Friday, September 21, 2007

Christ is in our Midst LII(letter 80)

" 80


I have read Hymn VII of St Symeon the New Theologian. It describes the highest level of spiritual contemplation, which is given to man by the grace of God when his heart has been freed of passions. Your dear little mind is too limited to comprehend these hymns. The Holy Fathers write: 'Anyone who aspires to contemplation without having purified his heart of passions incurs the wrath of God'. I advise you not to read the hymns of the Holy Father, for they are not useful to you. Read books on the active life and cleanse your heart of passions. When your heart is freed of passions, then the contemplative level will also be comprehensible to you.

In reading the hymns of the Holy Father you are surprised: 'How was it possible to come to know the inexpressible and write it down?' When by the grace of God a person is illumined from on high through union with the Lord, then the Lord reveals his Divine secrets, and this is incomprehensible to our carnal mind. We may read, but in essence we cannot understand. You advise me to keep this hymn in my heart as a secret. Of course I am unworthy of experiencing in my heart such a high level of contemplation, but all the same, when I read the five-volume Philokalia I understand this level as far as my limited mind permits, for it is well explained there, but in another order than in the hymns of St Symeon.

Not so long ago I read a book of Kallistos Kataphygiotes translated from the Greek, about Divine union and the contemplative life. The whole book speaks of contemplation and union with God, like the hymns of St Symeon. "


Father John here advises his spiritual child to read books that focus on the active life rather than books that focus on the contemplative life. In other words he is advising that books that deal with the active living out of the spiritual life, books that lead to greater and deeper repentance in the here in now in their use in the life of the reader are more profitable for the cleansing and purification of the heart and in so cleansing and purifying the contemplative books will make sense.

Father John has several times, in various letters, stated 'The Lord gives prayer to those who pray.' To pray is to repent in that rather than spend the time in a fashion which I would like to(in dissolution), the time is offered to the Lord and lifted up to Him in prayer. This is repentance.

Of course, many things are involved in the active life which are not specifically named by Father John in this letter and also he is not disparaging books dealing with the contemplative life to his spiritual child. Rather, he is advising thus to this particular person at the level this particular person is at.

I wonder if oftentimes I do not rush off into works of a contemplative nature which fortify my ego as I do grasp them in preference to books on the active life which teach me to repent which brings about death to the ego.

It is this ongoing back and forth which tells me I need help in the living out of the spiritual life by those who have come before me and those who are doing it rather than only talking about it.


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