January 19, 2021

The "Spiritual Homilies" of Saint Makarios of Egypt (Fr. George Florovsky)


By Fr. George Florovsky

The Sources and the Problems with the Manuscripts.

The fifty Spiritual HomiliesΟμιλίαι πνευματικαί — which have come down to us under the name of St. Macarius of Egypt (c. 300-c. 390) — known also as St. Macarius the Great — have been one of the greatest sources in the history of early Christian mysticism and their influence has been enormous throughout the history of Christianity both in the East and the West. The question of authorship is still under contention. Since the time of the first edition (the first to publish them under Macarius' name was Johannes Picus in 1559 who added a Latin translation), it has been customary to consider the author St. Macarius. Our knowledge of St. Macarius comes chiefly from the Apophthegmata Patrum, Rufinus' translation of the Historia Monachorum, and Palladius' The Lausiac History. He was a native of Upper Egypt who, at about the age of thirty, founded a colony of monks in the desert in Scete (Wadi-el-Natrum). This colony became one of the main centers of Egyptian monasticism. After obtaining a reputation for powers of healing and prophecy, St. Macarius was ordained a priest about 340. St. Macarius was also a staunch supporter of St. Athanasius and, as a result, experienced a brief period of exile under St. Athanasius' successor Lucius, who banned him to an island in the Nile. St. Macarius was greatly influenced by St. Antony. In addition to the sources mentioned above, St. Macarius is mentioned by the historians Socrates (c.380-450) and Sozomen (early fifth century). A separate biography of St. Macarius exists in Coptic and Syriac translations. However, none of these accounts by these ancient authors mentions the writings of St. Macarius.

St. Macarius lived an isolated life with two disciples but did receive visitors. As Palladius puts it, he lived like a wanderer on this earth, dead to the world and terrestrial cares, totally absorbed in contemplation of, and discourse with, God. The only writer to speak of the writings of St. Macarius is Gennadius of Marseilles (d. between 492 and 505) whose De viris illustribus is a continuation of Jerome's book by the same name. Gennadius' work contains 101 entries, nine or ten of which were most probably added by a later writer. He completed his De viris illustribus in 480. Although the work is brief in biographical detail, its value lies in its bibliographical information — Gennadius mentions several dogmatic works of which only fragments remain — and gives bibliographical information on such writers as Evagrius Ponticus, Gennadius of Constantinople (89), Isaac of Antioch (66), Eutropius of Spain (50), Fastidius of Britain (56), Nicetas of Remesiana (22), Commodian (15), Prosper of Aquitaine (84), and Maximus of Turin (40). Gennadius names "only one epistle" by St. Macarius — unam tantum adjuniores professions suae scripsit epistolam. This is probably the "spiritual epistle" To the Friends of God, addressed to younger monks and which is preserved in a Latin translation.

The utter lack of any mention of the collection of the "Macarian writings" — The Spiritual Homilies — provokes bewilderment. Palladius' silence is especially strange because he was close to Evagrius who was a disciple of St. Macarius and could not help but know about the saint's writings. Doubts involuntarily arose as to whether The Spiritual Homilies really belong to the great Macarius.

It is difficult to rely on the inscriptions in the manuscripts. What is more, individual conversations or homilies exist under other names as well — St. Ephraim the Syrian, and even more frequently the blessed Mark the Hermit. In its Arabic translation the entire collection (in this case, 21 homilies) is inscribed with the name of St. Simeon the Stylite.

In any case, the published text of The Spiritual Homilies is hardly correct. In it one senses later revisions. Even the very division into "homilies" ought probably to be ascribed to a later scribe. Recently, more homilies have been published. The original publication by Picus in 1559 was based on manuscripts of Paris (Paris, gr. 587 s. XVI and 1157 s. XIII). This edition was improved by H. J. Floss from a Berlin Codex (Cod. Berol. gr. 16 s. XIl/XIII) and reprinted by Migne in Patrologia Graeca 34,449-822. Seven additional homilies found in an Oxford manuscript were published by G. L. Marriott in 1918. H. Domes discovered in a Moscow manuscript (Cod. Mosqu. 177) the same 57 homilies that are contained in the Oxford Codex but in a text which is much older. Another Moscow Codex (Cod. Mosqu. 178) contains 24 homilies which are almost entirely different. A Vatican Greek manuscript (Cod. Vat. gr. 710) contains 27 homilies. The most extensive is the Greek manuscript (Cod. Vat. gr. 694) with 64 homilies.

Individual homilies differ too much in size. Others are more of the nature of letters — word for word repetitions in the text are not infrequent. It must be added that editorial work on The Spiritual Homilies is still continuing. Especially important is the work by W. Jaeger (see his Two Rediscovered Works of Ancient Christian Literature: Gregory of Nyssa and Macarius which was published in 1954).

In the manuscripts, St. Macarius' "seven addresses" are known under various headings ("On Preserving the Heart," etc). in the arrangement by Simeon Metaphrastes (also known as Simeon Logothetes; fl. c. 960). It is possible to think that the basic text of the homilies which is known to us is also the result of a reworking.

The Claim of Messalianism in The Spiritual Homilies.

Observations on the contents of the homilies are much more important. In many places the author's views recall the delusions of the so-called Messalians (also known as the Euchites — Εύχιταί). The name “Messalian” is derived from the Syriac mesallein which means, as does the Greek Εύχιται, “the praying people.” They originated in Mesopotamia shortly after the middle of the fourth century and spread rapidly to Syria, Asia Minor, Thrace and elsewhere. This mendicant sect believed that everyone had a demon substantially united with his soul, and that this demon, which was not expelled by baptism, could only be completely expelled by concentrated and ceaseless prayer, the goal of which was the elimination of all passion and desire. Those who achieved the expulsion of the demon received an immediate vision of the Holy Trinity. After reaching this state, they claimed there was no need to fast or to control lust by the precepts of the Gospel. In addition, it is claimed that the Messalians believed that God changed in different ways to unite with their souls, that the body of Christ was infinite as was his divine nature, that his body was at first full of devils which were driven out when the Logos united itself to his body, that they possessed clear knowledge of the state of souls after death, that they could read the hearts and desires of man, that man could equal God in virtue and knowledge. It is further claimed that men and women slept together (in the open streets during warm weather), and that they forbade all manual labor as evil and unworthy of the spiritual life. It is further alleged that the Messalians held the Cross in horror, refused to honor the saints unless they were martyrs, that they mutilated themselves, that they dissolved marriages, that they perjured themselves without scruple, and that women were appointed as mistresses of the sect to instruct men.

The earliest mention of the Messalians is found in St. Ephraim the Syrian (Homily, XXII). The Messalians were attacked by Amphilochius of Iconium (c. 340-395), who presided at the Council of Side in 390 which excommunicated the Messalians; by Flavian of Antioch; and by St. Epiphanius. The Messalians were condemned at the Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus in 431. The Council of Ephesus not only condemned Messalianism but also the Messalian book titled the Asketikon: "In addition to this it seemed good that the filthy book of this heresy, which is called the Asketikon, should be anathematized as composed by heretics, a copy of which the most religious and pious Valerian brought with him." Theodoret in his Historia Ecclesiastica (4, 11, 2) writes that "the following were the leaders of this sect: Dadoes, Sabbas, Adelphius, Hermes, Symeon, and many others." It was H. Domes who believed that the Symeon listed by Theodoret was the author of the "Macarian writings." Domes' entire hypothesis is dubious and his claim that the "Macarian writings" were of Messalian origin has been challenged by the important discovery of W. Jaeger.

Diadochus (mid-5th century), bishop of Photice after 451, wrote devastatingly against the Messalians in his One Hundred Chapters on Spiritual PerfectionCapita centum de perfectione spirituali, especially in chapters 76-89. In these chapters Diadochus deals with the relationship of grace and sin within man, stressing that spiritual life is a continuous battle and that the true Christian will be involved in this struggle until the end of his life. It should be noted that this work by Diadochus had enormous influence on future generations in both the East and the West. The fact of the great number of manuscripts which have come down to us attests to its popularity. St. Maximus the Confessor, Sophronius of Jerusalem, the compiler of the Doctrina Patrum, Thalassius, and St. Photius quote it. It inspired both St. Simeon the New Theologian and St. John Climacus. It was printed in the Russian Philokalia and its influence spread to Russian literature. The Society of Jesus recommends it in their Regulae magistri novitiorum.

Diadochus was not the only one who wrote against the Messalians. Timothy, presbyter of Constantinople, in his De receptione haereticorum (early seventh century) wrote against them, as did St. John of Damascus (c. 675 — c. 749) in his survey A Brief Word About Heresies. Both Timothy and St. John of Damascus quote very characteristic excerpts from the Messalian books — and they are very close to other arguments of the author of The Spiritual Homilies! Mark the Hermit (fl. c.431) attacks the Messalians directly in his famous work titled On Those Who Suppose Justification is from WorksDe his qui putant se ex operibus iustificari. This work caught the attention of Protestant theologians but to compare the theology of the Reformation on the subject of justification, works, and grace with Mark the Hermit's ideas is completely incorrect; one is dealing with two quite different theologies and two different perspectives of those theologies. Epiphanius of Salamis in his PanarionΠαναριον — considers the first of Christian heresies to be that of Simon Magus and the last to be that of the Messalians. St. Nilus the Ascetic (d. c. 430), bishop of Ancyra, in his work titled On Voluntary Poverty [De voluntaria paupertateΠερι ακτημοσυνης] attacks the Messalians.

It would be too hasty to identify The Spiritual Homilies with the lost and condemned Asketikon of the Messalians. One can note in The Spiritual Homilies only individual Messalian motifs. Moreover, the author not only does not share many Messalian views but rejects them outright. There are grounds for seeing the Messalian Asketikon in the Syrian text titled The Book of Degrees, which was published in the twentieth century. This is a genuinely integral ascetical system built on principles which are very close to those of the Messalians. The document is a very early one — possibly dating back to the very beginning of the fourth century, or even to the end of the third century. However, here the archaisms should not be taken for heresy. In The Spiritual Homilies we find only individual views which are similar to those of the Messalians. There is no need to view these as later interpolations. An orthodox author can also be close to, but not identical with, the Euchites. In any case, it is more prudent to leave the questions about The Spiritual Homilies open.

The Theology of The Spiritual Homilies.

The Spiritual Homilies are not a theological discussion. They are rather the intimate confessions of a contemplative who teaches and edifies from personal experience. He describes this experience in a definite philosophical language — the influence of Stoicism is felt most strongly. However, the author mentions external philosophy merely in order to contrast Hellenic wisdom with the true and beneficial philosophy. "The Hellenic philosophers learn to master the word. But there are other philosophers who are ignorant of the word, who rejoice in and are gladdened by God's grace." Genuine philosophy is ascetic diligence, courting of the Spirit — the Spirit of Wisdom and Reason. The true "wise" person is the Spirit-Bearing contemplative or seer of secrets — this is a fairly common idea in ascetic documents.

The language in which The Spiritual Homilies is written is vivid and expressive. In them one senses a profound knowledge of the Scriptures, which are always understood in the "spiritual sense," as some epistle from God to people written to call them to spiritual ascension. "If a person does not come, does not ask, will not accept, then reading the Scriptures will be of no use to him."

In particular, the Old Testament is a symbolic or mystical tale of the soul. Two homilies are entirely devoted to allegory. The forty-seventh explains "that which was under the law." The first is about the mystical visions of the prophet Ezekiel — "the prophet contemplated the mystery of the soul, which shall receive its Lord and become a throne of his Glory." The throne of the soul is the basic theme of all the homilies.

Man is the "highest of all creations." He is not only higher than visible creation — he is higher than angelic powers and the secondary spirits. And God himself testified to this when he came to earth for the sake of mankind and was crucified for man's salvation. "Investigate, beloved, the intelligent essence of the soul, and do not investigate lightly. The immortal soul is a certain valuable vessel. Look at how great the sky and earth are. God did not favor them but only you," for only man was created in God's image. "God was not talking about the archangels Michael and Gabriel when he said: 'Let us create in Our image and likeness but he said that about intelligent human essence, about the immortal soul."

God's image in man signifies first of all a profound closeness and a certain kinship with God, a "reciprocity" with him. "He who can know the worth of his own soul will be able to know the power and mystery of the Godhead." The Lord created the whole world but he rests in no other creature except man: "all creatures are in his power, but he did not secure a throne in them, and did not establish communion with them." Therefore, the soul can find peace for itself only in God.

In the first-created Adam the "image of God was expressed primarily in a certain inspiration of the soul in the wings of the Holy Spirit which could raise man to God. God created man in the image of the virtue of the Spirit and put in the soul the laws of virtue." The author distinguishes two images of God in man — a natural image, as it were, which expresses itself in the powers and capabilities of the soul and a "celestial image." The first feature of the natural image is man's freedom. "Visible creation is connected by some fixed nature" — visible creatures cannot leave that state in which they were created and do not have a will. "But you are created in the image and likeness of God because, as God is free and creates what he wills, so, too, are you free. And if you should will to perish, then your nature is changeable. If you should will to belch forth abuse, concoct a poison, or kill someone, no one will oppose you or forbid it. Whoever so wills, can be obedient to God — and go the way of truth and control his will."

This formal freedom of choice and will, “absolute power, self-power” — αυτεξούσια — is an immutable feature of human nature. Grace only arouses the will; it does not coerce, just as sin does not snuff out freedom — freedom of choice or arbitrariness. Even a fallen person has the power to fight and oppose sin, although he cannot triumph without God's help. What is more, sin is never stronger than man — in that case, guilt would be removed from man. On the contrary, the mind is a fighter, and a fighter of equal strength, and the mind has enough strength to combat sin and oppose intentions. And, conversely, grace and success do not invariably protect man from temptation and seduction, "for as a perfect one is not attached to good by some necessity, so, too, is someone who is wallowing in sin and is making himself a vessel of the devil not attached to evil... On the contrary, even he has freedom to become a vessel of choice and life."

Grace does not bind a man — he remains free and can fall again if he so wills, and again enter into peace and communion with Satan. Cases are known where people "[who are] enlightened and experienced, who even perfected themselves in goodness, have fallen away: a person has given away his possessions, freed his slaves, but has fallen into self-importance and arrogance; a confessor, who has suffered torture, has in his very dungeon fallen into fornication with the nun who attends him; an ascetic, who has already become possessed of the power of healing, has fallen into pride. For nature is changeable and man, because of the arbitrariness which remains with him, becomes a son of God, if he wills, or in the same way a son of perdition."

Freedom is a God-like feature, but this is only a formal precondition of the act of becoming like God — a precondition which determines its possibility. Outside of freedom there is no likeness to God; but it is realized only in living communion with him. This is where God's essential image in man lies, that "celestial image" which was given to the first-created Adam but was lost by him in the Fall. From the beginning man was created in such a way that he must derive his powers for life from that which is without him: his body needs nourishment and his soul needs spiritual food. If he limits himself to that which is in his nature, not borrowing anything from without, he will be destroyed and perish. "Woe to the soul," exclaims the clairvoyant, "if it settles on its own nature and puts its trust only on its own deeds, without having communion with the Divine Spirit."

The soul, which has been created in God's image, receives power and sustenance not from its own nature but from God, from his Spirit. "And, lo, the first-created was invested with word and spirit." Here was his "celestial image," his "celestial soul."

The Messalians also spoke of man's second "celestial soul" but the similarity here is imaginary. By "celestial soul" the author of The Spiritual Homilies means the gifts of Spirit and Logos. The Logos abided in the first-created, and the Logos was his legacy and clothing and glory. This means: "In the beginning was the Logos." And the Spirit abided in Adam, and taught and inspired him, for the Logos was everything for him, and Adam was God's friend. He was the master of everything from the sky to the earth; he knew how to distinguish the passions, was alien to the demons, and free from sin and vices — he was God's likeness. This doctrine about two "images" and about the primordial anointing of man partially recalls St. Athanasius' distinction between the creation and "birth" of man.

Adam loses these first gifts, this "celestial image," in the Fall — transgressing the commandment by the power of his evil arbitrariness and heeding the Evil One. "He becomes wounded and dead." Man goes astray to evil through his own guilt, through "self-arbitrariness." Evil envelops man and permeates him but man himself does not turn into anything evil. Evil remains something external, something alien to his nature. Man is possessed by evil.

In the Fall man loses both his natural and his "celestial image." "First of all, he lost the property of his nature, which was pure, sublime, and created in God's image. Secondly, he lost the very image in which, by promise, all of his celestial heritage lay." This was death. Resurrection is the restoration of the "celestial image"; that is, of communion with God, that Spirit-Bearing fullness from which Adam fell; it is a new courting and receiving of the Spirit.

If the soul's communion with God is a kind of mystical wedding with the celestial Bridegroom, the sinful separation from God is a kind of widowhood of the soul, a transgressing of the commandment left by the celestial Husband. From the time of the Fall, man did not see the heavenly Father, did not see the merciful and good Mother, or the grace of the Spirit, did not see the Lord, the sweetest and longed-for brother (see Aphraates). God's face ceased to be reflected in the soul, although God did not cease to gaze at it. Thus, deprived of the king's stamp, it lost honor and value — as a coin without the emperor's image is not in circulation even though it is made of a valuable metal. The revival or resurrection of the soul is the return of this image and stamp to it. It does not belong to human nature, but is laid on it from without, as it were, and this raises man higher than himself, raises him over his closed nature.

However, this is only possible in freedom: "if there was no will, God would do nothing, even though he could." The Fall is a great catastrophe. Everything becomes confused. Close up in his nature, man becomes feeble and powerless. Man can live a genuine life only in God. Therefore, by falling away from God, man lives a false life, a "life of death." In his disobedience man "died a horrible psychic death." His mind turned from on high to below, and his eyes, when celestial blessings became inaccessible to them, "recovered their sight for vices and passions." Here again St. Athanasius' motifs resound.

Nature is darkened by evil and a dusk of cunning: a fallen soul is permeated by sinful powers. Sin is added to the soul like some leaven. The serpent becomes for the soul "a second soul, as it were." The Prince of Evil wraps the soul in his malice and sin, as if in some "purple robe of darkness." He defiles it entirely and "imprisons it all in his power, leaving nothing free — not intentions, not the mind, not the body."

From the soul's sinfulness the body also becomes a suffering body and liable to decay. The cunning word penetrates the heart and invades the entire human composition, and sin flows in the heart like water in a pipe. That is what happened with Adam — "and we are all sons of this darkened race." Adam's whole race is leavened with this "leaven of pernicious passions" with which Adam communed in transgressing the commandment. Introspection reveals the possessive and ulcerous state of the soul. This fallen state becomes the point of departure for the ascetic battle — the struggle through which the soul has to be purified and liberated and die for a better life. Yes, die. The "second soul," the "cunning word" which has struck against it, must fly away from it.

In the heart there is a certain depth, and on the bottom lies a slime. There is life there, and there is death. Sin has taken root in the soul. Satan shakes and rocks souls, and leads them into confusion and anxiety — "and in various ways he agitates human intentions, like wheat returned in a grating." All of Adam's race has secretly taken upon itself a certain image of Cain, "the likeness of Cain's cunning."

The whole visible world is in disorder, dissonance, and struggle. However, not many know that this is because of the cunning force. "The world suffers from the disease of vice and does not know it." Sin is "a certain intelligent and mental force of Satan," who seeks a place for himself in the soul. Sin is the sting of death. “Sin” — αμαρτία — is a kind of dark anti-force to grace — χάρις. Their clash and struggle unfolds in freedom. “Thus, the ascetic's heart is a spectacle — there, cunning spirits struggle with the soul while God and the angels gaze down upon the struggle."

Satan pours a kind of ambiguous and secret power of darkness into the soul and wraps it in a purple of gloom. Once again, this is the antithesis to the Divine light and the vestments of glory. This symbolism of light and darkness is not merely a metaphor. Satan's darkness is a certain material cover of gloom and fog. First of all, however, sin is the area of mystical communion with Satan. Temptation begins with the dispersal of the spirit which attaches itself to earthly cares and impressions. Because of this, perspicaciousness grows dim; man ceases to notice his spiritual ulcers and the secret passions of the soul. "He does not know that within him there is a struggle, a battle, a conflict." Then the soul becomes defenseless and imprudent."

Satan usually makes his suggestions to the soul under the guise of good intentions and draws the soul into crafty and specious undertakings — "and he who is so drawn cannot distinguish and therefore winds up in the net of diabolic perdition." Satan never rests content with his attacks — therefore it is so dangerous to imagine that the battle has ended and ceased. Such insensitivity is more dangerous than anything else. Thus it frequently happens that lust suddenly flares up in people who hoped a long time ago that desire had faded in them.

And if the soul does not fight and does not fortify itself in love for God, it becomes clouded and falls into Satan's power. Such is the "carnal man" (see the Alexandrian distinction between "carnal" and "spiritual" man). For the "carnal man," these pseudo-Christians who have not yet courted Christ's riches, everything is alien, and they themselves are naked. Just like worldly people, they are divided in two, and are in confusion and disorder. The main struggle is within, and if the soul does not wage this inner struggle, Satan will try harder and harder to seize it, and lay it to waste, and put his stamp upon it. He will finally mount the mind, the heart, and the body like his throne. "When you hear of coffins, picture not only visible coffins, for your heart is a coffin and a grave for you. When the Prince of Darkness and his angels are lodged there, when they build paths and roads there along which the Satanic forces could travel into your mind and thoughts, then are you not hell, coffin, and grave before God?"

This cohabitation with the cunning Prince of Darkness is corruption and fornication, "for there is fornication which is performed corporally and there is the fornication of a soul which enters into communion with Satan. One and the same soul can be the confederate and sister either of demons or of God and his angels. And when it commits adultery with the devil, it becomes unfit for the heavenly Bridegroom." It is the betrothed queen who leaves the king to become a whore — and concerning this fall there is much sadness and weeping and grief in heaven.

Satan takes root in the soul and tries to persuade it — "and if it agrees, then the incorporeal soul enters into communion with incorporeal malice of spirit, and he commits adultery in his heart who accepts into himself the intentions of the cunning one and consents to them.” It must be emphasized that this communion is not a blending but a kind of “dissolution” — κρασίς. “Satan becomes something of one with the soul — both spirits during fornication or murder are one." However, the soul always remains itself, and this presents an opportunity for it to repent and lament. This is a certain dynamic linking of two heterogeneous and independent principles: sinfulness is possession by an evil force, but the soul does not turn into something evil and does not lose its freedom, although freedom of nature is insufficient for really liberating the soul from slavery and captivity.

In these arguments there is much that is original, and it really does recall the Messalian doctrine about Satan's "communion" with the human soul as a sort of debauched cohabitation, about the lodging of demons and the strange "co-inhabitation" of Satan and the Holy Spirit in human souls, where a struggle takes place between them. The most mysterious thing of all is the author's tacit assumption that baptism does not free man from filth, that there is even a certain corruption in baptism which is only healed through spiritual ordeal and prayer. It comes out that not baptismal grace but the force of one's own ordeal of prayer frees man from sinful filth, from "original sin." It is rather the power of grace, but of a grace found in the ordeal of prayer, not in baptismal rebirth. Such was also the basic idea of the Euchites — "those who pray."

However, it was hardly the Euchites alone who thought this way. Christian introspection generally reveals in the human soul a sinful feebleness, a property which facilitates the incursion of sin and diabolic strikes. In any case, baptismal liberation is consolidated only by ordeal.

Monastic experience predisposes one to psychological pessimism. From the ascetic texts we know that in the East ascetics were frequently inclined to exaggerate the power of sinful nature and to belittle baptismal renewal to a certain extent. Also, we must remember that the author of The Spiritual Homilies is reasoning as a psychologist, not as a dogmatist. One must not forget the ancient experience of possessions, often described in the manuscripts in almost fantastic — but psychologically veracious — images (see, for example, The Life of St. Antony and also Evagrius).

In the Fall of the First-Created, mankind falls away from God, is deprived of beneficial communion and support, "remains with its own nature," and becomes feeble and impotent. It therefore falls under the devil's power. Man cannot free himself from this power with his own powers. God himself descends to earth to set him free. Christ came first of all to struggle with Satan for man's soul. This is the Origenist motif. The Lord comes to death, descends into Hell, and "converses with death and enjoins it to disgorge all souls from Hell and death and return them to him" to be revived. "And the forces of cunning, trembling, give back the imprisoned Adam. The dead body triumphed and destroyed the serpent which lived and crawled in the heart. The dead body triumphed over the living serpent."

This was done once but is repeated again in every soul, and the Lord descends not only into Hell but also into the murky depths of every heart. There he casts out the weeds of sin and cultivates the desolated soul — cultivates it with the wood of the Cross. Satan's power is shattered but entrances into every soul still remain for him.

For every man the struggle and the dispute with the forces of cunning is still ahead. In this struggle he has a helper and protector — Christ, who struggles with the adversary for every soul. Purification of the heart and victory over the devil do not exhaust Christ's redemptive work. "The Lord came not only to drive out evil spirits but also to retrieve his own house and temple — man." Christ came to again unite the heavenly image in man's heart and return the wings of the spirit to the soul "so that even you, who are of dust, could receive into yourself the heavenly soul."

For the sake of this, God came down from his Holy Heaven, assumed a reasoning human nature, and united it with the Divine Spirit "in order to change, renew, and transform the nature," in order to make us, according to the Apostle, "participants of Divine nature." For that reason, the Lord came to give man the Spirit and life, "to make those who believe in him a new mind, a new soul, new eyes, new ears, a new spiritual tongue — in a word, to make them new people or new wine-skins to pour into them a new wine — his Spirit." Therefore he is called Christ "in order that we, who are anointed with the same balm as he, become anointed ones and be, so to speak, of one essence and body with him." Man is called to this, but he must attain this through spiritual "ordeal."

By nature, striving is a characteristic of man — "and God seeks this striving." He enjoins that man first understand, then love and strive with his will. Thus the completion of the Spirit's acts depends on the will of man. Thus, if someone through his own will and because of complete arbitrariness does not approach the Lord and beseech him with complete faith, he will not receive healing. Only in souls which have come to believe in him and turn to him does Christ "paint a celestial man in his own image and draw a heavenly image from the hypostasis of his ineffable light. And in that person who is not continually directed to him and who disdains all else Christ does, he does not draw his image with his light."

Man's spiritual way begins with repentance. "If the soul sighs and cries out to God, he will send down to it the spiritual Moses who will deliver the soul from Egyptian slavery. But before then, let the soul wail and groan — then it will see the beginning of deliverance." This is only the beginning of the "ordeal" and struggle. Free will must be tested by many sorrows. Thus did God foreordain "that the path which leads to life have many trials, sorrow, and bitter temptations — it is the narrow path." Christianity is a path which is indeed narrow and not smooth, for it is the path of a free man.

Man's free will cannot attain much but it is an eternal and necessary element of spiritual growth. Man must not and dare not rely on himself and exaggerate his powers, for the power of perfection belongs to God alone. But grace works only in free-willed souls. "And God's power leaves room for freedom so that man's will is disclosed." The synergism of free will and grace is revealed at all stages of spiritual life. That is why it is so difficult to delimit these two elements of spiritual growth: the whole man becomes double. He always retains the freedom "to agree with the Spirit" or to scorn the Spirit's gifts.

Therefore vigilance and exertion of will is always necessary, and dissatisfaction with one's self must always remain. "Here is a feature of Christianity — however much you work, however many righteous deeds you perform, be left with the thought that you still have not done anything." This does not depreciate the "ordeal." Its entire significance lies in the effort, in total commitment to God — freedom is like a receiver of grace: "Whoever does not observe humble wisdom, puts himself in the hands of Satan. He is stripped of the grace God gave him and his self-opinion is revealed, for he is poor and bare. Only he who humbles himself before God and man and considers himself poor can preserve the grace which has been given to him."

It is a great temptation and danger to feel that you are successful, to think that you have entered a safe haven. "Suddenly the waves rise again and once again a man sees himself in the middle of the sea where there is only water and sky and ready death. Only humility can save you from this."

Only the frivolous think that if grace is working partly in them, then there is no sin in them and they have already triumphed. Spiritual life is an organic process, similar to physical growth and maturation. It also has its own stages, stages defined by the measure of the "ordeal" and struggle, and grace works not at once but gradually. "And do not think that the entire soul has been illumined, for a great pasture of vice still remains inside it, and this demands more great effort and labor in accordance with the grace which is acting on the soul. In an instant grace can purify man and make him complete but it visits the soul partially." In any event, man grows little by little — "and it is not like others say: to be taken off and put on." Therefore constant intensity is needed.

Spiritual life begins with an "ordeal" of faith. Faith crosses over to hope and attention is diverted from the visible world. Nothing can attract a believing soul — "and some pass away and move foreover, and abide in thought in the celestial world of Divinity." This is an indispensable condition of spiritual perfection, for the person who does not give himself over entirely to searching for Christ's love and does not focus all his efforts on this single goal of courting the Spirit, the goal is impossible.

More necessary than anything else is inner renunciation. "The most important weapon for the fighter and ascetic is to come to hate one's self, to renounce one's soul, to be angry at it, to reproach it, to oppose one's customary desires, wrangle with one's thoughts, struggle with one's self." Again, this inner battle is only the beginning — purifying the soul is merely making ready a chamber for the Lord. It is only the negative side of the "ordeal." The whole significance, and the goal, of the "ordeal" lies in courting the Spirit, in letting the Lord settle within you. "And the soul in which the Lord finds repose needs many adornments."

The way of "ordeal" is the way of struggle. The struggle occurs first of all in the realm of the mind. The soul is always penetrated from without by thoughts, good and evil, which come from God or from demons, and thought first of all finds itself in a fight and battle. The task of this mental battle is to bar access to cunning thoughts. This is possible not through simply opposing them but by contrasting them with good thoughts, and primarily by cultivating in one's self a certain impassivity or indifference towards sinful excitements — apathia.

For the carnal life, this is dying. Thoughts still burst into the soul and disturb it, but do not lure it, and therefore do not take root in it. The carnal man dies and becomes barren because of his previous evil life. First, he has to distinguish the spirits. Second, he needs a kind of indifference, a volitional immunity to temptations "so as not to heed vice and delight in it in one's thoughts" (see the later ascetic doctrine about the "attack" and development of "thoughts"). For sin begins in the heart and only manifests itself in deeds. Restraint in deed still does not mean tranquillity in the heart.

Genuine liberation is possible only through becoming strong in goodness, through love for the single heavenly Bridegroom of human souls. Renunciation of the world is justified to the end only in this striving. "There is no sufficient reason for a man to reject the delights of this world if he will not take part in the bliss of the other world." Only then is there no doubt that the spiritual path is opening before him. In the "ordeal" only steadfastness and constancy lie in man's power — and then only under the condition of total devotion to God and striving towards him. Man only prepares himself for receiving grace. For this he must concentrate, gather his thoughts, and always strive towards the one thing. Gathering his wits is possible only through a unity of love — love to the one God.

The highest law is the spiritual law of love, "for it is impossible to be saved unless it is through one's neighbor," through an all-embracing love fortified by grace. The Christian's whole struggle is inspired by the pathos of love. This is love for God, "a divine love for the heavenly king, for Christ," and an "ardent striving" for celestial beauty. It is consummated in the mystical union or communion, in the mystical marriage with Christ.

This does not distract one from love for one's neighbor, for in God and in Christ the soul sees the loving and merciful Sovereign who extends his love to all and envelops all in it. For this reason this spiritual love cannot but include love for one's neighbor. It simply cannot be any other way — the way is through goodwill, mercy, and compassion. Christians must struggle, but must not condemn anyone at all — "not an arrant whore, not sinners, not unseemly people, for purity of the heart lies in seeing sinners or weak people and feeling compassion and mercy for them." Such love attracts God's goodwill and is transformed into the mystical and God-like love in which all wordily love fades, and the very nature of the soul, its sinful rigidity, is rediscovered.

Grace transforms and renews a man to the extent of his struggle, like some "Divine fire." "As many lamps and burning candles light up by fire, and all lamps are lit and shine with a uniform and identical fire, so, too, do Christians flare up and shine with one and the same Divine fire of the Son of God. And they have in their hearts burning candles and already on earth shine before him and like him." This fire is the "love of the Spirit."

The mysticism in The Spiritual Homilies is first of all a mysticism of light and fire. "The immaterial and Divine fire illuminates and tempts souls. This fire was at work in the Apostles when they spoke in fiery tongues. This fire illuminated St. Paul with a voice, illuminated his mind and clouded his sense of sight, for not without flesh did he see the power of that light. Moses saw this fire in the brush. This fire in the form of a chariot carried Elijah away from the earth. Both the angels and the minor spirits hold communion with the brightness of this fire. This fire drives demons away and destroys sin. It is the power of resurrection, the reality of immortality, the illumination of holy souls, an affirmation of intelligent forces."

These are not only symbols and metaphors. The appearance of God and the manifestation of grace in fire and light is a certain "incarnation" of the Godhead — the development of this is found in St. Simeon the New Theologian (949-1022). "The limitless, unapproachable, and uncreated God became incarnate — έσωματοποίησε — through limitless and inscrutable goodness and, so to speak, humbled himself in unapproachable glory so that it would be possible for him to enter into union with his visible creations — I mean holy souls and angels — and so that they could be participants of the life of the Godhead. Transforming through leniency and by his love for man, he becomes incarnate and unites with and receives holy, saintly, faithful souls. According to St. Paul's words, he becomes one Spirit with them — soul into soul, so to speak, and hypostasis in hypostasis — so that the soul which is worthy of God and pleasing to him can live in renewal and experience immortal life and become the participant of imperishable glory. And when he so desires, he can be fire. When he so desires, he can be an ineffable tranquillity, for everything he may want is pleasing to him."

This is theophany — the appearance of the Lord in an unapproachable glory of light, not only vision or contemplation. The limit or goal of human rebirth or regeneration is to "change the present debased nature into another, divine nature." This is the deification of man — theosis. Man becomes a son of God, becomes "greater than himself." He rises and ascends higher than the measure of the first Adam, for he not only returns to his original purity, but becomes "deified."

For all of that, man still by nature remains immeasurably far removed from God. "He is God and the soul is not. He is Lord and the soul is a slave. He is Creator and the soul is a creation. And its nature has nothing in common with God. Only through his infinite, ineffable, and inscrutable love, and through the goodness of his heart, does he deign to settle in this creation, in this reasoning creature."

This beneficial transformation of man has its stages. Grace, as it were, flares up in the soul. At first, it consumes both cunning and natural desires in it; it bums up the weeds of sin, and demons melt in this celestial fire like wax. Then grace ignites the very soul and it burns as if permeated throughout and illumined by the celestial fire. "Sometimes this fire flares up and burns stronger, and sometimes it is as if it grows weak and burns more gently. This light now radiates and shines more brightly, and now diminishes and fades. And the soul's lamp, which is always burning and shining, now becomes clearer and flames up more with God's love, now emits its radiance frugally, and the light which is inherent in man grows weak."

This is connected with man's "ordeal" and struggle. The heavenly fire flares up in him when he is devoted to the Lord and puts his trust in him and relies on him. The soul is soothed and finds repose in God — the Spirit is peace and tranquillity for it. "Those who have had the honor to become God's children and be born from on high of the Holy Spirit sometimes are gladdened as if they were at a royal banquet and rejoice with joy and an ineffable gaiety. Sometimes they are like a bride who is finding repose in Divine tranquillity, in communion with their Bridegroom. Sometimes they are as if intoxicated by drink, gladdened and intoxicated with the Spirit, in ecstasy over the Divine mysteries. But sometimes they cry and lament over the human race and, in praying for the whole race of Adam, shed tears and cry, inflamed by a spiritual love for mankind. Sometimes their Spirit inflames them with such joy and love that, if it were possible, they would accommodate every man — good and evil, in their heart. Sometimes in their humility they so debase themselves before any man that they are deemed the absolute worst and least of all men. Sometimes the Spirit keeps them invariably in an ineffable joy. Sometimes man becomes like one of the ordinary ones."

But he who is not born of the regal Spirit is not adopted by God. He has not received the "Lord's sign and seal" and has no hope, for by his seal God recognizes his own and will recognize them — on the last day. If the soul, while still in this world, does not accept the Spirit's sacred object and does not open up for grace, it is unfit for the heavenly kingdom. Indeed, the good which the soul has achieved here will be life in this kingdom."

In the heart grace is revealed as peace and joy. In the mind grace is revealed as wisdom — and through the Spirit's power man becomes wise and hidden secrets are revealed to him. To begin with, the nature of a man's own soul is revealed to him only in the spiritual light and he sees the "image of the soul" as one sees the sun with one's eyes. And this image is angel-like. This self-knowledge gives him sagacity. And the spiritual man knows everything about everyone but no one judges him or can know him. In this sagacity is based the right to spiritual leadership. The gaze of the spiritual sage penetrates into the celestial world. He becomes the "prophet of the heavenly secrets" and, under the guidance of the Spirit, he "ascends to heaven and enjoys the wonders there with indubitable certainty in his soul."

There are different stages and kinds of spiritual contemplation. "There is sensation, there is vision, and there is illumination. He who has illumination is higher than he who has sensation. His mind is illumined. This means that he has received a certain advantage over the person who has sensation, for he recognizes in himself a land of indubitableness of visions."

But revelation — "apocalypsis" — is something else. When God's great secrets are revealed to the soul, visions occur and then man can see something in the distance. Contemplations, though, are revealed somewhere inside, in the depths of the heart, and when that happens a certain inner, secret, most profound light flashes out there — before eyes which are more internal than perceptible eyes. In the Divine light the spiritual man sees and recognizes with these internal eyes his "true friend, the sweetest and much-desired Bridegroom — the Lord."

There is a kind of indisputableness and an obviousness in this contemplation, for the whole soul is illumined and made tranquil by an ineffable peace. And as God is love, joy, and peace, so the new spiritual man becomes like unto him through grace. "The gates open before him and he enters many cloisters and, to the extent that he enters, gates will open again from one hundred cloisters into a new hundred. And he is enriched and, in the same measure as he is enriched, new wonders are shown him. As son and heir, he is entrusted with that which cannot be spoken by man, which cannot be said by lips or tongue."

Then the mind goes into raptures, into ecstasy — the tongue falls dumb and the soul is captivated by something wondrous. At such moments the soul renounces the world entirely; to the world, the soul becomes a mindless barbarian "by virtue of abounding love and sweetness and by virtue of hidden secrets. And at such a moment a person prays and says: Oh, if only my soul could depart with my prayer'." The soul is liberated entirely and becomes pure. It is as though it "fuses" with God. The Lord vests successful ascetics in a "life-giving garb of light." They belong to the body of Christ, to the "body of light," and not to the "body of darkness" as souls fallen and sinful. In them blows the life-giving wind of the Holy Spirit, which permeates the whole essence of the soul and thought and all the bodily members.

Christ himself invisibly reigns in such souls. The Lord prepared the soul of man as a bride for himself and "receives it, changes it gradually with his own power until he makes it to grow into his own image — and then it will come to the throne with him for endless centuries."

However, no one achieves this limit in this life, here on earth — except perhaps in rare and transient moments of rapture and ecstasy. But these are only instants, moments. The "perfect measure" of grace is not yet given here and now. The charismatic transformation of man will achieve fullness only upon the day of resurrection when the inner, hidden glory of the Spirit begins to shine in bodies as well. They will be glorified by that "ineffable light which even now is concealed in them." The naked bodies of the righteous will be vested in and covered by the Spirit, and will be carried away to Heaven so that the body "can rule together with the soul."

The spiritual resurrection of the soul anticipates the future resurrection of the body, as it were. "That heavenly fire of Divinity, which Christians even now, in this age, receive within, in their heart, where it acts — when the body is destroyed this fire will act without as well, and the members of the body will be attached anew and the resurrection of destroyed bodies will be achieved. The heavenly fire reproduces and renews and resurrects decaying bodies."

In a certain sense future fate is determined by man himself. "What the soul has now gathered into its inner treasure-house will at that time be revealed, and will appear without, in the body." Therefore, the courting of the Spirit is the courting of the Resurrection and an entering of resurrection, for the power of resurrection is the life-giving Spirit, who revives even in this life not only souls but bodies as well. In the Resurrection the Holy Spirit will appear as some radiant raiment or garment for the body — a garment of life and glory and repose. And the power of the light will permeate the whole body. "And everything will become as light, will be submerged in light and fire. But it will not be destroyed and will not become fire, lest its former nature remain." The prototype of this resurrection appeared in the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor. "As the body of the Lord, when he ascended the mountain, was glorified and transformed into God's glory and endless light, so, too, the bodies of the saints are glorified and become shining. For as Christ's inner glory was extended and came to shine on his body, in the very same way the existing power of Christ inside the saints will on that day pour forth onto their bodies. As many lamps are lit by one fire, these holy bodies, these members of Christ, must become one and the same with Christ himself." This will be Spring for our body — "the first month of the Kingdom." And it will bring joy to all creation.

From The Byzantine Ascetic and Spiritual Fathers.