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April 25, 2021

The Mystical Journey of the Christian, Through the Desert, Towards the Resurrection and Pentecost (4 of 5)

6. "Uncreated Divine Light and Ways of Contemplation"

The Uncreated Light is the "is eternal life, the Kingdom of God, the uncreated energy of Divinity."

"Uncreated Divine Light by its nature is absolutely different from ordinary physical light. Contemplating it begets, first and foremost, an all-absorbing feeling of the living God - an immaterial feeling of the Immaterial One, a noetic, yet not a rational perception which with irresistible force transports man into another world but so warily that he neither realises when it happens nor knows whether he is in or out of the body. At the time he is more effectively, more deeply conscious of himself than he ever is in everyday life, yet he forgets both himself and the world, carried away by the sweetness of the love of God. In spirit he beholds the invisible, breathes Him, is wholly in Him."

The vision of God "appears neither from without nor even from within but unaccountably encompasses the spirit of man, lifting him into the world of Divine Light." "He then neither sees nor feels his own materiality or the materiality of the world." "Space and time, birth and death, sex and age, social or hierarchical status - all cease to exist for him." "Contemplation of Divine Light is unfettered by circumstance. Dark of night and light of day are alike propitious. Sometimes the Light comes to man in such a fashion that he remains conscious of both of his own body and of the world outside. He can then stay open-eyed and simultaneously behold two light, the physical and the Divine."

The natural light of the sun and of electricity is the "psycho-physiological process of natural vision," but "Divine Light is of a different nature. It is the light of the mind, the light of the spirit, the light of love, the light of life."

"Divine Light is constant in itself but man's receptivity varies. Faith is light but in small measure. Hope is light but not yet perfect. The perfect light is love." "The Uncreated Light bears within it eternal life and the force of Divine Love. Indeed, it is itself both Divine Love and Divine wisdom, indivisibly one in eternity."

There is also the so-called "darkness of divestiture", when "the ascetic's soul is plunged in obscurity," having employed "special ascetic methods, he strips himself of all notions and fancies concerning visible matters - when he 'stays' his mind and his imagination. This is why it can be termed the "darkness of divestiture', and the prayer labelled 'methodical', since it follows the method specially established to this end." "God is not in the darkness of divestiture. God reveals Himself in light and as light" and then the body also acquires grace.

The distinction between created and uncreated Light, is the characteristic feature of empirical theology, which is done by those who have gained experience of the vision of the uncreated Light.

7. "Spiritual Trials"

When the ascetic sees God in the Light, then he experiences his own personal Easter, and his own personal Pentecost. Because, however, he cannot remain permanently in this state, he accepts a "spiritual trial" due to the so-called "abandonment of grace", which is something that brings him particular pain. This abandonment of divine grace "lasts for many years". Then "God may appear to the soul to be merciless."

"Like the most helpless creature he hangs suspended over the frightful abyss, and cries to God for help but all his cries remain unheeded. God seems indifferent to all his sufferings." The soul is "plunged into the shadows of death, and not finding by her side the God Whom she invokes day and night she suffers intolerably."

Having thus been abandoned by God, the soul of the ascetic "descends into hell but not like those who do not know the Divine Spirit, who do not possess the light of true knowledge of God and so are blind. No - she descends into hell capable of discerning the nature of the darkness she beholds."

"The seed of Divine love which the soul bears in her depths then engenders repentance so powerful, so total, as to surpass the measure of ordinary religious consciousness. Shedding abundant tears, man turns to God with his whole being, with whole strength, and so learns true prayer, which detaches him from this world, introducing him into another world where he hears words which no human language can express."

These trials are of a different condition from the usual trials one feels in one's struggle against the passions, the thoughts and the imagination. They are trials from the abandonment of divine grace.

"When the soul has gone through this whole gamut of harsh testing she perceives clearly in herself that there is no place in the world, no tribulation, no joy, no force, no creature that could separate her from the love of God. The shades of night can no longer swallow up the light of this life."

God returns and gives man the sense of eternal life. Thus, the first vision of God is followed by the abandonment of grace and then God returns and gives man the undisturbed sense of His presence.

For Saint Silouan in such situations of abandonment of divine grace, it was revealed to him by God: "Keep thy mind in hell and despair not." According to Saint Sophrony, on the night that this truth was revealed to him by God, in fact, "the mystery of the fall and redemption and the whole spiritual course of man" were revealed to him.

Saint Silouan, in the period of the abandonment of divine Grace, encountered hell, its deep darkness, "he really knew the state of the sufferings of hell", but at the same time it was revealed to him not to despair. Thus, he kept his mind in hell, having hope in God and in this way he expelled every tempting situation.

In this way he "with a certain movement of his spirit" was able to bring back within himself "the real experience of the torments of hell", "sometimes to a greater and sometimes to a lesser degree". "At times the torment of feeling abandoned by God is worse than all the torments of hell but it differs in that it has within itself life-giving Divine strength capable of transforming affliction into the sweet blessedness of the love of God." "Only a few can follow this way of asceticism."

The description of the spiritual trials of the God-seeing ascetic after the vision of the Uncreated Light shows a theologian of great stature who finds it difficult to find measures to measure this spiritual experience of the vision of the Light and of this experience of hell.