by Dr Alexis Torrance
I am humbled to be here at this holy monastery in seminary to speak with you on a question that is central to the dogmatic tradition, the concept of the person in the Orthodox theology. I ask your blessing your prayers and I begin.
When dealing with dogmatics in orthodox theology. We are bound to address the concept of the person. When we solemnly confess, God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Trinity one in essence and undivided, we are affirming the centrality of the concept of the person in theology.
God is three persons in one nature revealed to us in and through Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity. But what is the significance of this statement of faith? What does it tell us about God and about man? These are the questions I wish to take up here.
In doing so I will try to alert you to several erroneous opinions about the concept of the person which are common in modern thought, and how the Orthodox understanding responds to these opinions. I will begin with the basis of an orthodox understanding of the person, namely with the dogmas of the Trinity and Christology, the doctrine of Christ. I apologise for going over ideas that for many of you are certainly familiar, but it is necessary by a way of a preamble to deal briefly with just these two central dogmatic questions.
As mentioned, the doctrine of the Trinity is the principal basis for orthodox dogmatic understanding of the person, the formulation whereby God is described as a Trinity of persons (hupostasis in Greek) In one essence or nature (ousia, or physis) arose in the early church, from the need to express the truth that Father, Son and Holy Spirit were each fully God and distinct and at the same time, there were not three gods, but one God.
The Trinitarian dogma is of course a great mystery, the primordial fact as Vladimir Lossky, and other orthodox theologians recently put it. And in our fallen world, we cannot properly grasp it. Our fathers in the faith, however, did use some analogies from this world to help us in understanding.
One analogy is of the sun, or of its rays, its light and its heat. We can distinguish these three aspects of the object, we call the sun, but we do not thereby say that the sun is three different things. The sun is one, while its aspects are three. This is a faint analogy and the Church Fathers recognised that it can only go so far. If we push this analogy to the extreme, we might be tempted to think of Father, Son and Holy Spirit as of three modes of one overarching entity. This is the heresy of Sabellianism or Modalism. The Saints thus sometimes also used other analogies, like that of three men. If we consider three men, such as Peter, James and John, we have three distinct person, and yet they all share a common essence and nature, human nature. They may be three, in one sense that they are also one in nature. Again, however we cannot push this analogy too far.
God is three persons, but unlike fallen human beings each divine person bears in full not only the nature but also the attributes or the energies of the other two. In other words, while we can distinguish between Peter, James and John as individuals, on the basis of height, weight, hair colour, profession, etc. The Trinity is not divided up into three individuals in this way. They share an absolute oneness of mind, will, and life. If we were to deny this, we would fall into the heresy of Tritheism. That is that there are three gods. We does have analogies, but they can only lead us so far.
In the end, perhaps our best approach has been offered by St Andrew of Crete in his great canon, which will begin serving next week during Great Lent. There St Andrew repeatedly uses phrases such as «light and lights», «life and lives», «one holy and three holies» to describe God. We need to hold to the oneness and to the threeness together in our faith. I mentioned the doctrine of the Trinity is informing us about the concept of the person, but we need also to touch on the doctrine of Christ.
Together with the dogma, that God is Trinity one in essence, the Church also affirms that Christ, the Son of God is one person in two natures after the Incarnation. He is fully God and fully man, but he is not there by two different people at once. He is always one person. The second person of the Trinity, who takes on human nature. Assuming it into his person, and redeeming it through his life, death and resurrection. The idea that Christ is a conjunction or union of two persons was the heresy of Nestorius. We need to bear in mind. Another group of heresies however, rather, that of Apollinarianism, Monophysitism, Monothelitism and Monoenergism. In all of these Christ as one person the Son of God is affirmed. But they each claim in one way or another, that after the incarnation Christ cannot be said to have a full and complete human nature. The reason they maintain this heresy, was that they were afraid that allowing a full and complete human nature to Christ would mean that he was two persons after all. This betrays a misunderstanding of the concept of the person. For clarity, let us take as an example of one of these heresies – Monothelitism. Here Christ is said to have only one will – the Divine Will, and not the human will. The main reason for this was because they thought that if you gave Christ a human will, he would thereby become two different persons, and no longer be one person.
By implication, they thus reduced the concept of the person, the human person to the idea of the will. Your human will, they claimed, is what makes you a person. Here we begin to move away from the concept of the Trinity alone and begin to touch on the concept of the human person.
The Orthodox never admitted these heresies I have mentioned, because they knew that the human person cannot be reduced to any particular aspect of his nature, nor to his nature as a whole. They also knew that Christ came to heal every part of the human nature. They did not leave anything out.
In any case, what is important for us here is the idea that the person, or hupostasis is irreducible to nature, both in God Himself as we have seen, the persons of the Trinity each bear the whole of the divine nature and are not reduced for this or that part of it, but also in mankind, the human person cannot be reduced to one part of the human nature or even to the whole of human nature.
Let’s turn now to the concept of the person more broadly than modern thought. Trinitarian and christological dogma is the Orthodox bedrock for approaching the concept person. However, it is not only the Orthodox who have considered and developed this concept. In what follows I will outline some of the developments regarding these concepts in recent centuries and try to highlight where the Orthodox stand in these debates.
Particularly in the 19th and 20th centuries, the concept of the person has loomed large in philosophical and theological inquiry, especially at various times in Western Europe, America, Russia as well as Greece. There are a wide range of motivating factors for this, and a wide range of results. There are also however some common denominators we can bear in mind. Whether the motivation was philosophical, theological or even political, those who emphasised the notion of the person and personhood were worried by the ideas that relegated or abolished the concept of the person and the personal in God, man and the world. In reaction they made the idea of the person in the basic axis around which theology, philosophy, even politics should work. This interest had some good sides. Even if it did not necessarily yield the comprehensive orthodox position. Through this movement emphasis was placed on several themes that overlap with the Orthodox understanding of a person.
First, personhood was linked to the idea of freedom. To be a person implies freedom over and against any mechanistic or fatalistic process. Thus to state that God is a personal God meant that God was free, and had true freedom. He was not bound by any super personal impersonal necessity. He could not be coerced by any external force.
Second, persons were affirmed as irreducible to anything else. To be a person in the image of a personal God was to have an intrinsic worth that you could not override with another interest or concern. Third, the idea of the person was distinguished from the idea of the individual. To be an individual meant to be alone, atomistic, selfish and separate from others. To be a person on the other hand, implied relationship and community or communion in love being a person meant being in communion with others, and the fulfilment of personhood could only be found in loving relationship: first with God, then with one’s neighbour, never in isolation. True persons with thus never alone.
Now while this may seem a little abstract. So I will give you an example of how these tendencies in modern thought led to a concrete opposition, not an Orthodox one but an interesting one in the realm of politics. In the 20th century two political models dominated one capitalist and the other communist. Those who wanted to emphasise the idea of the person and political life turned against both of these models. Capitalism they said was hyper individualistic and consumerist, the needs of others in the community were set aside in favour of each individual in his desires or wants. It was a selfish and ultimately self-destructive path. Communism and other totalitarian regimes on the other hand, were just as bad if not worse, because they made the person simply a cog or a gear in the wider machine of society, something dispensable, but not truly unique and irreplaceable. What the so called personalists wanted was a middle way a political system that affirmed the value and irreducibility of every human being against totalitarian regimes, but which at the same time maintain that human beings could only be true to themselves, in conjunction, or communion with other human beings against the capitalist model. The product of this movement, incidentally, is the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the document largely written by these personalistic thinkers.
However, while some degree of similarity can be seen, between these ideas and what we have in Orthodoxy, again, it cannot be pushed too far. We know, for a start, that Orthodoxy is not about creating a political system. Our system is the life in Christ, and our institution is the Church. But beyond this question of politics. I would like to lay out several principles of the Orthodox approach to an understanding of the person born of its dogmatic theology, which can help us to distinguish the particular orthodox understanding from the ideas of various non-Orthodox, or non-Christian theorists about person and personhood.
I will begin with three principles related to Trinitarian document – divine personhood, and then bring up three principles that relate to the human person.
So divine personhood. First, the being of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit is an inherently relational and in communion. Many people in the world affirm a belief in God as the personal absolute. But the one God for them is also one person. This is obviously the case for Judaism and Islam. Muslims and Jews affirm a belief in a personal God, but deny the Trinity. But even people who claim to be Christian will often speakers of God as the Father, and not believe in the Trinity. In the early Church when Arius put forward the heretical view that Christ to the Son of God was a creature. One of the key arguments against him, made by St Athanasius and others was that the name Father implied the name Son from all eternity. There was no time or age when God was not Father. And the person of the Father implies the person who the Son. In other words, God as person or personal implies persons. Moreover, persons in loving and total communion, as Christ says: «I am in the Father, and the Father is in me, he who has seen me, has seen the Father.»
On a side note here we should be wary of the tendency among many in modern society to speak of the three Abrahamic religions, meaning by this term Christianity, Judaism and Islam. There is only one religion of Abraham: Christianity. As Christ Himself declares: «Abraham rejoiced to see my day. And he saw it, and was glad.» There’s only one God of Abraham, and that is the Holy Trinity: «Father, Son, the Holy Spirit». Those who deny Christ, do not worship the God of Abraham. I say this because it is intimately linked with the concept of divine personhood for Muslims or Jews, and many heretical Christians, the God of Abraham, cannot be the pre-Eternal Father of the pre-Eternal Son. Their concept of God as a person will not allow it, which betrays erroneous individualistic concept of the personal God.
The Orthodox position maintains that the personal God is the one who is truly is one in essence, life and energy. But this personal implies relation schesis in Greek and communion koinonia. The revelation of the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit is the basis for our theological articulation of Trinitarian dogma. In the church we know the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as distinct yet united without division or confusion. Since the three persons are united in nature and attributes, the only positive way to distinguish them is on the basis of their relations one to another: the Father begets, the Son is begotten of the Father and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father.
This leads me to make another side note. Some Christians believe it is okay to substitute the names of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for three different things, such as Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Some Protestants and even for a time certain Roman Catholics began baptising with these new non-traditional names. Of course we can immediately reject such an innovation on the basis of both Scripture and tradition, but on a theological level too the innovation does not make any sense. The terms «creator», «redeemer» and «sustainer» are not personal or proper names, but attributes or activities of God. And we know that all attributes or activities are shared by all three persons of Trinity. Thus, all three persons are Creator. The Father creates through the Son in the Holy Spirit. All three take part in redemption. Father sends His only begotten Son, who after his ascension sends the Holy Spirit upon mankind. All three are active in sustaining the world. The proper names of the persons of the Trinity are not the names which denote or point to the relation of the other persons and so they cannot be altered.
The second principle I would like to mention regarding divine personhood. Divine persons are not centres of consciousness. In the West, the concept of the person is so bound up with consciousness and self-reflexivity that the Orthodox idea seems completely incomprehensible. Without wishing to generalise too much the idea put forward by Boethius in the sixth century that a person is an individual substance and irrational nature has dominated the Western understanding person. The emphasis on person, as a rational individual is spilled over into psychology, where virtually all models of personality, are built around the assumption that persons are centres of consciousness. But this idea is foreign to Orthodox dogmatic theology. The persons of the Trinity are not independent centres of consciousness. They share in the fullness of love, one mind, one thought, one life in every respect. The Orthodox thoughts do not as some critics assert believe in the Trinity as three people happen to get along. This is Tritheism a form of polytheism. I will leave this point here is the idea comes up again when we look at the person.
The third regarding divine personhood is the monarchy of the Father. Monarchia is a Greek word that simply means single source or one source. Some non-Orthodox theologians have been impacted by the idea of divine persons in communion, as expanded by certain Orthodox like Metropolitan John Zizioulas and Vladimir Lossky. They often dislike however, the idea that the communion within the Trinity is still linked by the Orthodox to the person with the Father. This distaste usually springs from a politically correct desire not to over emphasise the Father over the others – too patriarchal, and the wish to avoid subordinationism. Subordinationism is the idea that one person in the Trinity is better than the others, or has that there’s a set rank persons, first, second and third gold bronze and silver. These criticisms however, completely misguided, the insistence by the Fathers of the Church on the monarchy, the monarchia of the Father has nothing to do with the idea that the Father is better than the others, or that he has some kind of monopoly over the divine life. It is simply an affirmation of the father’s function as personal source in God. Just because the Son is begotten of the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, does not make them subordinate, or less than the Father. The distinction of relation does not imply a distinction of rank or any inequality.
I have laid out a few principles of Orthodox dogmatic theology regarding the divine persons. But I would like to add here that we need to be careful not to speculate about these matters beyond our feeble measure. We can take us a warning here, the theology of father Sergius Bulgakov in the early 20th century. The speculations regarding the concept of Sophia or Wisdom in God led him ultimately to compromise the Orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. In the end, we know Holy Trinity in prayer and worship life in Church, not through our own intellectual efforts. Let me turn now to the other side of this discussion, namely human person.
We have spoken much about the divine persons and a little about modern Western efforts to define human personhood. It is time to consider three orthodox principles that help us clarify what we mean by human personhood. First, Christ is the only true person. He is the only gateway to personhood for mankind. As Orthodox Christians, we know that there is nothing beyond Christ, whether we want to know the measure of what who God is or the measure of man. We find all our answers in Christ, the Perfect God and Perfect Man. The centrality of Christ in our understanding of human personhood cannot be overemphasised, but this might seem confusing. If Christ is a divine Person, how can he be the model of human personhood? There are a few points to be made here.
First, we are created in the image of Christ our God. St Nicholas Kabasilas makes the point that «the old Adam is not a model for the new Adam ie. Christ, but the new is a model for the old.» That is from the beginning man was made according to the image of his archetype who is ultimately the Incarnate Son. The Son of God made man is our access to personhood, our means to personhood. We can only fulfil the divine image and likeness within us in Him. As Christ Himself tells us: “No man cometh to the Father, but by me.” I’m making this point forcefully because there are those who speak in a rather abstract way about human beings as persons after the pattern of the Holy Trinity. They speak as though human beings have a kind of innate capacity to live like the Trinity. And they use Trinitarian dogma, to create sociological or political theories. But this is misguided.
Such thinking misinterprets and lowers Trinitarian theology to a human level, as if an idealised human society could compare with the ineffable life of the Godhead. No. Our world is a fallen world, and it cannot save itself. It does not have the capacity for true personhood in and of itself.
As we saw divine personhood implies a total communion, in which each person of the Trinity bears the fullness of the life, and nature of the other person. A life of such love that no interval can be conceived between them. The three are one. Human beings are indeed blessed with the image of God, but this image is directed towards the exalted goal of sharing in the life of the Trinity, but crucially this image finds its only true rest and fulfilment through filial adoption, the adoption of sons in Christ, through being called sons by grace through Him, who is Son by nature. In other words, we do not become persons, by making a more just society here below through moral progress or international peace treaties. We cannot realise our personhood through the cultivation or refinement of our natural gifts separated from Christ, whether they be scientific intellectual or physical gifts. We become persons, when we put off the old man, and our clothed with the new. When we are reborn as children of God. This leads us to the second principle: the Church as the way to personhood.
Achieving new birth in God is not a moral, psychological or emotional act as many Orthodox theologians in the 20th century put it, rebirth is a matter of ontology an ontological act. That is something related to our being, as a whole. And this rebirth, this newness of life is given through the sacraments of the Church, primarily through baptism, chrismation and the Holy Eucharist. In other words, our rebirth as persons in Christ is an ecclesiological reality. It is bound up with the Church. Moreover it is also an event of personal communion, not only with Christ, but with his body as a whole, the whole church community. We cannot self-administer our baptism into Christ. We are baptised through his Church. His body which is set upon the earth for the rebirth and renewal of all. Our rebirth, is a great and holy gift given by God through His Church. It is no accident that the Holy Eucharist, the Holy Mysteries are also often called the Holy Gifts. The whole possibility of our becoming true persons, depends from beginning to end on the gift of God. As Christ says to the Samaritan woman: «We must recognise that he himself is the gift of God, who freely gives living water to all who turn to Him».John 4:28-29 Later in St John’s Gospel, we learn that this living water is the Holy Spirit. When St John says: «this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified».
The next point may be obvious for some of you, but I want to highlight it nevertheless. The giving of the Holy Spirit. And so our experienceof the Holy Spirit, cannot be separated from the glorification of Christ, through his Cross. Death, resurrection and ascension. I say this because there are trends among some philosophers and theologians, even who claim to be orthodox, to speak of becoming persons through experience of the Holy Spirit. But they separate this from the Christian church. They de-historicize it, and make it something that no longer depends upon Christ’s body.
This is especially the case in the thought of Nikolai Berdyaev, with whom you perhaps come across. If we read Berdyaev we often find moments of philosophical perception even ingenuity regarding the importance of the person and the personal nature of reality. We also hear much about being liberated through the Spirit and so finding our personhood. But tragically, he couples his ideas with an allergy, if not a hatred towards the institutional church. He often speaks of the church as a shackling and inhibiting force, which changes the souls of men and prevents the true development of the person. He separates Christ and his Church. We might say, he separates Christ from his body. But the body of Christ is the source of all divine blessings and of every grace. By removing this focal point, the body of Christ, from the idea of personhood and trying to shift the emphasis to the activity of the Spirit in humanity and nurturing as he puts it «of the Christology of man». Berdyaev effectively detaches the Holy Spirit, from the historical Christ. And this, as you will remember from St John’s epistle cannot mean that Berdyaev’ spirit is truly the Spirit of God as St John’s puts it:
«Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God:» and such a spirit as he tells us “«is the spirit of antichrist».
Thus Jesus Christ come in the flesh is the invariable content and summit of what is given in the Holy Spirit. And so finding our personhood through the Spirit is invariably connected to finding our place in His Body the Church.
But allow me to add another note here about the church and freedom. Thinkers such as Berdyaev reject the church, partially because of the concept of obedience that the church encourages among our members. They see this stress on obedience, as completely opposed the freedom and liberty that we are called to as persons. But this is to misunderstand the Christian concept of freedom. And as a consequence, the Christian concept of the person.
To be true Christians, we do indeed need freedom, but not the kind of freedom that Berdyaev, and others propose. We do not achieve freedom, through doing whatever we want to do, or through not being hindered in doing what we do. Often what passes as an expression of freedom is simply an expression of slavery, slavery, passion, sin, the evil one, our desires on natural will is not an end in itself. Whether we like it or not, our natural will is directed somewhere. Our freedom does not consist in simply having a will as Christ Himself teaches: «If ye continue in my word, then you will know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.» John 8:31 If we wish to become true persons, truly free afte the pattern of Christ, then we must direct our will to Christ, to His will. We must assimilate his Word, his commandments, aligning ourselves with him, with every movement and breath of our life. This is where freedom is found. The freedom which breeds a clear and inexpressible airof divine grace welling in the depths of divine love.
Now I mentioned at the beginning of the section that the gift of true personhood is not a psychological moral or emotional enterprise, but an ontological one having to do with a rebirth of our innermost being in Christ. This also implies I would like to add personhood is not to be understood, on the level of mere self-consciousness. We mentioned this with regard to the Holy Trinity. The idea that being a centre of consciousness and self-reflexivity is not what is what makes one a person. It is a distorted idea. As Orhodox we need to keep this firmly in our understanding, because so much moral bankruptcy exists in the world. Because of this pernicious idea that the ability to self-reflect, as individuals, constitutes of personhood adhering to such an idea has led countless psychologists, politicians, moral philosophers, scientists and even theologians to propose that the killing of infants in the womb. And even in the first years after birth, as well as the termination of the lives of the severely disabled, and the extremely old is a perfectly humane and just form of action. They argue that such beings are not persons. And so, killing them, amounts only to something like slaughtering a cow or an ox. Such demonic logic is perhaps more widespread than you would think. Just recently, a prominent Journal of medical ethics published a detailed argument, article arguing that postbirth abortion is a moral act in all circumstances. We can only pray that our laws do to not follow up on such monstrosities.
In any case, this is one reason why as Orthodox we cannot pin all personhood on the idea of self-consciousness and self-reflexivity. It leads down a dangerous path. Every man from the moment of conception, by the very fact that his being loved and cared for by God. And baring his image in the hidden depths of the heart is a true person in the making. I say in the making. Because as we have been saying, our potential as persons is fulfilled only through baptism and incorporation into Christ. Christ enlightens everyone who comes into the world, but he does not force the grace of rebirth on anyone. We are thus all true persons, true saints by potential and this in itself makes every human being, worthy of all our our attention, care and love.
Since we are speaking of this idea of consciousness and the person and the dangers of emphasising consciousness is constitutive of personhood. I would like to cite a long but profound quotation from Metropolitan Antony Khrapovitsky, of blessed memory. He writes:
“Our personality in our immediate consciousness, or self-awareness seems absolutely separate from every other personality. We generally draw a contrast in our spirit, through our immediate consciousness, between «our I» and another man, or another thing, between the «the I» and «the not I». The idea itself of opposition of the differentiation of things. It is not difficult for me to present myself as a member of a collective concept: proud society, monastery, academy. But the alleged similarities will help me little towards allowing my personality conscious of itself to conceive itself at the same time as constituting with several other, a being to perfectly sengular that it would be impossible to say of it, several beings, but rather we would have to define it as one single being. But this is precisely what the faith teaches regarding the Supreme Being of God – the three divine persons are but one single being. And it is according to this model that Christian unity, the Church’s life needs to be accomplished.”
and Metropolitan Antony continues:
The chief obstacle for the permeation of the dogma of the Trinity rests in the personal and spontaneous consciousness of the natural man. Dividing personality from personality, to the point of an absolute visible opposition. If the company of Christians, born again by grace realising the prayer of Christ: «Become one as we are One» – it would be impossible without causing a new rupture to unity to admit among members of the church a personal consciousness so completely individualistic as what we see in a man who is neither born again, nor even touched by the grace of rebirth. The Christian,
he goes on:
according to the measure of his spiritual perfection. must liberate himself from the spontaneous opposition between the «the I» and «the not I», receiving the sense of his inner unity with Christ, with the Father and with his brothers in the faith, but to attain this he must essentially modify the fundamental attributes of individual human consciousness.
He goes on:
Perhaps this condition [for liberating oneself] might appear strange, presenting itself to the spirit as an abdication of reason and a sacred insanity. But if we examine the subject closely, we will see, on the contrary, true human reason appearing, until then darkened by the state of sin of our fallen nature…It follows from this that the law of our individuation, discussed above, is not an absolute law, a primordial one, but a law of fallen consciousness. It is, so to say, grafted on, acquired, and is then abrogated by rebirth in Christian love.”
We’ve seen then that our true self, our true personhood is not something we possess automatically it is given to us through the grace of rebirth ie through the Church of Christ. We have in our deaths by virtue of bearing the image of God a hunger and an inner sense to find our life in God even before baptism and outside the Church, but we find our life, as Christ tells us repeatedly only by dying to ourself for His sake, thus truly finding our life in Him. Without this we remain only persons in potential trapped in our own strivings, that detached from the gift of God lead us nowhere or worse lead us to a demonic logic, that does all it can to destroy the possibility of that gift among men.
Let me turn to the third principle – the ascetic dimension of human reason. You may have noticed that ultimately when I have been speaking of the concept of the person and becoming persons through the Church, I have essentially been speaking of the concept of the saint. We are called as human beings to the holiness of God. In modern Orthodoxy, the Patristic term theosis or divinization is often used to describe it. We have dealt in the previous section with one side of this process of sanctity or becoming true persons, and this is the more important one, namely God freely giving us to partake of His holiness through the Church. I say more important, because without the holiness our own ascetic strivings would have no way of leading us to holiness, but in another way ascetic practise is also more important, since although God is always faithful and will never fail to offer us the gift of likeness to Him, we on our end are constantly wavering, denying his gift, seeking it again, denying it, seeking it and so on and so on. The ascetic life is thus crucial to the understanding of the human person in orthodoxy. Without it the treasure freely given to us in baptism and through the Holy gifts is totally buried, as in the parable of the talents it is hidden in the earth until the Lord’s coming, at which point the servant is utterly cast out of his master’s presence. The life in Christ must bear fruit. What is given must be multiplied. This is where asceticism comes in. Since I’m speaking in the Orthodox monastery in seminary I will not pretend to teach you about asceticism, I hope through your prayers that God will teach me. I will simply mention one principle from the writings of our ascetic Fathers. It strikes me as important in the context of this talk.
When some modern theologians speak of asceticism in the context of personhood, they often say very little or remain rather abstract. They talk sometimes generically of love and eros but without unpacking the theme. One reason for this reticence regarding asceticism, particularly among the Greek theologians is the threat of pietism or salvation through morality. Asceticism is perceived by some of these theologians as potentially fostering a self-righteous and Pharisaic attitude which forgets the gift of God and thinks that salvation is earned through one’s ascetic fits. This of course is indeed a danger and has surfaced as a problem several times in the history of the Church. But to make an anomaly as a rule is unfortunate. The principle then I would like to mention is the true Christian asceticism is inseparable from the commandments of Christ. Union with the person of Christ is the single goal of every Christian life. But such union does not take place abstractly or intellectually. It occurs through the practice of his commandments. St Mark the ascetic writes perceptively regarding this. Quote:
“The Lord is hidden in his own commandments and He is to be found there in the measure that He is sought.”
We find Christ in his Commandments whether to love to be merciful, to be humble, to pray, to repent. The Commandments of Christ are the mode of personhood and they thus must become the focal point and content of all Christian asceticism. I should add that we can only fulfill the Commandments to quote St Mark again: “by the mercies of our Lord Jesus Christ”. That is our ascetic struggle from beginning to end revolves around, is dependent upon and is fulfilled through the person of Christ. Without a Christ-centered orientation every form of asceticism as well as every concept of the person loses worth.
I don’t want to keep you long, so I’ll end here. Thank you for your prayers and attention!