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Topic of the Week – Going Deeper
“…My goal here is to provoke you… to think deeply about your own spiritual walk; where you need to make some improvements, changes; questions and queries that you have, that will help you get further down the path to salvation, deification in Christ….
My role here is not one of lecturer and you, listener, but one of provoker or initiator…
We’ll begin with… going deeper, going from the horizontal to the vertical plane is… how I refer to it. But I will get to the whole question of ecumenism on the parish level. Ecumenism is on many levels. It’s a disease… the heresy of ecumenism particularly, I’ll define that later, not the movement so much but the particular heresy, the delusion that we call ecumenism. We label it that way, but it’s a particular ecclesiological sickness or disease or delusion and it’s not only on the hierarchical or international level, but it’s on many levels. But in order for us to see that and to talk about that, we need to set the stage and I think that actually this talk on going deeper will reveal some of that….”
Excerpted from a talk given by Fr. Peter Heers, 2018
“…Many Orthodox Christians live on the horizontal plane. And what do we mean by that? Well, we are encouraged because we grow up in this society which trains us, teaches us, to think and to develop our rational intellect to the zenith, to really work and become people of the διάνοια, the mind and we’re not at all trained, in fact we don’t even admit that it exists, this thing we call the nous in the Orthodox Church.
Which, let me say right off that another way to understand the nous, because it’s a term that many of us do not know are not familiar with it, or it’s very hard to wrap our minds around it, what exactly do we mean by the nous? In scripture, St. Paul uses the term ‘spirit of man’ but the Fathers use the term nous in order to distinguish it from the spirit of God.
But you can also understand the spirit or the eye of the heart also is another term to understand the nous. In contemporary philosophy something that is close to it but not really the same is the intuition, the perception. So the eye of the heart is that which sees and communes with God. It’s not on the level of the rational intellect.
So, what we want to do, and what we must do in the spiritual life is to… yes, many of us became Orthodox, we’re converts… by using, in America especially there’s many converts, by using very well, the rational intellect to learn about Orthodoxy and we continue in many of our catechism… many of our catechetical tools, and the way we do catechism in the Church is essentially learning about Christ, learning about the faith, learning about the Church history. And that’s all very good. That’s only preparatory, however, for the spiritual life. It’s only preparatory.
You can amass great knowledge. You can become a great academic theologian and have no essential initiation into the spiritual life and you can remain spiritless, without purification and illumination. So it is certainly NOT the spiritual life. And just like in the Old Testament we had the law which prepared us for the grace of God, we had the 10 Commandments which prepared us morally and it was a presupposition, prerequisite so to speak for the coming of the incarnate Logos.
It was not the aim, to be a good person in other words, is not the aim or the point of the Church or the incarnation. Moral perfection or moral development is actually like the rational intellect in development. Rationally knowing about God is actually just preparatory. It’s NOT the spiritual life. So we can become really good people. Do a lot of good things and know all about the Church and still be uninitiated into the spiritual life. Or at least the spiritual life remains inactive within us.
So, we have to get beyond that. We have to become people who experience God directly. So the Lord begins his mission in this earth by saying to us ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.’ And these words we need to unpack because many of us in the English language and within the Protestant… the English language has been, I would say, in many ways poisoned by an experience of God which is not the authentic experience and so we think of terms, without wanting to, within a context which is not the context of the Gospel, is not the context of the faith.
So the term repentance. Let’s look at that. The term repentance, the term Kingdom. We’re also going to look at the term knowledge, πίγνωσης in Greek, which is used by St. Paul to explain what it means to know God. We’ll look at these key terms because they reveal to us more and more about what the true meaning of the spiritual life is.
So the Lord says in the beginning of the spiritual life, of the initiation of the Kingdom of God on earth, the spiritual life, He says ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.’
What does repentance mean? Repentance in Greek is μετάνοια, μετάνοιες is the verb used by St. John in the baptism of our Lord and that means change of nous. Not change of διάνοια, not change of ways of thinking about God only, but much deeper. Change in your spirit, in your whole stance before God. So repentance is a change of orientation, a change of stance that reorients us and… puts us in a position to be able to receive the Kingdom of God, receive Christ within us. It is a change of the nous, not, again, not of the mind.
So it’s not [that] we change our way of thinking about God. So many people associate becoming Orthodox with accepting a certain set of doctrines and opinions or positions about the things of the Church. Actually, that’s not yet the spiritual life, [it] is not yet the Orthodox faith. It’s much deeper. You have to go deeper. And the change has to be in the whole spirit and stance of man. This is what the Lord is… so that we may become able to receive the spirit of God within us and the Kingdom.
Let’s look at the word ‘Kingdom.’ βασιλεία, in Greek, and it really should have been translated as ‘the reign of God’ not the Kingdom. Of course, the Kingdom would have been a perfectly good word if it was not filled with meaning which is foreign to the spirit of the Church. It is not an external thing, a thing of this earth, it’s not a part of the created world but it is the Kingdom of God within us says the Lord says which is the reign of God, the spirit of God that reigns in the nous over the man, over his senses, his imagination, and his rational intellect.
So these things are subjected to the nous which has been reoriented and accepts the spirit of God, and the spirit of man and the spirit of God commune. God reigns within us. Only, however when we have been purified. When we have been made a temple, a vessel which can receive the spirit of God. The spirit of God does not dwell there where there is passions and delusions. The spirit of truth does not dwell and, well, it doesn’t activate and work together with a mind and a stance which is contrary to it. So we have to prepare ourselves to receive it….”
Read the entire article below or listen here: GoingDeeper.mp3
“…There are virtues in men and women of every race, and of every creed and of every religion on the face of the earth. Men have virtues. Human virtues, however. Many times people get confused and they say ‘I met a very pious good Muslim or Buddhist’ and therefore, this is the wrong thought, recognizing piety or devotion which is a human virtue which is perfectly good. You can recognize that in anyone, it doesn’t have to be an Orthodox Christian. What’s the wrong thought? Therefore, the spirit of God and the path to God is available in every religion and in every creed. This human virtue does not save. This human virtue that people cultivate, which is only human, is not salvific because salvation happens when? When there is a divine/human synergy.
We are in a society which trains us and teaches us to DO things. To become good. We don’t need to do… the question is not what are we doing. The question is, what are we becoming? Who are we becoming? Are we becoming Christ? Little Christs by grace? And how does that happen? The question is one of becoming, and not doing. Now, the doing, the works, are a natural result and fruit of one who becomes Christ-like. But the order is essential and it has to follow this.
So our objective in the spiritual life is not to be good people, to do right things, to think correctly. That’s all going to happen in a man who is deified or is on the path to deification but it is to acquire the Holy Spirit which will then bring forth as a fruit of its presence these virtues and then we have salvation.
A way to understand this in an image which I think is ultimately from Elder Paisios but through my professor is that… and this maybe helps those who have always had a problem with this false dichotomy in the West between faith and works. What saves? Works or faith? It’s a dilemma that is ridiculous and unfortunate and it never existed in the Fathers or in the Church. Because they’re both works. Essentially they both are effort. The whole of them is our love towards God.
So everything we do (this is the image of the example I want to give you) everything we do, no matter what we do, if it’s done in Christ and for Christ, and that means in the Church and for the person of Christ, not because we’re religious, not because we want to make an impression on others and we want them to say ‘Bravo, you’re a good Christian’ but for the person of Christ, out of love for Him, and in the Church, in Christ.
Those things which are a human effort are nonetheless zero. Everything we do is zero at the end of the day. I’ll explain why they don’t end up as zero and there is salvation at the end. But they’re all zero. So I maybe will… have enough love for God and faith in God to do one zero or two zeros. Father, maybe 50 zeros because he’s very faithful and then Elder Paisios is 3,000 zeros and he’s a billionaire or something. But none of them have any ultimate salvific significance unless before all those zeros there is placed the one. And of course, the one is Christ. The one is what gives value to everything we do. All those activities that we do and all those efforts that we expend takes on eternal significance and salvific value and transforms ourselves and others because of Christ.
So, this criteria that I said earlier, in Christ and for Christ, those 2 things if you take nothing else from this talk tonight, remember that. Everything you must do, if you want to be transformative and salvific, has to be in Christ, in the Church and for Christ, for the person of Christ.
Many Christians spend their days in this world and in the Church spinning their wheels because they are not working for the person of Christ, they are not loving the person of Christ. Whatever they’re doing is not in the name of Christ, for Christ in their brothers and sisters. You remember the criteria of the judgment in Matthew 25, ‘whatever you did for the least of these you did for Me.’ What’s important there is this ‘you did for Me.’ In other words, what we’re doing is for Christ and in Christ and whatever we do, whether it be a spiritual feeding of the poor or physical feeding of the poor, and there are many ways, whether you’re in the caves, the mountains of Mount Athos, or whether you’re in the streets of San Francisco or Thessaloniki, feeding the poor, spiritually or physically, you are… if you’re doing it for Christ you are fulfilling, and this commandment of our Lord and you are on the path of salvation. But if you are doing it for any other reason, and because you want to be a glorious and remembered bright and wonderful academic and priest who goes around teaching and preaching, you have nothing in the spiritual life. You are… it’s vanity and it’s not going to be transformative.
And so, one of the reasons at the beginning of this talk I said what I want to do is go deeper. And we want to make progress. We don’t want to spin our wheels. We have to recognize some of these pitfalls we have that we’re not going and doing things for Christ and in Christ. This is the criteria that we have to remember always….”
“…We understand there’s two kinds of faith. There’s the Orthodox faith which we… confess, which is a presupposition to the spiritual life. We all have to confess this. Why? This is also in doubt today. Many people doubt this is a necessary prerequisite for the spiritual life. Do you really need to confess the Orthodox faith? Because they see the Orthodox faith as an ideology, as an idea. Well, it’s… and they see salvation as being a good person. They think it’s about being a good person. So I can be a good person without saying the ‘I believe in one God,’ the Creed. Why is that a presupposition of the spiritual life? Why is that a presupposition into the initiation of the mysteries?
Because this is reality. This is reality. Reality is that we have one God and three persons. We have the God Who is both God and Man. We have the Church which is one, holy, catholic and apostolic and all the rest of the doctrines and much more. What are they telling us and what are we confessing with the Creed that we read every day in the morning and the evening prayers? REALITY. NOTHING LESS. He revealed to us the reality of the universe, the reality of Himself, the reality of the Truth. And so how can we talk about salvation in the spiritual life if we don’t even accept reality. We do not accept reality. How can you draw near to the person of Christ, the Trinity, if you deny that He is the Trinity and that He IS God and Man? So there is a presupposition about that.
If I said to you that I know Fr. Thaddeus and he’s 6′ 5″, has a short beard and doesn’t wear his cassock anywhere. Right? Which is very the opposite. You would say ‘you’re not in reality, Father.’ I’ve met him he’s not like that at all. No, no, no, this is Father Thaddeus. I’ve seen him, I know him you’re not in reality! Then of course we have a problem here. Let’s bring Father Thaddeus in here. Let’s see what he looks like and then we’ll establish reality.
Well, this is exactly the same thing with God. He’s revealed himself. If I stand up and you say ‘the reality is that He is NOT the Trinity but he is what Mohammed says,’ you have to choose. Either Mohammed has it right or the Apostles. Not both of them. And we can’t talk about the same God if we do not describe him as the same God because we know Him by experience. He’s not a philosophical idea we’ve accepted. The minute that we start to say ‘well, maybe they also worship the same God…’ we reveal what? That we don’t know God!! We reveal that we are without grace, that we have not met Him, just as I said, if I said to you He is not anything like what you know, you would have said you haven’t met him yet.
So this is a prerequisite, of course it’s a prerequisite and God forbid we ever get to the point where Orthodox Christians say it’s not a prerequisite. In fact, where are you at that point? Where are you as Christians? Help them who say ‘well, there are many paths up the mountain. There are essentially one mountain and many paths. We are on this side of the mountain and, that’s the perennialist theory that some Orthodox Christians teach, even some great theologians.
You know, all the heretics were great theologians. They were all usually bishops too and priests. I don’t know of any layperson that was a great heretic. If you know anybody, tell me and I’ll correct what I usually say about this. So they’re all…
So they teach that ‘this mountain exists and Christians go up one side and Muslims up the other and we don’t see that they’re actually going up the mountain because we’re on this side and they’re on that side but actually at the end of the day we’re all going to be surprised because they’re all paths up the mountain and they’re all reaching God and if you really know the internal workings of every religion as I do, the great teacher and theologian of the universe, you would see that this is all the same. Yes, it appears differently, we don’t talk about Christ in Islam, but it’s really Christ that’s in Islam bringing them to Mohammed’s God.‘
This is the kind of theory that is passing within Christianity today as a legitimate interpretation of reality.
So, reality is a prerequisite for communion and salvation. And to approach the mysteries without reality… is to walk away without the grace of God. There are two types of faith as we said, there’s the Orthodox faith that we confess, which is reality. If we confess that, we are doing well but we are not yet living the spiritual life. Because we need another kind of faith… and that is trust. And the Greek word for faith, for trust, we have the word faith, εμπιστοσύνη. It has, it’s the word for trust. It has the word faith in it. This is the kind of thing, trust in the Master, that we have to increase and kindle….”
A Message from Maria Spanos
I am passionate about our Orthodox Christian faith and seek to help others learn as much as they can about it. My purpose here is to share online resources that help strengthen our relationship with Christ and bind us closer to His Church. I believe they are invaluable in learning about our precious Orthodox Tradition, and are a great aid for teaching family members, friends and others about Orthodoxy. ~Maria
Two of my favorite quotes:
“A true Christian behaves in this life so that it may be a preparation for the future one and not only a life here below. In his actions, he does not think what will be said of him here but of what will be said there in heaven; he represents to himself that he is always in the presence of God, of the angels and all the saints, and remembers that someday they will bear witness of his thoughts, words, and deeds.” — Saint John of Kronstadt
“Of all the holy works, the education of children is the most holy.”
— St. Theophan the Recluse