Ascension and Glorification

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Orthodox Hesychasm is renewed from within by the Holy Spirit through prophecy and prayer.  The prophetic gift is given in extremity when Patristic tradition is hardening into external formalism.  The grace of prayer of the Spirit in the heart is given if prayer is degenerating into verbal repetition of formal prayers without any awakening to the mysteries the prayers are expressing.  Blessed stillness gently reveals these tendencies, opening Patristic Orthodoxy to prophetic regeneration and illumination of the heart, both of which are charisms of the Holy Spirit without which formalism cannot be transformed.  The desert never ceases to renew prayer with prophecy when the Name is hallowed, never ceases to purify the heart with illumination in the Holy Spirit, never ceases to ascend with Christ when the Spirit is not quenched, never ceases to glorify God with the Spirit’s ineffable glorification.  Desert prophecy discerns that the absence of prophecy is due to a deliberate or unconscious quenching of the Spirit and the absence of pure prayer is the result of habitual resistance to the Spirit’s grace.  There are modes of deliberation that are so habitual that they are unconscious in those who are determined by them, like a blind hardening of the heart that thinks it sees but is blind to its blindness.  The spiritual path in the desert includes purification and illumination of hardened hearts but does not stop there because uncreated light not only reveals glory that glorifies God but also glory by which the glorified are hallowed and glorified by God.

The Orthodoxy of Hesychasm is not skin deep but springs from Christ’s own right-glorification of the Father.  Christ’s glorification runs so deep that it can overcome all resistance, all opposition.  The experience of purification lets Christ’s glory cleanse perception, opening the eye of the heart to illumination.  The experience of illumination penetrates the firmament between earth and heaven, opening earth to heaven.  It is not just a pious whim or a doctrine to be believed but is the living experience of illumination in the uncreated light of the Holy Spirit, illumination that is actively resisted by subtle powers of darkness.  It is here that spiritual warfare takes on social, political and economic dimensions because there are fake gods usurping God in all these realms.  The resistance to light is due to envy and strife in the expanse of light, experienced as spiritual warfare by the saints.  The spiritual journey is called glorification because glory enthrones the presence of God like a moving chariot throne, bearing the glorified through many hells and many heavens.  It is Christ enthroned whose chariot throne descends to seven hells to transform them into seven heavens.  Orthodox Hesychasm is not interested in speculative uranography but in soteriological Christophany.  The throne of glory is said to abide in the midst of every hell and every heaven, but vainglory enthrones parodies there, whereas right-glorification sees God there, ascribing glory to God, through God.  Orthodox right-glorification is the experience of wisdom’s vision of God’s own God-centred right-glorification of God, dethroning all God-substitutes and addictive parodies that counterfeit God in hell after hell.  

Seven hells is how desert wisdom saw the suffering of those who are addicted to false god-substitutes, which elders called ‘passions’ or sufferings.  The seventh heaven recapitulates all seven heavens as seven transfigured hells, undoing every fall from glory that trapped lost souls in hell.  Christ’s ascension and glorification is not a private, individual affair but an opening of ascension and glorification to all mankind without exception.  The desert never neglected these all-embracing mysteries of glory, unlike ethnic orthodoxy, which saw nothing here that it could acknowledge or recognise.  In conventional circles, those who awoke to illumination were frequently accused of delusion, vanity and pride, preventing them from upsetting the fragile equilibrium of patriarchal dominance and clerical control.  But Holy Orthodoxy herself regarded these aberrations as some of the inevitable consequences of the heresy of ‘philetism’ or nationalistic tribalism.  It was never duped for long by domineering clericalism or its addictive passions of subservience to pious god-substitutes.  Glorification is wisdom’s seventh-heaven vision in action, liberating hearts from every last trace of these lingering passions.  Whenever Patriarchs and Bishops were true Hesychasts, they were taught by the Spirit to release these passions into healthy freedom, freeing Holy Orthodoxy to be truly sound and functional.  

Christ glorified not only ascends to the seventh heaven but also descends to release hearts from hells of self-centred self-obsession of every kind.  Christ descends into seven hells but is mysteriously enthroned in the midst of them all, turning them into seven heavens, embracing the hallowed earth as seven, earthly heavens.  It is Christ whose turning turns seven hells into seven heavens, Christ whose seeing sees God at centre so that seven hells begin to see seven heavens.  Desert prophets and wisdom’s seers are not on a speculative spree of uranological curiosity but are simply abiding in Christ glorified as he teaches them, in the Spirit, to turn as he turns and see as he sees.  Christ’s atonement is release from the shackles of all ‘powers that be,’ not some sort of feudal transaction with a fake god conceived in the image of those same ‘powers that be.’  Prophetic vision simply follows Christ and his chariot-throne glory as it unseats fake gods, one after the other.  Prayer learns from Christ what glorification means.  The glorification of saints is their experience of Christ’s glorification in their illumined and so purified hearts.  None of this is the achievement of saints on their own, which they are first to admit.   It is the work of God’s inexplicable grace from beginning to end, but this grace is not reward for good behaviour, it is sheer gift by a giver, the slaughtered Lamb, in whom the giver is himself the gift.

The experience of ascension and glorification in Christ is an experience of Christ’s harrowing of hells that belongs on the inside of his hallowing of God’s Name on earth as he hallows God’s Name in the heavens.  The harrowing and the hallowing are the inside and the outside of the same encircling glorification.  Turning when Christ turns, seers see as Christ sees, for Christ shares his throne of glory with illumined, glorified saints.  Prophecy employs old metaphors of enthronement, old symbols like the crown and robe of glory, drawn from first temple traditions of wisdom in Jerusalem, to communicate this ineffable experience of turning that turns with his turning and seeing that sees with his seeing.  Prophetic angelophanies are not what they seem.  They are theophanies that communicate chritsophanies that employ angelic symbolism, because this was the traditional way to communicate ineffable vision.  When angelophanies are excluded, there is a real danger that wisdom’s theophanies and christophanies are excluded too, depriving Holy Orthodoxy of the doxological mysteries that inspire wholesome Orthodoxy.  That is why the desert continues to employ the ancient language of prophecy to point to ineffable turning and express inexpressible seeing, preferring to renew the tradition than neglect the mysteries it serves.  That is why pure prayer follows the lineaments of Scripture even when it transcends ordinary language with unutterable sighs and ineffable groans (Rom 8: 22-23).  The ascension and glorification of the saints is Christ’s throne-sharing grace in action in illumination and deification, which is simply his  inheritance of wisdom and glory unveiled in the Name.