Ancestral Sin, Buddhism, Dr. Christopher Veniamin, Eastern Religions, Elder Sophrony of Essex, Elder Zacharias of Essex, Empirical Dogmatics, I Know a Man in Christ, James L. Kelley, Klaus Kenneth, meditation, mental health, Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Noetic Faculty, Protopresbyter John Romanides, Rational Faculty, St. Silouan of Mount Athos, St. Silouan the Athonite
When Adam was created he had communion with God through his illuminated nous. His nous was open to God and the angelic world. By his disobedience to God’s commandment, however, his nous was darkened; it became identified with his rational faculty and his surroundings, and linked with imagination. The Apostle Paul, referring to the fall of Adam and of mankind in general, writes, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). The ancestral sin, and every sin, is linked with falling short of the glory of God and the loss of participation in the divine energy that enables man to see God. Then man’s nous is darkened and obscured.
The result of this darkening is that man abandoned the true God and worshipped idols.
St Paul writes:
“Because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man — and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things” (Rom. 1:21-23).
St Gregory Palamas observes:
“For a nous far from God becomes either like a beast or a demon, and once it has gone beyond the bounds of nature it desires what belongs to others and cannot satisfy its greed for gain. Such a man surrenders himself to the lusts of the flesh and recognises no limit to self-indulgence.”
Christ’s words are characteristic: “If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matt. 6:23). The teachings of the Fathers refer to the obscuring of God’s image in man.
The denial of the glory of God and the replacement of the true God with a non-existent idea of ‘god’ or ‘gods’, with ideas and human systems, constitutes darkening of the nous, and this is a repetition of Adam’s fall. This fall is a departure from Paradise, which is communion with the Living God. The Church relates this event dramatically in the troparia sung on the Sunday before Lent, but also in the Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete, most typically in the verse: “My nous is wounded, my body has grown feeble, my spirit is sick, my reason has lost its power.. .the Gospel is of no effect.”
Father Sophrony also lived this fall, and he remembered it throughout his life. It was an experience comparable with that of the Apostle Peter (Matt. 26: 69-75). In the Elder’s book we see how he describes this great fall of his.
At one point he characterises his turning towards Eastern mysticism as a fall similar to the fall of Adam. Just as Adam lost his communion with the true God, so he too lost the early experience of the Living God that had been granted him. When he writes about his fall, he does not mean things that took place on the outward, social and ethical level, but the wandering of his nous and heart into every kind of vice.
In particular, he regards as a fall his involvement for seven or eight years in meditation, because he considered that this Eastern mystical contemplation, this “philosophy”, was “far superior to the Christian emotionalism” of God’s commandment to “Love God and thy neighbour”. At that time the word persona meant exactly the same in his consciousness as “the individual”.
The questions that preoccupied him in his youth, as we saw above, led him to an Eastern kind of meditation and to an act of “self-divinisation”, as “return to his immemorial being”. This happened under the influence of “books on far-eastern mysticism and encounters with people from lands that have cultivated such esoteric doctrines for thousands of years. It is no simple matter to rid oneself of aberrations of this kind.” The impression is created that perfection is attained by transcending our hypostatic principle, which is “a temporary form of existence”, which introduces restrictions into our life. Therefore, one must “willingly accept the disintegration of human personality in the nameless ocean of Pure Being – of the Supra-personal Absolute.”
He considered that the Absolute, as perceived by Eastern religions, was superior to “Christian personalism” and more valuable. This Eastern experience was something intellectual, “the asceticism of the mental divestment of all that is relative”. It was a wrong road that was taking him further away from “true, real Being” and leading him towards “non-being”.
At that time he did not understand the meaning of the person in God and man. As he himself says, “Consequent on such a vital lacuna in my cognition I got carried away by the mystical philosophy of the non-Christian East. In my folly I supposed that this would show me the way out of the snare into which I had fallen. I wasted a lot of valuable time.”
He applied himself to transcendental meditation. “My intellectual asceticism consisted in concentrating thought and will on divesting myself of the materiality of the physical body; next, to proceed towards all-transcending Pure Being by renouncing in myself the personal principle, the thinking process and other forms of cosmic being.” This whole process served “the ‘god of the philosophers’, who does not really exist.”
In the beginning his involvement with transcendental meditation brought him some relief from so many existential questions that preoccupied him, and offered him “hours of intellectual delectation”. It lifted him above his surroundings. However, he could not conceive of “the Absolute Principle as personal”. It was a state of delusion.
Concentration within himself and transcendental meditation distanced him from the God of his childhood years and led him to “the darkness of ignorance”, to “divestiture”, and to a particular kind of ecstasy. In fact, he was brought to the point of seeing his nous – his mind – “as light”. At that time he was, on the one hand, carried away by a “forceful impulse towards the unnameable, all-transcending Being-Non-being”, while, on the other hand, he was seeking in his painting “to express the beauty proper to almost every manifestation of nature”. Others might regard such a period as being “full of inspiration”, but the Elder himself saw it as “suicide in the metaphysical sense”.
Speaking about seeing his thinking energy as light during transcendental meditation, he explains: “The world of mental contemplation is essentially a radiant one. Indeed, our mind is an image of the Primal Mind, which is Light. The intellect, concentrated on metaphysical problems, can lose all sense of time and material space, travelling, as it were, beyond their boundaries. In just such a situation my mind would seem to be light.” The Elder knows and confesses that this mental light is different from the uncreated Light of God.50
Today we know from scientific research in the field of neurology that the human brain, through the chemical processes and the electrical energy produced there, makes it possible for someone, when concentrating absolutely within himself, to reach a state of intellectual illumination. This is how discoveries are made. But this illumination differs very clearly from the uncreated Light of God. Certainly, as St Diadochos of Photiki and St Gregory Palamas explain, the illumination of the nous is not something peculiar, but the energy of God that illuminates man’s nous, once he has been purified of passions. It is a preliminary stage for the vision of the uncreated Light through the illuminated nous. Thus the light of the mind, which results from concentration and human effort, is different from the grace of God that enlightens the pure nous and raises the deified to theoria of God.
I regard Father Sophrony’s testimony as significant. It shows the difference between meditation and divine revelation, and the distinction between the created light of the nous or mind, diabolical light, and divine Light. This is an extraordinary description which is not to be found in the patristic writings, and is therefore extremely important, especially in our era, when there is confusion between intellectual attainments, Eastern religions, and the divine revelation that Christ brought into the world. The Elder writes:
“To pray was natural for me from childhood. But a day came — one morning as I was walking along a street in Moscow – when the thought forced itself into my mind: the Absolute cannot be personal’, eternity cannot lie in the ‘psyche’ of Gospel love…It was a curious business. The idea hit me like a hammer. I shall always remember the spot…I then began — it required a certain amount of effort — to make myself stop praying and go in for meditation of a non-Christian character. One night soon afterwards I was awakened in a way that I did not understand. I saw my whole room flooded with patches of vibrating light. My soul was troubled. The vision repelled me – I felt something like the aversion mixed with fear that one feels if a snake gets into the house. I left my room and went into the sitting-room, where I stayed a while before returning to bed. The light had gone and I fell asleep again.
Soon after this, while I was engaged in my meditations, which had developed a certain degree of intensity, I saw my thinking-energy like a faint light inside and all round my skull. My heart, meanwhile, continued to live separately from my brain.
Years later, after the mercy of the High God had visited me, I noticed that the uncreated Light is tranquil, integral, steady, acting on the mind, the heart, and the body, too. In contemplating it one’s whole being is in a state unknown to the ‘earth’. The Light is the light of love, the light of wisdom, the light of immortality and wondrous peace.”
Father Sophrony regards this period when he was involved with Eastern mysticism as one of spiritual blindness, as a period when he departed from the Living God of his childhood years, although at the time he supposed that he was “improving on the Gospel”.
c) Fall — Excerpt from I Know A Man In Christ: Elder Sophrony the Hesychast and Theologian by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos (pages 64-69)