A recent writer in the combox asked me to say more about the Orthodox understanding of "symphonia" in regards to humanity being in communion with God.
As I thought about this, my mind immediately went to the very present and real experience of grief over the recent falling asleep (do not read "unconscious") of my maternal grandmother, a woman that still, and always will, exert a strong influence on me. I thought about how my family stood by one another, held one another, and supported one another as we faced this sad time together, and I watched as a "symphonia" of communion became a source of strength and comfort.
Now, before you get too concerned, I don't want to push this analogy too far, but I do want to mine out of this experience some of my own thoughts (fallible, subject to correction) concerning the "symphonia" between God and Man.
First let's establish an unmovable truth - God does not NEED anything, including me. God, the holy Trinity, is complete within Himself. I can neither take from Him as to diminish Him, not can I add to Him to enhance Him. He is perfect and complete within Himself. He did not create the universe out of some sense of need or "loneliness." He was, is, and always will be inherently free. He is God. I am contingent. He is not.
So, how then do we Orthodox say that Man is invited to a "symphonia" of communion with God? Doesn't that presuppose give and take on both parts? Doesn't that idea lead one to believe he is contributing a valuable part of this (at least) two way relationship?
It certainly would seem so.
However, keeping in mind our unmovable truth, we are invited by the faith to radically reinterpret our static ideas of relationship between the Uncreated and the Created. We are invited by God Himself to enter into a communion where we know we will not "help" God in any way. We are also confronted with the truth that our rejection of this relationship with God will not diminish or hurt Him in any way. He is at peace and at rest. This relationship will wholly be for our benefit. God loves me, but He does not "need" me.
But, we will have to consistently make ourselves available to this deifying relationship and continually offer up our self-centeredness and our pride as sacrifice to consistently cooperate with this deifying, loving communion. We will offer ourselves as a "living sacrifice...which is our reasonable service."
It is in the offering of ourselves, not God confiscating our love and devotion, that the "symphonia" begins. God, being without fear that His giving all of Himself to me will not diminish or harm Him whatsoever, willingly calls out to me to share in the divine nature. He knows this sharing will destroy all that is temporary and "wooden" in my life. He knows this sharing will forever transfigure me into a companion that can survive eternity as heaven rather than experiencing eternity as hell. This sharing, this grace, this communion, this eucharistic participation is meant to "burn" away all that enslaves me to the temporary. Our God is, after all, a "consuming fire."
But it is an invitation I have to accept and willingly participate in by obedience and affection. I, like the Theotokos before me, am invited to allow Christ to take up residence within me, and the Holy Spirit waits for my freely offered "yes" before He overshadows me and mystically forms Christ inside me.
But we cannot diminish the importance of this free "yes." It is the one gift we can give to God. But remember our unmovable truth, this free "yes" is not for God's benefit, but my own. It is in recognizing that my free "yes" to God and His grace is ultimately for my salvation that will engender in my own soul such gratitude and love for God that my free "yes" will be offered over and over again as the grace of God continues to give me a deeper capacity and ability to enjoy and know God more and more.
Since God is infinite, this glorious "symphonia" will go on forever, but there will come a time when my free "yes" will become an eternal "yes" when time is made irrelevant in the light of His eternal Being. At the resurrection my "yes" will be forever "yes." Conversely a free "no" will become and eternal "no." Lord, have mercy.
So this "symphonia" is an invitation to die to my own devices and live in the eternal, unearnable, and free grace of God who wishes me to share all that He is by grace. No wonder the Apostle said "today is the day of salvation, now is the accepted time..." All moments are in this moment. I say "yes" once again, forever.
As I watched my family surround each other with unconditional love, I was drawn back to the Giver of Unconditional Love and once again overwhelmed with gratitude.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
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