By Archimandrite Paul Papadopoulos
Many times we hear priests talking about spiritual advancement, saying: "Let us try to become spiritual people." But what does spiritual advancement mean? Have we misinterpreted it in our minds?
When the Church Fathers speak of spirituality they are not talking about morality. The Church, my brethren, offers us spiritual, not moral perfection. Certainly the spiritual person is moral, but moral does not mean spiritual. We can achieve moral goodness by ourselves, but it is not the goal, and it should not be an end in itself, nor is morality sufficient to attract the grace of God. For example, no matter how pure you are, or chaste, or blameless your life is, even if you live a life of virginity, and no matter how just, and if everyone considers you a very moral person, yet if you do not have humility you have achieved nothing, for God "gives grace to the humble".
We say that the Church offers us spirituality. What is spirituality? Can it be measured? Spirituality, my brethren, is a condition in which a person has overcome their ego and selfishness, their self-love, and they have overcome the world, living in humility and repentance for Christ and through Christ.
A spiritual person does not live to have a good name in society, nor to become famous or dear to people because of the purity of their life or for various virtues, but because they live for Christ, they live for others, they live through Christ, or rather, Christ lives within them, through the Mysteries of the Church, and they come to the point where they can say with the Apostle: "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me" (Gal. 2:20).
A spiritual person is not one who has studied secular wisdom, neither are they moral, but they are initiated into the mystery of Love.
If I dared to define what makes a spiritual person, I would say it is a person who loves. Because the unending end to which we are all called to touch and become shareholders of is the Love of Christ, namely genuine love, selfless love, a love that comes to the point where it is crucified on the Cross without holding any malice within.
"Love, and do what you will," said the blessed Augustine. For if you love, it would truly be unthinkable to upset your neighbor, to wrong them, to criticize them. If you love it is unthinkable to find rest in your self-love, in your self-will...you will be occupied by a "blessed rage", as Saint John of the Ladder says, which even when the body is tired and weary from the labors of asceticism, there will take place in you what is said in the Song of Songs: "I slept, but my heart was awake" out of the abundance of the love I have for You in my heart.
Love, therefore, is the purpose of life, because God is Love. Hence, the person who aims to achieve union with God ("according to His likeness"), has as an aim the acquisition of Love.
Saint John of the Ladder says again: "He who wants to speak of love is like those who attempt to speak of God." Also: "In quality, love is the likeness of God, as far as this is possible to mortals; in action, it is intoxication of the soul; in its properties, it is the source of faith, the abyss of long-suffering, the sea of humility."
This is why I dared to say that ultimately a spiritual person is a person who loves, who has love not only for their friends and family, nor only for other people, but for all of creation!
My beloved brethren, we are saying these things not to bend you under pressure or to think you can once and suddenly acquire heaven by the wayside, because in due course we may become frustrated. This is why we must not forget the following: "As it is impossible for one suffering from a long illness to receive health in one instant, so it is impossible in a short time to vanquish the passions, or even a single one of them" (St. John of the Ladder).
It requires perseverance, patience, prayer, attention, humility and repentance. But it also requires something else very important: Everyone can achieve many things in life, but holiness cannot be achieved without the Mysteries of the Church. Even though some people claim to believe in Christ, anyone who rejects the Orthodox Church rejects Christ, and they are far from Christ, far from Light, far from Truth, far from Love and far from Eternal Life.
And let no one say: "But I don't have the desire to become a saint", because even if someone secretly or consciously rejects holiness, they reject also the purpose for their creation.
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.