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Beauty, the Divine Connection: Psychospiritual Reflections

By Fr. George Morelli

"The uncircumscribed Word of the Father became circumscribed, taking flesh  . . .and He has restored the sullied image to its ancient glory, filling it with the divine beauty. This, our salvation, we confess in deed and word . . . ." (Kontakion, Sunday of Orthodoxy)

An experimental  psychologist (Seligman, 2002) may have inadvertently come upon a great spiritual insight.  What is remarkable about this is that it was Seligman's express intent to divorce 'beauty' from the Divine; but, paradoxically and seemingly unknowingly, he endorses beauty's ultimate end: the Divine. In discussing Transcendence, which he labels a "signature strength" that individuals can possess and which is one of the components of "authentic happiness,” Seligman points out that it is a virtue which allows one to "reach outside and beyond you" to something larger than oneself. The divine is one such end. Apparently he does not see the irony in his writing "this term [transcendence]  is not popular throughout history-"spirituality" is the label of choice . . . ." However, unwittingly,  he leads us to God who is at the peak of "Transcendence." Why? Because what is larger than God Himself?  As our Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom proclaims in the Anaphora Prayer: "It is meet and right to hymn Thee, to bless Thee, to praise Thee, to give thanks unto Thee, and to worship Thee in every place of Thy dominion: for Thou art God ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, ever existing and eternally the same, Thou and Thine Only-begotten Son and the Holy Spirit."

God is Beauty; Beauty points to God

Visions of EzekielVisions of EzekielThat true beauty points mankind to God, is, of course, fundamental to Eastern Christianity. But first it must be pointed out that God is Beauty itself: We may call it the Divine Beauty. The psalmist prays: " One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord. . . ." (Ps 26: 4).

The prophet Ezekiel, writing about his encounter with God, tells us: ". . . the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. . . . the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest. (Ezk.1: 1,3).  His very detailed and personal narrative continues:

 . . . the hand of the Lord was upon him there. As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness round about it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming bronze." (Ezk 1: 3,4) Later in the description of his vision Ezekiel recounts: ". . . there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness as it were of a human form . . . I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness round about him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face . . . ." (Ezk 1: 25-28).

St. Macarius of Egypt, in his homily on the vision of Ezekiel, tells us that this foretells none other than Christ Himself:   "And this that the prophet saw, was true and certain. But the thing it signified, or shadowed forth beforehand, was a matter mysterious and divine, that very mystery which had been hid from ages and generations, but was made manifest at the appearing of Christ."i This is confirmed at the very beginning of the Gospel of St. John: 1: 1-5: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."

Rublev: The Holy TrinityRublev: The Holy Trinity

That 'God is beauty' was not lost on St. Basil the Great who describes God as He who surpasses all beauty. St. Basil, (as quoted by Alfeyev, 2002) counsels:  ". . . let us recognize the One Who transcends in His beauty all things. . . ." McGuckin (2001)  presents to us St. Symeon the Theologian's Hymn of Divine Love. St. Symeon prays: "Master how could I describe the vision of your face? How could I ever speak of the ineffable contemplation of your Beauty? How could mere words contain One whom the World could never contain?" Then Saint Symeon answers his questions as part of his prayer: ". . . suddenly You appeared from on high, shining greater than the Sun itself, shining brilliantly from the heavens down into my heart .. . . . What intoxication of the Light! What swirlings of fire!"

The Incarnation: The coming of the Light of the World

The Nativity of ChristThe Nativity of Christ

Centuries after the writing of the prophet Ezekiel (595-572 BC), the writer of the last book of the Old Testament, the Wisdom of Solomon (30-10  BC - just decades before the birth of Christ), proclaims God as Wisdom, from which can be seen His glory, light and beauty:

For wisdom is more mobile than any motion; because of her pureness she pervades and penetrates all things. For she is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; therefore nothing defiled gains entrance into her. For she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness. For God loves nothing so much as the man who lives with wisdom. For she is more beautiful than the sun, and excels every constellation of the stars. Compared with the light she is found to be superior, for it is succeeded by the night, but against wisdom evil does not prevail. (Wis 7: 24-30).

Christ as the Wisdom of GodChrist as the Wisdom of GodBrilliant radiant beauty, glory resplendence

The light that is the Godhead was spoken of by King David: "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?" (Ps 26: 1).  Isaiah, who prophesized the Incarnate God, His suffering and final triumph, tell us: "The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you by night; but the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun shall no more go down, nor your moon withdraw itself; for the Lord will be your everlasting light. . . ." (Is 60: 19-20). In the English language glory is associated with a type of beauty called resplendence, which is a "brilliant radiant beauty."ii Indeed, St. John the Evangelist (Jn 8:12) records the words of Jesus:  " Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."" And as Jesus told His disciples: "As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."" (Jn 9: 5).

Christ Sits on Rays of Gold, Latomou MonasteryChrist Sits on Rays of Gold, Latomou Monastery

"Light-Beauty" in the Liturgy of the Church

Even a cursory exposure to the rich Liturgical practice of the Eastern Church will reveal the glory of the Godhead, and ourselves as being filled with the splendor of Christ's light as we work toward becoming "partakers of the Divine Nature" (2 Pt. 1:4)

Holy Baptism

At the baptismal exorcism service the priest prays: "Open the eyes of his [ or her] understanding that the light of thy Gospel many shine brightly in him. Yoke  unto his life a radiant Angel, who shall deliver him from every snare of the adversary . . . ." The profession of the Creed which follows in the baptismal service (and which is said as well by all at every Divine Liturgy and in daily personal prayer) proclaims: "I believe in one God, the Father Almighty. . . .And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God . . . . Light of Light, Very God of Very God . . . . And I believe in the Holy Spirit . . . worshipped and glorified . . . ." The prayer of baptism directly ties baptism with light; it petitions God to "Call Thy servant to Thy Holy Illumination." In the following petition the priest implores God that the one to be baptized "may prove himself a child of the Light and an heir of eternal good things." The baptismal water itself is referred to as that which will be "the illumination of the soul." Then follows the actual baptism: the three-fold  immersion in the sanctified water, accompanied by the words "The servant of God is baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit".   Following this, the newly baptized  illumined servant of God is clothed  with a white garment of righteousness while a beautiful Troparion is sung: "Vouchsafe unto me a robe of light, O thou who clothest thyself with light as with a garment: Christ our God, plenteous in mercy."

Theophany: Baptism of ChristTheophany: Baptism of ChristIn discussing the Holy Mystery of Baptism Nicholas Cabasilas (1974) writes, "the baptismal washing has instilled into men some knowledge and perception of God, so that they have clearly known Him who is good and have perceived His beauty and tasted of His goodness [cf Ps 33: 8]."  The Chrismation of St. Paul by AnaniasThe Chrismation of St. Paul by AnaniasCabasilas intimates that this is accomplished by beauty itself: "When men have a longing so great that it surpasses human nature and eagerly desire and are able to accomplish things beyond human thought, it is the Bridegroom who has smitten them with this longing. It is he who has sent a ray of his beauty into their eyes. The greatness of the wound already shows the arrow which has struck home, the longing indicates who has inflicted the wound."

Holy Chrismation

The Chrismation service which follows also refers to "light."  After the anointing with Holy Chrism: "The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit," the priest prays: "Thou art justified, Thou art illumined. Thou art sanctified."

Holy Eucharist

The Anaphora prayer of the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil, beautifully expresses the brightness of Christ, whom we are about to receive after the Holy Spirit transforms the Bread and Wine "to be itself the Precious Body of our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ; and this Cup [the wine] to be itself the Precious Blood . . . ." Our Lord Jesus Christ is an image of the goodness of the Father:  ". . .  the Life, Sanctification, Might, the true Light, through whom the Holy Spirit was manifested . . . ."  After the reception of the Eucharist there is sung one of the most beautiful hymns of the Church: “We have seen the true light, we have received the heavenly Spirit . . . worshipping the undivided Trinity: for He hath saved us."

The Mystical Supper: Institution of the Light of the EucharistThe Mystical Supper: Institution of the Light of the Eucharist

The Theotokos: Ladder to heaven and progenitor of Christ-Beauty

Akathist of the Theotokos, Mother of LightAkathist of the Theotokos, Mother of LightMary, the new Eve, the Birthgiver of Christ the Savior of the world, is linked to Divine Beauty.  In his homily on the Nativity of the Theotokos, St. Andrew of Creteiii preaches:

Now is made the created temple [The Theotokos] for the Creator of all; and creation is readied into a new Divine habitation for the Creator.  . . -- through the conjoining by His Mother by birth 'of Him made beautiful by Goodness', man receives beauty in a most excellent and God-seemly visage. And this creating is done truly by the creation, and recreation by theosis, and theosis by a return to the original perfection! Now a barren one is become beyond expectation a mother, and the Birth-giver hath given birth without knowing man, and she doth sanctify natural birth. Now is readied the majestied color of the Divine scarlet-purple  . . . . Now is begun the renewal of our nature, and the world responding, assuming a God-seemly form, doth receive the principle of a second Divine creation.

Could we expect anything else than that the Prince of Beauty, Christ Himself, would be born from her who is described by King Solomon as ". . .  she is more beautiful than the sun, and excels every constellation of the stars. Compared with the light she is found to be superior . . . ." (Wis 7: 29). As is proclaimed in the Orthros Service of the Church: "The Theotokos and Mother of Light, let us honor with song and magnify."

The Transfiguration: The prototype of the Beauty of the Divine Light to come

All are aware of St. Paul's observation: "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully . . . ." (1 Cor. 13:12). This certainly can be applied to Peter, James and John, the Apostles who accompanied Jesus to the summit of Mt. Tabor. St. Matthew (17: 1-2) records: "And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light." They experienced the light of His Transfiguration, though "dimly." This is certainly acknowledged by the Apolytikion of the Feast:  "When, O Christ our God, Thou wast transfigured on the mountain, Thou didst reveal Thy glory to Thy Disciples in proportion as they could bear it." This limitation of the Apostles’ ability to perceive the fullness of the radiance of the Divine Light is repeated in the Kontakion: " Thou wast transfigured on the mount, and Thy Disciples, in so far as they were able, beheld Thy glory, O Christ our God; . . . Thou art truly the effulgent Splendor of the Father." The Transfiguration, however, is just an exquisite prototype of the brilliance of the Divine Beauty to come. As is noted in the Feast’s Vesperal hymn: " When Thou wast transfigured before Thy Crucifixion, O Lord, the mount resembled heaven, and a cloud spread out like a canopy, and the Father bore witness unto Thee." 

Holy Transfiguration St. Catherine Monastery, SinaiHoly Transfiguration St. Catherine Monastery, SinaiThe significance of the Transfiguration was not lost by the Fathers of the Church. In his Homily on the Transfiguration St. John Chrysostom tells us: ". . . let us journey in thought to the mountain where Christ was Transfigured: let us behold him shining as He shone there . . . . For as concerning the king it is not even possible to say what he is like: so completely do his beauty, his grace, his splendor, his glory, his grandeur and magnificence elude speech and thought . . . . He who is the sovereign and God of all, even as the Psalmist also when discoursing concerning this beauty, said "And the king shall have desire of thy beauty."iv

Of this splendor St. Hilary of Poitiers comments: " For though the splendor of His eternal glory overtax our mind's best powers, it cannot fail to see that He is beautiful. We must in truth confess that God is most beautiful, and that with a beauty which, though it transcend our comprehension, forces itself upon our perception."v The Divine Light that shone at Tabor was made explicit by St. Gregory Palamas:

None the less, in accordance with the Savior's promise they did see the kingdom of God, that Divine and inexpressible light. St. Gregory of Nazianzos and St. Basil call this light ‘divinity’ saying that ‘the light is the divinity manifested to the disciples on the Mount’, and that it is ‘the beauty of Him who is almighty, and His noetic and contemplatable Divinity’. St. Basil the Great also says that this light is the beauty of God contemplated by the saints alone in the power of the Divine Spirit; and again he writes, ‘On the mountain Peter and the sons of thunder saw His beauty shining more brightly than the sun; and they were privileged to receive with their eyes a foretaste of His advent.' (Philokalia IV)

In the spirit of St. Gregory of Nyssa (Musurillo, 1979) we could ponder the saint's words:  "having approached Light itself, the soul is transfigured into light."

Holy Pascha

The Paschal service emphasizes light. The first reference in the Paschal Liturgy to Christ, who is 'the Light,' is made in the 5th Ode of the Pascha Midnight Office: "When Isaiah, O Christ, saw thy light that setteth not, the light of thy Divine appearance coming to us in pity, he arouse up early crying "The dead shall rise , and they who are in the tombs shall awake, and all those on the earth shall rejoice." (c.f. Is 26: 19). The contemporary Resurrection Service starts at Midnight with the priest exiting the Sanctuary  holding the lighted Paschal Candle while all the assembly come forward and light their candles from the Paschal Candle. All this while the assembly chants the hauntingly beautiful hymn: "Come ye, take light from the Light, that is never overtaken by night. Come, glorify the Christ, risen from the dead." The Paschal Service emphasizes "light." This can easily be glimpsed in these verses from the Orthros Paschal Canon:

Today is the day of Resurrection! O nations, let us shine forth; for the Pascha is the Pascha of the Lord . . .Glory to thy Holy Resurrection, O Lord! Let us cleanse our senses that we may behold Christ shining like lightening with the unapproachable light of Resurrection  . . . .Verily, all creatures have been filled with light, the heaven and the earth, and all that is below the earth. . . . In truth, how noble is this radiant and all-festal night of salvation; for it precedeth the proclamation of the light-bearing day of Resurrection, in which the timeless Light did shone forth bodily from the grave.

The penultimate hymn of the Paschal Agape Vespers (and all Vesper Services) is the Hymn of Light, the Phos Hilaron:

O Gladsome light of the holy glory of the immortal Father, the heavenly, the holy blessed, Jesus Christ. Now that we are come to the setting of the sun, and behold the light of evening, we hymn thee: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, God.  It is meet and right that at all times thou shouldst be magnified by voices of praise, O Son of God, the Giver of Life. Therefore, the whole world doth glorify thee.

The Theotokos and Mother of LightThe Theotokos and Mother of LightThe Paschal Megalynarion, repeated many times in the services, encapsulates the  Paschal theme of light: "Shine thou, O New Jerusalem, for the glory of the Lord hath risen upon thee. Rejoice thou now and exalt, O Zion. And thou, O pure one, Theotokos, rejoice thou at the Resurrection of thy Son.” This hymn recalls the words of Isaiah the Prophet:  "Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you." (Is 60: 1,2).

Christ, in His triumphal Resurrection, is the ultimate Beauty who has illumined the whole cosmos. As we pray in the Paschal Vesperal Aposticha: "Thy Resurrection, O Christ Savior, hath illumined thy creation, O Lord Almighty. Glory to thee."

Our response to beauty

St. Macarius of Egypt tells us: "[those who have] love for Christ, [are] bound fast to that beauty and unspeakable glory, and the inconceivable riches of the true and eternal King."vi In this same homily St. Macarius points out that the soul which receives Christ exudes the inexpressible beauty of the glory of the light of the Divinity. He tells us:

For the soul that is thought worthy to partake of the spirit of his light, and is irradiated by the beauty of his ineffable glory (he having by that spirit prepared her for his own seat and habitation), becomes all light, all face, and all eye: neither is there any one part in her but what is full of these spiritual eyes of light; that is, there is no part in her darkened: but she is all entirely wrought into light and spirit, and is all over full of eyes, having no hinder part, or anything behind; but appears to be altogether face, by reason of the inexpressible beauty of the glory of the light of Christ, that rides and sits upon her.

Beauty leads to love of God and neighbor

St. Maximus the Confessor (580-662), writes:

Nothing so much as love brings together those who have been sundered and produces in them an effective union of will and purpose. Love is distinguished by the beauty of recognizing the equal value of all men. Love is born in a man when his soul's powers - that is, his intelligence, incensive power and desire - are concentrated and unified around the divine. Those who by grace have come to recognized the equal value of all men in God's sight and who engrave His beauty on their memory, possess an ineradicable longing for divine love, for such love is always imprinting this beauty on their intellect. (Philokalia, II).

St. John Chrysostom asks: ". . . when the soul is refulgent with it [beauty] what can match beauty and grace of this kind?vii

St. Maximus the Confessor also pointed out the connection between the good and the beautiful:

The beautiful is identical with the good, for all things seek the beautiful and good at every opportunity, and there is no being which does not participate in them. They extend to all that is, being what is truly admirable, sought for, desired pleasing, chosen and loved. Observe how the divine force of love -- the erotic power preexisting in the good - has given birth to the same blessed force within us, through which we long for the beautiful and good in accordance with the words, "I became a lover of her beauty" (Wisdom. 8:2), and "Love her and she will sustain you; fortify her and she will exalt you (Proverbs. 4:6, 8). (Philokalia II).

As the author of the book of Wisdom tells us, it is through beauty that we can glimpse the Divinity: "If through delight in the beauty of these things men assumed them to be gods, let them know how much better than these is their Lord, for the author of beauty created them." (Wis 13: 3). "For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator." (Wis 13: 5)

Holiness our reward for responding to beauty

Paul Evdokimov (1990) points to the spiritual effects mankind receives in responding to the grace of perceiving the Divine Beauty. It is that we become beauty ourselves:

At the ultimate heights of holiness, the human person "becomes in a certain sense light" [St. Gregory Palamas, Homily on the Presentation of the Holy Virgin in the Temple]. Seraphim of Sarov was thus able to cloth himself in the sun and shine. Being himself called "a striking likeness," St. Seraphim was the living icon of the God of Light. St. Gregory of Nyssa described the elevation of the soul of him who hears in the following way: "You have become beautiful by coming close to my Light." Man is drawn upward; we might even say "falls up" and attains the level of divine beauty.

Beauty: God is Good and God is love

Jesus, the only begotten Son of the Father, true God of true God, the light of the world, from His own mouth informed His apostles and us: "No one is good but God alone." (Mk 10: 18).  His beloved Apostle tells us: “He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1 Jn 4: 8, 16). St. Basil the Great informs us that this spiritual perception (Morelli, 2010a) is achieved by contemplation.

A lesson from the Prophet Isaiah: Two that are beautiful

The Prophet Isaiah (Is. 53: 2-3) tells, in foretelling the appearance of the ugliness of Christ  during His Passion and Crucifixion,

For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

This passage is read at both the Sixth Hour and at Great Vespers on Great and Holy Friday in the Eastern Church.  How do we reconcile Isaiah's prophesy with the prophetic description of Christ given by King David in Psalm 44: 1-2, in which he lauds Christ's beauty: "My heart overflows with a goodly theme; I address my verses to the king; my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe. You are the fairest of the sons of men; grace is poured upon your lips; therefore God has blessed you forever?” Evdokimov (1990) suggests an answer. There are two beauties. Natural and Divine. Divine beauty not only surpasses natural beauty, but may be hidden, be unseen, be unappreciated and even, paradoxically, appear ugly to the human eye. He tells us: "Natural beauty is real but fragile. This is why the natural beauty of a saint is at the summit of being. The saint, as 'microcosm' and 'microtheos' thus becomes nature’s center, but grounded in a person. Nature trembles and waits to be saved by man become holy." Later Evdokimov goes on to write: "The great saints discover divine thoughts in the world, present but transparent, and look to the very center of the cosmic shell where they find the world's true meaning." This is why the spark of Divine Beauty is hidden, but capable of spiritual perception.  Beauty can be found  in those in the world who are wounded by mere human standards. The greatest beauty can lie within those physically and/or mentally challenged.

Secular psychology misses the Divine connection

I started this essay by pointing out that Positive Psychology unwittingly points us to the Divine, but surely this is not its aim. Seligman's aim is to remove reference to the personal God whom Christians can know by responding to God's grace and cultivating spiritual perception.  Seligman writes: "But I hope [his comments on God in his book, Authentic Happiness] it is relevant for how to lead a meaningful life to the nonreligious community, the skeptical, evidence-minded community that believes only in nature."  He ends up by creating his own god, a god embedded in nature itself. Seligman continues:

“Toward a [g]od who is not supernatural, a [g]od who ultimately acquires [emphasis mine] omnipotence, omniscience, and goodness through the natural process [emphasis mine] of win-win.”

He goes on to explain:

Biological systems are forced -- designed without a designer -- by Darwinian selection into complexity and more win-win scenarios. A cell that incorporates mitochondria symbiotically wins out over cells that cannot. Complex intelligence is almost an inevitable result, given enough time, of natural selection and differential reproductive success.

Seligman is actually basing his comments on a model of the cosmos developed by Robert Wright (2000) called Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny. Wright considers that all, from the minutest particle of matter to mankind, has an intrinsic mechanism of complexity, based on 'a win-win game' theory, a non-zero-sum, which means all involved will win out by 'combining,' so to speak. Wright states:

The underlying reason that non-zero-sum games wind up being played well is the same in biological evolution as in cultural evolution.  Whether you are a bunch of genes or a bunch of memes, if you're all in the same boat you'll tend to perish unless you are conducive to productive coordination. For genes, the boat tends to be a cell or a multicelled organism or occasionally . . . a family; for memes, the boat is often a larger social group----a village, a chiefdom, a state, a religious denomination, Boy Scouts of America, whatever. Genetic evolution thus tends to create smoothly integrated organisms, and cultural evolution tends to create smoothly integrated groups of organisms.viii

Unfortunately, Seligman falls into the same intellectual trap as false evolutionists, as discussed in Morelli, 2010b.  He makes nature, which is finite, no matter how infinitesimal or complex it may be, or how many dimensions it may have, or no matter that it may operate according to the rule of quantum physics which states that particles do not have single definite histories, the principle of its own infinite existence.  His explanation of the initial point of creation, of even the minutest particle of matter, is missing. It is a logical inconsistency. How can nothing create something?  Interestingly, this is the same trap that cosmologist Stephen Hawking falls into, as his recent publication, The Grand Design (2010) indicates; he falls into the identical logical conundrum.  It is possible that a non-zero-sum interaction is the way God created the cosmos, including mankind. But spiritual perception demands that we see the work of God not only in the initial creation of something out of nothing, but in the way in which that something works, its beauty and that the “something” ultimately glorifies Him.

The God of Revelation

On the other hand, the God of Judeo-Christianity is a personal God of Love, Truth Goodness and Beauty. As I state in Morelli, 2010b: "God is above and beyond all creation." God, to quote once more from the Anaphora prayer of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom as used in the Eastern Orthodox Church, is: "ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, ever existing and eternally the same."

". . . .every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights . . . ." (Jas 1: 17)


Alfeyev, Bishop Hilarion (2000). The Spiritual World of St. Isaac the Syrian. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications.

Alfeyev, Bishop Hilarion, (2002). The Mystery of Faith. London, England: Darton, Longman and Todd.

Cabasilas, N. (1974). The Life in Christ. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.

Evdokimov, P. (1990). The Art of the Icon: A Theology of Beauty. Redondo Beach, CA: Oakwood Publications.

Hawking, S. & Mlodinow, L. (2010). The Grand Design.  NY: Bantam Books

McGuckin, J.A. (2001). Standing in God's Holy Fire: The Byzantine tradition. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Book

Morelli, G. (2005, October 03). Elevating motives.

Morelli, G. (2006, March 6). Asceticism and Psychology in the Modern World.

Morelli, G. (2010a April 18). Cultivating spiritual perception.

Morelli, G. (2010b September, 08). The laws of nature are also the laws of God - Evolution: A psychospiritual reflection.

Musurillo, H. (ed., trans.). From Glory to Glory: Texts from Gregory of Nyssa's Mystical Writings. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.

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ii (Princeton University)





vii St. John Chrysostom

viii A thoughtful Christian, might then ask if this 'naturalistic' "nonzero-sum" explanation is the basis of all altruism and even of Christian altruism. Jesus actually addressed just this issue in His Sermon on the Mount as recorded by St. Luke.  He tells his apostles and disciples: "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again." (Lk 6 32-34). Rather, Christian altruism is kenotic, self- emptying love. Our Lord goes on to explain the essential difference: "But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from him who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again. And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. "Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back." (Lk 6: 27-31, 35-38). See Morelli, 2005. Thus, of a simple Nonzero-sum outcome altruism, it could be said: "what is that . . . even sinners do that.”

It is with this distinction in mind that we should also consider the "natural law." The theology of natural law, although developed in the Christian West, is relatively undeveloped in the Eastern Church.  St. Basil (1950) does give us an insight into the natural law perspective of the Eastern Church: ". . . it [is] true that instruction in divine law is not from without, but, simultaneously with the formation of the creature----man, I mean----a kind of rational force was implanted in us like a seed, which, by an inherent tendency, impels us toward love." This should not be surprising since "grace builds on nature (Morelli,2006).  It may  be that this seed of natural law, if responded to by man  eventually leads to love, and, as St. Isaac of Syrian informs us, will be the basis of God's judgment of mankind and eventual salvation. St. Isaac's words, as quoted by Alfeyev (2000), are: "No part belonging to any single one of all rational beings will be lost, so far as God is concerned, in preparation of that supernal kingdom which is prepared for all worlds.  Because of the goodness of His nature by which He brought the universe into being and then bears, guides and provides for the worlds and all created things in His immeasurable compassion, He has devised the establishment of the kingdom of heaven for the entire community of rational beings . . . ."