The Second Wednesday after Pascha. CHRISTOS ANESTI! CHRIST IS RISEN! Members of One Another (Part X): The Spiritual Value of the Human Body
In St Silouan’s teaching concerning the bonds that unite us humans to the rest of creation, there are three points that I find particularly interesting:
The Starets underlines the spiritual value of the human body. While he adopts a negative attitude towards the passions, he is fundamentally positive in his estimate of our human physicality. We are to hate, not our bodies as such, but the sinfulness that corrupts them. In its present fallen state the body may appear to us as our adversary, but in its true and natural condition, as originally created by God, it is our helper and our friend. God calls us to a total sanctification:
The Light of the Lord will be in the souls and minds and bodies of the Saints…. The Holy Spirit pervades the entire man – soul, mind and body (italics in the original).
Advancing on the spiritual way, a person becomes ‘sensible’, consciously aware, of the grace of the Holy Spirit in body as well as soul; the ninth of the ten ‘rewards’ that the monk receives from God ‘even here on earth’ is that ‘he feels the grace of God in his body, too’. ‘The man with grace in soul and body knows perfect love’.
‘Perfect love’, then, leads to the transfiguration of the body:
The fourth and perfect kind of love for God exists when a man possesses the grace of the Holy Spirit in both soul and body. His body is then hallowed, and after death his earthly remains become relics.
The Starets mentions from his own experience an instance of bodily glorification:
At Vespers during one Lent at the Monastery of Old Russikon-on-the-Hill the Lord allowed a certain monk to see Father Abraham, a priest-monk of the strict rule, in the image of Christ. The old confessor, wearing his priestly stole, was standing hearing confessions. When the monk entered the confessional he saw that the grey haired confessor’s face looked young like the face of a boy, and his entire being shone radiant and was in the likeness of Christ.
In this way St Silouan’s theology of the human person is firmly holistic. Divine grace embraces the total person, soul and body together; the body is deified along with the soul. This has an immediate relevance for his attitude to the material creation. It is through our bodies that we relate to our physical environment, which passes within us and becomes part of us through the exercise of the five senses. If, then, sanctification involves not only our soul but our physical nature, it follows that through our body we can experience the material world as holy, and through our body we can in turn transmit holiness to the material world around us. Our body is the essential intermediary between our inward being and the world of nature; and, because our body can be filled with grace, it is clear that our own sanctification forms a single mystery with the redemption of the material creation.
As a monk of the strict Athonite tradition, St Silouan had been formed by an austere physical discipline. But never did he interpret this ascetic self-denial in a dualistic sense. The monk’s aim, in the words of St John Climacus, is precisely ‘a body made holy’. He seeks the sanctification of the body, not its destruction.
~Adapted from Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, We Must Pray for All: The Salvation of the World According to St Silouan (http://www.bogoslov.ru/en/text/2314168.html).