Nov 05 2010

ORTHODOX SPIRITUALITY: An Outline of the Orthodox Ascetical and Mystical Tradition, By Father Lev Gillet (Part 2)

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– Part 2 of 3-


by Father Lev Gillet

Summary of Chapter 2

Essentials of Orthodox Spirituality


(3) Asceticism and Mysticism

v     The “ascetical life” is a life in which acquired virtues, resulting from a personal effort, only accompanied by that general grace which God grants to every good will, prevail.

v     The “mystical life” is a life in which the gifts of the Holy Spirit are predominant over human efforts, and in which infused virtues are predominant over the acquired ones.

v     The ascetic life is the life in which human action predominates, and the mystical life is the life in which God’s action predominates.

v     An example of that is the difference between rowing and sailing a boat. The oar is the ascetic effort; the sail is the mystical passivity, which is unfurled to catch the divine wind.

v     One must be careful not to raise a wall of separation between ascetic and mystical life.

v     The spiritual life is generally a synthesis of the “ascetical” and the “mystical”.

v     Mystical life is not synonymous with Christian perfection: this last consists in charity or love, and may be reached by souls who will never know any other way than the simple and loving keeping of the commandments.

v     Mystical graces … are offered to all souls of good will. The King wishes that all should sit at the table of the Messianic feast.

v     Our Lord came to kindle a fire upon earth; what does He wish but to see this living flame (ascetic and mystical) burning in everyone?

(4) Prayer and Contemplation

v     Prayer is a necessary instrument of salvation.

v     Three ascending degrees of the Christian prayer: supplication (for oneself), intercession (for others), thanksgiving or praise. These three degrees of prayer constitute in themselves a whole program of spiritual life.

v     The most loving prayer, either vocal or mental, is always the best.

v     Contemplation begins with the “prayer of simplicity” or “prayer of simple regard”

v     The prayer of simplicity consists in placing yourself in the presence of God and maintaining yourself in His presence for a certain time, in an interior silence while concentrating on the Divine Person.

v     The prayer of simplicity is to reduce to unity the multiplicity of your thought and feelings, and keep yourself quiet without words or arguments. It is the most elementary degree of contemplation.

v     Contemplation is like a welcome shower of rain falling on the garden of the soul. It gives the most powerful assistance to our efforts to accomplish the divine will.

v     The contemplative life is simply a life oriented towards contemplation, a life arranged in such a way that acts of contemplation are fairly often in it and form its summit. It is a life for every one.

v     You live a contemplating life if you know how to separate yourself interiorly from persons and things in order to enter into yourself, and not allow yourself to be dominated by them.

v     If in your thinking and reading, you bring with you a certain preoccupation with God and attentiveness to His presence; you are already beginning to lead the contemplating life, even if you are still in the world.

v     Contemplation is acquired if the acts of contemplation are the results of personal effort. It is infused if these acts are produced by divine grace almost without human effort.

v     Acquired contemplation belongs to the ascetical life. Infused contemplation belongs to the mystical life. The last is the normal culmination of the contemplative life.

v     In the West, St. Theresa established four states of contemplative prayer: (1) the prayer of quiet, silent concentration of the soul on God; (2) full union, which is accompanied by a feeling of “ligature of the powers” of the soul; (3) ecstatic union, in which the soul goes out of itself; (4) transforming union, or spiritual marriage.

v     In Eastern tradition, the prayer of simple regard, the prayer of quiet, and the full union are degrees of the hesychia. Above the hesychia comes the ecstatic union. The transforming union or spiritual marriage are described by the Eastern Fathers as a deification (theosis) and as the nuptial relationship between the soul and her Lord.

v     It is true that monasticism offers specially favorable conditions for the practice of contemplation. Nevertheless, contemplation is open to all. Marriage, family life, a profession or a trade in no way exclude contemplative prayer and mystical graces.

v     Contemplation increases love, and love makes us able to keep the commandments: we can pass from love to the keeping of the commandments, but the converse is hardly possible.

v     It must be said that contemplation, no more than mysticism, should (not) be identified with perfection which is charity (love).  But a contemplation which would be the utmost exercise of charity, would be also the acme of perfection. Such a contemplation would constitute an end to which it would be worth subordinating all human life.

(5) The Holy Mysteries

v     The Orthodox Church calls mysterion what the Latin Church calls sacramentum.The holy mysteries are neither the end nor yet the essence of spiritual life. They are means of grace, and only means.

v     The Orthodox Church believes that the sacraments are not mere symbols of divine things, but that the gift of spiritual reality is attached to the sign perceptible by the senses.

v     In these mysteries, the same graces are present nowadays which were formerly imparted in the Upper Room, or at the waters where the disciples of Jesus baptized, and so on.

v     In each of those divine gifts there is a mystical as well as an ascetical aspect.

v     The mystical aspect consists in the fact that sacramental grace is not the outcome of human efforts, but is objectively bestowed by our Lord.

v     The ascetical aspect consists in the fact that the holy mysteries bring forth their fruit only if the soul of the grown-up recipient is assenting to, and prepared for, it.

v     The Orthodox Church keeps in the word “mysterion” its meaning of “secret”. She veils and covers what the Latin Church lays open and exhibits.

v     For the Orthodox Church is not only “mysteric”, but “pneumatic”, and the Mysterion is conditioned by the Pneuma, the Spirit.

v     There is “one greater than the Temple” (Mt.12:6), and greater than the Holy Mysteries.

v     “God is not bound to the sacraments” may have a Western origin, but expresses quite well the Eastern mind.

v     This does not mean that a man could disregard, or slight, or despise, the channels of grace offered by the Church, without endangering his soul.

v     It means that no externals, however useful, are necessary to God, in the absolute sense of the word, and there is no institution, however sacred, which God cannot dispense with.

v     The Greek Fathers remind us that to keep God’s Word is quite as important as to approach the Holy Mysteries. Origen writes: “Now, if you exercise so much caution when guarding His body, and rightly, how is it that you consider it a lesser fault to have neglected the Word of God than His body?”

(continue to part 3)


Please notice:

These brief points are intended only to show the scope of the subjects of the book “Orthodox Spirituality” and in particular Chapter 2: “Essentials of Orthodox Spirituality”, as we previously explained in part 1 of this Spiritual Book Introduction.

This is intended mainly to be an introduction of the Book.  Although most of the above points were quoted word for word from the book, because of omission of details, they cannot be understood clearly except by reading the whole Book, or at least its second chapter.

We hope that the readers discuss the issues introduced in this book objectively.  We believe that such discussions can be a starting point to arrive at mutual understanding of the true differences and similarities between the different Christian denominations and the true position of Orthodoxy among them.  Although we might not reach unanimous agreement on every detail, this should not hinder our love and appreciation of other Christians despite these differences.

“That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.”

(John 17:21)

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