Our Selves, Our Souls, Our Bodies – More on Faith

And here we offer and present unto Thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice unto Thee…

From Thomas Cranmer’s Eucharistic Prayer

Regardless of what opinion one may have of the English reformer Thomas Cranmer’s theology, no one can deny him a central place in the history of the English language and the impact of his phrasing on the traditional prayers offered in the English tongue. The phrase, quoted from his Eucharistic prayer, is a poetic development of Romans 12:1, “I beseech you therefore brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto the Lord, which is your reasonable worship.”

Both Cranmer’s poetry and the inspired writings of St. Paul point to a relationship with God that includes our bodies. This can be read in a merely moral manner, in which keeping our bodies pure of bodily sin is seen as the sacrifice of which St. Paul speaks. For myself, I think that Cranmer has caught the greater intent of St. Paul’s statement in his expansion: “our selves, our souls and bodies.” And, I think as well, that it is most appropriate that he included this within the context of Eucharistic worship.

The Elder Zacharias of Essex has said that the essence of worship is exchange. We offer to God what God has given to us, and receive in exchange what we could never have by nature. “All things come of Thee, O Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee.”

In modern practice, much of Christian worship and the Christian life, has been reduced to the mental level – whether of the will, intellectual assent, or the emotions (the emotions are a part of the mind – not the “heart” as it is classically used in the fathers). These are not wrong things to offer to God – but they can be quite misleading in their imbalance. Perhaps the most serious mistake that can be drawn from these mental offerings, is the effective reduction of God to an idea. God is not an idea, and virtually every idea we have of Him is either mistaken or idolatrous.

Many have taken Christ’s statement that “God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in Truth,” as the basis for thinking of God as something like idea. But ideas are not spirits. There is nothing more spiritual about a thought than there is in a physical action. Thus those who oppose ritual as though it were inherently unspiritual are guilty of confusing spiritual with mental.

It is worth noting that among the most specific commandments of Christ with regard to worship are the actions of Baptism and the Eucharistic meal. Even in the area of prayer, when asked how to pray, Christ answered with a specific prayer: the Our Father. Thus there should be little surprise that the earliest texts describing Christian worship include directions for specific actions and occasional directions for specific words.

But there are further implications included within the commandment to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice.” The reduction of Christian worship to mental and emotional efforts is also a reduction of what it means to be human – or at least a reduction in what we value as human beings. “What I do with my body is my own business,” is fraught with absurdity. We are not our own creation.

Earlier discussions on faith point to this same issue. Is faith to be understood simply as a mental exercise, or is it somehow something more? The modern English language offers little help in speaking of something that is as rich as faith. The same can be said of the word know. Knowledge is often treated as though it were purely mental, but there are many things which we know in other ways: how to walk, how to ride a bicycle, etc. The word ignore is interesting. For it implies not just not knowing but willfully not knowing.

When speaking of faith, we are describing a relational trust that is rooted in our participation in the life of God. St. Paul says that “faith works by love” (Gal. 5:6). Marriage, at its best and highest moments, can have something of this experience on a human level. The relationship is more than mental and emotional. It is physical and involves a union with the other than can only proceed from trust, freedom and love. It would not be wrong to describe such a relationship as faith. The Church asks husbands and wives to be faithful – which means far more than simply avoiding sex with other persons. It is little wonder that marriage is a common image used for the relationship between God and His Church.

The old English marriage service had an interesting use of language. The groom, while placing the ring on his bride said: “With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow.” Yes, indeed.

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16 Responses to “Our Selves, Our Souls, Our Bodies – More on Faith”

  1. Micah Says:

    Christ is Risen!

    Your last three articles have been quite sublime Fr. Stephen, thank you.

    How starkly does the paucity of our knowing contrast, with Him Who is revealed for our sake.

    How significant that St. Peter deems it necessary to remind God’s elect (no less than five times in 1 Peter 1!) that the kingdom is always revealed!.

    Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!

  2. Worshipping with our bodies (and more) « Orthodoxy at Purdue Says:

    […] with our bodies (and more) Father Stephen Freeman offers up another pearl: Ourselves, Our Souls, Our Bodies — More on Faith. And here we offer and present unto Thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a […]

  3. Mary Bongiorno Says:

    I really felt blessed by this, it untangled so much of what has been going on in my life and brought me back to my normal way of seeing. I heard parts of my own faith and muddy water clearing up. I did give you the credit Father i copied some of this to my Blogg. I can link to yours so that this will be available to others who may come to my site to pray. blessings Mary

  4. Brian Says:

    Father’s blog and Jerry’s comment calls to mind this gem of a quote I came across recently:

    “…Tolstoy found that the truth could not be approached directly, that every attempt at direct expression became a simplification and therefore a lie, and that the ‘shortest way to sense’ was rather long and indirect.”

    – from Richard Pevear’s introduction to the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation of War and Peace.

    The ‘long and indirect’ path to knowledge of the truth (the “renewing of the mind” of which St. Paul speaks) is the way of faith, hope, and love. It can be directly known in that it can truly be experienced, but it can never be fully expressed, objectified, or intellectually comprehended.

    Such knowledge, it seems to me, is experienced more through resonance in the heart more than through learning with the mind – much like when the strings of a guitar are properly tuned they spontaneously vibrate in response to the sound of the corresponding strings of another. When we are properly ‘tuned’ in this way we can “test and approve what God’s will is.”

    I am reminded of Christ’s words, ““If anyone will do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority.”

  5. davidperi Says:

    Excellant article! Some times I can only say, “Our Father, who art in the Heavens, hallowed be Thy Name, Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done on earth as it is in Heaven….” I cannot say anymore reflecting how my Heavenly Father has provided the latter much more than I realize.

  6. Karen Says:

    “But ideas are not spirits. There is nothing more spiritual about a thought than there is in a physical action. Thus those who oppose ritual as though it were inherently unspiritual are guilty of confusing spiritual with mental.”

    Dear Father, bless! Your thought above I think is a very helpful distinction.

  7. Micah Says:

    Brian,

    Thank you for your comment, it is most appropriate. It reminded me of a question a medical professional friend asked. How could the Orthodox know that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father?

    That it should have come to such unknowing is remarkable in itself: The procession of the Holy Spirit is the defining pre-eternal liturgical event of the cosmos; revealed purposefully by the God Who is pure Spirit and who begets sons and daughters through their faith in The Begotten One.

    “The question of the procession of the Holy Spirit” says Vladimir Lossky is “the sole dogmatic grounds for the separation of East and West”.

    For: “The one nature in the Three is God; but the union is the Father, from whom the others proceed and to whom they refer, not so as to be confounded but rather to have all in common with Him, without distinction of time, will, or power”, in the words of St. Gregory of Nazianzus.

    “All the other divergences [….] are more or less dependent upon that original issue” — Vladimir Lossky.

  8. María Gutiérrez Says:

    Father, you say “In modern practice, much of Christian worship and the Christian life, has been reduced to the mental level – whether of the will, intellectual assent, or the emotions (the emotions are a part of the mind – not the “heart” as it is classically used in the fathers)”

    I found this very difficult to understand. I cannot see that the emotions are part of the mind. Any help? Thank you very much

  9. Brian Says:

    “And the nature of temptations? Do they exist purely in the realm of thoughts and ideas? Simply in our heads?”

    Let us remember the context in which these words (“But ideas are not spirits”) were written – the context of worshiping God with our whole being, an encounter and communion with the Divine Who infinitely exceeds human thought and idea, “invisible, incomprehensible, ever existing, ever the same, Thou and Thine only Begotten Son, and Thy Holy Spirit.”

    As our worship of the Holy Trinity (or any other truly personal communion for that matter) cannot be reduced to the purely mental, so the temptations our enemies employ in their efforts to draw us away from true worship involve the whole person as well. Temptation begins by misdirecting the ‘nous’ through lies. But just as with worship, the ‘nous’ cannot be separated from the whole of our being.

    “…every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust (saw that the tree was good for food), and enticed (and that it was pleasant to the eyes… to be desired to make one wise) . Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin (she took of the fruit and did eat): and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. (Trust only in the Word of God, for) Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning (Seek good in God alone, and accept only His gifts, for His motives can always be trusted).”

  10. fatherstephen Says:

    Maria,
    Contemporary usage of the word “heart” indeed means the “emotions.” But in the Scriptures and in the Fathers of the Church, the word “heart” means something quite different. Here is an earlier article I wrote on the heart that you might find helpful.

  11. María Gutiérrez Says:

    I read the article on the heat but Iam afraid I still do not understand.

    You wrote: “The distinction between mind and heart is not a distinction between thought and feeling. Rather it is a distinction between the mind (seat of thoughts and feelings) and the heart (the seat of a deeper awareness – sometimes called the nous in Orthodox writing)”

    But how the “deeper awareness” manifests itself? I only can imagine a thought or a feeling or both. And when the Bible speaks of the “thoughts of the heart”, what does it mean? What about the will and the memory? Is the will of a person and the heart the same thing?

    When we think “two and two equals four” I clearly see this is a work of the mind. But when we think “I do not feel loved by my brother” or “I cannot believe in a certain miracle”… Where these thoughts came from, the mind or the heart?

    Thank you.

  12. fatherstephen Says:

    Maria,

    This article by Dr. David Bradshaw on Drawing the Mind into the Heart, probably does as good of a job explaining the distinction in Orthodox teaching as I’ve found.

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  15. Micah Says:

    Thank you but I really can’t claim that title for myself, Jerry. All I can admit to is that I am a sinner.

    The Transfiguration of our Lord (apart from being a foretaste of Christ’s Pascha) confirms to us as well as to Peter, James and John that there never was a time, when The Begotten One was not.

    It would appear that Elijah and Moses both knew the Lord as closely as Peter, James and John (precisely because there never was a time when The Begotten One was not).

    As I say, I am sinner and it is His mercy that sustains me.

  16. Sarah N. Says:

    I find this so compelling. Both in a religious sense and an intellectual one.

    We are all responsible for one another.

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