The True Meaning of Spirituality

Fulfilling the needs of the spirit within the tripartite man

Having defined the beginning of our ascetic struggle as the battle between humilty and pride, Archbishop Averky now turns to a discussion of man, specifically, how to define the components within man.

St Paul says, For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb 4:12). Here, we can see how “soul” is differentiated from “spirit.” This differentiation between “spiritual” and “worldly” is found in many places in Sacred Scripture. Therefore, the Church has determined that a person’s nature has a triple makeup, consisting of a body, a soul, and a spirit, with the highest being the spirit.

I mentioned the differentiation between the spiritual and the worldly in my previous post, but I was surprised to see the categorization of the soul closer to the flesh than the spirit. This is because, as Hebrews 4:12 points out, the soul and spirit are two distinct things.

The activity of the soul is directed towards the fulfillment of the demands of temporal life.” Therefore, the soul is a lower principle compared to the spirit in a person and is closely connected to the body and to the life of the body.

As we see, a person is tripartite. How does each part function in our nature?

God created the body of the dust of the ground (Gen 2:7) and thus the body belongs to the earth.

Taking the words of Hebrews, Archbishop Averky posits a three-fold man (since the soul and spirit are distinct). The body being the third piece, is the lowest of the three, which should surprise no one.

The soul is given by God as the life-giving force of the body in order for the body to function. All actions and all movements of the soul are so diversified, so complex, so intertwined with each other, so mutable, and frequently difficult to discern, that it is common to separate them into three categories for convenience: thoughts, feelings, and desires.

The soul, then, on this tripartite distinction, is that which gives rise to our mental faculties. This seems to make the most sense of the Greek term for “soul” used in the Bible, which is ψυχή, or psyche, which most english speakers will instantly recognize as a term referring to the mind.

We already know what the life of the body consists of: self-preservation and perpetuation of the species. The life of the soul consists of satisfying the needs of the mind, feelings, and the will. The soul wants to acquire knowledge and experience a variety of feelings.

Another principle is laid out here: each part of man has its own needs. The body has its bodily needs, the soul has its psychological needs. Obviously, then, the spirit has its spiritual needs.

This higher principle in a person is the spirit, and its origin is divine. This is the power which God breathed into the face of man, having completed His creation.

The spirit is the “breath of life” breathed into man during creation. This also explains why the Greek term for “spirit”, πνεύμα, is often translated as “breath” depending on context.

Now it should be clear what the spiritual life consists of, in contrast to the life of the soul and body. The spiritual life consists of satisfying the needs of the spirit, and the needs of the spirit consist of a person’s striving towards God, seeking for living communion with Him, and the desire to live according to God’s will.

With the above, we now have a working definition of “the spiritual life”. While some of the distinctions made in this chapter seem somewhat ad hoc, it makes sense when comparing the ascetic to the modern man:

Modern man frequently does not differentiate between the actions of the body, the soul, and the spiritual life, thus mixing them up, creating total confusion.

This has happened because the self-confirming spirit of human pride has become the dominant spirit of our times.

So, the spirit of pride we learned about in chapter one is just that: a spiritual pride. Attempting to fulfill the spiritual need for God with the false god of self leads to disasterous results.

The spirit yearns for God and, unable to find a means of escape for its aspirations under the violent pressure of the crude oppression of human pride, the spirit satisfies itself by substitutes, which are invented by the same human pride in order to calm it. In place of authentic religion, the spirit is given some nebulous philosophical teaching, or theosophy, or spiritism. In place of the Church, it is offered the “temple” of science, or the theater, ballet, etc. — anything from worldly life, capable of fully captivating the person. This kind of forgery, the substitute for spirituality by something emotional, is a defining characteristic of our times.

This is true on its face. We need look no further than the world around us to see that which we attempt to use as a means to fulfill ourselves. Yet even many Christians are fooled into thinking those worldly things are “spiritual”. Megachurches thrive off if this vague spirituality which in many cases amounts to little more than emotional manipulation (and a near 100% turnover in membership every half-decade, but I digress). Thus, we must have some way to determine what is spiritual and what is forgery.

How, in fact, can we tell the difference between a natural state and a genuine spiritual one? A genuine spiritual state is always totally passionless, so exalted that it lifts a person above the earth, not offering him any worldly sensations. On the other hand, every natural, worldly state, no matter how elevated it may be, will, without fail, stimulate some worldly, carnal sensation — for example, rapid heartbeat, pleasurable scintillation of the nerves, goose bumps

This is a clear and objective line drawn. If an experience stimulates the passions, it is not a “spiritual” experience. 

This overwhelming dominance of emotionalism in contemporary people explains why genuine, strict church singing, which satisfies only spirituality, is bewildering and boring for the majority

Indeed this is often the case. Genuine spiritual activity is seen as boring to us. We want to be excited, to get “filled up” with our spiritual experiences. But this isn’t just limited to Christians, the entire world has seemingly been captivated by a pursuit of the passions.

The very pulse of modern life is nervous, refusing to allow a person any solitude for self-examination, creating an atmosphere hostile to leading a spiritual life.

Self-examination requires solitude. It requires “down time” for reflection and prayer. This is why as the world has become increasingly “busy” it has become increasingly prideful. Our busying activity is always about tending to our fleshly needs rather than spiritual ones, this the result is a decreasing spirituality and an increase in the need for our fleshly desires.

This is also behind the modern-day spiritualized movements like minimalism, some forms of veganism, “mindfulness”, and others. The attempt to satisfy our spiritual needs in these ways is counterfeit; for a time such things will bring happiness or a sense of purpose, but ultimately they lead to pride, as can be evidenced by any number of hacks making money travelling the world (with thousands of dollars of filmmaking gear) telling people how to live with less, PETA activists, swlf-proclaimed gurus, or health-and-wealth “gospel” preachers.

More in this series


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