June 27, 2014

Saint Porphyrios and the Singing Nightingale (audio narration)

In the audio above Saint Porphyrios narrates an incident from early in his monastic life on the Holy Mountain where he did perfect obedience, and had purity of the nous and noetic prayer after his encounter with Old Demas in the church of Great Lavra Monastery. Then in the wilderness of Mount Athos he heard the singing of a nightingale hidden in the foliage of trees, and he realized it was singing in the quiet glorifying God. His narration of this incident in his later years is amazing (the narration below is not the exact same as the one in the audio, but it speaks of the same incident):

One morning I was walking alone in the virgin forest. Everything, freshened by the morning dew, was shining in the sunlight. I found myself in a gorge. I walked through it and sat on a rock. Cold water was running peacefully beside me and I was saying the Prayer. Complete peace. Nothing could be heard. After a while the silence was broken by a sweet, intoxicating voice singing and praising the Creator. I looked. I couldn't discern anything. Eventually, on a branch opposite me I saw a tiny bird. It was a nightingale. I listened as the nightingale trilled unstintingly, its throat puffed out to bursting in sustained song. The microscopic little bird was stretching back its wings in order to find power to emit those sweetest of tones, and puffing out its throat to produce that exquisite voice. If only I had a cup of water to give it to drink and quench its thirst!

Tears came to my eyes — the same tears of grace that flowed so effortlessly and that I had acquired from Old Demas. It was the second time I had experienced them.

I cannot convey to you what I felt, what I sensed. However, I revealed to you the mystery. And I thought to myself: "Why does this nightingale give off these yodels? Why do these trills? Why chant this beautiful song? Why? Why? Why?... Why is it shouting itself hoarse? Why? Why? For what purpose? Perhaps it is waiting to be praised? No, of course, there no one will do it." I philosophized in this way by myself. I gained this after the event with Old Demas. Before that I didn't.

How many things the nightingale didn't tell me! And how much I told him in silence: "My nightingale, who told you that I would be passing through here? No one comes through here? It is such an inaccessible place. How beautifully you do your duty uninterrupted, your prayer to God! How much you tell me, my nightingale, how much you teach me! My God, I am moved. My nightingale, you teach me by your singing how to praise God. You tell me a thousand ways, many, very many...."

I am not well in health to say it as I feel it. I could write an entire prose. I loved the nightingale very much. I loved it and it inspired me. I thought: "Why this and not me? Why should this hide and not me?" And it entered into my mind that I must go, I must perish, I must not exist. I said: "Why? Did it have a person in front of it? Did it know it was me and that I was listening?

Who was hearing it shout itself hoarse? Why did it go to such hidden places? Even those nightingales in the bush, in the ravine where they are found night and day, evening and morning, who was listening to them shout themselves hoarse? And why did they do such things? And why would they go to such hidden places? Why were they bursting their throats? The purpose was worship, to sing to their Creator, to worship God." That’s how I explained it.

Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, commenting on this incident, says the following:

"I believe that this incident was not just an emotional moment and an aesthetic situation, but it was the vision of the logoi of being in his own purity and prayer. He lived within the Grace of God. This explains how he was able to live in Omonia and had continuous communion with God, harboring love for all of creation and people, and wherever he went he was found to be in the Light of Grace, just like around the earth there is an atmosphere that moves together with the earth."