Hesychast Wisdom and Patriotism

      No Comments on Hesychast Wisdom and Patriotism

Grace reveals the glory of Christ in his unveiled Face in the light of the Holy Spirit, restoring glory to the Father which restores the vainglory of warring nationalistic hells to the true glory of hallowed, harmonious heavens on earth.  The glory of this grace is wisdom’s joy, not the wisdom of a speculative sophiological Sophia, such as we find in Soloviev, Florensky and Bulgakov and thinkers of the Russian Religious Renaissance, but the luminous wisdom singing in Saint Symeon the New Theologian’s Hymns of Love, the fiery wisdom burning in Saint Macarius’ Homilies, the inspiring wisdom that infused the early Christian Hymns known as the Odes of Solomon, the Fourth Gospel, the Apocalypse and the Johannine Epistles, the wisdom referred to by the Apostle Paul (1 Cor 2:7) which discerns the glory of grace, the wisdom that inspired his epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians.  

Desert Hesychasm has always had its different wisdom voices, varied and manifold but recognisable and distinct from the many voices of scholastic theology or speculative sophiology.  It is this wisdom that discerns the glory of the Name, but stood back, like Saint Silouan the Athonite, from the Athonite Name controversy, not in the name of nominalist conventionalism or onomoclasm, but because when warring opinions reign, wisdom is lost and with wisdom the discernment that beholds the glory of the Name.  Saint Symeon the New Theologian was persecuted during his life-time but his Hymns of Love, whilst naming contemporary contentions, rises above them into God’s God-centred glorification of God.  This is the wisdom that suffuses Orthodox Hesychasm, wisdom that narrow, shallow controversy cannot comprehend, wisdom that burns in awakened hearts as they behold the beauty of glory in the unveiled Face of Christ.

The heresy of ‘ethnic philetism’ or tribalistic nationalism has always been a problem for Orthodox Patriarchates and national Hierarchies because it divides Orthodoxy along nationalistic lines, but divisive nationalism should never be confused with healthy patriotism.   Patristic Hesychasm works to transform unhealthy nationalism back into healthy patriotism by curing the passions of nationalistic ethnocentrism, together with the passions of self-interested collectivism.  Greek, Russian, Romanian and Serbian patriotism all suffer from time to time from the passions of ethnocentrism as well as the heresy of philetism, but Patristic Hesychasm has well-tested resources to cure these degenerations because Christ, the Father and the Spirit, the Holy Trinity, is completely free of them.  Wisdom and glory also are free of them and are therefore well able to free souls from the vainglory that degenerates glory.  Tribalistic nationalism stands in urgent need of these cures all over the world as unhealthy globalism drags healthy patriotism down into its deepening crisis.  Distracted politics is not the business of desert elders but the spiritual politics of liberation from demonic hegemonies has always been the business of desert hesychasts.  In the case of the Matter of Britain, the Ringed Rood conceals deep, half-forgotten roots in the Matter of Byzantium, often neglected by later British seers but crucially remembered when the English, then the Normans, were included within the Spirit and the Matter of Britain.

Every Christian patriotism has its own stories to tell, its own sanctuaries and saints to remember.  The wartime wisdom poetry of Eliot’s ‘Four Quartets’ purified the degenerate imagination of warring nationalisms  by regenerating the imagination of genuine spiritual patriotism.  The Matter of Britain was restored when wisdom discarded the counterfeit gods of ethnocentric nationalism and situated true glory in the sanctuaries and saints that glorify God, a wisdom that discerns the glory that unites the Matter of Britain with the Matter of Byzantium.  ‘Burnt Norton’ uncovered timeless presence in time.  ‘East Coker’ discovered regeneration at the heart of generation, birth and death.  ‘Dry Salvages’ faced the desolation of cosmic, historical, biological and astronomical time, uncovering the hardly, barely prayable prayer of the One Annunciation, ‘Fiat mini, secundum verbum tuum (Luke 1:37).  The tolling bell of the ocean swell of time became, through the prayer of acceptance, disinterested action.  A perpetual angelus opened out into the last of the Four Quartets, ‘Little Gidding,’ which is outside time’s covenant.  Union with God in a communion of glory is a timeless midwinter spring, an unimaginable zero summer, a crowned knot of fire (Holy Trinity), for which the fire and the rose, uncreated and created glory, are forever one.  This wisdom poetry grounded the Matter of Britain in Britain’s hour of desperation and glory during the Battle of Britain, a wisdom of clarity and graced stillness, the still point of glory at centre that is the axis of the turning world.  

True patriotism is purified of ethnocentric nationalism when its glory is emptied of all that usurps God, all the theisms, deisms and atheisms that substitute themselves for God, which is the work of the Spirit in the heart and the task of seers and saints in the desert.  Wisdom poetry has always been important to prophecy because for prayer to assimilate the Word of prophecy, a healing voice is needed, a ruminative, pondering which enchants fractured frenzy back to God-centred sanity, a hallowing voice that intimately encircles the still centre of silence.   Glory is still and silent at the heart of the quiet, rhythmic speech that heals injured brokenness.  The poetry and the prophecy point beyond speech to what cannot be said but only shown, revealed through what is both said and not said.  Spiritual patriotism is hardly, barely sayable in a world of warring nationalisms and consumerist free-market globalism.   But history is here and now when the timeless presence of glory is both the Spirit and the Matter of Britain.  

Each and every Christian patriotism has its own unique way of saying something like this but wisdom ensures they are able to hear one another, delight in one another, even love one another.  Love of enemies opens nationalistic enmity to love’s glory at the heart of wisdom, wisdom that sees glory in all its different manifestations, wisdom that discerns glory in each of its different patriotic narratives, glory that reveals grace in different saints and different sanctuaries without division.  Here and in Britain, the Matter of Britain delights in its ancient roots in the Matter of Byzantium, for it was a Roman Emperor from Britain, Constantine, who ringed the Rood and restored imperial glory to God’s God-centred glorification of God.  Desert solitaries withdrew from this same imperial hegemony when it ceased to bear witness to God’s God-centred glorification of God but began instead to glorify itself instead of God.  Saint Maximus died as a result of imperial violence which threatened to betray the mysteries of Christ.   Saint Symeon suffered from the persecution of Christian imperial powers that sought to destroy his witness.  Here and in Britain, Hesychast wisdom sustains hallowing glorification that dances with other God-centred Christian patriotisms as they each encircle the stillness of God, curing the heresies of tribalistic nationalism with a wisdom of wholesome patriotism, together embracing global openness.