Life in the Spirit
Those who die in Christ are those who live. This is the focal point of the Christian message. The scriptures declare that the extent to which one has died to sin and to the passions (which are the root of sin) is the extent to which one is raised up to a new life in Jesus Christ.
But what does it mean to be "raised up in Christ?" Is the resurrection we share with the Son of God something that can only be attained at the end of time when Christ returns in order to be "all in all?" (Eph. 1:23) Or is there something else to the mystery of Jesus' new life that can be known and experienced by us as human beings during this age as well?
A proper reading of the scriptures reveals that eternal life is given to those who believe in Christ while yet living in this world. The Kingdom of Heaven, which has yet to come, has dawned in the hearts of believers - as a foretaste of future blessings. "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him, God has revealed to us through the Spirit" (1 Corinthians 2:9-10). God's Kingdom is manifest on earth by those who follow His will, "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done ... " In His Sermon on the Mount, Christ declares that the "poor in spirit" are already given the Kingdom of Heaven. Orthodoxy thus professes a paradox regarding the Kingdom of God announced by the Messiah, that it is both "not yet" and "already."
Furthermore, this is why we receive the Holy Sacraments as members of the Body of Christ. Through the Sacraments we partake of the heavenly manna that infuses us with Jesus' own life. "For truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you" (John 6:53). Through the Mysteries of the Church, we are deified by the grace of the Holy Spirit, the perfection of having been fashioned according to the image and likeness of God. As Jesus Himself quoted from the psalms, "I say, "You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you" (Psalm 182:6). God has thus called us to participate wholly and directly in His own life. Our restoration to this life, which is the only true life there is, is itself the content of our salvation. "And in Him was life, and His life was the light of men" (John 1:4).
Life in the Flesh
For many people, unfortunately, life in this world means nothing else but life "in the flesh." St. Paul says. "For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things" (Phil. 3:18,19).
From this vantage point, unbelief and carnality meet at a single point, in that the loss of one's soul results in a way of life that is fixated on the flesh. In the fallen world, human existence has regressed to the point where people are moved solely by the carnal passions. The passions are what "animate" them. They give the illusion of life, but they are filled with death. As St. James in his epistle writes, "They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! Forsaking the right way they have gone astray; they have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Be'or, who loved gain from wrongdoing" (2 Peter 2:14,15).
The modern world has, indeed, become a place inhabited by empty, lifeless souls - who follow "Balaam's way." Just like the rare, cold-blooded fish that live in the watery abyss, and who no longer have eyes because there is no longer any light, so too has our human race devolved to point where the soul, which was created originally to be the "lamp of the body," (Matthew 6:22) has become negated by the darkness of sin.
Furthermore, the fact that atheism is alive and well (and growing in popularity) should be a surprise to no one. At the root of this denial of God is the denial of the human soul. Many scientists, physicists, anthropologists, sociologists deduce that there can be no such thing as the human soul, or the "inner man." Science cannot "empirically" demonstrate that it exists. Hence, the entire range of human phenomena: our feelings, emotions, wills, thoughts, and behaviors are to be understood as the result of neuro-chemical reactions that take place within the brain. From a clinical standpoint, the human person has been reduced to a "thinking animal, " a "naked ape."
But let us ask this question: do those blind fish at the bottom of the deep have any memory or knowledge of the fact that they once had eyes with which to see the world around them? Have they any awareness of the ocean's beauty that lies above them -- where the suns rays bathe the waters with such great splendor? No, they do not. These cavernous creatures are forever imprisoned in a world of darkness.
Another kind of darkness fallen upon the men and women of this age - the darkness of unbelief. Could this be the reason that Christ says, "do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell?" (Matthew 10:28). A timely warning indeed.
Fr. Paul Jannakos is a priest in the Orthodox Church of America and is the Rector of St. Mary Magdalene Orthodox Church in Fenton MI. He is a graduate of Concordia College in Bronxville, NY, (1980) and a graduate of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary. (1983). He and his wife, Michelle, are the parents of four children. Fr. Jannakos also works as a crisis counselor/chaplain at Genesys hospital in Grand Blanc MI.