Dr. Nos’hi Abdel-Shaheed
The Aim and Means of Orthodox Spirituality (contd.)
(2) The Way of Orthodox Spirituality (contd.)
This union and incorporation in Christ is the only way to reach our goal which is beyond nature and that is the union with God and the partaking of His divine glory.
This incorporation in Christ comes by the action of the Holy Spirit and is completed to its fullest also by the action of the Holy Spirit; i.e. it is started and is completed by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit attracts us to Christ to know Him and believe in Him and be washed with His blood from our sins. And Christ brings us to the Father so that we know Him; or as St. Irenaeus says “Through the Holy Spirit we are raised to Christ the Son, and through the Son we are raised to the Father.”1
It might come to our minds what the Lord Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44). Here the Lord Jesus did not mention the Holy Spirit, but the Father draws man through the Holy Spirit; as the apostle said, “No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:3) Therefore, the Holy Spirit is the invisible agent that brings man to faith and confidence in our Lord Jesus, and it is by this work of the invisible Holy Spirit that the Father draws man. He brings man to Christ, and when man is united with Christ, Christ Reveals to him to the Father; just as the Lord Jesus Himself says, “… Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him (Mathew 11:27). So, in order to have eternal life and participate in it, “God sent forth His Son” to redeem us from the state of slavery and grant us “adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4, 5)
“And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts; crying out, ‘Abba, Father’.” (Galatians 4:6).
Thus, by bringing His Son to the world in the flesh, His crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension into His Father’s glory, God completed all that is needed for man’s salvation and liberation from sin and the power of death, and gave man an open way that he might live in fellowship, love, and union with God. And after completing salvation through Jesus Christ, God sent the Holy Spirit as a fruit of the saving work of Christ that He might live in the human souls that accept Christ, thus completing (i.e. the Holy spirit) the incorporation of those spirits and uniting them with the glorified and living Christ. This is because the entire goal of Christianity is to change man completely, in spirit and body, that he may finally become united with the glory of Christ himself and becomes like Him when He appears; as the apostle John says, “… we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). And the Holy Spirit works in changing man by various ways and means that are known in the Orthodox Church tradition, through prayer, fasting, repentance, and obedience to the Commandments, and through the Church Sacraments. The Holy Spirit seeks in every way to unite man to God and to fulfill inside him the life of Christ and his adoption as son to the Father.
The proper foundation of spiritual life is not based on psychological states or experiences. But the true Christian life concerns the core of human life and its recreation and the renewal of its nature by the work of Christ through the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the true measure of Christian life is not merely the personal experiences that the spirit goes through whether they are mystical experiences (or internal feelings) or otherwise, but it is the objective application of definite theological principles to individual souls, e.g. the cross is a specific theological principle, and so also is the resurrection, the commandment of love, faith, and self denial, etc.
In conclusion, the person of the Lord Jesus Christ and His redeeming work in His crucifixion and resurrection, constitute the alpha and omega as well as the center of orthodox spirituality, and its way from the beginning to the end.
Thus, the way of spiritual life is Christ, himself, “I am the Way” (John 6:14). Man cannot come to God and enter His kingdom except through Christ. And this is the way that God in His love has prepared for us by sending His Son to become man, and through His crucifixion and resurrection He opened the way for us to reach the heart of God and become His children. Christ Himself has established this way through His body, “Therefore brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh…” (Hebrews 10:19, 20). So Christ the Son of God made Himself a way through which we can enter God’s Holiest; this way did not exist before Christ’s advent in the flesh and His crucifixion and resurrection. It was impossible for man to be united with God without Christ. But now the way has been “consecrated for us”, i.e. opened by His blood in front of man so that if he accepts the person of Christ and believe in Him he can enter the Holiest, i.e. find God and know Him and start uniting with Him while he is on the way; this is because he is in Christ, and whoever is in Christ, he will truly know God and call Him from his heart saying “Abba Father”.
A- Starting the Way:
The lord Jesus said “I am the door, if anyone enters by Me, he will be saved … and find pasture” (John 10: 9). Therefore the beginning of the journey is entering through Christ, i.e. receiving the invitation of love that Christ directs to man. The Bible uses different expressions when speaking about the beginning of the way or the start of Christian life. Many times the Bible uses the word “repent”. For example, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17) And as Peter the apostle preached on the day of Pentecost, “Repent and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” (Acts 2:38) The start here is the repentance and baptism in the name of Christ. In other instances the Bible uses the word “believe”; for example, “Go into the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved, but he who doesn’t believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16) Also, “He who believes in The Son may have everlasting life.” (John 6:40) There are other times when the Bible speaks about the beginning of the way using both expressions together; repentance and faith “…repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Also, as the apostle Paul said, “… testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 20:21)
At other times, the bible expresses starting to enter by saying “receiving Christ”, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.” (John 1:12) Here he expressed ‘belief’ as ‘receiving Christ as the Savior’. This shows us the importance of the heart of man and his determination to enter the way and walk in it, because man must respond to the voice of God and His love with his own will and acceptance in his heart. This is what the Bible means when again expressing ‘the coming to Christ’, saying, “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28), and also, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” (John 6:44) This explains the joined work between God and the heart of man who believes or repents. The Father draws our hearts to go to Christ, as we respond to God’s good call by accepting and receiving. Consequently, we move with our hearts and will to find Christ, believe in Him, and repent; thus entering in the way. So despite the different expressions used by the Bible about starting the way, in all of them whether it was repentance, believing, accepting Christ, or coming to Him, it means the same thing, i.e. man comes with all his heart and accepts the love of God revealed in Christ, accepts this love and believes it for himself, thus entering into a personal relation with Christ. For without having a personal relationship with Christ, man would have never really started on the way.
(To be continued)
- Adv. Haeres. V. 36.2. ↩