By Protopresbyter Fr. John Romanides
In Orthodox theology we do not speak about mysticism. We speak about secret theology and initiation into the mysteries. Initiation into the mysteries takes place by passing through the stages of purification, illumination and glorification. We speak of initiation by the Holy Spirit, the instruction that leads man to glorification. The purpose of all this theoria is glorification.
Anyone wanting to learn the mystery of the Church from the patristic point of view ought to find a good spiritual father, have a prayer rope and pass through the various stages of perfection, from purification to illumination. And when he reaches glorification he will know all that someone living in this world can possibly know about the Church. From the perspective of human possibilities, this is complete knowledge of what the Church is.
The tradition of the Church consists of the Mysteries (Sacraments). These Mysteries are the center of the life of the Church. The Divine Eucharist, Baptism, Confession and so on are the core of the tradition and an expression of the inner life of the Church. The basis of all the Mysteries of the Church is the whole endeavor of Orthodox Christians to climb up the steps to perfection. These are summed up by the Fathers in the terms we have mentioned so many times: purification, illumination and glorification. This is the core of the Orthodox tradition.
All the sacramental services of the Church, all the Church's prayers, the whole effort of fasting and everything else have this single aim: that all Christians should go forward together to illumination, and through illumination to glorification.
The path by which someone is set free from the devil is very difficult and requires a long period of prayer, fasting and instruction in the teachings of the Prophets and Christ. The heart has to depart from evil and turn towards Christ. One has to leave self-interest behind and be filled with the desire to die with Christ in Baptism.
Baptism ought to be preceded by spiritual progress in a gradual preparation for crucifixion and death in the waters of Baptism and for adoption as a son through the seal of the Spirit. Through death in Baptism man is resurrected to new life, through the life-giving seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit, which safeguards his adoption as a son of God. The indwelling of God in man through the Holy Spirit enables him to participate in the life of the Eucharist, in which all belong to one Body.
The restoration of man's communion with God and his neighbor through death in Baptism and through the gift of the Holy Spirit is not a magical guarantee against the possibility of becoming once again a servant of the devil and being cut off from the Body of Christ. With Baptism unrelenting war is declared against the devil and the powers of division and destruction. This war continues in the life of the Church, in which all belong to one Body. Giving up the struggle entails condemnation.
There are exorcisms before Baptism. We read exorcisms to the candidates for Baptism all through Great Lent. We do not read exorcisms only on the day of Baptism. We read many exorcisms many times over. For what reason? Because the whole struggle was to release the candidate for Baptism from the energies of the devil. This is the main concern of purification.
Now, however, let us consider the state of faith in a period when we prepare candidates with moral teaching. "You must be good children. Don't do this, don't do that...." As long as they limit their evil deeds, they abstain from evil deeds. When they reach the point of abstaining from evil deeds they are catechized and their mind is filled with knowledge of the Old and New Testaments, the Creed and so on. They sit through examinations, pass them and are baptized. This is Baptism.
And we think that someone has become the temple of God because he has been baptized. We say, "You have been anointed, baptized and washed clean." He is baptized and the prayers say that he is the temple of God. Why? Because he has been anointed? Yes, the services say all this and we accept what the services say, and believe today that, as someone has become moral and has been instructed in the faith, and as he has been baptized and anointed, he is now the temple of God. But in the era of the Fathers someone who had constant remembrance of God within his nous was the temple of God. This means that catechism was something more than simply formal instruction. It was something over and above that.
What is meant by the temple of God? Not someone who is baptized. St. Basil the Great does not tell us that every baptized Christian is the temple of God. That's what we say nowadays. We teach that now at university. All the priests say that now when someone has been baptized, that he is the temple of God. "All of us who are baptized have God within us."
I have delivered many such sermons myself, that "We are temples of God," "You are temples of God," and so on. We do this in order to construct those fine sermons saying that we cannot do what we like with our bodies, we have to be careful, because we are temples of God. We ought not to do this, that or the other. We deliver sermons taking it for granted saying that as we are baptized we are temples of God.
But if you look closely at the patristic texts you will see that someone who has received the visitation of the Holy Spirit is the temple of God. Then we understand why St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory the Theologian postponed Baptism and were baptized late. You know, our professors in America say that it is good for someone to defer Baptism, because then he can sin and do whatever he likes. When he is baptized all his sins are washed away; once he has tired himself out he is baptized and becomes a good Christian and is out of danger.
I have a suspicion, a slight suspicion, because purification was difficult and they had to go through purification, which was not simply catechism and moral instruction, that it was not for moral reasons that they were not baptized, but it was because they had not passed through the exercise of purification of the nous, by which all thoughts depart and one thought remains, the constant remembrance of God. Catechism and exorcisms were also accompanied by ascetic practice. In order for someone to be baptized he had to go through asceticism, not just the moral correction of his life. The preparation for Baptism is not moral correction. The preparation for Baptism is asceticism.
Excerpted from Empirical Dogmatics of the Orthodox Catholic Church According to the Spoken Teaching of Father John Romanides, vol. 2, pp. 331-336.
See also: Fr. John Romanides Resource Page