What God would like for man to do is to be a humble receiver of Him. For the reason why the Lord commands us, among other things, to be humble, is to allow Him – the Almighty God – to humble Himself before us. Didn’t Christ say that “you call me a master and a teacher – and that I am – but I have washed your feet… and I have thus given you an example of how you should treat each other”?
…Now isn’t that philokalic? Isn’t that godly humbleness philokalic? What about God’s humbleness, when, as He makes man, Adam, in His image and likeness – so much so, so truly a god, that when it comes to Adam’s freedom, the Almighty Himself steps back…? That is the frightening thing, to man: the fact that God – and most of all, this God that one so often calls out to and appears to be nowhere, like calling into thin air, and does not hear one – this God, who, when He made man in His image and likeness, did it so thoroughly – well, even He respects in man that element of likeness to Him, which is man’s freedom.
And what I was driving at was this: if to perish is still possible for man nowadays, it is precisely in the context of that freedom – as a godly creature that God Almighty honours -, that we can still refuse [to perish]. And what we see throughout history very often is people’s refusal of God, to the point where Christ said that: “if I had not come and they had not seen things that no one else has done, they would have no fault; but now…” – listen to that terrible comment: “…now they have seen and they have hated – both my Father and Myself”.
As we stand in the midst of our freedom, it is these types of things that we should avoid. The Philokalic culture is about how we can use our freedom to save ourselves. Because if we have the power, in our freedom, to reject Him and cast Him off, we have all the more power to become like the Almighty, who stands as a command to us: the command to become like Him.
Another thought I had on freedom, regarding this rapport between God and man… Speaking of God’s commands – we call them “commands” because on the one hand, they are the ultimate authority: it is God Himself Who speaks through them. On the other hand, if we actually lived according to that English saying I was mentioning earlier (“Your wish is my command”), our love could not but receive God’s smallest wish as a command.
When the angel comes to the Mother of God and tells her that “you will be the one who will bear the Son of God, Who will become the Son of Man, through you” (I’m paraphrasing, you know [the part in the New Testament] I mean), after she considers the angelic visit carefully, to determine whether it is truly an angel or a deception, and realizes it is an angel from God, she says: “Here is the handmaiden of God. May Your will be done”. Now, that is the reaction I am talking about: if the word is from God, if it is a godly word, then it is my command.
I would like to end this by pointing out another aspect related to what we call God’s commands. I have stated that God’s command is in fact a revelation of the godly life. As I was saying earlier, if God tells us: “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones”, it means that God Himself does not look down upon one; similarly, if God tells us: “Do not judge”, it means that He does not judge… Christ Himself tells us that somewhere: “I have not come to judge the world; I have come so that the world can save itself through Me”. At this point I feel like adding, in this philokalic spirit of God’s love: of course He can judge us. Yet God is not a judge as are the judges sitting in our earthly courts. In our prayers, we speak of the “un-bribable Judge” – that means that we cannot pay Him a bribe, because He knows everything and He can do everything; there is no way we can deceive Him.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us not be fooled… the “bribe” has already been paid. The “bribe” is the Judge; His Blood is the bribe with which He “deceives” Himself into saving us, due to His great love, in spite of it all.
That is why it is a shame – and a sin – to deprive ourselves of such a God. Speaking of sin, I would like to add that we must not understand sin objectively – as an object or as an unfulfillment, or a violation of a convention. To the Christian conscience, sin is always something that hurts Love. If God did not love us, whatever we would do wrong would not be a sin, but an unfulfillment at most.
But let’s return to God’s command, through which He wants to make us resemble Him completely. Please forgive me here, as I must go back to what I was saying in the beginning – when God made man, He said: “let us make man in Our image and likeness”.
We have two things here: “image” and “likeness”. The “image” is something that has been imprinted in our nature: that is the difference between man and the other beasts, as otherwise, biologically speaking, we would be just a beast like all beasts; perhaps more intelligent or more who knows how. But the real difference between man and beasts is that somewhere within him, man carries God’s image, which manifests itself in various ways, of which reason is the most apparent; but above all, this “image” has a potential that all the other animals like us do not have: the potential for theosis.
What does theosis mean? It means to build or acquire that likeness and – as Fr. Sophrony* used to say, as well as the entire Philokaly, for that matter – to do that up to the point where one becomes identical to God.
Through the godly commandments, man becomes a god that resembles his Maker, up to the point of complete identity to Him. Now, was Fr. Sophrony that “bold”, to think like that…? Well, of course that the fact that man is a creature and God is uncreated remains valid – this is something that man will never be able to share with God; we will never be uncreated. That godly condition is not ours.
But as created beings – Fr. Sophrony used to say – we become as if we were without beginning, because the life which lives inside the saved man is the godly Life, which is not only endless, but also without beginning… So that is how far we go in becoming identical to God…! As, although we remain created beings, we become as if we were uncreated. And we achieve that by fulfilling God’s commands.
Excerpt from a conference by Fr. Rafail Noica, entitled “What Does the Philokaly Prepares Us for?”, held in Bucharest, Nov. 19, 2002
*Father Sophrony Sakharov of Essex