East and West In Christ

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The world is crucified to me, and I to the world

I am greatly moved by the Office of Readings excerpt for today, from the "On the Blessings of Death" by St Ambrose of Milan:
And so St Paul teaches that we should seek that death in this life, so that Christ’s death should shine out in our bodies. That blessed death, in which our outer nature falls away and our inner nature is renewed, and our earthly dwelling is dissolved so that our heavenly home is laid open to us. A man imitates this death when he drags himself away from being part of this flesh and breaks those chains that the Lord had spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: Break unjust fetters, undo the thongs of the yoke, let the oppressed go free, and break every unjust constraint. It was to put an end to guilt that the Lord permitted death to come into the world; but so that human nature should not end up perishing by death instead of guilt, the resurrection of the dead was given us. By death, guilt would be ended, and by resurrection, human nature would be eternal. And thus this death is a journey for everyone. You must always be journeying: from decay to incorruptibility, from mortality to immortality, from turbulence to peace. Do not be alarmed by the word ‘death’ but rejoice at the good that the journey will bring. For what is death except the burial of vice and the raising up of virtue? Hence Scripture says, May I die the death of the just – that is, may I be buried with them, put down my vices, and put on the grace of the just, who carry the mortification of Christ around in their bodies and their souls.

Is this not the process of being created anew? As I focus on the healing of releasing the iniquity from my body, I perceive that I am also seeking the death of my "outer nature", the "false self". I am reminded that this blessed death has relational tasks as well as neuromuscular ones: Break unjust fetters, undo the thongs of the yoke, let the oppressed go free, and break every unjust constraint.

What I find compelling is his image of "journeying", for the voice of "being created anew" means that it is not "I" who does the creating but Christ, his nous coming into my person through baptism and expanding through this death. It is "I" who must journey or I won't get anywhere. The humility is that the most I can do is put one foot in front of another; it is Christ who sets the path. And, often, I don't like the path because it doesn't go where I want. Yet, I want this blessed death! I yearn for the courts of the Lord.

I think this focus is why I prefer the East, with its focus on ordinary life as monastic. After all, the focus of the monastic life is death and resurrection. It is not the acquiring of food and drink and clothing that matters, rather
Let death do its work in us, therefore, so that life may do its work also: a good life after death, that is, a good life after victory, after the battle is over, when the law of the flesh is no longer in conflict with the law of the mind, when we have no more battles with mortal flesh but in mortal flesh we have victory.