Asceticism, Divine Incarnation, Glossary, Holy Trinity, Holy Week, Incarnation, James L. Kelley, Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, passions, Patristic Theology, St. Symeon the New Theologian, Theoria
What the Son of God endured for our salvation
Let us listen, if you please, to God our Savior Who cries out expressly to us and says: “I have not come to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Me” [Jn 3: 17]. And, wishing to show us the way of salvation, He says: “God sent His Son into the world, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” [3: 16]. Whoever therefore believes these things from his heart and is assured that Christ came not to judge but to save him, and not by his own labor or effort or sweat, but by faith alone in Him: how, tell me, should he not then love Him with all his soul and al1 his mind? And this especially when he hears all that He suffered Who wills to save both him and all humanity: His descent from heaven; His entry and conception in the womb of the Virgin and Theotokos; how He became man Who is above the heavens, of equal honor and co-essential with the Father, and rules all creation with the hand of His power, Who is on high with the Father and deigned to become an infant here-below in accordance with the sequence of our nature.
And, together with these, when he takes into account the remaining mysteries of His Incarnation, nor this alone, but as well what sufferings He Who is by nature without suffering endured for his sake, such as: His inexpressible birth, the swaddling clothes, the cave, the manger of dumb animals in which the King of all was miserably laid, the flight into Egypt, the return from Egypt, the reception by Symeon, how He was blessed like a common human being by the latter and introduced into the Temple; His submission to His parents, the baptism by John in the Jordan, the temptation by the devil, His miracles and on their account not being admired but rather envied and insulted and ridiculed by all (and by whom? by evil and godless men whose open mouths He could visibly or invisibly have stopped up, could have dried up their tongues and quenched their voices within them); the betrayal of the disciple; the binding by the murderers which He endured; how he was led by them as an evil-doer and betrayed to Pilate as one condemned, and received blows from a slave, and silently accepted the verdict of death (for Pilate says: “You will not speak to me? Do you not know I have the power to release you and power to crucify you?” [Jn 19: 10]); then the scourging, the mockeries, the curses, the purple robe, the reed, from which He accepted the blows of the God-slayers upon His immaculate head, the crown of thorns which He wore Who weighs all things in the balance; and, to put it simply, when he considers how He was led out of the city to the place of the skull, the populace and soldiers surrounding Him together with an innumerable crowd drawn to the spectacle; and, in addition to this, angels shuddering on high, and God the Father seeing His co-essential, co-honored, and co-enthroned Son suffering these things from the impious Jews, and being hung naked on the Cross and fastened to it with nails in His hands and feet, His side pierced by the spear, and given vinegar with gall to drink, and enduring all things not only with long-suffering but praying on behalf of His crucifiers-how will he not love Him with all his soul?
When he remembers that [although He was] God without beginning from a Father without beginning, of one nature and co-essential with the all-Holy and adored Spirit, invisible and unsearchable, He came down, was incarnate and became man, and suffered all that we have said and many other things for his sake, so that He might set him free from sin and corruption, and make him a son of God and a god like Himself: well then, even if he were harder than rock and colder than ice, would not his soul be softened and his heart warmed toward love of God? For my part, I say and confess it to be true that if a man believes all these things from his heart and from the depths of his soul, he will also and immediately have the love of God in his heart.
The pearl of great price: God’s love and light, the Trinity
Imagine that the love of God is sown in us in just the same way as they say that the pearl in the open shell is conceived by the dew of heaven and the lightning. When the soul hears of the sufferings of Christ just recounted and little by little believes in them, it opens up in proportion to its faith where, before, it had been closed by unbelief. And, when it has been opened, the love of God, like a kind of heavenly dew which is joined with an ineffable light, falls immaterially on the heart in the guise of lightning and takes the form of a Shining pearl. Concerning this pearl, our Lord says that when the merchant had found it, he went off and sold all his belongings and bought it. So, too, he who has been deemed worthy of believing in the way we have said, and of finding the intelligible pearl of the love of God in himself, does not stop at merely despising all· gs and distributing all his belongings to the poor, but allows those who wish even to pillage them in order that he may keep “his love for God inviolate and wholly undiminished. The latter,growing daily in the heart of him who prefers it to everything else, becomes in him a miracle of miracles, both inexpressible in every way and in all respects indescribable, neither grasped by the mind nor uttered in words. Theoria at the inexpressibility and incomprehensibility of the thing, and fixing his nous in meditation upon it, the man goes wholly outside of the world—not in his body, but—in all his perceptions, for the latter also withdraw together with the intellect to what is contemplated within him.
Thus, too, the man in this state begins to observe what he is seeing, and looks and, behold, there is light; and the light seems to him to have its origin from on high. He then looks and finds that this light, being perfect, possesses neither beginning nor middle. And, while he is puzzling over these matters, behold, there are Three in the light: the One through Whom, the One within Whom, and the One in Whom. And, when he has seen Them, he asks to learn about Them, and then hears distinctly: “Behold, I am the Spirit, through Whom and in Whom is the Son;” and: “Behold, I am the Son, in Whom is the Father.” While he becomes yet more puzzled, the Father speaks in His turn: “Behold, you see.” “And I,” says the Son, “am within the Father.” And the Spirit is saying: “It is truly I, for he who sees through Me, sees the Father and the Son, and is transported by the seeing beyond the things which are seen.” Where are They Whom he sees? “There, where no one knows among men, nor among angels, save My unique oneness and essence which transcends essence and nature.” He says “in Me.” How? “All at once together, for I am inseparable and indivisible in every way, preserving the One even in the Persons. If then you are somewhere or somehow in Me, you would not know in which of Us you were. While you, who are circumscribed in as much as you are a man, I become as it were circumscribed and in a place-for One of Us indeed became a mortal and circumscribed-yet, according to the nature which is Mine, I am altogether invisible, uncircumscribed, formless, intangible, impalpable, immoveable, ever-moving, filling all things while altogether nowhere at all, not in you, not in any of the angels or prophets who have approached Me of old or who now draw near, by whom I have never been seen at all, nor am seen now.”
He who thus beholds these things mystically and is initiated into what is beyond angels, beyond human comprehension, will such a man be at all able to be with other men either in perception or in intellect? For if someone were ever to be found worthy to be presented to and converse with the mortal emperor, and were to forget everyone else in order to hang entirely on the emperor’s words, then how much the more would someone deemed worthy of seeing (so far as it is possible for a man to see) the Creator and Master and Lord of all, “Whom no man has seen nor ever can see” [1 Tim 6: 16], and conversing with Him, and listening to the voice of Him Who is going to judge the living and the dead, not be transported out of himself and, truly, go outside the world and the flesh, and yearn to be with Him? But, on being separated from so good and great a thing-something transcending everything good and great-would he then come back to the cares of this life and trouble himself at all over things which are corruptible, and passing, and ephemeral? There is no way, I think, that a man of sound mind would ever admit that someone so graced could return to that.
Faith and humility attract God’s mercy
While it is acknowledged that good things in the present I ife have sadness, despondancy, and pain as their accompaniment and consequence, yet the life and converse with God, and the contemplation of His unspeakable good things, go beyond all beatitude and transcend every glory, prosperity, joy, and ease. They are exalted above the honor and delight and enjoyment of everything which is supposed to be good in the present life. As much as dying on a soft and sumptuous couch is preferable to being laid on a burning grill, so much does the joy and rejoicing which comes to the soul in union and converse with God transcend every festivity and enjoyment of this life. For this reason, then, even the man who has often separated himself from the better things due to laziness or ignorance, and has turned to the concerns of this world, to the degree that he senses the bitterness and unbearable hurt that is in them, he comes running back to those things which he had left, much blaming himself that he had been dragged down completely and had entered among the thorns of this life and the fire which burns men’s sou Is. He flees then, and runs back to his own Master, and, unless the Latter were not a lover of mankind and did not receive us who return to Him and did remember our evil or become angry with us instead of accepting our return to Him, no soul even of a saint would have been saved, even if it were in some intermediate condition or other. For this reason, all who have been perfected in sanctity and virtue were saved by grace, and not by works of righteousness. Nor just these, but all who afterwards are being made perfect will also be saved in the same way.
Since according the divine Apostle it is “Not because of works, lest any man should boast” [Eph 3:9] that salvation comes to us who believe, we must not be confident at all in our works-I mean fasting and vigils, sleeping on the ground, hunger and thirst, binding the body with irons or troubling it with hair shirts. These things are nothing at al1, because many indeed among the evil-doers and the wretched have endured such things and remained the same, neither ceasing from their evil nor improving from their wickedness. While these actions do contribute a little to dragging the body down toward humility, or better, to incapacity and infirmity, yet this by itself is not what God is seeking. He longs instead for a broken spirit, a humbled and contrite heart, and for us always to speak our heart to Him with humility: “Who am I, my Master and God, that You came down and took flesh and died for me, so that You could deliver me from death and corruption, and make me a communicant and participant of Your glory and divinity?” When, according to the invisible movements of your heart, you find yourself in this state, you will discover Him immediately embracing you and kissing you mystically, and bestowing on you a right spirit in your inward parts, a spirit of freedom and of remission of your sins. Nor this alone but, crowning you as well with His gifts, He will make you glorious with wisdom and knowledge.
What else is so dear to God and welcome as a contrite and humble heart, and pride laid low in a spirit of humility? It is in such a condition of soul that God Himself comes to dwell and make His rest, and that every machination of the devil remains ineffective. All the corrupting passions of sin vanish completely. The fruit of the Holy Spirit alone weighs heavy in the soul, that fruit which is love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness, humility, all-embracing continence, followed in succession and beauty by divine knowledge, the wisdom of the Word, and the abyss of Christ’s hidden counsels and mysteries. He who has arrived at becoming and being endowed with these qualities is changed for the good, and from a man he becomes an angel. In the body here-below he circulates among men, but in his spirit he lives and converses with the angels, and in joy inexpressible stretches himself out to the love of God. To that love no one among men has ever drawn near unless first he purified his heart through repentance and many tears, and penetrated the depths of humility, and became pregnant with the Holy Spirit, by the grace and love for mankind of our Lord Jesus Christ, with Whom be glory, honor, and majesty to the Father together with the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
—St. Symeon the New Theologian