The one thing needful

by Andrea Elizabeth

If true freedom is the ability to choose among a variety of goods, then why do all pious Orthodox look the same? The more pious an Orthodox person is, the more flowingly they are covered up, including the men’s faces. The more pious they are, the more they say the same thing all day long – Kyrie Eleison. The more pious they are the more sparse their lifestyle, until they dwell with nothing but a hole in a rock and an icon or two. Basically, the more they choose one thing.

If freedom of will initially manifests itself in the ability to loosen fallen passions by abstinence, with the goal of attaining life in Christ, how is one not absorbed in an ADS way into the One? I don’t like the idea of individuality being in terms of preference, but perceptually, it is what it seems like. One person likes purple, one likes sushi, and one likes the ocean, and that combined with their differing coloring and proportions constitutes their individuality. Things can be further boiled down to temperament, activity, and ascetics. You are what you eat? You are what you like? That doesn’t matter that much to me anymore – you are how healthy your choices are, and healthy choices are based on being virtuous and pious or not. And the more virtuous and pious you are, see paragraph 1.

One could differentiate between pious solitary monastics and more socially conscious people, but I hear that the hermits are interceding for the world too. The more virtuous, the more selfless, and again doesn’t this lead to being absorbed into the One, like the drops of water into the sphere of water that Tolstoy describes? Icons retain their different coloring, but they are still translucent to some degree. The divine light even obliterates some of that on the Mount of Transfiguration. But they still had names. Moses, Elijah, Peter, James and John. They still had individual experiences of divinity. I don’t get the sense that they are as lost in it as Tolstoy and even Lewis describes in Out of the Silent Planet.

So if a virtuous, pious person is one who becomes self-less, and united with suffering humanity as well as to the Trinity (there, that’s four things, no two) then what is humanity? There is one human nature. I think I’ve read that humans are intended to be as united in their humanity as the Trinity are in their divinity. We say the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one, so humans are one. It was the fall that separated us from each other as well as from God.

Setting aside preferences for different varieties of creation, created things can manifest God as a prism manifests light through variety. Oh yes, I had the idea recently that the Transfiguration seemed to absorb all distinctions because the Apostle’s eyes weren’t accustomed to the brightness. With increasing exposure, pious people would still be able to see individual things that retain their God-given individuality.

And surely there’s pious marriage and not just pious monasticism. A married person still has to attain a certain singleness of commitment and focus. Icons of married Saints like Elizabeth and Zachariah, and Joachim and Anna are different than icons of single Saints. They are shown together embracing in a unique way. Well, icons of the Theotokos and Christ are similarly embracing. I’ve seen pictures of hermits embracing icons, and monastics can sometimes hold their prayer ropes similarly. Part of being human is needing a touchstone.