Living The Faith

The Mind of Christ
By Fr. Panagiotes Carras

There are times when darkness seems to be more suitable than light to the eyes.   Certain diseases or medications can cause light to seem unbearable and darkness comfortable.   This also is the case with the light of the Gospel.   Just as light has no affect on the blind person and causes pain and discomfort to  those  whose  eyes cannot bear the light,  in the same way,  the words of our Lord will  remain unnoticed by some or appear painful to others.

As parents who desire to impart the light of the Word of  God upon the souls of our children,  we have to bear the above facts  in mind and act accordingly. Instruction in the Orthodox Faith cannot follow the methods of worldly instruction.  Formal education imparts knowledge with the purpose of making the student able to store and analyze information.   Therefore, the more that is learned and the more analytical a person becomes, the more it is said that he is educated.   Instruction in the Faith does not so much impart information as it strives to form the mind of Christ (I Cor. 2:16)within the soul of those who are being instructed.
Since the purpose of spiritual education is so different, in the same way the method is also different.   What do we mean when we say that the purpose of Christian education is the formation of the mind of Christ?  These words of St. John Chrysostom illustrate the difference:
For such is the nature of our Mysteries.   I, for instance, feel differently upon  these subjects  than  an unbeliever.
I hear, 'Christ was crucified'; and forthwith I admire His loving-kindness unto men: the other hears and esteems it weakness.
I hear, 'He became a servant'; and I wonder at His care for us: the other hears and counts it dishonor.
I hear,  'He died'; and I am astonished at  His  might,  that  being in death He was not holden, but even broke  the  bonds of  death:  the other hears and surmises  it  to  be helplessness.
He hearing of the resurrection, saith, the thing is a legend; I aware of the facts which demonstrate it, fall down and worship the dispensation of God.
He hearing of a laver, counts it merely as water: but I behold not simply the thing which is seen, but the purification of the soul which is by the Spirit.  He considers only that my body hath been washed; but I have believed that the soul also hath become both pure and holy (Homilies on Corinthians, Homily 7, paragraph 2).

The purpose of spiritual education leads us to understand that the method of instruction is also different than the method used for worldly instruction.  The holy Prophet Isaiah proclaimed, He hath added unto me an ear to hear (Is. 1:4).  It is also to this additional ear that our Lord referred when He said, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear (Math. 11:15).  What is this ear but the gift of the Holy Spirit, which must precede instruction.  It is for this reason that the Church as a whole prays for Catechumens, and in particular, the Service for Catechumens is performed at the very beginning of education in the Faith.

In short, Christian education can never be separated from prayer, especially the Divine Liturgy.  During the Divine Liturgy, as St. Maximus the Confessor teaches us, each person is transformed, remolded and remodelled into a more divine image, conformed to the Spirit Himself (St.  Maximus Mystagogia, 24).  It is during prayer when we come to know the presence of God, come to know and love our Lord, that then and only then will the historical facts of Holy Scripture have any meaning for us.

The purpose of Christian education is the fashioning of the soul and this requires great diligence.  St. John Chrysostom, in his instructions to parents, likens the soul of a child to a city.  The child's soul then is a city and even as in a city some are thieves and some are honest men , so it is with the thoughts and reasonings of the soul (On the Right Way for Parents to Bring Up Their Children, p.23).  The struggle between the various inclinations of the soul is the struggle between self-love (pride and sensuality) and the striving to become one with Christ (Gal. 2:20).  In this struggle to fashion the soul, Christian education seeks to diminish the strength of self-love and to enhance the desire to become Christ-like.

Christian education, without a doubt, must start from the moment the child is born.  Just as the child depends upon his mother for physical nourishment, in the same way he requires spiritual nourishment.  From the moment the mother receives the infant in her arms, she should seal him with the sign of the Cross just as she seals herself.  In this way the child is not only receiving a blessing from his mother, but also instruction.  It is elementary instruction in prayer and demonstrates that every deed of a Christian should be sealed with the sign of the Cross.  The environment is part of a Christian education and the infant is receiving. instruction much in the same way as one who goes to a perfumery, even if he buys nothing, partakes of the pleasant odour (Sayings of the Desert Fathers).  When the mother prays in front of the family ikon-corner, she should have her newborn infant in her arms.  This prayerful environment filled with the Grace of God, is the Perfumery and the child partakes of the fragrance of prayer.

Bearing the above in mind, we see that Christian education can not be confined solely to the Church School, but is a life-long practice that should start from the moment the child is born.  When the mother or father prays with the infant and blesses the child with a cross, an ikon, a piece of cotton that has touched a holy relic or has been dipped into a vigil lamp, not only is a blessing being imparted, but the child's soul is being instructed in the Faith.  The educational value of liturgical acts as simple as a parent's blessing cannot be underestimated.  Liturgical acts play a significant part in bringing the soul to God-knowledge, which, after all, is the goal of Christian education.

In the process of forming the mind of Christ within the soul, Christian education has a dual role.  It must combat the soul's inclination to follow the promptings of the devil and lead the soul to knowledge and union with God.  Liturgical acts operate precisely in this manner.  Physical images act as a fuel to the various inclinations of the soul.  It is for this reason that our Lord has ordained public witnessing of the Faith so evident in Gospels and in the lives of the Saints.

The image of martyr joyously accepting torments or an ascetic perched on top of a column, immune to the ravages of the elements, has led countless souls to God-knowledge.  These images reflect the Face of our Lord and the beholder sees God.  These are all ikons of our Lord.  We must realize that, just as there are ikons of Christ, there are also ikons of the anti-Christ which lead the soul to know the father of all evil, the devil.  The ikons of our Lord negate the power of the ikons of the anti-Christ and it follows to reason that Christian education should strive to surround the Christian soul with these ikons of our Lord and in this way drown Pharoah in the Red Sea.

Christian education appears to have two fields of endeavor, but, in essence, the goal is one: the formation of the Mind of Christ.  Through the fall of our forefather Adam, our soul has become subject to the machinations of Satan.  Our Lord refers to this satanic activity while pointing out the way to salvation. Satan hath desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat; but I have prayed My Father that your faith fail not (Luke 22:31-32).  These words apply to every person, not just to St. Peter.  St. Macarius of Egypt devoted a beautiful homily to this verse.  The following few words give us an indication of what our Lord meant by sifting as wheat:
The soul is tossed about with shifting thoughts of fear and terror and every kind of commotion; the prince of this world keeps each soul on the waves of all sorts and varieties of pleasures and lust, unless it be begotten of God; as wheat is turned incessantly in the sieve, he keeps men's thoughts rocking about in various directions and shapes and entices them all by worldly lusts and pleasures of the flesh and fears and commotions (Homily V,2).
In our struggles to survive the turmoil with which the devil seeks to possess our soul, Christian education serves not only as a weapon but more importantly as wings.  Our Lord has assured us, I have prayed My Father that your faith fail not.  In these few words we see the Mystery of our salvation described in terms of the blending together of Divine Grace and human faith.  The human element in the Mystery of salvation is the struggle to resist the Devil's sifting and, as we struggle, wings develop that carry us out of Satan's sieve.  It is of these souls that our Lord spoke when He said that they pass from death into life (John 5:20).  This is the rebirth that St. Nicodemus refers to.  The birth and rebirth of a Christian is like that of a caterpillar.  It's first birth produces an ugly, slithering existence; the rebirth, a beautiful butterfly that has wings to carry it on high.  Commenting on this rebirth, St. Macarius points out the Divine and human elements of this Mystery.  By being born of God from above and being privileged to be children of God in truth and efficiency and by having arived, through many conflicts and labours spread over a long time, at a fixed and settled condition of freedom from disturbance and of rest no longer sifted and wave-tossed by unquiet and vain thoughts (Homily V,4).

Christian education seeks to assist the soul to come to love the Lord by surrounding it with impressions that will extinguish the evil inclinations of the soul and give it strength to develop inclinations that will bring it to a rebirth and unite it to the Lord.

At this point I would like to liken these impressions to ikons.  An ikon is not a mere representation of a historical event or an image of a saint, but a vehicle of Grace.  St. John of Damascus elucidates this in a beautiful manner:
Just as something in contact with fire becomes fire not by its own nature but by being united, burned and mingled with fire, so it is also, I say, with the assumed flesh of the Son of God.  By union with His Person, that flesh participates in the Divine Nature and by this communion becomes unchangeable God... The Saints during their earthly lives are filled with the Holy Spirit and when they fulfill their course, the grace of the Holy Spirit does not depart from their souls or their bodies in the tombs, or from their likenesses and holy ikons (On Divine Images, 19).
Chrisitian education makes use not only of the Holy Ikons depicting the Saints and the events that have taken place during the course of the Economy of Salvation but also of other ikons.  I would like to divide these ikons into three types: Verbal Ikons, Liturgical Ikons and Living Ikons.  These ikons, along with the Holy Ikons make up the foundation of Christian education.

Holy Scripture and, in general, the writings of our God-bearing Fathers are vehicles of Grace and instruction.  The words uttered by the Divine Mouth of the Word of God can in no way be confused with words uttered by man.  Just as in the days when our Lord preached the Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven most people could not discern the King of Glory because they were blind to the Divine Nature, in the same way most people are spiritually deaf and cannot discern the Divine Nature of the Word of God.

There is a Mystery in the words of all Scripture and we must never lose sight of the Grace that these words can and do impart upon us.  During the Little Entrance, it is to the Grace of God found in the Holy Gospels that we chant, Come, let us worship and fall down before Christ.  It is also because of this belief that many Godloving Christians in time of need place themselves directly underneath the Holy Gospel Book when it is being read in Church.  If the hem of our Lord's garment could stop the issue of blood in the woman who was ill for many years, and if the shadow of the Apostles (Acts 5:15) could heal the ill, then what of the Words uttered by the Holy Spiritl

The Word of the Lord is not mere sound made by the clattering of the tongue, but is a life-giving seed planted in the fertile hearts of the hearers.  It is for this reason that God ordained the hearing and study of the Word of God as an integral part of the spiritual life of old Israel.  The children of God, in their daily prayers, foresaw the Resurrection of our Lord and would sing, Arise, 0 Lord, help us and redeem us (Psalm 43:26).  This is so because in tie same Psalm, the first Pascha is used by the Prophet to point to the Pascha of our Lord.  O God, we have heard with our ears, our fathers have told us, the work which thou wroughtest in their days (Psalm 43:1).  The liberation of the children of old Israel from the bondage to old Pharoah was constantly in their memory (Exodus 13:1) inspiring them with hope in the new Pascha, the Resurrection of our Lord.  The Word of God was Manna that nourished the children of the Old Testament.

Holy Scripture is, therefore, a Verbal Ikon imparting both Divine Grace and instruction to the hearers and doers of the Word of God.  Throughout the writings of the the Holy Fathers, the Word of God is interwoven with the Acts of God.  This is the Economy of Salvation, God's acting and calling us to react Our response depends on the two-fold nourishment of Grace and instruction.  What are the different Ikons that Holy Scriptures present us with?  St. John Chrysostom describes them: the Poverty of Christ; the meekness of our Master; the long-suffering of our God; the love of our Saviour (On the Psalms, Homily 43,9).  These are the ikons which we find in Holy Scripture.  Not only does Scripture tell us that God is Love, but also makes manifest to us the Love of God, or, in the words of St. John Chrysostom, Christ accredited His words by His deeds (On the Acts, Homily 1).

The concept of Holy Scripture as an Ikon is Apostolic.  St. Irenaeus, following the traditions of the Holy Apostles, likens Holy Scripture to a beautiful mosaic ikon made of precious stones, whichportrays a great king.  He then warns us to beware of heretics who rearrange the precious stones and concoct an image of a dog (Against Heresies I,8:1).   Viewing this ikon, either through hearing or reading, the Chris;ian receives the Grace of the Kingdom of Heaven.  St. John Chrysostom, speaking to the Christians who had come to hear his homily on the Gospel of St. John, reminded them of this fact, We enter Heaven when we enter here: not in place, I mean, but in disposition; for it is possible for one who is on earth to stand in Heaven and to have a vision of the things that are there. (On the Gospel of St. John, Homily 1:10).

What has been said above concerning Holy Scripture is true also about the Scriptures of the Holy Fathers.  For just as the Gospels are a continuation of the Old Testament and the Acts and Epistles a continuation of the Gospels, in the same manner, the writings of the Holy Fathers are a continuation of Holy Scripture.    Is not the Holy Spirit the author of all these writings?  The Holy Spirit, which in the days of old spoke through the Prophets and the Apostles, continued to speak through the Holy Fathers.  Whether we read the Law of Moses or the Prophets, the Gospels or the Epistles, the Holy Scriptures or the Writings of the Fathers, we are presented with the Ikon of Christ.  It is this Ikon which we venerate when we attentively and prayerfully listen to or read all Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16).  It is from this Ikon of Christ that we receive Grace and instruction.

From the earliest days of the Church, the Holy Fathers have spoken of the Divine Liturgy as an Ikon.  St. Dionysius the Areopagite, in his The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, and St. Maximus the Confessor, in his Mystagogia, beautifully instructed us on how the Church's services and especially the Divine Liturgy are an Ikon of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Just as the painted Ikon is a vehicle of God's Grace for the Christian who venerates it, in the same way we are sanctified and enlightened when we participate in the Divine Services of the Church.  The coming together of Christians to pray is a great Mystery.  Truly our Lord is with us as He Himself promises, For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Matthew, 18:20).  This passage is not understood by Orthodox Christians to have a merely symbolical meaning but is clearly proclaiming the Mystery of our Lord's presence at the Christian Gathering (Synaxis).  It is for this reason that a child is brought to Church as soon as is physically possible, baptized and made a member of the Body of Christ and a participant in the gathering of our Lord's brethren.

St. John Chrysostom describes the Christian Synaxis as a Mystery in which all Christians partake: We enter Heaven when we enter here (the Church) ... for it is possible for one who is on earth to stand in Heaven, and to have vision of the things that are there (On the Gospel of St. John, I:10).  In the ikon of the Holy Protection of the Mother of God (Pokrov), which is celebrated on October first, we have this very same teaching iconographically depicted.  The vision of St. Andrew is the Mystery of the Christian Synaxis.  All Christians are partakers of this Mystery and age is not a barrier.  It is because of the Mystery of the Christian Gathering that private prayer is not a substitute.  Christian parents feel the necessity of having their infants present at the Synaxis to receive the Grace of this great Mystery.  This Grace is there in spite of the fact that most of us are not aware of it.  Our Lord and Saviour reveals His Presence to those who are able to accept His Grace.  On the road to Emmaus after our Lord's Resurrection, the disciples Luke and Cleopas walked with our Lord and yet were not aware of His Presence until He revealed Himself  (Luke 24:13-33).

By participating in the Divine Liturgy we are in actuality partaking of the Wedding Feast in the Kingdom of Heaven.  St. Maximus teaches us that our Lord referred to the Divine Liturgy when He said, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it with you in my Father's Kingdom (Matthew 26:29).  Every Holy Temple within which Orthodox Christians gather to worship the Lord is another Mt.  Tabor.  Entering the Holy Temple is like ascending Mt.  Tabor, at the peak of which the holy disciples became partakers of our Lord's Divinity.  It was our Lord's presence that allowed Mt.  Tabor to become the Kingdom of Heaven and those who were to be found on its peak to become inhabitants of the Kingdom.  It is this same Divine Presence which is found in every Orthodox Temple and of which we become partakers, slowly increasing by degree until we receive the fulness of Sonship.

During the Divine Liturgy every act is a vehicle of God's Grace leading us to the fulness of adoption.  It is for this reason that St. Maximus the Confessor admonishes us: Therefore let us not be  absent from the Holy Church of God since it contains through the arrangement of the consecrated Divine Symbols, such an abundance of Mysteries (Mystagogia, 24).  The Little Entrance mysteriously is an Ikon of the coming of our Lord to this world. (Mystagogia, 8) The chanting of the Trisa ion places us among the angels. (Mystagogia, 13) The Great Entrance ushers in the Kingdom of Heaven within which we will drink of the fruit of the vine with our Lord. (Mystagogia, 16) The very hymns have a spiritual delight ... which uplifts our souls to the perfect and blessed love of God  (Mystagogia, 9).

What is it that compelled the Christians who lived and still live under persecutors of the Church to ignore the threat of death and to come together for Divine Liturgy?  Could they not pray at home by
themselves?  The Grace of the Presence of our Lord at the Holy Synaxis made them disdain the threats of the tyrants.  They were aware of our Lord's presence at the Holy Coming Together.  They knew that the Holy Temple is Mt.  Tabor and that by partaking of the Grace of the Holy Services they were being led step by step into the fulness of the Kingdom.

Surrounded by the multitude of Ikons which our Lord and Saviour has given us so that we may be able to be free of the old man and to put on the new man we are offered nourishment and strength to reach our goal.  The formation of the Mind of Christ is greatly aided by surrounding ourselves with the Saints of God, whom we will refer to as Living Ikons.  The elect of God not only intercede on our behalf but also offer themselves to us to support us in our efforts to become Christ-like.  It is for this reason that our Almighty Father has revealed the Saints to us.  Otherwise they could have remained unknown intercessors as in fact the majority of the Saints are.

Let us look at the words of the Apostle Paul who became all things for all men and was even willing to exchange his salvation if only his brethren would be saved.  As we have borne the ikon (image' ot the earthy, we shall also bear the ikon (image) of the Heavenly (I Cor. 15:49).  St. Gregory of Nyssa interprets the verse with the following words: God then, Who is beyond all knowledge and understanding, Who is inexpressable and indescribable, in order to make you the image (ikon) of God again, moved by love for mankind, became the image (ikon) of the invisible God, so that with that very same form which He assumed He would be formed within you; and you again on your behalf become conformed to the impression of the Prototype (On Christian Perfection, VII).  In other words, our Lord and Saviour is the Ikon of Almighty God and we are called to conform to the image of Christ and thus become ikons of the Ikon of God.

St. Gregory illustrates the above by saying, Suppose that we are being trained in the art of portrait painting.  If the instructor were to put before us a beautiful portrait, each one of us would have to reproduce the same beauty in his own painting.  In the same manner, everyone is painting a portrait of his own life.  There is, however, a danger that in copying the original beauty we will produce an ugly and repulsive form (On Christian Perfection, VII).  Evidently what is needed here is more proficiency in technique and in the choice of colours.  Something which can be learned from those who already have reproduced the original beauty upon their earthly canvas, and have become ikons of the Ikon of God.  These instructors are the Saints of our Holy Church.

Throughout the epistles we find St. Paul exhorting us to be imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ (I Cor. 11:1, cf. 1 Cor. 4:16, Eph. 5:1, 1 Th. 1:6, 2:14).  This is not idle bragging but the pleas of a father who desires above all to bring his children to God.  My dear children, with whom I am in labour again until Christ is formed in you (Gal. 4:19).  St. Paul rejoiced in his suffering be because he saw how it drew his brethren closer to God.  The greater number of the brethen, gainina courage from my chains, have dared to speak the word of God, more freely and without fear  (Phil. 1:14).  He knew that through his suffering and example they were becoming partakers of his Grace (Phil. 1:7) and that Christ was being magnified because the brethen were being renewed according to the Ikon of their Creator (Phil. 1:20, Col. 3:10).

The Lives of the Saints give us all an opportunity to learn from those who became ikons of the Ikon or as S't.  Basil says, the lives of the Saints are written up as living ikons of Godly living for us to imitate (Letter 2 - to Gregory).  Our Lord gives us the Saints so that we may be enlightened by their lives and learn from them how to become Christ-like.  Ye are the light of the world ... and it giveth light unto all that are in the house (Math. 5:14-15) St. Gregory of Nyssa comparing St. Ephraim the Syrian to the candle proclaims, The Lord Himself lit as it were this luminous candle which is more brilliant than the sun ... shedding its light to those wandering aimlessly in the world (On St. Ephraim, Migne, P.C. 46:820).

The Live of the Saints are truly a light, a consuming fire which grows as it catches on to different materials and gains increase from what it comes in contact with (St.  John Chrysostom, In Praise of St. Paul, VII).  The Image of the Saint bestows its Grace on those who with a clean heart behold the struggles of the Saint.  Who can count how many pagans were brought to the Faith by beholding the struggles of the Apostles and the Christians of the Apostolic and Post-Apostolic age.  How many were inflamed by the ascetic struggles of the citizens of the desert?  How many smashed their idols at the base of the holy columns on top of which the most holy Stylites were perched?  Like St. Paul the sufferings of the New Martyrs of the Moslem yoke became nourishment for countless Christians, just as today the New Martyrs of the Soviet tyranny have shed their light as a beacon in the storm and led many to the safe harbotir of the Church.

The Lives of the Saints are true ikons, conveying their Grace to us so that we may follow the path which they point out.  They lead all from sin to righteousness.  Male and female of all ages and from all social conditions through the Lives of the Saints become conformed to the Image of our Heavenly Father.  The Lives of the Saints treat every illness of our fallen nature.  Our Lord has given us these so that we may discover in them the variety of human weaknesses and demonic temptation that confront us in our daily lives and see with our own eyes how to overcome them.  Through following the examples of the Saints we learn how to erase from ourselves the ikon of the earthy and to put on the Ikon of the Heavenly.  This is the purpose of Christian Education - the formation of the Image of the Almighty God in the hearts of those called to be Sons of God.