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,2 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.