Archive for August 9th, 2010

Giving and Receiving

August 9, 2010

In the immense cathedral which is the universe of God, each man, whether scholar or manual laborer, is called to act as the priest of his whole life – to take all that is human, and to turn it into an offering and a hymn of glory.

Paul Evdokimov in Woman and the Salvation of the World

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Abba Zosimas used to say: “We have lost our sense of balance.”

Reflections, XI, e.

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There is a modern translation of the Beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven,” is rendered, “Blessed are they who know their need of God…”  It is an insightful rendering even though it is more paraphrase than translation. People often perceive themselves as “needy,” though not always in need of God. The “poverty of spirit” that is most often experienced is little more than an ache generated in the ego (our imaginary self) which always feels threatened in one way or another.

The very nature of the passions, in their distorted shape, is that we become passive – we are acted upon and feel helpless or addicted. I am often struck in conversations with others about various spiritual problems by our general passivity in life. The sin which so deeply infects us is less a matter of the will (with a considered choice being made) than it is a passive reaction. Most anger, for instance, is not a decision but a reaction, flowing from a distorted passion within us. Thus we say such things as, “You made me angry.”  In this manner we experience life as out of control and ourselves as victims.

It is only to be expected that such an experience awakens a desire within us to control the things around us – but it is also the case that most things around us cannot be controlled. And so we sin in yet another misguided attempt to save the ego.

Passivity is never healed passively – there have to positive actions within us to overcome the downward spiral of the passions. We were not created to be passive.

In the Biblical account, man and woman are set in a garden and given everything they need – with the single prohibition regarding one kind of fruit. Thus they were not merely passive recipients of everything in the world – they were also required to actively avoid one thing.

The heart of that Edenic life is summed up in the action of priesthood. Man receives from God and he actively returns to God all that he receives, with thanksgiving. In the Church, this is the action of the Eucharist. But it is also to be the action of everyone at all times. The activity of returning everything to God in thanksgiving is the essence of our communion with God.

The Elder Zacharias of Essex has described worship as a constant action of exchange. God gives to us and we give back to God. What we receive is obviously infinitely more than we can return. We receive the very life of God and in turn offer the life of man.

But this essential action is the opposite of passivity. All that we have is a gift from God – but a gift received without active thanksgiving quickly becomes distorted. Only those things which are given back with thanksgiving have a chance of taking their proper form and role in our lives.

St. Paul quotes Christ as saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). This is more than a statement of morally superior action – it is a description of life-creating action. To give is more blessed because it is for this that we were created.

What shall we render to the Lord?