a little English, but not a great deal; and I spoke almost no Greek. But still we communicated effectively, as did all of us who lived in the monastery. Life there revolved around the Liturgy, and the other daily services, and work. An abundance of words were not required. But he was a man of knowledge, Elder Lazarus was a scholar of St. John of Damascus, who had lived and wrote in the very same monastery some fourteen-hundred years earlier. Elder Lazarus loved St. John as a dear brother, and talked with him often, confiding with him and ‘sharing the sweetness of life’ he would say.”
“Wait,” Adam stopped Father Davidson. “I think I missed something, did I miss something? Didn’t you say John of Damascus lived fourteen-hundred years ago?” He shifted uncomfortably in his chair while looking inquisitively at Father Davidson.
“That’s correct,” he said and smiled back at Adam. “Time is a funny thing.”
“Well, how did he talk…I don’t get it. What do you mean he confided in him?”
Father Davidson continued to smile at Adam, and simply said again, “Time is a funny thing, isn’t it?” He looked up at the starry sky for a moment and then said, “And time is getting late for tonight. Shall I continue tomorrow, would you like me?”
“Yes,” we all agreed.
“One final thing I will leave you with tonight. After the tempest, after the earthquake, and after the fire that rages within you; then there is a still, small voice. It is a rare and beautiful voice. Stand firm against the tempest, don’t run away from the earthquake, be certain to endure the fire and outlast it.”
Father Davidson got up, said goodnight and walked back to his cabin.
* * *