DISCOVERING THE REAL YOU: OUR NATURE AND ITS HIDDEN TREASURES
Creation was not a necessary or spontaneous effect of God’s nature as many scientific or philosophical studies may indicate. In accordance to Orthodox Church’s understanding, it is a free act of divine will that brought into existence beings radically different from God. Created beings are radically different because they are created and contingent (dependent) creatures made by uncreated and absolute Triune God.
God freely chose to create out of love, for He “brought creatures into being not because He had need of anything” writes St. Maximus the Confessor (590 – 662 AD), “but so that they might participate in Him in proportion to their capacity and that He Himself might rejoice in His works [cf. Ps. 104:31], through seeing them joyful and ever filled to overflowing with His inexhaustible gifts.”
According to the Psalmist, God created cosmos (whole universe) by his Word: “he spoke, and it came into be; he commanded, and it stood forth” (Ps 33:9) and as he says through the Prophet Isaiah, “so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose” (Isa. 55:11). The Word of God, is effective and realizes what it is spoken to do, this is something we have to believe and make as foundation of our faith on Christ. This tells us that God had a particular motive from which he created the world, and a particular purpose for which he created it and it is only because of this motive and purpose of God, the world has meaning. 1
Because its motive is from God and its purpose is in God, the meaning of the world is not found within itself but transcends (rises above) all that is created by God. In fact, everything that God does has one single transcendent purpose: to unite everyone and everything to himself.
This purpose can be known to us because the world (created by the Logos/God) is rational (having or exercising reason). Since we are able to know this purpose and reason, the notion or the idea (as proposed by many scientific or philosophical studies) that the world has an existence and meaning in and of itself, or that “nature” can somehow be considered apart from God is wrong or heretical to the teachings of our Eastern Oriental Church. This notion, that we and the world are “down here” while God is someplace “up there,” common in Western popular conceptions, both Christian and secular, is alien to Orthodox Christian thought. Transcendence (Superiority) of God must not lead us to forget that he is immanent (innate or ingrained) in the world as well. So each of us who are in this world should remember that there is no place where God is not present. Thus each person bears an individual responsibility for himself (our own soul and body) and equally important is caring for all the creation, for God is present in all of it. In order to achieve and align ourselves (Creation) with motive and purpose of our Creator’s, we must focus attention on us as individuals (thoughts, words and actions) and the choices we make every day, every moment. These are the only things within our control. The way we respond to or understand the rest of the world are all external, mostly connected to another person, situation, objects, climate or any other creation. And the world around us is continuously changing, change happens due to the choices we make (good or bad), grace of God is always available to us as He is omnipresent.
Man is created in the image and likeness of God, and it is his nature to desire good or to desire virtue. Virtue is the natural health of the soul, says St. Isaac the Syrian. The choices that man makes based on his own understanding makes his soul unhealthy. This in turn creates chaos and confusion in him. He looks out for solutions to feel satisfied and feel at ease and peace. Such solutions become the guidance that aims just at moral improvement. Guidance that only aims for moral improvement is anthropocentric–it is centered on man, and in it, human effort dominates, and not the grace of God. It then seems as if it is our own morality that saves us, and not the grace of God. Life under these conditions does not give us genuine experiences of God, therefore the psyche (soul) is not truly satisfied because its thirst remains unquenched. This method of guidance has been tried, and it failed because it does not represent the genuine spirit of Christ’s Church. It is often responsible for atheism and for many people’s indifference towards the spiritual life, especially among the young. 2
To understand this a bit more, let us look into a simple conversation between a Dad and Son
Son: “Daddy, May I ask you a question?”
Daddy: “Yeah sure, what it is?” Son: “Dad, how much do you make an hour?”
Daddy: “That’s none of your business. Why do you ask such a thing?”
Son: “I just want to know. Please tell me. How much do you make an hour?”
Daddy: “I make Rs. 500 an hour”. “Oh”. The little boy replied, with his head down. Looking up, he said “Dad, May I please borrow Rs. 300?”
The father was furious and said “If the only reason you asked that is so you can borrow some money to buy a silly toy or other nonsense, then march yourself to your room and go to bed. Think why you are being so selfish. I work hard every day for such, this childish behavior.” The little boy went quietly into his room and shut the door. The man sat down and started to get even angrier about the little boy’s questions. How dare he ask such questions only to get some money? After about an hour or so, the man had calmed down, and started to think: “May be there was something he really needed to buy with that Rs. 300 and he really didn’t ask for money very often!”
The man went to the door of the little boy’s room and opened the door. “Are you asleep son?” He asked.
“No daddy, I’m awake”, replied the boy. “I’ve been thinking. Maybe I was too hard on you earlier; said the man. “It’s been a long day and I took out my aggravation on you. Here’s the Rs. 300 you asked for.”
The little boy sat straight up smiling “Oh thank you dad” he said. Then searching under his pillow he pulled some crippled up notes. The man, seeing that the boy already had money, “Why do you want money if you already had some?” the father grumbled. “Because I didn’t have enough but now I do. Daddy I have Rs. 500 now. Can I buy an hour of your time? Please come home early tomorrow. I would like to have dinner with you” the little boy replied.
From such experiences in life often results in the following:
• The boy understands that if he has the money he can buy his dad’s time. As he progresses in life, he can come to a conclusion that only if he earns money can he get something. Money can buy anything for him later on in life.
• He learns to understand that he can obtain his satisfaction by getting what he desires.
• The dad is ready to spend his time only if it’s beneficial for him.
• We also notice that the dad seeks a sort of satisfaction of achievement, every time he goes up to the son thinking he can achieve something by doing something for his son, he only gets disappointed, which in turn is causes anger and frustration in him.
All of the above few results that we can infer is pointing out to the fact that the entire experience of the son is completely centered on man. The boy is making efforts based on his own understanding and reasoning. This kind of human effort dominates when he becomes successful in getting his Dad’s time. This kind of effort from the boy or the morality makes him seem that it has helped him, but eventually in the long run, his soul still feels something is lacking. This is because his effort was his own and was not made with the understanding of God.
The soul always yearns a union with God and things which are above. The reason being: that is how God created us. The soul that is invisible like the invisible God is made in the image and likeness of God. Anything that is made in the image of God is virtuous and all perfect and all good like Him. It always yearns to be like him.
The fall of Adam and its effects of corruption, death, division and separation was introduced in the world. Thus handicapped, Adam was unable to realize his role in the divine plan. The body which is created from earth has a yearning towards earthly things. Christ however, by assuming human nature and restoring it to its original function, was himself able to accomplish this cosmic task, and each person regenerated in Church and baptized into Christ is empowered to do the same. This task involves overcoming all the division and separation in the created order and unifying it and offering it back to God. Thus a human should strive through this battle to achieve the real purpose of God by moderating himself from the worldly comforts not allowing his soul to get affected by the morality or any sort of understanding the world gives without God. Then only, can he truly know God. And grow towards uniting himself with God, which is the real purpose of man, to achieve theosis. Our work in this world needs to be part of what St. Paul calls “a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1:10), “for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible….all things were created through him and for him.” (Col 1:16, 17).
The above said reasons of an anthropocentric society is the reason why most youngsters today cannot accept the Orthodox way of life. With technological advancements, consumerism and the like, there are lot of challenges youngsters have to confront to lead/choose this way of life. There always arises a conflict internally because it is not the normal way of life for most people in our society. This normal way of life is the life, the world offers, but the Orthodox way of life is offered by Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and Life, through the Church as the most practical life for people faced with the challenges of life. It is the way of living that will make your life less stressful and more meaningful. Many of the early Church fathers or Saints who followed this life are examples, who through their writings guide us every day. It is our choice to decide what we want to follow. This is the freedom God has given us.
As monks/priests or as laymen we have the same goals. The life of monks are the most honored way of living for Christ. Again this is a calling, which have to be chosen with the help of God. Most of us are called to live in the world with our families, but like the monks we too have to seek holiness and union with God. The principles of our spiritual growth are the same no matter which path we chose.
Most of us never take the time to reflect on the purpose of our lives. In a moment of grief or in times of the death of a loved one, we begin to think about what life is all about. Death is the reality where we are headed to, but we too often refuse to think about this seriously because of the unknown and the fear it presents.
When often asked to many: What is the purpose of your life? The answer would vary according to one’s experience of life. Most of the answers would be “To be a good father or mother”; “To provide for my children and help them to success in life”; “To be successful in all that I do”; “To become famous”; “To have a great career” etc. None of these answers are the purpose of our life.
As young people, we often fall into such man centered traps and confusions by setting up purposes for our life like the above. The reason being: we are ignorant about the actual purpose of our life. We do not understand the actual role of the Church in our lives. We only read the Scriptures but we do not live the spiritual life mentioned in the Scriptures. We admire nature based only on its outward appearance, not trying to understand the inner principle. We come to conclusions based on our senses, which is what we see and hear. Someone who does not make progress in his spiritual life will suffer in his understanding of creation and of the Scriptures. Without understanding the life of the Orthodox Church, its faith and the traditions, one becomes blind and short-sighted (2 Peter 1:9) and suffers from ignorance of the true cause of created beings [God].
As St. Mark the Ascetic quotes: “Think nothing and do nothing without a purpose directed to God. For to journey without direction is a wasted effort”. So true to the words of St. Mark, only by loving God and a purpose directed to God can we discern our actions in line with God’s purpose. The purpose of life taught by the Apostles and the Church Fathers is finding union with God (theosis). Christ came down as man and showed us how to live through His teaching and lived as an example. He showed us that we have nothing to fear in death.
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” (James 1:17). Anything that is good comes from the revelation of God, and the mind that is not prepared properly will never understand God, or His revelation to the human heart. According to the Scriptures: “He that has ears to hear, let him hear”. We all have ears, but not all of us hear.
“So, while we have been called for this great purpose; to unite with God; to become gods by Grace; and to enjoy this great blessing for which our Maker and Creator made us, we often live as if this great and noble aim does not exist for us. Because of this, our life is filled with failure. Our Holy God molded us for Theosis (Deification), so if we are not deified, our whole life is a failure. The Anthropocentric Humanism is a self-sufficient humanism in the socio-philosophical system which is separated from and made independent of God. It leads contemporary man to a civilization based on selfishness, and this has brought modern humanity to an impasse. In the name of the development and liberation of humanity it wishes to estrange us from our Orthodox Christian faith. 2
And who is behind such confusions in the world? The story that follows serves as an eye opener to each one of us:
Late at night in the deserted cell a novice monk prayed. He was very tired, having worked hard for the day, and now he hastily recited words, hurrying to finish a long rule. He got off several times, stopped, and then continued on just as quickly. And he did not see how a figure had grown under the window. The uninvited guest was huge and stood, leaning over, listening to every word, and on his face a smirk wandered. When he heard that the novice mixed up the words of the prayer, he pushed the door with his shoulder and found himself inside.
The owner was taken aback. In front of him, stupid and ugly, stood … the devil.
‘Well? Do you want to talk?’ the guest visibly grinned. The man waved his hands, backed into a corner, and fell, squeezing into the wall. ‘Go away, go away! Go away, go away!’ He whispered. His hand lifted, his prayer rope hanging helplessly. The devil grinned, mockingly looked at the prayer rope and moved closer ‘No, now I won’t leave without you. You’re mine!’ The novice shook his head ‘Not! Not! Not yours!’ his lips repeated in horror. Devil replied ‘How is it not mine? Chatterbox you! Hurry up! Let’s go!’ The face of the novice was sweating. He tried to control himself, but he was choking on the foul smell that the devil was spreading around him and wanted to turn away. ‘Why do you turn your face?’ the devil barked suddenly. ‘I heard how you pray!’ and he began to hastily pronounce words, mimicking the novice.
The novice blushed painfully. ‘Do you recognize yourself?’ mocked the demon. ‘Yes’, the novice recognized himself and his haste, and how he confused words. But still, he was the one who loved and worshiped God, and therefore raised his eyes and, feeling a sudden courage, firmly said ‘I am not yours! I’m a Christian!’
‘Ha ha ha!!!’ cried the devil. ‘Christian! Many of you, wander the earth!’ He made a movement, and in a flash the wall of the cell opened, and the whole world opened up to the eye of the novice. Many people, overtaking each other, hurried somewhere, hurried and confused. Tense, with tired faces, they seemed like clockwork toys. “Here they are,” the devil grinned mockingly, “human dolls.” Devil asked hastily ‘How do you think they have time to think? Do something deep and serious?’ The novice shook his head longingly. ‘Where is it then to be in time?’ And the devil continued ‘the whole world lives like this: running, running. Hastily eat, hastily communicate with friends. Do you know what it is called? Devilish hurry. And devilish means mine!’
And with these words he imperiously and demandingly stretched his paw ‘Get up!’ The man shivered. He realized that if now, at this moment, he did nothing, he would fall forever into the painful power of these clawed, ruthless paws. But how can he help himself, even if prayer is the only means and there is no saving power on his lips? And suddenly … Quietly, firmly and clearly, he said ‘Our Father!’ The words sounded distinct, and the demon frowned.
‘Hallowed be thy name! Thy kingdom come!’ he uttered every word: hard, slowly, deeply, and the prayer that had already been spoken a thousand times thoughtlessly, suddenly found a new power. ‘Thy will be done …’
the guest felt bad, he twisted his nose, not finding a place for himself. And when the novice finished the prayer and all the same clearly and firmly said “Amen!” The devil twitched and disappeared.
The cell became quiet. Shedding tears, the novice crawled to the altar and grabbed the icon of the Mother of God. “Sorry, sorry!” he whispered. He wept for a long time, asking for forgiveness, and then discovered his rule and slowly, calmly and distinctly began to read it. The devil wandered through the forest for a long time, looking around at the novice’s hut. Before dark, now it was glowing with fire. It was the heat of prayer, and even from here, from afar, he burned the demon with an intolerable flame. He was angry, his teeth glittered, but he could not get any closer…
So finally, the CHOICE is left up to us, to follow the path of theosis or to live as confused human beings, giving up ourselves to the schemes of the devil.
References: 1.Creation and heart of man, Fr. Michael Butler & Andrew P Morris.
2. Words of Archimandrite George, Egoumenos (Abbot) of Gregoriou (Saint Gregory) Holy Monastery on Mount Athos (Holy Mountain), Greece
Click the link(Issue 4 – Oct/Nov’18) below to continue reading other articles……
For previous issues go to : Categories—>> Youth Corner