My son Ben attended Divine Liturgy Friday, which was the final service of the Diocesan Assembly, and informed me that Abbot Jonah Paffhausen gave the homily on obedience and the gnomic and natural will. Without knowing more about what he said, I’d like to reflect on this a bit.
Retaining individuality and a sense of identity is what is on my mind. If our natural will, which is united to Christ’s human will, is good, then our true selves can be freely manifested if we operate from it. If I understand correctly, where we get into trouble is with our gnomic will which will choose differently from our natural will and give into sin. But the odd thing to me is that to live by the natural will is to sort of give up our will, “not my will but Thine be done”. This seems contradictory to maintaining individuality. Perhaps I misunderstand what it means to be an individual. Maybe it is a societal misunderstanding. I tend to think that we are defined by our choices, or preferences. ‘I’m Victorian Romantic’, ‘I’m New Age Spiritualist’, ‘I’m an Academic’, ‘I’m an Engineer’, etc. In college we make these identities more concrete, though they are somewhat influenced by natural bent. “Natural” may be the wrong word as it seems to mix contexts of DNA, nurture and choice. Still, our society is geared to catering to people’s choices by offering a variety of options for purchase, including in education. There is even variety in chosen vices. The article below talks about Alcoholics, but I listed other addictions of choice in a previous post.
from Visibilium’s post on Archimandrite Meletios on AA.
It is fundamental to the understanding of Alcoholics Anonymous and how things work, that the alcoholics hand their will back to the care of God. That is a crucial part of their recovery. I have to say, at its heart, alcoholism has very little to do with the drinking of alcohol. It is a condition which has been described variously. One way is to say that it is self-will run riot. Another way of looking at it (and this takes some research on the part of people who aren’t used to using these words), is that since alcoholism responds to spiritual recovery, then perhaps the essence of alcoholism lies in it being a spiritual malady.
It seems that individuals vary according to their choices, some choices seeming valid, and others sinful, but the Christian’s choice is obedience to God’s will, which I am assuming is to live according to our own natural will, however much that varies from person to person. I guess that is my question. If Orthodoxy is the One True Church, and the Church is the Body of Christ with His Mind (nous?), then everyone would naturally, not gnomically, choose to be Orthodox. Yet there are two most famously stark, at least on a surface level, options in Orthodoxy – Russian or Greek. Most converts in the west, where The Church isn’t as indigenous, tend to choose between these two based on individual preference. But so far the Church has said it doesn’t matter because Jurisdictions are fundamentally the same, cultural differences do not change this. So authentic Orthodoxy, thus our authentic natural will, accommodates some variety of individual style.
Perhaps individuality comes to play in form rather than content. Content has a deeper, more universal resonance, while form is more up for grabs, to some extent. Our individual sins take on different forms, but are universally, in content, distractions from God. Thus giving up our will to sin isn’t necessarily giving up our natural will that is part of our personhood, which is united to Christ. It will probably remain mysterious how we become “little Christs” and remain ourselves. Studying Essence and Energy brings this out for me more than Absolute Divine Simplicity, in my current understanding. I suppose our individual valid preferences will be participated in with a certain accompanying invisible peace, love, and joy as sinful choices are overcome.
But the giving up of sinful choices feels like death to individuality. What I want is so ingrained in who I think I am as a person, that giving it up feels like the end of life, and that I will become a dead sort of robot. Self-indulgence and getting what I want feels like the only way to be fulfilled as a person. Choosing what someone else wants or needs feels like they win and I lose. It seems that they get the joy and I get the pain, though perhaps I will get some joy too after my body finally dies excruciatingly long after my will and my soul have already done so.
Perhaps a focus on soul would be helpful. I think Orthodoxy teaches that our souls are infused in every part of our life – mind, will, heart, and body. Maybe Watchman Nee is still messing me up – to him “soul” is mind, will and emotions (I think). This latter definition of soul sounds like it is indeed killed when choosing with your mind to surrender your will, which very negatively impacts your emotions. Sadness and loss of what we want are emotions connected with death.
I think I need to let that sink in and see if I can readjust.