Prof. Todor Sabev, Bulgarian Orthodox
Theologian, Church historian and former Deputy General Secretary of the World Council of Churches.
In His divine plan for the salvation of humankind, God, throughout history has been sending His messengers as prophets and apostles, teachers and guardians to lead all nations into the right path, to nourish faith, sustain peace and protect unity.
Nowadays, the prophecies of Isaiah (44:3) and Joel (2:28): "I will pour my Spirit upon your descendants"; "your sons and your daughters shall prophesy (and) shall see visions" come true in a variety of charisms. Gifts of grace are being bestowed on women and men for the enhancement of Christian life, worship and service to the glory of God.
Such a spiritual gift (charisma) has been granted to Mrs. Vassula Ryden for the fulfillment of a particular vocation. 'From the depths of her obscurity," Vassula has seen the Light. The Lord has touched her heart to cleanse and heal it. Since then, she is "seeing Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary interiorly" and "has been enabled to hear their Messages." This unique experience of visions is testified in 70 notebooks published in seven volumes. The Messages that Vassula is receiving are written by herself but dictated "from on high." Her human handwriting is completely transformed.
The Messages are God's gifts of spiritual healing, love and mercy "directed to all." Vassula was called to become an ardent witness of Christ, carrying His Cross "to the four corners" of the secularized world. Together with many other disciples, she has to be an instrument of divine providence, an echo of God's Word, compassion, reconciliation and peace.
The Messages are not a new revelation but a reminder of the Gospel of Christ. The basic task of Vassula is sharing of the Good News through proclamation in communities and assemblies of prayer and meditation, diffusion of the Writings by publication, and "drawing souls to Jesus Christ."
The surprising nature of this calling has raised questions and bewilderment for Vassula herself, as well as for friends and listeners. Some of the wonders will still accompany readers of True Life in God. Nevertheless, we are aware of the fact that many expressions of mysticism have encountered different assessments and attitudes within one's Christian tradition. During the whole period of marxist militant atheism, imposed by state authorities in my country, Bulgaria, a woman with great gifts as a seer kept telling both native and foreign people secrets of their past, present and future. Her faith and prophetic voice have shaken atheistic conceptions and changed the lifestyle of tens of thousands. Bishops, priests and theologians have personally experienced and individually recognized the gifts of that woman. But it was not in the tradition of the Church to make an authoritative pronouncement on this phenomenon.
Several years ago, I was so much impressed by the story of the apparition of the Virgin Mary, which three of my very dear Protestant friends had seen simultaneously "without considering however this event an extraordinary spiritual experience" because this was not part of their church's tradition!
"We walk by faith (2 Cor. 5:7)" and "by faith understand..." (Fleb. 11:3f). Distinguishing between the Spirit of God and other spirits is a delicate Christian duty. Discernment is also a gift of the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Cor. 12: 10-1 1; I jn.4: 1). The main criterion for testing the spirits is the faith in Christ as Incarnate Son of God and our Saviour (1 jn. 4:2f).
Basically, the content of the Messages in 'True Life in God' is in harmony with the Holy Scriptures and with the tradition of the Church. They are being distributed, read and meditated within the Church, aiming at a revival of Christian faith, renewal and unity. References are often made to the Bible as source of truth, knowledge and wisdom. The doxological part of the Messages is biblicallybased. Very dear to Orthodox spirituality are the numerous prayers, the urgent call to conversion and repentance, fast and a holy life. In the centre of Vassula's vision are placed also many other fundamental truths, values and teachings of the Church. Prayer, humility, charity, generosity, peace, reconciliation and mutual love in Christ's name are continuously underscored in all notebooks. God's abundant grace and tenderness are often presented in the context of concern and care for the groaning creation, a warning about sin corrupting humanity, and a call to awakening for "the battle against Satan and his followers." Thus one can feel the "prophetic tone" and the appeal to all Christians.
Remember the Beatitudes! Follow the Ten Commandments! Now is the time of repentance! "Live as though it is your last day on earth." "Have you reconciled with your brothers and sisters?" "Share My Cross." "Search for justice and help the oppressed." "Wealth is to be converted." "Evangelize with love, for love." Your era of little faith is dead. "Do not accept Satan's fruits which are ... disunity and impurity." Be vigilant and prepared for "the last days," because the Lord is "on the Path of Return."
And again we hear the Message of hope and Iife: "Shake off the dust that covers you and rise from the dead." "The Holy Eucharist will keep you alive." The "time of tribulations" shall be followed "by a new era of love and peace." "My Kingdom is at your very doors." God wants everyone to be saved (cf. Rm. 10:12-13).
The Messages are a hymn of God's love which is "like a fountain, a well of living waters." Love is "the Root of the Tree of Life" and of all virtues. Therefore, "sow the seeds of love in all directions." "Judge nobody, and repay evil with love." The Source of love is the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life. He guides us "into all truths," transforming the darkness into Light. He uplifts and purifies our hearts, sanctifies us through the Sacraments, drives out ill spirits and brings renewal to the Church. The Holy Spirit creates community in which love rules. He gratifies the poor and the humble people of God.
One of the strongest elements in Vassula Ryden's visions is the gravity of the divisions between the churches, the urgency of the work for unity of the Church, and the importance of the ecumenical movement.
The sin of division and wounds in the Body of Christ are so often due to lack of fidelity, humility and mutual love. "Rivalry and competition for earthly power," egoism and pride cannot bring about unity. Those who endeavor to gather together the scattered sheep of Christ "should lower their voices" in order to hear the voice of the Lord; they should "bow down their heads" for blessing by the Head of the Church - Jesus Christ. Then He shall lift all and draw them to Himself. "Blessed are those who do not differentiate themselves" under Christ's Holy Name. "Pray for the World Council of Churches" and for the world-wide ecumenical movement. Let us always remember that "the keys to unity are love and humility."
The real unity is and will be in the heart, not "of the letter but of the spirit." It is a gift of God, but requires also human commitment and effort: "where there is division give peace and love, where there is confusion ask for Light." "Unity shall come upon you like Dawn ... It shall come from God, and your nations shall name it the Great Miracle, the Blessed Day ... In this day all Heaven shall ... rejoice." "Behold, what joy I will have when around One Altar you will gather ... and praise Me; acknowledging your mistake, repenting for your rebellion and remembering My love for you." God's plan is "to unite all nations, from East to West, from North to South."
In several Messages a great desire is expressed for a simultaneous celebration of Easter - "the Feast of Feasts," and the "Triumph of Triumphs." May this become a new impetus for bringing back such a tremendous issue on the ecumenical agenda. Actually it comes from the heart of the decision made by the first Ecumenical Council (325) to strengthen unity and inspire common witness.
While many Orthodox rejoice at Vassula's gift and appreciate the texts referred to, they are prudent about accepting all points and details. I personally still struggle with some of the questions which had troubled me before. But cannot we find relief in the understanding that the Messages come to us also through the limited human nature, and are perceived according to our own spiritual capacity? The reading of Vassula's Writings requires a mystical soul, prayer for "knowledge and all discemment" (Phil. 1:9), seeking for truth in the power of love and resisting any easy judgment.
The gifts of the Spirit should be spiritually distinguished (1 Cor. 12:10). Let us measure the value of the tree by its fruits (Nlt. 3:10; 7:16f). The great quality of the numerous fruits of 'True Life in God' has been acknowledged by many people. The Messages have deepened spiritual life, strengthened Christian faith and opened the sight of a certain number of non-believers. And we have yet to see the fulfillment of God's promises: "I the Lord, will multiply the visions ... (and) will pour the Holy Spirit without reserve on all humankind. " You will grow like grass in the areas where there is plenty of water."
Let us give thanks to God for all charismata.
Kindle our hearts with the fire of the Holy Spirit.
Give us the Spirit of wisdom and faith,
of daring and of patience,
of humility and of firmness,
of love and of repentance.
Geneva, Easter 1994