Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Suffering Towards Stillness

Been thinking recently about the concept of apatheia--or passionlessness, as it's known in English-speaking Orthodox circles--and how it's ultimately the goal of each Christian striving towards theosis. Also on my mind is the unfortunate contemporary connotation surrounding the Greek word's English cognate: apathy.

Apathy is defined as a "lack of feeling or emotion" or a "lack of interest or concern." Understandable, then, are the raised eyebrows that respond to one who is said to be "striving for apatheia." The Greek word, however, is very different, for it calls us not to turtle-shell, shoe-staring introspection, not to reclusion from the world--though some have felt the call to flee for the sake of their own souls--but rather to a steadfastness, an immovablity within a person. This hearkens back to the likes of St. Ireneaus and his contemporaries, who said that the immutablity of God is one of His greatest, most lauded qualities--for in it lies His utter dependability and changelessness--and it is also one for which Christians should strive most diligently.

Again, I speak not of indifference to others' lives and sorrows, but to our own selves, our so-called "rights," our runaway-train impulses. When insulted, we bear no malice, desire no revenge. When tempted, we feel no pull, no conflict. Apatheia, then, is not a matter of simply "doing the right thing and not doing the wrong thing," but rather a matter of having our very nature tranformed--or, better yet, transfigured--so that we are healed from being vulnerable to these weaknesses. We stand strong and still because God has made us so.

This, however, requires effort, an effort of the heart and mind--for our natural tendency is not to act from within, but simply to react to stimuli from without--and we truly do have little, in and of ourselves, that is capable of moving in the sovereign freedom of God that St. Gregory of Nyssa talked about.

Funny thing, though: the Christian perfection that we are called to--to the point where, as I said earlier, "when tempted, we feel no pull, no conflict"--is not arrived at easily or soon, or, for most, at all in this life. St. Antony, the father of monasticism himself, has said that we are to expect temptation to our last breath. There is no "absolute zero" of the soul, as it were, no total stillness to be found--rather, when one ceases to give oneself "over to every evil desire [and be] a slave to passion" in a certain area (when one has borne his or her cross and successfully died to passion X, in other words)--one can consider himself healed, but healed only to bear more crosses. This suffering towards stillness--and it can only be this way, for in the Cross' humility Christ finds glory and secures our race's salvation--is what St. Paul means when he says that "we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Cor. 3:18).

May we all "stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD" (Ex. 14:13).

1 comment:

Mimi said...

Wow, Bryan Peter. Very good points about apathy being deadening to our theosis.