What is the soul, brothers and sisters? Have you ever thought about this? Well, our Church has quite a bit to teach us about this vital aspect of the human person. A starting point for our meditation today comes from the hymn for St. Mary of Egypt, whom we commemorate on this 5th Sunday of Lent:
In you, O Mother, is preserved undistorted what was made in the image of God; for taking up the cross, you followed Christ and by example taught, that we should overlook the flesh, since it passes away, and instead look after the soul, since it is immortal. And therefore, O devout Mary, your spirit rejoices with the angels.
Concerning the soul, this hymn teaches us at least two things: that the soul is made in the image of God, and that it is immortal. We must understand that the soul has a relative immortality (it has a beginning, but no end) and that this immortality is by grace, meaning, because it is made in the image of the immortal God it, too, possesses this divine trait according to God’s purpose.
The Wisdom of Solomon tells us: “God created man for immortality and made him an image of His own eternity” (2:23). And St. Gregory Palamas has this to say: “Every rational and spiritual nature, whether it be angelic or human, has life, by which it remains immortal and indestructible. The human soul is seen to have rational and mental life that is manifestly different from the life of the body. When the body disintegrates, the soul does not disintegrate together with it. The soul remains immortal, because it has as its essence its own distinctive life.”
This immortality has eternal implications, and we can look to St. Mary as an example of one who “looked after” the soul. Even if she did distort the divine image in her through her early life of sin, through repentance and “overlooking” the appetites of the flesh she restored her soul and “preserved undistorted what was made in the image of God.”
Let us also, beloved, preserve the purity of our immortal soul through repentance, even if we have distorted the image through sinful thoughts, words, or deeds, because “the whole world is not equal in worth to the soul, for the world passes away, while the soul is imperishable and remains imperishable,” says St. John of the Ladder.
As much as you tend to the needs of the body, so much more should you tend to the needs of the soul, “For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).