Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

The shaking of the foundations. Lecture 9

Theme: Spiritual life, The body, Created world, matter   Place: London Parish   Period: 1961-1965   Genre: Talk

Today we are going to deal with the subject to which the argument led last time. We came to a point at which it was asked to what extent people whose consciousness was diminished, could have a relationship with God. And I suggested that instead of discussing the subject as it came, I would rather make an introduc­tion to it and try to give a background to this discussion, and the background to this discussion will be that of what I believe about man.

When we think of man we are accustomed to think in rational terms, we think of man in his intellect, we think of man in his emotional life to the extent to which it is part of his conscious life and we forget that man has got roots infinitely deeper than these; and that his intellect of which he is so proud and his emotions which he is so completely unable to control are not the total man and are very far from this. Man’s existence is rooted in an act of divine will. Everyone of us exist (?), because he was willed of God. And this divine will itself is an act, not of condescension, but of love; it is an act in which God creates man in order to make him partaker of all He possesses and almost of all He is. We are gods by vocation. The difference between us and God, in this process and this attainment of deification, lies in the fact that we can be gods by participation not gods by nature. In the same way in which Christ was man by participation to our nature, and God in Himself. And in this act of God, in this creative word of God, with its background of will and of love, is our root. We have no roots in ourselves and we have no roots in God, as far as nature is concerned, and this gives us both complete dependence upon Him and, at the same time, a strange quality of independence. We exist because we were willed and yet, because we are not of necessity for God, because the act of creation is not necessary for God to be Himself, because in a certain sense, we are superfluous to Him, because He is plenitude without us, we possess a peculiar independence. We are not a reflection of His, we are not a shadow of His, we are not a minor aspect of His existence. We are ourselves, posited face to face with God, deriving our existence from His will and yet, independent of Him, in that we can accept or reject, both Him and whatever He offers and whatever He gives. The will of God is all powerful. He can create, He can do what He chooses, save one thing: He can compel no creature to love Him, because love is sovereign freedom and is incompatible with either coercion or determination. When we say that we are willed of God, because, before we exist we are loved of Him, we define the very root, and the very rock on which our existence stands. But we should not be mistaken; we are not spiritual beings, we are not a soul imprisoned in a body, we are not a soul, who for a time is connected with a body; we are an incarnate spirit and the plenitude of man does not lie in his spirit or in his soul, but in spirit-soul together with his body. In that respect our body has got an infinitely greater significance, infinitely greater possibilities than we usually remember. If we turn to the Biblical revelation and to all the spirit and the facts of the Old and the New Testament, I think that it becomes so clear that, whatever God has created, was created alert, live, and not inert and dead. We speak of dead matter, of inert matter as far as we are concerned now that we are both blind and insensitive to the life of things, matter is heavy, opaque and inert. But to God, it is neither of these things. God has created all things such that they all can live and rejoice in Him; this does not imply that things have got the kind of consciousness that we possess, but who says that the kind of consciousness that is ours, is any better, any deeper, any more God conscious than whatever other consciousness there can be. Things are in God; they are capable of knowing their Master and they are capable of rejoicing in their Saviour; and they are capable of shining, of reflecting the light of God Him­self. Otherwise, all the miracles, in which nature and flesh are concerned, in the Old and the New Testament, cease to be miracle, and become acts of magic; not acts of harmony, not acts of friendship, not act of obedience and joy on the part of nature, that hears the words of God and perceives its will, but one-sided acts of power, wrought upon a passive nature, and, therefore, meaning­less; God-centred and man-centred, but leaving aside the whole of creation. When the Lord Jesus Christ commands the raging waves to be still, to the wind to blow no more on the sea of Galilee, when in various events of the New Testament He commands things to respond to His voice, when He raises Lazarus or whether He works other mighty works, there is a relationship, a relatedness between what is created by God and Him. There is harmony. A miracle is not something which is marvellous although it appears such to us; a miracle is the normal relationship between God and His world, the supple live loving relationship there can be between what God has made, capable of knowing Him, of hearing Him, and Himself.

This relationship between the world and God, between the created and I think, I have already mentioned it, is so beautifully brought to the fore in two icons of the Russian school, icons of the Transfiguration, that of Roublev and that of his master, Theophane the Greek. The first one is better known, because it is more striking, and also because it can be reproduced more or less adequately. We see on it, three peaks of mountains, the Lord Jesus Christ in shining white robes in the middle, and on either sides, Moses and Elijah, on the slopes of the mountain, overwhelmed, the three Apostles. And from the robe, and the face, and the hands of Christ, falls on the ground, on the bushes, on the Apostles, on every thing there is around, light; a light that gives to every thing depth, substance, relief, colour, concreteness, reality. In this light, because they are touched by light divine, things acquire their real quality, they are what they really are, with all the intensity and the depth that they possess. The world in God, colourful, deep, real. Yet, there is another image, which belongs to the hands of Theophane the Greek, more subtle, far less colourful, so difficult to appreciate on a reproduction. The same scheme, the three peaks, Christ, Elijah, Moses, the Apostles; a few bushes, rocks and stones, a background of silver, a shining which is less fragrant than that of Roublev’s icon, but something very peculiar happening to everything that surrounds Christ. The pale blue silver rays that fall from Christ touch everything around Him, but the things seem not to acquire density, relief, colour, they seem to become transparent, and from the core of their being every bush, every leaf, every stone seems to shine back this uncreated divine life. It is not only bathed in it, it is not only surrounded by it, it is not only touched by it, it receives it, it is pervaded by it and shines back. This is the mystery of the Transfiguration, not only of Christ, first fruit of all the events to which man and nature are all called, but of nature around Him, taken into the miracle of God revealing Himself. This, I believe, is true to biblical theology, this is also true to the teaching of the Apostles, to the teaching indeed to the life and experience of the Church. Does not Saint Paul tells us: glorify God both in your bodies and souls; and sure, what he meant was not only, sing praises in your heart, but act according to your faith, there was more to it. When he says, shall I take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? He does not simply means something metaphorical. When he says that we are in our bodies the temple of the Holy Spirit, he speaks of an indwel­ling, and he tells us how careful we should be in handling this body, ours and other peoples. Partly because it is Christ’s body, and partly because it is filled with the miracle of divine presence. And the same experience is to be found in the writings of a man like Simeon the New Theologian. Once he comes back from church, he has received communion; he sits on his couch, and ponders. He looks around, he looks at himself and marvels. These hands, he says, so frail, so powerless, are the hands of God, this body, so mean, so old, this decaying body is the place of the divine presence; and this cell, so small, so ugly, is greater than heavens, because it contains God. And this is no allegory, is no fanciful thinking; it is direct, deep, concrete experience, rooted in all there is in the Old and the New Testament. All that is created of God is in God, related deeply to Him, capable of sensing Him, of knowing Him. If we only could be aware of the potentialities of what God has created — I am not thinking now of what science is disclosing, of the extraordinary possibilities of the atom — I am speaking of something deeper than this, more intrinsic to matter even than its own natural capabilities. There is not an atom in this world, from the meanest speck of dust to the greatest star, which does not hold in its core, possess still in its depth, if I may put it that way, the thrill, the tremor of its first movement of existence, of its coming into being, of its possessing infinite possibilities and of entering into the divine realm, so that it knows God, rejoices in Him. And if the world appears dark to us, compact, dense, opaque, it is because something tragic has happened, which we call the Fall, however we define it in its details, by which the sovereign freedom of obedience and harmony has been replaced by the iron rules and laws which reach to a certain depth and yet have not enslaved what God has made to be free. And this capacity of the world to be in God and to have God within itself, this capacity of the matter of this world, of the substance of this world, leaving aside our souls and our spirit, is the very condition of the Incarnation on the one hand, and of our belief in the sacraments on the other hand. In the Incarnation, God who is without any common measure with what He has created, becomes intrinsic to His creation, puts on human flesh, which is a summing up of all those things which are, which exist in this created world. He assumes all the substance of the world, and this substance, not only in His own personal historical body, but in the whole world, is mysteriously, unfathomably connected with Him, the personal God; connected personally, in a new relationship. And, when, after the Resurrection, Christ ascends into Heaven, He takes in this mysterious divine act, the whole substance of our world into the very depth of the divine reality. God present in the world, part not only of its history but of its substance, and the world present in God.

On this, as well as on what I have said before, is based what we believe of the sacraments, or of those mysterious actions performed within the Church, by the power of God, which make the substance of this world partake of things divine and make them capable of conveying these things to us. The waters of baptism, the oil of anointment, the holy chrism, the bread, the wine, are brought to God, taken out of the context of the world that has grown Godless; they are brought into the Kingdom of God and become free again. Free by an act of human freedom and faith and by an act of divine love, and these things themselves, not in any symbolical way, not in an allegorical way rather, not as a visible action and substance independent of the divine action, but in themselves, by themselves, become vehicles of divine power, divine grace, divine light, become a miracle in themselves, a marvel in themselves, because they are restored to wholeness and to their creaturely freedom of communion.

If we remember this we should realise that it is not only in our rational mind, in our emotional sphere, to the extent to which it is conscious, that lie the roots of our relationship with God; it embraces all and everything in us. And indeed, when God wishes to reach out to us, fallen creatures incapable of reaching out to Him, it is through our bodies and through the substance of this world that He does it. To our act of faith, God responds by the miracle of baptism, that is of incorporation. To our act of faith which is within an existing relationship, God responds by giving us participation to His body and blood, and to life divine. The great events of the Christian life are all rooted in matter, not in spirit; because before our spirit becomes quick and live and alert, it must be reared and strengthened; and yet, God reaches out to us when we are at the depth of the pit: where sin abounds, grace abounds even more freely. And we know so much about it without ever, ever, thinking of it; how little we know with our intellect about the capabilities of our body. How much may be conveyed — and I am speaking now on a plane which is both most ordinarily human, and goes far beyond this by the touch of a hand; how much our bodies possess direct perception and knowledge and wisdom. And so, when we think of man we must remember that there are these two aspects in us, the conscious, and another aspect which we can not even call conscious or unconscious, the physical, the material one which has got its own capabilities which we do not even suspect, which we see from time to time, in a glimpse; in the lives of saints or in events of our own lives. And then we must also remember that in the very realm in which we praise consciousness and reason, there are so many things which do not belong to the rational although they have nothing to do with unreasonableness. There are realms in our perception of life, in our activities in life, which are not of the intellect and in which, according to a phrase of professor Frank, the intellect plays its true role — that of a valet, of a servant love, the sense of beauty, the sense of worship go far beyond the realm of our intellect; and so, when we think of the relationship there is between us and God, we must remember that this relation­ship is rooted first of all in the fact that we are willed and loved of God. Remember St John the Divine’s words: the marvel of life does not lie in that we love God, but that He first has loved us. And this does not apply only to fallen humanity, to the act of salvation, but to our very existence and that He has formed us, and that whatever He has formed, is related to Him, deeply. What can we say more concretely about this relationship there exists between God and us, apart from the intellect, or when our intellect is incapable of having this relationship?

Apart from the intellect, as I said before, there is the basic relation­ship of the creative act, the basic situation of matter with regard to God, the basic significance of the body as being an integral part of man, and therefore part of its destiny of salvation. “I believe in the resurrection of the body ” do we say in the Apostles’ Creed. There is the reaching out of God towards us in the sacraments, in the miracles, in all these actions in which God acts directly on us, including the body. Again, these events, these situations in which God reaches our body through spirit and soul. The Athonite starets Silouane said that grace rea­ches out to us in three waves as it were: we first come into contact with grace in prayer, in meditation, and so on, at the very summit of our being, in our spirit; and when our spirit is imbued with grace, then grace pervades our soul, what we could call our psychological realm, conscious and unconscious, and from there it reaches out farther to our body; because we can see in the lives of saints that they were different from us, not only in spirit, not only in mentality, but also in their bodies.

All the major things that belong to our spiritual life do not result from our intellect, they are only perceived by our intellect. I know that one can say does not the Apostle tells us that faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the word of God? Yes, this is true, but this is not the only way. To define a situation which is normal does not imply that there are no other situations. There is an old saying, repeated by St. Thomas Aquinas, that God has promised us grace through the sacraments but God is not bound by His sacraments, He is free to give. The root of Christian pedagogy lies in this very recognition that the intellect is something that does not create a situation but discovers the situation, takes hold of the situation. We do not expect first to teach a child, or even a grown up what life eternal is, we believe that we can give him an experience of it and only then will he begin to discover things. There are things, which on the level of the intellect are insoluble, but which are being solved in the experience of things. This does not apply only to religion, it applies to beauty, to art, it applies to love. One does not give evidence of musical or artistic beauty before one makes one experience it. There is no way of conveying it and however rich the world literature is in books, in poetry and prose, in which love is spoken of, described, conveyed somehow, it cannot be conveyed, unless the person has got a direct and personal experience of love. And so, sacraments are given and then, as gradually we grow intellectually, emotionally, in our will, in our physical capabilities, we are taught by men and God, how to comprehend our own experience, how to see the working of divine grace, how to understand what otherwise we would never be able to understand. It belongs to a realm where no comparison readies; all the comparison convey meaning only to those who have already the real experience of things. Otherwise they are only misleading. And there are examples, which I remember always and which I always quote, which show that there is a much deeper experience of things than there can be an intellectual perception of them. The first example relates to something which I said a few minutes before: that there are problems which we cannot solve intellectually, but which become different within a new spiritual experience. I remember a woman who refused for years to be baptised, because there were insoluble intellectual problems for her, and then, on someone’s advice she decided to receive baptism, because she was led to think that baptism is not simply an act of witness to one’s own faith, but an event in which the person becomes different. And I remember very well how this woman after her baptism, said: “Intellectually the questions are still there, but they are no longer doubts or problems, they are questions which have fallen into a background and there is a certitude that they will be resolved by growing into the new reality which has become part of my life”. I have often quoted here the story of a child of about three, the terror of an orphanage, a horrible little creature, who was brought once to church in order to receive communion. And so frightened was everyone of her, that a teacher was appointed to stand with the child, while another teacher stood with all the other children, to make sure that no calamity would happen. And the child stood rather impatiently throughout the liturgy, then went up to communion, and then became extraordinary still, and at a certain moment she tugged at the skirt of the teacher and said “What is happening to me! What is happening to me! I love everyone, even the nasty boys in the street and worms.” That certainly was the expression of a quite genuine spiritual experience; if it had been a grown up and a person working quickly with her mind, she might have said “I like even Stalin or Mussolini” or someone else. Worms and nasty little boys in the street were the expression of total evil. But the experience is there and this certainly was not an induced one because I do not think one could induce anything into this child. I remember another case which was quoted by professor Zander to me, many years ago now. He was in the country in a village, and there was an idiot child there, and he discover­ed that this child had not been baptised, because it was thought that because the child was unteachable, it could not be baptised, and he was horrified at the thought of it (he has himself a backward child) and knew by experience how deep a child’s life can be in spite of it and he prevailed upon the parents, the protestant pastor of the village, to baptise the child. And the child was baptised, taught nothing, except that a sense of reverence was conveyed to the child. In the evening the village met and they prayed together, and at a certain moment of these common prayers each one had a right to call out names for whom special prayers were asked. And on that first evening, and ever since, when the evening service came to that point, the child began to call out names of villagers and of other people, stating a need. The same is true I think, with people who go — obviously it is not a general rule, I cannot produce scientific statistics about it, but it is within the experience which I, and some other people have — the same is true with people who go through severe mental illness; they come out of it spiritually more mature than before spiritually changed. I am speaking of those who after their severe illness come back to normal social conduct and normal relation with the surrounding world.

So that all these things have led me to the deep conviction that although in a normal, that is on a statistic usual way, a great part of our religious, spiritual life is conscious, that this is the part which we believe is our spiritual life, its very roots are infinitely deeper, not only in our spirit, not only in our subconscious, but in God Himself and in our bodies. Spirit and body, and in between, a thin layer which we call our consciousness. And I do believe also that it is not that thin layer of conscious­ness, so wavery, so doubtful. so extraordinary capable of delusion and mistakes and untruthfulness that is the root and the essence of our spiritual life. And this is brought out also in an interesting way, in something which I have very little time to speak about, which I want only to mention, in the role which the body is made to play in the spiritual life of ascetics, fasting, lack of sleep and peculiar exercises of the body which can be summed up really in our remembering that every intellectual or emotional activity finds its expression in the total person. Well, this is simple and primitive physiology, that there is not an emotion that does not bring into action everything in us. That is something brought out so clearly by art; there are so many statues and so many paintings that bring it out. I was particularly impressed in this connection by a statue by the French sculptor Rodin, called the Thinker. It is a man who is seated and thinks, and when you look at this statue, it is so obvious that the man does not think only with his brains: he thinks with all his body, there is not a muscle in his body which is not involved in this effort of thinking. The total man is always involved and the thin layer which we call consciousness is the place where we become aware of what is happening, not the place where things are happening, or which who determine their happening.

Answers to questions:

Question: About the heart (in the Bible)

Answer: I think that the heart of which the Bible speaks, is not the heart as we mean it in poetry and literature, it is not the place where emotion are perceived, or where they gush from. The heart we see in the Bible and in ascetic literature is something which one could call also the core of man, the final centre of man, it appears there as the point of convergence of every thing, and when St. John Chrysostom says ‘find the key of your heart, and you will have found the key of paradise’ he says something quite definite.

Q: About freedom of love:

A: Can you, with all the power you possess over a little child, make him love you? You can beguile him into loving you, you can love him into loving you, but you cannot force him into loving you, because the moment there is compulsion, the moment there is no freedom of giving himself, you cannot speak of love anymore. You see, love is not a force of gravity, if I take some­thing, drop it, and it goes straight towards the earth, I will not say, “How attach this stone is to mother earth”. I just say that there is a law of gravitation; it can not help it, but there is no moral implication in a law of gravitation. If God could act towards us morally as the earth acts toward the stone, if we were so inevitably drawn to Him, there would be cohesion indeed, but there would be no love. Love is possible when you can say “yes” or “no”, when you can turn away… There can be no coercion because then there would be no moral relationship. We would perhaps be much happier, if we were a nice mechanism, a sort of loving mechanism, if we were drawn to God in this mechanical way, we would be close indeed, but what! (God does a great deal, He uses all ways and tricks of a lover, but He cannot do more.)

Q: Harmony. There was nothing wrong in Adam, there was harmony, but it could be destroyed, because it was a harmony given, but not possessed; the harmony which we find in saints is much more stable and solid, although, speaking objectively, Adam was in a better state, before his fall.

A: We should be careful because we may happen to be the wrong kind of ground at the moment a word is being sown. It does not mean that we are in a permanent sort of way stone, or weeds, or the road side; but if it happens that at the moment when the word is sown we are in that position, well, we have had it! None of us is permanently in one of these situations. As I was told by Father Alexander, “It is so important to pray often and to read the word of God often, because today I am a stone, but to-morrow I may happen to be fertile ground on the smallest possible amount of soil and it is enough for one seed to fall on that minute piece of ground for me to have got something.” There is constant sowing, and also constant changes in us.

Q: Freedom.

A: First of all the created freedom is conditioned by the fact that it is given; at the outset there is an act of God who grants it. We begin without an act of our own will; we are given a nature which we have not chosen, and, whatever we do afterwards, we cannot do what Ivan Karamazov said “In the end, I will give back my ticket”. You cannot because you know perfectly well that you are heading for meeting God again. We are blocked on three sides: We are created without our agreement; we are given a nature within which we must achieve our eternal destiny, and, whether we like it or not, we cannot go back to naught, we come back to God for a certain kind of summing up.


A: If a person blasphemes or curse God in a state of mental trouble, or in a case of high temperature, or simply under anaesthetic or in a moment of excruciating pain, I would not take the words for the thing. Because there is a sort of psychological rule that you must express pain, to use a all embracing word, in a way which is adequate to the acuity of it. And there are moments when you can just shout, and others when you will call “O, Mother”, and another when there is nothing which is adequate to your pain, except cursing. Simply it is the way it works. And it does not mean that you mean what you say; it means that there is no other stronger way of putting your suffering, expressing your suffering. There are opposite ways of doing it… but it takes more out of you.

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