Palamism and the Person of Christ 



Preface

This text is the result of my long years of effort, learning to pray in the Eastern Orthodox Church[1],  seeking to understand why in the modern EOC only the so-called “non-emotional, dispassionate” way of a prayer is considered to be correct while all other forms of prayer are labelled as “spiritual delusion”. The query was conducted in order to find the solution for the persistent problems experienced while practicing the “correct” way prayer. Unexpectedly, the wholly practical question of private prayer appeared to be a string which, being pulled up, brought to the surface numerous formidable subjects attached to it, like the Christological debates in the Early Church, the doctrine of uncreated light by St Gregory Palamas and his followers, the deterioration of Eucharistic practice in the modern EOC etc. Such a great “catch” is probably not as surprising after all considering that private prayer, the Christological dogmas, mystical experiences and Eucharistic customs are all expressions of our relationship with the Person of Jesus Christ– something I did not perceive before then.

“I am the Way; I am Truth and Life. No one can come to the Father except through Me”[2]; it is my conviction which grows only stronger with a time that it is impossible to be a Christian without constantly being pulled by Christ up to Himself, out of the “Old Testament man” which is ever-resisting. Therefore a Christian has no choice but to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Everything in this paper is driven by this realisation and by the urge to overcome the obstacles which prevent a common believer in the EOC from developing that relationship.

Christian theology is discussed here only as much and only in a way that it affects the spiritual life of a common Christian believer. For this reason I am not providing an academic analysis of various ideas or doctrines but write about them simply as they are usually presented to/ experienced by a common person in todays’ EOC.

The discourse is the literal record of my search, edited only slightly.
 

How Jesus Christ is presented in the prevalent practice of the Eastern Orthodox Church

My starting point is my own experience of the modern EOC both in ROC MP
[3] and in local churches under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Everything here is considered through the need as a Christian, to relate to Christ, the Son of Man and the Son of God as a person to the Person, to encounter Him as the reality here and now.

Everywhere in the churches there are numerous icons of the saints and Theotokos. A few icons of Christ, typically of Pantokrator (‘Christ the Almighty’) who is often depicted as much less approachable than on the earlier prototypes, usually do not stand out from this busy background. The Crucifixion, as a rule, is represented in a detached way achieved by combining crucifixion with resurrection, the glory of the resurrection already being emotionally present there because “Christ cannot be treated just as a man on the cross”. A quite painless, serene execution renders it close to impossible to connect with the suffering Christ. The same dichotomy of “crucifixion – resurrection” is present in the hymns during the Passion Week, for example “Do not cry over me Mother seeing me in the tomb …” sung on Great Friday, “… Him Whom You immaculately conceived, your Son: I will rise and will be glorified and will ascend in glory for ever as God…” It is very theological, very “spiritual” = metaphysical but not “soulful” = personal i.e. it does not stir/ even denies human emotions and feelings as a normal response to an immediate awful event. There is an attempt to live in eternity now, to experience the passion and resurrection together, this very moment, “minus” and “plus” simultaneously. The emotional result of relating to Christ the Person on the Cross and with Christ the Person Resurrected in Glory simultaneously is “zero”. It is, as I see it, the product of a proud human mind which is trying to do something only God can – perceive and experience the separate events in eternity in all their totality and fullness. It is the attempt to “jump over the emotions/ feelings = the soul” to the realm of pure spirit, from the “Old Testament’ man” to the “pure spirit”, God the Father, ignoring the bridge between. It is actually the jump over the Incarnated Christ who assumed all the totality of a human psyche including emotions and feelings, the act of exceeding arrogance and pride which in the dominant teachings of the modern EOC is paradoxically presented as the utmost humility as “we human too vile to dare to feel compassion for God, our compassion is an offence to Him.”

Without any desire to speculate about what exactly Our Lord felt on the cross I will say that anyone who read the Gospels cannot deny that he suffered terribly in Gethsemane and suffered fully as a human (as for Him suffering as God I simply do not dare to speculate), to the point that he needed human company while praying and was very hurt and bitter when His disciples repeatedly failed Him. I also think that the redemption understood as taking all human rot and bringing it though the cross into the resurrection means that Our Lord must experience, as a fully human, every minute of His passion as a separate one without having sensible consolation in the future resurrection. His prayer for the Cup to pass by Him points to that direction. If it is so then bypassing the emotional connection with the suffering and dying for us Christ appears to be a cold denial of human nature, both of Christ and ours. It is so contrary to a normal human psyche that it looks like a learnt automatic mode of relating, perhaps a product some unconscious aberration which became a tradition which is taken for a granted.

The Orthodox Liturgy, with its beauty and opulence (the hymns are the dogmas adorned by jewels) literally poured onto a believer, communicates the sense of the Divine presence, of God Who is grand and beyond imagination albeit defined by exceedingly dogmatic hymns and prayers. Saying this, it presents to a believer who wants to address God as He is manifested in the Person of Jesus Christ, with almost insurmountable obstacles.

The reading of the Scriptures is conducted in a non-spoken language (Church Slavonic/ Liturgical Greek) thus a common believer can understand them only barely at the best, mostly not at all. Thus the Gospels which are the portrait of Christ are not perceived and His words are not heard. His Personality as it was manifested during His life on earth (i.e. in the most accessible for us form), so as His manner of relating to others (to us, humans), remains hidden.

The very centre of the Christian life, the Eucharist is entirely hidden from all non-clergy behind the iconostasis. The Eucharistic prayers are not said aloud and the laity does not hear/ understand them. When the moment of communion comes it is the communion with an abstract Christ – unseen, unheard, unrelated to. More often than not a common Orthodox believer suddenly encounters Him, dare I say, as “something in the Cup, something that is necessary and very important”. In fact, so important that one cannot partake during every Eucharist but (in the ROC MP) must confess beforehand every time. By no means do I wish to say that that in the Cup is treated without respect. No – while a believer receives the Body and Blood from the priest his helpers spread the cloth in case of an accident and then wipe a person’s lips. But, at the same time, the same people who receive communion would casually chat in a queue to the Cup; they would also chat during the Anaphora. To me it looks like communion is regarded and received as if it is some kind of “potion”, a very precious substance which must not be dropped but it is not being related to as it is Jesus Christ. Only this fact I think can explain the indifference and even disregard of many modern Orthodox to what happens during the Anaphora, up to the non-infrequent practice of collecting the money during that very time.

I mentioned before the wide-spread notion, that it is inappropriate to feel compassion for Christ because He is God. Then perhaps it can explain all this: we do not feel the pain while looking at the Crucifixion because He is God; we are perfectly fine with the practice of a rare communion for the laity because we do not perceive that in communion He unites Himself with each of us personally – He is too far from us; we do not perceive that it is an offence to collect money during the Anaphora and chat casually on our way to the Cup because we do not perceive Him being sacrificed before of us, waiting for each of us… in the Cup. It is not Christ the Person, it is just… we do not know what it is. How can a non-person be offended? Such an attitude is supported by the idea of God as the remote God the Father and the similarly remote Son sitting on His right looking down. It is the attitude of children, of the psyche which refuses to grow up, to see in the Cup with Holy Communion, the Person = the Son of God = God Almighty who willingly placed Himself there in the action of extreme kenosis.

A typical serious neophyte usually is not satisfied with just the Liturgies, confessions and infrequent communion and wants some ascetic practise. He has a vague desire for “something”, some zeal to do, to obtain something etc. (this is, I now believe, the instinctive thirst for Christ). Usually he will be told that the meaning of the Christian life is to fight one’s own passions and to purify oneself from sins: what is going to be then is not defined. The tools are the elaborate, often extreme, fasts and the set of vocal prayers. A strange thing is happening here: a person is given the tools but it is not said for which final purpose he is supposed to labour – instead it is highlighted that “it is not enough all this life for purification from the sins”. I agree with this; I even expand that if it is so than I am not prepared to labour just for the sake of purification – and in any case, I am not prepared to do this because I know now that it is impossible to purify myself even if I live for ever. I am far too rotten. No wonder then that far too many (including me) would first enthusiastically engage in “self-purification” and then, in a few years, burn out, often becoming worse individuals than before.

This asceticism for the sake of asceticism matches the Liturgical life I have witnessed in the modern EOC. Christ is hidden in the church and not present in private spiritual life. It would be indeed illogical if during the Liturgy the Church was shouting about Him “Jesus Christ the Saviour is here and now, even in the Cup” – and then would recommend the believers to engage in the acts of self-salvation (actually, the Russian verb used to define the effort of self-purification is “spasat’sya”, that is “to save oneself”). The fact that a neophyte is ripe for the beginning of their relationship with Christ, that they have to fast, pray, fight with sins and passions for the sole reason of being with Christ here and now, living with Christ, that the task of a neophyte is to surrender to Christ so He would be able to lead him/ her to Himself is never stated. Never! – Because as it is commonly said it is “obscene, offensive” to think that such a vile creature as a common believer can “be lead, let alone to be with Christ” (that such a vile creature is united with Him in the Eucharist is not remembered – perhaps because the communion is perceived impersonally). So what is more humble then, to reject the possibility of being with Christ now and labour endlessly in heroic attempts to purify oneself or to admit that I cannot change oneself for inch without having Him with me despite my vileness?

Lastly, there is ‘the Jesus Prayer’ and hesychasm. This is the practice which many neophytes, dissatisfied with the regular asceticism, would become greatly interested in. During all my time in the modern EOC I have never been told the obvious thing that this prayer is about placing oneself before Christ. The points, usually made about ‘the Jesus Prayer’, are: 1) it is good for the memory of God; 2) this prayer is particularly good for the fight with the passions; 3) the name of Jesus Christ is sanctifying. Whatever else I came across I have never heard anything said about ‘the Jesus Prayer’ in a connection with the Person of Jesus Christ, for example that it is an expression of the desire to come closer to Him and the request of Him to come closer to me. Nobody ever told me that this prayer may give me love for God or more sense of Christ the Person. The practice appeared to be detached and done for the sake of “self-purification” only.

“The method of Hesychastic prayer is aptly described by Father George Papademetriou [Professor of Theology] as follows:
“Hesychasm is a mysticism in which through spiritual exercises and in quietness the mystic attains the vision of the divine light and the glory of God. It is the vision, not of the ‘essence’ of God, but His presence and activity, His ‘energies.’ This is in contrast to the Oriental mysticism of complete absorption of the self in the union with the divine essence. Also, it is in contrast to the Occidental sensual mysticism where the mystic is united carnally to Christ. ...The Hesychastic movement advocated a mysticism which was possible through hesychia. The monastic Chrysostomos orders of Mount Athos practiced the hesychastic method to attain the vision of the ‘uncreated light’ and eternal beatitude. ...Mystics...emphasized the method of contemplation in hesychia, wherein one sits concentrating his mind in his heart, the centre of the soul, while repeating the Jesus Prayer: ‘Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.’”
[4]

I have heard similar descriptions before, over the years in the EOC; it is an accepted definition of the method. Several things are problematic for me here though. First is “the Occidental sensual mysticism where the mystic is united carnally to Christ” because I do not understand what “united carnally to Christ” means. Even if the author means “bodily” it still means that a mystic is united with Christ as with God because Christ cannot be divided into “just a man” and “only God”. Thus a supposed Occidental mystic is united with Christ as totality, Man and God, and not “carnally”. I hope though that the author did not mean “the union with Christ in flesh” but meant by “carnal” the realm of psyche: emotions, feelings, instinctive urges. I assume it is so because it fits the EO claim, that the EO mysticism is superior because it is not “about the soul but about the pure spirit, passionless”. The second problematic thing is the impersonal character of the process despite the fact that the mystic uses the name of Jesus Christ in his prayer. Lastly, “the vision of the ‘uncreated light’ and eternal beatitude” appear to be treated as not purely a gift of God but as something that a mystic attains by his own effort.  Primitively speaking, there is too much talk of impersonal exercise and the vision as its reward and too little or even zero – of the Personal God. This creates an impression that the Saviour is moved from the centre of consideration which is now occupied by the mystic himself.
 
Hence I conclude, not without being stunned with this discovery, that the prevalent spiritual practice in the EOC, communal and private, for some enigmatic reason is not Christocentric. Apart from shifting focus from Christ to elsewhere no one
[5], so to speak, speaks aloud about Jesus Christ as the very centre of the life of a common Christian and the necessity of having a personal relationship with Him which must be obtained by all cost, just like that precious pearl to obtain which a merchant sold everything. Since Our Lord is the Person the relationship with Him means relating to Him as the real Person, here and now, experientially, in the Eucharist and privately; to Him – not just to the set of ideas about Him or via someone else.
 

“Soulful” versus “spiritual” prayer and Christian anthropology

I think almost every Orthodox has heard the phrase “Catholics have “dushevnoe” (literally translated as “of the soul” that is “of the psyche”) prayer but we Orthodox have spiritual prayer” at least once. “Soulful” here means “emotional, with feelings, passionate” and therefore inferior. “Spiritual” means “non-emotional, without feelings, dispassionate” (it occurred to me while I am typing this that an exception is made for the feeling of repentance). According to the prevalent modern EOC view, all “dushevnoe” = “of the psyche” and “passions” have no place in spiritual life and prayer must be non-emotional, non-felt, dispassionate: this teaching is of Church Fathers.

Actually, this teaching is not of the Church Fathers. Unfortunately, I have spent years without addressing the relevant books; when I did I was stunned. The Church Fathers spoke not about vanquishing the passions but about transforming, reordering and using them in the correct way. Passions are the moving energy of the soul. The word “apathea” translated to Russian as “passionless-ness” did not mean apathy, a state of not feeling or being an emotionless corpse, but rather a well-ordered human psyche steadily moving towards God. It boils down to the following: all the impulses, passions, emotions, feelings which help to move a person towards God are good; all those which turn a person away from God are bad. Thus “dushevnoe” = “of the psyche” must be transformed to help the highest part, the spirit, to move steadily towards God.

This could not be otherwise I believe. For the first few centuries after the Incarnation of the Christ the Church has been discussing only Jesus Christ, His divine and human natures and their relationship between each other. Consequentially, they were building up the Christian anthropology: each new Christological dogma/ idea would change their understanding of a human being. The rejection of Manicheism for example meant that the human being as it is created by God is good as a total, not just his spirit/ soul but his body as well. Christ was understood by them as both perfect human and God. Therefore, if they recognized in Christ the perfect Man the fullness of human nature including feelings and emotions and passions (with a full spectrum, including the ability to suffer) they could never deny the goodness and necessity of the emotions and feelings (not in their corrupted state but as they were intended by God) and consequentially they could not deny their place in prayer and ascetic practice. It would be very strange indeed to demand to vanquish all the passions/ emotions/ feelings while trying to climb up to the very ideal, Christ in whom all those aspects of humanity are present.

It is necessary to say that during that time in the life of the Church the Eucharist was not obscured and the faithful communed every time they were present on the Liturgy. What is known about the practices of the Ancient Church confirms that just as the first Church Counsels were Christocentric so as the Church life, from each member to the congregation as a whole. The Councils thus would deal with issues which were of the utmost importance to every Christian. Finally, the life when each believer was a potential martyr meant that Christians had personal relationships with Our Lord. It is hard to imagine how one could endure without it. The theology and the spiritual practice of the Ancient Church were based on the experience of Christ and was pushed, propelled and verified by it (together with the Scriptures). It is very alive, full-blooded, very healthy and not at all reductionist unlike the “soulful versus spiritual” duality described above.

How then did it happen that the anthropology which sees in Jesus Christ the perfect Man (with a whole spectrum of “dushevnoe” = “of the psyche”), its inexhaustible ideal, could change into the modern teaching which proposes to cut most of the psyche off, at least for the truly Christian spiritual practise, that is to relate to Christ, who has emotions, without them? I am not claiming that I know this for sure, I only have some thoughts which to me appear to be worthy of considering.
 

St Gregory Palamas and the modern Palamists

My knowledge of the teaching of St Gregory Palamas does not go much further than his “Triada” with their famous distinction between God’s essence and God’s energy, namely that God’s essence is impossible to know and God’s energy is possible to see, experience and know by those who follow the path of Hesichasm. I also know that his doctrine was presented as an attempt to make God more accessible. Maybe it did, in that historical setting; I do not know. The only thing I know is my immediate reaction to the promise of seeing the uncreated energies that I perceived as something impersonal is: “What for? – I want God Himself, not his energia!” I want to commune with God, to speak to Him, to be with Him. I want the relationship of one person to another, not just contemplating something that is the energy of God.” I doubt that the apostles would be glad if on the Mt Tabor they were only able to see the white light of Transfiguration but not the Person of Christ who suddenly disappeared.

As with everything else here, I consider the doctrine of the uncreated energies from the angle of its influence on the daily spiritual life of a common believer; I am not interested in discussing its correctness/ incorrectness abstractly.  It may look unlikely at first that the doctrine in its pure form as St Gregory formulated it affects the spiritual life of a common believer in any way. Indeed, it is hard to imagine someone thinking about the uncreated energies during their daily prayers. I think however that the doctrine had the seed or the possibility of an impersonal attitude to God and this possibility was taken and developed by its followers into a non-Christocentric ascetic system. A modern EO believer is very affected by this off-shot of the doctrine of the Saint. “The seed of the impersonal approach” lies not in intellectual speculations about God’s essence and energies but in their emotional or even unconscious impact. An emotional mind perceives the words “a believer can only experience God’s energies which are not God’s essence” as “there is something between me and God, something impersonal, I cannot reach God the Person”. The “essence” is perceived as the “Person”; personhood is indeed the essential “part” of being a human and also of the Triune God and we need it to relate to God. This comparison may help you to feel it: what use for a lover would it be to experience the warmth of the body of his beloved without feeling her personal presence? It is a very unintellectual example but we are not purely intellectual, we are total beings and relate to the world and God in all our totality including our “passions” and here the passion is to connect, to be loved and to love. A lover can never be satisfied with the traces of the beloved, especially traces which are not directed at him personally. Any explanations that to relate via experiencing the traces is good and noble and all one can have would cause in any lover very legitimate anger and despair.

All this said, I do not think that this seed of the impersonal began affecting believers immediately after the doctrine was recognized by the EOC and its opponents declared anathema. It probably began affecting others widely some centuries after, after it was developed by monastic practitioners on Athos where it originated. It is an extremely severe ascetic discipline of obtaining the passionless state for the sake of contemplating the uncreated energies which is theosis. Two things strike me here: the purpose of the labour is seeing something other than God the Person but  a manifestation which the mystics of the Early Church and in the later Roman Catholic (RC) church strongly advise not to become fixed upon because a person must want God only and for the sake of God only. (In fact, there is a story exactly about it, of Evagrios and several other monks spending weeks crossing the desert for the purpose of asking St Makarios the Great about the nature of the light they observed while praying, whether it was the light of God or the activity of their own souls. St Makarios answered “Who can tell?” and that was it.) Next, theosis here is described not as a progressive loving union with Christ the Bridegroom of the soul but as union with God “in general”, quite impersonal; the “mad” desire for God (which is possible only if God is perceived as the Person) typical among other mystics is also absent. It is not difficult to perceive how those principals are reflected in the spiritual practice of a common EO believer. The “plus”, the uncreated light is absent of course because it is only for monastics (this may explain the wide-spread conviction that only monastics can aspire to the ideal of the Christian life) but the “minuses” like no desire of personal relationship with Christ is present as is the fear of any “feelings and emotions” in a prayer, these two are necessarily connected.

I hold the view that the doctrine of the uncreated energies is an intellectual exercise. Speaking in a deliberately unsophisticated, “applied” manner, if those energies are not God then they are not to be desired; if they are God then why to define them at all creating an additional psychological “obstacle” for relating to God Who is simple, One, Three Persons in One. In my opinion, St Gregory had the mystical experience and taught according to it and some found his teaching beneficial – and this is all of it. There has been and always will be a variety of mystical experiences within the Church; they can only be evaluated broadly as legitimally Christian – if they do not contradict the Scriptures and Tradition or not legitimally Christian – if they do.  An example: the experience of Christ by Blessed Angela of Foligno in her vision of His eyes appeared in the Host is legitimately Christian because it does not contradict Christology and because it reinforces the Church’s dogma of the real presence of Jesus Christ in the communion; it is also not unique but one among the multitude of the similar Eucharistic visions recorded in the Church. The vision of light described by St Gregory Palamas is in line with the visions of the light described in the Scriptures and observed by saints and mystics of the Church. The experience of God is a very intimate thing which usually, being put in words, makes no sense to the majority of others because the outsiders are unable to experience what the mystic did – until God grants them their own experience. Experience should be tested against Tradition and Scripture; however no one should rush to condemn another’s experience without first patiently seeking to understand it.  Nor should anyone seek to place their own experience at the centre of universal doctrine, something that is presented to others as the only “correct” way of Christian ascetic life, the only “correct” way of coming into communion with God.

This I believe happened with the experience of St Gregory Palamas. I cannot explain otherwise the fact of militant intolerance to any other kind of mystical experience, or way of a prayer, or ascetics which began steadily growing in the EOC post-Palamas. This is also the time of the crumbling Byzantine Empire and the aftermath of the Schism. I do not know whether their contempt for the “Latins” pushed the Orthodox towards developing their “soulless” way of a prayer, along the lines of “they pray with passion – so we will pray without it” or if it is the fruit of “the seed of the impersonal” in the Palamist doctrine. What is really bad, for a common EO[6] and even RC[7] believer is that the name of St Gregory Palamas is forever made into a banner of anti-Catholicism and anti-Westernism. In practise it means that anyone who criticizes his doctrine and spiritual practise/ dissatisfied with the “soulless” prayer is immediately labelled as anti-Orthodox, a “papist” who denies the teaching of the Church Fathers (for the RC it means that they are very reluctant to learn anything positive from the EOC). Nevertheless, I am going to continue showing that the return to the “soulful prayer” and to the “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind”[8] is the return to the Scriptures, Jesus Christ and the Church Fathers, not to Roman Catholics.

It is very important to understand that the modern Eastern Orthodox believer is dealing with a set of convictions and rules which went quiet far from their origin, the Palamism; they now have an existence of their own and are treated as an unquestionable dogma in themselves:
- the monastic life is the only way to match the Christian ideal;

-
real prayer must be passionless and non-emotional;
- spiritual life is about repentance and fasting singularly for the sake of purifying oneself from sins;
- only the “perfect” = those totally pure from sins can love God, thus the absence of the notion of love in spiritual life;
- if anyone else speaks of love for God they are in “the spiritual delusion” and pride;
- any compassion for suffering Christ is an offence of God;
- the reality of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ here and now is unspoken so as the necessity of pursuing such a personal relationship;
- the Eucharist is not perceived as the direct union of the believer with Jesus Christ and therefore the staple of the Christian life;
- Palamism is the essence of the Eastern Orthodoxy, it is the purest Orthodoxy possible;
- Palamism is the teaching of the ancient Church Fathers about theosis;
- Roman Catholics are in spiritual delusion because their prayer is “soulful” = with emotions;
- Roman Catholic spirituality is all about Christ the Man, they neglect Christ the Son of God.

What is astonishing here is how the modern EO teaching on Christian life with its roots in Palamism is impossible to discuss without talking simultaneously about animosity to the RC. The modern EOC seems to define itself as not anything that it perceives that the RC church is? How otherwise could “prayer without emotions” be defended if not through the notion that RC are deluded = their way of a prayer is a delusion = thus ours is correct? – Because if the Church Fathers insisted that only the “non-emotional prayer” was correct so as non-emotional ascetic life then it would be enough to refer to their works on this topic. But the teaching of “non-emotional prayer” and of castrating ones soul is simply contrary to the very spirit of the Fathers of the Church as we shall see next, in their own words.


The Church Fathers about theosis

But first, for the purpose of giving voice to the prevalent  modern EOC teaching on spiritual life discussed in the previous chapter I will provide a few quotes from ‘Catholics and Catholicism’ by the EO Metropolitan Veniamin (Fedchenkov) who by no means was a marginal figure in the EOC. His words encapsulate what one now hears in the EOC on a daily basis.

“We say “do not touch” [meaning the words “noli me tangere” of Our Lord to St Mary Magdalene], they [Catholics] – the opposite, “do touch”…There is swap here, more precisely a certain weakness of a soul. Catholicism is weakened and has a need in such elementary means of excitement. But this is the danger hidden here. The focus is not on the centre of the salvation of one’s soul but on the person of Christ; not on sins but on love for Him – but this must be only for saintly already; not on the spiritual transformation but on the excitement of the soul that can be mixed with neurosis, and with tears and joy of not a spiritual kind; actually, this is called spiritual delusion.”

“All this is not that, not that. It is the spiritual infancy but the infancy which imagines itself being close to some heights of the mystical life in Christ. It is how our babies are being taught: “Look, dear, they are beating Him, the Kind One!” And the “baby” is crying. But to the spiritual ones (although they are women) the Lord says: “Do not cry about Me but about yourselves, or “noli me tangere” or “do not try by the action of feeling the wounds in the body to catch the Spirit”, - it is to apostle Thomas. With us, the Orthodox, it is different: if you have a thought of the suffering of the Saviour then immediately, without stopping in imagination even for a minute on the physical aspect of His suffering, immediately move your attention to your sinful soul and sigh “about yourself”: “Lord, forgive me the sinner!” This is the centre of our psyche because the Lord came for our sake, He is “the path” thus one must go towards the purpose for which He came down – the salvation of our souls: “do not cry about Me but cry about yourself.”

“They (Catholics) forget that the apostles “cried” i.e. were very upset before parting with Him:  “Now your hearts are sorrowful. But I say to you the truth: it is better for you if I go because if I do not go the Comforter will not come to you; if I go I will send Him to you.” (Jn. 16: 6-7). Hence, the end of all business of Christ and the purpose of all atonement (from incarnation to suffering) is sending the grace of the Holy Spirit… All the rest is just the path “I am the Path”, - said about Himself Christ the Saviour.”

I cannot help but note that “, the purpose of all atonement (from incarnation to suffering) is sending the grace of the Holy Spirit” is not the Christian = Church Fathers theology; here as everywhere the neglect of the Humanity of Our Lord (so as the opposite tendency) immediately produces an aberrant theology. The author is oblivious to the absurdity of the opposing “the centre of the salvation of one’s soul” to “the person of Christ”. I say away with the salvation without Christ then!

Below are the quotes from the Church Fathers whom the Palamists claim to be their predecessors. I am very aware of the fact that, just like the Scriptures, the works of the Church fathers can be used to back up contrary ideas if taken out of the context of the whole body of their works. For example, it is possible to use single lines of St Maximus the Confessor (and others) for justification of the necessity of “vanquishing all passions” and keeping the commandments perfectly before one can hope to taste the love of God – and this is what the proponents of this idea do. However, they keep omitting the lines which state the opposite and, even more importantly, the spirit of the works of the Saints which is not the spirit of a naked prohibition or “the asceticism of minus”.


St Maximus the Confessor

“If anyone desires anything, he naturally strives to obtain it. Now the divine is incomparably better and more desirable than all good and desirable things. What great zeal, then should we show to obtain what is good and desirable by nature![9]

“Great zeal” is the activity of the soul, the passionate desire which fuels the will to pursue God. One cannot have zeal being devoid of emotions and passionate desire.

“The one who loves Christ thoroughfully imitates Him as much as he can. (…) “The one who loves me will keep my commandments”[10]

Here it is clearly indicated that one cannot keep the commandments for their sake alone but only if he loves Christ; in fact the Saint quotes the words of Christ on this matter. Love for Him is not only the result of keeping the commandments but also the reason to do so. Love feeds the determination to keep the commandments and vice versa; the degree of both increase together, indefinitely.
One cannot try to imitate Christ if he does not admire Him/ does not feel an attraction to Him. It is impossible to imitate Christ without relating to Him as the Person. It is essentially falling in love with the Person and trying to be like Him. Furthermore:

“If we sincerely love God we can cast out the passions by this very love. Love for him means to prefer him to the world and the soul to the body. It means to despise worldly things and to devote oneself continually to him through self-mastery, love, prayer, psalmody and so forth.
[11]

“The Lord is called light and life and resurrection and truth. He is light as the brightness of souls and as the one who drives away the darkness of ignorance, as the one who enlightens the mind to understand unutterable things, as the one who reveals mysteries which can be perceived only by the pure. He is life as the one who grants to souls who love the Lord the movement proper for divine things.”[12]

Jesus Christ here is the guide of each soul which desires to follow Him, from the very beginning (purification) to divine revelations; He is also One who induces in a soul the desire for God. Next, on the passions:

“Q. Are the passions evil in themselves or do they become so when used in an evil way? I am speaking of pleasure, grief, desire, fear, and the rest.
R. These passions, and the rest as well, were not originally created together with human nature… The passions, moreover, become good in those who are spiritually earnest once they have separated them from corporeal objects and used them to gain possession of heavenly things. For instance, they can turn desire into the appetitive movement  of the mind’s longing for divine things, or pleasure into the unadulterated joy of the mind when enticed toward divine gifts, or fear into cautious concern for imminent punishment for sins committed, or grief into corrective repentance of a present evil. (…) The spiritually earnest use the passions to destroy a present or anticipated evil, and to embrace and hold to virtue and knowledge. Thus, as I have already suggested, the passions become good when they are used by those who “take every thought captive in order to obey Christ” (2 Cor 10:5).”
[13]

Finally, on the process of the reordering (not vanquishing) of all three parts of a human being:

“The soul moves according to reason when the concupiscible part is ruled by self-restraint, when the irascible part turns away from sin and attains to charity, and when reason directs itself to God through prayer and spiritual knowledge”[14]
 

St Makarios the Great:

“As one possessed and burning with a fever loathes and rejects the sweetest food or drink that you offer him, because he burns with the fever and is vehemently exercised by it, so those who burn with the heavenly, sacred, solemn longing of the Spirit, and are smitten in soul with love of the love of God, and are vehemently exercised by the divine and heavenly fire which the Lord came to send upon the earth, and desire that it should speedily be kindled, and are aflame with the heavenly longing for Christ, these, as we said before, consider all the glorious things of this age contemptible and hateful by reason of the fire of the love of Christ, which holds them fast and inflames them and burns them with a Godward disposition and with the heavenly good things of love; from which love nothing of all that are in heaven and earth and under the earth shall be able to separate them, as the apostle Paul testified, saying, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? And what follows.”[15]

The discourse is so passionate that it is capable of inflaming a reader with the fire of zeal for God. If a reader does not have love for God yet s/he may “contract” the “stirring for God” which is necessary for engaging in sustained spiritual practice.
 

St Dionysius the Areopagite:

 “What about the soul? Is it the cause of evil, in the same way that fire is the cause of warmth? Does the soul fill its neighbourhood with evil? Or is it the case that while the nature of the soul is good its activities are sometimes of one kind, sometimes of another? If its being is by nature evil, where does its being come from? Does it come from the good creative Cause of everything? But if this is where it comes from, how can it be essentially evil, since all of the offspring of this Cause is good? If, however, the evil resides in its activities, this is not something fixed unalterably, for where else are the virtues located if it does not adapt itself also to good? What we are left with is this, namely that evil is a weakness and a deficiency of the Good.”[16]

“So, I hope that my discourse will be guided by Christ, by my Christ, if I may put it this way…”
[17]

To sum up, the quoited Church Fathers speak not about destruction of the desires, emotions, and other activities of the body and soul but about reordering them. Their teaching cannot be understood without the word “love”, for God and for others and fact of an ardent love of God for each soul. Their spirit is entirely contrary to the text of Metropolitan Veniamin given immediately before them. The major, striking difference is that their teachings are not about some impersonal salvation but about turning to Jesus Christ the Person whom they know intimately and whom they love with all their souls.

The response to those words is usually the following: those people are saints and you are nothing; you cannot love God. I will deal with this statement later, after the quotes from another Church Father, one whom the Palamites consider to be their proto-teacher. St Simeon the New Theologian spoke about his mystical experience of divine light at length, about asceticism and supposedly described the technique of the hesychastic prayer including the body position and so on[18]. However, he also wrote the following:

If you have not discerned that the eye of your mind has been opened,
And that it has seen the light;
If you have not perceived the sweetness of the Godhead;
If you have not been personally enlightened by the Holy Spirit…
If you have not sensed that your heart has been cleansed
And has shone with luminous reflections;
If, contrary to all expectation, you have not discovered the Christ within yourself;
If you have not been stupefied, at your vision of the divine beauty;
And have not become oblivious of human nature
When you saw yourself so totally transfigured…..
Then tell me – how is it that you dare to make any statement at all about God?”
[19]

If one is really determined these lines can be interpreted as “shut up unless you had experienced God” and such experience, as it was stated above, “is just for the saints” – St Simeon is one of them. I am saying this for the sake of showing how absolutely everything, even the most inspired words can be interpreted in a way which does not enrich the soul (and the Church) but only deadens the spirit. Actually, St Simeon held the opposite view:

“Do not say that without His presence it is possible to be saved.
Do not say that one can possess the Spirit
Even if one is not consciously aware of it.
Do not say that God cannot be seen by human beings.
Do not say that humans may never see the light of God;
Or at least that it is not possible for this generation.
My friends this is never impossible.
It is more than possible – for those who desire it.”
[20]

According to St Simeon’s teaching, the direct experience of God cannot be earned by any ascetic means but given by God freely to those He chooses and those who desire it, irrespectively of the state of their souls. The profound, tearful repentance caused by the sudden ugly sight of the own soul in a contrast with the beauty and love of God is the doorway to the life in progressive communion with God. It does not cease on the highest stages of spiritual life; the process of purification and illumination are simultaneous, the fuller the experience of God the more intolerable are ones imperfections. This “sensible” = sensing God path is for all Christians; it is possible because God is Love, forever bending down to a tiny pitiful creature.
The light which the Saint had been experiencing for all his life he identified as light of Christ, light of Holy Spirit, light of God (on the several occasions the voice of God identified Himself): it is certainly not a non-personal manifestation. It feels stupid to state the obvious but I will, that the man who wrote “I was searching for Him Whom I desired, Whom loved, Whose beauty wounded me, and I was enflamed, was burning, all overtaken by the fire” about Christ and “ravished in Christ’s bridal chamber” about own soul had personal relationship with Christ, in the Eucharist and otherwise.

Hence, according to the Church Fathers quoted above, the centre of Christian life is Christ; the holy communion is the mystical union with Him; a spiritual life is not just about the naked ascetic practice but also about love for God and experience of God; some stirring/ desire/ love for God is not the final result of ascetic practice but is present in the beginning already in some form because without it progress is impossible; speaking of love for God is not “spiritual delusion”; emotions and feelings and passions are not innately evil. And the most important thing: Christian life is about entering into a personal relationship with God, the Holy Trinity, through Jesus Christ, and all the rest (including ascetics) is done for the sake of this and because of this. On the other hand, ascetics and other attempts to lift oneself up are useless without this relationship as a singular purpose in mind. Furthermore, done for their own sake they are an offence to God.

I have no choice but to conclude that this set of beliefs regarding spiritual life which is dominant in the modern EOC and which I tentatively labelled as the off-shoot of St Palamas’ doctrine does not continue the teaching of the Church Fathers but is its aberration. Shifting the focus from Christ and the relationship with Him to elsewhere immediately changed the Christian path to God into something impersonal and detached that reminds one of the eastern spiritual disciplines with their focus on one’s own efforts of self-perfection. It also acquired self-centred, not Christ-centred, qualities – all this despite ‘the Jesus Prayer’. It has a somewhat cold, fearful and petrified spirit, not at all like the vibrant and fiery spirit of the Fathers and the Scriptures.

On this disturbing point, that these practices and customs of the modern EOC are not the Tradition but the deviation and that a common believer has no choice but ignore them, to educate himself and to attempt to connect to Our Lord despite them, I was going to finish. But then something else popped up, far more disturbing. Thus I will have to return to the Early Church again because that “something” is impossible to see without holding the whole history of the Church, even extremely simplified, in a mind.


Looking from afar: the loops of logic

The faithful of the Early Church received communion almost daily. They had various spiritual manifestations of their connection with Jesus Christ (visions etc). The Church Fathers followed the same rule and reinforced it in their writings. That was the time when all utmost dogmas – Christological and Trinitarian were defined. “The Church is guided by Holy Spirit” is an accepted understanding of how the Church formulated dogmas and other matters of the faith. Interestingly, those two periods of Church history, “primitive” meaning no work on dogmas yet and then “dogmatic/ intellectual” of the Church Fathers have one things common: Christ is the centre of everyone’s mind and heart, communion is frequent and understood as direct union with Him, the mystical experiences are Christocentric.

An important thing: when some modern believers in the ROC MP attempt to advocate the practice of frequent communion referring to the practices of the early Church the common response is that they were saints, martyrs, and Church Fathers and therefore worthy to commune with Christ. What is truly stunning here is that Holy Communion which is the starting point of the personal relationship with Christ is not seen here as the source of the wisdom, sanctity and strength for martyrdom. The cause and effect are swapped. Early Christians partook communion to be with the Lord and this action sanctified them so they bore abundant fruit. Modern believers are required first to “pull themselves up to God” to deserve the frequent communion and the relationship with the Lord. This is of course contrary to the words of the Lord Himself.

Returning to church history, Christianity becoming the state religion brought the gradual deterioration of the Eucharistic practices laying the foundation for the modern perversion (that is not so modern, I am using this word for convenience of generalization). This is when various signs of the separation of the believers from the Holiest of the Holy began appearing like the gradual covering from sight of the altar, “silent” Eucharistic prayers and so on. This is the time of the beginning of the division of the Body of Christ into the active conductors of the Liturgy (presbyters) and passive recipients (laity). I am writing about the essence of the process and not going to argue with the “letter of the law” type of response, that all the members of the Church are still the “priests”, because the practice is the only things which matters to a common believer.

Something of the utmost importance is taking a place here. According to the historical sources, the altar on which the sacrifice is made becomes hidden from the common believers and the prayers which accompany it become “silent” because the clergy wanted to restore the sense of the Holy among believers. The majority of newly converted did so not out of a personal conviction about the truth of the faith in Christ which promises the restoration of personal, like before the Fall relationship with God (including in the sacraments) but because Christianity became a state religion. Naturally, they did not have the sense of reverence for what was happening in the altar. They would, however, have a universal sense of something being sacred if it is hidden, not readily accessible to the common and given rarely. So the curtain on the pillars before the altar was installed, then the border with the icons, then – iconostasis with the altar doors remaining mostly open at first and then – mostly closed. The communion also became less frequent and less conscious since the Eucharistic prayers were “silent”. The original lack of the personal zeal for Christ among the newly converted caused the whole Church to adjust their practises accordingly. As the result, the very practices which induce and feed the zeal for Christ – the Eucharistic practices – were lost for all but clergy.

I think what is clearly seen here is that the reception of Holy Communion requires from a believer a personal approach to Christ. Plainly speaking, a believer must know Who is the one in the sacrament and must desire to be united with Him. He must already have some knowledge of Him through the various means the Church can provide him with so the communion for him would be indeed the Body and Blood and the Soul and the Divinity and the whole Person of the Saviour. I mean here more the emotional response than the dry theological knowledge. This personal attitude produces the need for frequent communion and the frequent communion expands the knowledge of Jesus Christ ever more. Remove the personal part and the rest will inevitably deteriorate and eventually will become “compensated” for by something secondary like preoccupation with the ritual or extreme asceticism or intellectual speculations for their own sake. And this is what happened together with division inside the Church.

In the following centuries, both in the West and the East the Eucharistic practice continued deteriorating. The language, of the Liturgy and of the Scriptures was becoming unintelligible for the common people in the West; in the East the Liturgy itself was becoming unintelligible because of the abnormal overgrowth of its secondary elements and the exceeding opulence. The desire to be with Christ which the common life in the Church could no longer foster and support caused the mystical movements, ranging from single mystics with a few disciples to the formation of the whole monastic orders. As a result, various schools of prayers and asceticism were formed.

I am speaking extremely broadly. Firstly, there is no place here for mentioning the nuances of the process; secondly, it is not necessary because a modern believer in the EOC has to deal with the outcome of this process here and now and this outcome is very much in a line with what was described in the previous paragraph: the Church does not teach and does not provide the means for forming a relationship with Christ the Person backing up her practice by the “Tradition”/ “Church Fathers”. Here is an amazing “loop of logic” which is impossible to overcome otherwise but by the thirst for Christ: we cannot commune frequently and without formalistic confession as ancient Christians did because they were holy and we are not; we must commune as the nominal converts to the state religion because it is the Church Tradition – are you a saint that you want to commune frequently? This is a truly brain-numbing exercise and the only way out of it is to answer: “Yes!! I want, not because I am a saint but because I want Him!” But here is another peril of the “loop of logic”: “Who are you to want Him, a saint? – only the saints can know Him.” Please pause for a minute to consider this answer so it would sink into your soul. This is a very impersonal answer, like there is no one speaking to no one and thinking of no One. It denies both the person of the believer who has  desire for the Lord not out of her supposed “sanctity = pride” but out of her feeling of her own incompleteness brought to her conscious awareness by the presence of the Lord in the Church, and it also denies the desire of Jesus Christ to bring her to Himself and complete her. The zeal of a believer for communion with Christ looks alien to the Church where an impersonal attitude to Christ is a norm.

If one turns to the words of Jesus on the matter of relating to Him, in communion and otherwise, the answer is straightforward (quoted by memory): “do not forbid them to come to Me”, “who does not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and does not drinks His blood does not have eternal life”, “I am the Way, nobody comes to the Father but through me”, “let anyone who is thirsty come to Me and drink”, “I am the grapevine and you are the branches, you cannot do anything without Me”,  “abide in Me”, “remain in my Love”, “I and my Father will come to him and supper with him” etc. The words of Our Lord are all about joining up with Him, being in intimate relationship with Him. The apostles, especially apostle Paul, affirm this vigorously and boldly. On the top of this, the Old Testament that was written before the incarnation of the Son of God already proclaims such a degree of the personal relationship of God and His people and God with the soul that its uses spousal terms, that it is “one flesh”.

The incarnation is the personal relationship of God with us. So as atonement and redemption. So as resurrection. So as Jesus Christ “with us, until the end of the age”. So as theosis which began in the very moment of incarnation transforming human nature and creation. A person learns about this fact and become baptized to enter in the unfolding fullness of the relationship with the Son of Man and Son of God and via Him with the Holy Trinity, partaking communion and allowing Christ to work within him to bring him to Himself. Whatever a person does like prayer, fasting, ascetic exercise etc he does it only for the sake of greater closeness to Christ to Whom, ideally, a believer must surrender his will. The tortures of “self-purifying” described in the ascetic literature are nothing else but the corrupted human body and soul suffering in the proximity of Jesus Christ. But, because the soul tastes the love of God for her and develops love for Him she continues to endure, falling more and more in love with Christ. This is theosis which is not the purpose of some practice but rather something that happens as the result of surrendering to God. And, exactly as St Simeon the New Theologian points out, usually the soul receives “the dart of love” (the term of another mystic, St John of the Cross) from God and then searches for Him enduring anything for the sake of seeing Him.

What I said is not my invention but the universal experience of the Church, before the Schism. How then it can be that so much of the modern EOC is denying its own origins? It may be argued that the EOC is extremely conservative and afraid to change a single letter in the mountain of tradition it has accumulated. However, this cannot explain a certain illogical coherency of the denial which can be understood only if we assume that it is important for the EOC to defend its practices even if they contradict the Scriptures and the early Tradition because it allows EOC to maintain that she is the only true Church – not out of any positive argument but out of the reference to what it is not.

Here is the weightiest issue which the string of my simple enquiry about the grounds for the superiority of the emotionless prayer brought to the surface, the role of the Palamism in fanning the division between the Eastern and Western Churches. I am writing this just as I understood it with a concern only for the situation of a common believer.

We have had the practice of using ‘the Jesus Prayer’ in the Early Church in different variations for the sake of keeping attention on God. Later a Western author, a follower of St Dionysius Areopagite, in the ‘Cloud of Unknowing’ speaks about using the word ‘God’ or ‘Love’ in an affective prayer. No one made a doctrine out of this, and also of the various mystical experiences of the Lord. No one also made a doctrine out of the light of Transfiguration, perhaps because it was not just the light but the light with which the face of Christ was shining and His raiment glowing. It was, as I said above, the light in Christ and with Christ, not the light of the disappeared Christ. And then the voice of God the Father spoke “this is my Son, the beloved, listen to Him”[21]. Instead of doctrines on the light of Christ we have the dogmas and doctrines about Jesus Christ, Holy Trinity, and treatises on Holy Communion.

Then the Schism happened in 1054. Although with time it became clearer to me that the politics of empire were the major reasons for this historical event, I thought that the major reason for keeping the division now was the filioque and the papacy. However, recently I came across the statement, made within the EOC, that the doctrine of St Gregory Palamas is the major reason against the re-union, even now, and not the filoque. The modern followers of this doctrine within the EOC claim that the RC church, by not accepting their doctrine of the uncreated energies of God, denies that it is possible to experience/ to know God and thus cuts itself off from the experience and knowledge of God. The RC then can only intellectually speculate but cannot know God experientially; its theology is only speculative. This rang to me as contrary to the teaching of the Church Fathers and Jesus Christ Himself because if one embraces the understanding of the Eucharist as communion with Jesus Christ Son of Man and God, and also the Trinitarian doctrine how then can they insist that a person in communion with God through the Eucharist is cut off from the immediate experiential knowledge of God? This notion, of the RC being cut off from the direct knowledge of God because of their failure to accept Palamas’ doctrine is still in used now.

Instead what I observe is that the implicit denial of the Eucharist as the primary source of the immediate knowledge of God/ union with God in Palamism was followed by the adoption in the EOC of new traditions and customs which are contrary to the Tradition of the Early Church. And here I am coming to the most mind-blowing point: what if the refusal of the modern EOC to consider that any of her latest traditions and customs may be incorrect (even harmful) is based on the impossibility to do so without losing its grounds for defining itself as not the RC church (the Church cut off from knowledge of God) and thus compromising the doctrine of St Gregory? For example, paying more attention to the suffering Christ would mean “becoming RC” = anti-palamist = devoid of experience and knowledge of God. Admitting that the affective prayer is legitimate means the same. Whatever adjustment is made it compromises Palamism as the only path of theosis and, consequentially, the notion that only a Palamite EOC has the living knowledge of God.  And even worse: what if the refusal of those in the EOC to consider that any of these later traditions may be incorrect or harmful may also be caused by the fear that if they begin renounce traditions which bar the way of people to Christ the Person then they will have to admit that the doctrine of St Gregory indeed had the “impersonal seed” and, instead of bringing people to the direct knowledge of God it has served to separate them from Him?  

Those suppositions, however wild and disturbing, provide some logical explanation for what is otherwise a bizarre thing. How otherwise can one explain the (passionate) denial of the authenticity of the mystical experiences of RC saints even when those experiences do not contradict the Church Tradition and even closely resemble the experiences of EO saints? How can one explain the denial and mockery of everything that is RC, even evidently good things? How can all this go on for the price of an implicit denial of the Tradition of the Early Church and the Scriptures? How otherwise can one explain statements like this:

 “All this is not that, not that. It is the spiritual infancy but the infancy which imagines itself being close to some heights of the mystical life in Christ. It is how our babies are being taught: “Look, dear, they are beating Him, the Kind One!” And the “baby” is crying. But to the spiritual ones (although they are women) the Lord says: “Do not cry about Me but about yourselves, or “noli me tangere” or “do not try by the action of feeling the wounds in the body to catch the Spirit”, - it is to apostle Thomas. With us, the Orthodox, it is different: if you have a thought of the suffering of the Saviour then immediately, without stopping in imagination even for a minute on the physical aspect of His suffering, immediately move your attention to your sinful soul and sigh “about yourself”: “Lord, forgive me the sinner!” This is the centre of our psyche because the Lord came for our sake, He is “the path” thus one must go towards the purpose for which He came down – the salvation of our souls: “do not cry about Me but cry about yourself.”

“We say “do not touch” [meaning the words “noli me tangere” of Our Lord to St Mary Magdalene], they [Catholics] – the opposite, “do touch”…There is swap here, more precisely a certain weakness of a soul. Catholicism is weakened and has a need in such elementary means of excitement. But this is the danger hidden here. The focus is not on the centre of the salvation of one’s soul but on the person of Christ; not on sins but on love for Him – but this must be only for saintly already; not on the spiritual transformation but on the excitement of the soul that can be mixed with neurosis, and with tears and joy of not a spiritual kind; actually, this is called spiritual delusion.”

This is a sad example of how a believer in an attempt to become “spiritual” loses, out of his faithfulness to the aberrant tradition, the ability of the soul to feel compassion without calculating whether it will give him some spiritual benefit of not. It is like if someone tried to build the house not on the solid foundation of the soul but going up straight to the roof – the spirit, putting just a few bricks in the “soul department”. The whole house falls apart and all he is left with is “the focus on the centre of the salvation of one’s soul but not on the Person of Christ”, i.e. with the focus in his own person, not Christ.

What is the worse in those words and the whole story is that the EOC, by being preoccupied with defining itself as “the only Church which has experiential knowledge of God” appears not only to lose the knowledge of Christ the Person but also to bar to others the way to Him.

PS

Where have you hidden,
Beloved, and left me moaning?
You fled like the stag
after wounding me;
I went out calling you, but you were gone.
(…)
In the inner wine cellar
I drank of my Beloved, and, when I went abroad
through all this valley,
I no longer knew anything,
and lost the herd that I was following
.
[22]

*
Love came down, as is its way,
In the appearance of a luminous cloud.
I saw it fasten on me and settle on my head.
And it made me cry out, for I was so afraid;
Thus it flew away, and left me alone.

Then how ardently I searched after it;
And suddenly, completely,
I was conscious of it present in my heart,
Like a heavenly body.
I saw it like the disc of the sun . . .
It closed me off from the visible,
And joined me to invisible things.
It gave me the grace to see the Uncreated
[23]

 


----------------------------------------------------------------------

[1] Further referred as the EOC.

[2] John 14:6.

[3] Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate.

[4] Archbishop Chrysostomos, ‘Orthodox and Roman Catholic Relations from the Fourth Crusade to the Hesychastic Controversy’.

[5] Over the years I came across a few priests who spoke of this. Such people are a tiny drop and an exception; a common believer may spend decades before discovering them.

[6] Eastern Orthodox.

[7] Roman Catholic.

[8] Luke 10:27

[9] St Maximus the Confessor, ‘The Four Hundred Chapters on Love’, I. 43.

[10] ibid, IV. 55.

[11] Ibid, III. 50.

[12] St Maximus the Confessor, ‘Chapters on Knowledge’ I.70.

[13] St Maximus the Confessor, On the Utility of the Passions, ‘On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ’.

[14] St Maximus the Confessor, ‘Centuries on Love’ IV.15

[15] St Makarios the Great, ‘Fifty Spiritual Homilies’, Homily IX.

[16] St Dionysius the Areopagite, ‘The Divine Names’, IV.30.

[17] Ibid, ‘The Celestial Hierarchy’

[18]On the Three Methods of Prayer’ is attributed to St Simeon.

[19] St Simeon the New Theologian, ‘Hymns of Divine Eros’, Hymn 21.

[20] Ibid, Hymn 27.

[21] Mark 9:7

[22] St John nof the Cross, ‘Songs between the soul and the Bridegroom’

[23] St Simeon the New Theologian, ‘Hymns of Divine Eros’, Hymn 17.


 

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