The Rabbi’s Gift

Orthodox Study Journal/ Youth Journal Issue 12/ April 2021

When a man detaches his mind from earth and opens it towards God with the desire to please Him, then God reveals His will in various ways. St. Peter of Damascus writes: “If a man has a full intention to please God, then God teaches him His will either through thoughts, through some other person, or through the Holy Scripture.” Such a man becomes attentive and keen, and awaits God’s promptings from within and from without. For him, chance ceases to exist. The whole world becomes as a ten-stringed harp, which does not give out a single sound without the finger of God.”

St. Bishop Nikolaj (Velimirovic) of Ohrid and Zica

There was once a group of monks who belonged to a monastery. Once upon a time, it was a thriving monastery. The monastery was fighting for its survival, and these monks we re the only ones left — no one else was coming. And one of them, in distress, went into the woods and met a rabbi who lived in a hut there.

The monk asked the rabbi for advice on how to bring the monastery back to life. The rabbi, however, had nothing to say, except for one strange remark. “I can only tell you one thing: one of you is the Messiah,” he said.

This monk then went back to his three or four brothers and told them what he had heard. They were in doubt. They had no idea what it could mean, but they couldn’t stop thinking about it. Is it true that one of them is the Messiah?! Who might this be? Is it possible that it’s him, or the other, or the other? Or they wondered aloud, “Could it be me?”

And they began to see each other through new eyes. They began to perceive one another differently, to treat one another differently, as if one of the other could be the Messiah. They treated each one all the love, veneration, respect, service, love, forgiveness, and forbearance that the Messiah deserved (although it was not only reverence and love but also forbearance and patience because each of them was imperfect and needed the support of the brotherhood to grow into the full measure of being the Messiah).

And they began to treat each other as follows: Is it possible that I am the Messiah? How worshipfully do I have to treat myself!?”

As a result, a new relationship developed among them. Everyone who visited the brotherhood saw a changed monastery now. The monks treated each other as if God, the Anointed One, was present among them. They behaved as if they were Christ, the Anointed One. As time passed, more people arrived and gathered around them and in time brought in new monks to the brotherhood.

How do we understand this story? How do we contemplate on this?

We know, we proclaim and we profess that each of us is made in the image of God. Each of us carries the divine image imprinted in us, which cannot be erased. It can be defiled, but cannot be destroyed.

  • We all know that we are in the image of God, because we have believed or sustained the belief that has been offered to us even when we are unable to choose.
  • We know that we are in God’s image because we believe in Christ, we have been baptised into Christ, into his death and resurrection.
  • We know that we are in God’s image because we have been filled with the Spirit of God in the manner in which Christ was filled, in his humanity, when he was baptized by St. John in Jordan—And because of this, we can both behave and treat ourselves accordingly.

But of course, we fail to realize this because it is so easy to see in each other and in ourselves the imperfections. What a distorted image we are, as though we saw one another and ourselves in a distorted mirror.

You know this passage in the Gospel that if your eye is clear you can see, but if it is not clear, everything is distorted. Well, that is it. Our vision is like one of those strange curved mirrors that give a completely distorted, ridiculous, or frightening image of the person standing in front of them.

We must learn to see the ‘Image’ in ourselves and in others.

How do we learn to see this ‘Image’ in us?

In every age, people theologize in two ways.

  1. Conjectural
  2. Experience and revelation

Philosophers and philosophising theologians use the first way, and in contrast the holy Fathers use the second. Heretics who try to understand everything through logic, express ‘Hellenising Christianity.’ The Holy Fathers talk of ‘Christianising Hellenism[1]‘ due to their experience of God. The Fathers followed a different approach to accomplishing this. This experience of the Fathers is formulated in terms of Greek language.

The best example of these two paths is the dialogue between Saint Simeon the new theologian with Metropolitan Stephen of Nikodemia. Their discussion on the Holy Trinity, which concerns us, shows the difference between conjectural and experiential theology.

His contemporaries adored St. Symeon. He had true spiritual knowledge and was wise in spirit. Everyone knew him for the spiritual wisdom he acquired. “He received the honor of a saint above all men” as a result of this.

Metropolitan Stephen of Nikomedia, on the other hand, who had resigned his bishopric and remained close to the Patriarch, was well-known for his mental abilities. He was “a man superior to the masses in speech and knowledge.” He was able to respond to a variety of questions and problems that was put forward to him. This ability described him as having an “abundance of words with a ready tongue.” Stephen was well-known for his learning. But we’re talking about his human learning, philosophical training.

In the personalities of these two men, we can see the differences between a prophet and a philosopher. Stephen of Nikodemia relied on logic, while St. Symeon relied on revelation and experience. As a result, Stephen dismissed St Symeon, describing him as “illiterate”. When surrounded by literary critics, he imagined St. Symeon as a complete upstart who would remain silent, unable to utter a single word.

Stephen was arrogant because of his mental abilities. He envied St. Symeon, however, because people adored and respected him. Stephen was looking for a way to humiliate him. He wanted to show that St. Symeon was a complete illiterate in orthodox theology. And he found his chance with the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. He believed that the doctrine is a matter of logical comprehension and scholastic analysis rather than a result of personal experience. This was his basic thought.

But at the end of the entire conversation, we will see that St. Symeon emerged victorious against the logical arguments by Stephen. (The interesting conversation is not included in this article; it is available in the book “The Person in the Orthodox Tradition by Metropolitan Hierotheos”).

In the Lord’s prayer we pray “Thy will be done”. This prayer follows two more, with which it forms a group: “Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”

The main feature of the three is the eschatological point of view. These phrases refer to the actions to be realized on earth, in order to be perfected in the glory of the Kingdom to come.

The verb of the petition is in passive voice. Who exactly is the subject of the action?

A preliminary answer says, God.

In this petition, God’s intervention is sought to implement His will. The primary and decisive role in what happens to mankind and the entire universe belongs to God. The second point sees God’s will be done on earth through mankind’s obedience with God’s commandments (cf. Matt 7:21; 12:50 and John 9:31).

Humankind is called to “do” the Father’s will. This is the point that is expressed in the insight that permeates the Old Testament and in the continuity. In it, it stresses our participation in the fulfilment of God’s will and the necessity of obedience.

As a result, a composite understanding considers both God and human beings to be the subjects of action and that divine will is realised through human cooperation. In this way, the two previous views are intertwined. God’s intervention is necessary for His will to be accomplished. However, we contribute to the foretaste and coming of the Kingdom in historical time, until its final consummation at the last day by conforming to His precepts, to God’s will in the here and now.

In light of this study, we may highlight a popular saying in India’s Malayalam language among the religious minded people of Kerala. The saying goes: “താൻ പാതി ദൈവം പാതി”, which means that half of every task is done by yourself and the rest by God. This school of thought appears to have a significant influence on the majority of Orthodox Christians in India.

As stated in the article, this thought can be viewed as a simple example of “hellenizing Christianity.” This thought should be corrected and practised in the orthodox christianized way, just as the holy Fathers “Christianized Hellenism.”

This saying brings in a different understanding when God does not become the center of our lives. It is often seen that we do all things as per our will/wish and then attribute the result to God whether good or bad.

In orthodoxy, the human factor becomes active when we seek God’s intervention in all that we do. We are all called to do the Father’s will, not our own, which is a goal we often forget.

We must seek God’s will by following God’s commandments exactly as they are handed down to us. It must not be distorted in any way. We must correctly comprehend the commandments and put them into practise. For a true understanding of the Scriptures, we should look into the commentaries or homilies written by the holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church. To put it another way, we need to christianize other influences rather than bringing them into Christ’s teachings.

Again, the next verse “On earth as it is in heaven” is closely connected to ethical, social, missionary, ecumenical and ontology. They sum up in a descriptive manner what Saint John Chrysostom says, “For he did not say, ‘Thy will be done in me or us’; but ‘everywhere on earth,’ so that error might be done away with and truth established, all evil be cast out, virtue return and so nothing henceforth separates heaven from earth.”. The prayer that our Lord has placed on our lips and in our hearts aim for a more radical change: the “celestification” of the earth. “That all persons and all things may become heaven” (Origen).

When we say, “Thy will be done” in the Lord’s prayer, we implore the Father to bring to completion His plan for the salvation of the entire world. At the same time, we pray for His grace to free us from our own will and to allow us to accept His will with joy. Furthermore, not only we as individuals, but all of humanity may share in His will and participate in its fulfilment.

After Pentecost, the events of the Cross and the Resurrection highlight this prayer on the lips of the Church. It becomes clear that the divine will has been revealed in its fullness by the word, life, and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

In the word Jesus, we say ‘Who is God?’

God is this man, Jesus, who claims to be the Eternal One and is both God and man. The Nicene Creed reveals that Christ was both a true man and a true God. When we say He was a true man, we mean two things: the fact that He was God and that did not turn Him into a man foreign to us. It did not turn him into a man so unlike us. It did not mean that he has only the same shape and name as us and nothing in common with us. On the other hand, we proclaim that being a true man means to be a revelation of man in his fullness, man as he is called to be.

In Christ, we have a concrete, real, historical vision— of what we are called to become in our reality, in our historicity, and in our becoming.

So, when we say that Christ is true man, we are affirming that being united with the Godhead does not annihilate or change mankind’s nature, and that it is only in Him, because man is united in Him with the Godhead, that man is revealed in all of his full potential.

As biological birth is insufficient, it is necessary to be reborn. This spiritual rebirth happens within the Church. God’s assumption of human nature and its union hypostatically with the divine became the medicine for our salvation. The union hypostatically is in the person of Logos (Christ). Through Christ and the Church, we, too, can experience our fulfilment. The Fathers believe that remaining only in the image is an illness in the life of biological birth. Because Christ has taken on the role of true physician and true medicine, man must rise above biological birth, death, and decay to become Christ-like.

Man becomes truly human only when he is united to God in an infinite, deep, inseparable manner. This way the fullness of Godhead abides in the flesh. These terms are applied to Christ in the Scriptures, but which we can believe are applicable to man if we take for instance, the words of St. Peter in his epistle that our vocation is to become partakers of the divine nature and not merely human beings bound to a God who remains outside to us.

Baptism is significant because it has enabled us to achieve the state of “being” and “living wholly in Christ.” This means it has brought us to life.  It took us in, dead and decayed. The day of Baptism is the saving day because “we are fashioned and formed, and our formless and undefined life receives form and definition”. 

At our birth, man exists as a raw material; evolution is the term used in natural science, and evolving society is the term used in social science, and this empirical man is not the reality. He exists as a raw material, but he must be tested against a set of visions. Baptism gives it shape and definition. As a result, Christ is present in every aspect of man’s life. He is a nurturer and a source of sustenance; he is the way, the power to walk it, and a place to stay along the way.

Christ is everything for the reborn man. The creation and biological birth are insufficient to fulfil the purpose of his existence. Man was created in order to realize communion with God.

According to St. Gregory the Theologian, man is “a living creature trained here, and then moved elsewhere; and to complete the mystery, deified by its inclination to God”.

He must not only be trained here but moved elsewhere as well, and this journey is called a mystery, which culminates in deification (becoming Christ-like and realise our true nature). It takes place through man’s energy and synergy. This is the ascetic journey. [2]

For the full issue (for free) click the ‘download’ button below….

[1] Hellenism is the term used to describe the influence of Greek ideas/customs on the people which the Greek and Roman Empires conquered or interacted with. ‘Hellenising Christianity’ means bringing in the heresies of Hellenism into Christianity. ‘Christianising Hellenism’ means to remove the wrong influences of Hellenism that entered Christianity.

[2] The source of these articles in this journal issue are from Orthodox Christian books. The authors are Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos, Metropolitan Antony Bloom, Archbishop Anastasios.

The pictures are taken from online resources.

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