Friends, the following is from a series of talks gathered under the title Prayer and Holiness by a modern Romanian Orthodox theologian, Fr Dumitru Staniloae. Fr Dumitru was imprisoned by the communists for five years from 1958-1963. His life’s work was that of a translator (The Philokalia among others writings) and a theologian who breathes the spirit of the Fathers of the Church.
The Fathers saw sanctity as an ever-increasing likeness of man to God, brought about by the purification of the passions, and by growth in the virtues which culminate in boundless love. This implies a deepening of the human conscience, illuminated by the light of the consciousness of God. According to the Fathers the virtues are the attributes of God in their human expression, that is, they are the ever-deepening reflection of his light, his consciousness, in the consciousness of man. Through the virtues God first of all becomes man in man, and then he causes man to become God. This means that through the virtues human consciousness never ceases to expand. The virtues are the wings on which man soars ever higher into the light of God, while his conscience descends ever deeper. But he is never dissolved in God. He is able, and feels the need, to fly to an ever-greater height, constantly to assimilate more of the good things of God, to let his consciousness expand—for all being culminates eternally in God, the source of all good, the infinite source of all consciousness or light….
The world has no meaning except as a sphere for dialogue between God and men. Men respond to the deeds of God in the world with deeds of their own. But in their prayer, they ask God to intervene. Their prayer is an affirmation of awareness that the freedom of God does intervene in the world for their good. In prayer they affirm their conviction of being something more than cogs in the wheels of nature. In prayer they recognize themselves as being objects of God’s special concern.
It might be objected that man can intervene in nature because his mind is so closely interwoven with his physical make-up (and therefore with his immediate surroundings) that his movements inevitably have repercussions on those of nature. But why should we not also allow that there is a connection between God and the world so close as to make them inseparable, that the world is rooted in God, and that the movements of God’s will, unconditioned as they are, always leave their imprint on the conditioned world? And so, just as the link between the human spirit and material nature is a great and impenetrable mystery, the link between God and the world is a mystery even greater and more impenetrable. We shall in any case never find pure matter as a separate substance either in the human body or in any of the things accessible to man through his senses. Far less, shall we ever find the material substance of the whole world utterly destitute of the divine spirit. If we ever did, that would imply a world which, as a self-enclosed mechanism, entirely governed by scientific laws would be ultimately without meaning. Against this the prayer of man affirms and actualizes the dialogue in which man and God engage freely in this world and beyond it.