Reflections on the Orthodox faith and life in this crazy 21st century world by an Orthodox priest and a few of his friends.
Monday, March 30, 2009
WOA #7: On the Transfer of Love From the Self to Christ
Saint Theophan the Recluse (1815-1894), Russian asectic, bishop, and prolific author
Colliander begins chapter seven of Way of the Ascetics by discussing another reason why it is so important that we deny ourselves, as Christ commanded:
"If we move out of our self, whom do we encounter? asks Bishop Theophan. He supplies the answer at once: We meet God and our neighbor. It is for this very reason that denying oneself is a stipulation, and the chief one, for the person who seeks salvation in Christ: only so can the centre of our being being moved from self to Christ, who is both God and our neighbor" (20).
In other words, if we do not practice denying ourselves, then it is impossible for us to transfer the "care, concern, and love that we now lavish upon ourselves" to the Person to whom it truly belongs: our Lord Jesus Christ. And when we truly love Christ, then we will truly begin to love our neighbor as well.
To the person who might say, "But I AM dedicated to Christ and to my neighbor. Just look at all the activities I am involved in!", Colliander says, "Refrain from busying yourself, therefore, with charity bazaars, sewing meetings, and other such occupations. Busyness over many things is, in all its forms, chiefly a poison. Look within, examine yourself accurately, and you observe that many of these apparently self-giving deeds spring from a need to deafen your conscience: that is, from your uncontrollable habit of satisfying and pleasing yourself. No, the God of love and peace and complete sacrifice does not care to live in the midst of bustling and ado to please oneself, even if this is carried on perhaps under some kind of pretence". (21).
Of course, Colliander is not saying that we should never involve ourselves with acts of charity and service. On the contrary, these activities are an essential part of our working out of our salvation (see, for example, Matthew 25). However, we must keep two things in mind when doing good works. First, we should not get so busy and involved with serving others that we neglect the inner life of prayer, worship, and spiritual reading. Second, we should not do works of service so that others will see us and praise us (Matt 6:1-4). Our acts of service must be balanced with prayer, worship, and Scripture reading, and they must be done solely out of love for Christ and our fellow man. When we live by these principles, we are following the example of Christ himself.
Returning to the idea of denying ourselves, Colliander concludes the chapter thus:
"For what is denying oneself? He who truly denies himself does not ask, Am I happy? or, Shall I be satisfied? All such questions fall away from you if you truly deny yourself, for by so doing you have also given up your will for either earthly or heavenly happiness.
The obstinate will to personal happiness is the cause of unrest and division in your soul. Give it up and work against it: the rest will be given you without effort" (23).