In the patristic tradition, the heart is the center of our self-awareness. This self-awareness is the energy of the mind inside the heart, something the holy Fathers referred to as our “noetic faculty.” There is an important distinction that must be noted concerning the difference between the Western and Eastern understandings of how we come to know God. The Scholastic approach that places emphasis on the use of logic and reason in the acquisition of the knowledge of God, as seen in the teachings of Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas, is unknown in the East.
The ancient Church taught that knowledge of God comes only through the noetic science of the heart. From the standpoint of Orthodox theology, the mind and logic are not the same thing, since logic functions within the brain, while the mind functions within the heart. Thus, the noetic faculty of the heart is the energy of the mind inside the heart. This important distinction results in the Eastern Church seeing herself not as a religious institution, but rather a hospital of the soul, wherein one comes for therapeutic procedures that restore the health of the soul, and allow for the ultimate goal of union with God, which we refer to as theosis. For those who wish further understanding of these ancient Christian teachings, the writings of my favorite modern theologian, Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) [of Nafpaktos], are a worthy read.
It is within the life of the Church that we enter into ascetic struggle, “working out,” just as an athlete, through fasting and prayer, and the reception of the holy mysteries (which is holy Communion), in order to be made well. We are restored to health within the walls of this hospital of the soul, the Church, and trained to the ascetical dimension of living.
Our mishandling of the memory of God that led to the Fall is now corrected and reactivated through the healing of the nous, the eye of the soul, and that memory is restored. This memory is not the reclamation of something of an historical nature, but rather the opening up of a knowledge that has always been there. This healing is not of a juridical nature whereby an angry God has decided to overlook the evil and fallen nature of our souls by the bloodletting of his Son, but by the cleansing of the nous that has been darkened, restoring us to health and wholeness. The memory of God is thus restored, and we are again in full communion with the Most High, freed from the permanency of death by the trampling down of the power of death through Christ’s holy Resurrection.
The purpose of the Church’s presence in the world is for the cure of humankind, and the restoration of the hearts of men and women. The Church thus functions as a therapy-centered hospital, and the priests function as therapists. This Divine-human Organism is the living Body of Christ, the Church, and is itself life. The healing of the nous that comes within the life of the Church returns us to our true nature. In this state of wholeness our faculties are able to use logic and reason as it was meant to be used. Our reason and logic becomes the rightful vehicle by which we can explore the universe and behold all that God has created, and science, nature, and even the cosmos can be seen in the light of a heart centered in our self-awareness.