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The Christian "I"

Living in this world, a Christian is in a constant, lively intercourse with God and with his neighbors. In addition to this, during the course of his whole life, he cares for himself, for his physical well-being and for the salvation of his soul. His moral obligations, therefore, can be divided into three groups: (1) concerning himself, (2) concerning neighbors, and (3) highest of all, concerning God.

The first, and the most important obligation which man has concerning himself, is the working out within oneself of a spiritual character, of our true Christian "I." The spiritual character of a Christian is not something given to him at first. No, it is something sought for, acquired and worked out by his personal toils and efforts (Lk. Ch.16). Neither the body of a Christian with its capabilities, powers and strivings, nor his soul itself - as an innate center of his conscious experiences and as a vital principle - are his spiritual personality, the spiritual "I." This spiritual character in an Orthodox Christian is what sharply differs him from every non-Christian. In the Holy Scripture it is not called a soul, but a spirit. This spirit is precisely the center, the concentration of the spiritual life; it strives toward God and the immortal, blessed, eternal life.

We define the task of the entire life of man as the necessity to use the earthly, transitory life for preparation toward the eternal, spiritual life. In the present instance, this can be said in other words: the task of the earthly life of man consists in that he is able, in the course of this life, to build up, to work out his spiritual character, his true, living, eternal "I."

One can care about one's "I" in different ways. There are people who are called egoists and who cherish and are concerned very much with their "I." An egoist, however, thinks only of himself and about no one else. In his egoism, he strives to obtain his personal happiness by any useful means - even though at the cost of suffering and misfortune for neighbors. In his blindness, he does not realize that from the true point of view - in the sense of the Christian understanding of life - he only harms himself, his deathless "I."

And here is Orthodox Christianity (i.e., the Holy Church), calling upon man to create his spiritual character, directing one in the course of this creativity, to distinguish good and evil and the truly beneficial from the pretended beneficial and harmful. She (the Holy Church) teaches us that we cannot consider the things given us by God (ability, talents, etc.) to be our "I," rather we must consider them gifts of God. We must use these gifts (like materials in the construction of a building) for the building of our spirit. For this, we must use all these "talents" given by God, not for ourselves egoistically, but for others. For, the laws of Heaven's Truth are contradictory to the laws of earthly benefit. According to worldly understandings he who gathers for himself on earth, acquires, according to the teaching of God's Heavenly Truth, he who, in the earthly life gives away and does good, acquires (for eternity). In the well-known parable about the careless steward, the main thought and the key to the correct understanding of it is the principle of making a distinction by contrast between the understandings of earthly egoism and God's truth. In this parable, the Lord specifically called earthly wealth, gathered egoistically, for oneself, "unjust wealth" and ordered that it not be used for oneself, but for others, in order that the reward be received in the eternal home.

The ideal of Christian perfection is unattainably high. "Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect," Christ the Savior said. Therefore, there can be no end to the work of a man on himself, on his spiritual character. The entire earthly life of a Christian is a constant struggle of moral self-perfection. Of course, Christian perfection is not given to a man at once, but gradually. To a Christian who, through his inexperience, thought that he could attain holiness at once, St Seraphim of Sarov said, "Do everything slowly, not suddenly; virtue is not a pear - you cannot eat it at once." Nor did the Apostle Paul in all his spiritual height and power consider himself as having reached perfection, but said that he was only striving toward such perfection, "Not as though I had already attained, or were already perfect; but I strive for, if haply I might apprehend, that for which I am apprehended by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not consider to have apprehended (perfection): but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:12-14).

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