Metropolitan Athanasios of Lemessos
The Church isn’t against the human body. This is why the fathers were so careful not to damage their body in the course of their ascetic struggles. They tried to subject it to the Holy Spirit and to God’s commandments, to prevent it engaging in carnal enjoyments and trespasses, but never accepted doing active harm to the body. Patristic literature expressly states that ‘we don’t slay the body; we slay the passions’. They slay sin and the passions, but not the body, which is the temple of God. If the fathers sometimes seem to be merciless and to live in great hardship, again they didn’t do so to slay the body but to slay sin and their passions. And they were so harsh towards the body because it was enslaved to sin and the passions. The Church has never approved slaying or maiming the body in the pursuit of virtue. So, within the setting of the Church, we must learn to transcend the distinction between the sexes. In other words, we must learn to see others not in a sexual or carnal way but as an image of God, as our brother or sister, as someone destined for sanctification and glorification. In this way we’ll not act towards them in a sinful manner, but in a holy and virtuous way. This is the Church’s view of the human body.
In the Old Testament, God says: ‘I shall dwell among them and walk with them and in them. I shall become their God and they will be my people’. Hundreds of years before Christ, God spoke prophetically about making his own people.
The Church is above nationality. This is why we all work together, irrespective of racial origin. This doesn’t, of course, mean that we undervalue our homeland or our nation, but that we rise above these in the Church. So, in the Church there’s a new people, a new nation. The people about whom the Holy Spirit spoke hundreds of years earlier, saying that God would walk with them and he would be their God and they his people, is the nation of Christians. A new people independent of racial origin. This is why the Prophet Isaiah says: ‘Depart, depart, go out from there! Touch no unclean thing! Come out from it and be pure, you who carry the articles of the Lord’s house’ (52, 11). Depart from the idolaters, touch nothing unclean and separate yourselves from them.
God says: ‘I’ll welcome you and I’ll be like a father to you and you’ll be like sons and daughters to me’. So it is that God urges us to separate ourselves not from other people, but from sin, from the secular outlook. When he tells us to depart from the world and not to love it, he doesn’t mean other people, but the worldly way of looking at things. In a word, sin. If you want to follow God, you can’t do things that other people do. Your heart has to tell you to follow Christ and to abandon the secular outlook. We have to sever every link with sin. Then God will become our father and we his sons and daughters. And this is absolutely certain, because when God says something, then it’s sealed, verified and repeated over the course of the centuries. God never abandons anybody. Saint Paul says: ‘Therefore, beloved, since we have these promises, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that defiles body and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God’ (2 Cor. 7, 1). We have such a promise from God, so let’s take the step and separate ourselves from secular trends and ways of thinking.
Let’s cleanse ourselves from every stain of flesh or spirit. That is, from every sin committed in our body, our mind or soul, living a holy life in the fear of God. Fear of God isn’t psychological fear, but awareness of God’s love and of the awe of him which seizes our soul when we gaze upon the majesty of God’s sanctity and purity. When we see this sanctity and realize what we should be and what we are, when we’re afraid to spoil our relationship with him, this is fear of God. If you’re afraid of God in a psychological sense, then you don’t really love him. Saint John says that perfect love casts out fear. Saint Anthony says: ‘For I no longer fear God, but I love God’. So, fear of God is veneration for him, love for him. When I love God, I’m careful not to jeopardize that love. And the more I love him, the more careful I am.
Read the first part here