There was the holy prophet Elijah living in the Old Testament, a great devotee of God in the world. When he, pursued by King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, had to flee to the desert and hide in caves, he became despondent, however, and he asked God to take his soul. Then he was told that on Mount Horeb the Lord will appear to him.
And the prophet went to Mount Horeb. A horrible wind came then, and it "tore the mountains apart" and "broke up the rocks," as the Scripture said, but the Lord wasn’t in the wind. Then an earthquake came, but the Lord wasn’t in the earthquake either. Then fire came, but the Lord wasn’t in the fire either. And, finally, after the fire, a gentle whisper came - and that was the Lord (1 Kings 19). And that gentle whisper lifted the prophet from his despondence and brought his faith back.
And so it is in life. Troubles and miseries that come to the world do not influence people enough to become true believers.
When bombs fell on Belgrade, signs of the cross, prayers and vows to God were made even by those who had never done it before. But they did it only while the bombing lasted.
The same happened during the earthquake in Skopje, and during the floods in Zagreb, in the Morava and Danube basins, and during the recent storms in Serbia and Bosnia. The Lord is not in the storm.
A secretary from Belgrade once came to the Patriarchate, and asked to be released from a vow she made. While she traveled on a transoceanic ship to America, a great sea storm came on the second-to-last day of the journey. The passengers were ordered to take life vests, and instructions were made what to do during the shipwreck. Then this secretary made an oath not to ever work on Fridays again if she remains alive. When everything turned out well, and when she came back to Yugoslavia, she realised she cannot keep the vow, because all the offices work on Fridays. We asked her why she gave such a vow. Usually a vow is made to fast on Friday, not to restrain from work. She answered: "Everything was so terrifying at that moment, a person thinks completely differently than in normal situations. We were all praying and making vows, and, most of all, an officer who previously tried to convince us he doesn't believe in God."
But the storm passed, and surely that officer still does not believe and laughs at his fear and what he did during the storm. And this secretary also, as soon as she came back from the trip, asks to be released from the vow she gave in fear.
Neither storm nor fear brings one truly to God.
It happened twenty years ago in one of our towns that a carpenter came back home from his shop on the day of St. Archangel, and saw on the table the feast cake and candle, prepared by his mother and wife, since their family feast was on that day. The carpenter angrily threw the cake on the floor, broke and trampled on the candle, and started outrageously yelling at the mother and wife. It happened somehow that soon this young man was hit by a stroke, so even to this date he drags his right leg and cannot use his right arm, so instead of practicing his craft, he sells newspapers at a kiosk. I asked: "So does he celebrate the feast day now when this has happened to him?" I was told: "No, he doesn't." The carpenter still drags his semi-paralytic leg, but the misery did not bring him closer to God or the feast.
The Lord is not in the storm, nor in the earthquake, nor in fire, he is not in miseries - God's voice is gentle and dear.
A few years ago I talked to a woman near Petrovac na Mlavi. She lived, she says, not knowing much about God, like most of our people, and then a pious booklet found its way into her hands. She read it, and some kind of joy spread over her soul. Then she read that booklet to her dear ones. And some kind of peace and tenderness came over them. Then she read a few similar books, and everything felt much easier and more beautiful to her family. Something inside glowed and warmed the soul.
There is no church in her village, so she went to church only a few times a year when the folks from the mountain villages go down to take communion. And then there is noise in the church, pushing, chaos, so even the service cannot be heard well. You just try to push your way through to the altar and take communion, so you could get out and get some fresh air. One Sunday she happened to be in Petrovac. And she heard the bells ringing, the church opened, a service going on. She went in. It is quiet in the church, not many people, nice service, nice singing. She found out for the first time there is a church that has services every Sunday. She started coming more often and spread "the news" to her dear ones. And, since then, every Sunday and feast day someone from her household comes down to the town to the Lord's temple. "And there is still the same peace, love, sweetness, joy reigning in our house..."
And it all began with a small, tiny book. That book was the Lord's gentle whisper.
At the end of the last century lived an English poet Oscar Wilde. He was gifted, wealthy, handsome, famous. He thought he was allowed to do whatever he wanted, and he did abominations that cannot even be mentioned. When he finally went overboard, newspapers started writing about his scandalous acts, he was convicted to prison, and all the world despised him. Those public humiliations just made Wilde more bitter, however, and he became even worse...
And then something seemingly meaningless happened: a few of his acquaintances visited him in prison and talked to him like with an equal and as if nothing had happened. Still, that little attention and those few friendly words succeeded in touching his heart. In his confessions from the prison - in the book De Profundis - he noted that the friends' act brought him back to life and helped him feel like a human being again. He wrote in those confessions: "Love is a sacrament that should be taken kneeling." And elsewhere: "What Christ demands is human souls, which He compares to a pearl... Christ was the first to tell people to live the life of flowers..." Wilde ended his life in foreign lands and poverty, but - according to the biographers' testimony - till the end of his life he remained with those bright thoughts, and he peacefully carried his life's cross.
And all this was accomplished by a small gesture of attention his friends showed him, the despised one; it was accomplished by that gentle whisper heard by prophet Elijah when he became despondent.
May God let us hear that whisper when troubles beset us and when we don't know how to act in life. And may God let that whisper talk to people who are in misery or gone astray though us. So we could bring them, quietly and peacefully, without fierceness, to God, the God of peace, love and joy.
Bishop Chrysostom (Vojinovic) (1911-1989) was the bishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church.