Sing ye to the Lord our God, sing ye! An exhortation of abbess Domnika to the newly tonsured nuns
Dear sisters, I congratulate you on the occasion of more sisters at our convent joining the angelic order! Today I would like to express to them and to all of us as well a wish worthy of the angelic order. What do the angels do? They unceasingly sing to the Lord. May it be our unceasing work, too, as says Saint John of Damascus:
"Our only care is to do one single work with the angels. And what is the work of the angels? To praise the Creator constantly and unceasingly." So, I would like to wish them and all of us that spiritual chanting, that is laudation of God never ceases in our hearts, as prophet David urges us all: "Sing ye to the Lord our God, sing ye!"
Then how do we sing to our Lord? As elder Aemilianos says, the entire monastic life is nothing but a triumphant song to God! This is what he writes:
"At a monastery, there never falls silent the sweet hymn addressed to beloved Christ. Unceasingly, day and night, monks lifting up prayers from their stasidia and in their cells; in workshops at the obedience, or taking a walk; during a conversation; in silence; in lamentation, "they sing to the Lord a new song."" The new song is the song of love for Christ, the hymn of praise to God that we sing not just with our lips but with all our deeds, our heart, our mind, soul, and spirit. And just as a beautiful melody harmonizes all kinds of chords, so also our song of praise to God is composed of many chords. First and foremost, our song is composed of repentance and humility. As saint Isichias of Jerusalem says, humility is "lofty and pleasing to God." Elder Aemilianos comments on his words:
"The natural effect of humility is elevation of the person. If I want to be elevated by any other means -- by God's gifts, by honors from the people, by education and talents, or by spectacular accomplishments, I will inevitably fall."
The main thing which makes us beautiful and great before God and by which we glorify Him – is our humility, that is when we suffer loss in something; when we don't demand to be understood, loved, or for our rights to be recognized. As one elder writes, a monk becomes humble without any measure or limit, meaning he does not tell his neighbor: "I gave in last time, now you give in. I appreciated you, now you should appreciate me." No, he says to himself alone: it is I who needs to give way; it is I who needs to appreciate the other person. To such a man God gives inner strength and vigor! There is no one stronger than the person who humbles himself to everyone! Such a person is always peaceful, always joyful, and through all his behavior he testifies that he has God!
As elder Aimilianos writes, a humble person "is firm, calm, and his behavior is irreproachable. For example, you hurt me, but I take no offence, I don't resist, I don't speak with irritation -- on the contrary, I humble myself. Or you exalt me, but I belittle myself. You don't like me, but I love you. You insult me, but I bless you. You refuse me, but I tell you: "yes." You are hardened, but I treat you gently. You demand what is extremely difficult for me, but I immediately respond with a "yes" and undertake the task. You have no regard for me, but I feel like your brother, I feel that we are one, and I humble myself more than you humble me. And with my discerning humility I testify to how greatly God loves me, how much joy and victory He gives me, and how abundantly He blesses my heart with grace."
Thus our inner world born of humility and repentance becomes our sweet-sounding hymn delightful both for the Lord, for ourselves, and for everybody around us.
In what other ways do we sing unto the Lord? Any labor of ours at a monastery is also a song unto God, especially if we work hard and diligently, forgetting ourselves. Through our labor we can express our love for God, our seeking of God, the zeal of our heart no less than through prayer! Diligent labor is the laudation that the Lord hears and that He accepts, giving us joy!
Every day through our labors we can sing about how we love the Lord, how we esteem every sister at the convent, how we want to serve everyone, while not seeking our own good, not expecting praise or reward. Saint Nicholas Velimirovich compares the labors for the sake of God with the singing of a nightingale. The nightingale sings his songs unselfishly. In this way, every nun is God's nightingale, as she selfishly and from her whole heart serves others with her gifts. Just as the nightingale sings because that is his nature, he simply is incapable of not singing; so also a nun labors because this is the need of her soul – to do obedience, to bring sacrifice to God every day. Truly, when we labor with all our might, when we are exhausted, when we deny ourselves – then we take on consecration; then we sing the song of praise to the Lord! Later this song continues in our prayer, during our prayer rule.
Prayer, of course, is our main song. One could say that the most resounding and sweet singing can be heard in a monastery at night. Just as nightingales sing their most beautiful songs at night, so also we lift up our song at night from the very depth of our heart. And when is this song most pleasing to God? When it is lifted up from a simple and open heart, when we seek the will of God with it. And if this is how pray, then, as elder Aimilianos says, "we don't even get to ask for things, as God Himself puts everything into the palms of our heart."
And finally, in what other way do we sing unto the Lord? Through our singing we usually express our gratitude and the cheerfulness of heart. Yet, we can also sing when trials come, when we have difficulties, when we are overcome by external afflictions or our own passions. But nothing can be an excuse to stop praising and thanking the Lord! The Lord has conquered all; He can conquer any challenge of ours. And even if we sinned, if we succumbed to some passion, – even then let us not lose heart but let us sing a song unto the Lord with our patience. Patience is the most beautiful song of praise to God! In response to this song He eventually gives us even greater joy. As elder Aimilianos describes it:
"We used to have zeal, and the grace of God, our father-confessor, and Christian books were of help to us – and this is how we used to advance. Yet, gradually difficulties, failures, deviations from rules, sins, and temptations begin to arise. Then out of a song and a smile our life becomes a cross. When, my beloved, your Christian life starts getting difficult and seems to you an unbearable cross, then stand adamantly, become a martyr. If you manifest patience, then in place of the storm will come calm, and your life will become feast again. In addition, you will also acquire experience in spiritual warfare, you will be seasoned. After this trial, the flame of Divine love will be kindled in you; you will acquire the most beautiful, strong, pure, angelic love – God's love."
No one, not a single person has ever lost in spiritual life if he sacrificed himself, if he manifested courageousness and patience! The one who sacrifices himself always turns out victor! Whoever denies himself finds himself.
Thus, once again I would like to wish our newly tonsured sisters and all of us for our life to be a song unto God: both in the church and in the cell; at obedience and in our communion with each other; in affliction and joy; in prosperity and in trials.
I would also like to wish all of us the special help of the Mother of God Whom we try to emulate in our life. I particularly wish that we would emulate Her in the wholehearted love for God, because, as elder Siluan writes, "Her love for God is stronger and more fervent than the love of the Seraphim and the Cherubim. All the heaven and earth rejoice in Her love. We do not fully comprehend the love of the Mother of God, but we know that:
The fuller the love, the fuller the knowledge;
The more zealous the love, the more fervent the prayer;
The more perfect the love, the holier the life."