This year’s conference offered courses on acquiring the proper tools to achieve our greatest potential as Christians: communion with God. Keynote speakers included Dan Christopulos and Dr. Kyriacos Markides. Held at Antiochian Village in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, from October 30 through November 2.
Ms. Sandra Anderson: Good morning, everybody! I’m Sandra Anderson, and I’ve been blessed, because of association, to give a little introduction on Dr. Boosalis today, and I don’t want to get anything wrong, so I’m not going to depend on my memory. Carole wrote a beautiful thing, but then I will say a little word of my own.
Dr. Boosalis was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota, under two Greek-American parents, Stella and Big Mike. [Laughter] And they’re lovely, wonderful people. After seminary he did stay at our church and was a lay assistant and youth director under Fr. Anthony Coniaris. That was Dr. Boosalis’s—I want to call him something different, so please forgive me. Dr. Boosalis worked under the tutelage of Fr. Anthony Coniaris, who was the parish priest. So for all of Dr. Boosalis’s life, Fr. Anthony was his priest, so he was very blessed.
His education started at the University of Minnesota where he received his Bachelor’s of Arts and Philosophy in classics. Then he went to Holy Cross School of Theology for his—what degree was that?
Dr. Harry Boosalis: Master’s of Theology.
Ms. Anderson: Master’s of Theology. Then he received his doctorate at the University of Thessalonica, and he did his thesis on Orthodox Spiritual Life According to St. Silouan of Mt. Athos. This is a topic that he can speak very clearly on, and I consider him a tool to theosis. [Laughter] He wouldn’t say that; he’s much too humble, but if you read his book and listen to him, I promise you you’ll gain a knowledge that’ll help you in your journey.
Dr. Boosalis has been teaching dogmatic theology, a full-time faculty member at St. Tikhon’s Seminary, and he serves [as] the chair on the Department of Theology and Spirituality. He has written many books. Hopefully you’ll go upstairs today and be able to get some and hopefully get them signed. I highly recommend any of his books. He’s been on mission trips to Africa, and one of the things he does is he, every year—how many years have you been going to Mt. Athos?
Dr. Boosalis: Since 2002 or something.
Ms. Anderson: Okay, since about 2002, every year he takes a group of men—which I still fight with him about, because only the men get to go [Laughter]—to Mt. Athos for a spiritual pilgrimage. So the men have come home very, very moved and changed by it. The only thing I would say different or add to: he has all the right qualifications, but my thought of his best qualification is that Dr. Boosalis is very loving and kind and humble, and he really cares about everybody’s journey, and if he can help, he’ll help you. With that, let’s get started. [Applause]
Dr. Boosalis: Why, thank you! [Inaudible]
So what are we going to be speaking about? Our theme here is: Freedom. Freedom and your life with God. Freedom and your life in Christ, the role of freedom in the Orthodox Church. All this talk about freedom? Wait a minute. Freedom and God? Freedom in the Orthodox Church? Are you kidding me? [Laughter] How can that be? I thought God’s trying to take away our freedom. He’s got all those commandments you have to keep, all those rules and regulations you have to follow, all that fasting we have to do, all those long services we have to go to. Where’s the freedom in that? Come on. Freedom in the Church? If you want to find real freedom, you have to go outside the Church. That’s where you find real freedom. Isn’t that what most people say? Isn’t that the way it is?
Let’s look at a few quotes here from the handouts. Follow along if you want. Some of these quotes, if you’re school teachers, you might find them helpful in the church school or however you may want to use them. Mahatma Gandhi: “Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.” Epictetus, an ancient Greek philosopher; he wrote: “No man is free who is not a master of himself.” Blaise Pascal, the famous French philosopher; he is quoted as saying: “It’s not good to be too free. It’s not good to have everything one wants.” And even Bertrand Russell, the British philosopher and outspoken atheist; he’s quoted as saying: “It is the preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that prevents us from living freely.” I wonder what he’s getting at there. And finally, President Franklin Roosevelt; he once said: “Freedom of speech is of no use to a man who has nothing to say, and freedom of worship is of no use to a man who has lost his God.” FDR, pretty deep.
If you stop to think about it, especially as Americans, we take our freedom very seriously. Everybody knows the importance of being free. America is the land of the free, and we’re willing to defend our freedom and fight for our freedom at whatever the cost. In fact, the most famous phrase from one of the greatest speeches in American history is comprised of three simple words: “Free at last”: “Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last.” He finally found his freedom, all right—and then they shot him.
Well, the point of all this is: Why? Why is freedom so very vital to our lives as human beings, and why do we fight for freedom, and why are so many people ready to die for freedom? My goal today is to try to challenge you just a little bit in order to show how relevant our freedom is for our spiritual lives. Hopefully this will help us to reflect on some things which otherwise we might not stop to consider.
But before we begin, let’s address just a few preliminary points. First of all, we have to ask ourselves: Just what is freedom, anyway? How are we supposed to define freedom? From a secular perspective, according to some dictionaries, freedom is defined as “the power or right to act or to speak or think as one wants” or “the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved” or “the ability of directing our own actions.” So in this secular sense, freedom refers to that ability to choose and to decide without any constraint.
And another important question is this: Why is it that only humans are truly free? Why is it that no other creatures on this entire planet have this great gift of freedom, that is, this innate power to freely determine our own lives? Certainly, animals are in the wild, they’re born free, but they act and react more in terms of basic instinct, perhaps, and this is not the same thing as our power of self-determination or our unique ability to make moral decisions and to freely choose between right and wrong. Only human beings are born with free choice and the ability to freely direct our own lives. And there are no other creatures on earth who enjoy that unique taste of freedom like we do.
Then a further question: Just what are we really free for, anyway? Freedom for what? Freedom to do whatever we want? Freedom to buy whatever we want? Freedom to try whatever we want, whether it’s drugs or alcohol, sexual promiscuity, gambling, pornography? Is that what true freedom is? Sometimes it seems as if, in our society today, freedom and sin are often seen as somehow interwoven. Oftentimes from a secular point of view, freedom involves our free choice to pursue whatever pleasure we wish. So in this secular perspective we see that it’s more of a freedom for something, that is to say, freedom to have or freedom to do whatever we may want.
However, for our Orthodox Church, true freedom is not so much a freedom for something; actually, it’s freedom from certain things. It’s not freedom for; it’s freedom from. It’s freedom from bondage to our bad habits and our unhealthy attachments to the world that can often entangle us and enslave us. It’s freedom from those uncontrollable passions and pleasures of the flesh that can ensnare and imprison us. For example, St. Anthony the Great teaches—this is on your handouts—I quote; he says:
A man is free if he is not a slave to sensual pleasure. If you wish, you are a slave of the passions, and if you so wish you are free to not yield to the passions. For God created you with free will.
So we see that in the spiritual sense, we are truly free only when we liberate ourselves from sinful passions that separate us from God. Only then are we truly free to become the person that we were created to be. So this spiritual sense of freedom, as freedom from rather than freedom for, is summed up by the Apostle Paul when he writes—and I quote from the handouts—“All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” Elsewhere he teaches, “Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”
Bondage? What does he mean by that? What is St. Paul referring to when he says, “things that are not helpful to us” or “being brought under the power of something” or “being entangled in a yoke of bondage”? Basically, he’s referring to all those unhealthy passions and those obsessive attachments that confront many of us and continually tempt us throughout our day. According to the Orthodox Church, every human sin, and even every potential addiction, all stem from the major passions or spiritual vices. And I have those listed on your handout there: the main passions and the main virtues.
Our Church Fathers define a passion as an impulse of the soul that is contrary to our true nature or that goes against or is a misuse of our nature; that’s what a passion is. And these main passions or spiritual vices include—and I’m reading from the list—obsessive self-love, from which ultimately flows all the other sins. Also excessive pride in ourselves or in our accomplishments; that is to say, pride in a completely negative sense. As well as greed and gluttony and lust and anger. Can we relate to any of these passions? For instance, have we ever tasted the passion of anger deep within our heart? Never really been angry with another person? Have we ever been consumed with anger towards someone? And, of course, that someone is more often than not usually someone we are closest to or related to. Do any of us know what that feels like? Or is that just a Greek thing; I don’t know. [Laughter]
There’s also the passion of despair. Despair is the most fatal passion, because it means we’ve lost all hope in God. These are the seven main passions from which flow all our other sins and related sinful inclinations that separate us from God and from each other. However, in our discussion today we’re going to focus mainly on the passions of self-love and greed and try to look at them a bit deeper as we proceed.
Then our Church also teaches that there are corresponding spiritual virtues that are opposite of these passions. Through the acquisition of the virtues, man approaches God and we draw closer to him. The primary spiritual virtue is love, which includes love for God and love for neighbor. And these actually form one and the same virtue. There’s also humility and gratitude, self-control, purity, gentleness, as well as the great virtue of hope. And as we will see, these virtues are actually what truly set us free. In this session we’re going to concentrate primarily on the virtues of love and gratitude and talk about them a bit deeper.
Now keep in mind that these passions and virtues are diametrically opposed to one another. They’re completely opposite. The spiritual virtues are also referred to as the antidotes for the passions. For example, the antidote for obsessive self-love is love for God and love for others. The antidote for pride is humility. Greed is combated with gratitude, gluttony by self-control, the passion of lust by the practice of purity. Anger is offset by gentleness, and despair is defeated through the virtue of hope. So these virtues, however, they’re more than simply antidotes for the passions; these virtues reflect our true nature as human beings. The virtues are in fact natural to us, while the passions are not. In fact, as we’re going to see, the passions are unnatural to us as human beings. According to St. Maximus the Confessor—here’s a great quote; he says: “It’s not food that is evil, but gluttony. It’s not the begetting of children, but lust. It’s not material things, but greed. This being so, it’s only the misuse of things that is evil,” he says, “and such misuse occurs when our inner soul fails to cultivate its natural powers.”
What makes us truly Christlike, therefore, is not just our healing from the passions, but our acquisition of these spiritual virtues. St. John Climacus advises: “Keep track of the exact condition of each passion and of each virtue, and you will know exactly how you are making spiritual progress.” So that’s just a brief introduction to passions and virtues.
There’s another preliminary point we want to make before proceeding, and this is the distinction that our Church Fathers made concerning the three different aspects or conditions of human nature. These are the following. Human life may be lived either according to nature, or we can live life contrary to nature, and there’s also human life that’s lived above nature. The first is life lived according to nature, and this is how Adam and Eve lived before the Fall, and this is how mankind was originally supposed to live, as God originally intended. And this is also referred to as pre-fallen human nature, which is life lived according to our true nature as human beings.
The second condition is life that’s lived contrary to nature. This is our fallen nature, that’s to say, our present state, that we all know. Now in our fallen condition, we’re all actually living contrary or against our true nature as originally created by God. Did you ever stop to think of it like that?
And the third condition is that life which is above nature, and this is the life in Christ for which we were created. This is human nature that’s been sanctified and deified by divine grace. This is theosis. This is the condition that our saints attained to, even here while in this life, which is why they’re truly holy and why they’re able, for example, to perform all those supernatural miracles.
An excellent example of someone who lived contrary to nature but then through repentance reached holiness which is above nature is St. Mary of Egypt. As we know, from a very early age, she gave herself over to carnal passions. For over 17 years, she lived a life of lust, even refusing to accept money from the men she went with. However, later in life, by God’s grace and through her great repentance, she abandoned her life contrary to nature and she attained to holiness, which is in fact above nature. And she went on to become a great saint of our Church and one of the greatest examples of what we can achieve through a life of genuine repentance.
So here we have three distinct conditions of life: according to nature, contrary to nature, and above nature. Another classic example of life contrary to nature that clearly reflects our fallen condition is found in the letters of St. Paul. In his letter to the Romans, he described how frustrating it is to live in our fallen nature. Listen to what he says—one of my favorite verses from all these Scriptures—“I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice, but what I hate, that is what I do. For the good that I will to do, I do not do, but the evil I will not to do, that is what I practice,” says the holy Apostle (Romans 7). St. Paul refers here to the dysfunction in our fallen nature. The good things he actually intends to do he does not end up doing, but the very things he does not want to do and that he tries to avoid, that’s exactly what he actually does. Now is it just me and the Apostle Paul, or—you guys probably can’t relate to any of this, can you? [Laughter]
C1: No, I think it’s just you, Professor.
Dr. Boosalis: Just me. [Laughter] Well, there’s always hope.
Of course, later, St. Paul goes on to describe how, in fact, Christ can empower our free will to actually do the right and positive things that we freely choose and that we truly desire to do. So these three aspects of according to, contrary to, and above nature will be discussed more in depth a little later.
With these things in mind, let’s move on and see what our Church teaches us about freedom. And the place where we begin is the Book of Genesis. Here on the very first page of Scripture we learn that our very great gift of human freedom is actually a reflection of the divine freedom of God. In the first chapter of Genesis, verse 26, we read: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness.’ So God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him.” So being created in the image of God, man has a highly exalted place within all of God’s creation. We are God’s special creature.
Man alone is uniquely created in the image and likeness of God. In fact, man is God’s masterpiece, and furthermore God created the entire universe for us. We read in the Philokalia, one of those great classics of Orthodox spirituality, and I quote: “For man’s sake, God has created everything: earth and heaven and the beauty of the stars. For me
thou hast created heaven and earth, the elements and all that is formed from them.” Isn’t that quite a lofty view? Our Church’s view of man differs so greatly from other worldviews of our day. Who else believes that nowadays? We’re taught the exact opposite, aren’t we?
Elsewhere, St. Anthony the Great teaches: “Only to man does God listen. Only to man does God manifest himself. God loves man, and wherever man may be, God, too, is there. Man alone is counted worthy to worship God. For man’s sake, God transforms himself.” For man’s sake, God transforms himself: what does that mean, God transforming himself? Well, what he’s referring to here is the Incarnation of Christ. It’s for man’s sake that God became man, and our faith teaches clearly that God truly became man, that God was born from a human mother, just like every other human being is born. For [the] Orthodox Church, the true meaning of being human is found only in the person of Christ. We can comprehend the ultimate purpose of our lives on earth only in light of Christ. Only in Christ is it possible to see what it truly means to be human. It’s Christ, the God who became man, who teaches us and reveals to us our true identity as human beings. It’s not man who teaches about God, but rather it’s God who reveals our true identity as man.
So clearly Christ is the key that unlocks the truth of the mystery of the human person. In the person of Christ, God not only became man, but now man, that is to say you and me, we’re also called to share in God’s life and in God’s love. And this is why God became man, so that man could become like God. This is the theosis, the theosis of man, and this is the basic message of the Gospel: man is created to become like God.
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness.’ ” And this verse is fundamental, not only to our understanding of human nature but also to our experience of salvation and sanctification, or our theosis, in Christ. And the words “image” and “likeness” are very important, and Fr. Anthony was alluding to this last night. Our Church Fathers make a fundamental distinction between these two terms. Perhaps these two words, “image” and “likeness,” when they were first written in the Old Testament, maybe there was no real intention in trying to point to a difference in how they were to be interpreted, but for our Church Fathers, clearly there is a distinction here between image and likeness.
The image is that which is given to man at the moment of our creation. Being in the image of God is part of our very nature, and it’s given to us from birth, and even after the fall of Adam, when this image became ruined and deformed, still this divine image remains within us, and it’s never completely destroyed. In our fallen state, the image of God is certainly distorted, and it’s disfigured, but it’s not completely obliterated or wiped out, as some non-Orthodox Christian confessions may teach.
Likeness to God, however, is the goal of our life. Attaining to the likeness of God is the ultimate purpose of our lives here on earth, and it’s something that we have to strive to attain. So we’re created to grow from this image into the likeness of God. You could put it this way: the image of God is the unrealized potential that we’re all born with; the image is thus our potential to become holy, our potential for theosis. We’re called, and we’re all capable of becoming saints, each in our own way, but only a few of us ever do. Only a few of us ever attain to theosis and actually become like God. Only a few ever realize our true spiritual potential and actually attain to the very likeness of God.
So the image is our initial gift that’s given to us by God; the likeness is what we do with that gift. The image is like a beginning, and the likeness is our final aim, which we can attain through the correct use of our freedom. We’ll come back to the importance of freedom. The image is the potential we have to become Christlike, whereas the likeness is attaining to our goal and actually becoming like Christ. And if you do, you become holy; you become a saint. This is the theosis of our human nature.
From an Orthodox point of view, our spiritual growth is directly related to the person of Christ. Man’s spiritual perfection, as we grow from the image into the likeness of God, is therefore not simply a sanctification or a deification. As Fr. Anthony said, more accurately, it’s a Christification; it’s attaining to the likeness of Christ.
Have we ever thought about life in these terms? Have we ever seen ourselves in this light, in the light of Christ? Our life here on earth is a very short span of life. It’s basically a spiritual journey, from the image of Christ into the likeness of Christ. So life’s not just about me; life’s about Christ. It’s Christ who created us; it’s Christ who’s calling us—to become like him in a very real and personal way.
And this is what our Church is trying to teach us, but this is not what the world is trying to tell us. In fact, the world is teaching us the exact opposite. How much money do we spend, sending our kids off to college to be programmed into the reverse worldview? The world is telling us that life’s all about me as an individual: life’s not about God or our fellow human beings; rather, our focus on life should be self-centered, on me, myself, and I. For example, consider most of the marketing or advertizing techniques that saturate our society today: Buy this; wear that. It’ll make me look better. It’ll make me be better than the others. Life’s all about me. It’s my clothes, my car, my house! It’s my money! Society’s trying to program us to focus on our individual selves and not so much on other people—certainly not on God, if he even exists, really. That’s an option, isn’t it?
However, our Church teaches us that when we focus on ourselves apart from God, we can actually become imprisoned to our own selves. We become slaves of ourselves and of our passionate desires. Perhaps this is what Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau meant when he wrote, “Man is born free, yet he’s everywhere in chains.” Even the great atheist, Voltaire, is quoted as saying, “It’s hard to free fools from the chains they revere.” Hmm.
The British author John Fowles offers these insightful words; he says, “The true value of a human being can be found in the degree to which he has attained liberation from the self.” Isn’t that interesting? What does that mean, “liberation from the self”? The main message here, even from these secular authors, is that, when we focus only on our individual selves and then when our lives become self-centered, we actually lose our true freedom. We lose not only our gift of freedom, but we also lose our true identity as human persons.
One of the most eminent Orthodox authors of our day, Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos, he shares this interesting observation; he says:
As persons, we are beings created potentially, not actually. I am summoned to actualize, to realize in myself my personal likeness to God. Man was made a person potentially, in order to become one in action.
“Man was made a person potentially, in order to become one in action.” What this means is that—and as surprising as it sounds—we’re not necessarily living as genuine human persons, at least not in the true sense as our Church understands it. In fact, we have to struggle to become truly human. Only by growing in communion with God and in communion with other people do we become a true human person, as created in the image and likeness of God. Otherwise, we remain as isolated individuals who live in division from other people. And this teaching is based on the writings of the Apostle Paul. He says:
You have put off the old man with his deeds and have put on the new man, who is renewed according to the image of him who created him.
“The new man is renewed according to the image of him who created him”: so there’s a direct relation here between Paul’s “new man” and our lives as genuine human persons.
According to our Church Fathers, man was not originally created in a state of spiritual perfection. Even before the fall, Adam and Eve were not yet spiritually mature or complete; they were created for spiritual growth. Man is created for spiritual growth. Adam and Eve, they were in a state of childlike simplicity and innocence. They were created as spiritual infants and incapable of clearly discerning good from evil, which is why they ended up falling in the first place. So in this sense, not only Adam and Eve, but also you and me, we’re created to grow spiritually, that is, gradually and over time, through the correct use of our God-given freedom.
And God respects the integrity of our freedom. He truly respects our freedom so much that he permits the consequences of all of our wrong choices. In this way, whatever spiritual progress we may attain, whatever Christlike virtues we may acquire, will always depend directly on our own free will, just as much as it depends on God, who initially plants the seeds for our spiritual growth. So with this great gift of freedom comes with it a very great responsibility.
Tragically, however, we have become irresponsible. Rather than freely choosing to energize the divine image in which we are created, we choose instead to activate our self-centered pride and the passions of our flesh, and the focus of our worldview and the purpose of our whole life is now centered on ourselves. Now our tendency is to cultivate an unnatural attachment to as many material possessions as possible. Not only our bodily passions, but also our material possessions can become a source of prideful self-centeredness, and this in turn leads to further separation and alienation, not only from God but also from each other, even from our own true selves.
It’s ironic to consider how man, who is created to live for love, is now, as a result of the fall, we’re focused mainly on our physical flesh and on our material bodies. Not only our own bodies, but also on the bodies of each other. This has great social ramifications, and it results in many of the problems facing contemporary society. There is an obvious lack of love in our world today, yet at the same time everyone’s out looking for love: at bars, on the internet. Everyone’s looking for love, yet quite often we settle for the wrong kind of love, and we settle for the wrong kind of relationships, which are unlikely to lead to the fullness of true spiritual health.
For Orthodox theology, the entire teaching of the New Testament can be summed up in three simple words: “God is love.” God is love, and man is called to become like God through the practice of love, by giving love and by receiving love. Man is created in the image and likeness of God; he is created to share in love. God is love. The more man loves, the more he participates in divine life. Love is innate to man. It’s basic to our very being. It’s through love that we attain to divine likeness and we realize our true personhood. Love makes man truly human. Love makes man divine. Without love, we distort the divine image in which we are created. The less we love, the more we alienate ourselves from divine life.
Christ’s commandments of love—to love God with your whole heart and mind and soul, and to love your neighbor as yourself, and to love your enemies—they’re not meant as mere social ethics. Christ’s commandments of love were not meant to help society function more smoothly. Actually, they reflect the underlying nature of us as men and women. The commandments of Christ manifest the truth that love is the way of God, and indeed love is the way toward God. Love for one’s neighbor leads to likeness with Christ. On the other hand, without love for one’s fellow man, life loses its proper orientation.
God is love, and man is called to participate in this divine love, to give love and to receive love. In order for someone to love, there must be someone to be loved. Love doesn’t exist with just one person. You need at least two people to have love. Love thus requires communion with another person or persons. Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, he explains this fundamental truth with these inspiring words. Follow along if you like. He says:
The human being is made in the Trinitarian image, in the image of God who is not just One, but One-in-Three: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Just as God is a union of three Persons dwelling in each other through a movement of unceasing, mutual love, so man becomes fully himself, fully human, only when living in and for others.
We become human by sharing. We become truly human when we share ourselves with other human beings. If you think about it, this communion in love is fundamental to our lives. This is clearly seen in the basic unit of society: the family, where we first experience life as newborn infants. This is seen in the basic unit of the Church: the local parish, where we strive for fellowship with one another in a communion of love. This is seen in Orthodox monasticism, where a brotherhood or a sisterhood struggles to share everything in common. This includes not only their meals and all their possessions, but in a very real way they share their daily lives. This common and communal life is experienced first and foremost in our own particular family. And this pertains not only to the family that we ourselves grew up in as children, but also the family we may be growing, that is to say, the family which our Lord has called us to lead and to serve as parents.
So we are created to share ourselves, our lives, our time, our personhood. Only in this way do we become truly human. Only in this way do we become like God. We become Christlike by emptying ourselves and by sacrificing ourselves for the other person. And this all starts with our own immediate families, and then by extension to our local parish and even to society as a whole. Until we do share ourselves and sacrifice ourselves and actually live for others, we remain merely as individuals rather than as genuine human persons.
According to Metr. Hierotheos, he says: “We cannot conceive of the person if there’s no communion. The person does not live alone; he has reference, relationship, communion.” So man is created to share, not only in the lives of others, but also in the divine life of God. And by our very nature, we are made to reach out and to participate in the very life of our Creator. Communion and participation in divine life is for mankind—that’s our natural environment. This is what distinguishes us from the rest of God’s creation. This is the fundamental meaning of the Orthodox experience of salvation in Christ. God made man in order to personally participate in his life of loving communion, and this refers to communion not only with God but with other human persons.
Man was never meant to live in isolation. We see this already in the first chapters of Genesis. Our God created us, and he has given us not only life itself but indeed his very own divine life. This is one thing that makes us so very different from the animals. Man is created precisely as a receptacle of divine life. That’s what Fr. John Meyendorff says: man is a receptacle of divine life. And without this communion in divine life, we cease to be truly human. When we try to convince ourselves that we can limit our lives within our own individual nature and that we can live quite happily without God and apart from loving communion with others, then we miss completely the whole meaning of our earthly lives. We then isolate ourselves not only from God but also from each other, and then our entire way of life becomes distorted, even deranged.
We see how our Orthodox worldview differs drastically from any other perspective, if you think about it. Man truly lives only when he communes with his Creator and with other people. Man is called to personally participate in divine life and in divine love, and this is integral to our very nature. Initially, man was created as a child, and he was called to grow into his full spiritual stature. And as is only natural, pre-fallen man had to first feed on milk and only then, when he had grown into spiritual maturity, would he be ready to be nourished with more solid food. Man was thus made to gradually progress in spiritual life. Before the fall, Adam was not yet ready to partake of the fullness of spiritual perfection.
He was, however, given the unique freedom: the freedom to choose, to choose either to live and pursue achieving his full potential or else to digress toward the destruction and the desecration of his true dignity as a man. Only through the proper use of our God-given freedom can we cooperate with divine grace in restoring the image of Christ within us and grow into the likeness of Christ, for which we were originally created. So likeness to Christ, which is the goal of human life—it’s not imposed on us. It’s left up to our own free will, and by submitting ourselves freely to God’s will by being constantly guided by his grace, we can cultivate and develop the gift of the image in which we were first created.
And this is exactly where the ascetic practices of our Church come into play: askesis. Askesis: it’s the Greek word for “exercise.” In modern Greek, askesis can refer to military exercises or the maneuvers and drills used to train soldiers. It can also refer to the physical exercises that athletes practice to train for a particular sport. In this sense, askesis or ascesis, however you want to pronounce it, is spiritual exercise. Just as one seeks to develop and maintain the health of his body, he must do likewise for the spiritual health of his soul. Many of us work out at home or at a gym in order to exercise our body. How many of us ever think about exercising our soul?
One of the basic ways that we exercise spiritually is through fasting. The f-word: fasting. Who loves to fast? [Laughter] Let’s see it! This is why fasting plays such a prominent role in our lives as Orthodox Christians. But why? Why is fasting so important? What does fasting do for me anyway? What does fasting have to do with freedom? What does fasting have to do with theosis? Do we fast because God wants to deprive us of certain pleasures, a little bit, maybe? Do we fast because God wants us to suffer, just a little bit? Do we fast because we can earn bonus points with God, in our relationship with God? Or is fasting more of a therapeutic experience? Actually, when we fast, even in little ways, we are in reality exercising our true human freedom. Did you ever think of it that way?
Through this small yet prayerful sacrifice we exercise our true freedom for self-control, our freedom to say no to self-centeredness, our freedom to focus, not so much on ourselves, but on God and on other people. Basically, fasting, when practiced properly, is a form of spiritual therapy, and it’s free; you don’t have to pay for that therapy. Might even save some money.
However, the goal is not fasting alone, for its own sake. Fasting is only meant as a means to an end. We fast in order to focus, to refocus on prayer, especially prayer for our loved ones. When we fast even in the smallest way, it must be accompanied by prayer, even the shortest and simplest prayer. If you’re not going to pray, why fast? Fasting is a refocusing, and that’s exactly what the Greek word, metanoia or repentance, literally means. It means a change or a refocusing of our minds, our hearts, and our entire personal lives back to the proper priorities of life. Fasting is thus fundamental to our struggle to redirect our spiritual lives toward Christ, who himself also fasted. And this is why fasting is so integral to Orthodox spiritual life. It’s the most basic step to our becoming like Christ. Even though we now live in this fallen world, there is still something in our nature that longs for God and constantly strives to turn towards him.
As we come to the conclusion of this first part, of this first session, we see why our human freedom is so very precious in the eyes of God, and we see why our love and why our prayers are so vital to our lives in Christ. Every human person created in the image and likeness of God is unique and unrepeatable. And God loves all of his children equally, and we too must strive to see through the eyes of Christ the eternal worth and the value of every human person, every single human soul, no matter how difficult their characters, no matter how many personal weaknesses or failings that we have. And we have to start with our own families, including our friends and other relatives. Strive to see our loved ones as truly created in the same image and likeness of God, because they too are struggling, even if they don’t realize it, to grow from the same image to the same likeness of Christ, just as we, too, are struggling.
Happiness is found not so much in getting what you want; rather, true happiness is wanting what you already have. Happiness is not about satisfying greed; happiness is about expressing our gratitude. It’s about being thankful for all the people in our lives, both the ones who are easy to like and to live with as well as those who can at times be a bit more difficult. And this includes not only our friends and our relatives, but also our fellow parishioners, our colleagues and our co-workers, by extension, other members of our communities at large.
Whom do we have to be grateful for? Are we in fact grateful for what we have and for whom we have in our lives? Or do I sometimes get a little greedy? I mean, come on: don’t I deserve better people in my parish? It’d be such a better community if he wasn’t part of this. [Laughter] Community. Don’t we often expect others to be a little bit better as being human beings? Rather than challenging myself to be a better human person, it sure is a lot easier expecting it from other people. Rather than looking to see what’s wrong with other people, what kind of a world would it be if only we strove to see what’s right!
Let me share one last quote from Elder Paisios of Mt. Athos, and he’s writing specifically with regard to our lives in the Church, and he seems to sum up everything we’ve been saying. Please follow along; I think you’re going to like this one. He says:
Everyone is useful in the Church. Everyone has something to offer. There’s plenty of room for everybody: for those who have a mild character, for those who may be strict and demanding. The body of the Church resembles the human body. Just as we need both sweet and sour foods, even bitter herbs, because each food has something [to] contribute in substance and vitamins, so too the body of Christ needs everyone (says the holy Elder). Each person complements the character of the other, and we are all obliged to tolerate not only the spiritual temperament of others, but also their human weaknesses. Now, unfortunately, there are those who have irrational expectations of other people.
Notice his words: “irrational expectations of others.” Do any of us here have any irrational expectations of other people, especially those whom we are closest to?
I just found this other quote from this other Elder, Epiphanios. Listen to what he says: “Parents should love their children as their children and not as their idols.” Do parents make idols out of their children? “That is to say, they should love their children as they are and not how they would like them to be.” These are monks living off on Mt. Athos. How do they know about family life? [Laughter]
Are we really as grateful to God as we should be for all those great gifts he has given us? Perhaps we might be more ungrateful than we think we are. Perhaps in the eyes of the Lord, we might be that ungrateful son or that ungrateful daughter, whom nobody wants to have. Sometimes we think that the Lord expects great and lofty sacrifices in order to show our love and in order to prove our love to him, but all he really wants from us is to just be humble and grateful children, and to simply thank him for whatever it is and for whomever it is we have to be thankful for. So let’s always remember that happiness is not about getting whom you want into our life; rather, true happiness is really wanting what we already have.
God created man and gave us free will, and God himself never violates our freedom. He never takes it away from us, and this thought is expressed in these words. It’s the first quote on the second handout for this session. “There’s only one good definition for God: the freedom that allows other freedoms to exist.” Isn’t that interesting? The late Nelson Mandela, he writes along similar lines: “To be free is to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” And this is exactly what God does. He respects our freedom even when we misuse it and continuously abuse it. True freedom consists of man’s ability to choose true life and to reflect the image of God in our own personal lives—or not to. The choice is ours. We reflect the image of God whenever we choose to acquire and to cultivate whatever spiritual virtues we so desire.
According to Metr. Kallistos, he writes:
Freedom signifies diversity and distinctiveness. Since each of us is free, each of us expresses the divine image in his or her own unique and unrepeatable way, and each one being unique is therefore of infinite value. Each is an end and not just the means to some further end. The Holy Spirit, by making us all free, makes us each different.
Of all God’s creation, only man has been gifted with the power of self-determination. The power of freedom that was given to man had to be developed through proper exercise and obedience to God’s will. Our Church Fathers teach: Adam was created as a child who had to grow spiritually through the correct use of his freedom, and the fact that this power of freedom in man was not perfect is clearly manifested by the fall. In order for Adam to grow into the likeness of God, he had to choose by himself and by his own free will to follow God or not to follow him. Whereas animals act by instinct, man lives by freedom. Every choice we make is a unique opportunity. We can choose either to draw closer to God or we can choose to move away from him, and only through the correct use of our freedom can man become like God.
As we said, true freedom is not about doing or having whatever we want. It’s not freedom for; it’s freedom from those things that actually hinder us spiritually and deprive us of true life.
And then one other point we mentioned: happiness is not found in getting what we want; it’s wanting what we already have. Or, to look at it from another perspective, true freedom is actually found when we do not that which we do not have. When we do not want what we do not have. Real freedom is found in not wanting what we don’t have. Well, now, what does that mean? Think about that from a spiritual point of view. Imagine if you did not want to possess anything more than you already have or than you actually need. Imagine a world where we would not want superfluous things, or superfluous possessions. How simple and stress-free would our lives truly be then! That’s a whole ‘nother kind of freedom. That’s the freedom that the hermit would understand, that Mary of Egypt experienced and lived, and that’s the freedom that Orthodox monks pursue as they strive to detach themselves from any and every unneeded material possession.
Now compare that world with ours, especially contemporary American society. I think of my twenty-year-old daughter who just have to have another pair of new jeans because she doesn’t have anything to wear! Or she has to have another pair of shoes. Or in reality, she could just as easily justify buying two or three new pair of shoes if she found them on sale. Anybody remember good old Imelda Marcos? [Laughter] Some of you young people won’t know that name: the former First Lady of the Philippines. They found over 2,000 pairs of shoes in the closets of her mansion! Just a little greedy there, maybe?
Now, God bless Imelda Marcos; we’re not going to judge her here. Let’s look at me first. What about me? What about my own greed? What about when I just have to have that specific new car? It’s going to do so much for me. It’ll add so much more for my life. I’ll somehow be happier. I’ll be a better person. I just have to have it! Well, who in reality is more free: the monk or me? Perhaps this is the meaning of what Mike Tyson, the former heavyweight boxing champion of the world, was trying to convey when he was quoted as saying—get this—“Real freedom is having nothing. I was freer when I didn’t have a cent!” What do you think he was trying to say by that? “I was freer when I didn’t have a cent.”
Well, first of all, it’s not money itself that is evil, and being wealthy is certainly not a sin, and neither is wanting to have nice things for ourselves or for our families, and being successful at [what] we do is obviously a good and positive thing, but our problem is that at times it can be very difficult to practice the virtues of gratitude and self-control. Rather than controlling our own passions, our passions often control us. We can become so preoccupied with the passion of greed and with the passion to possess that we often want much more than we really need, and at least Mike Tyson was honest enough to admit how his greed actually stole away his freedom. Even with all those millions of dollars that he made as the heavyweight champion of the world, he obviously felt a real loss of his true freedom. Rather than cultivating the virtues of gratitude and self-control, don’t we also at times pursue the passion of greed?
I’m only referring to Mike Tyson here as an example. Again, we don’t want to judge him. God bless him as well. I mention him only because his words seem to [exemplify] what all of us go through, at least in certain times in our life. And the fact is that we all are battling the same passions to some degree or another, whether you’re an Imelda or Mike or me or my daughter.
With these thoughts in mind, let’s proceed. We begin by discussing a fundamental distinction that was mentioned briefly before, and this was very important for a correct understanding of Orthodox spiritual life, and this is those three different aspects or conditions of human nature: according to, contrary to, and above.
The life of man before the fall was lived in accordance with human nature as God first created us. This is the pre-fallen state of man. We do not know much about the condition of human nature before the fall. However, our Church Fathers do teach that Adam and Eve lived in accordance with their true nature. Their only desire was for God, and by their very nature they freely chose to obey his will. St. Gregory of Nyssa writes concerning pre-fallen Adam; he said that he saw the face of God with easy familiarity, and he only delighted in the Lord. That’s the only delight of St. Mary of Egypt or Elder Paisios. Their only delight is in the Lord, nothing else.
In regard to the verse from Genesis, “and they were both naked, the man and his wife, and they were not ashamed,” other Church Fathers offer various perspectives. For example, St. John Chrysostom, he teaches that before the fall, Adam and Eve were clothed in glory from above. The heavenly glory covered them better than any garment could do. And St. Gregory Palamas adds: “Adam, before the fall, participated in divine illumination, and because he was truly clothed in a garment of glory, he was not unseemly by reason of his nakedness; he was far more richly adorned than any gold and sparkling jewels, in his nakedness.”
Before the fall, Adam and Eve lived as God originally intended. They enjoyed the very presence of God. They lived in communion with God, which is for man our natural way of life. And it’s this same presence of God from which Adam sought to hide himself once he had fallen. The Book of Genesis describes what happened to Adam and Eve after they had eaten the forbidden fruit and they fell away from God.
And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Then the Lord God called to Adam and said, “Where are you?” So Adam said, “I heard your voice in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid myself.”
Can you imagine actually trying to hide yourself from God? Can you hide yourself from God? We see that in the beginning, as originally planned, man was created to personally participate in divine life and divine love. This is the natural life of man. Now, in our fallen state, our goal in life is not focused on communion with God. Do not we also at times, when we sin, likewise try to hide ourselves from God and separate ourselves from his presence, just as our forefather Adam? From an Orthodox point of view, that’s exactly what sin is. Sin is separation from God. Instead of living the natural life for which we were created, we now pursue lives that are unnatural. We were not created for sin, for sickness, for old age, and for death. These things are not natural to us. Actually, they are foreign to our human nature as created by God. It’s not death that’s natural to us, but life itself, indeed, eternal life and the loving presence of God.
We were originally created in God’s own image, and we’re called to become like God by attaining to a life of Christlikeness. This is our natural way of life. This is how and why we were created to live as human beings, and when we do not live such Christ-centered lives and when we do not orient our daily lives to this intended goal, we pursue a life that goes against our human nature. We exist in a state that’s contrary to nature, in a state that is bound by sin and separation from God and finally death itself.
So man by nature is created with an innate inclination for God, but now, however, when we strive to convince ourselves that we really have no need for God, when we then depersonalize ourselves as human beings and we’re no longer what we were originally intended to be, we become sick with self-centeredness and unbounded self-love, and our true nature as God’s special creature becomes dysfunctional at its very core. In our fallen state, we live in a condition that actually goes against our nature. In a way, we actually become semi-human or half-human. We become sub-human, if such a term can be used. That is to say, we desecrate the divine image in which we are created, and all we have to do is turn on the nightly news [to] see how inhuman man has truly become. It’s really hard to keep hearing, over and over again, the mass shootings, the acts of terrorism, the sick sexual abuse of children, all the other crazy crimes that are saturating our society. It was never this bad before, and every year it only seems to get worse, and we’re all kind of getting used to it now, aren’t we?
Speaking of how inhuman man has become, St. Justin Popovich, the great Serbian theologian, he shares this very interesting observation. Please follow along; this is a little deep. He says:
Without the God-man, man is in fact without a head. Without the God-man, man does not exist. There is only less-than-man, half-man, or no-man-at-all. Without the God-man and independently of him, man always risks the danger of becoming like the devil. Functioning independently of the God-man, man voluntarily reduces himself to a devil-like state of sin. We must not forget that the principal objective of the devil is to deprive man of his godlike potential, to delete his divinity and to thus transform man into a being similar to himself.
[Whistles] Oof. If you think about it, the very idea that man has no need for God or that we’re not intimately connected to God or that we can live apart from God is in fact a strange kind of fiction. It’s like a science fiction where man devolves himself into a monstrous condition. Elaborating still further, St. Justin offers this penetrating thought. He says:
In essence, man’s fall consisted in the fact that man rebelled against the godlike characteristics of his being. He abandoned God and reduced himself to pure materiality, to pure man. With the first rebellion against God, man to a degree succeeded in driving God out of himself, out of his conscious, out of his will, and so he’s left with pure humanness, with pure humanism. Humanism (he says) is in fact the fundamental evil, the original evil of man. In the name of humanism, man has driven God out, and he is left entirely with himself and within himself.
The point of all this is that we tend to forget that we’re actually living in a fallen condition. Our nature is now governed by a dysfunctional will, filled with abnormal desires that are innately foreign to us and lead to our separation from God. Apart from God, man lacks authentic life. Apart from God, man must strive to be human through endeavors of his own, and I think this is the type of humanism that St. Justin was referring to. And this has vast implications. Rather than living the abundant life—as Christ proclaims, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly”—our short time on earth is now reduced to mere materiality. This leads to the depersonalization of man, both on an individual level as well as in regard to the social institutions in which we live.
Western society is motivated mainly by materialism, which may not be unrelated to many of our environmental problems today. Our society is constantly trying to sell us something. In our fallen state, man is often looked at as more of a consumer or a marketing or government statistic rather than as a genuine human person. And our identity and our true dignity as human persons is sadly being diminished. Due to our fallen nature, there is now a tendency to look upon each other, not so much with godly and unselfish love, but to a certain extent often in view of some material gain or some kind of carnal pleasure. And in doing so, we resign ourselves to the lowest spiritual ideal, with minimal moral expectations, both for ourselves and for each other. “I’m only human, after all.”
The progressive—if you want to call it that—decay in the ethical values of each successive generation clearly attest to these new standards. That which was once unacceptable in previous generations is now the new social norm. The ongoing advancements in technology might also add to this depersonalization. With the many positive contributions of modern technology, can it also lead to this depersonalization in any way? With the explosion of the internet and the advent of many forms of social media and other such alternative channels of communication, personal contact is actually further minimized now. For example, we now text rather than talk to one another. We’re coming to live more through virtual contact and less through genuine personal contact and interaction.
There’s a song out. One guy says to the other, to his buddy: “I want to talk to you face to face.” “Okay, what time do you want to Skype?” [Laughter] Isn’t that where we have gotten to? In stark contrast to how we were originally created to live, our daily lives are somehow becoming more complicated and oppressive. Stress, anxiety, and fear, which are in fact unnatural to us, make us more vulnerable to self-destructive addictions and passions and perversions. Our human nature is becoming even more disfigured and disformed.
We are not what we were originally created to be, and this is why life can be so hard. We all have to deal with our own fears and our own anxieties which are in fact unnatural to us. And some of us can’t even get through the day without an insatiable urge to fulfill some self-destructive addictions, and even perverted passions. Rather than living as human persons in communal love with one another, we now live more as individuals and in division and in dividedness, in conflict and in opposition with one another. In our fallen state is to now separate ourselves from each other. We divide, we fragment our shared human nature, which I now claim exclusively as mine and mine alone, rather than sharing it as it is intended.
Our fallen and dysfunctional nature is described by Vladimir Lossky with these words. He writes:
A human person cannot realize the fullness to which he is called, that is, to be the perfect image of God, if he claims for himself a part of the nature, regarding it as his own particular good. He sets himself up as an individual, a proprietor of his own nature which he pits against the natures of others.
In our fallen state, we tend to focus on each other’s weaknesses and on each other’s defects, rather than on any virtues or strengths that the others may have, and this includes not only our colleagues and co-workers, our parishioners, our priests, our own friends, our relatives. St. Isaac the Syrian teaches clearly; he says, “If you do not look down on any man because of his defects, know that in very truth you are truly free.” Could you imagine looking without looking at other people’s defects or shortcomings?
Our life in opposition to and in isolation from one another is indeed unnatural to us as human beings, and this is aptly conveyed by His Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. He writes in simple pastoral terms. He says:
To be myself, I need you. If we do not look one another in the eye, we are not truly human. As human beings, we cannot be genuinely free in isolation. We can only be genuinely free if we form part of a community of other free persons. Freedom is never solitary, but always social. We are only free if we turn toward others, looking into their eyes and allowing them to look into ours. To turn away, to refuse to share, is to forfeit liberty.
And this is how we were originally created: to share life and live in communion with other human persons. Now, rather than living in communion with each other, we live in constant division and in opposition to our fellow man. In reality, all of us are spiritually challenged. We all have become spiritually impoverished. Reduced in this way to our own self as the main focus of our lives, the average man no longer understands himself apart from these blind impulses toward our own bodily satisfactions and carnal passions.
The respected Romanian theologian, Fr. Dumitru Staniloae, he comments on this fallen state of man, and he says:
Among humans, sin has introduced egoism, an appetite for unessential things, and spiritual weakness. When once our nature is degraded to being simply a means for satisfying bodily needs, it brings all kinds of difficulties.
So does our own egoism and our own appetite for the unessential ever find their way into our own hearts? Can [they] ever be obstacles in our relationships with our loved ones?
Listen to this other spiritual advice from Elder Paisios, very relevant for us in contemporary American society. He says:
People today have made their lives difficult because they’re not satisfied with the few things, but are constantly chasing after more and more material goods, but those who would like to live a genuine spiritual life must first of all be satisfied with the few things. When their life is simplified without too many concerns, not only would they be liberated from the worldly spirit, but they will also have plenty of time available for spiritual things. Otherwise they will tire themselves out by trying to follow the fashion of the times, and they will lose serenity and will gain only great anxiety.
Well doesn’t that aptly describe our society today. Loss of serenity and great anxiety! This is one way in [which] we alienate ourselves, not only from God but from each other, also from our true selves. We become slaves of our passions, of our addictions, and of our lusts. We become enslaved to our own selves. Imagining that we are our own masters, we become instead our own slaves. Now in our fallen state, we not only live as slaves, even worse, some of us live like wild beasts.
I’m going to have to skip ahead here because we only have a few more minutes.
Let’s share the quote from St. John Chrysostom. He offers this powerful observation. Try to imagine St. John Chrysostom preaching from the pulpit in his vestments during the Liturgy. This is how he describes fallen man. He says:
When I see you living against the rules of reason, how shall I call you man and not an ox? When I see you grasping and snatching unjustly from others, how shall I call you man and not a wolf? When I see you impure and full of lust, how shall I call you man and not a pig? When I see you sly and deceitful, how shall I call you man and not a snake? I cannot count you among human beings; if I did, I would be in danger of not finding any difference between man and the wild beasts, although the latter have only one of these defects each, whereas you, O man, have gathered in you all of them, going beyond the wild beasts’ animality and lack of reason!
When we do not seek to acquire those spiritual virtues that lead to our becoming like Christ, when we pursue a life bound by our passions, we end up living a life that is in fact unnatural. Not only do we become inhumane and subhuman, we can also become wicked, and at times even evil. We can become anti-Christlike. According to St. John Damascene, he says:
While then we abide in the natural state, we abide in virtue, but when we deviate from the natural state, that is, from virtue, we come into an unnatural state, and we dwell in wickedness. Repentance is the returning from the unnatural to the natural state, from the devil to God, through discipline and effort.
So it’s from this unnatural state that Christ saves us. He saves us from our sins and our spiritual sickness that separate us from God, but he does much more than this. Not only does Christ save us from this fallen condition that is contrary to our nature, not only does he simply destroy death and restore us to our pre-fallen state, but he lifts us up to a new, to a higher, and a much more exalted state, and this is that condition of life that is above nature. This is theosis.
We are not only saved, but we can also be sanctified, and we can be made holy through personal communion in Christ, and it’s through our participation in the sacramental life of his holy Church that we become living members of his resurrected body. Christ comes to truly live in us, and our human nature can now be united to God in a very real way. In the person of Christ, human nature is not only resurrected; even more than this, it’s also ascended into the very life of the Holy Trinity. In the person of Christ, our human nature now sits at the right hand of the Father, as we recite in the Nicene Creed. And this is the same resurrected and deified body of Christ that we personally partake in whenever we receive holy Communion.
This is a much higher state than the original, pre-fallen Adam. This is not simply according to nature any more, by virtue of the fact that God became man in the Incarnation of Christ, and through our participation in his resurrected body and holy Communion, we now have the potential for that life in Christ which is actually above our human nature. This is theosis. True and perfect humanity is found today in the person of Christ, and in those saints and holy people who have truly put on Christ through holy baptism and in whom Christ truly lives through personal participation in the holy Eucharist—in general, through the entire ascetical, liturgical, and sacramental life of the Church. The Greek theologian, Panagiotis Nellas, shares these interesting words. He says:
By baptism, chrismation, the divine Eucharist, and the rest of the spiritual life, we are incorporated into Christ. We receive a Christ-centered and Christlike being. In this way the Father finds the very form of the Son in our faces and recognizes in us the members of the only-begotten Son.
That’s pretty powerful: “The Father looks for the form of the Son in our faces.” I wonder what he sees when he looks into my face. Will he find the image of Christ? Will he find the image of a beast?
From a sacramental perspective, the divine image according to which man is made is associated with holy baptism, where the divine likeness toward which man strives and is associated more with the Eucharist. So in baptism it’s more associated with the image; [in] the Eucharist, more associated with the likeness. Through baptism, the image in man is purified, and the imitation of Christ commences, while in the holy Eucharist, it brings about our advance toward the likeness, toward full union with Christ. Baptism and Eucharist—and this was alluded to last night as well.
And the fullness of this Christlike life is offered to us through the life of his holy Church. It’s through our personal participation in the sacramental life of the Church where we are engrafted into the body of Christ. We become living members of his resurrected body. And this is life above nature; this was not yet available to pre-fallen man. Life in Christ was not accessible because the Incarnation had not yet taken place. Human nature was not attached or united to divine nature, but now the Church manifests herself as a living extension of Christ’s resurrected body, and the body and blood of Christ remain mystically present in his holy Church. This is the whole theology of our Eucharist, and this is why our personal participation in holy Communion is so essential to our lives as Orthodox Christians. The divine Eucharist is the means by which Christ deified and deifying blood is transfused into the believers’ very own body.
I love this quote from St. Nicholas Cabasilas. He makes this bold assertion. He says:
Christ infuses himself into us and mingles himself with us. He changes and transforms us into himself, as a small drop of water is changed by being poured into an immense sea of ointment.
We are mingled with him in soul and united to him in body. We are commingled in blood. Therefore, rather than saying, “We receive the body of Christ within ourselves,” maybe we can say we are the ones received into his resurrected and deified body. Here’s another beautiful quote from St. Nicholas Cabasilas. He says:
While natural food is changed into him who feeds on it, and fish and bread and any other kind of food become human blood, here it’s entirely opposite: the bread of life himself changes him who feeds on him, and transforms and assimilates him into himself.
So where are we supposed to find men and women who’ve become transformed and assimilated into Christ? Where can we find those who live, not only according to nature, but even more than this, who truly participate in the life in Christ which is above nature? And this is the lives of our saints. Striving to become Christlike does not mean that we have to shed our human nature; actually we fulfill our personality.
One last term. There’s a Greek, an important word: proairesis. Proairesis: it means faculty of free choice. This is our freedom; this is the power that we have in our freedom. Archbishop Demetrios Trakatellis, he provides an explanation of this word, proairesis, which is “man’s intention.” It’s man’s will to do the will of God, man’s choice for God. He writes—and you can follow along—he says:
By the will which we submit to God, the realization of immense steps in the sanctification of man is made possible. Nothing is impossible for this good intention and will, nothing impossible for your freedom. By correcting our will and our intention, we can correct the defects of our nature, and we can overcome its infirmities. Thanks to his will, man who is previously fallen can now begin to follow the will of God.
But how do we redirect our free will away from self-centered separation from God? How do we reorient ourselves toward our natural desire for participation in divine life or for theosis? We come back to the fasting and the prostrations and all of our other practices of prayer. All these forms of ascetic practice are not meant to appease God; rather, they lead to our spiritual therapy and the healing of our fallen nature and our weakened will.
Let me conclude with just a last few pieces of advice from our Church Fathers. St. John Chrysostom, he encourages us:
Let us not think that it’s impossible to acquire such a great and good thing. It is possible, provided we have the will to be sober and vigilant, and not only this, but it is possible for us to achieve every virtue, for we are not ruled by the necessity of a blind destiny, but by free will, being free to want or not to want, to acquire good things or bad things.
And I’ll just read one last quote from the Book of Sirach, and we will end. Listen to this piece of wisdom:
It was he who created man in the beginning, and he left him in the power of his own inclination. If you will, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice. He has placed before you fire and water. Stretch out your hand for whichever you wish. Before man are life and death, and whatever he chooses will be given to him. For great is the wisdom of our Lord.
Audience: Thank you. [Applause]
Dr. Boosalis: Thank you. Sorry if we ran over, Carole, a little bit.