Nov 05 2010

ORTHODOX SPIRITUALITY: An Outline of the Orthodox Ascetical and Mystical Tradition, By Father Lev Gillet (Part 3)

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– Part 3 of 3-


by Father Lev Gillet

Summary of Chapter 2

Essentials of Orthodox Spirituality


(6) The Communion of Saints

– The Communion of Saints (Koinonia) is a sharing of the prayers and good works of the heavenly and earthly Christians and a familiar intercourse (communion) between ourselves and the glorified saints.

–  The spiritual life of an Orthodox would not be complete without this brotherly relationship.

– Just as a living Christian can beg the intercession of another living Christian, so we commend ourselves to the prayers of the Saints.

– Among the Saints, the Apostles and Martyrs hold an eminent place according to primitive Christian tradition.

– The Orthodox Church prepares by a special Lent for the feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul. She also gives a great place in her calendar to the patriarchs, prophets, and just men of the Old Testament.

– High above all are the Angels, in particular the guardian Angels. The pseudo-Dionysius said that they not only watch over us, but convey to us light and perfect us.

– Bishop Theophane the Recluse advises “listening to the thoughts which come during prayer, especially in the morning”, which he ascribes to the influence of a guardian angel.

– The experiences of Jacob should become ours: “And he dreamed, and, behold, a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heavens, and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it” (Gen.28:12).

– At the summit of the celestial hierarchy is the Theotokos, the blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God incarnate, whom the Orthodox Church has surrounded with a veneration exceeding that of the other saints. A special Lent and numerous feasts and hymns are dedicated to her.

– The most Orthodox form of piety towards the Mother of the Savior is undoubtedly the “evangelical” one, it flows from four passages of the sacred texts:

– First, the angelic salutation: “Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee, blessed are thou among women” and Mary’s answer “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1: 28, 38).

– Secondly, the attitude of Mary at the marriage in Cana of Galilee “The mother of Jesus said unto Him, they have no wine…His mother said unto the servants: Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it” (John 2: 3, 5).

– Thirdly, the short dialogue between a certain woman and our Lord “Blessed is the womb that bare Thee … But He said: Yea, rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it” (Luke 11: 27, 28). A declaration that points out where her true merit lies.

– Finally, the word of Jesus on the Cross “He saith unto His mother, Woman, behold thy son. Then saith He to the disciple: Behold thy mother … and from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home” (John 19: 26, 27).

– As there is an “evangelical piety” towards Mary, there is also an “evangelical piety” towards the saints, the most evangelical is always the most Orthodox.

– Finally, the Orthodox icon is not, like the Latin image, a resemblance. It is rather a kind of hieroglyph, a stylized symbol, a sign, an abstract scheme.  It is a meeting place between the believer and the Heavenly World

(7) The Stages of the Spiritual Life

– St. Basil and Cassian describe three stages of the spiritual life: the beginner, proficient, and the perfect stages.

– Also, the Alexandrine Fathers mention three types of Christians: the “approaching” who is mainly concerned with the practice of virtues; then the “middle one” who is concerned with contemplation and the suppression of passions; at last the “perfect” who is qualified for the true experimental (or experiential) knowledge of God (theologia).

– The various states penetrate each other. The soul rises and falls back from one stage to the other. They mark some moments of our own human existence.

– The three holy mysteries of Baptism, Chrisma, and Eucharist are the three essential stages in the way that leads to God. The other sacraments may be connected with one or another of these three degrees and mysteries.

– All the aspects of the life of prayer of the Church, her feasts, her calendar, her hymns, are focused in these three mysteries.

– The Holy liturgy in the strict sense, i.e., the Lord Supper, sums up their meaning in its three stages: Liturgy of the Catechumens, Anaphora culminating in epiklesis, and Communion.

– We must go beyond the letter, beyond the mere visible celebration of the three sacraments of Baptism, Chrisma, and Eucharist, and perceive the invisible graces which they express.

– These three graces are given with the corresponding holy mysteries, and are in some way supported by them. The Lord can nevertheless impart them to souls which never receive the sacramental signs.

– Baptismal grace, Pentecostal grace, and Paschal grace exist wherever supernatural love exists. They are the very texture of spiritual life. They are but aspects of one and the same divine grace.

– The Apostles knew the fullness of Paschal grace only at the end of their life, when their own martyrdom joined with Christ’s sacrifice.

– Pentecost was for the Apostles the necessary condition of this full Paschal grace, just as the gift of the Spirit is for us the necessary condition of a full Eucharistic life.

– The three graces express three moments in the life of our Lord: His own contact with the baptismal waters; His reception and sending of the Holy Spirit; and finally His Passover.

– Our own spiritual experiences are but weak reflections of His life. Such are the aspects of our Lord, the revelation and inner experience of which constitute the spiritual life of the Christian.

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