As a child, I grew up in Protestant churches and heard a common theme: man is wicked by nature. We just have to endure long enough in this body, and then God will free us of this weight.
Our bodies are thought of as something less than worthy. I’ve heard several times, “I am a spirit trapped inside of a body,” or “I am a spirit weighed down by a body,” or as some Christians sing, “some glad morning when this life is over, I’ll fly away.” They all teach the same message: we have something valuable inside of us, but it isn’t this body that you can see.
It seems there is an almost universal recognition that there is life and beauty within us, but that divine realization is mixed with frustration over the wickedness that we see in ourselves and others.
When we let the masks fall down, when we stop making excuses for ourselves, when we quietly become aware of how we act, think, and speak: there can be a horror. Most of us are masters at keeping ourselves too distracted or busy to listen to that little, uncomfortable sighing within. The result is self-destructive behavior which takes a multitude of forms which can include cutting oneself, depression, anger, and various addictions. Even the pursuit of learning and theology can be an escapist distraction.
But in Orthodoxy, there is a different teaching.
Christ’s incarnation restores human nature and enables us to participate in the divine life with our humanity through the grace of the Holy Spirit.
There is evil working within every one of us. But that evil is not natural to us. It is no more a part of your nature than the clothes that you are wearing. When we cast off the “old man” or the “flesh” as the scriptures state, it does not mean that we look forward to ridding ourselves of this body. Rather, we cast off that which is unnatural to it; those things that cause a war to rage internally. In doing so, we realize there is no reason to hate ourselves.
When we cast off the ways of the “flesh” we are not left naked. As I said above, Christ’s incarnation restores our nature; He heals it of the disease of sin. That is why the scriptures say, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Gal 3:27)
Now, if we are clothed with Christ than we are covered in divinity itself. If we have put on Christ, then we have received God Himself upon us.
HOW TO LIVE IN BEAUTY
So we are faced with the challenge to live in that beautiful life. It is not a battle we fight alone though. We have the Church to teach and support us, the divine mysteries to strengthen and transform us, and the Lord Jesus knocking at the door of our heart every moment.
We call on the God who is love by nature to fill us with His love every day. That Love purifies us, heals us, and unites our nature to His nature in a therapeutic process called Salvation.
A practical step in moving toward that healing process is the continual utterance of the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.” That prayer has no magical powers in itself, rather the purpose is to fix our attention upon our Savior throughout the day. For many people that prayer becomes tied to their breathing and not only moves from their heads to their hearts, but unites the mind and the heart into one.
Many excellent books have been written on this topic, and I’ve provided some links below. It is a way of life, not just a new spiritual technique to try. Continuous communion with God (aka prayer) is a state of being that we must practice living in every single day.
For further reading on connecting with God deeply throughout the day, check out the following in addition to the page titled “Theosis Resources” under the Resources tab at the top of this page.
For further reading on human nature: