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Mother Maria Skobtsova
Types of Religious Lives

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    • The evangelical path
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The evangelical path

I will now move on to characterize the evangelical way of spiritual life, which is as eternal as is the proclamation of the Good News, always alive within the bosom of the Church, shining for us in the faces of saints and at times lighting with the reflection of its fire even righteous people outside the Church. (Here one must immediately introduce a clarification so as to prevent well-intentioned or deliberate misinterpretations of the evangelical way of religious life. Obviously it has no relation to the current evangelical sectarianism which has extracted only a selected list of moral precepts from the Gospel, added to this its own distorted and impoverished doctrine of salvation -- about being "born again" -- spiced this up with hatred of the Church, and then proclaimed this peculiar hodgepodge as a true understanding of Christ's Gospel teaching.) The evangelical spirit of religious consciousness "blows where it will," but woe betide those ages and those peoples upon which it does not rest. And at the same time, blessed are they that walk in its paths -- even those who know it not.

What is most characteristic of this path? It is a desire to "Christify" all of life. To a certain degree this notion can be contrasted to that which is understood not only by the term "enchurchment," but also the term "Christianization." "Enchurchment" is often taken to mean the placing of life within the framework of a certain rhythm of church piety, the subordination of one's personal life experience to the schedule of the cycle of divine services, the incorporation of certain specific elements of "churchliness" into one's way of life, even elements of the Church's ustav. "Christianization," however, is generally understood as nothing more than the correction of the bestial cruelty of man's history through inoculation with a certain dose of Christian morality. And in addition to this it also includes the preaching of the Gospel to the whole world.

"Christification," however, is based on the words, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). The image of God, the icon of Christ, which truly is my real and actual essence or being, is the only measure of all things, the only path or way which is given to me. Each movement of my soul, each approach to God, to other people, to the world, is determined by the suitability of that act for reflecting the image of God which is within me.

If I am faced with two paths and I am in doubt, then even if all human wisdom, experience, and tradition point to one of these, but I feel that Christ would have followed the other -- then all my doubts should immediately disappear and I should choose to follow Christ in spite of all the experience, tradition and wisdom that are opposed to it. But other than the immediate consciousness that Christ is calling me to a particular path, are there any other objective signs which will tell me that this doesn't just appear this way to me, that it is not a figment of my imagination or my emotional feeling? Yes, there are objective indications.

Christ gave us two commandments: to love God and to love our fellow man. Everything else, even the commandments contained in the Beatitudes, is merely an elaboration of these two commandments, which contain within themselves the totality of Christ's "Good News." Furthermore, Christ's earthly life is nothing other than the revelation of the mystery of love of God and love of man. These are, in sum, not only the true but the only measure of all things. And it is remarkable that their truth is found only in the way they are linked together. Love for man alone leads us into the blind alley of an anti-Christian humanism, out of which the only exit is, at times, the rejection of the individual human being and love toward him in the name of all mankind. Love for God without love for man, however, is condemned: "You hypocrite, how can you love God whom you have not seen, if you hate your brother whom you have seen" (1 Jn. 4:20). Their linkage is not simply a combination of two great truths taken from two spiritual worlds. Their linkage is the union of two parts of a single whole.

These two commandments are two aspects of a single truth. Destroy either one of them and you destroy truth as a whole. In fact, if you take away love for man then you destroy man (because by not loving him you reject him, you reduce him to non-being) and no longer have a path toward the knowledge of God. God then becomes truly apophatic, having only negative attributes, and even these can be expressed only in the human language which you have rejected. He becomes inaccessible to your human soul because, in rejecting man, you have also rejected humanity, you have also rejected what is human in your own soul, though your humanity was the image of God within you and your only way to see the Prototype as well. This is to say nothing of the fact that man taught you in his own human language, describing in human words God's truth, nor of the fact that God reveals himself through human concepts. By not loving, by not having contact with humanity we condemn ourselves to a kind of a deaf-mute blindness with respect to the divine as well. In this sense, not only did the Logos-Word-Son of God assume human nature to complete his work of redemption and by this sanctified it once and for all, destining it for deification, but the Word of God, as the "Good News," as the Gospel, as revelation and enlightenment likewise needed to become incarnate in the flesh of insignificant human words. For it is with words that people express their feelings, their doubts, their thoughts, their good deeds and their sins. And in this way human speech, which is the symbol of man's interior life, was likewise sanctified and filled with grace -- and through it the whole of man's inner life.

On the other hand, one cannot truly love man without loving God. As a matter of fact, what can we love in man if we do not discern God's image within him? Without that image, on what is such love based? It becomes some kind of peculiar, monstrous, towering egoism in which every "other" becomes only a particular facet of my own self. I love that in the other which is compatible with me, which broadens me, which explains me -- and at times simply entertains and charms me. If, however, this is not the case, if indeed there is desire for a selfless but non-religious love toward man, then it will move inevitably from a specific person of flesh and blood and turn toward the abstract man, toward humanity, even to the idea of humanity, and will almost always result in the sacrifice of the concrete individual upon the altar of this abstract idea -- the common good, an earthly paradise, etc.

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