“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?” (1 Cor. 6:19)
At current, there is a war against humanity. This war started in the garden of Eden. The devil seeks to pervert, twist, and even destroy the image of man. He does so because man is created in the image and likeness of God. The evil one seeks our spiritual demise and also strives to defame our bodies. This is being manifested in a variety of transhumanist goals that are being promoted very openly (together with other things). They seek to alter humanity, to change its image; moreover to create a “new” image. Of course, our spirits are under siege but our bodies are too. The devil hates the whole of man. There seems to be a very concerted effort to pollute the body also, even using technological means to do so. A union of man with technology is sought, this is called the internet of bodies. Technological la-la lands are being offered where one can become lost in an unsubstantial, paltry, and false existence of digital deception. Injections are offered that are promising to modify even the genome of humanity. Thus, we as Christians must comprehend the significance of our bodies, which are created by God, and why guarding them is equally part of the spiritual life.
Orthodox anthropology clearly testifies that man in his completeness is a psycho-somatic being. At times, Patristic thought may discuss the body and soul as being distinct for didactic reasons. When using the term ‘man’ the Fathers include the ‘body’ just as much as the ‘soul’. Each is equally vital for life in the Spirit. Physical death, which is a result of sin, is the temporary and unnatural separation of the soul from the body; yet this effect of sin will be completely healed at the Second Coming of our Lord and the resurrection of all. A fundamental teaching of Christianity is the resurrection of the body. The body is not a dispensable item, it is part of the sacred total of man.
The body is equally an heir of eternal life together with the soul, that is the whole of man. The body experiences the movements of the soul, and the soul is affected by the desires of the body.1 The spiritual man is he who through ascetic struggle and grace once again brings the two together into one unified vision, a vision that was first shattered by the fall.2
Through the fall the human body was reduced to mortality, corruption, decay, and death. Yet the body, being created good, was not only assumed and redeemed but also sanctified by Christ Jesus in His Incarnation.3 The great importance of the body in spiritual struggle is made clear by St. Gregory Palamas: “Every soul has its companion, the body, as its covering, anyone who fails to preserve his body and cleanse it in this life by means of self-control, purity and chastity, will posses it then as a useless garment, unworthy of that incorruptible bridechamber, and the cause of his being thrown out.”4
If the body becomes weighed down by the various passions of the flesh they will act as a ball and chain to the soul, hindering it from true ascent. It also seems possible that the body can become sedated through physical influences, such as drugs (pharmaceuticals included). Although the effects may be physical in origin they become spiritual hindrances also. The body muddled and dulled by physical influences passes this on to the soul. Today there are many ways to chemically dull a person’s senses, this, in turn, hinders spiritual perception. It behooves us as Christians to be on guard against physical agents that seek to alter our bodies and their proper perception.
St. Paul tells the Corinthians, “What consonance has Christ with Belial? Or what portion has a believer with an unbeliever? And what common disposition has a temple of God with that of idols? For you are a temple of the living God, even as God said, ‘I will dwell in them, and walk about in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be to Me a people” (2 Cor. 6:15-16).
The soul acts as the receptacle by which the body is enlightened. St. Symeon the New Theologian, echoing St. Gregory the Theologian, tells us that the soul is to the body what God is to the soul. The soul shares with the body the grace given to it by the Spirit. The soul of the believer being set ablaze by the Spirit communicates this to his whole body. He [the believer] burns with the Spirit and becomes in his soul wholly aflame. He shares this radiance with his body, in the way that visible fire shares its own nature with molten iron, and, as the theologian has said,5 the soul becomes for the body what God has become for the soul. For as the soul is unable to live without being illumined by the Creator, neither does the body live without being empowered by the soul … When God … dwells in … His true servants … we believe and confess that the worthy souls of such people are inseparable from God. As the soul extends throughout the whole body and no part lacks its share, so is it necessary that the flesh in turn, being inseparable from the soul … be wholly directed by the soul’s will.6
The man abiding in the grace of the Holy Spirit has restored in his person the proper order of human existence. His soul, attuned to the grace of God, directs his body in a spiritual manner.7 His body likewise becomes a pure and renewed vessel that acts as a perfect aid to the soul in the podvig of salvation. He thus lives not for the flesh and its lusts as does the fleshly man who is dominated by inordinate carnal desires and governs neither his soul nor body properly but rather has become consumed by them and this mortal life.8 In this state the soul is darkened and deadened, it enters a state of slumber and sloth in regard to spiritual things.9
The believer, on a pilgrimage through this world, must always strive to keep especially his bodily senses properly oriented. Through carnal use of the senses the soul is impassioned; through the deadening of the senses the soul is blinded. It must be kept in mind that the soul is to be the leader of the body; if the soul ceases to focus solely on God because of the physical senses it is not solely the body’s fault. It is the impassioned soul befouled in sin which uses the senses unnaturally and for sin.10 Thus Christ the Lord Himself said that a man is not defiled from outside, but from within, by the movements of his heart, that is his soul.11 As the Christian soul will be vigilant to ward off sin, so too it will seek to ward off those physical influences that could befuddle it through the body.
The believer must vigilantly guard his heart and soul against becoming scattered and slothful due to temptations of the flesh. If our hearts are being purified then our bodies will reflect that purification.12 St. Hesychios the Priest teaches: “Fortitude’s task is to govern the five senses and to keep them always under control, so that through them neither our inner self, the heart, nor the outer self, the body, is defiled.”13
The soul radiates the grace of God to the body; it thereby becomes a full participator in salvation and sanctification. The body partakes of the same blessed experience of the soul. The body tasting of the divine goodness then also desires only Christ; it then participates willingly and joyfully in the soul’s ascent.14 Man’s whole composition is redeemed by Christ and exalted to the divine and heavenly heights.15 St. Gregory Palamas teaches, “Just as the divinity of the Word of God incarnate is common to soul and body, since He has deified the flesh through the mediation of the soul to make it accomplish the works of God; so similarly, in the spiritual man, the grace of the Spirit, transmitted to the body through the soul, grants the body also the experience of things divine.”16
It is clear that the experience of grace in the Spirit is common to both soul and body and that the body participates now in grace.17 It is the firm Christian conviction and fundamental element of faith from the very beginning of the Church that in the last day the human body will be raised up and will partake fully of life eternal without end.18 The believer participates as an organic whole in the grace of God. In this light, the great value of ascetic discipline can be seen, as the believer participates in fasting, self-denial, prayer, and in the divine services, he is attuning his whole being, both soul and body, to the grace of God. Only a person who has experienced the life-giving grace and love of the Holy Spirit will understand the things of the Spirit.19 Our bodies are vital to proper life in Christ.
Thus is behooves us as Christians to diligently guard the temple of our body against not only sin but anything (including physical) that would seek to alter it and dull its vocation as an indispensable aid and partner in the spiritual life. By striking at the body it is fully possible to handicap the soul, and thus greatly hinder man’s purpose of being in the image and likeness of God. It seems this tactic is indeed being applied at current. Let us guard our temples wisely.
A series of sorts developed, of which this is now the fourth part. In this series, I attempt to explore important spiritual realities that will help us through our times.
Part one – This World is Not our Home
Part two – Without Christ, Everything is Vain
Part three- The Seal of the Lord
1 St. Diodochos of Photiki, On Spiritual Knowledge, 45, in The Philokalia, vol. 1, pp. 266-267.
2 Cf. ibid. 78, p. 280.
3 Cf. G. Mantzarides, The Deification of Man, trans. L. Sherrard, Crestwood, 1984, p. 83.
4 St. Gregory Palamas, The Homilies, 41. 14, p. 331. Cf. Nikitas Stithatos, On Spiritual Knowledge, 76- 77, in The Philokalia, vol. 4, pp. 164- 165.
5 I. e. St. Gregory the Theologian.
6 St. Symeon the New Theologian, On the Mystical Life, vol. 2, pp. 68-69.
7 Cf. St. Gregory Palamas, The Triads in Defense of the Holy Hesychasts, 19, pp. 54-55.
8 Cf. ibid, 9, pp. 47-48.
9 Cf. St. Symeon the New Theologian, The Discourses,14. 5, p. 265.
10 Cf. ibid. 15. 4, pp. 269- 270.
11 Cf. Luke 6: 45; Matthew 15: 10.
12 Cf. St. Macarius the Great, The Fifty Spiritual Homilies, 5. 8- 9, p. 73.
13 St. Hesychios the Priest, On Watchfulness and Holiness, 34, in The Philokalia, vol. 1, p. 168.
14 Cf. Elder Sophrony, His Life is Mine, p. 48.
15 Cf. St. Gregory Palamas, The Homilies, 14. 4, p. 102.
16 St. Gregory Palamas, The Triads in Defense of the Holy Hesychasts, 12, p. 51.
17 “Sometimes it [i.e. the light of grace] makes a man go out of his body or else, without separating him from the body, it elevates him to ineffable height. At other times, it transforms the body, and communicates its own splendor to it when, miraculously, the light which deifies the body becomes accessible to the bodily eyes” (emphasis mine). St. Gregory Palamas, The Triads in Defense of the Holy Hesychasts, 9, p. 57.
18 Cf. 1 Corinthians 15.
19 Cf. St. Symeon the New Theologian, The Discourses, 15. 7, p. 272.