The Center of the Universe

A half truth is more dangerous than a lie. It’s a distortion of reality rather than pure invention and all the more beguiling for it. One of the most destructive half truths humans have generally embraced, though not perhaps consciously, is voiced by the ancient philosopher Protagoras: “Man is the measure of all things.” To be fair, Protagoras may not have meant it the way Plato said he did but it expresses aptly the thrust of modernity, and we have inherited the narcissism (individualism, self-fulfillment, personal destiny, etc..) of our fathers even as we have discarded much of their world-view. I call this a destructive half-truth because it offers an answer to the most fundamental questions of our existence: “What am I” and “why am I here,” that is true in some of its details but false on the whole. The thrust of our society is toward self-fulfillment: “I am an autonomous individual,” “this is my life,” and “I deserve to be happy” are the opinions that drive much of our activity. We behave as if the world revolved around us. The sad irony in this is that human beings are in fact at the center of the created world but not in the way we usually work that out.

A human being is the glory of God’s creation. We were created to be even greater than the angels because, unlike them, we are capable of becoming like God and, even more audacious, gods by grace. The purpose of a human life is to be drawn up into the super-abundant life of God and to share in the quality of that life which is unbounded, complete, and perfect love. This is only the first part of our reason for being however. God brought us into being because He is by nature life-giving. We were not created because God needed to be worshipped or desired to rule but because the joy of being overflows from Him like wine from an overfull goblet, and love, godly love most of all, desires to share everything good. This means that the second part of our reason for being is to share in God’s activity. God alone is Creator and everything He creates has intrinsic meaning and purpose. However, He gives us the awesome responsibility to help creation meet its purpose; to unite every existing thing to God by caring for it and by that stewardship to draw out of everything the song of rejoicing He has made it capable of. Reflecting on this, St. Maximus the Confessor says the following:

…The one God, Creator of all, is shown to reside proportionately in all beings through human nature. Things that are by nature separated from one another return to a unity as they converge together in the one human being. When this happens God will be all in all ( I Cor. 15:28), permeating all things and at the same time giving independent existence to all things in himself. Then no existing thing will wander aimlessly or be deprived of God’s presence… For this end man was brought into the world. (Ambiguum 7)

St. Maximus says that God resides proportionately in all things through human nature. In other words, God gives His life to us and we are supposed to share it with the rest of His creation in the same way: by overflowing. How do we do this? We cannot do it unless and until we realize the first part of our reason for existing. We must allow God to purge our sins and draw us up into His divine life. Only when, and to the degree, we become like God is it possible for us to assume our God-given purpose as stewards of the world. But what does it look like to realize this purpose? We have a beautiful example in Elder Porphyrios of Kavsokalyvia about whom the following is said:

His sensitivity to things around him became very acute and his human capacities developed to their fullest. He listened to and recognized bird and animal voices to the extent that he knew not just where they came from, but what they were saying. His sense of smell was developed to such a degree that he could recognize fragrances at a great distance. He knew the different types of aroma and their makeup. After humble prayer he was able to “see” the depths of the earth and the far reaches of space. He could see through water and through rock formations. He could see petroleum deposits, radioactivity, ancient and buried monuments, hidden graves, crevices in the depths of the earth, subterranean springs, lost icons, scenes of events that had taken place centuries before, prayers that had been lifted up in the past, good and evil spirits, the human soul itself, just about everything. He tasted the quality of water in the depths of the earth. He would question the rocks and they would tell him about the spiritual struggles of ascetics who went before him. He looked at people and was able to heal. He touched people and he made them well. He prayed and his prayer became reality. (http://www.abbamoses.com/porphyriosbio.html)

Here we see a vision of what a human is meant to be. By the power of the Holy Spirit within him he was able to speak with the animals and even the rocks. The good elder was what Adam, the first man, was made to be but never realized. Having succeeded in the first part of his vocation (to become like God) elder Porphyrios devoted his life to using the gifts God gave him to serve the Church and all those who came to him for help. He united himself to God and everything around him by the grace of God. As a result nothing he came in contact with, no person, animal, rock or tree was deprived of the goodness of God’s presence. Here was a true man, a god-man at the center of the universe, and the world around him was not the same. It was shot through with the glory of God. This is what it means to be a human. This is why we exist.

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