Orthodox saints know themselves to be the worst of sinners, falling far short of glory, but they do not despair, because they trust in God’s grace to save them. This antinomic paradox means they trust God without presumption, recognising their incapacity to save themselves without despair. Faith in God’s grace to save them opens them to the light and glory of grace, whilst recognition of their fallenness humbles them, curing vainglory and pride. They do not take pride in this humility because they do not trust in the vanity of vainglory to save them. They listen to wisdom cutting through confusions of pride, leaping over mountains of divisive vainglory. They do not take pride in the glory of grace because they know it is not their doing, but God’s. They live the paradox of the Gospel in ways that open grace to timeless glory, unveiling the uncreated light of the glory of grace. As sinners, falling short of glory, they never pride themselves on their sanctity. As saints, they hallow the Name that saves them, putting their trust in the sanctifying grace of God.
Paradox lies at the heart of the grace of the Name that saves sinners, paradox that lives the antinomies of grace without presumption or despair. Saint Sophrony’s phrase for this, ‘critical tension,’ expresses the heart of Orthodox ascetic life by doing justice to both antinomies, refusing to reduce one to the other or to abandon one in favour of the other. Grace and shortfall from grace, light and darkness, trust and humility, are held together when faith does not degenerate into presumption and humility does not descend into despair. Grace overcomes both presumption and despair through the remembrance of God, in whom irreducible antinomies are held together in wholesome ways. The remembrance of God turns and sees in God what fallenness forgets, purifying and enlightening hearts in whom, despite falls from glory, all glory is ascribed to God. Remembrance of God restores glory to God even in the midst of falls from glory, for God saves sinners by grace. Saints are not those who have saved themselves by ascetic effort, who are then rewarded with grace, but those whom God saves by grace with their consent.
Grace saves but not without the free co-operation of the poor in Spirit. Presumption is cured with the grace of remembrance, with the synergistic co-operation of holy dedication, determination, resolve and discipline. Enlightened glorification is not reward for good behaviour but dedicated co-operation that decides on what God is doing with wholehearted determination and disciplined resolve. It is to say ‘Amen,’ and be the ‘yes’ to glory that the wisdom of glory really is. It is to exercise the freedom of the will that hallows the Name so that God’s glory reigns. It is this remembrance that assents to grace purifying and enlightening the heart, without which loving co-operation cannot thrive. Grace saves but presumption intervenes, unless pride is overcome and vainglory freed from vanity. Orthodox ascetic life is never a substitute for the grace that saves, but without it, pride obstructs the light and glory of grace. What Saint Sophrony the Hesychast called ‘critical tension,’ is lived as wholesome co-operation with grace and glory, avoiding the extremes of proud presumption and vain despair, by curing both. Glorification by grace heals presumption, as it cures despair, through God’s gracious remembrance of God through God: Holy Trinity.