His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and St Vlassios
The word ‘heresy’ derives from the Greek verb haireomai, I choose, and it denotes the choice and preference of one particular part of a teaching, which is made into an absolute at the expense of the whole, the complete truth. From the point of view of Orthodoxy, heresy is a deviation from the established teaching of the Church as it was formulated by the Apostles and the Fathers of the Church, especially at the Local and Ecumenical Councils. For example, the teaching about the union of two natures in Christ was formulated at the 4th Ecumenical Council, and according to it the divine and human natures were united “unconfusedly, immutably, indivisibly and inseparably” in the hypostasis of the Word. When someone overemphasises the divine nature at the expense of the human nature, he falls into the heresy of Monophysitism. When someone else overemphasises the human nature at the expense of the human nature, and particularly at the expense of the union of the two natures, he falls into the heresy of Nestorianism.
This shows that we should accept the dogmas of the Church which have been set out in Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition, that is to say, in the writings of the Prophets, Apostles and Fathers, and which the latter formulated at the Local and Ecumenical Councils. Otherwise the revealed truth of the faith is altered. This change comes about mostly through speculations and pious thoughts about the dogmatic truths of the Church.
1. The two alleged types of ecclesiology in Orthodox theology
Post-patristic theologians speak about two types of ecclesiology, primitive biblical ecclesiology and later patristic ecclesiology, and say that the second kind of ecclesiology and spirituality changed the primitive kind, which was expressed as “the eschatological glory of the Kingdom of God.”
Also, the post-patristic theologians, influenced by the Protestants, speak about “Neoplatonist Evagrianist theology” and “Macarianist mystical theology”, referring to the works of Evagrius of Pontus and those of Macarius of Egypt. In this way Orthodox theology is split.
According to this theory, the two expressions of the hesychastic life, in other words, “the contemplative mysticism” of Evagrius and the “spiritual materialism” of Macarius of Egypt, passed through St Gregory the Theologian, St Gregory of Nyssa, St Maximus the Confessor and St Symeon the New Theologian into the Church, and culminated in St Gregory Palamas. According to the post-patristic theologians, therefore, hesychasm and contemporary monasticism were shaped by these two trends.
This new theory, which attempts to overturn the traditional ascetic life of the Church, asserts that the degrees of the spiritual life, purification, illumination and deification, are an Origenist influence. According to this view, Evagrius was influenced by Origen and all this influence had an effect on the later Fathers (Macarius of Egypt, the Cappadocians, Maximus the Confessor, Symeon the New Theologian, Gregory Palamas and others), and reached as far as St Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain and, of course, the Fathers of the Philokalia.
This theory undermines the hesychastic and philokalic tradition and all the teaching of the Fathers of the Church about freeing the nous from fantasy and form, purification of the heart, illumination of the nous and the vision of God, prayer of the nous in the heart, and so on. In other words, the preconditions for Orthodox theology, Orthodox ecclesiology and eucharistology are violated. As will become clear below, this is actually a heresy in the making in the Orthodox Church.
2. Brief refutation
The view about this alleged “double ecclesiology” ought to be dealt with theologically, because otherwise a malignant growth is created in the body of the Church with unforeseen consequences. Here this unorthodox theory will be briefly refuted, and in the next section the issue will be analysed in more detail.
First of all it should be underlined that there cannot be a “double ecclesiology” and a “double spirituality” within the Church. The Church is the Body of Christ and what is described as spirituality is the life in Christ and the Holy Spirit that Christians live through the holy Mysteries (Sacraments) and the ascetic tradition. True ecclesiology is closely linked with the incarnation of Christ and Pentecost. In any case, hesychasm does not constitute a particular ecclesiology. Rather, it is the life of the Gospel and the keeping of Christ’s commandments, and it is the essential precondition for participating in the uncreated purifying, illuminating and deifying energy of God. The Church’s worship and the prayers of the Mysteries present this entire hesychastic tradition. It was also approved synodically at the Council of 1351, which is regarded as the 9th Ecumenical Council.
We know from the entire teaching of the Church that the teaching and experience of the Prophets, Apostles and Fathers is identical. The Apostles do not differ from the Prophets, nor do the Fathers differ from the Apostles and the Prophets, so they share the same experience and faith. The difference is that the Prophets in the Old Testament saw the unincarnate Word, whereas in the New Testament and the life of the Church they see and partake of the incarnate Word. They have everything else in common. St Gregory Palamas states characteristically: “…what else but that saving perfection in knowledge and dogmas consists in thinking in the same way as the Prophets, Apostles and Fathers, with all those, basically, through whom the Holy Spirit bears witness concerning God and His creatures.”
We also know from the theology of the Church that the experience of divine vision, that takes place with ineffable words, is not the same as the record of this experience, which uses created words, concepts and images. The difference in terminology between the Prophets, Apostles and Fathers does not constitute a difference in experience as well. In the 3rd and 4th centuries the Fathers and teachers certainly used a particular terminology, which they adopted from the language of their era, in order to refute hellenising heretics. This does not mean, however, that they also changed the content of the terminology. Fr. John Romanides said, “Dealing with false beliefs made it necessary to add to the terminology. To deal with heretics we use creeds, these concepts, and we attempt to strike at the heart of the false belief.”
It is therefore strange that the teaching about purification, illumination and deification should be regarded as Origenist or Neoplatonic on account of the fact that the Fathers adopted these terms, which in any case exist in Holy Scripture either as words or as realities. St Cyril of Alexandria was accused of using phrases from Nestorius. He therefore writes in a letter, which was incorporated in the Proceedings of the 3rd Ecumenical Council, that we should not avoid everything that the heretics say, because there are also things that are in accordance with our teaching. He actual words are: “There is no need to flee from and reject everything that the heretics say, because they confess many things that we too confess.” He goes on to refer to relevant examples. This means that it is of no significance whether a terminology was introduced by Origen, Evagrius of Pontus or Macarius of Egypt. What is important is that it was adopted by St Basil the Great, St Gregory the Theologian, St Gregory of Nyssa and the later Fathers, and was confirmed synodically, as it belongs to the Orthodox Tradition. Consequently, it is an unorthodox way of thinking to characterise the confirmed teaching of the Church, which was experienced by the Fathers of the Church, as Origenistic, Evagrian, Macarian and so on.
There is, moreover, a great difference between theology and philosophy which goes beyond the mere use of terms. Theology is the outcome of God’s revelation to the deified, whereas philosophy is the outcome of speculation and the discovery of human reason. To characterise the hesychastic tradition as Origenistic, Evagrian, Macarian or even Neoplatonic because there is an external similarity of words is a superficial interpretation, if it does not also express something deeper – in other words, if it is not an attempt to undermine the Orthodox hesychastic tradition.
How superficial these conclusions are is clear from the fact that these people could in the same way blame the Fathers of the Church for adopting terminology (person, hypostasis, essence, energy and so on) and other external cultural factors from the idolaters and heretics, and they could characterise the theology of the Fathers about the Triune God and the whole of their ecclesiology as idolatrous. Harnack and other Protestants went as far as this, and it is not out of the question that those Orthodox who think superficially and outside the Orthodox Tradition, because they are ignorant of its heavenly and profound content, may also reach this point (some have reached it already).
Ultimately, the view that a double ecclesiology – primitive and more recent – prevails in the Church is what is called “post-patristic theology”. It is a view that comes from the Protestants and some Orthodox, who are attempting in this way to deny the teaching of the Fathers, the worship of the Church, the hesychastic tradition, and, of course, monasticism. It is really amazing that the abovementioned theologians and philosophisers should seek to protestantise Orthodox theology by praising the Protestant interpretation and undermining the hesychastic, ecclesiastical, patristic tradition, for the sake of a “primitive ecclesiology” that refers to the Divine Eucharist and the Kingdom of God, and relies simply on the texts of the New Testament.
It is absolutely clear from what these new theologians and writers say that an attempt is being made to erode the entire ascetic tradition and life of the Church, as expressed by its great Fathers, namely, the Cappadocian Fathers (St Basil the Great, St Gregory the Theologian, St Gregory of Nyssa), St Dionysius the Areopagite, St Maximus the Confessor, St John of Damascus, St Symeon the New Theologian, St Gregory of Sinai, St Gregory Palamas, and all the neptic and philokalic Fathers of the Church. At the same time, the teaching is being undermined of all the saintly ascetics whom we have known in recent years (Joseph the Cave-Dweller, Ephraim of Katounakia, Paisios of the Holy Mountain, Porphyrios of Kavsokalyvia, Ephraim of Philotheou, and others) who speak about the ascetic life, repentance, noetic prayer, and generally about man’s path towards God through purification, illumination and deification.
This also creates another serious problem that undermines the entire ecclesiology of the Church. That is to say, the dogmas of the Church are being interpreted outside their basic preconditions, which are the experience that finds concrete expression in purification, illumination and deification. However, the sacramental life of the Church is also undermined when Baptism, Chrismation, the Divine Eucharist, and all the other Mysteries are cut off from the ascetic life, as it is expressed in purification, illumination and deification. We know, however, that neither can the Mysteries be detached from the hesychastic tradition, because this constitutes a magical way of life, nor can the hesychastic tradition be lived without the Mysteries of the Church, because this leads to Eastern philosophy and Messalianism.
3. Wider analyses
The brief refutation above of this heresy in the making in the Orthodox Church enables us to go on to make wider comments and essentially to extend these thoughts in order to deal with this dangerous state that could harm members of the Church. It is obviously a Protestant, heretical malignancy that has entered the organism of some members of the Church and must not become a malignant growth that will attack the organism of the Church.
To overturn all these theories I could refer to the two-volume book that I published with the title Empirical Dogmatics, which presents the teaching of the authentic and genuine dogmatic theologian Fr. John Romanides, who was familiar with all these views in America, from the scholastic and Protestant theology that he studied, and who made clear to us the authenticity of patristic thought and life. All these views that have been put forward by some contemporary theologians are dealt with very well by Fr. John Romanides in texts that will be published later on as well. That is why they have denigrated him so much. But the truth will shine forth, as God will not let the curse prevail within the sanctified and blessed realm of the Orthodox Church, as is plain from the history of the Church. What is authentic will withstand time and pressures, whereas what is false will disappear.
I shall now underline some characteristic points that reveal this Protestant heretical malignancy that has also influenced some Orthodox.
a) The preconditions for theologising in an Orthodox way
The holy Fathers have taught us that, in order to deal with a teaching, the preconditions for Orthodox theology must be emphasised. The question is: Who, in the last analysis, is a theologian in the Church, and who can theologise? With his Theological Orations St Gregory the Theologian opposed the heresy of the Arians, who used philosophical arguments, and particularly of the Eunomians of his time, who were the predominant heretical group among the Arians. It is characteristic that he needed to set out at the beginning of his Theological Orations the preconditions for theologising. He pointed out who could and should theologise. St Gregory the Theologian refers there to “those who pride themselves on their eloquence”, who rejoice in “profane and vain babblings” and the contradictions “of what is falsely called knowledge.” They are also “sophists, and absurd and strange jugglers of words.” On account of the philosophical reasoning of the Eunomians, “our great mystery is in danger of becoming a triviality.” He calls the Eunomian who talks philosophically about God and lives outside the tradition of the Church “a dialectician fond of words.”
This is why he clarifies what the basic preconditions for Orthodox theology are. He says that theology is not just any occupation, and certainly not one of lowly origin. To theologise is not a task for everyone, but for “those who have been tested and made progress in theoria [vision], and have been previously purified in soul and body, or at very least are being purified.” This is essential, because it is dangerous for “the impure to touch what is pure,” just as the sun’s rays are dangerous for ailing eyes. Someone who theologises, therefore, ought first to be purified, otherwise he will end up a heretic. And in order to meet these preconditions for theology, one must pass through hesychia. In other words, we can theologise “when we are free from all external defilement or disturbance, and our commanding faculty is not confused by illusory or erring images,” which is like mixing fine handwriting with ugly scrawl, or the fragrance of myrrh with filth. One must first be quiet in order to know God. “For it is necessary actually to be still to know God.”
This teaching of St Gregory the Theologian, which comes at the beginning of his Theological Orations, clearly shows that great importance is ascribed to the preconditions for Orthodox theology. If these preconditions are altered, people are inevitably led to deviate from the truth, and they fall into false beliefs and heresy as a consequence. The essential preconditions for Orthodox theology, therefore, are sacred hesychia, godly stillness, purification of the heart from passions, and illumination of the nous. What St Gregory the Theologian talks about is not a different, more recent ecclesiology, but correct ecclesiology as we encounter it among the Apostles and the Prophets of the Old Testament. When this is abolished, it is not at all certain that Orthodox teaching and ecclesiology are being expressed.
In his oration on Theophany, St Gregory the Theologian speaks about purification, illumination and deification as the essential preconditions for Orthodox theology, in order for someone to attain the spiritual gift of truth and serve “the living and true God.” It is only in this way that one can “philosophise” or theologise about God. He goes on to define the method of Orthodox theology: “Where fear is, there is keeping of the commandments; and where there is keeping of the commandments, there is purification of the flesh from that cloud which covers the soul and does not allow it to see the divine rays clearly. Where there is purification there is illumination; and illumination is the satisfying of the desire of those who long for the greatest things, or the greatest thing, or that which is beyond the great.” This is indispensable, “so we must purify ourselves first, and then converse with Him Who is Pure.” This is obviously a reference to purification, enlightenment and illumination, and progress towards “the great”: the vision of the uncreated Light, divine vision, when true knowledge of God is acquired.
Sacred hesychia is the Orthodox way of life as we encounter it in Holy Scripture and the Church’s tradition, and as it was lived by the Prophets, the Apostles and the saints throughout the centuries. It is not a later ‘ecclesiology’ that supplanted and did away with “primitive ecclesiology”, Nor was it the case that some Fathers influenced the other later Fathers. I ask myself: Do those who set out views of this sort regard the Fathers of the Church as so senseless and immature that they simply accepted without checking theories produced by others – theories which altered the tradition of the Church – and thus naïvely contributed to the deviation away from Orthodox theology? Worst of all, subsequently the Church allegedly comes to the Ecumenical Councils through the Fathers and confirms this alteration! I am amazed how such sophisms are supported by so-called Orthodox, who regurgitate theories formulated by Protestants. The view mentioned above completely overlooks the presence of the Holy Spirit within the Church and the teaching that the saints are deified, as is repeatedly emphasised in the texts of the Fathers and the Ecumenical Councils.
When we speak about the hesychastic way of life we mean the whole life of the Gospel, which refers to the struggle against the devil, death and sin; the healing of thoughts; purification of the heart; activation of the noetic faculty so that the nous prays purely to God; the acquisition of unselfish love; the therapy of the three parts of soul, and so on. This ascetic life is very closely linked with the sacramental life and constitutes the very essence of the evangelical and ecclesiastical way of living.
It should be noted here that Evagrius of Pontus, whom the new Protestantising theologians regard as having introduced the deviation from “primitive ecclesiology” and as having allegedly influenced St Gregory Palamas, was ordained as a deacon by St Gregory the Theologian and served as his deacon when St Gregory was Archbishop of Constantinople. Evagrius was certainly influenced by Origen in some of his views and in expression, but in theological matters he was influenced by the Cappadocian Fathers. In fact his ascetic teaching bears the imprint of the monastic tradition of the desert as it was lived in his time, as Father Georges Florovsky asserts. In any case, his teaching about the way of knowing God and his formulation of it was accepted by St Maximus the Confessor, St John of Sinai, the author of The Ladder, and by all the later Fathers of the Church.
The theology of St Gregory the Theologian can certainly not be regarded as influenced by Evagrius of Pontus. Rather, the opposite happened. On hesychastic matters St Gregory the Theologian influenced Evagrius, who expressed this hesychastic tradition in his own form of words. I should note here that St Gregory’s title is ‘the Theologian’ and not ‘of Nazianzen’, as his Arian enemies called him contemptuously in his era, and the Protestants repeat in our time, and even some Orthodox who are influenced by them. We Orthodox shall call him as the Orthodox Church characterises him: St Gregory the Theologian, Archbishop of Constantinople.
What will follow will clarify still further this teaching of St Gregory the Theologian.
b) The experience of the glory of God and putting it into words
The Church is the Body of Christ and the members of the Church are members of His risen Body and live sacramentally and ascetically. There are not two or more types of ecclesiology, nor does one type of ecclesiology give way under pressure from another type. There is one ecclesiology, as defined by the whole life of the Orthodox Church. The Fathers of the Church did not alter the “primitive tradition” that they inherited, but they live organically united “with all the saints” and belong within the unity of the Prophets, Apostles and Fathers.
The Church itself, through the Fathers who are illuminated by the energy of the Holy Spirit, experiences the glory of God and puts it into words depending on the challenges of each age. Therefore the same revealed truth is preserved, but sometimes the terms and words change, without their spiritual meaning being lost.
Thus the word theosis (deification) does not exist in Holy Scripture, but through it are expressed the meanings conveyed by other words, such as ‘perfection’, ‘glorification’, and so on. We cannot find the word homoousios (co-essential, consubstantial) or other similar terms in Holy Scripture. The Fathers adopted this terminology from philosophy, as the heretics of that era were using it. The Fathers emptied it of the meaning that it had, and gave it a different meaning. Does this constitute, according to the view of speculative theologians, an alteration of Orthodox theology and ecclesiology?
What the Fathers did with regard to dogma they also did with regard to the precondition for dogma, which is sacred hesychia, purification of the heart, inner noetic prayer, divine vision, and so on. Just as we cannot accuse the Fathers of allegedly altering the ‘primitive theology’ with regard to the dogma of the Holy Trinity because they used the philosophical terminology of their era, so we cannot blame the Fathers for using some terms from Neoplatonic philosophy, or for merely accepting the terms used by Evagrius of Pontus and Macarius of Egypt. This is not a different and opposed ecclesiology, but the same ecclesiology that is formulated in terms that better convey the experience that they themselves lived as deified Fathers. In reality the Fathers of the Church used various terms from the philosophical language of their era in order to overturn the views of philosophy and the opinions of the heretics, as we shall see in another section. Anyone who cannot understand the difference between uncreated words and created words and concepts, as Fr. John Romanides used to say, cannot understand Orthodox theology in the least. Experience of the glory of God is not the same as putting this experience into words.
The Fathers lived in an era dominated by Greek philosophy and it was necessary for them to use the terminology of their age in order to deal with hellenised Christians. If they were alive now, they would use the terminology of our era for human beings, that is to say, they would have used biological terms (Fr. John Romanides), provided, of course, the terminology of the Ecumenical Councils was not overturned or undermined.
Be that as it may, the terminology that was used by the Fathers and affirmed at the Ecumenical Councils now is a given fact. It is an inalienable part of the Tradition. No one is able, in the name of an alleged ancient ecclesiology, to overturn it and demythologise it. The first studies of Fr. John Romanides on the Apostolic Fathers of the Church, but also on the Prayer Book of the Church, reveal that the neptic and ascetic tradition is the most essential part of the Orthodox Tradition. It shows the real preconditions for Orthodox dogmas and the whole life of the Church.
c) The neptic tradition and Holy Scripture
The concept of the neptic and hesychastic tradition of purification, illumination and deification is found in Holy Scripture – Old and New Testaments – when they are interpreted with Orthodox presuppositions and not through the interpretative method of Protestant theology. In the books that I have published from time to time I have presented abundant material on this subject. Here I shall make do with a few examples.
The Beatitudes of Christ, which are His first teaching, show exactly what the spiritual life is and they preserve all the characteristic features of the neptic and hesychastic tradition of the Church. They speak about poverty of spirit as a precondition for the Kingdom of God; about godly mourning that leads to consolation; about meekness as a precondition for inheriting the earth; about hunger and thirst; about Christ’s righteousness that brings spiritual fullness; about mercifulness that attracts God’s mercy; about purity of heart by which one sees God; about making peace, because in this way one becomes a son of God; about persecution for God’s righteousness and being cursed for His sake, because this is the way to acquire joy and gladness, and a reward in heaven (Matt. 5:1-13).
Anyone who carefully studies these Beatitudes, which actually constitute the true ecclesiastical way of life, sees that Christians are urged to keep Christ’s commandments, but above all he observes that all the great blessings, namely, beholding God, participating in the Kingdom of God, experiencing adoption as a son, are conditional on the ascetic life, which is humility, mourning, meekness, purity of heart, persecution and martyrdom for the glory of Christ.
Going on from there, if one studies the event of Christ’s Transfiguration on Mount Tabor and the participation of the three Disciples in the glory of the uncreated Light (Matt. 16:28-17:1-8), in combination with the manifestation of the Risen Christ and the experience of the mystery of Pentecost, one understands what constitutes the spiritual life.
The Apostle Peter in his General Epistles refers to this entire hesychastic life that Christians should live: “As His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him Who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Pet. 1:3-4).
One must distance oneself from the worldly mentality and reach communion with God. He goes on to refer to faith that is linked with virtue, knowledge, self-control, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and love. Through these things one attains to the knowledge of Christ. He who lacks these things “is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins” (2 Pet. 1:5-9)
He urges Christians to strive to achieve their goal: “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:10-11).
Defining what this Kingdom of God is, he refers to the manifestation of the glory of God on Mount Tabor. This is very clearly distinguished from philosophy, which is “cunningly devised fables”: “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honour and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: ‘This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.’ And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Pet. 1:16-19).
This Apostolic text very clearly shows what the calling of Christians is, what the Kingdom of God is, how one can be deemed worthy of this theoria (vision), and, of course, that this is an experience of the uncreated glory that is distinct from any kind of philosophy, Platonic or Neoplatonic.
The hesychastic tradition is apparent in the first chapter of the First General Epistle of the Apostle Peter. There all Christians are exhorted to gird up their minds, to be vigilant, to place their hope completely “upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” As children of obedience, they should not conform themselves to the desires that they had in their time of ignorance, before Baptism, but to live according to the calling of God Who is holy, so that they too may become holy in all their conduct (1 Pet. 1:13-17).
Here too the experience of great blessings is conditional on concentrating the mind, spiritual vigilance and the hope of enjoying God, in other words, divine vision. In this way they become holy. Holiness is not something taken for granted which is given mechanically and magically, but it presupposes the action of God and man’s co-operation.
These are a few examples from the New Testament, but there is a wealth of such passages that show the whole perspective of purification of the heart, illumination of the nous and divine vision. Thus there was no need for the Fathers to adopt this teaching from Platonism and Neoplatonism. One can find abundant material in the Epistles of the Apostle Paul, as I did in one of my texts called Hesychia and Divine Vision in the Epistles of the Apostle Paul .
d) The neptic-hesychastic tradition and the Holy Fathers
We encounter the hesychastic tradition in all the patristic texts. There is no Father of the Church who had experiences of the spiritual life and does not refer to purification, illumination and deification. This is not a matter of being influenced by Platonic and Neoplatonic philosophy, but of expressing their own experience in the terms of their age. In any case, as mentioned above, on this subject Evagrius of Pontus recorded the tradition that he found among the monks of Palestine, using contemporary terminology. It is therefore blasphemous for someone to regard the Fathers as so spiritually immature that they were influenced by Neoplatonic philosophy. Even if they were influenced externally in phraseology, in reality with the words that they adopted they formulated the entire hesychastic and neptic tradition of the Church.
St Gregory the Theologian refers many times to purification, illumination and deification. I cited above a few passages of his which show that purification, illumination and deification are the indispensable method of Orthodox theology, and without these preconditions there is a danger of heresy. Here I should mention his oration about the priesthood, in which he justifies why, when the subject of the priesthood was put to him, he evaded it and withdrew to Pontus. Among other things, he says that “There came over me an intense longing for the blessing of hesychia and retirement, of which I had from the first been enamoured.” He then mentions that he was seeking purification and enlightenment, as the task of the priesthood is great, because “only someone pure and of the same disposition as Himself can grasp Him Who is pure.” He must make his speech bright “in the light of knowledge”, as well as his nous and his hearing. It is dangerous for someone to theologise unless these three faculties have been purified, “if his nous has not been enlightened, or his speech is weak, or his hearing has not been purified and is not receptive.”
Most astonishing of all is the fact that this oration of St Gregory the Theologian, apart from referring to purification, illumination and divine vision, which are the essential characteristics not only of Orthodox theology but also of the priestly ministry, speaks at length about the therapeutic treatment (therapeia) of man. He characterises purification, enlightenment and the knowledge of God as healing for human beings. He wants the priest to be a therapist. Treatment takes place within the Church through the Mysteries and asceticism, and the whole work of the divine incarnation aims at healing humankind. And when he speaks about therapy, he locates it in man’s inner world, his heart. “The whole of our treatment and exertion is concerned with the hidden man of the heart, and our warfare is directed against that adversary and foe within us, who uses us as his weapons against ourselves, and, most fearful of all, hands us over to the death of sin.”
When defining virtue, St Gregory of Nyssa presents the Prophet Moses as the type of the perfect human being. In his treatise The Life of Moses he speaks about the hesychastic tradition, which is indispensable for the knowledge of God. He adapts to the spiritual condition of humankind everything that happened in the Old Testament during God’s appearance on Mount Sinai. God commanded Moses that the people should be purified from all defilement. Even irrational animals should be driven away from the mountain, and only Moses should ascend. This is purification of the soul and body, but also the removal of the garments of skin, which are mortality and corruptibility.
Referring to man’s ascent to theoria of God, St Gregory of Nyssa writes: “His way to such knowledge is purity, not only purity of his body by means of ritual sprinklings, but also of his clothes, which are washed from every stain with water.” Cleansing refers to both soul and body. “This means that the one who is going to approach the theoria of intelligible things must be purified in every respect, so that he may be pure and undefiled in soul and body, washed clean of impurity in both, in order that we might appear pure to the One Who sees what is hidden…” He explains that someone who wants to ascend to theoria must first purify his behaviour from every sensual and irrational tendency and cleanse from his nous every opinion formed within him by any preconceptions, and he must separate himself from the sense perception that is his constant companion. Once he is cleansed of this, he may then dare to ascend the mountain of divine vision, as Moses did.
Continuing this interpretation, he says that, “when he whose nous is purified and whose heart has acute hearing” hears the sound of the divine power that comes from the theoria of beings, he enters into the tabernacle not made with hands and acquires divine knowledge, which he subsequently shows to those who are below “by means of a material likeness”, through the tabernacle constructed by hands. This is an obvious reference to the divine vision of ineffable words, following purification and illumination, and the expression of these ineffable words using created words, concepts and images.
St Maximus the Confessor, that great Father of the Church who played a decisive role in the life of the Church, made a significant statement: “Knowledge without praxis…is obviously the theology of demons.” This means that theology is the outcome of illumination of the nous and theoria of God, when God reveals Himself to the deified, to those who have passed through purification of the heart. Consequently, a theology which is not the outcome and reflection of praxis and illumination of the nous, of the practical life that is purification from the passions, is a theology of fantasy, which is definitely demonic.
From this perspective St Maximus the Confessor interprets the writings of St Dionysius the Areopagite and speaks about the three gradations of the faithful, the three categories of those being saved. This is the ascetic teaching of St Maximus the Confessor that we find in all his writings. It refers to the personal assimilation of salvation and divides it into three parts, namely, “practical philosophy” or praxis; “natural theoria” or simply theoria; and “mystical theology” or simply theology. Practical philosophy, which has both a negative and a positive side, purifies man from the passions and adorns him with the virtues. Natural theoria illumines man’s nous with true knowledge. And mystical theology crowns him with the highest experience, which St Maximus the Confessor calls ecstasy. Thus the teaching of St Maximus refers to the three degrees of the Christian ascetic life: the practical stage, the stage of theoria, and the mystical theological stage. He also speaks of the three divisions among Christians who are being saved. Sometimes he refers to them as the faithful, the virtuous and those with spiritual knowledge, and sometimes as servants, hired workers and sons.
St Symeon the New Theologian, the Father of the uncreated Light, who was illumined by the experience of the heavenly Kingdom and the theoria of the uncreated Light, refers often in his works to man’s progress from purification to illumination and deification. One of his works, in which he summarises his entire theology, is entitled Practical and Theological Chapters, because praxis is the purification of the heart from the passions and theology refers to the illumination of the nous and theoria of the uncreated Light.
In a characteristic passage he says that faith, the fear of God and keeping the commandments bring rewards “in proportion to purity.” “The more we are purified, the more we rise from fearing God to love for Him.” From fear of God we “progressively” move to loving Him. Then Christ and the Father love us “and the Holy Spirit goes before to prepare a dwelling-place.” Thus “by the indwelling unity of the Hypostases we become the dwelling of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
In a talk that St Symeon the New Theologian gave to his monks he expresses his joy at seeing the progress in their life “as you advance in faith, purity, fear of God, reverence, contrition and tears, by which the inner man is purified and filled with divine Light, and becomes wholly the possession of the Holy Spirit in a contrite soul and a lowly mind. And my joy becomes a blessing for you and an increase of imperishable and blessed life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
St Gregory Palamas, that great star of the Church, demonstrated through his theology that the entire hesychastic tradition is a precondition for spiritual experience of God and knowledge of Him. This is clear from his treatise In Defence of the Holy Hesychasts, in which he destroyed all the arguments of Western scholasticism, which Barlaam represented, but also the arguments of all the Barlaamites down through the ages, who want to overthrow the ecclesiology of the Fathers of the Church, as well as the theology and the ecclesiology of the Local and Ecumenical Councils. It is amazing that, when he became Metropolitan of Thessaloniki, he put all this sacred hesychastic tradition into the homilies that he delivered to his flock. There is an abundance of material on this subject, which I have set out in other texts of mine and which does not need to be recorded here. The most important thing is that St Gregory Palamas’s hesychastic teaching on divine vision was confirmed by the Councils that took place in his time, particularly by the Council of 1351, which is taken to be, and regarded as, the 9th Ecumenical Council.
It is obvious that all the Fathers of the Church mentioned above, and many others, speak about purification, illumination and deification, and about sacred hesychia as an indispensable precondition for theologising in an Orthodox way. Therefore the views of speculative Protestantising theologians that they were allegedly influenced by Neoplatonic theories and altered the tradition that preceded them is an insult to them. All these Fathers were aware of being the successors of the holy Fathers in their way of thinking and their way of life.
There certainly seems to be an external similarity in terminology between the Fathers and the Neoplatonists, but there is an essential difference between them. The teaching of the Platonists and the Neoplatonists refers to a God who does not have love (eros) for man, as love is the desire of the naturally immortal soul to return to the ungenerated world of ideas from which it fell. The Fathers, by contrast, speak about God’s love for man.
The theory of the Platonists and the Neoplatonists makes a distinction between the naturally immortal soul and the naturally mortal body, which means that the soul previously belonged to the ungenerated world of ideas and fell away from it, so it was enclosed in the body as a punishment. Finding itself in the body it seeks to free itself and to return to the world of ideas. According to the Platonists and Neoplatonists, therefore, the purification of the soul is its deliverance from the body; the illumination of the soul is the knowledge of the archetypes of beings, the ideas; and the salvation of the soul is ecstasy and its liberation from the body.
This Neoplatonic view bears no relation to the teaching of the Fathers of the Church, according to whom the soul is God’s creation and was created out of non-being immediately when the body was created. The body is not the prison of the soul, but was created by God in a positive manner. Illumination is noetic prayer of the heart, by the action of the Holy Spirit, which takes place within the heart, in the body. Ecstasy is not the departure of the soul from the body but its liberation from the carnal mentality. And deification is not the soul’s return to the ungenerated world of ideas but man’s communion with God and divine vision.
In the experience of the Neoplatonists the human body does not share in the soul’s journey to God. There too reference is made to an experience of light, but it is a light that remains separate and is outside the human being. It has place and colour, and ultimately it is a diabolical light. According to the Fathers of the Church, however, enlightenment and divine vision are an experience of the uncreated Light. The human being participates in the divine Light and is mingled with it. Not only the soul but also the body are transformed.
Then, the experience of the Stoics and the Neoplatonists is connected with ecstasy in the sense of the departure of the nous “from time, distances and ordered sequences of thought.” According to the Fathers, however, this experience is demonic, as Fr. John Romanides says. In other words the Neoplatonists strive to be freed from the shortcomings of human thought, from created and changeable things, whereas according to the theology of the Fathers, the whole human being shares in the experience of deification.
When Evagrius of Pontus speaks about a nous free from fantasy and form during prayer, this does not mean the negative theology of the Platonists and the Neoplatonists. Rather, it is essentially a way of refuting the theory of the Platonists and Neoplatonists about the so-called world of ideas and the return of the soul to it, and the knowledge of the archetypes of beings. The human soul is not a copy of the ideas. And when St Macarius of Egypt speaks about the return of the nous to man’s heart from its dispersion in the world of the senses – something that St Gregory Palamas developed theologically – he says this in order to refute the theories of the Platonists and Neoplatonists about the naturally mortal body as the prison of the naturally immortal soul. St Macarius wants to show that the body is a positive creation of God which is deified together with the soul and will be resurrected at the Second Coming of Christ.
Consequently it is unjust, unscientific and unorthodox to equate the teaching about the nous free from form and fantasy and about the return of the nous to the heart with the theories of the Platonists and Neoplatonists, because these views are repudiated by the teaching of the Fathers. It is clear that the Fathers and the teachers of the Church used this sort of terminology in order to deal effectively with the views of heretics.
St Gregory Palamas, expounding the hesychastic and neptic tradition of the Church and countering the scholastic mentality of Barlaam, says that human wisdom and philosophy are the opposite of spiritual knowledge. He actually claims that all the heresies originated from human wisdom and knowledge, secular wisdom. “If you were to examine the problem, you would see that all or most of the harmful heresies derive their principles from this source.” The heretics used the principles of philosophy, whereas the Fathers theologised from their experience of God. They were empowered by God’s uncreated grace and they saw God, not created things and demonic fantasies.
Certainly the Fathers used the terminology of their era to express their experience, but they gave it different meaning and significance. For this reason St Gregory Palamas writes: “If one of the Fathers utters something the same as those outside, this is just a matter of the words; with regard to the meanings there is a great difference, for the Fathers have the mind of Christ, whereas those outside, if nothing worse, “speak from the human mind.” And he recalls the words of the Prophet Isaiah (Is. 55:9) “But as heaven is distant from the earth, so is My mind distant from your thoughts.”
This passage shows that, when we see the same terminology used by the Fathers and the philosophers, we ought not to suppose that they are saying the same things. They have only the spoken words in common, whereas the meaning is very different. This is natural, because the Fathers have the mind of Christ, whereas the others speak, at best, from their human mind, and, at worst (“if nothing worse”), from Satanic and demonic energy.
This statement by St Gregory Palamas deals a blow to those who assert that the Fathers allegedly altered “primitive ecclesiology” and that they allegedly express the Neoplatonic tradition. Anyone who spreads such theories demonstrates that he does not know the Fathers’ teaching, but has an external superficial knowledge, or else he consciously misinterprets them in a Protestant manner. In that case he is slandering not only the Fathers but also the whole Church that adopted their teaching synodically in its worship.
Another important statement by St Gregory Palamas should be added here. Referring to the three kinds of atheism, the saint includes in one of these categories those theologians who deny or undervalue the teaching of the holy Fathers of the Church. He writes “This is true piety, not to doubt the God-bearing Fathers.” He recalls the teaching of St Dionysius the Areopagite, whom he calls great, and the teachings of St Athanasius the Great, St Basil the Great and St Gregory the Theologian and comments: “The theologies of the aforementioned saints are a definition and rule of true reverence for God, and each of them completes, as it were, the protective fence and wall around piety. For if someone removes one of these theologies, the great swarm of heretical perversity will pour in from there.”
This passage speaks about true piety and reverence for God, which is absolutely in accord with the teachings of the holy Fathers, whose theologies are a definition of true devotion, a rule and a protecting barrier. It also says that, when someone takes away one teaching of the Fathers, “the swarm of heretical perversity” comes in.. Consequently, doubting the teaching of St Dionysius the Areopagite and more recent saints constitutes impiety and a deviation from the Orthodox Tradition, and it ends in atheism, because it is a denial of the God of our Fathers.
e) The neptic-hesychastic tradition and the Ecumenical Councils
The hesychastic tradition was adopted by the decisions of the Local and Ecumenical Councils and is a given theology of the Church. The dogmas are the record of the experience of the revelation, and the Canons relate to strengthening the unity of the Church, but they also indicate the preconditions for experiencing the revelation, particularly those Canons which refer to how the repentance of Christians is to be organised. The entire theology of the Local and Ecumenical Councils is apparent in the Quinisext (5th-6th) Ecumenical Council, particularly in the “opening address” and its Canons 1 and 102.
The hesychastic Councils of the 14th century (1341, 1347, 1351, 1368), at which St Gregory Palamas took the lead with his hesychastic theology, which is the very essence of the Orthodox theology of all the holy Fathers, confirmed hesychasm as a precondition for holiness and deification, but they also formulated dogmas about the theology concerning participation in the uncreated deifying energy of God. When one considers that these Councils, particularly the Council of 1351 which accepted the decisions of the previous Councils (1341, 1347), meet all the preconditions for being described as the 9th Ecumenical Council, one realises the great value of the hesychastic and neptic tradition of the Church as the authentic evangelical and ecclesiastical life.
Anyone who reads carefully the Proceedings and the Synodical Tome of the Council of 1351 clearly discerns that it has all the characteristics of an Ecumenical Council, including the fact that it was concerned with a serious dogmatic issue, as a sequel to the 4th and 6th Ecumenical Councils; that the Emperors signed the Proceedings; and also that the Fathers of the Council themselves call it “a divine and sacred Council” . For these reasons it has actually been characterised as the 9th Ecumenical Council. The Proceedings of this Council make the following points particularly clear:
Firstly, the Synodical Tomes of the years 1341 and 1347 were included in this Council and in this way they acquired ecumenical authority. The Proceedings of the 1351 Council record: “…and having considered and examined the foregoing in an exact and appropriate manner, and thereupon affirming the earlier Synodical Tomes as extremely pious, or rather, following on from these…” Consequently, all these Councils are regarded as one Council and, of course, these Councils condemned the views of Barlaam but also of his follows, the Barlaamites Akindynos and Gregoras.
Secondly, the Council regards itself as a continuation of the earlier Ecumenical Councils , particularly of the 6th Ecumenical Council, which declared that Christ had two wills: a divine will and a human will. Thus its Synodical Tome is mentioned: “And this too was proved, having been clearly declared by the saints, headed by the holy Ecumenical Council, as has indeed been sufficiently demonstrated through its particular pronouncements that have been cited.” In fact, Barlaam and those of like mind with him, who speak about the created energy of God, are characterised as even worse than the Monothelites: “Hence these are clearly shown to be much worse than those [i.e. the Monothelites]”, “worse and more outrageous”, because the Monothelites asserted that there is one will and one energy in Christ but they regarded this energy as uncreated and not created, whereas the Barlaamites consider that in Christ there is one will and one energy, but they evidently accept that the energy is created.”
Thirdly, the Proceedings record the heretical views of Barlaam, Akindynos and Gregoras, which relate to the uncreated energy and participation by the deified saints in the uncreated energy. The important thing is that the Council of 1351 also affirmed the previous Synodical Tomes that refer to sacred hesychasm as well, which is an indispensable precondition for the vision of God’s uncreated energy. This means that these decisions do not refer only to the nature of the uncreated Light, but also to sacred hesychasm, the essential prerequisite for beholding the uncreated Light.
The Proceedings record that Barlaam bitterly attacked the sacred Fathers, “whose hearts have been purified through the commandments of God” and who secretly and ineffably receive divine illuminations. He also inveighed “against the monks living in hesychia.” Barlaam distorted and condemned in writing “many of the customs of hesychia” and he even attacked the usual prayer of the hesychasts, and also of all Christians, the prayer “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me.”
The Council refers to the relationship between hesychia, prayer and theoria of the uncreated Light, which is the Kingdom of God itself. There is a characteristic passage: “For hesychia is the mother of prayer. Prayer is the manifestation of divine glory. When we close our senses and hold converse with ourselves and with God, and, having freed ourselves from the outward distraction of the world, enter into ourselves, we shall see clearly in ourselves the Kingdom of God. ‘For the kingdom of heaven, which is the Kingdom of God, is within us,’ as Jesus our God proclaimed.” It is therefore clear that the vision of the Kingdom of God and the eschatological experience that begins in this life are inseparably linked with hesychasm. Hesychasm is not something that came into the life of the Church later on, under the influence of the Neoplatonists, and allegedly by-passed the ecclesiology of the first Church, which was based on the Divine Eucharist and the sense of the Kingdom of God. Rather, hesychasm is the precondition for the vision of the uncreated Light, as the “divine and sacred Council” of 1351 affirmed.
Instead of following the teaching of the Prophets, Apostles and Fathers, Barlaam relied more upon philosophy. He considered that the Light of divinity that shone upon Mount Tabor was not inapproachable and not truly the Light of divinity, nor was it more sacred and divine that the angels, “but lower than and inferior to our own understanding.” In other words, Barlaam considered that “all concepts and intelligible realities are nobler than that light.”
Fourthly the Proceedings document all this theology in the texts of Holy Scripture – both Old and New Testaments – and in the teaching of the holy Fathers of the Church, such as St Athanasius the Great, St Basil the Great, St Gregory the Theologian, St Gregory of Nyssa, St John Chrysostom, St Diadochos of Photiki, St Dionysius the Areopagite, St Maximus the Confessor, St John of Damascus, St Andrew of Crete and others. The quotations from the holy Apostles and the holy Fathers refer to sacred hesychia, noetic prayer in the heart, spiritual vigilance of the nous, purity of heart, the link between sacred hesychia and the Mysteries of the Church, theoria of the uncreated Light, and participation in the Kingdom of God. In this way it is indisputably proved that the only eschatological experience of the Kingdom of God is participation through sacred hesychia in the uncreated glory of God, which is theoria of the uncreated Light.
Fifthly, the Council of 1351 affirmed the just anathemas pronounced by the previous Councils against Barlaam and Akindynos, as they had not repented. Those who were “likeminded with them and simply all who belonged to their faction” were punished “as disowned and rejected by the Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ”, unless they changed their views. It also imposed the anathema of excommunication and stripped the Clergy “of every priestly function”, if they knowingly associated with these heretics. In addition, anyone who reviles the hesychasts and St Gregory Palamas in the future is condemned. On the subject which concerns us, the Synodical Tome of 1351 confirms the earlier condemnation:
“But if anyone else at all is ever found thinking or saying or writing the same things against the most holy Bishop of Thessaloniki [the Tome of 1347 writes: ‘the aforementioned most worthy hieromonk Gregory Palamas and the monks with him’] or rather, against the holy theologians and this Church, we vote the same things against him and put him under the same condemnation [expulsion from the priesthood and excommunication], whether he be a priest or a layman.”
It is clear from this passage that the Church adopted synodically the whole teaching of St Gregory Palamas and the hesychasts about God’s uncreated energy and the Light on Tabor, but also about sacred hesychasm. This is not, therefore, a teaching of St Gregory Palamas, but a teaching of the Prophets, Apostles and Fathers, and of the Church itself. Not only then but in the future (“ever”) anyone who thinks or speaks or writes against these things, anyone who denies sacred hesychasm, divine vision and the uncreated energy of God, whether he be a member of the Clergy or the laity, is subject to the same expulsion and excommunication as the anti-hesychastic contemporaries of St Gregory Palamas received.
These Proceedings show with absolute clarity that those who claim that the Fathers of the Church from the 3rd century onwards were influenced by a different “(Neo)platonic ecclesiology” – which was allegedly discovered and presented by Evagrius of Pontus and Macarius of Egypt, both of whom also influenced the later Fathers, such that the “primitive ecclesiology” of the Eucharist and the Kingdom of God was dismissed and overlooked – are actually expressing the condemned heresy of Barlaam, Akindynos and Gregoras. They are obviously Barlaamites, and this has terrible consequences.
f) The tradition of the Philokalia
After the hesychast Councils of the 14th century the whole hesychastic tradition, which the Church had endorsed synodically and affirmed as the genuine evangelical, ecclesiastical and patristic way of life, needed to be codified. Thus various texts began to be collected, and finally the Philokalia of the Neptic Saints was compiled. This did not overlook the Mysteries, but it recorded the real ecclesiastical preconditions for participating in grace through them.
The Philokalia was compiled and published by St Macarius Notaras, former Bishop of Corinth, and St Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain. The preface, written by St Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, shows the great value of the Philokalia, which contains texts showing people the way to discover the grace of Holy Baptism and Chrismation. This grace exists within the heart of baptised Christians, but in many of them it is now concealed by passions.
The Philokalia of the Neptic Saints obviously contains the method of Orthodox devotion, which is sacred hesychasm. This method is closely connected with the Mysteries of the Church – Baptism, Chrismation, the Divine Eucharist – and shows people the way to reach deification. It follows that the Mysteries and hesychasm are very closely linked together. Therefore anyone who undervalues the Philokalia and speaks contemptuously and insultingly about it is actually undermining the whole ascetic teaching of the Church, which was affirmed synodically.
g) Neptic theology, the Mysteries and the worship of the Church
The whole hesychastic tradition passed into the prayers of the Mysteries of the Church, its sacred services and its worship. It is well known that the Church put all its theology about the Mysteries into the prayers that are said during them. These prayers clearly show what the aim of the Mysteries is and what the preconditions are for experiencing this aim. The aim is sanctification, deification and the vision of the Light, and the preconditions are repentance and all the hesychastic tradition of the Church.
Anyone who reads the service “For Making a Catechumen” understands the aim of catechetical instruction: “Drive from him every evil and unclean spirit, hiding and lurking in his heart.” “Put off from him the old man, and renew him unto everlasting life; fill him with the power of Your Holy Spirit, unto union with Your Christ.”
This refers to the departure of the devil, by the grace of God, from the depths of the heart of the one to be baptised, and of his being filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, so that he may be united with Christ and become a member of His risen Body.
The prayers for Baptism refer to the great calling from Christ and recall the teaching of Apostle Paul: “Grant that he who is to be baptised in [this water] may be transformed, that he may put away the old man, which is corrupt through the deceitful lusts, and may put on the new man, which is renewed according to the image of Him that created him.” The prayer for blessing the water in which the catechumen will be baptised in order to become a Christian contains the following significant words for the baptismal candidate: “And preserving the gift of Your Holy Spirit, and increasing the grace entrusted to him, may he receive the prize of the upward call, and be numbered among the first-born, whose names are written in heaven.” The prayers at the Ablution say: “Master and Lord, be pleased to grant that the illumination of Your countenance may evermore shine in his heart.” These and other intercessions to God presuppose a lifelong struggle within the hesychastic and neptic tradition of the Church. Through Holy Baptism, the Triune God gives us “blessed purification”, and through life-giving Chrismation He bestows on us “the Seal of the gift of the holy, almighty and adorable Spirit.”
There is a very characteristic passage from the prayer that is read for someone who returns to the true faith after denying Christ: “Enlighten his mind by the power and energy of Your Holy Spirit, so that the spark of saving Baptism stored up in his soul may be kindled by the breezes of grace, and the Seal with which he has been marked may appear more distinctly in his heart and thoughts, through the sign of the Cross of Your Christ, with hope in You and knowledge of the truth, that he may know and venerate You the only God and Father and Your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ and Your Holy Spirit.”
The Ecumenical Patriarch reads a very expressive prayer for the sanctification of the holy Chrism with which the Mystery of Chrismation is performed: “Send down Your Holy Spirit and sanctify this Chrism. Make it chrism of gladness of the Holy Spirit, chrism of regeneration, chrism of sanctification, a royal garment, a breastplate of righteousness, to turn away all diabolical energy, an unassailable seal, gladness of heart and eternal joy. That those who are anointed with it may shine as brightly as the lights of heaven, without spot or blemish, and may be received into the eternal resting-places, and may receive the reward of the upward call.”
The Mystery of Chrismation, which takes place with the holy Chrism, is connected with the regeneration of human beings. It is a kingly robe, the averting of all satanic energy, an unassailable seal and gladness of heart, which illumines man’s soul and gives him the reward of the high calling.
The prayers for the dedication of the holy Altar are also significant. When the Bishop prays to God for the inauguration of the church building, at the same time he beseeches God for the renewal of human beings in the place of their heart: “And send down upon us and upon Your inheritance Your most Holy Spirit, and, as holy David says, renew a right spirit within our hearts and establish us with Your sovereign Spirit.” In another prayer he prays for the renewal of the church building, so that within it the faithful may become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and so that noetic sacrifices may be offered in the depths of their hearts through the purification of their nous: “…Keep it (the church) until the end of time and renew it by Your Holy Spirit,, so that in it we may offer You bloodless sacrifices and become partakers of the Holy Spirit, being renewed in our inward parts and strengthened in the commanding faculty of our minds, and grant that we may mystically offer You, the Lord God, noetic sacrifices through the purification of the nous.” This is obviously a reference to the spiritual priesthood, to the sacred rite of the nous in the heart through purification of the heart, which is the essence of neptic theology.
When one reads the prayers for partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ which are included among the prayers of the Divine Liturgy, but also the service of Preparation for Holy Communion, one finds the whole of hesychastic practice as a precondition for Holy Communion. There is a characteristic prayer: “Make us worthy to partake of Your heavenly and awesome Mysteries of this sacred and spiritual Table with a pure conscience, for remission of sins, for forgiveness of transgressions, for communion of the Holy Spirit, for the inheritance of the Kingdom of Heaven, for boldness towards You, not for judgment or condemnation.” Purity of conscience is not something instantaneous that happens at that moment. It presupposes a struggle for purification, and this is essential for Holy Communion, so that it may not be “for judgment or condemnation” but “for communion of the Holy Spirit, for the inheritance of the Kingdom of Heaven.”
The prayer before Holy Communion by St Symeon the New Theologian is typical. Humility and ascetic effort come first, and then remission of sins is sought, so that the Body and Blood of Christ may bring about deification and sanctification:
“Look on my lowliness, look on my toil,
How great it is. Forgive me all my sins,
O God of all things, that with a pure heart,
A fearful mind, and with a contrite soul,
I may partake of Your immaculate
And most pure Mysteries, by which all those
Who eat and drink You with a heart sincere
Are given life and truly deified.”
The whole prayer expresses repentance, tears and a contrite soul, but at the same time the one praying looks towards God’s love for humankind. He asks for God’s mercy, because he knows that Holy Communion acts according to the spiritual state of the recipient, in other words, it purifies, brightens (illumines) and deifies.
“But with the oil of mercy and compassion
You cleanse all those who fervently repent;
Make radiant and let them share Your light,
Bounteously making them partakers in
Your Godhead. And, though strange to angels and
To mortal minds, You often speak with them
As with Your own true friends.”
We see all this ascetic teaching in the Church’s worship. Reading the troparia of the Church that are sung at the daily services, we find abundant material about the purification of the heart, illumination of the nous and deification. I shall mention a typical example from the canon of Pentecost, which is the work of St John of Damascus, the great theologian of the 8th century: “He who was slow of tongue, covered in divine darkness, proclaimed the law written by God; for shaking the dust from the eye of his nous, he sees the One Who Is, and is initiated into knowledge of the Spirit, as he gives praise with inspired songs.”
In this troparion all the excellent theology of our Church is displayed. Moses, and every God-seeing Father of the Church, was accounted worthy to be covered by the divine darkness and to see Him Who Is, the Angel of Great Counsel, the unincarnate Word – Who is the real theologian – once he had shaken from the eyes of his nous “every uncleanness of the passions and every earthly way of thinking.” Following this praxis and theoria he is initiated into the knowledge of the Spirit, which is a secret kept from most people. Then he eloquently proclaims the law written by God, although he is by nature slow of tongue, and he glorifies God with inspired songs. This happens to every saint who beholds God. Orthodox theology, prayer and pastoral ministry belong within this perspective.
All the material in the Synaxarion, that is to say, the lives of the saints, ascetics, Martyrs and all the saints in general, shows that the saints followed the ascetic and hesychastic way of life through repentance, faith, purity of heart, illumination of the nous, and love for God, and they accepted martyrdom as the outcome of theoria.
The daily prayers of the Church outline this path from purification to illumination and deification, which is the real therapy for human beings. It is amazing that the Church wants the faithful to live in spiritual vigilance not only when they are awake but even during sleep. In the prayer at Compline the faithful ask God to send His grace so as to stop the assaults of the passions and to give “a watchful mind, chaste thought, a wakeful heart, sleep that is light and free from every satanic fantasy.” This means that the Church wants believers to be vigilant, to have a pure and watchful heart, even during sleep. Christians must live the hesychastic tradition even at the time when their body is resting. How much more should this be the case during the day.
g) The interpretation of Fr. John Romanides
The view of the new theologians and philosophisers, which was referred to at the beginning of this article, about two alleged ecclesiologies, the “primitive tradition” and a “later” one, undermines the whole tradition of the Church as expressed in Holy Scripture, the teaching of the Fathers, the worship of the Church and the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils. Essentially this tradition refers to purification, illumination and deification and to the experience of the purifying, illuminating and deifying energy of God. Such a deluded view is a menace that wants to destroy the spiritual organism of the Church and to alter the whole of Orthodox theology.
The question that arises, however, is how “this spiritual virus and infection” reached the Orthodox Church.
The answer is that various theologians or intellectuals who were students at Protestant colleges and had Protestant teachers, whom they idealised, or who studied Protestant analyses, without having sufficient knowledge of the neptic tradition of the Orthodox Church, indiscriminately brought these opinions into the holy environment of Orthodox theology and the Orthodox Church. As a result, individual members of the organism of the Church are affected. Fr. John Romanides, who came across this mentality in Protestant colleges in America, makes the following apt observation:
“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 had encountered (Franco-Latin), which was based on merits. Having discovered that the teaching about merits was erroneous, they also condemned celibacy and monasticism. In addition, 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 to foreign universities – 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.”
This interpretation is catalytic, expressive and unanswerable.
In my estimation, this heretical way of thinking, which we referred to at the beginning of this article, about the alleged two types of ecclesiology of which the later version overturns the ‘primitive’ one, or at least they go along in parallel, is developing insidiously but “scientifically” within our Church. Unfortunately few people take note of this spiritual illness. Most of them are occupied with superficial matters, with individual human freedoms and individual human rights, or the ecumenical mentality of some Clergy and laypeople, things which are, of course, also serious in their way. However, they ignore this subversion of Orthodox theology, which is due to misinterpretations, and which is insulting and slanderous to the Fathers of the Church.
It is absolutely clear that this heresy in the making conceals a Protestant humanism, which is alien to the Orthodox tradition. An attempt is being made to dismantle the entire Orthodox patristic Tradition, as it was formulated in Holy Scripture, expressed by the great Fathers of the Church, and synodically approved at the Ecumenical Councils, as well as being recorded in the Prayer-Book and in the worship of the Church. Those who uphold such theories have not understood anything about the essence of Orthodox theology.
Also, those who teach such theories about so-called “double ecclesiology and spirituality” are unable to comprehend the basic patristic teaching that the experience of God with ineffable words, according to the Apostle Paul, is not the same as expressing this revelational experience in created words and concepts, as Fr. John Romanides used to say, because the holy Fathers adopt, when necessary, the terminology of every era to express the revelatory experience of deification. This is stated by St Maximus the Confessor: “Α pure nous sees things correctly. Practised speech brings what it sees into view.”
The tradition of the Church, as it was set out in the Synodikon of Orthodoxy, clearly proclaims: “As the Prophets saw, as the Apostles taught, as the Church has received, as the teachers set out in dogmas, as the whole world has agreed, as grace has shone forth, as the truth has demonstrated, as error has been banished, as wisdom makes bold to declare, as Christ has decided, so we think, so we speak, so we preach Christ our true God… This is the faith of the Apostles, this is the faith of the Fathers, this is the faith of the Orthodox, this faith has established the whole world.”
This text shows that the experience and teaching of the Prophets, Apostles and Fathers is identical, so there is no room for a “double ecclesiology”, two sorts of ecclesiology that allegedly conflict with one another, or else the one undervalues the other, or even both move in parallel. These theories are expressed by Protestants or by Protestantising circles, and they undermine Orthodox ecclesiology itself.
In reality there is one ecclesiology, that which was lived by the Prophets, the Apostles and the Fathers of the Church. The Church is the Body of the risen and ascended Christ. The glorified Christ is the centre of the Church, as the Disciples saw Him on Mount Tabor, and as they acquired communion with Him at Pentecost by the energy of the Holy Spirit. This is the key to ecclesiastical life. But participation in this Body and remaining within it are achieved through the Mysteries and asceticism. The precondition for experiencing the grace of God through the Mysteries is sacred hesychasm, in other words, purification, illumination and deification.
Without this combination of the Mysteries and asceticism a major ecclesiastical problem arises. This means that participation in the Church unconditionally by simply taking part in the Divine Eucharist and through alleged awareness of the Kingdom of God “without the stages of participation in the Body of Christ” is “Eucharistic and ecclesiological idolatry” (Fr John Romanides), because participation in the Mysteries is regarded as an ideological and, above all, magical practice. Such a view favours the Vatican and Protestantism, and it is promoted with an ecumenist mentality. So it is a major heresy in the making in the Church, which aims at ignoring the genuine prophetic, apostolic and patristic teaching, in other words, ecclesiastical theology, and characterises it as “post-patristic”.
It is clear from the above that those who until now have not sufficiently understood what “post-patristic” theology is and what it represents can now perceive from everything written here what the essence of imported and resold “post-patristic theology” is. Those who produce such theories actually consider that the God-bearing Fathers of the Church from the 3rd century onwards were led astray by (Neo)platonic traditions, and now these more recent theologians have appeared, who have understood the mistake made by those great Fathers and want, in a Protestant way, to return the Church to the period before the 3rd century.
Those who are obsessed with such views show that in reality they are disturbed by hesychasm, by everything to do with hesychia, purification, illumination and deification, and they want to reject this “ecclesiology”, so that they can speculate about God and divine things. If, however, one rejects the preconditions of Orthodox theology, in other words, sacred hesychasm, the road is then wide open for the scholastic and moralistic theology of the Roman Catholics and Protestants to come into the Orthodox Church.. In reality this is secularisation in the Church and theology, or rather, the secularisation of Orthodox theologians.