Inviting God to Build an Abode in our Souls: St Maximos the Confessor

Various Texts on Theology, the Divine Economy, and Virtue and Vice, Fourth Century, #51-63

In these pages, St. Maximos expounds on the synergistic and dynamic nature of salvation.

God is infinite, limitless and eternal, he tells us, and yet he is not equally present in each one of us. Why? Because salvation is not one-dimensional—the result of God’s will alone, regardless of our spiritual disposition and actions. Instead it requires our own active participation. In short, it requires a two-way relationship.

This continuously cooperative relationship between God and man engages us as individual and whole persons: “But, although God pervades all things absolutely, not all will participate in Him equally: they will participate in Him according to what they are.”

In this way our entire personhood in our relationship with God is affirmed.

The key question that remains to be asked is this:

If a person refuses to allow God, the abode of all who are saved and source of their well-being, to sustain his life and to assure his well-being, what will become of him?

The stakes are high. Without God’s presence within us, we cannot achieve “the divine life that is beyond age, time and place…”

St. Maximos underscores the urgency of the situation and why inaction is not a choice:

If a person’s will is not directed towards what is good, it is inevitably directed towards evil; for it cannot be stationary with regard to both.

As always St. Maximos is quite clear in laying out for us practical solutions and elucidating the process and meaning of synergy. He applies the path of salvation equally to both men and angels.

Accordingly, active participation in God requires:

  • A complete re-orientation of mind and heart
  • A shift from the world of material things and passions to the “justice” that God instilled in our very nature
  • Openness and receptivity so that we are “actively receptive to the inner principles of nature in a way that accords with the universal principle of well-being…”
  •  Most importantly, synergy between our will and God’s will.

Those involved in drastic organizational change know that, regardless of what else may change within an organization, there will be no real transformation unless there is a dramatic re-orientation of individuals’ mindset, direction and disposition. It is interesting that St. Maximos bases our ability to participate in God on our ability for personal transformation; re-orientation of our nature, priorities and disposition.

It is worth remembering at this point the difference between the common understanding of “nature,” as lack of restraint, abandonment to passions and impulses, and the patristic definition. In patristic writings, nature refers to the principles and order of things that God created.

Hardened by passions that have become habits, preoccupations with material things and forgetfulness of true virtue, we have lost sight of our original nature and, hence, the true distinction between good and evil and the essence of righteousness—the “natural justice” that exists in our “disposition.”

We have “been actively disruptive of the inner principles of nature in a way that conflicts with the universal principle of well-being.”   In doing so, we have covered our true nature and live a lie.

In other words, participation in God does not involve “addition” – becoming more or other than what we are. Instead it involves the peeling of the layers of falsehood we have wrapped around our souls in order to uncover our true selves.

It is our inner orientation, our disposition, that will determine the degree of our openness or resistance to God. It is on the basis of our overall disposition, rather than our actions alone, that we will be judged.

The scales on which the disposition of each being, whether angel or man, will be weighed at the last judgment is the principle of nature, which shows clearly whether that angel or man inclines towards well-being or its opposite… Those who in all things have failed to maintain a natural justice in their disposition, and have will lapse completely from divine life

Are we performing good deeds that are perfunctory while our heads are bowed to the ground and away from the sun or are our actions, bodies and souls completely turned toward the sun like sunflowers?

Unless we are wholly and utterly oriented toward God, our will be constantly in conflict with His will. Our souls will be in constant anxiety and turmoil as we will be fighting against our true nature. We will be leading inauthentic lives, exhausted from the pursuit of material solutions to our deceases of the soul.

With his incarnation, Christ gave us an example of perfect synergy between God and man and a tangible manifestation of his love for us. His two natures—divine and human—are distinct and yet united in one person.

Ultimately, St. Maximos tells us, we achieve salvation through belief rather than theology. And it is belief that generates hope and love

Nothing is swifter than believing, and nothing is easier than to confess orally the grace that comes from what has been believed. It is his belief that reveals the believer’s living love for his Creator; it is his confession of the grace received that reveals his godly affection for his neighbor. Love and genuine affection – that is, faith and a clear conscience – are clearly the result of a hidden impulse of the heart; for the heart is fully able to generate without using external matter.

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