The Suffering of Self-Creation

Maximos’ notion of the gnomic will points us to one of the greatest, and most bitter, ironies of human sinfulness. My self-referential turn leads me not to myself, but to a life of ever increasing estrangement from self. This comes about because this turn to the self comes at the expense of my relationship with God in Whose image and likeness I have been created.

As a consequence of my estrangement with God and self, there arise in me as well an estrangement from my neighbor—who now becomes for me, and I for him, my enemy—and the created world. Think of events that follows immediately after he and the Woman have eaten of fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. What has happened to me as a consequence of my inward turn? I no longer seek out God. And creation is no longer for the arena of my encounter with God, it is rather where I try, futile, to hid myself from God. I find myself now lamenting with Adam:

Woe is me! The Serpent and the Woman have deprived me of my boldness before God, and I have become an exile from the Joy of Paradise through eating from the Tree. Woe is me! I can no more endure the shame! I once was king of all God’s creatures on earth; now I have become a prisoner, led astray by evil counsel. I was once clothed in the glory of immortality, now I must wrap myself in the skins of mortality, as one miserable and condemned to die. Woe is me! Who will share my sorrow with me? But, Lord and lover of mankind, You have fashioned me from the earth and are clothed in compassion: Call me back from the bondage to the Enemy and save me! (First Sticherion at Lauds, Sunday of the Expulsion of Adam from Paradise)

Like Adam, my life, my will, is not obedient, not loving. I have become a self-referential being and become a slave to my own finitude and mutability. The very dynamism that ought to open me evermore to divine glory, instead now drags me down evermore into a life of shame and degradation. It is this life of self-perpetuating and deepening humiliation is a result not of any withdrawal of divine grace. It is rather a consequence of my withdrawing from divine grace and more and more into myself.

I am forever constructing and reconstructing my view of reality. And with each construction, with each reconstruction, I deviate further from God, my neighbor, creation, and self. It is this that, in the Christian East, that is the real consequence of sin. Death of the body and physical illness are only the symptoms of my spiritual death. And it is from this living death that Christ’s comes to save me.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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