God is the “only truly existing God.” All existence is a gift from God who is our Creator. None of us has “self-existing” life. We exist because God sustains us in existence (“in Him we live and move and have our being”).
Sin is the rejection of this gift of God – a movement away from true existence.
Much of our lives in the modern world engages primarily with things that have no “true existence.” We engage with illusions, or social constructs. By the same token, these imaginary things draw us into a life in which we become strangers to true existence.
Despite the current popularity of “3-D” films – they are no more real than any other film. Much of our economic system is built on the “market,” that is, what people are willing to pay. The value of most items, and of much work, is not intrinsic but imputed. Thus the mood of a people (“are they optimistic about the future”) can have a direct effect on the “value” of a stock-market.
I am not an economist so I will say no more about something that seems to be largely make-believe.
How we feel about many things has this same make-believe quality. We find certain styles of clothing and certain products (cars, houses, etc.) attractive and desirable, but often with little more than subjective reasons for our desires. The power of this make-believe is so great that it is well-known that many people “go shopping” to battle depression. It is a strange therapy.
The story is told of an old woman who came to the Elder Thaddeus (Serbian) and complained about a neighbor whom she did not like. He told her, “You are arguing with her all day. You should stop.” She replied, “Argue with her? I make it a point never to see her and never to speak to her.”
“Nevertheless, the elder said, “You argue with her in your mind all day long. Pray for her and this will disappear.”
It is strange that in our modern world, afflicted by the make-believe of our culture, we are very likely to look for yet more make-believe to assuage our discomfort – and thus move deeper into the disappearing existence that is the source of all our problems.
God calls us away from make-believe and towards true reality. That which is truly existent has become like God, at least in that aspect. For this reason, many Orthodox monastics adopt an extremely simplified life. The less life is bound up with make-believe and grounded in the hard reality of what is, the greater the chance that we will find salvation and sanity.
A large majority of what I see as a parish priest is not a struggle with reality, but a ceaseless struggle with things that have no true existence. Our battles against, anger, lust, greed, envy, etc. are all struggles with things that are not. They have no more existence than we ourselves lend to them. And since we ourselves are not the Lord and Giver of Life, their existence is as nothing.
And yet we find ourselves attracted to nothing – our minds constantly employed in dialog with nothing.
The sweet work of repentance that is set before us as followers of Christ, is nothing other than the return to reality. God does not call us to spend our time thinking about what we imagine Paradise will be like. He invites us into the reality of Paradise now, which we can know through forgiving everyone for everything; by being generous in our almsgiving; by praying honest, simple prayers.
It is quite possible for our lives to be dominated by things that have no existence. Our dreams and fantasies, our fears and anxieties, take on an existence that overwhelms everything else. Not only can such concerns not be defeated on their own ground (they are the masters of the unreal world) they must be slowly dragged onto the very ground of reality, Christ Himself, so that they can be revealed in their powerlessness and swept away with the dust of non-being.
My children are extremely dear to me and I pray for their health and salvation. But their well-being does not consist in their health or other material measures. Their existence is founded in the life of prayer and their relationship with the good God and source of all life. God forbid, but if I should lose them unexpectedly, I expect to find them where they have always been – in praise and worship before the throne of God. My only concern is that I find myself with them at the end of all things.
I have no “career goals” for my children other than the goal of their salvation before the true and living God. There is and can be no shame in such a good confession.
By the same token, I have no greater desire for those who are my parishioners – that they be found “in Christ Jesus.” The myriad of devices and intrigues that make us want to think imaginary things to be of importance – I pray for the brilliant light of God’s true existence to sweep away as He defeats all darkness. No enmity has true existence. No anger, no bitterness has true existence. No long cherished grudge has any true existence. When Christ comes and the Truth of His existence begins to sweep away all false things – we will see all these things dissipate. Our salvation is that we will greet such a dissipation with joy and not with sadness.
Christ Jesus has set us free.