Do you know the Lord?
In this post I want to say something about bringing the so-called, “saved Christians” into the Church. A problem often seen with any type of convert who comes into the Church is that they bring old baggage in with them. With the “saved Christians” one dangerous thing is their former concept of spiritual life. They accept Christ as their personal Savior, therefore they say know the Lord and are saved. They have an emotional enthusiasm and describe the atmosphere they find themselves in as spiritual. However what they experienced is an initial call to repentance; and what Orthodoxy says is the beginning, they imagine to be the end. And so, they have this idea that they know the Lord and are spiritual. Some of them, in coming into the Church limit themselves to changing a few doctrines only and bring such an idea of spiritual life along with them.
Those of us who would make a reply to such persons need to have a good foundation in the ascetic teaching of the Holy Fathers of our Church. We need to respond to these “saved” Protestants, also to the Pentecostals and Charismatics who sadly get carried away in their false conception of spiritual life. Therefore I would like very briefly, in a nutshell, to say something about the ascetic tradition of our Church.
I will try to do this as simply as possible with the hope of not becoming too technical for my readers. Our Holy Fathers teach that man is disparate which means two-part: body and soul. There are three aspects or powers of the soul, they are the intellectual, desiring and incensive aspects. This last is sometimes called the power of anger, “it can more generally be defined as the force provoking vehement feelings” (Philokalia Volume 1, p. 358). The intellectual is meant to rule over the other two and to be fed by and formed with the things of God. The power of desire should be turned away from worldly pleasure and turned to God, while the incensive should be used to fight sin and as zeal for God.
The mind is the inner power of the intellectual aspect of the soul; it functions in two ways. One way is rational, used for the things needed to be accomplished in this world, and the other way is contemplative. In the contemplative way the mind can come to be united with the heart, which is its true place before the fall. This is what the fathers term the spirit of man, that is, the intellectual aspect of the soul working in its highest capacity. This is the contemplative way just described. It is to worship God in spirit, but it is still human effort, the human spirit reaching out towards God and not a direct action of God within. Speaking of this, Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakarov) teaches that when the old man has been crucified to a sufficient degree, a divine transformation takes place. This is a long process of purification through ascetic effort. It is then that the action of Another involuntarily wells up within, it is not my action but the action of The Other within me. It is the action (or energy) of God in which one can participate. It is then, that perhaps, one can humbly say he knows the Lord in some small degree.