The Spiritual Life and How to Be Attuned to It

St. Theophan the Recluse

St. Theophan the Recluse

By Saint Theophan the Recluse

Many people today discuss or have some interest in spiritual life according to our Holy Orthodox Christian faith but very few know how to go about it. Saint Theophan explains: "Human life is complex and multi-faceted. It has physical, mental and spiritual aspects. Each aspect has its powers, needs and modes, and the exercise and satisfaction of them. Only when all of our powers are in motion and all of our needs are satisfied does a man live. But when only one small portion of his powers is in motion, and only a small number of his needs are satisfied, this life is not life. Everything works together as a unity, just as the necessary motion in your sewing machine comes about only when all of its parts are running. Stop the operation of a single part, and the machine stands still; it does not live. Man also does not live as a human being when everything inside him is not in motion. With a machine, the cessation of its life--motion--is readily apparent; with man, the inactivity of his life overall is invisible, if only a single aspect of his life is being exercised and a few of his needs are being satisfied, although such a life a just like the machine with its motionlessness. Such is the law of human life!

Let us apply this law to the situation we have been discussing. Which powers are in use there, and what kind of needs are being satisfied? In use are the hands, legs, tongue, eyes, ears, sense of smell, sense of touch, memory, imagination, fantasy and wit, the sum total of which represents the lowest human aspect, which man holds in common with animals. Animal life has only a single need to be satisfied, or better, to be played out; such may be seen in operation when young lambs are driven with ewes to a green field. In addition to these powers, there are another two or three layers in man, and they also have a main center.

Judge for yourself now: Can such a life really be life? Your feeling told you that there is no life in such a life. I will show you the main reason why there is not. Maybe the operation of this reason is not so clear for you at present, but the overall concept should be. The details will become clear with time. For I propose that everything that is worthwhile comes out of the structure of man's nature. It is necessary for us to live as God created us, and when someone does not live this way, I may confidently state that he does not live at all.

"...Not every aspect or need of human nature can be nourished by this way of life. An unsatisfied aspect such as hunger demands nourishment in the gratification of its need and drives man to seek such. So man runs to seek gratification, but as he moves around in that very circle, unsatisfied with respect to hunger, no gratification occurs, and hunger does not cease. But neither does the need for nourishment cease, nor does the pursuit of it. And it will never cease for those who live in the spirit of this world. Because the enemy (evil one) blinds them, they do not notice their error: they have taken the wrong path and are headed in the wrong direction; in this darkness he torments and stifles these poor souls. So the enemy has blinded them, and there is no one to tell them of their error. Thus they roar like ferocious beasts. Isn't this the roar of the lion who goes about everywhere, "seeking whom he may devour?"

"...For now I will just say that for you to shun everyone is, of course, impossible; but refuse as much as possible to enter into this circle of worldly life. When it does pull you against your will, act as if you were not there; look, but do not see; listen, but do not hear. Let what you see pass by your eyes, and what you hear pass by your ears. Outwardly behave like everyone else, be straightforward and sincere; but guard your heart, then you will be there in body only, but not in soul, faithfully carrying out the commandment of the Apostle: "Be as they that use this world, as not abusing it" (I Cor. 7:31). "World" here refers to worldly life. You will be using the world, that is, you will have a need to come into contact with worldly life; but when you keep your heart at a distance, then you will not be abusing that life; that is, you will not be participating in it out of sympathy and desire, but out of being obliged by our present circumstances."

[A personal note]: Saint Theophan the Recluse explains everything so beautifully and clearly. Spirituality according to our Holy Orthodox Christian faith is much more than instant and emotional gratification. Living a "worldly life" is contrary to our Christian understanding of "right living" (orthodoxy). Spirituality ("life in the Spirit") can only be achieved by the grace and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Spirituality, when reading the lives of the Saints, is not accomplished without sacrifice, obedience, faith, trust, surrendering of one's self, ("Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven..."), humility, love, commitment, worship, prayer, sacraments, philanthropy, forgiveness, repentance, ascesis, living a virtuous life, renouncing the world, etc. etc. One can see that a true spiritual life is a life-long process and not without personal effort and labor.

In our Risen Lord,
+Father George