Tag Archives: the body

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.”

To have a body burdened.

“Virtually everything in our lives is gifted to us, and there are many ‘gifts’ that we would prefer never to have received. It is part of our incarnational existence. We are the offspring of others. To have an embodied existence in space and time is to have a body burdened with the DNA of eons and a family and culture that is both the product and carrier of history.”

Soldier and Brodie 7-5-16

Read the whole article by Father Stephen Freeman: The Sins of a Nation

Holy Friday and our own holy bodies.

On Holy (“Good”) Friday we Orthodox keep vigil next to the “shroud” icon of Christ all night through, until noon on Saturday, remembering our Lord in the tomb.  From the time of His death until His Resurrection on Sunday, we don’t go about our “usual business.” In my parish, parishioners take turns reading or chanting Psalms at a small lectern, with the aid of a candle during the hours of darkness.

This vigil is something we also try to do, if at all possible, for any mere human from whom the spirit has departed, as each one bears the image of Christ. And as He blessed Creation and the material world by becoming part of it in His Incarnation, so each body of flesh is holy and precious.

(I don’t know if I wrote here previously about how we were able to honor my husband this way two years ago, between the time of his death and his burial, as his coffin remained in our house until the day of his funeral, and many people came to pray the Psalms nearby over the course of three days.)

Even if you are not a Christian, or a worshiper of any kind, the body is that aspect of your person with which you have exerted your will to live and love — to stand up, to feed yourself, and even better, to embrace those you love and to express thanks and kindness. All these actions and behaviors build a heritage and a history attached to your physical self, a unique life given by God. It’s not a “shell” or a thing to be discarded as unimportant. You are honorable, every part of you, because of Who made you, and because of His love.

Christians have the added motive to honor the body, that we want to follow the example of our Savior in every way that we can. As His body was lovingly prepared for burial, so we want to do when it is in our power.

I was gratified to read the following explanation of some of these things that was included in a funeral program last summer, when we were saying goodbye to one of our parishioners and laying his body to rest:

“…we believe the body to be an honorable and even a holy thing. For us the body is not something which is dishonorable or defiled, or to be hidden away or hurriedly disposed of. It is less than the soul, and we know that, deprived of the soul, it will dissolve into its elements, but we believe also that on the last day, whether the deceased were a Christian or not, it will be raised up again. We believe that it was part of that person who has died and is therefore to be treated with reverence….

“The body of an Orthodox Christian is a holy thing. It is that body which was washed in Holy Baptism, anointed with holy Chrism, which partook of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, which was anointed with holy oil, which received the tonsure at Baptism, at Ordination or at monastic profession, which was crowned in marriage, which made the sign of the Cross, which looked at and kissed the holy icons, which reverenced and touched the sacred relics, which stood in prayer, which made prostrations, which listened to the chants and readings, which read the Scriptures and prayers, which smelled the incense and fragrances, which went on pilgrimage, wept, suffered illnesses and pains, suffered in child-birth, which struggled against the passions, which gave alms, which fasted, restrained itself, tried to keep itself pure, indeed which participated in the true worship of the True God.”

Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit? (I Cor: 6:19)

More on this subject is in the article online from which these paragraphs were taken.

The entire faith and love and hope.

My whole church is bereaved, because one of our strong young men, the only son of his parents, grown up for 35 years in the parish, suddenly sickened and died. It happened so fast, it seems unreal to us. This morning I attended a prayer service in advance of the funeral proper.

One of the lines that is repeated in song is, “Blessed art Thou, O Lord; teach me Thy statutes,” and I mused on what God might be teaching me right now. Certainly, we should all “number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” But I don’t want to forget something else that our rector reminded us of, at the end of the service, that even in our grief we have joy, knowing that Christ has overcome death — that’s why we could pray that our brother will be granted rest “with the spirits of the righteous made perfect.”

Every time there is another death or funeral, my own soul’s griefs are awakened, acknowledged and comforted. And our pastor also kindly included in our church bulletin today an encouraging passage (an excerpt from this article) from Father Alexander Schmemann. He starts out explaining why death must be understood as an evil enemy. But keep reading:

God created man with a body and soul, i.e. at once both spiritual and material, and it is precisely this union of spirit, soul and body that is called man in the Bible and in the Gospel. Man, as created by God, is an animate body and an incarnate spirit, and for that reason any separation of them, and not only the final separation, in death, but even before death, any violation of that union is evil. It is a spiritual catastrophe. From this we receive our belief in the salvation of the world through the incarnate God, i.e. again, above all, our belief in His acceptance of flesh and body, not “body-like,” but a body in the fullest sense of the word: a body that needs food, that tires and that suffers. Thus that which in the Scriptures is called life, that life, which above all consists of the human body animated by the spirit and of the spirit made flesh, comes to an end — at death — in the separation of soul and body. No, man does not disappear in death, for creation may not destroy that which God has called from nothingness into being. But man is plunged into death, into the darkness of lifelessness and debility. He, as the Apostle Paul says, is given over to destruction and ruin.

Here, I would once more like to repeat and emphasize that God did not create the world for this separation, dying, ruin and corruption. And for this reason the Christian Gospel proclaims that “the last enemy to be destroyed is death.” The Resurrection is the recreation of the world in its original beauty and totality. It is the complete spiritualization of matter and the complete incarnation of the spirit in God’s creation. The world has been given to man as his life, and for this reason, according to our Christian Orthodox teaching, God will not annihilate it but will transfigure it into “a new heaven and a new earth,” into man’s spiritual body, into the temple of God’s presence and God’s glory in creation.

“The last enemy to be destroyed is death…” And that destruction, that extermination of death began when the Son of God Himself in His immortal love for us voluntarily descended into death and its darkness, filling its despair and horror with His light and love. And this is why we sing on Pascha not only “Christ is risen from the dead,” but also “trampling down death by death…”

He alone arose from the dead, but He has destroyed our death, destroying its dominion, its despair, its finality. Christ does not promise us Nirvana or some sort of misty life beyond the grave, but the resurrection of life, a new heaven and a new earth, the joy of the universal resurrection. “The dead shall arise, and those in the tombs will sing for joy…” Christ is risen, and life abides, life lives… That is the meaning; that is the unending joy of this truly central and fundamental confirmation of the Symbol of Faith: “And the third day, He rose again according to the Scriptures.” According to the Scriptures, i.e. in accordance with that knowledge of life, with that design for the world and humanity, for the soul and body, for the spirit and matter, for life and death, which has been revealed to us in the Holy Scriptures. This is the entire faith, the entire love, and the entire hope of Christianity. And this is why the Apostle Paul says, “If Christ is not risen, then your faith is in vain.”

–Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann, 1980,
Translated from Russian by Robert A. Parent

harrowing of hell wide