Thursday, August 28, 2014

What my boyfriend wants from me.

  • love all of me
  • be a genuine person
  • think for themselves
  • be theologically compatible with me
  • be compassionate

I commit myself to being all of these things for you.
My boyfriend wrote this earlier this year after a suicide attempt.



Within me is this deep fear. it takes me places I don’t want to go.
i want to be that boy that my grandma told me I was.
the one who jumps in puddles, for the joy of it.
the one that is fascinated with the little things
and, always, always lives in hope and peace.
I want to be the person who lives free from fear.
But, God. I am not that boy anymore.
I was dragged through the mud as a child. my hands were tied behind my back and I was dragged through the stones.
the devil walked in with a mirror and accused me of not being worthy of love;
i looked away for help from my guardians.
but, they were distracted with their own mirrors
and, my mom saw me in my distress.
she assured me this isn’t the way it is supposed to be.
and, she hugged me.
I didn’t know until now that as she hugged me she was still looking at her mirror hidden behind my head.
so, I got up. with my bruises. and walked.
as I grew up, my mirror whispered in my ears that I should be quiet.
i resisted the silence…but I learned to fear my voice…i learned to fear who I am.
and, eventually, I learned that this thing I call me doesn’t fit in this world.
to hide my colors, i sullenly grew into grey shades.
but, later on, I would realize that grace was with me all along.
this thing i call grace, I now also know as Spirit, kept my sparkle going. the sparkle in my childhood eyes that splashed in the puddle for the joy of it.
but, sometimes, I find my perception can still be distorted. and, it is here that I lose my hope. God, more and more, I have been losing my ability to see hope.
but, I trust you are with me. no matter what. and I trust your promises are there no matter my ability to perceive them.
i learned you are my longing.
i learned you have not given up hope on me.
but, the clouds are blocking my view again, even now. where is your Voice? what is this growing pain that started oh so long ago?
i am slipping in the mud again. i need you.
why do I find my value in other people, and not in my status as a child of God?
i see people like Mateo. I think I have idealized him.
though, he is not the only one I have idealized.
and, I think. I’m not as witty, not as pretty. not as smart. and, therefore, not as valuable. i get lost in my own mirror.
but how contradictory of me to think such things, when my value is in grace, not in my ability to fulfill any category.
i guess I want what I think he has. I want what a lot of people have. but, why?
am I merely giving into idolatry?
i don’t know.
but, something is wrong with my present state.
and, I feel at loss. and empty.
and, I feel if only I had these shiny things from other people, my sparkle would return.
i want to be loved. and, i think that i was never loved the way I needed to be loved. and, that is why i look for what other people have. i psychologically merge with my celebrity crushes.
because i perceive they have it made, they have what I want. the looks, the love. 
God, I know you love me. but, why do other people not love me, and why do I not love myself?
how long must I endure the pain of hopelessness, worthlessness, and despair?
i don’t want to live in fear. i don’t want to go to the places fear drags me to anymore. I don’t like the mirror of self-hatred that is set before me. but, now I am so comfortable with those places. and, my grey shades are drawing me further into the harmful cave of despair.
Love,
Levi

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

So I just got my first boyfriend, and I'm happy and horny and scared. But when I asked him, it felt so right. And I felt so much peace. Like this is where I'm supposed to be. So I'm thanking God for the opportunity to FINALLY have someone in my life. It's day one of our relationship, but I'm looking forward to many many more days to come.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Running the Race.

…let us run with endurance the race set before us……Hebrews 12:1
I’ve been doing some thinking
.
Even though I really like being Quaker and what the Quaker movement has to offer, in the end it is not as spiritually uplifting as it needs to be for me, and it does not give me the opportunity to fully use the talents God has blessed me with. I’ve been willing to ignore the talents God has given me for the sake of finding a place to sit in a movement that I find fascinating and potentially transformative. But it’s not enough to be part of a group that has potential When God gives you talents, I believe that he expects you to USE those talents in his service and to do the work that he would have you do in the world. And to use those talents, you have to be a part of a movement that VALUES those talents.

A few days ago, an AME preacher came up to me and preached at me as is his custom. He’s a coworker of mine at my job, and I find him to be a bit brash at times and overly critical. He’s also against full equality for LGBT people or the recognition of LGBT relationships, like many others in my workplace, so I usually ignore him when the spirit “gives him a message”. But he ended his preaching that day with a special blessing on my head. After lamenting the “sinful and spiritually ignorant” and “hell-bound” ways of some employees at our job who were of my age group, he said that God had told him to tell me that God wanted to take me “to another level”, that God’s hand was on my life and that I should read Hebrews chap. 12. Whenever somebody says they heard something from God I take it seriously regardless of who they are. So I went home and read the words I quoted above. And as I read them, I came to the realization that I have to run the race that is set before me to follow the calling that God has made on my life and I have not been doing that lately.

As I reflect upon my current spiritual orientation , I realize that is what I’ve been focused almost solely on finding a place where I don’t ever have to expose myself to the challenges that come with the calling on my life as I've experienced it so far. But it’s not enough to build a spiritual and emotional cocoon for ourselves, is it? God has ministry for each of us to do as She seeks to bring the Shalom of Her Kingdom into being in our world. And I believe he wishes for us to live FULLY, and to be in fellowship with people with whom we can explore ALL of our spiritual and creative gifts and knowledge.
So time to get back on "track".

Thursday, July 24, 2014

'O' is for the Orthodox Way and the Quaker Way by Stuart Masters

A. INTRODUCTION

On the face of it the spirituality of the Eastern Orthodox Church and Quakerism would appear to be entirely incompatible; one values outward liturgy and the veneration of icons whereas the other rejects all outward ceremony and imagery. But are these two traditions really as far apart as they at first appear? This posting will seek to address this question by exploring a number of aspects of the Orthodox way that share commonalities with traditional Quaker understandings. Might this prompt us to explore dialogue and greater mutual understanding as a way of bringing spiritual enrichment to both groups?

B. ORTHODOXY AND QUAKERISM: KEY DIFFERENCES

The main purpose of this posting is to indicate the ways in which Eastern Orthodoxy and Quakerism share a number of similar theological and spiritual understandings. However, it is clear that there is a range of quite significant differences dividing the two traditions that should not be ignored. In terms of the Eastern Orthodox Church these include:

·         Churches with strong national or even nationalist identities.
·         Hierarchical Church structures
·         An ordained male priesthood
·         An apparently firm distinction between laity and the priesthood/monastics
·         The outward ritual of the Holy Liturgy
·         The outward sacraments
·         The ecclesiastical year regulated by a liturgical calendar
·         Elaborate church architecture
·         The importance of physical images and symbolism
·         Very firmly defined boundaries of acceptable doctrine

C. ORTHODOXY AND QUAKERISM: SOME SIMILARITIES

Despite the many significant differences listed above, there are also a surprising number of areas of Eastern Orthodox theology and spirituality that are reflected to some degree within traditional Quaker faith and practice. These are set out below.

Basic Foundations

1. Faith as Experience and Relationship

The Orthodox way is strongly experiential in orientation, based on a relationship of divine intimacy. Such experience is especially focused on the practice of prayer and worship (Louth 2013, p.xx). Orthodoxy insists on the need for direct experience of the Holy Spirit (Ware 1979, p.102) as an on-going personal relationship with God in this life (Ware 1979, p.8). Whilst rooted in a tradition that has existed for many centuries, in this sense, the Orthodox way can be viewed as a living and developing way (Louth 2013, p.15).

2. Apophatic Mysticism (God as Mystery)

“God cannot be grasped by the mind. If he could be grasped he would not be God” Evagrius of Pontus (Ware 1979, p.11)

“Anyone who tries to describe the ineffable Light in language is truly a liar – not because he hates the truth, but because of the inadequacy of his description” Gregory of Nyssa (Ware 1979, p.24)

This emphasis on experience and relationship reflects the Orthodox understanding of God as a mystery beyond human conception. God can be experienced but cannot be fully comprehended (Louth 2013, p.1). This leads to an apophatic form of mysticism in which we approach God by defining what is not God (Louth 2013, p.32)[i]. The pathway to God requires us to discard all human notions and images, all forms of impurity or idolatry (Chryssavgis 2004, p.61). In such circumstances truth is profoundly mystical and never merely intellectual (Chryssavgis 2004, p.56). It expresses itself best in the language of poetry and images (Louth 2013, p.114). Faith is understood not as logical certainty but as a personal relationship (Ware 1979, p.16). For the unknowable God can only be known in communion and participation (Chryssavgis 2004, p.57).

3. The Holy Spirit (as the Real Divine Presence)

“The Holy Spirit is light and life, a living fountain of knowledge, spirit of wisdom, spirit of understanding, loving, righteous, filled with knowledge and power, cleansing our offences, God and making us god, fire that comes forth from fire, speaking, working, distributing gifts of grace. By him were all the prophets, the apostles of God and the martyrs crowned. Strange were the tidings, strange was the vision at Pentecost: fire came down, bestowing gifts of grace on each” From Vespers on the Feast of Pentecost (Ware 1979, p.103)

The Holy Spirit plays an important role within the Orthodox way. Whereas in the West the Spirit has often been treated as a junior partner within the Trinity, Orthodoxy has resisted any move to depersonalise and subordinate it in this way (Ware 1979, p.92). The status of the Holy Spirit was one of the key issues at stake in the schism between the Eastern and Western churches that took place in the 11th century. The Orthodox tradition emphasises the real living presence of Christ (Louth 2013, p.51) and asserts that it is the Holy Spirit that reveals Christ to people (Ware 1979, p.91). This is based on an assumption that God's will is to be in communion with people in the Spirit (Louth 2013, p.95) and that direct mystical union between God and humanity is a possibility (Ware 1979, p.22). Bishop Kallistos Ware has argued that the whole aim of the Christian life is to be a spirit-bearer, to live in the Spirit of God (Ware 1979, p.90). As a result Orthodoxy rejects the idea that God’s revelation in the Spirit ceased after the death of the apostles (Chryssavgis 2004, p.51). Eastern Church Father Symeon the New Theologian stated that it was heresy to claim that later generations could not acquire the same vision of the Holy Spirit enjoyed by the saints (Chryssavgis 2004, p.53).

4. A Non-dualistic Vision

Eastern Orthodoxy is characterised by a strongly non-dualistic doctrine of creation (Louth 2013, p.37). It opposes any a rigid dualism in which God and the material are too clearly set apart from one another (Louth 2013, p.97) A profound sense of God’s presence within creation (Louth 2013, p.40) leads to a rejection of any sharp division being made between the sacred and the secular (Chryssavgis 2004, p.39). In the ‘iconic’ understanding of the Eastern Church the ‘other’ heavenly/spiritual world penetrates and permeates ‘this’ material/physical world (Chryssavgis 2004, p.47). Indeed, in Orthodox understanding this is what makes existence possible, because if God as an ordering presence in the world were to withdraw from it, the world would inevitably collapse (Chryssavgis 2004, p.122).

5. The Whole World as a Sacrament

Linked to this non-dualistic vision, the Orthodox tradition has viewed the whole of creation as a sacrament – an outward symbol or image of God’s grace (Chryssavgis 2004, p.126). Every visible or invisible creature is therefore to be understood as a theophany or an ‘appearance’ of God (Ware 1979, p.23). The active presence of God is always at the heart of each thing, maintaining it in its being (Ware 1979, p.46). The Eastern view has therefore been critical of Western rationalism for disenchanted and demystified the glories of the creation and regarding it as mere matter. We have disconnected this world from heaven and so have desacralized both (Chryssavgis 2004, p.110).

6. The Significance of Silence and Stillness (Hesychasm)

“Some of the Fathers have called this practice stillness of the heart, others attentiveness, others the guarding of the heart, others watchfulness and rebuttal, and still others the investigation of thoughts and the guarding of the intellect. But all of them alike worked the earth of their own heart, and in this way they were fed on the divine manna (Exodus 16:15)” Symeon the New Theologian (Smith 2012, p.183)

Given that in Eastern Orthodoxy God is understood to be ultimately beyond rational comprehension, the Orthodox way values the imageless and wordless attitude of silence as a fitting way to address God as mystery (Chryssavgis 2004, p.82). Silence has significance because it is the place where we meet the divine mystery (Louth 2013, p.5). In the Orthodox contemplative practice known as Hesychasm, the Seeker begins to ‘wait upon God’ in quietness and silence, no longer talking about or to God but simply listening (Ware 1979, pp.121-122). It is through this kind of contemplative prayer that one hears the voice of Christ (Louth 2013, p.7). Ware points out that the quest for the inward kingdom is one of the master themes found throughout the writings of the Greek Fathers (Ware 1979, p.55) and John Climacus asserts that “the one who has achieved silence has arrived at the very centre of all mysteries (Chryssavgis 2004, p.90). Silence is a way of surrendering all self-justification, giving up all of our infantile images of God and giving in to the living image of God (Chryssavgis 2004, p.71). This view is reflected in the Liturgy of St James which proclaims “let all mortal flesh keep silent, and stand with fear and trembling” (Ware 1979, p.32).

7. The Bible

“Spiritual knowledge comes through prayer, deep stillness, and complete detachment, while wisdom comes through humble meditation on Holy Scriptures and, above all, through grace given by God” Diadochos of Photiki (Smith 2012, p.169)

Consistent with its mysticism and emphasis on contemplative practice, Eastern Orthodoxy adopts a prayerful and experiential approach to reading the Bible (Ware 1979, p.111) regarding it as an icon of Christ (Louth 2013, p.8). This means that, although the book is a material object, it functions as a window through which the spiritual and heavenly dimension of reality can be perceived. The Holy Spirit therefore plays an essential role in the reading of the scriptures where the study of mere words gives way to an immediate dialogue with the living Word (Ware 1979, p.111).

What Has Gone Wrong?

How does the Eastern Orthodox tradition understand the world as it currently is, a world gone wrong?

8. The Nature of Sin

“There is only one way to salvation, and that is to make yourself responsible for all men’s sins. As soon as you make yourself responsible in all sincerity for everything and for everyone, you will see at once that this is really so, and that you are in fact to blame for everyone and for all things” Dostoevsky – The Brothers Karamazov (Ware 1979, p.63)

The Eastern Orthodox tradition has never accepted the Western doctrine of original sin understood in terms of a stain of guilt past genetically from generation to generation. Instead, it has worked with a concept of ‘ancestral sin’ in which humans inherit the implications of the errors and delusions of past generations (Louth 2013, p.73). We are all born into a world which is already structured in a way that makes it extremely hard for people to consistently do good and very easy for them to do evil.

9. The Human Condition

The Orthodox believe that in the conditions of the fall, humanity has created a deluded, imaginary world of their own devising (Louth 2013, p.72) and this is characterised in particular by disharmonious and dysfunctional relationships with God, with each other and with the rest of creation (Louth 2013, p.73). Despite this, the Eastern Church has rejected the doctrine of ‘total depravity’ because it believes that while the image of God in humanity has been obscured, it has not been entirely obliterated (Ware 1979, p.61). All humans still bear some trace of the true unfallen vision of humanity we see in Christ (Louth 2013, p.87).

10. Humans within Creation

A key dimension of human sin is an inability to see the world as a sacrament of communion with God (Chryssavgis 2004, p.48). In the conditions of the fall, the creation has become opaque to humanity rather than transparent, a window revealing God (Ware 1979, p.59). Humans were created to act as mediators of God’s grace within the whole creation. However, in the conditions of the fall we have become the source of division and destruction instead (Ware 1979, p.59). Human disobedience has undermined the harmonious order intended for the creation (Louth 2013, p.69). However, the havoc inflicted on the world by human sin is not strong enough to break the divinely sustained structures of creation (Louth 2013, p.89).

11. Good and Evil

“The paradox of suffering and evil is resolved in the experience of compassion and love” Nicolas Berdyaev (Ware 1979, p.57)

The Orthodox understanding of sin, the human condition and its impact on the creation fully recognises the darkness in human nature but still asserts that good is more powerful than evil.  Evil is a product of human free will (Ware 1979, p.47) but does not undermine the fundamental goodness of the world as God created it. Therefore, in Orthodox theology and spirituality there is ‘supreme good’ in God and ‘supreme evil’ is merely a delusion (Ware 1979, p.46).

The Solution

12. The Atonement

“Because Christ is the perfect Love, his life on earth can never become a life of the past. He remains present to all eternity. Then he was alone and bore the sins of men as one whole alone. But, in death, he took us all into his work. Therefore the Gospel is now present with us. We may enter inside his own sacrifice” Mother Maria of Normanby (Ware 1979, p.86)

The Eastern Orthodox understanding of the Incarnation and the atonement differs quite significantly from the positions that have been dominant in the West for the past thousand years. Firstly, the Orthodox emphasise the way in which, through the incarnation, God has bridged or reconnected the divine and the earthly dimensions of reality that were separated by the fall (Louth 2013, p.60). This reflects the nondualistic vision of Eastern Orthodoxy and the conviction that God in Spirit is fully present and active in the creation. An essential aspect of this is that, through the Incarnation, Christ as the Word made flesh fulfils the task of mediating God’s grace to the whole creation, a task that humans rejected in the fall (Ware 1979, p.70). Secondly, the Orthodox have retained a vision of the atonement that quite closely reflects the early church understanding of ‘Christus Victor’ rather than the ‘satisfaction’ or ‘penal substitution’ theories of the Western Church[ii]. Through his death and resurrection Jesus was victorious over evil and death (Louth 2013, p.55). On the cross God met sin with forgiveness and reconciliation, overcame hate with love, battled evil with goodness and conquered darkness with light and death with life (Chryssavgis 2004, p.141-142). The cross and the resurrection are therefore conceived of as the victory of suffering love, demonstrating that love and life are stronger than hatred and death (Ware 1979, p.80-81).

13. Salvation as Healing

Given that, for the Orthodox, the key purpose of the Incarnation was to reconnect heaven and earth and heal the human will (Louth 2013, p.65), the Church is often regarded as a hospital for the Soul. The emphasis is therefore on healing and transformation rather than on guilt and punishment. The human condition is regarded as a problem but priority is given to the redemption of the human will and moral choice rather than the human body (Ware 1979, p.75). In Orthodox spirituality, if our hearts are broken open, God can find and enter the open wound, bringing healing to the soul and to the world (Chryssavgis 2004, p.72).

14. Surrender and Self-Emptying

“Let no one deceive you with vain words (Ephesians 5:6), and let us not deceive ourselves: before we have experienced inward grief and tears there is no true repentance or change of mind in us, nor is there any fear of God in our hearts… If we do not attain such a state, we cannot be united with the Holy Spirit. And if we have not been united with the Holy Spirit through purification, we cannot have either vision or knowledge of God, or be initiated into the hidden virtues of humility” Symeon the New Theologian (Smith 2012, p.17) 

In the Orthodox tradition, the healing of the human will is achieved through a process of self-empting (of the deluded and alienated human self) and surrender to the will of God. Orthodox spirituality is therefore a way of renunciation and surrender (Chryssavgis 2004, p.17). Like Christ, we must all seek self-emptying in order to achieve unity with God (Louth 2013, p.21). This involves attaining a state of detachment where worldly values or self-centredness are not allowed to distract us from what is most essential which is our relationship with God and the world (Chryssavgis 2004, p.29). When we arrive at the end of our own individual resources, we find that an infinite and eternal source can open up (Chryssavgis 2004, p.66). “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

15. Theosis (Deification)

“What is the purpose of the Incarnation of the Divine Logos, which is proclaimed throughout the scriptures, about which we read and that yet we do not recognise? Surely it is that he has shared in what is ours so as to make us participants of what he is. For the Son of God became the Son of man in order to make us human beings sons of God, raising us up by grace to what he is by nature, giving us new birth in the Holy Spirit and leading us directly into the kingdom of heaven. Or rather, he gives us the grace to possess this kingdom within ourselves (Luke 17:21) so that not merely do we hope to enter it, but being in full possession of it, we can affirm: ‘Our life is hid with Christ in God’ (Colossians 3:3)” Symeon the New Theologian (Smith 2012, p.211)

For the Orthodox, the Incarnation has opened the way to human deification (Ware 1979, p.74). This is now possible by the power of the Holy Spirit (Louth 2013, p.26) which transforms the creaturely being and glorifies it (Louth 2013, p.147). In the Orthodox way this process is known as theosis. Christ has the power to effect inner transformation (Louth 2013, p.7) but this requires our voluntary cooperation (Ware 1979, p.112). For Symeon the New Theologian the aim of the spiritual life is to become ‘all Christ’ (Chryssavgis 2004, p.75). However, the process does not end with the human. Reconciliation and the transformation of humanity leads to reconciliation and the transfiguration of the whole creation (Ware 1979, p.137). Rather than involving the destruction of the material world, the end times (eschatology) are understood as the deification of the whole creation (Chryssavgis 2004, p.26).

16. Universalism

“…there exists with (the creator) a single love and compassion which is spread out over all creation, (a love) which is without alteration, timeless and everlasting… No part belonging to any single one of all rational beings will be lost, as far as God is concerned, in the preparation of that supernal kingdom”  Isaac the Syrian (Louth 2013, p.158)

The Orthodox vision of the incarnation, the atonement, the powerful living presence of the Holy Spirit and the deification of the whole creation has led to a tendency within the Eastern Church towards a belief in universal salvation, that in the end all will be saved (Louth 2013, p.157). As the apostle Paul writes “when all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28).

If you have found this information helpful, you might like to know about the following course at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre:

Icons and Iconoclasts : exploring Eastern Orthodox and Quaker spirituality

Friday 24 - Sunday 26 October I 16 places

On the face of it the spirituality of Eastern Orthodoxy and Quakerism would appear to be entirely incompatible; one values outward liturgy and the veneration of icons whereas the other rejects all outward ceremony and imagery. But are these two traditions really as far apart as they appear? We will consider this question by exploring themes such as holiness, creation, material and spiritual, inward and outward, light and darkness. Could opening up to the other's perspective bring spiritual enrichment to both groups?

Tutors: Stuart Masters and Lucy Faulkner-Gawlinski

End Notes


[i] In kataphatic spirituality or ‘via positiva’ God is described in positive terms (i.e. God is this or that). In apophatic spirituality or ‘via negativa’ God as mystery is defined negatively (i.e. God is not this or that).

[ii] Satisfaction and Penal Substitution theories of atonement are both variations on the same theme. God is angry because humans have sinned. In order to forgive humanity for their sins God requires someone to be punished. In his crucifixion Jesus takes this punishment on our behalf.


D. REFERENCES

Chryssavigis, John (2004) Light Through Darkness: The Orthodox Tradition (Darton, Longman and Todd)

Louth, Andrew (2013) Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology (SPCK)

Smith, Allyne (2012) Philokalia: The Eastern Christian Spiritual Texts (Skylight Paths)

Ware, Kallistos (1979) The Orthodox Way (St Vladimir’s Seminary Press)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Hryhorii Skovoroda


Old Kiev
"The World Caught Me But Did Not Hold On"

Until the 17th century Ukraine was closely associated with Catholic Poland. When Ukraine became part of Russia in the middle of the 17th century, she brought with her not only Catholic but also Protestant ideas taken from the communication between Kiev's church groups and German centers of Protestantism.
It was against this background that the star of so talented an individual as Grigory Skovoroda began to shine. He was a very religious man and, at the same time, had an unusual sense of internal freedom. He courageously exposed local abuses of the time. In bold, and at times audacious, flights of thought he rose in opposition to traditional church teachings and was absolutely fearless in his fiery pursuit of the truth. With an internal equilibrium between faith and reason, he himself did not differentiate between one and the other, Skovoroda relied upon an "allegorical" method for interpreting the Holy Scriptures. Here he demonstrated much courage, often completely rejecting the literal idea of the Scriptures in the name of an interpretation that seemed to him to be correct.
From his early years he stood out for his love of learning and a "firmness of spirit." He entered the Kiev Academy at the age of 16, but his studies were soon interrupted by a call to join the court choir in St. Petersburg. The young Skovoroda had a magnificent voice and exceptional musical skills. Two years later he returned to Kiev where he finished the Academy as a 28-year-old. Declining a spiritual title, he set out as a church minstrel with a certain General Vishnevsky, who was bound for Hungary on a diplomatic mission. Over a three-year period, Skovoroda visited Hungary, Austria, Poland, Germany and Italy, often traveling by foot. He was extremely well acquainted with the works of the ancient masters and the church fathers. During that period mystics and quietists were active in Germany. Having spent time there, Skovoroda always had a preference for Germany over all other countries, with the exception of his native land.
 Skovoroda frequently equates a "genuine" person (who becomes apparent within us during spiritual guidance) and Christ through thoughts such as this: "When you know yourself well, you will know Christ with just a single glance."

Alexander Pogorelov, Author
In 1765, Skovoroda abandoned his service to the church once and for all. This is the point at which the period of his "wandering" began. For the rest of his life Skovoroda no longer had a permanent refuge. "What is life?," he writes. "It is the dream of a Turk ecstatic from opium, a terrible dream causing the head to hurt and the heart to turn cold. What is life? It is wandering experience. I pave a road for myself, not knowing where I am going and why." In these wanderings Skovoroda traveled with a sack on his shoulders as if an indigent "The sack always contained the Bible." His time-tested flute and staff were always with him. Occasionally he visited with his many friends and worshipers for long periods of time; sometimes he left his friends unexpectedly.
Some unseen hand guided him on his path. Thus, when Skovoroda was visiting with friends in Kiev in 1770, he suddenly began to plead that he be allowed to leave Kiev. While in Podol, he suddenly sensed the strong odor of corpses. He fled the city the very next day. Two weeks later a famine broke out in Kiev, and the city was closed.

Grigory Skovoroda
Skovoroda becomes a philosopher as his religious tribulations require that he do so. He moves from his awareness of Christ to an understanding of man and the world. Skovoroda often experienced a spiritual ascent, a sort of ecstasy. Skovoroda himself writes about one such mystical episode to his young friend Kovalensky: "I went for a walk in the garden. The first sensation that sensed in my heart was a certain lack of restraint, freedom and courage. I felt within myself an exceptional mobility that filled me with incomprehensible power. Some very sweet, momentary outpouring of emotion filled my soul, causing everything within me to burn with fire. The whole world disappeared before me. A single feeling of love, calm and eternity revived me. Tears flowed from my eyes and spread a soothing harmony throughout my being."
In the world of mystical tribulations Skovoroda becomes increasingly convinced that "the entire world is asleep," and its sleep is agonizing. In his songs we come across many judgments about the world's innermost life, which one can only experience through religion. Skovoroda feels deeply the secret sorrow and secret tears of the world.
"This world reveals a magnificently beautiful view
But hidden within it is a vigilant worm
Woe to the world! You show me laughter
Inside you sob secretly with your soul"
Thus, on the soil of religious sentiment, alienation from the world emerges in Skovoroda. Life on earth appears before him in a dual form. The reality of one's being is different on the surface and in its depths. And from this Skovoroda comes to the view that there is awareness coursing along the surface of existence and awareness "of God."
"If you wish to know something in truth," he writes, "first look at the flesh, i.e., on the surface, and you will notice on it traces of God, revealing an unknown and secret wisdom. This is a high level of awareness, the discerning of "God's tracks," is achieved through spiritual insight, but it is attainable by anyone able to free himself from the captivity of sensuality. "If God's spirit has entered your heart," he wrote, "if your eyes are opened by the spirit of truth, you now see everything double; you divide every creature into two parts. When you take a fresh look at God, then you will see everything in Him, as if in a mirror: everything that was always in Him but that you never saw before."

Map of the Russian Empire 18th century 1778
The path to a deeper contemplation of existence needs to be found, first and foremost, within ourselves. Self-awareness, opening within us two "levels" of existence - that is, opening a spiritual life following corporal-psychological tribulations - enables one to see everything in the duality of existence. Therefore, self-awareness is the beginning of wisdom: "Without first taking measure of yourself," observes Skovoroda, "what value will you extract from the knowledge of measuring what is in other beings?" "The seeds of all knowledge are contained within an individual; this is where their secret source resides," Skovoroda asserts. "I know that my body is based on an eternal plan," he writes. "You see within yourself one earthly body but do not see a spiritual body." "Know yourself and understand God as a single endeavor."
Skovoroda frequently equates a "genuine" person (who becomes apparent within us during spiritual guidance) and Christ through thoughts such as this: "When you know yourself well, you will know Christ with just a single glance."
Man's self-adequacy, that is, his acquisition of his own internal self, is the fulfillment of God's wish for him: "All his deeds lie in faith; faith lies in truth; truth in eternity; eternity in immortality; immortality in the beginning, and the beginning in God." Only then does the "world open to your thoughts the temple of serenity and dress your soul in the clothing of joy, satisfies and enriches the heart."
Man does not choose between the righteousness of the Bible and the evil of the empirical world. Skovoroda proceeds from the premise that, selecting himself, a person pursues a course of self-awareness, knowing himself from within and, as the culmination of this course, finds a single, genuine symbolic person. Furthermore, a person has no freedom in selecting himself. Predestination and predetermination of the choice is indeed the very symbolic person Christ in the entire scope of his individual history, each moment of which is symbolic and points to the required path.
In his twilight years, having reached the age of 72, Grigory Savvich Skovoroda was visiting with one of his students. Sometime around evening he took a spade and began digging a narrow ditch. "What are you doing, dear friend?," his host asked him. "It is time, my friend, to end the wandering!", the guest responded. "And I ask you to let this be my final burial site and that it bear the inscription that the world caught me but did not manage to hang on." The following day he was found dead in his room. His hands were crossed together on his chest, and his head rested on a scroll of his own writings. They were only published a hundred years after his death. This did not prevent him from becoming a genuinely legendary figure among the people. And official scholarly records consider him to be Russia's and Ukraine's first philosopher.
By Alexander Pogorelov