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A case of mistaken identity

September 1st, 2010 by Fr. Vasile

When I was still living in Romania I was going for confession to a hieromonk in a monastery not very far from my hometown. One day I took Maria my daughter with me. We participated in the services got a blessing from the elder and on our way home she asked me after being very silent and observant all the way: Dad was that man Jesus?

A similar confusion  happened to St. John the Baptist when the people of Israel confused him with Messiah: “this is the record of John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him Who art thou? And he confessed and denied not; but confessed I am not the Christ. And they asked him What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered No.” (John 1:19-21)

More so in the tradition of iconography all the saints are depicted with features that resemble the icon of Christ with the same transfigured sensory organs and heavenly appearance. They all look like they are members of the same family.

All these cases of “mistaken” identity share the same root: a prophet a saint and a monk all resemble the Son of God. How is it possible?

As humans we all share the image of God planted in us from our creation. We all share in fact this divine identity but under sin God’s face is covered in us and we become at least outwardly someone else.  Through sin we lose our resemblance with God and we take the appearance that the godless world around has painted on us.

The world itself has long lost its identity. It ceased to be a vehicle for man’s edification in God and was transformed in a purpose to itself an apple of discord and enmity between people. The devil the greatest identity thief diabolos the deceiver has succeeded to sell us starting with Adam and Eve a reality that has nothing to do with the true reality of God but it pleases the senses and promises everything and beyond. We got hooked by his promises and now we live in this world with the illusion that it can fulfill us we struggle everyday to achieve meaningless goals missing completely our true purpose and destiny.

A saint on the other hand is a person that has uncovered the image of God in him and has found his place in the world by acting according to His likeness. A saint shows to the world his true identity imitating Christ almost to the point of confusion.  “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me”. (Gal 2:20). A saint is a person that has renounced to himself and yet his identity and alterity have been fulfilled above any imagination.

This is not however limited only to the saints. After all we are “a chosen generation a royal priesthood a holy nation (1 Pet. 2:5-9). But paradoxically in order for us to become who we really are we should let Christ take over. “He must increase but [we] must decrease.” (John 3:30) until we reach the “measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:1).  We might seem to live plentifully in this world but it is only an illusion “For ye are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life shall appear then shall ye also appear with him in glory.” (Col 3:3)

We are not ourselves and we are not truly living  until we are with Christ. Don’t let the world tell you otherwise; our true identity is fulfilled only by being Christians.  Christians don’t just believe differently than others they exist in a different reality; a genuine reality in which God becomes man and man becomes god. This is God’s edition of reality the only one true and original.

I am Christian therefore I am!

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13 responses so far ↓

  • Well done Father!

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    • Thank you Fr. Stephen for your nice words and especially for the wealth of thought provoking ideas you post on your blog.

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  • Dear Fr. Vasile

    I came here by way of Father Stephens blog. So you are Romanian? My grandfather was from Transylvania but he was an atheist. My grandmother a die-hard staunch German woman married him because they shared the same worldview of atheism.

    Christians dont just believe differently they exist in a different reality. What a profound statement. I have come to appreciate the Orthodox view of participating in the life of Christ something that is absent in Evangelical Protestant circles. So much from my Protestant background was about a rationalistic understanding of the Scriptures. Imputed righteousness removes our persons from being united and intimately joined with Christ especially in the Eucharist. Each time I approach the Chalice I am reminded of the close union I will be partaking of the very life of Christ His body and blood within my body.

    The example of your daughter Maria inquiring if the hiermonk was Jesus brought an experience to the forefront of my mind. When our son Jacob was very young I took him to a meeting of a former sect that I had once belonged to. The leader was very tall and had a long beard. As we approached the leader of this sect my son asked Is that man Santa Claus? In retrospect it was quite fitting that my son thought of this leader as a fictitious character. Much of what I had been taught in that sect had sprung from the false imaginations of this leaders mind. It was fictitious not unlike Santa.

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    • Darlene indeed I am Romanian and I too had a side of my family that was completely and openly atheist. Lucky enough the other side was not so I could keep the Orthodoxy flowing in me if you want.
      Regarding the experiences with our children I think that they have something that we lose as we progress in life: purity in thoughts and honesty. They see and express things that we either are blind to or we dont dare to talk about because of various adult reasons. The kids however see things how they are beyond the layer of social righteousness that the adults brand themselves with.

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  • Father

    Speaking of the Romanians I met Richard Wurmbrand on more than one occasion. He suffered for 14 years in Communist prison because of his faith which inspired him to write Tortured for Christ. He said that it was more difficult for him to be a Christian in the United States than in Communist Romania because of all the temptations of the flesh here and the worldliness that had entered the church. What a wonderful man he was. I was so inspired by his faith. He came close to becoming Orthodox in his last days.

    Yes children are pure in heart and thus our Lord Jesus said that we must become like children to enter into His kingdom.

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  • Your last sentence destroyed all the good that preceded it.

    To say I AM CHRISTIAN THEREFORE I EXIST is an absurdity : the word to exist is formed by 2 words EX and IST the first meanin OUT OF as in ex-husband etc. and the word IST comes from the latin ESTER for BEING. To exist is to be out of being out of Life and delving only in our human animality. Life on the other hand is where Christ calls us toward notably when he says to a disciple Let the dead mourn the dead. You follow me.

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    • Dear Denis
      Although I dont fully understand the point you are trying to make I think this is just semantics. If you want to replace I exist with I am you can if you so like. What I want to convey with this is that our life outside of Christ is a meaningless one a life plagued with sin and mortality that May be called a life but a pitiful one. Our true calling is beyond that is to exist in Gods realm as the Gospels of John says : Now this is eternal life: that they know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.( John 17:3).
      Peace and joy onto the Lord.
      Fr. Vasile

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      • Dear Fr Vasile

        I guess if you had not entitled your story A case of mistaken identity I would not have entered my comment. Your indended meaning was clear to a point. And you May be too young to appreciate the full meaning of this. What is interesting is your stance in your saying the things you say. Let us take example in your answer and I quote I think it is just semantics… Well that is precisely the point : on the one hand yes it is all about semantics to the point that semantics enable us to understand (inteleg) what we are talking about and what we are really saying. One good example is your use of the word just… instead of only. Not that only would have been better but in using just you open the realm of your discourse consciously or not on justice ergo on judgement. With an appreciation of something less important than the message yoyu really want to convey. Now and again you May be too young to see the second degree of the pardes or pardesh .

        On the other hand. the Bible is essentially a book of meaning a book whose utility is in its symbolical values. the symbolos in opposition and contrast to the diabolos that you yourself mention the reunifier to counter the divider must we understand with the help of God. –as you Romanians say Doamne Ajuta. Symbols are the door to archetypes which are reflected in what is not said out loud but kept unsaid mute if you see : mute in English akin to myth – the same greek root : the myth carries the secret. The word brings it forth. In English the Word is YHWH the Word is Christ.. Hence the sacred importance of the word and its proper understanding in choosing which word we will use.

        The language of the world today is like most of the world totay: that of the Prince of the world Satan. if you are not critical of what term you use to relay the message of Jesus and if you use un-semantical terms to speak of realities pertaining with the biblical message May I say metaphorically thant you are staining your robe ?

        Your own mistaken identity of the words that you use to bring forth your ideas your Christian ideas is the culprit in this case.
        The choice of words is all important here: for instance and I quote again from your response: Our true calling is (…) to exist in Gods realm –(you will NEVER see the word exist in this message for good purpose) to exist in Gods realm is in itself what in French we call an anachronisme it defeats its own purpose. Had you chosen to say TO BE IN GODS REALM or to ENTER in Gods realm… would have made all the difference.

        With love and humility in Christ

        Denis

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        • Dear Fr. Vasile

          Another bit of ink on this subject of understanding the lets say scope of existence: One level up in the pardesh you May come to see it as a process the process of animal life beginning with birth then growing up getting old and dying. And of course we all do that. And in this existence we have and express feelings wants cravings even a personality. I guess you could say that existence is the realm of personality in wich are expressed our fabrications as to who we are especially in our own eyes and of course in the eyes of our social contacts.

          Life on the other hand is the realm or the person. The person is natural given to each of us by the Lord and untouched by whatever we would want to fabricate around it. Deep down we all remain the same person we were from the start even if this person also grows. But here instead of society we enter Gods calling – that is if we only are able to free ourselves of our personality and recognize in ourselves the fundamentals the person created in the image of God with a drive and a project for more than existence a desire to walk with God as the Ancient Testament calls it That is to walk towards the resemblance to God. And there is the difficulty felt by the young rich (sorry it May not be the exact term my Bibles are in French)… (Matth 19 16-27). To be rich in wordly affairs is also to be poor in the tools necessary to walk with God The verbs used in Matthiew are eloquent : Only One is good If you want to live If you seek perfection… And you will notice there is no mention of to exist
          In your loving service in Christ our Lord

          Denis
          Brother Élie (Ilie) from the Monastery of the Protection of the Mother of God in Quebec Canada

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        • Beloved Denis/Brother Elie

          Forgive me but I still struggle with the idea that the word “exist” is a bad choice for what I am trying with my somewhat limited English knowledge to convey. I was curious and looked up the word “existence” in the dictionary and found the following definition:

          The word existence comes from the Latin word existere meaning to appear to arise to become or to be but literally it means to stand out ex- being the Latin prefix for out added to the Latin verb stare meaning to stand.

          So far we agree. However I May not agree with the way you interpret “ex”. For me “ex” is not to be outside of something isolated from something but to stand out of something to take form alterity if you wish. It is to give shape to our human nature and become a person. St. John of Damascus writes about this: A person is one who by reason of his own operations and properties exhibits to us an appearance which is distinct and set off from those of the same nature as he – like Gabriel… and Paul….

          There is more to it however. John Zizioulas wrote (it is one of my favorite quotes by the way) Personhood means otherness difference but not in isolation because the full meaning of personhood is found in the communion of persons

          The way I see this is that our personhood is therefore fully expressed only in communion: with God and the other men.

          In the relationships with the other human beings we only express however our “personality” or “individuality” as you also pointed. Without entering in a relationship with God we remain at the animal level that you mentioned and our personhood is not fully revealed.

          Here is how metropolitan Hierotheos consolidates the meaning that the Fathers gave to person when applied to man:

          “I think that we can use the term person also for man with great care when we make certain distinctions. One of these is that as in the case of the term man according to the Fathers we cannot simply apply it to all those who are living but chiefly to those who partake of the purifying illuminating and deifying energy of God and so we can use the term person to refer to those who are on their way towards deification by grace and are being deified.”

          By receiving his animal appearance man is not automatically made a person but is only a potential person. In order to reveal the potential person in ourselves we have to enter in communion with God we have to climb up the ladder of theosis striving to fulfill what St. Basil said A man thou art but the only one of the animals to be deified. It is in this deification/theosis that the full human person is brought to light.

          So “to exist” is to “stand out” of our “generic” human nature by becoming a person in communion with God. To me “I am Christian therefore I exist” means that the only way to stand out of the rest the only way to distinguish oneself as a true person is to be in Communion with Christ our Lord and Savior.

          There is however an appendix to all of the above. Being a Christian does not mean we are already in communion with God and therefore true persons. Potentially we are we have everything we need to get there but without engaging ourselves in the struggle we are not there yet.

          Peace and joy in the Lord!

          Fr. Vasile

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          • Dear Father Vasile

            Yes we do agree and still to a point only as both our descriptions are in concordance and do not exclude each other as if you stand out you are not with the rest is it not. But just to answer your stance on the meaning of ex : EX- is a prefix taken from the latin ex- both as prefix and preposition expressing the idea of going out (exit) and the ideas of absence privation as well as its correspondent in Greek (ex). such as expatriate expropriate exclude expelled built on the idea of advancement toward the exterior the outside or that or the position that is already outside from what was before. Again a duration (beginning to end) definite in time. Also from latin it expresses another value indicating the passing from one state to another and then it enters in the formation of words to express a function that has ceased to be exercised such as in ex-consul (former consul). First used in ecclesiastical circles for terms such as in ex-priest that is in front of the name of a charge or dignity this prefix has since pervaded in different other fields then carrying the sense of ancient or former especially in the course of the 20th century more and more used alone as in my ex (for my ex-husband).

            But your description appears to me at least to be rooted in interpretation stemming from the latter years of the defnition of existence. In a philosophical context in current use the word is rare before the XIXth century even if it was used more and more during the VIIIth century with different particular senses all pointing to duration or to content (1734 Voltaire); it then equates to rank social position a sense that has since disappeared and then later to mode of life lifestyle (1795 Mme de Genlis) and is said of the fact of having acquired a reality for the benefit of an observator.
            Moreover only in the 18th century does existing take on the sense by extention of to live having the general sense and strong meaning of having importance having value in the eyes of someone. So basically existing and existence are even to this day in the mode of duration and not of life; the concept does not rise to the depth of life. Which is why you do not see it in the Bible centered on life not on existence.

            But I get the distinct feeling that this is going to lead us into an adversarial dance of personality which is the farthest from my intention. I will not continue engaging in this respect on an adversarial motor : You May cite sources and I May cite some more but the basic fact is that the teacher can only teach what he knows not necessarily from his readings but from deep inside. A good example would be a priests homily that is read aloud in church a well constructed piece of wisdom or reflection on Christianity compared to a priests homily that is said out loud from his guts and inner true feeling his connection with the holy or the divine in the subject he broaches. In the first you will see some of the flock doze off and in the second you could hear a fly buzz by so intent is the quality of listening of the flock. Its a matter either of appealing to the personality or of appealing to the person.

            So you see even if we have different outlooks we are brothers. I took the time to read through the rest of your blog and I find myself in accordance with Fr Stephen. Good work !

            If we were to continue on the general subject of mistaken identity I would be happy to read your thoughts about Barabbas.

            With love and service in Christ
            Frère Élie

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          • Dearest Frere Elie
            There is no ego or adversarial dance (I like this expression) involved here I am trying to write what I feel using the words in the way I understand them 🙂 I really am not in any position to continue any further this discussion since I do not have the necessary background to express any new and noteworthy opinion; therefore I made a small change to the original text 🙂
            Thank you for your very useful comments and for reading the blog! Looking forward to more interesting and fruitful discussions as the time allows.
            Fr. Vasile

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  • Thank you Father very well said. We have lost our identity and our natural way of life because we surrendered our civil liberties and freedom our very human truth to enslavement theft and lies.

    There is no greater testimony than the earth herself and no greater judge than The Most High of Israel.

    There is a great story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable. It is a warning to Lancelot for his infidelity and adultery and to those knights who would not pass the Judas test that the Grail lineage was to be protected not betrayed.

    St. Michael the Archangel defend us in battle…

    Our Father who art in Heaven Hallowed be thy name…

    There are great significances behind the micro and macro cosm existence of our reality and faith.

    I May not be the greatest judge of all the earth however I do know this that truth love and mercy is supreme and providential.

    Thank you Kings and Judges for acting in the right way.
    Thank you religious for keeping the mustard seed of faith.
    Thank you angels for staying by my side.

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