...continued from part one.
By Protopresbyter Fr. John Romanides
Definition of Illumination
What is illumination? Essentially, illumination is not illumination of the rational faculty. Of course there is illumination of the rational faculty: one prays, goes to church, fasts. One orientates the rational faculty towards doing the right thing: liberating slaves, helping the poor, going voluntarily to give blood, all those sorts of things.
To the Fathers, illumination is not the enlightenment of the rational faculty, but of the heart. There is the purification of the heart, then the illumination of the heart, which is not a rational enlightenment but a spiritual enlightenment - this is illumination. This is the cure. The illness is when the nous is darkened and the cure is when the nous is illumined.
Man has to be concerned with the essentials of life - with family, the community, work and so on. He can only pray with the rational faculty at intervals during the day: Matins, Vespers, Midnight Office, etc. The rest of the day he may try to pray while he works, but if he tries hard, he will not be a good worker, to say the least. They will regard him as lazy, as a shirker. He will not be an efficient worker. So he needs to separate his noetic faculty from his rational faculty. How is this done? By expelling all thoughts from the noetic faculty, from the nous.
One does not need to be a philosopher to learn these things. The Fathers used to say that it was not necessary to be educated to reach illumination. Asceticism, not science and learning, leads to illumination of the nous. The Fathers lay great stress on this.
When the nous has been purified, the nous begins to be illumined. There are those who have been newly-baptized and there are those who have been newly-illumined, and the illuminated are presumed to have constant remembrance of God. Their nous has been freed from the rational faculty, the passions and so on, and is only occupied with prayer, noetic prayer, and the remembrance of God.
In our tradition, illumination is when the heart has been purified and the multitude of our thoughts have been replaced with one single thought, which is a simple prayer. This is what the Apostle Paul meant by the words "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thess. 5:17). This is illumination and this is how St. Paul describes it. This is illumination in the early Church.
The knowledge gained through this illumination is not philosophical knowledge, but prayer. It is not rational knowledge, but the knowledge of prayer, because rational knowledge stays in the rational faculty. The prayer of the illuminated is unceasing. It lasts twenty-four hours a day and even during sleep.
All prayers are words and concepts, so words and concepts are used in the experience of illumination by the Holy Spirit Himself. He takes the very words with which we pray, the Psalms for example. The Spirit takes these words and concepts and prays in us with our own words.
Our captivity comes to an end when the unceasing remembrance of God is restored in the summit of the soul's energies, called the nous, which is transformed from being a captive power in the grip of passions. What is meant by a darkened nous? It does not have the Holy Spirit praying in the heart.
According to the Fathers of the Church, someone who is visited by the Holy Spirit acquires illumination of the nous. The Holy Spirit enters a persons heart and gives us prayer, so we acquire noetic prayer, noetic worship. Otherwise we give God rational worship.
When someone has the prayer associated with the state of illumination, that is to say, noetic prayer in the heart, this prayer illumines his nous. He now sees through faith, by the testimony of the Holy Spirit, things within his heart that he did not see before. He sees them through faith and understands words and concepts spiritually, not philosophically. He reads Holy Scripture. He understands the words and concepts, not from the point of view of philosophical method but from the point of view of methodology. Why? Because the words and concepts are regarded as medicines for man.
I have heard nuns say, "Now I shall pray noetic prayer." They sit down, take a prayer rope and think that is noetic prayer. They do not understand that prayer ought to be in the heart, not only in the prayer rope and brain. They do not know the difference between rational and noetic worship. They are not the same thing. They are different.
Because the beginner cannot manage this, as he has not yet distinguished between the nous and the rational faculty, he sits and prays as much as he can with the rational faculty, under the guidance of his spiritual father. He prays continually until the day when, instead of praying this prayer with his rational faculty, he begins to pray it with his nous in his heart. The spiritual father guides to illumination, and verifies it as well.
Noetic prayer is the resurrection of the nous, the liberation of the nous from the rational faculty, the passions, the body and its surroundings. The nous exists for the purpose of being in contact with God alone. The rational faculty exists for the purpose of enabling man to adapt to his surroundings, to created things, so that he can live in harmony with his environment.
Poverty is an indispensable requirement for reaching illumination. Without being free of possessions one cannot reach illumination. It is impossible.
Basil the Great writes that the one who suffers no interruption in the constant remembrance of God due to everyday concerns is a temple of God. This is what is meant when we sing [in the Cherubic Hymn] "Let us lay aside all earthly cares." If we acquire illumination of the nous, then when we are occupied with everyday cares, these earthly concerns will not interrupt the continuous remembrance of God. Why? Because the rational faculty is busy with earthly cares while the nous is unceasingly occupied with the remembrance of God. These things take place at the same time.
Someone who does not reach illumination is self-centered. He is dominated by the instinct of self-preservation and becomes acquisitive. He wants to become rich, to acquire possessions, to do things, to find security, and he has all sorts of strange hostile attitudes towards his fellow human beings, to the point of committing murder, stealing and telling lies.
These states are not cured simply by faith in the Gospel. There are many people who believe in the Gospel. Priests sit all day long telling us to love one another, and none of them tell us how to love. Love "does not seek its own" (1 Cor. 13:5). How can someone acquire this love? How is it done?
When the illumination of the nous begins and becomes an integrated and stable state, selfishness, egoism and self-centeredness are gradually replaced by love which "does not seek its own." The perfection of love comes about through the appearance of Christ "in glory" to the one who is spiritually vigilant. When someone reaches this stage, he has reached theoria and is on the way towards glorification. These are not people who are merely moral, but people who have been cured in the core of their personality.
When Christ said "You are the light of the world" He meant those Christians who were illuminated. Christians are not the light of the world simply because they believe in Christ. The essence of Holy Tradition, its core, is illumination, whereby we hand over the torch. One becomes a shining light in order to illumine others. Thus illumination is the essence of Christianity, where the illuminated who shed light hand over the light to others, which is diagnosis and cure. The cure is man's illumination.
Why were those who denied Christ rather than face martyrdom excluded from Holy Communion? Because it was proof they had not reached the state of illumination. If they had been in a state of illumination, which is noetic prayer, he would have been unable to deny Christ. The fact that he denied Christ was due to him not being in a state of illumination, so he could not take Holy Communion. This did not take place because the Church wanted to punish these people. It was simply in recognition of the fact that this person was not in a state of illumination. Not being in a state of illumination yet, they ought not to take Holy Communion.
If I have not reached illumination I am not ready to face the glory of God. If someone has arrived at illumination and noetic prayer, provided he is faithful to the end, he will leave sacred relics.
The clergy do not have a monopoly on this therapeutic treatment. Treatment can be given by anyone at all who has noetic prayer, whereas the clergy celebrate the Mysteries. These are two different things, so in Orthodoxy they were always separated. The celebrant is concerned with the rituals. But someone who has reached illumination will be the spiritual father.