Orthodox Spirituality

Mutual concession of present and future life

George D. Metallinos


1. The term "spiritual life", within the Orthodox context, refers to a specific reality, a tangible, comprehensible and specific way of life. It is neither a cloudy utopia nor a propless idealism, trapped inside the limits of meditation and fantasy. The Spirituality of Orthodoxy involves materiality and realism, as well as mundane elements. It is the tradition; the conveyance and continuity, within the specific reality, of a way of life, an everlasting way of existence, that entered history and became earthly-mundane reality through the incarnation of God-Logos; our Lord Jesus Christ. The Christian Spiritual life is inconceivable, if not based on the fact of God's incarnation.

The Incarnation of the Son of God was not simply aimed at the improvement of human reality, but at its reformation and transformation. It aimed at a "new world", as a theanthropic (God-human) reality. According to the Fathers of the Orthodox Church, God became theanthropos (God-human), in order to make our life theanthropic.

The Orthodox Tradition is the struggle to continue the in-Christ and through-Christ new life (that has been introduced to the world) in the faces of human persons, who will also be realizing the brotherly social relations. This is realized, in every generation, in the faces of the Holy Fathers; the Saints. Orthodoxy is authentically expressed by its Holy Fathers and only they can be regarded as valid witnesses for its life. Orthodox Tradition and Holy Fathers' experience are identical and form not the mechanical conveyance of a codified teaching, but the personal continuity in the world of the incarnated Truth, within each time period's specific reality (civilization, culture, political and social situation).

These, lead to the conclusion that (for all of us, the Orthodox) the terms TRUTH, JUSTICE, PEACE, EQUALITY, BROTHERHOOD are not ideological conceptions or moral issues. They are a realized way of existence in the Face of Jesus Christ, as well as the Holy Fathers, the Prophets, Fathers and Mothers of all ages. Our struggle to realize them in our life is not based on our good will and our initiate to struggle, but mainly on the almighty actions of God.

Therefore, Orthodox Spirituality is not simply esotericity (cultural development and the similar), man-centered and ideallistic spirituality or even religiousness. It is the personal participation in the divine life, that became mundane reality, but cannot be realized through only human power and without God's synergy.

Spirituality is life and struggle within the Holy Spirit and is identified to the entire Church life, as body, its tradition within which man is inducted to seek salvation.

2. Man's struggle for complete induction in this community, receives a purely striving - revolutionary expression. The Christian person's revolution is ascetisism as spiritual exercise. Revolution against the autonomous dead nature, in order to be "vaccinated" in the life of Christ with Christ's Resurrection. A rebellion against ourselves that live within death and corruption. Why ? Salvation from corruption and death is Grace of God, a gift from the Uncreated God to His created creature. It is not our accomplishment, an achievement of our nature. It is donated when man reaches a way of existence that nature is liberated from the slavery of necessities, which constitute enslavement to death and corruption. This resurrected course is not accomplished without violence. Christ's words are truly revolutionary: "I am come to send fire on the earth" (Luke 12, 49). "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword" (Matthew 10,34). "The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force" (Matthew 11,12). How are these words understood ?

The violation of our nature is absolutely necessary to defeat our internal enslavement, which entails every external form of slavery. Our trials is the struggle to deny "our old man" (Matthew 16,24. Romans 6,6). Man's will must become accustomed in resisting the establishment of sin, constituted by the ego-centered attitude towards the people and the world. Being inside our sin, in the death-life that we live we face everything as being neutral objects, subjected to our needs and desires. Let us consider the exploitation of the world (the creation) and the people, environmental pollution, nuclear arms production used in the race of the superpowers for a dynamic preeminence. The person, who is faithful to Christ, is fighting his ego-centered nature through willing deprivation, willing undertaking of controlling the flesh, in order to be lead to external liberation. He mretires from the trend to subject everything, learns to love the world and realize his unity with the world, to discern the seal of God's creative power on each individual creation and utilize the world (in a pleasing way to the eyes of God) as a continuous liturgy and reference to God. Through trials and tribulations (this spiritual exercise) man reaches an authentic communion, where life becomes self - transgression of love.

The same revolutionary and liberated character, due to necessity, is found in the TORMENT, which constitute a transgression of the meaning of life as "individual survival" and "self offering to love of our fellow humans as self retirement". The individual way of existence is turned into personal communion of love through ascetisism. This is why Orthodoxy has linked the willing ascetisism, by naming the trial as "torment of conscience". The violation of nature is carried out in both of them, in order to enable it for the communion of love.

3. The Orthodox Spirituality is exactly this struggle for the historic deliverating encounter between the Uncreated and the created. However, no man is able to "know" the Uncreated, through logic, rather than through the presence and dwelling of the Uncreated within the created. The purpose of Orthodox Tradition is to advance man in the unification with God; the deification. This purpose prerequires an instrument: the heart. We usually accept the circulation of blood in our body as the only purpose of the heart and consequently consider the brain and nerve system as centre of our self consciousness. However, in the true Christian tradition, the heart is the communion area with God. The power of the soul, that is energized within the heart, is called "mind" by the Holy Fathers. The mind, in this case, is not identified to logic. However, mind is also called the heart's prayer (mental prayer), that consists in energizing the mind within the heart. This praying function, when the heart is cleared and receives the Grace of the Holy Spirit, becomes "unceasing" (A' Thess. 5,14).

The inactivity of the noetic faculty (not logic) is the essence of man's fall. The non-function, or limited function of the mental power, and its confusion with the function of the brain or the body, enslaves man in stress and the environment and materialism, focusing his care at his body. In this way, man "worships the creation, rather than the Creator" and the immediate consequence is the dismantling of the authenticity in his relations, the individualization, antisocial attitudes, selfdeification - idolization of himself. The use of God and fellow people for securing personal safety and happiness.

After healing the illness of the heart, man returns to the true sociability. The clear heart receives the enlightment of the Holy Spirit. At this stage, the self-centered man's love becomes self-forgetfull love from God. Without the enlightment from God, our love cannot surpass our self-centered attitude, our imperfection. It remains imperfect and false. Through the enlightment, man becomes temple of the Holy Spirit, true and spiritual.

4. In Orthodox theological terminology, the process of refunctioning the noetic faculty within the heart, is called "healing of human existence" and it is the main work of the Church. This is the purpose of the Church's presence in history as received by Christ: to reinstate the God-man communion within the heart.

This healing, the reinstatement of God-human relations, is not transferred, by Orthodoxy, to the future life (after death). It is accomplished in history. The faithful person, through the presence of God's action inside him, has become "temple of God", he has eternity within the earthly reality, he lives in after-history as well as history. He becomes heavenly man, like the Saints. The Saint, according to Orthodoxy, is the real man, who can create a brotherhood and justice communion. The final purpose of Orthodox Tradition is not an egoistic honoring of the (human) individual, but reinstatement of the authentic communion with our fellow people. In the words of Saint Isaac the Syrian, all Saints reach this perfection, when they become perfect and assimilated with God with their love and philanthropy gushing up towards everyone. There is no such thing as individual Orthodoxy, individual salvation. In the final analysis, salvation is the complete induction into the brotherhood society. This holds true for all people without any exception.

The difference between Orthodoxy and the secular systems is that these systems are attempting to create society. We are struggling to induct ourselves into the revealed Trinity society, in the body of Christ. This society, by its nature, is brotherhood oriented and has no social classes (Galat. 3,28).

5. This life, within Orthodoxy, is a reality - even today - with all human imperfections, in the Orthodox monasteries. It is there that the entire life is within the Grace of God, with mutual support, "no personal possession" - "common possession", the communism of love, where everyone works according to his ability and strength and enjoys according to his needs. Thus, every suspicion of exploitation and overvalue is lost, since profit is not the purpose; the purpose is mutual support and service.

The monastery is the purest model of communion in Orthodoxy and has greatly affected the formation of the historic Orthodox society (the village communities for instance). Our secularized and westernized life reflects exactly our retreat from that model and the adoption of ways for social structuring, which are alien to Orthodoxy and its culture. This culture is completely different from the western culture. This is due to the fact that - in its social dimension - its ideal is not individual happiness and well being, but the "equal distribution of misery" and solidarity.

Someone may think (and this is something, I very frequently witness in Western Europe) that this social model is related to the Marxist one. Absolutely not! Marxism, just like the other social systems, focuses on internal structures and relations. Orthodoxy begins from the inner depths of man, to restore the image of God inside the man, in order to enable the human society reflect the Trinity way of existence. Thus the individual is never sacrificed by Christ for the common interest and the common interest becomes the individual person's interest.

The interest of the Orthodox man is not tightly confined by time, but it is constantly oriented towards eternity. This expresses some words by Apostle Paul "If our hope in Christ lies only in this life, then we are the most pitiful of all people", (A' Corinth. 15,9).

Orthodoxy does not wish to be a religious community for charitable services, nor a human organization which strives only for peace on earth and coexistence among nations. Orthodoxy wishes to be, above all, Body of Christ, a salvation laboratory for healing human existence, which is basic prerequisite for man's formation at the limits of authentic communion with God and the world.

Moreover, there is no evolutionary process in Orthodoxy by the meaning of continuous change. Our course is Christ-centered with no changes. Christ remains the absolute center and reference point of Orthodox people in all times. He secures our unity throughout time, with His presence within ourselves. His uncreated action is uniting (in the horizontal, as well as vertical dimension) the faithful people throughout history and accomplishes their unity, not as subjection under fixed norms of living and acting, but as life resulting by His presence within themselves.

First Published: http://w4u.eexi.gr/~antbos/ORTHSPIR.HTM


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