A rich and noble woman died in Germany in the 19th century at the age of 30. Until her last breath, she had been vehemently opposing the possibility of life after death. In accordance with her convictions, she was to be buried under a heavy marble plate encircled by a massive stone wall locked with iron chains. Her will was fulfilled. There was an inscription on her grave, which read, “This place of burial belongs to Ms. X., and it must remain untouched forever. It is strongly forbidden to open the grave.” So, she challenged the Almighty even from her grave.
However, there was a little seed that had gotten under the tombstone. It started to sprout and finally reached the surface. The root of the tree grew bigger and bigger until a huge tree appeared above the grave. Its mighty roots made the wall crash; the iron chains were broken, and the tombstone was lifted by the power of life. Life triumphed in the place where everything was cursed to death. A tall oak towers over that woman’s grave now, as a silent witness of the truth and a visible rebuttal of the dead lady’s disbelief.
Common folks who live in that region look at that monument in terror. Indeed, there is no stone and no fence that can hide us from God’s righteous judgment. Everyone will stand before God on the last day. No matter how hard people try to disprove God’s truth with their skepticism or opposition, the time will come when the truth shall reveal itself indisputably. The time will come when all will be silenced in front of God, when every eye shall see Him, and every unbelieving soul will be held to bow to Him.
This pre-Nativity season calls us to a prayerful, reflective preparation. Once more, we are given the opportunity to call to mind the three advents of Christ.
The First Coming of Christ — when He came to us as a babe in Bethlehem and died for us on the cross. This is what we celebrate on Christmas Day and throughout the following Christmas season.
The Second Coming of Christ — the certainty that Christ is with us. Just as the future world in Christ has already begun, this also provides the comfort of hope.
The Third Coming of Christ — at the end of time His third coming, when Christ will return and be seen by all in His glory and majesty.
We pray that we all will be blessed while reflecting on God’s loving kindness during this joyous season and wish for a happy Feastday to come.
In diagnosing the post-fallen human condition, the Church Fathers recognized that the natural order of the soul had become disordered. As a result of the Fall, the lower aspects of the soul (the discursive faculty, the desiring faculty and the aggressive faculty) have become so dominant that they reduced the faculty of the Nous to such obscurity. The soul was defined exclusively by these three lower faculties and known as the tripartite soul.
In the present state of affairs, the Nous, highest faculty of the soul, through which the soul has communion with God, has been weakened to the point that our reason alone often does not have the strength to exert impulse control over sensual desires or angry reactions. Reason is no longer reasonable; desire no longer seeks what is truly good; and zeal is in the service of things not worth fighting over. The lower aspect of the soul is now the master. It has taken over the human being that is now carried away by illusive thoughts, vain imaginings, unbridled emotions and bodily concerns. The soul of fallen man has come under the illusion of self-sufficiency. Therefore, it is not satisfied with concerning itself with temporal needs (food, clothing and shelter), but seeks also to dominate nature and others as well as to find new sources of sensual enjoyment. In fact, we begin to view self-expansion and pleasures in their extreme form as inalienable rights. Such a soul has become what is today called an Ego.
On the one hand, our spirit (or Nous) in communion with God is our real self, the true seat of our personhood. On the other hand, the Ego, i.e. the sum of a human being disconnected from God, is our false self, an illusory self-sufficient entity. Because the Ego thinks to achieve its ends and overcome its obstacles through its own unaided powers, it can also be called our false “problem solver”; false, because man was made to cooperate with God, not to be cut off from Him; false, because the Ego solves problems that are not really problems and fails to face the one problem that truly needs solving. This false sense of autonomy leads the Ego to do everything in its power, consciously, subconsciously and unconsciously, to silence the spirit that seeks a relationship with God in humility and dependence upon His providence.
The Nous is weakened, but still present in man. It is awakened in the presence of anything holy and of God’s compassionate, forgiving love. Although dominated by the lower faculties of the soul, the Nous can place its hope in the all-powerful grace of God. The Nous is strengthened through prayer, through constantly crying out to God and by commitment to ascetic labor that turns every aspect of the believer’s life in the direction of God, rather than the direction of foolish anger, unworthy desires and vain reasoning. Gradually through the purifying acts of humility, prayer, vigils, the humble and honest confession of sins, and the frequent reception of the Holy Communion, the soul is healed. The disorder of the Fall is rectified with the harmony of paradise known by the soul that places God before all else.
Ascetical labor must be a determined and persistent effort, because the world in which we live constantly bombards us with slick marketing ploys exalting the lower faculties of the soul. One need only turn on the television, read a magazine, view a few billboards to see examples of this. Perhaps the first correct step in attempting Askesis (spiritual discipline) is a commitment to read good books, limit television use and maintain some period of silence every day. This naturally must be supplemented by attending church Services and the reception of sacraments. Our secular age makes this increasingly difficult. A good spiritual director and the companionship of like-minded fellow travelers will also prove to be helpful. We do have the example of holy men and women who have trodden this path on earth.
In the New Testament, there is an epistle by St. James, addressed to all Christians. It contains all teaching of the apostle in brief. Though it is short, it demonstrates the capacity of his heart.
The epistle begins with an exhortation that shows the depth of experience he has in the struggle for salvation. It is an appeal that may sound strange to us nowadays, as our main concern seems to seek comfort and pleasure. It suits us to often find excuses as to avoid starting on the serious task of attending to our spiritual wellbeing of our souls.
St. James emphasizes: “Whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect” [James 2-4]. In other words, the holy apostle is saying: Accept the trials that God allows to befall you as blessings. Not as a curse. We grow through adversity, not pleasure. Just as our bodies from infancy on grow by being exposed to viruses, attacks and various hardships, so our souls grow through adversity.