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Articles in English

The Theological and Spiritual Aspects of Reconciliation in an Orthodox Key


The roots of hostility


According to the famous formula of Karl Barth, original sin brought division between man and God, man and man, and inside a man himself. In our times in the presence of the undeclared war of our civilization against nature, we should add at least one more division which exists: between man and creation. But in fact, the division and the permanent violence that it engenders seem to be at the very foundation of our everyday existence and we can find many forms of them. For Karl Jaspers, for example, the initial principle of division remains the opposition between subject and object; and, for Martin Heidegger, that which is rooted even in Being clarifying itself in front of Non-being. In any form and expression this division is a part of our fundamental experience and in general of our sojourn on the earth. Every individual — as someone amongst others, as citizen of his State, as personality in his own right, as a member of any human society, party, company or confession — is destined to be identified with some concrete sign, symbol or language. His definition and affiliation serve to distinguish him from the members of other groups and communities. All of us are doomed to be divided from others, and in a certain sense to exist against others, to hold on one’s own difference, to live in opposition to our fellows-creatures, sometimes in hostility with them, but also in the idealistic, diplomatic or desperate research of reconciliation.


Certainly we are accustomed to this situation and we find it quite normal. What does not seem so normal is that this state of constant opposition to the «other» gives birth to violence and even to the physical annihilation of our neighbours. The ideal of reconciliation (at least, on the interhuman level), which is far from being achieved, is the civil respect for our fellows in their diversity, in their right to be an other, different from us. We have come at last to the imperative that the difference should not be seen as negative, and we reconcile with others when we give them license to be next to us and even to be admitted to their «otherness», as we admit the existence of «ours». This kind of admittance is one of the real gains of political democracy, making it morally superior to any uniform type of society. Every totalitarian project wants to build an ideologically «pure» or symbolically homogeneous community, which means the suppression of any «impure», heterogeneous element as harmful, dangerous and hostile. The history of any human society is in a sense a story of repression and censorship of deeds, of thoughts, of words, of feelings. But even in our day every type of society, even the formally liberal and democratic, has a hidden, invisible and barely disguised tendency to become totalitarian, which is intellectually or spiritually levelling and intolerant toward those who are not well «inscribed» in the role of the model citizen. In this case the mechanism of suppression (or rather self-suppression) is cultural and can be effectuated with our full consent. But this kind of suppression, which in appearance seeks to achieve the same effect of peace, is quite opposite to what we call reconciliation. True reconciliation is based on the absence of even hidden or disguised violence but much more than that: it is a peace and harmony won inside us, a revelation of the secret of our human nature and its divine origin. We shall discuss this below.


First of all, reconciliation is a social problem and the common aim of mankind. In our epoch the problem of reconciliation became crucial for at least three main reasons: first of all, because we are too many in the world and our planet has become too narrow for a family of man in permanent domestic conflict; second, because we have powerful weapons which can surely promise us the so called Mutual Assured Destruction (for a moment, only among the «Great» of the Earth, but very soon also among the «Middle» and even the «Small»); third, because so called globalisation has transformed our globe into one large village (or polis in Greek). Everything which happens in this space (war, natural calamity or extraordinary invention) concerns its whole population. In this polis there is also a common agora of global information, which has become a real inundation from everywhere and creates a sort of «common public opinion». This opinion with its standards and laws, shared at least by Western civilisation, condemns in principle direct physical and even moral (that is, totalitarian) violence, justifying only «structural violence», that is, the threat of force in the case of aggression. But in any case the idea of reconciliation and non-violence is now recognised by the agora of our polis as much more attractive and more correspondent with the norms of decent behaviour. On the social and especially on the ecological level reconciliation has become a sort of imperative, and is the moral debt of living men toward the generations that will come after us.


Two concepts of reconciliation


In general, in our Western world we know two concepts of reconciliation; one of them may be called «humanistic» and the other «Christian», not in the usual, but in the old, apostolic and patristic meaning. We have just mentioned the first concept, elaborated in the democratic type of society; it means the skill and wisdom of existing together, the capacity to accept another person, another idea, another mode of cultural expression, another confession in its difference from one’s own and to live next to it as a good neighbour and friendly observer. This type of reconciliation presupposes dialogue and openness to the stranger, to the faiths and customs which are alien to oneself; it demands a certain moral and intellectual preparation, the capacity for analysis and self-control. While it certainly does not eliminate the fundamental division that derives from sin, it does teach us how to live with sin more peacefully, how to suppress or conceal the impulses of violence, or at least how to domesticate them in our social life.


The «Christian» kind of reconciliation is more complicated, and, I must confess, much less practical. To reconcile, in the Greek of the New Testament «allassô«, means «to change», «to substitute», «to renew», «to be or to become other». To become another in the inner, deepest sense, to change our self or identity. But what is human identity? When we begin to reflect on our nature in the perspective of reconciliation in the sense of changing ourselves, we address God with the words of the Psalm: «What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour» (8,4-5, New International Version).


We see that the definition of man proceeds from the Psalmist’s question. Only God knows who a man is in the last analysis, that is, in God’s creative thought, in God’s vision. This man was created not very far below the Angels, but he is now rather far from his «normal» state. When we ask: «what is man» in God’s presence, we mean man before the Fall, man in the Paradise that is not distorted by sin. The sin implied here is not sin in the usual moralistic sense, but in the essential, ontological perception that endures in the Orthodox tradition, although in a latent form. I say «in a latent form» because the Orthodox themselves are not always prepared to explain it. But the Orthodox faith preserves an enormous knowledge of «what is man» received from the Greek Patristic tradition and realised in the lives of the saints and even in the regulations of ecclesiastical and individual prayer.


In an inevitably schematic way one may say that we human beings have a double identity; that is, two persons live in us. One is authentically conceived and created by God «in his own image» (Gn 1,27), the other is empirical, superficial, apparent, profoundly wounded or affected by its fall, personal or impersonal, for which we are nevertheless absolutely responsible. This vision of human nature we can find in Paoline theology and then in many of the Church’ fathers of the East from Evagrius to St Maximus the Confessor and Gregory Palamas. Saint Paul reveals the mystery of the Word of God which is «sharper than any double-edged sword [which] penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit; joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in creation is hidden from God’s sight» (Hebr.4, 12). The Word, as well, as the Spirit, divides in man the god-like from the devil-like and thus reconciles the «divine» part of the soul with the God who is concealed in it. «The Spirit searches all things even the deep things of God» (1 Cor. 2, 10). The man is call to do the work of the Spirit in the light of the Word, that is to restore his initial nature, to return to his «God-likeness», damaged by sin, but not abolished completely, to become oneself in God, to recover from his illness which in eastern ascetic tradition means passionate part of our soul. «Any passion — says Maximus the Confessor, — that should be condemned is an unnatural movement of soul.» Further: «Impassivity (a-patheia) is a peaceful state; abiding in this state, the soul becomes resistant to the evil» (The chapters on love, First Hundred, 35,36).


Two persons, as it were, live in our soul and body; one of them is peaceful and passionless, claimed to existence by God and destined to be with Him in love and communion; the other distorted by sinful passions, aimed to self-love and self-gratification. We find this drama of inner split already in the New Testament; even St Paul confesses to be in «opposition» to himself. «Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it» (Rom. 7, 20). This testimony does not concern the human weakness of the greatest apostle alone but, more deeply, the intrinsic ambiguity of human nature, a nature in which one part severely judges the other. Every man lives in inner struggle, and the «field of battle» as in Dostoevsky’s famous definition of beauty is «the hearts of men». And not only beauty, but also many other things produced or experienced by men, including religion itself.


The «heart» is the biblical concept that means the most profound part of our being, that which is felt and thought in the soul and in the spirit. The existential situation described by St Paul is not that of our ordinary life, but results from interior judgement, from the work of conscience, from the vision of its «inner being», where «I delight in God’s law» (7,21). This «delight» is a sign of the divine vocation of man; and «God’s law» is the Word of God visible and incarnate in the man Jesus of Nazareth. In other words, the true Christian seeks to see Christ in himself and knows that his authentic nature corresponds to the true human nature of Christ. The Christian’s vocation and destiny is to struggle for this presence of Christ in his soul and in his body.


Metànoia


This battle in the very depth of our being is called metànoia, the change of mind, or penitence. Not only the confession of sins in the common moralistic sense, but the real fight against the evil which degrades our nature and our life. Yes, «sin is at work in the members of my body», as St Paul says (Rom 7, 23), and even more is it at work in my soul. But its infection cannot reach the «image of God» in me, that part of my nature which was and remains good and beautiful, created by God for Himself, according to St.Augustin’s words. This initial part of our being remains pure, untouched, sealed with God’s love and creative thought; and the supreme spiritual aim of human life is to return to it, to renew and to restore it. The cosmic combat that a holy man carries on in his soul against his spiritual enemies is the fight for his true identity, for the image of God, for the image of the Incarnate Word and the Holy Spirit.


If we look attentively at the inner life of those who were really engaged in this spiritual struggle and whom the Orthodox Church considers as «teachers» or «elders», we can note one thing which might seem paradoxical to our common sense. The monks, the ascetics, the hermits, those who «wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground» (Hebr.11, 38) in severe fasting and constant prayer, lived in peace with everybody, even with their worst enemies. But apparently they did not live always in peace with themselves and confessed themselves as the first and vilest of sinners. They judged themselves mercilessly and believed sincerely that they were worthy only of hell. Their utterances, when taken seriously, often leave us in perplexity.


«Believe me, brethren, — said the Pimen the Great, — where Satan is, there shall be also I». «I have not yet even begun my repentance», said another desert Father, before dying, after a long life in penitence and mortification of the flesh. Or St Andrew of Crete who created the famous «song of tears», that is, the canon of penitence read during Great Lent in all Orthodox churches, where Andrew recalls all the sins committed in the Bible and confesses them as his own sins. Or the permanent prayer of St Seraphim of Sarov: «My sins are countless, my Lord have mercy on me!» But after a lifetime passed in this confession, he can say to his pupil that the real aim of Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. An astonishing thing: between the acquisition of the Holy Spirit and the confession of all the sins and the self condemnation distance was not so great after all. In the last analysis, the bitterness of repentance and the joy and holiness of the Spirit co-exist in inseparable dialectical or, better, mystical unity. That is why most of these so called «sinners» were canonised, and their prayers became the models of everyday practice which the Church recommended to its children.


If this kind of repentance reproduced itself in so many persons who lived in different times, without any visible link with each other, it cannot be an obsession of the «unhappy conscience» (in Hegel’s term), but a real and living experience that is constantly reproduced in the history of the Church. This kind of existence is considered as the path to salvation, a paradoxical and most radical way to deny that we call «natural» life. This effort to be natural is profoundly unnatural in God’eyes, because it provides from that «other law» which, according St Paul, is «at work in members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin» (Rom.7, 23). It is not the question of any evil deed, but of the invisible state of our mind, of our intimate essence. «As much as it is easier to sin in thought than in deed, so much more difficult is mental struggle in comparison with the struggle conducted in things» — says Maximus the Confessor (The chapters on love, the Second Hundred, 72).


 This «difficult struggle» is engaged in for the sake of the inner, substantial reconciliation in the sense of changing oneself in order to conquer darkness by light in the human heart. But the darkness itself can be perceived and eliminated only in the permanent revelation of God’s presence. Every man should conquer the darkness in himself for the sake of God’s light which we bear in our soul. Judging ourselves, we do God’s work of inner purification and salvation. «It is known from long experience, — says one of the modern teachers of spiritual life, — everything that man repents, condemning himself and his deed before God and the people, disappears from his being, becomes as if it never existed, and the inner light is cleared from any darkness. When I confess, I blame myself for all my evil thoughts, because I honestly cannot find any sin in the world, which I have not committed by an instant touch of thought… But if only for a moment I was under the power of an evil thought, where is the guarantee that this instant will not become an eternity?» (Arch. Sofrony. Letters to Russia, M.1997, and p.49).


Enormous sense of responsibility before eternity which means a sharp sensation of eternity in oneself is proper to the Orthodox way of spiritual life. This nearness of Kingdom of God demands to do the work of God which transforms sinners into saints, when in the process of sanctification, which accomplishes by the acts of penitence, God Himself erases the impurity of man, cleans his soul and restores his new identity, new self «in true righteousness and holiness» (Eph. 4, 22-24). But the new self is indeed the ancient and primordial self, because it was created as God-like. The clearing of darkness gives space to that «true Light that gives light to every man» (Jn. 1, 9) and the purification of the soul by the grace of God initiates the process of theosis or deification of human being. Metànoia is a key and a secret of reconciliation with one’s own self, with one’s intimate God-like nature. It is a way of liberating one’s own true personality. Man obtains inner freedom from every burden of sin, eliminated by permanent confession and repentance, and the light or love of God enters in his soul as St Paul says: «I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me» (Gal.2, 20).


Accept the gift


It is the best image of the peace in God: the same Christ Who forgives those who crucify him is «living in me». It makes it clear that the inner reconciliation with God and with myself is also the best ground of the true peace with my neighbour. For Orthodox theology it is seen as part of the process of deification of man and appears as its fruit. It is a return to the mystery of man, to God’s image stamped on his being. First of all, this means the refusal to see another human being as a sign of something else, as a symbol, slogan, function, or role «revealed by flesh and blood». Reconciliation provides the capacity to perceive another person in the light of the same image of God, of the same Word is concealed in my own existence. But this capacity is not so evident as it may seem to be. It presupposes, as we said, the radical crisis or metànoia of our own identity where we can discover also our neighbour.


«Who is my neighbour?» (Lk 10, 29) — asked the expert in the law. In reply Jesus tells the story of a Good Samaritan. In this way he reverses the question and raises it for all of us. Who am I? What is my true identity before God, which reveals itself in my relation to my neighbour? Does God see me as Levite, as priest who always passes by «on the other side», as a «VIP» of my religion, as a believer of my confession, as a representative of the nation, as a bearer of a certain «brave» ideology or as a person created by Him in the image of His Son? According to an old patristic interpretation, the Good Samaritan is an image of Christ Himself, Who came to the earth to save fallen human nature and to give it peace.


When Christ said: «Peace I leave you; my peace I give you» (Jn.14, 27) — what did He mean? He meant, as we believe, that we become His «home» (Jn.14, 23) which He will build with His Father in the soul of those who follow His Word and who are reconciled with Him in love. The «home» of God is a place of His real presence, that is «love, joy, peace…» according to the Letter to Galatians (5,22) or that living memory which is a fruit of the Holy Spirit who «will remind you of everything I have said to you» (Jn.14, 26). All these things reveal the same mystery of reconciliation in the gift of the Holy Spirit and His grace. Orthodox theology insists that the gift of Spirit is absolutely free and gratuitous and that everybody should be ready to accept it; but its free acceptance demands greatest effort from our part.


To accept this gift of peace we must be open, because the peace of Christ cannot be reconciled with any closeness before our Lord. We must judge ourselves, because this judgement brings liberation. To be able to receive the free gift of God means to be free for it to live in peace with the image of God and His presence in every one of our neighbours. This liberation makes us citizens of His Kingdom which, as Jesus says, is «forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it» (Mt.11, 12). This combination, strange and astonishing, of using force with peace, discloses the secret of reconciliation between God and man in the Orthodox perspective. When we seek the peace of God we use force and violence on ourselves, but this kind of violence rules out any use of force against or between human beings.


Open wide the memory


Certainly there was a tendency, which has not disappeared in our times, to substitute violence towards others for violence towards oneself, both physical and moral. Whatever the «ideological cover» for this substitution—whether it was secular or very pious or confessional—for Orthodoxy it cannot be anything but a deformation of its spiritual essence. The authenticity of peace with God is proved first of all by peace with other human beings, especially with the enemy. But who is my enemy? If we want to find real peace, we should go further and ask about those who did evil to us after the question: «Who is my neighbour?» The two things are intimately connected with each other.


Every confession and every religious community has a long list of martyrs and victims, including those who suffered from another believing community. In the long history of Christianity there are many Orthodox people who suffered from Catholics, but there is also a good number of Catholics who were somehow persecuted by the Orthodox. There are countless Christians everywhere, but especially in the Middle East and North Africa, who lost their lives under Muslim dominion; but also Muslims can remember many of their brothers and sisters who were killed or raped by those who called themselves Christians. Without speaking of Jews who suffered from all peoples, but who are also capable to become persecutors and so on. Usually, we have rather good and jealous memory of the martyrs of our community, but we have (if we have it at all) a very limited memory of the martyrs of the others. And this painful memory of our sufferings (not always of our own personal sufferings, but of those who suffered for our faith) remains a constant source of conflicts. Sometimes we use our martyrs as our best weapon. And the first step to reconciliation is not to forget these martyrs and their sufferings, but to expand our memory to the sufferings and martyrdom of others. Or as St Paul said: «open wide our hearts» (6, 11) to make room for those with whom we do not agree in matters of faith. Viachteslav Ivanov, the great Russian poet and thinker, once proposed a remarkable formula: «Universal anamnesis in Christ». We can remember in Christ everybody, because every member of human family has the same nature as our God. But in order to see God’s nature in others, we must reveal or renew this nature in ourselves. As it is said in the famous passage of the 2nd Letter to the Corinthians:


«Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And He has committed the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us: Be reconciled to God» (5, 17-20).


This appeal for reconciliation derives from the vision of a mystical unity of the family of man, united in Christ who «died for all» (2 Cor.5, 14). These «all» include the good and the evil, faithful and unfaithful, martyrs and those whom we made martyrs. All of them are united in the human nature of our Saviour because his death -thanks to the paradoxical logic of Redemption — becomes the sacrament of reconciliation of the whole human family with God. And if Redemption is destined for all, then the service of reconciliation is a task that must become universal. I repeat: everything which comes from God is a free gift, but man must be able to receive it. God reconciled to Himself the whole world; but only a «new creation» can enter this world of reconciliation.


The Endeavour of Orthodox ecumenism


The word «reconciliation» means that this task is not achieved, that the «peace of Christ» is not at our disposal or in our possession, that it remains a permanent spiritual task. But what should be the first step? Obviously, besides the «invisible» combat which we discussed at the beginning of this essay, there is another imperative: that is, the reconciliation of Christians with each other. This question should be formulated at last in terms of the inner logic of each form of belief. How am I to reconcile my compact and self-sufficient religious universum with the experience of faith of the other? In what language can my truth explain itself to the other truth and in its turn listen to the other confession? This is the problem of so called «orthodox ecumenism». I say «so called» because this kind of ecumenism, to my mind, does not yet exist, at least theologically, because there is no valid conception of it besides the concept of «justification by witness». This conception means that Orthodox people participate in the ecumenical movement (sometimes, as the French say, «malgré lui»), but we justify our presence alongside other Christians by the necessity of witnessing to the truth of our faith. For all practical purposes, there is no other justification because we often do not know how to reconcile the certitude of our truth and spiritual life with openness to the truth and spirituality of the other.


That is why actual Orthodox ecumenism looks like a compromise with the «unfaithful» and why it is strongly criticised by so-called Orthodox fundamentalists who are, as we know, more and more numerous nowadays. They move in the logic of exclusion: if we are right, the other truths cannot exist. There is only one Christian faith, namely ours, and the world in error has nothing else to do except to return to us. But there is another logic, that of the love of Christ: our truth can be everywhere, there is true love, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If we are right, we should become a «new creation» and see the others with the eyes of new creation. And with these eyes we can discover our God in other homes, where there is a place for Him. We can ask: is it really impossible to find the Christ in Whom we believe in the other confession and to find peace with Him, not simply with the Transcendence or Religion of my neighbour, but with the God of my faith? How can we forget this if we believe that «the true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world» (Jn.1, 9), if we believe that the «Logos spermaticos» professed by the early Fathers of the Church lives in the whole family of man? The truth must not be a closed truth, especially in the true confession where its very essence is openness and light. In fact, the fundamentalism of truth means implicitly its identification with oneself.


I think an inevitable question arises in many of us: Given the intensity of the spiritual life professed by the Orthodox Church, where the division between man and man is brought to the depths of the soul and is overcome in cosmic battle, why does all this mystical life not function with the same force and efficiency on the ordinary, «middle» level? Why do the mystical and the ethical dimensions in the Orthodox Church seem to be separated? Why, as a rule, do so many people not behave as those who bring peace, but as militant partisans of their confessional or national corporation? Why are the fruits of this «life in Christ» not more evident, or, to put it differently, why are they so powerless historically? Why has the Orthodox Church like others so often been the victim of nationalism and its bellicose spirit?


One may try to answer in different ways. Let us begin with the an obvious and banal fact — the real «life in Christ» belongs to the very few people who really wage their «inner combat», who overcome the inner division and achieve reconciliation. When you meet a person who really prays and lives in the loving presence of God, you feel immediately the spiritual fragrance of God’s love. Everything that comes in contact with this person, both nature and human beings, seems taken over by grace received by him. In the life of Orthodox saints one often hears of an «emanation» of peace issuing from these persons, sometimes they lived with nearby bears or wolves as their friends; sometimes they were persecuted by false brothers who envied them, sometimes they could live in joy in the hell of prisons and concentration camps. Yet they did not respond to violence by hatred, and they always subdued evil by the spirit of peace. In fact, only they can be called the true Orthodox believers, because the very word «Orthodoxy» means the good and just glorification of God, glorification in our case by total obedience to God’s commandment of reconciliation.


The other answer is not so evident and deserves discussion. To my mind, Orthodoxy in its spiritual life, rooted in the ancient monastic tradition which remains a model for every member of the Church, did not in fact want to elaborate ethical norms for the ordinary life of laymen, or could not do so. It is true that between the mystical life of saints and the ethics of believers who live in the world there is a gap in Orthodox theology and practice. Orthodoxy created a very sophisticated anthropology, an acute and profound vision of the human soul as a place of dispute between God and devil. But where on earth lives the man with this soul? One may say that his spiritual life is separated from his work, his family and social activity. History, with its seasons, crimes and passions, intellectual development, philosophical upheavals, frustrations and achievements, always passes by the Orthodox soul which in its depth seems undisturbed by this commotion, well adapted to historical vicissitudes which remain always external to its inner life. The Orthodox Church, if we take one example, missed the whole humanistic heritage which was so organically knitted into Western Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant. However I think that it is this humanistic heritage that can contribute the connecting link between mysticism and morality, between a purely spiritual and a socially active life. To my mind, the assimilation of Christian humanism should become one of the major themes of the future ecumenical dialogue, that is, the dialogue of reconciliation.


There is no real contradiction between peace in a very spiritual and ascetic vision and in the most common sense, as there is no opposition between freedom in Christ and freedom in civil society . The fact that one can exist without an other does not imply yet that they are enemies. For the moment they remain strangers one to another, because the don’t the language or the inner logic of each other. I believe that the elaboration of this language is on agenda of the theology of the 21th century.


The principles of dialogue


However, in the Church nothing can be imposed from the outside, even the best and reasonable things; everything must grow from its inner holy roots, from «that which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes» as St John says in his First Letter (1, 1). Even the concept of social reconciliation should be originate and be developed from the Orthodox concept of peace conquered in the soul. Let us try to path the way from spiritual truth to the ethics and practice of the ecumenical and interreligious dialogue of reconciliation. I see at least three levels here.


The first level is purely practical: not to use my faith as a weapon against the other, as an «opinion» hostile to the other’s «opinion». The second level is ethical, that is, «humanistic»: to separate the truth of my faith from my own human (that is, national, confessional, linguistic) identity, not to assume that the whole truth is found in one’s own bosom. The third level is spiritual in St Paul’s sense: to share the truth of the other in the degree in which it breathes Christ and the Holy Spirit.


On each of these levels reconciliation demands a sacrifice or the application of the evangelical principle: «whoever loses his life (or «soul», in the original) for My sake will find it» (Mt.10, 39). What «for my sake» means is explained in the 25th chapter of Matthew: «whatever you did for one of these brothers of mine, you did it for Me» (25,40). The point is not reconciliation at a lower price, but an acquisition of peace through the Cross by refusing the property of one’s soul for the sake of becoming poor in spirit and recognizing one’s neighbour in his radically different, but nonetheless Christ-centred nature. If we say with St Paul that «God has called us to live in peace» (1 Cor.7, 15), this call concerns also the truth of our God, which can be seen, revealed and built even in the peace and truth of the other.


Surely for the Orthodox Church with its feeling of coherence of Tradition and fidelity and responsibility to it, this way of spiritual reconciliation is more difficult and even more painful than for other Christian families. Sometimes it can be hard and obstinate. The world often wants to obtain from the Orthodox Church the standard European fruits which must grow «in the east, in Eden» (Gn.2,8), it expects Orthodoxy to smell sweet in an eastern way while thinking and behaving in a liberal western manner. Yes, Orthodoxy can be rigorous in defending its faith, but this is not an inborn defect of ossified traditionalism. It is part of the nature of Orthodoxy and must find its place in the dialogue on reconciliation. It seems paradoxical, but this rigor can serve the memory of the price of reconciliation with God (1 Cor. 6, 20) and can lend force to the actual reconciliation of shaking hands and smiles, which has after all become a bit flat. But this reconciliation is achieved by refusing to settle historical scores, by refusing the position of hostile supremacy towards the world, refusing the consciousness of being the unique keeper or holder of «the depth of riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God» (Rom.11, 33). Reconciliation in this spiritual perspective is similar to evangelical poverty in spirit, to that internal judgement lived and experienced by the Orthodox saints. This reconciliation does not mean forgetting the truth of salvation in Christ, nor indifference; it only insists on the possibility of meeting Christ in the faith and in the heart of our neighbour, who is «not of this sheep pen», according to Jesus’ words (Jn.10, 16).


Return to the experience of saints


He said: «If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me» (Mt.16, 24). «He must deny himself» also for the sake of meeting with the stranger on the common land of the Gospel. When we take up the cross of reconciliation with our neighbour or enemy and follow the peace of God, this peace becomes more than a new way of life, it becomes our new personality. What we called at the beginning the change of identity in the Christian tradition is in the Church’s language called transfiguration. Transfiguration means the new being, but also the painful sacrifice of all that which cannot enter the Kingdom of God. One part of the human being must be offered up so that the other part is raised up. As it is said: «It is sown a natural body, it is raised the spiritual body» (1 Cor.15, 44). Our militant ideological identity is sown, our heart is raised up in Christ. Our national or confessional self-love is sown, our faith in the universal law of Christ is raised up. Our old empirical ego is sown, the holiness of our true nature is raised up.


The Orthodox faith dwells as much as it does on metànoia because it has in view the divine vocation of man. It starts with critical reflection on our actual situation and on our relationship with creation that is our very essence as man. To resolve the crisis we need the light of the Resurrection to live inside us. This was exactly the experience of the eastern saints. This experience is not a luxury in our days, but a sort of «historical necessity». It implies victory over our egoistic self, guided by «flesh and blood» and reconciliation with our true self sealed by the image of God. I believe that every crisis in the history of Christianity brings us once again to this image as well as to the initial message of Christ. This message brings the challenge or imperative of reconciliation. To reconcile with others means to find the mystery of our God also in their faith. Or, to meet their God in my own faith. Because thanks to the «universal anamnesis in Christ» or to the «universal responsiveness», (this is Dostoevsky’s word), we receive that gift of the Spirit which allows us to look into the heart of every of our neighbours on the earth.


Let me repeat the implicit initial question and three main principles of reconciliation in the Orthodox perspective, which I tried to previously present: What should we do to achieve peace with God, with our neighbour and with ourselves?


First of all, one must judge oneself, his emotional, intellectual, self-loving ego in the light of the gift we have already received, because the true motion is the real yeast which acts in reconciliation, first in the Holy Spirit, afterwards in society;


Second: one must open his memory and heart to include the existence of any other person together with his suffering, his hope and his faith.


Third: one must achieve a Christ-centred view of every human being, an openness to God’s presence also in him. Reconciliation in an Orthodox perspective means the change that occurs in us through the acquisition of the peace of God, and God gives us the peace with His whole creation in Jesus Christ, as the universal principle of Love, and in the Holy Spirit, as a force of Love.


For me to live means to be a Christian. It implies seeking Christ in the world and in myself. But this does not mean that I should oblige my neighbour or my enemy to become a Christian: it is more important that as Orthodox I can see the mystery of God in every human person.

Дата публикации: 21.12.2004