PART I IN A SERIES.
I occasionally encounter discussions that address the "interior life" and the "exterior life" as if they were somehow opposed, as if there were some sort of tension between them.
We're in the runup to Great Lent, so it seems to be an appropriate time to reflect on this.
First off, Orthodox spirituality encompasses the whole person and the whole of life. We have no "compartments" that are marked, "natural" and "supernatural," or "exterior" and "interior." Rather, we simply live within the Creed, which tells us that God "created all things, both visible and invisible." Both of these are part of the world we live in; both are
things of life with which we do, or should, daily engage. And each is--properly viewed-- a pathway to the other. Evidence of this is easily found in the lives of the desert hermit-monks, who fled to the Thebaid to be alone with God, only to wake up one morning to
the sight of hordes of people seeking spiritual direction.
Even those who made it far enough out into the wilderness wound up encountering, and then working and praying with, each other. Their interior, contemplative lives enabled them to edify each other with "good words," and this exterior ministry of mutual edification improved their interior, contemplative lives.
Neither were many of these monks isolated from "the world." Kings and nobles often sought them out for their advice, as did tradesmen of all sorts. The desert was a place of refuge for Saint Mary of Egypt, who had been a notorious prostitute, and for Saint Arsenius, who had been a prince; and for thousands of peasants who had not been much of anything before they were seized by God and wound up in one of Saint Pachomius's
(himself a former soldier) monasteries. These people often maintained contact with, and advised, those they had known--on "practical" as well as "spiritual" matters.
To illustrate the crossover, let's take a look at those two words: "practical" and "spiritual." They're easy to oppose, but ease does not always equal accuracy.
Take, for instance, the fact that If I yield to Christ, I enter the path to Heaven, and If I reject Him I continue upon the path to hell. Confronted with the options, which is the practical, pragmatic choice?
So, let's say I have taken the pragmatic step of choosing Christ over hell, I have been Baptised and the Holy Spirit is now in residence within me. Now, what if I'm tempted? Someone, for instance, has a sure-fire plan for a robbery, and all he wants me to do is stand lookout for him for fifteen minuites, in return for which I will get more than I make in a month. I, a former successful thief, see that the plan is a good one and that my personal risk will be negligible. However--and it'sa big however-- If I accept the offer, even though
I'm not the one doing the actual robbing, I will be in sin and will grieve the Holy Spirit.
If I decline, I will know genuine joy, and will have made perhaps another inch of progress
along the Path. Will, or will not, the Holy Spirit, Who now lives in me, strengthen me in this time of temptation? If I have maintained a sound and solid prayer life, what do you think the chances are that I will revert to my old self?
Interior? Exterior? Upon examination it is interdependence, rather than opposition,