19th October, 2018
Around 50-67AD, St Peter the Apostle from his abode in Rome wrote two letters of encouragement and spiritual instruction to the Churches of Asia Minor.
In the third Chapter of his first letter, St Peter instructs wives to be mindful not only of their outward beauty but to pay particular attention to the inner beauty of their soul.
“Do not let your adornment be merely outward” he wrote, “arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel – rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.” (1 Peter 3: 3,4)
This inner beauty that St Peter refers to is almost forgotten in today’s world by both men and women alike. For many people the adornment of the body has taken paramount importance with all kinds of gross and unnatural bodily distortions with plastic surgery on demand to emphasise physical attraction and defy the natural process of ageing. What is worrying about this trend however is the emergence of an ever-narrowing band of what is deemed acceptable, desirable and beautiful by the commercial interests of the ugly side of our society.
But the general dissatisfaction with the image of the natural state of the body is not the preoccupation of just the few. It is not reserved only for those who have suffered some traumatic and unfortunate disfiguring injuries such as is the case with serious burns. People are all too ready to avail themselves of whatever is on offer. So whereas there is an intense interest to improvise and beautify our external physical appearance, we are becoming less accepting of what is God given. And as we lose sight of what is God given we become more and more self-centred, ungrateful and unable to Glorify and Praise God. We trade what is beautiful with what is ugly, what is incorruptible with what is corruptible, devaluing what is without question inextricably more beautiful, the incorruptible “ hidden person of the heart with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit which is very precious in the sight of God” (1Peter 3:4) – though largely ignored by the material world and those of it.
So we have learned to cover the face with paste, to change the tone and colour of our hair, to change even the colour of our eyes thus distorting the natural tones that complement our complexion.
We are not a happy lot, dreading or denying what ought to be a graceful acceptance of the natural state of the body and its ageing. After all should we not give thanks to God for granting us the years that have allowed us to see old age? Instead of turning to God to renew and beautify our inner person we insist on focusing all our attention on achieving the external perishable beauty which is nothing more than a patch up job, holding no value for our soul.
“It is easy to give your heart to small vanities such as there is nothing left for Christ” said elder Paisios (An Athonite Gerontikon: Sayings of the Holy Fathers of Mount Athos pp. 122, 1997)
“You can easily not be satisfied with the simple necessities, and desire instead those things which are beautiful, ornate, and pleasant. You would thus prefer a little flower to be painted on a glass, a table-cloth embroided, chairs to be carved, and so forth. In this way the heart is dispersed. Do not waste your heart foolishly.”
“Do not become lost in the sea of detail; rather, simplify your spiritual struggle first, and do not despair. After your large passions are cut off, the small ones will disappear also. Do not dwell on your past life and your childhood transgressions, for new opportunities are available for all.
“Always give praise and thanks to God; ingratitude is the worse sin of all, and the worse sinner is an ungrateful one.” (St Paisios)
If we learn about the God given beauty that is within us, our face would shine even in adversity. How else did the face of the Saints shine when the world mistreated them so badly? For God enlightened them towards this inner incorruptible beauty and away from the external beauty and hypocrisy of the world.
“Woe to you scribes and Pharisees hypocrites!” said Christ “For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and lawlessnes.” (Matt. 23:27)
“The external appearance of the face changes in accordance with the inner state of the soul.” wrote St Nikitas Stithatos (disciple of St Symeon the New Theologian 11 Century Philokalia Vol.4 pp.87)
“Whatever the soul’s noetic activity, it will be reflected in the face. Disposed and changed according to the thoughts within the soul, the face brightens when the heart rejoices in the upsurge of good thoughts and in its meditation on God, but is downcast and glum when the heart is emibittered by unnatural thoughts.” (pp.87)
“If you husband evil thoughts, your face will be morose and sullen; your tongue will be incapable of praising God and you will be surly towards others. But if you husband in your heart what is deathless and holy, your face will radiate joy and gladness, you will lift up your voice in prayer and be most gentle in speech.” (pp.88)
“A glad heart makes the face radiant; but a doleful heart makes it sullen” (Proverbs 15:13)
To seek what is beautiful is to seek what is good; they are essentially the same. For if we seek what is good then we are also seeking what is beautiful. St Paul encouraged the Philippians to contemplate those things which were good and therefore beautiful: “Finally brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is anything praise-worthy – meditate on these things.” (Philippians 4:8).
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