What Hercules Taught Me
Hercules was the son of the gods, but he was made mortal by two conniving workers of the devil. Though he became mortal, he still retained his god-like strength. At first, he didn’t really know what to do with it because his incredible strength was so awkwardly enclosed in his humanity. However, with time he learned to master it and day by day he grew in stature and wisdom. He eventually found his way back to his father and asked to return to his heavenly home; however, his father had other plans. He told him that the key to the gates of heaven could be found within himself. This truth is said in another way by St Isaac the Syrian:
“Endeavor to enter your own inner cell, and you will see the heavens, because the one and the other are one and the same, and when you enter one you see the two. The ladder leading to the Kingdom is concealed within you, that is, in your soul. Wash yourself from sin and you will see the rungs of the ladder by which you can ascend there.”
As with any Disney film, it wasn’t long before Hercules started to fall in love. This wasn’t just any fairytale love – this love was fierce. It was a love that led him to jump into the perilous waters of the underworld to rescue the object of his affection out of the cold hard clutches of death itself. In doing so, he was sacrificing himself, literally dying to himself. This scene brought the following verses to mind:
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” Galatians 2:20
“You shall love your neighbour as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:31
“whoever loves others has fulfilled the law” Romans 13:8
As he waded through the perilous waters, his life hung in the balance between life and death. Then suddenly, he was transformed. He had let go of his selfishness by putting another life above his own. His love changed him from being a mere mortal to being a heavenly creature. In dying to himself he was able to enter through the gates of heaven where he belonged. When Christ came on earth through the incarnation, He had to stoop low in order to come and save us. He had to come down as a child, vulnerable, fragile even. So, we too must break ourselves, die to ourselves, become small so that others can rise… so that others can live.
Unless you die you cannot truly live… you cannot be fully alive!
It’s only when we fall in Love with God and we learn to put another soul above ours, like Hercules did that we can sacrifice, and ultimately die to ourselves.
‘The ultimate response to ourselves, to others and to God is love. Every other response is but a derivative dimension and secondary version of the primary reality of love’ -Life of St Anthony
Hercules loved Meg’s soul like his own (as it says Jonathan did of David in Samuel 18:1). But, what does it mean to love someone like you love your own soul? Maybe, it means that like Moses, I will learn to say “But now, please forgive their sin–but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written” Exodus 32:32. I am in awe that anyone could ever say that, but maybe this is what is means to really die to ourselves, that we desire the best for others, and that we can pray that “others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should.”
“He who has the Holy Spirit in him, to however slight a degree, sorrows day and night for all mankind. His heart is filled with pity for all God’s creatures, more especially for those who do not know God, or who resist Him and therefore are bound for torment. For them, more than for himself, he prays day and night, that all may repent and know the Lord” -St Silouan the Athonite
“Let us become the image of the one whole God, bearing nothing earthly in ourselves, so that we may consort with God and become gods, receiving from God our existence as gods. For it is clear that He Who became man without sin will divinize human nature without changing it into the Divine Nature, and will raise it up for His Own sake to the same degree as He lowered Himself for man’s sake” -St Maximus the Confessor