Larger on the Inside than on the Outside
One of the most common biblical descriptions for the commandments of God is the image of the path or the road. To “walk in the commandments” is to be on the path to the Kingdom of God, the right way. Of course, the idea of being on a path implies one way and not another. It means to be going this way on this path or road, not going just anywhere by any old way. Our Lord highlights this sense of there being only one way when he describes the path of his Commandments as a narrow way.
Any follower of Christ who takes Him and His word seriously will feel within himself, at first, this narrowness. The Commandments of God limit us, they hedge us in from all of the other ways that are open in the world. All around us people are taking many different ways and walking many different paths just as they please. But a Christian is one who has willingly and freely chosen one path, the narrow way of Christ, over and against all others.
To most people on the outside this narrow path seems like a straitjacket, terrible and restrictive. It appears to them as a great loss of personal freedom, which to most of us in the modern world is the greatest good.
It is interesting, then, that we hear in Psalm 118 something seemingly quite to the contrary. Psalm 118, by far the longest in the Psalter, is the great psalm of the lover of the commandments of God, of the one whose delight is in the will and way of God. It is thus not accidental that we chant this psalm at the Lamentations/Praises of Great and Holy Friday for our Lord, for the psalm is truly the prayer of the Righteous Man, the True Adam, the One who has loved the way of God. In other words, the psalm is properly understood as the prayer of Christ Himself.
It is noteworthy, then, that we hear in Psalm 118 these words: “I walked in spaciousness, for after the commandments have I sought.” And again: “Of all perfection have I seen the outcome; exceeding spacious is thy commandment.”
This appears to be a contradiction, the narrow way of the commandments being spacious. But as the Fathers of the Church teach us, what appear to be contradictions in Scripture are actually invitations - doorways - to higher truth. What, in this case, can that higher truth be?
In The Last Battle, the final book of The Chronicles of Narnia, as Lucy makes her first progress in the higher land, having entered through what she thought was a garden gate, she realizes that the door to what she perceived to be a small garden has, in reality, opened on to a broad, spacious land.
Lewis’ repeated use in The Chronicles of Narnia of doorways which lead to something whose inside is larger than its outside - the garden gate, the stable door, and, of course, the wardrobe - is suggestive of the truth stated finally by Faun Tumnus: “The further up and the further in you go, the bigger everything gets.”
Thus it is with the commandments of Christ. They are, it is true, like a doorway, narrow and restrictive, so narrow that our Lord can call it “the eye of a needle.” And yet strangely - mystically - this doorway, narrow and restrictive, opens up onto the spaciousness and broad land of the Kingdom of God. Thus it is that the Fathers say that Christ is hidden in His commandments and that we find Him and are joined to Him in the keeping of them.
The spiritual truth hidden within this paradox is simple even if it is not obvious to the man of the world: what passes for freedom is most often slavery to the passions. And likewise, what seems narrow and restrictive - the keeping of Christ’s commandments - in truth opens the door to what the Fathers call “apatheia”: freedom from the slavery to the passions and desires of the flesh which leads to freedom for participation in Divine life.
Ultimately, this mysterious realization that “the inside is larger than the outside” is based on the Christian vision of the human person as a creature made in the image and likeness of God. As we see in the Mother of God, whose “womb became more spacious than the heavens,” the human person has the potential to become larger on the inside than on the outside and, in truth, larger than the whole physical cosmos, for he has contained within himself the mystery of the heart, the dwelling place of the infinite God. To walk the narrow way of Christ’s commandments opens the door that reveals Christ hidden within them. And to find Christ there is, as Psalm 118 says, to walk in spaciousness, having within us, dwelling in our heart, Him whom the heavens cannot contain.
With love in Christ, Fr John
“Give me a word!”
Never cease studying the Gospel till the end of your life. Do not think you know it enough, even if you know it by heart. The Lord’s commandments are “exceedingly broad,” (Ps 118.96) even though they are expressed in few words. The Lord’s commandment is infinite, just as the Lord Who uttered it is infinite. The practice of the commandments and progress in them is unlimited. The most perfect Christians, brought to a state of perfection by divine grace, remain imperfect in regard to the commandments of the Gospel.
+St Ignatius Brianchaninov
The divine Logos of God the Father is mystically present in each of His commandments. God the Father is by nature present entirely and without division in His entire divine Logos. Thus, he who receives a divine commandment and carries it out receives the Logos of God who is in it; and he who receives the Logos through the commandments also receives through Him the Father who is by nature present in Him, and the Spirit who likewise is by nature in Him. ‘I tell you truly, he that receives whomever I send receives Me; and he that receives Me receives Him that sent Me’ (John 13:20). In this way, he who receives a commandment and carries it out receives mystically the Holy Trinity.
+St Maximos the Confessor