by Reader Nicholas Chapman
A review of Man, The Target of God (Mount Thabor Publishing).
272 pp. • $19.95 • Paperback • ISBN: 9781780747552
In the Book of Revelation, the Apostle John is instructed by Christ to write to the church in Ephesus. Amongst other counsel to give to its members, He declares, “I have this against you, that you have left your first love”.1 This shortcoming of the church in Ephesus is one I am certainly guilty of over several decades of trying to live an Orthodox life. For this reason, I was very happy to discover this work by Archimandrite Zacharias of the Monastery of St John the Baptist in Tolleshunt Knights, Essex. It served as a timely reminder of where real life is to be found and offers guidance on how to acquire it.
The title, Man, The Target of God, is based on some obscure verses from the Book of Job. Chapter 7: 17–20 reads:
What is mankind that you make so much of them,
that you give them so much attention,
18 that you examine them every morning
and test them every moment?
19 Will you never look away from me,
or let me alone even for an instant?
20 If I have sinned, what have I done to you,
you who see everything we do?
Why have you made me your target?
Archimandrite Zacharias explains that the word translated “target” at the end of the last sentence quoted above is unknown in modern Greek. He tells us that:
In the Greek of the Septuagint, it means someone who starts an argument not for selfish reasons but in order to understand the divine mystery.3
He goes on to explain that a person who becomes the subject of God’s attention in this way “becomes also the target of secret and divine visitations, which are the source of all tears. ” This raised the question for me as a reader — am I a target of God in this way or am I merely someone who enjoys arguments for selfish reasons, and although using the language of theology, has little concern for the salvation of my own soul or of the souls of others?
Reflecting on the need for true theology, this book reinforces an Orthodox understanding of personhood — the subject of much debate leading up to and following the pan-Orthodox meeting in Crete last summer. The book presents an Orthodox understanding of life as a struggle to become a person fully formed in the image of the Divine persons. The path to personhood is outlined as being primarily attained through obedience. Archimandrite Zacharias writes:
We need to break through the shell of our heart so as to change from individuals to persons and to escape the confines of selfishness. Sincere obedience takes the leap of faith, accepting to be led to the slaughter, to the threshold of death so as to remove one’s old skin.4
He recognizes that such obedience is frequently aided by the presence of a spiritual father but he also places the struggle in the context of our lives in and as the Church, that is Christ’s body made up of its many members. This dependency on the Body of Christ is manifest most clearly in our regular participation in the Eucharist. To explain this Mystery, it is worth quoting Archimandrite Zacharias at length:
Sustained by the gifts of all the other members of His glorious Body, then, we are given the creative task of working on our personal gift, and of becoming co-workers with God for the perfection of our personhood. As the Lord said that we are not able to ‘live unto all eternity’ if we do not ‘eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood’, so the witnesses to His Resurrection confirmed, from very early on, that, ‘whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ With the continuous invocation of the Name of Jesus, together with our worthy participation in the mystery of the Divine Eucharist, and the assimilation of the Divine word, we are able to become ‘living stones’ for the building up of the temple of God inside ourselves and in our brethren. 5
In these brief reflections, I have barely scratched the wisdom that is to be found in this work. I highly recommend it as a constant source of spiritual refreshment and nourishment that can help to rekindle our first love, and in so doing, make us targets of God.