(Excerpt from Ron Rolheiser’s “The Shattered Lantern”)
In his autobiography, “Report to Greco,” Nikos Kazantzakis tells how as a young man he went to visit a then-famous monk. He describes his encounter as follows:
Working up courage, I entered the cave and proceeded toward the voice. The ascetic was curled up on the ground. He had raised his head, and I was able in the half-light to make out his face as it gleamed in the depths of unutterable beatitude…
I did not know what to say, where to begin… Finally I gathered up courage.
‘Do you still wrestle with the devil, Father Makarios?’ I asked him.
‘Not any longer, my child. I have grown old now, and he has grown old with me. He doesn’t have the strength… I wrestle with God.’
‘With God!’ I exclaimed in astonishment. ‘And you hope to win?’
‘I hope to lose, my child. My bones remain with me still, and they continue to resist.’
‘Yours is a hard life, Father. I too want to be saved. Is there no other way?’
‘More agreeable?’ asked the ascetic, smiling compassionately.
‘More human, Father.’
‘One, only one.’
‘What is it?’
‘Ascent. To climb a series of steps. From the full stomach to hunger, from the slaked throat to thirst, from joy to suffering. God sits at the summit of hunger, thirst, and suffering; the devil sits at the summit of a comfortable life. Choose.’
‘I am still young. The world is nice. I have time to choose.’
Reaching out with the five bones of his hand, the ascetic touched my knee and pushed me.
‘Wake up, my child. Wake up before death wakes you up.’