Elders in the desert hand on the tradition (paradosis) of the crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and glorification of Christ, in whom the saints are crucified, resurrected, ascended and glorified with Christ in the Spirit, who illumines the heart, praying ‘Abba, Father,’ imparting grace that crucifies, resurrects, ascends and glorifies the saints in Christ. The sacrament of Baptism empowers grace that crucifies and resurrects the saints, purifying the heart and through heart of light, the body of light. The sacrament of Chrismation infuses enlightening grace that ascends with and glorifies the body of glory of the saints, empowering participation in eternal life, which is the deifying life of God the Holy Trinity. The Holy Eucharist blesses union in Christ with the Father, sustaining glorification in the body of glory through the Spirit in Holy Trinity. Extremist opinions, such as gnostic docetism or corporeal literalism, fall short of the mysteries of glorification which elders hand on in the desert, refining the body of light into the body of glory. Christ’s spiritual body of light and his transfigured body of glory cannot be reduced to a docetic subjectivism or a literalistic realism, as the desert’s hermeneutics of glorification proves. The body of the resurrected Christ is a body of light and glory that resurrects the saints to bodies of light and glory, which neither a docetic appearance nor a materialistic resuscitation would even be able to begin to do.
Desert wisdom of light and glory survives to this day but the neglect of the wisdom practice (praxis) of seeing (theoria) in cultures of materialistic consumerism has been devastating even in monasteries. Saint Sophrony the Hesychast, however, refused to reduce mysteries of glory to mundane inanities, but hallowed God’s Name ‘I AM,’ awakening hearts to Christ in the midst. Saint Sophrony never contested the desert’s unbroken witness to enlightenment in uncreated light, imparting mystical wisdom as lived transfiguration which communicates graced insight, opening illumination to ineffable glorification. For many centuries, apophatic aphorisms were handed on in books of mystical chapters concerning the practice of turning (praktikos), of spiritual seeing (theoretikos) and unitive knowing (gnostikos). Gnomic genres were neglected in later centuries, when treatises and homilies supplanted wisdom centuries, but these same gnomic chapters were nevertheless collected and re-read in desert cells and included in both the Greek and Russian collections known as the Pholokalia. But oral and graced transmission, although vulnerable in an age of aggressive literacy, continued through Saint Sophrony to hand on the tradition of the Name that underlies glorification, embracing the crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and glorification of Christ as ‘I AM,’ renewing way, sustaining truth and deifying life in the Holy Name.
The Byzantine monastic tradition preserved the ‘Chapters on Prayer’ and the ‘Praktikos‘ of Abba Evagrius, written in the Nitrian desert, but the Oriental Orthodox monastic tradition also preserved his ‘Kephalaia Gnostica,‘ which offered profound training to elders, imparting a wide-ranging wisdom to generations of saints. Controversial in some conventional Orthodox Byzantine circles after the Fifth Ecumenical Council, which actually never condemned it, this Evagrian trajectory nonetheless helped to nourish Christian wisdom in the Oriental Churches of the Silk Road all the way to China. Not subject to the jurisdiction of the Emperor Justinian or his Byzantine empire, these Oriental Orthodox desert hermits spread an Evagrian wisdom of uncreated light and glory to Syria, Mesopotamia, Armenia, Persia, Southern India, Tibet and China. Evagrian wisdom was radically non-dual but worked with the dualities of created energies as a manifold, apophatic wisdom, unveiling light and glory to the saints. For wisdom, body and soul are inherently translucent in the uncreated light of the Holy Trinity. As wisdom unfolds, physical and psychic energies transfigure into a body of light, enfolding light back into glory as wisdom unfolds. Wisdom’s ineffable knowing thus transmutes gross matter into energy, subtle energy into light, light into uncreated glory, transforming temporal energies through timeless wisdom into uncreated light of glory. Christ reveals who we really are by being already now, in glory, all that we shall be. Christ reveals what spiritual bodies are, by being in us the spiritual body that he is. At centre, Christ transfigures body, soul and spirit into a body, soul and spirit of uncreated light and a body of uncreated glory by hallowing the Name.
Desert elders work with spiritual insight to awaken deifying vision to purify the heart so that turning sees and seeing sees who sees here, Christ present in the Spirit in the midst. Sophisticated disputes obscure the simplicity of seeing, whereas whole stillness of spiritual vision cures division and restores confusion to communion. Christ in the midst is the Logos of wisdom that crucifies confusion and dissolves division, resurrecting confusion as union, division as communion. When we ascend in him into uncreated light in a body of light, he ascends with us into uncreated glory in a body of glory. Of course, elders do not usurp Christ but bear witness in the Spirit to Christ’s luminous and glorious union with the Father, awakening to mysteries of luminous union and glorifying communion through the Son. Elders never presume to replace the Spirit with their own opinions, but empty themselves of themselves so that the Spirit speaks through them with ineffable words that pierce the heart, healing body, soul and spirit. Christ the Logos is guide to all Christians who awaken to his presence in his Name. Elders empty themselves of themselves so that Christ can speak through them in Spirit and in Truth. But Christ, as the Logos, begotten by the Father, is also he in whom the Spirit abides, restoring all things in glory to the Father. To hallow God’s Name, in Christ, is to abide in the Spirit’s revelation of glory in Holy Trinity, transfiguring the body of light with Christ’s body of deifying glory,
Evagrius said the Holy Trinity is not a numerical triad but a mystery of ineffable glory. Revelation of the Father’s Name through the purifying wisdom of the Son, is the revelation of enlightening glory in the Holy Spirit. The Name turns praying awareness inside out and outside in, enlightening body, mind and spirit with clear, transfiguring light, unveiling luminous translucence. There are, of course, physical, psychic and spiritual reverberations to the practice of this wisdom, to this awareness of uncreated presence that opens presence to uncreated awareness. The heart reflects uncreated light like a crystal reflecting sunlight, a rainbow radiance refracting pure luminosity, as matter dissolves into pure energy, and energy into pure glory. The mind is struck dumb by wonder as awareness becomes aware of its own transparent translucence, overwhelmed and inter-penetrated by uncreated light, joined by light within light, conjoined with glory from glory. Abiding in the Spirit, uncreated light stills thoughts, grounding spiritual practice in the translucent purity of Christ’s ‘I’ awareness of ‘AM’ presence in his hallowing Name. Ever-present and timelessly aware, Christ at centre sees everything in God and God in everything so that we, by grace, see everything in God and God in everything. Grace crucifies and resurrects us, with glory that ascends and glorifies us, transfiguring the body with luminous so illuminating translucence, purifying and enlightening body, soul and spirit in the awakened heart. Christ’s body of light transfigures hearts, enlightening minds with the mind of Christ, uniting the spirit with the Holy Spirit, praying ‘Abba, Father.’ Many mansions of the Father’s Kingdom of glory are opening when glorification transfigures realm after realm. Uncreated glory resurrects the dead, deifies creation, glorifies saints, transfigures realms and empties hells.
Saint John Dalyatha, known locally as John Saba Qadisha or John the Holy Elder (c690-780), lived as a solitary in the mountains of Beth Dalyatha, later as abbot of a monastery in the Qardu hills, nourished by the writings of Abba Evagruis but also by the Macarian Homilies and the mystical wisdom of Saint Denys, imparting a wisdom of uncreated light which illumines the body of light as a body of glory. Glory incarnates light just as light transfigures glory, crowning light with glory, enthroning light as glory. John Saba says this wisdom of light and glory is the wisdom of angels, this state of deifying vision an angelic estate. His guardian angel bore witness to Christ in his midst, transmitting the same wisdom that hosts of angels were transmitting in countless worlds, purifying, illumining and glorifying saints from every people, race, language and culture. There is a kindred relationship between elders and angels, because the Spirit’s praying presence inspires both with the same unceasing prayer, praying ‘Abba, Father,’ in the midst. Hearts in both angelic and human worlds are illumined from within with the same hallowing Name ‘I AM,’ participating in the same Kingdom of glory as holy angels and glorified saints. Both spiritual orders of Name-hallowing co-companions co-inhere together in one deified life, one Kingdom of light and glory, so bodies of light and glory are simply what happens when human beings enter with angels into the Kingdom of the hallowed Name.
The holiest depth of a holy heart is the Bridal Chamber where Cherubic light conjoins with Seraphic glory, where wisdom awareness weds with presence of glory, where illumined union cures dissipating confusions and deifying communion heals dualistic divisions. The wisdom of the desert is a tradition of resurrecting light, raising hearts into ascending glory, conjoining angelic with human hearts in Christ’s resurrecting, ascending and deifying glory. Neither Gnostic nor Messalian, this wisdom inspired in the desert a spirit of poetic prophecy that showed no trace of Montanist sectarianism. Sometimes confused with Gnosticism, Messalianism or Montanism by those who were unable or unwilling to understand it, desert wisdom held steady, patiently waiting for its detractors to turn and see. Kindred companionship with angels cannot be imposed, since communion in the Holy Spirit cannot be enforced. John Saba Qadisha was at one time accused of Messalianism by Patriarch Timothy just as Saint Symeon the New Theologian and Saint Gregory Palamas were occasionally accused of Messalianism or other heresies by those who did not understand them. But in the stillness of wisdom and the silence of the desert, light transfigures and glory deifies. The body transcends what it seems to be when confusion and separation reign. The Kingdom of glory is how things actually are when wisdom reigns. The body is light, releasing into glory a body of light and glory, one with Christ’s body of light and glory, hidden in the Holiest of Holies. Cherubic awareness unites with Seraphic presence when wisdom conjoins with glory in the Holiest of Holy Holies. Christ fills the Holy of Holies with his glorious crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and glorification, transfiguring hearts, bodies, souls and spirits with his body of light and body of transfiguring glory.