Source: Orthodox Research Institute
We have no power to change another person, and we should not waste our time analysing why he behaves this way or that. Let him follow his own path. We should accept people as they are, otherwise our intrusion can prove to be destructive.
The Moral Schism
The faith and love of every man is put to the test by something – misfortunes, psychological difficulties, moral perplexities, even by our happiness. Each of these tests is in one way or another, linked with suffering – the degree of suffering connected with the amount of evil within and around his life. All of this entails the growth of self-knowledge, a probe of his depths, and painful as it might be, it is indelibly linked with any spiritual progress.
Tests come in life, and man looks into his soul. He becomes conscious of his sin. He sees what lies on the surface of his consciousness – spiritual warps, moral inconsistencies, and defects of reason. He will, in doing this, undoubtedly experience grappling thoughts and negative emotions. And the growing knowledge of his nothingness and powerlessness, of his need for help from the outside – from God – is usually the beginning of the Christian Way.
The Way, through tests, introspection, and suffering, is hard and has many pitfalls. There is a strong temptation to look for happiness and consolation right from the beginning. If we experience disillusionment or disappointment, then we might start fearing that our journey to God might turn into torment and punishment.
We must face this fact: there can be no true comfort or consolation without first passing through radical repentance, without deep heart-knowledge of the horror and destructive force of our sin. The Christian Way is ineffably consoling, but comfort is not reached by chasing after it. If we look for Truth, Jesus Christ, and rejoice in our sufferings, according to His precepts (MT. 5:11,12), we might reach happiness and consolation in the long run. But if we search for comfort, we will get neither comfort nor Truth, only self-deception in the beginning and despair at the end.
Only after we understand that a moral law exists, supported by God’s power, that we have broken this law and how we should properly relate to this Power, only then we begin to understand what True Christianity has to say. It says that we have fallen into such a state that we simultaneously love and hate good, and that is why we are afraid to look the facts in the face. And that is because the facts are fearsome. Thus, there is nothing to say to people who are not conscious of what they have to repent of and who feel no need for forgiveness whatsoever.
People, who live by the flesh, protesting their moral obligation to God, attempt to be guided solely by “love” in their search for Truth. To them Christianity appears to consist only of rules and regulations. It is true that morality is not in itself sufficient; virtue exists for the sake of Truth, not vice versa. Love liberates us from the power of any law, and, as Saint Macarius the Great says, “He who attains love cannot fall”.
But many deceive themselves, rejecting moral laws before time, having no love, but only a vague concept of it and even a more nebulous concept of any moral obligation. And strangely enough, it is spiritual books and study of everything spiritual that ‘help’ many to reach this miserable state of being. About the over-intellectualization of the spiritual, the Holy Fathers say: “If anyone is diligent in reading and writing, but has no corresponding increase of virtue, his end will be terrible”. The most terrible thing is the inability to love or to respond to God’s love. This is the beginning of infernal tortures. The cause of all this is not only idle curiosity about things, which our consciousness cannot hold, but also seeking after them in word and deed.
It is very dangerous to translate the experience of faith into the language of concepts. This is the beginning of numerous illusions and errors. A skilful sophist can successfully defend both thesis and antithesis, but such resourcefulness and sharpness of mind do not make a man any nobler, even in their most perfect condition. We can understand only what we are aware of, but the one who has attained ‘Christ’s mind’ does not pay any attention to his thoughts or his earthly wisdom. He is simple in the Lord. Often however, God’s wisdom is taken as foolishness and insanity in this world.
The Holy Fathers say that “God’s grace comes not only to those who search for it”, He sends His grace where He will. God foresees the response of a man to His grace, and this is the reason why we do not have Divine Gifts, such as faith, love, the Divine mind, etc. Thus, before God starts serving the man, the man should first serve God by faithfully performing his moral duty. We cannot say that all of this is easy and pleasant. No, this is so hard that the Holy Fathers compare this moral labour to death and re-birth. Saint Gregory the Theologian says: “The first birth is parental, the second comes from God, and in the third, man gives birth to himself through tears of repentance and grief”. This grief is somewhat comparable to the magnitude of the Divine Gift. For, according to Saint Isaac the Syrian, “God leads the soul into grief and temptations according to the magnitude of grace given”.
Mankind was conceived as a single whole, a reflection of the image and likeness of God. Man’s attempt to break away from this whole and to live independently (individually) constitutes the tragedy of Adam’s original sin, to which we once gave and continue to give our consent. Thus, a man developed two wills – one directed outward, the other inward. The schism of human nature brought the schism of our universe. Evil was not made eternal, but was ousted into the temporal, sensual, and material domain to be corrected and eventually annihilated. It does not mean that God hid from man, leaving him to his own devices, to the illusion of human self-sufficiency, which supposes the existence of the source of being within oneself («and you will be like God”, GEN. 3:5). God does not turn away from wicked men, for “It is silly to say, according to Saint Anthony the Great, that the sun hides itself from the blind”. It means that God, allowing Adam to die a material death, saved him and us from a greater evil – spiritual death in eternity (so that he would not eat of the Tree of Life and live forever).
At present, during this mortal life on earth, we are to get our food in the sweat of our face in order to keep our ‘independent’ existence. And by doing this, we are to rectify the habits of our free will, which are inaccessible to God, so that the gap between the mind and the heart, between the spirit and the soul would be closed, and we could conform our own will with God’s will towards us, as befits the purpose of our creation. Overcoming the schism of the human nature is a matter of the whole life. Its last step is death. Only by dying consciously and daily can we exhaust death “so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 COR. 5:4). Only by having started to live as an integral person and not as a biological individual fixed upon ourselves and within ourselves, can we establish contacts with other personae – with God and with men. Until we stop our ‘independent’ existence, we can never start life as it befits a man – after God’s image and likeness, in other words, become a true man.
Restoring the Unity
The first step on this path is to become oneself by a gradual elevation towards transformation into God’s image and likeness – through prayer and following the Lord’s commandments, – for it is also possible to live someone else’s life, as a poor copy of someone. Saint Isaac the Syrian says: “Sink into yourself away from sin, and there you will find steps of your personal ascent”. He is referring to a going down into the depths of one’s heart through prayer. “To put on Christ” and “to put off an old man” is to move away from the sinful self to my actual self, to my “image and likeness”. It has been called a flight from our sinful twin *.
* – “Twin” is that with which we identify ourselves, our body and the whole psyche connected with it, i.e. thoughts and all our five senses. Our thoughts and images get materialized in our soul and form a different world with an illusory existence. When we enter it, we go away from our true selves into an imaginative reality. However, the genuine “I” is not something that belongs to me (my thoughts, features of character, etc.), – all this is transient and vanishes as smoke. “I” is eternal and is not subject to any change.
We fill up our consciousness with symbols, circuits, and terms as in a computer, but contrary to the machine, this play of imagination disappears into non-existence. It turns immediately into flesh and life. Image-building symbols are the reality we live, or better, we exist in. The ability to create existence out of “non-existence” is characteristic of a man, but we are only “small-c” creators. For example, our thoughts cause a change in the chemical composition of our blood, a thought of food brings appetite, but thoughts of spiritual matters cannot spiritualize our nature. We can only deal with our own energies, which are already created by God, but non-created energy, i.e. God’s grace, is given only by God, provided that we observe His commandment – love. To make the first step to ourselves, we need to bring our feelings into their natural condition, i.e. to reject sensual pleasures, exceeding natural needs. This, of course, does not concern those for whom sin, a departure from grace-filled to sensual enjoyments, has become a natural necessity.
To succeed in this, we should cultivate sufficient contempt for our own personal (narrow) interests and goals, no matter how important they might seem to us. This is the only way we can make room in our soul for another person. We must stop dialoguing with our own “twin”. It means overcoming the schism of human nature, my individualism, forgetting about and working on sinful problem areas (sinful because they are my own), seeing myself in another human being. This is the greatest happiness of overcoming our loneliness. Only by starting to work on ourselves in this manner, can we come to know spiritual labour for the sake of another human being. It means mourning over my own “dead” and starting to mourn for others and together with others. During this labour, spiritual loneliness is overcome, an all-idealising love for all creation awakens. Despite the fact that negative qualities can undermine our faith in a person, we must still have faith in his Divine essence and potential until the end, no matter how low he has fallen. This focus on the positive brings us closer to the genuine reality, to God’s original image in man and mankind.
If another person does not become higher and worthier in my own eyes than myself, then my “ego” will never step over the limits of its self-importance and individualism. That is why it is so important to place the centre of gravity outside myself, in another person. This means to be ready at any moment to renounce my own interests for the sake of someone else’s interests, to cultivate in myself a precious feeling of undivided concern for another person. It is hard to do all this, but it is extremely necessary to do so, otherwise our “twin” will cause our degradation and the decay of our consciousness.
The main goal of our life is a permanent prayer for God’s grace and help in order to enable ever-increasing labour over myself in the name of another person, to advance the departure from myself into the life of my neighbour. This is Christ’s paradise. In this way, it should not be hard for us to make a step towards a person, rather than passing him by. We will not block ourselves from someone’s joy or grief with our “twin”, nor will we prefer our personal goals and interests to sacrificing love for God and our neighbour.
It is very important to understand that we are responsible not only for ourselves, our passions and desires, but also for the others, for humankind is a single whole. However, in order to join this whole, we have to ask for forgiveness not only for ourselves, but also for our brother – if he, for example, is offended at me – to ask that he also be forgiven. This is the only way God’s image can be restored in man, through unity and mutual exchange.
The more I pray for the others or grant them practical help, the more I receive myself, for it is impossible to receive without giving. This is the law and axiom of spiritual self-perfection, perfection in love. We forget about this great spiritual law and commit a grave error by blocking ourselves from God and people with our “twin”, who suffers from different psychological complexes and pursues personal goals (his own idea of salvation, perfection, etc.)
Sometimes, it is necessary to distance ourselves from people in order to acquire love for them; but if we give them Christ’s love, we acquire it for ourselves. Thus, we will rise over our “personal” love, personal grief or joy, and will derive enormous power even from our own suffering, which would inspire the others. This is how we can fulfill the whole law, for the Gospel says: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (GAL. 6:2). And we know that Christ’s law is love.
To be continued…