Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A vision of paradise related by Saint Andrew the Fool for Christ (+936AD)

Saint Andrew lived in Constantinople, and from a young age loved God's Church and the Holy Scriptures. Wanting to dedicate his whole life for Christ, he took on the ascetic feat of becoming a 'fool for Christ', acting as if he were insane. For many years, the Saint endured mockings, insults, and beatings as he wondered the streets of the City in poverty. He humbly accepted this, and prayed for those who mocked him. A complete summary of his life can be read here: http://focusunsw.blogspot.com.au/p/the-life-of-saint-andrew-fool-for-christ.html

Below is an account written by the Saints friend, Nicephorus. His memory is celebrated on the 2nd of October.

Once, during a cruel winter, Constantinople was seized by a bitter cold for two weeks. Every house was covered with snow, and a north wind blew which caused lofty buildings to sway and to tumble down. Trees were shattered by the winds of the tempest, and all the starving birds fell dead to the ground. At that time all the poor and the paupers suffered greatly and were hard pressed: they wept, groaned, and trembled from the frost, and perished from hunger, want, and cold. The blessed Andrew, having neither shelter nor clothing, also suffered much from the cold. When he drew near the other paupers, wishing to rest beneath a roof, if but for a little while, they drove him away with sticks like a dog, crying out and saying to him, “Go away, go away, you dog!”
Thus, it was that the blessed one had nowhere to escape the calamity, and in despair of his life he said to himself, “Blessed be the Lord God! If I perish of cold, it is for the sake of His love that I die, but God has power to enable me to bear the frost. He then went to a certain place where a dog was lying, and he lay down beside the dog, hoping to be warmed by him. But when the dog saw him, he arose and fled, and Andrew said to himself, “O you wretch, what a sinner you are! Not only men but even dogs disdain you!” And so he lay down again, and his body turned blue; and he trembled so from the bitter cold and the wind that he thought he was dying and was about to take his last breath. Lifting up the eyes of his heart to God, he prayed Him to receive his soul in peace, and then suddenly he felt himself somehow warmed. He opened his eyes and beheld an exceedingly handsome youth, whose countenance shone like the sun. In his hand the youth held a branch which blossomed with various flowers, and he looked upon Andrew and asked, “Andrew, where are you?”
Andrew replied, “Now I am in darkness and in the shadow of death.”[1]
The youth struck Andrew lightly upon the face with the branch which he held in his hand, and said, “Let your body come to life again.”
Saint Andrew straightaway smelled the flower’s fragrance, which entered his heart and warmed and quickened his whole body. Then he heard a voice saying, “Bring him here, that he might rest for a time, and then allow him to return.”
When these words were said, Andrew immediately fell into a sweet sleep, and he beheld ineffable and divine revelations, which he related at length to the previously mentioned Nicephorus.
“I know not how it came to pass,” he said, “that even as one sleeps sweetly and arises in the morning, so by the command of God I continually beheld a delightful vision for the period of two weeks. I saw myself in a beautiful and most marvellous garden. My spirit was amazed, and I thought, ‘What does this signify? I know that I live in Constantinople, but I do not understand how I came to be in this place. I know not whether I am in the body or out of the body: God alone knows.’[2]
“I saw that I was clad in a most radiant garment, woven, as it were, of lightning. Upon my head was a garland, braided of many flowers, and I was girded with a royal belt, the beauty of which caused me to rejoice exceedingly. My mind and heart marvelled at the unearthly beauty of God’s paradise, and my soul was very happy as I walked through it. There were numerous groves of lofty trees there, the tops of which swayed back and forth and the sight of which filled me with joy. Certain of the trees were perpetually in bloom; others were adorned with golden leaves; yet others bore fruit of unspeakable beauty and excellence. Those trees cannot be compared to any of the trees of this earth, for they were planted not by man’s hand but by God’s. There were numberless birds in that garden: some had wings of gold, others were white as snow, while others were of various colours. They sat upon the branches of the trees of paradise and sang most wonderfully so that I was beside myself on account of the sweetness of their song. My heart was greatly delighted, and I supposed that the sound of their singing could be heard even in the heights of heaven.
“As I walked amid those fair groves, which were planted in rows opposite one another, my heart was full of joy, and I beheld a mighty river which ran through the groves and watered them. There was a vineyard on the far side of the river, the vines in which were adorned with golden leaves and grapes. A gentle and fragrant breeze blew from each of the four directions, which caused the trees to sway and make a wondrous sound with their leaves.
“After this, fear fell upon me, and it seemed to me that I was standing at the peak of the firmament of heaven. Before me walked a youth clothed in purple, whose countenance was like unto the sun, whim I took to be him who struck me upon the face with the blossoming branch. As I followed him, I suddenly caught sight of a great and beautiful cross that resembled a rainbow, around which stood chanters, whose visage was like fire, and they chanted a sweet hymn, glorifying the Lord Who was crucified upon the Cross. The youth who went before me approached the cross and kissed it and indicated that I should also kiss it. I fell before the Holy Cross with fear and great joy, and kissed it fervently, and as I kissed it, I was filled with an ineffable spiritual sweetness; and I could smell a fragrance stronger than that of paradise. When I had passed the cross, I looked down and saw beneath me what seemed to be the depths of the sea. I thought I was walking through the air and became afraid, and I cried out to my guide, ‘Sir, I am afraid that I shall fall into the abyss!’
“But he turned to me, and said, ‘Do not fear, for me must ascend higher’; and he stretched out his hand to me.
When I took his hand, we were found to be above the second firmament. I saw there wondrous men, their abodes, and their joyous festivity, which cannot be described by the tongue of man. After this, we entered a marvellous flame, which did not burn us but rather illumined us. Again I became afraid, and once more my guide gave me his hand and said, ‘We must ascend yet higher.’
“As soon as he said this, we found ourselves above the third heaven where I saw and heard a multitude of the hosts of heaven, chanting and glorifying God. We drew near a veil which shone like lightning, before which stood fearsome, immense youths, who were like a flame of fire and whose countenances shone brighter than the sun. In their hands they held fiery weapons. As I gazed with fear upon this innumerable multitude of heavenly hosts, the young man who was my guide said, ‘When the curtain is opened, you will behold the Master Christ: bow down before the throne of His glory.’
“Hearing this, I rejoiced and trembled and was overcome by fear and unutterable gladness. I stood there and looked until the veil was removed, and when the curtain was opened by a flaming hand, I saw my Lord, as did once Isaiah the prophet, sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and seraphim round about. [3] He was clad in a robe of purple, and His eyes looked upon me, full of love. When I saw Him, I fell down before Him and worshipped the most glorious and fearful throne of His majesty. Such was the joy that laid hold of me at the sight of His countenance that I am unable to tell of it. Even now, as I remember that vision, I am filled with celestial sweetness. Trembling, I lay before my Master, marvelling at how it was that in His mercy He had vouchsafed me, a sinful and impure man, to appear before Him and to behold His divine beauty. As I, in my unworthiness, pondered on this, I was filled with compunction; and as I gazed upon the magnificence of my Master, I repeated to myself the words of the prophet Isaiah, O wretch that I am! For being a man of unclean lips, with mine eyes I have seen my Lord. [4]
“And I heard my most merciful Creator say to me three divine words with His most sweet and pure lips, which so delighted my heart and inflamed it with love, that like wax I melted with spiritual warmth, in fulfilment of the words of David, My heart is become like wax melting in the midst of my bowels. [5] Then all the hosts of heaven chanted an exceedingly wondrous and ineffable hymn, after which (I known not how) I again found myself walking through paradise. And I considered how I had not seen the most pure Lady, the Theotokos; and lo, I beheld a man, radiant as a cloud, who held a cross and said, ‘Do you wish to see the Queen, who is more luminous than the heavenly hosts? She is not here but has departed unto the much-suffering world to succour man and to console the suffering. I would show you the holy place where she dwells, but there is not time now. You must presently return to the place from which you came as the Master commands.’
“When he said this to me, I felt as though I had fallen into a sweet sleep. Then I awoke and found myself in the place where I was before, lying in the corner, and I marvelled at the place where I had been during the vision and at that which I had been deemed worthy to behold. My heart was filled with unspeakable joy, and I thanked my Master that He had been pleased to bestow such grace upon me.”
Saint Andrew told his friend Nicephorus of this vision before his repose and enjoined him with an oath to tell no one of it until he had been loosed from the bonds of the body. Nicephorus entreated the saint fervently to reveal to him at least one of the three words which the Lord said to him, but the blessed one would not agree to this. Thus Saint Andrew was caught up like Saint Paul to the heavens where he beheld that which the corruptible eye has not seen and heard that which the mortal ear has not heard, and he took delight in the good things of heaven which were revealed unto him, which the heart of man cannot imagine.
From The Great Collection of The Lives of the Saints, Volume II: October, Chrysostom Press.

[1] Psalm 87
[2] II Corinthians 12
[3] Isaiah 6
[4] Isaiah 6
[5] Psalm 21

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