Choosing Heaven or Choosing Hell

The Lord’s Parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31):

Icon of Lazarus in Abraham’s Bosom

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with  Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Fr. Theodore Stylianopoulos comments:

Icon: Lazarus and the Rich Man

“Jesus’ first great lesson is about wealth, poverty and human relationships. Did wealth send the rich man to hell? No. Did poverty send Lazarus to heaven? No. It was their relationship to each other and to God. Neither wealth nor poverty of themselves can send one to heaven or hell. Rather the decisive matter is how one lives in wealth or poverty, and how one goes about gaining wealth or protecting oneself against losing it. The rich man would not have gone to hell if love had filled his heart for God and his fellow man. He would have known the biblical teaching that the world and everything in it is the Lord’s and we are – whatever our possessions and talents – stewards of God’s gifts. But he lived only for himself in uncaring self-sufficiency. He was separated from the poor man at his doorstep and when he died he discovered that he was also eternally separated from God. Lazarus would not have gone to heaven if his heart had been filled with hate for the uncaring rich man, with resentment about his condition against God and with other evils because ‘the pure in heart…shall see God (Mt. 5:8).’ Deprivations and suffering often remind us of our need for God and lead us closer to Him, but the same circumstances can make us complain, angry, greedy – separating us from God. It has been said: ‘affliction can teach a man to pray, but it can also teach him to curse!’ God’s love was in Lazarus’ heart who endured his afflictions with humility and trust in God (‘Lazarus’ means ‘God is my helper’). He suffered in the image of Christ who became poor for us and died on the Cross without ceasing to love us. Only love, not need and distress, leads to heaven.”   (A Year of the Lord: Fall, pp 106-107)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Consecration and Enthronement of Bishop-Elect Paul

PaulGThe OCA’s Synod of Bishops and the  Diocese of the Midwest announced today that the consecration and enthronement of Bishop-Elect Paul will take place on Friday and Saturday, December 26 and 27, in Chicago.

Metropolitan Tikhon in a letter today sent to the Diocesan clergy wrote:

“I am pleased to inform you that the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America, at its session held in Oyster Bay Cove, New York, on the Twenty-First day of October in the year of Our Lord Two Thousand Fourteen, elected the Archimandrite Paul (Gassios) as Bishop of Chicago and the Diocese of the Midwest,” the letter reads. “You are to immediately begin to commemorate the Bishop-elect of Chicago and the Midwest by elevating his name at all Divine Services after that of the Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, Metropolitan Tikhon, and the Locum Tenens Bishop Alexander, as is the approved practice of our Church. Archimandrite Paul’s new title, as blessed by the Holy Synod, is ‘Archimandrite Paul, Bishop-Elect of Chicago and the Midwest.…’”

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

God Became Human

This is the 29th  and penultimate blog  in this series which began with the blog Being and Becoming Human. The previous blog is Human Freedom: The Energy to Cooperate with God (II).

Genesis 1 teaches that humans are created in God’s own image.  The ancient Orthodox Christian writers came to understand that while God the Father is ineffable, indescribable and invisible, it is the Father’s Word in whose image we are made.  The Word becomes flesh and reveals the image (icon) of God to us.   Christianity is based in a truth that God became human in Jesus Christ (John 1:1-14).   What does it take for God to become human?  God fully empties Himself to become fully human.

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”  (Philippians 2:4-8)

For us to become fully human, as God became fully human in Christ, we also need to empty ourselves of all selfish, self-centered and narcissistic thinking.  Egotistical and egocentric thinking stands in the way of us becoming fully human – fully relational beings abiding in God’s love and loving as God loves us.   Our being in God’s image is the basis for the theology of the incarnation and the theology of theosis.

“It seems to me that Orthodox theology insists on the doctrine of deification, theosis, because recovering the fullness of the image will involve real changes in ourselves, changes that mean that the image of God in which we are created becomes more and more evident. We are to become transparent, as it were, to the image of God reflected in who we are most deeply. Others are to find in us, not the fragmented human beings that we are as a result of the Fall, but the love of God manifest in the image of God, for whose sake we have been created. In doing this we shall discover our true humanity: deification, as St Maximos makes so clear, is the restoration of our true humanity, not its diminishment or abandonment. And it is a change grounded in the amazing change that God himself embraced, when he became human for our sakes, not abandoning what he is – divinity – but assuming what he is not – humanity.”   (Andrew Louth , Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology), Kindle Loc. 1841-48)

Central to understanding our humanity is remembering humans are created in the image of God AND understanding the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ.  The beginning and the end of humanity are found in the Word of God, in whose image we are created and who has become human in order to enable us to be united to God.

“In the sphere of Christology, . . . [St.] Paul emphasizes both the personal pre-existence of Christ, and what Christ is in relation to God—Son of God, in the form of God, etc.  In their Jewish background, these terms express what man was intended to be, so that Christ’s sonship perhaps means basically being truly human. . . .

The Cross is of course vital, but it is the completion of the obedience which characterizes the whole of Christ’s life.  It is as man’s representative, rather than as his substitute that Christ suffers, and it is only as one who is fully human that he is able to do anything effective for mankind, by lifting man, as it were, into an obedient relationship with God. . . . The result is that in Christ men become what they were intended to be from the creation.  In Christ there is a new creation, so that men now bear his image, as they have borne the image of Adam.  They share his relationship with God by themselves becoming sons of god, and so find blessing, righteousness, and glory.  In other words, they become truly human.

If Christ has become what we are in order that we might become what he is, then those things which governed and characterized the old life of alienation from God in Adam no longer apply.  It is the old man, i.e. the Adamic existence, which is crucified with Christ, Rom. 6.6 . . . [St. Paul] writes continually to his converts – Be what you are!  Man has been recreated, called to be ‘holy’ – he should believe it and behave accordingly.   Sin belongs to the old, Adamic existence.”  (Morna Hooker, FROM ADAM TO CHRIST, pp 22-23)

Humans are physical beings created in God’s image.  We bear both the image of our Creator, but also bear the Adamic mortality.  Created for eternal life, we allowed death to inter into existence through our sin.   God, however, does not leave us in Hades for eternity.  Rather God enters into the human condition, descending even into Hades through His own death in order to rescue fallen humanity.  Christ our Savior, restores us, transfigures our humanity, and transforms our physical nature into the spiritual again.  This is salvation.

Next:  God Became Human, So That We Might Become God

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Human Freedom: The Energy to Cooperate with God (II)

This is the 28th blog in this series which began with the blog Being and Becoming Human. The previous blog is Human Freedom: The Energy to Cooperate with God.

In this blog we continue exploring a few implications of the theological truth that humans have free will and a rational nature to guide that will.  Orthodox Christianity rejects all forms of predestination whether theological or biological.   Despite the fact that our wills are distorted by our personal sins and by living in the world of the Fall, we still have both a rational nature and a free will.  This makes us responsible for our thoughts and deeds in the world.  Numerous Orthodox saints said that if we don’t have free will and our actions are predetermined by fate or by God’s unbending predestination then there is no basis for God to judge us as that would be completely unjust.  Nothing would matter in terms of human behavior, and God would be nothing more than a sadistic tyrant who destroys the life He creates purely by His own whim.   God however was always considered by the Church as both loving and holy, respecting the free will with which He imbued humans.  It matters to God whether we choose to cooperate with Him, or do His will, or love Him and one another.  God holds us accountable, and this accountability is not arbitrary but truly measures our willingness to be full human beings striving to be in God’s likeness.

“It is for us to bear witness that God is the space of freedom, and that if humanity is not in God’s image it will always be in bondage to nature and history.”   (Olivier Clement, ON HUMAN BEING,  p 101)

If God had made humans only like all other animals, then we would have no responsibility to take mastery over our own passions or animal nature.   Repentance, love and forgiveness would mean nothing since we could never act by choice but always we would simply act according to our animal nature.  Orthodoxy on the other hand believes humans are not merely in bondage to nature or history.   We can aspire for something greater; we have the image of God in us and the possibility to become like God.   Neither nature nor nurture completely predetermines who we are as a people or as a person.  We can use our free will to engage our environment and others.  We also can truly change  ourselves, history and even our own evolution.   Numerous scientists admit today that humans have evolved to the point that our consciousness now affects and even directs our own evolution.  No longer are we humans completely destined by evolution or our genetics, nor by our materialist nature.  According to these scientists (some who are still atheists but no longer absolute materialists), we humans now shape our evolution and take new and unexpected directions freeing ourselves from materialistic predestination through consciousness (see for example ApingMankindRaymond Tallis’  APING MANKIND:NEUROMANIA, DARWINITIS AND THE MISREPRESENTATION OF HUMANITY ; see also my blog series The Brainless Bible and the Mindless Illusion of Self or find links to the PDF version at Mindlessness, Loss of Consciousness and the Neo-Atheist Denial of Humanity).  We live and move and have our being in God (Acts 17:28) – God, the Holy Trinity, becomes the very ‘space’ in which we work out our salvation.

Nevertheless, humans in the modern world, influenced by scientific materialism, sometimes completely fail to see humans as anything but soulless material, mindlessly being pushed through history by the cause and effect of physics.  In the 19th Century many Christians warned that the effects of scientific materialism would be the overthrow of God’s lordship and the establishment of humans as the ultimate divine beings. This thinking may have manifested itself in the 20th Century with the development of atheistic fascism and communism (in which the human leaders became ‘gods’ not answerable to anyone since no power was greater than themselves).  While Orthodoxy aspired to an ideal that with God all things were possible for humanity, atheistic materials proclaimed without God all things were permissible.  Freed from the constraints of God-breathed rationality, of conscience, or the need for love for one another and repentance, all things became permissible to humanity.   The slaughter of millions of human beings was the result.

Dostoyevsky discussed the nature of man’s freedom in all his main novels.  . . . His conclusion was that, having freed himself from belief in God, man was bound to deify himself, to put himself above all moral laws, to proclaim that everything was permissible, for if God did not exist then man was the lord of creation.   This assertion of his own absolute freedom brought man face to face with the presence in his soul of dark and irrational forces which dragged man from his high pedestal and enslaved him by establishing their iron control over his personality.  As soon as man declared that everything was lawful he became a helpless victim of his own passions, fears and doubts.  . . . Dostoyevsky shows that suffering lies in the very nature of man as a free and morally responsible being, that nothing can eliminate it as long as man remains what he is, and that the purpose of human evolution is not to abolish suffering, but to explain its meaning, for only those who are not afraid of pain are matured and truly free people.”  (Nicholas Zernov, THREE RUSSIAN PROPHETS, pp 90, 92-93)

adolf_hitlerChristians believed that suffering could have a meaning for the salvation of humanity, to bring us to Godlikeness.  Instead in the 20th Century, suffering became the means for some humans to attain their ends: the domination over and subjugation of all other humans, in total godlessness.   God was no longer part of humanity’s aspiration.  Humans wanted for themselves what they imagined was the absolute, uncontested tyrannical and demonic power of the God in whom they no longer believed.   They wanted this imagined power for themselves in order to subject the world to their distorted and evil ends.

However, scientific materialism did not stop evolving.  After the 20th Century’s two world wars, even some materialists too turned away from the scientific experiments of humanistic rationalism, moving to reject not only God, but the notion of humans as god as well.  Scientific atheism decided there is nothing in the world but empirical materialism, so many came to reject all notions of human conscience, consciousness or free will as sheer illusion.  Perhaps this was shaped by the horrendous failures of 20th Century humanistic rationalism and materialism to deal with the reality of human sin and the suffering it inflicts on all.   The answer to “sin” provided by 19th and 20th Century atheistic materialism and humanistic rationalism was an effort by certain ideologues to kill all those whom they designated as being “the problem” whether they be Jews, capitalists, Christians, the rich, Slavs or politically incorrect.  Their better world could emerge only when any challenge to their thinking or people who failed to meet their ideas of a perfected humanity were eliminated.  So the world was plunged into the bloodiest century ever in its history, all to attain an atheistic ideal of a perfected world.  The world of atheistic materialism unleashed the forces of sin from the fallen world onto all of humanity.

ZoneInterestThis is not to deny that the Christian effort to contain human passions, sin and the world of the fall, had sometimes itself relied on worldly or imperial methods.  In the the 20th Century the world rebelled against a church which itself was not being a beacon of light or the incarnation of God’s love.  The end result of that effort, however,  was not a deified human or a humanity freed from ignorance.  Humans with no idea of God or spirituality proved themselves to be inhuman and no saviors of humanity or the world, rather they opposite, there was dehumanizing of both the oppressed and their oppressors (for what to me was a rather terrifying look into how fascism dehumanized victims and oppressors see Martin Amis’ The Zone of Interest: A novel).

“In today’s world, psychology, pedagogy, and psychiatry—all of them based on a non-Orthodox Christian anthropology—ignore and are silent about the reality of sin.  Yet sin after the fall is an anthropological reality.  It does not disappear because we try to persuade ourselves that it does not exist.  There exists only one way for man, the creature of God, to find freedom from guilt and weight of sin: through forgiveness by his Maker and Creator.  Then, truly, man is at peace, liberated from the interior contradictions that create in him anxieties, neuroses and psychopathy.  Then, indeed, he lives in the freedom of God.”    (Archimandrite George Capsanis,  THE EROS OF REPENTANCE, p 21)

There is a truth that humans will be humans.  Humans sinned before the Law was given (Romans 5:13).  Humans freed from the constraints of God and religion, continue to commit evil.  The force of sin is real in the world whether we believe in God or not.  Humans having free will are capable of choosing evil, it is a real choice in the world.  Pretending there is no such thing as evil, doesn’t not make humanity better able to deal with reality.

The solution for humanity is what it has been from the beginning: to admit our weaknesses, our faults, our temptations, our passions, and our sins through repentance in order to seek God’s mercy.  Our path forward is to recognize we humans are not the greatest power in the universe.  There are other forces capable of leading us: sin, evil and God are all real in the cosmos and manifest themselves in the empirical and materialistic universe.  God has provided us with the possibility to cope and manage with forces greater than ourselves.  Our rational nature, properly exercised, can lead to our choosing humility, wisdom, love, repentance and forgiveness.  In other words, built into our very human existence, implanted in our selves is the path, door or ladder to God.

Peter Kreeft notes however that despite our past experience and history, we humans still have tendencies to reject God:

“We extol action over contemplation, doing over being, analysis over intuition, problems over mysteries, success over contentment, conquering over nurturing, the quick fix over lifelong commitment, the prostitute over the mother.”  (BACK TO VIRTUE, pp 21)

Ever affected by our desire for immediate gratification, we end up as myopic creatures, looking to our self-centered and narcissistic satisfaction.  Still God gives us hope and says we can aspire to heaven and to Godlikeness.  The possibility is before us, if we have the eyes to see and the willingness to deny the self and take up the cross to follow Christ.

“When he (man) lives in full liberty, in abundance and prosperity, then he grows in body and does not grow in spirit, does not bring forth fruits – good works; whilst when he lives in straitness, in poverty, sickness, misfortune, and afflictions, in a word, when his animal nature is crushed, then he grows spiritually, bears flowers of virtue, ripens and brings forth rich fruits.  This is why the path of those who love God is a narrow one.”  (St. John of Kronstadt, MY LIFE IN CHRIST Part 1, p 294)

ww2russiaThe solution for human dissatisfaction in the world is not found only in producing greater materialism and materialistic prosperity.  Wealth is not a curse nor an evil in itself; like everything given to us in the world, it is a gift from God which we can potentially use for love and to the glory of God.  The delusion occurs when we imagine that by our increasing materialistic goods that the world of the fall and/or fallen human beings will be perfected and turned away from sin, selfish passion or evil.   What gets lost in the focus on wealth as a panacea is that the human is also a spiritual being, and our spiritual nature, our souls if we will, need attention as well.  Otherwise, ignoring the soul,  we enslave humanity to materialism and a world with no hope for aspiring to God.  That was the world imagined and fought for by communists and fascists in the 20th Century.  We already know the results of those ideologies.

Next:  God became Human

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The Suffering of the Saints

St. John Chrysostom (d.  407AD) in a sermon offered an explanation for why God’s chosen saints suffer in the world.

“I have eight explanations of why God requires Saints to endure affliction.

Eight Explanations: The first is to guard against their great works and miracles resulting in their developing too high of a self-esteem.

The second is so that others may not take them to be gods instead of men.

The third is so that the power of God might be made more evident through the efforts of men who suffer.

The fourth is so that their sacrifices demonstrate to others their dedication to the service of God and their undiminished love for Him, even in the midst of suffering so many evils.

The fifth is to help reinforce in men the belief in the doctrine of resurrection. To see a just and virtuous man die in bondage, without earthly reward, strengthens in men a belief in an afterlife, when men receive just reward for their labors.

The sixth is to encourage all men to accept their suffering with patience, as they realize that far more virtuous and worthy persons than they have experienced even greater suffering.

The seventh is to remind us that the Saints were men like ourselves. So if they, sharing our mortal frailties, still could endure suffering for their beliefs, we should be no less able to do so.

The eighth is to help us to distinguish between those whom we call blessed as opposed to those who are not blessed.

It is important to establish the root of these explanations in the Scriptures, so that they not be suspected of being an invention of human reasoning. Now we shall see how the basis for each can be found in Scripture. That tribulation served the purpose of the Saints can be heard from David the Prophet, who said: ‘It is good for me Lord, that I have been in trouble, that I might learn thy statutes.’  Paul said, ‘I was caught up into the third heaven, and transported to Paradise. Lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me.’ By ‘messenger of Satan’ Paul does not refer to particular demons, but to men serving the devils: unbelievers, tyrants, heathens, all who constantly troubled him. ‘God,’ he said, ‘permitted these persecutions that I might not be too much exalted.’ Although Paul, Peter and others like them are holy and wonderful men, yet they are but men, and require much caution lest they should allow themselves to be too easily exalted. Nothing is as likely to cause one to presume a high state for himself than a conscience full of good works and a soul that lives in unquestioning confidence.” (Afflictions of Man, O LOGOS Publications,  pp 3-4)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Holy Synod Elects Igumen Paul to Become Bishop of the Midwest Diocese

Synod 2014The  OCA Synod of Bishops today elected Igumen Paul (Gassios) to become the next bishop of the Diocese of the Midwest.  You can read the entire article of the Synod’s meeting at OCA.org.

Here is the excerpt from the OCA webpage report concerning Fr. Paul:

Igumen Paul was born to Nicholas and Georgia Gassios, natives of Castanea, Greece, in Detroit, MI on April 6,1953. He, his parents, and his sister Agatha lived in Detroit until their move to the suburbs in 1973.

As an infant, he was baptized with the name Apostolos, in honor of the holy Apostle Paul, at Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church, Detroit, MI—his home parish for the first 28 years of his life.

He graduated from Detroit’s Cooley High School, where he was a member of the National Honor Society, in 1971, after which he enrolled in Wayne State University as a history and psychology major. After his graduation in 1976, he worked with emotionally and physically abused children. He furthered his education at Wayne State, from which he received a Master of Social Work degree in 1980, and continued to work in his chosen field.

Fr. Paul Gassios

Fr. Paul Gassios

In the mid-1980s, he became a member of Holy Transfiguration Church, Livonia, MI. He began theological studies in September 1991 at Saint Vladimir’s Seminary, Yonkers, NY, from which he received his Master of Divinity degree summa cum laude and served as valedictorian in 1994. He was ordained to the priesthood by His Eminence, the late Archbishop Job of Chicago and the Midwest, on June 25, 1994.

After ordination, he was assigned Priest-in-Charge of Saint Thomas the Apostle Church, Kokomo, IN, which he served until June 2005, after which he resided at Saint Gregory Palamas Monastery, Hayesville, OH until May 2006. He briefly served as Rector of Archangel Michael Church, St. Louis, MO and the Nativity of the Holy Virgin Church, Desloge, MO before his transfer to the OCA’s Bulgarian Diocese and assignment as Dean of Saint George Cathedral, Rossford, OH in 2007. In August 2014, he was named Administrator of the Diocese of the Midwest and relocated to Chicago.

On October 20, 2014, he was tonsured to monastic rank with the name Paul, in honor of Saint Paul the Confessor, Patriarch of Constantinople.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Human Freedom: The Energy to Cooperate with God

This is the 27th blog in this series which began with the blog Being and Becoming Human. The previous blog is The Human: A Being with Conscience (II).

In Genesis 2 we see life emerging from the inert and even inorganic dust of the earth. And while Genesis 2 presents this as happening instantly, it is not spontaneous from the earth but rather it is the breath of God which vivifies the dust and animates the physical to be alive and spiritual.  Nonetheless, the animate human rises from the inanimate material – by the power of God.  Humans so created were, according to the great teachers of early Christianity, also gifted by God with a rational nature.   Humans were conscious and possessed a conscience.  Humans have free will and can make choices, which also means human behavior has consequences for good  or ill.

Irenaeus’s sustained arguments … The guiding question here is why the human person, though created for glory, was not created automatically good but neutral and free.  The preliminary answer is that it is not God’s nature to coerce (AH 4:37:1), and human beings, though flawed, inherently know what is best.  The logic is as follows: if human beings are shown what God is like and are given the option either to follow God and go the way of life or to disobey God and go the way of death, they will naturally choose, life.  But virtue is pointless and meritless if coerced or achieved by mere programming.   If people were created either bad or good by their nature, they would be neither praiseworthy for being good nor worthy of punishment for sinning as they would be simply behaving according to their nature.    . . .

It is only when the human person ‘knew both the good of obedience and the evil of disobedience that the eye of the mind, receiving experience of both, may with discernment choose the better things …’ (AH 4:39.1)

The human person must act out of freedom and experience; for this to happen, the human person has to encounter evil and so become all the more grateful for what is good.  . . . God allows the apostasy because he knows it will foster in the human person both gratitude and humility.”  (Peter Bouteneff,  BEGINNINGS: ANCIENT CHRISTIAN READINGS OF THE BIBLICAL CREATION NARRATIVES, p 79-80)

God bestowed a rational nature on humans which is only meaningful if the humans are free to choose good or evil.  If humans are automatons whose behavior is preprogrammed, there would be nothing rational about them.  Rationality implies being able to analyze and decide what to do.  Rationality in this sense is necessary for a person to be able to love.   Love is a choice.  If everyone was lovely and loveable, there would be no love, but simply instinctual response.  We choose to love which makes forgiveness and repentance possible as well.

On the other hand for humans to be rational and for love to be truly freely chosen, both evil and good must be attractive to us.   Evil is not always repulsive; if it were there would be no rationality in rejecting it, just instinctual response.  Evil can be alluring, seductive, tempting and beguiling.   The way given to us by God to reject it is to use our rational nature to recognize the evil and reject it for what it is.  It is the way of love, for we must choose to love God and neighbor by rejecting the enticing sin which lies before us.

Adam Eve Temptation“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food,

and that it was a delight to the eyes,

and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise,

she took of its fruit and ate…” (Genesis 3:5)

Eve could see nothing wrong with taking the fruit – it looked good to her, delightful and desirable.   Instead of using her rational nature, Genesis presents her as listening to the talking snake, of all things!  She rejects her rational nature and listens to the irrational animal for she fails to see the temptation before her.  She does not choose to love but engages in self-love:  it looks good to me!  And from her individualistic perspective it all appeared good.  She fails to love God or Adam and fails to use the gift of rationality.

What the Patristic writers understood from all of this is that God gives us the opportunity to conform ourselves to His likeness through the choices we make.  Obviously, using our rational nature and choosing love to attain the likeness of God is only possible if we are not yet perfect.  Adam and Eve were not created perfect, rather, they had the potential for perfection.  They were, as we are, created weak and corruptible.   We are certainly full of paradoxes and contradiction: created for perfect yet corruptible, spiritual yet physical, in God’s image yet made from inanimate dirt.   We have the potential to choose to become more godlike.  To do so, we have to cooperate with God – we have to use our rational nature in synergy with God for our salvation (Philippians 2:12).

“According to St. John of Damascus, we are in the image in that have reason, intellect, and free will . . . ‘reason’: it is above all the faculty that enables us to choose how we behave—in other words, to exercise our free will.  Reason enables us to act freely—without constraint—because it permits us to rein in our appetites.   The dumb animals, John says, are governed by their nature—or, as we might say today, by their genetic makeup.  They compete for dominance, territory, food or mates; rivals must either submit or fight.   Being a microcosm, we experience the same pressures, the same imperatives from our nature.  The difference is that we have the option not to give in to these pressures.  We do not have to take part in the struggle for survival: we are free to choose instead to love those who hate us and not to resist those who wrong us.  . . . Fathers such as St John of Damascus are telling us something startling: the ‘unnatural’ behavior  commanded by the Gospel is not just an ideal that we try to live up to.  It is in fact the only way to become a real human.  However ‘natural’ it might seem to react according to the pressures of our animal nature, to do so is to violate our essential self and become something less than human.”   (Elizabeth Theokritoff, LIVING IN GOD’S CREATION,  pp 71-72)

To be human is not merely to have a rational nature, it is to exercise the rationality to aspire to and strive for something greater than the limits of our animal nature.  The fully human submits his/her animal nature and desires to the rational nature – it is our way of becoming more godlike.

“What I am is an image of God manifest in a spiritual, immortal and intelligent soul, having an intellect that is the father of my consciousness and that is consubstantial with the soul and inseparable from it.  That which characterizes me, and is regal and sovereign, is the power of intelligence and free will.  That which relates to my situation is what I may choose in exercising my free will, such as whether to be a farmer, a merchant, a mathematician or a philosopher.  That which is external to me is whatever relates to my ambitions in the present life, to my class status and worldly wealth, to glory, honor, prosperity and exalted rank, or to their opposites, poverty, ignominy, dishonor and misfortune.”  (Nikitas Stithatos, THE PHILOKALIA Vol 4, p 116)

Consciousness and conscience, rationality and intellect all belong to that which is quintessentially human, at least in the eyes of God.

Next:  Human Freedom: The Energy to Cooperate with God (II)

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments