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March 19, 2015

Christian Perfection and the Mystery of the Cross (2 of 3)

3. The Stages of Perfection and the Mystery of the Cross

What is said about servants and friends becomes meaningful when the general division of the stages of perfection is taken into consideration. The servant does the will of God for fear of punishment, the hireling works for reward, while the friend does everything as a fruit of selfless love. Through theosis, or vision of God, the friend of God approaches the condition of sinlessness, and finally arrives at this, and rises unceasingly to the stages of perfection above. Thus, he brings much fruit, and the fruit lasts. From the viewpoint of the world, however, this fruit can appear to be useful, above all whenever it is not accompanied by conspicuous and beneficial achievements which are serviceable to the benefit of the many. The world and God do not evaluate things in the same way. The Mystery of the Cross turns upside down the criteria of the natural man. For this reason, whoever attempts to interpret the Gospel of Christ and the Apostles with the spirit and the criteria of any particular epoch, according to the values and dictates of the world, is outside the reality which is in Christ, and becomes a perjurer with respect to his baptismal renunciation of the devil, and his appropriation of the Mystery of the Cross and Resurrection through Baptism and Chrismation, which bears fruit in the divine Eucharist.

All things that are legitimate in Christ are achieved only through the Mystery of the Cross and the Resurrection, that is, of the Glory and Kingdom which are in Christ, and not according to the world. "Unless the grain of wheat falls on the earth and dies, it stays on its own; but if it dies it brings much fruit. He who loves his soul shall lose it, and he who hates his soul in this world will keep it unto eternal life" (Jn. 12:24-25).

Whoever achieves through the Mystery of the Cross and the Resurrection to purify himself of the passions and to be rid of demonic operations, transcending through theosis the illumination of Baptism and becoming a friend of God, is a theologian and spiritual master par excellence, since he is led by the Paraclete Spirit of Truth to the whole truth, as it happened with the Apostles on the day of Pentecost. In other words, the theosis through the Mystery of the Cross, or vision of the divine Glory and Kingdom, is the source and the basis of Holy Tradition, which is in the Bible and in the Church, and a bearer of its dogmas and spiritual life. Saint Gregory Palamas declares the following about this: "Thus, the vision, which is in God, and the divine Mystery of the Cross not only drive away from the soul evil passions and the demons who create them, but also heretical opinions, reprimanding and repelling those who support them from the surrounding grounds of the sacred Church of Christ, and grant to us at the present time to celebrate and openly declare the divine grace and energy of the Cross before the Cross in the fatherS (Patriarchs and Prophets of the Old Testament)."

4. The Knowledge of Those Who Have Reached Theosis

Through the vision of God, or theosis, or revelation, the Prophets, Apostles and Saints, who are in theosis, come to know some of the theotic (deifying) energies in the incarnate Word of God and also the names of the relations of the hypostaseis of the Holy Trinity to each other, but not the nature or essence of God, which is known only to the Holy Trinity. The Prophets, Apostles and Saints do not discern simply the energies or acts of God in history, as some of the Biblical scholars of today claim, but see and hear and converse with the uncreated energies of God, i.e. the glory, the luminous cloud, the pillar of fire, the Godhead, the kingdom and grace of God, by means of a vision which supersedes vision, a hearing beyond hearing, a taste beyond any taste, a touch beyond touch, a smell beyond smell, a knowledge beyond knowledge, a perception of the mind which is beyond the normal perception, in other words, they hear "ineffable words" (2 Cor. 12:4).

In this case, the person in theosis knows exactly and clearly the distinction between the uncreated energies of God and the created energies of the creatures, including those of the devil and the demons, and, thus, possesses to the highest degree possible to man, from this side of the grave, the charism (gift) of the discernment of spirits, which is the foundation of dogmatic theology and of the spiritual life of the Church in Christ.Those outside the communion of the persons who have acquired this charism, are automatically led to heresy and to false and devious spirituality. To avoid deviating dogmatically and spiritually, those who have not yet arrived at theosis but have acquired and preserved the betrothal pledge of the Spirit and maintain their candles burning, submit to the Prophets, Apostles and Saints as persons who are gods and christs by grace and fathers in spirit, receiving their words and thoughts without hesitation as criteria of the dogmatic and Christ-centered spiritual teaching of the Holy Bible and the Church, i.e. of Holy Tradition.

Apophatic theology, which characterizes Orthodox Tradition, has its source not in some philosophical, dialectical and scholastic method, but in the power of the Holy Spirit, which was revealed to the eyewitnesses of the Glory of the Word of God, who exhibits the image of the Father in the Spirit without any variation whatsoever. It is through this revelation, which exceeds every experience of the senses, of reason and mind, that those deified did come to know and do know that there is no likeness between the uncreated God and creatures. Thus, man is not, strictly speaking, God's image, but is called such only conventionally and is such by grace, since the only invariable image of God is the Word, and man was created according to the image of God. The deified human and angelic beings not only are unable to know God in His essence, but are unable to know what He is, although they do know that there are hypostatic (personal) properties (idioms) and manners of existence, i.e. the ingenerateness, the generateness, and the proceedingness; nor do they know through the powers of their mind, reason or senses what the glory, the kingdom and the energy of God are. Not only for the essence, but also for the glory of God, there is no analogia entis and analogia fidei.

Although the vision of God through the power of the Cross and the Resurrection is beyond the senses and reason and mind, because the entire man is granted theosis, that is, the entire man becomes a god by grace, seeing the Father through Christ in the Spirit. The fragrance of the holy relics of the Saints, together with the miracles which are wrought through them, constitute a tangible witness of their theosis and also of the resurrection of their bodies at the completion of the ages.

All these clearly show that the teachings of Holy Scripture and the Holy Fathers concerning perfection and theosis has no relation to the impassibility (apathy) of the Stoics and the liberation of the Platonists from the body of passions. The mortification of the passions through the Mystery of the Cross is not the emancipation of reason and mind from them, but, quite the contrary, the purification and theosis of the passions.

Christ, as perfect man, did and does have the blameless passions, as the deified persons do and will have. Thus, the perfect person desires not for himself but for God and his neighbor, and he gets vehement and angry not for crimes which are committed against him, but for the injustice which is committed against his neighbor. Consequently, the love of Christ, the God-man, and of the persons in the state of theosis, which does not seek its own interests, has no relation to the unperturbed ataraxia (apathy) of the Stoics and the eudemonism of the Platonists, or even the hedonism and eudemonism of the older and newer thought systems and currents.

For this reason, Christ and the Saints, on this side of the grave and beyond it, are distinguished for their zeal, their burning love, their fervent sympathy for their brothers who are engaged in struggle on the earth and participate effectively in their fight for salvation and against the demons, as well as in their problems in their daily life, their families and their society, through their teaching, their example, their holy icons and relics and miracles, and above all, through their mediation and boldness before God.

The mysticism which is derived from the attempt to achieve ecstasy of the rational power from the body, from time, from memory and sequential thought, and generally from matter, is foreign to the teaching and experience of Holy Tradition concerning revelation and spirituality. Unceasing prayer, or noetic prayer, has no relation to such a mysticism, just as the vision of the Glory of God through theosis has no such relation, as we have already seen.