Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna, Asceticism, Barlaamism, Bishop Auxentios of Etna and Portland, Catechism, Discernment, Divine Liturgy, Empirical Dogmatics, Etna California, FAQs, Genuine Orthodoxy, Glorification, illumination, Lives of Saints, Metropolitan (Emeritus) Chrysostomos, Metropolitan Demetrios of America, Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Monastery of St. Gregory Palamas, Monastery of St. John the Wonderworker, Protopresbyter George Metallinos, Protopresbyter John S. Romanides, Purification, The Spiritual Perfecting of Christians, Theosis, We Must Honor the Saints
The Spiritual Perfecting of Christians
Man was created by God in the image and likeness of God. Being in God’s image is a given fact, and has not disappeared or been destroyed by his Fall, although the image has been darkened. Being in God’s likeness, however, which is identified with glorification, is something which man has to reach by the action of divine grace and his own cooperation. The journey from the image to the likeness, which is man’s purpose at the profoundest level, is called spiritual perfecting. This perfecting comes about within the Church, the real Body of Christ. Some basic aspects of this serious issue will be highlighted in the pages that follow.
a) Servant, Hired Worker, Son
A characteristic teaching found in Holy Scripture, which shows how man’s spiritual perfection is achieved, is about passing through the states of servant, hired worker, and son or friend.
When man was created by God he was in a state of illumination. He had a close relationship with God. His nous was illumined by the Light of God, and in this way his whole body was illumined. Even the creation received reflections of this grace. After man’s Fall, however, his nous was darkened, he lost his communication with God and became subject to the passions and created things. He became a servant of his rational faculty, his passions and the world around him. As a servant he worshipped the creation instead of the Creator, and he made false gods.
The incarnation of Christ aimed to free man from servitude and to restore him to adoption as a son by grace. On his journey towards glorification, man behaves initially like a servant, subsequently as a hired worker, and finally as a friend or son of God.
We encounter this throughout patristic teaching. As a servant, man struggles to keep God’s commandments in order to escape “Hell” [Eternal torment]. As a hired worker he does God’s will to gain Paradise. And as a friend or son of God he obeys His commandments out of love for Him, without expecting any reward.
Shortly before His Passion, Christ told his Disciples: “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:14-15).
When we were created by God we were created beings, creatures. By our spiritual birth and re-creation we became sons of God and acquired adoption as sons. St John the Evangelist proclaims: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). Adoption by grace is the fruit and outcome of being born again in Christ. The Apostle Paul refers to this adoption, which is linked with man’s glorification. “But we also who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body” (Rom. 8:23).
In another of his Epistles he links adoption with inner noetic prayer of the heart: “Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, Abba, Father!'” (Gal. 4:1-6).
Infants are servants to the elements of the world, whereas the sons of God are liberated from every kind of servitude and sense the fatherly love of God. They are sons of God, so they cry out to the Father and call upon Him in their hearts. This comes about because they have received the Spirit of the Son of God in their hearts, and in the name of this Spirit, they pray in their hearts. They are not servants but sons, and as sons they are heirs of the glory and rule (vasileia) of God.
This teaching is as clear as can be. Someone who lives, by the grace of God, within the Church, must pass through these three states: starting as a servant, he must become a hired worker, and subsequently a son of God.
“Glorification is the destiny of all the faithful. This glorification is everyone’s ultimate purpose. For that reason the Christian ought to progress from glory to glory. The servant must become a hired worker, and then a son of God and a faithful member of Christ. This happens in the Church.”
The saints, referred to as the glorified, are the true friends of Christ. They have been united with Christ in reality, and participate in His glory.
“Glorification, or divine vision, or the vision of the glory of Christ’s divinity presupposes a radical change in man’s spiritual state. Instead of being a servant, a hired worker or an enemy he must be transformed into a friend of God. This friendship is achieved by the grace of God and man’s co-operation, by his reconciliation with God through the mystery of the Cross and the Resurrection.”
There were friends of God in the Old Testament as well, but they were under the domination of death.
“Unbroken remembrance of God, theoria and unselfish love, which transformed the Prophets into friends of God, was already functioning strongly before the incarnation of the Word. Before the incarnation, theoria and glorification were a temporary type and form of glorification, which was, however, a reality even when God’s friends were subject to the sentence of death. When their bodies died they remained with their souls in Hades (the state of death), together with all the souls of all the dead. Those who were to be resurrected and glorified by Christ, and those who would eventually be condemned, stayed together in Hades until the incarnation and Resurrection of Christ.”
Man’s transition from being in servitude to being adopted as a son by grace, and the abolition of death, are the essence of Christ’s incarnation and the presence of the Church in the world. This actually comes about through the transformation of self-love into love for God, selfish love into unselfish love.
“The servant does God’s will for fear of damnation and the hired worker works for a wage, whereas the friend does everything out of unselfish love. Through glorification or divine vision God’s friend comes close to the state of sinlessness. Finally he reaches that state and ascends endlessly towards the higher stages of perfection. He bears much fruit and the fruit lasts.”
Servitude is mainly expressed through fear of death, whereas love is the state of the son of God by grace. The Apostle Paul defines the incarnation of Christ in terms of man’s liberation from the fear of death. “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:14-15).
“Without participating in the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ, by which – through purification, illumination and glorification – one overcomes the selfishness or self-love rooted in the fear of death, one cannot arrive at participation in the glorifying love of God through which one becomes a friend.”
It is only then that one gets rid of the fear of death: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). The glorified are the friends of God in the highest sense, because they have transcended every kind of servile dependence and are on their way to ‘unending perfection’.
“He who, through the mystery of the Cross and the Resurrection, achieves purification of the passions and deliverance from demonic energies, transcending the illumination of Baptism through glorification and becoming a friend of God, is a theologian and spiritual father in the highest sense. He is led by the Paraclete, the Spirit of truth, ‘into all truth’, as happened to the Apostles on the day of Pentecost.”
We referred earlier to the passage from St Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (Gal. 4:1-6) where adoption as sons by grace is linked with noetic prayer.
“The Apostle Paul says: ‘When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.’ What is this adoption as sons? ‘Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”‘
When someone has received the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit prays within him. This is what receiving the Holy Spirit means. Not simply that we go to the priest and he says something or other to us, and we receive the Holy Spirit as if by magic. We really do receive the Holy Spirit, because the Spirit now prays within us, not we ourselves. That is to say, we pray together with the Spirit, but it is the Spirit Who prays, crying Abba, Father!’
‘Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son.’ Then you stop being a servant and have become a son. Adoption as a son means noetic prayer. And if a son, then an heir of God through Christ’ (Gal. 4:4-7).”
The states of servant, hired worker and son or friend of God are very closely connected with the other spiritual ascents referred to throughout the biblical and patristic tradition as purification, illumination and glorification.
“At the stages of servant and hired worker, man shares in God’s perfection through participation in the purifying, illuminating and glorifying grace of the mystery of the Cross. This purifies the passions, illumines and sanctifies the whole man and, with his co-operation, makes it possible for him to be obedient to God’s will unto death. By means of this obedience the grace of God transforms personal selfishness into unselfish love. Thus man is glorified and becomes God’s friend and collaborator, Christ’s brother and joint-king by grace, and an adoptive son of the Virgin.”
We shall now consider purification, illumination and glorification. The fact is that the friends or sons of God pass on His will. They are the guides of the people of God and we owe them obedience.
b) Purification, Illumination, Glorification
The whole biblical and patristic tradition speaks of man’s spiritual perfecting, of his progress from being in God’s image to being in His likeness. Before his Fall, man’s nous was in a state of illumination, and when he fell his nous was darkened, as we saw in an earlier section. The nous now needs to be purified and to return to the state of Adam in Paradise. From there it must reach glorification and theoria of the glory of God.
In this context we speak of purification, illumination and glorification. This journey is described as repentance, metanoia – changing the nous.
Repentance is possible through the grace of God, because the attack came from the devil, from outside. Man did not generate evil, but his free will accepted the devil’s provocation.
“Man was attacked by the devil, outside his human nature, in such a way that of his own free will, and not because he was unable to resist, he accepted the change of his nous from an active to a passive state. In an active state it is occupied only with theoria or unceasing remembrance of God, and this state illumined and sanctified the rational faculty and body in such a way that man was nourished and sustained by God Himself. The passive state is when man accepts the replacement of theoria and unceasing remembrance of God by the intrusion of concern for his body and the material creation, thus separating himself from the source of life. This state is death.
By means of repentance and the help that always depends on God, man becomes capable of reversing the initial defeat, and even subsequent defeats, by the devil, and of finally becoming victorious over Satan, by achieving uninterrupted remembrance of God, glorification and the transformation of his selfishness into divine love that does not seek its own.”
The devil cannot repent, but human beings can.
“Although there can be no repentance and salvation in the form of glorification for the devil and the fallen angels, as they are bodiless and were created in the eternal dimension, there is repentance for man because of his bodily nature. Man owes it to the weakness of his body that he can repent.”
i. Ecclesiastical Interpretation of the Stages of Spiritual Perfection
Christ said: “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). This means that the Christian, by the grace of God, should continually ascend the steps of spiritual perfection.
By the stages of perfection we certainly do not mean certain fixed points, certain stages in time and place. It is a matter of how the grace of God works in people. God’s uncreated grace is active in the whole of creation and in man. When the grace of God cleanses someone, it is called ‘purifying’ grace, when it illumines it is called ‘illuminating’, and when it glorifies him it is called ‘glorifying’.
We see this in Holy Scripture when it speaks of man’s purification: “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1). There is a characteristic passage which shows the stages of spiritual perfection in St Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians: “But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). The phrase “you were washed” refers to purification, “you were sanctified” refers to illumination, and “you were justified” refers to glorification.
Christ is the Light and all who are united with Him receive Light and are radiant. Christ said to His Disciples: “You are the light of the world.” (Matt. 5:14) and “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).
The holy Fathers move in this context. St Dionysios the Areopagite speaks about purification, illumination and perfection. St Maximos the Confessor talks continuously about practical philosophy, natural theoria and mystical theology. St Symeon the New Theologian writes Practical and Theological Chapters. St Gregory Palamas refers to natural, theological, moral and practical chapters, and so on.
At the beginning of man’s journey to glorification he shares in God’s purifying energy, subsequently in His illuminating energy and finally in His glorifying energy. Of course, there are ups and downs on this path. Purification consists in rejecting thoughts (logismoi) from the heart, so that one single thought remains: the name of Christ. At the same time, the passible part of the soul – desire and anger – is cleansed. Subsequently, illumination is when the nous is separated from the rational faculty and enlightened by the grace of God. It then has noetic prayer, and the illumined nous directs the passible part of the soul.
While there is an upward journey from purification to illumination and glorification, at the same time there can be a downward path. The experience of divine vision remains for a longer or shorter time, and subsequently one descends to illumination. It can also happen that someone loses illumination and denies Christ in practice. In that case he is numbered afterwards among the penitents.
In broad outline this is the teaching of the Fathers on the stages or degrees of spiritual perfecting. We shall go on to analyse this spiritual journey further.
Although no one can deny that the theology of spiritual perfecting is widespread throughout the biblical and patristic tradition, some maintain that the Apostles and the Fathers were influenced in this respect by ancient Greek philosophy, particularly Neoplatonism, which referred to these issues.
It is a fact that the word and concept of ‘purification’ is encountered in classical tragedy, which aimed to cleanse the souls of those watching from passions, by means of mercy and fear, and subsequently to lead the audience, as Aristotle says, to a higher state than that they were in before watching the tragedy. The term ‘purification’ was also used by Plotinus and Neoplatonism in general, but they defined it as the soul’s flight from the visible world and from the body, in order to arrive at the uncreated world of ideas. Thus courage purifies man from the fear of death and magnanimity from corruptible things. In addition, the term ‘enlightenment’ is found in Plato, according to whom, when man is constantly occupied with the essence of the good, suddenly a light is lit in his soul, and he acquires knowledge of the good. According to Plato and the Neoplatonists, therefore, enlightenment and illumination is the knowledge through enlightenment of the archetypes of beings, which are the uncreated ideas.
“Some hold the view that the teaching about perfection according to the holy Fathers of the Church is of idolatrous origin, and that the Fathers of the Church were allegedly influenced by these distinctions between purification, illumination and glorification, because there are parallels in Neoplatonism as well, and this division between the stages of perfection clearly exists. On account of a similarity between these two, our own people have adopted this view, which comes mainly from studies done by Protestants.
Having rejected monasticism and adopted Calvin’s absolute predetermination, or Luther’s teaching about man’s salvation by faith alone, the Protestants were faced with a form of monasticism in the tradition that they have encountered (Franco-Latin), which was based on merits. As they discovered that the teaching about merits was erroneous, they also condemned celibacy and monasticism. What is more, Luther, mainly, but also Calvin, stirred up a reaction against the stages of perfection. Later, Protestant historians studied the issue and were so delighted to find the amazing similarity between patristic teaching and the teaching of the idolaters that they asserted that the teaching about the stages of perfection is of idolatrous origin.
Because our own people are so eager to go and study at foreign universities – I am not saying that they shouldn’t go and study, but let them at least exercise their judgment when they go to study, because they go uncritically – you now see the writings of Orthodox theologians full of this idea, you see it everywhere, that the Church has been influenced by the idolaters, particularly regarding the stages of perfection.”
We shall see, however, that the Prophets, Apostles and Fathers used these words – purification, illumination and glorification – but they gave them a completely different meaning from the meaning the classical philosophers gave them. This has also happened with many other terms, including ‘essence’, ‘energy’, ‘person’, ‘dispassion’, ‘the tripartite division of the soul’ and ‘the supreme Being’. Instead of searching and enquiring into the fact that these terms were used by classical philosophy, we should look at the specific meaning that the holy Fathers gave them.
Patristic teaching on the stages or degrees of spiritual perfecting is clearly different from the corresponding teachings of the classical philosophers.
“The Fathers of the Church do not accept the reality of human perfection in theoria in the Platonic, Neoplatonic or Augustinian sense of blissful union. Man’s destiny is not the satisfaction of egotistic desires through possessing what makes him happy, but rather the transformation of self-seeking self-love into love that does not seek its own. Thus progress towards perfection is without end both in this life and in the life to come.
This means that theoria by itself is not a guarantee against sin and falling in its first or later stages. It is very probable – without this constituting any sort of reproach of imperfection against God or His creatures – that Satan, the angels and man fell from a state of theoria or a lower level of theoria.”
The Church aims to cure man, as self-love must become love for God and other people, and selfish love must become unselfish. This comes about through the action of God and man’s co-operation: ‘synergy’ in the theological sense of the term.
If in every science a method is required in order to achieve its aim, the same is true of ecclesiastical life. For there to be success man needs to respond to God’s love, and this goal is fulfilled through the stages of spiritual perfection.
“In every science we have continuity. Astronomers inherit a tradition from astronomers and they develop it. Theologians, chemists and doctors do the same. Every science has a tradition. Its aim is to transmit the tradition to future generations. The aim of every science is to pass on knowledge about that science. The transmission of knowledge is intended to achieve certain results. The basic criterion for every science is success in achieving the aim of the science. For surgery, it is success in surgical operations, for biology it is success in the research and discovery of biological phenomena. Every science has its aim.
So what is the aim of Orthodoxy? In patristic theology the aim is man’s repentance. But repentance in the Fathers means a change of direction for man’s nous, the therapeutic treatment of the nous, purification, illumination and glorification. Someone who does not go through this treatment is not regarded as a theologian.
Success is the criterion. If someone has the tradition that leads people from purification to illumination and from illumination to glorification, he carries on the tradition. He is within the framework of the tradition. By leading others to illumination and glorification, he is not only within the tradition himself, but brings others into this tradition. So the tradition continues.
What is the criterion? It is curing man. It is a therapeutic treatment. The criterion for this therapeutic treatment is success: that we reach the point of being cured. From this point of view theology is no different from any of the other positive sciences. All sciences have this aim: success in research and analysis, and subsequently success in the results of this research.”
Man must be reconciled with God and become His friend. God is not reconciled with man, as God is not at enmity with anyone, but man is reconciled with God and returns to friendship with God.
“At the first stage, purification, man departs from sin. Man struggles against sin. When he reaches the stage of illumination, however, sin itself begins to depart from him. If he reaches glorification, which starts with illumination of the nous, the nous is no longer affected by the rational faculty, the passions or the surroundings, and man is no longer susceptible to influences from the rational faculty, the passions and the environment, but only from God, because God’s uncreated energy acts within him. Then his nous becomes the dwelling-place of Christ and, through Christ, of the Holy Trinity.”
The holy Fathers interpreted the Old Testament from the perspective of the stages of spiritual perfection. They go further than a few historical events, and look at how the Prophets and the righteous experience purification, illumination and glorification.
As has been explained in other chapters, there are certainly differences between the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament the unincarnate Word appears, whereas in the New Testament the incarnate Word is seen, and through Christ man transcends death. But there is no difference with regard to the means of becoming perfect and the degree of perfection.
“These stages – purification, illumination and glorification – obviously exist in the Old Testament as well. If you ever get involved with patristic theology, not just from hearsay, but by getting to grips with the actual writings of the Fathers, you will see these things again and again in the Fathers of the Church. It is not by chance that when St Gregory of Nyssa, for example, wanted to write about man’s perfection, he wrote his book, The Life of Moses. As an example of the perfection to which man can attain, St Gregory of Nyssa puts forward the life of Moses, although Moses is in the Old Testament.
In Greece today there is a prejudice that comes from the Protestants, especially the Lutherans, that there is a separation. The Old Testament is the book of the Law and the New Testament is the book of divine grace. In the Old Testament the Hebrews have the Law, and we in the New Testament have divine grace. In the Old Testament there is sin, the ancestral sin, all the sins, whereas everything good is in the New Testament. In patristic theology, however, there is no division between the Old and New Testaments. The division is between the stages of perfection.
The Law applies in the Old Testament, but also in the New Testament. The Law is not only in the Old Testament. The Law is in the New Testament as well. Why? Because it is Our tutor to bring us to Christ’. The Apostle Paul says it clearly: ‘The law was our tutor to bring us to Christ’ (Gal. 3:24). But when St Paul says Our tutor to bring us to Christ’ he does not mean, as the Lutherans and others suppose, that the Old Testament Law is a tutor to lead us to the New Testament. No. The Law leads us to the state of purification.
When someone is in the state of purification, the Law, that is to say, the created Law, becomes his tutor until he reaches the state of illumination. Once he reaches illumination or theoria, the tutor – the Law – has led him to Christ, and Christ takes the place of the Law in his life. The Law is also inscribed in his heart. It is no longer ‘on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart’ (2 Cor. 3:3). The Law is written in his heart.
This does not happen only in the New Testament but in the Old Testament as well. When the New Testament speaks of the Prophets becoming perfect, it does not deprive them of perfection. The Prophets attained perfection. That is why St Gregory Nyssa automatically thought of Moses, in order to explain how Moses reached the highest perfection. In fact, St Gregory of Nyssa proves that Moses reached the love that ‘does not seek its own’ (1 Cor. 13:5).
There is no higher perfection than to love within taking account of self, as one has also reached glorification. This is essential in order to arrive at this state. The method and means of attaining perfection are not only to be found in the New Testament, but also in the Old Testament. Consequently the grace of perfection is in both Testaments.
We continually face the problem that there are many would-be pious people, who either pretend to be pious, or speak about piety or morals and categorise people as good and bad. In the Orthodox tradition, humankind is not divided into good and bad, moral and immoral people. There is no such thing in the Orthodox Church. In the Orthodox Church there are stages of perfection, not moral and immoral, good and bad categories.”
“Take any of the services and you will see that all the interest revolves round three factors: purification, illumination and glorification. These are the foundations. Apart from purification, illumination and glorification there is nothing else. That is to say, there is no theology.
There may be various interesting points, or someone may be interested in what Nebuchadnezzar or Samson or David did and take all these things as history. These are all historical records and may occupy a historian who can use them as historical sources. However, although it is possible for these figures to be studied independently of the science of Orthodox theology, they are using these texts for a purpose for which they were not intended.
It is not the purpose of the texts simply to provide historical or philological information or to narrate the history of the kings, and so on. Their aim is to relate the progress of a people that had devoted itself to doing the will of God. And they learned the will of God from men called Patriarchs or Prophets, who were their leaders.
Anyone who reads the Old Testament carefully to see who these Patriarchs and Prophets were will see something strange. In the lives of the saints and in the New Testament, a Patriarch or Prophet is someone who has reached glorification – the Fathers call divine vision theosis-glorification. He has passed through purification and arrived at illumination.
When the Fathers of the Church read the Old Testament, they read it as if already in the Old Testament there was purification and illumination, constant remembrance of God and noetic prayer, and they interpret the Psalms accordingly. The Psalms are interpreted as sacred songs expressing this experience of purification, illumination and glorification.”
“If someone reads, for instance, the Pentateuch or Deuteronomy, carefully, all the provisions concerning the Law, he will see that the Law in the Old Testament had an ascetic character. It has no connection at all with the theories of Plato or Aristotle about the law. Its aim is purely ascetic. The purpose of these things is to bring about the purification of the faithful. In fact the subject of purification is much emphasised in the Old Testament.
The aim of the purification rituals and the whole ascetic practice with regard to purification is to prepare man to remember God day and night, even when asleep, that he may have remembrance of God, constant remembrance of God. This means illumination of the nous, which already existed in the Old Testament.
It is strange that, when the Fathers of the Church speak about perfection and want to describe man’s journey towards purification, they take the example of Moses, which is why we have The Life of Moses by St Gregory of Nyssa. If you read St Gregory of Nyssa’s The Life of Moses you will see that, as far as the author is concerned, Moses passed through all the stages of perfection and purification, and reached illumination and glorification. Why? Because according to the Fathers, glorification means seeing God.
To experience the Holy Trinity is also a revelation, but in addition it perfects the human being. Someone who reaches glorification reaches perfection as well. The two are interlinked and inseparable. There can be no glorification without perfection. Nor can anyone reach perfection without attaining to glorification. These things can never be separated in the Orthodox Church.
Anyone who sits down and writes about Christian perfection without writing about illumination of the nous or knowing anything about divine vision, is writing about a perfection that is neither Orthodox nor scriptural. Holy Scripture regards divine vision, which is the highest degree of man’s purification and illumination, as perfection. For the Fathers of the Church the Old Testament itself contains the stages of perfection: purification, illumination and glorification. The experience of glorification is the foundation of the Old Testament. That is why the Fathers emphasise that the Prophets reached these stages.
We repeat that, when the Fathers want to describe the stages of perfection, they use Moses as an example. Moses, of course, lived before the incarnation. This means that not only does man’s perfection exist in the Old Testament, but there is also reconciliation, because the Old Testament Prophets are friends of God. To be a friend of God one must participate in reconciliation with God.
According to the Fathers of the Church, God is always man’s friend. God always loves man and is always a friend. God has no enmity towards man. Man is at enmity with God. How does man become hostile to God? He becomes hostile to God because his nous is darkened. When his nous is darkened and inactive it does not function, but even when it does function, it functions demonically. He whose nous is darkened is an enemy of God, in the sense that he does not do God’s will, because he is in darkness.
So God is not at enmity with man, but man is at enmity for God. Even in the Old Testament, however, man can recover from this hostility, practise asceticism and achieve purification of the nous and illumination of the nous. When he reaches illumination of the nous, the reconciliation of man with God is already beginning, so he is already beginning to become a friend of God. And if he reaches glorification he is then God’s friend.”
The shared characteristic of all the Prophets, Apostles and saints is noetic prayer in the heart, which is proof that someone is a temple of the Holy Spirit.
“The Fathers teach that noetic prayer is not only in the New Testament. There is noetic prayer in the Old Testament as well. It is a tradition of the Old Testament and the New Testament and part of the whole Christian tradition.”
“For someone to be a temple of the Holy Spirit is an experience. If one reads the Apostle Paul carefully, he is not using empty words every time he describes the Holy Spirit Who cries out ‘in your hearts… “Abba, Father!”‘ (Gal. 4:6), Who prays in man’s heart. This is the reality. This tradition exists in the Old Testament as well, not only in the New Testament.”
The difference is that the Old Testament bears witness to the experience of the unincarnate Word, but the New Testament to the experience of the incarnate Word.
“Man’s nous becomes a dwelling-place of Christ and, through Christ, of the Holy Trinity. This happens not only in the New Testament but also in the Old Testament, except that there Christ is unincarnate. When Christ dwells within someone, He is present, but without His flesh, of course, because He has not yet taken flesh.”
The aim of Holy Scripture and the whole of life in the Church is to lead man to glorification. There is no other historical or religious aim.
“The sole aim of the language of Holy Scripture, of the Fathers and the Councils is to be used as a spiritual means by which someone can be led, under the guidance of a spiritual father, to the stages of perfection. They have no other aim.”
This is clear from the order in which the books of the Gospels are read in Church worship.
“This distinction is clear in Holy Scripture, so the material contained in the Gospels is classified accordingly. We have the Gospel of Mark, the aim of which is clearly to oppose demonic energies. The whole of Mark’s Gospel is predominantly about purification. The same is true of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. These Gospels were written in this way in the early Church because they were used prior to Baptism. They were catechetical handbooks for the catechumens, who were at the stage of purification. After they had been baptised they used the ‘spiritual Gospel’, the Gospel for those who have the Spirit.
As one received the Holy Spirit at Baptism and Chrismation, afterwards special instruction was given based on the Gospel of John. That is why it is obvious that the Gospel of John spends hardly any time on the devil, whereas the so-called synoptic Gospels are very concerned with demons and driving them out. It is immediately clear from the way the material in the Gospels is organised that there is a marked distinction between the teaching given to those on their way to purification and the teaching for those who have received the Holy Spirit and are in the state of illumination.
In the Church’s calendar we see that the three synoptic Gospels are read and interpreted all the year round, and when we come to Pascha, the Paschal Gospel at the second Resurrection service begins ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’ (John 1:1). And from the second Resurrection service at Pascha up until Pentecost there is daily interpretation of the fourth Gospel. The Gospel of John is mainly apologetic and dogmatic, and aims to illumine those who have passed through the stage of purification as catechumens and have become newly-baptised Christians. It is not by chance that the Gospel of John is read and interpreted from Pascha until Pentecost. That is why the Fathers of the Church call this Gospel the ‘spiritual Gospel’. It is not for everyone, but only for those who have been baptised and so on. What certain people say nowadays about it being influenced by Greek philosophy is – forgive the expression – drivel.”
The Mysteries (Sacraments) of the Church are at the centre of its life. They are the core of the tradition and expression of its inner life. The aim of all the Mysteries, however, is that the Christian should climb up the path of perfection – purification, illumination and glorification. We see the same thing in the whole liturgical tradition.
“The basis of Orthodoxy is the same as the methodology used in the positive sciences, and this fact needs to be properly evaluated and accurately identified. It should become a focus of interest for Orthodox Christians, as it deserves to be.
Why do we have our liturgical tradition? The liturgical tradition is an expression of this tradition; it expresses nothing other than purification, illumination and glorification. Take all the services: Vespers, Matins, the Divine Liturgy, the services of Baptism and Chrismation, the service for blessing the Chrism performed by the bishops on Holy Thursday, monastic profession, marriage – all are about purification, illumination and glorification.”
This method of being perfected is not something external, something imposed. It is man’s natural path because it aims to restore the function of the nous, an organ that everyone possesses. This is not something psychological, emotional or even religious.
“There is an instrument that is used in Orthodox theology and constitutes an indispensable element of it. Without it Orthodox theology cannot exist. It is an instrument called the noetic faculty. Although it is an instrument, it is not included in science. It is the only instrument needed for divine vision.
We construct telescopes, microscopes, balances and all the instruments used in other sciences, but in Orthodox theology we do not construct any instruments. We have the instrument ready-made. It is part of the human personality and we do not make it. All we do is put it to work. We undertake purification; we provoke illumination and glorification. We only provoke them, we do not bring about either illumination or glorification. God brings about illumination and glorification. Illumination and glorification are gifts of God. Purification, however, is the work of man with God’s help.
When all is said and done, for the nous to be purified (to expel thoughts) it is not even necessary to be a Christian. The Hindu monk does the same. It is an exercise that he does. One does not need to be a Christian to perform this exercise. However, the purification of the nous (driving away thoughts) is one thing and purification of the passions is something else. It is purification not only of the nous but of the passions that brings divine grace.”
There are occasions when this entire patristic tradition of purification, illumination and glorification is altered, spoilt and secularised.
“When the patristic perception of purification, illumination and glorification disappeared – although our services are full of purification and illumination – look at any service – we pray continuously for purification, illumination and glorification. It is in all the troparia. The services of Baptism and Chrismation, our paraklises (Great and Small Canons), Compline, the troparia and the Psalms are full of this teaching.
But when the patristic interpretation of these things was dismissed, purification was reduced to abstention from sins, usually either sexual sins or moralistic ones, such as lies, stealing and so on. It ended up being merely ethical teaching that did not cure man’s personality. So instead of being concerned with treating the core of his personality, as a psychiatrist would be, man was concerned about external acts and had a very hypocritical disposition. He pretended that he had no temptations, whereas in fact he had. And he thought that he could surmount them, but afterwards he saw that he couldn’t. So he thought that no one else had temptations, and felt guilty. Young people are shocked at the temptations they have.
In the patristic tradition, by contrast, these problems are solved by noetic prayer. Teaching someone how he should behave is not the same as teaching him how to find strength to behave in this way. As he cannot manage to do it, he pretends that he has managed. These are very funny things. There is a lot of hypocrisy, particularly among Christians, and the more pious they are, the more hypocritical they are these days. That’s how things stand. There’s nothing we can do about it.”
St Maximos the Confessor, who continually speaks about purification, illumination and glorification in his works, makes another distinction and speaks of praxis and theoria. This is not a different division. Careful study of his teaching shows that by ‘praxis’ he means purification, which is why he speaks of practical philosophy or praxis; and by ‘theoria’ he means illumination or natural theoria and also glorification or theology. He teaches that theoria begins with illumination of the nous or noetic prayer and then, when someone shares in the illuminating grace of God, by God’s good pleasure, at moments when he least expects it, he also arrives at the vision of God. When theoria comes to an end, the one who has beheld God returns to illumination of the nous, that is to say, noetic prayer. Thus praxis is the basis of theoria. All the writings of the Fathers, including those of St Basil the Great and St Gregory the Theologian, speak about praxis (purification) and theoria (illumination-glorification).
Certainly, in the Middle Ages in the West, the terms ‘praxis’ and ‘theoria’ were differently interpreted. By ‘praxis’ they meant missionary work and by ‘theoria’ they meant speculation on theological matters.
In the patristic tradition, however, praxis is man’s repentance through the purification of his heart, and theoria is the enlightenment or illumination of the nous and the vision of the uncreated Light through man’s glorification.
“In the Western type of monasticism a distinction is made between the active life of praxis and the contemplative life of theoria. The active life is when one dedicates oneself to missionary work and goes to Africa or China, for instance, or enters the administration of the Church, by becoming a bishop or a parish priest or joins a religious order. This is the active life. All the Popes of Rome come from those living the active life. Then there are some, very few, in the Frankish Church who are called contemplatives and spend their time in prayer and theoria – ‘contemplation’ as they say in the West. Contemplation is a sort of spiritual speculation which is completely foreign to the Orthodox tradition. In the Orthodox tradition we have both praxis and theoria.”
The stage of purification or praxis is the stage of repentance, and theoria starts with illumination. From the illumination of the nous theology also begins to develop. Someone at the stage of illumination is said to ‘theologise’, to talk about God, but when he ascends to glorification-theoria he is a real theologian.
“The one who theologises is in the state of illumination and talks about God on the basis of the recorded experience of the glorified, in other words, the Old and New Testament and the writings of the Fathers of the Church. When he reaches the state of illumination he uses the liturgical prayers, the hymns and supplications he hears in church. The Holy Spirit prays within someone in a state of illumination with prayers and supplications from the liturgical tradition. Once someone is in this state of illumination he theologises. There is a basic difference between those who have reached glorification, who are true theologians, and those who theologise, who are in the state of illumination, even if they too have a small taste of the experience of glorification. The theologian speaks about God, but so do those who theologise.
The fact that those who theologise also speak about God does not mean that they are theologians. They will become theologians in the full sense when they reach the state of glorification and behold Christ in glory. Then all truth will be revealed to them, as far as human beings can know it in this life. Christ is the Truth in Person. Until such time as someone is glorified he simply theologises and is a student of theology. The glorified are graduates of this theology. Today, of course, all those who have taken a degree from the theological school of a university are theology graduates. They call themselves theologians, but they have no connection at all with the real theologians of the patristic tradition.
As regards who is really a theologian, if one uses the criteria of the Apostle Paul and the Fathers of the Church, such as St Symeon the New Theologian, one sees that modern Orthodox theology today, which is influenced by Russian theology, is not patristic theology but a distortion of patristic theology. It was written by people who did not possess the spiritual prerequisites mentioned above.”
Finally, the real purpose of theology is to enable man to pass from purification to illumination and glorification.
“That is the aim of theology, say the Fathers. Theology has only one aim: purification, illumination and glorification. Theology has no other purpose. Do you understand? Theology has no aim other than purification, illumination and glorification.”
Without these degrees of perfection Orthodoxy does not exist.
“What is Orthodoxy without purification, illumination and glorification? Can anyone tell me? I don’t know if you can draw this conclusion, because the Church did not reach this conclusion. Why not? Because there were monasteries. Purification, illumination and glorification, as they used to take place in the traditional way, gradually became the task of monasticism. The bishop, so to speak, would sit and act as an administrator and would say Ί have five monasteries. If you want to lead that sort of life, go to a monastery. We are engaged in administration.’
Unfortunately this tradition changed, and it is mainly on this point that the secularisation of theology becomes obvious.
“Purification became release from moral failings, from an ethical standpoint. It seems that the Greek mentality had a greater problem with sex than with anything else. The problem of sex became an obsession for the modern Greeks. So purification for the pious means not having sexual temptations.
Illumination became Sunday School: learning Holy Scripture, Church history, the lives of a few saints; in other words, filling the rational faculty. Although purification is illumination of man’s nous, they tried to illuminate his reason. Instead of the nous being illuminated, the rational faculty is illuminated nowadays.”
It must be understood that no one can live life in the Church without purification, illumination and glorification.
“Without purification, illumination and glorification there is no salvation. This is salvation: purification and illumination.”
The saints know from experience that the stages of spiritual perfection flow into one another.
“One ought also to pay attention to the fact that, for the Fathers, the stages are not separated from one other on the scale of perfection, and there is no distinction between imperfect and perfect. Instead there is a rising scale of perfection without end. Thus purification is also a state of perfection, together with enlightenment and theoria. Even within theoria there is no end to the ascent to higher levels of perfection. This is how it is, not only for man, but also for the angels. This point clearly indicates that the Fathers’ teachings with regard to perfection have nothing to do with the ancient Greek philosophers or any other philosophy.”
There is a continuous ascent in divine vision, by the uncreated grace of God. A reduction in divine grace has consequences for this progress.
“It ought also to be emphasised that the existence of stages of theoria does not mean that every stage lower than a higher one is a sort of imperfection, or even a relative imperfection. Perfection is the same, as the uncreated glory is indivisibly divided; it is the same between and within created participants. Increasing perfection without end is an increase in receptiveness to more and more grace for ever.
As the love of those who are glorified ceased to be possessive at the lower end of theoria, increasing satisfaction of further unsatisfied desires is not a problem. Instead there is the reality of eternal creative expansion of unselfish love.”
This means that there is no end to love, but it will be continually perfected for ever.
The following sections will analyse purification, illumination and glorification in broader terms.
ii. Definition of Purification
Our tradition not only speaks about purification but defines its meaning and distinguishes it from any other type of purification, religious, social or otherwise. We shall look at this is the following analyses.
First of all, we ought to examine what exactly purification is. People usually talk about cleaning up society or the state. Certainly social conditions of life should be improved. Purification, however, according to the Orthodox tradition, is internal.
“Everyone here in Greece speaks about purification, in the sense that we ought to purge the state mechanism of opponents. When those on the political Right speak of purification, they mean that those on the Left should go; and when those on the Left speak of purging the political structure, they mean that those on the Right should go. So here in Greece purification means clearing out our opponents
In this sense, however, our opponents are not the devil or thoughts (logismoi) that have no place in the noetic faculty. Purification in this context is achieved through legislation and police supervision of other people. This is purification as seen in totalitarian regimes. Real purification, however, does not come about through laws or surveillance of one individual or another. Purification is inner purification.”
At the beginning purification has a moral orientation.
“Purification is essentially the asceticism that one practises by avoiding doing bad things and doing good things. It begins with ethics; there is a moral orientation in the beginning. We learn to fast, to do everything necessary to make progress in the initial stages.”
As every sin and passion is the result of demonic energy and our own will, purification is achieved by getting rid of the devil’s energies from the soul.
In the Gospels we see that Christ drove out demons to free people who were in the power of the devil. This is the interpretative approach we should use when looking at cures of those possessed by demons.
Of course, the Fathers of the Church specifically define purification as the release of the heart and the nous from the domination of thoughts (logismoi) and passions. So as to understand exactly what the holy Fathers mean when they speak about purification, it should be emphasised, as mentioned in other sections, that the human soul has two faculties: the noetic faculty and the rational faculty. Through the noetic faculty (nous) man comes into contact with God, and through the rational faculty he knows the world around him. In their natural state, the noetic faculty is located in the heart and has remembrance of God, and the rational faculty is in the brain and forms thoughts. When these faculties are confused and the thoughts of the mind take possession of the nous and go down into the heart – into the passible part of the soul, where anger and desire are – it creates impurity of the nous and heart. Thus purification in the Orthodox tradition is understood as the liberation of the noetic faculty (nous) from thoughts, good ones as well as bad.
“What is purification? Purification means that all thoughts leave the nous and only one remains. This thought is the remembrance of God, the impression on man’s heart of the remembrance of God, which now works twenty-four hours a day.”
In its fallen state the nous is dominated by many thoughts. It is out of order and it needs to be activated.
“We put into action something that is inactive: the nous. Purification takes place. We clean the nous thoroughly. We throw out of the nous all concepts and thoughts. We make it a nous with a single thought. It has one thought instead of many: single-thought prayer begins. This is the cure of the nous and the return of the memory. The nous recovers the memory it had lost.”
Thus someone begins with external things, by avoiding sin, but subsequently progresses to his inner world.
“We see in the Fathers that there is purification and also illumination. We have stressed that purification is not purification solely in the moral sense, but in the moral sense that has ascetic significance. Thus purification for the Fathers is an ascetic state which man reaches after a struggle, not simply to avoid sin – because avoiding sin is an integral part of asceticism – but to purify the heart.
Purification of the heart does not only mean avoiding sin. Purification of the heart means that thoughts leave the heart and go to the rational faculty. All thoughts and the way someone thinks are restricted to the rational faculty, so that the heart is left free of thoughts. It is left with one thought, prayer alone. This is extremely important. Once it is acquired, this is called prayer of the heart or single-thought prayer. It is one thought, the prayer itself, which constitutes constant remembrance of God. This is purification of the heart according to the Fathers. It is not simply avoidance of sin. Here in Greece a puritanical conception of the state of purity prevails.”
A basic teaching of the Fathers is that all thoughts, good and bad, must be emptied out of the nous. Thoughts, of course, even thoughts of evil, should exist in the rational faculty, because otherwise man cannot live in his environment. So when the Fathers say that we should not have thoughts, they do not mean that we should expel thoughts from the rational faculty, the mind, but from the nous that acts in the heart.
“The nous must be purified of all preconceptions. But what do the Fathers mean? They mean both moral and immoral preconceptions. This is the strange thing, that one has to reject all thoughts.”
Some people who read patristic writings and have not perceived the difference between the nous and the mind, think that all evil thoughts have to depart from the rational faculty, leaving only good thoughts there. However, this is not a correct interpretation, nor is it feasible.
“Someone who does this eventually becomes puritanical, or even goes mad. This is not the way to do these things. The aim is not to reject evil thoughts, because if someone does not know what evil thoughts are, how can he know how to avoid them? How will he reject evil thoughts? It’s impossible.
It’s as though you don’t think of bad things, only good ones. But how are you going to be a spiritual father and direct people if you do not have, so to speak, bad things in your mind, that is to say, in your rational faculty. You have to know what bad things are. If you do not have evil in your head and the devil comes along, you will immediately become his victim, because you will not know how to discern any more. These things are not feasible.
The Fathers do not say that thoughts must be expelled from the rational faculty, because you cannot expel thoughts from the rational faculty. That is out of the question, because the purpose of the rational faculty is to think. When we say ‘thought’, ‘logismos’, we mean the content of man’s rational faculty (logiki). Thoughts are not expelled from the rational faculty but from the nous. The nous must be purified of thoughts and completely emptied. It must get rid not only of bad thoughts but of good ones as well, and be completely empty. Only then, when the rational faculty is occupied with the basics of noetic prayer, can prayer move from the rational faculty to the nous, once the separation has been made. This is what the Fathers mean when they talk about purification.”
In the patristic tradition purification from thoughts clearly takes place in the nous, so that it can act in the heart with only one word — the single-thought prayer.
“When the Fathers of the Church speak about purification of the nous, they mean that the nous should be emptied of good thoughts as well as bad ones. When the nous is empty and the passions have been defeated, the Holy Spirit comes and visits. Then the Spirit takes it upon Himself to pray in man’s heart.”
“When the nous is empty, all thoughts depart. Do you understand what I am saying? This is not something amateurish, we do it as professionals. It is certain that this happens.
This will happen provided that someone is obedient. When he goes to a spiritual father who has noetic prayer, if the disciple really submits himself, there is no doubt that he will reach this stage. In the end he may go to “Hell”, but he will certainly acquire noetic prayer.”
When someone has a hesychastic spiritual father he can learn noetic prayer. However, if he commits spiritual mistakes, he will lose this gift and will be condemned.
“The Holy Spirit’s prayer within the heart cannot come to someone unless his nous has previously been emptied. It must be completely empty of both good and bad thoughts, of all thoughts. Why are they called thoughts (logismoi)! Because they are actions of the rational faculty (logiki), which have penetrated into the nous but ought not to be there. The rational faculty has thoughts. They must leave the nous and be restricted to the rational faculty.
Only the single-thought prayer should be in the nous: one thought and nothing else. This is the start of man’s therapeutic treatment. The single-thought prayer means the existence of only one thought, which is the remembrance of God: ‘Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me a sinner.’ One thought, the Lord of Glory, is within the nous; that is why it is called the single-thought prayer.”
“When one sees the clear distinction between the nous and the rational faculty, one sees that cultivating the nous by means of purification and illumination is not unconnected with cultivating the rational faculty. The rational faculty is also cultivated in parallel, but it is cultivated in such a way that purification of the reason is not moral purification. It is not a kind of cleansing with an ethical aim. The aim of this purification is ascetic. Why? Because when the nous is purified, evil thoughts leave the memory, but so do good thoughts. It is emptied.”
The important thing is that the nous is the centre of the five senses. When the nous is distracted by the creation it radiates out to the five senses and is contaminated. When it is purified of preconceptions and various thoughts, however, all the senses become one and the unified concentration of the nous comes about. This is the purification of the nous.
“When we consider these issues today we think that purification means that we stop sinning. We stop stealing if we are thieves. We stop doing certain other things that we do: if we used to tell lies, we do not tell lies any more. We have limited the meaning of purification to purification from sinful acts. Sin means sinful acts, and purification means that someone stops doing sinful acts, doesn’t it? This is the prevailing view.
But if you look at the Fathers, purification is not only this. This is only a part of asceticism. The real meaning of purification is that the nous itself, which is the centre of all the five senses, is purified. Then in the heart and nous the five senses are one sense, one single sense. There the five senses are united so that they become one. For that reason the energy of the heart ought also to be single. ‘Single’ means that it ought to stop being five senses and become one single sense. So once someone has concentrated his nous in his heart, he can guard his senses because he guards his nous. And provided his nous is engaged only in prayer, as he has reached this single energy of the nous in the heart, the problems of the five senses are also solved. All concepts depart from the heart and nous, everything that originates from the senses and the rational faculty, and this emptying of the nous is also its purification. After that, as the nous has been cleansed by constant remembrance of God and noetic prayer, the only thing that occupies the nous from then on is remembrance of God or unceasing prayer. Nothing else.
When someone arrives at this state he successfully resists temptations. Thus we see the phenomenon that ascetic Fathers who had attained noetic prayer used to go into brothels in order to save prostitutes, many of whom were held prisoner in the brothels. Why? Because they were in this state and were no longer affected by their surroundings; they were no longer susceptible to the influence of their environment. Instead of being influenced by their surroundings they themselves had an effect on their surroundings. Instead of being darkened by the environment they illuminated it. That is why the Fathers call them shining lights. They are shining lights.”
What the Holy Scripture calls the (inner and spiritual) heart is the so-called passible part of the soul, its appetitive and incensive aspects. The pure nous ought to act in this part of the soul and direct it correctly, so that the heart is pure. Once the nous is purified it does not bring images and preconceptions of things perceptible to the senses into the heart (desire and anger). At the same time the nous, uniting all the senses and pronouncing the single-thought prayer, moves the heart to love and zeal towards God.
The Hindus know what emptying the rational faculty means, as they expel all thoughts, but they do not know what purifying the heart means. In particular, they do not know how the grace of God acts in man’s heart and what it means for man to become a temple of the Holy Spirit.
“The Hindus know how to purify the nous. But they do not know how to purify the heart. There is a difference between the heart, which works as a pump, and the nous. The place of the heart must be purified to enable the nous to pray within the heart. The Hindus purify the nous and empty it of all thoughts, good and bad.
When they talk about purification of the nous, they empty it and do meditation, what they call transcendental meditation. They do this many times a day; some people twice, others three times. In this way they find repose and serenity. This has physiological consequences, because it calms the nerves and the individual gets through the day better. For instance, he does not quarrel so much with his wife, and so on. There is no doubt that the Hindus benefit greatly from the exercises that they do. The strange thing is that in the Hindu tradition there is no prayer. Nothing. They simply empty the nous and restrict thoughts to their rational faculty. This is the exercise they do.
Our own monks do exactly the same thing, but they also purify the passions that lurk in the human heart. The heart is purified. And when someone is ready, as he believes in Christ, the tradition and so on, the Holy Spirit comes and prays in him. This does not happen to the Hindus.”
Although the hesychastic tradition of the Fathers seems outwardly to have some similarities with Hindu asceticism, there are nevertheless differences. In the Orthodox tradition purification of the nous is linked with purification of the passions and faith in God.
“Ascetic practices are accompanied by purification of the nous, purification of the passions, faith in Christ and prayer. These all go together.”
Purification of the nous and the heart also existed in the Old Testament. In fact in the fiftieth Psalm one of our petitions to God is: “Create in me a clean heart, Ο God, and renew a right spirit within me.”
“We remember the Old Testament, which speaks a lot about purification of the heart, and we have the fiftieth Psalm, which the priests say while censing. In it we see a whole prayer for the Holy Spirit not to go away, for there to be cleansing.
The Fathers emphasise, on this point, that asking the Holy Spirit not to depart means asking not to lose noetic prayer. The Fathers teach that noetic prayer is not only in the New Testament and the Christian tradition, since the Prophets had noetic prayer.”
For all these reasons the catechumens in the early Church had to learn in practice how the nous becomes pure and how it returns to the heart, so that the nous directs desire and anger to act naturally and supranaturally.
“In the patristic tradition, which is the tradition of Holy Scripture, purification takes place, then one is baptised, receives Baptism in water, one’s sins are remitted, and afterwards there is Chrismation.”
It is clear from all the above that purification of the heart is possible for every human being.
“In Orthodoxy, the very worst human being can be purified and reach illumination.”
The purification of the heart “is a stage of divine knowledge”. Dogma offers effective help in this.
“Dogma is therefore a guide for those going through purification, and it continues to be a guide for those who go on to be illuminated.”
Thus purification of the nous and heart orientate man towards illumination.
“Purification is an orientation, a practical orientation which is very like the moral order that all the politicians and philosophers want. It is comparatively similar to these things. But when someone reaches this level of asceticism, illumination goes ahead as well.”
Unfortunately this whole ascetic life, as experienced in the life of the Church and defined in patristic teaching, has been altered in the West by Western Christianity, and this altered form has been brought to Greece as well.
“For that reason even purification has been reduced nowadays to morality. In Greece today being purified means being moral.”
This alteration and change for the worse also has consequences for the whole liturgical life of the Church.
“Due to the pietism that has come into Greece, purification has been changed from ascetic purification into moral purification. Also, some people said that the Canons say that we should take Holy Communion every Sunday, so we shall take Holy Communion every Sunday. In other words, provided we have been instructed in the faith and are moral, we ought to take Holy Communion every Sunday.“
iii. Definition of Illumination of the Nous
After purification of the heart comes illumination of the nous, which is the second stage of man’s spiritual perfecting. In this section, in addition to what has been written already, we shall identify what is meant by illumination of the nous, and what its consequences are for man.
First of all we should recall that in Paradise before the Fall, man was in the state of illumination of the nous, which is the first stage of theoria of God. This was man’s state in Paradise.
It has already been stressed that the human soul has two parallel faculties: the noetic faculty and the rational faculty. In man’s fallen state these two faculties are regarded as identical, and we speak of darkening of the nous. When these faculties are separated, and when the noetic faculty functions independently of the rational faculty, this is illumination of the nous.
“What is illumination? Essentially, illumination is not illumination of the rational faculty. Of course there is illumination of the rational faculty: one prays, goes to church, fasts. One orientates the rational faculty towards doing the right thing: liberating slaves, helping the poor, going voluntarily to give blood, all that sort of thing.”
“For to the Fathers, illumination is not the enlightenment of the rational faculty but of the heart. Purification of the heart, illumination of the heart, which is not rational enlightenment but spiritual enlightenment — this is illumination. So this is the cure. The illness is darkening of the nous and the cure is illumination of the nous.”
According to the Fathers, illumination takes place in the nous not the rational faculty, because if it happened in the rational faculty one would not be able to do any work. Subsequently the rational faculty is affected as well.
“Man has to be concerned with life’s essentials, with the family, the community, work and so on. So he can only pray with the rational faculty at intervals during the day: Matins, Vespers, Midnight Office…The rest of the day he may try to pray while he works, but if he tries hard, he will not be a good worker, to say the least. They will regard him as lazy, as a shirker. He will not be an efficient worker. So he needs to separate his noetic faculty from his rational faculty. How is this done? By expelling all thoughts from his noetic faculty, from his nous.”
“One does not need to be a philosopher to learn these things. The Fathers used to say that it was not necessary to be educated to reach illumination. Asceticism, not science and learning, leads to illumination of the nous. The Fathers lay great stress on this.”
Illumination of the nous is mainly determined by the state of inner noetic prayer. When the nous is detached from the rational faculty and illumined by God’s grace, it prays without ceasing.
“When there is purification of the nous, illumination of the nous begins. There are the newly-baptised and then there are the illuminated, and the illuminated are presumed to have constant remembrance of God. Their nous has been freed from the rational faculty, the passions and so on, and is occupied only with prayer, noetic prayer, and the remembrance of God.”
“In our tradition illumination is purification of the heart and the replacement of a multitude of thoughts with one single thought, which is a simple prayer.”
“This was what the Apostle Paul meant by the words ‘Pray without ceasing’ (1 Thess. 5:17). This is illumination proper. And this is what St Paul describes as illumination. In the early Church this is illumination.”
“The knowledge that man gains through illumination is not philosophical knowledge but prayer. It is not rational knowledge but knowledge of prayer, because rational knowledge stays in the rational faculty.”
“Illumination is an unceasing state. It lasts twenty-four hours a day and even during sleep.”
“All prayers are words and concepts, so words and concepts are used in the experience of illumination by the Holy Spirit Himself. He takes the very words with which we pray, the Psalms and so on. The Spirit takes those same words and concepts and prays in us with our own words.”
The release of the nous from the rational faculty is called freedom from captivity.
“The ending of this captivity comes about through the restoration of the unceasing remembrance of God to the summit of the soul’s energies, called the nous, which is transformed from being a captive power in the grip of passions.”
Illumination of the nous is not a technical method for separating the noetic faculty from the rational faculty. It is a state of visitation by the Holy Spirit. It comes about through the energy of the Holy Spirit.
“According to the Fathers of the Church, someone who receives this visitation of the Holy Spirit acquires illumination of the nous. The Holy Spirit enters man’s heart, regardless of the rational faculty. The Holy Spirit gives us prayer and we acquire noetic prayer, noetic worship. We give God rational worship.”
The absence of the Holy Spirit is the darkening of the nous.
“What is meant by a darkened nous? It does not have the Holy Spirit praying in the heart.”
Illumination of the nous is the first stage of theoria. From it man ascends to the vision of the glory of God.
“Generally speaking, these experiences of God are divided into the stage of illumination and the stage of glorification. The stage of glorification is not a permanent state in this life. It lasts as long as someone attains to glorification and stays in that state, and afterwards he returns to illumination. The stable spiritual state is the state of illumination.”
The experience of the illumination of the nous is lived through noetic prayer. If someone “has illumination, he has noetic prayer”.
“We have those who are inspired by God, those who are in the state of illumination, who have noetic prayer, the prayer of the Holy Spirit in their heart. Why are they divinely inspired? Because the Holy Spirit Himself prays within them. This prayer is not their own: it is the Holy Spirit praying in them. This is divine inspiration. In the Church’s vocabulary, these two things together are called theoria.”
“According to the Fathers of the Church, illumination consists of words and concepts, but in the form of prayer. In the state of illumination there are words and concepts within the prayers. When someone has the prayer associated with the state of illumination, that is to say, noetic prayer in the heart, this prayer illumines his nous. He now sees through faith, by the testimony of the Holy Spirit, things within his heart that he did not see before. He sees them through faith and understands words and concepts spiritually, not philosophically.
He reads Holy Scripture. He understands the words and concepts, not from the point of view of philosophical method but from the point of view of methodology. Why? Because the words and concepts are regarded as medicines for man. Someone has medicines when he is ill, but when he recovers his health he does away with the medicines, doesn’t he? We don’t give healthy people medicines.
We give them to those who are ill, because they are ill. And because man is sick, he has the medicine of illumination. This illumination is made up of words and concepts in the form of prayer, unceasing prayer in the heart.
Well, this state of illumination is man’s contact with God. It is the first form of communion with God, and man becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit. Why? Because the Holy Spirit prays in his heart.
If you take St Paul’s Epistles and read them from this standpoint, you will gradually realise that this is reality according to the Apostle Paul. When he talks about speaking in tongues this is what he means. When he says I will pray with the understanding’ (1 Cor. 14:15) he means that he will pray with the rational faculty, because there is rational prayer as well, but he will also pray with the spirit, with the nous. He prays without ceasing in his heart, twenty-four hours a day, whereas one can only pray now and again with the rational faculty, because the rest of the time the rational faculty is busy with everyday tasks.”
Whereas noetic prayer in adults acts with words that they know, in small children it acts without words. The nous prays with the words provided by the rational faculty. When, however, the rational faculty in small children does not have complete words, the nous prays in the way in which the child’s unformed rational faculty expresses itself.
“The form of the words is irrelevant; it is sufficient that they come from the Psalms, from prayers of the Church and so on. The Holy Spirit prays with the same words as you say with your rational faculty. As the small child is not yet aware of words, when illumination happens to a child, it happens without words. There is no need for words, the remembrance simply exists. Small children have this remembrance. So when you take a small child and teach it to believe rationally as well, it can be a saint. At two or three years’ old you can also teach it noetic prayer.”
It is clear that noetic prayer in the heart is not something emotional. It is a real experience.
“Prayer in the heart is an empirical phenomenon, because when someone has prayer in his heart, he hears it. He is a witness that he has this experience. It is not a fantasy. Illumination is an experience; glorification is an experience.
Then we have another phenomenon, another aspect of the subject. This is the religious side of the matter. Man has a faculty that we call the noetic faculty; it is not the rational faculty. The rational faculty is centred on the neurological system. The noetic faculty is centred on the heart. When the noetic faculty is separated from the rational faculty and prays and is restricted in the place of the heart, and when the heart acts as the priest and the chanter twenty-four hours a day, then the man is a temple of the Holy Spirit, on account of this experience.”
“Thoughts must go and the individual must be placed under the supervision of a spiritual father who can guide him, so that he really becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit and reaches the stage of having noetic prayer in his heart – that is how he will become a temple of the Holy Spirit. This is illumination proper according to the Fathers of the Church. Illumination is prayer, the state of prayer.
When one is in this state, the prayer may or may not be complete. In the early Church there was not only the prayer ‘Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me a sinner’. In the West noetic prayer was prayed with Psalms from the Old Testament. This is clear from the Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, when he says, ‘chanting and making melody in your heart to the Lord’ (Eph. 5:19). The words ‘chanting and making melody’ do not refer to the modern chanting that is done in Church. In the early Church the chanter chanted Psalms. When it says ‘chanting and making melody’, nowadays we would say ‘making melody’ not ‘chanting’ as well, as they mean the same thing. Then, however, there was a difference between the two terms. The Greek word ‘psallontes’, translated as ‘making melody’, meant chanting Psalms.”
“When someone is restored to this state he is illuminated. He becomes a natural human being and has communion with God. He is the temple of God.”
Some people confuse rational and noetic prayer. Prayer with the prayer-rope is not noetic prayer.
“I have heard nuns saying, ‘Now I shall pray noetic prayer’. They sit down, take the prayer-rope and think that is noetic prayer. If they use the prayer-rope they have noetic prayer. They do not understand that the prayer ought to be in the heart, not only in the prayer-rope and the brain. They do not know the difference between rational and noetic worship. They are not the same thing. They are different.”
In the beginning one starts by repeating the prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me’ with the mouth and the rational faculty, and at some point the prayer enters the heart.
“Because the beginner cannot manage this, as he has not yet distinguished between the nous and the rational faculty, he sits and prays as much as he can with the rational faculty, under the guidance of his spiritual father. He prays continually until the day when, instead of praying this prayer with his rational faculty, he begins to pray it with his nous in his heart.”
The amazing thing is that, when the nous enters the heart and prays, the rational faculty is outside observing the movement of the nous.
“What the Fathers say is clearly observable: when the nous prays and when it enters and leaves the heart, the innate reason, that is to say, the rational faculty, sits and watches it. Someone who practises asceticism reaches the point where his rational faculty can see the nous entering and leaving the heart, because he is now in control. Whenever he wants, he concentrates, takes his nous and puts it into his heart, with his rational faculty watching.
When the nous itself prays without ceasing, this happens biologically, physiologically, here in the region of the heart. It takes place within the heart; this thing literally happens in man’s heart, and man’s innate reason actually sits and enjoys it. The reason may not be praying and only the heart may pray. When someone goes to church his heart prays and his reason prays as well, each more or less independently of the other. The reason sits and watches the heart and the nous, and listens.
These things are to be found scattered here and there in the Fathers of the Church and you will find them marvellously described in the book The Way of a Pilgrim. Wherever that pilgrim went he was praying in his heart. He carried prayer about with him in his heart. It’s an amazing phenomenon.”
The state of illumination of the nous, which is expressed through unceasing inner noetic prayer, is not an abstract state. It is can be verified and checked by the spiritual father, and confirmed by those who have this same experience.
“Participation in the Church in the state of illumination is an experience that can be ascertained. This state can be diagnosed. A spiritual father knows that someone is in this state.”
The spiritual father who has experience of noetic prayer helps his spiritual children to acquire noetic prayer.
“How does a Christian reach illumination when he does not have a spiritual father? It is the spiritual father, the catechist, who guides him to illumination.”
“Afterwards we have illumination of the heart, which is this state of prayer. Thus in the patristic tradition illumination is a specific spiritual state, and it should be verified whether there is prayer or not. Only the spiritual father can verify this.
However, psychologists and psychiatrists are also obliged to study this issue, because it is a state of the soul (psyche) that has particular consequences. There is not only prayer, but it also has certain results.”
Those who have spiritual experience of the illumination of the nous understand when reading various texts whether or not the writer has experience of this state.
“Some monks say that, when they read something by a Father of the Church, they know that the Father of the Church writes in different states. He is in a particular state every time he writes, and they can detect when he is writing in the state of glorification and when he is writing in the state of illumination. Because the state of glorification is not permanent. It lasts for a short while, perhaps a few days; it may be continuous vision; it may be enlightenment and not vision, and afterwards it goes back to being illumination. And once more there is prayer. When someone is in the state of glorification he does not pray: prayer is abolished. Well, they say that when someone who has been through these states reads an author, he knows the state he was in when he was writing.
He can understand whether he was in the state of illumination and never reached glorification, or whether he was never in a state of illumination – he understands these things. That is why we cannot conceal ourselves from spiritual fathers.”
Illumination of the nous is not an abstract, emotional, psychological state. It is inspired by the Holy Spirit and is experienced as unceasing prayer that has consequences for man’s whole psychosomatic organism. It has repercussions for his whole being. We shall identify some of these.
Noetic prayer is also called resurrection of the nous, because the darkened nous is illumined and activated. This is very clearly distinguishable from similar techniques and states in Eastern religions.
“Ecstasy or resurrection of the nous in the state of enlightenment with unceasing prayer or remembrance of God, as well as in the state of theoria, has nothing to do with the ecstasies of the mystical philosophers and religions that seek to liberate the soul from the body and its passions.
Within the Orthodox Christian states of illumination and theoria, the mind, the memory and the natural energies of the soul and body not only do not cease to function, but they are also purified, illumined and glorified. The whole human being participates in purification, illumination and union, theoria, glorification or theosis. These last four terms designate the same revelatory and spiritual reality.”
The illuminated human being is not dependent on the world or attached to material possessions.
“Poverty is an indispensable requirement for reaching illumination. Without being free of possessions one cannot reach illumination. It is impossible.”
He acquires freedom from passions and his surroundings.
“Noetic prayer is the resurrection of the nous, the liberation of the nous from the rational faculty, the passions, the body and its surroundings. The nous exists for the purpose of being in contact with God alone. The rational faculty exists for the purpose of enabling man to adapt to his surroundings, to created things, so that he can live in harmony with his environment.”
The environment has no effect at all on someone in the state of illumination.
“Noetic prayer was not just for tortures in times of persecution. Through their asceticism the monks also had noetic prayer in this way, and the elements of nature were tamed. The elements of nature did not have the same effect on them as they have on everyone else.”
Even if the illuminated man’s rational faculty is occupied with the cares of everyday life, his nous still prays without ceasing.
“St Basil the Great writes that the one who suffers no interruption in the constant remembrance of God due to everyday concerns is a temple of the God. This is what we mean when we sing ‘Let us lay aside all earthly cares’. How are these teachings of St Basil the Great understood within the tradition? This is noetic prayer. One should acquire illumination of the nous so that, when one is occupied with everyday cares, these earthly concerns do not interrupt the continuous remembrance of God. Why? Because the rational faculty is busy with earthly cares while the nous is unceasingly occupied with the remembrance of God. These things go on simultaneously: they take place at the same time, not one after the other.”
He who has communion with God has the Holy Spirit within him and does not feel loneliness, that he is on his own.
“That is why a monk is never on his own, because he has the Spirit praying within him and He keeps him company in solitude, in the desert. Apart from that, when necessary, when He judges it to be for his good, God reveals Himself to him.”
The illuminated human being is also freed from the law, because in this state the real law, the Holy Spirit, has entered his being. When there are many people who are illumined and have the Holy Spirit, they solve social problems and form a perfect community, as we see in the Acts of the Apostles.
“In this community of the parish or the monastery, where all have reached at least the state of illumination, first and foremost the law has been abolished. The law is no longer required among those in the state of illumination, because the uncreated law of God, which is the energy of the Holy Spirit, acts within them.
The law for them is Christ Himself in the Spirit, Who dwells within their heart and prays, and they are guided by God Himself. These people have no need of the law and do not require prisons and courts of justice. For that reason the bishop is the judge for the parish. We have a separate court for the needs of Christians.
This is why Christians were not allowed in earlier times to resort to secular courts. It was considered that Christians who have reached illumination have no need of secular courts. Why? Because they have now gone beyond the laws of society, even the laws of the Old Testament, depending on their spiritual state. A parish or a monastery with such Christians is the ideal community. This is the ideal society.”
Someone who is in the state of illumination of the nous is completely transformed.
“This also has a therapeutic aspect. Someone who does not reach illumination is self-centred. He is dominated by the instinct of self-preservation and becomes acquisitive. He wants to become rich, to acquire possessions, to do things, to find security, and he has all sorts of strange hostile attitudes towards his fellow human beings, to the point of committing murder, stealing and telling lies.
These states are not cured simply by faith in the Gospel. There are many people who believe in the Gospel. Priests sit all day long telling us to love one another, and no one tells us how to love. Love ‘does not seek its own’ (1 Cor. 13:5). How can someone acquire this love? How is it done?
Modern psychologists and psychiatrists have some idea, as they have to intervene with certain therapies for man’s personality to cure abnormal states and so on, to make him more normal. They themselves define what ‘more normal’ means, what man’s normal state is from the point of view of society and relationships with other people.”
“When this illumination of the nous and mind begins and becomes an integrated and stable state, selfishness, egoism and self-centredness are gradually replaced by love which ‘does not seek its own’ (1 Cor. 13:5).
When someone reaches this stage, he has reached theoria and is on the way up to glorification. By the will of God and His grace, he may acquire ecstasy of the nous. Then the uninterrupted remembrance of God is replaced, beyond all expectation, by glorification, that he may know the vision of God, at first through a glimmer of the radiance of Christ’s glory, later through the vision of the divine glory, and finally, either when the body dies or beyond the grave, through continuous visions or vision of the divine glory, which radiates out from the human nature of Christ to him and the saints.”
The illuminated human being acquires unselfishness. Selfish love changes into unselfish love and he is no longer a slave of self-love.
“Prayer is highly significant in the cultivation of the human personality. This not only has eschatological significance for the Day of Judgment, when we shall see God as Light and not as fire, in order to avoid Hell and participate in Paradise. This is not just a matter of eschatological importance. It also has certain social consequences. The relationships of someone who has this prayer with his fellow human beings are different from other people’s relationships. First and foremost he is not in the grip of selfishness. He has been overwhelmed by unselfishness.
This spiritual method produces unselfish human beings, so it has social consequences for treating the human personality. Today psychiatrists and psychologists have reached a conclusion. They have been searching for many years to discover the normal human being, to find out what a normal human being is. Many books have been written and research studies undertaken, and the bottom line is that they realise that everyone is more or less ill, and no one can be described as a normal human being.”
“The servant of sin is ill because his personality is suffering on account of the fact that his noetic faculty is not functioning or functions vestigially. The perfection of love comes about through the appearance of Christ ‘in glory’ to the one who is spiritually vigilant. He reaches glorification, love comes and he is perfected. Such people are the saints of the Church. They are not people who did moral deeds. They are people who have been cured in the core of their personality.”
It is not enough for someone to do good works. He must have selfless love.
“This is how the Fathers interpret the withered fig tree that was full of leaves but had no fruit. The leaves are man’s good works. Thus someone who has good works but lacks the fruit of unselfish love, which is another fruit of the state of illumination and glorification, is a tree that Christ will curse. That tree is of no use. Leaves, good works, are not enough for man’s salvation.”
Noetic prayer changes one’s whole personality in a positive way. This is a real transformation, because through the energy of the Holy Spirit inner changes take place in how one thinks, acts and behaves.
“Someone who reaches noetic prayer not only experiences a change from selfish to unselfish love. He not only has what we could call morals, but his perception has also undergone a psycho-biological change.”
“The fact that the noetic faculty exists has nothing to do with theology, because everyone has a noetic faculty. In certain people it functions, in others it does not.
Here we have a strange phenomenon, that this is the basic point of contact between patristic theology – or biblical theology as we should call it – and medical science. This ought to be investigated, because the fact that a faculty exists in human beings that can be activated and do something specific has consequences for the formation of the human personality. It has repercussions for society and for the way people behave to one another. Rapacity is checked, savagery ceases, and all these things are replaced by an overwhelming love for humankind.
A real change takes place in man. The individual changes substantially. He is no longer a normal human being in the sense of being like everyone else. His psychological make-up is formed in such a way that he becomes something different. He has love that ‘seeks not its own’. His behaviour towards other people is not moralistic. This is not due to some sort of ‘moral law’. It is not because he went to Sunday school and learnt nice lessons about Christ and the saints, and he is going to imitate them. No. A change occurs in the core of his character.
The transformation is substantial. A real change takes place. It is a change from within. It is not external, due to the fact that we impose laws and say that you mustn’t do this or that. The human being now acts spontaneously and judges things differently from everyone else. It is a real change. So here, in this place (the heart), where man’s personality is changed, the Fathers say that this is where theology begins. Here.”
In the state of illumination man acquires freedom of spirit.
“Because these people existed throughout the period of Turkish domination, Orthodoxy was not wiped out. If the Orthodox in those days, under Turkish domination, had been like they are today, Orthodoxy would have disappeared. This is the bitter historical fact.
Someone who is in the state of illumination is free, according to the Orthodox Church. That is why we say in church ‘Peace be with you all’, because peace is like that. ‘My peace I give to you’ (John 14:27). When He says that He gives them peace it means that He gives them the Holy Spirit, prayer in the heart. This is how a man finds peace, justification, reconciliation with God. He begins to become a friend of God through illumination, and later with glorification he becomes 100% a friend of God and free.
This is man’s freedom, when he reaches the point not just of being liberated from self-interest, which happens in the state of illumination, but of being freed from servitude to nature and its elements in the state of glorification, because he is nourished by God Himself and he can go for years and months in that state, if it continues. The best way to study this is for us to go back to the lives of the saints and see these things there and realise that sin is a lack of illumination. Freedom is from illumination up to glorification. These things are very simple and constitute the therapeutic treatment of the human personality. That is why I say that if Orthodoxy were to appear today at its height, and not in its decline as at present, it would be regarded in every respect as a positive science and would be superior to psychology and psychiatry.”
When man has the Light of God within him, he himself is light, as Christ asserts: “You are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14).
“Christ’s words ‘You are the light of the world’ mean that you who are in the state of illumination are the light of the world. You Christians are not the light of world simply because you believe in Christ.”
Someone who has the light of God knows what the Orthodox tradition is. He passes on the tradition and illumines others.
“When we speak about the Holy Tradition, the essence of the Holy Tradition, its core, is illumination, handing on the torch. One becomes a shining light to illumine others.
Thus illumination is the essence of Christianity. The illuminated shed light. Christianity is nothing other than handing on the Light. Christianity is not the bishop or the priest. Christianity is handing on the Light, which is diagnosis and cure. And the cure is man’s illumination. That is why we say nowadays: ‘You have been justified, anointed and illuminated’. Often these days the expression ‘You have been illuminated’ has been reduced to a mockery.”
When someone is illuminated by the Light of God he also sees God’s energy in the whole of creation.
He loves God unselfishly and becomes God’s friend.
“Someone in the state of illumination transcends fear and selfishness and reaches the point when he begins to love God and other people without considering his own self and his interests.
When he becomes a friend of God, he even quarrels with God – I don’t know if I am putting it correctly – the friend argues with God on behalf of his fellow human being, as Abraham did. Why? He becomes a joint-king with Christ. ‘Joint-king’ means that he is no longer a servant. The man becomes god by grace. In Orthodox society there is no servility.”
A distinction is made between faith that comes by hearing and faith based on theoria. Those at the stage of illumination of the nous have this second type of faith, which is why they confess it. Thus they endured all forms of martyrdom, as the Light of Christ had entered their whole being. If someone was unable to endure martyrdom, if he did not confess the faith and did not want to become a martyr, that was a sign that he was not in the state of illumination of the nous.
“It was natural, based on the experience of illumination, for them not to give way and to undergo martyrdom. In the period of Turkish domination we have the same tradition with the New Martyrs.
Those who had denied Christ and had [temporarily] become Muslims, or even those who had been born Muslims but became Christians, were helped to escape to monasteries. They went through ascetic training to enable them to go and confess their faith in Christ publicly, and to undergo martyrdom without giving way. Their martyrdom caused great celebration in the Church, because it was a testimony to the continuing existence of the truth of Christ.
This perception of martyrdom is very clearly recorded by Ignatius of Antioch. If one reads St Ignatius carefully, it is clear that he is writing about noetic prayer and approaching martyrdom with this inner conviction.”
Christ Himself, speaking about the martyrdom that the Apostles would undergo, said, “You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptised with you will be baptised” (Mark 10:39). Martyrdom is Baptism and the fruit of noetic prayer and theoria of God.
“The fact that someone had denied Christ was proof that he was not in a state of illumination. If he had been in a state of illumination, which is noetic prayer, he would have been unable to deny Christ. The fact that he denied Christ was due to him not being in a state of illumination, so he could not take Holy Communion. Not because the Church wanted to punish him. It was simply in recognition of the fact that he was not in the state of illumination.”
“In the early Church anyone who gave way under persecution and tortures and denied Christ was regarded as not being in the state of illumination. If someone was overwhelmed by the fear of bodily mutilation and denied Christ out of fear, it was evidence that he did not have divine grace and therefore was not in the state of illumination. So he ought not to take Holy Communion.”
Above all, someone whose nous is illuminated, which is called the first stage of theoria, may, if God so wills, also see the glory of the divinity.
“If I do not reach illumination I am not ready to face the glory of God.”
We observe this in the case of the Apostles. They had been illuminated by God, so the risen Christ appeared to them.
“Christ appears for their perfection, as He does to all those who reach illumination, that is to say, on the way to glorification.”
This means that someone in this state participates in sanctity.
Illumination of the nous is also proved by the relics left by the saints, as through their nous the grace of God is transmitted to their body as well.
“If someone has arrived at illumination and noetic prayer, provided he is faithful to the end, he will leave sacred relics.”
“I wonder now whether purification and illumination can exist without sacred relics. Because sacred relics are the result of illumination. One who is in the state of illumination reaches glorification – the vision of God – in the next life or even in this life. He leaves sacred relics that emit fragrance and so on. Here we have empirical evidence for the man’s spiritual state when he was alive. He leaves sacred relics that are fragrant and work miracles.”
This is the theology of the Church with regard to illumination of the nous. Unfortunately, however, in the West illumination was linked with the rational faculty, with speculation. This also influenced many Orthodox, who associate illumination with the cultivation of reason, instead of regarding illumination as connected with the nous and prayer.
“For Augustine the nous is not occupied with prayer but with the archetypes. This is illumination as far as Augustine is concerned. From the Orthodox point of view this is terrible; it is an awful delusion.”
In order for someone to acquire illumination of the nous and unceasing noetic prayer – the visitation of the Holy Spirit – the presence of a spiritual father, who knows these matters from experience and can guide him spiritually, is indispensable.
“To acquire noetic prayer one needs to have a spiritual father who has noetic prayer. This is fundamental, because it is impossible, or all but impossible, to learn noetic prayer by reading about it. Nothing comes of reading. One must have a spiritual father. That is obvious.”
The spiritual father, referred to as a catechist, guides people by the energy of the Holy Spirit to progress from purification to illumination. He is also referred to as a teacher.
In this sense it is possible to be a spiritual guide even without being a member of the clergy. We are not referring to the Mystery of Confession but to spiritual guidance to enable someone to reach noetic prayer.
“When someone is at the stage of illumination he is a spiritual father even if he has not been ordained. He may have murdered people, but if his heart has been purified and illuminated, that illumination makes him equal to all the others.
The fact that he is spiritually equal does not mean that he will necessarily be ordained. He may never be ordained because he has impediments and cannot be ordained. Nevertheless he can be a great saint of the Church. The clergy do not have a monopoly of this therapeutic treatment. Treatment can be given by anyone at all who has noetic prayer, whereas the clergy celebrate the Mysteries. These are two different things, so in Orthodoxy they were always separated. The celebrant is concerned with the rituals. But someone who has reached illumination will be the spiritual father.”
This is a living tradition in the Orthodox Church. There are always living spiritual organisms who must be sought out by those who aspire to this life.
“Someone who does not understand about illumination and glorification, even if he is a theologian or a university professor and reads, will say ‘Forget it! Don’t waste your time on those superstitions and myths…’ If this were so, then that’s the end of Holy Scripture as well, and Moses is completely worthless.
But we have living people who are like that. There are such people alive, who have noetic prayer and attain to divine vision, and these experiences are realities. But in order to know that they are realities one has to go and search out these people. If such people do not exist and this tradition has disappeared, a science has disappeared.
If today doctors disappeared and only their books remained, and we read them without having the living tradition of medicine, it would not be possible to revive medical science as it is now. The same would apply to all the sciences, if the living tradition were lost. So in the case of Orthodoxy too, if the living tradition were to disappear, Orthodoxy would be forgotten. As in the West the tradition vanished and it was forgotten.”
The subject of noetic prayer is wonderfully described in The Way of a Pilgrim.
“If you want to have a concise and very brief idea of this, I implore you to read – I could even make it compulsory as part of the class, if I wanted, and threaten to set a question on the book – it is a very small book called The Way of a Pilgrim. Please read that book, The Way of a Pilgrim, at least the first book, as I am not sure if both books exist in Greek. Two books have been translated and it is not certain whether they are both by the same author. There was a Russian pilgrim, what we might now call an illiterate peasant – nowadays we would say he was illiterate, although the illiterate are often more learned that the literate. He found a spiritual father, learnt noetic prayer and describes how he acquired it.”
This simple man had such a tradition that he read the Philokalia, which circulated before the 1821 Revolution in the region of the Ottoman Empire and also spread outside Greece “to the other parts of Romanity, Epirus, Macedonia, Thessaly, Thrace, Pontus, Cappadocia, Asia Minor, the islands, Crete, all the Middle East, as far are the Danube, as far as Russian Bessarabia.”
“Then there is another book which has been published in Greek, about Father Silouan. That is very important as well, because it is full of patristic theology, it is completely patristic. It contains the most profound epistemological problems, without him realising it. Because he did not know philosophy, the history of philosophy, psychology, psychiatry and so on, he was not in a position to evaluate the things he said. But the things he said and wrote have amazing significance for the history of philosophy and epistemology. Amazing significance.
I fear that here in Greece those who read The Way of a Pilgrim and Elder Silouan read them in a pietistic and sentimental way. To read these books sentimentally and pietistically is a very serious mistake, because these books are neither about emotions nor about pietism. They are extremely serious books from the psychiatric, psychological and philosophical point of view, and they ought to be read seriously, not to stimulate the imagination of the pious.
This is what happens here in Greece. Pious people may read a book by Kierkegaard or a French writer, then something by an English writer and something on prayer by a German writer. They may read the life of Christ by an Italian author, and also read The Way of a Pilgrim and Elder Silouan, without understanding that there is a difference and regarding them all as the same. They mix up everything together.
They may pick up a book on piety written by the devil himself without realising it. So a great deal of caution is needed, caution and a lot of prayer. Precision in prayer is extremely important.”
After purification of the heart and illumination of the nous comes glorification, which is the third stage of the journey towards perfection. Glorification is linked with theoria, which is the vision of the glory of God. When we say glorification we mean vision or theoria of the uncreated energy of God, which is seen as glory, as Light. Purification – the rejection of all thoughts (logismoi) from the heart and the transformation of the passible part of the soul (desire and anger) – must come first, as well as illumination of the nous, which is noetic prayer.
It should be stressed at the outset that glorification is an experience; it is not speculation or philosophy.
“Glorification is an empirical state. It has nothing to do with metaphysics.”
Man is not capable of arriving at this state on his own, but he is empowered by God. Thus glorification is a gift of God to the one who has struggled to keep His commandments. The Psalmist writes: “In Your light we shall see light” (Ps. 35:10).
“There is no question of man being capable of knowing God. This is impossible. Only someone who is within the uncreated Light sees the uncreated Light. One must be in God to see God. Man sees God through God.”
In the patristic tradition this ability to see God is called “an uncreated self-revealing eye”. There are many words that define what glorification is. Someone who is glorified, who is in this spiritual state, sees the uncreated Light of God. He shares in the Light and this is called glorification. Then man participates in the glory of God. Glorification is participation in the glory of God, in the uncreated Light. It is also referred to as man’s union with God.
“Here union means glorification, divine vision.”
When someone participates in the Light, in God’s glory, he acquires union with God, and this offers knowledge beyond human knowledge.
“In the tradition, union itself is called the glorification of man or theosis. Man becomes god by grace, during the vision of God, if he ever reaches this point.”
“This is called glorification. When man is glorified it means that he sees the glory in which he stands. This experience of glorification fills the pages of the Old Testament and the New Testament. Occasionally some clever professor here in Athens would ask me, ‘Where do you find theosis in the Old Testament? It isn’t there; the word ‘theosis’ is not there.’ Theosis is not there, but glorification is. The Apostle Paul uses the word ‘glorified’. When someone is glorified, he says that we ought to rejoice with the one who is glorified (cf. 1 Cor. 12:26). Who is the one who is glorified?”
He is the one who undergoes theosis, because then man is sanctified by the grace of God.
“Man’s sanctification means theosis, participation in glory.”
Glorification (theosis) is also described as divine vision or the vision of God.
“For the Fathers of the Church, glorification is nothing other than divine vision. When the Fathers say ‘theosis’ or ‘glorification’ they are referring to divine vision, seeing God’s glory. When someone sees the glory of God, this means glorification. So the fact that the Prophets in the Old Testament see the glory of Christ means that they reach glorification. And as there is glorification in the Old Testament, it also exists in the New Testament.”
“Divine vision is glorification, theoria. Glorification is divine vision because without attaining to divine vision, glorification, man cannot see God. He sees God through God.”
“Glorification is the surest knowledge about God. Glorification transcends understanding, which is why St Gregory the Theologian says, ‘It is impossible to conceive God’. Even the one who reaches glorification does not conceive God. It is not only to unbelievers and non-philosophers that he says, ‘It is impossible to conceive God’. Conceiving God is impossible for everyone, including the glorified.
Even someone who arrives at glorification does not conceive God and he understands that he does not conceive Him. So he knows without knowledge, he conceives without understanding, he hears without hearing, he sees invisibly, and so on. All this patristic terminology, when they talk about glorification, is a terminology based on reality.”
The experience of God as Light is called glorification, theosis, divine vision, union and knowledge. This state is an experience of Pentecost.
“Every glorification is nothing other than a repetition of Pentecost for us. So those who reach glorification have equal grace with the Apostles at Pentecost. There is no difference, at least from the patristic point of view.”
Glorification is linked with man’s salvation.
“Man was created for glorification. Nowadays we say that glorification is salvation. But man fell from the state of glorification.”
As has been stressed elsewhere, there are degrees of theoria.
“What is theoria according to the patristic tradition? There are two stages of theoria. Theoria is illumination, in other words, noetic prayer, and also glorification. Both are called theoria. These are the two stages. Only when someone attains to illumination or glorification, particularly illumination, which is the first degree, is he permitted to theologise and to teach others, to be a spiritual father.”
“Theoria has two levels. The first is the state of prayer; but enlightenment, vision and continuous vision are also called theoria. Enlightenment is the beginning of glorification. At the lowest stage of theoria there is no glorification yet. At the higher stages there is glorification as well.
In those moments when someone is in a state of glorification, prayer ceases. The divine vision itself takes the place of prayer, so one does not pray but has the vision of God. When the experience of glorification comes to an end, one returns to prayer. The state of glorification is not a permanent state.
A book has now come out that has a chapter on glorification, and it gives the impression that the state of glorification is permanent. It is not a permanent state. Glorification can be enlightenment lasting one second; then there is the vision that can last from five minutes, half an hour, I don’t know how long; then continuous vision for forty nights – it could go on for a year, as long as God wills, and this is called continuous vision. However, glorification comes to an end.”
“There is theoria associated with glorification and theoria associated with illumination. Both these states are divine inspiration. The state of glorification, however, is not permanent. It may be enlightenment, it may be a simple vision that lasts a few seconds or a few minutes, I don’t know how long. It may even be continuous vision. But it is never permanent because anyone who reaches glorification comes back to illumination.
There are those in the state of illumination who never reach glorification, because they did not have the spiritual need to reach glorification. Glorification is given by God, not just to meet the personal need of the glorified but usually to meet the need of other people.”
During theosis-theoria-divine vision-glorification, the whole human being, both soul and body, participates. It is not a psychological or sentimental state affecting the soul. The human body is also glorified. Patristic teaching speaks all the time about theosis and defines what it is. It links theosis with glorification, the vision of the glory of God, divine vision, union, communion and knowledge. All the same, it can be observed that various Christians misinterpret this experience of divine vision.
“Augustine had no idea about illumination and glorification. He completely missed the point on these issues, because he followed the path of the Platonists. The Franks copied his writings and read them, and Augustine’s whole spirituality and piety entered theology up until the modern era.”
“The Apostles who saw Christ in glory reached glorification. There is a problem here on account of the modern Russian preoccupation with the subject of glorification, which has also influenced the Greeks here in Greece. They imagine glorification as an injection of divinity: that we do an inoculation and give it to people and fill them with divinity; that this is something that comes into us through the Mysteries and so on.
This, however, is not how the Fathers understood glorification, because according to the Fathers glorification means seeing Christ in glory. Glorification is beholding Christ in glory. In the Old Testament when a Prophet saw Christ in glory that is the Prophet’s glorification.”
“There is obviously some confusion on these issues.
Glorification has now disappeared from modern Greek theology, and if you look at the old textbooks you will rarely find a mention of glorification, very rarely. Only now and again, when they refer to the Fathers, they may use the word ‘glorification’. It has mostly been replaced by the word ‘sanctification’.”
Glorification exists in the Old Testament as well, but there is a difference between glorification in the Old and New Testaments.
“In the Old Testament we also have glorification, theosis. There is no disguising the fact that when a Prophet is within the glory of God and sees His glory, this is glorification.”
There is, however, a difference, because in the Old Testament those who beheld God were taken to Hades, as death had not yet been abolished.
Also, the major difference between glorification in the Old and New Testaments concerns the human nature of Christ.
“In the Old Testament when someone reaches glorification he has a divine vision, but he does not see Christ in the flesh, because He is not yet incarnate. He sees Christ unincarnate, bringing the Father in the Holy Spirit. The experience of glorification is therefore a revelation of the Holy Trinity in the Old Testament. As we have a revelation of the Holy Trinity in the Old Testament in the experience of glorification, the fundamental question is: What is the difference between the Old and New Testaments?
The most fundamental difference is certainly that whenever the Word appears in the Old Testament He is unincarnate, whereas in the New Testament He appears in the flesh, as the incarnation comes in between. The most basic difference, therefore, is the incarnation. After the incarnation it is impossible for anyone to experience glorification and the vision of God without the human nature of Christ.”
“In the Old Testament there is glorification without the human nature of Christ. Every Prophet reached glorification without encountering Christ’s human nature, as the Word was not flesh. Every Prophet, however, knew Christ Himself. He spoke with Christ as friends speak to one another. Thus Christ appears to His friends both before and after His incarnation. Christ is already in communion with His friends in the Old Testament.”
There was theoria of God in the Old Testament and before Pentecost, but it was markedly different from theoria of God after Pentecost.
“According to the Fathers who interpret Holy Scripture, the experience of Pentecost is the highest experience of glorification prior to the Second Coming. There is nothing higher than Pentecost, nothing superior to Pentecost. Why? Because it is the glorification that existed in the Old Testament with the addition of the incarnation. In the Old Testament glorification has neither the incarnation nor salvation. It is glorification without salvation, so even the glorified died. They were in the power of death. There was no salvation and no incarnation in the Old Testament. Now, however, at Pentecost we have incarnation.”
Man was created for the purpose of reaching the vision of God, theoria of God’s glory, glorification.
“Man was formed to be in a state of illumination or glorification.”
“The aim of Holy Scripture is to lead man to divine vision, to glorification, that he might see Christ in glory.”
Everyone can reach this state of glorification.
“Let me tell you something. The way things have turned out, one can at least suspect that it is easier today to reach glorification in the world than in a monastery. There are monasteries and monasteries, monks and monks. That is the problem.”
During the experience of glorification-theoria various changes occur in man’s psychosomatic constitution. He remains the same, he does not lose touch with reality, but he is transformed and experiences Adam’s state before the Fall, and the state of the saints after the Second Coming of Christ.
“He who is glorified goes beyond words and concepts and beholds uncreated reality, which bears no resemblance to them.”
“If someone sees a created thing and thinks he is seeing God, this means that he will never arrive at glorification, because he has reached the state of seeing created things that come from demonic energies and thinking that he sees God. He has only reached glorification when he sees what is uncreated.”
In the course of theoria Holy Scripture, dogmas and even noetic prayer itself are done away with.
“Everything is abolished in glorification. Of course, when someone returns from the state of glorification, when his divine vision ceases, he continues once again with dogmas and his prayer. The Holy Spirit prays again within him, as before. The state of glorification is not permanent in this life.”
The Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians about “visions and revelations of the Lord”, when he was caught up to Paradise and heard ineffable words (2 Cor. 12:1-6).
He also writes that during the vision of God prophecies and knowledge are done away with and prayer ceases. “But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away” (1 Cor. 13:8-10).
“According to patristic theology, prayer will come to an end in the state of glorification. Prayer ceases to exist as long as glorification lasts. When glorification ends, prayer comes back again.
Knowledge too vanishes. Theology is no more. Because when it says ‘knowledge’ here it does not mean knowledge in general, only knowledge about God, not every kind of knowledge. Knowledge about God is abolished, because one sees Christ now ‘face to face’, one sees God Himself. But the knowledge of created things that someone has is not abolished, because he does not lose his senses. The Apostle Paul was blinded by the Light, but he spoke and heard while in this state. He did not eat or drink for three days, because that aspect of his natural functions ceased. However, when one returns from this state and prayer and prophecy begin again, one continues the work of edification. One preaches and teaches and so on.”
“If someone reaches glorification now and again, a couple of times perhaps, the prayer of the heart ceases in the experience of glorification, it is abolished. So knowledge vanishes away as well, that is to say, the rational knowledge of the faith ceases, together with the knowledge associated with illumination. It ceases because someone in this state sees God by means of God. He sees the uncreated Light through the uncreated Light, and sees God through God.
Man on his own cannot behold God, because God can only be seen by means of revelation. Man sees with a vision that transcends vision. He hears with a hearing that transcends hearing, smells with a sense of smell that transcends the sense of smell and so on. This is not a natural state. It is not part of man’s natural knowledge, but neither is it a supernatural revelation in the Western sense of supernatural revelations, because there is no understanding.”
“There is no noetic prayer in the experience of glorification. Noetic prayer stops. And when the experience of glorification, of divine vision, ceases, noetic prayer starts up again. When someone is in the state of illumination, he prophesies and theologises using theology and Holy Scripture. When, however, he reaches glorification, he no longer knows God in prophecies and knowledge and prayers, but knows Him directly.”
As long as glorification lasts, noetic prayer stops, because the nous beholds the glory of God. Rational prayer, however, does not cease. The one who sees God may be present in the Divine Liturgy and simultaneously see uncreated reality. He does not undergo Neoplatonic ecstasy during the vision of God.
“In glorification prayer ceases, and when one speaks to a colleague in a state of glorification, one uses names. Someone in a state of glorification is able to celebrate the Liturgy and to say the prayers of the Church as usual.
The prayer of the Holy Spirit with those words has been abolished within him, because he sees what is uncreated. When he sees what is uncreated, the prayer within him comes to an end, but rational worship does not cease. He can celebrate the Liturgy.”
There is a connection between praxis and theoria.
“We have praxis that comes to completion in theoria. During theoria, however, praxis is never abandoned. Never. Perhaps a classical example of Orthodox theoria is St Symeon the New Theologian. In his biography, written by Nikitas Stithatos, we see the following paradox. The Apostle Paul underwent glorification first and was baptised afterwards, which is a strange phenomenon, because first he saw the uncreated glory on the road to Damascus and ascended to the third heaven, as he writes himself, and after this experience of glorification he was baptised. Something similar happened to St Symeon the New Theologian. First he had the experience of glorification and afterwards he was tonsured as a monk.
When someone attains to glorification, for as long as this experience lasts asceticism stops, because of the state he is in. He does not eat or drink or sleep or – forgive me for mentioning it – go to the toilet, because the natural functions of his body are suspended while he is in the state of theoria of the uncreated glory of God. When, however, he comes out of this state, he continues practising asceticism again. He fasts and prays and keeps vigil and has noetic prayer. In the state of glorification, however, single-thought noetic prayer, the remembrance of God, comes to an end as we have God Himself. Remembrance goes; it is no longer needed.
Thus the highest form of theoria, which is glorification, is not a permanent state, whether it takes the form of enlightenment for a limited period, or the form of vision, which can last forty days and nights, as in the case of Moses. When someone returns to the state of illumination, although he has noetic prayer and so on, he practises asceticism, keeps all the fasts and is self-restrained. Asceticism is not abolished.”
Although there is no suspension of the rational faculty, bodily functions are suspended. The saints teach from their experience that during divine vision the natural and blameless passions are suspended and the devil is rendered powerless.
“We know from the experience of Moses on Sinai and the experience of the saints, who like Moses reached theoria before their bodily death, that during this experience of glorification the natural and blameless passions are suspended in such a way that there is no hunger, thirst, tiredness, fear, uneasiness or sleep. The state of perfection is such that the devil becomes for the most part, if not completely, powerless.”
When the glorified human being is in the state of glorification he lives within the glory of God. He is aware of the suspension of the natural functions of his body, though not of his soul, but he is in a natural state.
“In every other way he is in a natural state and talks and walks and so on in this condition, and teaches, until the vision of God ceases and he returns to illumination. Then noetic prayer, which had stopped during glorification, begins again. This is our Orthodox saint. Our saints are vastly different from the Hindus, they have nothing in common. The only similarity with the Hindus is the distinction between nous and reason. There is also no affinity at all with the ecstasy of the mystical religions or Neoplatonism.
Is it not of interest to dieticians that it is possible for someone to go for a year without eating, sleeping, drinking or going to the toilet? Such a state can last a week, a fortnight, a month, forty days, forty nights, or it can continue for a whole year.”
All this is not theoretical but is recorded in the lives of the saints, in the Synaxaria of the Church, which are the real history of the life of the Church.
“Again and again in the lives of the saints, not only in the East but in the West, in the Western saints, the Western Romans, we find this phenomenon of glorification together with the suspension of bodily functions. If it lasts a week it can last a month. It can go on for a year or years on end. It depends on how long God wants someone to remain in this state, and on his own needs and his surroundings.”
The hermits and stylites lived this phenomenon, strange as it seems to human reason. They not only returned to the state before the Fall, but ascended higher and lived states beyond the end of time. They had a foretaste of the life of the saints in Paradise.
“What did the monks do there in the desert? Why do we have those troparia about deserts and tears that watered the desert, and about those who lived where there was nothing to eat? How did they live? What were the stylites? They saw St Daniel the Stylite, who was covered with frost and snow every winter, and they did not know whether they would find him alive in the spring. How did he live in the ice and snow? How did the naked ascetics wander around in the mountains in the snow?”
Divine vision and theoria offer true theology. True theology expresses the experience of seeing God. Someone begins to theologise on reaching illumination. If God counts him worthy of reaching the vision of God and seeing His uncreated energy, at that moment of divine vision even theology stops, because he sees God Himself. When the experience of seeing God ceases, theology begins.
Theology is the expression and formulation in created words and concepts of uncreated reality.
“We ought to stop making a clear-cut distinction between Western and Eastern theology, as we usually do, and go in search of the result of theology. Wherever there is glorification, correct theology inevitably exists. Where there is no glorification, correct theology probably does not exist, even if those who put forward those types of theology are allegedly Orthodox.
The criteria should not be formally dogmatic but purely therapeutic. Only therapeutic theology is correct theology. This is the theology expressed in the lives of the saints.”
“In patristic theology, noetic prayer is the foundation of theology and theologising. In the early Church someone was allowed to theologise only when he had reached illumination. He was called a theologian when he reached glorification. Someone theologises when he has noetic prayer, and he is called a theologian once he arrives at glorification. This is the historical usage of these terms.”
“Someone starts being a theologian when he becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit. Without becoming a temple of the Holy Spirit, how can anyone become a theologian? And the theologian of the Church is pre-eminently the one who has reached glorification. He is a theologian.
That is why in our Church we very rarely gave the title of ‘theologian’ until the modern Greek state was founded. Before the foundation of the University of Athens, the theologians of the Church were St Gregory the Theologian, St John the Theologian, St Symeon the New Theologian, and after them we find a few others who are referred to as theologians in the Church. The main characteristic of those called theologians is that they reached glorification and beheld God. Such people are theologians in the highest sense, but what sort of theologians? Because in the state of glorification theology is abolished.”
“The theology of the Church is an expression of the experience of theosis, man’s glorification, when he attains to the revelation. Theology comes from the divine vision of the Prophets, Apostles, saints and all those who have been glorified.
It is an expression of an inexpressible reality. This expression cannot be comprehended rationally, but its only aim is therapeutic. Orthodox theology has no other purpose; its aim is therapeutic not philosophical. It never had a philosophical aim.”
“Theology is a means. It is not an end in itself. Concepts are not an end in themselves; they are means.”
“Orthodoxy theology means that someone sees, and on the basis of the experience of divine vision and glorification, he theologises. What does he see in the state of glorification? He sees all the dogmas.”
“Essentially a theologian is someone in whom theology has been abolished, as he has reached the experience of glorification. Theology ceases in him, and because he lives in the state of illumination, he knows the aim of theology and prayer, which are the same thing. The one who prays theologises, and the one who theologises prays. Theology and prayer are the same thing.”
Theology ceases during the experience because what the God-seer sees cannot be described using the data of human wisdom.
The one who beholds God sees that God is uncreated, which means that there is a vast difference between Him and created things.
“No one who reaches glorification has ever seen the Holy Spirit as created or the Word as created. He knows that the glory of the Holy Trinity is uncreated and that it is the natural glory of the uncreated energy of God. The Word has glory from the Father by nature and not by grace, and the Holy Spirit also has uncreated glory from the Father, not by grace but by nature.
All these central elements, which are the whole of Orthodox theology, come from the experience of glorification. When the Fathers theologise they do not theologise only from Holy Scripture, but from their own experience.”
One can only come to the knowledge of God through divine vision.
After the experience of divine vision, the God-seeing theologian uses created words and symbols to express the uncreated reality as far as possible.
“Expressions about God are therefore symbolic. We have this term ‘symbolic theology’ and we use symbols to talk about God. However, the purpose of these symbols is not that we might conceive God, but that we may be guided through these symbols to union with God, which is glorification that transcends understanding.”
Through this knowledge derived from divine vision, the God-seer becomes a spiritual father, because he knows how to cure people and lead them to glorification. Sickness is man’s departure from God and health is communion with Him, the vision of God.
“There is this interpretation that the theologian is ‘advanced in theoria’, that he is someone who has reached illumination or glorification, and he is also a spiritual father. He knows how to cure, so knowledge and curing people is the same thing. Knowledge is therapeutic treatment and therapeutic treatment is knowledge: these two go together.”
The one who sees God has divinely inspired words to guide his spiritual children to glorification. He guides them using concepts, so that they may proceed “through purification to illumination and finally to glorification.”
Apart from theology, the experience of glorification also has other consequences for the glorified. One of these is that someone who sees God is set free from every kind of servitude to created things.
“In the state of glorification he is also liberated from subservience to the elements of nature, because he is nourished by God Himself and he can go on in this state for years or months, if it continues.”
“According to the Fathers of the Church, glorification is perfect freedom, and purification and illumination are the beginning of freedom.”
When someone beholds God he acquires real love, which is unselfish.
“Glorification, the perfecting of man on the basis of a love that ‘does not seek its own’ (1 Cor. 13:5), is not the same as the love that a good human being has. There may be similarities but it is not the same thing.”
Since he is freed from the passions and the greatest passion is self-love, he acquires love for God and other people. All the glorified become equal in their noetic energy. Equality cannot exist in human terms, because there are differences in the level of the rational faculty and in gifts. Those who are glorified, however, attain equality as regards their noetic faculty and theology: they have the same knowledge. At the same time, they detach themselves from material goods and identify with the poor.
“We have never ceased believing in the equality of human beings. Why? Consider the subject of equality. Equality of human beings from the Orthodox point of view is based on the fact that everyone has a noetic faculty, which is separate from the rational faculty. So someone may reach the heights of noetic energy and be glorified, and have no rational ability at all.
In the troparion for Pentecost, for the Holy Trinity, we chant: ‘Blessed art Thou, Christ our God…’ and so on. Christ took the fishermen and raised them to the heights of glorification. They were exalted above the earth and surpassed all human beings in glorification. And who were they? Illiterate fishermen. Their noetic faculty was raised as high as the experience of Pentecost, but nothing changed with regard to their rational faculty. If someone had given the Apostle Peter a mathematical problem, it is certain that he would never have been able to solve mathematical or geophysical or political problems. All the same, though, he is the leader of the Apostles.
On the one hand, someone may reach the summit of rational understanding and his noetic faculty may be a complete disgrace and his heart may be completely hardened. On the other hand, someone may reach the heights of noetic perfection and of rational perfection, because he has a good education. He may be at the highest level of both.
Again, someone’s rational faculty may be at the lowest limit, so that he is completely dim, unintelligent and foolish, and his heart may be hardened. On the other hand, someone else may be half-mad and his rational faculty may not function correctly, but he may have a spiritual father who sets him free from the weaknesses in his reasoning, and he may get as far as glorification, even though he is completely uneducated.
From the point of view of spiritual equality, therefore, there is absolute equality between human beings, because everyone has a noetic faculty. The higher reaches of theology have nothing to dc with the rational faculty. Do you follow what I am saying? From this point of view, Orthodox theology has an equality that exists in no other field. Because, whatever we may say, there will never be equality with regard to the rational faculty, because an individual’s rational faculty is connected with his grey matter, with problems inherited from parents and so on. Whatever we may do, one pupil will sit examinations and get into university, whereas the other will sit examinations fifteen times and not get in. One pupil will get a school leaving certificate, another won’t. There is clearly no equality in these matters, but in theology there is equality. We Orthodox theologians know more about equality that other people in society.
Next, equality in perfection also means equality in wealth. Someone who reaches glorification becomes rich, although in worldly terms he becomes poor. Because he is poor, he is on the same level as all the world’s poor and becomes equal with the poor. So there is no social problem in this regard, as he never identifies with the rich but with the poor. This is automatic in Orthodox theology and cannot be otherwise, because if someone identifies himself with the rich it shows that he does not have noetic prayer. To have noetic prayer one must identify with the poor.”
Another consequence of glorification and divine vision is that the man’s body becomes a holy relic. As the whole human being shares in the vision of God, both soul and body are glorified. Thus when the soul separates from the body, the grace of God remains inseparably with both the soul and the body, and we have holy relics.
“Holy relics are the result of glorification, as the one who has attained glorification is suspended between immortality and corruption.
So when he dies his body does not disintegrate; it is preserved. There is some decay, but the identity of its cells is kept, that is to say, it is preserved to a great extent, not completely but to a great extent. However, this body is neither incorrupt nor does it completely decompose.”
“What are holy relics according to the Fathers of the Church? Holy relics are a state that the God-seer reaches when he reaches glorification. They are in between incorruption and mortality. We have corruption and we also have incorruption. Someone who attains glorification has not become incorrupt but he has experienced incorruption, because the experience of glorification is described as incorruption according to grace. Glorification is incorruption according to grace.
Someone who has gone through this experience leaves holy relics, which keep their biological signs, their cells. There is skin and cells – everything is there, isn’t it? The body has not undergone corruption, but this is not incorruption, because incorruption means that the organ is alive. This body is dead but it has not disintegrated. This is a phenomenon.
It is not a mummy. It is not mummified nor is this state due to chemicals, nor is it because the body was buried in ground so dry that it could not decompose. These relics are often found in ground that is full of moisture.”
When someone attains to the vision of God’s uncreated glory he acquires communion with God. After theoria he returns to the stage of illumination of the nous and noetic prayer is activated. If he is not careful, however, it is possible for him to go as far as denying God.
“There was a major dispute in the past between the ‘Pure’ [the Novatianists] and the other Orthodox, because the ‘Pure’ said that someone who had denied Christ under persecution should die without receiving Holy Communion. They left him in God’s hands.
The other Orthodox used the argument that the Apostle Peter himself first passed through glorification at the Transfiguration, then after glorification he denied Christ, and Christ after the Resurrection reinstated him and he became an Apostle again – in fact, the chief Apostle. So we see that not only after illumination but even after glorification one can give way and make a denial.”
Glorification is the perfecting of man, which is the purpose of his creation. Then man transcends all merely human things and lives in the body like an angel. People with a worldly mentality are unable to understand this state because they live an unnatural life.
“As far as the world is concerned, those in psychiatric hospitals are not the only ones who are mentally disturbed. From the world’s point of view, those in the state of glorification would be considered mad.
We are not therefore surprised that even some Orthodox regard St Symeon the New Theologian as being somehow mad. If someone reads St Symeon the New Theologian without being attuned to what he writes, the reason he writes and the state he is in when writing, it is not difficult for him to think that St Symeon the New Theologian was mad.”
This madness according to the worldly mentality, however, is the natural life of man, according to the reason for his creation and its aim.
c) The Glorified as the Foundation of Ecclesiastical Life
The glorified who participate in the glory of God – the Prophets, Apostles, Fathers, holy ascetics and saints – are the foundation and basis of ecclesiastical life. The Church is not an anthropocentric organisation but the glorified Body of Christ and a communion of glorification. Christ is its Head and its members are the glorified, who share in glorification to differing degrees.
All those who have experience of God are true members of the Church, as the Church “is not an abstract idea” but “those who have experience”. The members of the Church are not defined according to their moral constitution, but according to the extent to which they partake of glorification and are glorified.
“We no longer have a human being who is good or bad. We have people who are illuminated or not, who are glorified or not.”
The glorified have authority in the Church because they have acquired true and unerring knowledge of God. The people who follow the glorified have true faith. Knowledge of God is not the same as faith in God.
“If someone arrives at illumination and glorification he has the same experience as all the glorified and therefore exactly the same knowledge as the glorified. For that reason all the glorified throughout history have the same knowledge of God.
Those who know about God through the glorified have correct faith in God. Correct faith in God, however, does not mean knowledge of God. Knowing God ‘face to face’ is different from believing correctly in God because we have the glorified as our guides. It is like the student of astronomy in relation to the expert astronomer who looks through the telescope. Exactly the same relationship exists.”
The glorified are the unerring teachers in the Church and we rely on their teaching in order that we too may know God by experience. The teaching of the glorified is the created words and concepts expressing their experience of uncreated grace.
“The glorified themselves have a knowledge that transcends knowledge, but they also use words and concepts when speaking to others. So Holy Scripture is not done away with. Holy Scripture is used by the glorified themselves, because it is the words and concepts by which other people are led to the same experience…”
Since the glorified are authoritative teachers, when they assemble in Local and Ecumenical Councils they formulate the teaching of the Church unerringly and with divine inspiration.
“We find glorified saints not only in the East but in the West as well for many centuries. When these people convened in a Council they knew at once what the teaching of the Church is.”
As the glorified are the basic criterion in the Church for determining the truthfulness of its members, in the early Church we observe the fact that bishops and priests were chosen from among the glorified and the Prophets. We see this in the Acts of the Apostles when Matthias was chosen to fill the place of Judas. He had to be a witness of the Resurrection of Christ.
Also, the clergy needed to be glorified, because only then were they genuine physicians who knew how to cure people and to lead them from darkness of the nous to illumination of the nous and glorification. The aim and mission of the Church is to make people glorified. The Church, as we have said many times already, is like a hospital and the clergy are like doctors.
This is the perspective from which we should view the virtue of obedience. We do not obey every teaching that comes along. We obey the glorified, who have experience of God, because in this way obedience will lead to glorification and participation in the uncreated glory of God.
“In the Orthodox Church obedience was never interpreted as blind obedience to someone in authority by reason of ordination, because someone is a bishop or someone is an abbot. No! Authority is spiritual authority.
When someone is glorified or illumined and is skilled in guiding other people in therapeutic treatment, we are obedient to him in order to learn the method, until we reach a certain point ourselves. We obey someone like that, but not just anyone.”
Obedience to “those initiated by experience” is necessary for progress towards glorification. This does not mean that the canonical institution of the Church is undermined or overlooked.
Prayer to the saints is also important because they remain glorified. They are friends of God and have boldness towards Him, so their intercessions are effective.
“When the glorified depart to the Lord, they remain glorified. They do not cease to be glorified and to share in the glory of God, in the divine vision. That is why we pray to these people and call upon them to intercede for us.”
Consequently the glorified are the basis and foundation of ecclesiastical life. They live the life of the first-formed human beings before the Fall, but they also share in the glorified Body of Christ. The Fathers interpret theological issues from experience, not by conjecture.
The impression has been created that the history of the Church is made up of the various events connected with the external activity of its members, persecutions, Local and Ecumenical Councils, schisms and divisions, heresies and wars. These things also form part of the history taught in theological faculties and schools as a special subject.
However, the real history of the Church is the life of the saints, the energy of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the faithful, the journey from the Sunday before Lent to Pascha, and thence to Pentecost and the Feast of All Saints. These events are not merely external and historical. They are not one-off events, but are repeated in the life of every believer who, through repentance and purification of the heart, arrives at Pentecost and participates in the energy of God that enables us to see Him, and celebrates on the Feast of All Saints.
“This is clear from the calendar of the feasts of the Church. We have Pascha Sunday preceded by the Baptisms on Holy Saturday. Afterwards we go up to Pentecost with the Gospel of John, which is the ‘spiritual Gospel’ of the Church for those who have been baptised. Then we come to the day of Pentecost and afterwards to the Sunday of All Saints. This is the purpose of Pentecost.”
“These are the living sermons of Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is always based on the lives of the saints. The calendar of saints is the backbone of Orthodox theology.”