When the Elder Sophrony was asked what constitutes the living heart of Christian Orthodoxy, he answered healthy glorification, explaining that Orthodoxy means right-glorification. Saint Sophrony the Hesychast pointed out that the living heart of Orthodoxy is God’s God-centred right-glorification of God or the glorification of God in Holy Trinity. For Saint Sophrony, the Spirit’s witness to Christ’s glorification of the Father was the decisive heart of right-glorification in the saints. For saints, God-centred glorification of God through God constitutes true Orthodoxy, not mere external conformity to a variety of institutional or ethnic criteria.
Elders are sometimes misunderstood in this regard and may even appear to be dangerously prophetic in the eyes of some Patriarchs or bishops. But whilst claiming nothing in their own name, despite all appearances, they function as the hidden guardians of wholesome Orthodox tradition, bearing witness through divine inspiration to the divine-human mysteries that constitute Holy Orthodoxy, without which Orthodoxy would cease to be divine, that is, divine and deifying as well as human. In a materialistic era, externals appear to be all that there is, leaving the divine-human witness of elders and saints way out in the cold. In this environment, the living heart of Orthodoxy looks more like madness or else heresy, because the experience of God-centred glorification of God in God is no longer the wholesome inspiration for divine-human, that is, Christian life.
Some elders in these circumstances have been tempted to dumb down Orthodoxy to narrow, conventional and ethnic levels, especially when monasteries took a lead in doing just this, in order to conform with the ethos and limitations of the times. Glorification is then referred to as the exclusive concern of saints and it is generally assumed it would be presumptuous of anyone else to give it anything but academic attention. Of course, in Orthodox polemic, deification is spoken of as an exclusively Orthodox privilege but in practice, glorification is confused with vainglory and accused of pride. In these circumstances, some elders understandably become confused and may decide to conform to the prevailing ethos of confusion rather then lose their established reputations. For them, glorification threatens their very status as elders because it turns obedient children into mature saints. This leads to a subtle ambivalence with regard to glorification which eats away at the heart of the tradition, undermining it from within.
The few elders who do not succumb to dumb-down may be accused of pride or heresy by those who are nominally orthodox, persecuted for their witness to the Name. Of course, none of this is anything new but has been repeated over and over again through the centuries, as biographies of elders and saints like St Symeon the New Theologian and St Paisius Velichkovsky bear witness. The serenity of elders in these circumstances points to the humble ordinariness of glorification, deflating puffed up presumption, exposing vainglory which hides under the pious exteriors of self-interested reputations. Vainglory ruins glorification by subverting it from within. Serenity in the face of subversion rises within light into glory, ensuring the transmission of God’s God-centred glorification of God, emptying vanity of vanity at the heart of Holy Orthodoxy.
Falls from glory leave inevitable wounds but glorification skilfully heals them in the humble ordinariness of wisdom’s awakening to God in the midst, cutting through vain presumption and self-interest of every kind. Because, in Christ, all is in the end released and forgiven, there is no-one in God’s Kingdom to accuse, no-one to judge, no-one to condemn. Elders rejoice to become redundant just like healthy parents, at ease when inflated reputations as popular, respected elders is voided like a puff of smoke. The greatest elder is one who has many old friends but no clinging followers, because his or her spiritual children have all grown into humble saints. Those who pride themselves on vast followings are those who put their reputation before glorification, which is to confuse vainglory with glory. In healthy Orthodoxy, these issues are resolved by grace which humbles the heart, but in troubled times, grace is trodden underfoot or conceived as reward for merit and healthy glorification neglected.
In the end, all shall be well because healing glory, not vainglory, is God’s gracious gift to all. Serenity springs from stillness at the heart of glory, revealing that God’s God-centred glorification of God is the true heart of Orthodox tradition. In the end, elders love to be effaced by the transfiguring glory that inspired them, singing the Thrice Holy Hymn: ‘Holy, Holy, Holy is His Name…Hosanna in the Highest!’ Glorification communicates the grace of ineffable glorification when Holy Trinity is glorified in Holy Trinity. Healthy Orthodoxy bears witness beyond itself to Holy Trinity, sustaining healthy glorification in every generation.