As I noted last year, I continue to experience the timely providences of God. Like last year, the calendar anniversary of my reception into the Orthodox Church via chrismation (the sacramental anointing with holy oil) falls before the liturgical anniversary. (Pentecost 2007 was 27 May, the Sunday before Memorial Day. This year, Pentecost is 7 June. That whole moveable feast dynamic.) And like last year, I will take this occasion to offer some reflections.
Head and Heart
One of the most immediate effects/experiences of receiving the Mysteries of Repentance (Absolution), Christmation (reception), and the Holy Eucharist, was the healing of the division between head and heart. I had become, in part by personality in larger part by life experience and training, rationalistic and analytical. Not as much as I perhaps could have been, but still I had moved away from the heart toward the head. The experience of the Mysteries (or Sacraments) began immediately to have its effects, though it may well be that the healing take me into the next life.
As I’ve recounted elsewhere, before I knew there was an Orthodox Church, I had already intuited the deficiencies of having an intellectual (doctrinal, particular biblical interpretations) connections to the New Testament Church. I “knew” I needed an organic connection. The mind can only take one so far.
I was, ironically, helped in all this by the pagan philosopher Aristotle, who helped move me away from a monochromatic rationality to a fully orbed understanding of the mind. This, coupled with a renewed and corrected understanding of the biblical and patristic view of the heart, helped me to realize the internal schism as well as the means to its healing (including of course the Mysteries and the Jesus Prayer).
I have not, nor am I required, to divest myself of my intellect, but the intellect must be properly ordered within the human person (the mind in the heart), and so for now I am consciously engaging in a focus away from the mind toward the heart. Which requires a certain askesis.
Asketic Struggle and True Philosophia
2005 was, in some ways, the most important year in my life, both religiously/spiritually and intellectually/philosophically. It was that year in which I discovered the, if you will, explanatory mechanism of the free asketic struggle of the will toward particular choices and acts. It was also the year that I came to understand philosophy as practiced in antiquity as a way of life (philosophia). These twin philosophical concerns (via free willism and Robert Kane and Pierre Hadot respectively), also meshed with particular theological concerns (the understanding of monothelitism and of Christianity as a way of life not simply a set of confessions or doctrines), which combined for something like a conversion. I began to realize that the Faith once for all delivered to the saints was not a body of doctrines requiring some sort of intellectual allegiance, but was, rather, a particular way of living. That way of living was not moralistic (a la Kant), but was, rather, asketical (a la Aristotle), oriented toward virtue and the transformation of the soul (character). One must struggle to enact faithful choices, and that process of struggle molded and shaped heart and mind and soul. This way of life was oriented around particular texts (the Scriptures, writings of the Fathers), soulish exercises (worship in the liturgy, the forming of the mind via the memorization of texts and hymns), resulting in a particular orienting principle (the Trinity, the Body of Christ) and a manner of speech which harmonized mind and heart and actions.
So, one fasted. Not to earn merits, but to shape the soul via the body (between which there is no Platonic dualist division). One prayed, to conform the mind to the heart. One gave, because the communion of one’s life with the particular members of Christ’s Body, was a communion in the Life of Christ, Head of the Body.
The intellectual realization of these things, of course, still have not adequately been translated into a manner of living (conversatio) that would be readily recognizable as Christ’s own. But it was a massive turning point, a dividing wall marking before and after. Chrismation was the crowning of that point and the initiation into its realization.
There is another liturgical anniversary to consider: the seventh anniversary of my turn toward the Orthodox Church for good on the Sunday of the Blind Man, which happened to fall this past Sunday (though the calendar anniversary is 9 June). I have also spoken about this elsewhere. I will always remember the “St Anthony moment” (so named for the instance in which a particular Scripture made a marked impact on St Anthony’s life and action by being proclaimed in the worship service) that occurred that day, and the implicit promise coming from it. I remain utterly hopeful and confident in that promise, though it will most certainly turn out far differently than I once imagined. But on this occasion of the double anniversary, I am mindful of the promises of God which do not fail.
Glory to God for all things.