Orthodox America

  Man – the Temple of God

By an Athonite Monk

The Word of God tells us that when the Tabernacle of Moses was built and the priesthood and divine services were instituted, that it was pleasing to God, for the glorification of His name, to send down fire from heaven on the first sacrifice. And when the Temple of Solomon was built and the Ark of the Covenant was taken into it, a cloud of light surrounded the temple and the glory, of God filled the house of God. After the destruction of the Temple of Solomon the Jews built another temple in Jerusalem, after their return from the Babylonian captivity, It was not as magnificent nor as richly adorned as the first, but the prophet Haggai proclaimed that the glory of this temple would be greater than the former, that it would be visited by the One Who is awaited by all peoples, Christ the Redeemer. We know that the Lord revered this temple and He wished His temple to be a house of prayer and not a den of thieves. When He went once into the Temple in Jerusalem, as St. John the Theologian relates (John 2:14-21), He saw people there selling sheep, oxen and doves. He made a whip out of rope and drove the sheep and oxen out of the temple and overturned the tables of the money-changers and said: Make not My Father's house an house of merchandise.. When the Jews saw what zeal He manifested for the temple of God, they began to demand a sign from Him, but the Lord said to them: Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up (John 2:19-21). The Lord was speaking of the temple of His Body, and had in mind His approaching death and Resurrection after three days. And when the Lord rose from the dead, His disciples understood that He had been speaking about the temple of His Body. 

    The Most High does not live in temples made with hands, although Solomon built Him a temple (Acts 7:42, 48), for Christ dwells in the souls of the faithful, as the Apostle writes: Know ye not that ye are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? (I Cor. 3:16), or, Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit Which is in you, Which ye have of GOd? (I Cor. 6:19)

      And with what divine glory the Lord adorned the Most Pure Virgin Theotokos. In hymning and glorifying the Mother of God in the hymns of the Church, we call Her 'Temple of the Godhead," "Palace of glory." Being herself a most pure temple of the Holy Spirit, when she was three years old she was taken by her parents to be brought up in the Temple of Jerusalem. Here she occupied herself with prayer, mindfulness of God and handiwork, here she was found worthy to partake of the food of heaven brought to her by an angel, here in the temple of the Lord, the Archangel Gabriel revealed to her the mystery of the salvation of the entire world: "Rejoice, thou full of grace! Fear not, for thou hast found favor with God. Thou shalt bear a Son Who will be called SOn of the Most High." Obedient to the Providence of God, she replied to him: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to Thy word (Luke 1:28-38). At that time she received the Holy Spirit of God. The Power from on high overshadowed her, and she became the dwelling-place of God the Word, greater than the Holy of Holies.

      And when the most pure Virgin visited her relative Elizabeth, from her greeting alone, she herself began to prophesy, being filled with the Holy Spirit. And the infant John, being a prophet, the future Forerunner and Baptist of the Lord, while yet in the womb was sanctified, like the Prophet Jeremiah, and sensing the grace, he leapt and greeted the Lord with the lips of his mother, saying: Whence is this to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? (Luke 1:43).

      The grace of the All-Holy Spirit sanctified the patriarchs, the prophets who were zealous for the glory of God and who called the people to piety. But even greater grace shown forth in the New Testament Church after the suffering of Christ the Saviour o the Cross, His ascension into heaven and the granting of the All-Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost The disciples and apostles of Christ became divinely inspired vessels of grace, temples of God, and by God's power they could work great miracles and signs: raise the dead, heal the sick, cast out demons speak in many tongues, and know the mysteries o the Kingdom of God. Like a multitude of heavenly stars, a great host of vessels of divine grace began to shine in the Church of Christ; these persons became temples of Christ: martyrs, monastic saints, hierarchs, righteous men.

        As the temple of God, the human soul is divine and immortal; it is the breath of Almighty God joined with the body for trial and ascent to divine likeness. The soul is in the body. The mind acts on the soul. Nature works on the body. The organ of physical sight is the eye; the organ of the sight of the soul is the mind; a God-loving mind is light for the soul and its becoming divine. According to the words of St. Gregory the Theologian, the soul is in three parts, like the image of the Holy Trinity. The mind of man is like the First, Pre-eternal mind; it has its essence and activities or energies and strives to the knowledge of the goodness of the Holy Trinity, which is Mind, Word and Spirit.

       The soul is in the world, as being born, but the mind is above the world, as being unborn. The nature of the human soul is distinct from the nature of the angels in that it has the life-giving spirit which by its activity gives life to the earthly body to which it is joined. The soul is omnipresent in the body as God is in the world.

       Just as the body has many members, and altogether they are called "man", so the soul has many members: mind, conscience, will, thoughts that condemn and justify; but the soul itself--this is the inner man. I am this mind and soul which dwells in the depths of the heart like a virgin in a bridal chamber. The soul must not give itself over to the influence of foolish servants---the senses of hearing, sight, taste, smell, touch--so as not to be corrupted The soul is free, self-governing and possesses mind, will and feeling. In this way, the three-part soul, the internal man, being a mental essence, is the most divine and marvelous likeness and image of the Life creating Trinity, and, in the words of St. Symeon the New Theologian, is “better and higher than the entire world," while the world, the universe, is the schoolhouse for rational souls. The love of the soul for the heavenly King sets it free from all love for the world."

         A pure soul is called the temple, the daughter of the King, the queen, a most fair bride. And the Word of God says that the soul and body are the house of God, for all the beauty of the daughter of the King is within (Ps. 44:14). And Jesus Christ reigns in holy souls.

         But it is a great labor to build the house of your soul, a palace, a dwelling-place for Christ. And let this be the only object of desire--to have in the soul a treasury and light and life, that is to have the Lord in mind. For the death of the soul comes with separation from God, while the life of the soul is in serving God and in virtue.

         What food is for the body, prayer is for the soul. A horse is not gifted with reason, so they put a bridle on it and guide it. So it is with the body; its natural desires must be bridled by the rational soul that loves God.

        If you want Christ to dwell within you, do not bring evil thoughts into your soul. The Holy Fathers say that the rational soul is more precious than the entire universe. Tile mind is the rider; it drives the chariot of the soul, holding the reins of the thoughts, and it sets out against the chariot of Satan. God and the angels witness the struggle.

         In your patience possess ye your souls (Luke 21:19), and so prepare your soul for temptation, govern your heart and endure (Sirach 2:1) A person knows how much a pony or a donkey or a camel can carry, how long to keep a pot on the fire. How much more does the All-wise God know to what extent each soul can be subjected to temptations so that it becomes skilled and useful for the Kingdom of Heaven. The mental spiritual state is when the body and the soul in all things are subject to the spirit, and the mind subject to God and His will. This is health for the soul. The commandments of God were given against the passions, to cleanse tee soul and conduct it to its primal condition. If the soul loves God, it finds its rest in God, in Him alone; it does not fear death; it is filled with joy, happiness and hope in God. It entrusts itself to the Lord in everything` so that in everything, great and small, it petitions the Lord, its Maker, in prayer.

       The unceasing remembrance of God, with love, sanctifying the mind, all our thoughts and senses, does not permit anything impure to settle in our soul. This is the resurrection of the soul prior to the General Resurrection.

       When, in the tripartite soul, according to St. Gregory the Theologian, in the thinking function there dwell good will, knowledge and wisdom; in the incensive--courage and patience; in the desiring-love, chastity and continence, then the soul, ceaselessly meditating on the word of the Lord, and in sleep also will be occupied with meditation. When the soul departs from 'the darkness and the time draws near for the spiritual man to rise up, then there Come peace from thoughts, joy, vigilance, knowledge of warfare. The heart burns and is inflamed day and night; the world becomes like dust and ashes; a flow of tears is granted at all times and at every task. This is a sign that we have sailed across the sea. Then the soul is reflected in nobility, beauty and righteousness of the first-created creation, and then, according to the words of St. Anthony the Great, it is entirely virtue, and the mind becomes clairvoyant, that is, then the soul, enlightened by the light of God, beholds other souls and spiritually apprehends their nature with the natural eye But not many Christians attain this knowledge. Then the image of God is reflected in the soul, while His likeness is in its virtue and sanctity.

        In proclaiming such a divinely-wise teaching concerning the God-like soul, the wisdom-loving Fathers summon the lovers of Christ to the struggle of prayer.

         When a temple is being built, an angel is sent by God to be the guardian angel of this temple, to guard it to the last day. All the faithful, at their birth by grace through water and the Spirit in the Mystery of Baptism, receive sanctification, and every person is granted a guardian angel. But to prevent the guardian angel from departing from us, each person must be a temple of God. The deification, theosis, of man is the purpose of Christian life. In his first epistle to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes: If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are (I Cor. 3:17). 

When can a person become a temple of God? When the spirit of a man is consecrated by the Spirit of God. Let us take an example from The Way of a Pilgrim. How was the temple of his soul built? He sought and labored a great deal until the Lord revealed to him--through his guide and the Holy Fathers--the most reliable path to inner sanctity. He realized that abstaining from crude sins out of fear of torment or the desire for reward is the path of a stave or hireling, that this kind of abstinence is fruitless. The Lord desires us to come to Him by the path of the love of a child, with the insatiable desire to be joined with Him in our heart and soul.

        The beginning of this is putting our life externally in an order that is godly: discreet silence of our lips, a measured abstinence in food and drink and sleep. At the Same time, we must maintain care for the unceasing prayer of Jesus. One needs only the proper disposition of soul in order to pray everywhere-on the road, at work, at every place and time. Jeremiah prayed in the miry pit, Daniel in the lions' den, the three youths in the Babylonian furnace, Job on the dunghill, Moses at the sea, Jonah in the belly of the whale, the thief on the cross, and the first martyr Stephen at his last breath, when he was being stoned. The grace of the Spirit has made us all ; temples of God. The name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when called Upon by us, enters into the depths of the heart, humbles our passions. You yourself are temple; do not look for a place, but cry out: "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me." And remain in mental prayer and remembrance of God. When the mind is united in God alone, then we become temples el God through unceasing prayer. 

       Unceasing prayer, remembrance of God. these are very fruitful activities, the most precious tradition of the Church, a divine institution, a spiritual treasure, the inheritance of the Apostles and Holy Fathers who received and passed it on to us at the command of the Holy Spirit.

      Just as the holy angels behold God and do not turn their eyes from Him, so we, too, while we are in our bodies, must mentally look to God from the time we awake to the time we fall asleep. Our breathing can take the place of a prayer rope and the remembrance of Jesus can be joined with our breathing m the Jesus Prayer. Prayer leads the spirit into the realm of God, and from the spirit, the body also par takes of life 

Prayer is the most important work of all. We must serve God in holiness and righteousness in the temple of the altar of the inner man. This is the mental activity of the inner man, whereby true humility and knowledge of God are acquired. Here is the essence of Christian life.

        All the Holy Fathers in the Philokalia call the Jesus Prayer the most fruitful, because the heart is purified by the inner struggle of repentance.

       The labor of repentance is made up of: 1) purification of thoughts, 2) unceasing prayer, 3) enduring the trials that one meets. In the Jesus Prayer it is the struggle of the soul which takes first place, and not the struggle of the body. The penitent must bear his struggle and entreat Christ our God for sanctification and the strength to fulfill his commandments. "Pray, so that in your mind the Lord Christ may dwell, for it is on this account that the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil" (I John 3:8). In prayer you should not think about thoughts, but drive them out. One must not oppose evil thoughts, but cast oneself before God, for this is the sign of wisdom and knowledge.

       During church services do not permit your mind to wander, but occupy yourself with the Jesus Prayer, with the purpose of repentance, calling God to help you, paying close attention to your heart, your thoughts, and the words of prayer, with contrition of spirit. Then it will be easier to attend to the readings and hymns in church. Say the prayer without rushing, one syllable at a time, so that your mind can dwell on the words and take its form from them.

       Always pray for the forgiveness of sins. In solitude, prayer is purer, but despair attacks. The teacher of good prayer is God Himself. He grants prayer to those who pray and blesses the season of the righteous. The angel of God revealed to the Fathers that the best form of prayer is first to thank God and then to set forth your petitions.

      Calling on the name of God, you will acquire purity of spirit and body, and the Holy Spirit, the Source of all good things, will dwelt in you as St. Seraphim of Sarov says, and He will direct you in sanctity, in all piety and purity.

      At work or on the road, quietly say, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." If other people are around, say to yourself: "Lord, have mercy."

      The Jesus Prayer, when it is spoken by the lips, the tongue, is called labor, physical activity. Prayer is difficult when the heart is hardened, cold, unfeeling, or when the passions rise up. Pronounce the prayer not loudly, but just loud enough to hear yourself, reverently, without haste, so that you not be distracted; this wilt gather your attention, lock your mind in the world of the prayer. Then also audible prayer passes over into mental prayer. The place for total attention is the place of the heart. Or, as Bishop lgnaty Brianchaninov writes, the spirit, or the logical power of the mind, which is in the upper portion of the heart--that is where your attention should be.

      The first fruits of prayer are attentiveness, compunction, or tears. Tears during prayer is a sign of God's mercy. Then our eyes are opened to behold our sins, then comes the sense of God's presence, the clear memory, of death, fear of judgment and condemnation. All these fruits of prayer are accompanied by weeping. Then comes the sense of quiet, of humility, love for God and neighbor, for all persons, without distinguishing between good and evil, the endurance of afflictions.

      When the gift of tearful prayer is strengthened in us by God's mercy, then the inner warfare is weakened within us, thoughts fall silent, and abundant mental prayer and prayer of the spirit begin to act. Then tears are transformed from bitter ones to sweet and there comes the sense of spiritual delight, consolation, incomparable with the joys of the earth. Humbleness of mind and a sense of humility begin to show themselves.

      In prayer of the heart, a person soberly delving with his mind into his heart must not hearken to anything except God, for the grace of God wages war against the passions.

      When there is attentiveness in the heart and the mind is in the heart, the mind does not depart from the heart, and the heart sympathizes and is reverent before the words of the prayer. Then the soul chants and prays in the heart alone. All the Fathers labored in guarding the heart, and this activity is called stillness or attentiveness or sobriety and opposition to thoughts, guarding the mind. This is poverty of spirit. For in their hearts there was no attachment to the world, no worldly thoughts.

      In this manner, the Jesus Prayer first acts on the mind alone, bringing it to the condition of quiet and attention; then on the heart, by revealing a feeling of compunction and lamentation; then on the body, introducing passionlessness.

      When the entire soul is clinging to God, and the mind is not torn away from God, from the praises of God, then grace and the self-control of the struggler lead a person into the realm of pure prayer. Before pure prayer there is no other prayer in words or for the mind, but there is astonishment, when the light of the Ail-Holy Trinity shines forth and, as St. Gregory of Sinai says, the mind itself takes on the appearance of light, forgets itself and its feelings. Then the soul is like an angel. Those who attain to such spiritual vision, like the sofas of the resurrection, are like the minds equal to the angels and the saints in the heavens, for they have learned the love of God and the mysteries of the age to come and have become temples of God.

      This is the path which the lover of God travels, putting his inner, spiritual temple in order--from quantity to quality, from audible prayer to mental prayer, from mental prayer to prayer of the heart, from prayer of the heart to vision. Thus, by means of unceasing prayer he presents an altar for God in his mind, where, alone with the One, in private, with his service, he attains to the mystical visions of beholding the Invisible. 

      St. Sergius, St. Seraphim of Sarov, Sts. Anthony and Theodosius of the Kiev Caves, St. Ioasaph of Belgorod, and other saints acquired the grace of the Holy Spirit by the unceasing Prayer of Jesus and became temples of God, enduring many afflictions and tumults. In the same way we also must imitate them in our life, submit the flesh to the spirit, be vigilant, pray, make prostrations, fast, be abstinent in everything, offer repentance, be contrite and weep over our sins.

      Our whole life is a struggle for humility and the acquisition of the grace of the Holy Spirit, so that here on earth we can be vouchsafed the adoption to sonship through becoming like unto our Father in heaven. And for this, while still on earth, a man must enter into communion with God. In church, we commune with the saints, with the entire heavenly Church. Here we pray, here we are sanctified by the Holy Mysteries. The Lord has prepared everything for us. The entire universe is like a royal palace, and we can pray in any place. We only must have a pure conscience before God and man and things, so that the Lord will accept our prayer and so that our soul might become the temple of the Holy Spirit, so that we might become dwellers of the heavenly Jerusalem, which shines with the glory of God, where there will be no temple, for the Lord Almighty is its temple and Lamb.