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)

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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.

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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)

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The Human: A Being with Conscience (II)

This is the 26th blog in this series which began with the blog Being and Becoming Human. The previous blog is The Human: A Being with Conscience.

Humans share with other animals a physical nature having flesh and blood (and according to modern science having a genetic makeup).  Yet humans are a unique animal in having a rational soul as well.  In this blog we continue to explore aspects of the rational nature of humans.

“The entire Orthodox Christian anthropology is based on the fact that man can discover God not by direct knowledge, but mainly through his own faults and repentance; not by avoiding all mistakes, but by humbly confessing them.”  (Metropolitan Nikolaos Chatzinikolaou, “From Ethics of Dilemmas to Theology of Transcendence”, SVTQ Vol 54 No. 2  2010, p 179)

As rational beings we have free will and self-awareness (consciousness) as well as having a conscience which allows us to distinguish right from wrong, good from evil.  Rationality also gifts us with the ability to admit when we are wrong, and thus to repent, forgive and ask forgiveness.  The ability to know good and evil helps us to become aware of the God who is love and are Creator.

“What makes people truly human is the recognition and contemplation of the morality made at each moment.  . . . Therapists should always help the individual hold on to their ‘humanness’ by bringing up the importance of courage and conscience in making moment-to-moment principled decisions, regardless of their fears.

Having ‘dealt’ with a problem or issue does not mean the matter is erased; it simply  means that the individual can behave appropriately in spite of the problems or issues.”  (Laura Schlessinger, HOW COULD YOU DO THAT?, pp 164-165)

When we recognize something we have done is wrong, we are acknowledging that there is objective reality, a source of goodness outside of the self.  We recognize the ‘self’ is not the source of goodness nor the determiner of good and evil.  Rather the self participates in a reality which is the given ‘background’  into which we each are born.  This ‘background’ we know as existence itself.  We live and move and have our being in God.   Thus, it is that repentance helps us to recognize God and to seek out His love, and forgiveness when we have sinned against Him.

“When we shift our preoccupations, anxiety and selfishness out of the way and some space appears for God, we ourselves are brought more in touch with God’s healing.  . . .  the kind of life the desert teachers are talking about—a life where we are always trying to put aside our self-preoccupation and self-dramatizing, our compulsion to be in charge.”    (Rowan Williams, SILENCE AND HONEY CAKES , p 105)

When we are able to realize and value the other – someone other than our self – we become capable of love, and thus of being human.  Infants learn that the mother (or any other human) is not part of themselves, but that there really is another separate from the self, someone with free will whom we do not control or will into existence, but who is able to love me.  This other pre-exists ‘me’, and is part of the context into which ‘I’ am born.   If we have healthy parents, we learn that the other is capable of love.  We also learn (at least hopefully!) as we age to love and to recognize the importance of others.

We also experience in relating to others, our own passions, all of which have been given to us by God.  Some passions make us uncomfortable, other passions can motivate us to action – sometimes for the good but sometimes towards evil.  The passions in us are not evil in themselves but are God-given.  It is their distortion and misuse which are problematic.   When we are guided by the passions toward selfish ends, we cease to love others and instead begin to use others and exploit them.  When we gain control of our passions we can use them towards the good, toward the goals which the God-given passions properly used can lead us.

“Shame, which expresses itself first of all in sexual modesty, is the evidence that human beings regard themselves as beings transcending material nature.  The moral principle that arises from shame is asceticism (discipline, self-control).  Compassion for suffering companions shows that human beings are other-regarding creatures cognizant of the neighbor’s right to exist.  The moral principle here is justice.  Reverence, appearing first in the awe that children feel toward their parents, shows that human beings seek an object of worship.  From reverence comes piety, or the religious principle.  Taken together, the three principles define the right relationship to the whole of life: to nature through asceticism; to human beings through justice; to God through worship.”  (Paul Valliere, THE TEACHINGS OF MODERN CHRISTIANITY,  pp 555-556)

We are equipped by God, truly gifted by God, to love others including to love God.  In our experiences in life, we learn to value others and to love them.  We learn the pain of disappointing or hurting others, including God.   The pain of disappointing the God of love, causes us to repent and to pray to God beseeching God’s mercy.

“As human persons we are created for prayer just as we are created to speak and to think.  The human animal is best defined, not as a logical or tool-making animal or an animal that laughs, but rather as an animal that prays, a Eucharistic animal capable of offering the world back to God in thanksgiving and intercession.”   (Kallistos Ware, PRAYING WITH THE ORTHODOX TRADITION, p vii)

We not only can repent, we also can offer thanksgiving to God.  As St. Maximus the Confessor noted (see my blog: Confession: of Thanks and of Sin), there are two ways to do confession: first by humbling acknowledging our sins and seeking God’s forgiveness, but second, we confess God when we humble ourselves and thank God for the blessings we have been given.  Both repentance and thanksgiving lead to our humbling ourselves and turning to God the giver of every good and perfect gift.

Unfortunately, it is also true that humans have rejected God their creator, establishing false gods, especially because of our own hubris, exalting our own intelligence as the only true god.  This has been part of the problem which has plagued humanity which rejects God the Lord and believes technology and science can cure all human ills since there is only materialistic existence.  As Fr. Alexander Men, who lived under the atheistic humanism of the communist Soviet Union, says:

 “Intoxicated with science, proud of our power over the elements, we human beings have put our trust in our knowledge of the laws of nature, expecting peace and happiness to come from them.  But it hasn’t happened.  Knowledge, when in the grip of that animal nature of ours with its reasoning powers, has not saved civilization…”  (Andrew Sharp, ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS AND ISLAM IN THE POSTMODERN AGE,  p 127)

At least for Christians, notwithstanding the wonders and genius of both science and technology, human inventiveness and ingenuity cannot solve all human problems because humans have a spiritual nature as well as a materialist nature.  Some of our problems are in fact spiritual and technology cannot change or alter this fact.

 “Man, though a fallen sinner, is yet a child of God, and may become the friend and fellow worker of the Maker of all things.  This belief, which set Christians free from the paralyzing fascination of Fate and Chance, lent them new energy and courage.  . . . God, once man’s goal and guide, ground of his being and source of his power, has shrunk to ‘the Spirit of Man’ – his better self.  Man finds himself alone, persuaded now that his own abilities are all the grace, his own devices all the bliss, that he can hope for or requires.

Thus in Europe was born the new, emancipated man, master of his own destiny.  At the Renaissance it was the freedom of man which was stressed.  God still seemed close, and friendly, only somewhat less exacting than had been supposed.  By the eighteenth century the rationality of man bulked larger.  God was by then so far away that it had become possible to patronize Him.  He could still be useful, and might be respected, if he would learn to keep His place.  God stoked the fires, but man was at the wheel.  With the nineteenth century the development of the natural sciences finally made God superfluous, and seemed to promise man the succession to the office of Providence, if not to that of Creator.  But the very discoveries that banished God at the same time sapped man’s belief in his own rationality and freedom.  Western man saw himself as an animal, distinguished only by the ingenuity with which he resisted the blind hostility of Nature, and the sensitivity which made his recognition of the ultimate futility of his efforts a torture to him.  Physics and chemistry, history and biology, each in turn proved chapters, not of a new Genesis or even a new Job, but of a new Ecclesiastes.

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

Economics and psychology completed the process of disenchantment.  Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud between them, through their popularisers, have coloured the imagination of twentieth-century Europe, and left a picture of man from which the last traces of the image of God in human freedom and rationality have disappeared.  Fate and Chance rise again in the shape of economic materialism and psychological determinism.    The rational forms of public and private life, politics, philosophy, art, love, virtue and religion seem only illusive shadows cast by the blind movements of dark, subhuman forces.”  (Nicholas Zernov, THREE RUSSIAN PROPHETS (1944) , pp 8-9)

It is the human reduced, not just to his/her animal nature, but even further diminished to mindless materialism, who becomes circumscribed by physical nature and hopelessly bound by materialistic determinism.  To this materialist caricature of humanity, Christians hear Good News: the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1).  God became human so that we humans might become God.  Astounding!  Humans can aspire to something more than their empirical nature.  Humanity indeed attempted to reduce itself to materialism in rebelling against God by sinning.  God nonetheless enters into the world as a human in order to redeem humanity and save it from death which is where all materialism ends.  God incarnate reveals true humanity.

Next:  Human Freedom: The Energy to Cooperate with God

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The Prophet and The Word of God

The Prophet Joel is commemorated in the Orthodox Church on October 19th each year. Old Testament Professor Terence E. Fretheim describes the relationship that a prophet of God has with the Word of God:

“God does not, as in the older theophanies, just appear, speak a word, and then leave. God leaves the word behind imbedded in the prophet. God calls the prophet to take the word received and embody that word from the moment of the call onward. The prophet, in effect, is called to function as an ongoing theophany. In the prophet we see a development from the more transient messenger of God to a more extended appearance of the Word of God in human form. One can thus now speak, not only of the participation of God in the appearance of the human, but also in the history of the human. The story of God is lived out in the story of the prophet.”The Suffering of God: An Old Testament Perspective, pp 151-152)

In some ways Fretheim is describing what in Orthodoxy is sometimes called the pre-Incarnation of the Word:  centuries before God became flesh in Jesus Christ, the Word of God was being manifested in the world in various ways.

“In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high …”  (Hebrews 1:1-3)

St. Paul writes that “the truth of Christ is in me(2 Corinthians 11:10).    The Word of God became incarnate in Christ Jesus the Savior, and continues to come and dwell in believers!

 

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Confession: Preparing the Garden of Our Hearts for God’s Seed

In Luke 8:5-15, our Lord Jesus Christ tells the parable of the sower of good seed:

“A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold.” As he said this, he called out, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” Then his disciples asked him what this parable meant.  He said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but to others I speak in parables, so that ‘looking they may not perceive, and listening they may not understand.’ “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones on the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe only for a while and in a time of testing fall away. As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. But as for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.

Saint Gregory Palamas (d. 1359AD) comments:

“The Word which brings about the salvation of our souls is analogous to seed. Just as farmers first cultivate the earth with the plough, then sow seed, so must we prepare ourselves beforehand to accept the heavenly seed, by which I mean the word of spiritual teaching. But we are not inanimate, unfeeling earth which is cultivated and sown by others, but living, breathing, rational ground. For that reason we must make ourselves ready by means of repentance. To give you an indication of the starting point of repentance and the cultivation of the soul, it is what those who approached John’s baptism did on their own initiative: ‘They went out’, it says, ‘and were baptized in Jordan, confessing their sins’ (cf. Matt. 3:5-6, Mark 1:5). The confession of sins is the beginning of this cultivation, the start, that is, of repentance and preparation to accept within us the saving seed, the word of God, which is able to save our souls. Ploughing the ground was devised by farmers as a means of extracting wild roots from deep down in the earth, and rendering it capable of receiving our seeds and plants. Confession does exactly this for the reasonable field, our heart. It digs up the evil passions concealed within it and throws them out, making it ready to take in the sacred seeds and suitable to grow a fine harvest of virtues. Just as, after Adam’s transgression, the earth began to bring forth thistles, thorns, and other useless plants (Gen. 3:18), so man’s heart bears shameful and evil passions and thoughts, and the sins which they in turn produce.” (The Homilies, p 460)

(see also my blog Bearing the Cross: Putting Your Hand to the Plough)

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The Human: A Being with Conscience

This is the 25th blog in this series which began with the blog Being and Becoming Human. The previous blog is Humans as Relational and Communal Beings (III).   While the Church Fathers recognized that humans were an animal, they believed humans were different from all other animals.   They pointed to the fact that in Genesis 1 humans alone of all creatures are created in the image and likeness of God.  Among the various human characteristics they understood to be related to “the image” was the idea that humans are a rational animal.  We are not just controlled by instinct but have a free will and can make intentional choices.  The idea of humans being rational animals also very particularly relates humans to the Word of God (in Greek there is an etymological relationship between “Word” and “rational”).   As rational beings humans have a capacity to love, repent and forgive.  Humans have a conscience, free will and consciousness, all which enable humans to be moral beings.  In this blog and the next we will consider some thoughts about what it means for humans to be a rational animal with a conscience.   In a monastic writing, probably from the 6th Century, we read:

“The very first man, seeing himself naked, was filled with shame.  So great a disgrace accompanies nakedness.  If, therefore, in physical matters nakedness carries with itself so great a shame, how much more shame for the person that is naked of divine power, who does not wear nor is clothed with the ineffable and imperishable and spiritual garment, namely, the Lord Jesus Christ himself?  Is he no really covered with a greater shame and the disgrace of evil passions?

Everyone who is naked of that divine glory ought to be as much overcome by shame and ought to be aware of his disgrace as Adam was when he was naked.  He then made for himself a covering of fig leaves.   Nevertheless, he bore shame and acknowledged his poverty.  Let such a person, therefore, beg of Christ, who gives and adorns with glory in ineffable light.  Let him not sew for himself a garment of vain thoughts deceiving himself with the impression of his own righteousness or thinking himself in possession of the garment of salvation.”  (PSEUDO-MACARIUS, p 150)

Humans are capable of feeling shame, of regretting their behavior and recognizing ways in which they fall short of the glory of God.  In the above writing, we see that the gift of rationality brings with it a recognition of right and wrong, as well as feelings of regret.  Our self-awareness means we can recognize when we have done something wrong, can feel the effects of such sin, and can be moved by sorrow to repentance.  Rationality, conscience and free will also carry with them great responsibility, since God can hold us accountable for what we do.  We recognize not only wrong behavior but even the passion which motivates us to sin.

“[St] Maximus [the Confessor] did not counsel, as had the Stoics, that the passion be eradicated.  Rather, Maximus speaks of transforming the passions to put them at the service of love.  . . . Maximus begins … with the question of whether the passions are evil in themselves or whether they become evil through their use.  His answer is that without the affections it is not possible to hold fast to virtue and knowledge, that is, to cling to God.”   .”   (Robert WilkenREMEMBERING THE CHRISTIAN PAST,  p 146)

Passions are not inherently evil.  Rather they can motivate us towards the good and help us recognize sin and bring us to repentance.

“Those who do not know how to walk in the way of the Spirit are likely to fail to keep a watchful eye on the passions that rage within them, and let themselves be entirely taken up with the body.  They then reach one of two opposite states.  Either they become gluttonous, profligate, miserable, choleric, full of rancor, and this quenches their spirit, or they overdo the mortification and lose their clarity of thought.

Not one of the things God has put at our disposal is forbidden in Scripture.  The Bible limits itself to reproving excess and correcting what is unreasonable.

For example, there is no need to avoid eating, having children, possessing wealth and administering it with justice; only avoid, gluttony, luxury and so forth.

There is a further point.  There is no need to avoid dwelling on these matters in your thoughts, they exist because we have thought of them in the first place, avoid only dwelling on them with immoderate eagerness. (Maximus the Confessor)”  (DRINKING FROM THE HIDDEN FOUNTAIN, p   76)

Excess of any kind, too much or too little of most anything in our lives, is unreasonable and irrationality causes us to become something less than human since we lose our likeness to the Word in whose image we are created.  The spiritual life for Christians is thus learning to be human, to learn the self-control of taking up the cross.  This ability to deny the self enables us to live differently than all other animals.   We are not hopelessly driven by our passions, but can control and utilize them to serve God and to love our neighbors.

“The Desert Fathers and Mothers recognized that it takes a long time to become a human being.  It takes an infinitely patient waiting to put together all the variegated parts of the human heart.   Moreover, in the unnoticeable changes toward ever-growing perfection, it is the things that we love that reveal to us who we are.  It is the things to which we are most attached that show us where our priorities lie.  It is our very imperfections—what they like to call passions, and what we invariably call our wounds—that lead us to the way of perfection.”  (John Chryssavgis, IN THE HEART OF THE DESERT, p 59)

We struggle to live as rational animals in the world of the Fall.  The effects of sin are obvious.

“Man in his present state, is wholly permeated with pride, wickedness, unbelief, doubt, incredulity, disobedience, heedlessness, malice, fornication, envy, covetousness, avarice, slothfulness, sometimes cowardice, despondency, theft, falsehood, and blasphemy.  What a great labor lies before every Christian man to cleanse himself from all the impurity and corruption of the passions!”  (St. John of Kronstadt, MY LIFE IN CHRIST Part 1, p 297)

Despite the fallen nature of the world, we are capable of using the gifts God has bestowed upon to live according to God’s will and to love God and neighbor.

“How must we look upon the gifts of intellect, feeling and freedom?  With the intellect we must learn to know God in the works  of His creation, revelation, providence, and in the destinies of men; with the heart we must feel God’s love, His most heavenly peace, the sweetness of His love, we must love our neighbor, sympathize with him in joy and in sorrow, in health and in sickness, in poverty and in wealth, in distinction and in low estate (humiliation); we must use freedom,  as a means, as an instrument for doing as much as possible, and for perfection ourselves in every virtue, so as to render unto God fruits a hundredfold.”  (St. John of Kronstadt, MY LIFE IN CHRIST Part 1, p 248)

Our path in life is to recognize what it is to be human, to be creatures capable of choosing God’s will and of acting according to the image of God in us.

St. Alexander Schmorell

St. Alexander Schmorell

“There is, my brethren, a true, real life, and there is a false, imaginary life.  To live in order to eat, drink, dress, walk, to enrich ourselves in general, to live for earthy pleasures or cares, as well as to spend time in intriguing and underhand dealings, to think ourselves competent judges of everything and everybody is – the imaginary life; whilst to live in order to please God and serve our neighbors, to pray for the salvation of their souls and to help them in the work of their salvation in every way, is to b lead the true life.  The first life is continual spiritual death, the second—the uninterrupted life of the spirit.”  (St. John of Kronstadt, MY LIFE IN CHRIST Part 2, p 20)

Next:   The Human: A Being with Conscience (II)

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