A Reflection on the Dormition of the Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary

Glory to Jesus Christ! It is good to be here to celebrate this most special feast. This feast of the Dormition is special for many reasons. Our Byzantine Tradition actually provides the foundation of the historical event that we celebrate in the Universal Church today. When the Church wanted to demonstrate the truth that the Mother of God, after completing the course of her life, was bodily assumed into heaven by God, it was our Byzantine tradition that was used by Pope Pius XII to show this truth. He would quote Eastern Fathers like St. John of Damascus to drive home the point that we believe that after Christ ascended, He would not leave His mother’s body in her grave. No, her falling asleep (which is what Dormition means) was followed with her Body being assumed into heaven. In the Church year which ends at the end of this month, this is the last big feast that we have. We have the tradition of fasting from August 1st until today, which makes one of four fasts that follow the feasts of Pascha, the Nativity, and the Holy First Apostles Peter and Paul. Today is perhaps the peak of our year, as our church year ends this month and a new Byzantine year begins in September. But there is more than the Church year and the joy of this last solemn feast of the Church year. Because the Theotokos’ body was assumed into heaven to be united with her soul, and because the apostles found fragrant flowers in the tomb, we have the joy of having flowers and herbs to be blessed on this joyful day. This is our final feast of the year but from an even more mystical angle, we could say that this feast is the final feast period in all of our life in Christ. This is the feast that testifies to the Completion of salvation history. Let’s take a journey through the icons in our church to see how that is true.

Let’s start up to your left, and what do we see? The fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. What is under the tree? A skull. Death. But who else do we also see in the icon? It’s an image of the Theotokos. This brings our minds to the words of God after the fall. In speaking to the hardships that befell mankind after the sin in the garden, there is a promise of hope. A promise of salvation. In Genesis 3:15 we hear what scholars call the “protoevangelion”, the first Gospel. The first good news to us from God after the ancestral sin was: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” That’s right, in the first book of the Bible we are told that the offspring of Eve will vanquish the head of the serpent. The main icons along the sides of our church are even more clear in telling the continual story of salvation as a long thread. What is the first one that we see? The nativity of the Theotokos, which we celebrate on September 8th, and is just at the beginning of our Byzantine Church year. Let’s continue from there to her Entrance into the Temple, to the Annunciation, to the Visitation of Elizabeth, to the Nativity of Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ, to His Holy Theophany, and we continue to the account of Christ’s life of ministry that crosses all of the way to the back of our nave and across to the “south side” of the nave as we call it. The icons on this side of the Church brings us closer to the Holy Passion of our Lord with his entry into Jerusalem, and eventual crucifixion (note the skull is here yet again) and resurrection. But that is not the end of the chain of salvation history, and it’s not the end of the icons on the south side of our nave. No, let us continue to see the story of Christ from resurrection to Ascension, we see the story of the Apostles, the splendor of Pentecost, and what do we find at the bottom, at the very end of this chain of history? It is the icon of our feast today. This is such a beautiful story that we see right before our eyes every time we come to worship, which I hope we can grow to appreciate more and more as we grow in our faith which is so deeply linked to things like icons and blessings. After the Feast of Pentecost our eyes move to the icon in the bottom left from my view, as the completion of this chain of events. Christ is truly Risen but at the same time this is the proof that it’s not just his ascension. It’s not just the power of the spirit at Pentecost. No. Our journey through salvation history ends with a woman who is both lying at her tomb, and resting safely in the arms of her son. But now in an almost mirror image of the Icon of the Nativity, she is the little one held in His arms, because her soul is home. She is restored as her body is eventually raised and the angels and Apostles who look on are in awe, because she has fallen asleep. The next time they will come back to the tomb with the Apostle Thomas and there will only be the aroma of flowers, and there will be no body. That is the sign that our salvation is seen most clearly in this special feast. And this is also why in our tradition that we say “O Most Holy Theotokos, Save us.” She is the first one saved by Christ in terms of priority, and like anyone who is filled with love, this salvation is shared to those who cry out to her. We say the words “O most holy Theotokos, save us” to attest to this beautiful chain of redemption that comes to us on this feast. Her Dormition is a sign that when we die united to Christ and His Church, we will have that same salvation which is manifested to her.

Scripturally, our Old Testament readings, apostolic reading and Gospel passage speak in harmony to this same fact. The readings from Genesis tell us that the Theotokos is the ladder from heaven that allows heaven and earth to meet. She is also the unopened door leading into the holy temple of God. She is full of the wisdom of God, who is in His presence listening to His words and keeping his commandments, which is the highest blessing of all. Perhaps even more striking is our reading from the letter of the Holy Apostle Paul to the Philippians. Here he speaks of how Christ humbles Himself in becoming Man, and that in this same humility it allows him to come to the Cross, but that God the Father exalts him so that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. When I hear the words of Christ on the Cross and being exalted, I tend to think of Pascha as opposed to some Marian feast. Did the Church make a typo in pointing us to these words from St. Paul on this Feast, which is also the Apostolic reading for the Birth of the Theotokos? I argue NO, this is very intentional to think of Christ’s humility and exaltation on this feast. There is a genius here, for if Christ is to be humbled and live, he would have to come down to earth from the ladder, this door to heaven, who is His mother. And if he were to be risen from the dead but she were to live a normal course of life and not be with him in paradise in body AND soul, he would be of all sons the most sad.

Liturgically, our last day of the Church year speaks to this same fact. August 31st commemorates the deposition of the cincture of the Holy Theotokos. We remember the clothing that the Theotokos wore because there are no claims to having relics of the body of the Virgin Mary’s body, unlike many saints. That’s right, there are no remains of the Theotokos’ body on earth claimed from the over 2000 years of Church history, so don’t let the date of the dogma deceive you. The Dormition has been upheld throughout the centuries because of the importance of this feast. More importantly, this demonstrates that God’s love for her is a sign of love for us. But what about you and me? Will we fall asleep in the Lord and be assumed? Is that true of the graves that we visit, that the bodies have been assumed into heaven? After all, we should be visiting the faithful departed, praying for them both in Church particularly at anniversaries and on all souls Saturday’s. Is this beautiful promise only for the select few who are assumed? No, because we know that their souls will dwell among the good, as the prokeimenon for the faithful departed tells us. We also know that at the final resurrection, all of us will be integrally human, with our souls and bodies united just as is the case in this feast. This feast attests to the words of Christ who said that if one believes in Him, that person will not die. The Theotokos shows us that these words are not speaking of our physical hearts stopping to beat. This tragically befalls all of us, but in stark contrast to this tragedy we have the reality of life in Christ. We have the firm conviction that Christ trampled death by death. One of the most beautiful ways to see this is not just with special callings like that of Elijah who passed over physical death. No, the most beautiful way to see the victory of Christ over death is to see the story of His Mother. Her life on earth ended not as a bow of defeat, but as an affirmation and entrance into the eternal life of the presence of Her Son who trampled death. Her son, holding his Mother in his arms, calls us all to our destiny. He invites us to a deeper faith in His call to salvation by showing us that He loved His mother so deeply that He welcomed her to that life in the kingdom that he inaugurated.

So let us take this occasion of the Feast of the Dormition to see how deeply Christ loves us. He loved us enough to suffer crucifixion and to let His all pure mother pass from this earthly life, because this fleeting existence pales in comparison to the divine light of union with the Holy life-creating Trinity that never ends. May we journey ever more deeply into it so that we may one day be held by Him as we see Him with His Mother in this occasion of her Falling asleep in the Lord. She intercedes for the whole Church and so let us say together with these words, “O Most Holy Theotokos, Save Us.”


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.