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Gospel for the 3rd Sunday of Matthew

‘So if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light’.

People are erratic. They can ascend  to union with God, ‘a little lower than the angels’; and they can also descend into total depravity, becoming like the demons and worse than animals.

Given that we’ve been endowed with free will, we’re called upon to put into effect the ‘likeness of God’, to become god-like, to be united with God. In this process, that is spiritual maturation, we have to evaluate the priorities in our life and make our way forward on the basis of our choices. We’re free to determine the direction of our life and God respects our freedom.

God has to dwell at the center of our existence, in the ‘lamp of the body’, the eye of the soul, which here means the nous. The word of the Lord must become ‘a lamp to my feet and a light to my paths’ (Ps. 118, 105).

We have to consider God as the first love in our life. Love for God transcends the love of every earthly thing, be it family, riches, glory or any other thing we love. This should be a calm decision in our nous. We raise our children in such a way as to implant Christ in them; love between husband and wife is to the glory of God; love amongst us is love in Christ. We can’t create a reality outside God; this would be idolatry and mockery by the demons. Our pleasures are part of us as we grow in terms of age, and this is why, according to Saint Nikodimos the Athonite, it’s difficult for us to deny the principle of self-interest, ‘of pain and pleasure’ according to Saint Maximos the Confessor. As Saint Gregory of Nyssa says (Homily 8 on Ecclesiastes), the nous is dominated by the senses from its earliest youth. As each of us matures spiritually, we realize that we’re not the center of the universe, that the whole of humanity is a single unit and that, therefore, each of us is responsible for other people and that the ‘true goal’ is God, the source of all goodness.

So when the lamp of the body, the nous, is clear- in other words is not subject to being bound to created things- then our whole body, our whole existence is light. When the nous abandons God, it’s darkened and cleaves to sin. Then, because of our instability, we’re brought to the death of the soul. This is why, according to the Fathers, it’s necessary to ‘guard’ (‘imprison’) the nous. The nous is the authoritative power of the soul. According to the Fathers, the soul becomes entirely nous in the saints and the heavenly powers are also called noetic. By the same token, Saint John of the Ladder says that monastics are ‘a projection of the nous’. According to Saint Païsios the Athonite, the devil is unable to harm us. What he can do, however, is to put a wicked thought into our nous and, if we give in to it, this will cause us to fall.

It’s clear that we should always keep our nous in a state of watchfulness. The world today, and in every era, is full of human theories and constructs, as well as erroneous value systems which lead to confusion. These days, television is the portal through which all manner of delusion and sin enter our nous. In order to resist, we have to renounce the spirit of the world and to take to heart the spirit of the Church (cf. Heb. 13, 13: ‘Therefore let us go out to him, outside the camp, bearing his reproach’).

For Christians engaged in the struggle, prayer is necessary, especially prayer of the heart, ‘Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me’. Prayer restores the proper orientation to the soul and leads to the entry of the nous into the heart, that is the restoration of the unity of the soul, which was fragmented by the sin of our first ancestors. Prayer isn’t a luxury, nor are we doing God a favor by offering it.

It’s a necessity, nourishment for the soul which leads to purification of the soul and the illumination of our darkened nous. The Orthodox Church is a clinic, and with the institution of confessor, the sacrament of repentance and confession and Holy Communion, it has the means to effect a cure for us. The Church is also the milieu within which the aim of our life- deification- is realized.

Two spirits are at odds in the world: the spirit of the world and that of the Church. In the Church, which is the body of Christ, people find redemption, the meaning of life, and the ‘justification’, as Saint Paul puts it, of their existence.