St. Maximos’ writings penetrate the depths of our lifelong journey toward theosis. But what do our transformed lives look and feel like in our everyday lives? How might we perceive and be impacted by a saint? Eminent theologian, Dumitru Staniloae, poses that question in this short book Prayer and Holiness:
How does this renewed humanity show itself in practice, he asks?
To answer it in the first part of the book, Tenderness and Holiness, he illustrates the characteristics of a true saint. These include:
Spiritual alertness and full presence; respect and compassion vs. indifference
There is nothing that a saint is indifferent to and that does not touch his heart. “His consideration extends even to animals and to things, because in every creature he sees a gift of God’s love and does not wish to wound that love with negligence and indifference.”
Instead of being solitary or static, a saint is in continuous communion with every aspect of God’s creation. Nothing is boring, worthless, hateful or insignificant to him because “he has respect for each man and for each thing.”
His respect and compassion reveal what Staniloae calls a “higher form of tenderness.” In the place of sentimentality or affection only for one’s loved ones, the saint has a deep connection with all creatures and things, and genuine respect for each.
“The model of this tenderness,” Staniloae tells us, “is the kenosis, the self-condescension, of Christ.” Rid of passions, free of personal agendas, jealousy and judgment, we are able to listen to, and care for, others without distractions or reservations, and fully give of ourselves like Christ. We thus acquire sensitivity and true insight:
…the saints can see the most secret states of soul in others. For he is able to discern in others a scarcely articulated need, the whole of their capacity to desire what is good.
One of our most painful of human tragedies is forgetting our true selves and mistaking who we want others to see us as, for we who we are authentically. Staniloae recalls St. Maximos’ discussions on “simplicity” – a state achieved through theosis and characterized by the absence of warring dualities and contradictions. The saints, he says, have also “passed beyond the struggle between soul and body, between good intentions and work performed between deceitful appearances and hidden thoughts, between what they pretend to be and what they actually are. They have become simple because they have given themselves entirely to God.””
Through kenosis and simplicity, the saint is able to enter into “a higher form of relationship” with others. “He creates the conditions for a direct, candid and open relationship between himself and others,” because his goal is not to control or embarrass them but to serve as confidant; to help us achieve the insights and remedies that will result in salvation.
He will give you, as you well know, the diagnosis and effective remedy of an illness which you vaguely sense to be a mortal one.
Because “he makes the person of Christ real for you in his gentleness and strength,” he guides and inspires us through his example and ability to help us uncover our true nature.
In all these qualities is shown forth in an eminent degree the full capacity of human nature
Certainly, the need for meeting one’s potential is almost a mantra today. Staniloae’s saint, however, is not concerned with our potential for realizing our artistic or professional talents, achieving recognition and possessing material things or status. Instead, he helps us uncover the true capabilities God embedded in our nature– such as those for love, hope, inner peace, redemption, compassion, union with God– and the path for fulfilling them.
Freed from duality the saint integrates seeming contradictions, becoming a foundation of stability unto eternity:
He is rooted in the stability of the love and suffering of God incarnate…triumphed over time while living intensely in time.