Maximus the Confessor: When Moses pitches his tent outside the camp… Tuesday, Nov 1 2016 

Maximus_ConfessorIn the multiplicity of beings there is diversity, dissimilarity and difference.

But in God, who is in an absolute sense one and alone, there is only identity, simplicity and similarity.

It is therefore not safe to devote oneself to the contemplation of God before one has advanced beyond the multiplicity of beings.

Moses showed this when he pitched the tent of his mind outside the camp (cf. Exod. 33:7) and then conversed with God.

For it is dangerous to attempt to utter the inexpressible by means of the spoken word, for the spoken word involves duality or more than duality.

The surest way is to contemplate pure being silently in the soul alone, because pure being is established in undivided unity and not among the multiplicity of things.

The high priest, who was commanded to go into the holy of holies within the veil only once every year (cf. Lev. 16; Heb. 9:7), shows us that only he who has passed through what is immaterial and holy and has entered the holy of holies – that is, who has transcended the whole natural world of sensible and intelligible realities, and is free from all that is specific to creatures and whose mind is unclad and naked – is able to attain the vision of God.

When Moses pitches his tent outside the camp (cf. Exod. 33:7) – that is, when he establishes his will and mind outside the world of visible things – he begins to worship God.

Then, entering into the darkness (cf. Exod. 20:21) – that is, into the formless and immaterial realm of spiritual knowledge – he there celebrates the most sacred rites.

The darkness is that formless, immaterial and bodiless state which embraces the knowledge of the prototypes of all created things.

He who like another Moses enters into it, although mortal by nature, understands things that are immortal.

Through this knowledge he depicts in himself the beauty of divine excellence, as if painting a picture which is a faithful copy of archetypal beauty.

Then he comes down from the mountain and offers himself as an example to those who wish to imitate that excellence. In this way he manifests the love and generosity of the grace he has received.

Maximus the Confessor (580-662): Two Hundred Texts on Theology and the Incarnate Dispensation of the Son of God written for Thalassios, First Century, 83-85, Text  from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. 2 (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979), pp. 132-133.

**The translators of the Philokalia say the following about the word “intellect” as used in this passage from Maximus and by other Greek authors: INTELLECT (nous): the highest faculty in man, through which – provided it is purified – he knows God or the inner essences or principles of created things by means of direct apprehension or spiritual perception. Unlike the dianoia or reason, from which it must be carefully distinguished, the intellect does not function by formulating abstract concepts and then arguing on this basis to a conclusion reached through deductive reasoning, but it understands divine truth by means of immediate experience, intuition or ‘simple cognition’ (the term used by St Isaac the Syrian). The intellect dwells in the ‘depths of the soul’; it constitutes the innermost aspect of the heart (St Diadochos). The intellect is the organ of contemplation, the ‘eye of the heart’ (Macarian Homilies).

Georges Florovsky: Gregory of Nyssa on the Appearance of God to Moses on Mount Sinai Friday, Jan 10 2014 

FlorovskyJanuary 10th is the feast of St Gregory of Nyssa (OrthooxWiki here; Pope Benedixt XVI here and here; Georges Florovsky here).

Gregory sees an example of the mystical ascent to God in the figure of Moses the Lawgiver and in the appearance of God on Mount Sinai.

The people were ordered to purify themselves, and the mountain was covered with a cloud and illuminated by fire.

“By the power of God alone and without any other implement the air formed itself into individual words. These words were not only distinct, but they proclaimed the divine commandments.”

The people were afraid to ascend the mountain to listen, and only Moses entered the cloud.

He himself became invisible when he penetrated the ineffable mystery of the Divinity and was in communion with the Invisible One.”

The appearance of God begins with light, and Moses had once seen God in His radiance in the Burning Bush. Now, having become closer to perfection, he saw God in a cloud and, sheltered by a cloud, he participated in eternal life.

In Gregory’s interpretation the first steps away from the path of error are light. A closer examination of that which is hidden leads into a cloud, which replaces visible things.

Finally the soul enters the innermost sanctuary of the knowledge of God “which is enveloped on all sides by the divine cloud. Everything that can be seen and comprehended remains outside, and all that is left for the vision of the soul is that which is invisible and incomprehensible. In this cloud is God.”

The Divinity is “beyond the reach of the understanding.” As man ascends, the “inaccessible nature of Divinity” gradually becomes revealed to him and reason sees God in “the invisible and incomprehensible,” in “a radiant cloud.”

Even when it reaches this cloud the soul realizes that it is as far from perfection as if it had never set out. According to Gregory, it is exactly this that is the highest truth of all.

Our true knowledge is that we do not and cannot know because that which we seek is beyond our cognition. By its very nature the Divinity is higher than knowledge and comprehension.

The first principle of theology must be that God is inaccessible. That which can be contemplated cannot be conceptually expressed.

Whoever claims that God can be known merely shows that he has abandoned the One Who truly exists in favor of something which exists only in the imagination and which does not contain true life, for this life cannot be expressed by concepts.

Georges Florovsky (1893-1979; Eastern Orthodox): “St Gregory of Nyssa” in The Eastern Fathers of the Fourth Century.

Nikolai Velimirovich: Eternity Came into Contact with Time, Heaven with Earth, the Spiritual with the Physical Monday, Dec 30 2013 

Nikolai VelimirovichJust as a mother bends down and leans over a tearstained baby in a crib, so does the descent of the Creator of men into this temporal and visible world correspond to His miraculous existence in eternity.

[…] “When Mary asked, “How can this be, since I have no husband?” the archangel of God answered: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”

If anyone among you asks in amazement, how this is possible, God’s herald of glad tidings will answer him, just as he answered the Most Holy Virgin when he said: “For with God nothing will be impossible” (cf. Luke 1:28-37).

Instead of questioning and probing, silence and gladness are more fitting here – silence on account of the sublime mystery, and gladness on account of the almighty power of our God and Creator.

The Son of God and the Son of the Virgin – the One Begotten in heaven and Born on earth, existing in eternity and in time. This is your Messiah, O chosen people, and your Savior.

Begotten in eternity of the Father without a mother. Born in time of the Mother without a father. Whoever wishes to understand this completely, let him say whether he fully comprehends the grain of sand beneath his feet, or a leaf on a tree, or the stars in the firmament.

Has he understood the tiniest creature of God, which he tramples, or sees, or touches? […] This world is miraculous; the whole world breathes miracles. This world is mysterious; the whole world is censed with the incense of awesome and sublime mysteries.

How much more miraculous is the Creator of this world? At any point where eternity comes into contact with time, where heaven comes into contact with earth, a great light appears. And it is light which is incomprehensible to you, and not darkness.

The Holy Virgin in Nazareth was that blessed point, where eternity came into contact with time, where heaven came into contact with earth. And from that point a great light came forth, which began to shine over the entire world. It is light which is incomprehensible to you, blessed people, and not darkness.

[…] We know…that the Holy Spirit de­scended upon the Virgin Mary in Nazareth, and that the power of the Most High overshadowed her.

Thus eternity came into contact with time, heaven with earth, the spiritual with the physical, and the great Light appeared, which has illumined the world and you who are in the world.

Nikolai Velimirovich (1880-1956; Orthodox Church): The Faith of the Chosen People, 5.

Basil the Great: Swimming Upwards to the Light Saturday, Nov 30 2013 

St-Basil-the-GreatIf you would speak of God, or hear of Him, go out from your body, put aside your bodily senses, leave this earth behind you, leave the sea behind you, set the skies beneath you, pass beyond the measuring of time, the procession of the seasons, the ordered perfection of the universe;

rise above the heavens, pass beyond the stars, and the wonders that relate to them, their ordered movement, their magnitude, their service to all the universe, their harmony, their shining splendour, their ordered station, their motion, their rotation one in respect of another.

Passing in mind beyond all these things, raised above them all, gaze in thought upon all the beauty there, upon the heavenly hosts, the Angelic Choirs, the Dignities of the Archangels, the Glory of the Dominations, the Seats of the Thrones, the Virtues, the Principalities, the Powers.

Passing beyond all these, reaching upwards in thought beyond every created thing, uplifting the mind beyond them, now contemplate the Divine Nature: stable, immovable, unchangeable, impassable, simple, indivisible, dwelling in light inaccessible (1 Tim. 6:10), surpassing glory, goodness the most desired, beauty inconceivable; which fastens fiercely upon the soul, wounding it, yet cannot fittingly be spoken of in words.

There are the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit: Nature Uncreated, Sovereign Majesty, Goodness Itself. The Father the beginning of all things, the Source of existence of all that is, the Root of all that lives. From Him comes forth the Fount of Life, Wisdom, Power, the perfect Image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15), the Son Begotten of the Father, the Living Word, Who is God, Who is with God (Jn. 1:2).

[…] The mind then that has been able to purify itself of all earthly affections, and to leave behind it every known creature, and, like some fish from the deep, swim upwards to the light, now attaining to the purity of the beginning, with the Father and Son, there shall look upon the Holy Spirit, Who by reason of His essential Unity of Nature with Them shares also in their Goodness, Their Justice, Their Holiness, Their Life.

For Thy Spirit, it is written, is good (Ps. 142:10). And again, He is a right Spirit (Ps. 1:12). And again, He is Thy holy Spirit (5:13). And the Apostle also speaks of: The law of the Spirit of life (Rom. 8:2). Of these things none has been received by Him, none afterwards added to Him; but as heat is inseparable from fire and radiance from light, so Sanctification cannot be separated from the Holy Spirit, nor the Giving of Life, nor Goodness, nor Justice.

Basil the Great (330-379): Homily 15,1-3, Translated by M.F. Toale, D.D. (PG 31) @ Lectionary Central.

Denys the Areopagite: Religiously Pursuing an Upward Course to the More Perfect Mysteries of the Godhead Monday, Nov 18 2013 

DionysiosHe who has well looked upon his own proper condition with unbiassed eyes, will depart from the gloomy recesses of ignorance.

Being imperfect, he will not, of his own accord, at once desire the most perfect union and participation of God.

Little by little, he will be carried orderly and reverently through things present to things more forward, and through these to things foremost, and when perfected, to the supremely Divine summit.

[…] The Divine Blessedness receives the man, thus conducted, into communion with Itself, and imparts to him the proper light as a kind of sign, making him godly and sharer of the inheritance of the godly, and sacred ordering.

Of these things the Hierarch’s seal given to the proselyte and the saving enrolment of the priests are a sacred symbol, registering him amongst those who are being saved, and placing in the sacred memorials.

[…] Yet it is not possible to hold, conjointly, qualities thoroughly opposed, nor that a man who has had a certain fellowship with the One should have divided lives, if he clings to the firm participation in the One.

Rather, he must be resistless and resolute, as regards all separations from the uniform.

This the teaching of the symbols reverently and enigmatically intimates, by stripping the proselyte, as it were, of his former life, and discarding to the very utmost the habits within that life.

It makes him stand naked and barefoot, looking away towards the west, whilst he spurns, by the aversion of his hands, the participations in the gloomy baseness.

The proselyte breathes out, as it were, the habit of dissimilarity which he had acquired, and professes the entire renunciation of everything contrary to the Divine likeness.

When the man has thus become invincible and separate from evil, the teaching of the symbols turns him towards the east, declaring clearly that his position and recovery will be purely in the Divine Light, in the complete separation from baseness.

And it receives his sacred promises of entire consort with the One, since he has become uniform through love of the truth.

[…] Things intellectual acquire the unchangeableness of the Godlike habit, by continuous and persistent struggles towards one thing, and by the entire destruction and annihilation of  things contrary.

For it is necessary that a man should not only depart from every kind of baseness, but he must be also bravely obdurate and ever fearless against the baneful submission to it.

Nor must he, at any time, become remiss in his sacred love of the truth, but with all his power persistently and perpetually be elevated towards it, always religiously pursuing his upward course, to the more perfect mysteries of the Godhead.

Denys the Areopagite (late 5th to early 6th century): The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, 2,3.

Jerome: A Soul which Cherishes an Ardent Love of Wisdom is Freely Infilled by the Spirit of God Monday, Oct 7 2013 

St.-Jerome-of-StridoniumOn Daniel 2:19-22

Verse 19. “And Daniel blessed the God of heaven, and spoke, saying….

In contrast to those who occupy themselves with this world and delude the earthly minded with demonic arts and illusions, Daniel blessed the God of heaven. For the gods who did not create heaven and earth will pass away.

Verse 21. […] “He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who acquire learning.” 

This accords with the scripture: “The wise man will hear and increase his wisdom” (Prov. 1:5). “For he who has, to him it shall be given” (Matt. 25:29).

A soul which cherishes an ardent love of wisdom is freely infilled by the Spirit of God. But wisdom will never penetrate a perverse soul (Wisdom 3).

Verse 22. “It is He who reveals deep and hidden things, and He knows what is placed in the darkness, and with Him is the light.” 

A man to whom God makes profound revelations and who can say, “O the depth of the riches of the knowledge and wisdom of God!” (Rom. 11:33), is one who, by the indwelling Spirit, probes even into the deep things of God, and digs the deepest of wells in the depths of his soul.

He is a man who has stirred up the whole earth, which is wont to conceal the deep waters, and he observes the command of God, saying: “Drink water from thy vessels and from the spring of thy wells” (Prov. 5:15).

As for the words which follow, “He knows what is placed in the darkness, and with Him is the light,” the darkness signifies ignorance, and the light signifies knowledge and learning. Therefore as wrong cannot hide God away, so right encompasses and surrounds Him.

Or else we should interpret the words to  mean all the dark mysteries and deep things concerning God, according to what we read in Proverbs: “He understands also the parable and the dark saying.”

This in turn is equivalent to what we read in the Psalms: “Dark waters in the clouds of the sky” (Ps. 17:12).

For one who ascends to the heights and forsakes the things of earth, and like the birds themselves seeks after the most rarified atmosphere and everything ethereal, becomes like a cloud to which the truth of God penetrates and which habitually showers rain upon the saints.

Replete with a plenitude of knowledge, he contains in his breast many dark waters enveloped with deep darkness, a darkness which only Moses can penetrate (Ex. 23) and speak with God face to face, of Whom the Scripture says: “He hath made darkness His hiding-place” (Ps. 17:12).

Jerome (347-420): Commentary on Daniel 2:19-22.

Denys the Areopagite: Looking Upwards to the Blessed and Supremely Divine Self of Jesus Friday, Oct 4 2013 

DionysiosWe must, then, most pious of pious sons, demonstrate from the supermundane and most sacred oracles and traditions,

that ours is a hierarchy of the inspired and divine and deifying science, and of operation, and of consecration,

for those who have been initiated with the initiation of the sacred revelation derived from the hierarchical mysteries.

See, however, that you do not put to scorn things most holy (Holy of Holies);

but rather treat them reverently, and you will honour the things of the hidden God by intellectual and obscure researches,

carefully guarding them from the participation and defilement of the uninitiated,

and reverently sharing holy things with the holy alone, by a holy enlightenment.

For thus, as the Word of God has taught us who feast at His Banquet, even Jesus Himself

– Who is the most supremely divine Mind and superessential,

Who is the Source and Essence, and most supremely Divine Power of every hierarchy and sanctification and divine operation

– illuminates the blessed beings who are superior to us, in a manner more clear, and at the same time more intellectual,

and assimilates them to His own Light, as far as possible;

and by our love of things beautiful elevated to Him, and which elevates us, folds together our many diversities,

and after perfecting into a uniform and divine life and habit and operation, holily bequeaths the power of the divine priesthood;

from which by approaching to the holy exercise of the priestly office, we ourselves become nearer to the beings above us,

by assimilation, according to our power, to their abiding and unchangeable holy steadfastness;

and thus by looking upwards to the blessed and supremely divine self of Jesus,

and reverently gazing upon whatever we are permitted to see,

and illuminated with the knowledge of the visions,

we shall be able to become, as regards the science of divine mysteries, purified and purifiers;

images of Light, and workers, with God, perfected and perfecting.

Denys the Areopagite (late 5th to early 6th century): The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, 1.

Gregory of Nyssa: Moses Entered Into the Darkness and There He Saw God Sunday, Mar 11 2012 

“Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was” (Exodus 20:21).

Moses entered into the darkness and there he saw God.

What does this signify? This present account seems in a way to con­tradict that of the first theophany.

Then God appeared in light, but now he appears in darkness.

Yet we must not imagine this to be at variance with our normal experience of spiritual con­templation.

By this statement the text teaches us that religious knowledge is first experienced as light.

All that is seen to be opposed to religion is darkness, and darkness vanishes when we receive the light.

But the more the mind advances and by ever increasing and more perfect application attains an intellec­tual comprehension of realities and approaches contemplation, the more clearly it sees that the divine nature is invisible.

Having left behind all appearances, not only those perceived by the senses but also those the intellect seems to see, it plunges ever deeper within itself, until by spiritual effort it penetrates to the invisible and the unknowable, and there it sees God.

This is the true knowledge of what is sought.

This is the seeing that consists in not seeing, because that which is sought transcends all knowledge, being separated on all sides by incomprehensibility as by a kind of darkness.

This is why John the contemplative, who had penetrated this luminous darkness, said that no one had ever seen God, declaring by this negation that the divine essence is beyond the reach not only of men but of every rational nature as well.

And so, when Moses had advanced in knowledge he declared that he saw God in the darkness, or in other words that he recog­nized that the Divinity is essentially that which transcends all knowledge and which no mind can apprehend.

The text says: Moses entered into the darkness where God was.

What God? He who has made the darkness his covering, as David declared, who had himself been initiated into the divine mysteries in that same sanctuary.

When Moses arrived there, he was taught by word what he had formerly learned from darkness, so that, I think, the doctrine on this matter may be made more firm for us by the witness of the divine voice.

The divine word at the beginning forbade that the Divine be likened to any of the things known by men, since every concept which comes from some comprehensible image constitutes an idol of God and does not proclaim God.

Gregory of Nyssa (c 335 – after 394): The Life of Moses, 2.162-66; from the Monastic Office of Vigils, Friday of the Second Week in Lent, Year 2.


Symeon the New Theologian: The mind should guard the heart in the time of prayer Wednesday, Oct 12 2011 

(Although the author is unknown, the following text has traditionally been attributed to St. Symeon the New Theologian.)

The mind should guard the heart in the time of prayer and always stay inside it.

From there, from the depths of the heart, it should then lift up the prayers to God.

For once it tries inside the heart and tastes and is soothed – as the Lord is good! – then the mind will never want to leave the place of the heart.

It will there repeat the words of Peter the apostle: “It is wonderful for us to be here!” (Matt 17:4).

Then it will always wish to look inside the heart, remaining there and pushing aside and expelling all the concepts which are planted by the devil.

To those who have not realised this work of salvation and remain unaware of it, this will most of the times seem very hard and unpleasant.

But those who have tasted its sweetness and enjoyed the pleasure inside the depths of their hearts, they all cry together with Paul: “What could ever come between us and the love of God?” (Rom 8:38-39).

Our holy fathers have listened the Lord who said that from the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, perjury, slander (Matt 15:19-20) and how these are the things that make a man unclean.

Further, they have listened to the part of the gospel where we are ordered to clean the inside of cup and dish first so that the outside may become clean as well (Matt 23:26).

They therefore left aside any other spiritual work and concentrated exclusively on guarding the heart, being confident that through this they would easily achieve all other virtues, whilst without it no virtue can be preserved.

This practice was called by some fathers “serenity of the heart”, whilst others named it “attention”, others “sobriety” and “detainment”, others “examination of the thoughts” and “guarding of the mind”.

[…] It is for this that the Ecclesiastes says: Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thy heart blameless and clear, and prevent your heart from thoughts (Eccl. 11:9 [LXX]).

The same is said in the Proverbs: if the devil makes an assault on you, do not let him enter your place (Eccl. 10:4 [LXX]) where “the place” means the heart.

The Lord Himself tells us in the Gospel that we must not worry (Lk 12:29) – in other words, not to scatter our minds here and there.

Again, in a different passage He says: Happy are those poor in spirit (Matt 5:3), meaning that happy are those who never acquired any concern of this world in their hearts and are free from all earthly thoughts.

Symeon the New Theologian (949–1022 AD): [traditional attribution] The Three Ways of Attention and Prayer Translated from Greek by Demetrios S. Skagias @ Myriobiblios.

Symeon the New Theologian: The resurrection of Christ takes place when Christ arises in us with the lightnings of incorruption and deity Monday, Apr 25 2011 

Most men believe in the resurrection of Christ, but very few have a clear vision of it….

That most sacred formula which is daily on our lips does not say “Having believed in Christ’s resurrection”.

Rather, it says: “Having beheld Christ’s resurrection, let us worship the Holy Lord Jesus, who alone is without sin.”

How then does the Holy Spirit urge us to say “Having beheld Christ’s resurrection” – which we have not seen – as though we had seen it?

For Christ has risen once for all a thousand years ago, and even then without anybody’s seeing it?

Surely Holy Scripture does not wish us to lie? Far from it!

Rather, it urges us to speak the truth, that the resurrection of Christ takes place in each of us who believes.

And this happens not once, but every hour, so to speak, when Christ the Master arises in us, resplendent in array and flashing with the lightnings of incorruption and Deity.

For the light-bringing coming of the Spirit shows forth to us, as in early morning, the Master’s resurrection, or, rather, it grants us to see the Risen One Himself.

Therefore we say, “The Lord is God, and He has given us light” (Ps. 118:27), and we allude to His second coming and add these words, “Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord” (Ps. 118:26).

Those to whom Christ has given light as He has risen, to them He has appeared spiritually, He has been shown to their spiritual eyes.

When this happens to us through the Spirit He raises us up from the dead and gives us life.

He grants us to see Him, who is immortal and indestructible.

More than that, He grants clearly to know Him who raises us up (Eph. 2:6) and glorifies us (Rom. 8:17) with Himself, as all the divine Scripture testifies.

These, then, are the divine mysteries of Christians.

This is the hidden power of our faith, which unbelievers, or those who believe with difficulty, or rather believe in part, do not see nor are able at all to see.

Symeon the New Theologian (949–1022 AD) [very slightly adapted] @ Mystagogy and Full of Grace and Truth and Preachers Institute.

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