Grace Brooks is a freelance graphic artist and cartoonist. She converted into the Orthodox Church in 1986, and the journey has never ended. Grace illustrated the children's book "The Littlest Altar Boy" and designed the holiday workbook "Celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas." Grace lives with her husband Greg and Siamese cat Senator in Las Vegas, Nevada.
I don’t know many languages, but in each one, there are words that I wish we had in English. The same is true in different dialects (for instance, I’m sorry that the word “y’all” isn’t commonly used by non-Southerners). But that desire to co-opt vocabulary is never more pronounced than when I consider some of the Orthodox words that I have read or heard. There are words from the Orthodox lexicon that capture the spirit – literally – of our human experience so well that I’m sorry they aren’t more generally known.
For instance …
Meaning: “The nous as the eye of the soul, which some Fathers also call the heart, is the center of man and is where true (spiritual) knowledge is validated. (OrthodoxWiki)”
What it means to me: I have heard this described as “the mind within the heart.” This is so different from my Western understanding that I can only hope to gain comprehension over time. But it strikes me as being a big improvement on the modern assumption that you have to choose whether to be “a head person” or “a heart person.”
Meaning: “ascetic struggle … striving against our passions in order to grow closer to God. (OrthodoxInfo)”
What it means to me: St. Paul told his spiritual children to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12),” but until I came to Orthodoxy, I received very little helpful instruction on the subject. I heard the life of faith described in my early Christian days as a “walk with the Lord.” But I couldn’t understand that, even with my sparse Biblical knowledge. Was Jacob “walking” when he fought with an angel until the angel dislocated his hip – thus earning him the name ‘Israel,’ (‘Struggles with God’)? Was Job “walking”? Or Joseph? Or the prophets? Everyone is different, but I feel as though the life of faith didn’t start for me until I began to think of it in terms of a podvig.
Meaning: a false spiritual state, a spiritual illness, “a wounding of human nature by falsehood” — St. Ignatius Brianchaninov.” (OrthodoxWiki)
What it means to me: You can think that you’re getting better and better – closer and closer to God, more and more victorious over your passions – and you can be dead wrong. That is incredibly helpful in terms of seasoning acts of prayer, fasting, and good works with humility. And remembering the need to be obedient to Church teaching and the counsel of your spiritual father.
Meaning: Images with thoughts; “When the Fathers speak of `thoughts'(logismoi), they do not mean simple thoughts, but the images and representations behind which there are always inappropriate thoughts.” — Hierotheos (Vlachos) of Nafpaktos, Orthodox Psychotherapy
What it means to me: Imagery plays an inordinately large part in my thought processes and memories, and I had never considered until I read this how much ‘images with thoughts’ distract me during times of prayer, worship, and contemplation.
Meaning: A severe spiritual sloth. Speaking to monks in his care, St. John Cassian wrote “And when [acedia] has taken possession of some unhappy soul, it produces dislike of the place, disgust with the cell, and disdain and contempt of the brethren who dwell with him or at a little distance, as if they were careless or unspiritual. It also makes the man lazy and sluggish about all manner of work which has to be done within the enclosure of his dormitory.” (Saint John Cassian, Institutes, Book 10)
What it means to me: I first heard this word by a Catholic author, Kathleen Norris, who wrote a book of her experience with this terrible spiritual plague. What she conveyed very well in her talk was that acedia might be thought of as “a killing boredom.” I have never forgotten that idea that sloth, which is hardly thought of these days as more than a vague problem, can be a cancer of the soul.
There are more words that I could mention, but those are the ones that come to mind – which Orthodox words make your list?
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