Tag Archives: St. Maximus the Confessor

We are destined for higher things.

“If life always went well, would we not become so attached to our present state, even though we know it will not last, and by deception become enslaved to pleasure? In the end we would think that our present life is the best and noblest, and forget that, being made in the image of God, we are destined for higher things.”

-St. Maximus the Confessor, On The Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ

“Maximus the Confessor (580–662) lived, historically and to some extent geographically, betwixt and between. Historically, he lived in the indefinite transition between ‘early’ and ‘medieval’ Christianity: after the downfall of the Western Roman Empire and the zenith of the Byzantine Christian Empire under Justinian, but before the schism of Byzantine and Roman Churches had reached the point of no return; after the crucial Councils of Nicea (325), Constantinople (381), and Chalcedon (451), but before the age of the Ecumenical Councils had ended; after the most creative epoch in patristic thought, stretching from Origen to the Cappadocian Fathers and Augustine, but before the tendency toward theological scholasticism East or West had fully gained momentum.”

-Fr. John Behr, Editor of On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ

I very much enjoyed this video interview with a St. Maximus scholar, Fr. Maximos Constas: “The Relevance of St. Maximus Today.” And you can read more about St. Maximus HERE. Today we commemorate the translation of his relics, and sing this hymn:

Champion of Orthodoxy, teacher of purity and of true worship,
enlightener of the universe and adornment of hierarchs:
All-wise father Maximus, your teachings have gleamed with light upon all things.
Intercede before Christ God to save our souls.

The body is a nave.

Jean-Claude Larchet is a contemporary French patristics scholar and theologian who has written on diverse subjects such as the Theology of Illness, life after death, and mental disorders. (I’m currently reading his The New Media Epidemic.) Several years ago our parish did a study of his book, Theology of the Body, and last week when I was thinking on that topic I was glad to find it still on my shelf.

In the chapter on “The Body in Spiritual Life,” Larchet discusses the physical aspects of our worship, beginning with the tradition of standing in church, “… a posture that symbolizes the resurrection, that key point of the Christian faith and hope.”

“In addition, mention may also be made of the ‘passive’ liturgical participation of the body in the setting that is so characteristic of the Orthodox Church, where the splendor of the celebration, so often misunderstood by those who have no experience of its meaning, has an important spiritual role to play – the beauty of the architecture and the ‘decoration’ of the churches whose walls are covered with frescoes and icons; the solemn character of the services; the richness of the celebrants’ vestments; the magnificence of the chants; the incense; the lights of the lamps and candles; and so on. All these things – which never cease to awaken a sense of wonder in the faithful – have a fourfold meaning.”

Two of those “folds” are 1)symbolizing the kingdom of heaven, and 2) giving the faithful, in a symbolic way, a taste of the riches and glory of the kingdom of heaven, and also of the new conditions of existence there, when the body is transfigured along with all the senses….”

The next and last paragraph I will share here struck me as alluding to realities so holistic and fundamental that they must constitute the very business of our life. The story we can read in the specific details tells who we are and what we are made for, and includes many mystical, or hidden, elements, no less real for their hiddenness. It is the true story of humanity:

“The very interior of an Orthodox church introduces the body into a space that is different from the ordinary; it is a space transfigured and sacred, whose profound symbolism is superbly analyzed by St. Maximus the Confessor in his Mystagogia. He stresses in particular that the church’s spatial structure symbolizes the human being: the altar representing the spirit, the sanctuary the soul, and the nave the body. Conversely, the human being symbolizes the church: his spirit is, as it were, an altar; his soul, a sanctuary; and his body, a nave. And this is not simply by their nature but by their own specific functions in spiritual life: the body represents in particular the practical or ethical dimensions; the soul stands for the contemplative dimension; and the spirit its pinnacle, theologia, in which the believer receives from the Holy Spirit supernatural knowledge of the divine mysteries.”

Nagging that cuts the soul in pieces.

From the book New Media Epidemic:

Jean-Claude Larchet

Spiritual life…requires what is traditionally called recollection, the capacity to turn all one’s faculties inward, away from the world, there in one’s heart to unite and consecrate them to God in meditation and prayer. Recollection is the stage of preparation for prayer that precedes concentration. 

But as we have seen, the new media [cell phones, tablets, internet, etc] push man’s faculties in the opposite sense, always outwards toward the world. They are dispersed by a stream of discordant nagging that cuts the soul in pieces, and destroys the unity and identity of the inner man.

The new media encourage strongly two elements of ancestral sin:

(1) the loss of the inner unity of the faculties, which once were united in knowledge of God and doing His Will, dispersing them among physical objects and their representations (thoughts, memories, and images), or the desires and passions that they arouse;

(2) the resulting division, chopping up, and inner dispersion, which, according to St Maximus the Confessor, “breaks human nature into a thousand fragments.”

As other holy ascetics have said, the intelligence [attention/nous] is then constantly distracted, floating, erring, and wandering here and there in a state of permanent agitation, quite the opposite of the deep peace it experienced in its former contemplation. The thoughts that once were united and concentrated become manifold and multifarious, spreading out in a ceaseless flow. They divide and disperse, leaking out in every direction, dragging and dividing the whole being of man in their wake.

This leads St Maximus the Confessor to speak of: “the scattering of the soul amongst outer forms according to the appearance of sensory things,” for the soul becomes multiple in the image of this sensory multiplicity…which is simply an illusion… Stirred up and excited by a multitude of passions, they pull in many directions, often opposed, at once, and make of man a being divided at every level. This process of the fall of man, described by the Church Fathers of Late Antiquity, continues today faster than ever, driven on by the new media. They offer such a rich and speedy flow of temptations that they multiply the sensory objects that attract the senses…

—Jean-Claude Larchet

(from a church bulletin)

Wings or the woodworm.

“An offspring of [the sin of] pride is censure, which is unfortunately also a habit of many Christians, who tend to concern themselves more with others than themselves. This is a phenomenon of our time and of a society that pushes people into a continuous observation of others, and not of the self.

“Modern man’s myriad occupations and activities do not want him to ever remain alone to study, to contemplate, to pray, to attain self-awareness, self critique, self-control and to be reminded of death. The so-called Mass Media are incessantly preoccupied with scandal-seeking, persistently and at length, with human passions, with sins, with others’ misdemeanors. These kinds of things provoke, impress, and, even if they do not scandalize, they nevertheless burden the soul and the mind with filth and ugliness and they actually reassure us, by making us believe that ‘we are better’ than those advertised.

“Thus, a person becomes accustomed to the mediocrity, the tepidity and the transience of superficial day-to-day life, never comparing himself to saints and heroes. This is how censure prevails in our time – by giving man the impression that he is justly imposing a kind of cleansing, by mud-slinging at others, albeit contaminating himself by generating malice, hatred, hostility, resentfulness, envy and frigidity. Saint Maximos the Confessor in fact states that the one who constantly scrutinizes others’ sins, or judges his brothers based on suspicion only, has not even begun to repent, nor has he begun any research into discovering his own sins.”

-Monk Moses of Holy Mount Athos

I thought I would re-publish a few posts from the early days of my blog, say ten years ago, such as the quote above from Monk Moses, also known as Elder Moses the Athonite. I ran across a video of him talking about humility, and noticed that I’d also commented on it back then, about how helpful it was. I followed my own recommendation and listened once more. Oh, yes. The elder seems to emanate the joy and meekness that he talks about; I’m so glad I watched again, and got reacquainted. His words come alive through the sweetness of his countenance, especially when he is quoting Scripture or a saint, which he does quite a bit for such a short video.

In it he warns us that pride “like a woodworm eats away at the whole trunk” of our life, but humility begets “joy that has to do with internal calm, sobriety and serenity, that gives the sweetness and redemption of Christ.”

“Humility’s the guard dog of all the other virtues, and humility, says St. Basil the Great, is the raiment of the Godhead. Out of His extreme humility Christ came down, abandoned the glory of the heavens, and became the least of all people.”

“Humility and love, as St. Kosmas Aitolos says, are the two wings that fly us straight to heaven.”

I hope you will watch this video and through it meet Father Moses yourself:

“Humility, the Foundation of all Virtues.”