What is a mind?

Sermon given on 29th December 2019 in the Church of St Helen, Colchester

Brethren, I would have you know that the Gospel, which was preached by me, is not man’s gospel.  For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.  For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the Church of God violently and tried to destroy it; and I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people; so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.  But when He who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son to me, in order that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned to Damascus.  Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days.  But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother.

Galatians 1:11–19

When the wise men had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the Child and His mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the Child, to destroy Him.”  And he rose and took the Child and His mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod.  This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt have I called My Son.”  Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region, who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men.  Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more.”  But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the Child’s life are dead.”  And he rose and took the Child and His mother, and went to the land of Israel.  But when he heard that Archelaus reigned over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee.  And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

Matthew 2:13–23

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, what is a mind?  For many in our modern world it is our “inner monologue” – what many consider to be their “true selves.”  The mind is seen in contrast to the body and some want to change their body in order to conform to their mind.  “This is my true self,” they will tell themselves, “this is what I want.”

The Church does not see the mind in this context, as an “inner monologue” or “computer which runs the body.”  The Church sees this as a form of Gnosticism – a variety of beliefs centred on the idea that minds have been trapped in a material world, and true knowledge is through a merely “spiritual experience” – and has rejected this philosophy.  You and I, each one of us, are not merely spirits trapped within a body but are beings with body and spirit.  You do not have a body, you are a body; you do not have a spirit, you are a spirit.  So, for the Fathers, your mind is not an “inner monologue,” a “processor taking in physical stimuli,” but the means by which we communicate with the spiritual world.  It is a sensory organ: as the tongue is to taste so the mind to spiritual reality.  Our mind is not our “inner monologue” but is the interaction with ourselves and spiritual realities.

Do you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, see your mind as your “true self?”  Do I?  Do we believe our modern society that our mind is our “true selves?”  Do we ignore the physical side of our spiritual reality?

So when we talk of our thoughts, dear brothers and sisters, they are not necessarily our thoughts, but they may come from spiritual realities, good or evil.  We need to be discerning in our spiritual life – do not accept an idea, a thought, a concept, just because it occurs to us; it is not our true selves trying to express itself.  We do not need to accept a thought, we can reject it.  St Païsios, who fell asleep in the hope of the resurrection less than thirty years ago, explained it as thoughts are like aeroplanes, but we do not have to build an airport for them to land in our hearts; or thoughts are like radio stations, but we do not have to tune in to them.

St Joseph the Betrothed had a thought come into his mind from an angel in this morning’s Gospel.  He discerned that this thought was from the Lord, by his messenger, and acted upon it: he made a radical decision to flee to Egypt.  Are you, brothers and sisters, also listening out for the voice of God, through his messengers, in your mind?  Am I?  Are we prepared to act upon them?  The Lord may not ask us to journey into Egypt, but he does require action on our part.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ we, each of us, must discern our thoughts.  When a thought comes to our mind we can pray about it, ask the Lord to take it from us if it is not from him.  Do not accept a thought merely because it comes to you but apply discernment and pray about it, ask advice from friends, family and clergy.  But when you discern a thought from the Lord then act upon it.  Be open to the word of God in our mind and in our heart.

That our minds and bodies may glorify God and honour his holy Name, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.  Amen.