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palamas2Heterodox “mystics” say they know such things not by reasoning but “illumination” (in truth, by Greek philosophy). After the purification of self (i.e., ridding the ego of illusion, evil, false desires, imperfections), the soul is ready for “illumination” or change of consciousness. The “mystic” receives from God a deep, intuitional knowledge (gnosis, as some might say). They are made aware of God’s “secret plan,” learning more of it as he penetrates the spiritual world. Francis of Assisi said of his disciple, Brother John, that he “deeply gazed into the abyss of the infinite divine light.” The greater the penetration — or “illumination” — the closer the self moves towards “the naked Godhead” until the whole consciousness is raised by the love of God to union and the vision “face to face.”

As should seem obvious, this kind of “mysticism” is not available to all, even though some, like the English poet, William Blake, conceived his vocation to be to bring “mystical illumination” within the range of the entire human race. It is the “mysticism” of the few who have gone so far to place themselves above the “Church” while privy to a “secret plan” unknown to the Prophets and the Apostles, the Fathers and Councils, perhaps even to the angels. But their “mystical illumination,” their “spiritual journey’s,” “spiritual discoveries” — their gnosis — does not belong to the Apostolic Tradition. Their god is not the God of Christians, for the god of heretics is an “alien god” and their “innovations make the gospel worthless” (St. Maximos the Confessor).

They do not present the gnosis or the mysticism of which St. Gregory Palamas speaks in his Triads (II, 3:66),

“The knowledge, which is beyond conception, is common to all who have believed in Christ. As to the goal of this true faith, which comes about by the fulfilling of the commandments, it does not bestow knowledge of God through beings alone, whether knowable or unknowable, for by “beings” here we understand “created things”; but it does so through the uncreated light which is the glory of God, of Christ our God, and of those who attain the supreme goal of being conformed to Christ. For it is in the glory of the Father that Christ will come again, and it is in the glory of their father, Christ, ‘that the just will shine like the sun’ (Matt. 13:43); they will be light, and will see the light, a sight delightful and all-holy, belonging only to the purified heart. This light at present shines, in part, as a pledge for those who through dispassion have passed beyond all that is condemned, and through pure and spiritual prayer have passed beyond all that is pure. But on the Last Day, it will deify in a manifest fashion ‘the sons of the Resurrection’, who will rejoice in eternity and will glory in communion with Him Who has imparted our nature with a glory and splendor which is divine.

The gnosis of God and spiritual things comes to each member of the Church — to them whose “father” is Christ — according to his or her capacity. Gnosis comes by dispassion which cleanses the “heart” or “mind” — a “second initiation” to which baptism is the first, as St. Photios said.’ If “the Catholic Christian” wishes to penetrate “deeply” into the spiritual realm he must ordinarily embrace the philosophy of askesis — the monastic way. If he perfects himself, the Holy Spirit brings “Light,” “the Uncreated Light of the Trinity” — “Glory” — the “Light of the Age to Come,” declares St. Peter of Damascus,” the “pledge of the future, the everlasting Day of the Lord, “the Eighth Day.”

The Lord of “the Age to Come” is the Holy Spirit Who dwells in the Church which, as St. John Chrysostom once remarked, is “the Age to Come,” albeit imperfectly. The Holy Spirit not only teaches us to pray, but “to theologize.” “The Holy Spirit is light and life, the living Source of spiritual understanding, the Spirit of Wisdom, the Spirit of comprehension.” He it was that gave to the disciples at Pentecost “to speak with strange words, strange dogmas, strange teachings of the Holy Trinity;” and He it is that grants not only “mystic newness of gnosis” but also “wisdom to my reasoning.” In a few words, all Christian teachings are “mystical” and all members of the Church are “mystics.”

—Protopresbyter Michael Azkoul