An essential spiritual discipline we must cultivate in our lives is the remembrance of God and our relationship to Him. According to St. John of Damascus, the most serious passions are forgetfulness, laziness and ignorance. These three passions darken the nous, the spiritual control center of the human person. The soul then becomes more easily dominated by all the other passions. Because forgetfulness has such a negative effect on our soul, remembrance becomes the chief weapon against sin and distortion. There are two important understandings of remembrance. The first is simply the straightforward practice of being present and attentive in each moment of our lives, and the second is to remember past events and promises for the future as a living and present reality.
As time presses on toward the Last Day and the Second Coming of our Lord, our lives are becoming characterized by busyness, distraction and noise. With the advancement of technology, we are increasingly cut-off from our connection to the natural world. Most of us no longer hunt for our own food, build our own shelters, and make our own clothes. Though these technological advancements are a blessing, they estrange us from our vulnerabilities as human beings and tempt us to forget our lack of control and our dependence on God. We are more easily deceived into thinking we are gods and have power over all these things.
When we are deceived into thinking that we are the masters of our own lives, we more easily and willingly forget God. This forgetfulness is a major strategy of the evil one. The Devil uses these conveniences to distract and busy us. We have so much power at our fingertips, so many forms of entertainment, and increasingly new and sophisticated means of communication. These facets of modern life make it hard to see our need for God, and distract us from the time needed to deeply connect with both Him and the people around us.
The Lord commands us to ceaselessly remember Him. This is what is meant by: “Rejoice always, pray unceasingly, and give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thes. 5:16-18) God commands this of us, because remembrance of God is necessary in order to return to our authentic selves — human beings in the way that God created us. When we forget God, and try to live independently of Him, we become sick and distorted. The Saint stands out in society, precisely because he/she remains normal and authentically human in the face of this illness and distortion.
In this state of spiritual blindness, we also cease to understand our own true identity and therefore our true purpose in life. Remembrance of God helps us to remember that we are created to be partakers of His own divine nature. By uniting His divinity to our humanity, He established a union of the two natures without confusion. This means that we are created and called to be higher in honor than the cherubim and more glorious than even the seraphim. Our rightful place is at the right hand of God in His eternal Kingdom.
Forgetting in whose image we are created, and in whose likeness, we are called to grow, creates a deep spiritual illness. When we remember our true identity, we rise up and answer God’s call to live like priests, saints and royalty. God created us to be co-creators with Him. We are to have “dominion” over the earth, and use resources God has given us to create new things for the glory of God and the good of humanity. When we forget who we are and what we can be, we settle and live more like the beasts and animals we are to have dominion over.
The second understanding of remembrance, anamnesis in Greek, is to make a living and present reality of events of the past and promises for the future related to Salvation History. We most vividly experience this sense of remembrance in the Divine Liturgy. Through our celebration of the Eucharist, we remember and therefore make present the Lord’s entire life: His death on the Cross, His burial in the Tomb, His third-day Resurrection, His Ascension into the heavens, His Enthronement at the right hand of the Father, and His second and glorious Coming.
We celebrate all of these because they have salvific and eternal significance in the present moment. This is true of every feast day of the Church. At Pascha, we don’t say: “Christ was risen.” Instead, we say, “Christ is risen!” In this same way, the Church offers us repetitive cycles on a daily, weekly and annual basis. We celebrate Saints and feasts as a way of making all salvation history a present reality in our lives.
The Lord gives us every tool needed to keep in our present memory His presence, His work and His Saints. In this way, we are able to actually fulfill His commandment to “Rejoice always, pray unceasingly, and give thanks in all circumstances.” While we cannot always stand before our icons to say prayers, we can work to ceaselessly remember God and cultivate an awareness of His presence in our lives. We can combat the distractions and noise of our present era through the constant remembrance of God. With God in our hearts, in our thoughts and on our lips, we can cultivate an interior life that allows for a deep and loving relationship with our Lord and with those around us. Let us all endeavor to daily set aside the distractions of our busy lives and connect in meaningful ways to Christ and to our brothers and sisters. In this way we can remember God, our own potential, the potential of those around us, and more fully experience that “Christ is truly in our midst.”