Becoming Our True Selves

Third Finding of the Honorable Head of the Holy Glorious Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist John

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


Judge me, O God, and give judgment in my cause, against a nation that is not holy; from a man unjust and crafty deliver me. For Thou, O God, art my strength. Wherefore hast Thou cast me off? And wherefore go I with downcast face whilst mine enemy afflicteth me? O send out Thy light and Thy truth; they have guided me along the way, and have brought me unto Thy holy mountain, and unto Thy tabernacles. And I shall go in unto the altar of God, unto God Who giveth gladness to my youth; I will give praise unto Thee, O God, my God, with the harp. Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why dost thou disquiet me? Hope in God, for I will give thanks unto Him; He is the salvation of my countenance, and my God. [Holy Psalter]


On May 25th Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors and entreats the holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics and Teachers of Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: The Third Finding of the Precious Head of Saint John the Baptist and Forerunner.

THE THIRD FINDING OF THE HEAD OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST AND FORERUNNER. In the 8th century, during a period of fierce iconoclasm, the head of Saint John the Baptist was taken to Comana, the place of Saint Chrysostom's exile. When the iconoclast persecution ended in 850 A.D., in the time of the Emperor Michael and Patriarch Ignatius, the honored head of Saint John was taken to Constantinople and placed in the church at the imperial court.

+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.


Holy Epistle Lesson: 2 Corinthians 4:6-15
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Matthew 11:2-15


"Man has to make good use of his mind. He must put it to work for the grandeur of God, to seek God. He must not make his mind a god. Those who are bright should be advanced spiritually." [Geronda Paisios of Mount Athos]

Becoming Our True Selves
by Metropolitan Jonah Paffhausen
[source: Reflections on a Spiritual Journey]

"O Mystery, be exalted beyond word and beyond silence, who became human in order to renew us by means of voluntary union with the flesh. Reveal to me the path by which may be raised up to Your mysteries, traveling along a course that is clear and tranquil, free from the illusions of this world. Gather my mind into the silence of prayer, so that wandering thoughts may be silenced within me during that luminous converse of supplication and mystery-filled wonder". [Saint Isaac the Syrian]

When we think about the task of growth to spiritual maturity, of being transformed and transfigured in the renewal of our minds, as St. Paul says in Romans 12--the transfiguration of our being and the renewal of our nous--it's a great mystery of salvation, of how God works with us and how we work with God, because it's always mutual. As the saying goes, you get out of it what you put into it. It's the same in the spiritual life. It takes a tremendous amount of effort on our part in order to constantly engage God, constantly be present to God, constantly maintain that awareness of God and it's a struggle.

It's a struggle, because the things in our lives in the world are distractions. Saint Isaac has yet another wonderful prayer, which puts things into perspective:

"I beg of You, Lord, do not set against me the sins of my youth, the ignorance of my old age, and the frailty of my nature, which is too strong for me and has caused me to sink into reflection on things that are hateful. Rather, turn my heart towards You, away from the troublesome distraction of lust.  Cause to dwell in me a hidden light. Your acts of goodness towards me always anticipate any kind of volition on my part to do well and any readiness for virtue on the part of my heart."

Our lives in the world are full of distractions. When one enters a monastery, one of the first things noticed is that there are no distractions. No job with co-workers; no TV or radio; no movies or novels; no newspapers or magazines; no music playing in the background as there is everywhere, to keep the soul from confronting itself, to keep one distracted. One of the hardest things for most of us is to be quiet with ourselves. It's hard to sit and simply be silent, because there are so many thoughts and memories and things that just bubble to the surface.

Part of the spiritual life and battle is to learn how to deal with those thoughts, to learn to focus our attention. Keeping our attention centered on the presence of God everywhere at all times is a fundamental ability and power which the grace of God has placed within us. When we're in a state of distraction in the world, our attention is going off all different directions. Saint Isaac the Syrian says this is like a shameless bird going off and getting into all sorts of things. So the real core of our ascetic task is to learn to focus our attention on God. It's very difficult at first, but then it gets easier and easier, once you've dealt with the issues that arise.

It's important to know how the Holy Fathers understand the human person. Though it is part of the common tradition of the East and the West, it was later buried in the West and lost entirely with the Reformation. A whole different understanding of the human person has evolved since the Reformation and the so-called "Enlightenment." I say "so-called" because in reality, our whole culture plunged unto great spiritual darkness during this time.

The human person was created with two centers of consciousness: One is the rational mind, which includes the emotions. The other is the heart, otherwise known in Greek terminology as the nous. There's no good English translation for nous. The Latin translation, which would be used in our English Translations of the Latin Fathers, is only confusing in our contemporary idiom, because the word used is "intellectus." We think the intellect is the head. But in fact, it is the traditional Latin translation for the word nous.

The concept of the nous is distinct from our rational perception, and rational perception is how we process all the information that comes in from our senses--from sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, how we reason, how we understand things, how we look at things. In a sense, it's a secondary kind of reasoning, because it relies completely on our perceptions through our senses, whereas our noetic understanding, our noetic vision, our noetic awareness, is direct perception.

In our terminology, the very definition of the Fall is the clouding and obscuring of our noetic perception, and the elevation of our rational understanding as the primary way we perceive the world. Now we're living in our heads. Depending on our circumstances, our environment and how we've been raised, our noetic perception is, to varying degrees, blinded.

This is our state of fallenness. It introduces into us not only a brokenness in our ability to perceive God, which is what our noetic perception is, because the nous itself is the very image of God within us. Our state of fallenness also keeps us separated from one another, because we perceive ourselves and others as autonomous individuals.

Autonomous individuality, or individualism, means defining ourselves in distinction over or against other people. It is the very nature of fallenness. This poisonous kind of individualism is a dangerous tendency in American culture and powerful forces in our society tend to exalt it. In opposition to this tendency, we Orthodox Christians are called to love and communion, as our very salvation depends upon our relationship with our brothers and sisters

Our task of being fulfilled in love and communion, indeed, all the rest of our spiritual life, depends on opening that noetic eye, the eye of our heart.

There's another possible confusion here. Most often we think of the heart in terms of emotions. As Americans, this is our idiom. "Oh, I feel it in my heart," means "I feel it with my emotions." No. In spiritual terminology, the "heart" has nothing to do with the emotions. The emotions are in your head. The emotions are how your body feels, which you process rationally with your mind and put into words.

Remember that the word nous in Latin is "intellectus". The term for noetic perception in Latin is "intuition". Intuition has many different levels, among them the popular idea of women's intuition as opposed to men's rational approach. There's a point to that, but the real intuition in this sense is the awareness of our noetic consciousness and its discernment of right and wrong, good and evil. It is direct. It's not about having to think about it. It's not about some kind of decision by discursive logic: "Oh, it has these good points; it has these bad points. I'll weigh the pros and cons."

This kind of reasoning or rational thought is what the Holy Fathers, in particular Saint Maximos the Confessor, call the gnomic will. The gnomic will is the autonomous will, self-will, of a fallen individual. At the monastery, we sometimes joke that someone is being gnomic, and one of the brothers has a little statue of a garden gnome as an illustration.

The gnomic will is our will as it's processed through our heads and our emotions, completely autonomously of everybody else, including God. In distinction to that, the Fathers talk about having a natural will, who and what we were made to be in the image of God. It's only through overcoming that autonomous self-will, the gnomic will, and opening up to God and then reintegrating our whole being and our whole life in Him through the nous, that we return to communion with God and neighbor in love.

If we're solely defining ourselves in terms of our own individuality and our own distinction from other people, where is the love? There might be like, and there might be dislike. There might be hatred, but there's no love. And love is itself the very energy of God poured into our soul through our noetic perception, through our intuition, which is a participation in the love of God.

With love, we no longer define ourselves simply in terms of "I'm different from him, and I'm different from her, and I'm different from the, and I'm different from…"--but rather, my personhood is defined in the relationship of love with God and one another. The more we purify ourselves, the more we can overcome that autonomous individuality which results from living completely in our head instead of being informed by the conscious awareness of God, which comes from our heart as the intuitive awareness of our noetic faculty.

To the degree that we can cleanse and purify ourselves of that autonomy, then to that degree, we're freer to love. And we are freer not only to love the other, but to become authentically the person that God has created us to be. A person in communion, defined by communion and by the relationship of love with one another and the relationship of love with God. There is an emotional aspect of love, but love far transcends any emotional expression and is not governed by our emotions. It's the inner nature of our relationship with one another.

Please note: Metropolitan Jonah graduated from St. Vladimir's Seminary, spent several years in Russia and at Valaam monastery then returned to the United States. After his tonsure as a monk and ordination to the priesthood, he cared for several small parishes, and was given a blessing to found a monastery in California. The monastery grew, and needed to find a new site to continue to grow. After the move, as before, the monastery saw a constant stream of pilgrims seeking spiritual guidance. It was also becoming known for its publications. Much seemed to depend on Abbot Jonah's vision.

In the midst of all this, the Diocese of the South needed an auxiliary bishop, and the choice fell on Abbot Jonah, who became bishop of Fort Worth, just days afterward, the 15th All American Council met in Pittsburgh, at a critical time for the OCA (Orthodox Church in America), and amid much turmoil. The Metropolitan See was vacant, and a new Metropolitan had to be elected. One evening, Bishop Jonah addressed a restive audience about the situation in the church, and as he spoke, the mood changed. And the next morning, the newly ordained Bishop Jonah was elected Primate of the Orthodox Church in America.

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George