Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Incarnation as the Foundation of our Spiritual Life (Elder Sophrony)

By Elder Sophrony of Essex

- Christian life is founded on the fact of the incarnation of God. In our flesh, created by Him, He made manifest His pre-eternal perfection, thereby enabling us to judge the extent to which we either fail to reach His stature or approach His supreme Being. If we resemble Him in the inner workings of our heart, in the manner of our thinking, in our reactions to all that happens to us on the earthly plane, we shall ispo facto become like unto Him in His Divinity, too. The Gospels furnish a clear enough picture of Him, while the Epistles describe the experience of life in Him. His commandments are the uncreated Light in which He particularly reveals Himself to us "as He is" (1 Jn. 3:2). "I am the light of the world: whosoever follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life" (1 Jn. 8:12).

- When we examine ourselves in the light of the Lord's commandments we see that we are utterly corrupt and devoid of any capacity for good. Aghast, we repent before God and implore Him to restore us from the death with which we are stricken. We are ready to break the chain of our self-will and give ourselves over entirely to His holy and perfect will. But oh, how hard this is, especially at the outset! Yet it is the means whereby we may join the stream of His eternity. To trust in God in times of danger concentrates our spirit in Him, and we can feel His immortal breath upon us. This great gift comes through humble but searing repentance. A miracle - the more I "see" God, the more ardent does my repentance become, since I the more clearly recognize my unworthiness in His sight.

- The Incarnation made it possible for mankind to set foot on the path to the Father by persevering in the spirit of Christ's commandments in every circumstance of earthly life. The love for Christ that comes from the keeping of these commandments renders prayer intense, ardent, leading to such thirsting for the Lord that the spirit travels beyond the confines of this world, to be absorbed to the One God. This kind of prayer makes the soul kin with the Spirit of Truth, and when she knows this Spirit she will recognize Him "by His savior", as St. Silouan expressed it, and surrender herself to Him. And conversely, the soul will spontaneously, intuitively reject numerous phantom truths capable of attracting the inexperienced mind and the unenlightened heart. Divine Light reveals the true nature of tempting spirits, and so delivers us from the foolish attractions of the "opposition".

- The incarnation of the Logos of the Father - Jesus Christ - furnishes a solid foundation for our knowledge of God. Actuated by love for Him, we undergo a profound transformation of our whole being. Christ's infinite life is transmitted to us. Our spirit finds itself on opposite poles - in both the black depths of hell and the Kingdom of God illumined by the Sun that never sets. The content of our being expands ineffably. In urgent prayer the soul aspires to this wondrous God but it is a long time before we apprehend that He Himself is praying in us. Through this God-given prayer we are united existentially with Christ - at first in His searchless Self-emptying and descent even into hades, and then in His Divinity. "And this is life eternal, that they may know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent" (Jn. 17:3).

From We Shall See Him As He Is, pp. 150, 152, 170.

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