Fire, light and glory (1)

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According to Orthodox hesychasm, wisdom purifies the heart with the fire of light and glory.  Illumination is not therefore the reward for purification achieved without it, by ascetic effort alone.  Although elders speak of purification leading to illumination and to glorification, they know that without the grace of uncreated light, purification remains external.  Without the remembrance of God, the heart remains blind and deaf.  If external asceticism lacks true turning, metanoia, and wholesome seeing, theoria, it remains ignorant of the unceasing prayer of the Holy Spirit that purifies the heart.  When God remembers God through God, in his Name ‘I AM,’ grace purifies, illumines and glorifies the heart.  There is, therefore, a sense in which true purification is actually the activity of the grace of illumination, just as true illumination is profound, never-ending glorification.

In the unfolding of wisdom, love’s glory is cathartic fire then therapeutic light, then deifying glory, glorification experienced in accordance with our capacity to receive it.  It is the grace of the Holy Trinity that purifies and illumines the heart.  It is not that we purify ourselves by our own efforts in order to merit illumination as some sort of reward, although this childish way of thinking can linger on in us until glory reveals mature, unselfish love. The saving grace of glory transforms our impure thoughts, or logoismi, into God’s illumining logoi, inspiring words of prophecy which communicate his saving Logos, and prayer of the Spirit in the heart, prayer which takes his ineffable words to heart and makes them our own.  The glory of unselfish love cures self-centred passions through the remembrance of God and this is the sound Patristic basis of purification, illumination and glorification, not our self-centred efforts to acquire merit so as to appear worthy of an external reward.

The mystery of purification is instituted in the sacrament of Baptism, the mystery of illumination in the sacrament of Chrismation and the mystery of glorification through the sacrament of the Eucharist.  But when wisdom is disdained, baptism remains nominal and purification degenerates to mere abstention.  Without wisdom, Chrismation is reduced to an external rite and illumination to the acquisition of conventional Orthodox opinions.  The Eucharist becomes a communion service and glorification is postponed to a future union of the saints with God after death.  When secularised in this way, Orthodoxy becomes shallow ethnic convention or narrow sectarian fundamentalism but in God, glory remains glory whether it purifies, illumines or glorifies.  

Nominal orthodoxy drives a division between outer sacrament and inner mystery which can distort its perception of Hesycahsm.  Neglect of wisdom makes the mysteries look like pietistic individualism that disdains sacraments whereas healthy Orthodoxy sees them as a seamless whole.  The Holy Name unifies inward and outward mysteries through the remembrance of God which glorifies the saints in accordance with their capacity to assimilate grace.  It does not reduce purification to puritanical opinion, illumination to conventional belief, or union to  formal membership of an ecclesiastical institution.  It is through the purification of the heart that God is seen through God, in God, and this transforms shallow convention and liberates narrow opinion.  Glory purifies the heart and illumines it with wisdom so that Orthodoxy rises into its maturity as love’s glory free of shallow or narrow self-interest.  There is no trace in God of division between outer and inner or of a pride that treats transitional states with disdain.  Illumination of the heart is no longer confused with rational enlightenment, as in scholasticism, or with pietistic sentiment, as in protestantism.  Instead, remembrance of God matures into glorification of God by God, God’s healing wholeness in action as uncreated energy.  Holy Trinity is no longer formal dogma but living experience, triune glory in act as uncreated energy.

Prophecy in the desert springs from prayer of the Spirit in the heart, revealing Christ in the midst, praying ‘Abba, Father!’ (Gal 4:6).  Prophecy and prayer transmit uncreated fire, light and glory, which are the living heart of wholesome, healing Orthodoxy.  The word of prophecy transmits great peace so that prayer of the heart restores glory to God, opening hearts to light of glory and unselfish love.  The anonymous pilgrim in the “Way of the Pilgrim’ bears witness to this but the wisdom of the Philokalia that he loved and revered is treasured in Hesychast circles but not by all.  Saint Silouan’s writings speak of this, but are dismissed as sentimental pietism in an age of rationalist secularism.  Archimandrite Sophrony imparted this in his Patristic wisdom of the Name ‘I AM,’ but was dismissed in Parisian Orthodox circles that were suspicious of monasticism.  Patristic wisdom nourished Saint Silouan, who imparted it to Archimandrite Sophrony and all who received his vision of glory and the Name.  Glory is purifying fire in distracted hearts, great radiance in enlightened hearts, and healing glory in broken, suffering hearts.  The fire and light of glory inspire both purification and illumination, embracing fire and light as foundational pillars in Patristic Orthodoxy, hallowing illumined hearts as temples of glorification.