Everywhere Present – Week 5(b) – The Mystery of Persons

For this week please read Chapter 9 “The Literal Truth” and Chapter 10, “The Mystery of Persons” of Fr. Stephen Freeman’s book Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe.

Fr. Freeman begins Chapter 10 with the question of what is a person? The word “person is fundamentally one of relationship. The word derives from the Greek prosopon which comes from the root word “ops” meaning face or eye and the preposition pros meaning “to move towards to interact with.” I am only a person when I have my face turned towards to interact with someone or something. I cannot be a “person” in isolation. (If you want to dive very deep into the ontology of personhood, read §1 and following of Christos Yannaras (b.1935)’s book Person and Eros.)

Fr. Freeman grounds his understanding of personhood in love. If God is Love (1 John 4:8b) and if we are created in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26) then to be fully human is to love. “We exist as persons solely by love.” (p.93). In his book The Erotic Phenomena, Jean-Luc Marion (b.1946) writes of how love is the true grounding of our existence. It is not thinking that makes us human (cogito, ergo sum) but to love and to be loved. Love requires that I am face-to-face with someone else and that I give up or empty myself in the hope and expectation of receiving the other. It is only in emptying ourselves as Christ did (Phil. 2:7) that we can love and be loved.

Love, as God is and as God commands, is only complete (and therefore our personhood is only perfected) when we love our enemies. Matt 5:44. As John writes, “If someone says “I love God” and yet hates his brother, he is a liar.” 1 John 4:20. The ultimate test of our Christian life is the love of our enemies. As we read in our Kierkegaard Study, it is impossible to love someone who is an enemy. Therefore, Kierkegaard writes that our “task is not to find the loveable object, but to find the object before you lovable.” We do not love another in spite of the other’s imperfections, rather we love the other together with his imperfections. Only when we are willing to love the person to whom we are face-to-face, including all of their faults and baggage, can we be truly said to love everyone.  

The summit of the commandment to love our neighbor is to love and pray for our enemies.  For he who loves his enemies loves his neighbor perfectly and loves God perfectly, being conformed to the Spirit of the Savior-God Who stretched out His arms on the Cross and embraced all, friends and enemies alike, those far from Him and those near to Him, those who know Him and those who do not.

Archimandrite Zacharias

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