REVEALING “THE MYSTERY OF THE WAY TO SALVATION:” St. Sophrony

From his book: His Life is Mine, chapter 2: The Risk in Creation

Imagine setting a trapped bird free. You nurtured it when it was wounded. You know that it would be safe from predators if he remained under your control and in the safety of the little cage you bought for it. Yet because you have come to love it, you know that his life, confined in your home, would be limited. Even though you know that your bird may never again return to your home or, worse, may be eaten by a predator, you still want to free it from a life of confinement and stifling predictability. This is why you choose to put his life’s choices in his own hands. It is a risk you are willing to take out of love.

Sophrony finds that there was also a risk for God in his creation. It was not that the universe risked instability or harm. It was that the gift of “godlike freedom” of choice which He granted us “shut the door to predestination of any form” and made man’s decisions and behavior unpredictable.  Man was now free to choose evil over good and to even decide not to return God’s love. 

Allowing us this freedom and enabling us to participate in His nature, are among the most compelling indicators of His love for us, which Sophrony is inspired to express in a veritable love poem.

He loves us in spite of our senseless behavior. He calls to us, is always ready to respond to our cries for help and guide our fragile steps through all the obstacles that lie in our path. He respects us as on a par with Him. His ultimate idea for us is to see us in eternity verily his equals, his friends, and brothers, the sons of the Father…

While man can abandon God, God cannot abandon the being He created. “He lives with us our human tragedy,” Sophrony writes.

THE PATH UPWARDS: THE CHOICE WE ARE MEANT TO MAKE

God’s risk is rooted in the true nature He endowed us with. We come into the world as unformed potential, endowed with the capabilities for fulfilling it and, at the same time, with the freedom of choice to reject it.

We are meant to accept our gift of freedom and fulfill our potential through a path of constant growth and ascent toward Him. Our choice to go against our nature and squander God’s magnificent gift is what Sophrony calls our human tragedy.

Actualizing this potential is not as painless as, say, a meditation exercise or artificially induced ecstatic experience. It is a process of inner transformation that, Sophrony notes, involves pain and suffering. In the Christian framework of salvation, pain and suffering also serve to motivate our growth and help us actualize our potential.

If all our needs were automatically met so that we never suffered deprivation, pain or discomfort, we would have no motivation to hone our skills for spiritual welfare, grow, change, seek, feel compassion and experience true love.  If we were already perfect, we would not experience longing for perfection or undertake the hard journey toward it.

…suffering discloses to his contemplative mind both his own imperfection and that of the world around him. This forces him to recognize the necessity for a new form of creative effort to perfect life in all its manifestations.

THE REALM BEYOND HUMAN INTELLIGENCE: SCIENCE AND RELIGION:

In undertaking the journey to perfection through union to God, we cannot rely on science and intelligence alone.

Sophrony does not disparage science. Neither does he imply that science and religion are mutually exclusive. He simply presents and compares the various types and levels of knowledge.

Since science deals with measurable facts, its purview is limited to “only where the laws of nature prevail absolutely,” he says. Yet not everything in the world is measurable and predictable, such as the Primordial Being and the actions and decisions of the “free, non-determined” beings which He created.

We know that Primordial Being lies outside the preserves of science, which can tell us nothing even of the meaning of our existence.

Our relationship with God is personal and cannot be quantified. Additionally, His presence within us cannot be willed, predicted or scientifically proven. It is manifested rather than simply understood theoretically: 

When the Holy Spirit by taking up his abode in us accords us to live the love commanded of us by Christ, we know in our bones that this is the only normal state for our immortal spirit; that in this state we comprehend the divine universality of Christ and his precepts. This is the Truth, the like of which leaves no room for doubt in heart or mind.

THE GIFT OF PARTICIPATION

Our God-given potential is realized by accepting God’s invitation to participate in His nature. The journey toward Him is mystical, personal and subject to His grace. Our understanding increases with each step of the journey– not by absorbing new facts and theories but by experiencing the “rapture” that contact with Him generates.

With him our path lies through a great and intricate spiritual culture: we traverse cosmic chasms more often with much suffering but not seldom in rapture as understanding increases.

We are not meant for stasis, isolation, and alienation. Accepting God’s invitation to be one with Him is not a solitary journey. It involves a personal relationship with Him that will allow us to share his nature and, through it, our salvation.

…in him lies our immortality; in him we shall arrive at everlasting Truth. He will grant us the indescribable joy of sharing in the very act of the divine creation of the world.

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