When we surrender we must follow the will of God. We give up our own definition of the world and let the mystical truths of God overwhelm us and let our reason struggle to make sense out of it rather than determining what it is we sense and feel. Let our mind seek its explanations from the writings of the Church Fathers and their interpretation of Scripture. Let the hymns of the Church speak to our inner being.
Christ made the will of God very clear to us by His own life and His teaching. He gave us two commandments:
- You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment.
- And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.(Mat22:37-39)
Now it is not possible to do God’s will without some degree of self sacrifice, struggle and endurance.
Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. (Gal 5:24-25)
How do we grow spiritually?
This leads us to the doctrine of Synergia. The Orthodox Church has always rejected any notion of predestination. It has always rejected any implication that a person will be saved without their own desire and willing cooperation. It is fundamental to Orthodoxy that man was created in His image and therefore has a free will. He can choose to love God or to love himself at the exclusion of God. This is the only way that mankind can truly love God. God never will force human will. God’s actions of goodness are based on willing cooperation from mankind. We are called to accept His commandments through our free choice and incorporate them into our daily lives.
Our spiritual growth is the result of two principles:
- Grace of the Holy Spirit
- Our opening of our heart to receive it.
- Our disposition of will to act on it.
We grow spiritually when the human will acts based on the divine will through grace.
This doctrine of the church is based on the Incarnation. Christ had two wills. One that was human and another that was divine. In Christ, the human will, even through it was fully human freely followed the divine will. It is our task to learn to align our human will with God’s will and to act in cooperation with God. It is the divine will that leads and the human will that is to follow. They are never equal. The human will is to always be subservient to the divine will. This is our spiritual struggle and we need the help of God’s grace through the sacraments of the church and our own purification.
This involves endurance and struggle on our part. We have to overcome the control the body has over our soul. We have to uproot the passion of the body and affirm the virtues constantly correcting ourselves.
It also requires grace. God’s grace works with great patience, wisdom, mysterious management of the mind, while man struggles with much endurance. With endurance the work of grace is made perfect in us. We have examples n the Bible of Abraham, Jacob, Joseph and David.
What is Grace?
The whole economy of our salvation is based on the coming of the Son of God to earth, His death on the Cross, and His Resurrection and Ascension into heaven. As Paul says, For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Eph 2:8-9) It was Christ who sent to us the gifts of the Holy Spirit for our sanctification, our spiritual growth and personal salvation. These gifts are available to us through the Church.
The grace of God not only gives us the knowledge of our duty, but also inspires us with a desire that we may be able to accomplish what we know. Once you have the idea that you can accomplish salvation by your own power, grace departs and leaves you in your struggle and misery awaiting your surrender and contrition.
Apostle Peter says the following:
"His divine power has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness… (By) giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins." (II Peter 1:3-9)
Paul reminds us:
"Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure." (Phil 2:12-13)
The Orthodox way of life calls on us to resist temptations and to practice virtue. It is a life of continual transformation and growth. It is not a static one or one that waits for grace to change us but is based on cooperation with divine grace. It is a life of repentance or metanoia. It is one that requires the Holy Spirit to help us. This help is always available to us in the Church when we prepare ourselves and are sincere in our efforts.
What is Repentance or "Metanoia?"
Metanoia is translated as repentance. It means change of mind. We can also say it means a change in our world view. Repentance is the act of reconciliation and a reintegration into the body of Christ which has been separated from us through our sin. It involves a reorientation, a fundamental transformation of our way of thinking about our world and ourselves and a new way of loving God and others. This change of mind implies “great understanding” and discernment. It involves not simply regret for what we have done but a recognition of a distorted world view and view of the horror of our sinfulness. Saint Basil the Great says, “Repentance is salvation, but lack of understanding is the death of repentance.”
Metanoia is the gateway to knowing oneself and other as well as the gateway to heaven. It is a process that leads us inward but also leads outwards, changing our behaviors through our inward efforts at change. Repentance cannot be accomplished by emotion or guilt, but by an awareness of one’s separation from God and one’s neighbor. It is an attitude that needs to color our entire life and be a continual struggle. It is a way of life, a process of transfiguration, in which our heart and mind continually receive illumination from the Holy Spirit. It is a continuous path, and constant striving, and all embracing motion or movement. Repentance is ultimately the gift of the Holy Spirit who transforms our heart. It is not the direct fruit of our individual effort.
Putting it all together
The chart above show give us an outline of the Orthodox way of life. Going from left to right it begins with the fall of mankind from Paradise. Then we have the saving Incarnation of the Son of God. This was the general salvation and opened the path for our personal salvation. Our personal path begins with an awakening to the Truth of the Scriptures and a faith in God. Awaked to the Truth we then seek baptism to be united with the Body of Christ here on earth in His Church. We enter the church with its healing sacraments and our personal effort and endurance to change our way of thinking and behaving. We purify our minds trying to get the bodily passion under control and to allow the soul to take its natural place as the leader. The ascetic disciplines of prayer, fasting, study of scripture, meditation on the Truths and worship make up these. Then the act of repentance for that which we are committed to change in our way of thinking and doing. Communion is a way to take into our being divine grace in the form of the actual blood and body of Christ for the forgiveness of our sins and eternal life. All this is guided by grace which becomes stronger as we engage in this never ending cycle, acting in cooperation with the divine grace. This action then leads us towards theosis and we learn to live the commandments to love god with all our hearts and to love our neighbor as we love ourself. At some time then we will face the Final Judgement when we will be accepted into God’s Kingdom and reunited with our bodies if we have faced earth before the time of the Final Judgment has come. The result is a eternal life in Paradise.