Since we are speaking of this idea of consciousness and the person, and the dangers of emphasizing consciousness as constitutive of personhood, I would like to cite a long but profound quotation from Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), of blessed memory, regarding this. He writes:
Our personality, in our immediate consciousness [or self-awareness], seems absolutely separate from every other personality. We generally draw a contrast in our spirit, through our immediate consciousness, between our “I” and another man or another thing, between the “I” and the “not I,” the idea itself of opposition, of the differentiation of things. It is not difficult for me to present myself as a member of a collective concept: crowd, society, monastery, academy. But the alleged similarities will help me little towards allowing my personality, conscious of itself, to conceive itself at the same time as constituting with several others a being so perfectly singular that it would be impossible to say of it, “several beings,” but rather we would have to define it as “one single being.” But this is precisely what the faith teaches regarding the supreme being of God: the Three Divine Persons are but One Single Being. And it is according to this model that Christian unity [the Church’s life] needs to be accomplished” (see the Gospel of St John, Ch. 17).
The chief obstacle to the permeation of the dogma of the Trinity rests in the personal and spontaneous consciousness of the natural man, dividing personality from personality to the point of an absolute visible opposition. If the company of Christians born again by grace, realizing the prayer of Christ, become “One as We are One”, it would be impossible, without causing a new rupture to unity, to admit among members [of the Church] a personal consciousness so completely individualistic as what we see in the man who is neither born again nor even touched by the grace of rebirth. The Christian, according to the measure of his spiritual perfection, must liberate himself from the spontaneous opposition between the I and the not‑I, receiving the sense of his inner unity with Christ, with the Father, and with his brothers in the faith. But to attain this, he must essentially modify the fundamental attributes of individual human consciousness…Perhaps this condition [for liberating oneself] might appear strange, presenting itself to the spirit as an abdication of reason and a sacred insanity. But if we examine the subject closely, we will see, on the contrary, true human reason appearing, until then darkened by the state of sin of our fallen nature…It follows from this that the law of our individuation, discussed above, is not an absolute law, a primordial one, but a law of fallen consciousness. It is, so to say, grafted on, acquired, and is then abrogated by rebirth in Christian love.
We have seen, then, that our true self, our true personhood, is not something we possess automatically, but is given to us through the grace of rebirth, i.e., through the Church of Christ. We have in our depths, by virtue of bearing the image of God, a hunger and an inner sense of needing to “find our life” in God, even before baptism and outside the Church. But we find our life, as Christ tells us repeatedly, only by dying to our self for his sake, thus truly finding our life in Him. Without this, we remain only persons by potential, trapped in our own strivings that, detached from “the gift of God”, lead us nowhere or worse, lead us to a demonic logic that does all it can to destroy the possibility of that gift among men.
The ascetic side of the person.
You may have noticed that ultimately, when I have been speaking of the concept of the person and becoming persons through the Church, I have essentially been speaking of the concept of the saint. We are called, as human beings, to the holiness of God. In modern Orthodoxy, the patristic term theosis or divinization is often used to describe this. We have dealt in the previous section with one side of this process of sanctity or becoming true persons, and this is the more important one, namely, God freely allowing us to partake of His holiness through the Church. I say more important, because without the Church, our own ascetic strivings would have no way of leading us to holiness. But in another way, ascetic practice is also most important, since although God is always faithful and will never fail to offer us the gift of likeness to Him, we on our end are constantly wavering, denying His gift, seeking it again, denying it, seeking it, and so on. The ascetic life is thus crucial to the understanding of the human person in Orthodoxy. Without it, the treasure freely given to us in baptism and through the Holy Gifts is totally buried: as in the parable of the talents, it is “hid in the earth” until the Lord’s coming, at which point the servant is utterly cast out of His Master’s presence. The life in Christ must bear fruit, what is given must be multiplied. This is where asceticism comes in.