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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


The Spirituality of the Christian East, A Systematic Handbook, Volume One by Tomás Spidlík SJ; translated by Anthony P. Gythiel (Cistercian Publications) Prayer: The Spirituality of the Christian East, Volume 2 by Tomás Spidlík SJ, translated by Anthony P. Gythiel Cistercian Publications) Professor-emeritus of the Pontifical Oriental Institute at Rome, Tomas Spidlík dedicated his scholarly life to studying and teaching the theology and spirituality of the Christian East in the hope of reconciling Eastern and Western Christian traditions. In this encyclopaedic overview of Eastern spiritual teaching he has created a bridge by which Western Christians may pass over centuries of misunderstanding and obliviousness. This second volume on Eastern Christian spirituality amplifies in depth the final two chapters of the earlier The Spirituality of the Christian East: A Systematic Handbook. Like Cassian in writing his Conferences, Cardinal Spidlík does not advocate any particular pattern of prayer, but sets out faithfully to collect and share the teachings of generations of eastern monks and spiritual writers.

This masterful analysis of the major parameters of Eastern Orthodox prayer tradition offers anyone who is interested practical advice for the spiritual life as well as sophisticated theological reflection.  The volume is full of profound insights presented in a balanced way, not of advocacy but of invitation to the spiritual life.

Excerpt: “Prayer is a state of the intellect, actualized only through the light of the Holy Trinity by means of ec­stasy.” This is one of the many 'definitions' of prayer found in the spiritual writings of the christian East. Extremely varied, they agree in one assertion alone: the true nature of prayer is un­utterable; the true master who teaches us to pray is the Holy Spirit. Should we be surprised then, if most of the writings of this spirit­ual tradition are treatises on prayer? One even gets the impression that prayer is almost the exclusive theme, and that other subjects are touched upon only as they relate to prayer. What is the content of these treatises? To what end were they composed? The variety of forms reflects their intent and the circumstances that prompted writers to take up the pen to address so difficult a subject.

Poets admit that for them writing is a compulsion, a command they cannot disregard. Anyone who has had a remarkable experi­ence feels obliged to share it with others. When the heart is seized by great joy, eagerness 'unwinds the tongue', exclaims Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, the poet among the Fathers.' Strong emotion is ex­pressed in words which, like a violent wind, 'enters the cracks to produce a sound': How can anyone keep secret the divine inspi­rations received during prayer, the mystical visions experienced at privileged moments, especially when the recipient possesses liter­ary talent and the gift of words? Keeping silent under such cir­cumstances would surely mean being ungrateful to God.

When Symeon the New Theologian, the great byzantine mys­tic, speaks of his experiences of enlightenment, he does so in the form of a `Thanksgiving to God' for the favors he was deemed worthy of receiving.' Gregory of Nareg was not called 'the armen­ian Pindar' without good reason. His Sacred Elegies are unsur­passed in the perfection of their form, and his personal experience—an experience received exclusively in prayer—is communicated with an amazing freshness.

Yet not everyone has the gift of eloquence, or chooses not to use it out of humility. In every civilization there have been great masters who wrote nothing at all. Yet their teaching survived because dis­ciples carefully noted down their instructions and recorded them for posterity. Some saints' Lives were written for the express pur­pose of revealing the marvelous divine gifts received by men and women of God during prayer. Who would be able to imagine the inner struggles of Saint Antony during his nights in the desert, had Saint Athanasius not described them for the profit of those who pray? While Saint Symeon the New Theologian kept secret certain details of his mystic journey, his disciple, Nicetas Stethatos, gave an account of them in the biography of his master/

A pattern of spiritual instruction came more and more to domi­nate treatises on prayer. It was the task of the spiritual fathers to introduce their 'sons' into the life of the Spirit, where prayer plays a fundamental role. Prayer must be taught, explained, and super­vised—as is true for the practice of the virtues. 'To beginners, the law of prayer is burdensome, like a despotic master', Ilias the Ekdidos wrote. In Egyptian monastic circles, exhortations to the spiritual life were usually very brief, given in the form of 'apoph­thegms', `sayings'—yet this simplicity of form frequently con­cealed a life-long experience.

Evagrius was so fascinated by this simplicity that he tried to imitate it in his little work On Prayer, really a treatise that reveals a clearly developed pattern of thought presented in the form of short insights presented in no apparently fixed order. Cassian is close to Evagrius; in his views on lofty mystical exaltation he cer­tainly belongs to the same tradition. The aim of his Conferences, however, was more comprehensive. He did not want to advocate a particular pattern, but set out faithfully to collect all the teach­ings of the elders. As a result, his chapter dealing exclusively with prayer' takes on the appearance of a general, though succinct, handbook.

This style was later to be continued and perfected, especially when anthologies and collections of the maxims of the ancients dominated the literature of spirituality. Later compilers assured their readers of their fidelity in transmitting the teaching of the Fathers without adding to or removing from it. Indeed, this was often their only merit, and not one to be belittled. Let us bear in mind that this type of spiritual reading continued until the publi­cation of the Philokalia, that pre-eminent collection of instruc­tions on prayer."

Despite its abundance of classical texts, the Philokalia nonethe­less represents a particular stream of thought, for it is an anthol­ogy of texts typical of the hesychast movement. The aim of Ignatii Brianchaninov a century later was similar. Because he no longer limited himself mechanically to reproducing the texts themselves, but in addition explained the teaching of the Fathers in his own words, his treatises on prayer—while remaining traditional—take on the character of a logical synthesis, structured in terms of a personal, conscious reflection.

Being rational, human persons spontaneously reflect on what they learn and discover. Upon reflection, they synthesize the data to produce an overview. Questions are asked and answers are formu­lated—a method the greek Fathers learned during their studies. Thus, Origen's little work On Prayer has all the good qualities of a treatise on speculative theology and remains relevant even today.

On the other hand, in the East, thanks to the monks, the 'posi­tive' method largely prevailed over 'scholastic' theology. Spiritual authors never tired of pointing out the great danger that rational concepts, the products of aristotelian logic, might replace spiri­tual vision given only to those who are pure of heart.

The present book—conceived as Volume Two of our Systematic Handbook," because it studies the last two chapters in depth—remains in the tradition of eastern 'positive' theology while adapt­ing itself to standards of modern-day research. No attempt will be made to follow any system other than that suggested by the chap­ter divisions, by subject matter, or by the documents presented. We are aware of certain disadvantages: the overlap among the vari­ous traditions is easily obliterated and may create the impression of detracting from the progressive rhythm of the individual life.

This is, inevitably, the weak aspect of any handbook that at­tempts to offer a broad overview in a limited number of pages. Real life, by contrast, leans towards a saying clearly stated by Mark the Ascetic: 'There are many differing methods of prayer. No method is harmful. If it were, it would be not prayer but the ac­tivity of Satan.' Also, 'Progress should be visible in our life. We should offer prayers to God in accordance with our state in life.'

To anyone who is seeking in this handbook less general and more nuanced instruction, we can give no better advice than this: find a suitable apophthegm, one chosen from the heart. The tra­dition of the Christian East offers an enormous wealth of them, each more beautiful than the next…

Prayer', wrote Martyrius Sandona, 'may do what it likes—just as God can. It gives orders on earth, it holds back in heaven. Prayer is a god amongst human beings.'' All the spir­itual authors of the Christian East would be ready to sign such a statement, for they were in no doubt about the power of prayer. With one voice, they confessed that prayer is the occupation most necessary to the human person.2 Thus, Theophan the Recluse writes: 'Prayer forms a whole. It summarizes all things: faith, liv­ing according to faith, salvation.' There is indeed a close link be­tween prayer and perfection. Can they be identified? The answer will vary, depending on how one views prayer, and depending on the content one gives to this term which is universally human yet nonetheless is given very different meanings and gradations. To conclude, then, let us summarize the aspects which we have seen brought out into high relief in the East. Only then will we be able to give a satisfactory answer to the question about the identity of prayer and perfection.

In the West, authors in recent years have reserved the expres­sion 'state of prayer' to mystical states, to 'infused prayer of some duration' In the East, the word katastasis (state) has been used in the broad sense to designate the attitude of prayer, the manner of praying" or again the state of the spiritual life, the soul's moral disposition or simply a peaceful state of soul." Yet in Evagrius Ponticus, the term has a specific technical meaning, indicating the pre-eminent state; it designates 'the state of prayer', defined as `a passionless state in which supreme love transports on high a wisdom-loving, spiritual mind'." This evagrian notion was taken over by Maximus the Confessor." Cassian uses the expression in a less intellectual sense: for him it is simply steadfastness of soul, centered on God by a constant remembrance of him."

Depending on the various points of view, this perfect state of prayer will be defined as a 'passionless state' (katastasis apathes), a `peaceful state' (eirenike katastasis), an 'angelic or primeval state' (archike katastasis), because it is a return to man's first condition,that is the 'natural state' of the soul created in the image of God. A 'state' (stasis) is therefore essentially long-lasting. But its second characteristic is that of connaturality. The term katastasis was there­fore translated into Latin as collocatio rei in sua sede, that is, 'some­thing established in its proper place', where it should be." Thus, the 'state of prayer' (orationis status) is a habitual, natural dispo­sition which somehow deserves the name 'prayer' in itself, aside from the acts it produces more or less frequently. It is an implicit prayerl always ready to become explicit; it is a 'state of the heart', `the state of perfection'.

If we give the word 'prayer' the profound meaning of a 'filial' and 'dialogical' relationship with the heavenly Father, without being preoccupied with how it is manifested on the outside, then prayer and holiness coincide. Theophan the Recluse can therefore write that 'prayer is the quickening of the spirit, in some way its deification'.

“As the lungs expand to attract the life-giving elements of air by breathing, so do the depths of our soul open and expand during prayer, and so does our spirit ascend to God to receive the gift that allows us to be united with him. And as the oxygen received by the blood is then conveyed to the entire body to vivify it, so does the gift received from God permeate everything that is in us and vitalize our entire inner being.”

Prayer is therefore the life of the Spirit. Or, as John of Kronstadt writes, each fervent prayer 'will bring Christ into your heart, with the Father and the Holy Spirit'. The Spirit, on his part, is crying in the depth of our heart, ‘Abba, Father!’ (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6).

Gregory of Nyssa and the Grasp of Faith: Union, Knowledge, and Divine Presence by Martin Laird (Oxford Early Christian Studies: Oxford University Press) The first in-depth study of Gregory of Nyssa, this book shows how for Gregory the darkness of faith is what unites the believer with God. Through this union by faith alone, God yet speaks through the deeds and discourse of the believer. While the believer is immersed in the darkness of unknowing, they are also transformed in light. Laird alters the way in which we understand Gregory's mystical theology.

Scholars of Gregory of Nyssa have long acknowledged the centrality of faith in his theory of divine union. To date, however, there has been no sustained examination of this key topic. The present study fills this gap and elucidates important auxiliary themes that accrue to Gregory's notion of faith as a faculty of apophatic union with God. The result adjusts how we understand the Cappadocian's apophaticism in general and his so-called mysticism of darkness in particular.

After a general discussion of the increasing value of faith in late Neoplatonism and an overview of important work done on Gregorian faith, this study moves on to sketch a portrait of the mind and its dynamic, varying cognitive states and how these respond to the divine pedagogy of scripture, baptism, and the presence of God. With this portrait of the mind as a backdrop we see how Gregory values faith for its ability to unite with God, who remains beyond the comprehending grasp of mind. A close examination of the relationship between faith and mind shows Gregory bestowing on faith qualities which Plotinus would have granted only to the 'crest of the wave of intellect.

While Gregorian faith serves as the faculty of apophatic union with God, faith yet gives something to mind. This dimension of Gregory's apophaticism has gone largely unnoticed by scholars. At the apex of an apophatic ascent faith unites with God the Word; by virtue of this union the believer takes on the qualities of the Word, who speaks (logophasis) in the deeds and discourse of the believer. Finally this study redresses how Gregory has been identified with a 'mysticism of darkness' and argues that he proposes no less a 'mysticism of light.

Faith the Christian Foundation

But the Law has found its fulfilment in Christ, so that all who have faith will be justified.' So proclaimed Paul to the Christians at Rome! 'If you declare with your mouth', he continues, 'that Jesus is Lord, and if you believe with your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved.' That faith, and not obedience to the Law, could open the doors of justification and salvation, Paul insisted, was nothing new, and he looks to Abraham as one who embodied this faith: 'Abraham put his faith in God and this was reckoned to him as uprightness.'3 Indeed the Letter to the Hebrews provides a salvation history that focuses on acts of faith from Abel and Enoch through Abraham, Moses, and the prophets. What is true of Abraham is true of all believers: 'it is people of faith who receive the same blessing as Abraham, the man of faith'.

Faith as a doorway to God is foundational for Christianity from the beginning, but as Christianity began to move out and engage the Hellenistic culture in which it was immersed, this emphasis on faith as somehow providing access to God seemed to generate more heat than light. It was not that pistis meant nothing to a philosophical culture permeated by the spirit of Plato. It did indeed mean something, and Plato's Allegory of the Line is often taken as the locus classicus in this regard: caught up in sense impression, faith was associated with a very low and unreliable form of knowledge. As E.R. Dodds observed long ago in his Wiles Lectures: 'Had any cultivated pagan of the second century been asked to put in a few words the difference between his own view of life and the Christian one, he might reply that it was the difference between logismos and pistis, between reasoned conviction and blind faith. To anyone brought up on classical Greek philosophy, pistis meant the lowest grade of cognition.' It was clearly not the case that Greek philosophy did not value the divine; Neoplatonism was especially concerned with divine union. What was required for this, however, was not faith but the non-discursive reaches of the intelligence. This is in many ways a suitable place to situate the subject of the present study of Gregory of Nyssa.

While Gregory of Nyssa spoke of faith in a variety of senses, this study will focus on a particular, indeed technical, use of the termpistis. We shall see that Gregory of Nyssa ascribes to faith qualities which Neoplatonism would reserve to the crest of the wave of nous. Indeed, for Gregory of Nyssa, faith becomes a faculty of union with God, who is beyond all comprehension, beyond the reach of concept, image, word. To speak of union with God beyond noetic activity is something with which Neoplatonism is very familiar, though it would not until Proclus see that faith had a role in this apophatic union. But Gregory does see the role of faith in union with God, and to develop his views on this matter he grounds himself not in Plotinus or Porphyry but in certain biblical figures who embody faith, especially Abraham, Moses, the bride of the Song of Songs, and Paul.

Philo, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen had done much in their own Middle-Platonic context to show that biblical faith could be taken with epistemological seriousness. For Philo faith was the 'queen of virtues' and he could ascribe to faith the capacity to unite with God: `What then is the cementing substance? Do you ask, what? Piety, surely, and faith: for these virtues adjust and unite the intent of the heart to the incorruptible Being: as Abraham when he believed is said to "come near to God" (Gen. 18: 23).' Clement of Alexandria attempted to give a thorough explanation of faith to assuage the objections of both Greek philosophy and the Gnostics, who considered their gnosis higher than simple faith. For Clement faith became the acceptance of the first principles of knowledge that cannot be proved, but without which there could be no gnosis. In his Contra Celsum Origen is keen to refute Celsus' accusation that Chrisitans accept things on faith without the support of reason.12 Origen concedes that faith is 'useful for the multitude, and that we admittedly teach those who cannot abandon everything and pursue a study of rational argument to believe without thinking out their reasons'. He insists, however, that this is not the ideal and that faith with the support of reason is better than faith alone: 'it is in harmony with scripture to say that it is far better to accept doctrines with reason and wisdom than with mere faith'. But Origen is not always on the defensive about faith. Commenting on Luke 8:48, 'My daughter your faith has saved you,' Origen likens philosophers to physicians who attempt but fail to heal humanity. 'But upon touching the fringe of Jesus' garment, who alone is the physician of souls and bodies, [humanity] is healed on the spot by the fire and warmth of faith. If we look to our faith in Jesus Christ and consider how great is the son of God and touch something of him, we will see that in comparison to the fringes in him we have touched but a fringe. But all the same the fringe heals us and enables us to hear Jesus say: "Daughter, your faith has saved you".' As much as Origen values the reasoned argument of philosophy, he can speak of faith as providing something that philosophy alone cannot provide. Faith mediates real contact with Jesus and brings healing.

These brief glimpses of Philo, Clement, and Origen represent the early Christian concern to integrate the epistemological concerns of their philosophical-cultural milieux into a viable understanding of how Christian faith could lead to an experience of God. While Gregory of Nyssa is very much heir to this Alexandrian tradition, he writes in a Neoplatonic-cultural context which is much less hostile towards faith. Curiously, late Neoplatonism begins to look very much like a religion, not least in the way in which it came to value faith and revelation. Dodds remarks, 'pagan philosophy tended increasingly to replace reason by authority—and not only the authority of Plato, but the authority of Orphic poetry, of Hermetic theosophy, of obscure revelations like the Chaldaean Oracles'. It is worth considering this rise of faith in late Neoplatonism, not to suggest that this was a direct influence on what Gregory claimed of faith as a faculty of union, but rather to show that the theological culture of late antiquity, for both Christianity and late Neoplatonism, saw immense, religious possibility in faith. The exaltation of faith was part of the spirit of the age.

St. Symeon the New Theologian and Orthodox Tradition by Hilarion Alfeyev (Oxford Early Christian Studies: Oxford University Press) The teachings of St Symeon (949-1022) created much controversy in Byzantium and led to his short-lived exile to Asia Minor in 1009. This book examines St Symeon from within the Byzantine mystical tradition, looking at him as both a highly personal and a very traditional ecclesiastical writer. For the first time in modern scholarship, this study explores St Symeon's attitude to Scripture and to church worship; his relations with his spiritual father, Symeon the Studite; and the Studite tradition in general.

St. Symeon the New Theologian and Orthodox Tradition is a study of the mystical nature of tradition, and the traditional nature of mysticism, and of St Symeon as both a highly personal and very traditional ecclesiastical writer. The teachings of St Symeon (late tenth to early eleventh century) created much controversy in Byzantium and even led to a short‑lived exile to Asia Minor. For the first time in modern scholarship St Symeon's attitude to Scripture and to church worship, his relations with his spiritual father, Symeon the Studite, and the Studite tradition in general are examined. Separate chapters are dedicated to Symeon's cycle of daily reading, to his attitude to hagiographical literature, to his trinitarian theology, ecclesiology, anthropology, and mysticism. Special attention is also paid to the links between Symeon and preceding authors such as Gregory Nazianzen. In this book Dr Alfeyev aims to redress the balance existing in the modern scholarly approach to Symeon and, more generally, to the Byzantine mystical tradition. By examining Symeon from within the tradition to which both he and the author belong Dr Alfeyev breaks new ground in original research. Hilarion Alfeyev is a Russian scholar in Byzantine and Syriac Patristics.


Our major concern in the preceding chapters was to show the fundamental unity between Symeon the New Theologian and Orthodox tradition, namely Holy Scripture and the teaching of the Apostles and the church Fathers‑a closeness upon which he himself insisted in the words chosen as an epigraph to the present study. This closeness has been observed on the basis of an analysis of Symeon's scriptural approach, his attitude to the liturgical worship, his connection with Studite monasticism and his general adherence to the patristic tradition of the Orthodox East. We saw that the polemic which Symeon conducted with his contemporaries always concerned crucial questions of Christian tradition, such as true theology and sanctity, true repentance and the vision of God as light, salvation, and the deification of man; and that in all these issues Symeon took a traditional point of view and spoke out against the corruption and falsification of tradition. Symeon might therefore be regarded as a `conservative' theologian, and he certainly did not mean to become an innovator or reformer of tradition.

At the same time Symeon's teaching caused tense arguments already during his lifetime, and his activity was at least once publicly condemned by the Synod in Constantinople, resulting in his second and final exile from the capital. In his fourth `Epistle' Symeon speaks of himself as one who is `condemned and despised by all people, not only laymen, but also by monks, priests, and bishops'.' It is worth quoting here a passage from this `Epistle', which is still unpublished, where Symeon himself enumerates his `faults', writing to one of his disciples:

Pray for me, a sinner, since I am hated for Christ, persecuted for my desire to live devoutly in Christ, condemned by all people for . . . the veneration of my spiritual father and teacher; [since I am] claimed by them to be a heretic.

Because I teach all to seek the grace from above and the visitation of the Holy Spirit . . . because I teach that those who have partaken [of the Holy Spirit] not only free themselves from all desires, passions and sinful thoughts, but also [become gods by adoption, remain near God and are beyond flesh and the world; and not only become saints and themselves bodiless‑in‑the body, but also see all the faithful as saints; and not only as saints, but those who are clothed in Christ and have become Christs; [because I teach that he who has not acquired such a vision in the eyes of his heart is ignorant, since he has not become [living] in the light of Christ and has not partaken of it; for it is in this way that it is granted to see the light of Christ . .. And because I say all these things . . . I am despised by all as arrogant and blasphemous, and the devil has raised against me his followers and fights to stop me . . . from zealously pursuing to renew an icon  a true image] of living according to the Gospel  which has become old and turned black . . . They delivered me over to hunger, thirst and death because I do not deceive them by saying: `Don't worry, we shall all be saved without efforts and sufferings, without repentance and exact observance of God's commandments', whereas in fact, those who say such things pervert the whole teaching of Christ and the Apostles.

Symeon indicates here that he was persecuted primarily for the following features of his theology and practice: his veneration of Symeon the Studite and his teaching on dispassion and sanctity which is acquired during one's earthly life; his call to seek mystical life and the conscious experience of the grace of the Holy Spirit; his doctrine of deification; his doctrine of the vision of God as light and of participation in it; his insistence upon the necessity of repentance and observance of God's commandments. These features, together with Symeon's special devotion to the daily reception of the Eucharist (which was also questioned by his opponents), comprised his `new theology', that is, his programme for the renewal of the Christian life: a renewal which was understood by him not as a re­formation or revision of tradition, but as a restoration of and return to the traditional ideal of `living according to the Gospel.

Symeon's opponents, in their turn, opposed to his teaching the following considerations: t. though some people in ancient times did reach true sanctity and dispassion, it is unimaginable that in our time such a saint might appear; though all Christians receive the grace of the Holy Spirit in Baptism and the other sacraments, it is impos­sible to have an experience of it in a conscious manner;. The in no way deification of man takes place in the future world and i during one's earthly life; the vision of God is also feasible only in the future life; though the observance of God's commandments is ideal for every Christian, hardly possible to observe them all; it is enough if we observe some; though participation in the Eucharist is essential for salvation, it is not necessary to partake every day with a conscious experience of the grace of God. In other words, the ideology of `God on Sundays only' was opposed to the maximalism of a monk, whose quest for absolute allegiance to the ideal of the evangelical life was received with perplexity and hostility. For this maximalism Symeon was persecuted by his contemporaries, including the representatives of the hierarchy, in the same manner as John Chrysostom and Theodore the Studite were persecuted for their moral radicalism,t or many church Fathers for their uncompromising attitude towards heresies.

In the course of this study, it has been proved that all major ideas of Symeon are rooted in Orthodox tradition and that his teaching corresponds to the ideas of preceding Fathers, in particular of Gregory Nazianzen, Maximos the Confessor, John Klimakos, Theodore and Symeon the Studites, and Isaac the Syrian. Can we therefore say that in some way Symeon's personal message was very much a continuation and development of that of his predecessors? It can also be asserted that the ideal of `living according to the Gospel' was a cantus firmus of the whole of patristic theology and that Symeon repeated, in his own time and for his contemporaries, what had been preached from age to age by the church Fathers. It can be claimed that Symeon's mysticism is a part of the mystical experience of the Orthodox Church and that the same sort of experience was the driving force behind the development of Orthodox theology. It can be maintained, after all, that Symeon's maximalism reflected in fact the general approach of the Christian tradition and the maximalism of Jesus Christ, Whose message was sometimes greeted with the same bewilderment: `Who then can be saved?'

What distinguishes Symeon from the majority of other church Fathers is his autobiographical approach to mystical themes, in particular his openness in description of his own visions of the divine light. All the elements of Symeon's doctrine are traditional, but the particular emphasis that he gives to specific themes is highly personal. Symeon's contemporaries were not entirely unjust when claiming that none of the great Fathers before Symeon had spoken so x explicitly about himself and his personal experience.' It can be added that, among the ascetical writers, Symeon was the first to emphasize the central place of the Eucharist in one's spiritual journey towards perfect union with God. He was the first to place the vision of the divine light as the main goal of one's ascetical struggle. He was the first to speak of dispassion and deification in such an experiential' manner. Symeon's mystical theology is perfectly `in harmony' with proceeding and subsequent Fathers of the Eastern Church, yet he is one of the most personal writers Christian tradition has ever known.

One crucial conclusion concerning the very nature of Orthodox tradition might be drawn on the basis of our study of Symeon. His case illustrates, in a very striking manner, that the foundation stone of tradition is nothing else but an experience of the direct relations ship between God and the human person‑the experience of `immediacy with God', which is commonly designated as `mystical'. This implies that true tradition is unimaginable unless mystical experience stands behind it. Those who try to oppose a formal and rationalistic `tradition' to an enthusiastic and inspired `mysticism' fall into the mistake of misunderstanding what tradition is. Such people, whatever their rank and background (in the case of Symeon, as in many other cases, they were the representatives of the `official Church'), while trying to defend what they think to be `tradition', favour its corruption and falsification. One may say that if ever the tradition becomes deprived of its mystical and prophetic core, it tends to be transformed into its own antipode.

Our conclusion concerning the nature of mysticism within the Christian Church is analogous to this: true mysticism is unimaginable and impossible outside of tradition. The true mystic is not he who places his personal experience above tradition, but, on the contrary, he whose experience is in agreement with the experience of the Church in general and its greatest representatives in particular. The difficult problem of `heretical' mysticism, i.e. the kind that leads people out of the Church, falls beyond the scope of this study. Examples of such mysticism are numerous throughout the history of Christianity; historical role of the great mystics of the Church is very often the role of defenders of tradition and renewers of the ideal of living according to the Gospel: this is why they are usually maximalists and radicals. But it is precisely their maximalism that inspires thousands of ordinary Christians and keeps Orthodox tradition alive. In every age mystics emerge, or rather they are granted to the Church, so as to transmit their heritage to their contemporaries and to following generations, keeping the golden chain of sanctity unbroken.


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