Chapter 3, Union with God, pp. 103-115

Let us pray. St. Benedict advised that “always we begin again”. After this break from reading and posting, may Your Spirit, O God, draw us back to You with renewed desire as we begin once more the sharing of this teaching. Amen.

I do not know if others are still reading, have finished or set the book aside. However, I know that I do not want to leave either the book or the discussion of it unfinished. I was led to this book for a reason and will therefore strive to be obedient to its call. Although my break was a little longer than I intended, I realized that I could not write about the current topic until I was ready. It means too much to me.

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Fr. Matta begins quite simply by reminding us that the Lord Jesus prayed for us, “that they also might be one in us” (John 17:21). And human nature has been changed by the incarnation, death and resurrection – we have been made “partakers in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). He introduces us to the Church Fathers’ notion of “deification” with St. Athanasius’ often quoted words, “For the Son of God became man that we may become God.”

  1. When I first encountered these words of St. Athanasius, they sounded almost like blasphemy to me. And yet so very inviting. Could it be so? How do you find yourself reacting – whether you are reading them for the first or the hundredth time?
  2. I realize that source of my discomfort may have been based on the wording – somehow the sin of Adam doesn’t sound so terribly different from deification. How does wanting to be God differ from wanting to be in union with Him?

As Fr. Matta continues, he is careful to clarify that this deification “does not mean the change of the human nature into a divine one. Rather, it means qualifying human nature for life with God in a communion of love.” This can only occur when the barrier of sin no longer separates us from God, something only perfectly fulfilled at the resurrection of the dead. However, a foretaste of this communion is available to us now.

  1. What has been given to us that we might experience this foretaste of union, independent of our own efforts?
  2. What is the role of our effort? Has not Christ already accomplished all that is needed?
  3. In addition to acts of love, Fr. Matta emphasizes obedience, “struggles” and acts of humility as central to our movement toward union. Why are these so important – and so hard for us?

We are told by our author that union with God is more than an acceptable aim for our spiritual lives: “Union with God is not a subsidiary issue in faith or doctrine. It is the basis of all faith and doctrine.” And he continues to describe it in even more fundamental terms: “So the mystery of union between mankind and Christ is the ultimate aim of the incarnation, the crucifixion, the resurrection – nay, of creation in full.”

  1. This is something very deep to ponder – even if we have pondered it many times before. If I have ever wondered what the purpose of life is (in general or my own), here is the answer…

Fr. Matta quotes St. Macarius extensively, “This is also what God, the lover of mankind, does to the person who comes to him and ardently desires him…Impelled by love, he himself, by the goodness which is inherent in him and is all his own, enters with that person ‘into one spirit’.” In the sayings of the Fathers section (p. 110), Fr. Matta tells us that, “St. Macarius described this spiritual union with God as the holy matrimony of the soul and God: the soul as the bride and Christ as the heavenly Bridegroom. But this is not merely a simile. It is a real sacrament which takes place between the devout soul and God, making them one spirit.”

  1. In the Roman Catholic tradition, the notion of being a “bride of Christ” is generally reserved for the consecrated religious (monastics). But St. Macarius writes of this “matrimony” being offered to every soul – indeed, what every soul is made for. Does your soul leap for joy at hearing this news? Or is there reticence – or even resistance?
  2. Our feelings may be more mixed than we would like to admit – particularly if we return to what it is that we must do for union to be possible.

We are given many passages from the Fathers to reflect on in this section. Once we complete this section, we begin Part 2 of the book. You are most welcome to cite from these many rich passages anything that touched your spirit before moving on. I may add further comment myself.

Many blessings. It is good to be back.

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A note…

Greetings my friends in Christ…

I have been posting here 1-2 times a week since February 10th and I find myself needing a bit of a break. (You may have noticed me slowing down in the last couple of weeks.)

I plan to continue reading the book and posting here. So please do not make this cause for stopping your own reading and reflection. (Or if you have paused, remember that you may return and pick up where you left off.)

If you haven’t already signed up for e-mail notifications, doing so will be helpful in letting you know when I have resumed. I don’t expect it to be a long break.

I will continue to monitor the blog – so feel free to post any questions or comments yourself. I simply need a bit more time right now.

To keep us reflecting, here is a recording of St. Augustine on the Vision of God: (click for player, then click again to start the player)

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Chapter 3, Vision of God, pp. 82-87

It seems most appropriate that I write of this particular chapter on the day the Eastern Church celebrates Pascha. We are, all of us, always, a people of the Resurrection. It is a special blessing, however, that the Eastern and Western traditions’ calendars are now both in Paschal celebration.

This chapter includes a general discussion of Vision of God which we undertake now. It is followed by a more extensive discussion of what some of the Church Fathers have said on the topic, in addition to the usual Sayings of the Fathers, which I will address in a separate post.

Fr. Matta provides us with some well thought-out discussion on what vision of God is and is not. First, he makes it clear that it does not involve the bodily eye perceiving a visible object – which is what we most often think of when we consider vision. Rather, it is knowledge, acquaintance with the person of God. We are invited to see Him and all of our potentials are available to us that we might do so. Fr. Matta tells us, however, that our perception is weak because of sin. Yet “inasmuch as man is chaste, loving, obedient and humble, God is unveiled to him and he becomes acquainted with God…inasmuch as man grows in these virtues, the scope of his vision of God widens and God reveals himself to man more perfectly.”

  1. Does this understanding of vision resonate with you or does it feel foreign?
  2. In our ordinary uses of the word, we typically use vision for physical seeing (e.g. I saw you in the room), for mystical appearance (e.g. She saw a vision of the Virgin) or even for imagination (e.g. He had a vision of what he wanted to do with his future). How is the vision of which Fr. Matta writes here similar or different from these?

Our holiness enables us to see God more clearly, writes Fr. Matta, quoting Scripture. Despite the corruption of our nature, we retain some incorruption – and we have a partial potential for overcoming our corruption in faith. “By faith man can transcend his lack of knowledge…Faith actually prepares for vision. By faith we receive here and now the power of the resurrection in which we will see God face to face.”  In our faith in Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit, we are sanctified and “qualified” for seeing God. Fr. Matta concludes that this is not only possible but “an obligation”, yet acknowledges that we will never see God clearly in this earthly existence because our senses and reason will always get in the way to some extent.

  1. I found fascinating how Fr. Matta described our mixed  perceptions of God (cruel sometimes, merciful others, etc. p. 83) when we are not at the point of holiness where we can see God in His perfect simplicity. We tend to associate more advanced beings with greater complexity (man vs. amoeba) yet with God who is Being, perhaps there is no need for complexity. Consider…
  2. How can it be “an obligation” for us to reach a state of perfect holiness to see God clearly if it is also not practically possible for us to do so? (p. 85)
  3. How do you think faith prepares us for vision?

Fr. Matta proceeds to make a simple but very useful distinction between seeing the Lord and having the Lord appear to us. The former vision, as discussed above, is a knowing of God that occurs as we become holy, but is still inevitably a blurred vision. The latter, however, is “clear vision” – but it does not come through our faith but through God’s design. God, of course, may choose to manifest Himself to any given person at any given time. In so doing, God clears away the obstacles that prevent a person from seeing Him clearly on his/her own. Thus, with this type of vision, the Lord is not seen because of the person’s holiness – but the seeing makes the person holy, i.e. it sanctifies. Also beneficial in his discussion of the two types of vision is Fr. Matta’s explanations of seeming contradictions in Scripture about whether man can see God.

  1. As a young child, I recall learning of the saints and how some of them saw visions. I remember praying to God that I never have any of these! I was, of course, thinking of the second type, where the Lord appears to a person. I thought of it as frightening and something I wouldn’t be able to handle. (I now understand that one neither prays to have or not have such experiences but simply trusts in God’s wisdom regarding such matters.)
  2. Whether you have experienced this type of vision or only read of others’ experiences, what do you think might be the spiritual blessings vs. the challenges in having such visions in today’s world?

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Let us gaze upon the risen Lord with our hearts and contemplate His beauty, the perfect beauty of His perfect love, victorious for us and in us. May He bless us all, now and forever. Amen.

(I will try to post later this week on the next part of this section. Comments and questions are always welcome.)