Thursday, May 20, 2010

Why Do We Speak of Liberating the Soul?

The soul as described by the early Church Fathers has three parts: the mind (nous) with the power of acts of knowledge; desire (epithymia) a power of all desires and appetites and thought; and the impulse for acts of courage, mindfulness or for good or evil anger, the incensive power (thymos). It is the nous that is destined to eternal life.

The mind and soul are the same. For understanding of spiritual things, we have to distinguish between the mind and the brain. The brain is physical and the mind is spiritual. We often use these terms interchangeably. The spiritual issue is that the brain in its work dealing with the senses takes over the mind and dominates it. The soul then loses its power and the result is a separation from God and the resulting passions that lead to sin.

What is most significant is that there is a center of the soul that is often called the heart. This is also often referred to as spirit, or the inner temple.  This inner sanctum of our soul is at first covered or hidden (1 Cor 2:11) from our consciousness. At Baptism, Christ or the Holy Spirit dwells there as a potentiality for us. As our heart is opened and the Holy Spirit is allowed to work through our members, we gain the power of love for God and our neighbors, which allows us to obtain the virtues. When it opens the soul realizes its ties to the divine infinite and the possibility of communicating with this infinite. This opening or softening of the heart is a liberation for the soul. It regains the position of authority over the brain and all the demands of the body and resulting passions. This union of soul and spirit and the softening of the heart is the essence of the spiritual life.

Fr. Dimitru says,
The Holy sprit descends to us and cooperates in the winning of virtues, as an opening to God and our neighbors. Our spirit catches fire in us.  It wakes us up. Our heart is softened. The walls of our soul become transparent. God's love wakes up our love. God's penetration within us makes us open to God.
Most of the time our brain is working on dealing with all the inputs from our senses. This is an essential part of the life of the body. But it is this activity that leads us to difficulty when the senses become a source for pleasure. The desire dominates, the brain dominates the mind, and the soul loses dominion. We fall into a pattern of pleasure and pain seeking a way out through pleasure that is insatiable.

Fr Dimitru gives us an example:
Sense perception understood as pure perception of the senses is in itself innocent, and can be used for the service of the mind. Only when the desire for pleasure works through it does it become feeling in the sinful sense. A minimum of pleasure can stay in it, as a natural passion. But this natural passion must be overwhelmed with the spiritual pleasure of a knowing mind. For example, when we eat, if we concentrate completely on the taste and the pleasure which food gives us, this feeling is sinful, because desire is working through it. The mind only has the subordinate role of discovering all the possibilities of pleasure of the food. But if when we eat we bridle the feeling of pleasure, by different reflections on the purpose of food––the blessing which God has given us through it, the duty which we also have of being merciful to others with the things necessary for sustenance––we have conquered the passion of bringing feeling into the spiritual subordination of the mind.
Orthodox Spirituality is about the freeing of the soul from its domination by the body and the actions of the brain that transforms natural passions into desires for pleasure through things of this material world. This involves uncovering, or opening, the inner place, the heart, where spirit resides, the place where Christ lives within us. As we learn to do this, the Spirit flows through us helping us over come these tendencies, enabling us to live the virtues. Once we can do this, then with God's grace we will find a life in union with Him.

Saint Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain described this as two wills that work in us.
Know that in this unseen warfare, two wills existing in us fight against one another. One belongs to the intelligent part of our soul; the other belongs to the sensory part and is therefore called the sensory will, which is the lower. The latter is more frequently called the dumb, carnal passionate will. The higher is always desiring nothing but good, the lower––nothing by evil. (Unseen Warfare, pp 100)
This sensory will must become totally subordinated to the higher will. In this way the soul is liberated from its enslavement by the passions.

Ref: Orthodox Spirituality, pp 96 -108.

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