Many are of the opinion that there is no profound wisdom in Christianity and that wisdom is to be found only in Eastern religions such as Hinduism or Buddhism, Sufism or Taoism. This assumption forms part of a profound cultural crisis that sees Christianity as the tool of western imperialist oppression and therefore responsible for most of the world’s ills. The fact that real mystical Christianity has itself been under siege for many centuries is overlooked because when it was forced to go underground, it survived in the fulness of its wisdom only where the living tradition of the saints survived. Of course, its outer dogmatic forms were always known and there have been many kinds of esoteric tradition that laid claim to posses its truth. But when Saint Sophrony the Hesychast pointed to the Holy Name ‘I AM’ at the heart of Orthodox Christianity, a mystery that had been long veiled was once again revealed, generous in its revelatory wisdom and radiant in its enlightening glory.
The Palamite Councils gave canonical status to Athonite Hesychasm which Saint Sophrony interpreted, among others, for the twentieth century, drawing on the riches of the Patristic tradition of hypostatic first-personhood in God the Holy Trinity. The Hesychast tradition does not have an unbroken transmission in Orthodoxy, because it was always itself under siege, stifled again and again, driven into solitude yet never wholly extinguished. The Name was neglected, then forgotten, but never lost its uncreated energy of renewing wisdom and hallowing glory. There were always hidden angel seers even when illumined elders were difficult or impossible to find. Since wisdom, though vulnerable, never dies, even when despised, the Name may unveil its secrets even in the most inauspicious times.
The uncreated energies of wisdom and glory that inspired the prophets also inspired the apostles, grounding both the Old and the New Testaments in inexhaustible yet ineffable creativity, well able to renew Orthodox Christian tradition in age after age. So even when nominal orthodox formalism tried to narrow the divine intent, confining the tradition to the shallows, both Scripture and Tradition continued to inspire elders and saints sustaining profound renewal, vulnerably empowering Orthodox Hesychasm to bear witness in stillness to wisdom. Saint Sophrony the Hesychast opened hearts to the mystery of the Name ‘I AM,’ but the prevailing climate in his day was secularism. When post-modern spirituality tried to challenge secularism, it was still vulnerable to a prevailing nihilism and narcissism.
The mystery of the Name ‘I AM’ normally remains hidden when self-centred self-obsession is running riot, but extremity of spiritual need outran risk, and the mystery of the Name was spoken of in the writings of the elder. There was criticism, some of it misinformed, but the Spirit blew as it willed, opening hearts to wisdom. Hesychast tradition may still look very vulnerable in a cynical, post-modern age, but actually remains hidden, sure and steadfast, when parodies ride rough shod over wisdom. Self-obsession always sees everything in its own self-centred image, but the Name unveils the image of God as radiant likeness to God, wisely reserving its treasures for God-centred humility. Although the Name was unveiled, so were cures to nihilism and narcissism. As in times gone by, elders with these cures skilfully managed to steer their humble craft between the jagged rocks of nihilism and narcissism. Wisdom loved is wisdom known, wisdom recognised and welcomed home.
No-one can predict wisdom any more than they can predict the Spirit that inspires wisdom, but seers are sure that wisdom can be trusted to renew visible creation just as she renews invisible creation, despite the denial of its very existence in a secular age. In truth, there is paradoxical wisdom hidden at the heart of the secular leap of consciousness, freeing us from fundamentalist wars and religious tyrannies, even though, at the same moment, shadowy parodies are determined to substitute modern for ancient tyrannies. Wisdom can nonetheless be trusted because she is always ahead of the game, offering new ways out of impasse old and new, releasing both into radical, expansive openness. The liminality of desert wisdom places her betwixt and between, neither here nor there, unconfined to this or that ideology. Like the Shulamite, (Song of Songs 7:1), she dances between opposing armies, on the fault line between warring powers.
Unpredictable by definition, wisdom of stillness refuses to be pinned down. What is sure is that invisible angel choirs continue to voice her ecstasy of joy even if nobody is left to hear her wisdom song. Severing confusion, she cures division, even if no-one is left to show her gratitude. But for as long as there are those who hallow God’s Name, there will always be some who bear witness to the Kingdom, even if no-one is prepared to follow them. A liminal wisdom is not undermined by being condemned to the margins, but thrives where she abides at centre, unnoticed and serene. The future is ineffable because it belongs to trusted though vulnerable wisdom, inspiring ineffable faith, incomprehensible hope and indescribable love, abiding at the heart of the Name, which is invulnerable light of glory incarnate as vulnerable wisdom.