The Orthodox Mind or Spirit

Repose of the Venerable Herman of Alaska, Wonderworker of All America

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

The Orthodox Mind or Spirit
by Fr. Anthony Alevizopoulos, PhD. of Theology, PhD. of Philosophy

All that we have mentioned define the faith of Orthodoxy and protect the Mystery of man's salvation. They also establish the position of every believer vis-à-vis God, the world and his fellow man and constitute the Orthodox mind (phronema - φρόνημα) or spirit. We do not have here the result of an attempt on man's part to develop a type of self-salvation, but the result of a cooperation between God and man.

Man, through his fall, was deprived of God's grace and depending upon his own powers, followed his own path. He was not able to prevail over his passions and was subdued by the spirit or mind of the flesh. In the Person of Jesus Christ, God reached out to man and brought him back to the communion of His grace. In Christ Jesus, man becomes a partaker of the life of God, he overcomes his carnally-mindedness and embraces spiritually-mindedness which is "life and peace" (Romans 8:6), the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5; I Cor. 2:16). He no longer "minds" [sets his affection on] "things on the earth" but "things in heaven" (Col. 3:2).

An essential change has come about in the man who is "in Christ": he has become a "new man", and new creation; he is completely Christified. This is the result of man's embodiment into the Body of Christ and of his partaking of the divine Eucharist. Saint Symeon the New Theologian expresses this in the most moving way:

"We become members of Christ, and Christ our members, and Christ becomes the hand and Christ the foot of me the wretched one; I move my hand, and Christ is my entire hand, for you must understand the Holy Divinity as being inseparable from me."

This Christification of all of man leads the faithful to respect his body. The words of Saint Symeon are most moving. When we understand ourselves, who we are and who we have become in Christ, we will discern the miracle. We will respect and be timid before our very selves and will respect ourselves as we respect Christ:

"And I marvel, understanding myself, from Whom I have become as such; O Miracle. And I respect myself and am timid and as You I honor and respect myself and I wonder being bashful all over, where to sit, and whom to approach. And where to rest Your members. For what works, and for what actions should I employ Your fearful and divine members?"

All of man becomes Christified and feels infinite respect for his members which have become "members of Christ". This leads man to a completely new behavior towards his own body. His body no longer belongs to Him but to Christ; it becomes a "temple of the Holy Spirit." Man cannot do whatever he wants with his body or with that of his neighbor. He must approach it with the same devotion and respect which he attributes to God's temple. Any other behavior is a desecration.

His entire position vis-à-vis God, the world, his fellow man and his entire self becomes analogous to the height of the glory of Christified man. His life henceforth responds once again to his nature, to creation "according to the image" of God. He forsakes his autonomy and freely chooses the communion of love.

Love is undoubtedly the gift of God, the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22). But a necessary prerequisite for one to accept the grace of the Holy Spirit is that it be his wholehearted choice, a reception on the part of the mind and the heart, which leads to obedience of God's Commandments (St. John 14:23). God loves man and gives him the possibility, if he himself so desires, to respond with his love to God's love and thus be changed into "a habitation of God through the Spirit" (Ephesians 2:22).

But this for the believer implies a way of life. It presupposes his decision and firm desire to "crucify his flesh together with his passions and desires" and to struggle with all his being to acquire the virtues of God, making this his aim with absolute priority.

But again, that which man shall attain with his own attempts will not be the saving virtues which are God's gifts, but only the fruits of man's labor. Yet in this manner he demonstrates in deed, with all its personal consequences, his personal choice and wholehearted turning towards God; his desire to acquire the gifts of God. Then can he ask God to give him His grace, and God "takes into consideration" man's struggles, accepts the fruits of these labors and He transforms them into the gifts of the Holy Spirit, into love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance" (Galatians 5:22).

This new "mind", this new way of thinking, presupposes that the believer will forsake his autonomy and accept his insufficiency and inability to achieve the meaning of life, i.e. that he will repent "meat-noia": change his way of thinking. An autonomous man is also he who seeks to justify his life with good deeds or by any type of "technical" process, outside the realm of God's grace in Christ Jesus. The Orthodox "mind" or way of thinking is free from all concepts of self-justification (Romans 3:20; Gal. 5:4). The true believer looks his sinfulness and insufficiency in the face and looks to Christ with complete trust. It is for this reason that "the Publicans and harlots enter the Kingdom of God before those who are convinced or their righteousness and depend upon it" (St. Matt. 21:31).

The Holy Fathers of the Church talk about the "convulsions of the heart" which at the same time constitute the "opening up" for the grace of God to enter into man's soul. The hymns of the Great Canon express this reality in the life of the faithful.

Through true repentance the faithful has the feeling that he finds himself in an ocean bed: "for no child of Adam has sinned as I have sinned unto You". He is convinced that this great distance separating him from God springs only from his disposition, "by myself have I sinned unto You"; and further, he expresses his inability to weep in repentance: "neither tears, nor repentance, not even contrition do I have". However man's impasse is set at naught by his crying unto God the Savior:

"Do, Thou, O God my Savior grant them to me. Grant me thoughts of repentance, give to my wretched soul the desire for contrition, lift me from the sleep of fearful hard-heartedness, dispel the darkness of sloth, dissolve the blackness of despair; so that I, the most wretched one, may lift up my head, and attach myself to You, O Logos, and walk in accordance with Your will."

Deep humility constitutes the beginning of spiritual life, the foundation of the Orthodox "mind" or way of thinking. Here we do not have a cry of hopelessness but a turning about by man that leads to hope, despite all impasses that he may have been led to by his own volition.

The believer is henceforth called to a life-long spiritual struggle in which he is never abandoned by God, except in such instance where he were to consider himself able on his own and self-sufficient. For then he becomes autonomous and distances himself from the Grace of God. The faithful realizes that not only God but the Devil also calls to his disposition and threatens his "mind in Christ" through deceptive means (St. John 8:44; I Peter 5:8).

The demonic element is a reality; this is why our Lord urges us to "be sober, to be vigilant" (I Peter 5:7), "be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil" (Ephesians 6:10-12).

This means that the Devil does not have authority over the believer, unless the latter cooperates with him through his disposition. Spiritual warfare, especially "prayer and fasting" i.e., ascesis in Christ crushes every intrigue of the Devil (cf. St. Matt. 17:21; St. Mark 9:29). Through asceticism or ascesis the believer does not aim at degrading the body, but at neutralizing the passions. It is a preparation of the body to receive God's grace and sanctification. "If you want to be saved, become as if you were dead", say the Desert Holy Fathers in reference to the deadening of the passions. When one reaches such sanctity, he acquires that real humility which attracts itself to all of God's grace, and he becomes "full of grace" (St. Matthew 5:3; I Peter 5:5); the machinations of the devil cannot harm him.

Yet, it is possible that he may fall since man remains changeable, i.e., he can turn towards virtue or towards sin, on the basis of his free will, depending on what he chooses.

(To be continued)

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

+Father George