When Abraham left the land of the Chaldeans on his way to the promised land, he stopped at Haran, which was the midway point. In this section, St. Maximos refers to Haran as the symbolic midway point in our spiritual journey, “the intermediate state between virtue and vice – a state not yet purified from the delusion of the senses.”
How many of us find ourselves in some way or another in that midway state; between and betwixt? Not totally lacking in faith but not totally committed to it either; admiring the principles yet unwilling to practice them; loving yet not giving ourselves fully to love without judgment and control; understanding our blessings but not fully experiencing them in the moment.
At the midway point, we have succeeded in leaving behind the “land of the Chaldeans” and so have made some progress.
“He who still satisfies the impassioned appetites of the flesh dwells in the land of the Chaldeans as a maker and worshipper of idols. But when he has begun to discern what the situation is and has gained some insight into the mode of life which nature demands, he leaves the land of the Chaldeans and comes to Haran in Mesopotamia (cf. Gen. 11:31).
But while stuck at the midway point, our imperfection and ambiguity limits and diminishes our view of Christ
As long as I remain imperfect and refractory, neither obeying God by practicing the commandments nor becoming perfect in spiritual knowledge, Christ from my point of view also appears imperfect and refractory because of me.: For I diminish and cripple Him by not growing in spirit with Him, since I am ‘the body of Christ and one of its members’ (1 Cor. 12:27).
To him who is not satisfied with the midway point; who wants to go “beyond that moderate understanding of goodness which he has attained through the senses” and “hasten towards the blessed land, that is, to the state free from all sin and ignorance…” St. Maximos gives practical advice and holds out hope.
How do we get to the blessed land?
- Not by looking for knowledge or validation outside ourselves but by looking inside.
“Those who seek the Lord should not look for Him outside themselves; on the contrary, they must seek Him within themselves through faith made manifest in action.”
- By practicing the virtues. And, while sounding simple, this practice is neither as easy as following humdrum routines nor a rush of excitement, such as engaging in stimulating discourses of theology. It involves the difficult, dogged askesis of good; going against the grain of our habits, desires and, often, social norms.
- By following gradual steps, which St. Maximos lays out: “The first by means of practice trains the flesh in virtue, the second illuminates the intellect so that it chooses above all else companionship with wisdom; and through wisdom it destroys the strongholds of evil and pulls down ‘all the self-esteem that exalts itself against the knowledge of God’ (2 Cor. 10:5).”
- By renewing our efforts at spiritual warfare each and every day; and, by “keeping the Sun of righteousness from setting [inside us] throughout the whole day.”
Hope comes in the knowledge that Christ is not static. “The Logos of God adapts Himself according to each person’s strength.” He “appears sometimes as risen and sometimes as set, depending on the manner of life and the spiritual status and essence or quality of those pursuing virtue and searching for divine knowledge.”
Just as we fall, repent and become renewed, Christ was crucified, died and was resurrected, not only in historical time but in the present, appearing to us “according to the state we are in.”
Christ is always crucified and resurrected and appears to us If we are imperfect, he appears to us imperfect as well.
If for our sakes the Logos of God ‘died on the Cross in weakness’ and was raised ‘by the power of God’ (2 Cor.13:4), then in a spiritual sense He is always doing and suffering this on our account, becoming all things to all men so that He might save all men (cf. 1 Cor. 9:22).
The movement from darkness to illumination and union to God is both historic and present; eternal and continuous; ceaselessly manifested by Christ to different individuals and in various circumstances.
…the Logos appears sometimes as risen and sometimes as set, depending on the manner of life and the spiritual status and essence or quality of those pursuing virtue and searching for divine knowledge.
There is no end to the movement of continuous ascension. Even the new testament is not a historical end point but a harbinger of the future, “leading our souls forward:”
Just as the teachings of the Law and the prophets, being harbingers of the coming advent of the Logos in the flesh, guide our souls to Christ (cf. Gal. 3:24), so the glorified incarnate Logos of God is Himself a harbinger of His spiritual advent, leading our souls forward by His own teachings to receive His divine and manifest advent.
And this is the most reassuring manifestation of hope, constantly leaving open the possibility of becoming unstuck from the midway point and heading to the blessed land.