Ceaseless Motion and Growth
It seems ironic now that, in my early teens, I saw Christianity as static and one dimensional—a list of arbitrary and rigid rules and rituals, unlike modern thought, like Existentialism that, I believed, celebrated ambiguity, freedom and constant change. So, I left the Church. It was decades later when I realized that modern concepts of change and disruption paled before the fundamental Christian premise of living life as a journey of constant transformation and upward ascent.
St. Maximos’ writings on theology use parallelisms and rich metaphors to Illustrate the need for constant upward movement for man to achieve union with God and reach his God-given potential.
“The Logos of God,” we are told “is like a grain of mustard seed (cf. Matt. 13:31): before cultivation it looks extremely small, but when; cultivated in the right way it grows so large that the highest principles of both sensible and intelligible creation come like birds to revive themselves in it.”
The ascent upward follows the 3 conventional stages of spiritual growth–purification, illumination and glorification—which St. Maximos portrays in numerous variations and dimensions.
He first brings up the 3 tabernacles that Peter thought they should be built for those who appeared with Christ during his Transfiguration. He interprets them as tabernacles built within ourselves that encompass the stages of our journey, representing:
… three stages of salvation, namely that of virtue, that of spiritual knowledge and that of theology. The first requires fortitude and self-restraint in the practice of the virtues: of this the type was Elijah. The second requires right discernment in natural contemplation: Moses disclosed this in his own person. The third requires the consummate perfection of wisdom: this was revealed by the Lord.
He uses prayer as another metaphor and manifestation of the 3 stages of ascent:
He who prays must never stand still on the steep ascent that leads to God. just as he has to progress upwards from strength to strength in the practice of the virtues (cf. Ps. 84:5-7) and to rise in his contemplation of spiritual truths from glory to glory (cf. 2 Cor. 3:18), and to pass from the letter to the spirit of Holy Scripture, so he must advance in a similar manner within the realm of prayer.
As Christians, we are travelers, eager seekers, spiritual athletes and warriors of Christ who must never succumb to sloth, laziness, despair, indifference or material comfort and stand still.
However, unlike the restless, directionless exploration of various philosophical movements, our ascent to Christ and transformations have a purpose and occur against the immovable perfection and stability of God which, though unchangeable, embraces change and diversity.
If a man seeks spiritual knowledge, let him plant the foundations of his soul immovably before the Lord…
The whole Logos of God is neither diffuse nor prolix but is a unity embracing a diversity of principles, each of which is an aspect of the Logos.
Another aspect of the concept of constant movement and change is flexibility; the individualized nature of the journey. No size fits all.
But it should be realized that there are differences among those who stand before the Lord…It is therefore possible for the same Lord not to appear in the same way to all who stand before Him, but to appear to some in one way and to others in another way, according to the measure of each person’s faith.
.,.the Logos of God is transfigured to the degree to which each has advanced in holiness…
Ascending through a Life of Virtue
To move from one stage to the next is not just a matter of increasing intellectual complexity or erudition but practical, virtuous action—doggedly and patiently replacing bad habits with good ones.
He who diligently cultivates the seed by practicing the virtues moves the mountain of earth-bound pride and, through the power he has gained, he expels from himself the obdurate habit of sin.
It sounds simple enough to read but just think about the implications of practice. In our professional and personal lives, competing with rivals, indulging in harmless gossip, maneuvering smartly to rise in an organization, positioning ourselves to look stronger and smarter than peers, etc. are simply ways of life we do not associate with “sin.” This is why St. Maximos suggests what modern behavioral therapists understood centuries later—changing habitual behaviors and replacing them with new ones.
Hope & Inspiration
St. Maximos gives us encouragement by holding up for us a picture that makes the rewards of a life of virtue palpable and concrete:
When the Logos of God becomes manifest and radiant in us, and His face shines like the sun, then His clothes will also look white (cf. Matt. 17:2). That is to say, the words of the Gospels will then be clear and distinct with nothing concealed. And Moses said Elijah – the more-spiritual principles of the Law and the prophets – will also be present with Him
He ends this session with a message of boundless hope.
Though we can never penetrate God’s depth if we “penetrate His depth even slightly we shall contemplate what is more holy than the holy and more spiritual than the spiritual.”
God has endowed us with the means to take this arduous journey because:
The fullness of the Godhead dwells in us by grace when we gather into ourselves all virtue and wisdom, a wisdom which, so far as this is possible in man, does not in any way fall short of a faithful imitation of the divine archetype.
And God showed us the way by becoming man and, while still in human form, transcending human nature
The Logos of God providentially descended for our sakes into the lower parts of the earth, and also ascended far above all the heavens (cf. Eph. 4:9-10), even though by nature He is entirely unmoving.
This is why it is possible for us to reach our full, God-given potential that St. Maximos describes:
He (man) must raise his intellect and the resolve of his soul from what is human to what is divine, so that his intellect can follow Jesus the Son of God, who has passed through the heavens (cf. Heb. 4:14) and who is everywhere.