St. Symeon the New Theologian: On the Fearful Day of the Lord and the Future Judgment

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Beloved, there is much for us to say about the judgment, and the interpretation is difficult because it is not about things which are present and visible, but about future and invisible matters. There is therefore great need of prayer, of much effort, of much purity of intellect, both in us who speak and in those who listen, in order for the first to be able and know and speak well and for the others to listen with understanding to what is said. What then is the purpose of this discourse? Its subject is the great and manifest and fearful day of the Lord, and we write it in order to know why it is called and said to be the Day of the Lord.

The Day of the Lord is the full manifestation of Christ
It is not called Day of the Lord as being the last of these present days, nor because it is on this day that He is going to come again in the same way that we say for feast days of the present time the “Day of Pascha,” or “Day of Pentecost,” or the day on which the emperor is going to come out and do this and that. Neither is it called Day of Judgment because it is on this day that judgment is going to take place, since the day when this occurs is not other than the Lord Who will come on it, but it is called this because He Himself, the God and Master of all, will at that time shine with the glory of His own divinity. Even the physical sun will be hidden by the radiance of the Master and will become invisible, just as now the stars are eclipsed by the former and not seen. The stars will then be quenched and all visible things will be rolled up like a scroll, that is, they will give way and yield their place to the Master. And He alone will be at once “Day” and God. He Who is now invisible to all and dwells in light will then be revealed to all as He is, and will fill all things with His light, and will be without evening, without end, a day of everlasting joy, but absolutely unapproachable and unseen for those who, like me, are lazy and sinners. Because this did not happen while they yet lived, because they lacked zeal to see the light of His glory and, through purification, to have Him completely indwelling in themselves, He will also naturally be unapproachable for them in the future.

Summary of the creation, Fall and Incarnation
As Holy Scripture says, God willed from the very beginning to make His own good ours as well. He bestowed free will on the just created couple, our ancestors, and through them on us. This was in order that, not from sorrow or necessity, but as moved by a favorable disposition they should follow His commandment and do it with joy. Thus they would be accounted as having acquired the virtues by their own efforts, in order to offer them up as their gift to the Master and so progressively be led up by them to the perfect image and likeness of God, and approach the Unapproachable without suffering bodily death or the danger of being consumed by His Fire, and one by one, generation upon generation, draw near to Him. But, since the first couple submitted first to the will of the enemy and became transgressors of God’s commandment, they not only fell away from the greater hope, which is to say, from entering into the Light itself which neither fades nor has an evening, but were changed as well into corruption and death. They fell into lightless darkness and, becoming slaves to the prince of the dark and ruled over by him, they entered through sin into the darkness of death. Later we, too, who were born of them stooped to the will of this tyrant and were enslaved. This did not happen by compulsion, as is shown clearly by those who lived before the Law and under the Law and were found as well-pleasing because they dedicated their own will to the Master, and not to the devil. Then the Lord Who loves mankind, having willed to redeem those who before and during the Law were well-pleasing to Him, and to bestow by grace freedom on those who are after the Law, and, so to speak, deliver everyone all at once who were well-pleasing to Him before and during and after the Law, from the devil’s tyranny, He Himself, Who is able to do all things and is beneficent, undertook to accomplish this work through Himself. For the man whom He had made by His own invisible hands according to His image and likeness He willed to raise up again, not by means of another but by Himself, so that indeed He might the more greatly honor and glorify our race by His being likened to us in every respect and become our equal by taking on our human condition. O what unspeakable love for mankind! The goodness of it! That not only did He not punish us transgressors and sinners, but that He Himself accepted becoming such as we had become by reason of the Fall: corruptible man born of corruptible man, mortal born of a mortal, sin of him who had sinned, He Who is incorruptible and immortal and sinless. He appeared in the world only in His deified flesh, and not in His naked divinity. Why? Because He did not, as He says Himself in His Gospels, wish to judge the world but to save it.

The merciful veiling of the light, which is judgment and grace
The revelation of His divinity becomes in fact a judgment for those to whom it is revealed. No flesh could have endured the glory of His divinity as manifested naked of its joining and inexpressible union in the God-man. All creation would instead have been utterly destroyed both in body and soul, since at that time all were possessed by unbelief. For the divinity, which is to say the grace of the all-Holy Spirit, has never appeared to anyone who was without faith; and, if it were to appear by some paradox among men, it would show itself as fearful and dreadful, as not illumining but burning, not as giving life but as punishing dreadfully. And this is clear from the things which the blessed Paul, the vessel of election, suffered. In the encounter with the radiance of the unapproachable light which flashed around him like lightning, his vision was wounded, and rather than being illumined he was darkened. He could not see, and lost even his natural faculty of sight. These things happened to him who would later become the great teacher of Christ’s Church! That man who was so great, the same man who later said: “The God Who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness’ has shone in our hearts,” and a little later: “We have this treasure” i.e., of illumination “in our hearts” (2 Cor. 4:6-7) could not at that time see even the least glimmer of the light.

From this lesson we therefore learn that grace, on the one hand, is unapproachable and invisible to those who are still possessed by unbelief and the passions, and is seen, on the other hand, and revealed to those who with faith and in fear and trembling do the commandments and give evidence of a worthy repentance. This same grace of itself incontestably brings the future judgment to pass in them. Rather, indeed, it becomes itself the day of divine judgment by which he who is purified is continually illumined, sees himself as he is in truth and in every detail, and all his works for what they are, whether done by the body or acted on by the soul. Nor this alone, but he is as well judged and examined by the divine fire, and, thus enriched by the water of his tears, his whole body is moistened and he is baptized entire, little by little, by the divine fire and Spirit, and becomes wholly purified, altogether immaculate, a son of the light and of the day, and from that point on no longer a child of mortal man. It is quite for this reason, too, that such a man is not judged at the judgment and justice to come, for he has already been judged. Neither is he reproved by that light, for he has been illumined beforehand. Nor is he put to the test and burned on entering this fire, for he has been tried already. Neither does he understand the Day of the Lord as appearing sometime “then,” because, by virtue of his converse and union with God, he has become wholly a bright and shining day. Nor does he find himself then in or with the world, but is altogether outside of it. Thus the Lord says: “I chose you out of the world” (Jn. 15:19), and the Apostle adds:

But if we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are chastened, so that we may not be condemned along with the world (1 Cor. 11:31-32);

…and again he says: “Walk as children of the light” (Eph. 5:8).

The saints already live in that Day, but it is judgment for the reprobate
As many therefore as are children of the light also become sons of the Day which is to come, and are enabled to walk decently as in the day. The Day of the Lord will never come upon them, because they are already in it forever and continually. The Day of the Lord, in effect, is not going to be revealed suddenly to those who are ever illumined by the divine light, but for those who are in the darkness of the passions and spend their lives in the world hungering for the things of the world, for them it will be fearful and they will experience it as unbearable fire. However, this fire which is God will not appear in an entirely spiritual manner but, one might say, as bodilessly embodied, in the same way as, according to the Evangelist, Christ of old was seen by the Apostles after having risen from the dead. While He was being taken up into Heaven, the angels said to them: “He will come again in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Unless this were the case, how could the sinners, the unbelievers, the heretics and deniers of the Spirit see Him, those who are blind and the eyes of whose souls are stopped-up by the mire of unbelief and sin? It is just as Paul the Apostle wrote to the Thessalonians. When he spoke about those who had fallen asleep and the future glory, and about how the saints would be taken up into the clouds, he said:

But as to the times and seasons, brethren, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know well that the Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. Where people say, “there is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as travail comes upon a woman with child, and there will be no escape. But you are not in darkness, brethren, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all sons of the light and of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then, let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep vigil and be sober. (1 Thes. 5:1-6)

…and a little later he says:

For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation…so that whether we wake or sleep we might live with Him. (1 Thes. 5:9-10)

On hearing “sons of the light and sons of the day,” beloved, do not say in your heart that as many of us as are baptized in Christ and believe in Him, and worship Him as God, have also been clothed with Him, and that we are all, completely without perceiving it, sons of the light and of the day and not of the night and darkness. Neither say, nor imagine this, and then spend the rest of your days in negligence and carelessness, merely imagining and fancying yourselves to be something when in fact you are nothing. Instead consider and observe precisely what you are, and then say: “If all men who are in the world and who see this sun by the senses are blind, since I am obviously no more than the others, I, too, am together with them in darkness. For just as when the sun sets every day there is night and I see no more of it, so, too, when I die I shall not see light anywhere, but will be forever in lightless and sunless darkness, and never again will I see with my eyes this visible light. For men, once separated from the body, are separated from everything which is perceived by the senses. If I am therefore now in darkness, I shall also be in darkness after my death. Clearly, the Day of the Lord will also come upon me as a thief in the night, and as the pain which comes upon a woman giving birth, and I shall be unable to escape.”

Sacramental forms and mere profession of faith are not enough
Our salvation is not by the baptism of water alone, but also by the Spirit. Neither is it by the bread and wine alone of communion that we receive the forgiveness of our sins and participation in life, but also by the divinity, which mystically accompanies and is unconfusedly mingled with them. We say “mystically” because that divinity is not revealed to everyone, but to those who are worthy of everlasting life, and it makes them sons of the day and of the light who see it. Those who do not see the light, though it shines clearly, are rather instead the people who sit in darkness. Brothers, do not let anyone fool you with empty words; neither let anyone rejoice merely in his faith in Christ. For “Christ,” he says, “if you be circumcised, will be of no advantage to you” (Gal. 5:2); and again: “Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (Jas. 2:17). Just as the body without a soul is dead, so faith as well is dead without works. Those who confess that Christ is God and do not keep His commandments will not be reckoned merely as denying Him, but also as insulting Him. Nor this alone, but as even more than those who circumcise their bodies will they be justly condemned as mutilating God’s commandments. How shall he be accounted a son who dishonors his father? How could he walk in the light as in the day he who is separated from the light? Brothers, this is impossible!

If someone should say that no one is able to keep the commandments, let him know that he is slandering and condemning God as having ordered us to do what is impossible. This man will not escape the inevitability of justice but like the man who said: “I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you did not winnow” (Mt. 25:24), so will he be condemned. He shall be likened to the serpent who said to Adam: “God knows that when you eat of the tree you will be like Him, for this reason He commanded you not to eat of it” (cf. Gen. 3:4). In effect, such a man calls God a liar and a deceiver, and filled with envy. A liar because while He said: “My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Mt. 11:30), this man declares that not only is it not light, but indeed unbearable; a deceiver because He came down and made us many promises without wanting to give us anything. And more: jealous at our salvation, He has ordered us to do and keep such things as are impossible for us to fulfill, in order that He may take advantage of this excuse to deprive us of His good things; but woe to those who say such things, unless they repent. Our Master and God, has commanded nothing which is burdensome, nothing oppressive. On the contrary, all is at once light and easy. Believe me, I myself know the commandment of God is easy, and the attaining of both Him and His Kingdom. Let me illustrate this with an example.

We are like rebels forgiven by a gracious emperor
A certain man was serving a rebel, an opponent and enemy of the emperor of the Christians. He accomplished many victories and acts of courage against the latter’s servants. While he was held in great honor by the tyrant and his troops, he received messages on several occasions from the emperor of the Christians that he should come to him, and be with him, and be honored with great gifts and reign with him. He, however, for some years did not want to do so and increased his warfare against him still more fiercely. One day, though, when he had come to doubt himself and had become sorrowful, he decided to take flight and go alone to the emperor, reasoning within himself as follows: “If indeed I have not up to now obeyed the king who has been sending me messages, yet I believe he will not count the delay and tardiness of so many years against me who am now returning, because, as I hear, he is compassionate and beneficent, and he will have compassion on me and fulfill everything which he has been promising me.” As soon as he had pondered these things in his heart, he put them into practice. When he approached the emperor and embraced his feet, he wept and asked for forgiveness. Seized by unexpected joy, that good emperor immediately accepted him, wondering at his conversion and humility. The man, instead of making bold as he had thought he would and demanding honors for the love and trust he had proven to the emperor by abandoning the rebel and approaching the other’s kingdom, instead lies mourning over his tardiness and the crimes for which he had previously been responsible. Raising him up, the emperor “fell upon his neck and kissed him” (Lk. 15:20) all over his eyes which had been weeping for many hours. Then, when he had ordered that a crown and robe and sandals be brought out that were like the ones he was wearing, he himself clothed his former enemy and rival, and in no way reproached him for anything. And this is not the whole tale, but day and night he rejoices and is glad with him, embracing him and kissing his mouth with his own. So much does he love him exceedingly that he is not separated from him even in sleep, but lies together with him embracing him on his bed, and covers him all about with his own cloak, and places his face upon all his members.

A personal testimony: there is nothing difficult in God’s commandments
Such is also our own situation with respect to God, and I know that it is in just such a manner that the beneficent God welcomes and embraces those who repent, who, fleeing an illusory world and its rule, strip themselves naked of the affairs of this life in order to approach Him as King and God. It is not so difficult for some at least to abandon their native land and renounce friends and relatives and leave behind the wealth which perishes. For my part, I found nothing burdensome or grievous or weighty in taking flight to my God and Savior. To continue in this personal vein, which I did not want to do but which may be necessary in order for me to leave something good with at least a few among you, let me add that I found joy and happiness overflowing in me at the revelation and appearance of His countenance. For me that saying of Paul’s was clearly fulfilled which says: “For this slight momentary affliction He is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17), and that one of David where he says: “You have given me room when I was in distress” (Ps. 4:1). From that point on I considered the sorrows and trials which have come upon me as nothing compared to the glory of Jesus Christ which is not in the future, but revealed to me now through the Holy Spirit. By the participation in and sharing of that glory I thought nothing of even those mortal illnesses and other, more intolerable pains which happen to men in their trials, I forgot every pain and sorrow of the body. Thus I understood at once that the burden of the commandments is light and the yoke of the Lord easy, and, believe me, my not finding any opportunity to die for His sake was an intolerable tribulation for me.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, abandoning everything let us run naked and, approaching Christ the Master, let us fall down and weep before His goodness, so that He, indeed, having seen our faith and humility, may like the emperor in our story-or rather, even more so-welcome and honor us, and adorn us with His own robe and diadem, and make us worthy celebrants of the bridal chamber of heaven. There is no comparison here with going from one mortal king to another, with entering upon the advantage of an earthly kingdom. Here we ascend from earth to heaven and are made worthy of an eternal joy and an everlasting kingdom. We become a co-heir and associate of God, not just a king but as well a god from God, and we rejoice with God forever and ever. Brothers, I beg you, let us not therefore prefer anything earthly and corruptible so that we fall away from Christ’s glory and communion. Let us instead strive now, from this point on, to purify ourselves, to receive the pledges-rather, to acquire that One Himself Who is above all, and in all, and is Himself everything that is good.

Baptism alone is no guarantee, as Scripture bears witness
No one should say either that “I have received Christ myself from Baptism and possess Him:’ Let this person learn instead that not all who are baptized receive Christ through Baptism, but only those who are firm in the faith and have arrived at perfect knowledge, or indeed have prepared themselves by a prior purification and thus come to Baptism. Whoever searches the Scriptures will know this from the words and deeds of the Apostles, since it is written:

Now when the Apostles at Jerusalem had heard that Samaria had received the word of God, then sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for it had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:14-17)

Do you see how not all who are baptized receive the Holy Spirit immediately? Have you learned from the Apostles that, while some believed and were baptized, they did not put on Christ through Baptism? For, had this been the case, they would not have afterwards needed prayer and the laying-on of the Apostles’ hands, since in receiving the Holy Spirit they would have received the Lord Jesus. Christ is not one thing and the Spirit another. Who said that? God the Word Himself said it to the Samaritan woman: “God is Spirit” (Jn. 4:24). If Christ is God, He is Spirit by nature of His divinity, and whoever has Him has the Holy Spirit while in turn, whoever has the Spirit has the Lord Himself, just as Paul, too, says: “The Lord is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3: 17).

Brothers, we must therefore look at ourselves and examine our souls scrupulously to see whether or not we have received the Lord Jesus Who was proclaimed to us and have acquired Him within us, and this in order that, as John the Evangelist says, we may know whether we have received power from Him to become the children of God. So let each by all means pay attention to what the Holy Scripture says and examine himself, as we said, lest he deceive himself in vain and, fancying himself faithful, be found without faith, and, thinking he has the Lord in himself, depart from his body empty and be condemned as possessing nothing, and, deprived even of what he imagined he had, be cast into the fife. How then shall we know if Christ is in us, and how should we examine ourselves? By recounting the oracles of the divine Scriptures and placing them before our souls like mirrors, by these we shall judge our whole selves. But, let us take our discourse up to a still higher plane and, God granting me speech and opening up my unclean mouth, I shall somehow set out for you, my brothers, the mode of your examination. However, I beg you, do pay attention, for the discourse touches on matters which are fearful.

The prologue to John: a witness to baptism in the Holy Spirit and to the Eucharist

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made by Him…In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (Jn. 1:1-15)

In saying these things the Evangelist makes clear the Undivided Trinity, calling the Father “God,” the Son “Word,” and the Holy Spirit “Life,” which Three are also one Light shining in the darkness. What sort of darkness is it, then? Clearly, he says it is in the visible creation. For God Who is light and who shines is present everywhere and in everything. And when he says, “The darkness has not overcome it,” he means that no spot of sin has ever approached Him at all, nor has the creation ever impeded Him from shining, nor has it known Him, nor discovered Him, nor been united with Him, nor has it seen Him. Therefore, reinforcing this idea in order to make it more clear, he adds:

That was the true light which enlightens every man who comes into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, yet the world knew Him not. (Jn. 1:9-10)

From the beginning, he says, God was everywhere, giving life to every man coming into the world, and before He made the world He was in the world. How? Because all things pre-existed with Him and all were in Him. For, in the case of those who have not yet been born, it is not as if they did not exist, but they are one with God as if they had already come into being. Then, says the Scripture, when He made the world He was not separated from it by space, but was in it and the world did not know Him.

How then was He everywhere before making the world and, when He had made it, how was He shining in it without the world comprehending Him? Pay careful attention: God “Who is everywhere present and fills all things” was not, Scripture says, separated from it by location when He created this sensible world, but by the nature and glory of His divinity, it being evident that nothing created approached or comprehended Him at all. Indeed, being inseparable from all He is as clearly in all. “And no one knows Him”, says the Lord, “except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him” (Lk. 10:22). The Son is therefore in the world and yet unknown by the world: “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him” (Jn. 1:11). The Evangelist calls the world and those in the world “His own” both because He is their Creator and Master, and because He is related to them by the flesh. Do not therefore skip past what we have just said. Know instead that the Word Who is in the beginning with God and is God, and has the Life in Himself, and has made all things, and is the light which illumines all men, He Who is in the world before the world and Who made it and exists within it, came embodied into the world in order that to those who receive Him out of faith in God and who keep His commandments and take up His cross He might be revealed as God and known for what He is-now, indeed, partially, so far as each allows, but in the Resurrection more manifestly. So the Evangelist says:

But to all who receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…and we have beheld His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (Jn. 1:12-14)

Behold! These words are the mirror of which I spoke to you before. And consider with me the precise meaning of the Gospel saying, how clearly it teaches us the signs by which the faithful are known so that we may each recognize ourselves and our neighbors. “As many as received Him,” he says, meaning clearly those who have confessed Him as God and not merely man, to them He gave power through Baptism to become children of God, having freed them from the devil’s tyranny so that they might be not merely believers but, if they should wish to follow His commandments, acquire holiness in addition to the working of the commandments; as He says in another place: “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:16; Lev. 11:44); and again: “Be merciful, even as your heavenly Father is merciful” (Lk. 6:36). Then, after saying this, the Evangelist indicates the mode of adoption to son-ship when he says: “Who were born not of the blood nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” “Birth” is what he calls here the spiritual transformation which is effected and beheld in the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, just as the Lord Himself-Who does not lie-says in the following: “John baptized with water, but…you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5). Thus by this Baptism the baptized become as light in the light, and they know the One Who has begotten them because they also see Him.

That Baptism alone does not suffice us for salvation, but that communion in the flesh of Jesus God and in His precious blood is still more suited and necessary for us, listen to what follows: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” That by this phrase he is indicating the communion of flesh and blood, listen to what the Lord says here: “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me and I in Him” (Jn. 6:56). For, once this has happened and we have been baptized spiritually by the Holy Spirit, and the incarnate Word has made His tabernacle as light in us by the communion of His immaculate body and blood, then we have seen His glory, glory as of the Only-Begotten of the Father. Once, He says, we have been born spiritually by Him and from Him, and He has tabernacled in us bodily and we have made our abode consciously in Him, then immediately at that moment, at the hour itself when these things have occurred, we have seen the glory of His divinity, glory as of an Only-Begotten from the Father, glory of such a kind as is clearly possessed by none other, neither angels nor men. Since One is God the Father, and One His Only-Begotten Son, then one is the glory of Both which is made known and revealed to all whom the Son wills, through the Spirit Who proceeds from the Father.

So, brothers, let each of you who has bent his mind to the force of these sayings see himself. If one has received the Word Who has come, if he has become a child of God, if he has been born not of flesh and blood alone, but also from God, if he has known the incarnate Word tabernacling in himself and if he has seen His glory, glory as of the Only-Begotten of the Father, then behold! He has become a Christian and has seen himself born again, and has known the Father Who has begotten him, not in word alone but by the work of grace and of truth. Brothers, let us abide in this mirror of truth, and let us remove ourselves from the hurtful and heretical teaching and supposition of those who say that the glory of the divinity of the Lord Jesus is not revealed even now in us who believe by the gift of the Holy Spirit, because the gift is given in the revelation and the revelation becomes actual in the gift. One does not, therefore, receive a Holy Spirit Who is not revealed and seen by the intellect, nor does he see a revelation unless he has been illumined by the Holy Spirit, nor can he be called completely a believer unless he has received God’s Spirit. It is just as Christ said to the Samaritan woman:

Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; but it will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (Jn. 4:14)

“Now this,” says the Evangelist, “He said about the Spirit, which those who believe in Him were to receive” (Jn. 7:39). Do you see how those who do not have the Spirit acting and speaking in them are unbelievers? Because the Lord does not lie; because He committed no sin and deceit was not found in His mouth. If, then, He said He would give the Spirit to those who believe in Him, then those who do not have the Spirit are obviously not believers at heart.

If someone should say that each of us believers has received and possesses this Spirit without being aware of it, he blasphemes. He makes Christ a liar Who said: “It will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life”; and again: “He who believes in Me “Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (Jn. 7:38). If, therefore, the spring is gushing forth, clearly the river which is coming out and flowing down is visible to those who see. But if, as those who think so say, these things are at work in us without our knowledge and we perceive none of them, then it is obvious that we shall neither receive any perception at all of the life everlasting which accompanies them and abides in us, nor shall we see the light of the Holy Spirit. On the contrary, we would remain dead and blind without feeling, both now and in the world to come. According to these people, our hope would become vain and our pursuit empty, since we would still be in death without having received any awareness of everlasting life.

The light is here and now: the example of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste
This is not the case, however. It is not. Rather, what I have said often before I will also say again and will never stop saying it. The Father is light, light the Son, light the Holy Spirit, one light, timeless, invisible, unmingled, eternal, uncreated, without quantity, without lack, invisible, outside and beyond all things, yet which both is and is perceived by the intellect, which no one among men has ever seen before having been purified, nor ever received before having seen it. For while many have seen it, they have not all acquired it, just like many have seen the great treasure in the royal vaults and have gone away empty. While a divine light and illumination often comes in the beginning to those who are fervently repenting, it passes away immediately. If they give themselves up even to death itself and seek it with hard labor, presenting themselves to the Lord as worthy and blameless in every way, then at last they receive it again come back to them. If, however, they become a little lazy and take leave from throwing themselves into greater labors by loving their own souls, they become unworthy of so great a gift and do not enter, while still living in the body, into everlasting life. But, if not now, it is clear that neither will they enter into it after their departure from the world. For if he who received the one talent and hid it in the ground was condemned because he had not multiplied it, how much more will he not be condemned who did not even keep what he had received, but lost it by his laziness.

It is therefore right here and now that, as the whole God-inspired Scripture says, the festival takes place. The track is here, and right here are the crowns of earnest given to those who prevail in the contests, and here the first-fruits of shame and punishment become evident and manifest in those who fail. And look at the Forty Martyrs and all the others who have given witness for Christ’s sake in agreement with the witness of this, our discourse. For while those who were still in the frigid lake received their crowns from God’s hand, he who fled to the bathhouse was immediately killed by its warmth and departed to everlasting fire. Eustratius, though, who was known for his virtue, said while under torture for Christ’s sake: “Now I know that I am a temple of God and that His Spirit dwells in me. Depart from me, all you workers of iniquity!” and to the tyrant who was judging him he said: “If the perceptions of your mind were not altered and your soul not changed into the earthly by the leaven of the passions, I would have shown you that this crucified one is Savior and Redeemer and Benefactor.” Do you see how faith without works is dead? Because before the saint had entered in the contest of martyrdom he had only faith and not the Holy Spirit in himself, but when he had demonstrated his faith from his works, then indeed he knew himself a temple of God and beheld His Holy Spirit with the eyes of his intellect, consciously, dwelling within him. What could be more clear than this testimony?

The martyrdom of asceticism is open to everyone
If some should say: “Those men were martyrs. They suffered for Christ, and how is it possible for us to become their equals?” We might say in reply to them: You yourselves, too, if indeed you want to, can suffer and be tormented for Christ’s sake, and be a martyr every day just like those men were, and not only in the day, but at night, too, and at every hour. And how might this be? If you, too, rank yourselves in battle against the vicious demons; if you take your stand by continually opposing sin and your own will. While those stood up against tyrants, we hold against demons and the destructive passions of the flesh which day and night and at every hour tyrannically attack our souls and force us to do things which do not belong to piety and which anger God. Therefore, if we stand against these and do not bend the knee to Baal, nor are persuaded by the whisperings of the evil demons, nor serve the flesh by taking thought for its lusts, we shall in consequence be martyrs ourselves by contesting against sin, thus recalling the martyrs and the unbearable lashes they endured, and so ourselves also stand against the devil. Surely, by looking to their efforts and by thinking and groaning from our souls at how we are inferior to their struggles, we shall be made worthy of the same crowns as they – if not indeed in quantity, yet still in quality in accord with the goodness from on high which is God’s. And, if we cannot equal them in boldness, we shall certainly at least equal them in our endurance and in our thanksgiving for the pains of our labors.

While they were saved by the works and toils of the games, we hope to be saved by the works and toils of asceticism, and all is by the grace and love for mankind of the Master: they from the sweat and agonies of martyrdom, we from the tears and agonies of asceticism; they from the shedding of their own blood, we from the cutting-off of our own will, and by remaining steadfast and keeping before us the sentence of death, and by expecting death hourly, readily stretching our necks out to die for every commandment of the Master rather than accepting its transgression by even the merest word. We ought, brothers, to despise the present life equally with them. Because it is not possible, not possible, for any of us to receive the incorruptible without having abominated the corruptible as dung, nor for us who cling to the transient to inherit eternal life, nor for him whose heart is dominated by the least little passion to possess Christ indwelling him by the tabernacling of the Holy Spirit.

Symeon’s opponents condemned out of their own mouths
God, to repeat myself, my brothers, is light, as when He says Himself: “I am the light of the world” (Jn. 8:12). If then you say that He is light in His flesh, then once He ascended and was hidden, He was consequently parted and separated from His disciples and subsequently from us, and thus, according to you, the whole world has become darkness. If, however, you confess that He is the light of the world by virtue of His divinity, how can you say that you do not see Him while imagining that He is within you? If Christ is the light of the world, those who do not see Him are obviously blind; and if the Holy Spirit is also light-as He is indeed also light-how can you say you do not see Him and yet think that He is within you without your being aware of it? But, if you say the Spirit is concealed by the passions within you, so that you know Him not, you are making out that the divine is circumcised and dominated by evil, because an evil will is evil even without bodily sin. He who says, therefore, that in his heart he has the light concealed by the darkness of the passions and invisible to him, is saying that the light is ruled by the darkness, and he declares the Holy Spirit a liar Who says: “‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn. 1:5). The Holy Spirit says that the light is not overcome by the darkness, and you say that it is hidden away in you by the gloom of the passions? So, first know your own self, whoever you may be who say this, because you are consciously sinning! Since you confess that the darkness of the passions has become a veil over the light which is within you, you have in the first place already indicted and condemned yourself, because you know that you sit in darkness and serve the passions and, having received the power to become a child of God, which is to say of the light, and be called a son of the day, you have been inactive and idle. You spend your life in darkness, are unwilling to get up and do God’s commandments and chase away the cloud of the passions, but instead make light of the One Who has come down from heaven for your salvation and Who now lies in your filthy heart covered by slime.

For this reason the light speaks as follows: “Wicked servant, from your own mouth I will judge you because, as you say, I came and dwelt in you Who am unapproachable to the orders of angels. You, knowing this, allowed Me to lie buried by the darkness of your evils, just as you yourself say. And, while I was patient for so many years, expecting your repentance and awaiting in addition the doing of My commandments, you did not, even to the end, choose somehow to seek Me out, nor did you pity Me Who was choked and cramped within you, nor did you allow Me to find the drachma which I had lost – I mean you – because I was not allowed to take flame and see you and be seen by you, but was perpetually concealed by the passions which are in you. Therefore, you worker of iniquity, depart from me to the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels; because I hungered for your repentance and conversion, and you gave Me no food; I thirsted for your salvation, and you gave Me no drink; I was naked of your deeds of virtue, and you did not clothe Me with them; I existed in the narrow and filthy and dark prison of your heart, and you did not wish to come visit Me and lead Me out to the light; you knew Me to be lying in the infirmity of your laziness and inactivity, yet you did not minister to Me by your good works and deeds. So, go away from Me!”

The Day is Now – though only a drop in the sea of glory to come
Be sure that the Lord will say these things, and says them even now, to those who say they have the Holy Spirit in themselves, but that He is covered over and hidden by the darkness of their passions, and is not seen by the intelligible eyes of their souls. But to those who say that they know Him while admitting that they do not see the light of His divinity, He says the following: “If you knew Me, you would have known Me as light, for I am truly the light of the world.” And woe to them who say: “When will the day of the Lord come?” and make no effort to grasp it. For the coming of the Lord has already taken place and is ever taking place in the faithful, and is at hand for all who desire it. If He is the light of the world and if He said to His disciples that He would be with us until the consummation of the age, then how, being with us, shall He come again? In no way! For we are not sons of the darkness and of the night, that the light should take us by surprise, but are sons of the light and of the Lord’s Day. Therefore while we are yet alive we are in the Lord, and dying with Him we shall also live with Him, just as Paul says (Rom. 14:8). About this St Gregory the Theologian also says: “What the sun is to sensible things, so God is to things intelligible.” For He will be both the age to come and the day without evening, bridal chamber and bed, land of the meek and divine paradise, king and servant; just as He Himself has said:

Blessed are those servants whom the Master finds awake when he comes; truly, I say to you, he will gird himself and have them sit at table, and he will come and serve them. (Lk. 12:37)

Therefore all these things, and others yet more, which it is not possible for a man to list, will Christ become for those who believe in Him. Nor will this be only in the age to come, but first in this life, then later in the future age as well. And if here more obscurely and there more perfectly, still the believers do see plainly and receive here below, already, the first fruits of all that is beyond. For while they do not receive all the promises here-below, yet neither do they remain without any portion or taste of the things to come by hoping for everything there and merely existing here. Rather, since it is indeed through death that God arranged to give us the kingdom of the Resurrection, and incorruptibility and all of life everlasting, yet we are already, without a doubt, become in soul partakers and communicants here-below of the future good things, are as it were incorruptible and immortal and sons of God and sons of light and of the day, heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven. We clearly carry it around within us, because it is right here already that we receive it all by the perception and knowledge of our soul, unless we are in some respect untried with respect to our faith or lacking in our keeping of the divine commandments. In the body, however, we do not yet receive it. Just as Christ God before His resurrection, we carry around our body as corruptible, and, encompassed and bound by it with respect to our soul, we cannot now accommodate receiving the entire glory which has been revealed to us. In reflecting that ineffable ocean of glory, we believe we see a single drop of it, and for that reason say that for the moment we see as in a mirror and obscurely (1 Cor. 13:12), yet we do see ourselves spiritually as like Him Whom we see and Who sees us even in this present life. After the Resurrection, though, just as He Himself raised His own body from the tomb transformed by His divine power, so shall we, too, all receive our body as itself spiritual, and, having first been likened to Him in our soul, we shall then become like Him in both soul and body. This is to say that we shall be like Him, human beings by nature and gods by grace, just as He Himself is indeed God by nature Who in His goodness has taken on the nature of man. How must those who have accurately understood this mystery long for and desire death! As the Apostle says: “For while we are still in this tent, we sigh with anxiety (2 Cor. 5:4), awaiting the revelation of the sons of God” (Rom. 8:19).

If this is not true, then Christ is only a prophet and the Eucharist merely bread
Indeed, if this is not the case and we do not enter into participation and communion with the eternal good things while yet in the body, and if we, the elect, do not receive grace, then Christ Himself is in fact a prophet, and not God. Everything which His Gospel says becomes instead a prophecy about the future and not a gift of grace. Similarly as well, the Apostles were entrusted with a prophecy, but not a fulfillment of what was prophesied, nor did they receive anything nor transmit anything to others. But, O! The ignorance and darkness of those who hold this view! According to them, it follows that our faith is comprised of empty words and devoid of deeds. Because, if the saving grace of God has shone on all men by word alone and not in reality, and if it is thus that we think the mystery of our faith has been accomplished, who is more wretched than we are? If Christ is the light of the world, and God, but we believe that no one among men sees Him continuously, who then is more faithless than we?

If He is light, therefore, but we say that those who are clothed with Him do not perceive Him, in what respect do we differ from a corpse? If He is the vine and we are the branches, unless we clearly know our union with Him, we are soulless wood, fruitless and withered, matter which is fit for the unquenchable fire. And if those also who eat His flesh and drink His blood have eternal life, according to His own word, but we in eating these perceive nothing more happening in us than the material food, nor receive in knowledge another kind of life, we then partake of mere bread alone and not also of God. For if Christ is God and man, His holy flesh is not flesh alone, but flesh and God inseparably yet without confusion: visible in the flesh, that is, in the bread, for physical eyes while invisible in its divinity for those same eyes, yet seen by the eyes of the soul. Thus He also says elsewhere: “He Who eats My flesh and drinks My blood, abides in Me and I in him” (Jn. 6:56). And He did not say that He abides in them and those in Him, but “in Me:’ which is to say, in My glory, My light, My divinity. Therefore He says: “I am in My Father and the Father in Me, and you in Me and I in you” (Jn. 14:20). So, if we think that all those things take place in us without our knowledge and awareness, who could adequately grieve for our lack of feeling? Truly, no one.

Beatitudes: blessed are they who see and struggle now

Blessed are they, however, who have received Christ coming as light in the darkness, for they become sons of light and of the day.

Blessed are they who even now have put on His light, for they are clothed already with the wedding garment. They will not be bound hand and foot, nor will they be cast into the everlasting fire.

Blessed are they who have seen the same Christ while in His body, but thrice-blessed are they who have seen Him intelligibly and spiritually and have worshipped Him, for they will not see death forever. And do not doubt this when you see what happens on earth, for those condemned who are allowed to see the earthly emperor are immediately freed from the sentence which leads to death.

Blessed are they who daily feed on Christ with such contemplation and knowledge as the prophet Isaiah fed on the burning coal, for they are cleansed of every stain of both soul and body.

Blessed are they who hourly taste of the ineffable light with the mouth of their intellect, for they shall walk “becomingly as in the day” (Rom. 13:13), and spend all their time in rejoicing.

Blessed are they who have recognized already here-below the light of the Lord as He Himself, for they shall not be ashamed when they appear before Him in the age to come.

Blessed are they who live always in the light of Christ, for they are and shall ever be His co-heirs and brothers both now and forever.

Blessed are they who have kindled the light in their hearts even now and have kept it unquenched, for on their departing this life they shall go radiant to meet the Bridegroom, and go in with Him to the bridal chamber bearing their lamps.

Blessed are they who have not reasoned in themselves that men in this life have no assurance of salvation but receive on their departure from it or, indeed, after it, for they have struggled to receive it now.

Blessed are they who have not hesitated at anything said here or suspected it to be false, for they, even if they possess none of these things (which I pray is not the case), yet at least they strive to possess them.

Blessed are they who seek with all their soul to come to the light, despising all other things, for, although they may not succeed in coming to the light while yet in the body, still in all likelihood they shall pass away with firm hopes and, though it be little, yet shall they enter into it.

Blessed are they who ever weep bitterly for their sins, for the light shall seize them and change the bitter into sweet.

Blessed are they who shine with the divine light and who see their own infirmity and understand the deformity of their soul’s vesture, for they shall weep without failing and, by the channels of their tears, be washed clean.

Blessed are they who have drawn near the divine light and entered within it and become wholly light, having been mingled with it, for they have completely taken off their soiled vesture and shall weep bitter tears no more.

Blessed are they who see their own clothing shining as Christ, for they shall be filled hourly with joy inexpressible and shall weep tears of astounding sweetness, perceiving that they have become themselves already sons and co-participants of the resurrection.

Blessed are they who have the eye of their intellect ever open and with prayer see the light and converse with it mouth to mouth, for they are of equal honor with the angels and, dare I say it, have and shall become higher than the angels, for the latter sing praises while the former intercede. And, if they have become and are ever becoming such while still living in the body and impeded by the corruption of the flesh, what shall they be after the Resurrection and after they have received that spiritual and incorruptible body? Certainly, they shall not be merely the equals of angels, but indeed like the angels’ Master, as it is written: “But we know,” he says, “that when He appears we shall be like Him” (1 Jn. 3:2).

Blessed is that monk who is present before God in prayer and who sees Him and is seen by Him, and perceives himself as having gone beyond the world and as being in God alone, and is unable to know whether he happens to be in the body or outside the body, for he will hear “ineffable speech which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Cor. 12:14), and shall see “what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived” (1 Cor. 2:9).

Blessed is he who has seen the light of the world take form within himself, for he, having Christ as an embryo within, shall be reckoned His mother, as He Himself Who does not lie has promised, saying: “Here are my mother and brothers and friends.”

Who? “Those who hear the word of God and do it” (Lk. 8:2). So those who do not keep His commandments deprive themselves voluntarily of so great a grace, because the thing was and is and will be possible, and has happened and happens and will happen for all who fulfill His ordinances.

Christ is in the blessed like an infant within the womb
In order not to stop at the last without any witness and be suspected of speaking from ourselves and laying down as dogma that what is impossible is possible, let us once again introduce the blessed Paul himself, the mouth of Christ, into your midst. He makes our point clearly when he says: “My little children, with whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you” (Gal. 4:19). Now then, where or in what place or part of our body does he say that Christ takes form? Do you think he means on the brow, or in the face, or in the breast? Assuredly not! It is rather inside, in our hearts. Perhaps you supposed that He takes form bodily? Away with the notion! Rather, He indeed takes form, but bodilessly and as is proper to God. Besides, just as a woman surely knows when she is with child that the babe leaps in her womb and could never be ignorant of the fact that she has it within her, so the one who has Christ take form within himself and is aware of His stirring, which is to say His illuminations, is in no way ignorant of His leaps, that is His gleamings, and sees His formation within himself. Christ is not, for example, reflected like the light of a lamp in a mirror, is not an apparition without substance like the reflection, but appears in a light which is personal and substantial; in a shape without shape, and a form without form He is seen invisibly and comprehended incomprehensibly.

Avoid the least hesitation
Thus it is, my brother, that the incomprehensibility of our faith is comprehended. Thus it is for whomever the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit come and truly make Their abode, in whom they are beheld and comprehended unambiguously and without change, in whom They are known, as we have said, in one single light. Moreover, it is like someone chasing after a fugitive, even if he thinks he is close to him, at his heels, and it seems he is just about to touch him and brush him with his fingertips, yet cannot quite get hold of him and misses him, as they say, by a hair; so likewise neither, if there is some thought or reservation-I mean of unbelief, or double-mindedness, or fear-or if we hold on in negligence or sloth to some kind of passion, or at all hold out for the least little thing, we will not become partakers of divinity, nor be led up to the height of this glory. Just as in the case of the fugitive it was “by a hair,” so does this “little thing” apply in spiritual matters. And if we do not perfectly, as if called to martyrdom, despise both our soul itself and our body, and give ourselves up completely to every kind of torment and death, and do not call to mind anything proper to the life and sustenance of this corruptible body, nor in fact care about anything, we shall not become friends and brothers, co-participants and co-heirs in contemplation and knowledge and experience, of the mysteries of God concerning which we have spoken.

For this reason, he who has not been made worthy to attain to these things and enter into possession of such great good things, let him at least know himself and not say, looking for excuses for his sins, that this thing is impossible or that, while it does happen, it does so without our knowing it. Instead, let him know, assured by divine Scripture, that this is, on the one hand, both possible and true, and, on the other, that it is by negligence and lack of the commandments that each man deprives himself in proportion of such great good gifts. To which may all of us attain, tasting here-below and knowing that the Lord is God, and seeing Him there entire and rejoicing with Him for ages of ages without end. Amen.

Taken from St. Symeon the New Theologian, “On the Mystical Life: The Ethical Discourses, Vol. 1: The Church and the Last Things”

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