Have You Lost Your Soul?

funny-jaws-woman-selfie-facebookWhen was the last time you heard someone express concern for their soul? When was the last time you listened earnestly as a friend lamented a psychological or emotional struggle? The reason for the difference is simple: we have become a “soul-less” psychologized society. The classical concern for the soul has been replaced by an overwhelming interest in psychological and emotional “health.” We are becoming  a “well-adjusted” society.

The soul has always been something of a mystery. In Greek, soul (psyche) simply means the “life” of a person. Psyche is derived from a word that meant “to cool” or “to blow,” and had a meaning similar to spirit (pneuma) which meant “breath” or “wind.” A body that no longer had breath was no longer alive. In Genesis, God breathed into Adam, and “he became a living soul” (nephesh).

The psychologized self is a very modern concept. Freud’s foundational work only appeared at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries. His concepts swept into the popular culture after the First World War (1918). The “Roaring 20’s” saw a fascination with Freud’s psychological narrative. His suggestion that moral (sexual) inhibitions were possibly “dangerous and unhealthy” were especially popular. It was a decade that witnessed the first blush of the coming sexual revolution.

Modern, psychologized people are enthralled with themselves. We analyze, categorize, type and treat every aspect of the self that can be identified. “Self help” is our generic term for arm-chair psychology. And like its Freudian predecessor, the goal of the psychologized self is a vaguely perceived state called “health.”

Contemporary Christianity has taken up this world-view and adapted the gospel to its requirements. The various versions of the prosperity gospel all presume a psychologized world-view. And even popular evangelical Churches presume that a born-again life will be a happier life. Jesus has become a means to a healthier self.

The psychologized self includes our modern fascination with “how I’m doing.” Thus reports that “I’m doing better” in confession may be completely beside the point. “Is it well with my soul?” would be a more apt question. And the soul might be doing extremely well while we outwardly struggle with anger, frustration, temptation, and failure.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2Co 4:16-18 )

Saints are not necessarily “well-adjusted” people.

The psychologized self is uniquely suited to our consumer culture – indeed it might even be rightly described as the “consumer-self.” Just as we shop for our comforts and pleasure, so we “shop” for the self and the latest version of its “health.” I offer no complaint here for the work that has been done to relieve mental suffering. Such relief, however, should not come at the price of our souls. The modern self is a poor substitute for the classical soul.

So what is the soul?

The soul is our life. It is immaterial, and yet it is everywhere within us. St. Gregory of Nyssa offers this definition: “The soul is a noetic essence that imparts to the organic body the force of life by which the senses operate.” Our life is more than a description of the aggregate metabolic processes of our cells. The soul, our life, carries our meaning and purpose and reason for existence.

Much of what we describe as personality and upon which we lavish such interest and care, is itself largely the work of the body. It is subject to medication and alteration, even disappearing in the face of certain conditions. Memory and desire and our “style” of interaction are not our identity nor our life. My brain might have ADHD but this does not touch the soul. The brain is an instrument through which the soul expresses itself (in the words of a modern Athonite elder), but the brain and its artifacts are not the soul itself.

I have found it interesting to reflect on the experience of persons who have undergone great suffering for the faith – and their witness to the nature of the soul. One notable example is given in the writings and conversations of Fr. Roman Braga, a Romanian monastic who spent over 10 years in Communist prisons, some of which were marked by extreme torture and psychological pressures. He said:

Not having anywhere to go, or even the possibility of looking out a window because there were no windows in those cells of solitary confinement, you had to look, to go somewhere.  And so you go inside yourself—inside your heart and your mind—to examine yourself, to see who you are and why God brought you into this world. You questioned whether God even exists, and wondered about your relationship with God.

When we were free, we did not have time to ask ourselves these questions. Our faith was superficial, because you can learn a lot of things and can have a mind like an Encyclopedia, full of all knowledge, but if you don’t know yourself and who you are, even if you know everything in the world, you are superficial if you don’t ask “Why do I exist?” and “What is the destiny of my life?” and “Why did God create me?” and, “If I believe in God what does God want from me?”

Such questions, particularly asked in the apparent dead-end of a hostile solitary confinement, can produce deep madness. Or, as in the case of Fr. Roman, they can yield true knowledge of the soul and reveal the wonder of existence.

The question, “Why do I exist?” cannot be answered with the superficial answers of personality. What is the personality in a solitary cell?

These questions direct our attention towards the soul itself. When St. Gregory writes about the soul, he begins with an “apophatic” approach, recognizing from the beginning that it belongs, like God, to things that cannot be known by pure rational observation. To ask the question, “Why do I exist?” brings us first to silence and mystery.

That silence is the preferred sound of the soul. The noise of the mind is the chatter of distraction. When the Fathers speak of the mind with regard to the soul, they name it “the nous.” The fact that this was translated into Latin as intellectus is part of the sad history of its loss from our awareness. The nous certainly knows and perceives, but not in the manner of intellect. It wills (or is aware of willing), but not in the manner of choice.

Such a description is frustrating to the modern mind, for we want to observe, weigh, measure and compare. We even doubt that there is such a thing as a soul, or whether it is just a name being given to something else, some other aspect of the brain. What we want of the soul is self-awareness – we require a selfie of the soul – the ultimate reassurance of the modern world.

The soul is created for the awareness of God and its attention is properly directed towards Him, not towards itself. We become more clearly aware of the nous when we enter into true prayer, when we are aware of God. Self-awareness in the nous is found in repentance, when we “return to ourselves.” True repentance is not a matter of feeling bad over something we have done, a sorrow that may simply be confined to our emotions. It is instead a profound awareness that apart from God we are nothing. The monastic tradition calls this the “remembrance of death.” It is the soul’s knowledge of its true condition. And it is in that condition that the soul’s desire is turned to God. There is a hymn sung early in Great Lent that points us in this direction:

My soul, my soul, arise.
Why are you sleeping?
The end is drawing near,
and you will be confounded.
Awake, therefore, that you may be spared by Christ God,
Who is everywhere present and fills all things.

The soul is our life and is the proper anchor of our existence. The consumer-self is ill-equipped for true existence. The loss of choices and its incipient narcissism plunge the consumer-self into despair. People in the modern world often shop in order to treat their depression.

But the soul is our true life. It is only in the soul the the inherent suffering of the world makes sense. The consumer-self cannot bear suffering and supports every false hope that promises relief from suffering. But listen again to Fr. Roman:

Suffering is good not only for Christians but for everybody. Because if you do not suffer you do not understand anything. Suffering is a good experience.

This statement comes from a man who was subjected to a prison regime that Alexander Solzhenitsyn described as the “most terrible act of barbarism in the contemporary world.”

Christ Himself specifically states that the salvation of the soul entails suffering. He tells those who would follow Him that they must “take up their cross.” This is not a description of the road to self-fulfillment – it is the path of self-emptying.

The modern world has lost its soul. Fortunately, there is always enough suffering ready at hand to help us find it.

Awake, my soul.

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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41 responses to “Have You Lost Your Soul?”

  1. Reader John (Walter) Kennick Avatar
    Reader John (Walter) Kennick

    Thank you Father for this word. It brought a number of things into focus for me. I have been troubled by all the “psyco babel” that has been feed me over the last while as answers for various struggles. The only peace comes when I am in personal prayer or serving for our priest at litergy. I know now that it is because, at those times, my soul is at rest and doing well. God bless you and keep you wel in body, soul , and spirit.

  2. Carmelita Lindner Avatar

    Thank you father Stephen, for such a beautiful post. It seems to me that suffering is all around us. We need help form Christ our God to pick up our daily cross. To awaken our souls, and the time is now. Lord, have mercy on us and save us.

  3. Susan Cushman Avatar

    Lots of excellent things to ponder here, Father. “The loss of choices and its incipient narcissism plunge the consumer-self into despair.” It’s so hard to embrace suffering when there are so many available ways to escape or numb the pain. And yet, the older I get, the less those temporary remedies seem to be working. I still don’t like suffering, but I have small moments of seeing Christ’s mercy in it, even (or maybe especially) when I feel cornered by Him.

  4. Carmelita Lindner Avatar

    Thank you father Stephen, please pray four us.

  5. Laurie Avatar

    On a not very serious note, that picture is a hoot!

    On the other hand, it’s kind of sad too.

  6. David Avatar

    So what then of the Resurrection life, which will be pneumatikos, Spirit-powered and enlivened, rather than psuchikos? Where does the life of the soul fit in the eschaton, and what is the relationship between psuche and pneuma?

  7. Marina Avatar

    …..”Why do I exist?” cannot be answered with the superficial answers of personality. What is the personality in a solitary cell?….

    I can’t stand reading these lines because it again reinforces what I know in that deep part of my soul….that it is true.

    So much of our energy is spent planning a “jailbreak ” so to speak, from the confines of a situation that “limits our view” or “isolates our true self”. I am wild for any way out simply because there is false hope that validation from people, their understanding of you, or clear recognition of who you are, will enable a positive foundation to build spiritual success on. I find myself consumed with the stress of finding a way to change that situation of confinement while begging for God to bless my desire.

    Healthy personalities starve to death on a diet of validation and flattery. I do not need to be respected or recognized to be healthy. There is no easy way out. One must have the courage to “go it alone”.
    I feel their is connection between recent subjects on choices vs. the Will of God. It really doesn’t matter what choice is made, we must observe our strong desires, are we agonizing in confusion because we cannot accept letting go of the outcome? If so, we are gnawing on the bones of our ego, expecting some sort of nourishment.
    God help us stay here,whatever confinement we face, where in His providence He has interminably allowed us a shot at becoming a Person, beyond personality.
    Thank You Fr.

  8. Dino Avatar

    David et al,

    The ‘Resurrection life’ of the Spirit-possessed soul and body of man can only be tasted –even tasted now- through the crucifixion of the nous-in-the-heart that occurs when one constrains themselves in their solitary, dark cell, (and heart) renouncing everything other than God – including even themselves.
    This “hesychastic experience” of the Church is what, I think, Fr Roman Braga gained instant access to, through his insufferable tribulations, but please note that the reclusive, cave-dwelling saints, voluntarily put themselves in what is a virtually identical constriction. Some ascetics perhaps even exceeded the involuntary constriction of the insuffereable ‘communist experiment’ of the Pitesti and Ayiud prisons. They did not do this out of spite though! They wanted to be changed by God – (“Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me”), and could not pray for their selves except to say: ‘My God, efface me, my God eliminate me for You to stay alone.” (Elder Aimilianos)

    Perhaps all that we, ourselves can muster (in the midst of a profoundly anti-hesychast, consumer culture, beleaguered by our addictive proclivity of summoning distraction at every moment), are a few hours or maybe just some minutes in the middle of the night to constrict our ‘nous’ while standing in God’s presence (even if we yet not know Him); these giants of the Spirit maintained more than six, seven, eight incessant stock-still hours of burning focus, entrusting their being to God alone – sought in the darkest recesses of their psyche.
    The fact that the madness of our unbearable abyss usually confronts us with tremendous might before the advent of Christ’s encounter in our heart, proves that we have no true Life but a heinous façade of ‘life’; this humbles us, it directs us singularly towards our only Hope, and in due course, the spiritual inebriation of that enlivening Hope in (the finally ‘known’ by us) God, God alone, takes over and transforms everything.

  9. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    St. Paul makes the distinction between pychikos and pneumatikos (soulish versus spiritual). Since the soul is our “life,” any existence we have still involves the soul – and in the eschaton – soul and body.

    But St. Paul’s use of pneumatikos is another way of describing the life of union with God (Holy Spirit, hence pneumatikos). I know that one train of thought in Pentecostal writing is a distinction between the two (Watchman Nee). But there’s lot’s of ungrounded thought in his stuff.

    There are indeed warnings in some spiritual elders about the inherent powers of the soul. It is capable of far more than many people know – and just because it’s capable does not mean it’s good. A number of those capabilities would fall into a sort of “Psychic” category. Many of these things are quite dangerous spiritually. It’s not safe to go traveling around in territories populated by demons and such. We’re not built for it.

    We are created for union with God and that is our proper focus.

  10. Luke Avatar


    Thank you, you expressed it so well!

  11. Albert Avatar

    Thank you, Dino, for the reflection. I myself am more moved by the late night/early morning “all we can muster” part than by the example of “the giants of the spirit,” who scare rather than inspire me. But that’s my problem, not theirs. Your commentaries are a helpful addition to this site because you seem in touch not only with the richness and mystery but also with the contradictions of everyday life. Thanks too to Fr. Stephen for this forum. What a blessing!

  12. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It is interesting that we experience the soul, often, as that “abyss of despair” that Elder Sophrony speaks of. This is not emotional despair or sadness. Rather, it is our nothingness, the remembrance of death, a returning to the self. And it is good to remember that he suggests that we do a little at a time (“and then have a cup of tea”).

    The extreme’s that Fr. Roman experienced were forced on him. I dare not describe the tortures that prisoners were subjected to. They are beyond imagining. As Fr. Roman related, “Everyone failed.” Daily, prisoners would renounce their faith, etc., and would be restored by the forgiveness of the tortured community.

    But we are not in such circumstances, nor do we need to be. But through remembrance of death, and giving thanks always for all things, we can return to the heart or soul and pray. It is also good to practice generosity (give stuff away).

    Had Eve practiced generosity, she would not have sinned. To the snake she says, “Oh yes, it’s very nice, but you can have it.” 🙂

  13. Byron Avatar

    St. Gregory of Nyssa offers this definition: “The soul is a noetic essence that imparts to the organic body the force of life by which the senses operate.” Our life is more than a description of the aggregate metabolic processes of our cells. The soul, our life, carries our meaning and purpose and reason for existence.

    This immediately brought to mind a statement by a scientist (of some sort) who arrogantly stated that they (she used “we” in the “humanity” sense) no longer consider the soul or life-force to be the definition of life; rather “we” now consider life to simply be anything that reproduces. The shallowness of that thinking made and makes me incredibly sad….

    That silence is the preferred sound of the soul. The noise of the mind is the chatter of distraction.

    I have been struggling with some things over the past two weeks and, just last night, prayed for my mind and heart to be stilled with silence. My prayers honestly felt empty but God is good and, for the first time in a long time, I no longer went to sleep nor awoke with the oppression of the sin I had fallen under.

  14. anonymous Avatar

    Thank you , Father, for an extremely important post. What frightens me as I look around, is the way our society, and even we Orthodox, have been captured by the delights of expressions of “self” on the phone with facebook and the like. May God help us all. I think of the words “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity” and it gets us nowhere; it just puts us at a farther distance from God. You may not agree with me, and I just hope you will think about it. It only serves to boost your ego.

  15. Ron Avatar

    life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness

  16. Michelle Avatar

    “What we want of the soul is self-awareness – we require a selfie of the soul…”

    and this,
    “The soul is created for the awareness of God and its attention is properly directed towards Him, not towards itself…”

    at first frighten me, because it reminds me of annihilation; to be completely unaware of oneself, at first, appears to be suggesting the snuffing-out of oneself. How can I be totally absent of self-awareness and still be said to be a “self”? It sounds like a “self” suicide into complete nothingness.

    But then I think of my 3 month old son. He is completely unaware of himself; he doesn’t remember yesterday, nor thinks of tomorrow. Nothing is important to him. Nothing is significant to Lenny, because he is unaware of Lenny. What is his life? Well, when he looks at me, his mother, I am the only thing he knows at the moment. Thus, I am his life. This, I believe, is what it means when we say Christ is our life. This is what it means to lose one’s life, so that we may find it in Christ. My son’s face brims over with complete joy when he looks at me, and all the while he doesn’t have a clue who this “Lenny” is. “Lenny” isn’t where his happiness lies.

  17. Dana Avatar

    Similar question to David: If so much of “meaning” is derived from the life of suffering, what happens in a paradigm where suffering is essentially eliminated (or “transformed”) by the resurrection? It seems almost as if (post resurrection) life ceases to be Christian in any meaningful sense, or at least in any sense we can articulate here and now.

  18. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Not so. The life of self-emptying (which suffering can help us understand) does not require suffering – but it is the only way to rightly embrace suffering.

    Elder Sophrony takes the self-emptying of Christ (kenosis) into the Persons of the Trinity, and sees it as the true understanding of how we exist as Persons who love. It’s quite Patristic – but is very illuminating when he combines it with Christ’s self-emptying.

    There will never be a time in which we do not live by self-emptying love – it is our true mode of existence. Thus, we will be able to say for eternity, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless, I live.

  19. Michelle Avatar

    In reply to Dana’s question, isn’t suffering simply what the ego endures until it is put to death? Isn’t this why some Saints were in a state of peace and joy even in the midst of heinous torture? They didn’t experience the pain and fear of their sufferings because they had no ego filled with self-love. They instead had peace and joy because they only knew Christ.

  20. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Some forms of suffering. It depends on how we define the term. Christ suffered for us – not an ego event.

  21. Dana Avatar

    @ Fr Stephen: I think the distinction between suffering and self-emptying is helpful, but here we arrive at the heart of a conclusion I have always found confusing: If the Christian life is one of self-emptying (and, indeed, God himself lives in a self-emptying way) what is left? If the self disappears, what takes its place? (especially considering that God himself empties himself.) Do we approach a kind of Buddhist understanding of the universe where everything is nothing/nothing is everything? In other words: at some point, there *must* be a self, else only nothingness takes its place. So from whence does our agency come?

  22. Dino Avatar

    Self-pouring out makes better sense

  23. Michelle Avatar

    “It depends on how we define the term.”

    So, a person who suffers because of the death of their ego suffers for their own sake. And Christ suffers, not because of ego, but because He chooses to unite Himself fully to the whole Adam. In other words, not for His sake, but for our sake. He chooses to take on Adam’s weakness, sufferings, sin, and death in this union in order to transform these things into Life. And the Saints I mentioned above do not suffer because of ego either, but because they have in turn united themselves to Christ and take on His innocent sufferings as their own. And, luckily, those of us suffering because of our ego can rest assured, because Christ has united Himself to this suffering of ours also, healing it as well. Right?

  24. Michelle Avatar

    “Self-pouring out makes better sense.”

    So, God is infinite water, and our nothingness is like an empty cup waiting to be filled. Once we are full we start to overflow, spilling Christ forth from ourselves.

  25. Michelle Avatar

    Furthermore, the empty cup is what we usually refer to when we speak about our “self,” but this is false. Rather, the cup is nothing, and the Water is our true self.

  26. Michelle Avatar

    Or maybe it would be better to say we fill the empty cup with mud and call that our “life,” or our “self,” but this is false. We need to empty the mud out, and then the Water fills the cup until it overflows. This is our true Life-a cup full of Water.

  27. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It is not the abolition of the self – but the true self is a self-for-others, and not for itself. “Emptying” is St. Paul’s term in Philippians 2.

  28. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It would help if we did not think of static images when thinking of the self. It is “in motion.” Here is a patristic treatment of the persons of the Trinity:

    The unoriginate Father, who is unbegotten, begets the Son outside time, conferring upon Him the totality of His Being, and issues the Spirit who proceeds from Him. The Son is begotten from the Father and lives totally in the Father and the Spirit. The Holy Spirit proceeds pre-eternally from the Father and reposes in the Son.

    Do you see the “movement” in this? When we speak of the Father, we also speak of the movement of begatting the Son, of conferring on Him the totality of His Being, and the Spirit proceeding, etc. And so with each Person.

    It is the same with us. And this for-otherness of our Personhood is described as self-emptying. We could say self-pouring-forth, but for a number of reasons, I prefer self-emptying.

  29. Byron Avatar

    Do you see the “movement” in this? When we speak of the Father, we also speak of the movement of begatting the Son, of conferring on Him the totality of His Being, and the Spirit proceeding, etc. And so with each Person.

    It is the same with us. And this for-otherness of our Personhood is described as self-emptying. We could say self-pouring-forth, but for a number of reasons, I prefer self-emptying.

    Father, is this how we are “created in the image of God?” That we are in ultimate communion with one another at all times and have the potential (is that the correct word?) to be self-emptying for each other (in order to bear each other’s shame/sin) when fully a person in God’s image?

    Or am I reading too much into your answer?

  30. Connie Avatar

    “In other words: at some point, there *must* be a self, else only nothingness takes its place.”

    Dana, I remember struggling with a similar question for years. CS Lewis’s essay “Membership” in the book Weight of Glory helped me tremendously. But I don’t have the capacity to recap what he says. Perhaps some Lewis fan here can take a look at it and share how it relates to this issue. I think it complements nicely the discussion here.

  31. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    This is certainly a correct reading. There are other ways as well to think of “in the image” but this is certain a (the) primary one.

  32. Maria Wenzel Avatar
    Maria Wenzel

    OMG, just the first paragraph said it all what I’ve been trying desperately to convey with my limited English, but no one ever listens.
    These articles here should be made public in all Churches throughout the US, because the Churches do not teach proper Christianity or bring meat to the Table as these articles do. Can we not put denominations aside and share the wisdom for all to get a better understanding of what Christ or “Being Christian” means. I remember living once in a community with a Christian Soul. One had the sense of belonging, a mission to fulfill etc. Here in the US everything that is “Vital and Soulful” is attacked, blocked. ridiculed and even this living for another, is being abused and misused. Why has the Church allowed this to happen as a whole. It kills me to know what is happening. Numbers in adherents by the millions is preferred over quality of Christians were the soul gets lost and overrun by the numbers of undeveloped Christians. Please, please share these articles with friends from other Churches. I sometimes feel there is not much time left when all our lives and soul in/with God will be rendered obsolete in Reality. (a none comprehension as articulated here) A return to the dark ages. I have found Churches to be found unrecognizable as a Church, and so also its people. Please share, I know I will.

  33. Alice C. Linsley Avatar

    It is excellent, Father. Thank you.

    I run into “psychologized people” and when I scratch a little deeper, I often find they have bought into pseudo-psychology. The same with pseudo-anthropology or half-truths and obfuscation among anthropologists who disdain religion in general and Christianity in particular. Their scholarship is like a map out of which numerous holes have been cut. Is it any wonder that so few anthropologists are people of faith? In their universities they are never shown the whole map. They miss the trails that lead to affirmation of Truth and the veracity of Scripture.

  34. John H Avatar
    John H

    Dear Father Stephen;

    This was another excellent article. Very informative with respect to the Fathers’ understanding of the soul. Just out of curiosity I looked up the definition of the term “nous” and discovered that it has several different meanings. To the British it is synonymous with common sense and to Western philosophers in general it seems to signify the powers of the mind or intellect, particularly reason. However, to the Greeks from the pre-Socratic philosophers through Plato and Aristotle up until Plotinus, it seems to have a much more mysterious meaning that I can’t really wrap my mind around, pun intended. It is that part of the soul which is in closest contact with the world of the divine ideas; in short it is the portion of the mind that is able to rest in God and discriminate between that which is Real and that which is ephemeral and basically unreal.

    Your observation that the West lost something when it translated nous as intellectus is spot on. Except, that is, for a couple medieval mystics who seemed to grasp the true meaning of intellectus as being synonymous with nous. Consider this quote by Eckhart :

    Above thought is the intellect, which still seeks: it goes about looking, spies out here and there, picks up and drops. But above the intellect that seeks is another intellect which does not seek but stays in its pure, simple being, which is embraced in that light. . [German sermon

    The nous is without doubt that “intellect which does not seek but stays in its pure, simple being, which is embraced in that light.” And that pure simple Being is none other than God, in Whose light the nous is embraced. In view of the foregoing, would it be correct to say that the nous is none other the essence of the soul, that part of the human being which makes theosis possible?

    And, apart from physical infirmities or diseases of the mind/brain that may in effect hide the nous beneath the mental noise generated by such conditions, are there inherent differences among people with respect to their ability to pray, meditate and/or contact that mysterious world of the Nous? What I mean is that we all have different talents. For example I am pretty good at argument, logical reasoning and analysis. But I could not draw a simple picture if my life depended on it because I have zero artistic talent. So is the ability to go within and discern the spiritual realities also a talent of sorts? And if that is true, if a person lacks such a talent would it be difficult or even impossible for him to attain theosis in this life? ,

  35. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Theosis in this life is rare indeed. However, a measure is not necessarily rare. And there are clearly differences between people. I’m not sure how to differentiate, however. The Elder Sophrony saw the uncreated light of God even when he was a child.

    I would not use the term “essence” of the soul for the nous, simply because “essence” has its own technical meaning. The nous is the nous. 🙂

  36. […] Have You Lost Your Soul? by Fr. Stephen Freeman […]

  37. Dino Avatar

    John H,
    I think that there is not a single person, never, who has not got the noetic ability to “discern the spiritual realities and to attain theosis in this life”…
    As Father Stephen so insightfully argued , we have known instances of children that have apprehended the Uncreated Light before they could walk or talk. Elder Sophrony and also Father George Calciu, as well as others, only came to mindfully re-discover this indelible childhood ‘memory’ -consciously- when they had the same vision in a slightly more mature age. We also have severely disabled (mentally even) saints.
    At the same time, man can obscure and severely hamper his “noetic ability to discern spiritual realities”, through the type of proclivities he himself cultivates and serves to his own mind’s attention. The eye of the soul, the nous, (as St Nikodemus the Hgiorite explains clearly in his treatise on the guarding of the five senses) must function as the King of the inner and outer senses. However, sitting in front of a TV for instance, (such a simple passive possession of the nous by the senses), inverses the right function in a few minutes.

  38. Dean Avatar

    Dino…might there not be a ” capture” of the nous by the senses also by sitting in front of a computer…even by being careful with the sites, owing to pop-ups, etc.?

  39. Dino Avatar


  40. John H Avatar
    John H

    Thank you Father Stephen and Dino for those insightful comments. Might the nous also be described as the likeness of God within the human being, i.e. the part of us most like God and therefore capable of perceiving the Divine energies/uncreated light? In contrast to the reason/discursive intellect which is more like the image of God and has been corrupted/obscured by the gnomic will’s attachment to the senses? In fact would it also be correct to maintain that the lower intellect is the source of the gnomic will, whereas the nous is the seat of the natural will within the human being?

    Dino, you are absolutely correct regarding the quasi-addictive nature of television and the internet in modern culture. I can unequivocally state that addictive behavior certainly obscures the nous. Now that I have repented of my former life of alcoholic debauchery, I can at least see God’s providence at work in my life. The most obvious miracle for me is my continued sobriety for almost two years at this juncture; this is something that I could not have accomplished by myself. I believe that it is only by God’s grace that I remain sober one day/one moment at a time.

    But there are other remarkable events that have occurred which I believe show that God’s Providence is very much present in my life. Let me illustrate this by an example from my recent experience. I work as an eviction prevention specialist for a major non-profit organization in New York City. Recently we were attempting to restore a young woman and her child to possession of their apartment after eviction. The housing court judge had given us until 5 PM that same afternoon to pay a substantial sum of money to the landlord. To make that deadline three things needed to happen: a check for a large sum had to be issued by my employer, I needed to find an empty cab in midtown Manhattan at 4 30 on a weekday afternoon and we needed to make it cross town to the landlord’s management office in about 10 minutes in the middle of the evening rush, meaning there could be virtually no traffic and we needed to be fairly lucky with the lights. None of those events taken by itself was particularly likely, but the odds of them all occurring were probably 1% or less. Yet we made it and got this client back in her home. Now I could have chosen to believe that this was all just a lucky coincidence with no meaning whatsoever and in the past that is exactly how I would have viewed the situation. Instead, I now choose to believe that a loving God’s grace worked a small miracle for this lady and her daughter. So I think that I am at least leaning towards my nous in the small choices that I have made and hopefully will continue to make as time goes by. At the very least, I hope that I am on the right road.

  41. Dino Avatar

    I think that as long as we continue in ceaseless watchfulness, (what is termed ‘Nepsis’or spiritual mindfulness/sobriety) for the sake of becoming/remaining Christ-centred rather than self-centred, there is no doubt that we will be on the right road…

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