SOUL AND DUST
by Metropolitan George (Khodr) of Mount Lebanon
"The good thing about sin is that it teaches us humility."—These words are for the big righteous theologian Origen of Alexandria. Important note, that this great master does not find any value in disobedience and does not call for committing it in the hope of the humility that we may acquire from it. He noticed this great misery which we live in and that we may understand, after tasting it, that we are but nothing and we won’t be anything. We are from this rutting clay and its awful smell keeps coming back, even if it disappeared for a while when we are attracted to the beauty of God, and we were possessed by the imaginations of the soul in a manner that we don’t keep attention from falling again after we were standing.
What enables us to redirect our attention away from this inner temptation is that we were created on the image of God and His likeness; in the eastern theology this means that not only our origin is divine but our existing structure is divine too and no defects within us can destroy this divine foundation of our genesis. The criminal, in front of you, is a human being with a divine structure and can retrieve his lost beauty because the divine formation within him is immortal. Endless confirmations draw us back always to the ways of hope. "I said you are gods" a sentence from psalms which Jesus of Nazareth used when addressing those "to whom the Word of God was thrown."
There is a great glorification for humans beyond any imagination from the point where they stand in their spiritual beauty. Perhaps Paul realized in this point what none did; for he speaks to his readers in the city of Colossi saying: "Yet now He has reconciled you in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight." Then he reconfirmed to them that "Christ in you." And he explained this to them by saying: "buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him." In his theology, this is one. The idea of joining between the Savior and the believer, from the angle of the inner life, is that the Christ is embedded in the believer and, with a stronger confirmation, is that the believer lives in the victorious Master awaiting the glory. "And have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him." Only then, within the believer, Christ becomes everything.
This is, if you wanted, the reality of the divine habitation in the human heart. And this is a condition for understanding the repentance from an evangelical point of view. For you do not return only because of a remorse or penitence. You must have this spiritual shock originated by the divine presence within you or call it the conscience; but what is conscience? Conscience is but the divine epistle written within you and there is no escape from a synergy [divine-human coexistence] inside your being, otherwise we would stay on the level of remembrance of good on a mind level. Remorse is just the first rain [beginning] and repentance is something else, it is the return to the face of God after that God Himself shown with His mercy upon the soul of a miserable sinner.
I will use a Christian word in order to explain repentance. Any reader may consider it a symbol. To the followers of the Nazarene is a much deeper concept: The Cross. Paul said, more than once, that we were crucified with Christ when He was crucified on the cross. I want to adopt, for this passage, the opinion of the doctors who studied His death. They said that crucifying Him by nailing His wrists (not the hands) made Him to be pushed forward and consequently dying not from bleeding but by suffocating. I take this picture inspiring that the crucified believer is strangled. The Book teaches in its collection, especially in the theology of John the beloved, that the victory of the Master was fulfilled on Golgotha, that His resurrection—in the meaning—was fulfilled there too and that His glory was in death. Then, the resurrection of the third day, was a revelation [disclosure] of this victory, a fulfillment and a gospel [good news] necessity.
He who puts sin to death dies, in the meaning of, that he did not acquire the desire as pictured in this life but attained the other life which Christ gives to His beloved ones, starting from now. That’s why He said unto them: "I am the life." What we will receive in the kingdom is but the perfection of the existence we already tasted, by grace, on this earth according to the words of the Lord: "The kingdom of God is within you."
This Cross is tremendously insisted upon, in the conduct level: "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow Me." We are in front of a total freedom in deciding to follow the Lord, but if we volunteered and adopted the way then this will require us to put oneself totally to death—and this is how we taste death. At the end, this should mean that no ‘me’ is remained for you. No more ‘me’ of sin and its whispers but a ‘we’ which you call upon yourself with God married in His grace.
Your cross is standing the same as His cross stood—because of love. The biggest revelation is that of "the Lamb who was slain before the creation of the world" to say the love of God to humans the day they accept Him. You read His love like this. And God reads your love to Him in your crucifixion when you hate your sin and prefer His sweat face. The moment you throw yourself in the lap of the Father your cross disappears. You then have being carried from this existence to the last existence.
But the cross is standing because sin still standing and our teacher in this domain still Paul. In his epistle to the Romans he mentioned the desires that gentiles fell for, saying: "Undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful." As quickly he cautions Christians not to fall in these sins saying: "But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath ... tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil ... glory, honor and peace to everyone who works what is good...for there is no partiality with God."
We live between darkness that comes from sin and light that resides in us and we see it flowing from the face of God; the distance between the two is a cross and everyone should aim. It is the same man on the road to divinity and in the darkness at the same time; no one of us will have a complete enlightenment before that God had elevated him to Himself in the last day. Yes there is a godly man, who separated himself from desire—this evil power from which all harmful evil flows—but this divine state may not last in this enlightened man for a long time. It comes and goes. Divinity is a project [aim]. That’s why the Apostle says: "I don’t do the good which I want and I do the evil which I don’t want." Reaching the doors of the kingdom, even if it had some of a trained will, in its majority is "Light that God injects in the heart"—a divinity you taste in you. That’s why we don’t know exactly the secret of evil and we don’t know the secret of good to the end.
Most of the people imagine for themselves sins they desire and divine goodness they like, and live with a lukewarm that make God vomit him out of His mouth. The warmth of God in us fatigued. We desire instead, this rottenness hidden inside our hearts; it distracts us away from this attraction to God because this attraction is a fiery desert. We know that in the beauty of God there is magic, we know in deep, that He is the salvation and peace. But the way to the last clearance is full of laceration. Abandon of all earthly care. Abandon for the eye, ear, touch, every evil word, every whisper of lust, every glory, every pride and any slavery we invented in order to nest in it and feel its warm.
For God to become your everything and for everything else to become nothing: no body, no mind and no education; this means that all these things had died or you have died. To be divine doesn't mean that you abolished your body, mind or education but that you accepted your God to be manipulating all these things in such a manner that your movement duality—movement to God and movement to what you have in the world—will be abolished. The world then, will be in God.
Remains the call of Christ: "be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect"; is the last position and sole horizon that attracts us. This means that the human being in his present ache must long to every word that God said. Still perfection is impossible; meanwhile we still with this body. Careful not to desire what is less then the perfection because this means "the good of this and the evil of that." The biggest evil is when man accepts that it is good for him to balance sin with righteousness. Our target is to abolish the sin within us. A target we must work for with all our power. He who does not work for this target had blasphemed in the grace of God and His power in changing peoples. We must love living in love. No escape from this bitter reality which says that we will fall. But this reality doesn't forbid hope in terms that we must hope to get up every day. Perfection is not attained but its something we want every day in our fight against the desire. Perfection—as described by St. Gregory the theologian—is to aim for perfection. We aim through tears and in front of us stands the horizon of victory.
We now are a mixture of soul and dust. When will the dust disappear?
Published September 30, 1995 in the © An-Nahar, Lebanese newspaper (http://www.annahar.com.lb/)— Translated from Arabic