By Dr. Harry Boosalis in The Sounding Sep 23, 2014
The Saints challenge us to reach beyond the common conception of salvation that predominates in the West. For the Orthodox Church, salvation is more than the pardon of sins and transgressions. Salvation is more than being justified or acquitted for offenses committed against God. According to Orthodox teaching, salvation certainly includes forgiveness and reconciliation, but by no means is it limited to them.
For the Saints of the Church, salvation is the acquisition of the grace of the Holy Spirit. To be saved is to be sanctified and to participate in the divine life of God.
Forgiveness of sins is not the end of salvation; it is only the beginning. It should lead ultimately to knowledge of God and to the acquisition of the gift of love for all humankind. In the words of St. Silouan, “I began to beseech God for forgiveness, and He granted me not only forgiveness but also the Holy Spirit, and in the Holy Spirit, I knew God. … the Lord remembered not my sins, and gave me to love people, and my soul longs for the whole world to be saved and dwell in the Kingdom of Heaven …”
This is one reason why so many people are attracted to the Orthodox Faith. They are coming to realize that the Saints give guidance on how to base our life in Christ. Through the example of their lives, and the testimony of their teachings, the Saints embody man’s true spiritual potential.
The importance of appropriate guidance in spiritual life is immense. In the present day, the need for true Orthodox spiritual teaching is especially crucial in the face of the influx of the numerous pseudo-Christian religious movements that are invading our society. Under the guise of offering a ‘Christian spirituality’, many deceivers today are leading even well-intentioned believers astray from the authentic apostolic message of the Gospel.
The teaching of St. Silouan is especially relevant because it manifests our Orthodox Spiritual Tradition to contemporary society. His life and writings are becoming increasingly popular among a wide variety of people from many different backgrounds.
While many have the impression that the Saints lived ‘saintly’ lives from their youth, St. Silouan shows that this is not always the case. He indulged in many of the same activities and pursuits that could characterize the youth of today.
Even if some of these appear at the outset as rather mundane, they are nonetheless among the more notable aspects of his life to which many readers can relate. For instance, it is recorded that in his youth, St. Silouan was fond of music, socializing with the opposite sex, and even drinking with his friends. In fact, he was known for his great tolerance for alcohol, especially vodka.
His good looks and popularity even led him into sin. As Elder Sophrony relates, “Young, strong, handsome, and by this time prosperous, too, Simeon [St. Silouan’s name ‘in the world’] revelled in life. He was popular in the village, being good-natured, peaceable and jolly, and the village girls looked on him as a man they would like to marry. He himself was attracted to one of them and, before the question of marriage had been put, what so often happens befell late one summer evening.”
St. Silouan never forgot his sin, and he repented greatly for his fall. He prayed fervently for a clear conscience. According to his biographer, Elder Sophrony, while he was away on military service, the young woman fell in love with another man, and together they lived happily and raised a large family.
Another incident that highlights St. Silouan’s familiarity with the common experiences of today’s youth concerns his great physical strength. It is written that during a village celebration, the young Simeon was approached by two brothers. The older one—tall, strong, bad-tempered, and drunk—tried to grab away Simeon’s accordion in order to show off in front of the others.
St. Silouan himself explains what then happened, “At first I thought of giving in to the fellow, but then I was ashamed of how the girls would laugh at me, so I hit him a hard blow in the chest. His body shot away, and he fell backwards with a heavy thud in the middle of the road. Froth and blood trickled from his mouth. The onlookers were all horrified. So was I. ‘I’ve killed him,’ I thought . . . It was over half an hour before he was able to rise to his feet, and with difficulty they got him home, where he was bad for a couple of months, but luckily he didn’t die.”
These incidents from St. Silouan’s youth, such as the drinking, the romance, his fondness for music, and the brawling—mundane and coarse as they appear—may actually appeal to the general reader. These are things that many people can immediately and intimately identify with in their own personal lives. His life shows that even the common man from the most ordinary of backgrounds, who has tasted the brutal bitterness of sin, can indeed still hope to acquire the grace of the Holy Spirit and attain to holiness in Christ. For many of us today, this is a source of great inspiration, as we struggle in pursuit of our own salvation.