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.”

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The Theology of the Body Broken in Practice: The Great Schism (part 1 of 2)

In addition to ending his Papal addresses on the Theology of the Body with what I would consider a request for an expansion of the “Theology of the Body” into what I call the “Theology of the Body Broken” (for more info, see this older post here), another key point from Blessed Pope John Paul II that opens up the Theology of the Body Broken would be related to his reflections on the Schism between the Churches of the East and the West.

 

Many know that Pope John Paul was an advocate of comparing the Great Schism with physiology. As one example, in Ut Unum Sint he wrote, “the Church must breathe with her two lungs!”

Let us consider the implications of the Theology of the Body Broken as they relate to this analogy. In a future post, I will offer a solution to the problems posed-but for now, enter into this mystery to understand how the Theology of the Body Broken might be an answer to this call to consider the problem of suffering and death, as was stated by Blessed Pope John Paul.

 

If we consider the health of a body, it is true that one’s vigor and strength are contingent upon the possession of both lungs. If one loses a lung due to disease, one’s chances for being the best athlete possible are seriously in jeopardy. In that sense, the consideration of the schism between East and West is most apt. One cannot live in strength and fullness if only one of two lungs are present. In that sense, there is nothing defective about calling the Churches East and West two lungs in one body.

 

However, if one probes deeper with the mystical lens of the Theology of the Body Broken, there might be something missing with this comparison. Would one say that the particular genius of the East and the West is simply a matter of losing 50% of one’s breath? In other words, is the tragedy of the Great Schism a mere quantitative reduction in vitality? Or might there be another perspective that considers the Body from a more qualitative defect? As we will see, it is less a matter of the physiology of the lungs, and more a matter of the physiology of the eyes, where the Great Schism can come into greater focus.

 

 

 

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.

Notes From a Retreat-IIA

{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}

In Dionysius’ eyes, the whole world is theophany. Everything in this world reveals God to us. The Theophany is not a discrete event, but is instead a permanent state of life-it is all a revelation of God.
But this is only true if the world, in every detail, makes sense.

Therefore, we can say that God is in everything, or He is in Nothing.” Denys Turner’s reflections on the Atheism Tapes understand and express this matter quite clearly.

Everything points to God, everything makes sense with a hidden meaning that transcends all. The alternative to this transcendence is to say that God is not in X, therefore, there is another God for X.

One can object and ask the following question—“How is God in War, Death, etc.?” How is God in all of life?

Dionysius would respond to this not by pointing to God in the most tragic elements of life–instead, he would concede that the meaningless in life is apparent to life. But nevertheless, this meaningless would be only “apparent”. It is the surface, the DOXA of all of life.

However, we can become confused when the DOXA is always believed. The world is a network of whys, not a sequence of whats. To be “unknowing” is to leave the doxa of the unconnectedness of life. It is to enter into the connectedness of the divine why, which is most often not the surface understanding of our existence on earth. For the Divine Mind, the Divine Thought, who is the logos, the morphe corresponds to the logos itself. This logos explains the intelligibility of the world-the world is not always intelligible to us, but at the root of it all, the world is completely intelligible to the intellect/logos who is beyond all things. The God is good for making the whole world.

Logic demands, therefore, that God is beyond the world. He would need to be beyond the logos–utterly beyond the reach of the world, at peace, seeing the morphe and the logos. The world is, in Dionysius’ view, at peace in God.

He is “no thing”, which makes this peace possible. It makes it possible for us to mystically say that God is “All in all or Nothing in None”.

We see this clearly from this quotation of Dionysius:

We must examine how we know God, Who is neither an object of intellectual or sensible perception, nor is absolutely anything of things existing. Never then is it true to say that we know God; not from His own nature (for that is unknown and surpasses all reason and mind), but from the ordering of all existing things, as projected from Himself and containing a sort of images and likenesses of His Divine exemplars, we ascend, as far as we have power, to that which is beyond all, by method and order in the abstraction and pre-eminence of all, and in the Cause of all. Wherefore, Almighty God is known even in all and apart from all. And through knowledge, Almighty God is known and through unknowing (agnosia). And there is of Him, both conception, and expression, and science, and contact, and sensible perception, and opinion, and imagination and name and all the rest. And He is neither conceived, nor expressed, nor named. And He is not any of existing things, nor is He known in any one of existing things. And He is all in all, and nothing in none. And He is known to all, and from all, and to none from none. For, we both say these things correctly concerning God, and He is celebrated from all existing things, according to the analogy of all things, of which He is Cause. And there is, further, the most Divine Knowledge of Almighty God, which is known, through unknowing (agnosia) during the union above mind; when the mind, having stood apart from all existing things, then having dismissed also itself, has been made one with the super-luminous rays, thence and there being illuminated by the unsearchable depth of wisdom. Yet even from all things, as I said, we may know It, for It is according to the sacred text, the Cause formative of all, and ever harmonizing all, and (Cause) of the indissoluble adaptation and order of all, and ever uniting the ends of the former to the beginnings of those that follow, and beautifying the one symphony and harmony of the whole.
–Divine Names VII.3.

This leads us to understand that God knows and contains all things in one grasp. (Divine Names VII.2)

Hierarchy is therefore not a structure designed to keep us from God, but is instead that which makes life with God possible. It provides a distinction, a shimmering darkness. One can read Dionysius and ask, “Why does he write in circles?”

But the writing of Dionysius invites annotation. Asking the world questions is to exist as a Platonic/Socratic thinker. It is a call to move beyond appearances into the deeper reality. If there is no meaning, then why do we even use language at all?

We can speak of the dynamics of language/the deeper reality with this cyclical depiction:

                                                                                Rest/unity

Ugliness can lead to multiplicity, leaving rest/unity            shock of beauty leads one back to the truth source, rest/unity

Descent into multiplicity/appearances ——–>>>          Ascent, gathering back to unity, the truth

Contemplation shocks us into seeing the Cause. This is “neo-Platonic” in the sense that Plato’s Parmenides expresses the same truth.
In the process of descent, we are made, in ascent we are being united to the Maker. The world makes sense because it has been thought by the Maker.

We can see this by requoting Dionysius, and focusing on cause.

So we need to see the movement in this order.

I. God can be known in existence
II. God cannot be known as an existing thing.

III. Therefore, to known the “non-existent” God, it must be done in a different way, the way of unknowing (agnosia).

If God is unknown, we cannot see Him in Cause. Cause as a mechanism is far too weak to explain the prime mover. It would mean that there was a cause for God. But that would make God only the best being who sort of “kicks off” all of creation. An efficient cause of all – this is a fundamentalist onotheology, a la Heidegger.

In the Greek view, the cause is the discovery of the shape that is the telos itself. As Aristotle put it, this is the “entelechy”.

The Chaos and formless nothing described in Genesis 1 has an internal call and a response. And Love is the cause of this giving. We want to be united to God, for this is our telos.

Yea, reason will dare to say even this, that even the non-existing participates in the Beautiful and Good”
–Divine Names IV.7

This telos for the beautiful Good that is even present in the non-existing, is actually a quote from Proclus.

This is not a pre-existing view of reality, however.

The Creator/Creation distinction is based on a mechanistic view of the universe, of existence itself. But existence is not from a command, it is from an invitation from the Creator to us.

If all were a command in this world, nature and grace would be broken. Peace and love would both be fake, as all of existence would be force.

Causation, therefore, must be seen in noesis, and not kinesis. Knowledge vs. movement.

We went on to read:

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

God has an intense desire for Himself. In loving us, he is yearning for God Himself. As Romans 8:26 states:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

We must redefine our understanding of freedom and life itself-this act is mysticism itself. We don’t give our life to God, as mystics we come to realize that life is His.

The Incarnation completes the rationalism that underlies New Age/Pagan thinking.

Notes From a Retreat-IB

How are we initiated into mystery? The initiation is being born.
This is not an initiation that is visionary, gnostic, or scientific. Scientific mysteries are solvable, and as such once they are uncovered they are no longer mystery.

Modernism and modernity are a war against mysteries as such. As Ezra Pound wrote, “Make it New”. If God is a God that one can learn more about, we have to eliminate the mystery. Even if God is infinite, we would posit that the cosmos is too.

This idea of God and mystery is a battle of love-it is an antagonism of lovers. There is always a subject who pursues and object. The love is never simply being one.

How are we at war with God? The “god” of war, who is entirely conquerable, is one to be at war with.

But God, the one who is, he is not fenced in by walls. He is a God of peace. Therefore to be a mystic is to repent. It is to repent of our war with God. It is to receive His life in the sacramental life of the Church. And this helps us understand why so often we as Eastern Christians refer to the sacraments as mysteries. For mysteries will help us end our war with God and our neighbor. In the sacramental view of reality, we experience what we need in life-washing, anointing, eating, and drinking, these are the things that we need. But the modern view is a journey that takes us to the Sun. It is one where more data leads to less darkness. Its view of glory is in the ethereal non-worldly existence only. In the heat of the sun, as it were.

Artistically, we can see this in the Christ of Caravaggio. In Caravaggio’s depiction, Christ is the source of life.

Caravaggio Christ

Similarly, if one compares Rembrandt’s ascension of Christ with the icon of Christ’s ascension (which is similar to our previous post of the icon of the Transfiguration). In Rembrandt, there is a lot of darkness where there is no Christ, no heaven. The doxa/glory/shining is in the middle of this image.

Rembrandt Ascension

We can contrast this with the Mandorla-the closer one moves to Christ in Byzantine iconography, the darker things become. You begin in light, and as the circle moves to the center one ends in what appears to be skepticism.

Ascension Icon

The journey to darkness, however, is a journey of surrender, a journey of peace. It is a mutual surrender, a mutual peace. Light is unidirectional in Rembrandt. But it is everywhere except for the deepest presence of Christ, in a Byzantine Icon.

And so we return to initiation, being born. If this initiation/beginning is light, how do we see children mimicking mysticism? The life of a child is peaceful. It ends, however, in an ordinary way of life that is divinized. It is a light that darkens as you approach the source.

We see this childlike brightness in the icon of the Dormition. The Mother of God is in a Mandorla, but even in darkness, it is brighter than the light.
Dormition Icon

In the icon of the Theophany, we see the world as darkness as Christ is baptized.

Theophany Icon

This leads to an acceptance of all of life as a gift. And it leads to a view that to know God is to not know Him. Agnosia.

The Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence-in our hearts, when we are at war with Him.

There are liturgical expressions of mystery, the apophatic way and the kataphatic way. Dionysius’ vision of mystery is apophatic. We know God by not knowing him.
The kingdom of God suffers violence, and so often this is within our hearts…when we are not fully mystics.

Again, we can see our mystical vision clearly by quoting from the Mystical Theology:

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.