Abba Macarius said, “If we remember the evil that others have done to us, we shut down our ability to remember God.”
There are many ways to misunderstand the Christian faith – certainly far more ways to get it wrong than to get it right. One of the deepest misunderstandings of our culture is the popular concept of Christian morality. The history of this is its own complex story – how Christians ceased to know the inner life and created an externalized form of Christianity. When I think on these things it seems to me that reality is often quite the opposite of what people imagine to be the case.
It is imagined that a Church which engages in a great deal of ritual (such as the Orthodox) is concerned only with externals – when, in fact, it is precisely in such a Church that the inner life receives the most attention. Ritual is not an end – but a means.
On the other hand, it is imagined that Churches which disparage ritual are inherently more concerned with the inner life, when nothing could be farther from the truth. There is a psychology of moral thought – but no proper understanding of what actually constitutes the inner life. Christ did not die in order to introduce us to psychology.
Rightly understood – the moral life is an inner obedience to the commandments of Christ through union with Him. In the teachings of the fathers such an inner life is not a matter of following rules, but is a manner of seeking true existence. To live out of communion with God is to live a false existence – one that is verging on non-existence.
This raises the importance of the inner life and the state of the heart. To be angry is more than breaking a rule – it is a breaking of communion and a dalliance with death. To remember the evil that others have done, as St. Macarius has noted, is to hinder our remembrance of God. In the words of St. James, “The anger of man does not work the righteousness of God” (James 1:20).
The same could be said about other sinful states of the heart – envy, lust, greed, etc. These are not actions or thoughts which violate rules – but states of the heart that violate our very existence. Between conformity to the image of God (by grace) and hell – there is no middle ground.
Those who have known this and understood it in their deep heart – have spared no effort to find salvation and healing in Christ, who alone can restore the heart to its proper state. The ritual of the Church is nothing more than learning how to rightly honor those things that should be held in honor. It is a gradual resetting of the heart.
No amount of analysis, study or meditation can substitute for the proper healing of our heart – nor can the intellectual acceptance of certain ideas. Such an “inner life” is still life on the surface.
St. Macarius offers this statement on the heart:
The heart itself is but a small vessel, yet dragons are there, and there are also lions; there are poisonous beasts and all the treasures of evil. But there too is God, the angels, the life and the kingdom, the light and the apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasuries of grace—all things are there. (H.43.7)