True and False Martyrs

Below is an excerpt of Prayers by the Lake, written by the 19th-century Serbian Orthodox Monk Nikolai Vlimirovic, who is venerated as a Saint in the Serbian Orthodox Church. This excerpt is entitled “Martyrs of the True Faith”.

Your faith has brought you near to the radiant throne of glory, 
adorned with the shining seraphim and the overpowering cherubim. 
You are nearer to immortality than we, and your prayer is more pure and audible.

Remember us in your prayer also, so that you may be ever more acclaimed throughout heaven. 
Bring us with you also, and you will more swiftly and easily fly to the throne of glory. Whoever brings himself alone, walks more slowly and stumbles more often. The greater the load of your brothers you haul, the faster you fly.

I have said to people: You are all martyrs, but not all of one martyrdom. Martyrs for the true faith are not the same as martyrs for a false faith. Truly, their bones are similar but not the soul. For the soul transfers power and weakness even to the bones.

You who suffer for the true faith, are suffering for what your spiritual vision sees. You who suffer for a false faith, are suffering for what your physical eyes see. You former suffer for faith in reality and truth; you latter suffer for a dream and a fantasy.

Spiritual vision calls its knowledge by a humble name–faith. Physical eyes call their faith by a boastful name–knowledge. Both the one and the other are seeing: the first is a seeing of the peaceful and sparkling essence of creation; the second is a seeing of flickers of that essence through the darkness.

Your martyrdom is the most inevitable of all things, O sons of heaven and sons of earth. Your being martyred lies in your fleeing from light toward darkness. If you are fleeing from darkness toward light, you will stir up the world against yourself. If you are fleeing from light toward darkness, Heaven will remove itself from your convulsions and destruction.

The paths of the sons of men meet, and conflict is inevitable. For some are journeying toward the East, while the others are journeying toward the West. The Lord is merciful, and sends His angels to them all.

My soul is full of martyrs like a fertile field full of wheat and tares. The first are facing the East, while the others are facing the West.

I whisper to my soul at midnight: “How long will you be crucified between paradise and hell? Take hold of yourself, and face only the direction where the martyrs of the true faith have journeyed.”

I whisper to my neighbor at dawn: “Do not take the heavily traveled road, for many stinking corpses are strewn along it. Let us take the trail up the mountain, which is rugged but does not reek of corpses.”

I whisper morning and evening to you, O martyrs of the true faith: “Pray to God for us.”
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