Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Tears and Fire: Recovering a Neglected Tradition V

Becoming Virgin

I heard a young man singing one day
Would that someone would pull me down and rebuild me, and make me a virgin once again,
and I told him that this request of yours is possible with Jesus.

How is this single-heartedness achieved? Through self-knowledge, a rigorous and unflinching, though dispassionate examination of all the ways in which we seek power, status and security by the creation of the kinds of illusion Isaac has listed in his description of 'the world'. But this rigorous honesty is not self-judgment: that would be assuming another kind of power. It is rather allowing one's self to be exposed to the light of God that illuminates and burns away all that is not pure, and it is that piercing light that is katanyxis, the painful shock that shows us the illusory nature of our perceptions about our selves, the sham image we desire to project, It is the shock that begins to turn us toward repentance, the penthos which is the matrix of holy tears.

All of us constantly create these illusions about our selves. Secular society is built on them—which is why a single-hearted person is so disturbing to it. Self-image is what sells billions of pounds' worth of goods every year by advertising which insinuates that our appearance is everything, and that our status in the world depends on owning this or that product, or being seen in this or that place. But it is precisely this illusory self-image that must be given up. It must be given up because it is a trap that enslaves, and it is a trap that is built up to give us illusory security from the fantasies we have about death (Heb. 2:14-15); God becomes incarnate to free us precisely from this slavery, and the word salvation, in one of its oldest forms, means being sprung from a trap.

[4] Isaac of Antioch, tr. Sebastian Brock in Syriac Perspectives on Late Antiquity (London 1984), pp. v, 27-8.


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