Saturday, April 23, 2016

To Be a Person Is to Love

   If within the Trinity the persona expresses itself in its mutual kenosis (Self emptying) and in its love toward the world, this is also true of the human persona. There is love toward God, other human personae and the created order. Fr Sophrony makes an explicit and direct connection between the divine mode of being, charac­terized by kenotic love, and its image - the multihypostatic body of human­kind. In humankind as in God love emerges as a uniting principle:
   The attitude of love is natural for the persona made in the image of God, of love. He does not determine himself oppositively, by contraposing himself over against the "not I." Love is the most intrinsic content of his essence. Embracing the whole world in prayerful love, the persona achieves ad intra (with effect or result only in one's own mind, self, internally) the unity of all that exists. In the creative act of his becoming, he aspires to universal unity ad extra (With effect or result in the outside world as opposed to one's own mind, self, in the world at large; externally, perceivably) also. In love lies his likeness to God Who is Love (1 Jn 4:16).
   In the human hypostasis there is the same "divine" capacity for the ultimate transference of being - the ultimate self-giving (emptying) and ultimate receiving (fullness) - the modus patiendi (receptive mode) and modus agens (active mode) in persona's existence.
   Love unto the End
   Fr Sophrony's teaching on persona allows him to interpret certain scriptural passages so that through them he projects the trinitarian hypostatic principle onto the level of human multihypostatic existence. Thus the ontological prin­ciple of trinitarian kenoticism is reflected in the words of Christ in Luke 14:26: the requirement for Christ's disciple is "to hate one's own life". The existen­tial orientation of the divine modus patiendi is reflected in humanity in the ascetic state of love to the point of self-hatred. Self-hatred here is understood as the opposite of self-love, which is an egocentric concern determining the focus of one's being. Hatred therefore can be defined as radically reversed existential con­cern. In the Trinity "self-hatred" corresponds to the ultimate self-giving of each divine hypostasis: "The 'hate' of which the Lord of love speaks, in its essence is the plenitude of God's kenotic love".
   In principle, this hatred, which is expressed in kenotic self-abasement, diverts the existential concern from self and prepares the space to receive other personae (both human and divine) into itself. Love for God and our neigh­bor, according to Fr Sophrony, is necessarily linked with a feeling of repulsion for oneself amounting to hatred. In this fashion the human persona, with its infinite "existential" space, can receive the infinite. Its true potential is thus realized:
   Had the Lord Jesus not revealed this astonishing mystery to us no mortal could have invented such a paradox - detest yourself because of love for God, and you will embrace all that exists with your love! ... The I is forgotten in the transport of love for the God of love but nevertheless it is this I that blissfully contains in itself all heaven and earth.
   When man's self remains his ultimate existential concern, he is existentially directed toward himself and so his potential for embracing the infinite, God, and thus himself becoming infinite, is not realized. And vice versa: when his existential concern is reoriented toward the infinite, his own infinite potential opens up and comes to its realization:
   I is a magnificent word. It signifies persona. Its principal ingredient is love, which opens out, first and foremost, to God. This I does not live in a convulsion of egoistic concentration on self. If wrapped up in self it will continue in its nothingness. The love towards God commanded of us by Christ, which entails hating oneself and renouncing all emo­tional and fleshly ties, draws the spirit of man into the expanses of Divine eternity (Lk 14:26-7, 33; Jn 12:25; Mt 16:25)· This kind of love is an attribute of Divinity.
   This idea of vacating space from the finite (self) for the infinite one (God) leads Fr Sophrony to his logically justified conclusion: it is in relation to God that the human persona's true potential is realized: "In the utmost intensity of prayer that our nature is capable of, when God Himself prays in us, man receives a vision of God that is beyond any image whatsoever. Then it is that man qua persona (in the capacity of the person) really prays 'face to Face' with the Eternal God. In this encounter with the Hypostatic God the hypostasis, that at first was only potential, is actualized in us."
   In connection with this principle, Fr Sophrony defines the ascetic practice of prayer. In the state of "pure prayer" the ascetic has no self-regard: his existential attention and concern do not return upon the self. As Soon as he does regard himself the intensity of abiding in the sphere of divine reality is weakened.
   Fr Sophrony distances himself from the tendency, shared by many Russ­ian religious thinkers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, to regard the development of persona mainly from the view point of interhuman relation­ships, above all conjugal love. For Fr Sophrony, the human persona within this context is limited to a finite relationship. On this psychological level, the infinity of the human persona is not an exigency. In contrast, in its relationship with God, for the human persona to be fully realized, it should reach not only an analogy, an affinity, a parallel between God and man, but even identity and equality, which is a leitmotif of Fr Sophrony's anthropology.
   In relation to God, love to the point of self-hatred manifests itself in the state of Christ-like humility. For Christ, the Father was the sole basis of his being. Christ's own I was absolutely emptied in his "taking in" of the Father's persona so much so that he is an express image of the Father's person (Heb I:3), identical with him (cf Jn 10:30). St. Silouan’s concept of Christ-like humility reflects a similar self-giving of the ascetic to God, so that man can say: "No longer I ... but Christ ... " (Gal 2:20).
   Finally, hypostatic commensurability expresses itself in love within inter­personal human relationships. This emphasis on the capacity for absolute self­giving in the human persona opens a new dimension in the application of the model of divine triunity to human multihypostatic being.

Sakharov N. (2002), I Love therefore I am: The Theological legacy of Archimandrite Sophrony, St Vladimir Seminary Press, Crestwood, New York, U.S.A.