Unity of Body and Soul
Anyone who has waited in line at a store has seen the magazines next to the counter with the front covers just looking at us. But it is also impossible to miss the contents of these magazines, which are mostly about sex, fat and vanity of all kinds. And it is the same with sports, being all about speed, skill and muscles. Our culture is obsessed with the body, with how it looks and how it can be improved, and few people talk about the flesh in relation to religion. Hollywood churns out movies glamorizing and glorifying the body, teaching how it must be indulged, which is also what the psychiatric industry teaches. Churches are the only voices saying something about a morality of the flesh; and even this is questionable because many non-Orthodox do not have a full grasp of what 2000 years of wisdom say about the body. But the amvon prayer of our Presanctified Liturgy asserts this teaching, saying, "Almighty Lord, who.... has brought us to these beneficial days for the purification of body and soul, for the control of our passions and for the hope of the resurrection." As this passage states, the body is united with the soul and it is united with the passions.
2000 years ago most people in the world believed the differences between the body and soul were a giant wall and eternally permanent. The Hindus thought the body was only an illusion, not part of a transcendental reality. The Buddhists assumed the body was only a temporary location for the reincarnation of souls. The followers of Socrates and Plato taught the body was a prison for the soul, while the students of Aristotle presumed the body ceased to have any connection with the soul after death. In many cultures the body was simply not recognized to have any substantial union with man's soul and eternal life. But God gave signs through the Hebrew Prophets about the body. A classic example of this occurs with the Prophet Elisha, the main disciple of the Prophet Elijah. When Elisha was old, he died and was buried. Some time later, raiders from Moab were attacking the area. They were like modern terrorists, roaming around, destroying and killing; so everyone was on guard against them. One day, some men are burying a man near the grave of Elisha. Suddenly, they see some raiders off in the distance coming toward them. They assume the raiders can see them, but they must finish the burial. In their hurry, they throw the dead man into the grave of Elisha by accident. But as the corpse touches Elisha's bones, the newly-buried man comes back to life and walks out of the tomb.
The miracle of Elisha's bones reveals something important: The body is united with the soul even after death. This body-soul connection is poetically indicated all over the Bible. Jesus often says, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear!" But everyone heard Jesus speak, so what ears is He talking about? There is a verse in the Psalms, "Let the bones that You have broken rejoice." How can bones rejoice? King Solomon says, "The wise man's eyes are in his head." Well, where are the foolish man's eyes? Even the Presanctified Liturgy repeats this right after the Bible readings, "Set a guard, oh Lord, before my mouth, and a portal around my lips." Is the mouth responsible for its actions? It also says, "Incline my heart away from evil words, from making excuses for my sins." Can the heart actually make excuses? In many places of Scripture, God tells us the soul and body are united; but the physical body will be changed into a spiritual one. St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, "The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption.... There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body." This resurrection becomes an eternal reality for us because Jesus Christ, who had a soul and body, was raised from the dead.
The miracle of Elisha's bones also reveals how the body is united with the passions. Since Elisha's soul was pure, his bones were pure. In Jesus Christ, a man who controls his passions, purifies his body. His bones can rejoice and his ears can hear and his heart can be inclined to the Lord. This is why we have the Sacraments, where the Eucharist feeds our bodies, not only our souls. Baptism washes our bodies from sin, not just our souls. Holy Unction heals our bodies, not simply our souls. The passions are controlled when the body with the soul is not dominated by them. In order for this to happen, the body must not indulge in vanity and lust. It must be made subject to the spirit, as St. Paul again teaches, "Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you?" When anyone controls his passions by obedience to the Gospel, his body becomes pure, as pure as the bones of Elisha.
The Presanctified amvon prayer tells us how Lent is "beneficial days for the purification of body and soul, for the control of our passions and for the hope of the resurrection". They are beneficial because we are fasting and praying more than usual. The soul and body are involved together in holiness, rather than the soul hoping to do one thing and the body doing something else. The benefits of uniting soul and body in the Church's way are a cleaner conscience, a more peaceful mind, an extended sense of family at home and church. But these benefits can be best fulfilled when the soul and body are united and the body takes part in controlling the passions. It is only then will our hearts incline to the Father and our ears hear the Son and our bodies rejoice in the Holy Spirit. When these benefits are received in this way, we realize the hope of the resurrection, when death is trampled by death.
- Deacon Gaius Grohm