April 9, 2021

The Mystical Journey of the Christian, Through the Desert, Towards the Resurrection and Pentecost (1 of 5)

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

The period of Great Lent, which we have entered, is a period of intense spiritual life, with fasting, prayer, repentance, temperance and all the means that Orthodoxy has.

This intense spiritual and interior life is preserved by our Church in the Sacred Services that take place at this time and in the troparia which are chanted. When one carefully reads the book of the Triodion and participates experientially in the worship of the Church, one will find that in this way the Church wants to give us a sense of what the purpose of Christianity is and what the content of the Christian life is.

It is characteristic that all the Saints of our Church loved especially this period, which leads to Easter, and the period of Pentecost, because in this period they distinguish the inner breath of our Church.

On the occasion of our entry into this period, I would like to make a blueprint of the journey of the Christian from the Egypt of the passions to the desert of dispassion and the entrance to the Promised Land. We encounter this journey in the works of the Holy Fathers, who in this way show the purpose of human life, but also the meaning of Holy and Great Lent. In fact, it is a journey from the beginning of Holy and Great Lent until Easter and Pentecost, in a period of real desolation.

The basis will be the biography and theology of Saint Silouan of Athonite, as presented by Saint Sophrony. In this way we will see on the one hand how a Saint interprets another Saint and how through this interpretation we can understand the inner mystical life of the Orthodox Church.

And this is necessary, because unfortunately nowadays the events we are going through with the health and theological crisis disorient us and do not allow us to feel this momentum of our inner life.

It is well-known that the first book written by Saint Sophrony was the book titled Elder Silouan the Athonite which later, after the canonization of Elder Silouan, was published under the title Saint Silouan the Athonite.

This book is a great spiritual treasure, an inexhaustible spiritual wealth, a living presentation of the life of Mount Athos, in its absolute form, a living Philokalia of the Holy Neptics, as lived by two Saints, Saint Silouan and Saint Sophrony. It presents to the perfect degree and in an authentic way the journey of the spiritual life for those who desire their encounter with Christ.

They will be recorded as ten basic points of the spiritual life, as shown in the first part of the book with the theological declarations of Saint Sophrony. These points must be understood in the perspective that the salvation of man takes place in the Church, which is the Body of Christ, by his union with Christ, in the Holy Spirit, with the Mysteries and asceticism according to Christ.

The quotes in quotation marks are words of Saint Sophrony.

1. "The Word of God and the Extreme Limits of Created Being"1

If every human word has power and energy, much more it applies to the word of God, which has divine energy. God created the world by His word and the energy of God is in all creation, it is the substance-forming, life-forming and prescient energy of God.

The Son and Word of God became man, took on human nature and His word had great energy with which He spoke, healed and raised the dead. His word, "humbly expressed in the easily acceptable terms of human language that can even be put into writing - this word is, in its essence, the energy of the All-powerful God and Creator of all things. It must be said of it the same thing as the Scriptures say of God Himself - that He is a 'consuming fire', to be approached with fear and trembling (Heb. 12:29).

"Christ's word is the most mysterious of words." "Christ's word is so close to us, so intelligible, so deeply related to the human heart, yet there can be no doubting that it infinitely surpasses the forces of created nature." "Christ's word, when received in profound faith, leads man to eternal life along paths where he will encounter much that is strange and unknown to them that do not follow Christ."

"The light of Christ's word probes the depths of the dark abyss, revealing the real nature of a multitude of phantoms of truth that attract man. Christ's word is fire that puts to the test everything in man and, generally speaking, everything in cosmic existence."

Also, "Christ's word is spirit and eternal life, fullness of love and heavenly joy. Christ's word is uncreated divine light,... and he who will open his heart right up worthily to receive this divine light, to merge into it, becomes like unto God."

This must be emphasized at the beginning of the journey of the spiritual life, because everything is done with theological synergy, that is, God is active and man is a co-worker. Just as the world and man are God's creation through His word, so the recreation of the world and the rebirth of man are effected by the energy of the divine word.

Notes by Translator:

1. This is the Greek translation. In the English translation of the book St Silouan the Athonite by Archimandrite Sophrony, the title of this chapter is called "The Divine Word and the Bounds of Created Nature". The rest of the quotes in this section come directly from the original English translation of this book.