(His Life is Mine, chapter #5)
“True contemplation,” Sophrony tells us, “begins the moment we become aware of sin.”
This awareness, along with the choice to repent, is essential to our understanding of who we truly are and our ability to participate in God’s nature.
It is important to first understand Sophrony’s concept of sin. The conventional way of defining sin is in terms of transgression of a set of rules. Sin, in this broad conceptual framework, seems largely removed from our daily lives. After all, as long as we do not kill, steal or disrespect our parents we should be fine with God.
Yet the true, Christian definition of sin is far from a mere violation of regulations. It refers to our submission to the thoughts, habits or actions that put a distance between us and God.
Sophrony, like Alexander Schmemann, adopts a more psychological approach to delve into the soul of man and casts sin in a context that resonates with our times. This means that we are now shifting from the external to the internal, and from flagrant violations to the state of the “inner man.”
The New Testament transferred the concept of sin to the inner man.
We are alert to the nuances of thought, feeling and action that do not appear, in themselves, to be sinful. This makes it harder to identify. As the seemingly innocent slips — moments of laziness, control, indifference, a sense of entitlement, jealousy, daily small indulgences and justifications—take hold of us, they turn to obsessions and are, eventually, crystallized into habits that take control of our lives. Over time, God is no longer present within us, and we become prey to fear, despair, hatred, anger and isolation.
While most sins start innocently and imperceptibly, without identifying and stopping them, they become avalanches we can no longer control.
This is why, contemplating sin involves daily examination of any sickness of the soul, no matter how it is manifested. We thus become spiritually aware and live in the presence of God.
…we know where we stand spiritually at the particular moment.
Contemplation, Sophrony tells us is quite different from intellectual or philosophical contemplation. This is because contemplation goes beyond theoretical understanding to an existential experience.
Sin is not merely a legalistic concept but an experience of pain and loss as we become cut off from the love and light of God.
We become acutely conscious of sin as a sundering of the ontological sense of our being.
The dismayand devastation we experience,” Sophrony tells us, “is so large that it brings repentance.”
Though contemplation of sin and repentance involve pain and fear, they are also our opportunities for renewal. We experience exultation as we “enter into the domain of divine eternity.”
In fact, it is contemplation and repentance, and a personal relationship with God, that enable us to fulfill our potential and find our authentic selves.
An exquisite flower unfolds within us: the hypostasis—persona. …The persona transcends earthly bounds and moves in other fears.
It is not the lack of perfection that dooms us, then, but the lack of contemplation and repentance.
Only sin can stifle the divine breath within us.
Paradoxically, sin also becomes the springboard to renewal and deification when it brings about repentance. It is through repentance that we rise to our hypostasis and can participate in God’s nature.
Through contemplation we travel from external to internal, from “appearance” to the heart.
Persona “is the hidden man of the heart in that which is not corruptible… (1 Pet. 3.4)
Without contemplation we are a collection of fragments that do not coalesce or connect with God. With contemplation and repentance, we become whole and unite with God.
Man as hypostasis is a principle uniting the plurality of cosmic being; capable of containing the fulness of divine and human life.
This divine revelation is “startingly authentic,” and occurs on a palpable, existential level. We experience a transformation as grace is increased within us and freedom from the tyranny of attachments and obsessions.
With repentance and the consequent increase of grace within us, the reality of the Divine World preponderates over the visible cosmos. We contemplate the First Reality