I ask you to consider this question: who is greater, he who dies and rises again or he who does not die at all? Those who extol the latter are deceived, for Christ both died and rose. But he who extols the former urges that for the dying, or rather the falling, there is no cause whatever for despair.
St. John Climacus, Step 15: 32
This is an interesting concept that we find gleaming everywhere under the dark cinders of deception and false piety in the Church, which seems to teach us that human perfection consists in ‘being good’ all the time, something we must strive for.
Be vigilant, for sin is lurking behind every corner to snatch its opportunity with us, like a lion looking for prey. Of course! It's even written in scripture. But we needn't pay too much attention to the mechanics of spiritual warfare as if we needed to know before we do.
Even though scripture and Church tradition is loaded (in the case of the latter, overloaded) with instructions that have kept us looking at ourselves and measuring and weighing our progress and spirituality, Jesus Himself, if you study His words and acts very carefully, would have none of this.
Hence, what I express as the dichotomy between religion and Christ, ‘religion is a sickness, and Christ is the cure.’ This, to me, is the defining momentum of Orthodoxy.
Every so often, though, we find even in print, the Church exasperated with herself crying out things like,
‘O happy fault!’ The Orthodox speculate that even had Adam and Eve not sinned, Christ would have come anyway, only we wouldn't have crucified Him. Maybe so, but we don't deal in ‘what if's.’
What I notice is this persistent theme in my own thought: That our existence as individuals, and as a world, is a single ‘sin event’ that is responded to by a single ‘cure event.’
That the beginning of our ‘perfection’ consists in imitating the Father, which in practice means imitating Jesus, but that the end of our ‘perfection’ is to cease being everything we associate with being merely human at all, not in the details, but in the orientation, in short, to simply forget.
Forget what? Again, it is impossibly simple—impossible because we don't want to do it—we just forget ourselves, as Paul says, ‘don't look back, but only ahead,’ straining for the finish line for all we're worth, not counting our breaths or measuring our pace—just run ‘like hell’ for heaven.
Have I veered too far from the concept under discussion? I hope not. The dichotomy will not go away. We are told ‘be perfect’ everywhere we look, and given a card of rules. On the front it has commandments, but on the back, it is covered with ruses and excuses, ‘If no one saw you do it…’
But Christ, though deathless, underwent—no, undergoes—death for us, so that He could be—no, is—raised to die no more. When and where does He do this? Was it in first century Palestine, where ‘once and for all’ He died to save all men? No, that was just the beginning.
Neither His life, nor His death, nor His resurrection, are events locked in mere moments in the flow of time. This is where religious walls evaporate when we allow ourselves to see the truth. In each human individual, from the first before He came, up to the last before He comes again.
That is where the drama of the pre-eternal Word and Son of God takes place. In each of us. Either it takes place there, or it doesn't take place, for us, at all. Once we grasp that light, which the world cannot grasp, we have already begun walking the road to Calvary.
Once we grasp that truth, we are one day closer to His coming again, for ourselves and for the world.
We join the migration with magi to a birth cave that ends with myrrhbearers looking into an empty tomb.
We start to live a life of death that leads to life, that has no possible end but the wedding feast of the Lamb.