Orthodox America

  Man: Body and Soul

      A few years ago, during a visit with Fr. Michael, he admitted--when asked--that his fingers did occasionally long for the typewriter. Persuaded to submit some material to OA, he sent the following article.


       The body, as it is only the temporal garment of the soul, is perishable, and its life is not the true life of man. The true life is the spiritual life. If you destroy a man's garment, he himself yet lives; so also after the death and decaying of the body, the soul is yet alive. Let us then care principally for the soul, that it may be saved. St John of Kronstadt Spiritual Counsels


    A man's soul originates in a mystery, unseen At the same time it is our very essence. It is not given to us from the earth, but received from above, and--according to the Orthodox Christian understanding--it is the "image of God." The body originates from the earth; it is nourished by what is earthly. The soul is the "proprietor", so to speak, while the body is a series of instruments, a superb collection, expertly fashioned and just as expertly joined into a single entity, one aggregate, one organism, by the Creator of man, Who likewise fashioned the whole world.

      We have some instruments which are simple, and we have others which are very refined, capable of serving our spiritual needs. These instruments are "organic," and it is difficult to suffer the loss of any one of these (as a result of military combat, for example, or accident, disease). Centuries ago, man learned to add artificial extensions to these organic instruments, beginning with the knife and spoon. Later he learned to replace the loss of bodily members with artificial ones. The art of supplementing naturally endowed organs with artificial ones is constantly expanding in its application. A man at the wheel of a car becomes for a time one entity with his machine. The same can be said of a pilot at the controls of his plane. When anyone becomes accustomed to his prosthesis, this artificial addition becomes very nearly a part of his body--only, of course, incomparably more crude than the organic parts. Nevertheless, if you deprive feet of their shoes, if the body is deprived of clothing, if weak eyes are deprived of glasses--the body will feel as though it has lost one of its organic parts. A prosthesis has no feeling, but then neither does a finger nail experience pain when it is cut; hair feels no pain from the scissors blades.

      The extent to which the body resembles a mechanical apparatus may be judged by the fact that in order to restore the body to its normal functioning capabilities, man has learned to substitute damaged portions of the body with others taken from a foreign body--skin grafts, blood transfusions, cornea transplants are already common. Thanks to this art, a person is able to expand his capabilities almost endlessly and to strengthen the performance of his natural bodily members: hands, legs, eyes, ears. With the aid of inventions he becomes a giant bird flying in the air, or an enormous monster of the sea; he penetrates massive rock mountains with tunnels; he conceals himself in the oceans' depths.. In this way man increases many times over his activity in the earthly realm. Projecting himself into space~ earth, air or sea--man conquers time itself. To a certain extent man has even taken possession of the future: he has built structures which have outlasted centuries; his recorded thoughts have endured for thousands of years.

      But do all these achievements belong to the body? No. They demonstrate the range of its spiritual and moral capabilities; they are generated by the power of its reasoning, its will. Man's physical nature is immeasurably surpassed by his spirit. The life of the body is short-lived: As for the days of our years, in their span they may be threescore and ten. And if we be in strength, mayhap fourscore years; and what is more, the body's material nature and its related weakness constrain the spirit. By means of his spirit his soul, a person could go incomparably farther-reaching back into the deep past or far ahead into the future-if he were not bound by his physical limitations. His thoughts spread to all parts of the world, almost into infinity. As we can see, the body is weak subject to casualty and destruction. The soul, by contrast, is free, full of vitality and strength. To the soul belongs reason and will, and the power to act; the soul chooses the goal of one's labor and the efforts towards the attainment of this goal. As a crowning achievement the soul is conscious of "itself'--i.e, it possesses self-awareness.

      How is it possible not to recognize the difference between the soul and the body, not to believe in the existence of the soul as an independent, governing source? How is it possible to dismiss discussion about the soul, as though it were all some fiction?

      Death comes, and the soul is deprived of its traveling companion--the physical body, with all its parts all its instruments both natural and artificial. What happens to the soul? When a plane crashes, it leaves debris; When a body dies, its physical remains are likewise visible to us. The visible is not destroyed, it simply loses what is essential to its being. But the soul--is it destroyed in such a way that nothing remains? No, it is invisible and it remains invisible Its nature is unaltered; it simply leaves the broken instrument which is no longer serviceable; it throws off its visible garments. 

      We must respect our soul, its worthiness, its being, by doing so let us make use of the instructive teachings of that holy pastor of Christ s Church who belongs to our era, St. John of Kronstadt. In his diary, My Life in Christ, he writes:

      "The soul is a small image of the infinite Spirit God.... Our body lives by means of those elements of which it is formed; it constantly absorbs into itself air, water, and other organic matter; our soul lives by merits of the divine Spirit, from Which it has its origin.'

      But just as our body is subject to diseases inherent in its physical nature, so, too, the soul is subject to sufferings and spiritual diseases. Just as we open ourselves, our spirit, to the influence of good people and ask the saints in heaven to help us, so, too, we can fall under bad influences, harmful, even fatal, not only from people but also---voluntarily or involuntarily-from the evil spirits of the air who are ready to, destroy us.

      It's crucial, therefore, that we watch ourselves, that we examine just what kind of spiritual nourishment is around us and consciously avoid what is bad, harmful or sinful. When we treasure our Christian calling, then we will be conscious of a bright and joyous future.

May this be true for each of us!

Switch to: 

Subscribe (and order back issues) to Orthodox America
Order Books from Orthodox America

If you note problems with this site, please contact the Webmaster
1998-2006 by Nikodemos Orthodox Publication Society