Thursday, November 3, 2016

Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra on the Different Kinds of Temptation

Those who by God’s permission tempt us either inflame the desiring aspect of the soul, or stir up its incensive power, or darken its reasoning faculty, or envelop its body in pain, or deprive us of bodily necessities. [12] (St. Maximus the Confessor, Four Hundred Texts on Love: Second Century)

Here saint Maximus sets side by side for us on the one hand the tripartite division of the soul of man, the mental world of man, and on the other hand that of the body. He is not dealing with man’s personality, but with his passive aspect, with the passions which he may have, bring into activity or suffer.

The phrase by God’s permission means according to the knowledge and permission of God, God allows something to happen to them. Those who by God’s permission tempt us either inflame the desiring aspect of the soul, in other words, they create a burning desire within man, or stir up its incensive power, they contribute to man losing his mental or emotional balance so that he loses his internal peace, creating internal agitation, or darken its reasoning faculty, or they create conflict in the reason [logos], in the reasoning faculty of the soul [logistikon], which ceases to think correctly, so that my reasoning [logismos] is blinded, thrown into a torpor, dulled, distorted; it sees black as white and white as black.

First, we need to interpret at length the phrase either inflame the desiring aspect of the soul. The only thing I am able to desire is God. Is this possible?  Of course it is. Because, in reality, the only thing that I am able to know is God. When my intellect [noesis] is absorbed by God, then my spirit is free to ascend together with my soul which is totally given over to God, in addition to my desiring faculty. Consequently, my desire is sincere before God, it is divine, when my mind cleaves to God; otherwise, my internal world suffers a kind of division which can throw a shadow over me, create composition, division, even further fragmentation in my soul so that I am unable to love God, because I am not simple like God is simple.

How can those tempting inflame the desiring faculty of the soul? For example, while I am in a cenobitic monastery, they give me the longing to go out into the desert. They kindle in me this longing, this desire, which seems as if it were from God, but may actually be a stumbling block for me, my fall for the rest of my life. Or, they place in me the desire to go cultivate the people of God, to speak to the people, to save them. How? My heart is filled with warmth, I love them, I want to help them, and this warming [of the heart] is a temptation permitted by God, because God never tempts, he only allows temptations. This is why we say “by God’s permission.” And so my fervent desire is a clear temptation and as much as it takes the form of a good service, so the more dangerous it is, because it is all the better hidden from our understanding.

Second, or stir up its incensive power. The incensive power of the soul is the feeling part, where I feel intensely, where I live intensely; it is not desire. When I desire something, I don’t have it but I want it. The spirited faculty is something which I have and live, I feel it, I have laid hold of it. Whatever within us absorbs [our attention], whatever constrains us and possesses us—even our own thoughts—even if it is something completely our own, internal, when this is stirred up, harmony is lost. It is as if man starts to vibrate, he lives in internal turmoil. Think for a moment how when you come into conflict with someone else’s opinion or someone comes into conflict with your opinion; immediately you’re burning inside to prove what you believe. Or think of when you feel someone to be very dear to you and then others come to steal him, to take him in, or he dies. You feel the loss, your whole being is disturbed, your inner peace is lost.

Third, or darken its reasoning faculty. In the spiritual man the reasoning faculty [logistikon] is inactive, because his spirit is led upward. Generally, the intellect [noeron] soars high above, but the reason [logos] slows it dow---it wants to paint, it wants to be occupied, it constrains the intellect [nous]. Hence when we speak about the spiritual life, we distinguish the intellect [noeron] from the reason [logistiko]; while when we speak about the life of the passions and the properties of the soul, we don’t distinguish the intellect from the reason, but the incensive power of the soul at work.
When my intellect [nous] ascends toward God, then reasoning mind [logos], thought is pure and has no content, because the intellect [nous] is empty and is absorbed in God alone. Then the reasoning mind [logos] does nothing else but follows God. In other words, the mind [logos], when it is pure, is one with the intellect [nous]. But when it is not pure, then it becomes a counterweight to the intellect, it darkens the atmosphere so to speak, and the intellect is incapable of continuing on its course. Then we have thoughts [logismoi] as we say which in their most crude form result in fantasy. The intellect [noeron], when it mixes with an unclean thought, is essentially nonexistent, it is an eagle which has fallen in the mud and been covered up.  But when the intellect [nous] is an eagle, when the intellect flies, then the Tempter or the people [around us] try to cast a shadow on the reasoning mind [logistiko].

What is the difference between what the demons do on the one hand, and what other people do? They come into conflict with our desires, or they give us desires, and [either method] achieves the same result, warmth; or they help us in our thinking, in what we are living and feeling, or they come into conflict with this, and then cast a shadow on the reasoning faculty, removing its brightness and giving it content like a cloud, something so you can’t see. Any content in the reasoning mind obstructs the vision of God, it isn’t the cloud behind which God [waits], but the cloud above which [waits] the tempter. This is what happens with regard to the soul.

Now, regarding the body, or envelop its body in pain, or deprive us of bodily necessities. If it is the Evil One who is tempting you, he can come and hit you, cover you with bruises, make you sick, or take away all of your possessions. The same things happens if it is the people around you; maybe they fill [your life] with bodily grief, with deprivation, with impotence, hunger, nakedness, with whatever else it may be. In other words, they confine you so that deprived as you are, you can no longer deal with it, you react, and you lose your peace with God.

If you succeed in surpassing the grief, meaning you no longer consider the grief something evil , but only good—if you consider every robbery, loss, and grief as visitations of God—then  you have become incapable of being tempted. But from the moment that you want to conquer the grief, the pain, you want to fight back, or to regain any of your lost bodily goods, then you [become] unable to have a relationship with God, or [at least] your relationship is disturbed. For example, you don’t have anything to eat. “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself,” says the Apostle [Philippians 4:11]. Do I have anything to eat? I will eat. And if I don’t have anything to eat? I won’t eat. Do I have my health? I will say, glory to Thee, O God. And if I don’t have my health?  Again, I will say, glory to Thee, O God. From the moment that I want to become well, to get better from my illness, going to one doctor and then another, doing everything [I can], finding new drugs from America, from Russia, I’ve already lost God; I am a top spinning upon the earth.
The same thing also happens when I’m unable to understand that, whatever I don’t have, I don’t need. They took my clothes from me, my possessions, or my money, they stole my wife, my friend, or my father; this means that they weren’t necessary for me. Loss and grief constitute a criterion of our spirituality. A man who reacts to pain, or who is afraid of pain, or struggles because of the lack or absence of [material] things doesn’t have God—for him, God is dead.

In order for someone to not be tempted and to not lose his contact with God, so that God does not cease to exist for him, in everything regarding the body, he must love pain, grief, and want.

Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra, Concerning Love: Interpreting St. Maximus the Confessor, p. 87-92 [Translation mine]

Friday, September 9, 2016

A Hymn of Love For Jesus By Elder Joseph the Hesychast

A Hymn of Love For Jesus
By Elder Joseph the Hesychast

My most sweet Jesus, balm of my soul,
Love of my heart, air that I breathe,
Noetic light most sweet, eros, my strength,
Love most marvelous, my life’s desire,
My faith and hope, my sweet love,
Savior most desired, sweet consolation!
Come, sweet breath of mine, come, my light divine,
Come, light of my eyes, sweet amusement,
And enlighten my inward parts, my intellect and heart
And grant my body perfect peace (apatheia).
Shine in my intellect your illumination divine,
Most radiant movement of your divine knowledge.
Give me, my sweet love, all that which I ask,
Your feet to embrace and them to sweetly kiss.

Sorry if the translation is a little awkward still, but if I spent hours agonizing over how to make it sound like English poetry (or heaven forbid, attempt to metre it), it would have never gone up. The Fathers of Vatopaidi Monastery on Mt.Athos have set the poem to music and chant it in the video above. It is truly heavenly. 

Sunday, September 4, 2016

What is the Heyschast International?

Describing the spread of hesychastic theology—really nothing more than a renewed and reinvigorated form of traditional byzantine-roman Orthodox theology—the Romanian historian Alexandru Elian coined the term the “internationale hésychaste, This was a movement that could not be confined to Greek speaking lands. The disciples of the two Gregories, Palamas and the Sinaite, went to all Orthodox lands to proclaim the necessity of unceasing prayer for all Christians and the theology which undergirded and was presupposed in this experience. This theology was and remains today the most refined expression of Orthodox theology; it possessesthe power to change the individual persons and even entire nations affected by it.

The Hesychast International represents an alternative vision for the world; an alternative reading of the sources of western civilization. It is what Yiannaras and Romanides dubbed Romanity (Ρωμιοσύνη) or St. Justin Popovich called Theanthropic civilization or even what some have called (perhaps less accurately) Eurasianism. It is a word which denotes a possibility for all Christian culture –a possibility which was more or less consigned to obscurity with the destruction of the byzantine empire by the Turks in 1453. And yet it survived in the folk customs of the Greek people, in the monasteries, in the peasantry of Russia, in traditional ecclesiastical life throughout the Balkans.

Now, with the fall of the Soviet Union, Orthodoxy again breathes freely in many countries where it has traditionally been practiced, and perhaps even more importantly, Orthodox Christianity is spreading throughout the globe in many countries which were traditionally Roman Catholic or Protestant. While our brethren in the Middle East still continue to face the existential threat posed by globalist-funded Wahabi Islam, we are now free to not only cultivate the noetic life which has been preserved uniquely within our tradition throughout every age no matter the external circumstances, but also to bring out those elements which are unique our own intellectual tradition of expression—our distinct way of doing discursive theology and appropriating the Greco-Roman sources of our civilization.

It is this task which the Hesychast International is dedicated—to evoking and explicating what I believe is the existential alternative to the secularism and exhausted Christianities of the “West.” In the 19th and 20th century, Orthodox theology has too often distorted itself either by aligning or opposing an external enemy and this has led to any number of ruinous and exaggerated narrowing of our extremely rich tradition of thought. Here I intend to write from a theological perspective that is both broad but also strictly traditional—there will be no compromise of Orthodox, but neither will there be false opposition or generalizations in order to differentiate ourselves from the Christianities of the West. Where western theologians and philosophers have had valid insights, this will not be denied or considered without value in the course of refining and elaborating our theology. Why? Because our theology ultimately transcends the discursive categories which we are forced to use in articulating it. Theology must reason about realities and not simply concepts or words. This is the authentic meaning of experiential theology. The most genuine meaning of the word, “theology” is the deified man who lives the life of God. For those of us like myself who are only beginning our purification, we must trust the Fathers and draw upon their experience, but at the same time, we must not be afraid to engage the contemporary world and the problems which present themselves in a way that is both fresh and insightful while also being nothing less than patristic and traditional. The economy of God is itself a dialogue between a creation “godlike” in its freedom and a self-emptying but superabundantly loving God. As long as we approach the topics which we discuss with humility and love, we have nothing to fear.

Olivier Clément gives a good idea of the general contours for project I intend to begin here:

"A renewed Palamism taking up and rectifying the intuitions of Russian religious philosophy requires the definitive liberation of Orthodox theology from its long ‘Babylonian Captivity’. It is not a question of escaping from rationalized theologies in order to fall into the meagrely subjective existentialism which comes from Germany today, and has no real faith in the Resurrection and no power of transfiguration. Neither is it a question of neutering the Fathers by being content to repeat them. More than ever theology can only be the intellectual (and poetic) aspect of a total art; the art of dying so as to be reborn according to a liberating spirituality, the art of giving one’s life for one’s friends, the art of sharing in worship with one’s whole body, with one’s whole being, in the eschatological certainty that the world is ‘a game of God’." - Olivier Clément ("The Purification of Atheism")

Saturday, July 9, 2016

How easily do we teach “theology” by Father Varnavas Giagkou

The holy and spiritual is not proven simply through the correct use of words, but words that bear the spirit of God. Many times for the sake of upholding Orthodoxy, we hatefully attack the human person. It is not enough for our words to be theologically correct, but they must also bear the testimony of one with a pure heart, illumined and with good motives. Even the most holy of topics can become the pretense for egotistic domination when there is present a disposition toward antagonistic conflict. In order to render our motives blameless, we sanctify our passions by projecting ourselves as self-called strugglers and protectors of God and [His] truths. Sometimes our spiritual words hide our hatred and this is the worst delusion because we make our fall into a virtue.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Only he who has a pure heart receives the illumination of God and speaks to others about God with discernment. When our silence and prayer is not what theologizes, our words, even though they may be Orthodox, do not enter into the hearts of men, they simply pollute the air with their sound and let us vent our own internal difficulty.

How easily we teach “theology” on the internet, where the confirmation of our spirituality is shown by the fifty-something anonymous insulting and provocative comments we receive proving how we are such martyrs. This happens in other questions too, whether they be political, ideological or societal. We are indolent in personally working out our repentance and our good, while we close ourselves into an electronic web where each of us can sell his spirit.

The problem goes very deep; it hides the littleness of our faith. We believe that our own intervention is more important than the providence and grace of God. How many lost hours and sleepless nights on the internet, in order to come out on top in some intellectual debate? Even if the issues at stake are very spiritual, couldn’t that time have become prayer for ourselves and for the whole world? Without believing in the power of prayer, can I do theology? Maybe, in the end I am only using spiritual things to promote myself…

The spirit of God has peace, unity, and reconciliation. And before someone says that there is no love without truth, we answer that the defense of the truth can have disagreement, but there are two kinds of disagreement. There is a disagreement which brings forth respect and peace and disagreement which creates hostility and tension and reveals a heart with dispositions and motives not according to God. One cannot do theology or safeguard the good of society with the ugly manner and vulgar words that are used on the street. Theology ought to be an extension of the Divine Liturgy. Is there anything ugly, hostile, or offensive in the Divine Liturgy?

Before every word or spiritual practice, whether it has to do with ecclesiastical or society themes, we need to enter our “inner room”, learn to be silent, to be still, to pray, to taste the grace of God and only then, if God desires it, with great reserve and fear, do we speak those things with which God enlightens us.

How is it possible for us to speak constantly about every topic? Do we not have a need to “be filled’ before we can give? The man who has the gift of discernment is he who lives the presence and grace of God, who whatever he may say, he gives consolation, he inspires, he shows concern, he guides to repentance. He does not have tension, he does not have contests, he does not wish to prove anything, he does not attack, he does not defend himself, he does not clash with others, he has abandoned himself to the providence and designs of God.  His one and only pain and yearning is that God is visible in his life; that he never lose Christ. He doesn’t see dangers or threats, he doesn’t believe in his own thought, he doesn’t have views, he denies himself, he doesn’t have big ideas about great things, because his life is turned entirely toward Christ who is everything to him.

Our great challenge is not to conquer for the sake of truth, but to die for the sake of truth, to be beaten down for the name of Christ. Then our heart becomes an opening which can receive all men, good and bad, righteous or deluded, and a new kind of freedom can be bestowed upon us.

The clergyman put it well who speaking from the rock of the Acropolis that that the Apostle Paul was apostle of the nations and not apostles of the nationalisms! How wonderfully did he clarify without attacking any person! When you have pain and sensitivity, Christ grants you both discernment and spiritual subtlety.


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Love the Fathers? Thank an academic.

Do you love getting to read the Church Fathers in a language you understand? Then you should thank an academic---or more likely multiple academics. Men (and women) of academia are the reason that almost anyone in America can have patristic theology as a hobby. Yet, it is almost always inevitably these very people who enjoy patristic theology as a kind of hobby who, at the least provocation, will pour contempt and scorn upon "academia", "academic theology", or the "liberal universities" (sometimes without any provocation at all).

Of course, this is not entirely unmerited when we do see some of the horrible things that come out of theology departments at modern universities. But to focus merely on those abuses and not on the immense gift that the modern universities have offered us is a immense sin of ingratitude to the people, the majority of whom are not Orthodox, who have made available to us the sources of our own theology.

We have to face the facts that unless we read patristic Greek (or Latin or Syriac) and have access to the manuscripts, our own ability to interact with the texts of the Fathers comes only by means of the blood, sweat, and toil of "western academia." But even this expression, "western academia" is too impersonal for me though. Our access to patristic theological works isn't the result of an impersonal process or institution called "academia." Access to the Fathers came at a very real cost--a human cost.

Yes, theological research has a human cost. We have access to the Fathers because innumerable young men and women decided they loved theology enough to give the best years of their life to sitting in University libraries, learning how to read upwards of five and six languages, learning the techniques required to produce good critical editions, all because they believed that the Fathers and other theological writers in the Christian tradition had something important to say to the contemporary Church today and to all of humanity. Especially today, when there is plenty of information available about how disastrous it can be to go into graduate studies in a liberal arts field, the fact that there are still a portion of people who would give up the "prime years of their life," almost certainly destroy their lifetime earning potential, sacrifice the time they could be spending on cultivating their relationships with their family and friends, all so they can produce good, printed editions of works that a rapidly secularizing world doesn't care two cents for, is an immense blessing and a testament to the power of the Christian theological tradition to continue to transform lives.

All that being said, this is why I find it nearly unpardonable that those who enjoy the fruits of the academy feel so free to pour scorn upon that same institution. That institution, without which, the possibility of them doing armchair theology would never have existed in the first place. I don't write this because I want to condemn anyone, but simply to remind us all: theological research has a human cost. And the next time you want to go and make carte-blanche condemnations of academic theology and the universities, remember that human cost. Remember that any volume of patristic writings is the product of years of work by philologists and theologians who likely gave up material comfort and much more to give you the privilege to access the texts of the Fathers in a language you understand.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

What is an "energy" of God?

It seems to me that translating the term ενέργεια as "energy" does more to obfuscate the meaning of Palamite distinction between God's essence and His activity than it does to clarify it. Eric Perl makes a similar observation when he writes in his article "Gregory Palamas and Metaphysics of Creation" that:

"If the divine energies are real but are not 'things,' what then are they? As their name suggests, they are the activities of God, God acting in and for creation. (It would indeed be desirable to replace the conventional translation 'energies' with 'activities' which more accurately conveys Palamas' meaning in English and makes the entire doctrine sound rather less exotic. I propose therefore to use the latter term henceforward.) This is why they do not introduce composition into God, for 'nothing is ever said to be compounded with its own activity.' To say that God's essence and activity make up two things would, St. Gregory argues, be like saying that a man has two minds because we speak of 'mind' and 'understanding.' Understanding is not another substance, or a part, but is what the mind does. Activity cannot be co-numerated or added to substance. To say that God 'has activities' is simply to say that he acts: 'As he who calls [God] voluntative makes clear that he has a will, so also he who calls him active (ενεργή) shows that he has activity.'" (p.112-113)(emphasis mine)

I'm not entirely sure what the motivation has been in the Orthodox world for translating this term or even framing the debate in the way it has been. Perhaps I am cynical but I fear that this may stem from a desire on the part of Orthodox scholars to differentiate themselves first of all from the Roman Catholic tradition of Thomism which also utilizes the Aristotelian terminology of activity but instead has come down to the English langauge by means of the Latin-derived terms such as activity, actuality, or even operation. Then we also have Orthodox scholars such as Metropolitan Ierotheos of Nafpaktos who, following Fr. John Romanides, are loath to admit that Orthodoxy has anything to do with the classical tradition of metaphysics at all, a tendency which has crept into the English speaking world. 

Theodor Tollefsen, who has written an excellent volume on this exact subject, seems to have less of a problem with this strange new translation but also points out the dangers inherent in it and chooses generally to  avoid these pitfalls altogether:

" and then one gets the impression that energy is a kind of quasi-material force almost flowing into the human recipient. Of course, the saying that divine power is somehow flowing into the recipient is often a quite adequate description of what is experienced. But one should not conceive of or think about this divine power as if it was some kind of material force or fluidum. This is not to deny that divine energy is manifested in the nature of material being, but one should beware of interpreting the divine power itself as a material force. Against the background of these considerations I choose to translate energeia as 'actuality, activity', or---now and then---'energy', depending on the context, and the trascribe dfrom of the Greek will be used as well." (p. 5 Activity and Participation in Late Antique and Early Christian Thought)

In general, I think this is an intelligent move that helps us to realize that St. Gregory Palamas is working within a long and well-established tradition of metaphysical realist discourse about participation and activity which fundamentally begins with Plato. By translating energeia as energy we obscure this connection unnecessarily and in the hands of many less capable metaphysicians, a rather gross, even materialistic conception of the divinity ends up being put forth.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

"The West today has need of the Roman tradition..."

"Today the western countries are thought to be cultured, enlightened, because in this area science was cultivated as well as technology. No one can doubt this, but the problem remains, however, to what extent science and technology constitute a complete civilization. When several external features based simply and exclusively in logic are cultivated and other aspects of the personality of man are ignored, this cannot be called civilization.

During the Renaissance period in the West, ancient Greek philosophy was studied, many centers were created for the study of the problems which the ancient Greek philosophers posited. But when Hellenism is isolated from the Orthodox Tradition, when it ceases to be Romanity (Romaiosyne), then it is retrogressive and incapable of solving the existential problems of man.

Consequently, the contemporary European is spiritually and existentially crippled. He has a developed scientific thought, he is distinguished by his technical infrastructure, he has rules of behavior and good conduct, but he cannot solve his ontological and existential problems. Contemporary western civilization is one-dimensional. For this reason, we can say that there reigns a particular form of neo-barbarism in the West.

The West today has need of the Roman tradition which solves all of the problems of man. We must not go to Europe as their poor relatives with an inferiority complex, but as spiritual nobles, since we have the spiritual nobility of humanity, all of the best elements of authentic humanism.

- Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos of Nafpaktos (Born and Bred Romans)
(My translation)