The Tragedy of Man: St. Sophrony

From his book: His Life is Mine, chapter #4

For Sophrony, the true tragedy of man lies beyond physical suffering, natural disasters, or economic injustice. “The tragedy of our times,” he says, “lies in our almost complete unawareness, or mindfulness, that there are two kingdoms, the temporal, and the eternal.

If our world is limited to only what we can see and feel through our senses, it will close in on us sooner or later. Without an eternal perspective, things like a job promotion, having the last word in an argument, finding the right answer to a perceived insult or the proper house and social status become all-consuming preoccupations. They clutter our lives leaving no space for God and no sense of inner peace.  We become frantic and exhausted as we run through life checking items off our list. Sophrony mourns the loss of the kingdom and our unfulfilled potential.

Adam lost the kingdom for all of us through his disobedience to God. Sophrony sees the dynamics as well beyond disobedience and punishment.

It is not that God and Adam had different plans for mankind. It is that Adam wanted to achieve them on his own, without God. In the end, his longing was not for God but, as Sophrony puts it, for “self-divinization.”

His sin was to doubt God, to seek to determine his own life in independently of God, even apart from him …. Herein lies the essence of Adam’s sin—it was a movement toward self-divinization…he sinned in seeking this divinization not through unity with God, but through rupture.

Sophrony believes that the “seeds of tragedy” are sown when a man is “captivated by some ideal.”  He is not suggesting abandoning all goals or ideals. Instead, he admonishes us not to use them as substitutes for God.

When we become self-divinized, we fill the holes in our heart—emptiness, loneliness, unrequited desire, fear, longing—with substitutes of our own choice.

We may be completely consumed by efforts at career advancement, a political or humanitarian cause, an idea or artistic creation, to such an extent that there is no lomger room left for intimate, personalized relationships with God, family or friends.

“Self-divinization” is a gradual process of substitution and forgetfulness of the things that most matter. The longing for God is replaced with the search for causes and ideals which, often, aim at self-glorification rather than union with God. This is our tragedy, according to Sophrony.

Sophrony makes an important and startling distinction between the tragedy of self-divination and suffering. His definition of tragedy is a state that “can be found solely in the fortunes of the man whose gaze has not gone beyond the confines of this earth. He applies this definition to Christ’s suffering and concludes:

Christ himself by no means is tragedy…. He lived the tragedy of all mankind; but in himself there was no tragedy.

We live in an age in which avoidance of pain and suffering is considered the path to happiness and fulfillment. We guard ourselves from pain and suffering at all costs. Everything around us—products, philosophies, therapies, services, marketing slogans—promise ease, convenience, pleasure and the elimination of all hassles and pains.

We have, thus, lost the capacity of gratitude and humility because we now consider happiness, pleasure and convenience our birthright. We become infuriated when unpredictable events interfere with our “right” to a hassle-free and happy life and blame others for them. This is what Sophrony would call the tragedy of self-divination and of paradise lost.

For Sophrony, the greatest of evils is not suffering but emptiness and despair. He quotes Matthew:

Fear not them which kill the body but are not able to kill the soul. (Mt 10.28)

Commitment to self-made ideals, no matter how noble, will not unite us with God and broaden our perspective beyond the realm of the physical and visible.

This is how it is with the Christians: for all his deep compassion, his tears and prayers for the world, there is none of the despair that destroys.

It is when “the prayer of divine love becomes our very being, our body” that  will allows us to rise above physical life and participate in God.

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