Purification of the Heart

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Saint Sophrony the Hesychast imparted purification of the heart through illumination in uncreated light rather than through rational explanation, overcoming separation by curing confusion, communicating communion by overcoming division.  His vision of uncreated light on the Holy Mountain of Athos was communicated in the uncreated light of the Holy Spirit, through the uncreated light of Christ, unveiling the uncreated wisdom and glory of the Father.  When he answered questions in the old library of the monastery, he was not conveying verbal expressions of conceptual theology but decisive insight into the wisdom of glorified saints.  He spoke in the Holy Name of God, not in the name of authoritative academic learning, even though his words were also a living expression of Patristic wisdom.  There were times when he deliberately spoke from his own mind when questioners made clear they were unable to receive a word from God, gently protecting them from the temptation of violating a word from God.  There were times when he would offer his own opinion and not a word from God, if the listener was obviously going to find fault with anything he said, whether it was from God or not.

Saint Sophrony the Hesychast did employ reason in his answers to questions put to him, but was never tempted to answer from any kind of rationalism, even though some Orthodox theologians argued from a standpoint of rigid scholastic Orthodoxy.  He would always bring their questions back to authentic glorification of the Name ‘I AM,’ not from the standpoint of relativist personalism but from the perspective of God’s revelation of God, through God, in Holy Trinity.  Learned Patristic tomes lined the walls of the old library but the ethos the elder shared with his questioners was one of luminous openness rather than closed dogmatism.  Patristic wisdom was for him always knowledge of the heart but was only imparted when the heart could bear it.  His words were not, therefore, rationally systematic but personally symptomatic in their cure of the sclerosis of the heart, communicating Patristic knowledge that was authoritative without being authoritarian.  Saint Sophrony was very free in his way of being and supportive of liberating freedom rather than regulative conformity.  He knew that it was the eye of the heart that sees God in God, communicating deification, theosis, and that the illumined heart was the wise authority so needed in spiritual matters.

Saint Sophrony the Hesychast spoke from experience as a practicing hesychast, for whom ecclesial dogmas are theophanies, not terminological fixations.  Dogmas were for him theophanic mysteries rather than expressions of narrow dogmatism, meaning that dogmas like the Holy Trinity were mysteries that were incomprehensible as well as ineffable even when expressed in the traditional language of persons, energies and essence.  Hesychast wisdom uses words to express what transcends words, namely the ineffable words of wisdom that unveil glory.  Saint Sophrony often spoke of the ‘person’ but some who heard him misconstrued what he said in ways that ignored the ineffability of the mystery.  He also spoke of the Name, but some failed to acknowledge the Name ‘I AM’ was the revelation of ineffable personhood.  For Saint Sophrony, the glory of God was uncreated energy deifying humanity, empowering elders to point to the consuming fire of the Name in ways that do not consume the created bush, but consume the confusion that divides seer from seen (Ex 3:2).  Contemplative seers value their elders because they bear witness to the mystery that deifies saints, discerning the uncreated wisdom that imparts glory without confusion or division.