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The Word Magazine, March 1979, Page 5-6
by Father Paul Tarazi
‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind that you may prove what is the will of God.” (Romans 12:2)
To have one’s mind set is one of the deepest wishes of the human soul, and changing one’s mind is one of the most disturbing acts our being can experience. The reason for this is that any change of mind entails a change in our thought, understanding, attitude, behavior and even life, and therefore is a direct challenge to our whole being. Changing our mind thus means transforming our being, performing a revolution in our own self. Yet, according to St. Paul, the Christian life is not merely a matter of changing some aspects of our mind, but actually a whole reshaping, a complete remodeling of it according to the law of Christ as opposed to the ways of this world. This is Metania.
If this is true — and it is — then the problem with us is more often than not that we consider our faith in Jesus to be an added ornamentation to our already complete and independent being, or some kind of a mystical fourth dimension constituting a mere intellectual hobby. More often than not Jesus is for us an alternate possibility to our otherwise self-sufficient life, a sort of an elective air-conditioning to our otherwise properly running car. In biblical terms, Jesus has very often become for us a disposable bracelet or necklace, whereas He is the Head of the Body. How often indeed do we think that we are the parish, we are the Church, and behave as if Jesus were just the parish rubber stamp whose shape and content we change now and then, whereas He is the Lord without whom simply nothing is nor can be? And here is the Apostle Paul to remind us today how non-Orthodox we actually are!
WHO ARE WE
The Orthodox Faith does not teach us that man was and then God stamped His likeness upon him, but that man was created at the image of God. Thus for man, to be and to be God’s image are the one and same thing. Even when man committed sin he was not bereaved of that image, but he became a very distorted one, in other words, his mind began to function in a wrong way, thus distorting the whole world around him, the same world in which we are still living today and which is called “this world” in the bible. And the work of Jesus Christ is precisely to restore in us the full image of God by remodeling and reshaping us again. In so doing He is telling us that our choice is between our conformity to this world on the one hand and our transformation in Him on the other. St. Paul understood so perfectly this reality that he underlined strongly the either-or aspect of our situation: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Our choice then is between two irreconcilable perspectives. The one states: we are what we are and subsequently God is no more than a topping, a dressing, a bracelet, an elective mystical fourth dimension. The other says: only inasmuch as God breathes His Spirit into us and consequently is our life, we are!
GOD — OUR DEPTH
All this shows us why the only possible way for a Christian is to be flat, two-dimensional, without perspective, as is an icon. Why? Because the saints —and we are saints according to the New Testament —cannot be but flat, two-dimensional, without perspective. Why? Because God is our depth, God is our third dimension, God is our perspective. And thus if He is not, then we are not!
If we accept this renewal of mind, then our mere presence becomes mission. In our dealing with others God Himself challenges their depth, their third dimension, their perspective by showing them that these are but His distorted image and ultimately conveys to them His message of salvation by thus reminding them that He is at the root of their being.
If we accept this renewal of mind, this Metania, then we shall be able to prove and check what is and what is not the Will of God in the events around us, because we will have known in a very personal and intimate way what the Will of God is all about.
But to have known what the Will of God is, means to have experienced Him, and the true and living God cannot be experienced except as our depth, our third dimension, our perspective. And could this ever be possible unless we have really experienced that we are flat as the dust of the earth until He breathes, that we are without perspective as the dried bones of the prophet Ezekiel’s vision until He sends His Spirit, that we are nothing until He shapes us?
Let us not fool ourselves! Unless we thirst, God is not the living water; unless we hunger, God is not the true food; unless we have been awake in the night-watches, God is not our light; unless we weep and cry, God is not our joy; unless we are declared flat and irrelevant by “this world”, God is not our rock and salvation; unless we experience shapelessness and uncomeliness, God is not our maker and our beauty; unless we feel in our own flesh and nerves the bitterness of nothingness, God is not the Giver of life; unless we cling to Him as to our last breath, God is not our God.
And let us face it: the world today is fed up with hearing us talking only about Abraham’s God, Isaiah’s God, Paul’s God or John Chrysostom’s God. The world today is eager to hear also something about our God. How many of us are still able to do it? How many of us are still willing to do it?
A TRUE OFFERING OF SELF
Our unwillingness to make such a step has to do with the fact that the other face of the faith in God is the love of the neighbor and whoever lacks faith is lacking love. Indeed, our inclination to be conformed to this world has nothing to do with our love and compassion for it. To the contrary, it stems from our interest in getting the most out of it without having to offer it anything of value. Indeed, we are raping the world: over-eating, over-drinking, using an unbelievable amount of energy, polluting, destroying fauna and flora, compromising with theft, cheating, murder, adultery, divorce, abortion, deifying individualism and minimalism. It is precisely Jesus Christ who, refusing categorically to be conformed to this world, was able to give Himself for its life by offering it a possibility of a new shape, a new form. By offering His own body as food to the world, Jesus made it swallow the seed of its transformation into a new creation of God. But the body of Christ is also we, the Church, and St. Paul knew that perfectly. This is why it is no mere chance but full intention on the apostle’s part that the preceding verse in our text reads: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice acceptable unto God, as your mindly act of adoration.”
Now everything becomes clear. Our unwillingness is rooted in our deep knowledge that in the Christian message the renewal of the mind is nothing less than the offering of our body as a holy sacrifice. There is no renewal of the mind unless our anointed legs stop trodding the path of the wicked, unless our chrismated hands refrain from striking back the one who offends us, unless our stomach hungers to feed the poor, unless we so love the world as to give our lives for it.
Lacking faith, lacking love, let us at least make humbly the effort to hope that the Almighty God, who created everything out of nothing, will find a way to reshape our beings into His full image and through us the whole world so that one day He may behold His creation and say again: “It is good, indeed very good.”
LOVE ONE ANOTHER
Editor’s Note: The word “Metania” is an ancient Orthodox term meaning conversion, or literally, “to change one’s mind.”
Rev. Dr. Paul Tarazi is Professor of Old Testament at St. Vladimir’s Seminary and pastor of St. George in Danbury, Conn.