Posts Tagged St. Symeon the New Theologian
St. Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022) – One of the great Orthodox mystics and hesychasts explains his experience and encounter of God as light.
“This, invariably, is just what occurs concerning the invisible God. Whenever someone sees Him revealed, he sees light. While on the one hand he is amazed at what he has seen, on the other he does not know immediately who it is who has appeared, yet he dares not ask Him. And how could he? He is unable even to lift up his eyes and look on that grandeur. With fear and trembling he looks instead, as it were, at his own feet, knowing fully only that it is Someone Who has appeared before his face.
And if there happens to be some other man who has told him beforehand about such things, as having known God from before, he goes to this man [St Symeon’s elder] and says: “I have seen.” And the other says: “What did you see, child?” “Light, O my father, so sweet, sweet! So much so, father, that my reason has not the strength to tell you.”
And, while he is saying this, his heart leaps and pounds, and catches on fire with longing for what he has seen. Then, with many warm tears, he begins to say again: “That light, father, appeared to me. The walls of my cell immediately vanished and the world disappeared, fleeing I think from before His face, and I remained alone in the presence alone of the light. And I do not know, father, if this my body was there, too. I do not know if I was outside of it. For a while I did not know that I carry and am clothed with a body. And such great joy was in me and is with me now, great love and longing both, that I was moved to streams of tears like rivers, just like now as you see.”
The other then answers and says: “It is He, child.” And, at this word, he sees Him again and, little by little, comes to be completely purified and, purified, grows bold and asks that One Himself, and says: “My God, is it You?”
And He answers and says: ‘Yes, I am He, God, Who for your sake became man; and behold, I have made you, as you see, and shall make you, god’.”
~ St Symeon the New Theologian, from On the Mystical Life (Vol. 2), pp. 53-54
One of my main goals in writing is to discover and bring the ancient theology and doctrines of the early charismatic Christian church to the contemporary Charismatic Renewal Movement.
There is a clear disconnect between the doxis of Western Latin Christianity and the praxis of the contemporary Charismatic Renewal Movement which operates in the gifts and fruit of the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit. The Renewal Movement certainly has the basic praxis (how beliefs are practiced, embodied and realized in conduct) of the early charismatic Apostolic church, but does not have a corresponding supportive, complementary doxis (religious beliefs, worship, doctrines, and creeds) which explains and supports that praxis.
The world needs to see lives transformed, but it also needs to know why and how they have been transformed. To do this, the world must see a complementary balance of belief and action at work. But, just as vital, the world must see something else in mutual support and balance: orthodoxy and orthopraxis– that is, right belief and right action.
A key essential in an orthodoxy which supports a Renewal Movement (apostolic church) orthopraxis is an understanding of the Essence and Energies of God and the distinction between them. It is only in understanding Essence (transliterated ousía in Greek) and Energies (transliterated enérgeia in Greek) of God that we can reconcile the seeming paradox of the unknowable transcendence of God with the universal, yet very personal indwelling presence and power of God in all humankind.
Throughout this discussion, I will rely heavily on the writings of 20th century theologians including Vladimir Lossky, Christos Yannaras, and Fr. John Meyendorff. They, in turn, refer to the authority of many early Church Fathers including St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, and St. Macarius the Great (all 4th century); St. Dionysius the Aeropagite (5th century); St. Maximus the Confessor (7th century); St. Symeon the New Theologian (11th century); and last, but not least, St. Gregory Pálamas (14th century). I make all of these citations so that the reader may understand that the theology and doctrines on the Essence and Energies of God are both ancient and continuously attested to throughout the Patristic literature up to this day. These citations also make it clear that none of what you are about to read is my original work or thoughts.
To be continued…
St. Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022) was absolutely insistent that every believer must receive a second baptism, the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. It is not to be confused with ritual Orthodox Chrismation.
“… ‘John Baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit’. If one is ignorant of the Baptism wherewith he was baptized as a child and does not even realize that he was baptized, but only accepts it by faith and then wipes it away with thousands upon thousands of sins, and if he denies the second Baptism – I mean, that which is through the Spirit, given from above by the loving-kindness of God to those who seek it by penitence – by what other means can he ever obtain salvation? By no means!” ~ The Discourses. XXXII
St. Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022) excoriates the church clergy for not personally being contemplatives and experiencing the presence of God (theoria) themselves before trying to lead and teach the laity. This criticism is just as valid for the institutional church today as it was for the Byzantine church in AD 1000. Few, if any, of the contemporary institutional clergy practice contemplative Christian prayer.
“You priests and monks teach others with vain words and think that you are rulers – but falsely! Ask your elders and high priests, gather yourselves together in the love of God, and first seek to learn and experience these things in fact, and then have the will to see this and by experience become like God. Be anxious not merely to act a play and wear the garment thereof and so to approach apostolic dignities. Otherwise, as you in your imperfection rush to rule over others, before acquiring the knowledge of the mysteries of God, you will hear these words, ‘Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and shrewd in their own sight! Woe to those who put darkness for light and light for darkness!'” ~ Discourses, XXXIII
“Do not say that it is impossible to receive the Spirit of God.
Do not say that it is possible to be made whole without Him.
Do not say that one can possess Him without knowing it.
Do not say that God does not manifest Himself to man.
Do not say that men cannot perceive the divine light, or that it is impossible in this age!
Never is it found to be impossible, my friends.
On the contrary, it is entirely possible when one desires it.”
~ Hymns of Divine Love, 27
St. Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022) was a 10th century mystic monk. His many direct experiences of God (theoría) convinced him that all Christians must have an actual baptism of the Holy Spirit in addition to the ritualized water baptism and chrismation of the church.
His mystical experiences also taught him that God is always received in the form of divine light. Symeon wrote about that light and its power to transform:
“It shines on us without evening, without change, without alteration, without form. It speaks, works, lives, gives life, and changes into light those whom it illuminates. We bear witness that “God is light,” and those to whom it has been granted to see Him have all beheld Him as light. Those who have seen 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 not seen His light have not seen Him, for He is the light, and those who have not received the light have not yet received grace. 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.” (2 Cor. 6:16) ~ Discourses, No. XXVIII