The Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross

Oh the beautiful paradoxes and contradictions in the cross. Strength in weakness. Glory in shame. Victory in Defeat. Life in Death. Gaining through Losing. Peace in violence. Friendship in enmity. Kingship in criminality. Blamelessness in condemnation.

The Gospels surrounding the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (including the following, which is taken from the Sunday after the Feast of the Exaltation) bring this to light. And for those of us who hear these words, we can only be thankful for the way in which this paradox comes to us. Through losing our lives, we find our lives. As we take up the cross, we gain our life, even though it would seem as though we are taking up our own destruction. And in gaining our life, the kingdom of God comes to us in power, at the moment of giving up our lives, at the moment of laying it down.


Notes From a Retreat – V/End

TRIAD supernal, both super-God and super-good, Guardian of the Theosophy of Christian men, direct us aright to the super-unknown and super-brilliant and highest summit of the mystic Oracles, where the simple and absolute a!nd changeless mysteries of theology lie hidden within the super-luminous gloom of the silence, revealing hidden things, which in its deepest darkness shines above the most super-brilliant, and in the altogether impalpable and invisible, fills to overflowing the eyeless minds with glories of surpassing beauty. This then be my prayer; but thou, O dear Timothy, by thy persistent commerce with the mystic visions, leave behind both sensible perceptions and intellectual efforts, and all objects of sense and intelligence, and all things not being and being, and be raised aloft unknowingly to the union, as far’ as attainable, with Him Who is above every essence and knowledge. For by the resistless and absolute ecstasy in all purity, from thyself and all, thou wilt be carried on high, to the superessential ray of the Divine darkness, when thou hast cast away all, and become free from all. – Mystical Theology, I.I

If one wanted an overview of Dionysius’ Mystical Theology in one sentence, we could say-There is something which is beyond the scope of being that can be known. The true God is more than a “god” who is underneath and behind all of being. Being conceals the true God, who is hypergood, as being reveals.

The Triad could be considered the first word, but this consideration does not come from philosophy. God is not in the world of being, or the world of number.

A monad view would say that God is the world.
A dyad view would say that there is a dualism between God and the world.

But as we read and re-read this first chapter of Mystical Theology, we see that Dionysius lives in prayer, which is the beginning of the mystery, when he says, “Direct us aright.”

There is a cycle of grace that draws us back to the prayer of the Church, and this is through the power of mystery.

One way of knowing God is through unknowing. The nameless has taken on a name – silence provides the air for words to be spoken. God entices without torture – he is a silence that is present but not complete.

Silence calls us to joy, and joy calls us into a still deeper silence.

Silence calls us to leave behind the world, because our senses cannot hold God. In silence we leave not things, but our attachment to things.

This is a mystical journey to the cause of things, to the realm of Theophany. This takes us into God and the mystery of our own being.

But see that none of the uninitiated listen to these things—-those I mean who are entangled in things being, and fancy there is nothing superessentially above things being, but imagine that they know, by their own knowledge, Him, Who has placed darkness as His hiding-place. But, if the Divine initiations are above such, what would any one say respecting those still more uninitiated, such as both portray the Cause exalted above all, from the lowest of things created, and say that It in no wise excels the no-gods fashioned by themselves and of manifold shapes, it being our duty both to attribute and affirm all the attributes of things existing to It, as Cause of all, and more properly to deny them all to It, as being above all, and not to consider the negations to be in opposition to the affirmations, but far rather that It, which is above every abstraction and definition, is above the privations. – Mystical Theology, I.II

Cause and caused are distinct, this is true, but this is not a violent response of God. The mysteries are guarded to protect the pagan. God is not a placated God, but is instead both a giver and a recipient.

Mary-Jane Rubenstein has reflected upon this in Dionysius, Derrida, and the Critique of Ontotheology.

This order of cause and caused produces a hierarchy, and again, hierarchy can be a false notion thereof. This can be a hierarchy not of caused and cause, but of certainty and violence. In mysticism, however, one must move beyond certainty to uncertainty. The hyper-truth is beyond truth. There is a horizon of expectation, expecting to come into fuller communion with Him who is hyper-truth.

While there is expectation, there is also a circling down of both assertions and denials. It is better to describe and understand that our descriptions are inadequate. Hierachies can unsay themselves, as they exist more for our understanding than as absolutes. In the 9th epistle of Dionysius, we see so clearly that everything is hierarchy.

LETTER IX. To Titus, Hierarch, asking by letter what is the house of wisdom, what the bowl, and what are its meats and drinks?


I do not know, O excellent Titus, whether the holy Timothy departed, deaf to some of the theological symbols which were explained by me. But, in the Symbolic Theology, we have thoroughly investigated for him all the expressions of the Oracles concerning God, which appear to the multitude to be monstrous. |168 For they give a colour of incongruity dreadful to the uninitiated souls, when the Fathers of the unutterable wisdom explain the Divine and Mystical Truth, unapproachable by the profane, through certain, certainly hidden and daring enigmas. Wherefore also, the many discredit the expressions concerning the Divine Mysteries. For, we contemplate them only through the sensible symbols that have grown upon them. We must then strip them, and view them by themselves in their naked purity. For, thus contemplating them, we should reverence a fountain of Life flowing into Itself—-viewing It even standing by Itself, and as a kind of single power, simple, self-moved, and self-worked, not abandoning Itself, but a knowledge surpassing every kind of knowledge, and always contemplating Itself, through Itself. We thought it necessary then, both for him and for others, that we should, as far as possible, unfold the varied forms of the Divine” representations of God in symbols. For, with what incredible and simulated monstrosities are its external, forms filled? For instance, with regard to the superessential Divine generation, representing a body of God corporally generating God; and describing a word flowing out into air from a man’s heart, which eructates it, and a breath, breathed forth from a mouth; and celebrating God-bearing bosoms embracing a son of God, bodily; or representing these things after the manner of |169 plants, and producing certain trees, and branches, and flowers and roots, as examples; or fountains of waters y, bubbling forth; or seductive light productions of reflected splendours; or certain other sacred representations which explain superessential descriptions of God; but with regard to the intelligible providences of Almighty God, either gifts, manifestations, or powers, or properties, or repose, or abidings, or progressions, or distinctions, or unions, clothing Almighty God in human form, and in the varied shape of wild beasts and other living creatures,

and plants, and stones; and attributing to Him ornaments of women, or weapons of savages; and assigning working in clay, and in a furnace, as it were to a sort of artisan; and placing under Him, horses and chariots and thrones; and spreading before Him certain dainty meats delicately cooked; and representing Him as drinking, and drunken, and sleeping, and suffering from excess. What would any one say concerning the angers, the griefs, the various oaths, the repentances, the curses, the revenges, the manifold and dubious excuses for the failure of promises, the battle of giants in Genesis, during which He is said to scheme against those |170 powerful and great men, and this when they were contriving the building, not with a view to injustice towards other people, but on behalf of their own safety? And that counsel devised in heaven to deceive and mislead Achab 71; and those mundane and meritricious passions of the Canticles; and all the other sacred compositions which appear in the description of God, which stick at nothing, as projections, and multiplications of hidden things, and divisions of things one and undivided, and formative and manifold forms of the shapeless and unformed; of which, if any one were able to see their inner hidden beauty, he will find every one of them mystical and Godlike, and filled with abundant theological light. For let us not think, that the appearances of the compositions have been formed for their own sake, but that they shield the science unutterable and invisible to the multitude, since things all-holy are not within the reach of the profane, but are manifested to those only who are genuine lovers of piety, who reject all childish fancy respecting the holy symbols, and are capable to pass with simplicity of mind, and aptitude of contemplative faculty, to the simple and supernatural and elevated truth of the symbols. Besides, we must also consider this, that the teaching, handed down by the Theologians is two-fold—-one, secret and mystical—-the other, open and better known—-one, symbolical and initiative—-the other, |171 philosophic and demonstrative;—-and the unspoken is intertwined with the spoken. The one persuades, and desiderates the truth of the things expressed, the other acts and implants in Almighty God, by instructions in mysteries not learnt by teaching. And certainly, neither our holy instructors, nor those of the law, abstain from the God-befitting symbols, throughout the celebrations of the most holy mysteries. Yea, we see even the most holy Angels, mystically advancing things Divine through enigmas; and Jesus Himself, speaking the word of God in parables, and transmitting the divinely wrought mysteries, through a typical spreading of a table. For, it was seemly, not only that the Holy of holies should be preserved undefiled by the multitude, but also that the Divine knowledge should illuminate the human life, which is at once indivisible and divisible, in a manner suitable to itself; and to limit the passionless part of the soul to the simple, and most inward visions of the most godlike images; but that its impassioned part should wait upon, and, at the same time, strive after, the most Divine coverings, through the pre-arranged representations of the typical symbols, as such (coverings) are, by nature, congenial to it. And all those who are hearers of a distinct theology without symbols, weave in themselves a sort of type, which conducts them to the conception of the aforesaid theology. |172


But also the very order of the visible universe sets forth the invisible things of Almighty God, as says both Paul and the infallible Word. Wherefore, also, the Theologians view some things politically and legally, but other things, purely and without flaw; and some things humanly, and mediately, but other things supermundanely and perfectly; at one time indeed, from the laws which are manifest, and at another, from the institutions which are unmanifest, as befits the holy writings and minds and souls under consideration. For the whole statement lying before them, and all its details, does not contain a bare history, but a vivifying perfection. We must then, in opposition to the vulgar conception concerning them, reverently enter within the sacred symbols, and not dishonour them, being as they are, products and moulds of the Divine characteristics, and manifest images of the unutterable and supernatural visions. For, not only are the superessential lights, and things intelligible, and, in one word, things Divine, represented in various forms through the typical symbols, as the superessential God, spoken of as fire, and the intelligible Oracles of Almighty God, as flames of fire; but further, even the godlike orders of the angels, both contemplated and |173 contemplating, are described under varied forms, and manifold likenesses, and empyrean shapes. And differently must we take the same likeness of fire, when spoken with regard to the inconceivable God; and differently with regard to His intelligible providences or words; and differently respecting the Angels. The, one as causal, but the other as originated, and the third as participative, and different things differently, as their contemplation, and scientific arrangements suggest.

And never must we confuse the sacred symbols hap-hazard, but we must unfold them suitably to the causes, or the origins, or the powers, or the orders, or the dignities of which they are explanatory tokens. And, in order that I may not extend my letter beyond the bounds of propriety, let us come at once to the very question propounded by you; and we affirm that every nourishment is perfective of those nourished, filling up their imperfection and their lack, and tending the weak, and guarding their lives, making to sprout, and renewing and bequeathing to them a vivifying wellbeing; and in one word, urging the slackening and imperfect, and contributing towards their comfort and perfection.


Beautifully then, the super-wise and Good Wisdom is celebrated by the Oracles, as placing a mystical bowl, and pouring forth its sacred drink, but first |174 setting forth the solid meats, and with a loud voice Itself benignly soliciting those who seek It. The Divine Wisdom, then, sets forth the two-fold food; one indeed, solid and fixed, but the other liquid and flowing forth; and in a bowl furnishes Its own providential generosities. Now the bowl, being spherical and open, let it be a symbol of the Providence over the whole, which at once expands Itself and encircles all, without beginning and without end. But since, even while going forth to all, It remains in Itself, and stands fixed in unmoved sameness; and never departing from Itself, the bowl also itself stands fixedly and unmovably. But Wisdom is also said to build a house for itself, and in it to set forth the solid meats and drinks, and the bowl, so that it may be evident to those who understand things Divine in a manner becoming God, that the Author of the being, and of the well being, of all things, is both an all-perfect providence, and advances to all, and comes into being in everything, and embraces them all; and on the other hand, He, the same, in the same, par excellence, is nothing in anything at all, but overtops the whole, Himself being in Himself, identically and always; and standing, and remaining, and resting, and ever being in the same condition and in the same way, and never becoming outside Himself, nor falling from His own session, and unmoved abiding, and shrine,—-yea even, in it, benevolently |175 exercising His complete and all-perfect providences, and whilst going forth to all, remaining by Himself alone, and standing always, and moving Himself; and neither standing, nor moving Himself, but, as one might say, both connaturally and supernaturally, having His providential energies, in His steadfastness, and His steadiness in His Providence.


But what is the solid food and what the liquid? For the Good Wisdom is celebrated as at once bestowing and providing these. I suppose then, that the solid food is suggestive of the intellectual and abiding perfection and sameness, within which, things Divine are participated as a stable, and strong, and unifying, and indivisible knowledge, by those contemplating organs of sense, by which the most Divine Paul, after partaking of wisdom, imparts his really solid nourishment; but that the liquid is suggestive of the stream, at once flowing through and to all; eager to advance, and further conducting those who are properly nourished as to goodness, through things variegated and many and divided, to the simple and invariable knowledge of God. Wherefore the divine and spiritually perceived Oracles are likened to dew, and water, and to milk, and wine, and honey; on account of their life-producing power, as in water; and growth-giving, as in milk; and reviving, as in wine; and both purifying and preserving, as in honey. For these things, the Divine Wisdom gives to those approaching it, and furnishes |176 and fills to overflowing, a stream of ungrudging and unfailing good cheer. This, then, is the veritable good cheer; and, on this account, it is celebrated, as at once life-giving and nourishing and perfecting.


According to this sacred explanation of good cheer, even Almighty God, Himself the Author of all good things, is said to be inebriated, by reason of the super-full, and beyond conception, and ineffable, immeasurableness, of the good cheer, or to speak more properly, good condition of Almighty God. For, as regards us, in the worst sense, drunkenness is both an immoderate repletion, and being out of mind and wits; so, in the best sense, respecting God, we ought not to imagine drunkenness as anything else beyond the super-full immeasurableness of all good things pre-existing in Him as Cause. But, even in respect to being out of wits, which follows upon drunkenness, we must consider the pre-eminence of Almighty God, which is above conception, in which He overtops our conception, as being above conception and above being conceived, and above being itself; and in short, Almighty God is inebriated with, and outside of, all good things whatever, as being at once a super-full hyperbole of every immeasurableness of them all; and again, as dwelling outside and beyond the whole. Starting then from these, we will take in the same fashion even the feasting of the pious, in the Kingdom of Almighty God. For He says, the King Himself |177 will come and make them recline, and will Himself minister to them. Now these things manifest a common and concordant communion of the holy,

upon the good things of God, and a church of the first born, whose names are written in heavens; and spirits of just men made perfect by all good things, and replete with all good things; and the reclining, we imagine, a cessation from their many labours, and a life without pain; and a godly citizenship in light and place of living souls, replete with every holy bliss, and an ungrudging provision of every sort of blessed goods; within which they are filled with every delight; whilst Jesus both makes them recline, and ministers to them, and furnishes this delight; and Himself bequeaths their everlasting rest; and at once distributes and pours forth the fulness of good things.


But, I well know you will further ask that the propitious sleep of Almighty God, and His awakening, should be explained. And, when we have said, that the superiority of Almighty God, and His incommunicability with the objects of His Providence is a Divine sleep, and that the attention to His Providential cares of those who need His discipline, or His preservation, is an awakening, you will pass to other symbols of the Word of God. Wherefore, thinking it superfluous that by running |178 through the same things to the same. persons, we should seem to say different things, and, at the same time, conscious that you assent to things that are good, we finish this letter at what we have said, having set forth, as I think, more than the things solicited in your letters. Further, we send the whole of our Symbolical Theology, within which you will find, together with the house of wisdom, also the seven pillars investigated, and its solid food divided into sacrifices and breads. And what is the mingling of the wine; and again, What is the sickness arising from the inebriety of Almighty God? and in fact, the things now spoken of are explained in it more explicitly. And it is, in my judgment, a correct enquiry into all the symbols of the Word of God, and agreeable to the sacred traditions and truths of the Oracles.

Everything is Theophany. To be in the world is to be somewhat initiated into the mystery, because everything in the world is part of Theophany. In that sense, one could argue that Ecumenism is Dionysian, for all in the inhabited world reveal God, despite shortcomings of faith or love.

In contrast, contempt is a denial of the theophany principle. It is a rejection of the other, a deferred inclusion of the other. The dance and the circle draws one in.

This produces the cycle of purification, which leads to illumination, which leads to perfection.

The path leads to no path, a pathless existence of freedom.

The Gloom of Agnosia is a path that leads to an unknowing, which is a movement to God. It is a return, a rest, where things are viewed as things. The rest is a celebration of things as things.

This celebration of things as things has a reflection that can be seen in the accounts of the Apostles that reveals the life of St. Paul with the Areopagites. St. Paul considers the altars of those on Mars’ Hill and calls upon people to ask who it is that they unknowingly worship. This can be seen when he says:

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship qas unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, zhaving determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. dYet he is actually not far from each one of us, for
“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your own poets have said,
“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’
Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance jGod overlooked, but know he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed ma day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

In contrast to such unknowing worship, there is a return to things that can be seen in Psalm 50. The burnt offerings are returned to after there is a realignment of the spiritual state.

Plotinus, in contrast, was ashamed of his own body.
There is a difference between a “cover your rear” altar and the depth of unknowing. Therefore, there is an eschatological corrective to Neo-Platonism.

Revelation to most humans is OK. But that we would see revelation in human, ordinary life? This is offensive to most.

Human existence matters forever, in all degrees of classes/existence. Everything matters because everything is Theophany.
This is why God, in His Providence, speaks of a new heaven and a NEW EARTH. The divinizing power returns us back to all things, even those things of this earth.

God is either All in All, or Nothing in None.

Julia of Norwich stated that “All Will Be Well.” This is only sensible if God is All in All.

The world is already in possession of its end-God is found in everything-in every soap sud, in every rebuke, in every manifestation of love, in all light. With this mystical view, even the Creation becomes godly.

We must begin again as saints, holding our hymns and psalms to the mystery of God in all of creation.

Notes From a Retreat-IV B

But thou, as thy letters testify, I do not know how, being in thy senses, hast spurned one fallen down before the priest, who, as thou sayest, was unholy and a sinner. Then this one entreated and confessed that he has come for healing of evil deeds, but thou didst not shiver, but even insolently didst cover with abuse the good priest, for shewing compassion to a penitent, and justifying the unholy. And at last, thou saidst to the priest, “Go out with thy like”; and didst burst, contrary to permission, into the sanctuary, and defiledst the Holy of holies, and writest to us, that “I have providentially preserved the things sacred, which were about to be profaned, and am still keeping them undefiled.” — Epistle VIII.I

In this Epistle of Dionysius to Demophilus, we hear of the concept of hierarchy being something that is not an end in and of itself. Instead, it is a life of ungrudgingly sharing radiance, as the previous quote had stated.

In common understanding of hierarchy, a monk would be at the “lowest” level of the hierarchy.

It would be something like this:


But the 8th Epistle of Dionysius breaks the order, and reflects on monk. Demophilus had seen a person at confession in the Holy Place, and as such he struck the priest who heard the confession in the holy place. He wrote to Dionysius, seeking approval at this “righteous anger” which burned against the upsetting of the hierarchy which was so “evident” from the confession at the holy place.

What was his response? This mystical vision…

When I was once in Crete, the holy Carpus entertained me,—-a man, of all others, most
fitted, on account of great purity of mind, for Divine Vision. Now, he never undertook
the holy celebrations of the Mysteries, unless a propitious vision were first manifested to
him during his preparatory devout prayers.

He said then, when some one of the unbelievers had at one time grieved him (and his
grief was, that he had led astray to ungodliness a certain member of the Church, whilst
the days of rejoicing were still being celebrated for him); that he ought compassionately
to have prayed on behalf of both, and taking God, the Savior, as his fellow-helper, to
convert the one, and to overcome the other by goodness, and not to have ceased warning
them so long as he lived until this day; and thus to lead them to the knowledge of God,
so that the things disputed by them might be clearly determined, and those, who were
irrationally bold, might be compelled to be wiser by a judgment according to law. Now,
as he had never before experienced this, I do not know how he then went to bed with
such a surfeit of ill-will and bitterness.

In this evil condition he went to sleep, for it was evening, and at midnight (for he was
accustomed at that appointed hour to rise, of his own accord, for the Divine melodies) he
arose, not having enjoyed, undisturbed, his slumbers, which were many and continually
broken; and, when he stood collected for the, Divine Converse, he was guiltily vexed and
displeased, saying, that it was not just that godless men, who pervert the straight ways of
the Lord, should live. And, whilst saying this, he besought Almighty God, by some stroke
of lightning, suddenly, without mercy, to cut short the lives of them both.

But, whilst saying this, he declared, that he seemed to see suddenly the house in which
he stood, first torn asunder, and from the roof divided into two in the midst, and a sort of
gleaming fire before his eyes (for the place seemed now under the open sky) borne down
from the heavenly region close to him; and, the heaven itself giving way, and upon the
back of the heaven, Jesus, with innumerable angels, in the form of men, standing around

This indeed, he saw, above, and himself marveled; but below, when Carpus had bent
down, he affirmed that he saw the very foundation ripped in two, to a sort of yawning
and dark chasm, and those very men, upon whom he had invoked a curse, standing before
his eyes, within the mouth of the chasm, trembling, pitiful, only just not yet carried
down by the mere slipping of their feet; and from below the chasm, serpents, creeping
up and gliding from underneath, around their feet, now contriving to drag them away,
and weighing them down, and lifting them up, and again inflaming or irritating with their
teeth or their tails, and all the time endeavoring to pull them down into the yawning gulf;
and that certain men also were in the midst, co-operating with the serpents against these
men, at once tearing and pushing and beating them down. And they seemed to be on the

point of falling, partly against their will, partly by their will; almost constrained by the
evil, and at the same time persuaded.

And Carpus said, that he himself was glad, whilst looking below, and that he was
forgetful of the things above; further, that he was vexed and made light of it, because
they had not already fallen, and that he often attempted to accomplish the fact, and that,
when he did not succeed, he was both irritated and cursed. And, when with difficulty he
raised himself, he saw the heaven again, as he saw it before, and Jesus, moved with pity
at what was taking place, standing up from His super-celestial throne, and descending
to them, and stretching a helping hand, and the angels, co-operating with Him, taking
hold of the two men, one from one place and another from, another, and the Lord
Jesus said to Carpus, whilst His hand was yet extended, “Strike against Me in future,
for I am ready, even again, to suffer for the salvation of men; and this is pleasing to
Me, provided that other men do not commit sin. But see, whether it is well for thee to
exchange the dwelling in the chasm, and with serpents, for that with God, and the good
and philanthropic angels.”

These are the things which I heard myself, and believe to be true.

–Epistle VIII.6

Dionysius writes to say, “No!”. Hierarchy is not about exclusivity and division. It is about a sharing of divinity. We see the Hierarchy in Christ Himself saving the men who were judged by Carpus. He who is the highest of the high went to the lowest to give life to the lowest.

Hierarchy is like a symphony-the music “works” because each is working according to one’s ability. There is, in a symphony, no real individual.

Instead of the individualism, hierarchy guarantees that every contact with another person, is a contact with God and it is mediated through God. This is true because He is in all of creation.

Angels are the lowest of celestial hierarchy. They purify humans, and we see this with Isaiah 6, where seraphs purify the lips of Isaiah. Even a weak human is just as important as a Seraph, because God is behind it all.

There is Theophany in all of it.

And so, Hierarchy is not something that distances us from God. It is the very way by which God is close. Through one another, fellow humans, angels, animals, plants and minerals, there is a contact with God, through the hierarchy of God.

In the Divine Liturgy, the Priest (or deacons) acclaims “Let us Be Attentive! Holy Gifts for Holy People!”, and the people’s response is “One is Holy, One is Lord, Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father, Amen!”

This is not a rebuttal that the faithful offer, but an open acknowledgement of Christ in us.

{By the way, I wrote on this same section of the liturgy here, and it was gratifying to hear this similar reflection from Fr. Maximos at this retreat. But I digress}

We see the God Formation in Christ, as is stated in the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy.

Then what is the Hierarchy of the Angels and Archangels, and of supermundane Principalities and Authorities, Powers and Lordships, and Divine Thrones, or of the Beings of the same ranks as the Thrones—-which the Word of God declares to be near, and always about God, and with God, naming them in the Hebrew tongue Cherubim and Seraphim—-by pondering the sacred ranks and divisions of their Orders and Hierarchies, you will find in the books we have written—-not as befits their dignity but to the best of our ability—-and as the Theology of the most holy Scriptures guided, when they extolled their Hierarchy. Nevertheless, it is necessary to say this, that both that, and every Hierarchy extolled now by us, has one and the same power, throughout the whole Hierarchical transaction; and that the Hierarch himself, according to his essence, and analogy, and rank, is initiated in Divine things, and is deified and imparts to the subordinates, according to the meetness of each for the sacred deification which comes to him from’ God; also that the subordinates follow the superior, and elevate the inferior towards things in advance; and that some go before, and, as far as possible, give the lead to others; and that each, as far as may be, participates in the truly Beautiful, and Wise, and Good, through this the inspired and sacerdotal harmony.

But the Beings and ranks above us, of whom we have already made a reverent mention, are both incorporeal, and their Hierarchy is both intelligible and supermundane; but let us view our Hierarchy, comformably to ourselves, abounding in the variety of the sensible symbols, by which, in proportion to our capacity, we are conducted, hierarchically according to our measure, to the uniform deification —-God and Divine virtue. They indeed, as minds, think, according to laws laid down for themselves; but we are led by sensible figures to the Divine contemplations, as is possible to us. And, to speak truly, there is One, to Whom all the Godlike aspire, but they do not partake uniformly of this One and the Same, but as the Divine balance distributes to each the meet inheritance. Now these things have been treated more systematically in the Treatise concerning “Intelligible and Sensible 3.” But now I will attempt to describe our Hierarchy, both its source and essence, as best I can; invoking Jesus, the source and Perfecting of all Hierarchies.

God is the source and protection of everything within the hierarchy.

So the meaning of the world something that goes through all of the world? Yes.

Can there be a mutual surrender between God and His creation, or is salvation some sort of “Cosmic Stockholm Syndrome”?

The word of God, in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, gives us the answer, and the answer is that the mutual surrender was initiated in Christ.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

This surrender, not a flowchart of hierarchy, is at the heart of the true hierarchy established by God in Christ.

Notes From a Retreat-IV A

Hierarchy is a word that was invented by Dionysius the Areopagite. In one sense, it is an explanation of the development of the triangular cycle of being, non-being, and becoming.

But the ultimate definition of hierarchy to Dionysius is more of an understanding of the communion of the saints, as opposed to something “hierarchical”.

This structure of hierarchies have been criticized as oppressive constructs of culture, especially by postmodern thinkers.

But we must admit that there is a superficial analysis of Dionysius’ view of hierarchy, which led to a view where God blesses all power structures that exist, even corrupt ones. His writings were translated to Latin to support political states and their leaders. This superficial corruption of power led to the idea that the whole should be supported at the expense of parts. Even among Orthodox thinkers, Fr. John Meyendorff would criticize Dionysius’ view of hierarchy as being too rigid. Hierarchy would be derided as “loveless and Christless” by other critics.

What one must see about Dionysius view of hierarchy is that it is an analogical scheme of reality. Analogos means that which leads up to the word. It is a structure that is analogical because it functions according to the capacity of being enlarged, and as things enlarge things may change.

Instead of a rigid structure, hierarchy allows for an unlimited sharing from top to bottom. It is a downward flow that leads all the way to Hades. There is a mutual capacity, one for the other, to live in a relationship of cause and effect. Instead of thinking of a multinational corporation, we should begin our reflections on hierarchy by thinking of the analogous relationship of a mother and child. This is analogous because in this relationship of mother and baby, there is an initial flow from mother to baby. And yet, we know that this sharing relationship leads to a love of the baby for the mother. It is the most basic structure, or hierarchy, the family. For the family is the domestic church.

So among hierarchies, there is a sense where things flow in complexity from family, to church, to the world, to Being.

And there is one “thing” that is in common of all of these hierarchies, who is not “a thing.” God.

There is a seraph towards the highest level of being, and a gnat towards the bottom level of being, and yet, there is the SAME “Godness”. This same “Godness” is truly present in different measures/intensities.

Perhaps another metaphor/analogy to consider is mirrors. Light is reflected in every mirror, and yet we know that if we think of a burnished copper mirror, it is especially true that the ability of that mirror to reflect reality and light is going to depend upon the polish of the mirror. Dionysius also considers a series of silk veils that are passed in sequence as it is seen to a deeper extent.

Come, then, since we have viewed the exterior comeliness of the entirely beautiful ministration, let us now look away to its more godly beauty (whilst itself, by itself, has uncovered the veils), gazing upon its blessed radiance, shedding its bright beams openly around, and filling us with the fragrance unveiled to the contemplators. For the visible consecration of the Muron is neither uncommunicated in, or unseen by those who surround the Hierarch, but, on the contrary, by passing through to them, and fixing the contemplation above the many, is reverently covered by them, and by Hierarchical direction kept from the multitude.

For the splendour of things all holy, by shedding its light clearly and without symbol to men inspired, as being congenial to the thing contemplated, and perfuming their contemplating perceptions without; concealment, advances not yet in the same way to the inferior, but by them as deep contemplators of the thing contemplated is concealed under the enigmas of the wings, without ostentation, so that it may not be defiled by the dissimilar; through which sacred enigmas the well-ordered Ranks of the subordinate are conducted to the degree of holiness compatible with their powers. – Ecclesiastical Hierarchy IV.2

The purpose, then, of Hierarchy is the assimilation and union, as far as attainable, with
God, having Him Leader of all religious science and operation, by looking unflinchingly
to His most Divine comeliness, and copying, as far as possible, and by perfecting its
own followers as Divine images, mirrors most luminous and without flaw, receptive of
the primal light and the supremely Divine ray, and devoutly filled with the entrusted
radiance, and again, spreading this radiance ungrudgingly to those after it, in accordance
with the supremely Divine regulations.
–Ecclesiastical Hierarchy III.9

Ungrudgingly showing radiance-this is the concept of the hierarchy. Everything is in its right place, which has nothing to do with tyranny.

As we continue to consider hierarchy, we will go deeper to see how different states of human existence, and angelic existence, shows the sharing of love and glory that stems from God.

Notes From a Retreat IIIB-He is Everywhere Present

What is ecstasy, if it is not an experience?

Ecstasy is to stand outside of every experience, while at the same time not leaving the world behind. It is a world of being, but in a mystical sense, ecstasy is seeing the world of being not as an object anymore. Instead, the world of being is viewed more as a part of one’s self. This is love. To give one’s self to another not as though the other is other, but as it is one’s self.

We see God in the persons and experiences that we love, but many times we do not see Him in experiences that we do not know as love. Therefore, we must unknow. We cannot leave the world of being, but we can allow the world beyond to come to us in Christ. To come to us in a vision of all-embracing love, as Christ Himself loved those who hated Him.

Plotinus and Proclus, as non-Christian neo-Platonists, embrace the concept of reincarnation and annihilation. There is a sense of progress from being, to becoming, to a return.

The cycle is chosen, or annihilation ensues.

In this vision, God is everywhere but is completely inaccessible. He is definitely not incarnate. There are therefore, limits of being and knowing.

Modernism denies the vision of Parmenides and other philosophers.

To Stephen Hawking, philosophy is dead.

Postmodern thinking denies the light-nothing enables us to see, we just happen to see. Thought is then often called text–margin and space in text allow us to understand it, as does light. But postmodernism embraces a more brute understanding of truth, based on a personalized relativism of “text” as understood by the person/culture reading and embracing ig.

Our 21st century society is both modernist and postmodernist at the same time.

There are lots of data, lots of problem solving, but no underlying why to the whole enterprise/effort.

We must, therefore, recover a skepticism about our natural experience. Asceticism is an expression of this skepticism of natural experience. It does not deny natural experience, as the gnostics would deny the goodness of natural experience, but it is an expression of doubt about it. It is a doubt of the capacity of the world to give meaning. There is no experience that shows this limitation of the world, and as such, it is ecstasy. It is going beyond the experience and being of natural life and seeking more. We should embrace our experience of the disclosure of God in us, first as Word.

He, as Word, brings us the fulfillment of our desires through the resolution of the multiplicity of singularity.

Being and non-being can both be at peace, through a mutual surrender of mankind/natural being to God, and God to mankind/natural being. This is a union without confusion.

This is love.

In our society, there is so much ennui and despair, which comes from not loving.

In Dionysius’ writings, we see the world as a message from God, if we can live in the ecstasy of mystery. He uses an appeal to an eclipse to see God in the sun and the moon, when he writes:

…when we were staying in Heliopolis (I was then about twenty-five, and your age was nearly the same as mine), on a certain sixth day, and about the sixth hour, the sun, to our great surprise, became obscured, through the moon passing over it, not because it is a god, but because a creature of God, when its very true light was setting, could not bear to shine. Then I earnestly asked thee, what thou, O man most wise, thought of it. Thou, then, gave such an answer as remained fixed in my mind, and that no oblivion, not even that of the image of death, ever allowed to escape. For, when the whole orb had been throughout darkened, by a black mist of darkness, and the sun’s disk had begun again to be purged and to shine anew, then taking the table of Philip Aridaeus, and contemplating the orbs of heaven, we learned, what was otherwise well known, that an eclipse of the sun could not, at that time, occur. Next, we observed that the moon approached the sun from the east, and intercepted its rays, until it covered the whole; whereas, at other times, it used to approach from the west. Further also, we noted that when it had reached the extreme edge of the sun, and had covered the whole orb, that it then went back towards the east, although that was a time which called neither for the presence of the moon, nor for the conjunction of the sun. I therefore, O treasury of manifold learning, since I was incapable of understanding so great a mystery, thus addressed thee—-“What thinkest thou of this thing, O Apollophanes, mirror of learning?” “Of what mysteries do these unaccustomed portents appear to you to be indications?” Thou then, with inspired lips, rather than with speech of human voice, “These are, O excellent Dionysius,” thou saidst, “changes of things divine.” At last, when I had taken note of the day and year, and had perceived that, that time, by its testifying signs, agreed with that which Paul announced to me, once when I was hanging upon his lips, then I gave my hand to the truth, and extricated my feet from the meshes of error. Which truth, henceforth, I, with admiration, both preach and urge upon thee—-which is life and way, and true light,—-which lighteth every man coming into this world,—-to which even thou at last, as truly wise, hast yielded. For thou yieldedst to life when thou renounced death. And surely thou hast, at length, acted in the best possible manner, if thou shalt adhere henceforth to the same truth, so as to associate with us more closely. For those lips will henceforth be on our side, by the splendour of whose words, as blunting the edge of my mind, thou hast been accustomed by pretexts brought from various quarters, and by a gorgeous glow of eloquence, to vex the innermost recesses of our breast;—-yea, even sometimes to probe us sharply by occasional stings of malice. Wherefore as formerly, as thou thyself used to say, the knowledge of Christian doctrine, although savoury, was not savoury to thee, but when you had brought yourself to it, merely to taste, it shrank from your mental palate, and as it were, disdained to find a resting-place in your stomach; so now, after you have acquired a heart, intelligent and provident, elevate thyself to things supernal, and do not surrender, for things that are not, things which really are. Therefore in future, be so much more obstinate against those who have urged you to the false, as you showed yourself perverse towards us, when we invited you, with all our force, to the truth. For thus, I, in the Lord Jesus, Whose Presence is my being and my life, will henceforth die joyful, since thou also livest in Him.-Letter XI, to Apollophanes, Philospher

The ecstasy of the light and movement of natural experience drives one to a mystical vision of life, to Christ Himself.

Similarly, our experience of God in the mysteries of the Church shows that from the sensible elements of bread and wine, we are taken to an ecstasy of the essential One who loves manking.

The Hierarch makes known these things to those who are living religiously, by bringing
the veiled gifts to view, by dividing their oneness into many, and by making the
recipients partakers of them, by the utmost union of the things distributed with those who
receive them. For he delineates in these things under sensible forms our intelligible life
in figures, by bringing to view the Christ Jesus from the Hidden within the Divine Being,
out of love to man, made like unto us by the all-perfect and unconfused incarnation in our
race, from us, and advancing to the divided condition of ourselves, without change from
the essential One, and calling the human race, through this beneficent love of man, into
participation with Himself and His own good things, provided we are united to His most
Divine Life by our assimilation to it, as far as possible; and by this, in very truth, we shall
have been perfected, as partakers of God and of Divine things.
–Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, II.13

The Eucharist is, then, an ordinary mystical experience. Divinization is the experience for which no skepticism is allowed. It brings true meaning to our lives. The forms reveal the cause as we are divinized. It shows the world to be all the way meaningful, in every component of it. We can, if see the world this way, hymn all things as they come to us in life.

To the extent that we cannot sing out as something comes to us in life, we have missed this mystical vision of life.

As we pray in our preparatory prayers:

O heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, present in all places and filling all things, the treasury of blessings and the Giver of life: Come and abide in us and cleanse us from every impurity, and save our souls, O Good One!

Notes From a Retreat IIIA-let there “be” light?

In the thinking of Parmenides (and modern philosophers such as Berkeley), to be is the same thing as to be thought. To be thought is to be. Existing as a thought only (i.e., in the imagination of someone), is nevertheless a form of existence.

The inverse corollary of this is to try to think of something that you can’t think of. This is clearly impossible. If something is not knowable, then it can’t be said to exist, properly speaking.

But if we consider light, light is not something that we know directly. It is more something that is the conditional for seeing all other things in the world.

Light is, in a sense, a presence in the world that is not of the world. It is in everything as the ambient light of the world. And so, to Dionysius, there is a web of difference and distinctions, which is produced by the light of God.

Hierarchy is the recognition of things that are brought together, yet unique all the same. There is a structure of being among the things that are brought together. The presence within being of God is present, precisely that which enables us to distinguish things. God is, in a sense, the difference without being a different being. The light cannot be identical to the thing that the light is revealing. The things are revealed by the light. God, as light, is then, in a sense, above/hyper being.

A point is not defined, and yet a circle is made from a central point from which a circumference circumnavigates. Even by creation, we are brought into contact with God. The multiplicity itself points to the source as a source. As the center of the circle.

This means that, as Christian mystics, we are not writing off our sense experiences. This runs counter to criticisms that Neo-Platonism is Gnostic/anti-material.

Dionysius, in the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy (Chapter III.2), describes the material process of incensing as a divine movement from the earth to heaven, and then back from heaven to earth, as the faithful partake of the body of Christ. And mystically, those who receive this body of Christ, are transformed into the heavenly realm.

The Hierarch, having completed a reverent prayer, near the Divine Altar, starts with the incensing, and proceeds to every part of the enclosure of the sacred place; he then returns to the Divine Altar, and begins the sacred chanting of the Psalms, the whole ecclesiastical assembly chanting, with him, the sacred language of the Psalter. Next follows the reading of the Holy Scriptures by the Leitourgoi. After these readings the catechumens quit the sacred enclosure, as well as the “possessed,” and the penitents. But those who are deemed worthy of the sight and participation of the Divine Mysteries remain. Of the Leitourgoi, some stand near the closed gates of the sanctuary, whilst others perform some other duty of their own rank. But chosen members of the ministering Order with the Priests lay the holy Bread and the Cup of Blessing upon the Divine Altar, whilst the universal Song of Praise is being professed beforehand by the whole body of the Church. Added to these, the Divine Hierarch makes a sacred prayer, and proclaims the holy Peace to all. When all have kissed each other, the mystical proclamation of the holy tablets is performed. When the Hierarch and the Priests have washed their hands in water, the Hierarch stands in the midst of the Divine Altar, and the chosen Deacons alone, with the Priests, stand around. The Hierarch, when he has sung the sacred works of God, ministers things most divine, and brings to view the things sung, through the symbols reverently exposed, and when he has shewn the gifts of the works of God, he first proceeds to the sacred participation of the same, and turns and exhorts the others. When he has received and distributed the supremely Divine Communion, he terminates with a holy thanksgiving; whilst the multitude have merely glanced at the Divine symbols alone, he is ever conducted by the Divine Spirit, as becomes a Hierarch, in the purity of a Godlike condition, to the holy sources of the things performed, in blessed and intelligible visions.

This mystical vision comes through stepping outside of creation, in order to understand creation and the mystical vision itself. This idea of stepping outside is ex stasis in Greek, from where we receive the word ecstasy. This is not an encounter with some numinous realm. It is not even an encounter or an experience, proper.

As we proceed onward, we will consider what ecstasy means, and how it relates to the mystery of our life in Christ.

Notes From a Retreat-IIB

{More notes taken from my retreat dedicated to Dionysius the Areopagite and his theme of Luminous Darkness, as given in reflections composed by Fr. Maximos Davies of Holy Resurrection Monastery}

How does the Incarnation reveal the incompleteness of the New Age/Pagan way of considering the universe?


With the Incarnation, we can see that the love for Christ is actually Love for us. Christ became one of Us.


With other views besides the Christian mysticism, there is a one way surrender, an ontotheology.
All is absorbed into “nirvana”, for example. There is no mutual movement of Incarnation from The Absolute God to His Creation at a central point in history.

God is like the center of a wheel, holding all things in the circle together, in every part of the circle. In pantheism, this is a distinct matter, because the center is not the circle itself. We can see this in Dionysius’ writings in Divine Names II.9.

Further also, the most conspicuous fact of all theology—-the God-formation of Jesus amongst us—-is both unutterable by every expression and unknown to every mind, even to the very foremost of the most reverend angels. The fact indeed that. He took substance as man, we have received as a mystery, but we do not know in what manner, from virginal bloods, by a different law, beyond nature, He was formed, and how, with dry feet, having a bodily bulk and weight of matter, He marched upon the liquid and unstable substance; and so, with regard to all the other features of the super-physical physiology of Jesus. Now, we have elsewhere sufficiently spoken of these things, and they have been celebrated by our illustrious leader, in his Theological Elements, in a manner far beyond natural ability—-things which that illustrious man acquired, either from the sacred theologians, or comprehended from the scientific, search of the Oracles, from manifold struggles and investigations respecting the same, or was instructed from a sort of more Divine Inspiration, not only having learnt, but having felt the pangs of things Divine, and from his sympathy with them, if I may so speak, having been perfected to their untaught and mystic union and acceptance. And that we may display, in fewest words, the many and blessed visions of his most excellent intelligence, the following are the things he says, concerning the Lord Jesus, in the Theological Elements compiled by him.

In the Incarnation, the Nameless one becomes known by many names.
We see the Nameless one in the whole World, in the Scriptures, in the Sacraments.

The Real Force of God would annihilate us.

Evil is non-being, the lack of a presence.

Thinking and knowing reality is not a matter of merely thinking God’s thoughts after him, but is most deeply being known by Him.

Experiencing God is like God’s act of creation–it is the cause of us. We could say, “I have temperance”, and have a sense of reality.

But in the mystical view of reality, we would really say, “Temperance has me.”

This eliminates the distinction between the one who is known, and the one who is the knower.

To quote Dionysius:

Knowledge unites those who know and things known.
–Divine Names VII.5

God spoke to the prophet Jeremiah these words, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” He does not speak through a knowledge that is based on intellectual grasping, but instead the foundation of knowledge and all of reality is the Love of God.

To quote Dionysius again:

The Divine Wisdom, then, by knowing Itself, will know all things.
–Divine Names VII.2

Wisdom, in knowing itself, will know all things.

Love gives us a glimpse of God. Things that are loved naturally become a part of US. This is an unending process, like love itself.

Going back to the triangle/hierarchy of Existence, at the top we have:

God/Cause/non-Existence——–>A Descent into non-existence by “causing” concepts–expression, science, contact, sensible expression.

Mystery is, then, the idea that existence can be known, that this existence discloses to us a world of meaning, and that all of it (yes, all of it) it ascends to the source of meaning.

There are different hierarchies of knowing, therefore.

1) Circular knowing – this is contemplation, the highest form of thinking
2) Spiral knowing – this is scientific thinking that is deeper and higher than our normal thinking.
3) Linear knowing – this is how we generally know the world.

In terms of this knowing, we should realize that what we see in the world is not a world with traces/vestiges of God.

Instead, the world itself, to the Christian (who is a mystic), is God with vestiges of us. We are the traces, not God.

The world is God with vestiges of Us.

As St. Augustine wrote, Our “hearts are restless until they find rest” in Him.

Father Stephen Freeman has written well about this idea, as he has depicted the “two-storey universe”.

We need to see the world as God sees it, which we must understand that the world is heaven.

Everything matters in this world, because this world is not a second-class existence.

The Christian’s/mystic’s vocation, therefore, is to ascend higher. It is to view the world and understand why the God man exists in a mandorla.