Depth Perception

trinity-rublevOne of the great blessings of the human brain can be found in its ability to take two things and make them one. We have two eyes, which means they necessarily see things differently. Look at the world with one eye open and switch to the other eye. Things appear to move. Viewing the world through one eye also makes things appear somewhat “flat.” The wonder of “stereo-scopic vision” (seeing through two eyes) lies within our brain. The brain takes two different sights and reconciles them, combining them in such a way that a new picture emerges, one that includes a perception of depth. O Lord, how marvelous are Thy works!

The fathers describe two other ways of seeing the world – or perhaps we could describe them as ways in which we process what we see: mind and heart. General human experience in the modern world concentrates on the mind’s sight. The mind judges, compares, weighs, measures, etc. It is tremendously useful and necessary to our existence. The mind not only sees, it sees itself seeing. The heart sees in a distinctly different manner. It does not judge. It does not compare. It does not distance itself in space or time. It experiences no desire and does not defend or justify itself.

Most of our lives we see “out of one eye.” The mind is the dominant mode through which we manage our lives and see the world. We judge our circumstances and consider our options. We pay attention to cause and effect and give thought to consequences. Some do a better job of this than others. The sight of one eye is easily damaged and distorted.

No one sees the world entirely through the heart: we are not meant to. The mind is the gift of God and is meant to play its part in our lives. But seeing only through the mind’s eye, our vision lacks depth. We fail to see beauty and perceive the importance of the moment and its irreplaceable value. In lacking depth, we fail to see relationships, judging all things as in competition.

The sight of the body is stereoscopic, created for a wholeness of vision that does what no single eye can do. The sight of the soul is stereoscopic as well, requiring the fullness of its capacities in order to rightly see the world and the hand of God. O Lord, how marvelous are Thy works!


About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.



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20 responses to “Depth Perception”

  1. Eric Avatar

    A most beautiful truth, Father
    Thank you for this
    Also for your recent kind comments re my sermon and my accent. This is a mixture of that of my new home, New Zealand, and my native Northern English

    Blessings upon you

  2. Grant Avatar

    Genius. Thanks again, Father.

  3. Steve Avatar

    Love it 🙂

  4. mushroom Avatar

    Great insight. Thank you.

    “If thine eye be single …”

  5. Mark Basil Avatar

    This is a very interesting reflection.
    I am edified.
    Thank you Father;

  6. TLO Avatar

    The heart…does not judge. It does not compare. It does not distance itself in space or time. It experiences no desire and does not defend or justify itself.

    Huh? If our hearts don’t judge, why are we admonished to guard them (as we are admonished to guard our tongues)? Experiences no desire? Does not justify itself?

    I am clearly missing something.


  7. Fatherstephen Avatar

    Different use of the word.

  8. Dino Avatar

    The heart here is not ‘feelings’; even though we often employ the word ‘heart’ for feelings -along with many other notions, the patristic use of the word is different and (extremely rich)
    There is no clear definition of it due to its “unfathomability” in fact.
    Suffice, maybe, to say that, in one sense, it is that “place” in a person where all of his being (material and spiritual) meets the Uncreated God. I might be using some risky and creative language here, but:
    Hearts can perhaps be thought of as “centres of the entire Cosmos” (a centre per person), if you like, for meeting with the Holy Trinity. If we stick to the eschatological and ontological understanding of Love, then it is the ‘seat of Love’ in our person. To clarify, the eschatological understanding of love means that, through the Holy Spirit, I do not love others as they have been but as they might be in the Kingdom (as “Christs”) -so no “judging” here-, the ontological means that, through the Holy Spirit, I love because ‘Love Himself’ lives in my heart and inevitably all beings are existing ‘upon’ His Love – no “judging” again.

  9. Rhonda Avatar

    Fr. Stephen:

    Excellent article once again. Many thanks.


    Nice comments & explanation.

  10. Steve Avatar

    Hearts can perhaps be thought of as “centres of the entire Cosmos”

    Brilliant. The boundaries of which can only be alluded to (by icons for instance).

  11. TLO Avatar

    Thanks Dino.

  12. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Great post, Fr. Stephen. Dino – good explanation (for something so hard to explain.

    I am listening (on CD) to the book “Proof of Heaven”. It is a fascinating account given by a neurosurgeon who went into a coma when his brain was attacked by an unknown bacteria. He tells of his experience while his higher brain functions were completely nonfunctional. He had previously thought that awareness/consciousness could not reside outside of the physical brain but, after his experience, KNOWS otherwise. He “saw”, “learned” etc. without the use of his physical brain – and encountered an infinite, unconditional Love.

    I mention this here because his descriptions of his experience when his brain was not working almost seem like pure “heart” to me – though words elude him as well when trying to describe it.

    I feel like I have had tiny and imperfect glimpses of this when God has allowed me the gift of experiencing Him with my conscious mind in deep stillness. (I’m not sure that I fully understand the word “nepsis” but my sense is that that fits here.)

  13. Alice C. Linsley Avatar

    Don’t know why, but this reflection made me think of David Hume’s theory of simple ideas forming from impressions, drawing on memory and imagination. He too speaks of cause and effect.

  14. Dan Wilburn Avatar
    Dan Wilburn

    Thank you Fr. Stephen. I had to come back to this post. That image – the three angels – just stuck in my mind. Where can I find it?

  15. Niphon Avatar

    The image is Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity. You can find it on Google or Wikipedia. It is said to be one of the most beautiful icons in the world. Some have taken its beauty to be a proof that God exists.

  16. Dino Avatar

    Dan Wilburn,
    there is so much Theology hidden in that icon too…!
    a few examples:
    The two outer Figures (Father and Holy Spirit) form a chalice and at the centre is Second Person of the Trinity – Christ.
    The colours all signify something.
    The ‘bending of the Rocks/creation in the background.
    The bowing of the heads towards the chest (mind in heart).
    The facing of the two Persons towards the First Cause – The Father.
    The Tree.
    The Chalice and the other objects.
    The inverted (intentionally wrong perspective).
    etc etc etc…

  17. Eric Avatar

    The inverted perspective acts as a wonderful invitation into the life of the Trinity, we are called from the state of observers into that of participation

    There is also the tree, the oak of Mamre and the Tree of Life

    As you say, Dino, ‘etc.etc.etc . . .’
    There is an endlessness to it which is only appropriate

  18. Ioann Avatar


    Sometimes it seems to me that I can consciously choose to act “from the mind” or “from the heart” in response to a given event in my daily life. For example, when something goes “wrong” in my day – say I am running late for work or my infant daughter simply will not stop crying – my natural inclination is to respond from my mind with anxiety, frustration, and anger; but sometimes, when I think of it, I seem to be able to choose to respond not from the mind but from the heart, which seems always at peace, never troubled, always desiring simply to love and be reconciled.

    But, I wonder if it is as easy as it seems to distinguish a “heart” state of being from a “mind” state of being. Perhaps I am only scratching the surface? Is there danger to thinking one has found the heart (in that this could be a far more difficult endeavor)?

    Perhaps answering this question would help – is the true heart EVER troubled, anxious, angry? Is the true heart ever sad or discouraged? Or are these “feelings” only from the mind and its need to control?

  19. Alban Avatar

    Father Stephen, for those of us new to Orthodox Christianity, can you recommend any reading on the ‘heart’ and ‘mind’ distinction?

    In Christ

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