hieromonk Damascene (Christensen)
Part II. The unfolding revelation of the Tao in human history
the seal: «Shang Ti», the oldest Chinese name for God, found in the earliest extant writings which emerge from Chinese prehistory, ca. 2300 B.C.
Overleaf: Ch’ien Hsiian (ca. a.d. 1235–1305), Pear Blossoms.
Chapter One: Departure from the Way
1. Pristine Simplicity
In the beginning, man was created in a state of pristine simplicity, pure awareness. His thoughts and memories were not diversified and fragmented as they are today, but were simple and one-pointed.409 He knew no mental distraction. While being wiser than any human being today, he was in a state of innocence, like a child, and in this state he lived in deep personal communion with God the Tao/Logos and with the rest of creation, holding spiritual converse with them.
Being in such close communion with God, primordial man participated directly in God''s Uncreated Energy, which he experienceed as a Divine and ineffable Light which flooded his whole being. He was as it were clothed in this Light.410
Primordial man possessed self-awareness; that is, he was aware of an «I», of being a unique creation, endowed with freedom of will. «Made in the image of God»,411 he had an immortal spirit that could draw eternally closer to his Creator. All of this gave him his special sense of personkood.
Unlike the people of today, however, he did not have a sense of individuality. By this we mean that he did not live under the illusion that, as a unique person, he was sufficient unto himself. While possessing freedom, he did not have the false sense that he existed free of anything else, that he was non-determined. He was nor conscious of being a separate, isolated self, but cleaved unto God in a communion of love and united all creation in love unto himself. Since he did not have diversified thoughts but only simple, pure awareness, he did not identify himself with such thoughts, as we do today. And since he was not distracted by and enslaved to his senses, he did not identify himself with his physical body, as we do. Thus, for all these reasons, we can say that, while being a person endowed with self-awareness, he was truly selfless.
When he was still in this state of pristine simplicity, man ah ways acted in accordance with nature: both in accordance with his own human nature (or human essence), and with the common nature of all creation. This is the same as saying that he acted only in accordance with the ordering, directing Principle of all nature: the Tao/Logos. His will, created pure by God, followed the Tao in all things – not out of necessity, as did other creatures, but freely, out of love. His freedom of will made him unique among all creatures, though not separate from them. This quality of freedom not only made for the possibility of his unique human personhood; it was also part of what made him «in the image of God».
As God is free, so likewise man is free. But between God and man there remained a fundamental difference. God is entirely sufficient unto Himself: self-existing, non-determined, unconditioned, standing in need of nothing. He is absolute Possibility Man, on the other hand, is conditioned by the very fact that he was brought into being not by himself. His very minute-by-minute existence – not only his creation – is dependent on God. The character of his existence is determined by his own God-given human nature, and by the common nature of the created order of which he is a part. He has the ability to freely choose his actions within this determined, conditioned existence. If he chooses to act according 10 nature, and thus according to the Tao Who orders nature, all will go well. But if he does not act naturally, he gets out of harmony with both the Tao and with nature, and thus sets himself at odds with that which determines his very existence.
As long as man, in his self-awareness, remains humbly aware that he does not exist of himself, that of himself he is nothing at all, he will do what is natural to him. He will do it freely and at the same time automatically – that is, spontaneously, because his «free will» will naturally fall in line with nature without his having to stop and consider anything.
When man begins to harbor the illusion of self-sufficiency, however, he becomes a «self» in the modern sense of the word: an individual desiring things for himself and pitting himself against other individuals.
If such was the possible consequence of human freedom, why did God allow for it? It was in order to allow for love. Love must be freely given; it cannot exist without freedom. If God had not endowed the human essence with this quality, the world would be a cold, impersonal, entirely programmed environment.
2. The Primordial Departure
When man, in wrongly using his free will, first departed from the Way (Tao), he corrupted his primal simplicity and became fragmented. Divested of the primal glory, of the garment of Uncreated Light that had enveloped him, he now found himself «naked» (Genesis 3:7). His spiritual corruption and death made him subject to physical corruption and death.412
«After his transgression», writes St. Macarius of Egypt († a.d. 390), «man’s thoughts became base and material, and the simplicity and goodness of his mind were intertwined with evil worldly concerns».413 His will became divided. Now his «natural will», which remained inclined to follow the Way in all things, was set against his «free will», which had now taken on itself an inclination to depart from the Way.
Before his primordial departure from the Way, man had experienced only that which was natural to him. Now, however, he also experienced what was unnatural to him. Thus he self-willfully usurped the «knowledge of good and evil», destroying the primal simplicity and bringing duality into the world.
Before, man had been spontaneous, like a child. At every step, he freely chose, without thinking, to act according to nature, according to the Way. Now, however, at every step he had to stop and think, to calculate: «Should I follow the Way or not?» Thus he became a complex being, inwardly divided, and always vacillating.
Only God is self-existent. When man began to fall under the illusion of being a self-existent individual, he was essentially making himself into a little god. This was the meaning of the primordial trap into which he fell: «Knowing good and evil, you will be as gods».414
Man had been created to rise, in his simple and uncompounded nature, in noetic contemplation of the simple and uncompounded God. To rise in love, and to unite all of creation with himself in love, raising it also to the Creator. Instead of regarding the Way, however, he chose to regard what was easier and closer at hand: his own visible self. Instead of rising with God, he fell in love with himself.
Man had been meant to find pleasure in his limitless ascent to God and in loving communion with Him, the Source of all things. But, in falling in love with himself, he began rather to seek pleasure from what was closer to him: his body and his senses. All evil in the world can be traced to these two things: self-love and love of sensual pleasure.415
Man had been created to desire God, the Uncreated Source of his joy. But, in falling in love with himself, he had instead begun to desire created things.
Because of all this, God allowed suffering to enter the world. He did this not out of vengeance, but out of love for man, so that through suffering arising from self-love, sensual pleasure, and the resulting desire for created things, man might see through the illusion of his self-sufficiency and return to his original designation: the state of pristine simplicity and communion with the Way.
3. Knowledge of God in the Earliest Historical Cultures
After his primordial departure from the Way, man as a whole was still more simple and innocent, closer to God and nature, than In is today. Thus, his knowledge of God was more pure. This is substantiated by records that have come down to us of the earliest periods of ancient civilizations. The religion of Egypt’s first dynasty, for example, was much more pure than the forms of polytheism that arose in later dynasties. Mircea Eliade writes: «It is surprising that the earliest Egyptian cosmogony yet known is also the most philosophical. For [the Supreme God] Ptah creates by his mind (his ‘heart’) and his word (his ‘tongue’).... In short, the theogony and cosmogony are effected by the creative power of the thought and word of a single God. We here certainly have the highest expression of Egyptian metaphysical speculation.... It is at the beginning of Egyptian history that we find a doctrine that can be compared with the Christian theology of the Logos».416
The same is true for the primal period of Chinese civilization. The oldest book of Chinese history, the Shu Ching (Book of Documents), relates that in China’s first dynasty, the Hsia (ca. 2300–1700 B.C.), the people believed in one supreme God, Whom they called Shang Ti
– Shang meaning «above», «superior to», and Ti meaning «ruler» or «lord». «At this point», writes historian John Ross, «the very threshold of what the Chinese critics accept as the beginning of their authentic history, the name of God and other religious matters present themselves with the completeness of a Minerva. We are driven to infer that the name and the religious observances associated with it are coeval with the existence of the people of China.
«It is therefore evident that the belief in the existence of one Supreme Ruler is among the earliest beliefs of the Chinese known to us. Of an earlier date, when no such belief existed or when the belief in polytheism did exist, we find no trace. Nowhere is there a hint to confirm the materialistic theory that the idea of God is a later evolutionary product of a precedent belief in ghosts or departed ancestors, or that the belief had arisen indirectly from any other similar source».417
During the next dynasty, the Shang (ca. 1700–1100 B.C.), the supreme Deity was more commonly called by the name T’ien
– meaning «Heaven» – though the name Shang Ti continued to be used interchangeably with it, sometimes side by side. 418 The Chinese Emperor had to possess what was called the «mandate of Heaven» or the «mandate of Shang Ti», which he earned by living and ruling virtuously. If ever he ceased to rule according to the Way of Heaven, he would lose the mandate and fall from power.419 This understanding of government remained intact in China until the early twentieth century.
Ma Lin (ca. a.d. 1180–1256), Portraits of Emperor Yao (left) and of Emperor Yü of the Hsia Dynasty. Emperor Yao ruled China along with his joint-ruler Shun in the twenty-third century b.c. The Shu Ching records of Emperor Shun: «He sacrificed in Shang Ti». Shun appointed Yü as his successor in 2205 B.C. It was ancient sage-kings such as these, from the dawn of Chinas recorded history, whom Lao Tzu called «subtle, mysterious, fathomless, and penetrating» in chapter 15 of the Tao Teh Ching.
In China’s oldest book of literature, the Shih Ching (Book of Odes), which dates from the middle of the Chou dynasty, 800–600 B.C., we find such phrases as these:
«Great Heaven is all-intelligent and with you in every place, Great Heaven sees all and is with you in your wanderings».
«Because King Wen served Shang Ti with his whole understanding and received much blessing, he succeeded to the throne.... He exhibited a virtue so perfect that the blessings received from Shang Ti would for his sake descend to his successors».
«The founder of the Shang [dynasty] received the blessing of Heaven, and because of his virtue Heaven bestowed mercy upon him».
«The arrogant men are pleased, while the toiling men are anxious. Azure Heaven, azure Heaven, look at those arrogant men, pity these toiling men!»420
Of all the primordial peoples save the Hebrews, the Chinese- together with their racial cousins the native North Americans – retained the purest understanding of the one God, the supreme Being. Nevertheless, even at the time of the first and second dynasties in China, much of man’s original knowledge of God had been lost due to the primordial departure. Heaven, although it guided and directed the affairs of men, was often seen as being painfully distant; in the Shih Ching it is often referred to as «remote Heaven». Only the Emperors had the right to offer sacifices to Shang Ti/Heaven, and even they were frequently to lament that «Heaven is difficult to rely on». The Duke of Chou (eleventh century B.C.) went so far as to say, «Heaven cannot be trusted».421
In ancient China as in other primal cultures, we see a gradual movement from simplicity to complexity, as the effects of the primordial fall from the pristine simplicity became more fully entrenched in man’s nature. Man was no longer merely asking, Should I follow the Way of Heaven or not? Now he was asking, What is the Way?
In becoming more distant from the Creator, the ancient Chinese sought out inferior deities: the spirits of their ancestors, the gods of hunting and agriculture, the spirits of the sky, earth, sun, moon, wind, etc. To seek out the will of Heaven, they frequently resorted to divination: heating up a tortoise shell until it cracked, and then interpreting the message encoded in the cracks. Archeologists have uncovered thousands of such tortoise shells used in imperial divination, dating from the Shang dynasty. From the inscriptions on them, it appears that the Emperors never invoked the distant and awesome Shang Ti/Heaven directly through the oracles, but only invoked the spirits of their ancestors as intermediaries.422
As centuries passed, the original monotheism of China continued to be obscured. Since the Chinese culture is so strongly based in tradition, however, the ancient religion could never disappear entirely. Above all, it was preserved in the state worship. The Emperor continued to offer the Great Sacrifice to Shang Ti twice a year, at the winter and summer solstices, according to ancient custom. This practice extended into modern times, and ended only with the fall of the Manchus in 1911.423
Even from the popular mind, the ancient monotheism could not be completely eradicated. To Westerners it is a little-known fact that, in China and Taiwan even today, vestiges of the original Chinese religion are found in the Taoist and Buddhist temples. When people come to these temples, they burn incense and pray to Slung Ti at a special place in the narthex, and only then do they enter the main temple area.
Inscriptions on oracle bones from the Shang dynasty, ca. 1700–1500 B.C.
Still, it must be conceded that much of Chinese religion has (descended to polytheism through the centuries, and that the worship of the one God, Shang Ti, has been confused by pantheons of deities of various ranks.424
The same would have happened in ancient Hebrew culture as happened in China – and at many times in Jewish history it almost did happen – but God, through the Prophets, continually called this people back to the worship of Him alone. He intervened in this way because it was out of the Hebrew race that He was to one day take flesh and reveal the ultimate mystery of His Being to the world.
One of the oldest known images of Confucius: a stone engraving modelled after a painting by Wu Tao Tzu, eighth century a.d. The man on the right is believed to be Tseng Tzu, one of Con fucius' disciples. In ancient times a student walked a few paces behind his teacher, to show his respect.
Confucius visiting with Lao Tzu. Legends of their meeting were recorded by Chuang Tzu (third century B.C.) and Ssu-ma Ch’ieit (second century b.c.). Sec Arthur Waley, Three Ways of Thought in Ancient China, pp. 12–18, and James Legge, The Sacred Books of the East, vol. 39, pp. 33–35.
Chapter Two: Seeking the Way of Return
4. Lao Tzu and Confucius
When Lao Tzu and Confucius were born into the world in the sixth century B.C., the religion of China – although still essentially monotheistic and more elevated than the religions of other cultures such as the Greek and Roman – was considerably distanced from the pristine simplicity. Both Lao Tzu and Confucius harked luck to a time when people were closer to Heaven and to nature. For, like most ancient cultures, the Chinese had preserved a memory of a time in dim antiquity, a «golden age», when man had been in a pure state. Lao Tzu wrote:
Immeasurable indeed were the ancients ...
Subtle, mysterious, fathomless, and penetrating.425
Painting of Confucius by Prince Ho Sliuo Kuo, A.D. 1735. On the top are Chinese characters of an ancient script which read: «Confucius, the Sage and the Teacher.»
Confucius studying the music of the ancients in order to gain insight into their lives. A drawing by Ku K’ai Tshi.
In order to return to the time when man was closer to Heaven, Confucius pored over the ancient Classics, attempting to unlock the knowledge of the ancients and to faithfully transmit their tradition to subsequent generations. He hoped that, by effecting a return to the ways and rites of previous times, he could bring about a radical reform in the corrupt government of the late Chou dynasty. At the end of his life, he felt that he had failed in his purpose.426 There was something that the ancients possessed that he could not retrieve by mere study. He saw that the Great Sacrifice to Heaven had been corrupted, and that its meaning had been lost. «At the Great Sacrifice», he said, «as for all that comes after the libation, I had far rather not witness it!» When someone asked him the meaning of the Great Sacrifice, he said, «I do not know. Anyone who knew its meaning could deal with all things under Heaven as easily as I lay this here» – and he laid his finger upon the palm of his hand.427
Lao Tzu, although he was also well versed in the Classics (tradition says that he was the keeper of the Royal Archives), chose path very different from that of Confucius. In order to return to the state when man was nearer Heaven, he took the path of direct intuition.
Lao Tzu sought to return not merely to the primal period of Chinese history, for that was comparatively late in the history of mankind, dating from the time of the great Flood in the twenty-fourth century B.C.428 Ultimately, he was harking back to the state in which man was first created, before he first departed from the Way:
The primitive origin (of man):
Lao Tzu knew that in his primitive origin, man was in a state of undifferentiated consciousness, of direct apprehension of Reality. He called this the «pristine simplicity», the «uncarved block», the «return to the babe».
A painting and a sculpture from the Sung dynasty (a.d. 960–1279) of Lao Tzu leaving the world on a water buffalo. The calligraphy: «Lao Tzu».
There are indications in the Tao Teh Ching as to how Lao Tzu endeavored, to return to this state. In one place, for example, he says to «block the passages, shut the doors [of the senses]» and to «attain inmost emptiness, observe true quiet»,431 meaning to close one’s eyes m, I allow one’s spiritual awareness or «higher mind» to rise above the multiple deliberations, images and concepts in one’s head. In this way, Lao Tzu could step back from his thoughts and look at them objectively, thereby realizing that his thoughts were not him.
Most people identify themselves with their thoughts. When thoughts appear, they assume that these thoughts are them, that the sum total of their thoughts, memories and corresponding feelings make up the sum total of their personalities. But thoughts, as Lao Tzu realized, are only fragments which flit through the mind. Of themselves they have no reality.
Getting wrapped up in their thoughts, people become the victims of compulsive thinking: habitual thought-patterns which attach themselves to certain feelings. Finding their very identity in these patterns, they forget who they really are, that they are immortal spirits. Having lost sight of the one, immortal human nature Which is common to all, they become trapped in their individuality and in the desires of their false identity.
Lao Tzu, in rising above compulsive thinking and desire for created things, was able to glimpse the common nature of all humanity. No longer did he feel the need to assert his individuality, or in strive against others for rights and privileges. Thus, while retaining an awareness of himself as an immortal spirit, he became selfless. This can be seen from several passages in the Tao Teh Ching:
The Sage has no fixed will.
He regards the people’s will as his own.432
He who takes upon himself the humiliation – the dirt – of the people
Is fit to be the master of the people.433
The man of the highest virtue
Is like water which dwells in lowly places.
In his dwelling he is like the earth, below everyone.
In giving, he is human-hearted.
His heart is immeasurable.434
I have Three Treasures, which I prize and hold fast.
The first is gentle compassion;
The second is economy;
The third is not presuming to take precedence in the world.
With gentle compassion I can be brave.
With economy I can be generous.
Not presuming to take precedence in the world, I can make myself a vessel fit for the most distinguished services.’435
In finding the one nature common to all people, Lao Tzu was able to regard all people equally:
Treat well those who are good,
Also treat well those who are not good;
Thus is goodness attained.
Be sincere to those who are sincere,
Also be sincere to those who are not sincere;
Thus is sincerity attained.436
But there is in the Tao Teh Ching something even higher and nobler than this. Lao Tzu attained to the realization of returning good for evil:
Act without acting,
Work without working,
Taste without tasting,
Exalt the low,
Multiply the few.
Requite injury with kindness.437
As the great Chinese scholar James Legge points out: «The sentiment about returning good for evil was new in China, and originated with Lao Tzu.... Someone of Confucius’ school heard the maxim, and, being puzzled by it, consulted Confucius. The sage, I am sorry to say, was not able to take it in. He replied, ‘What then will you return for good? Recompense injury with justice, and return good for good.’»438
To Confucius can be given the credit of being the first in China lo enunciate the golden rule». «What you do not want done to yourself», he said, «do not do to others».439 This represents the perfection of natural human virtue, which Confucius admirably embodied. But the higher, Divine law of loving even ones enemies and persecutors could be arrived at only by finding the original image of mans nature, as Lao Tzu did. Hence it was Lao Tzu and not Confucius who discovered it.
If one were to distill Lao Tzu’s teaching on human conduct, it would be simply that one should do what is natural. To be natural, however, one must first find the original nature of man. Acting in accordance with this nature, one acts in accordance with the Tao. Thus one no longer has to be choosing all the time, but can be wholly spontaneous. Being spontaneous, one can forget oneself and give oneself over for the good of others. One will do what is right, not only without having to think about it, but without even knowing it! Such is the state of primal simplicity, before man usurped the knowledge of good and evil». Lao Tzu said:
Superior virtue is unconscious of its virtue,
Hence it is virtuous.
Inferior virtue is conscious of its virtue,
Hence it is not virtuous.440
5. The Tao
From the testimony of the Tao Teh Ching, it is clear that Lao Tzu was, to some measure, able to return to the state of the uncarved block in which man had lived before his departure from the Tao. Through the cultivation of objective awareness, he attained to intuitive perception analogous to that of primordial man. «Use your light» (kuang
), he said, «to return to the light of insight (ming
)."441 That is, using the natural light of the human spirit, return to the undifferentiated consciousness, direct apprehension of Reality. Elsewhere he speaks of «following the light of insight».442
«He who completely knows his own nature», said Mencius, «knows Heaven».443 Such was the case with Lao Tzu. By realizing the human nature common to all, he rose to intuitive knowledge of the Divine. Having intuited the presence of the original ordering Principle behind all creation, he also realized the inner principles of created things: the «ideas» of things which must exist prior to the things themselves.444 «He who apprehends the mother», he wrote, «thereby knows the sons».445
Gi-ming Shien explains further:
«Order is natural and necessarily requires a directing principle, for it is unimaginable that order is produced by the ordered individuals themselves. If there were no directing principle, how could there be proportion, symmetry, and the adaptation of one thing to another? There must, therefore, be an organizing power which orders – as, for example, in the seasons. The principle of seasons, from which the seasons proceed in an orderly and never-failing fashion, must exist before the seasons themselves. The ultimate principle is, therefore, of prime importance, and it is this that Lao Tzu calls the Tao....
«According to Chinese Taoist philosophy, the Tao or the One in prior to all things, and from the Tao or One all things derive their order. We мая say, therefore, that the Tao or the One ... produces all things».446
The realization of this Creator-Principle was, of course, not new with Lao Tzu. Chinese sages before him, as well as the philosophers of Greece and other cultures, had spoken of the same first Cause. No one, however, had actually described it in human terms as well as did Lao Tzu in the Tao Teh Ching. The greatest achievement of this man who so valued non-achievement, was that he came closer than any person in human history to defining the Indefinable Tao without the aid of special revelation.
6. Mysterious Teh
Lao Tzu did not know, nor could he have attained purely through intuition, the state of intimate personal union with the Tao that the first man had enjoyed, when he had been wholly infused with Uncreated Energy and clothed in it as in a garment of Light. However, Lao Tzu did partake of and experience this Energy/Light acting on him and in the world. He called it the «Mysterious Power» (Teh
) of the Tao:447
All things arise from Tao.
They are nourished by Teh.
Thus the ten thousand things all respect Tao and honor Teh.
Respect of Tao and honor of Teh are not demanded,
But they are in the nature of things.
the seal: «Mysterious Teh» (Tao Teh Ching, chs. 10, 51, 65).
Deep and far-reaching is Mysterious Teh!
It leads all things to return,
Till they come back to the Great Harmony!448
Teh, says Gi-ming Shien, is the «realizing principle» and «principle of manifestation» of the Tao. The Primal Essence of the Tao cannot be fathomed, but the Tao can be experienced through the manifestation of its Power or Teh.449 Gi-ming''s teaching concerning Teh is in keeping with that of other Chinese commentators on the Tao Teh Ching. Classical scholar Yen Ling-feng writes: «Teh is the manifestation of the Way. The Tao is what Teh contains. Without the Tao, Teh would have no power. Without Teh, the Tao would have no appearance». The thirteenth-century writer Wu Cheng, commenting on chapter 51 of Lao Tzu’s book, asserts that Teh 1.1 Divine and Uncreated as is the Tao itself: «The Tao and Teh is mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, but only the Tao is mentioned later. This is because Teh is also the Tao».450
The word Teh – in those places where Lao Tzu employs it to speak of the Uncreated Power of the Tao – corresponds to the English word «Grace». As the great Russian saint, Seraphim of Sail iv, affirms, pre-Christian God-seekers such as Lao Tzu knew what it meant to cultivate this Grace in themselves. They had, he says, «a clear and rational comprehension of how our Lord God the Holy Spirit acts in man, and by means of what inner and outer feelings one can be sure that this is really the action of our Lord God the Holy Spirit and not a delusion of the enemy».451 This understanding is found in several places in the Tao Teh Ching. Here we have translated Teh as «Grace».
Cultivate Grace in your own person,
And it becomes a genuine part of you.
He who follows the Way
Is at one with the Way.
He who cultivates Grace
Is at one with Grace.
When you become the valley of the world.
Eternal Grace will never depart.
Such is the return to the babe.452
7. The Oneness of the Tao
The first quality of the Tao that Lao Tzu discerned was its oneness. He wrote:
Once there was a time when all things became harmonized through the One:
The heavens receiving the One became clear;
I he earth receiving the One became calm;
Spirits receiving the One became divine;
All things receiving the One began to live.453
The realization of the Tao’s onensess arises from the fact that it is and must be without peer, beyond any limitation. Gi-ming Shicn explains:
«Let us now look into the real existence of eternal and infinite Being, which transcends space and time and is unlimited in its nature. What can the nature of such existence be? Regarded from the standpoint of its lack of limitation, it is completely independent, that is, absolute. ‘Absolute’ means that it is relative to nothing and is self-sufficient».454
Lao Tzu was not the first to arrive at the realization of the Absolute One. We find the same understanding, for example, in the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Parmenides. What was new with Lao Tzu – or at least more developed than in any philosopher before him – was the metaphysical insight that the Tao, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, was utterly selfless.
Many times in the Tao Teh Ching, Lao Tzu speaks of «nothingness» or «emptiness» (wu
) in connection with the Tao. Modern Western interpreters, and some Chinese as well, have made the mistake of thereby assuming that the Tao is nothingness or non being. This misconception has been furthered by mystics am! metaphysicians who, through meditation (or even, in the modem West, through hallucinogenic drugs), have had a glimpse of the non-being out of which they were called into existence by then Creator. Because this non-being is eternal, people have concluded that it itself is the Tao, the Absolute, or God. As Gi-ming Shien makes clear, however, non-being is not to be equated with the Tam.
«The interpretation of ‘nothingness’ in the philosophy of Lao Tzu by modern Chinese scholars is often one of two extremes. Some have taken it as nihilism, and some have interpreted it in terms of being.... Fung Yu-lan is an example of the latter. In his hook The History of Chinese Philosophy, he regards the particulars or individuals as being, and the universal, the metaphysical One, or Lao, as non-being.... This interpretation, however, is far from the real meaning of nothingness in Lao Tzu. For, although Tao is infinite and indefinable ... it remains in the realm of existence with particular things. We мая say that Tao or the metaphysical One is the infinite or the all-embracing principle. However, despite the hut that we cannot give it a definite particular name, the allembracing principle does exist, and, therefore, is not the meaning of nothingness».455
Gi-ming observes that, while nothingness is not the Tao, it is in i he nature or essence of the Tao:
«The nature of Being is said to be nothingness because Being is absolutely complete, in need of nothing, conscious of no wants. I his is why the principle of nothingness in the philosophy of Lao Tzu is nameless.’»456
«The real meaning of ‘nothingness’ or non-being is based on spontaneity.... Spontaneity is the nature of being; the full development of spontaneity results in forgetfulness; forgetfulness results in a feeling of nothingness».457
In other words, because the Tao is self-existent, self-sufficient, and conscious of no wants, it can create, give and sustain life and at the same time seek nothing of its own. As Gi-Ming Shien says, the Lao «forgets itself and its own existence»458, « being totally spontaneous and selfless. In chapter 34 of the Tao Teh Ching, we read:
The great Tao follows everywhere....
All things depend on it for life; none is refused.
When its work is accomplished, it does not take possession.
It clothes and feeds all things, yet does not claim them as its own.
Ever without desire, it мая be named small.
Yet when all things return to it,
Even though it claims no leadership It map be named the great.459
Did Lao Tzu first become aware of the selflessness of the Tao, and then undertake to model his own life after the Way of Heaven? Or did he first reach a certain level of selflessness which enabled him to see Reality objectively, and from this clarity of insight begin to speak of the selflessness of the Tao? This we cannot say, bur from the Tao Teh Ching one thing is certain: Lao Tzu saw the selflessness, self-forgetfulness and spontaneity of primordial man as an image and a reflection of the Creator-Tao itself. In this sense as in others, man had been made in the image of God.
9. The Benevolence of the Tao
Lao Tzu, then, had arrived at two great affirmations concerning Absolute Being: its oneness and its selflessness. From these realizations alone, however, he could not fully realize the other primary ontological fact of the Tao: the fact that the Tao is a Person.
It is true that Lao Tzu approached this realization, for as he observed the Tao at work in nature, he saw actions that were benevolent, like those of a person:
All things arise from the Tao.
By the Power of the Tao (Teh) they are nourished,
Developed, cared for,
Grown, and protected.460
Elsewhere Lao Tzu wrote of the Taos benevolence:
The Tao of Heaven is to benefit, not to harm.461
He also said that the Tao, while not being a «respecter of persons» (i.e., paying no attention to distinctions of class, race, creed, Wealth, etc.), aligns itself to those who are good:
The Tao of Heaven makes no distinctions of persons.
It always helps the virtuous.462
Here, as in several other places, Lao Tzu speaks of the «Tao of Haven» in the same way his contemporaries like Confucius spoke of Heaven», the supreme Deity of the ancient Chinese.463 In fact, the above quotation from the Tao Teh Ching is found in another Chinese work, the Tso Chuan, which is based on texts written centuries before Lao Tzu. The original version says «Great Heaven», h m which Lao Tzu substituted the «Tao of Heaven».464
The phrase «Tao of Heaven» appears in several other places in the Tao Teh Ching, as in:
Without peeping through your window
You can see the Tao of Heaven.
The Tao of Heaven does not strive, and yet it overcomes.
It does not speak, and yet is answered.
It does not ask, yet things come to it of themselves.465
Elsewhere in the Tao Teh Ching, Lao Tzu employs the word «Heaven» by itself, and it is clear from the context that he considers it synonymous with the Tao.466 The Shih Ching, whose passages on Heaven we have quoted above, says, «Heaven has let down its net to enclose all».467 Lao Tzu made use of this same image and expanded upon it:
Vast is Heavens net;
Sparse-meshed it is, and yet
Nothing can slip through it.468
Further, the Tao Teh Ching speaks of serving, following, and being united with Heaven:
In governing a people and serving Heaven,
There is nothing like using restraint.
Mercy alone can help you win a war.
Mercy alone can help you defend your state.
For Heaven will come to the rescue of the merciful,
And protect him with its Mercy.
This is known as the virtue of not striving....
This since ancient times has been known as the ultimate unity with Heaven.
In another place, Lao Tzu says:
Some things are not favored by Heaven.469
For Lao Tzu, then, the Tao – which he also called the Tao ill Heaven or simply Heaven – was not entirely impersonal, as some recent scholars have claimed. Lao Tzu could even be said to have had a «relationship» with the Tao, just as Confucius had a relationship with Heaven. This «relationship» was expressed in constant observation of the workings of the Tao of Heaven, and in constant care to live virtuously, in accordance with it, catching and realigning oneself if ever a deviation occurred.
10. The Mystery of «I AM»
Nevertheless, although Lao Tzu knew the Tao to be a benevolent Being, the full meaning of the Tao as a Personal Absolute – as a Being with Whom one could hold person-to-Person communion – remained outside the scope of his metaphysical insight. Again, such a unique revelation could not be attained even by the intuition of people of the most virtuous lives and purified minds; rather, it had to be given, and God was providentially preparing humanity to receive it. He had been unfolding the secret life of His Divine Being gradually, at certain key moments in history, for humanity could not receive it all at once.
God first revealed the fullness of His Personhood to an oftoppressed nomadic people, the ancient Hebrews. He chose them lot this because it was out of their race that He was to become intimate many centuries later.
The contemporary Russian mystical writer, Archimandrite Sophrony († 1993), writes:
«The problem of the knowledge of God sends the mind searching back through the centuries for instances of God appearing to in man through one or other of the prophets. There can be no doubt that, for us, one of the most important happenings recorded in the chronicles of time was God’s manifestation on Mount Sinai where Moses received new knowledge of Divine Being: ‘I AM THAT I AM’ – Jehovah.470 From that moment vast horizons opened out before mankind, and history took a new turn.
«Moses, possessed of the supreme culture of Egypt, did not question that the revelation that he was so miraculously given сame from Him Who had indeed created the whole universe. In the Name of this God, I AM, he persuaded the Jewish people to follow him. Invested with extraordinary power from Above, he performed many wonders. To Moses belongs the undying glory of having brought mankind nearer to Eternal Truth. Convinced of the authenticity of his vision, he issued his injunctions as prescripts from on High. All things were effected in the Name and by the Name of the I AM Who had revealed Himself. Mighty is this Name in its strength and holiness – it is action proceeding from God. This Name was the first ingress into the living eternity; the dayspring of knowledge of the unoriginate Absolute as I AM».471
Icon of the Prophet Moses before the burning bush on Mount Sinai, where God tells Moses, «Put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground». In the book of Exodus we read that «the bush burned with fire, yet it was not consumed» (Exodus 3:2, 5). This fire was the Energy (Teh) of God, which Moses was given to behold with spiritual eyes as Uncreated Light. From out of this Light God spoke to Moses, revealing to Him the mystery of His Personhood in the holy name I AM. This early thirteenth-century icon is from the ancient Eastern Orthodox monastery of St. Catherine, located near to where Moses received the revelation on Mount Sinai.
Having received this new revelation of the Personal Absolute, Moses received into his mortal body – albeit temporarily – the «сlothing of Light» that primordial man possessed. For it is recorded that «the skin of Moses’ face shone», such that he had to put a veil over his face when speaking to the children of Israel.472 This revelation of the Uncreated Energy (Teh) of God, writes St. Macarius of Egypt, was a «prefiguring of the true glory» which would later descend upon followers of the incarnate God.473
11. The Paradox of Personhood and Selflessness
Now it мая be asked why Lao Tzu, without the special revelation accorded to Moses, could not have fully realized the primary fact of the Absolute as Person. The answer to this question might hr discovered in the unique combination of facts with which Lao Tzu was already working: the oneness of the Absolute and its selflessness («nothingness»). This combination prevented him from seeing even the possibility of the Creator being a Person such as Moses knew Him to be. For if the Tao or the One were simply a Monad, dwelling in eternal metaphysical solitude, it could not be wholly selfless and intimately personal at the same time.
In order to explain this, let us draw an analogy from the human prison. A human being’s personhood is that indefinable essence which makes him uniquely that person and not someone else.474 But behind his personhood, as it were, is the one human essence common to all persons.475 By going beyond attachment to his senses, his thoughts, and his visible self, Lao Tzu was able to find this shared human essence or nature; and in finding it, he was able to be a self-aware person and still be selfless, caring for all persons without distinction.476
As far as Lao Tzu knew, however, the Tao was alone, without peer, sharing its Primal Essence or Nature with no one and nothing, either created or uncreated. Being such, it could not be selfless and a Person at the same time. If the Absolute were metaphysically alone and also a Person, it would have to be a great cosmic Egotist and Despot – which was certainly not what Lao Tzu perceived of the Tao.
In other words, Lao Tzu could say «I am» and still be selfless because he shared his created nature with other co-equal persons. From his point of reference, however, he could not see how the Tao could say «I AM» and also be selfless, unless the Tao shared its Uncreated Essence with other Persons equal to itself. But for the Tao to share its Essence was impossible in Lao Tzú's view, given the primary truth that the Absolute is one and without peer.
12. The Consequences of an Incomplete Understanding of God
In the time of Lao Tzu, the primary facts which mankind as a whole knew about God made for an incomplete understanding of Him. If we take the oneness and the selflessness of God together, we end up with an impersonal Absolute. This is precisely what happened in China. By the time of the Warring States (475–221 b.c.), even those personal qualities which Lao Tzu had ascribed to the Absolute were no longer being acknowledged by the philosophers. As Taoist historian Eva Wong observes: «The Taoism of the Warring States came up with a different conception of the Tao. In the Tao Teh Ching, the Tao ... had a benevolent nature. This quality disappeared in the Chuang Tzu and the Lieh Tzu. The Taoist philosophers of the Warring States saw the Tao as a neutral force. It was still the underlying reality of all things, but it was no longer a benevolent force. Moreover, the Tao had no control over the course of events: what would happen would happen, and nothing could be done to facilitate it or prevent it».477
This total depersonalization of the Tao had direct consequences on the spiritual life of the people. When Taoism came into being as a religion some seven centuries after Lao Tzu, it relied first of all on the cultivation of natural (created) energy by impersonal, mechanical means in order to bring about salvation, inner transformation, and physical immortality. As a result, by the eighteenth century a.d. the Taoist master Liu I-ming was to lament: «There are seventy-two schools of material alchemy, and three thousand six hundred aberrant practices. Since the blind lead the blind, they lose sight of the right road; they block students and lead them into a pen.... The reason the spiritual treasure does not appear to seekers is that they themselves will not allow it to do so – what a pity 1b.1t false people spend their lives madly in sidetracks».478
Here Liu I-Ming was reflecting the teaching of Lao Tzu himself, who wrote:
If I have even just a little sense,
I will walk on the main road and my only fear will be straying from it.
Keeping to the main road is easy,
But people love sidetracks.479
Such are the possible deviations arising from an understanding of God or the One as being wholly impersonal. On the other hand, if we take the oneness and the personhood of God together, we end up with a God dwelling in metaphysical solitude, making way for a distorted view of Him as a stern, demanding Judge, a petulant Egotist, and a severe Lord of vengeance. This view manifested itself at some early stages of Chinese history, many centuries before Lao Tzu, such as when the Duke of Chou told the soldiers of the Yin dynasty which he had conquered, «The merciless and severe Heaven has greatly sent down destruction on the Yin. You, many officers of Yin: now our Chou King has grandly and excellently taken over God’s affairs. There was the heavenly charge: destroy Yin».480 This view of God prevailed to a much greater extent, however, in the development of Judaism – and later of Islam – as we shall see.
13. The Mystery of the Triad
To the Hebrews was given the revelation of the One Personal Absolute; to Lao Tzu was given the realization of the One Selfless Absolute. Both of these were true, yet each one seemed to cam el out the other. To effect a reconciliation, and to overcome the distortions arising from each opposing view, a missing piece had to be uncovered in the Nature of the Absolute. God would have to reveal the ultimate mystery of His Being: the mystery of the Triadie One.
When this mystery was revealed, the oneness of God was shown to contain three Persons: not three Gods (as in polytheism), but three Persons in one God. Here it could be seen that the Tao in fact did share its unknowable, formless Essence with other Persons equal to itself. These Persons share a common Divine Essence, just as human beings share a common human nature or essence.
We have spoken of the selflessness which humans lost after they departed from the Way, and of how Lao Tzu undertook to return to this state of self-forgetting by finding the single human essence, the original nature of primordial man. Now, with the revelation of the Triadic One, it could be seen how man’s original and potential selflessness is precisely an image of the selflessness which exists in the three Persons of the Absolute Who share a single Divine Essence.
Since man’s departure from the Way, the one human nature has become divided, and human persons have become isolated from each other; not so with the three Divine Persons, for They dwell in one another. The works of human persons are distinct; not so those of the Divine Persons, for the Three have a single will, a dingle power, a single operation. They cleave to each other, having their being in one another.
This perfect, indwelling love between the Persons of the Godhead is ultimately what is meant by the words, «God is love» (I John 4:8). God’s love is not merely extended to the universe created by Him, for God was Love even before the foundation of the world. As Fr. Dumitru Staniloae of Romania († 1993) writes:
«Love must exist in God prior to all those acts of His which are directed outside Himself. Love must be bound up with His eternal existence. Love is the ‘being of God’».481
Each Person of the one God, having His being in the Others, is therefore wholly selfless, possessing the quality of spontaneity, selfemptying or self-forgetting («nothingness») that Lao Tzu intuited in the Tao. Each Person (each «I») forgets Himself before the Others, emptying Himself in perfect love; and in this ineffable love lies the secret of Gods oneness. Fr. Dumitru explains:
«Each Divine ‘I’ puts a ‘Thou’ in place of Himself.... The Father sees Himself only as the subject of the Son’s love, forgetting Himself in every other aspect. He sees Himself only in relation with the Son. But the T of the Father is not lost because of this, for it is affirmed by the Son Who in His turn knows Himself only as He Who loves the Father, forgetting Himself....
«This is the circular movement of each Divine T around the other as center. They are Three, yet each regards the Others and experiences only the Others. The Father beholds only the Son, the Son only the Father, reducing [emptying] themselves reciprocally by love to the other «I», to a single «I». But each pair of Persons in the Trinity, reduced in this manner to One, beholds only the third Person, and thus all three Persons are reduced to One.... Whether individually or in pairs, the Persons place the other T in the forefront, hiding themselves (as it were) beneath Him».482
Thus it can be seen how the revelation of the Triadic Oneness of God reconciles the seemingly contradictory truths about Him which had formerly been known to mankind. It now becomes possible to see how God can be one, personal, and selfless (sell forgetting) at the same time.
But why, it мая be asked, are there precisely three Persons? Could there not be only two Persons in order for God to be both personal and selfless? To this Fr. Dumitru answers that perfeсt, objective Love could not exist if there were only two Divine Pi t sons, for exclusive love between two persons, like self-love, can hr self-absorbed and subjective – as can be observed in human experience. Perfect Love must pass on to a Third, whose existence rep resents the transcendence of self-absorbed duality. Fr. Dumitru writes:
«If one ‘I’ closed in on itself remains in a dreamlike subjectivity, the absorption of two ‘Is’ into a mutual love which is indifferent towards the presence of any other also preserves, to a certain extent, this same character of dreamlike subjectivity and uncertainness of existence. This incomplete unity and lack of certainty fosters a greediness for the other in each of the Two which transforms him into an object of passion, and this is beneath the level of true love. Complete unity and the full assurance of existence are possessed by the two ‘Is’ when they meet in a Third by virtue of their mutual love for the Third. In this way they transcend that particular subjectivity which is fraught with the danger of illusion».483
14. The Incomprehensibility of the Triad
The mystery of the Triadic One, since it has to do with the Essence of God, is ultimately incomprehensible not only to discursive reasoning, but to pure intuition as well. That is why even Lao Tzu could not come to the realization of it. Strange to say, with the mystery of the Triad revealed, man knows more about God than he ever knew before, but also realizes more fully the utter unknowability of God’s Essence.
Both Lao Tzu and the ancient Greeks spoke of the incomprehensibility of the Absolute, of its «namelessness» – which, as Gi-ming Shien observes, is also bound up with Lao Tzus concept of nothingness». But while the Absolute Being of these philosophies is beyond discursive reasoning, it is not by nature incomprehensible to pure human intellection, and can be positively defined as the One. With the mystery of the Triad, the incomprehensibility of God is shown to be more radical, more absolute than either Lao Tzu or the Greeks could have known. In Of the Divine Names – a mystical work of the fifth century a.d., written in the tradition of St. Dionysius the Areopagite – the author examines the name of the One, which can be applied to God, and then compares it with another «most sublime name» – that of the Triad, which teaches us that God is ultimately neither one nor many, and is both at the same time, being unknowable in what He is.
«God is identically Monad and Triad», writes St. Maximus the Confessor († a.d. 662).484 The highest point of revelation is thus an antinomy, a paradox that cannot be resolved through human powers. Archimandrite Sophrony writes: «Our rationally functioning mind is gripped in a vice, unable to incline to one side or the other, like a figure crucified on a cross».485
What Lao Tzu called the «namelessness» of the Absolute thus finds its fulfillment in the revelation of the Triadic Oneness as primordial fact. It is ultimate reality, first datum which cannot be deduced, explained or discovered by way of any other truth; for there is nothing which is prior to it. Human thought, renouncing every support, finds its support in God. Here thought gains a stability which cannot be shaken; ignorance passes into knowledge.486
St. Gregory Nazianzen († a.d. 390), who has been called «the minstrel of the Holy Trinity», beautifully describes his contemplation of this suprarational antinomy: «No sooner do I conceive of the One than I am illumined by the splendor of the Three; no sooner do I distinguish Them than I am carried back to the One. When I think of any One of the Three, I think of Him as the whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking of escapes me. I cannot grasp the greatness of that One no as to attribute a greater greatness to the rest. When I contemplate the Three together, I see but one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the undivided Light».487
15. Foreshadowings of the Triadic Mystery
If the mystery of the Triadic One cannot be deduced through human powers, why did not God reveal it to Moses when He revealed the mystery of «I AM»? Archimandrite Sophrony answers as follows:
«God revealed Himself insofar as Moses could apprehend, for Moses could not contain the whole revelation: ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you ... and while my glory passes by, I will cover you with my hand.... And I will take away my hand, and you shall see my luck parts: but my face shall not be seen’».488
«Centuries passed before the true content of the amazing Name I AM was understood. For all the fervor of their faith neither Moses nor the prophets who were his heirs appreciated to the full the blessing bestowed on them. They experienced God mainly through historical events. If they turned to Him in spirit, they contemplated in darkness. When we, sons of the New Testament, load the Old Testament we notice how God tried to suggest to our precursors that this I AM is One Being and at the same time Three Persons. On occasions He would even speak of Himself as We. ‘And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’489 ‘And the Lord God said, Behold, man is become as one of us’490. An even more remarkable instance occurs with Abraham: three men appeared to him yet he addressed them as if they were but one».491
Here, in speaking of glimpses of the Triadic Oneness in the Old Testament, we cannot neglect to mention the startling phrase in chapter 42 of the Tao Teh Ching, in which Lao Tzu writes, «The Three produced all things». Commenting on this passage, Gi-ming Slum says that the Three represents «the reconciliation of opposites» – which is not far from St. Gregory Nazianzen’s explanation of the meaning of the Triad: «The Triad contains itself in perfection, for it is the first which surpasses the composition of the dyad».492 Gi-ming Shien further stated that «the Three is the principle of order», and thus it is that it «produces all things».493 Here it can be seen that Lao Tzu, although he was not given to know the full meaning of the Triad, nevertheless realized it to be a creative Principle.
Icon of the One Triadic God appearing to Abraham in the form of three angelic visitors. The Father/Mind is represented by the angel at left, Since He is the Originating Principle of the Godhead, both the Son/Word (center) and the Spirit/Breath (right) are turned towards Him. In this mystically symbolic composition, the bodies of the Father and the Spirit form the contours of a chalice between them, with the Son in the middle of it. The chalice represents the cup of Christ’s Body and Blood, shed for the world. Thus, while the Son and the Spirit arc bearing witness to the Father, the Father and the Spirit, by their very positions, are bearing witness to the Son in self-forgetting love. Russian icon painted by St. Andrew Rublev, first hall of the fifteenth century.
16. The Expectation of the Ancient Hebrews
«The fact that the revelation received by Moses was incomplete», continues Archimandrite Sophrony, «is shown in his testimony to the people that ‘the Lord your God will raise up unto you a Prophet from the midst of you ... unto him you shall hearken.’ Also: ‘And the Lord said unto me ... I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto you, and will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.’494 According to the Old Testament all Israel lived in expectation of the coming of the Prophet of whom ‘Moses wrote,’495 ‘THAT prophet.’496 The Jewish people looked for the coming of the Messiah who when he was come would tell them all things.’497 Come and live among us, that we мая know You, was the constant cry of the ancient Hebrews. Hence the name ‘Emmanuel, which being Interpreted is, God with us.’498
«The focal point of the universe and the ultimate meaning of the entire history of the world is the coming of Jesus Christ, Who did not repudiate the archetypes of the Old Testament but vindicated them, unfolding to us their real significance and bringing new dimensions to all things – infinite, eternal dimensions.
«It was given to Moses to know that Absolute Primordial Being is not some general entity, some impersonal cosmic process. It was proved to him that this Being had a personal character and was a living and life-giving God. Moses, however, did not receive a clear vision: he did not see God in Light as the Apostles saw Him on Mount Tabor – ‘Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was.’499... Having reached the frontier of the Promised Land, Moses died».500
The seal: Three ancient Chinese names for the Divine Being: Shang Ti ("Supreme Ruler"), Tao ("the Way"), and Ling ("Spirit").
Created in the Da Zhuan style of 1766–221 B.C., this seal represents the Triadic mystery by means of the archaic Chinese pictographs. Here Shang Ti corresponds to the Father/Mind (the Originating Principle of the Godhead); Tao corresponds to the Son/Word (the Operating Cause of the creation); and Ling corresponds to the Spirit/Breath (the Perfecting Cause).
Today in China, followers of Christ commonly refer to God as Shang Ti – and also as Shen
another word for «Spirit». They refer to the Holy Spirit as Sheng Ling, a combination of two ancient characters, «holy»
the latter being an exact duplication of the ancient written form
and, as we have seen, they refer to the «Word» of God (as found in the Bible) as Tao. In this way they remain tied to the most primeval roots of Chinese religion even while embracing the new revelation of the incarnate Tao.
Chapter three. When the way became flesh
«The Tao was made flesh» (John 1:14)
17. Christ as «I AM»
And so He appeared, He to Whom the world owed its creation. The Tao/Logos of the ancient Chinese and Greeks had now, in a way surpassing nature, taken the form of a man. The Messiah had come Whom the ancient Hebrews had awaited to lead them Into all truth. «Christ’s new covenant», writes Fr. Sophrony, «announces the beginning of a fresh period in the history of mankind. Now the Divine sphere was reflected in the searchless grandeur of the love and humility of God, our Father. With the coming of Christ all was changed: the new revelation affected the destiny of the whole created world».501
When the Tao became man in Jesus Christ, He revealed Himself as the very I AM Who had spoken to Moses on Mount Sinai. To the Jews He said, «Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it and was glad». Uncomprehending, the people asked Him, «You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?» Christ said to them, «Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM».502 When He uttered this – the most sacred name for God in the Hebrew religion – the Jews knew exact I what he was saying.503
Icon of Christ transfigured on Mount Tabor, surrounded by Uncreated Light and appearing with Prophets Moses and Elijah. Below, the Apostles are falling to the ground. Russian icon by Theophanes the Greek, fifteenth century a.d.
18. The Teh of Christ
In taking flesh, the Tao united human energy with Divine Energy in one person. Divine Energy did not act upon Him, as it had upon Moses and to a lesser extent upon Lao Tzu. Rather, this was Christ’s own Energy: the Uncreated Power (Teh) of the Tao. It was by this Teh – the same Teh that Lao Tzu said nourished all creation – that Christ performed His miracles. The Gospels record that «the whole multitude sought to touch Him, for Power (Teh) went out of Him and healed them all».504 When a woman touched Him and was instantly healed, Christ Himself said, «Somebody has touched me, for I perceive that Power has gone out of me».505
The people around Christ could not see this Energy. On the mountain of Tabor, however, Christ opened the spiritual eyes of His Apostles to let them see it – and they beheld it as Light: «And He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his garments became as white as the Light».506 Commenting on this supernatural event, the Romanian Orthodox priest George Calciu says, «Don’t imagine that Jesus Christ took from His Father the Uncreated Light just for that moment. He was surrounded by this Light all the time, and He only opened the eyes of the Apostles to sec His Light on the Mountain of Tabor in order to make them understand that He was truly God. The Apostles were not prepared to see the Light of Jesus Christ, and because of this they fell to earth».507
19. The Christ of Lao Tzu
It is a strange yet incontrovertible fact that, when God did take flesh, He in many ways (though certainly not all) revealed Himself to be closer in spirit to the Tao of Lao Tzu than to God as conceived by the Hebrews at that time, even though the Hebrews had the revelation of Moses. This might be difficult to accept by those who are accustomed to thinking of Christ as the fulfillment of the expectation specifically of the Hebrews. Ancient Christian tradition, however, holds that Christ satisfied the longings of all the nations.508
Since they viewed God as dwelling in solitude, many of the Hebrew religious leaders of Christ’s time had come to regard Him as an inexorable cosmic Judge. He was the Supreme Authority who had set up a system of law and punished offenders out of personal indignation. His justice was exact. For the religious leaders, then, the law was everything and had to be followed to the letter. Thin idea led in later centuries to an endless codification and interpretation of religious laws.
When the Tao became flesh, He did not at all resemble this idea of God. He was, as Lao Tzu had said of Him, «like water, which greatly benefits all things but does not compete with them, dwelling in lowly places that all disdain»509. Archimandrite Sophrony writes:
«He came in utter meekness, the poorest of the poor with nowhere to lay His head. He had no authority, neither in the Stair nor even in the Synagogue founded on revelation from on High, He did not fight those who spurned Him. And it has been given to us to identify Him as the Pantocrator (All-powerful) precisely be» cause He ‘made himself of no reputation, and took upon himself the form of a servant,’510 submitting finally to duress and execution. As the Creator and true Master of all that exists, He had no nerd of force, no need to display the power to punish opposition».511
Christ said of Himself: «The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them ... but I am among you as he who serves»512. Likewise, Lao Tzu had written of Him before His coming:
The Great Tao clothes and feeds all things,
Yet does not claim them as its own.
All things return to it,
Yet it claims no leadership over them.513
The ancient Hebrews knew that their Messiah would come in the form of a man. When He did come, «the common people heard Him gladly,»514 and some said, «No man ever spoke like this man.»515 Others, however, especially among the leaders, rejected Him because He did not fit their preconceived image of Him. In spite of i he testimony of the Prophet Isaiah who foretold that the Messiah would not so much as «break a bruised reed»,516 they expected Him to be a worldly authority figure who would raise an army and mecilessly rout their Roman oppressors. On the contrary, they saw that Christ was (in His own words) «meek and lowly in heart.»517 Of Him, Lao Tzu had «prophesied»:
The Tao does not show greatness,
And is therefore truly great.
It does not contend, and yet it overcomes.518
«For the Son of man», said Christ of Himself, «is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them».519
Unlike the Hebrews, Lao Tzu did not live in expectation of a Messiah. And yet, as Fr. Seraphim Rose believed, he would have followcd Christ if he had seen Him, for he would have recognized in Him the humble Tao which he had intuited in purity of mind.
20. Christ’s Revelation of the Triad
In revealing in His Person the selflessness of the Absolute, Christ opened to mankind the «secret» behind it – the mystery of the Triad.
If Cod had revealed Himself to Moses not only as «I AM» but also as «I AM THREE IN ONE», this would have meant nothing to Moses and his people. Only God Himself could contain the fullness of this mystery; therefore, only God Himself could bring the knowledge of it to mankind. By walking among us in the likeness of our flesh, He revealed the Triadic One not as a verbal or written formula, but as a living, personal Reality. Due to the awesomeness of the mystery, however, He did this only gradually.
«The acquisition of knowledge of God is a slow process», explains Fr. Sophrony, «not to be achieved in all its plenitude from the outset, though God is always and in His every manifestation in variably One and indivisible. Christ used simple language intelligible to the most ignorant, but what He said was above the head# even of the wisest of His listeners. ‘Before Abraham was, I AM.’ ‘I and my Father are one.’ ‘My Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.’ ‘I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He мая abide with you forever.’ (So now a Third Person is introduced.) ‘The Spirit of truth, Who proceeds from the Father, He shall testify of me.’520
«We note that Christ only gradually began to speak of the Father, and it was not until towards the end of His earthly life that He spoke of the Holy Spirit. Right to the end the disciples failed to understand Him, and He made no attempt to explain to them the image age of Divine Being. ‘I have yet many things to say unto you, but you cannot bear them now.’ Instead, He indicated how we might attain perfect knowledge: ‘If you continue in my word ... you shall know the Truth.’‘The Holy Spirit... shall teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said unto you’. ‘When He, the Spirit of Truth, has come, He will guide you into all Truth».’521
21. Christ’s Revelation of the God of Love
With Christ’s revelation of the Triad, mankind realizes for the first time that, truly, «God is love». Now it is seen how, if God well mono-Hypostatic (that is, one Person), He would not be love. Archimandrite Sophrony writes:
«Moses, who interpreted the revelation of I AM as meaning a single Person, gave his people the Law. But ‘Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.’ 522 The Trinity is the God of love.... Jesus, knowing ’that His hour was come that He should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end.’ 523 This is our God. And there is none other save Him. The man who by the gift of the Holy Spirit has experienced the breath of His love knows with his whole being that such love is peculiar to the Triune Godhead revealed to us as the perfect mode of Absolute Being. The mono-Hypostatic God of the Old Testament and (long after the New Testament) of the Koran does not know love.
«To love is to live for and in the beloved whose life becomes our life. Love leads to singleness of being. Thus it is within the Trinity. ‘The Father loves the Son.’524 He lives in the Son and in the Holy Spirit. The Son ‘abides in the love of the Father’525 and in the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit we know as love all-perfect. The Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and lives in Him and abides in the Son. This love makes the sum total of Divine Being a tingle eternal Act. After the pattern of this unity, mankind must also become one man». 526
Christ said, «I and my Father are one». And for His disciples He prayed, «That they all мая be one; as You, Father, are in me, and I in You, that they also мая be one in us».527 Christ’s commandment to love is thus a projection of heavenly love on the earthly plane. Realized in its true content, it makes the life of mankind similar to that of the Divine Triadic One.
22. Christ''s Law of Love
God, in telling the Prophet Jeremiah of the new covenant that the Messiah would bring, had said, «After those days I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts».528 When Christ came revealing the love of the Triad, he reminded man of the true purpose of the law, and raised it to a new dimension. The law was not an end in itself, nor was it for the purpose of meeting the exact requirements of an angry Judge-God. «The [law of keeping] the Sabbath was made for man», Christ explained, «and not man for the Sabbath».529
As Christ showed, the law had been given to man by the God of love, in order that man would in turn love God and his neighbor, Quoting from the very words of the law, Christ said, «You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets».530
Ultimately, the only law that Christ gave to man was the law of love. Having this law «in their inward parts», His followers would obey God’s law naturally, spontaneously, without always having to think, to choose, and to worry over legalistic formulas.
Just as Lao Tzu’s «superior virtue ... unconscious of its virtue» In rooted in the «nothingness» of spontaneity and self-forgetting, so too is the love of which Christ spoke: «When you do a merciful deed, let not your left hand know what your right hand is doing».531
The love that Christ taught was not merely the commonplace love for ones friends, family and kinsmen. He spoke of Perfect Love – the reflection of the Divine life of the Triadic God – in which a person finds the one human nature and is thus able to love all people equally.
Having taken human form, the Tao/Logos made the Person hood of God far more tangible than ever before. In so doing, He also brought the meaning of human personhood into sharper focus than had been previously known. Just as He had brought new dimensions to the archetypes of the Old Testament, so He did to the teachings of Lao Tzu. He gave a personal dimension to Lao Tzus nothingness»; and this personal dimension of self-emptying is what we call Perfect Love.
Lao Tzu understood that a person who asserts himself as an individual, far from realizing himself fully, becomes impoverished. It is only in renouncing its possessiveness, giving itself freely and ceasing to exist for itself (i.e., being reduced to «nothingness») that the person finds full expression in the one nature common to all. In giving up its own particular advantage, it expands infinitely, and is enriched by everything which belongs to all.532 Of such a person Lao Tzu said, «His heart is immeasurable».533
Christ, in revealing the mystery of love between the Persons of the Triad, at the same time revealed the mystery of what Lao Tzu had intuited on a human level. He showed that, by acquiring the perfection of the common human nature, each person actually acquires the image of the common Divine Nature. Man has been made in God’s image. Thus, when a person experiences spiritual oneness with all people, he is in the likeness of the Triadic One: the Essence of Perfect Love.
The touchstone of this Perfect Love is love for one’s enemies. When the Tao/Logos became flesh, He brought out the full meaning of Lao Tzu’s precept, «Requite injury with kindness», speaking of it in terms of love. «Love your enemies», He taught, «do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. Give to everyone who asks you; and of him who takes away your goods ask them not again. Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom».534
23. Christ’s Revelation of the Selflessness of the Tao
Christ’s selflessness or «nothingness», as we have said, was based in His Divine life within the Triad. During His life on earth, this was seen first of all in His total self-renunciation before the Father. He renounced His will in order to accomplish the will of the Father by being obedient to Him.
In speaking of Christ’s obedience to the Father, we must be careful not to think too much in human terms. For Christ, the renunciation of His own will was not a choice or an act; it was spontaneous, for renunciation is the very being of the Triad, Who have only one will proper to their common nature. The Divine will in Christ was the will common to the Three. That is why Christ could say, «He who has seen me has seen the Father».535
Self-emptying is the very mode of existence of the Tao Who was sent into the world. Christ’s saying, «My Father is greater than I»,536 expresses this emptying of His own will. «My Father has been working until now», He said, «and I have been working.... The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do: for whatever He does, the Son also does likewise. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does.... For as the Father raises up the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son given life to whom He will.»537 Here it is seen that the work accomplished on earth by Christ is the common work of the Triad, for He shares the same Essence with the Father and the Spirit. The outpouring, self-emptying of Christ only produces the greater manifestation of His Divinity to all those who are able to recognize greatness in abasement, wealth in spoliation, and liberty in obedience.538
The very fact that Christ the Tao/Logos was «sent into the world»539 by the Father shows His obedience to Him, when He emptied Himself into His own creation by taking on human flesh subject to death. In doing His Fathers will throughout His earthly life. He endured mockery, opposition, and persecution at every turn. This culminated in the ultimate self-emptying of undergoing the most humiliating and painful death known at the time: being scourged, stripped naked, and crucified in public view.
The Apostle Paul sums up the whole act of the Taos self-emptying in Christ: «He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross».540
If Lao Tzu had known that the Tao, «which dwells in lowly places that all disdain», would one day take the form of a man, he could have conceived of no greater self-emptying, no greater lowliness, no greater «nothingness» than the incarnate Tao being nailed In a Cross and dying in a body that would rise again.
Fr. Seraphim Rose once wrote that «nothingness», in the meaning t hat Lao Tzu gives it, is the «point of convergence» or axis of the universe.541 This recalls Lao Tzus words:
Thirty spokes join in a single hub;
It is the center hole (the space where there is nothing) that makes the wheel useful.542
If nothingness or self-emptying is the axis of the universe, then I lie Cross of Christ, the greatest sign to man of the self-emptying of God, now becomes that axis. Christ the Tao/Logos stands at the axis; and there, in the «space where there is nothing», we find not an impersonal void, but the personal heart of the selfless, self-forgetting God.
Part III. Uniting oneself to the incarnate Tao. Through watchfulness and prayer
The seal: «Watch and pray» (Matthew 26:41).
Overleaf: Shên Chou (a.d. 1427–1509), Poet on a Mountain. Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri.
Chapter One: Changing the Eye of the Soul
1. New Possibilities
In the foregoing we have discussed what has been realized and revealed of the Tao in human history, culminating in the incarnation of the Tao and in the revelation of the Triad. By itself, knowledge of these revelations is useless. They cannot be separated from I lie, but call for a radical transformation of our whole being.
Christ did much more than reveal who God is. Through His coming, man not only achieves the self-emptying that Lao Tzu valued so much; now, in a way unknown before, his immortal spirit becomes wholly filled with the Divinizing, Uncreated Energy – Grace or Teh – of God. With Christ, man not only returns to the primordial state which Lao Tzu sought; now he rises beyond even this in die mystical union with the Personal Absolute that was originally Intended for man. Through Christ’s self-emptying on the Cross, the way to heaven becomes open to man, and man experiences the Tao of Heaven in the plenitude of His Being.
The following chapters will be devoted to these new possibilities in the spiritual life of man. Here the experience of Lao Tzu will continue to provide us with a springboard from which to show what has been opened to humanity through the coming of Christ.
The seal: yüan-shen/ shih-shen.
2. The Soul and the Spirit (Shih-Shen and Yüan-Shen)
In discussing the spiritual life of man, it is first necessary to speak of man’s spirit itself. An understanding of the human spirit is not dependent on Divine revelation: it can be arrived at, at least in part, by silently observing one’s inward being. Therefore, it is to be expected that the teachings of ancient Christians concerning tin spirit of man would find exact parallels in the followers of Lao Tzu’s teaching in China.
Our spirit is not a portion or particle of the Creator’s Spirit, but it is an image of it. It is the most personal part of man, the principle of his conscience and freedom. It might be said to be the seat of the human person, which contains in itself the whole of man’s nature.
It is our spirit that constitutes the «image of God» in us. All God is Light, so also our spirit is light. Having been breathed into us by God, it seeks God, knows God, and in Him alone finds rest.543
As the creation originally came into being through the Word – the Tao/Logos – so now is it guided and sustained by being informed, as it were, by the Word. Our spirit is the faculty t li.il can actually «hear» the wordless voice of the Word speaking in us.
Both Christ and Lao Tzu called man’s spirit the «light».544 Followers of Lao Tzus teaching in China came to call it the «original spirit» (yüan-shen
), while the ancient Christian ascetics called it the nous, a Greek word which мая be translated as «spirit» or «higher mind.»545
In the life of fallen, unregenerate man, the spirit is hidden behind I he lower consciousness of thoughts, fantasies and emotions. In traditional Christian terminology, this lower consciousness is said to be of the lower aspect of the «soul». Followers of Lao Tzu in China called it the «conscious spirit» or «knowledge spirit» (sbih-sben
Potentially, the spirit (nous or yüan-shen) is pure, formless, imageless awareness, unconditioned and uncompounded. Its aim and designation is to draw ever closer and unite itself to its Creator. Provided it is purified, it knows God and the inner essences of created things through direct intuitive perception. Among the visible creation, man alone possesses such a spirit.
The lower soul (shih-shen), on the other hand, is shaped by personal and cultural conditioning. It reacts to its environment based «it this conditioning, just as an animal does. Its concerns rest in man’s temporal, earthly needs. Since man’s departure from the Way, it has become a mass of emotions, memories and compounden thoughts, and seeks to know things through imagination and abstract deduction. In its lowest part, the lower soul resembles the soul of an animal, since animals also possess emotion, memory and imagination.547
St. Theophan the Recluse (1802–1894) was the most popular spiritual writer in nineteenth century Russia. Writing from his own experience of the inner world of the spirit, he made the wisdom of the ancient Eastern Christian mystics accessible to the modern mind. His works are now being presented in the English language and used by serious seekers of tin Way as a primary guide to the inner life.
Ultimately, the distinction between the spirit and the lower soul must be seen as an analogy. It is not that there are two beings inside of us; rather, the spirit and the lower soul are different aspects of our one inward being. The spirit might be said to be the hidden side of our inward being and the purest part of the soul.548 The ancient Christian teachers call the spirit «the eye of the soul», since it is the «organ» which perceives Divinity.
The great mystic writer Maximus the Confessor († a.d. 662) puts it this way: «The soul has three powers: first, the power of nourishment and growth; second, that of imagination and instinct the third, that of the higher intelligence (logikos) and the spirit (nous). Plants share only in the first of these powers; animals share in the first and second; men share in all three. The first two powers art perishable; the third is clearly imperishable and immortal».549
Man, therefore, is composed of body and soul, and the spirit is the highest part of the soul. We мая even call the spirit the «higher soul». Lao Tzu did this in chapter 10 of the Tao Teh Ching, where he spoke of the «superior soul» and the «inferior» or «animal soul».550
3. The Spirit as Master
In the inner life of man, the spirit is meant to be the master, and the lower soul is to be the servant, while the body is to be the servant of both. «The true ruler», writes St. Maximus, «is he who rules over himself and has subjected the soul and the body to the spirit».551
St. Theophan the Recluse (f 1894), a modern teacher of ancient wisdom, likewise states: «According to natural purpose, man must live in the spirit, subordinate everything to the spirit, be penetrated by the spirit in all that is of the soul, and even more so in all that is physical – and beyond these, in the outward things, too, that is, family and social life. This is the norm!»552
When this hierarchy is maintained, we will no longer trust our thoughts, fantasies and reasoning powers. Even amidst our daily activities, conditioned by our culture and environment, our soul will continually return to the direct intuitive knowing of our spirit. As Lao Tzu put it: «Use your light to return to the light of insight».553 The soul knows the Truth by its unbroken connection with and Mibordination to the spirit, while the spirit knows through its connection with and subordination to its Creator, the Tao/Logos.
St. Theophan writes further: «When the spiritual reigns supreme in someone, then although this is his exclusive character and attitude, he does not err. This is because, in the first place, spiritually is the norm of human life, and so as a result, being spiritual, he is a real person, whereas the intellectual or carnal man is not a real person. Secondly, no matter how spiritual someone is, he cannot help but give the intellectual and carnal their rightful place; he maintains just a little of them, in subordination to the spirit. Let intellectuality be not too broad within him (in scientific knowledge, arts and other subjects), and let carnality be firmly restrained – then he is a real, whole person. But the man of intellect (the expert, the connoisseur, the shrewd man) – and even more so the carnal man – is not a real person, no matter how appealing he seems outwardly».554
With mankind’s departure from the Way, the natural hierarchy has been reversed. The body and the lower aspect of the soul are now the masters. They have taken over the human being, who is now carried about by thoughts, imagination, emotions and bodily concerns.
As we have shown in the previous part, the soul of fallen man has come under the illusion of its self-sufficiency. Therefore it is not satisfied with concerning itself with a man’s temporal needs (food, clothing, shelter), but seeks also means toward a man’s ascendancy and sensual pleasure. Such a soul has become (or, better to say, has attached itself to) what is today called an «ego». While the spirit in our true self – the true seat of our personhood – the ego is our false self, an illusory self-sufficient entity. Because it thinks to achieve it s ends and overcome obstacles through its own unaided powers, the ego can also be called our false «problem-solver».
Having become the master of the man through the illusion of its autonomy, the ego does what it can to conceal the existence of the spirit. In this way the spirit is not allowed to fulfill its designation of rising to God, and thus its light becomes darkened. Its light has not been put out; it is still light, but because it stands apart from the Creator, this light is darkness. That is why Christ s.ml. «Take heed that the light which is in you be not darkness.»555
Since the spirit is now held captive by the ego in the realm of i lie senses, it has also become sick. The only cure for this sickness is to give the spirit its rightful mastery by stripping the soul of the form of the ego. When the lower soul is refined in this way, says St. Theophan, «the soul grows into the spirit and blends with it».556557
Lao Tzu describes this as follows:
When the superior soul and the inferior soul are held together in one embrace, they can be kept from separating.558
When the soul takes the position of servant and aligns itself with the spirit, then the spirit returns to itself and naturally fulfills its true purpose, rising to the Creator. St. Basil the Great († a.d. 379) describes this spiritual process as follows: «When the spirit [nous] is not engaged by external affairs nor diffused through the senses over the whole world, it retires within itself. Then it ascends spontaneously to the consideration of God».559
Lao Tzu, in concentrating his spirit and not scattering it in the unusual realm, was able to partake of this experience. He wrote:
The five colors blind men’s eyes;
The five tones deafen men’s ears;
The five flavors dull men’s sense of taste.
Galloping and hunting derange men’s mind.
Rare articles conduct astray.
On this account the sage regards not the eye but the inner things.560
And on this account Lao Tzu’s spirit was able to rise in contemplation of the qualities of the Tao, aligning itself with the Way of Heaven.
Now that the Tao has become flesh, a much closer connection is possible between man’s spirit – the seat of His true personhood – and the Person of the Tao. It is a connection that passes into union, into the very deification of man’s spirit by a special action of Uncreated Teh. Before describing this lofty condition of the human spirit, however, it is necessary to speak in greater detail about our present, unregenerate condition, so as to show what it is we must transcend and overcome.
4. The Life of the Ego
At the moment of man’s first act of disobedience to the Way there suddenly appeared in him a sense that he had become wrong, This fundamental sense of wrongness («the knowledge of good and evil») marked the birth of his ego and thus of his self-consciousness, As we saw in the previous Part, he lost the garment of Uncreated Light in which he had been clothed, and thus became aware that he was naked (Genesis 3:10).
Since man’s ego was born through his trying to become a god unto himself (Genesis 3:5), it is in the very nature of the ego to 11 y to become autonomous. Hence the ego shirks from admitting it is wrong; to admit this would be to admit that it is not a god, and that there is a standard higher than itself. This fear of admission was first seen in the ego’s attempt to «hide from the presence of God among the trees of the garden» (Genesis 3:8).
But the ego not only attempts to hide from God; as we have seen, it also attempts to hide from the spirit, for the spirit too convicts the ego of its wrongness. Since the spirit, and not the ego, is supposed 10 be the master of the person, it’s very presence exposes the ego as a false usurper and destroys the very basis for the ego’s existence.
How can the human ego, immersed in its own gratification, hide from the ever-present reality of God and the spirit? How else than by a constant state of distraction into sensual pleasures, thoughts, memories and fantasies? Thus, man’s fall into disobedience was al once a fall into distraction, and that was how his consciousness started to become as compounded and fragmented as it is to dap.
To distract himself from facing his wrongness, man seeks out the very things that made him wrong in the first place: self-love and sensual pleasure. Gratifying himself in this way, he feels «right» again – but only temporarily. Actually, he has only become more wrong, so that now he needs even greater distractions, and even greater shocks, to make him feel that he is right. In this way he progresses further along the path of self-destruction, trying to overcome his predicament by its very cause.
Our ego seeks any reassurance that, in fact, we are all right, that we did not make a mistake, and that we are God after all. Our conscious selves мая not admit that this is happening, but that is the actual underlying aim of our ego-life: to find anything that will enable us to forget our true selves and our hideous condition, and will make us feel, if only for a brief moment of ecstasy, that we are God, that we are in control, on top of things, and sufficient unto ourselves. Such is the principle behind man’s constant desire to escape into the sensual pleasures of food, sex, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, entertainment, etc.; his desire for «love», popularity, recognition, glory, power, group status, acceptance, and admiration for his physical appearance; and his desire to puff himself up through hatred, judgment, and condemnation of others.
The ego or problem-solver works toward its aims through two powers: 1) the calculating machine of the human brain, with its faculties of analysis, contrivance, planning and fantasy; and 2) resentment. With the former, man tries to get something, and thus gives himself the illusion that he is on top of everything. With the latter, In tries – automatically, through habit, without even thinking – to get on top of something by resenting or judging (condemning) it. When it initially enters, resentment is not yet an emotion or even a thought. It is a kind of mechanism which the ego uses in order to immediately exalt itself over something or someone (especially someone who makes the person feel less like a god), and only later do thoughts and emotions attach themselves to it.
When we are truly humble and in submission to God, it is possible to discern right from wrong without judging or condemning. But when we are playing God, we cannot discern; we can only judge. Even if our judgment is technically correct, it is still essentially wrong, because we have made it in order to feel more right than the person whom we have judged. This is judgment on the level of the ego, blocking us from God, rather than discernment on the level of the spirit, which comes from God. «Judge not according to the appearance», said Christ, «but judge righteous judgment».561 Unfortunately, the prideful person will not be able to differentiate between these two, but will judge according to appearances when he thinks he is discerning. The only factor that distinguishes them is humility.
When an injustice occurs to a humble person, he will not react inwardly; he will discern the injustice without resenting it. When the same injustice happens to a person with an ego, he will immediately react with resentment. In both cases, this occurs at first without thought. When resentment passes into thought, it becomes what we call judgment.
If a person’s will is subconsciously inclined to the desire to get on top and play God, his consciousness attracts to itself all kinds of thoughts through which he can cherish, relish and hopefully fulfill his desire: thoughts of being accepted and admired, judgment.il thoughts, sensual and materialistic thoughts, etc. If he continues to play around with these thoughts, then emotions attach to them «Emotion» literally means «to move away from»; through it a person moves away from his true self, his spirit.
Once emotions attach themselves to thoughts, they arouse more and more thoughts. The person loses himself in his thoughts and feelings as in a kind of virtual reality, unaware that he can stand back from them. His thinking has become compulsive, fed by the powerful combination of thought-desire-emotion which we call «passion». Such is the life of the ego. Man’s spirit is directed solely by the passions, and moves further and further from its Creator.
Even if we stray far from the Way and lose all awareness of our spirit, still that spirit longs to fulfill its purpose, and still the wordless Word speaks to it, calling it back to Himself. This longing and 1 his calling is felt by the soul as an internal conflict, a gnawing, unnamed suffering.
The Way, however, мая not only use internal, moral suffering to call us back. He мая also work through physical pain, or through emotional pain arising from the loss of a loved one or any other of our earthly attachments. At the time, we мая find this to be terribly and unnecessarily cruel; but later, if we are able to look at it objectively, we will see that, considering the seriousness of our previous condition, the Word in fact acted as gently as possible in effecting the cure.
Through suffering we are stopped short in our self-worship Hid pursuit of earthly gratification. We find that our old distractions no longer work as they did before – they no longer stop the pain. Finally we are forced to face what we had been running from all our lives: we are forced to face ourselves as we really are, and it is a gruesome sight. The ego cries out that, if we truly face our sickness, the end is at hand; and this is true, for it will mean the end of the ego’s tyranny. For our true selves, however, it marks the beginning of a new life. As Lao Tzu put it:
If one is sick of sickness, then one is not sick.
The sage is not sick because he is sick of sickness.
Therefore he is not sick.562
The full wretchedness of our condition is not seen all at once, for our spiritual eyes have only opened partway; but enough of it is seen to make us realize the need to change. Then begins the slow and painful process of what Christ called «repentance». Repentance means much more than regret. In its original Greek form – metanoia – it literally means to change the spirit (nous), to purify the eye of the soul.
Metanoia begins with the realignment of all our powers away from our former loves – for ourselves and for created things – and toward the Tao, the Way of the universe, the wordless Word from Whom we have been fleeing. With this occurs, in the words of Lao Tzu, a reversal or return. We are no longer giving the lower soul mastery, for we are starving to death the ego or false identity that has made a home in it. Now the spirit is allowed to get out from under the ego and resume its rightful place.
Our human action is the beginning of metanoia; but the completion of it lies in the Divine action of the wordless Word within us. This occurs in the following way.
Now that our spirit has begun to regain mastery, we experience the yearning that is natural to it – the yearning for our Maker Along with this comes the yearning for that which separates us from Him to be removed: we yearn to be cleansed from our corruption. And so the spirit in man calls out – perhaps not with words, perhaps without knowing the name of Him to Whom it calls – and the wordless Word, having come out to meet man’s spirit, it responds. He completes what man has begun in the process of metanoia, for it is He Who renews and purifies man’s spirit through the same Power by which He created it in the first place. The Apostle Paul called this «being transformed by the renewing of your mind [nous]!' Christ called it being «born again».563
We know that our metanoia is genuine – that is, that a Divine i lunge has really occurred in us – when we have a revulsion for what before appeared sweet to us. This is what Lao Tzu meant by being «sick of sickness». In the words of St. Isaiah the Solitary († a.d. 490): «When a man severs himself from evil, he gains an exit 1 understanding of all the sins he has committed against God; for lie does not see his sins unless he severs himself from them with a hiding of revulsion. Those who have reached this level pray to God with tears, and are filled with shame when they recall their evil love of the passions».564
When the purification of our spirit occurs, we experience it as forgiveness. We know that we were corrupted, and that we were not capable of purifying ourselves. Moreover, we sense intuitively that we had corrupted ourselves of our own volition, and hence were not deserving of being purified by some power outside ourselves. And yet, in a manner surpassing nature, we have been cleansed, and so this comes to us as a kind of wondrous mystery.
When we experience this mystery, another mystery occurs. Having felt that we have received forgiveness undeservedly, we now become ready to forgive everyone everything – to shed all the hidden resentments that had separated us from the Way. These resentments are like chains which bind us to the objects of our bitterness, and now we are free of them. Thus, in forgiving, we are no longer bound to this earth, and are at last free to love the wordless Word Who has forgiven us.
Even before the coming of the Word in the flesh, His forgiveness was felt by those who initiated the process of metanoia in themselves. Thus, the Prophet David († 973 b.c.) wrote in the Psalms:
You have broken my bonds asunder;
I shall offer a sacrifice of praise unto You.
You rent my sackcloth and girded me with gladness,
That my glory мая chant unto You,
And that I мая not be pierced with sorrow.565
According to the mystic writer St. Symeon the New Theologian († a.d. 1022), David’s joy in being loosed from the bonds of spiritual corruption came from Divine Grace or Teh acting on his spirit from the outside.566
Lao Tzu experienced the same action of the Grace of the Tao/Logos. He wrote:
Why did the ancients prize the Tao?
Is it not because by virtue of it he who seeks finds,
And the guilty are forgiven?
That is why it is such a treasure to the world.567
When the Tao became man, His forgiveness too became known and witnessed in human history. Those who did not know the Tao/Logos, and thus did not see Him in the man Jesus, were baffled when Christ went around forgiving people of their situ, «Who is this who speaks blasphemies?» they asked. «Who can lot give sins, but God alone?»568
With the incarnation, then, the act of forgiveness is seen in its true light as a personal act. It is face to face. Now we call out for forgiveness to the Word as He has become known to us in His human incarnation, just as the blind men in the Scriptures called out to him, «Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me», and, «Have mercy oil us, O Lord, Son of David».569
In the same way, the process of metanoia is now seen to be enacted, as it were, in human history, in its fully personal dimension, before the Way became flesh, His followers such as Lao Tzu continually put to death the false, corrupted identities of their egos because they knew that this was necessary in order to live according to the Way. With the coming of the Way, this death is now seen in a personal light, in the form of a Divine-human Person hanging on a Cross. They ascend the Cross with Him in order to put their false selves to death. They continue to suffer in this world just as I le did; but whereas the suffering of their former selves had been suffering without God – and was in fact due to their separation from Him – now their suffering is with Him, and is altogether different, even sweet. As Fr. George Calciu, a priest who endured twenty-two years in communist prisons, points out; «Christ did not come to explain human suffering, or to eliminate it. Rather, He came to fill human suffering with His presence.»570
Dying with Christ on the Cross is the beginning of metanoia, but its culmination lies in being resurrected with Him. Just as Christ arose from the grave with a renewed body (so that even his closest disciples failed to recognize Him), so does our spirit arise in a renewed form through metanoia. Archimandrite Sophrony writes:
«When a man weeps with his whole being from the pain caused by the knowledge of his vileness, his torment far exceeds any outside suffering, and he sees himself as the worst of men.... Prayer in lilts holy pain can sweep mans spirit into another world. Everyday life is forgotten and the body no longer makes itself felt. The desert ascetics termed this the hell of repentance that likens us to Christ descending into His hell of love. However acute the Adamitic torment, however profound the suffering, it is accompanied by the joy of the Divine summons and the light of new life».571
Syrian icon of the Resurrection of Christ, ca. a.d. 1216.
Christ is portrayed breaking down the doors of hell and bringing into everlasting life those who believed in Him before His coming.
Chapter Two: Nurturing the Seed of Uncreated Teh
7. The Open Path to Perfect Union
The incarnation of the Tao brought more than just a personal, visible manifestation of forgiveness. Along with it came a new level of forgiveness, infinite, eternal – a kind of all-encompassing, «cosmiс» forgiveness, not just of individual human beings but of the whole of human nature.
As we have seen, with man’s primordial departure from the Way, all of human nature had fallen into corruption. Man, having cut himself off from God, had been barred from entering the eternal blessedness of union with Him, for an impure human nature was not worthy of that union. A sentence of death and separation thus lay on all of human nature, even on the most virtuous souls who lived before Christ’s coming, such as the Hebrew prophets, 'nu rates and Lao Tzu. That is why the books of the Old Testament are filled with dark thoughts concerning existence beyond the grave: «For in death there is none that is mindful of You, and in hades who will confess You?» (Psalm 6:4). For the ancient Hebrews, such awareness and sorrow were eased only by the hope of future deliverance through the coming of Christ: «You will not abandon my soul in hades, nor will You allow Your Holy One [i.e., Christ] to see corruption» (Psalm 15:10). For the more virtuous, hades was not a place of torment but of waiting: waiting in the promise of unmerited union with Divinity.
By coming in the flesh and dying on the Cross, the Tao took on Himself the sentence of physical death that man had incurred at his departure from the Way. And yet the Tao, having never in the slighest departed from the Way (for how could the Way depart from Himself?), was wholly undeserving of the sentence; and being the Author of life, He could not be held by death. The Holy One could not see corruption. Thus, in dying as a man and then rising from the dead, the Tao abolished the sentence of spiritual and bodily death that had lain on human nature, offering man freedom from all the consequences of the primordial departure.
Through His bodily death the Tao first of all abolished the sentence of eternal separation from God – i.e., spiritual death – opening to man the possibility of eternal union with Him in the Kingdom of Heaven, in spite of man’s unworthiness. In this was the Tao’s ultimate act of forgiveness. On the Cross He prayed, «Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do».572 Then, to the repentant thief who was crucified beside Him, He said, «Today you will be with me in Paradise», thus indicating that even a criminal, if he underwent the process of metanoia, could receive that which no human being (after the primordial departure) was worthy of receiving.573 In fact, it was that very thief who was the first in human history to receive it.
While Christ’s body lay in the tomb, He descended spiritually into hades and released the spirits of those who had followed Him before His coming, bringing them out of their state of waiting and into that eternal union for which they had longed.574 We cannot hut believe that Lao Tzu was among them.
Finally, when Christ arose from the tomb in an incorruptible body, He freed mankind even from the chains of physical death, making human nature subject to future bodily resurrection.575
8. Implements of Teh
We today are given much more than those who were born be- lure Christ, for while the pre-Christian prophets and sages were united with the Tao after their death and His descent into hades, we have the potential of experiencing a foretaste of that eternal blessedness even during our earthly life. Our union with the Tao in the Kingdom of Heaven can begin in this life, only to continue forever in the life to come. During His time on earth, Christ spoke of special means – physical «implements» of immaterial, Uncreated Teh – by which He would effect this union.
The first of these means is baptism, which Christ called «being born of water and the Spirit»;576 the second is the mystical transformation of bread and wine into His Body and Blood, into Flesh which has been united with Divinity. These two mysteries give man the power and the potential of being re-created into the likeness of the incarnate Tao Himself.
St. Symeon the New Theologian expresses in a few words the whole sum of this new dispensation. After the coming of Christ, «people are baptized in water, are immersed in it and taken out from it three times, in the image of the three-day burial of the Lord, and after they die in it to this whole evil world, in the third bringing out from it they are already alive, as if resurrected from the dead, that is, their souls are brought to life and again receive the Grace of the Holy Spirit as Adam had it before the transgression. Than they are anointed with Holy Myrrh, and by means of it are anointed with Jesus Christ, and are fragrant in a way above nature. Having become in this way worthy of being associates of God, they taste His Flesh and drink His Blood, and by means of the sand l Bed bread and wine become of one Body and Blood with God Who was incarnate and offered Himself as a sacrifice».577
St. Symeon the New Theologian (a.d. 949–1022) is one of the Lord exalted mystical writers of all time. Having been granted visions of God and the first-created world, he was raised to the heights of deification and total illumination through tin action of Uncreated Energy (The), See his own account of this on pp. 395, 402–3.
In the baptism that Christ instituted, His forgiveness and our metanoia are sealed and perfected. We seal our realignment toward Him by vowing to wholly unite ourselves to Him,578 and He in mm seals His forgiveness of us by washing away all our former wrongs in the purifying waters. Then, when we partake of His deified Body and Blood, we receive into ourselves His Energy, which continues to cleanse the spiritual corruption inside us as by fire. Like the bush which Moses saw on Mount Sinai enveloped in Uncreated Light, we are not scorched by the Fire. Only sin is burned up in us, as the Light invisibly perfects us. In the prayer of St. Symeon before the reception of this mystery, we say: «Rejoicing and trembling at once, I who am straw partake of fire, and, strange wonder! I am ineffably bedewed, like the bush of old, which burnt without being consumed».579
9. The Seed of Divine Energy
From the moment one is truly baptized into Christ, Divine Energy or Grace no longer acts on one from the outside-in, as it did on Moses, Lao Tzu and other righteous people before the coming of Christ. Now it works from the inside-out. This was the experience of Christ’s Apostles, and it became the common inheritance of all followers of the incarnate Tao.
When Christ breathed on His Apostles after His resurrection and sent down the Holy Spirit upon them at Pentecost, they experienced an Uncreated Energy (Teh) that was of a wholly different order than the created energy (in Chinese, ch’i
) of their bodies and of the universe. Subsequently, the acquisition of this Uncreated Energy became the overriding aim of the Christian life.
What the early followers of Christ discovered was that the Grace of Gods Spirit was like a seed which had been implanted in du n spirits at baptism. «From the instant we are baptized», says St. Diadochus of Photiki († a.d. 486), «Grace is hidden in the depths of the spirit». Likewise, St. Gregory of Sinai teaches: «For when we Were cleansed through baptism, we received in seed-like form the Inn taste of the Spirit, and what St. James calls the ‘implanted Logos’ (James 1:21).580
Moreover, Christ’s followers found they could nurture and cultivate this seed through self-denial, through the practice of the virtues and good deeds done in Christ’s name, and most of all through watchfulness and spiritual prayer. In this way the seed would grow within them, gradually developing into a great tree.
Aсcording to the teaching of St. Seraphim of Sarov († 1833), when Christ said, «The Kingdom of Heaven is within you», He was referring precisely to this seed of the Grace of the Holy Spirit implanted in the human soul. And «the Kingdom of Heaven», said Christ, «is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field – which indeed is the least of all seeds, but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in its branches».581
St. Gregory of Sinai (1265–1346) was a master of watchfulness and inner prayer. He wrote about the true signs of the action of Uncreated Energy and described the «eight primary visions» of the state of perfect prayer, which he said «are dearly beheld and known by those who have attained by Grace complete purity of mind». His writings are found in the fourth volume of the anthology of ancient writings known as The Philokalia.
Christ also said that the Grace of the Spirit «is like treasure hidden in a field»582. In order to acquire it, one must sell all that one has, buy the field, and then patiently and diligently dig.
10. Cultivating the Seed
St. Gregory of Sinai speaks of the signs of the action of Divine Energy in one’s inward being:
«There are several signs that the Energy of the Holy Spirit is beginning to be active in those who genuinely aspire for this to happen and are not just putting God to the test.... In some it appears as awe arising in the heart, in others as a tremulous sense of jubilation, in others as joy, in others as joy mingled with awe, or as tremulousness mingled with joy, and sometimes it manifests itself as rears and awe. For the soul is joyous at Gods visitation and mercy, but at the same time is in awe and trepidation at His presence because it is guilty of so many sins. Again, in some the soul at the outset experiences an unutterable sense of contrition and an indescribable pain, like the woman in Scripture who labors to give Firth. For the living and active Logos – that is to say, Jesus – penetrates, as the Apostle says, to the point at which soul separates from body, joints from marrow (Hebrews 4:12), so as to expel by force every trace of passion from both soul and body. In others it is manifest as an unconquerable love and peace, shown towards all, or as joyousness that the fathers have often called exultation – a spiritual Ii tree and an impulsion of the living heart that is also described as a vibration and sighing of the Spirit Who makes wordless intercession for us to God» (Romans 8:26)».583
In the Eastern Christian tradition, all baptized souls can experience this action of Divine Energy, and indeed they do experience it according to how much they nurture the seed of the implanted Logos within them. The Grace does not save them automatically – for there is no such thing as automatic salvation – but it is ready to save at the moment the soul turns to God and begins to cultivate it. St. Seraphim explains the matter this way:
«The Grace of the Holy Spirit which is granted at baptism in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, in spite of people’s falls into sin, in spite of the darkness surrounding our soul, nevertheless shines in the heart with the Divine Light (which has existed from time immemorial) of the inestimable Grace of Christ. In the event of the sinners impenitence, this Light of Christ cries to the Father: Abba, Father! Be not angry with this impenitence to the end (of his life).’ And then, at the sinner''s conversion to the way of repentance, it effaces completely all trace of past sin and clothes the former sinner once more in a robe of incorruption woven from the Grace of the Holy Spirit».584
11. The Created and the Uncreated
That this Uncreated Energy descends into the soul at baptism and transforms one, manifesting its special signs; that this seal can be buried under layers of ego and desire and then be uncovered by the spiritual labor of «digging»; that it can grow in one through following Christ’s commandments, through partaking of His Body and Blood, and through prayer – all this we know through personal experience. When Divine Energy is acquired and works from within, it transforms one’s vital powers, refines ones energies, and purifies one’s spirit, burning away all dross as with fire. But infinitely greater than this is the intimate personal union that it brings about between the soul and the Creator. No human energy can do this – only Divine Energy can do it, because it in fact is the Creator.
«This is the aim», says Elder Paisius of Mount Athos († 1994), «to submit the mind fully to Divine Grace. Christ asks of us only humility. All other things will afterwards be done by Divine Grace».
Chapter Three: Watchfulness
12. Continuous Metanoia
Even after being washed clean in water mingled with Spirit in holy baptism, we still carry within ourselves the inclination and habit to return to our former condition.585 If we do not preserve, guard and cultivate the seed of Grace given to us, we will be deprived of its vivifying power. Then, as Christ warned us, we will be worse off than we were before.586 In order to preserve the Grace and not return to our former delusions, we must continuously, day by day, minute by minute, unite ourselves with the Way in metanoia.
Metanoia – realigning ourselves to the Way, calling on Him, yearning to be cleansed in spirit, being forgiven by Him and then forgiving everyone and everything – this is the very essence and Inundation of the life of His followers. But metanoia is more than Just an act. It is first and foremost a state or condition.
As long as we remain in the condition of metanoia, ever deeper levels of our corruption will be revealed to us, and we will be continually purified and re-created by the wordless Word in our hearts. The end of this is total illumination. As Archimandrite Sophrony explains: «Whoever tries to follow Christ ‘wherever He goes’ (Revelation 14:4) will inevitably be rent again and again – at every rise from a lesser to a wider cognition, from a small measure of love to a greater».587
In our fast-paced society based on instant gratification, people want spirituality instantly. Caught in a morass of refined sensuality, they seek spirituality in a sensual way. Hypnotized in their false identities, they seek spirituality which only gets them deeper into hypnosis – now with a spiritual veneer. They expect to be com forted in their filth. They cannot go deeper, because they will do anything except face their filth.
For us to advance in the spiritual life, we must realize that we are among these people, that we too have been conditioned to seek instant gratification. Facing this is the first step in rising above our environment. We must understand that, contrary to what our conditioning leads us to expect, inward purification is a lifelong process. Continuous metanoia is the only way. «A miracle» – says Fr. Sophrony, «the more I ‘see’ God, the more ardent does my repentance become, since I the more clearly recognize my unworthiness in His sight».588
13. Watchfulness and Metanoia
For our metanoia to be constant, it must be linked with what the ancient Christian ascetics called «watchfulness» (nipsis in Greek): a state of inner vigilance, attention and sobriety.
Lao Tzu knew well this virtue. Speaking of the ancients who followed the Tao, Lao Tzu called them
Watchful, like men crossing a winter stream.
Alert, like men aware of danger.589
When the Tao/Logos became flesh, He spoke much concerning watchfulness, as much as His listeners could understand. «Take heed to yourselves», He said, «lest at any time your hearts hr weighed down with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life».590
To further impress upon the people the need for watchfulness, I de told parables about it, such as the story of the five wise virgins who trimmed and guarded their lamps, or the tale of the unwise steward who fell asleep when his master was away.591 «Let your waist be girded about», Christ said, «and your lamp burning; and you yourselves like men who wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he comes and knocks they мая open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the lord, when he comes, shall find watching. Verily I say to you, that he shall gird himself and have them to sit down to eat, and will come forth and serve them. And if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants».592
If continuous metanoia is the foundation of the life of the follower of the Way, then watchfulness is the foundation of continuous metanoia. For this reason, the writers of the greatest collection of ancient Christian manuscripts on the spiritual life, The Philokalia, repeatedly underline the necessity of inward attention. In the words of the Philokalic writer St. Hesychius (eighth century a.d.): We will travel the road of metanoia correctly if, as we begin to give attention to the spirit [nous], we combine humility with watchfulness, and prayer with the power to rebut evil thoughts».593
Likewise, St. Nicephorus the Monk (thirteenth century a.d.) writes: «Watchfulness is the sign of true repentance [metanoia].... It is the unreserved assurance that our sins are forgiven. It is the beginning of contemplation or, rather, its presupposition, for through it God, descrying its presence in us, reveals Himself to the spirit. It is serenity of the spirit or, rather, the repose bestowed on the soul through God’s mercy. It is the subjection of our thoughts, the palace of the mindfulness of God, the stronghold that enables us patiently to accept all that befalls».594
14. Watchfulness and Prayer
Being in a continuous state of watchfulness, Lao Tzu communed with the Tao through intuitive knowing in the higher mini! (spirit). He did not address or invoke the Tao, for as we have seen, the mystery of the Personal Absolute was not revealed to him.
Now that, with the coming of the Tao/Logos in the flesh, our communion with Him becomes a person-to-Person connection, the knowing of the higher mind passes also into the heart. This we call «prayer». Nevertheless, even with the intimately personal communion with the Tao that has been made possible for all peoples through Christ, the basis for that communion remains the same .it it was for Lao Tzu, since prayer, like metanoia, has its foundation in watchfulness.
When the Tao/Logos took human form, He did not only tell us to pray. Instead, He said, «Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak»595. First watch, He tells us, then pray while watching.
Lao Tzu sat and watched in preparation, as it were, for Christ’s coming. Now that the Tao has been made flesh, His followers still must sit and watch in preparation for His coming, for He comes into their hearts in order to purify their spirits, at a moment when He Himself chooses. «For the Son of man», said Christ, «is like 1 man going out of the country, who left his house and gave aurhority to his servants, and to each one his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. Watch, therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming – at evening, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning – lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch».596
Prayer cannot be pure if the mind is actively engaged in following thoughts. For prayer to be pure, it must arise from a pure spit 11, and this can only occur when one first stands watch and thus rises above thoughts and images. That is why Christ said, «Watch and pi ay»: prayer and watchfulness are inseparably bound. As St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, a nineteenth-century Russian ascetic in the Philokalic tradition, writes: «The essential, indispensable property of prayer is attention. Without attention there is no prayer».597
The Tao is Spirit; in Jesus Christ that Spirit enters into flesh. So too with the inward life of His followers. Before His coming, followers of the Tao like Lao Tzu sat in open, objective awareness; liter His coming, that spiritual awareness «takes flesh» in the form of prayer, bringing it to a new dimension. That is why attention (corresponding, in connection with Lao Tzu, to the pre-Christian era) and prayer (corresponding to the Christian era) are inseparably linked. Prayer cannot exist without the attention that must mine before it and must work along with it. At the same time, however, attention is not enough in itself, now that the Tao has taken flesh.
St. Symeon the New Theologian, in the fourth volume of The Philokalia, provides one of the best explanations we have found for the relationship between attention and prayer:
«Watchfulness and prayer should be as closely linked together n the body to the soul, for the one cannot stand without the other. Watchfulness first goes on ahead like a scout and engages sin in combat. Prayer then follows afterwards, and instantly destroys and exterminates all the evil thoughts with which watchfulness has already been battling, for attentiveness alone cannot exterminate them. This, then, is the gate of life and death. If by means of watchfulness we keep prayer pure, we make progress; but if we leave prayer unguarded and permit it to be defiled, our efforts are null and void».598
St. John Climacus (sixth-seventh centuries a.d.) was the abbot of the ancient Monastery of St. Catherine at the base of Mount Sinai, where the Prophet Moses received his revelation. His work on inner purification, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, has for centuries been considered a spiritual classic of the first magnitude, and win one of the first books to be printed in tin Western hemisphere. Icon by Photios Kontoglou.
One of the best descriptions of exactly how to do this is found in The Ladder of Divine Ascent by St. John Climacus of Mount Sinai, a God-inspired spiritual physician of the sixth century a.d. This passage provides the key to understanding our present discussion.
St. John writes: «Close the door of your cell to the body, the door of your tongue to speech, and your inner gate to evil spirits. Ascend into a watchtower – if you know how to – and observe how and when and whence, and in what numbers and what form, the robbers try to break in and steal your grapes. When the watch man grows weary he stands up and prays; then he sits down again and manfully resumes the same task. Guarding against evil thoughts is one thing, keeping watch over the spirit [nous] is another. The latter differs from the former as much as east from west, and is far more difficult to attain. Where thieves see royal weapons at the ready they do not attack the place lightly. Similarly, spiritual robbers do not lightly try to plunder the person who has enshrined prayer within his heart.»599
What was St. John Climacus doing when he was sitting and watching? In essence he was doing what Lao Tzu was doing before the incarnation of the Tao. He was pulling his awareness back into an objective state of observant mind, thus keeping watch over his spirit or «higher mind». Again, the difference between Lao Tzu and those who follow Christ after His coming is that the latter bring into this condition of observant mind a personal communion with the Tao/Logos, usually with the aid of direct invocation. Lao Tzu said he did not know the name of the Tao. Now we do know it, and so we invoke it – «Lord Jesus Christ» – all the while remembering that in order to pray it truly we must pray it in the spirit, and so must first do what Lao Tzu did.
The vast majority of people never reach deep levels of interior, noetic prayer simply because they have not followed the first half of Christ’s injunction: «Watch and pray». For this reason, before speaking specifically about prayer, we will set forth at some length the principles of watchfulness.
15. Going Within and Separating from Thoughts
To explain the absolute necessity of watchfulness, let us go luck to our previous discussion of the primordial fall of man. When man fell, he fell into a state of distraction. His «eye», to use Christ’s words, was no longer «single».600 To return to our original Mate, therefore, means to return to singleness of perception, to reverse our fall into distraction by achieving its opposite, which is the condition of attention.
Through attention we continually rise above all sensory forms And images, all conditioned thoughts and emotions; we continually submit our soul to the pure knowing of the spirit; we continually allow our spirit to rise in its yearning to receive purification and thus to be united to its Creator, to hear the voiceless voice of the Word; we continually stand guard with the spirit so as not to let in Any thoughts or images that will pull it down to the realm of the senses; we continually burn away in the light of understanding all forms and images of desire, together with all the resentments hiding in the recesses of our souls; and in this way we continually stand watch, waiting for the coming of our Master, the Tao/Logos.
Through watchfulness in the mind, we begin to grasp the analogy of the spirit and the «lower» soul. The spirit is immortal being and thus partakes of time-transcendence; while the lower soul is tied to earthly time. The spirit, in experiencing eternity, abides in stillness; while the lower soul is involved in action that is bound to time.
As we repeatedly catch ourselves descending to the level of thought (the realm of action in time), we can call ourselves back to the level of the spirit (the realm of stillness in eternity). Lain, through continual practice, we will be able to watch the thought s coming, trying to gain admittance into our minds by stealing out attention.
This is one of the abilities that sets us apart from the anim.il world. An animal мая have mental images and feel emotions, but it cannot catch and observe itself doing this. Thus all its actions – if they are not simply instinctual – must ultimately be conditioned by environmental pressures and the images and feelings that these engender. A human being, while still living on an animal level, also acts according to outward conditioning; but still he has the unique ability, if he will use it, to observe his mind and thus rise above bin conditioning. In so doing, he ceases to react to environmental pressures, but acts instead according to the inward pressure of his spit h as it is guided by God.
In order to gain attention and transcend conditioning, we must, as the ascetics of The Philokalia teach, go within ourselves. St. Nicephorus the Monk writes: «We cannot be reconciled with God and assimilated to Him unless we first return or, rather, enter mm ourselves, insofar as this lies within our power. For the miracle con nixes in rearing ourselves away from the distraction and vain concerns of the world and in this way relentlessly seizing hold of the Kingdom of Heaven within us.»601
Let us recall Lao Tzu’s words on going within:
Block the passages, shut the doors [of the senses]....
Observe true quiet.602
Shutting our eyes and not focusing on outward sensory impressions, we stand or sit at attention before God. Almost immediately we find our ego-consciousness trying to steal away our mention as it is wont to do, filling our head with thoughts, images and memories. But as we continue to realign our will to the Way, yearning to rise above the life of the lower soul, gradually our awareness will begin to separate itself from our thoughts. St. Theophan the Recluse writes: «Little by little you will separate from your thoughts.... You will find that you have strayed far away from your first-created image».603
As we continue the practice of going within and separating from thoughts, gradually we come to know what St. John Climacus meant by «ascending the watchtower» above the lower mind, where We can «observe the robbers stealing our grapes»: that is, the thoughts that are trying to steal our attention away from the intuitive awareness of our spirit, in which we know God.
16. Wrong Struggle and Right Struggle
Above all, says St. Theophan, our inward attention should be directed at thoughts, for «the passions and desires rarely attack by themselves – they are most often born of thoughts. From this we can make a rule: cut off thoughts and you will cut off everything».604
Archimandrite Sophrony (1896–1993), as a young artist in Russia and France, delved deeply into Hindu and Buddhist practice. Finding that pure intellection could advance one only so far in the search for reality, he re turned to his childhood faith. Eastern Orthodoxy, wherein he found illumination through communion with the Personal God. For many years he lived as a hermit on Mount Arhus, Greece, under the spiritual direction of the holy Elder Silouan, whose life and teachings he made known to the world. See the account of his illumination by the Uncreated Energy (Teh) of Christ on pp. 392–95.
When thoughts come, we should not attempt to get involved or argue with them, for such struggle only binds us to them. As Fr. Sophrony’s Elder, Sr. Silouan, affirms: «The experience of the Holy Fathers shows various ways of combating intrusive thoughts but it is best of all not to argue with them. The spirit that debates with such a thought will be faced with its steady development, and, bemused by the exchange, will be distracted from remembrance oа God, which is exactly what the demons are after – having diverted the spirit from God, they confuse it, and it will not emerge ‘clean.’»605
Struggle against thoughts is vain and futile. It is enough simply to observe the thoughts as they arise, as St. John Climacus teaches, then let them go without reacting to them or following them.
«When someone is in the beginning of his spiritual life», says Elder Paisius of Mount Athos, «he should not study a lot, but instead watch himself and observe his thoughts».606
A thought cannot exist for long under the light of direct, objective observation. If we do not align our will with it, it naturally disappears. As the fifth-century ascetic Abba Pimen teaches: «If we do not do anything about thoughts, in time they are spoiled, that is to say, they disintegrate».607
Many ancient Christian teachers speak of the struggle with thoughts. It is vital that we understand what they mean by this. Our struggle is not against the thoughts, for as Christ said, «Resist not evil».608 Rather, our struggle should be to rise toward our source of knowing, the Tao/Logos Who is beyond thought. In other words, we do not engage the thoughts, but instead struggle to keep our attention lifted above them, in the stillness of the higher mind.
Each time we catch ourselves in a thought, we just return our .mention to what is above it: to our spirit and to God. We do not validate the thought by giving it any more attention. This is already to repulse or cut off the thought without directly struggling against n. It is active, not passive; but the action does not involve movement towards the distracting thought. Rather, it is like a train that I us been switched to a sidetrack and must simply be switched back lot he main track, which alone leads to one’s destination.
If, in struggling with thoughts and emotions, we rely on our own power rather than Gods power, then we will have to take our power from the very emotions that we should be conquering. In other words, the emotional energy that we employ in the struggle against negative thoughts and emotions will connect us to the very things that we are trying to struggle against. We will only wear ourselves out.
Thus, if we have the wrong idea of struggle, we will be struggling in vain against thoughts, until at last we give up. With the light idea of struggle, we struggle in a constructive rather than a destructive way, and this gives us strength and incentive to persevere.
To raise our attention to the Creator is simply to humbly yearn for Him: to look not to our false wisdom but to what is above it. Ii is as if we are looking up towards Him with the eye of our soul, even as we are yearning for Him with our hearts. «Never allow your mind to be dragged down», says St. Macarius of Egypt († a.d. 390), «but always raise it on high, and God will help you».609
Raising our minds to God does not mean rolling up the pupils of our eyes in our heads and trying to «see» something. Neither does it mean thinking about or imagining God, for that is already a descent to the level of the active consciousness. To deliberately err ate images in the mind is only to create more distraction.
17. Defocusing from Thoughts
In observing thoughts, we should not focus on them, but rather defocus from them. We should not try to analyze them, for analysis involves us in the very thing from which we are seeking to separate ourselves. Once again, it means we are trusting in our own powers rather than in Gods power. Therefore, we should be simple: just watch the thoughts disappear under the light of observation, as if we were an objective, disinterested spectator; they will pass one by one.
Above all, we should not be agitated by the appearance of thoughts, for this also enables them to «steal our grapes». As Abba Barsanuphius (sixth century a.d.) says: «If a thought comes, do not be alarmed.... The bad thing is not that a thief enters the house, but that he takes what he finds in the house».610
In catching ourselves in thoughts and emotions, already we .in- severing ourselves from them. What is it that is doing this? Ii is our true self, our true person – our spirit. In becoming aware of this, we are breaking away from the false identity that has enslaved us. We have begun to return to our true nature, to make our «eye single», or to use Lao Tzu’s phrase, to return to the «uncarved block».
We should not try to force our mind to be empty of thoughts. Instead, as stated above, we are to watch the thoughts arise and disappear under observation; and each time we do this we will «switch» to the level of the spirit. When Lao Tzu spoke of «emptying the mind»611, he was not saying that we should try to force ourselves to have no thoughts, but rather that we should raise our awareness to the level above thought. Then, if thoughts do enter to pull us into the «lower mind», we will not fasten our attention to them but will return to the «higher mind». We will recognize that the thoughts are not who we are, and are not even our own, but are a foreign element, as it were. Further, since this foreign element is trying to steal our attention away from our center in the spirit – the place in which we know God – we will immediately recognize it to be our enemy. St. Theophan the Recluse writes: «Having noticed the enemy approach – the beginning of a stimulus, thought, passion, or tendency – first of all hasten to realize that it is the enemy. It is a great mistake, and a common one, to honor everything that comes up in us as the property of our own blood, for which we take a stand as for our own selves».612
18. Thoughts and Evil Spirits
Although it is wrong to try to determine the source of every thought, we should realize that the primordial enemy of man – the devil – is constantly at work to divert us from the Way, and that he does this by making suggestions to us in the form of thoughts. St. Theophan writes: «The enemy has a law – not to begin suddenly with a passion but with a thought, and to repeat the thought often.... Continual thoughts are onerous and murderous. To them more than others belongs the name tempting. Concerning them it is necessary to know that they are not from nature – although they are similar to it in character – but are always from the enemy.... These are temptations such as blasphemy, despair and unbelief. The main thing is to never incline towards them, never adopt them, and to keep the heart free from them, separating them from yourself.»613
It is also crucial to remember that the fallen spirits – the demons – have no power over us, unless we give it to them by consenting to their suggestions. As Lao Tzu wrote:
Approach the universe with the Tao,
And demons (kuei
)614 will display no powers.
Not that they are not powerful,
But their power will not be used to harm others.615
St. Theophan explains it this way: «When the soul is bright, they [the demons] are unable to look at it, like bats who fear the light. They look at it only when it begins to darken. They run in packs everywhere, and as soon as they notice a darkened soul, they immediately fall upon it, and begin to twist it to and fro with thoughts, passionate desires and disturbance of feelings.... They even attempt to creep up to bright souls, but are parried and struck down by rays of light, as if by an arrow».616
19. «Deal with It Before It Happens»
In objectively observing thoughts, we will be able to cut them off before they develop into passions. In The Philokalia, the growth from a thought into a passion is described with scientific precision, First comes the provocation of the thought, then the conjunction of the thought with emotion or resentment, then the joining or agreement of the will with the thought. If the soul does not pull back at this point, the thought becomes a habit and the mind is constantly preoccupied with the object of the passionate urge. Finally the person falls into the captivity of the urge, and rushes gladly and violently to satisfy it.617
As Lao Tzu writes, the way to stop this process is to «deal with it before it happens. Set things in order before there is confusion».618 Sr. Hesychius explains: «If the spirit is attentive and watchful, and at once repulses the provocation ... its consequences remain inoperative».
It is not only obviously evil thoughts that should be passed over during times of watchfulness and prayer; even seemingly good thoughts should be left behind. «Impassioned thoughts», says St. Hesychius, «follow hard upon thoughts that appear to be innocent and dispassionate: the latter open the way for the former. This we have found through years of experience and observation.619
20. Facing Oneself
Continuing this practice of going within and standing apart from thoughts, we will continue to shed layers of conditioning together with our compulsive thought patterns. At unexpected moments of the day, we will suddenly become aware of aspects of our corrupted condition that had previously been hidden from us. Buried resentments will come to the surface, where we can at last repent and be free of them. Above all, we will begin to realize our secret rebellion against God, which we reveal each time we condemn another person or feel dissatisfaction.
As we become aware of our wretchedness, tears will come to our eyes, cleansing our inward filth. We know not whence these tears come, for they are related not to anything in particular, but rather to who we really are. As Nicetas Stithatos (eleventh century a.d.) 620 writes: «Once you come to know yourself, a kind of suprarational Divine humility suddenly descends upon the soul, bringing contrition and tears of fervent compunction of heart».621
Our aim should not be to have spiritual experiences or to feel «peaceful», for that aim is only another egotistic ambition and another way of escaping from ourselves. Nor should our aim be to be enlightened by profound insights. Watchfulness is not a means of getting what we want; it is a means of knowing what is right. It is not in order to feel better; it is order to be better. We must approach it with a spirit of humble inquiry, prayerful yearning and a burning desire to know the truth.622
Knowing the truth comes first of all from knowing the truth about ourselves. Therefore, our aim is to know ourselves, to see and face our own sin: sin not just as our past actions but as our condition.
«To know yourself», writes Nicetas Stithatos, «means that you must guard yourself diligently from everything external to you; it means respite from worldly concerns and cross-examination of the conscience. This is true humility, the humility that teaches us to hr inwardly humble and makes our heart contrite. If you do not know yourself you cannot know what humility is. To know oneself is the goal of the practice of the virtues».623
To know ourselves, we must see ourselves in all our wretchedness. We must finally face the light of understanding which we had been running from; and having faced it, we must not squint. We must simply sit there silently before God, and desire to change. Thai is the whole meaning of repentance. It does not matter whether or not powerful emotions are felt; we мая even shed tears without such emotions. All that matters is the sincere longing to change, which automatically replaces the sin-condition with the new condition of metanoia.
21. Distrusting Thoughts
When we go within ourselves and truly begin to stand apart from thought, we begin to distrust the calculating machine of the lower soul and its problem-solver, the ego. We begin to grow sick of our stupid judgments and our well-fed egos, and begin to trust rather the intuitive knowing of our spirit insofar as it knows the Creator.
Throughout the life of our ego, we have become habituated to trusting our problem-solver and its thoughts and feelings. To practice watchfulness is essentially to practice distrusting them.
Once we have become aware of our spirit through entering within ourselves, the very act of remembering the possibility of «switching» to a higher source of knowing already places distance between the spirit and the thought-stuff of the lower mind. And once we have returned enough times to the true knowing of the spirit as it rises to God, then we realize how ineffective and faulty is our own means of knowing – through abstract concepts, deduction, information, etc. We will realize what a weak tool is the calculating machine of the human brain, how low its form of knowledge. When left to its own devices, it only seems to solve problems temporarily; often it makes them worse, and it never solves the real problems.
For us who have been conditioned by the modern Western mentality, it is especially difficult to begin to distrust our thoughts, since our society has been built precisely on reliance on human reason. If we regard ourselves as intelligent and well-educated, having come to believe that outward learning will lead us to real knowledge, we face a further handicap. That is why, as Lao Tzu put it, the truly wise person «learns to be unlearned».624 He wrote:
Learning consists in adding to one’s stock day by day.
Following the Tao consists in subtracting day by day».625
Romanian pastor Richard Wurmbrand 626 relates that, when he was in communist prisons, those of the educated class were the first to break under torture and betray their friends, and the seminarians were the first to deny the existence of God, simply because they trusted their thoughts. In view of this, one can well appreciate Lao Tzu’s words:
In days of old
Those who practiced the Tao with success did not,
By means of it, enlighten the people,
But on the contrary sought to make them unsophisticated.627
The aforementioned Elder Paisius of Mount Athos, a beautiful, innocent soul and a much-loved spiritual father of our times, gives this advice: «The devil does not hunt after those who are lost. he hunts after those who are aware, those who are close to God. He takes from them trust in God and begins to afflict them with sell assurance, logic, thinking, criticism. Therefore we should not trust our logical minds. Never believe your thoughts.
«Live simply and without thinking too much, like a child with his father. Faith without too much thinking works wonders. The logical mind hinders the Grace of God and miracles. Practice patience without judging with the logical mind».
Often the logical mind will say, «If I just think about this problem long enough, or think enough about what I should say to that person, eventually the answer will come and the problem will be revived». Thus untold mental energy is wasted on compulsive thinking. If an answer does come, it cannot be a true answer, for it comes from a false self and a false god – the ego – laboring under the illusion of its self-sufficiency.
Elder Paisius the New of Mount Athos (1924–1994) was one of the greatest Eastern Christian elders of recent times. Overflowing with self-forgetting love and blessed with childlike simplicity, he consoled thousands and worked miracles for them through his unceasing prayers. His counsels bear the marks of true spiritual genius, being entirely traditional and at the same time totally unique. See his account of illumination by Uncreated Energy on pp. 391–92.
The practice of going within reverses this, for the soul begins to refer to the spirit not for conceptual answers, but for the place of t rue knowing, wherein it is informed by the Tao/Logos. If man’s spirit humbly «listens» and remains above the realm of plans and calculations, the answer will come not when the ego wants it, but spontaneously, at the very moment when it is needed.
Whenever we are deliberating over something, we should know that we are groping, not in the realm of truth, but in the realm of opinion. Whatever ideas we arrive at, no matter how «reasonable», will not be from God.
A spiritual son of Elder Paisius of Mount Athos recalls: «The Elder always tried to have good thoughts. He said to us, however, that it is not necessary to make this our final aim, namely having good thoughts, because our soul should be purified even of them, and be left naked, clothed only in the Divine Grace which we received for free in holy baptism».
Elder Paisius counseled: «We ought always to be careful and be in constant hesitation about whether things are really as we think For when someone is constantly occupied with his thoughts and trusts in them, the devil will manage things in such a way that he will make the man evil, even if by nature he was good.
The ancient fathers did not trust their thoughts at all, bin even in the smallest things, when they had to give an answer, they addressed the matter in their prayer, joining to it fasting, in order in some way to ‘force’ Divine Grace to inform them what was the right answer according to God. And when they received the ‘information,’ they gave the answer.
Today I observe that even with great matters, when someone asks, before he has even had the time to complete his question, we interrupt him and answer him. This shows that not only do we not seek enlightenment from the Grace of God, but we do not even judge with the reason God gave us. On the contrary, whatever out thoughts suggest to us, immediately, without hesitation, we trust it and consent to it, often with disastrous results.
Almost all of us view thoughts as being something simple and natural, and that is why we naively trust them. However, we shook I neither trust them nor accept them.
«Thoughts are like airplanes flying in the air. If you ignore them, there is no problem. If you pay attention to them, you create an airport inside your head and permit them to land!»628
22. Judgmental Thoughts
Above all, judgmental thoughts block us from God, since in the very act of harboring them we are arrogating the place of God, Who alone is Judge. We мая feel an exhilaration by seeming to get on top of someone through judgment, but sooner or later this will lead to inward conflict. If the source of the conflict – the soul playing God – is not eradicated, then it can lead to depression, despair, sickness, and the whole gamut of spiritual and physical maladies.
The person who is truly following the Way will immediately recognize that the indulgence of a single judgment separates him from God. Therefore, when judgmental thoughts intrude upon his mind, begging to be attended to and promising the exultation of pride, he immediately cuts them off and lets them pass into oblivion. It does not matter how sagacious, how compelling, how profoundly psychological such judgments appear to him. He wants God above all else, and these thoughts deprive him of God, and so lie rejects them.
The nineteenth-century Russian Elder, St. Ambrose of Optina, gave this practical advice to his spiritual daughter: «Look at everything simply. Living simply means not judging. Do not judge anyone. For example, here comes Elikonida. She passed by, and that is all. This is what thinking simply means.629 Otherwise, at seeing Elikonida passing by, you could think about her bad side: she is mi h and such, her character is thus and so. That is not simple».630
It is not only people that we can judge. We can pass judgment on our surrounding circumstances, or even on life itself. In doing so, we are, at heart, judging God Himself – often without even knowing it. Clearly, nothing can separate us from our Creator more than this. Therefore, observed Lao Tzu, «There is no greater curse than discontent».631
23. «Take No Thought»
The lower soul or shih-shen, as we have seen, is concerned with all of our temporal affairs: with the needs of the body and – once the ego has made a home in the soul – with the demands of human pride. When the Word was made flesh, He told us to drop all these concerns and submit ourselves entirely to the Creator.
«If any man come to me, and hate not... his own life, he cannot be my disciple». And again: «Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought632 for your life, what you shall eat; neither for the body, what you shall put on. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow not reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds? And which of you by taking thought can add one cubit to his stature? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why take thought for the rest?»633
Here Christ is telling us to not trust our thoughts to take care of anything at all – not only of our egos need for ascendancy, but even of the most basic needs of our bodies. This radical message, setting forth an utter lack of self-reliance, corresponds to the emptiness or spontaneity about which Lao Tzu wrote. When we «switch» and return to our spirit in order to «hear» the wordless Word, we will know what to do at the moment we need to know it, and we will see the utter futility of worrying about the future.
For this reason, we should not plan our conversations, deliberating over what we will say and what others might say back. Such planning is evidence of our failing, of our separation from God. Christ said, «Take no thought how or what you will answer, or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in the same hour what you ought to say».634
Mulling over the past and future, imagining scenarios of what might have been or what could be – all this is illusion. The truth is in the present moment. There alone do we meet our Maker, Who is Himself Truth, and lies outside our vain imaginings.
We take refuge in our thoughts, fantasies and emotions because they give us a deceptive sense of security. But Christ tells us to abandon that security and make ourselves vulnerable, relying wholly on our Creator. Both Christ and Lao Tzu likened this state «I self-abandonment to the mind of a little child who has not yet developed a mature ego, who has not yet become accustomed to hunting his problem-solver. «Become as little children», they said635. A child, although also touched by the primordial fall, is closer to the true Source of knowing than an adult. Simple and spontaneous, he knows without knowing how he knows. He can be happy without knowing he is happy. What adults often consider happiness us is in reality the emotional excitement of the ego; while a little child’s happiness consists in the simple, selfless joy of being alive.
When Christ told each person to «deny himself» and «lose his life»,636 he was not saying to obliterate the conscious mind. Rather, he was saying to purify it by casting off the ego that has grown on it like a parasite. Thinking, imagining, dreaming and emotion are not destroyed in the follower of the Way; rather they are wholly submitted to a higher Source.
This stare of selflessness and self-abandonment is closely linked to Lao Tzus teaching of non-action (wu-wei
). Some have wrongly interpreted Lao Tzus wu-wei to mean «doing nothing at all «but this is far from his intended meaning. As Gi-ming Shim writes: «Non-action means that one does not act from his own selfish passion or desire but follows a pattern of objective truth. In the objective order of all things, one is not limited to his own self. When he follows that order which is already inherent in the structure of the universe he will succeed, where orders of his own creation will be limited by the boundaries of self and must find their failure beyond these limits.
«So, Lao Tzu said: ‘The Tao is absolute and without action, yet it is the cause of all action. When princes and kings are able to keep it, all things will be transformed naturally.’ If we do not follow the objective truth, then we will act by selfish opinion and end in failure. So, Lao Tzu said: ‘There are those who would conquer till world and make of it what they desire. I see they will not succeed. The world is like a hollow utensil and cannot be manipulated.’ On the other hand, if one avoids action by selfish desire then success will most certainly come. So, Lao Tzu said: ‘To make is to mar, in grasp is to lose. The sage practices non-action, hence he never fails; he never grasps, hence he never loses.... The sage desires nondesire; in this way he assists the natural development of all things even though he does not venture to interfere’».637
The «selfish opinion» of which Gi-ming speaks arises from trusting our thoughts, imagination and emotions. Our thought, as we have said, lie in the realm of action and are bound to earthly time. Our immortal spirit, however, transcends earthly time and abides not in action but in stillness. Therefore, when we raise and awareness to the level of our spirit, and there seek the Divine Spirit, we begin to find the still Source of the non-action of which Lao Tzu speaks.
What Gi-ming calls «awareness of objective truth» comes when we abandon our erroneous trust in our thoughts and feelings and instead trust the Divine Source of truth. When this awareness informs our actions, we will be practicing what Lao Tzu called nonunion, for our actions will not really be ours at all.
For Lao Tzu, non-action meant following the Tao, which itself follows the course of non-action. For followers of Christ the incarnate Tao, non-action is raised to a personal dimension called «faith».
Practically speaking, this means that when we catch ourselves trying to solve our personal problems with our minds, we realize the futility of this enterprise and give up the problems to the Personal Absolute. We cease trying to be our own savior, and we commend ourselves to the mercies of our true Savior.
The main reason why people fail in the spiritual life is that they have not learned the secret of non-action: deep down, they are still trusting and relying on themselves. «I know of no fall», says the desert father Abba Dorotheus, «that does not come from trusting one’s own judgment».638 Even if a self-opinionated person calls upon Christ to save him, he is still seeking salvation on his own terms and in his own time (which usually means immediately). He makes his petitions or demands in order to feel better and make his Í uh easier, rather than to know objective truth and be united with Ins Creator, which is the very purpose of his existence.
In order to practice personal non-action (i.e., true faith), we must come before our Creator and Savior without any preconceived opinions. We must seek salvation on His terms and in His time, even if it requires that we endure worse suffering than we knew before! Having understood on an existential level that of ourselves we can do nothing at all, we cease trying, grasping, contriving – for «in make is to mar, to grasp is to lose». We merely acknowledge our sickness and our problem, bring it before our Savior the Tao/Logon, and blindly trust that He will save us in ways that only He knows. We do not expect Him to save us immediately and once-for-all time, but rather we trust that He will continually save us – change ill and perfect us – through His Uncreated Energy, as long as we continue to give up our free will to Him and abandon ourselves to I In will, which is the Way of the universe.
In our ego-state, we constantly try to protect ourselves by taking refuge in judgmental thoughts. When we have learned the secret of non-action, however, we no longer feel the need to protect ourselves from people or circumstances. Surrendering ourselves to the Way, we not only trust Him to protect us, but we are no longer even conscious of a «self» (ego) that needs protecting.
When we are in a prideful condition, our actions are fueled by emotion, which is often based in resentment following on the heels of frustration. Through the personal non-action of faith, we cease to exert such emotional effort. In letting go of our will to prevail through ambitious striving, we find that the will of our Creator is accomplished naturally and spontaneously through us.
Spontaneity, as we have seen, is in the nature of the Tao/Logon, Since He is supremely selfless and without ambition, His continuous action of creating and upholding the universe is the supreme Non-Action – spontaneous, effortless. Thus, when we do His will instead of our own, good appears of its own accord, flowing effortlessly into our life. There is no frustration, no dissatisfaction.639
25. Healing through Non-Action
Lao Tzu understood that the true healing of our spirits comes not as a result of outside pressures, that is, of being constantly told to be kind, good, generous, etc. Rather, it comes from within – from returning to our true nature by ever returning to our Creator, Therefore he wrote:
When the great Tao is forgotten,
Kindness and morality arise....
When there is no peace within the family,
Filial piety and devotion arise....
These are outward forms alone; they are not sufficient in themselves.
It is more important
To see simplicity,
To realize one’s true nature,
To cast off selfishness
And temper desire.640
In practicing non-action, we do not try to heal ourselves; rather, we allow ourselves to be healed by the Way. We do not ambitiously hi rive to get rid of our problems, for when we return to our original nature by connecting with the Way, we find that our problems find their own solution, spontaneously.
In this way we can also lead others to their original nature – to where they have fallen from. And we will do so without having to apply pressure; we will allow them to find on their own the true Source of the spirits healing. As Lao Tzu stated:
The sage brings people back to what they have lost.
I le helps the ten thousand things find their own nature,
But does not venture to lead them by the nose.641
26. The True Source of Knowing
Non-action naturally entails no-thought. But just as non-action does not strictly mean doing no action, so also no-thought does not mean having no thoughts. As we have seen, it is a vain contrivance to attempt to stop thinking. All that is necessary is in observe our thoughts arising from selfishness and desire, and in oh serving end them.
In telling us emphatically to «take no thought», then, Christ is not relegating us to a mental vacuum; instead, He is directing us in another means of understanding. Using this means, we find mil spirit; and it is there, not in the thought-stuff of the lower soul, that He the wordless Word speaks to us. When we are caught up in 4 thought or idea, we cannot hear Him. So He says to us: Stop losing yourself in thoughts, so that you can hear me.
Here it is important to mention that, in finding our immortal spirit, we must be careful not to rely on that either, for it too is created and thus can become an idol to replace God. Our spirit is a true source of knowing only insofar as it is allowed to fulfill its natural designation of yearning for, connecting with, and worshipping the true God. The spirit is the only faculty of true knowing, not because it is more «spiritual» than the lower soul, but precisely because it is the only faculty that can know God.
It is not enough, therefore, for the soul to place itself under the spirit, its master; the spirit must also be under its Master, the Spirit of God. When one seeks to find the spirit with a prideful motive, one continues as before to prevent the spirit from worshipping God. But when one’s motive is pure, the spirit makes its Divine connection.
27. The Spirit as Light
When Christ and Lao Tzu called man’s spirit «the light», they were speaking literally, for it can be experienced in the mind as light. «The light of the body is the eye», said Christ. «If therefore your eye is single, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is evil, your whole body will be full of darkness».642
Archimandrite Sophrony describes how, as a young man, he beheld the light of his spirit. «The world of mental contemplation n, essentially a radiant one», he explains. «Our mind is created in the image and after the likeness of the Primal Mind – God. Light is natural to it since it was made in the image of Him Who is Light unoriginate.643
28. The Misuse of Watchfulness
Here we are treading on dangerous ground, so it is necessary to step lightly. This is where many who have practiced watchfulness have fallen into delusion over the centuries. Everything depends on the purity of one’s intention in going within. If one’s intention (conscious or unconscious) is not to face ones sin-condition, repent and thus be reconciled to God, but instead to «be spiritual» while continuing to worship oneself, then one can – upon becoming aware of the light of one’s spirit – begin to worship it as God. I his is the ultimate delusion.
Archimandrite Sophrony writes: «Attaining the bounds where day and night come to an end», man contemplates the beauty of his own spirit which many identify with Divine Being. They do see a light but it is not the True Light in which there ‘is no darkness at all’. It is the natural light peculiar to the mind of man created in God’s image.
«The mental light, which excels every other light of empirical Knowledge, might still just as well be called darkness, since it is the darkness of divestiture and God is not in it. And perhaps in this instance more than any other we should listen to the Lord’s warning, Take heed therefore that the light which is in you be not darkness.’ The first prehistoric, cosmic catastrophe – the fall of Lucifer, son of the morning, who became the prince of darkness – was due to his enamored contemplation of his own beauty, which ended up in his self-deification».644
The darkness of divestiture of which Fr. Sophrony speaks u the state of having risen above all thoughts and thought processes, which we have described earlier. If a person’s motive is prideful, he will stop at this point, admiring his own brilliance; but that brilliance will still be darkness. He will think he has found God, but God will not be there. He will find a kind of peace, but it will be a peace apart from God.
To go beyond thought is not yet to attain true knowledge. Such knowledge comes from the Word speaking wordlessly in the spirit that is yearning for Him; it does not come from the spirit itself. The Word will come and make His abode with the spirit only if the person approaches Him in absolute humility, for He Himself is humility, and like attracts like.
Fr. Sophrony writes further on those who go within themselves without humility: «Since those who enter for the first time into the sphere of the ‘silence of the mind’ experience a certain mystic awe, they mistake their contemplation for mystical communion with the Divine, whereas in reality they are still within the confines of created human nature. The mind, it is true, here passes beyond the frontiers of time and space, and it is this that gives it a sense of grasping eternal wisdom. This is as far as human intelligence can go along the path of natural development and self-contemplation....
«Dwelling in the darkness of divestiture, the mind knows a peculiar delight and sense of peace.... Clearing the frontiers of time, such contemplation approaches the mind to knowledge of the intransitory, thereby possessing man of new but still abstract cognition. Woe to him who mistakes this wisdom for knowledge of the true God, and this contemplation for a communion in Divine bring. Woe to him because the darkness of divestiture on the borders of true vision becomes an impenetrable pass and a stronger barrier between himself and God than the darkness due to the uprising of gross passion, or the darkness of obviously demonic instigations, or the darkness which results from loss of Grace and abandonment by God. Woe to him, for he will have gone astray and fallen into delusion, since God is not in the darkness of divestiture.645
To experience the darkness of divestiture and the light of the mind, says Fr. Sophrony, «is naturally accessible to man», but to experience the Uncreated Light of the Divinity is given to man by a special action of God. These two experiences differ qualitatively from each other. Fr. Sophrony writes: «It has been granted to me to contemplate different kinds of light and lights – the light the artist knows when elated by the beauty of the visible world; the light of philosophical contemplation that develops into a mystical experience. Let us even include the light’ of scientific knowledge which is always and inevitably of very relative value. I have been tempted by manifestations of light from hostile spirits. But in my adult years, when I returned to Christ as perfect God, the unoriginate Light shone on me. This wondrous Light, even in the measure vouchsafed to me from on High, eclipsed all else, just as the rising sun eclipses the brightest star».646
The greatness of Lao Tzu lies in the fact that, in «using the light» of his spirit,647 he did not mistake it for a Divine manifestation – he did not identify it with the Tao itself. He went as far as pure human intuition could take him, he reached what Fr. Sophrony called «the border of Divine vision», yet he did not presume to have reached his final destination; hence the very tentative nature of his writings.
With the coming of the Tao in the flesh, we His followers are now able to cross that border, as Fr. Sophrony did. But in order to cross it, we have to reach that border along with Lao Tzu. We too must enter the darkness of divestiture, in humility and repentance, so that God will meet us there.
29. Hearing the Wordless Word
We do not practice watchfulness so that we can become silent and peaceful. Rather, we become silent so that we can know the unpleasant truth about ourselves, and so that we «hear» the Tao/Logos speaking directly to our inward being. He does not speak in an audible voice; His voice makes no noise even in the mind. «We listen for it», says Lao Tzu, «but cannot hear it».648 Scripture calls His voice still and small. 649 We cannot hear it unless we tune in to it by separating from all the static noise in our heads.
As we practice watchfulness and rise to the level of our spirit, the Word of God begins to acclimatize us to the silent voice that leads us through all the circumstances of life. It is the same voice that immortal spirits use in the dimension beyond this one, as they commune with the Word without words. As the seventh-century visionary St. Isaac the Syrian said: «Silence is the mystery of the future age, while words are only implements of this world».
«Everyone who is of the truth», says Christ, «hears my voiced» 650 . If we cannot hear that silent voice speaking to our spirit, we will never develop a relationship with Him.
In this regard we would do well to recall Christ’s sobering words: «Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of my Father Who is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonderful works in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you: depart from me, you who work iniquity’».651
As the Creator of the universe, the Word of God of course knows everything; therefore, when He says. «I never knew you», He is clearly implying more than that. In effect, He is saying: «You never knew me. You and I never developed a relationship because you were always listening to your thoughts, emotions and desires rather than to me. You did not learn to distinguish my wordless voice from all the other voices in your head».
Through watchfulness we begin to understand, even in the minute details of our daily lives, how the Word is informing, guiding and helping us. We hear His silent voice directing us. We begin to discern His will and follow it naturally. We understand, and He knows we understand, and in that mutual recognition we make a connection with Him. One such connection is then linked to other ones, and thus we form a relationship with a Being we have never seen. Then He will not say to us, «I never knew you» – for He did know us, and we knew Him.652
Chapter Four: Prayer to the Tao
"Lord Jesus Christ,
Son of God,
have mercy on me, a sinner».
30. Personal Communion
Lao Tzu, it мая be said, had a relationship with this Absolute Being even before He revealed Himself to the world in Jesus Christ. Because of his spirit of humble yearning, Lao Tzu was given to intuit the presence of the Tao as he sat at attention. He heard the Taos silent voice, but he did not know Who it was that spoke. «I do not know its name», he said. «‘Way’ is the byname that we give it».653
Now, with the coming of the Tao in the flesh to all the peoples of the earth, we do know Who it is that speaks in our spirits. «We beheld His glory», says the Apostle John, «the glory as of the only begotten of the Father».654 Thus our relationship with Him, even as we sit silently and watch, becomes a personal one. It passes into a communion of love.
Earlier we defined prayer as personal communion with the bio. Now that, in Christ, we know the Tao as Person, the watchfulness that Lao Tzu practiced can itself be a form of prayer: a silent, humble yearning for Him Whom we know. Further, we dir able to do what Lao Tzu was not: we can directly invoke the Tao.
In The Philokalia, St. Hesychius identifies the different kinds of watchfulness that can be practiced by followers of the incarnate Tao. «I shall now tell you», he says, «in plain, straightforward language what I consider to be the types of watchfulness which gradually cleanse the spirit from impassioned thoughts. In these times of spiritual warfare I have no wish to conceal beneath words whatever in this treatise мая be of use, especially to more simple people....
One type of watchfulness consists in closely observing every mental image or provocation; for only by means of a mental image can satan fabricate an evil thought and insinuate this into the spirit in order to lead it astray.
A second type of watchfulness consists in freeing the heart from all thoughts, keeping it profoundly silent and still, and in praying.
«A third type consists in continually and humbly calling upon the Lord Jesus Christ for help».655
We have already described the first of these types in detail. The others – which entail prayer to the Tao – will be discussed in the pages that follow.
31. Words Are Only a Support
Addressing the Creator with words is what is commonly known as prayer. However, it is important to understand that true prayer is beyond words, since, ultimately, God does not commune with us on the level of language. As St. Theophan the Recluse teaches, words are only used to help support and deepen the real prayer that should be occurring on the level of the spirit.
When we pray in our own words, it is not good to make long, carefully constructed speeches, which only involve us in our logical minds and thus cause us to remain on the level of the lower soul. God has no need of such speeches, for He beholds our spirit and knows everything. Our prayers should arise spontaneously from our hearts. «For out of the abundance of the heart», says Christ, the mouth speaks».656
«Do not try to use many words», St. John Climacus counsels, «lest your mind become distracted by the search for words. An excessive multitude of words in prayer disperses the mind in dreams, while one word or a short sentence helps to collect the mind».657
St. Theophan tells us how such short prayers should be said frequently as a means of raising mind and heart to God: «We should turn to God not only when we are standing at prayer, but as far as possible throughout the day. There should be an unceasing offering of ourselves to Him.
«To achieve this, it is necessary to begin – as often as possible during the day – by calling out to God from the heart in short words, according to our needs and in ways appropriate to the events around us».658
Likewise, St. Ignatius Brianchaninov writes: «Before every undertaking, that is to say, before beginning a conversation or starting any work, we should raise our mind to God and ask Him for enlightenment and help».659
32. Confessing Lapses
«You cannot become passionless all at once», says Elder Ambrose of Optina, «But every time you feel your sinfulness say: ‘Lord, forgive me!’ Only the Lord is able to put love into a person’s heart».660
St. Ignatius Brianchaninov (1807–1867) was, along with St. Theophan the Recluse, the nineteenth century’s foremost interpreter of the ancient wisdom of The Philokalia. His rare insights into the psychology of modern man and refined teachings against demonic deception make him a sure guide of spiritual sober-mindedness for our times.
In the spirit of metanoia, it is especially important that we conic v; to God our wrongs as soon as we recognize them through the practice of watchfulness, and that we frequently call upon Him to grant us the inward purification known as forgiveness. St. Gregory of Sinai teaches: «The mind is led captive everywhere; and it cannot regain its stability unless it submits to God and is stilled by Him, joyfully uniting with Him through unceasing and diligent prayer and through mentally confessing all our lapses to Him each day. God immediately forgives everything to those who ask forgiveness in a spirit of humility and contrition and who ceaselessly invoke His holy name».661
St. Hesychius writes: «When under the pressure of stupid thoughts, we will find relief and joy by rebuking ourselves truthfully and unemotionally, or by confessing everything to the Lord as to a human being. In both these ways we will always find tranquillity, whatever troubles us».662
St. Ignatius gives similar advice: «If from weakness or, more correctly, on account of your fallen nature, you happen to be distracted by alluring thoughts and fancies, do not get despondent and do not grow slack. Repent before God of your levity and frivolity, confess your fallen nature and your distraction, fall down mentally before His mercy, and take precautionary measures against seductive dreams and seductive thoughts».663
When we are troubled in mind, having through neglect allowed a passion or resentment to grow in us, we should stop thinking about it, stop trusting our «problem-solver» to put things right, and simply call upon our Creator, laying everything before Him. If our prayer is from the heart, we will not be hindered by trying to think up words. Even as we speak with our tongue or in our minds, our spirit will be calling upon God silently. The very act of humbling ourselves by calling upon our Creator already places us in submission, and strikes a blow to the proud ego that got us into double in the first place.
33. «Self-forgetting» in Prayer
The virtue of self-forgetting, which Lao Tzu discerned as a quality of Divinity and which Christ manifested in Himself, can be cultivated by us through heartfelt prayer for others. «We must pray for others with contrition and pain of soul», says Elder Paisius of Mount Athos. «When someone has cancer or some other big problem, and in spite of this is not concerned about himself, but supplicates God for others, then God is ‘moved.’ Then, in some manner,
I lie man has a certain ‘weight.’ He says to Christ, ‘I am not concernes for myself and do not ask for anything, but I beg You, help 1 In others.’ And so God helps».
Elder Paisius said that one can pray for others with contrition «only if one considers, from humble-mindedness, that one is the cause of everything that befalls ones neighbor».
At this the Elder was asked, «But how can you consider yourself at fault if, for example, someone in Athens separates from his wife?»
The Elder answered, «Well, I say within myself: ‘If I were a saint, like the ancient fathers, I would ask God to grant that they would agree and love each other, and God, Who has promised to hear the saints, would help them. Therefore because I am not a saint, God does not hear me. In consequence, I am at fault that this family is being broken and for whatever evil happens.' And so lit this way I do not judge anyone, but accuse only myself for even thing. Then God helps».664
Above all, we should pray for those who hate or wrong us. A» we have seen, it was Lao Tzu who first taught the doctrine of returning good for evil. Christ later enunciated this in the commandment, «Love your enemies», and then told us how we are to love them: by blessing, doing good to, and praying for them. He said, «Pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you мая be sons of your Father Who is in heaven; for He makes I lit sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust».665
Through such prayer we purge our heart of the venom of hatred. Whenever we catch ourselves judging and condemning someone, we should, following Christs command, immediately pray for that person. We will find that the constant practice of this rule is a most effective means against the spirit of resentment. In the words of Elder Paisius, God is «moved» by such prayer, and through His Grace He transforms our anger into love that transcends the human and touches the Divine.
34. «Non-Action» in Prayer
In keeping with the principle of «non-action», we should not call upon God from selfish desire or with preconceived opinions, but rather we should trust His wisdom and timing in meeting our true needs. This spiritual attitude of surrender and trust is beautifully expressed in a prayer of St. Philaret of Moscow († 1867):
«Lord, I do not know what to beg of You; You alone know what is needed for me. You love me more than I know how to love You. O Father, give to Your slave that for which I do not even know how to beg. I do not dare to ask for either a cross or for consolation; I dill only standing before You with my heart open to You. You see my needs which I do not even know; see and deal with me according to Your mercy. Purge and heal me, humble me and raise me; I am in awe before You and I am silent before Your will and Your unfathomable ways for me. I am bringing myself as a sacrifice to You; teach me to pray. Pray Yourself within me. Amen».
Elder Michael of Valaam († 1962), a great mystic of the twentieth century, instructed his spiritual children to read this prayer every day, as an aid to bringing them into a proper attitude before their Creator.666
35. The Power of Direct Appeal
As we have seen, it is futile to try to struggle against thoughts by our own willpower; rather, our struggle should be to raise our minds and hearts to the help of the Most High. This we can do simply and instantaneously though direct appeal to Christ the incarnate Tao/Logos. St. Hesychius teaches: «The spirit cannot conquer a demonic fantasy by its own unaided powers, and should never attempt to do so. The demons are a sly lot: they pretend to be overcome and then trip us up by filling us with self-esteem. But when we call upon Jesus Christ, they do not dare to play their tricks with us even for a second».667
St. Theophan explains further the power of direct appeal in the practice of watchfulness: «Whenever we appeal directly to the Lord with fear, reverence, hope and faith in His complete activity without entering into a verbal battle with the passionate thought, the passionate thought then moves away from the mind’s eye, which is fixed on the Lord. When it is cut off from the mind through such attention, the passionate thought departs of its own accord, if it has been naturally stimulated. If the enemy is involved, however, then a discerning ray of light that comes from contemplation of the Lord strikes him. It happens that the mind immediately calms down from passionate violations as soon as it turns to the Lord and calls upon Him.
«To make this clearer to you, I will tell you a legend. An elder lived in the desert of silence. The demons visibly attacked him, and began dragging him out of his cell so as to completely drive him out of the desert. The elder himself began fighting back at them, but they moved him and had already dragged him right up to very door. Just a bit more, and they would have turned him out Seeing his extreme danger, the elder called out, ‘Lord Jesus Christ! Why have you abandoned me? Help me, Lord!’ As soon as he called out, the Lord appeared immediately and chased away the demons, and said to the elder, ‘I did not abandon you, but bec.ium you did not call on me and thought you could cope with the demons yourself, I did not come to your help. Call on me, and you will always receive ready help.’ After saying this, the Lord disappeared. This incident is a lesson not just to the elder, but to all of us: Do not struggle with passionate thoughts through your own spiritual altercations with them, but turn immediately to the Lord with prayers against them».668
There are times – such as after a passion or demonic temptation has begun to get a hold on us – when an especially fervent appeal is in order. St. John Climacus advises: «For those who have not yet obtained true prayer of the heart, violence in bodily prayer is a great help – I mean stretching out the hands, beating the breast, sincere raising of the eyes to heaven, deep sighing, frequent prostrations....
«If possible, go apart for a brief space. Hide for a while in some secret place. Raise on high the eyes of your soul, if you can; but if not, your bodily eyes. Hold your arms motionless in the form of a cross, in order to shame and conquer the unclean spirit by this sign. Cry to Him Who is mighty to save, not with cleverly spun phrases, but in humble words, preferably making this your prelude: ‘Have mercy on me, for I am weak.’669 Then you will know by experience the power of the Most High, and with invisible help you will invisibly drive away the invisible ones (the demons)».670
36. The Jesus Prayer
In the tradition of The Philokalia – the Eastern Orthodox tradition – there is an especially powerful prayer by which to call upon the incarnate Tao. It is called the Jesus Prayer. When done with pure intention, the Jesus Prayer encompasses all that we have spoken of thus far: metanoia, being forgiven and forgiving, and cultivating Grace through watchfulness and prayer.
The Jesus Prayer is a short, simple prayer, based on the prayer of the blind men in the Scriptures (Matthew 20:30–31; Luke 18:38) and of the publican in Christ’s parable (Luke 18:13). The full prayer is: «Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner». Sometimes it is done in shortened form in order to better maintain attention on the words: «Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me».
In the first half of the prayer, we confess that Christ is indeed the incarnation of the Word by Whom all things were made, and We invoke Him, the Tao made flesh. Because Jesus is the name that the Logos took when putting on the raiment of abasement and humility (i.e., human flesh), there is no more powerful name on earth to oppose the proud fallen spirits. In the words of the Apostle Peter, «there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved».671
In the second half of the prayer, we confess our sin-condition and with every breath we call upon the Word to forgive us, to purify our spirits. Thus in the Jesus Prayer is contained the whole mystery of continuous metanoia.
According to St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, «the essential properties of this prayer should be: attention, the enclosure of the mind in the words of the prayer, extreme unhurriedness in pronouncing it, and contrition of spirit. Although these conditions are necessary for all prayer, they are more easily observed and more needed in which practice of the Jesus Prayer. In psalmody the diversity of thought in which prayer is clothed involuntarily attracts the attention of the mind and causes it some diversion. But in the case of the Jesus Prayer, the mind is concentrated on a single thought: the thought of the sinners forgiveness by Jesus. Outwardly this activity is the most dry, but in practice it proves to be the most fruitful of all the soul’s activities. Its power and value derive from the all-powerful, all-holy name of the Lord Jesus Christ».672
«The action of this prayer», says St. Barsanuphius of Optina († 1913), «is always hidden by the greatest mysteries. It does not сonsist merely in speaking the words, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner,’ but reaches the heart and mysteriously settles there. Through this prayer we enter into relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, we become accustomed to Him, we merge with Him into one whole. This prayer fills the soul with calm and joy amidst the most difficult trials, in the midst of every oppression and human vanity».673
The Jesus Prayer represents the barest essence of the direct invocation of the Tao/Logos that Christ made possible through His coming in the flesh. As St. Ignatius teaches, this prayer was indicated by Christ Himself shortly before His crucifixion:
«The use of the all-holy, Divine name Jesus in prayer, and prayer in His name, was appointed by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. We can be convinced of this from the most sublime and profound conversation recorded in the Gospel of St. John which the Lord had with the holy Apostles after the Mystical Supper, in that momentous hour which preceded the Lords voluntary departure to the place of His betrayal and agony, for the salvation of mankind. The teaching given by the Lord in that hour has the character of a final, deathbed instruction in which He gathered and expounded before His disciples, and in their persons before the whole of Christendom, the most soul-saving and final commandments, sure and infallible pledges of eternal life.
«Among other pledges and spiritual gifts, there is given and ratified the command and permission to pray by the name of Jesus. And whatsoever you shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father мая be glorified in the Son. If you shall ask anything in my name, I will do it So far you have asked for nothing in my name. Ask and you will receive, that your joy мая overflow».
«What is it that will be given to a person who prays in the name of the Lord Jesus that can fill him to overflowing with joy? He will be given – we reply in the words of our Lord – the Holy Spirit ‘Whom the Father will send in my name’».674
St. Gregory of Sinai affirms that the Jesus Prayer is one of the primary ways by which one can cultivate the seed of Grace given at baptism: «The Energy of the Holy Spirit is manifested to those under spiritual guidance through the continuous invocation of the Lord Jesus, repeated with conscious awareness, that is, through mindfulness of God». St. Gregory says that this means can be more effective than others «if one diligently and persistently learns how to dig the ground and locate the gold. Thus if we want to realize and know the truth ... let our aim be to make the energy of prayer alone active in our hearts, for it brings warmth and joy to the spirit, and sets the heart alight with an ineffable love for God and man. It is on account of this that humility and contrition flow richly from prayer. For prayer in beginners is the unceasing noetic activity of the Holy Spirit. To start with it rises like a fire of joy from the heart; in the end it is like light made fragrant by Divine Energy».675
37. Precautions in Doing the Jesus Prayer
Since the Jesus Prayer is such a powerful means toward union with the Creator Logos, it is also dangerous when practiced prematurely or with the wrong intention. Therefore some warnings air in order.
From ancient times unto today, those who have reached advanced levels of prayer are unanimous in affirming that the Jesus Prayer should only be practiced by those who have been illumined in the waters of Orthodox baptism, or are at least preparing themselves for it. The Jesus Prayer comes from a certain context – the Eastern Orthodox transmission – and it should be kept in that context. Otherwise it loses its effectiveness, and the traditional safeguards against error and delusion are absent.
Those who take up the Jesus Prayer as in a vacuum often find themselves in a serious predicament. One non-Orthodox man, for example, recently wrote about a frightening experience he had right after doing the Jesus Prayer: he entered an icy void, he said, and had «a feeling that could only be described as arctic». J. D. Salinger’s book Franny and Zooey, which helped to popularize the Jesus Prayer in the West, provides an accurate description of what can happen to a person as a result of continuously saying the Jesus Prayer while being outside the Orthodox tradition. Unaccountably, Funny found herself having hysterical weeping fits.
The Eastern Christian transmission, going back in an unbroken lineage to Christ Himself, has taught some form of the Jesus Prayer for nearly two millennia. To do it freelance, avoiding the discipline from which it came, can be an act of pride. This defeats the very purpose of the Jesus Prayer, for it is a prayer of repentance.
Being linked to the transmission, however, is not a guarantee m itself. As with everything else in the spiritual life, one must come to the Jesus Prayer with love, humility and rigorous self- honesty. One can be Orthodox and practice the Jesus Prayer, and yet, rather than bearing the marks of inward purification, one can bear the marks of spiritual pride, haughtiness, coldness, knowing better, judgment of others, and lack of concern for people’s true heeds and problems.
38. The Wrong Use and the Right Use of the Jesus Prayer
The misuse of the Jesus Prayer results not so much from doing it wrongly – because one can be doing everything correctly, according to the tradition – as it does from doing it for the wrong reason. Again, as with watchfulness, ones aim must be metanoia: facing one’s self and shedding the ego out of a higher love for God. If one is not repenting while saying the Jesus Prayer, then one is not praying.
In the prideful use of the Jesus Prayer, the following often occurs: A person hears about how he can become holy by doing it, so he does it with this in mind. Not truly desiring to face himself as lie is, he repeats the words of the prayer in order to buttress a false linage of himself: the image of one who is becoming «spiritual». Meanwhile, the passions remain active in him, but he will not be able to see them unless someone comes and disturbs him.
When doing the Jesus Prayer as it should be done, one does not merely say the words; one actually prays them from the depths of oné's being, speaking person to Person, always returning to the awareness that one is addressing Someone. «The Name of Christ», says Fr. Sophrony, «must not be detached from the Person of God, lest prayer be reduced to a technical exercise and so contravene the commandment, ‘You shall not take the name of the Lord Your God in vain’676... Invocation of the Name of God the Savior, uttered in the fear of God, together with a constant effort to live in accordance with the commandments, little by little leads to u blessed fusion of all our powers».677
«You have to turn to the Lord with your mind», says Elder Nikodim of Karoulia, a practitioner of the Jesus Prayer who died recently on Mount Athos. «Don’t just pronounce the words. You have to see the Lord Himself in the prayer. It is our designation in be like angels. Angels gaze unceasingly upon the Lord, and we have to strive for this, to see the Lord in the words with our mind, to look upon Him. But if with our mind we only say the words, then we will not look upon the Lord, and this is not enough for prayer.
«But this seeing is without images. It is with the spirit. God is a Spirit. As He explained to the Samaritan woman, ‘You will worship in spirit.’678 We pray in spirit to the Lord Himself. How is this? When I turn to the Lord and right then believe and feel that I am looking upon the Lord and the Lord is looking upon me. The Lord is ceaselessly looking upon me. There’s one good little statement in The Pbilokalia – ‘God always sees us, but a man sees only when he sees nothing besides the Lord. Then he can even hear Him.’ This a little expression from Elias the Presbyter in The Philokalia.
«You have to look upon the Lord with faith. Look upon the Lord and believe that the Lord is looking upon you. In spirit, pray in spirit! God demands worshippers who worship Him in spirit, God is a Spirit and one must worship Him in spirit. We, with our spirit, pray to God the Spirit. Our spirit is united with God. When we turn to God the Spirit with faith, then the Lord will look upon us and the human spirit will be united with the Spirit of the Lord as the time of prayer.
«You have to practice this. As always, when you pray, immediately turn to the Lord. Your spirit must address the Lord, and sense the Lord. Then there will be an echo; you’ll receive a response. Mercy will come to you. This is all by faith – it’s accomplished by faith – by faith and compulsion. That’s what it is! ‘Lo-o-ord Jesus Christ, have me-e-ercy on me!’ This is a very good prayer. From one utterance of the prayer you already sense the taste of God’s mercy. And the further you go, the greater it gets. If it’s with attention. And at the time of prayer, if you go through the whole prayer rope, then tears will begin to flow ... contrition will come, and then warmth of heart will set in».679
39. The Jesus Prayer and Intrusive Thoughts
While doing the Jesus Prayer, we are to stand guard against a mental takeover by thoughts. As Fr. Sophrony writes, a person faces thoughts and then exterminates them by «shutting the doors of his heart and stationing his mind on guard like a sentinel, unfettered by imagination and cogitation but armed with prayer and the name of Jesus Christ».680
When one is truly praying with attention, one can cut short the growth of the passions at the outset with the aid of the words of the Jesus Prayer itself. The Philokalic writers, quoting a phrase from the Psalms of David, call this «dashing the infants against a rock».681 As Elder Nikodim of Karoulia explains: «Thoughts begin with suggestions. There are even sinless suggestions.... When you pray, ’Lord Jesus Christ...,’ suggestions are like the ‘infants’ that you kill against ‘the rock’, Jesus Christ. As soon as thoughts/suggestions appear in the mind, you kill these ‘infants’. If you allow them to enter in further, and are not attentive to the words of the prayer, but will ponder on them [the thoughts], then this is already conversing with them. After this is conjunction, joining, and then captivity, and they are now passions».
40. The Jesus Prayer as Repentance
Doing the Jesus Prayer in order to feel spiritual and distract ourselves from our sin-condition is of course a contradiction in terms. It works against the very aim of asking Christ, «Have mercy on me». Unless we have faced the private demons in our mint It. how can we know how much we need Christ''s mercy? Unless we know that we are truly perishing, how can we have Christ as our Savior?
The Jesus Prayer, as we have seen, is a prayer of repentance, while watchfulness is the foundation of repentance, since through it we begin to realize all the subtle, hidden passions and resentments of which we have to repent.
When we have seen our sin-condition through watchfulness, we are able to bring this condition immediately to mind when saying the Jesus Prayer, especially the marks of it that we have recently noticed. Then when we say, «Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, we can say it and really mean it. It will not just be saying words. Our inward being, which lies beyond words, will feel it.
Each time we say the Jesus Prayer with feeling, we are humiliating the proud ego and are placing ourselves under everything, under the Way of the universe. In this way we are, breath by breath, reversing in ourselves the effects of the primordial fall, when man tried to become God.
The marks of true watchfulness and prayer are effortless spontaneity, guilelessness, childlikeness, overflowing inward joy, tenderness of heart, unfeigned humility, courage (lack of doubt), forthrightness, abundant love, a nonjudgmental nature, and genuine, active care for people. Even in Russia today, these are regarded as the signs of a true elder or eldress. If a person’s «spirituality» is calculated and forced, then one can be sure that he has not faced himself and become free of himself, no matter how humble he мая act.
41. No Idols
As Elder Nikodim states, the Jesus Prayer – and all other kinds of prayer, for that matter – should be entirely without the deliberate formation of mental images: pictures of Jesus coming, etc. This pulls one down to the level of the lower soul and the realm of the fallen imagination, and is one of the fastest and surest routes to delusion. Since the awareness of the spirit is formless, one cannot be praying in the spirit while harboring images in one’s head. Such an image is an idol.
Also, when saying the Jesus Prayer, one should be careful not to idolize the prayer itself, as if one can be saved by words rather than by the incarnate Logos Himself. St. Theophan warns:
«Hold no intermediate image between the mind and the Lord when practicing the Jesus Prayer. The words pronounced are merely a help, and are not essential. The principal thing is to stand before the Lord with the mind in the heart. This, and not the words, is inner spiritual prayer. The words here are as much or as little the essential part of the prayer as the words of any other prayer. The essential part is to dwell in God, and this walking before God means that you live with the conviction ever before your consciousness that God is in you, as He is in everything: you live in the firm assurance that He sees all that is within you, knowing you better than you know yourself. This awareness of the eye of God looking at your inner being must not be accompanied by any visual concept, but must be confined to a simple conviction or feeling. A man in a warm room feels how the warmth envelops and penetrates him. The same must be the effect on our spiritual nature of the all-encompassing presence of God, Who is the fire in the room of our being.
«The words ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me’ are only the instrument and not the essence of the work; but they are an instrument which is very strong and effective, for the Name of the Lord Jesus is fearful to the enemies of our salvation and a blessing to all who seek Him. Do not forget that this practice in simple, and must not have anything fanciful about it».682
42. Levels of the Jesus Prayer
Archimandrite Sophrony indicates a certain sequence in the development of the Jesus Prayer. «First», he says, «it is a verbal mater: we say the prayer with our lips while trying to concentrate our attention on the Name and the words. Next, we no longer move our lips but pronounce the Name of Jesus Christ, and what follows after, in our minds, mentally. In the third stage mind and heart combine to act together: the attention of the mind is centered in the heart and the prayer is said there. Fourthly, the prayer becomes self-propelling. This happens when the prayer is confirmed in the heart and, with no especial effort on our part, continues there, where the mind is concentrated. Finally, the prayer, so full of blessing, starts to act like a gentle flame within us, as inspiration from on High, rejoicing the heart with a sensation of Divine love and delighting the mind in spiritual contemplation. This last state is sometimes accompanied by a vision of Light».683
Chapter Five: Laying a Foundation
43. Count the Cost
In order to reach these deeper levels of watchfulness and prayer, we must pay a heavy price. Christ tells us to «count the cost».684 We will not find success in the spiritual life until we are first ready to deny ourselves everything in this temporal life in order to be united with the incarnate Word. «If any one desires to come after me», said Christ, «let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me».685
Once we have taken up the cross, we cannot turn back. We must be one hundred percent committed. Christ tells us: «No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God».686 We cannot betray or doubt Him Whom we have chosen to follow. We must hold fast; otherwise, as Christ warns us, «the last state of the man [will be] worse than the first».687
Lao Tzu understood this even in his time, for he wrote:
If I have even just a little sense,
I will go along the Great Way,
And my only fear will be of turning from it.688
The seal: «Count the cost» (Luke 14:28)
It is not enough to just «love God». Christ commands us to «love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind».689 When practiced aright, watchfulness and prayer help us to do precisely this, for they unite heart, soul and mind in ceaselessly yearning for and calling to the Creator Logos. To love God in this way means to love Him above everything else, to the point of hating our own egos which are attached to the things of this world. Christ said, «He who loves his life shall lose it; and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal».690
Likewise, Christ calls us to hate our earthly attachments. He said, «If any one comes to me and hates not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple».691 This means to hate not the people themselves, but our fleshly dependence on them, which replaces our dependence on God. Clinging to others prevents us from loving not only God, but also the very people to whom we are clinging.
When we deny ourselves upon entering the life of watchfulness and prayer, we cut off our former routes of escape into sensual pleasure. We root out the most subtle manifestations of pride: all longing for «love», popularity, recognition, acceptance. Through going within ourselves, we identify our favorite passions, and then we begin to quench them, one by one. At every turn we cut off our own whims, doing instead the will of our Creator.
To do God’s will means to follow the commandments which He revealed to the world through Jesus Christ. «Let Jesus alone act within you by His most holy commandments», says St. Ignatius. «If you live in this way, the Jesus Prayer will certainly blossom within you, quite independently of whether you dwell in the deepest solitude or amidst the noise of a community.... Life according to the commandments of the Gospel is the one true source of spiritual progress, accessible to everyone who sincerely desires to succeed in whatever outward situation he мая be placed by the inscrutable providence of God».692
Christ’s commandments are not mere rules, but rather existential indications of the Way of Heaven. When He said, «Love your enemies», or «Whoever would be first among you, let him be your servant»,693 He was revealing to us something of His own nature, so that we could be like Him and in harmony with the pattern of the universe. In cutting off our will and our resentments, we will naturally follow this pattern by lowering ourselves beneath everyone, by serving them and sacrificing ourselves for them.
Serving people does not mean giving them whatever they want. Through the inner knowing of our spirits, as they are informed by our Creator, we can distinguish peoples demands from their true needs, and then we fulfill the true needs, whatever the cost. Such is the Way of Heaven, and such the true meaning of love for others.
Without such self-sacrificing love manifested in actions, genuine prayer cannot exist. «None of you should think», writes St. Theophan the Recluse, «that simply because you labor in prayer, that is enough. It is not. We must be eager to care for all things – to perfect ourselves in every good work».694 « As the Apostle John states: «He who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God Whom he has not seen? And this commandment have we from Him: that he who loves God love his brother also».695
If our hearts are sincere, we will shun the isolated «spirituality» of self-pleasing and self-opinion. We will see that God provides us constant opportunities to cut off our will before other people. No longer wanting to do our own will, we will seek out a life that is accountable to others. In the context of marriage, this means vowed accountability and dedication to ones wife or husband; in a monastic context this means the same to ones spiritual father or mother, and to ones brothers and sisters. We must persevere in this especially when it runs contrary to our own desires and opinions. All of the ancient spiritual writers say this is essential if we are to progress in the life of prayer, because, without cutting off our will before others, we can think we are doing God’s will (according to our own opinion) while we are really doing our own.
Furthermore, it is imperative that we give up – or at least bit willing to give up – all our resentments before we begin to pray. Christ said, «When you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, that your Father also Who is in heaven мая forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father Who is in heaven forgive your trespasses».696 Likewise St. John Climacus writes: «When you are going to stand before the Lord, let the garment of your soul be woven throughout with the thread of obliviousness to wrongs. Otherwise, prayer will bring you no benefit».697
44. Cutting off Distractions
Lastly, we must cut off external distractions. These begin with the very first distraction – indulgence in food – out of which are born all other sensual distractions, from love of comfort to sexual lust to tobacco smoking to drug and alcohol abuse. Among these, the use of marijuana is perhaps the most sinister, for it gives the illusion of being «spiritual» while making one unable to concentrate and thus to practice watchfulness and face oneself.
Having cut off the grosser forms of sensual distraction, we still face subtler distractions – this time coming from the hypnotic use of entertainment and information – which also dull the mind and hinder sobriety. Struck by a constant barrage of sounds, words and images in the modern Western world, our conscious minds are much more disjointed and fragmented than those of former times; our thoughts are more disorderly. However, as we continue to watch and pray, we will naturally begin to avoid these distractions as well. Activities which before seemed permissible will now conflict with our prayerful awareness. At first we мая recognize television as a distraction, then music (particularly the crude modern forms of it), then newspapers and worldly magazines, then gossip and idle conversations, and so on.
«With all your strength», advises St. Hesychius, «pursue the virtue of watchfulness – that guard and watch of the spirit, that perfect stillness of heart and blessed state of the soul when free from Images, which is all too rarely found in man. This is the path of true spiritual wisdom. In great watchfulness and fervent desire travel along it with the Jesus Prayer, with humility and concentration, keeping both the senses and the spirit silent, self-controlled in food and drink and in all things of a seductive nature; travel along it with a mind trained in understanding, and with God’s help it will teach you things you had not hoped for; it will give you knowledge, enlightenment and instruction of a kind to which your spirit was impervious while you were still walking in the murk of passions and dark deeds, sunk in forgetfulness and in the confusion of chaos».698
Fr. Sophrony speaks further on the need to guard against being caught by worldly impressions: «The pressure exerted by intrusive thoughts is extraordinarily strong, and to subdue it the monk mum all day long force himself to avoid every single 'interested' look, not allowing himself to become attached to anything. His constant battle is to reduce outside impressions to a strict minimum. Otherwise, when the hour comes for interior noetic prayer everything that has made an impression will descend on the heart, causing great contusion».699
45. Putting to Death the Ego
From all of the above, it can be seen that nothing less than the slow, painful, merciless death of the ego is required of those who would enter into watchfulness and prayer in the right spirit. Cm off from its accustomed food, the ego retreats famished into a corner, where it cries out until at last it has no more energy, and it expires. With this, true life begins.
St. Theophan puts it this way: «The act of cleansing must be conducted by one’s own self, without any self-pity. The motivator of this act is efficacious, living zeal. It is both chopper and knife, which always works extremely well when it is sharpened by Grace and guided by its suggestions. It is ruthless when it establishes itself in the heart. It cuts, ignoring the cries of its victim. It is for this reason that the work goes on successfully, and soon achieves its purpose. But the cutting is not the only thing. Once everything has been cut off, then zeal is present, but does not function as a knife. It acts as a guard, and turns all its fierceness on the enemies of salvation, on those annoyances from which no one is free and the shamelessness from which no one is ever left in peace».700
«Rise up from love of the world and love of pleasure», says St. John Climacus, «lay aside cares, strip your mind, renounce your body; because prayer is nothing other than estrangement from the world. What have I desired on earth beside You? Nothing, but to cling continually to You in prayer without distraction. To some, wealth is pleasant; to others, glory; to others, possessions; but my wish is to cling to God, and to put the hope of my dispassion in Him».701
Chapter Six: The Union of Mind and Heart
46. The Heart (Hsin)
As prayer grows and deepens in us, it descends into the heart. In The Philokalia, as in the passage of St. John Climacus quoted above, this is called «prayer of the heart» or «noetic prayer» – the latter term being derived from the word nous.
The heart, say the Philokalic writers, is the «secret place» or «inner chamber» of the spirit. This was understood also by the Chinese in Lao Tzus time. «In Chinese», explains historian Mai-mai Sze, «the ‘mind’ is denoted by the character hsin
(heart), and in Chinese thought the heart was regarded as the seat of spiritual and moral intelligence and perception, its function being to control the emotions.... Here an early Greek concept offers an illuminating parallel, for the Chinese idea of the heart and its function was similar to Socrates’ concept of the ‘spirit,’ the work and function of which was ‘to know, to apprehend things as they really are and consequently, in particular, to know good and evil, and to direct and govern man’s acts.’ The form of the Chinese character ssu
(to think; also, thought), which is composed of a pictograph of ‘head’ in the form of a skull placed above that of ‘heart,’ suggests that thinking is guided by the heart and originates from it and is more important intuitively than intellectually».702
the seal: «Empty the heart» (Tao Teh Ching, ch. 3; The Philokalia, vol. 1, P.177).
Thus, for both the ancient Chinese and the ancient Greeks, the function of the heart was the same as that of the mind – and ultimately of the spirit, for the heart was known to be the spirit’s center. That is why, when Lao Tzu spoke of «emptying the heart/mind (hsin)», he was actually referring to separating ones spirit from thoughts that had intruded upon the heart.
In many places of the Gospels, Christ spoke of the heart as a center of spiritual awareness: «Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks»; «... And [the people] should understand with their heart»; «Those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart»; etc.703
This ancient understanding of the heart was passed on the Greek fathers of The Philokalia, who would at times use the words «heart» and «spirit» (nous) interchangeably.704 They taught that the spirit resides in the head and at the same time is active in the heart. The spirit is united to the body, but it is not entirely within or without the body, for it is bodiless.705
In The Philokalia, the «heart» refers to the physical organ (or more specifically to the upper part of it), but it also refers to the spiritual center of man’s being. In watchfulness and prayer, the spirit first finds the physical heart and then the metaphysical, spiritual heart.
«The ascetic», says Fr. Sophrony, «learns the great mysteries of the spirit through pure prayer. He descends into his inmost heart, into his natural heart first, and thence to those depths that are no longer of the flesh. He finds his deep heart – reaches the profound spiritual, metaphysical core of his being; and looking into it sees that the existence of mankind is not something alien and extraneous to him but is inextricably bound up with his own being».
47. Spiritual Feeling in the Heart
What we have called the «descent into the heart» is at the same lime a unifying of mind and heart. The spirit, separated from thought-forms and images, becomes concentrated within itself, and in this way the head and the heart in which the spirit resides are brought together into one.
In the union of mind and heart, we again see the close connection between watchfulness and prayer. The mark of watchfulness is pure awareness in the mind. The mark of prayer is spiritual feeling in the heart. In noetic prayer, the feeling of the spirit praying in the heart gives flesh to the awareness of the spirit watching in the mind. Thus mind and heart are united just as soul is united to body.
By spiritual feeling in the heart we do not mean emotion. It is as far from emotion as watchfulness is from thoughts and logic. For just as emotion in the heart corresponds to thoughts and logic in the lower soul, so does spiritual feeling in the heart correspond to watchfulness in the spirit.
In Russian, spiritual feeling is called umilenie. This word is untranslatable. Literally it means reception of mercy (milost) by the nous (in Russian, ume). It refers at once to a tender contrition or brokenness of heart, a depth of humility and abasement mixed with quiet exultation, and spiritual sadness mixed with unearthly joy and thanksgiving.
Noetic prayer is prayer of a watchful mind within a heart broken by umilenie. Watchfulness must begin in the mind. Through prayer, it descends into the heart, where it becomes feeling. St. Theophan the Recluse writes: «The end of apprenticeship in prayer can be said to come when in our prayer we move only from feeling to feeling. In this, deliberate thought мая cease; let there be only a dwelling in feeling with specific marks of prayer.
«When the feeling of prayer reaches the point where it becomes continuous, then noetic prayer мая be said to begin. This is the gift of the Holy Spirit praying for us, the last degree of prayer which our minds can grasp».706
48. Awareness in the Heart
From his long experience of praying in the heart, Elder Nikodim speaks on the heart as a center of spiritual awareness:
«We pray with the heart. We are aware through the heart. But with the mind we only know that were praying. If I’m praying, then I realize, I sense that I’m praying. I bring myself to an awareness Then the feelings become manifest. And when the feelings appear, then tears flow. Without consciousness, without feeling, not one little tear will roll out.
If you only know (in the mind) that you’re praying to the Lord, that’s one thing. But when it’s with the heart, then you sense that it''s the Lord Himself Whom you are addressing.
When a person appeals with his heart, he is praying and has prayer of the heart. But if he does not have the awareness that he is addressing the Lord, then he’s only praying with his head. He knows that there’s a God, and remembers that he’s addressing God, but he doesn’t realize it. But awareness leads a man to feeling. Ami when feeling comes, then he begins to weep. True repentance is then revealed. He becomes aware of his sins and begins to repent sincerely – ‘Forgive me, forgive me, have mercy on me!’ Everything concludes in the heart. That’s how the Lord created us. He gave us a heart – ‘our life’.
«That which you pronounce (in prayer) – be aware of with your heart. It’s not only with my mind that I hear and understand that I’m pronouncing the words. No! With the awareness. Our awareness is located in the heart. This is the feeling of the heart. When you pronounce the words, be aware – as if you felt them. You have to practice this».
49. The Mind as Sentinel Over the Heart
When one fails to practice watchfulness, the heart becomes polluted by the continual influence of thoughts issuing from the mind. These thoughts enter into the heart, as it were, and darken our spirits. It is not the temptations coming to us from without that can defile us, but rather our inward reactions to them, which take the form of thoughts and then make a lair in our heart. «All these evil things come from within», said Christ, «and defile a man».707
St. Theophan elucidates this teaching: «The mind''s thoughts are all directed toward this earth, and there is no way to raise them to heaven. Their object is vain, sensual, sinful. You have seen how fog drifts along the valley. This is a precise picture of our thoughts. They all crawl and drift along the earth. In addition to this downward drifting, they constantly seethe, not standing still in a single place; they jostle each other, like a swarm of mosquitoes in the summer. In addition, they are always in motion.
«Beneath these there lies the heart. It is from the thoughts that I 'lows are continually struck in the heart and corresponding actions are produced. Whatever the thought, there is a corresponding action of the heart. From this is joy, anger, envy, fear, hope, pride, despair – they arise in the heart one after the other. There is no stopping them; just as with the thoughts, there is no order whatsoever. The heart continually trembles from the emotions like an aspen leaf».708
It follows from this, of course, that if we learn to cut off thoughts in our mind, they will not be able to enter into our heart. «The heart and mind are bound together», says Elder Nikodim. «When the mind is pure, then the heart will be pure. And when the heart is pure, then the mind will also be pure».
The joyful and childlike countenance of a true master of watchfulness and prayer: Elder Nikodim, schemamonk and hermit of Karoulia, Mount Athos († 1984). Fr. Nikodim was an elder of the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood; his teachings on the Jesus Prayer are to appear in a forthcoming book of the Brotherhood, Praying in the Heart.
Thus, it is only when we are standing watch with our spirit in our mind that we can be truly praying with our spirit in our heart. For it is only then that we can pray with a pure heart; and «the pure in heart», says Christ, «shall see God».709 Here again it is seen why true prayer cannot exist without attention.
Speaking of how the mind is to stand guard over the heart, St. John Climacus writes: «It is one thing frequently to keep watch over the heart, and another to supervise the heart by means of the mind, that ruler and high-priest that offers spiritual sacrifices to Christ».710
«Watchfulness», says St. Hesychius, «is a firm control of the mind and posting it at the door of the heart, so that it sees marauding thoughts as they come, hear’s what they say, and knows what these robbers are doing, and what images are being projected and set up by the demons, so as to seduce the mind by fantasy».711
Fr. Sophrony also speaks of what occurs when the mind is stationed at the door of the heart in prayerful attention: «The mind becomes all ears and eyes, and sees and hears every extrinsic thought approaching from without, before it can invade the heart. Praying the while, the mind not only refuses to admit extraneous thoughts into the heart but positively thrusts them aside and preserves itself from association with them».712
50. The Union of Mind and Heart through Grace
The separation of the mind from the heart, and their opposition to one another, have resulted from mans departure from the Way. This separation is overcome when our spirit, distributed throughout our being, unites its power in drawing closer to its Creator. Then we can truly love God with all our heart, mind and soul as with a single, unified force. In this as in everything else, however, we must realize that we are helpless to do it by our own unaided powers. We must rely wholly on the Power (Grace or Teh) of God. St. Ignatius explains: «It is natural for Divine Grace, when it stretches out its finger to heal a man, crushed and broken to pieces by his fall, to join together his severed parts and to unite the mind not only with the heart and soul but even with the body, and to give it a single, true ardor for God.
«With the union of the mind and heart the ascetic receives the power to resist all passionate thoughts and passionate feelings. Can this be the result of any technique? No! It is the result of Grace; it is the fruit of the Holy Spirit Who overshadows the unseen labor of the Christian ascetic; and it is incomprehensible to carnal and natural people».713
51. Finding and Living from One’s Center
It is only when the mind and heart are united in watchfulness and prayer that we can find our spiritual center: what Archimandrite Sophrony calls our «deep» or «metaphysical» heart. Our center cannot be adequately described in words. We experience it as a mysterious union of mind and heart, but at the same time it is neither the physical brain nor the heart. Although united to flesh, it is not in itself fleshly. Although not fleshly, it is not wholly immaterial, for only God is such. It is like an inner temple, uncircumscribed, with no walls, whose holy of holies is in the region of the heart. «Strive to enter the temple within yourself», says St. Isaac the Syrian, «and you will see the heavenly temple»714.
St. Theophan speaks of how this center is actually formed in tin through Grace. In a letter to his spiritual daughter he writes:
«Inner regulation begins only when you choose the side of Grace, and make the ways of life in the spirit of Grace the inviolable rule of your life. From that moment, as the decision is forming inside you, a center will also form within you, a powerful center, which will begin more and more forcefully to draw you toward itself. In this center will be Grace, which has taken hold of your consciousness and free will (or, your consciousness and free will, combined with Grace). This is the same thing which was previously called the resurrection or restoration of the spirit. Then the Grace of God will begin to draw toward this center all of the other forces of your nature, both intellectual and spiritual, and govern their entire action, retaining within them that which is good, and destroying that which is bad. This drawing of everything to one center and directing of all to one goal is the inner rebirth you have so fervently desired. Once this rebirth has been accomplished, then everything both great and small will proceed from this one center, and within you will be established the most perfect harmony, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will overshadow the inner temple of your nature».715
Finding and living from our center is the same as finding and living from our spirit. When we are living from our center, we are no longer reacting to outside pressures and temptations. Not reacting to pressures, we are free from the thoughts, emotions and desires that these reactions engender. We are internally rather than externally motivated, and thus we do not have to be constantly filling ourselves with that which is outside of us: attention from other people, material things, etc.
Living from our spirit, we see ourselves and people and things around us as they really are. «The gathered one», says St. Theophan, «sees everything within himself. Someone in the center of a circle sees what is along every radius. He sees everything around him almost at the same time, while one who steps out of the center sees only that which is along one radius. It is the same for one who is gathered within – he sees all the movements of his powers and is able to govern them».716
When we enter into our center, our spirit enters within itself, as it were. This is not self-absorption, however, since the spirit, when separated from outside impressions, will naturally seek out what is above and beyond itself: its Creator. Engaged in noetic prayer, it will hold wordless conversation with the Word Who made it.
52. Lao Tzu and Christ on the «Center»
Personal communion with Christ in our spiritual center is (to refer to our earlier analogy) the taking flesh of Lao Tzus intuitive observation of the Tao in this same center.
Lao Tzu referred to man’s spiritual center as the «middle» or «belly» (fu
), which Gi-ming Shien translates as «inner things» and Chinese commentator Liu Qi interprets as «inner spacious ness». In chapter 12 of the Tao Teh Ching we read:
The sage regards not the eye (i.e., viewing and living from externals), but the belly (i.e., finding and living from one’s center).
Therefore, he puts aside the one and takes the other.717
Interestingly, Christ used the same metaphor when speaking, of man’s spiritual center: «He that believes on me, as the Scripture has said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water».718
Here Christ not only spoke of the same reality that Lao Tzu had alluded to five centuries before, but He also revealed a new reality that His followers were to experience. For the «living water» that was to flow out of their center was the Grace of the Holy Spirit. The Gospel passage continues: «This He spoke concerning the Spirit, Whom those who believe in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified».719
When Christ sent down the Grace of the Holy Spirit on His disciples after His death and resurrection, this Grace no longer acted upon followers of the Tao/Logos from the outside, as it had in past ages, but now it could fill and flow out from their very center, their spiritual «belly» or «deep heart». To this subject we will return later.
Chapter Seven: Praying from One’s Center
In order to have a center formed in oneself, and to be able to pray from that secret place, it is imperative that one put oné's time in before God, every day without fail. Specific periods of watchfulness and prayer must be set aside each day, especially in the morning and evening.
In the morning it is especially important to establish a foundation of watchfulness in the mind. Evenings and nights are generally more conducive to contrition of heart, wherein an inward purging occurs. «Night prayer», says Elder Nikodim, «prepares you for prayer during the day.... Humility, awareness, repentance. ‘Forgive, O Lord, me who live in the world, who bear a body, and who am enticed by the devil.’ Do this unceasingly. And, whatever little thing you do, turn to God’s mercy with humility. Ask forgiveness of the Lord: ‘Infirm am I.’»
Of course, besides the periods set aside for this purpose, one should strive to remain in a watchful, prayerful state at all times during the day.
«Make this your rule»: says St. Theophan, «Always be with the Lord in mind and heart, never allow the thoughts to wander, but when they do, call them back again and force them to stay at home in the house of the heart and speak with the most sweet Lord....
«These are the conditions for success: 1) Uninterrupted continuity of such undertaking – persistence in it. Do not keep starting and putting it aside over and over; rather, once you have begun, keep at it until success comes. In any case, success depends on the persistence of labor. 2) To bring this about, you need to arm yourself with patience and self-discipline. Uncertainty will come, desire will weaken, and even doubt will arise; you must drive all this away, and forсe yourself to continue in your labors. 3) To make this happen, be inspired with the hope that the Lord, seeing your labor over prayer and the diligence with which you seek to make it habitual, will at last grant you this prayer, and that once it has become consolidated in the heart, it will flow on its own like a fountain from it. This most blessed fruit is the fruit of prayerful labor! The expectation of it has inspired all those who pray, and the receiving of it has been for them a source of continual spiritual bliss, joy, and a peaceful heart in God. мая the Lord bestow this fruit on you! But without persistent, self-disciplined, patient, and hopeful labor, He will not bestow it. Have courage!»720
Wordless Prayer of the Mind and Heart
We have seen how words, although they give form to prayer and are an aid to it, do not in themselves constitute prayer. «Do not ever forget», St. Theophan says, «that the essence of prayer is the raising of the heart and mind to God.... If the mind becomes exhausted by saying the words of the prayer, then pray without words, bowing down before the Lord inwardly in your heart and giving yourself to Him. This is true prayer. Words are only prayers expression and are always weaker in God’s eyes than prayer itself».721
There is a time for words and a time for wordlessness. When your mind is stationed at attention and your heart is aware in spiritual prayer, you will know when to speak (either mentally or vocally) and when to be silent. Again St. Theophan writes: «Prayer мая consist only in a standing before God, in an opening of the heart to Him in reverence and love. It is a state of being irresistibly drawn within to stand before God in prayer; or it is a visitation of the spirit in prayer.... In purely contemplative prayer, words and thoughts disappear, not by our own wish, but of their own accord.... Feeling towards God – even without words – is a prayer».722
Fr. George Calciu, in speaking about the long years of torture, isolation and deprivation he endured in communist prisons, often says that he was sustained through «prayer and contemplation». When he was once asked to explain the difference between these two, he said that by «prayer» he meant prayer with words, and by «contemplation» he meant wordless prayer.
«I was praying prayers that I had learned during my life», he said, «or I was making my own prayers because I had some need: I was oppressed or alone, or I was tempted by desperation, and so on. But when I was contemplating – this was to forget the words.
«Even when we are thinking, we are using words. Linguists say that in thinking we are miming words, because we are not able to think without words. But in contemplation, you don’t use words. To contemplate is to be submerged in the presence of God. Then the spirit is free.
«During my contemplation, I didn’t need words. I cannot explain it. It was like a dialogue without words between me and God, or between me and the Mother of God. Contemplating, I left this world. I was in a world without the presence of material things, in the world of the spirit. I kept my eyes closed. I was in the spirit, and it gave me spiritual satisfaction.
«The true meaning of contemplation is to be in touch with someone – to communicate with someone – without words. I was communicating with God or with the angels without any words.
Fr. George Calciu (1925–2006) was a Romanian Orthodox priest who endured twenty-two years in the communist prison system in his country. After his second imprisonment ended in 1984, he came to die United States, where he served at a church in Virginia until his repose. For more about his life and an account of his illumination by Uncreated Energy, see the Epilogue.
So, based on this experience I make a distinction between prayer and contemplation».723
In order to help bring the mind into sympathy with the heart, Fr. George Calciu, St. Theophan and others say that, during times of contemplation and prayer (especially the Jesus Prayer), one can place one’s right hand over the upper left part of the heart.724 This practice is beneficial only when humbly undertaken in a spirit of «non-action» and non-contrivance. It should not involve any attempt to force the mind into union with the heart, the dangers of which will be discussed later.
55. On Natural Thoughts Which Arise During Prayer
We have shown how all thoughts, even seemingly good ones, should be passed over when practicing watchfulness of mind; this is equally important when praying with the mind in the heart. In the words of St. Ignatius: «Not only does every sinful emotion and every sinful thought disrupt the union of the mind with the heart; even all natural thoughts and feelings, however subtle and disguised by an appearance of righteousness, destroy this union, and set the mind and heart in opposition to one another».725
Likewise, Fr. Sophrony writes: «By prayerfully fixing his attention in his heart, the ascetic strives to preserve his spirit from all thought. Thoughts мая be natural in everyday life but they can also be consequent on Satanic influence. In prayer, the ascetic renounces for the time being, to the degree that he finds possible (which differs from man to man), the needs of his nature. Thoughts of demonic origin, he excludes altogether. This means that the mind at prayer rejects all thought, both natural and demonic....
«Sometimes something occurs in deep-set prayer that is difficult to explain. Lights appear around the mind, trying to attract the minds attention to themselves, and if the mind refuses to pay attention, they, as it were, say to the mind, ‘We bring you wisdom and understanding, and if you refuse us now, маяbe you will never see us again.’ But the experienced mind pays no attention whatever and they depart, not only unaccepted but even unacknowledged. The mind does not know for sure if it was an evil enemy or a good angel; but it does know by experience that if it stops to consider the brilliant thought, it loses prayer, and with great pains must seek it again. Experience shows that in the hour of prayer we must not listen even to good thoughts because if we do, other ideas will occur and, as Elder Silouan said, ‘You will not continue undistracted.’ Nothing can compensate for the loss of pure prayer».726
Once again, these writers are saying not that we should try to have no thoughts, but rather that we should not accept and follow after the thoughts that do come. If we do get caught in a thought, we should immediately raise our mind and heart to God again and, if we are doing the Jesus Prayer, should return our attention to the words of the prayer.
56. Breathing During Prayer
In the levels of the Jesus Prayer outlined earlier, verbal prayer is followed by prayer pronounced in the mind. The latter practice is often associated with the hesychastic 727 method of timing the prayer with one’s breathing. This method can serve as a further aid to concentration, but it should not be undertaken rashly or pridefully lest it become another device of the self-justifying ego. «A gradual ascent into prayer is the most trustworthy», advises Fr. Sophrony. «The be ginner who would embark on the struggle is usually recommended to start with the first step, verbal prayer, until body, tongue, brain and heart assimilate it. The time that this takes varies. The more earnest the repentance, the shorter the road».728
Like the verbal practice of the Jesus Prayer, the mental practice of timing the Jesus Prayer with the breathing should never be separated from the spirit of true prayer. The latter practice, writes Fr. Sophrony, «can be genuinely helpful if one does not lose sight of the fact that every invocation of the Name of Christ must be inseparably coupled with a consciousness of Christ Himself».
Some of the ascetic fathers of The Philokalia also speak of how one is to breathe during prayer: that is, that the breath should be controlled so as to be gentle and unhurried. One finds the same counsel in the Tao Teh Ching:
Can you, while controlling (or concentrating) your breath,
Make it soft like that of a little child?729
Since people over the centuries have been harmed both psychologically and physically by misapplying such counsels, a word of explanation should be given here. It is first necessary to point out that «controlling» the breathing does not mean forcing it.
Once someone, referring to the Philokalic teachings on breathing, asked the modern-day ascetic, Elder Nikodim, «Is your breathing inhibited that way?»
«No», replied Fr. Nikodim. «You have to do it smoothly, quietly and calmly, so that your breathing doesn’t excite your nerves.... In The Philokalia Elder Ignatius writes, ‘Inhale softly and exhale softly.’ Otherwise, if you irritate your nerves, your prayer will be hotblooded, as Ignatius Brianchaninov says».
The questioner then asked Fr. Nikodim, «In so doing, don’t you feel a kind of restriction in the chest?»
«No. It has to proceed freely. If you breathe forcibly, by this you’ll also excite your nerves. It has to be calmly and gently. This is what Gregory of Sinai and our Russian Nilus of Sora indicate: as much as possible, restrain your breathing. What is the meaning here? Not to restrain the breathing so as not to breathe, or to draw in a breath and hold it in. No! Breathe freely, softly and calmly. This is what restraining the breath is.... The way we do it is through the nostrils, to the larynx and the lungs».
This, of course, is also very much in the spirit of Lao Tzu, who taught that «those who contrive (i.e., force things through ambition) mess things up».730
Secondly, we should mention that, when one’s mind is at watch, one’s breathing will naturally and spontaneously become soft and silent. St. Gregory Palamas († a.d. 1359) explains:
«This control of the breathing мая, indeed, be regarded as a spontaneous consequence of paying attention to the spirit; for the breath is always quietly inhaled and exhaled at moments of intense concentration, especially in the case of those who practice stillness both bodily and mentally. Such people keep the Sabbath in a spiritual fashion and, so far as is possible, they rest from all personal activities; they strip their soul’s powers free from every transient, fleeting and compounded form of knowledge, from every type of sense-perception and, in general, from every bodily act that is under our sway, and, so far as they can, even from those not entirely under our sway, such as breathing»731.
57. Reliance on Techniques
In The Philokalia one will also find instruction on how, while mentally saying the Jesus Prayer, one can lead the mind into rite heart with the aid of one’s breathing. Archimandrite Sophrony writes of this method:
«The monk, having suitably settled his body, pronounces tin prayer with his head inclined on his chest, breathing in at the words ‘Lord Jesus Christ (Son of God),’ and breathing out at the words ‘have mercy on me (a sinner).’ During inhalation the attention at first follows the movement of the air breathed in as far as the upper part of the heart. In this manner concentration can soon be preserved without wandering, and the mind stands side by side with the heart, or even enters within it. This method eventually enables the mind the see, not the physical heart but that which is happening within it – the feelings that creep in and the mental images that approach from without. With this experience, the monk acquires the ability to feel his heart, and to continue with his attention centered in the heart without further recourse to any psychosomatic technique».732
Because the misapplication of this method, without proper guidance from an Orthodox spiritual father, can also lead to bad consequences, ascetic elders of recent centuries have generally steered people (especially lay people) away from the technique and towards a safer and simpler practice. Thus, Fr. Sophrony writes:
«This procedure [of following one’s breath to the upper region of the heart] can assist the beginner to understand where his inner attention should be stayed during prayer and, as a rule, at all other limes, too. Nevertheless, true prayer is not to be achieved thus. True prayer comes exclusively through faith and repentance accepted as the only foundation. The danger of psychotechnics is that not a few attribute too great significance to method qua method. In order to avoid such deformation the beginner should follow another practice which, though considerably slower, is incomparably better and more wholesome – to fix the attention on the Name of Christ and on the words of the [Jesus] Prayer. When contrition for sin reaches a certain level the mind naturally heeds me heart».733
Likewise, St. Ignatius Brianchaninov teaches: «The essence of the matter consists in the union of the mind with the heart during prayer, and this is achieved by the Grace of God in its own time, determined by God. The above mechanism is fully replaced by the unhurried enunciation of the prayer, by a short rest or pause after each prayer, by gentle and unhurried breathing, and by the enclosure of the mind in the words of the prayer. By means of these aids we can easily attain to a certain degree of attention. The attention of the mind at prayer very soon begins to attract the sympathy of the heart. Sympathy of the heart and mind little by little begins to pass into a union of mind with the heart, and then the mechanism offered by the Fathers appears of its own accord. All the mechanical means having a material character are offered by the Fathers solely as aids to the attainment of attention in prayer as easily and quickly as possible, and not as something essential. The essential, indispensable property of prayer is attention.... True Grace-given attention comes from the mortification of our heart to the world Aids always remain merely aids».734
58. Premature Descent into the Heart
Until we know what it is to have a spirit that stands apart from thought, we will not truly know what it means to pray with the spirit in the heart. Therefore, we need to be humble, patient. We must take it slowly, and not try to force it. Following the counsel of the elders, we should practice keeping our attention on the words of the Jesus Prayer, with an abiding awareness of Him Whom we are invoking. As we have seen, it is not we who ultimately cause the union of the mind and the heart. Only God can do it, so we must trust in Him and in His timing, and not become ambitious about it. In everything concerning the spiritual life and prayer, the key is to not trust in and depend on ourselves. We cannot even depend on our own powers to separate our spirit from our ego. We will fill unless at all times we depend on God.
As St. Ignatius teaches, in time our heart will enter into closer sympathy with our praying mind. At first this is felt as contrition, tears come to our eyes. In our heart we feel a certain soreness – a pain which is not unpleasant, and which helps to draw the mind’s attention to the heart. About this pain St. Theophan writes: «Constant effort will achieve this quickly. There is nothing peculiar in this: the appearance of this pain is a natural effect. It will help you to collect yourself better. But the chief thing is that the Lord, Who sees your effort, will give you help and Grace in prayer. A different order will then be established in the heart».735
When the mind, with God’s help, naturally establishes itself in the heart, we мая also feel at times a certain spiritual warmth in the heart. This is a gift of God, which facilitates the unceasing remembrance of Him.
59. Do Not Try to Measure Your Progress
When such gifts come, we should not think much of them, or rather should not think much of ourselves. The ascetic writers tell us not to try to measure our spiritual state while at prayer. Thus St. Theophan writes: «When the query arises ‘Is this it?’, make it your rule once and for all mercilessly to drive away all such questions as soon as they appear. They originate from the enemy. If you linger over this question the enemy will pronounce the decision without delay, ‘Oh yes, certainly it is – you have done very well!’ From then on you stand on stilts and begin to harbor illusions about yourself and to think that others are good for nothing. Grace will vanish: but the enemy will make you think that Grace is still with you. This will mean that you think you possess something, when really you have nothing at all. The Holy Fathers wrote: ‘Do not measure yourself.’ If you think you can decide any question about your progress, it means you are beginning to measure yourself to see how much you have grown. Please avoid this as you would avoid fire».736
Conversely, we should not grow discouraged when we do not seem to reach profound prayerful states. Our aim is not to attain to certain states, but to continually raise our minds and hearts to God out of our love for Him. Even if we have not been able to do this undistractedly, God honors our effort. As St. John Climacus writes: «Do not say, after spending a long time at prayer, that nothing has been gained; for you have already gained something. And what higher good is there than to cling to the Lord and persevere in unceasing union with Him?»737
60. At the End of Prayer Times
If at the end of prayer times we continue to stand watch, we will see two things: 1) how our mind has been clarified and illumined by prayer established in the heart; and 2) how this clarity of mind is now being threatened by more intrusive thoughts. Our being aware of this can help us, as we rise from prayer, to guard what we have gained. St. John Climacus teaches: «When prayer is finished wait soberly, and you will see that swarms of demons, as if challenged by us, try to invade us after prayer with absurd fantasies. Sit and watch; you will see those who are in the habit of snatching away the first fruits of the soul».738
On rising from prayer, says St. Theophan, «the warriors of Christ should keep watchful guard over two things in particular: sobriety and discernment. The first is directed within, the second outward. With sobriety we observe movements which come out of the heart itself; with discernment we foresee movements which are about to be roused in it under the impulse of external influences. The rule for sobriety is: after every thought has been banished from the soul by the memory of God’s presence, stand at the door of the heart and watch carefully everything that enters or goes out from there. Especially do not let your actions be prejudiced by emotion and desire, for all evil comes from there»739.
In order to maintain this state of watchfulness, it is necessary to realize that we are perishing every minute. Realizing this, we will continually call out to Him Who saves us. «Let the remembrance of Jesus be present with each breath», says St. John Climacus, «and then you will know the value of stillness».740
Chapter 8: Emptiness
61. Self-Forgetting Love
According to St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, the effects of true prayer are twofold: illumination of the mind (through attention), and contrition of heart (through the mind’s descent into it and the heart’s awareness of God’s presence). When contrition seizes the heart through the action of the wordless Word within it, then man’s spirit begins to experience, in some small measure, the life of the Word Himself.
The overarching characteristic of the Word, as Lao Tzu saw even in his time, is a depth of humility which is impossible to express in human language. The Way, said Lao Tzu, is like water, which always seeks the lowest place. So too, our spirit, when renewed by the Word in the process of metanoia, has an allconsuming yearning to get under everything. Before, in our unregenerate state, we had always been striving to get above everything, through pride, judgment and power. Now the opposite occurs. We are inexpressibly sorry for everything, for now we realize that, all along, we had been striving to get above, not only our fellow man, but God Himself. We weep, realizing the full depth of our fall. How we seek to get under God again, but we find that we cannot – and that is the beauty of it, for the Word Himself is the Supreme Humility which always lies beneath all things. Still our spirit yearns for this lowering, this ultimate abasement, and in the intensity of this yearning we at last realize what it truly means to love our Maker.
The spirit, praying within the heart, seeks to close itself off from everything outside, and to cut off from itself our false identity the «problem-solver». It seeks to go ever deeper, ever lower, and to hide in the wordless Word Who speaks in it.
«The truly humble man», says St. Isaac the Syrian, «wishes to enter and dwell in stillness, to forsake totally his former conceptions together with his senses, and to become as something that does not exist in creation, that has not come into being in this world, that is totally unknown even to his soul and his senses. And so long as such a man is hidden, locked away and withdrawn from the world, he remains wholly with his Lord».741
This is the perfect self-emptying and self-forgetting which Lao Tzu foreshadowed and Christ revealed to the world. Paradoxically, now that the Tao has taken flesh, the emptiness that Lao Tzu described can be experienced in its fullness. As we have seen in the previous Part, the full, personal dimension of self-emptying/selfforgetting is known to mans spirit as love, love between God and man, and between man and man – just as it is between the three Persons of the Divinity.
In loving his Creator, the follower of the incarnate Tao finds that his «I» has become uninteresting to him. He wishes to grow into the likeness of Christ, as a son to his father, to become bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh. When he partakes of the mystery of Christ’s Body and Blood, he wishes to no longer be an «I»; rather, he wishes to be a «He».
In seeking to «become as something that does not exist in сreation», the follower of the Way does not lose his usefulness and effectiveness in the world. On the contrary, it is in this that he finally becomes useful, for he is no longer acting from himself but from the Tao/Logos. Lao Tzu wrote:
Clay is molded into a vessel,
But the ultimate use of the vessel depends upon the part where nothing exists.
Doors and windows are cut out of the wall of a house,
But the ultimate use of the house depends upon the parts where nothing exists.742
The follower of Christ the incarnate Tao seeks to become just such a useful nothing.743
62. The Abyss of Humility
Having cut itself away from all visible things, and having even become «totally unknown even to his soul and his senses», the spirit of the follower of the Way becomes – in the words of St. Basil – «forgetful of its own nature».744 Having been lowered to the abyss of humility and thus become like the Tao/Logos Himself, it begins to see things as God sees them, and begins to overflow with love for all creation.
«Humility», writes Nicetas Stithatos, «is the greatest of the virtues. If as a result of sincere repentance it is implanted in you, you will also be given the gift of prayer and self-control, and will be freed from servitude to the passions. Peace will suffuse your powers, tears will cleanse your heart, and through the abiding presence «I the Holy Spirit you will be filled with tranquillity. When you have attained this state, your consciousness of the knowledge of God will grow lucid and you will begin to contemplate the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven and the inner essences of created filings. The more you descend into the depths of the Spirit, the more you plumb the abyss of humility. Correspondingly you gain greater knowledge of your own limitations and recognize the weakness of human character; at the same time your love for God and your fellow beings waxes until you think that sanctification flows simply from a greeting or from the proximity of those with whom you live....
«Once you have achieved this lofty state you cannot be constrained by sensory attachment to things. You are not distracted by any of the delectations of this life, nor do you regard some people as holy and others as unholy; but just as God makes the ram fall and sun shine equally on the just and on the unjust, on the evil and on the good, so you irradiate love and diffuse its rays to all people. Pregnant though you are with love for everything, yet your heart feels no distress or, rather, you are distressed and straitened because you cannot help others as much as you would wish. As from Eden, from you flows another spring of compunction, divided into the four streams of humility, chastity, dispassion and undistracted prayer; and it waters the face of God’s entire spiritual creation.745
63. The Birth of the Logos
When man’s spirit reaches the supreme point of abasement, God at last sees fit to make His dwelling place there. The Apostle Paul calls this having Christ «formed» in us (Galatians 4:19). Nicetas Stithatos calls it «the birth of Christ» or «the birth of the Logon» within us. He writes:
«Once [Christ] the Bridegroom has led the soul into the sanctuary of His hidden mysteries, He will initiate it with wisdom into the contemplation of the inner essences of created things.... Thru while standing outside all things you will dwell within all things and know their origins and ends; for you will have attained a spiritual union with the Father through the Logos and will have been perfected in the Spirit».746
It is the Tao/Logos Who leads us to the Father, the Mind of God. Man’s spirit, writes St. Nicetas, «consorts with Christ the Logos, rising with Him from the earth to heaven, and reigning with Him in the Kingdom of God the Father, all its desires quenched».747
The Tao/Logos comes and abides in us just as the Father’s Divine Essence abides in Him. About His followers Christ prayed to the Father: «That they мая be one, even as we are one: I in them, and You in me, that they мая be made perfect in one.... I have declared unto them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You have loved me мая be in them, and I in them».748
64. The Darkness of Divestiture
When the Divine Logos comes to abide in us, we мая behold Him as Light: the Light of His Uncreated Energy (Teh). «God is Light», says St. Symeon, «and those to whom it has been granted to see Him have all beheld Him as Light. Those who have received Him have received Him as Light, because the Light of His glory goes before Him, and it is impossible for Him to appear without Light.... Those who have received Grace have received the Light of God and have received God, even as Christ Himself, Who is the Light, has said, ‘I will live in them and move among them.’»749
The Light of Christ is approached through darkness. As Archimandrite Sophrony explains: «God, being ‘Light in which there is no darkness at all,’ always appears in Light and as Light. However, in performing prayer in the hersychast manner the soul of the ascetic meets with darkness of an especial nature, any description of which will also be contradictory and paradoxical....
«It is this obscurity into which the ascetics soul is plunged when, voluntarily, employing 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 labeled ‘methodical,’ since it follows the method especially established to this end».750
The Tao Teh Ching, as we have seen, says that one is to «empty the heart (hsin)» by separating from images and concepts. The ancient writers of The Philokalia give the same teaching in speaking of how to prepare the heart to receive the Light of Christ. St. Hesychius says: «Because every thought enters the heart in the form of a mental image of some sensible object, the blessed Light of the Divinity will illumine the heart only when the heart is completely empty of everything and so free from all form. Indeed, this Light reveals 11 self to the pure spirit in the measure to which the spirit is purged of all concepts».751
65. The Agony of Repentance
Speaking further on the darkness of divestiture, Fr. Sophrony writes: «If we would situate’ the spiritual whereabouts of this darkness we could say that it is to be found on the outskirts of Uncreated Light. But when hesychastic prayer is practiced without due repentance, and without the prayer being wholly directed up to God, the soul, denuded of all imaginings мая abide for a brief while in this ‘darkness of divestiture’ without having beheld God, for God ipso facto is not yet in this darkness».752
It is not enough, then, to have entered the darkness of divestiture. For followers of Christ the incarnate Tao, there must also hr a radical, personal act of self-emptying within the darkness. Invariably this takes the form of the contrition of heart described earlier, which grows into a searing repentance, seizing and ripping tin heart, burning away all pride and impurity. When we read the writings of those who have beheld and been wholly filled with the Light of the Tao/Logos, we find that this experience has at some point been preceded by such a hell of repentance. Thus Archimandrite Sophrony writes:
«My anguish of soul continued unceasing, day and night. The torment swelled into the same uninterrupted prayer even in sleep or when other people were about, although then something kept me from giving any outward sign. But as soon as I was back in my room, almost before I could shut the door, the tears would overwhelm me. There were moments when the pain of being separated from God cast me to the floor, and in the silence of the night I would weep for hours over my dreadful loss. The whole of me – mind, heart, even my body – contracted into a single tight knot. And when the weeping exceeded a certain limit, the earth – the whole visible world – disappeared from my consciousness and I was alone before God. The intangible Light, proceeding from the Unoriginate, let me see myself, not as I appeared outwardly, not in my everyday circumstances, but in some strange fashion which I cannot describe, standing before my Creator, naked to the bone. And there was nothing in me hid from His eyes....
«It is presumptuous of me, but I think that St. Paul never forgot how he had ‘persecuted the church of God’ and been a blasphemer and a wrongdoer, and in his agony of repentance he was ‘сaught up to the third heaven.’ I remember that I felt my apostasy from Christ to have been a vile crime against His love. I had known ibis love in my early childhood: He had vouchsafed me to live it. When I repented of my madness, prayer swept me into another world. So it is when we recognize our benightedness – when the infernal essence of our sin is revealed to us, then we become receptive to the action of Grace, be it as illumination by Uncreated Light or some other form of being caught up,’ of knowledge or revelation....
«At first repentance is all bitter taste but soon we feel the Energy of new life producing a marvelous change in our mind. The very movement towards repentance appears like a discovery of the God of love. The inexpressibly splendid image of Primordial Man is revealed to us more and more. Beholding this beauty, we begin to realize how terribly distorted the Creators primary idea for us has become. The Light proceeding from the Father gives us the ‘light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.’ He Himself said of this: ‘No man can come to me, except the Father… draw Him.’ The Grace of repentance reveals in us the image of the Son of the Father. Oh, how painful the process is! Our heart id pierced as with a white-hot sword. How portray the horror that grips us? And how relate the act of God’s re-creation in us? The image of the only begotten Son of one Essence with the Father, tin Logos, kindles a strong desire in us to become like Him in ill things. And once again we find ourselves in a paradoxical situation: we suffer but in a hitherto-unknown way. This suffering inspires us. It does not destroy. There is uncreated strength in it. We are cast into Divine infinity. We are amazed at what is happening to tit, surpassed by the majesty of it. We shrink into ourselves, knowing ourselves for what we are, while at the same time God comes lot ward to embrace us like the father of the prodigal son. Fear and trembling depart from us, giving place to wonder at God. He clothes us in rich garments. He adorns us with great gifts, the noblest of which is all-embracing love. Our initial suffering of repentance is transformed into the joy and sweetness of love which now takes a new form – compassion for every creature deprived of Divine Light.
«The age-old experience of Christianity has shown that no sooner does one realize with bitterness and sorrow the vileness of one’s demoniac pretensions to excel – no sooner does one begin to loathe the dark spirit within – than the heart is led into the hitherto-unknown sphere of freedom, where the Divine Light dazzles and all is contemplation of the goodness of God. Within – silence: the mind can no longer think, nor the heart breathe a sigh of thanksgiving....
«Sometimes the upsurge of repentance is overpowering. To the exclusion of aught else mind and heart are filled with the agonizing sensation of being held fast in evil darkness. And then, unforeseen, the Light of the Uncreated Sun penetrates the dungeon of the soul: the Light which fills the whole cosmic expanse. It lovingly embraces us. We see Him and dwell in Him, though we are not yet able to believe in this marvel of the Goodness of our Father».753
St. Seraphim of Sarov (1759–1833) is the best-loved Russian saint of recent centuries. In this painting he is appearing in Uncreated Light to N. A. Motovilov, having just explained to him that the main aim of the follower of Christ should be to acquire the Uncreated Grace of the Holy Spirit. Motovilov, in his own account of this, writes: «Imagine, in the center of the sun, in the dazzling light of its midday rays, the face of a man talking to you. You see the movement of his lips and the changing expression of his eyes, you hear his voice, you feel someone holding your shoulders; yet you do not see his hands, you do not even see yourself or his figure, but only a blinding Light spreading far around for several yards and illumining with its glaring sheen both the snow blanket which covered the forest glade and the snowflakes which besprinkled me and the great Elder». See the complete account in Little Russian Philokalia, vol. 1, pp. 71–111.
Chapter Nine: Illumination
66. The Vision of Uncreated Light
True recipients of visions of Uncreated Light are very reticent to speak of them, much less to write about them. Nevertheless, even in our own times, such accounts do exist. The above- mentioned Elder Paisius of Mount Athos, who reposed in 1994, recounted the following experience to a monk who came to his hermitage:
«When I was in Katounakia, one night while I was keeping vigil in my cell saying the Jesus Prayer, at about three o’clock [in the morning] I began to be possessed by a heavenly joy. At the same time my dark cell, lit only by the flickering light of a candle, began slowly to be filled by a beautiful blue-white light. At first the light was very intense. I understood, however, that my eyes were also being strengthened to endure this brightness. It was the Uncreated Light. I remained there for many hours, losing awareness of earthly filings and experiencing the other, spiritual world, very different from this one here, the carnal one.
«Thus, being in this state and receiving various heavenly experiences within this Uncreated Light, the hours passed without my coming to myself».
«At some point the Uncreated Light began gradually to fade, and I returned to my former state. I began to be hungry; I went and ate a piece of dried bread. I was thirsty; I drank a little water. I was tired and sat down a little to rest. I felt like an animal and deplored myself that I am totally likened to the beasts. This humility was born naturally from the alteration of my condition. From a spiritual state I was immediately reduced to the other one, and seeing the difference, nothing remained for me but to condemn and loathe myself».
«A little below me, another brother lived in a cell. It looked to me like it was night outside, with a full moon. So I went and asked the brother, ‘Eh, Brother, what happened? It seems as if dawn is late today. What time is it?’
«He was confused and asked me, ‘Fr. Paisius, what are you saying? I don’t understand.’
«Only then did I realize what had happened. It was ten o’clock in the morning and the ‘full moon’ was the sun. The Uncreated Light had been so strong (my eyes had received special strength id endure it) that the light of day and the sun appeared to me as night with a full moon. The sunlight was to the Uncreated Light as the night to the day».754
In 1988 Archimandrite Sophrony, then ninety-two years old, wrote some of his own experiences of Uncreated Light in his last book, We Shall See Him as He Is. «Now at the close of my life», he writes, «I have decided to talk to my brethren of things I would not have ventured to utter earlier, counting it unseemly....
«At the beginning of my monastic life on Mount Athos, the Lord granted me unceasing prayer.... I will relate what I remember well enough, since we are talking of the prayers which marked me indelibly.
«This is how it often used to be – towards evening, at sunset, I would shut the window and draw three curtains over it to make my cell as quiet and dark as possible. With my forehead bent to the floor I would slowly repeat words of prayer, one after the other. I bad no feeling of being cooped up, and my mind, oblivious of the body, lived in the light of the Gospel word. Concentrated on the fathomless wisdom of Christ’s word, my spirit, freed from all material concerns, would feel flooded, as it were, with Light from the Celestial Sun. At the same time a gentle peace would fill my soul, unconscious of all the needs and cares of this earth....»
«The Lord gave me to live this state, and my spirit yearned to cling to His feet in gratitude for this gift. This same experience was repeated at intervals for months, perhaps years....»
«Early in the 1930s – I was a deacon then – for two weeks God’s tender mercy rested on me. At dusk, when the sun was sinking behind the mountains of Olympia, I would sit on the balcony near my cell, face turned to the dying light. In those days I contemplated the evening light of the sun and at the same time another Light which softly enveloped me and gently invaded my heart, in some curious fashion making me feel compassionate and loving towards people who treated me harshly. I would also feel a quiet sympathy for all creatures in general. When the sun had set I would ret ire to my cell as usual to perform the devotions preparatory to celebrating the Liturgy, and the Light did not leave me while I prayed.
«Under the influence of this Light prayer for mankind in travail possessed my whole being. It was clear that the inescapable, countless sufferings of the entire universe are the consequence of man’s billing away from God, our Creator, Who revealed Himself to us. If the world loved Christ and His commandments, everything would be radically transformed and the earth would become a wonderful paradise».755
Elsewhere, Fr. Sophrony attempts to describe the Indescribable: «The soul feels apprehensive at approaching the subject of the Light which visits the man who craves to behold the Face of the Eternal. Its nature is mysterious – in what terms can it be described? Incomprehensible, invisible, yet it мая sometimes be seen by the physical eye. Quiet and gentle, it draws heart and mind to itself, until the earth is forgotten, ones spirit caught up into anothet sphere. It can happen in broad daylight as in the blackness of night, It is a soft Light, yet more powerful than all around. In strange fashion it embraces from without. You see it, but your attention in drawn deep within the inner man, into the heart burning with a love now compassionate, now grateful. It мая happen that one m not aware of the material world, of external circumstances, and one sees oneself as Light. Aches and pains disappear. Earthly cares fade away. Anxieties are absorbed into a sweet peace. The Light used at first to appear like a thin flame, healing and cleansing, consuming both within and without everything not in harmony with it, but calmly, hardly making itself felt.
«This holy Light, coming in strength, brings humble love, banishes all doubt and fear, obliterates every earthly consideration – the whole pyramid of secular grades and hierarchies. The repentant man becomes a nobody, as it were: he no longer stands in the way of his brothers, seeks no place for himself in the world This Light is in itself life imperishable, suffused by the peace of love. It brings to our spirit knowledge of another, indescribable Being. The mind is stayed, above reflection by the very fact of its entry into a new form of life. Weightless, more finely attuned than anything the earth knows, the Light conveys to the soul invulnerability, making her safe from everything that hitherto weighed her down. Death flees from this Light....
«Our spirit exults: this Light is God – God Almighty and at the same time indescribably gentle. Oh, how discreet its approach! It will heal the heart broken by despair. The soul bruised by sin, it will inspire with the hope of victory».756
67. Total Illumination
When the Light of the Tao/Logos comes upon a person, that person’s spirit мая not only behold it in a vision. The spirit, having completely emptied itself and forgotten itself, мая be actually infused with the Light. While retaining its own created light, it is filled with the Uncreated Light to such an extent that it in some sense actually becomes it. St. Symeon writes of this, speaking of himself in the third person:
«One day, as he stood and recited, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner,’ uttering it with his mind rather than his mouth, suddenly a flood of Divine radiance appeared from above and filled all the room.... He was wholly in the presence of immaterial Light and seemed to himself to have turned into light».757
«This Light», says Fr. Sophrony, «penetrates us with the power of God, and we become ‘without beginning – not through our origin but by the gift of Grace: life without beginning is communicated to us. And there is no limit to the outpouring of the Fathers love: man becomes identical with God – the same by content, not by primordial Self-Being. God will eternally be GOD for the reasonable being».758
In participating to such an extent in the Light of the Divinity, man himself becomes a god: a god not by essence or nature, but by Grace and adoption. This – the state of deification or divinization – is the closest union with the Tao/Logos that man can attain. It is the final end of man. «Deification», writes St. Maximus the Confessor, «is an enhypostatic and direct illumination which has no beginning but appears in those worthy as something exceeding their comprehension. It is indeed a mystical union with God, beyond mind and reason in the age when creatures will no longer know corruption».759
The Divine Essence can never be beheld, known or directly experienced by man. What man experiences of God when he is filled with Divine Light is not God’s Essence, but His Uncreated Energies.
Christ, the incarnate Tao/Logos, had the Divine Essence within Him. Thus He is God by nature, and He is the Son of God by Divine begetting from the Fathers Essence. Man, on the other hand, does not contain this Essence within himself, yet he can participate in God through His Energies. Hence he is a god by Grace, and is a son of God not through birth but through adoption.
68. «God Became Man That Man Might Become God»
St. Symeon says that deification became possible to mankind only after the coming of Christ. As we have seen, from man’s primordial departure from the Way until Christ’s coming, the Divine Energy (Grace or Teh) acted on man only from the outside, producing created effects in the soul. Holy people who lived helm. Christ, such as Lao Tzu and the Old Testament prophets, were the instruments of Grace. Grace acted upon them, but did not Income their own, as their personal strength760. They did not know perfect union with the Tao through Grace.
When the Tao/Logos became flesh, He assumed our human nature. In assuming human nature, He, being God, deified u Í) uniting the human essence with the Divine Essence at His incarnation, He gave to all of human nature the potential for deification. Then, by His death-destroying death on the Cross, which broke down the final wall of separation between man and God, He enabled mankind to actualize that potential. Now, through Him, man can receive the gift of total Divine illumination. In the words of St. Irenaeus and other early Christian teachers: «God became man in order that man might become god».761
St. Gregory Palamas (a.d. 1296–1359) lived for twenty years as a hermit on Mount Athos, then left his seclusion in order to defend the Eastern Orthodox hesychast teaching on Uncreated Light. Against rationalist Westernizing theologians who claimed that the Light seen by hesychasts in prayer was simply a created and physical radiance, St. Gregory showed that God Himself was experienced as Light. Following from the age-old teaching of Eastern Christian mystics, he taught that Grace is not a creation of God, hut God’s own Energy or Power.
Speaking of those who have received the gift of deification, St. Symeon asks: «Indeed, who has been such in all the ages? I mean among the sons of Adam till the Master of the heavenly and earthly beings came down from heaven? It is He Who assumed flesh, our flesh, and gave us the Divine Spirit.... This Spirit, being God, grants us every blessing».762
69. Re-creation of the Spirit through Christ
As St. Gregory Palamas explains, the deified spirit is not only infused with Grace, it is actually re-created by it: «The spirit becomes simple matter in God’s hands and is unresistingly re-created in the most sublime way, for nothing alien intrudes on it. Inner Grace translates it to a better state and, in an altogether marvelous fashion, illumines it with ineffable Light, thus perfecting our inner being. And when in this manner ‘the day breaks and the morning star rises in our hearts’ (2 Peter 1:19), then ‘the true man’ – the spirit – ‘will go out to his true work’ (Psalm 104:23), ascending in the Light the Way that leads to the eternal mountains».763
Again, this re-creation of the spirit by illumining Grace was made possible only by the coming of the Tao/Logos in the flesh, by His death and resurrection, and by His sending down of the Holy Spirit upon His followers. Even Moses – who beheld Uncreated Light in the Burning Bush and whose face was seen to shine with it – did not experience the immortal spiritual re-creation that followers of the incarnate God were later to experience. His illumination, though glorious, was a transitory miracle. The Apostle Paul discusses this in detail in his second letter to the Corinthians. Comparing the time of the Old Testament with that of the New, he writes:
«If the ministry of death, engraved in letters of stone, was aсcompanied by such glory that the sons of Israel could not beat to gaze at the face of Moses because of the glory, transitory though it was, that shone from it, then how much greater must the glory be that accompanies the ministry of the Spirit? If the ministry of condemnation is glorious, the ministry of righteousness must greatly excel it in glory. Indeed, what once seemed full of glory now seems to have no glory at all, because it is outshone by a glory that is so much greater. If what was transitory came with glory, what endures will be far more glorious.... Having such hope as this, we can proceed with great confidence....»
Sc. Macarius of Egypt (ca. a.d. 300–390), one of the great Desert Fathers at the dawn of monasticism, was known for his Grace-filled wisdom as well as his many miracles. His Fifty Spiritual Homilies are a basic textbook of spiritual and ascetical principles.
St. Macarius of Egypt, commenting on this letter of the Apostle Paul, writes: «St. Paul affirms that the everlasting and immortal glory of the Spirit shines even now with immortal and indestructible power in the immortal inner being of the saints: ‘With unveiled lace we all’ – all, that is to say, who through perfect faith are born in the Spirit – ‘reflect as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, and are transfigured into the same image from glory to glory, through the Lord Who is the Spirit’ (2Corinthians 3:18). The words ‘with unveiled face’ indicate the [unveiled] soul; St. Paul adds that when one turns back to the Lord the veil is taken off, and that the Lord is the Spirit. By this he clearly shows that from the time of Adam’s transgression a veil of darkness has encroached upon mankind and has covered the soul. But we believe that through the illumination of the Spirit this veil is now removed from truly faithful and saintly souls. It was for this reason that Christ came; and to those who truly believe in Him God has given the Grace to attain to this measure of holiness».764
70. Prerequisites for Deification
As the above passage indicates, deification is contingent on belief that Christ is incarnate God. Fr. Sophrony affirms this from his own experience:
«When I accepted belief without the faintest shadow of doubt in the Divinity of Christ, I was irradiated by Light not of thin world. And to a certain extent, like Paul, in His Light I knew Him. At first I believed with a lively faith. Afterwards Light appeared to me. Was it not the same with the Apostles Peter, James and John? When they confessed His Divinity, through Peter .n their mouthpiece, He replied, ‘Verily I say unto you: there are some standing here who shall not taste of death till they see the Son of man coming in His kingdom’ – a prediction shortly to be fulfilled on Mount Tabor. Paul, likewise, bore Christ in his heart Whom he had persecuted, and therefore the Light of the Godhead appeared to him in strength. And I make bold to say that the vision of Uncreated Light is indissolubly bound up with belief in the Divinity of Christ – bound up with, though in a curious manner one depends on the other. In one Light both Christ and the Holy Spirit appear. This witnesses to the Divinity of Christ, since it is impossible not to recognize God in this Light of which we are speaking. Its action is indescribable. In it lies eternity; in it, the inexpressible goodness of love. In it our spirit contemplates immeasurable horizons and – not all at once but gradually – discovers more and more that is new in this luminous breakthrough into heaven»765.
St. Symeon speaks of baptism as also giving us the possibility of deification, of becoming God by Grace and adoption: «If the Lord became the son of man indeed, then He truly makes of you a son of God. If He became a body only in appearance, then we become spirit only in thought. But being baptized, I have put on Christ, not in a sensory but in a spiritual manner. And how shall the one who has put on the Son of God not become God by Grace and adoption, in awareness, in knowledge and contemplation?»766
71. Personal Union
Deification can never be an «absorption» into the Divine Essence. He who thinks he has experienced such an absorption is deluded, having succumbed to the primordial temptation: «You shall be as gods» (Genesis 3:5). He imagines he has erased the distinction between creature and Creator.
The proud ascetic divests himself of all that is relative in order to become God; while the humble one does the same in order to be with God. The latter, seared by repentance, wholly empty, is filled by God, yet remains who he is.
«Divine absorption» is impersonal; while true deification is a personal communion with God, face to Face.
Lao Tzu, humble as he was, rejected the temptation to think he had been absorbed into the Absolute. Living as he did before Christ, he could not know the personal union with the Tao known as deification. He knew self-emptying, but he could not know the personal act of self-emptying – the searing repentance (hat must always precede true deification. «Through repentance is our divinization accomplished», says Fr. Sophrony, « – an indescribably momentous event».767
As Fr. Sophrony makes clear, beholding Uncreated Light does not in itself necessarily mean deification; beyond this there must be personal union with Him Who appears as Light: «In the early dap of repentance for ones sins this holy Light tells of Divine mercy and love, but there is still no encounter face to Face. This only hap pens when man is really in God and God in him; when the prayerful spirit knows that He Who has appeared to him is indeed the Eternal Master of all that is, the First and the Last; searchless and so near; invisible and at the same time tangible, even physically; filling the heart with the fire of love, illumining the mind with the Light of understanding – the Light of knowledge inexpressible in words».768
In his Hymns of Divine Love, St. Symeon writes of his face to Face encounter with the personal God: «I am sitting on my couch, all the while beyond the world. Being in the middle of my cell, I see Him present, the One Who is beyond the world. I see Him and I speak with Him. I – dare I say it? – I love Him and He, in turn, loves me. I nourish myself with this contemplation alone. Forming one with Him, I transcend the heavens. That is true, I know, and yet where my body is I do not know. I know that the One Who remains unmoved descends. I know that the One Who remains in visible appears to me. I know that the One Who is separated from all creatures takes me inside Himself and hides me in His anno, and then I find myself outside the whole world. Yet in turn, I who am so insignificant in this world, I contemplate in myself completely the Creator of the world. I know that I will not die situ c I am inside of life: all of life surges within me. He is in my heart, yet He remains in heaven. Here and there, equally dazzling, He reveals Himself to me. How can all of this come about? How can I accurately understand it? How would I be able to express all that I understand and see? In truth, these are indescribable things, utterly ineffable».
Similarly, but with even stronger expressions, St. Symeon speaks of this in another hymn: «He Himself is discovered within me, resplendent inside my wretched heart, enlightening me from all sides with His immortal splendor, shining on all of my members with His rays. Entirely intertwined with me, He embraces me entirely. He gives Himself totally to me, the unworthy one, and I am filled with His love and beauty. I am sated with pleasure and Divine tenderness. I share in the Light. I participate also in the glory. My face shines like that of my beloved and all my members become bearers of the Light».769
72. The Progression of Eternity
The illumination that Christ offers us does not end with this life, nor is it static in the life to come. It is only the beginning of a progress that will never end. «Indeed», says St. Symeon, «over the ages the progress will be endless, for a cessation of this growing toward the end without ending would be nothing but a grasping at the ungraspable. The One on Whom no one can be sated would then become an object of satiety. By contrast, to be filled with Him and to be glorified in His Light will cause unfathomable progress, an undefined beginning. Just as those, possessing Christ Who took form in them, stand near the One Who shines in the inaccessible Light, so does the end become a principle of glory in them or – to explain my thought more clearly – in the end they will have the beginning, and in the beginning the end».770
This eternal progress was originally intended for man, who was to ever rise in the vision of God; but man lost that possibility when he departed from the Way. Through Christ, Who is called the new Adam, this possibility is once more opened to mankind.
In a previous chapter we showed how Christ opened the way to heaven which before had been closed, raising there all His followers who had died before His coming, from Abraham to Socrates to Lao Tzu. In heaven all true followers of the Tao eternally rise in contemplation of Him, paradoxically rising through the same movement that compels them to get under, in the sweetness of selfforgetting love. «Love», says John Climacus, «is the progression of eternity»771.
In his youth, the nineteenth-century Russian elder, St. Ambrose of Optina, had a glimpse of this eternal progress of love in heaven, which he recorded in a manuscript published after bin death:
«I am outside the forest, somewhere far away, in another world, quite unknown to me, never seen by me, never imagined by me.... Around me there is bright white Light! Its transcendence u so pure and enticing that I am submerged, along with my perception, into limitless depths and cannot satisfy myself with my admiration for this realm, cannot completely fill myself with its lofty spirituality. Everything is so full of beauty all around. So endearing this life ... so endless the way. I am being swept across this limitless, clear space. My sight is directed upwards, does not descend anymore, does not see anything earthly. The whole of the heavenly firmament has transformed itself before me into mu general bright Light, pleasing to the sight.... But I do not see the sun. I can see only its endless shining and bright Light. The whole space in which I glide without hindrance, without end, without fatigue, is filled with white, just as are its light and beautiful benign, transparent as a ray of sun. And through them I am admiring this limitless world. The images of all these beings unknown to me are infinitely diverse and full of beauty.... I also am white and bright as they are. Over me, as over them, there reigns eternal rest. Not a single thought of mine is any longer enticed by anything earthly; not a single beat of my heart is any longer moving with human cares or earthly passion. I am all peace and rapture. But I am still moving in this infinite Light, which surrounds me without change. There is nothing else in the world except for the white, bright Light and these equally radiant numberless beings. But all these beings do not resemble me, nor are similar to each other; they are all endlessly varied, and compellingly attractive. Amidst them, I feel incredibly peaceful. They evoke in me neither fear, nor amazement, nor trepidation. All that we see here does not agitate us, does not amaze us. All of us here are as if we have belonged to each other for a long time, are used to each other and are not strangers at all. We do not ask questions, we do not speak to each other about anything. We all feel and understand that there is nothing novel for us here. All our questions are solved with one glance, which sees everything and everyone. There is no trace of the wars of passions in anyone. All move in different directions, opposite to each other, not feeling any limitation, any inequality, or envy, or sorrow, or sadness. One peace reigns in all the images of entities. One Light is endless for all. Oneness of life is comprehensible to all....»772
St. Ambrose (1812–1891) was the pinnacle of the long line of clairvoyant ciders at Optina Monastery in Russia. Because he had attained the depths of self-emptying, he was granted the gift of healing suffering souls. He could read human hearts, know the past and future of people, and speak to them the direct, revealed word of God. Fyodor Dostoyevsky was among those who came to him for counsel, and later used him as the model for the well-known character of Elder Zosima in The Brothers Karamazov.
In this vision is contained a clear image of the goal of our life, Here is what Lao Tzu longed for; here is what Christ opened to us.
In his last talk with His disciples before His crucifixion, Christ told them: «In my Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself; that where I am, there you мая be also. And whore I go you know, and the way you know».
When Christ said this, His disciple Thomas asked Him, «Lord, we do not know where You are going. And how can we know the way?»
Christ replied, «I am the Way».773 And thus the Way of Heaven, as He had been called by Lao Tzu, now became the Way to Heaven.
The very purpose for which the Tao came to earth was to open heaven to us. He became man so that we could forever dwell in Him, and He in us; so that we could experience throughout eternity the total infusion of His Light, His Uncreated Energy, sharing in His Being.
In this Light Lao Tzu now shines, together with innumerable other immortal spirits. According to ancient Christian tradition, even after the coming of Christ those followers of the Tao who never heard of Him and His pure, unadulterated message still have a chance to know Him after they die. Unlike them and Lao Tzu, however, we have already been given our chance in this life; we have already been shown the Way to heaven. Much more has been given us; therefore much more will be required of us if we are to be found, with Lao Tzu, ever rising on the endless Way.
Epilogue: Re-creation of the Spirit by Teh
1. A Contemporary Account of Deification
In 1997 one of our monasteries in northern California was visited by a remarkable man, Fr. George Calciu, who brought home to us the closeness, not only of God’s Uncreated Energy (Teh), but also of the ultimate manifestation of this Energy: the deification of man. Fr. George was a Romanian Orthodox priest, then in his seventies. At the age of twenty, he had been incarcerated in a Romanian communist prison, where he stayed for sixteen years. During that time he underwent the scientific experiment of Pitesti: the most diabolical system of torture ever devised, which attempted to dismantle the human personality and replace it with the communist «new man». As he later recalled, «There was no torture, moral and physical, that was not used».
«For Teh went out from Him, and healed them all» (Luke 6:19).
Having had the very foundation of his soul defiled, Fr. George underwent a long and painful process of metanoia, wherein he found the inward strength to turn to Christ and received the superhuman power to forgive and love his torturers. When he was released from prison at the age of thirty-six, he was aflame with love for God and all creation, his spirit having been cleansed, healed and re-created by the Divine Fire in the midst of unimaginable suffering. He became a priest, and soon thereafter began calling the youth of Romania, raised on the lie of material ism, back to the true purpose of life. Despite constant harassment and death-threats from the communist authorities, he continued to preach publicly. Finally he was arrested again and thrown into prison for another six years. Those years were the most profound of his life, for in them he experienced the Divine Energy of China as never before.
Fr. George Calciu (center) in 1998 with spiritual fathers of contemporary Romania: Elders Cleopa Ilie (at left, †1998) and Ioanichie Balan (at right, † 2007).
While he stayed at our monastery, Fr. George radiated a sense of otherworldly serenity and childlike joy. He even looked young, which was remarkable not only because of his age but also became he had lived in damp, disease-infested underground prisons, on tiny rations of bread for twenty-two years. Truly, he had done what both Christ and Lao Tzu taught: he had «become as a little child». Whenever he spoke of the tortures he had undergone, he smiled and even laughed. He had no hatred or resentment; he had forgiven, and was free.
On the last night he was with us, Fr. George spoke of his visitations of Divine Energy. Before coming to us, he had not planned to speak of this, for he had never spoken of it publicly before. But when he heard someone at our monastery speak of Uncreated Light during a lecture, Fr. George was moved to tell us what it was like for him to be enveloped in this Energy.
2. What Is Uncreated Light?
«God is one in Essence», Fr. George told us, «but in Him there are three Persons. God is not a closed entity – He is in touch with us, with the universe. How is He in connection with the universe? By His Uncreated Energy. From God there is continuous Uncreated Energy going out, reaching all of creation, and coming back towards Him».
«Dionysius the Areopagite, a very mystical writer of the fifth century, wrote of the Divine realms and of the Heavenly Hierarchies. He said that up and down exist only for man, while for God there is no space, no time – nothing. In the center is the Holy Trinity. The Holy Trinity spreads the Light – the Uncreated Energy – around».
«In the spiritual creation there are three triads of orders of heavenly beings. The most near to the Holy Trinity are the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones; next are Authorities, Dominions and Powers; and finally there are the Angels, Archangels and Principalities. Between God and the spiritual creation there is the Mother of God. She takes of the Energy and distributes the Energy to the Chief Commander of the Seraphim. This is passed to (he first member of the Cherubim, and so on. The Light goes from step to step through the Heavenly Hierarchies and reaches afterwards the visible universe. Everyone can be perfected by it. No one reaches the absolute perfection of God because God is infinite, but each being can be continuously perfected by the Light by means of aspiration towards the Trinity. This Light, which has its source in the Holy Trinity, can be seen by some people who have undergone special exercises and have been especially perfected. If God wants to, however, He can reveal this Light to anyone, without any merit on their part. I can prove this by my own experience...»
Icon of the Mother of God «of the Sign», with the Christ-child depicted within Her. On either side of Her are the Seraphim, of the chief order of the angels, to whom She distributes the Uncreated Energy (Teh) of Her Divine Son. Icon located at St. Paisius Monastery, Safford, Arizona.
«The Christian monks in the East – they knew this Light. They were prepared to receive this Light because they had started a special movement called hesychasm. Hesychasm means peace, silence. The hesychastic monks prayed in their cells, alone in absolute quietness; and the prayer they uttered was, 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me,’ or 'Jesus, have mercy; Jesus, have mercy.’ They uttered the prayer while looking in their heart – not just in their heart but above the heart – trying to put their mind in connection with their heart, to submit the mind to the heart.
«The monks submitted prayer of the mind to prayer of the heart, and with time they realized the rhythm of the prayer. Although it is not absolutely necessary, they sometimes timed the prayer with their breathing, saying ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God’ as they breathed in, and ‘have mercy on me’ as they breathed out. By this they inhaled the name of God into their bodies, and the name of God inspired them, entering through the lungs and spreading all over the organism. The last cell was touched by the name of God, by the name of Jesus. Thus, little by little even the body was sanctified by the name of Jesus Christ, and the body became the true temple of God.
«This practice was very common in Orthodox monasteries, especially on Mount Athos. With time the mind submitted to the heart. The saints were all the time saying, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.’ A monk could be accomplishing his obediences; he could be preaching or teaching his disciples, but all this time his heart (and part of his mind which was connected with his heart) would be repeating, ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.’ I tell you this not from my experience, but because I met many monks who told me what I read in books. It is absolutely real; it is not an invention. This practice is so common in Orthodoxy that the monks consider it as nothing special....
«You’ve read, I believe, The Way of the Pilgrim, about the man who was looking for perpetual prayer. When this book entered Romania in the nineteenth century, it created a true spiritual revolution in the life of the monks. The monks and other people who practiced this prayer were, after long exercises, able to see Uncreated Light. This Light is not visible to the physical eyes – only tin spiritual eyes can see it. However, in receiving this Uncreated Light the body can start to shine.
4. Fr. Benedict Ghius
«I will tell you of my experience. Before I was arrested, I always liked the monasteries. So every time I had the possibility to go to a monastery, I was there. Very near to Bucharest is a very important monastery called Cernica. The prayer of the heart to Join Christ was taken by George, a disciple of Paisius Velichkovsky, 774 and brought to Cernica. From then until now – nearly two centuries – in Cernica every monk performs this prayer. Even during the persecution by Ceausescu, nothing could stop them from praying.
«One Sunday I was there in the church of Cernica officiating at the Holy Liturgy with some monks. At the beginning of the Liturgy Fr. Benedict Ghius was there, a very spiritual monk. He had been the spiritual leader of the Burning Bush movement in the Antim Monastery, which was a group dedicated to prayer, formed by monks for the sake of the most important intellectuals in Bucharest during the communist regime. People from the Burning Bush were arrested until the group was exterminated, and many of them died in prison. Fr. Ghius was arrested, too, but he was set free at the same time I was – 1965. And he gave up everything and entered the monastery Cernica, where he practiced the Prayer of Jesus. He was perhaps the most loved by God. I never saw him sad or angry.
«Because he was very old, he didn’t serve.775 As we started our Liturgy, he was sitting in a chair in the altar, without moving. At a certain moment I felt something strange in the altar. I looked to my left and saw that in the corner where Fr. Ghius was – a Light started to shine. The Light covered Fr. Ghius completely, but it did not spread through the altar. It was just around his body. I am sure Fr. Ghius was not aware what happened to him. The other monks saw what I was seeing, but they paid no attention because they were accustomed to this. They had seen it many times; it was something very normal to them. I was very shocked. And this Light persisted until the Liturgy was finished. When Fr. Ghius came to take Communion, his hands were hands of Light. I bowed in front of him, and he felt very, very ashamed – I think because he felt he was unworthy of such respect. He left the altar without looking at anybody. As he went out, I saw how the Light disappeared and he became a normal person, a normal man.
«He was sitting on a chair in the altar, without moving. But if you looked at him, knowing nothing about the Light of Jesuit Christ, about Uncreated Light, you could see his face full of Light».
5. A Childhood Experience
Fr. George went on to tell of other experiences he had had of Uncreated Light. He recalled how once, as a child of eight years old, he was standing before his parents’ land contemplating how God had created the world, when all at once he realized the field was filled with Light. «I could not understand what it was», he told us. «This Light had no shadow and no perspective. Perhaps because I was accustomed to the image of natural light on the land, I could see all the details, but only in light, not in shadow. I was as if petrified. I don’t know how long I was like that; and when I recovered the field was normal. I told nothing about it to my sister or my brother. But, later, when I was a student in high school, I told my mother about it. She was not astonished. I suppose she knew something about it, but she only made the sign of the Cross on me. Then to my surprise she kissed my hand. I did not understand this at that time; later I understood that she was kissing not my hand but the body of this child who had seen the Light of God».
6. The First Experience in Prison
During Fr. George’s second prison term, he had two other experiences of this Light. The first was in 1980, when he was in Aiud Prison in the north of Transylvania. It was an old prison with very bad conditions, and he was isolated in a cell for seven months. He saw no one except the guards, who were instructed to beat him and insult him all the time. There was one guard whom Fr. George said was the most sadistic man he had ever met in his life; he could not accomplish his eight-hour shift without beating and torturing the inmates.
It was the night of Pascha, the radiant Feast of Christ’s Resurrection. 776 At midnight the bells in the nearby churches started to ring. «The sound of the bells arrived very lightly in my cell», Fr. George recalled. «It was so beautiful – it was like in Paradise. Being alone in the cell, I realized for the first time how beautiful is the sound of bells. That night I did not sleep. I was lying on my bed and remembering Paschas in the past: a Pascha when I was a child, a Pascha when I was a student, a previous Pascha in prison. All the time I was singing, ‘Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.’ I was so happy!
«At seven o’clock, the shift changed. Coming into the corridor, the new guards opened the doors. We were obliged to turn our backs to them, to be against the wall and to not look at them until we heard the door close. It was a tradition. But on this day of the joy of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ I did not turn to face the wall. The young, especially cruel guard came in – and I looked at him directly into his eyes and said, ‘Christ is Risen!’ He looked at me, not with anger, and then he looked at the others guards, because it was forbidden not to face the wall. Then he turned to me and said, «In Truth He is Risen!»777 I was very shocked. I was not able to move. How could he say to me, «In Truth He is Risen?» I understood that it was not him – it was his angel.
«He shut the door and I was petrified because of what he had said. And little by little, I saw myself full of Light. The board against the wall was shining like the sun; everything in my cell wan full of shine. I cannot explain in words the happiness that invaded me then. I can explain nothing. It simply happened. I have no merit. I was perhaps the biggest sinner in that section, but nevertheless God gave me this Light. Perhaps when I was a child He gave it to me because I was innocent then, but why did God choose me for this and not another one? In my village there were a hundred children, perhaps more innocent than I was. So don’t ask me why God chose me and not another one.
«In a short time this Light disappeared, but the happiness lasted many hours».
7. The Second Experience in Prison
«The next experience I had with Uncreated Light was a year and a half later.
Ceausescu was very angry with me, and he wanted to kill me in prison. He could not sentence me to death because my case was well known all over the world, so he ordered that I be put in cell with sadistic criminals. Therefore, I was placed together with two such criminals. One of them had killed his own mother. He did not just kill her; he tortured her – days and days, cutting her fingers and her body. The other one had killed two young men in the same sadistic manner....
Right away my two cell-mates began to persecute me, but not so badly. There was something human in them, you know. I noticed that all these people without anything in their soul – criminals and thieves and so on – they had something very, very dear and even holy in them.
Every day these two men were called by the administration. I think they were scolded because they had done nothing to me. I think that they asked them to kill me. One day, after three months, they were called again to the administration. They were very upset when they came back. Two times a week we were allowed to go outside into a small courtyard, fifteen by twenty feet. We went outside and they said to me, ‘Stay there.’ They went into the other corner and they talked together. I was sure it was time for me to be killed. I stood there facing the wall. I was praying, making confession to God for my sins. After ten minutes – we had only ten minutes to walk – they came to me and said, ‘Father’ – this was the first time that they called me Father – ‘Father, we decided not to kill you. Let the guards kill you.’ I started to cry. I had thought for sure I was going to die. We came into the cell and now we talked together. I told them about myself and everything. They told me about their experience, and that they now noticed that I was a good man. The next day I got their permission to celebrate the Holy Liturgy in the cell.
They were very curious to see what was meant by the Liturgy. For them, the priest was a kind of man who exploited and got money from the people. Or perhaps they saw a priest as a magician. They knew nothing about faith. маяbe they knew a few things about religion and church, but I am sure that they knew nothing about the Liturgy.
So, on Sunday I began to prepare my bread, my water, my napkin. They were looking at me. This Sunday, they stopped working, so we had a Church holy day. They were looking very fiercely at me, thinking perhaps that they were the instruments of my magic work. I started my prayers in a very low voice because the guards did not permit to celebrate with a loud voice. My cellmates approached unjust to hear what I was saying. With time, with the advance of the Liturgy, the fire of my faith and the transporting of my soul touched them – I am sure. There was no movement. They didn’t move. They didn’t talk. They were with me to the end. I didn’t even turn to them, but after the transformation of the Holy Gifts, after taking Communion, I turned to them and I was astonished. I saw them on their knees, praying with me, and surrounded by the Light. They were in this Light, visible Light, Uncreated Light but visible.... God just opened my eyes to see this Light, and they were sin rounded by it. I noticed that the whole cell was full of Light. I didn't know then and I don’t know now when this Light appeared. Perhaps when I started the Liturgy the Light was around us, but I was concentrating only on the holy service. Perhaps the Light appeared at the moment when I uttered the epiklesis 778 – and from the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ the Light spread into the cell. Or perhaps the Light appeared just at the moment when I turned to them, or perhaps they had been surrounded by this Light all the time.
This Light transformed their souls! Not my prayers nor my officiating at the Holy Liturgy. God transformed their souls by pouring this Uncreated Light upon them. By this Light we were able to love one another, to pray and to feel that we had something in common. It was the presence of God, of Jesus Christ.
The rest of the day passed in friendship and love, talking about Christ. For the first time I was allowed to tell them about Christ, about faith, about love. One of them asked me, ‘Can Christ love me? I killed my mother. How can Christ love me?’ The other said, ‘Can Jesus Christ love me after I killed two young men? Perhaps I will go out and kill other ones. Can Jesus Christ pardon me for the crime I did?’ I said, ‘He can. Perhaps human justice cannot pardon you, but Jesus will pardon you, if you repent. He will give you His Body and His Blood, if you repent and if you decide not to do other crimes.’ They believed and didn't believe. It was very difficult for them to understand, because all their lives they were in continuous conflict with the society. They tried to kill, to steal, to deceive the society, and the society tried to catch them. It was a continual fight, and in this fight there was no space for love. The first one did not love his mother – he killed his mother. The other one did not love his friends – he killed them. They didn’t have a moment of love. Perhaps as children they were loved by their mother and father, but as they grew up their life left no space for love. But I realized, they were fascinated by love. They did not understand exactly what the meaning of love was – Jesus’ love – but love was a fascinating word for them. On that day I insisted on love and told them, Jesus said, «Love one another ... by this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another.... Love your enemies. Bless those who curse you. Do good to those who persecute you"’. They said, ‘This is impossible; it is not human!’ ‘You are right’: I said, ‘it is not human. But such love exists in this world – I am a living example for you.’ The next day we were separated. The administration realized that it could do nothing with me and that these men refused to kill me, so they left me alone in my cell.
«I do not know if those two men realized the presence of the Light that I saw in the cell, but this Light operated in their souls and transformed them into my brothers. The Energy of Jesus Christ made them from criminals into perhaps saints. I cannot believe that after that they became criminals again. I am convinced that they were saved, and I pray for them all the time; even today I am praying for them. Never in my prayers do I see them as criminals. I am sure they were saved».
8. The Gift of Light
«What I wanted to say to you is that God gives His Light not only as He does to certain monks after they have made long exercises, sitting in the loneliness of their cells in concentration, uniting the mind with the heart, submitting the mind to the heart. He also gives His Light as a present to someone without merit, without asking anything from that person. He gave me this Light without any merit from me, without asking me to do something for Him.
«The gifts of God are not a reward for us. We receive gifts front God just out of His love for us. As I said, I was the biggest sinner in that corridor; nevertheless, God chose me. Why? There’s no explanation. Those two guys were criminals, and yet God loved them in the Light. Why? Because He wanted to transform thru souls – and I am sure He did transform them».
9. The True Meaning of Salvation
In concluding his talk to us, Fr. George reminded us that, although we мая not be given by God to perceive His Grace with spiritual eyes, nevertheless this Grace – this Divine Energy – is with us. «I assure you», he said, «that in every good thought and every good intention there is the love of God for you. And I assure you that, even if you cannot see it, you are surrounded by the Light of God. The blessing of God is on this place, and the Light of Got is above this place, and He will jealously preserve this place against any devilish matter. I am so sure of this. I don’t prophesy but it is my ultimate conviction that this place is blessed and you are under the blessing of Jesus Christ. It’s obvious».779
We need not behold Uncreated Light or experience deification in order for our spirits to be re-created by the Uncreated Teh of Christ. Re-creation begins in baptism when the seed of Grace is planted in our spirit; and then, if we cultivate the seed, re-creation continues, step by step. It is a process of dying and being reborn, dying and being reborn. With each step, painful for the ego, we are re-created in part. Our spirits are transformed by the Light; they become chalices to receive the Energy of God.
God is not a Being Whom we can only contemplate and converse with. With the coming of the Tao in the flesh, we can participate in His very life through His Energies. For God does not exist apart from His Energies, nor His Energies apart from Him. Where His Energies are, there is His Person.
For the follower of Christ the incarnate Tao, God’s indwelling is not merely mental. It is living and enlivening. Through God’s Energy abiding in us as our personal strength and power, we are made truly alive. Now we possess a life not our own. It is His life that we live, for it is His Energy that enlivens us.
As we have seen, Christ called His Grace «living water». He said, «Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life».780 When it is Christ’s Energy that enlivens us, our life must be everlasting, for that Grace, being uncreated, can never die.
In order to dwell forever in the Kingdom of Heaven that Christ speaks of, we must – spiritually speaking – be in the likeness of Christ. And in order to be in that likeness, we must be filled with His Spirit, His Grace. We must be already living His everlasting life.
In His parable of the wedding feast, Christ makes it clear that we shall not enter into eternal union with Him if we have not acquired for ourselves a «wedding garment».781 This wedding garment is precisely the indwelling Grace that we have made ourselves fit to receive and called down into our spirits.
the seal: «Jesus Christ» (Jesu Jedu).
Modern, man-made versions of Christian doctrine give the impression that, in order to be «saved», it is necessary only to come to the wedding feast; but this is not true. Salvation is not automatic. Christ’s invitation to the wedding feast is free, and the gift of His Grace is free, but we must be made fit to enter in and receive it. If we have made the chalice of our soul dirty, the pure Grace of God will not abide there, and we will be found without a wedding garment. Thus, although we have come to the feast, we will not be able to remain there. We will not be «saved».
True salvation is a process: a process of being re-created over and over again, growing ever closer into the likeness of Christ, acquiring more and more of His Grace. It is a process of being pro pared to dwell forever in the Light of God’s Energy, which will infuse our spirits as we rise ever higher in the vision of Him.
Christ has told us that the way to life – His life – is a narrow way, and few there are who find it.782 It is hoped that this book will find those who want to find it: those who are not satisfied with tin false promises of automatic salvation, but who, when they tangibly experience the seed of Divine Energy planted in their souls at baptism, will nurture it with single-minded sincerity and purity of intention; who will «dig for the gold» and uncover the pearl of great price, knowing that, in Lao Tzus words, «The Tao is the great cm treasure of the universe».
May this book find all true followers of the Tao. Through it мая they discover, if they did not know it already, that at the deepest level they are longing for Christ, in Whom we live and have out being.
Icon of St. Mitrofan Chang, the first native Chinese Orthodox priest. Painted in the ancient Georgian style of iconography by Nana Quparadze of the Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church in Singapore. Courtesy of the Orthodox Metropolitanate of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia.
Appendix One: Eastern Orthodoxy in China
1. The First Orthodox Mission
Eastern Orthodox Christianity was first brought into China via Chinas neighbor, Russia. In 1685 the Chinese conquered Albazin, which lay in Russia on the northern Chinese border, and took captive a large number of Cossacks and Orthodox Albazinians. Forty-five of these entered the service of the Chinese Emperor and were taken to Beijing together with their priest, Fr. Maximus. The Emperor K’ang-hsi graciously received them, and granted Fr. Maximus an old Buddhist temple to convert into a Christian church for the spiritual needs of his people. Houses for priests were built, and the church, dedicated to the Holy Wisdom of God, was consecrated in 1698.
In 1712 Fr. Maximus reposed, and Emperor K’ang-hsi gave permission for another priest to come from Russia to Beijing in order to replace him. In Beijing the Orthodox priests were called lamas, and an Orthodox archimandrite was called ta lama (great lama).
As time went on the Albazinians intermarried with the Chinese, and their descendants soon became indistinguishable from the Chinese populace. These descendants remained firm in their Orthodoxy.
In succeeding decades the Orthodox mission in China was hindered owing to political problems which arose between Russia and China. Preaching to the Chinese was restricted. Nevertheless, from ten to forty Chinese converted to Orthodoxy each year in Beijing. Some of these early converts became iconographers, adorning the church in Beijing with Orthodox icons painted in Chinese style.
In 1858 the political climate changed. With the treaty of Tientsin the right of residence was granted to Christian missionaries This began a new period for the Chinese Orthodox mission. Archimandrites and priests who came from Russia translated and printed the New Testament, Psalter and Orthodox services in Chinese, thus laying the foundations for a native Chinese Orthodoxy, Preaching of the Gospel extended beyond Beijing, to Tung-tingan, where a church was built and many Chinese villagers became fervent Orthodox Christians. Churches were also opened in Hankow and Kalgan.783
2. Priest Mitrofan Chang
In 1880 the first native Chinese Orthodox priest, Fr. Mitrofan Chang (Chang Tzi-tzung), was ordained by St. Nicholas Kasatkin, Bishop of Tokyo. Fr. Mitrofans acceptance of the priesthood was an act of heroism, for at that time it was more dangerous and difficult to be a Christian than at any time in Chinese history. Anti-foreign and anti-Christian sentiments had grown strong in China in reaction to the colonial expansionism of European powers during the second half of the nineteenth century. Outbreaks of violence would occur, resulting in the deaths of foreigners and Chinese Christian converts.
When he became a priest, Fr. Mitrofan said that he knew his end «would not be pleasant». He and his people were being constantly put to the test, being branded «devils second class», better only than the «foreign devils». Though he was regarded as having betrayed his Chinese culture by becoming a Christian, he knew that he had embraced a faith that transcended culture, and that the revelation of Christ was as much the property of China as it was of any other country. Looking above all political and cultural concerns, he perceived in his spirit that he was training his Chinese Orthodox flock to join the ranks of the martyrs in heaven.
Bishop Innocent Figorovsky (center) with Russian clergy and Chinese students of the Beijing Mission. Several of these students later became priests.
In 1897 the Chinese Orthodox Church received a great blessing with the arrival in Beijing of Archimandrite Innocent Figorovksy (later bishop), who proved to be the most far-sighted Russian priest to have ever come to China. Among other things he established a monastery, ensured that daily services were conducted in the Chinese language, sent out people from Beijing to spread the message of Christ, and established works of charity. This helped to strengthen the Chinese Church and prepare her for the severest trial of her existence.
Icon of the Chinese Orthodox Martyrs. First row: Martyrs Paul Wan, Priest Mitrofan Chang, Fr. Mitroian’s wife Tatiana, his son John, and his son’s fiancée Maria. Second and third rows: Martyrs Clement Kui Kin, Vit Hai Tsuan, Matthew Hai Tsuan, Fr. Mitrofan’s son Isaiah, la Wen and Anna Chui.
3. The First Chinese Orthodox Martyrs
In 1900 there occurred the infamous outbreak known as the Boxer Rebellion. The rebellion was carried out by a secret society of martial artists/occultists called the «Spirit Boxers», who vowed to rid China of foreigners and Christians. On being initiated into the sect, they claimed to be inhabited by a god who endowed them with superhuman powers. When they began laying siege on Beijing, they hunted down Chinese Christians and ordered them to worship their gods or be tortured and killed. Thousands of Christians were slain through butchery, beheading and immolation.
During the Boxer Rebellion, the Orthodox churches in Beijing, Tung-ting-an and Kalgan were destroyed, together with the Orthodox printshop with its unpublished translations and immense collection of movable type in Chinese characters.
On the night of июня 11,1900, the Boxers attacked the church in Beijing. According to the testimony of eyewitnesses, the Chinese Orthodox Christians there met death with tremendous courage. Paul Wan, an Orthodox teacher, died with prayer on his lips. Ia Wen, another teacher, was tortured twice. The first time, the Boxers hacked at her and cast her to the ground half dead. When she regained consciousness, the Boxers again laid hold of her and this time tortured her to death. Both times Ia Wen confessed Christ joyfully before her tormentors.
The Boxers burned down the buildings of the Beijing Orthodox mission on the evening of июня 14. Many of the believers, hiding themselves from the perils, gathered at Fr. Mitrofan’s home. Among these were several who had formerly been ill-disposed towards the priest, and yet he did not turn them away. Perceiving that some were fainthearted, he encouraged them.
At ten o’clock in the evening on июня 23, soldiers and Boxers surrounded Fr. Mitrofan’s residence. At that time there were more than seventy Christians there. The stronger fled, while Fr. Mitrofan and many others, mostly women and children, remained and were slaughtered. Fr. Mitrofan sat in the yard before his home, and the Boxers stabbed his chest repeatedly; he fell beneath a date tree.
Fr. Mitrofans wife and three sons were at the site of the murder. After the Boxers had killed Fr. Mitrofan, they grabbed his seven-year-old son John and severed his arms at the shoulder and cut off his toes, nose and ears. Deep gashes were cut into his chest. The next morning he sat naked and unshod in the doorway. Street urchins mocked him, calling him a «follower of devils», but the boy retorted, «I am a believer in God, and not a follower of devils' When people asked him if he was in pain, he said that he was not With a smile the little boy said, «It is not hard to suffer for Christ
Later that day the Boxers returned and took away Fr. Mitrofan’s wife Tatiana and his sons John and Isaiah, together with Isaiah''s nineteen-year-old fiancée Maria and fifteen other believers. Protasy Chan and Rodion Hsiu, who had not yet been baptized, bore witness that little John, still feeling no pain from the mutilation, went quietly with the Boxers and showed not a trace of fear.
All of the prisoners were beheaded. Of Fr. Mitrofan’s family, only his second son, Sergei, survived. He later became an archpriest.
The Boxers killed 30,000 Chinese Christians in the summer of 1900,222 of whom were Chinese Orthodox Christians. Among the Chinese Orthodox martyrs were descendants of the original Albazinian Orthodox in Beijing; Clement Kui Kin, Matthew Hai Tsuan, his brother Vit, Anna Chui, and many others.
The Church in Russia immediately proclaimed the Chinese Orthodox martyrs as saints, and instituted special church services in their honor to be performed every year on июня 11, the day their martyrdom began.784
4. The Chinese Orthodox Church after 1900
In the second century a.d., during the first era of Christian martyrdom, the Christian writer Tertullian wrote that «the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church». Such was the case with the Chinese Orthodox Church. After the martyrdoms in 1900, the Church began to flourish as never before. With indemnities paid by the Chinese government, the mission in Beijing was restored. On the site where the martyrs had been slain, a new church was built in their honor in 1903, called «The Church of All the Holy Martyrs», in which were placed the relics of many of them, including St. Mitrofan.
Between 1900 and 1915 the number of Chinese Christians in general grew more than threefold. During the same period the number of Chinese Orthodox Christians increased fivefold, reaching 5/587 baptized Chinese.
Centers for preaching the Orthodox Gospel of Christ were opened throughout much of China. In Chihli (later known as Hebei) province, in central Yung-ping-fu, a church and school were erected, and a native Chinese priest opened about twenty new places for preaching the Gospel. In Henan province, a Chinese official gave land in the city of Wei-hui, where he built a church and a school. This became a center for missionary work throughout Henan.
By 1916 the Chinese Orthodox mission included:
the Monastery of the Dormition in Beijing;
the Hermitage of the Exaltation of the Cross in the hills west of Beijing;
a convent in Beijing;
nineteen churches, including four in Beijing;
thirty-two mission churches, including fourteen in Chihli province, twelve in Hubei, four in Henan, one in Tsian-fu, and one in Mongolia; seventeen schools for boys and three for girls;
thirty-eight teachers, nearly all of whom were native Chinese;
680 Chinese boys and girls enrolled in school;
a theological seminary in Beijing;
a meteorological station, library, printing house (which published one hundred Chinese Orthodox books), painting studio, carpenters shop, flour mill, candle factory, soap factory, weavers workshop, beehives, sewing house and brickyard.785
Bishop Basil Yao of Beijing (1888–1962).
Archpriest Band Du († 1948), senior priest in Beijing. Photograph taken in 1938. (He is seen as a boy III the photo below, third from right.)
Archpriest Sergius Chang, the surviving son of Sts. Mitrofan and Tatiana, New Martyrs of China. Photograph taken in 1934. (He is seen as a boy in the photo below, back row, fifth front left, dressed in white.)
Chinese and Russian nuns of the Holy Protection Womens Monastery in Beijing.
Left to right: Fr. Elias Wen, Archpriest Basil Du and Hieromonk Innocent Jao. Beijing, 1932.
The Orthodox Cathedral in Shanghai, built under the direction of St. John Maximovitch in the 1930s and dedicated to the Most Holy Mother of God «Surety of Sinners».
The bell tower of the Orthodox mission in Beijing.
Until the communists gained control of China in 1949, such cities as Beijing, Harbin and Shanghai were centers for Russian refugees of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. From 1934 to 1949 there lived in Shanghai one of the greatest Orthodox saints of the twentieth century, the miracle-worker Archbishop John Maximovitch, now known as St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco. He ordained Chinese priests and deacons, and established an orphanage for both Russian and Chinese children whom he rescued from poverty, neglect and abandonment. Even the non-Christian Chinese venerated him as a holy man. Also in China were St. Jonah of Manchuria, another miracle-working bishop; Abbess Rufina, a clairvoyant eldress; and Elder Ignatius of Harbin, a great man of prayer who after the Bolshevik Revolution prophesied: «What began in Russia will end in America».
With the communist takeover of China, many Orthodox believers left the country under the leadership of Archbishop John. However, many remained: at that time there were 25,000 believers in the Chinese Orthodox Church, and 103 churches.
Fr. Elias Wen (center left), rector of the Orthodox Cathedral in Shanghai; St. John Maximovitch (center right); and acolytes. Shanghai, 1940s.
Fr. Elias Wen in 2003, He served for over forty years at the «Joy of All Who Sorrow» Cathedral in San Francisco, and was the the oldest clergyman in I hr entire Orthodox Church when he reposed in 2007 at the aye 110.
In 1950, a righteous native Chinese priest, Symeon Du (Du Run-chen), was consecrated as the new bishop of Shanghai. In 1957 another native Chinese, Basil Yao (Yao Fu-an’), was made the Bishop of Beijing, and the Chinese Orthodox Church was proclaimed completely autonomous (self-governing) by the Orthodox Church in Russia.
5. The Church under Persecution
Under the communist government, a wave of religious persecution began. All the Orthodox monasteries in China were closed, their monastics exiled or driven out; and many Orthodox churches were closed or destroyed. During the Cultural Revolution of 1966–1976 the persecution was greatly intensified, causing Orthodox Christianity in China to go underground. Orthodox believers .ind clergy began to be martyred for their faith.786 Among them was the Chinese priest Fr. Stefan Wu (Wu Zhi-quan), who on мая 17, 1970, was beaten to death by the Red Guards in an Orthodox church in Harbin.
By the end of the Cultural Revolution, most of the Orthodox churches in China were destroyed, and those that remained standing had been confiscated by the government to be used for other purposes. A small number of Orthodox clergymen remained alive, and no bishops remained to ordain new clergy.
Beginning in the 1980s, the last Chinese clergymen asked the government to give back the remaining Orthodox churches. In 1985, the government allowed only one church to be reopened: the Holy Protection Orthodox Church in Harbin. Its priest, Fr. Gregory Zhu (Zhu Shi-pu), reposed there in сентября of 2000. The church building remains tightly controlled by the government.
In 1998, something unexpected happened in Harbin. The citizens of the city, most of them non-Christians, petitioned the government to restore the great Orthodox Church of the Holy Wisdom of God (Hagia Sophia), which had been closed in the 1960s. There were so many requests that the government listened, and the church was restored largely through donations from Harbin citizens. To this day, however, the church has not been allowed to reopen for public worship.
Fr. Alexander Du of Beijing, shortly before his repose in 2003.
The restored Church of the Holy Wisdom of God, located in Harbin, as it looks today.
The last active Orthodox priest in China, Fr. Alexander Du (Du Li-fu), reposed in Beijing in декабря of 2003. His cousin had been among those martyred for their Orthodox faith during the Cultural Revolution. A direct descendant of the Albazini.uni, Fr. Alexander pastored a group of believers in the capital and secretly baptized their children and grandchildren. He had repeal edly applied to the authorities to open a church in Beijing, but had always been refused.
6. Hope for the Future
A few weeks before his repose, Fr. Alexander Du sent his greetings to Orthodox Christians all over the world, especially those who care for the Chinese Orthodox Church, and asked them to «beseech God for a good future for our Church in China». According to his niece, Wang Lin-ru, Fr. Alexander believed that the Orthodox Church would be resurrected in China, although he had lost hope that this would happen during his lifetime.787 There are indeed signs that the tide will change.
In the autonomous regions of Xinjiang Uygur and Inner Mongolia, Chinese Orthodox Christians have been given more freedom. Today there are 3,000 Chinese Orthodox in Xinjiang Uygur and 8,000 in Inner Mongolia. During the last decade, Orthodox churches have been built in the cities of Ürümqi and Yining in Xinjiang Uygur, and in the year 2000 a large and beautiful Orthodox church was built in the town of Erguna (formerly Labdarin) in Inner Mongolia.788
Since 1996 a Greek Orthodox Metropolitanate (bishops see) has been centered in Hong Kong, which in turn has led to the establishment of Orthodox missions in Taiwan and Singapore. Through the work of the Metropolitanate, more Chinese are now discovering and embracing the Orthodox faith.
The Russian Orthodox Church has also made its presence known in China after a long forced absence. Russian bishops and clergy have made several visits to cities in mainland China during the last decade, baptizing people in their homes and giving Holy Communion to Orthodox believers.
But the greatest hope for Orthodoxy in mainland China lies in the fact that, at the present time, native Chinese Orthodox Christians are preparing for the priesthood. Some of these have been raised in the clandestine Orthodox communities in China, while others have newly converted to the Orthodox faith, having discovered it on their own through a study of Church history. They air now studying in Greece, Russia and America in preparation for ordination.789 The future of the Chinese Orthodox Church is literally in their hands, since, according to current law, only native Chinese clergymen can serve the Divine Liturgy for Chinese citizens on their own soil.
7. Toward a New Phase of Chinese Orthodoxy
The communist government, while actively trying to stamp out the free expression of Christian faith in China, has at 1 hr same time, in a reverse manner, done a service to the faith. Since «the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church», the very persecution of Christians has caused a phenomenal number of people in China to seek out the faith of Christ. When the communists came to power in 1949, there was in China a total of one million Christians of various confessions. Today, there are eighty to a hundred million. About 15 percent of these Christians belong to the state-controlled churches; the rest belong to underground house churches. A great number of the latter – especially the leaders – have endured persecution from the communist government loss of public standing, fines, beatings, imprisonment and death,
For now, the Orthodox faith is all but unknown to the people – including the Christians – of China. However, the millions of fervent believers throughout China, who follow Christ often at the cost of great personal sacrifice, can provide a foundation for a new phase of Orthodox Christianity in China. This can occur when Chinese Christians discover the most ancient, traditional and Orthodox expression of the faith of Christ. One Chinese convert to Orthodoxy, who is now preparing for the priesthood, has recently observed: «It’s good that many people in China have heard of the Lord Jesus Christ already, but I am sorry that not many people have heard of Orthodox Christianity. Orthodoxy and Jesus Christ are not two separate things. Jesus Christ is Orthodoxy. The word of God, the Scripture, is Orthodoxy. I feel that if someone deeply believes in Jesus Christ, this belief will bring him to Orthodoxy».
There are two reasons why an embracing of Eastern Orthodoxy can be a natural development in the providential unfolding of Chinese Christianity. First of all, Chinese civilization and culture is built upon a love for orthodoxy and adherence to tradition stemming from ancient times. As Fr. Seraphim Rose has pointed out: «There is a very strong idea in the Chinese mind of orthodoxy, with a small ‘o’: that there is a right teaching, and that the whole of society depends upon that right teaching.... The Chinese are one of the most tradition-conscious peoples. Up until the coming of communism, the Chinese were doing things that they had been doing all the way back to Confucius; and Confucius said they were doing these things all the way back to the third millennium B.C. The whole outlook on life remained basically the same, and whenever t here was a dispute, they would appeal to antiquity. 'This is the way it was done in ancient times; we can’t change it.’»790 Eastern Orthodoxy, with its uncompromising adherence to the original, unadulterated Christian path and its unbroken, unchanged transmission of Christ’s teaching from apostolic times, thus resonates with the Chinese mind.
Secondly, Eastern Orthodoxy’s depth of teachings on the inner spiritual life, drawn from two millennia of mystical experience of t he saints, can meet the ancient Chinese spiritual teachings on their own ground. Modern Western Christianity cannot do this. Orthodox Christianity alone can understand, appreciate and embrace the profound realizations of the genuine Chinese sages of the past, he ginning with Lao Tzu, and separate these from what Lao Tzu called «sidetracks from the Way» in Chinese religion and philosophy Moreover, Orthodox Christianity alone can open to the Chinese the greatest mysteries and the final end of the life in Christ: deification through total infusion of the Light of Uncreated Teh.
In 1981 Fr. Seraphim, speaking of the ancient orthodox tradition of China, said, «If Christianity could have managed to get inside this tradition somehow and become a part of it, it would have worked, for the soul of the Chinese people would have been very well disposed to it».791 With people coming to Christ as never before in the history of China, at a rate of more than ten million per year we see today the fulfillment of Fr. Seraphim’s wish. While love for Christ is evaporating from decadent Western civilization, it is blossoming in China. The Far East is far outpacing the West not only in the number of new Christians, but also in its sacrificial witness of Christ before the modern world.
The Chinese people, who speak the oldest surviving language in the world, are connected to a noble and profound ancient culture. Now that so many are finding Christ the incarnate Tao, then next step is to connect themselves with the ancient tradition preserved in the Christian East, where they will find the most pun image of Christ and the most powerful means of acquiring His Grace. When this occurs, the noetic Jesus Prayer, enshrined in the inner temples of many Chinese hearts, will rise like incense to Christ. мая the present book serve as a stepping-stone in this process of discovering, connecting and ascending.
Appendix Two: A Letter of Hieromonk Seraphim Rose to a Spiritual Seeker
Fr. Seraphim wrote the following letter toward the end of his life. He was addressing a young man whom he had never met, but whom he had heard was interested in the writings of the French metaphysician René Guénon. As stated earlier, it was Guenon who had first taught Fr. Seraphim the necessity of orthodoxy and of tradition. This understanding had led him to value the Chinese tradition, with its strong sense of orthodoxy, and Gi-ming Shien as an authentic transmitter of that tradition; and had finally led him to embrace the traditional expression of Christs revelation in Orthodoxy. In an unusual turn of ideas, Fr. Seraphim shows in this letter how his path to tradition and orthodoxy enabled him to find Truth that is ultimately not a tradition at all. He acknowledges his identity as a Westerner and affirms the Christian roots of the West, then explains that the path of Christ is not specifically Western or culture-bound.
In this letter it will be seen how Fr. Seraphim falls into neither «fundamentalism» nor syncretism. Religious fundamentalism (believing that traditions outside oné's own are all wrong) is intellectually satisfying to narrow minds, while religious syncretism (believing that all traditions are equal) is satisfying to broad minds. In avoiding both extremes, Fr. Seraphim followed a path that was not intellectually satisfying at all, for such is the path of Truth. As he himself wrote, «When I became a Christian I voluntarily crucified my mind, and all the crosses that I bear have only been a source of joy for me. I have lost nothing, and gained everything».
Solomonia (Rhonda) has shared with me your recent letter m her, and in reading it I sense in you a kindred spirit to whom a word from me might not be in vain.
It so happens that René Guénon was the chief influence in the formation of my own intellectual outlook (quite apart from the question of Orthodox Christianity). I read and studied with eagriness all his books that I could get hold of; through his influence I studied the ancient Chinese language and resolved to do for the Chinese spiritual tradition what he had done for the Hindu; I was even able to meet and study with a genuine representative of the Chinese tradition [Gi-ming Shien] and understood full well wh.11 he [Guenon] means by the difference between such authentic teachers and the mere «professors» who teach in the universities.
It was Rene Guenon who taught me to seek and love the Ti mil above all else, and to be unsatisfied with anything else; this is what finally brought me to the Orthodox Church. Perhaps a word of my experience will be of help for you to know.
For years in my studies I was satisfied with being «above all traditions» but somehow faithful to them; I only went deeper into the Chinese tradition because no one had presented it in the West from the fully traditional point of view. When I visited an Orthodax Church, it was only in order to view another «tradition» – knowing that Guénon (or one of his disciples) had described Orthodoxy as the most authentic of the Christian traditions.
However, when I entered an Orthodox Church for the first time (a Russian Church in San Francisco), something happened to me that I had not experienced in any Buddhist or other Eastern temple; something in my heart said that this was «home», that all my search was over. I didn’t really know what this meant, because the service was quite strange to me, and in a foreign language. I began to attend Orthodox services more frequently, gradually learning the language and customs, but still keeping all my basic Guénonian ideas about all the authentic spiritual traditions.
With my exposure to Orthodoxy and to Orthodox people, however, a new idea began to enter my awareness: that truth was not just an abstract idea sought and known by the mind, but was something personal – even a Person – sought and loved by the heart. And that is how I met Christ. I am now grateful that my approach to Orthodoxy took several years and had nothing of emotional excitement about it – that was Guénon’s influence again, and it helped me to go deeper into Orthodoxy without the ups and downs that some converts encounter when they are not too ready for something as deep as Orthodoxy. My entrance into the Orthodox Church occurred at the very time I left the academic world and gave up the attempt to communicate the Chinese tradition to the Western world. My Chinese teacher also left San Francisco shortly before this – my only real contact with the Chinese tradition – and in Guénonian fashion he disappeared utterly, leaving no address. I remember him fondly, but after becoming Orthodox I saw how limited was his teaching: the Chinese spiritual teaching, he said, would disappear if communism endures in China. So fragile was this tradition – but the Orthodox Christianity I had found would survive everything and endure to the end of the world – because it was not merely handed down from generation to generation, as all traditions are; but was at the same time given from God to man.
I look back fondly now on Rene Guenon as my first real instructor in Truth, and I only pray that you will take what is good from him and not let his limitations chain you. Even psychologycally, «Eastern wisdom» is not for us who are flesh and blood of tin West; Orthodox Christianity is clearly the tradition that was given us – and it can be clearly seen in the Western Europe of the Him ten centuries, before the falling away of Rome from Orthodoxy But it also happens that Orthodoxy is not merely a «tradition» like any other, a «handing down» of spiritual wisdom from the past; it is God’s Truth here and now – it gives us immediate contact with God such as no other tradition can do. There are many truths in the other traditions, both those handed down from a past when men were closer to God, and those discovered by gifted men in the reaches of the mind; but the full Truth is only in Christianity God’s revelation of Himself to mankind. I will take only one example: there are teachings on spiritual deception in other traditions, but none so thoroughly refined as those taught by the Orthodox Holy Fathers; and more importantly, these deceptions of the evil one and our fallen nature are so omnipresent and so thorough that no one could escape them unless the loving God revealed by Christianity were close at hand to deliver us from them. Similarly: Hindu tradition teaches many true things about the end of the Kali Yuga; but one who merely knows these truths in the mind will he helpless to resist the temptations of those times, and many who recognize the Antichrist (Chakravarti) when he comes will none] theless worship him – only the power of Christ given to the heart will have strength to resist him.
Hieromonk Seraphim Rose at the St. Herman of Alaska Monastery, Platina, California.
It is my prayer for you that God will open your heart, and you yourself will do what you can to meet Him. You will find there happiness you never dreamed possible before; your heart will join your head in recognizing the true God, and no real truth you have ever known will be lost. мая God grant it!
Feel free to write whatever is in your mind or heart.
With love, Fr. Seraphim
Icon of the Mother of God, «The Mountain Unhewn by Hand of Man». The icon’s title and symbolism refer to Nebuchadnezzar’s vision, described in Daniel 2:34–35, of the stone cut out of a mountain by no human hand», which the ancient Christians saw as a prophecy of Christ’s birth from a Virgin (i.e., without human seed). In Nebudchadnezzar’s dream – which occurred around 600 B.C., the time of Lao Tzu – the stone (Christ) «became a great mountain and filled all the earth». This image is referred to in chapter 15 of Part I: «Christ the Eternal Tao». Painted in Russia in the sixteenth century, the icon shows the artistic influence of Russiá's neighbor, China – especially in the clouds which are woven into the Virgin''s clothing, symbolizing the heavens.
* * *
St. Gregory of Sinai, in The Philokalia, vol. 4, p. 222. Fr. Seraphim Rose, Genesis, Creation, and Early Man, pp. 396–98.
St. Gregory Palamas, in The Philokalia, vol. 4, p. 377.
Cf. Genesis 1:26.
St. Macarius of Egypt, in The Philokalia, vol. 3, p. 300. St. Gregory Palamas, in Tire Philokalia, vol. 4, p. 296. Cf. Romans 5:12.
St. Macarius of Egypt, in The Philokalia, vol. 3, p. 300.
St. Mark the Ascetic, in The Philokalia, vol. 1, p. 117.
Mircea Eliade, A History of Religious Ideas, vol. 1, p. 88.
John Ross, D.D., The Original Religion of China, pp. 23, 25.
See, for example, Bernhard Karlgren, tr., The Book of Documents (Shu Ching), p. 48. On how T’ien and Shang Ti were used to designate the same supreme Deity, see James Legge, The Religions of China, p. 10.
Karlgren, tr., The Book of Documents (Shu Ching), pp. 59, 73.
Karlgren, tr., The Book of Odes (Shih Ching), p. 151; Ross, pp. 91–94.
Karlgren, tr., The Book of Documents, p. 59.
Laurence G. Thompson, The Chinese Way in Religion, pp. 1 –6.
For the fascinating text of the Chinese Emperor’s sacrifice to Shang Ti in A.D. 1538, see James Legge, The Notions of the Chinese Concerning God and Spirits, pp. 26–31. Also published, with commentary, in James Legge, The Religions of China, pp. 43–51.
For a description of later Chinese polytheism, see James Legge, The Religions of China, pp. 167–170.
Tao Teh Ching, ch. 15 (Gi-ming Shien, trans.).
Eliade, A History of Religious Ideas, p. 22.
Analects of Confucius 3:10–11 (James Legge and Waley, trans.).
The most ancient Chinese historical documents tell of a great flood occurring in the twenty-fourth century B.C., which was the same time it occurred according to Biblical chronology.
Tao Teh Ching, ch. 14 (Gi-ming Shien, trans.).
The parenthetical phrase “of man” was added by Gi-ming Shien by way of exegesis. In the translation notes of Fr. Seraphim, “clue” (jhi ) is also condered as “main-thread.”
Ibid., chs. 52 and 56 (Waley, trans.); ch. 16 (Rose, trans.).
Ibid., ch. 49 (Ren Jiyu, trans.).
Ibid., ch. 78 (Lin Yutang, Ch’u Ta- kao, Gia-fu Feng and English, trans.).
Ibid., ch. 8 (Gi-ming Shien and Rose, trans.).
Ibid., ch. 67 (Wu and Legge, trans.).
Ibid., ch. 49 (Mair, trans.).
Ibid., ch. 63 (Wu and Red Pine, trans., italics added).
James Legge, The Religions of China, pp. 143,223–24.
Ibid., p. 137.
Tao Teh Ching, ch. 38 (Gi-ming Shien, trans.).
Ibid., ch. 52 (Rose and Mair, trans.).
Quoted in Holmes Welch, Taoism: The Parting of the Way, p. 77.
See Lossky, Mystical Theology, pp. 98–99.
Tao Teh Ching, ch. 52 (Rose, Waley and Mair, trans.).
Gi-ming Shien, «Being and Nothingness in Greek and Ancient Chinese Philosophy,» pp. 18–19.
This is the same Teh that is found in the title of Lao Tzu’s book, Tao Teh Ching, which has been translated by Arthur Waley as The Book of the Way and Its Power. Teh is more commonly rendered as «virtue» because, when referring in human teh, it corresponds roughly to the original Latin virtu. However, when Lao Tzu speaks specifically of the Teh of the Tao, it is better rendered as «Power» – or as «Grace», as we shall show.
Ibid., ch. 51 (Gia-fu Feng and English, trans.); eh. 65 (Gi-ming Shien and Wu, trans.).
From the notes of Eugene (Fr. Seraphim) Rose, taken during Gi-ming Shien’s classes on the Tao Teh Ching.
Red Pine, Lao Tzus Taoteching, pp. 42,102.
St. Seraphim of Sarov, Little Russian Philokalia, vol. 1, p. 92.
Tao Teh Ching, ch. 54 (Wu, trans.); ch. 23 (Gia-fu Feng, English and Wu, trans.); ch. 28 (Gi-ming Shien and Tam C. Gibbs, trans.).
Ibid., ch. 39 (Gi-ming Shien, trans.).
Gi-ming Shien, «Being and Nothingness in Greek and Ancient Chinese Philosophy,» p. 23.
Gi-ming Shien, «Nothingness in the Philosophy of Lao Tzu,» p. 63.
Gi-ming Shien, «Being and Nothingness in Greek and Ancient Chinese Philosophy,” p. 23.
Gi-ming Shien, «Nothingness in the Philosophy of Lao Tzu,» p. 63.
Gi-ming Shien, «Being and Nothingness in Greek and Ancient Chinese Philosophy,» p. 23.
Tao Teh Ching, ch. 34 (Gi-ming Shien, trans.).
Ibid., ch. 51 (Gia-fu Feng and English, trans.).
Ibid., ch. 81 (Wu, trans.).
Ibid., ch. 79 (Fu Huisheng and Legge, trans.).
Tien (Heaven), as a reference to the Supreme Being, is to be distingished from t’ien-ti (heaven and earth), which refers to the totality of the created order, and is often translated as «nature». For Lao Tzu, Blillr the Tao was benevolent, nature was not, in and of itself. Thus in the Tao Teh Ching we read: «Heaven and earth are not benevolent» (ch. 5).
Ping-ti Ho, The Cradle oj the East, p. 336.
Tao Teh Ching, chs. 47, 73 (Wu, Gia-fu Feng and English, trans.).
On «Heaven» being identified with «Tao» in the Tao Teh Ching, see Auliur Waley, The Way and Its Power, p. 233m and Ingrid Fischer-Schreiber, The Shambhala Dictionary of Taoism, p. 183.
Quoted in Ross, The Original Religion of China, p. 92.
Tao 7eh Ching, ch. 73 (Wu, trans.).
Ibid., chs. 59, 67, 68, 73 (Wu, Gia-fu Feng and English, trans.).
Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakha rov). His Life Is Mine, p. 18.
The Philokalia, vol. 3, pp. 331, 347–48. See also 2Corinthians, ch. 3.
In Greek, this is called hypostasis, which might be translated as “personal essence.»
In Greek, ousia, which might be translated as “common essence."
See Lossky, Mystical Theology, pp. 123–24.
Eva Wong, The Shambhala Guide la Taoism, pp. 27–28.
Liu I-Ming, Awakening to the Tao, p. 85.
Tao Teh Ching, ch. 53 (Gia-fu Feng and English, trans.).
Karlgren, tr. The Book of Document (Shu Ching), pp. 55–56.
Fr. Dumitru Staniloae, Theology and the Church, p. 79.
Ibid., p. 88 (italics added).
Ibid., p. 93–94.
St. Maximus the Confessor, in The Philokalia, vol. 2, p. 137. Quoted in Lossky, Mystical Theology, p. 63.
Sophrony, His Life Is Mine, p. 28.
Lossky, Mystical Theology, p. 64.
St. Gregory Nazianzen, Oration Quoted in Lossky, Mystical Theology, p. 46.
Exodus 33:19, 22–23.
Cf. Genesis 18:2ff. Sophrony. I In Life is Mine, pp. 19–24.
Lossky, Mystical Theology, p. 46.
From Gi-ming Shien’s commentary on ch. 42 of the Tao Teh Ching, recorded by Eugene (Fr. Seraphim) Rose.
Deuteronomy 18:15, 18.
John 5:46; 1:45.
Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23.
Sophrony, His Lije Is Mine, pp. 20.
Ibid., p. 19.
According to the Jewish law of the time, if a person made himself out to be God, he was to be stoned to death. Therefore, when Christ called Himself «I AM», the Jews who did not recognize His Divinity immediately took up stones to throw at Him, but He escaped out of their hands (John 8:59) Likewise, they took up stones to kill Him when He said, «I and my Father are one» (John 10:30–31).
Here the original Greek word for «power» is dunamis. Like the Chinese word Teh. dunamis is translated as both «power» and «virtue». The King James Bible, for example, reads: «For there went Virtue out of Him».
Luke 6:19; 8:46.
Fr. George Calciu, «Divine Light in the Devil’s Lair.» In Father George Calciu: Interviews, Homilies, and Talks, p. 266.
The closeness of Christ to the Chinese mind is attested to by the great number of people who are turning to Christ in China today. See Appendix i.
Tao Teh Ching, ch. 8 (Gi-ming Shien, trans.).
Sophrony, His Life Is Mine, pp. 21.
Tao Teh Ching, ch. 34 (Gi-ming Shien, trans.).
Tao Teh Ching, chs. 34 and 73 (Gia-fu Feng, English and Waley, trans.).
John 8:58; 10:30; 14:16; 14:23; 15:26.
John 16:12:8:31–32; 14:26; 16:13.
Sophrony, His Life Is Mine, pp. 28–29.
Matthew 22:37, 39–40. Cf. Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18.
Lossky, Mystical Theology, pp. 123–24.
Tao Teh Ching, ch. 8 (Gi-ming Shien and Rose, trans.).
Luke 6:27–28, 30, 37–38.
John 5:17, 19–21.
Lossky, Mystical Theology, pp. 144–45
Eugene (Fr. Seraphim) Rose, «Emptiness and Fullness in the Lao Tzu" pp. 50–51.
Tao Teh Ching, ch. 11 (Gia-fu Feng, English and Waley, trans.).
Lossky, Mystical Theology, p. 201; St. Theophan the Recluse, The Spiritual Life, pp. 61–62.
Luke 11:35; Tao Teh Ching, ch. 52.
Nous is sometimes rendered as “intellect,» as in the English translation of The Philokalia. Such a rendering can be misleading, since in modern usage Intellect» carries the connotation of abstract and deductive reason, from which the nous is to be carefully distinguished. In the following pages we have bourn to translate nous as “spirit,» since this captures more of the meaning of dir word for the modern mind.
Lii Tung-pin [Lii Yen], The Secret of the Golden Flower, Thomas Cleary, trans., p. 13–15,138–139.
St. Theophan, The Spiritual Life, p. 61.
Pomazansky, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, p. 136. St.John Damascene, «Orthodox Faith,» p. 236.
The Philokalia, vol. 2, p. 88.
P’o («inferior soul,” «animal soul,” «body soul”) and ying , which according to Gi-ming Shien is to be equated with hun («superior soul,” In each soul,” «spirit soul»). In the ancient Chinese conception, it is the bun winch passes to the other world when the body dies. Similarly, the ancient Christian tradition teaches that only the nous passes into the future life at death, while the lower powers of the soul cease to be. (See Fr. Dumitru Staniloae, Orthodox Spirituality, pp. 86–87, 96–97.)
Ibid., p. 308.
St. Theophan, The Spiritual Life, p. 75.
Tao Teh Ching, ch. 52 (Rose and Mair, trans.).
St. Theophan, The Spiritual Life, pp. 74–75.
St. Theophan, The Path to Salvation, p. 260.
On the union of the soul and the spirit, see also St. Isaiah the Solitary, «On Guarding the Intellect», in The Pbilokalia, vol. 1, p. 26.
Tao Teh Ching, ch. 10 (Rose, trans.).
St. Basil, letter 2, p. 7.
Tao Teh Ching, ch. 12 (Gi-ming Shien, trans.).
Tao Teh Ching, ch. 71 (Gia-fu Feng and English, trans.).
Romans 12:2; John 3:3.
The Philokalia, vol. 4, p. 201.
Psalms 115:7–8; 29:11–12 (Septuagint).
St. Symeon the New Theologian, The First-Created Man, pp. 81–82.
Tao Teh Ching, ch. 62 (Wu, trans.).
Mark 10:47; Matthew 20:31.
Fr. George was here paraphrasing a statement of French author Paul Claudel.
Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov), We Shall See Him as He Is, p. 154.
Christ’s Apostles wrote about this in their letters. See, for example, i Peter 3:18–19 and 4:6; and Ephesians 4:8–10.
Cf. John 5:21–29; 1Corinthians ch. 15.
Prayer Book, pp. 341–42, 346.
In the Eastern Orthodox baptism service, the candidate is asked three times, “Do you unite yourself to Christ?” – to which he replies, “I do.”
St. Diodochus of Photiki, in The Philokalia, vol. 1, p. 279.
Ibid., vol. 4, p. 265.
Luke 17:21; Matthew 13:31–32.
The Philokalia, vol. 4, p. 259–260.
St. Seraphim of Sarov, Little Russian Philokalia, vol. 1, p. 97.
See The Philokalia, vol. 4, p. 40.
Sophrony, We Shall See Him as He Is, p. 102.
Ibid., p. 152.
Tao Teh Ching, ch. 15 (Gia-fu Feng and English, trans.).
Matthew 25:1–13; Luke 12:39.
he Philokalia, vol. 1, p. 189.
Ibid., vol. 4, p. 204.
St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, The Arena, p. 85.
The Philokalia, vol. 4, p. 67.
Ibid., p. 200.
The Philokalia, vol. 4, p. 194.
Tao Teh Ching, ch. 52 (Waley, trans.); ch. 16 (Rose, trans.).
St. Theophan, The Path to Salvation, pp. 136–37.
Ibid., p. 289.
Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakha rov), St. Silouan the Athonite, p. 66.
Hieromonk Christodoulos (Aggeloglou), Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain (English version), p. 131.
Bencdicta Ward, The Sayings 0j the Desert Fathers, p. 142.
Quoted in Death to the World, 110. I I (1997), p. 9.
Barsanuphius and John, Sts., Questions and Answers (in Greek), p. 223.
Tao Teh Ching, ch. 3 (Cleary, trans.)
St. Theophan, The Path to Salvation, p. 293.
Ibid., p. 299.
The ancient Chinese word kuei corresponds to the ancient Greek daemon.
Tao Teh Ching, ch. 60 (Wu, Gi-fu-Feng, English, and Red Pine, trans.).
St. Theophan, The Spiritual Life, 82.
See The Philokalia, vol. l, p. 171 and M. Kontzevitch, The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit, pp. 39–43.
Tao Teh Ching, ch. 64 (Gia-fu Feng and English, trans.).
The Philokalia, vol. 1, p. 191.
Nicetas Stithatos was a disciple and biographer of St. Symeon the New Theologian. His mystical writings are found in the fourth volume of The Philokalia.
Ibid., vol. 4, p. 117.
Roy Masters, How to Conquer Negative Emotions, p. 2.
The Philokalia, vol. 4, pp. 116–17.
Tao Teh Ching, ch. 64.
Ibid., ch. 48 (Waley, trans.).
On Richard Wurmbrand, sec pp. 490–91.
Tao Teh Ching, ch. 65 (Fu Huishcng and Cleary, trans.).
Hieromonk Christodulos (Agge- loglou). Elder Paisios (in Greek), pp. 73–74, 95.
That is, having the «one-pointed» thought that primordial man enjoyed (see p. 117). In Lao Tzu’s words, this is «returning to the uncarved block».
Fr. Sergius Chetverikov, Elder Ambrose of Optina, p. 235.
Tao Teh Ching, ch. 46 (Gia-fu Feng and English, trans.).
This is a translation of the Greek word merimnao, which comes from a root word meaning to divide, separate or draw in different directions. Chirist is saying here that we should not allow our mind to be divided and distracted by diverse thoughts, which break the one-pointed thought with which man was first created.
Luke 14:26; 12:22, 24–26.
Matthew 18:3; Tao Teh Ching, ch. 28 (Gia-fu Feng and English, trans.).
Gi-ming Shien, «The Basic Teachings of Taoism,» pp. 2–3.
St. Abba Dorotheus, Discourses and Sayings, p. 126.
Roy Masters, Secrets oj a Parallel Universe, pp. 41, 43.
Tao Teh Ching, chs. 18–19 (Gia-fu Feng and English, trans.).
Ibid., ch. 64 (Wu, Gia-fu Feng and English, trans.).
Sophrony, We Shall See Him as He Is, p. 155.
Sophrony, St. Silouan the Athonite, p. 162.
Ibid., pp. 161–62,179.
Sophrony, We Shall See Him as He Is, pp. 155–56.
Tao Teh Ching, ch. 52. See p. 236 above.
Ibid., ch. 14, (Fu Huishcng, trans.)
1 Kings 19:12.
From a talk by Emanuel McLittle, psychologist, декабря 1995.
Tao Teh Ching, ch. 25 (Cleary and Fu Huisheng, trans.).
The Philokalia, vol. 1, p. 164.
St.John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent. Quoted in Abbot Chariton, The Art of Prayer, p. 49.
St. Theophan, The Path of Prayer, p. 11.
St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, The Arena, p. 131.
Chetverikov, Elder Ambrose of Optina, p. 251.
The Philokalia, vol. 4, p. 276.
Ibid., vol. 1, p. 186.
St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, The Arena, p. 83.
Hieromonk Christodoulos (Agge- loglou), Elder Paisios (in Greek), pp. 55, 158.
Nun Maria Stakhovich and Sergius Bolshakoff, Interior Silence, p. 99.
The Philokalia, vol. 1, p. 166.
St. Theophan, The Spiritual Life, p. 246.
St.John Climacus, The Ladder oj Divine Ascent, p. 118.
St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, The Arena, pp. 78–79.
Victor Afanasiev, Elder Barsanuphius of Optina, p. 457.
John 14:26; St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, The Arena, pp. 79–80.
The Philokalia, vol. 4, p. 259.
Exodus 20:7; Deuteronomy 5:11.
Sophrony, His Life Is Mine, p. 114.
Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany, «A Conversation with Elder Nikodim on the Jesus Prayer.» In The Orthodox Word, no. 27 (2011), pp. 142–43.
Sophrony, St. Silouan the Athonite, p. 135 (italics added).
Abbot Chariton, The Art of Prayer, pp. 100–101.
Sophrony, His Life Is Mine, p. 113.
Tao Teh Ching, ch. 53 (Waley, Ren Jiyu, Gia-fu Feng and English, trans.).
St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, On the Prayer of Jesus, pp. 108–9.
Matthew 5:44, 20:27.
St. Theophan, The Path of Prayer, p. 28.
St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, p. 213.
The Philokalia, vol. 1, p. 182.
Sophrony, St. Silouan the Athonite, p. 139.
St. Theophan, The Spiritual Life, p. 121.
St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, p. 216. See Psalm 77:26–28 (Septuagint).
Mai-mai Sze, The Way of Chinese Painting, pp. 34–35.
Matthew 12:34, 13:15, 15:18.
See, for example, The Philokalia, vol. 3, p. 269.
Ibid., vol. 4, p. 421.
Chariton, The Art of Prayer, p. 52.
St. Theophan, The Spiritual Life, pp. 189–90.
St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, p. 218.
Quoted in St. Ignatius Brian chaninov, The Arena, p. 129 (emphasis added).
Sophrony, St. Silouan the Athonite, p. 133.
St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, The Arena, p. 85.
Quoted in St. Theophan, The Palh to Salvation, p. 226.
St. Theophan, The Spiritual Life, p. 130.
St. Theophan, The Path to Salvation. p. 225.
Tao Teh Ching, ch. 12 (Gi-min Shien and Cleary, trans.)..
Sr. Theophan, The Spiritual Life, pp 199–200.
Ibid., p. 198; Chariton, The Art of Prayer, p. 125.
Chariton, The Art of Prayer, pp. 72–60.
From a talk by Fr. George Calciu at the St. Paisius Monastery, февраля 1998.
In the Jesus Prayer, this is generally done while «pulling” the knots of an Othodox prayer rope (cbotki) with the left hand.
St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, The Arena, p. 87.
Sophrony, St. Silouan the Athonitc, p. 136–137,149.
Hesycbasm: pertaining to inward stillness.
Sophrony, His Life Is Mine, p. 114.
Tao Teh Ching, ch. 10 (Fu Huisheng, trans.).
Ibid., ch. 64 (Cleary and Ren Jiyu, trans.).
The Philokalia, vol. 4, p. 337.
Sophrony, His Life Is Mine, p. 112–13.
Ibid., p. 113.
St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, The Arena, pp. 84–85.
Chariton, The Art of Prayer, p. 127.
Ibid., pp. 158–59.
St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, p. 216.
Ibid., pp. 129–30.
Chariton, The Art of Prayer, p. 129.
St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, p. 207.
St. Isaac the Syrian, Ascetical Homilies, p. 348.
Tao Teh Ching, ch. 11. Quoted in Voice of the Martyrs Newsletter, марта 1997, p. 2.
Voice of the Martyrs Newsletter, марта 1997, p. 2.
St. Basil, letter 2, p. 7.
The Philokalia, vol. 4, pp. 117–19.
Ibid., pp. 120, 174.
Ibid., p. 137.
John 17:22–23, 26.
St. Symeon the New Theologian, The Discourses, p. 298.
Sophrony, St. Silouan the Athonite, pp. 178–79.
The Philokalia, vol. 1, p. 177 (italics added).
Sophrony, St. Silouan the Athonite, p. 179.
Sophrony, We Shall See Him as He Is, pp. 26,46–47,162,164–66.
Christodoulos, Elder Paisios (in Greek), pp. 265–66.
Sophrony, We Shall See Him as He Is, pp. 178, 183–84.
Ibid., pp. 166–67.
St. Symeon, The Discourses, pp. 28–29.
Sophrony, We Shall See Him as He Is, p. 172.
Gregory Palamas, St., Triads in Defense of the Holy Hesychasts, p. 84.
Lossky, Mystical Theology, p. 133.
Ibid., p. 134.
Archbishop Basil Krivocheine, In the Light of Christ, p. 388.
The Philokalia, vol. 4, pp. 316–17.
Ibid., vol. 3, pp. 347–48.
Sophrony, We Shall See Him as He Is, pp. 157–58.
Quoted in Krivocheine, In the Light of Christ, p. 388.
Sophrony, We Shall See Him as He Is, p. 30.
Ibid., p. 189.
Quoted in Krivocheine, In the Light of Christ, pp. 364–65.
Ibid., p. 386.
St.John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, p. 228.
Chetverikov, Elder Ambrose of Opt- ina, pp. 27–28.
St. Paisius Velichkovsky (1722–1794) was the man responsible lilt rediscovering and compiling the anthology of ancient texts known as The Philokalia.
I.e., he did not celebrate the Liturgy.
«Pascha» – the traditional name for the Feast of Christ’s Resurrection – comes from the Hebrew word for “Passover,» for it is the celebration of Christ''s passing over from death to life. In the West this Feast is wrongly called “Easter,» after a Western European pagan festival.
“Christ is Risen!» is the traditional Paschal greeting and exclamation in the Christian East. “In Truth He is Risen” is the traditional answer.
Epiklesis: the prayers for the transformation of the Holy Gifts.
“Divine Light in the Devil’s Lair,» lectures of Fr. George Calciu, delivered at the St. Paisius Monastery, Forestville, California, июля 1997 (the monastery has since moved to Safford, Arizona). Additional narrative taken from an interview with Fr. George by Nun Nina, Los Angeles, California, ноября 1996. In Father George Calciu: Interviews, Homilies, and Talks, pp. 75–83,247–56,263–77.
From unpublished notes of Fr. Seraphim Rose for an article on Eastern Orthodoxy in China.
Holy Transfiguration Monastery, «The Holy Orthodox Martyrs of China: An Historical Background»; «The First Chinese Orthodox Martyrs.” In The True Vine, no. 8 (Winter 1991), pp. 13–40, 42–49. This issue also contains a complete Service to the Chinese Orthodox Martyrs.
From the unpublished notes of Fr. Seraphim Rose.
«The Orthodox Church in China.» In Tserkovnaya Zhizri (Church Life) (in Russian) nos. 5–8 (1986), p. 110.
Richard Spencer, «Tiny Chinese Church Seeks Recognition.» In London Daily Telegraph, января 3, 2004.
See «Orthodoxy behind the Great Wall.” In Foma (Thomas) (in Russian), no. 12 (2001), p. 16–17.
Richard Spencer, «Tiny Chinese Church Seeks Recognition.”
Fr. Seraphim Rose, «The Chinese Mind.”In The Orthodox Word, nos. 187–88 (1996), pp. 104–5.
Ibid., p. 105.