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.


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