“God is truly experienced either as purifying fire or as Light that illumines”

Divine Love begets reverent audaciousness. Thus a handful of Apostles, hitherto faint-hearted, after the descent of the Holy Ghost were filled with courage and took on the whole of the rest of the world in spiritual struggle. Nearly all of them suffered martyrdom. When the governor of Patras threatened St. Andrew with crucifixion the latter made the marvelous reply, “If I feared the cross, I would not be preaching it.” And he was crucified, and hanging on the cross extolled the death on the cross of his Master, Christ.

Inestimable are the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Every true gift is none other than a flame of love. But for our hearts to become capable of receiving the love of Christ in its glowing manifestations we must all, every one of us, endure many trials. People who live lives of ease atrophy spiritually and remain imper­vious to divinely universal, Christ-like love. They live and die without their spirit rising upward to heaven. Gifts from on High are commensurate to our ascetic struggle. All who walk the way of Christ’s command­ments are regenerated in their very following of Him—some more, some less, depending on the ardour manifested. Through being crucified together with God the Word-made-flesh, grace descends on the believer, likening him to God made man. This great gift also embraces in itself life-giving theology through a real dwelling in the Light of love.

The grace of repentance is given to him who in full faith accepts Christ’s dictum that if we do not believe in His Divinity and the absolute truth of all that He commanded of us, the mystery of sin will not be unmasked to us in its ontological profundity, and we shall ‘die in our sins’.

The very conception of sin obtains only where the relation between Absolute God and created man assumes a purely personal character. Otherwise, we are left with nothing but some intellectual assessment of the perfection of forms of existence. Sin is always a crime against the Father’s love. Sin occurs when we distance ourselves from God and incline towards the passions. Repentance is always bound up with abstinence from sinful leanings. Humanism, too, involves overcoming various vices. But in so far as ignorance of the deep-rooted essence of sin—pride—persists, this evil source remains entrenched and the tragicalness of history continues to increase.

The holy Fathers tell us that humility alone can save mankind, and pride alone is enough to bring us to the darkness of hell. But victory over the whole complex of the passions indicates the attainment of God-like being. All the passions find some sort of expression, be it figura­tive, psychological, fanciful. Fervent prayer of repentance ignores extraneous impressions and rational concepts. Other ascetic cultures likewise practice this detaching of the mind from visual and intellectual forms. But in the darkness of divestiture the soul does not encounter the Living God if prayer lacks due recognition of sin, and genuine repentance. It is possible, however, to experience a certain sense of release from the kaleidoscopic process of everyday life.

In profound grief at having lost God the soul naturally strips herself of material and mental images, and the mind-spirit approaches the border beyond which Light can appear. But this border, too, can remain impassible if the mind turns in on itself. Where the mind is so fixated, it can even see itself as light. It is important to know that this light is natural to our mind since the mind was created in the likeness of God, revealed to us as Light, in which there is ‘no darkness at all’ (1 John 1:5). Thus the transition is effected to another mode of thinking, to another and superior kind of understanding compared with scientific knowl­edge. Divested in a surge of repentance of all that is transient, our spirit, as from a high peak, sees the relativity and conditional character of all empiric cognition. And gain and again I repeat, God is truly experienced either as purifying fire or as Light that illumines.

Elder Sophrony of Essex

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1 Response to “God is truly experienced either as purifying fire or as Light that illumines”

  1. Dale Crakes says:

    To my ear it’s unadultered monastic negativism. which seems to be so prevalent in much modern Orthodox monasticism. I much prefer something based on the thought of St Irenaeus.

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