Saturday, May 24, 2014

A Thing Impossible

The tendency of humanity is to seek comfort and ease; due to the fall this tendency has led to a lowering of mankind's eyes from his true goal: life in Christ. Too often instead of striving for the Kingdom of God we surround ourselves with earthly pleasures and worldly ease. Moreover, modern man has become all the more fixated on instantaneous pleasure: “I want it now, easy, and my way.” This desire is then projected onto the Christian life. The search is for a spiritual experience which satisfies now, while all struggle and effort are avoided. Many seek a message that is centered around earthly enjoyment and self-satisfaction. A system that offers instant results and power. You too can be a super apostle! Yet if we are to pursue true life in the Spirit we must lay aside such ideas and desires for instantaneous results, self promotion, and worldly pleasure, which are thinly cloaked in spiritual jargon. Few want to be reminded of St. Paul's words, “We must through many tribulations enter the Kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). St. Macarius the Great echoing this councils Christians, “Most want to possess the kingdom without labors and struggles and sweat, but this is not possible … Most wish to obtain the kingdom and desire to have eternal life, but, following their own wills, they refuse to control them. They are rather more like a sower who sows vain desires. They refuse to deny themselves and still wish to receive eternal life, which is a thing impossible” (The Fifty Spiritual Homilies).

Life in the Spirit is not a way of ease. To embark upon the pursuit of God is to walk upon the narrow way: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Mat. 7:13-14). To seek authentic Christian life in the Holy Spirit is to undergo a life-long transformation. Christ Himself compares following His life-giving commandments to the building of a house (cf. Mat 7:24-27). Each process must be done with care, labor, and diligence. Each step builds upon and relies on the preceding. Progress forward is not a distinct categorical movement from one level to the next. It is, instead, an organic unity and progression; each stage is ever sustaining, feeding, and supporting the next. There is never a time when the building stops relying on the foundation: without it the whole structure would collapse. Even though one may speak of various separate parts of a structure it is understood that only as a whole do they comprise the building. So, it is with life in the Spirit. Simply because we have laid a foundation does not yet mean we have built a house.

The believer pursuing life in Christ must respond to His divine grace. St. Symeon the New Theologian says, “'Grace' is … the gift of the Holy Spirit which makes us co-participants and communicants of God.” The Holy Spirit does not enter into the temple of our body and soul uninvited. A Christian is free to refuse the gift of the Holy Spirit; this refusal may be passive or explicit. Once grace moves upon the heart the believer is called to answer, thus beginning a work of synergy. The Holy Spirit stands waiting; we must open the door and allow Him continued reign in our life. The believer builds, through grace, his heart into a temple of God.

It must be stressed that only within the Theanthropic Body of Christ, the Orthodox Church, can personal experience be true and authentic. The believer partakes of the Holy Spirit, the fulness, given to the Church (cf. Eph. 1:23) by being biologically linked to the life giving Body; it is this partaking, safeguarded in and by the Church, which communicates true personal life and experience in the Spirit to the member, the believer. Personal experience outside of the Community of the Body of Christ becomes prey to deception and delusion (prelest), indeed it becomes individual experience and thus impersonal. The modern day pursuit of “Christian” Spiritual life detached from (and many times explicitly at the sake of) life in the Body of Christ becomes a dangerous type of spiritual self diagnosis and evaluation. The base of such a desire for an individual experience of God is many times based on our own human pride and perverted self reliance. Somehow I know better than everyone else, I will decide for myself what is true, I am my own sure spiritual guide (most of the time one adds some authority for effect, the Bible and I, the Holy Spirit and I, etc). This attitude is found nowhere in the Scriptures or experience of Christians through out all time. Rather true spiritual life in the Scriptures and testimony of Holy ones reveals that true life in the Spirit is received through much sacrifice, humility, and labor (just because God gives a free gift does not mean that we are yet capable of receiving it in its fullness). True Christianity understands that mankind is not capable of acute spiritual self diagnosis, and thus a Christian is called in humility to trust the Living witness of Christ in His Church, the bearer of true and clear Spiritual diagnosis and therapy; thus our limited experiences are weighed against the eternal experience revealed by Christ and His Body. True personal faith flowers within the safeguards of the Faith of the the community, which is the Body of Christ.

St. Justin Popovich writes: “In it (the Church), God has truly blessed us with all spiritual

blessings (Eph. 1: 3); He has given us in it all the means to be holy and without blame before God (Eph. 1: 4); He has adopted us in it through His only-begotten Son (Eph. 1: 5-8); He has revealed to us in it the eternal mystery of His will (Eph. 1: 9); He has united time and eternity in it (Eph 1: 10); He has made it possible in the Church for all beings and all matter to enter Christ, the Spirit and the Trinity (Eph. 1: 13-18). For all these reasons the Church constitutes the greatest and holiest mystery of God in all the worlds.”

In an age when there are thousands of voices shouting that Christ is in the dessert or inner room ready to give you your hearts desires (passions), and that one can instantly and easily attain the spiritual life, and receive the Holy Spirit in a lickety-split manner, pouring out seemingly great power with great ease, Orthodox Christians must be aware of the ancient and living teaching on life in the Spirit and refuse to believe these christs. True life in Christ is good and light, it is the tribulation of the Cross in this life, a losing and death of the self with all its desire for the easy way and self evaluation and reliance. Yet in following this path of seeming death (at which the fallen self revolts) one finds in reality resurrection and ascension with Christ in “Spirit and in Truth” to the right hand of God the Father. True Christian life in the Spirit is a thing impossible unless we are willing to die in Christ. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain” (John 12:24).