Instead of a comment, for the visit of the delegation of Vatican to Istanbul
According to the Holy Fathers, ignorance is the greatest evil. Therefore, for every Orthodox Christian, among else, it is necessary to know the difference and make a distinction between sentimentality and spirituality as well as between intellectuality and illumination.
The sentimental man can be either hypersensitive or insensitive, that is to say, he can be anywhere in the whole wide range of states in between these two extremes. The sentimental man can be sensible, intellectual or insensible, stupid—that is, he can be anywhere in the whole wide range of states in between these two extremes. There are also a vast number of combinations within the frames of sentimentality, combinations of the various degrees of sensitivity and the various degrees of sense. For instance, someone can be an intellectual but insensitive (one of the worst combinations). All we are talking about applies up to the confines of mental sanity. The spiritual man is always both illumined and a unique kind of an intellectual, and it would be the best for the Church if he were also highly educated. The spiritual man is illuminedly sensitive as well. Sentimentality and intellectuality are a fruit of the flesh, whereas spirituality and illumination are a fruit of the Spirit. As we read in the Holy Gospel: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6).
Yet, where is the border between sentimentality and spirituality, that is to say, between intellectuality and illumination? According to the Holy Fathers, the transition from the former to the latter occurs at that moment when man’s heart is sufficiently purified from the passions, when the divine baptismal grace manifests itself from man’s heart, when God reveals to man ‘the place of the heart’ and when He grants man the gift of the mind-and-heart prayer. These are all features of the second stage of spiritual growth, which the Holy Fathers usually name ‘illumination of the mind’. These gifts are not familiar to him who is at the first stage of spiritual growth, which the Holy Fathers have named ‘purification of the heart from the passions’. Such a man is still predominantly sentimental.
The Holy Fathers have not made and have not systematized a table, a survey of the relations between spiritual states and of the spiritual phenomena stemming from them. Yet, all who wish to discover this table can easily do so by analysis of Patristic works. The basic division into stages of spiritual growth we find in many of the Fathers, although they can be given various names. Saint Nicetas Stethatos, for example, says there are three stages in the advancement towards perfection: ‘initial state of purification’, ‘transitional state of illumination’, ‘mystical state of perfection’. In the theology of Saint Maximus the Confessor, these three stages are represented as ‘practical philosophy’ (negative and positive purification), ‘natural contemplation’ (illumination of the mind), and ‘mystical theology’ (deification).
You will all agree with me that to each of these three states of spiritual development there are surely correspondent different kind of prayer, different kind of temptations, different kind of relationship with one’s spiritual father, different kind of witness to Christ, different kind, for instance, of organization of the monastic life etc. It is not possible that one who is at the first stage has the same prayer as someone at the second stage of spiritual development. The former has only an ‘oral prayer’ or a ‘prayer of the intellect’, while the latter also has the ‘mind-and-heart prayer’, etc. As a matter of fact, the Holy Fathers wrote about all this.
What happens when man passes from the first to the second stage? When man experiences this transition, he changes from being predominantly sentimental into being predominantly spiritual; from being predominantly intellectual, he becomes predominantly illumined; from being predominantly self-loving, he becomes predominantly philotheic and philanthropic (philotheoanthropic—as the blessed Father Justin Popović would say). Man’s struggle from being predominantly ascetical becomes predominantly graceful. And we are saying all this about them who in knowledge struggle…
Why do we use the word ‘predominantly’? We do so because at the stage of illumination the heart is only sufficiently purified from the passions, yet not completely, not perfectly. The ascetic who is at the second stage is to experience yet much striving and warfare both with himself and with the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms, within the struggle for love even towards the enemies and within the struggle to keep his mind in the heart without distraction for several hours. Whereas, at the first stage of spiritual development (purification of the heart from passions), man’s decisions and actions take place predominantly under the influence of his thoughts rising out of his wounded vanity and unfulfilled desires, that is to say, rising out of the struggle for human power and glory and of the struggle for realization of earthly desires; these are decisions and actions engendered by human fallen nature. At the first stage man is bound by passions (first of all by pride, vainglory, vanity, high self-esteem and alike), which is why his heart has not opened and it is exactly why he does not have the gift of the prayer in the heart; and, it is exactly why he is predominantly sentimental.
It is now clear why I often emphasize the practice of absolute obedience, the struggle for absolute submissiveness of our mind to our spiritual Father’s spiritual guidance. The healing of the distracted and darkened mind begins from the moment its passion—pride, through absolute obedience, stops being nurtured. If even after the choice of a spiritual Father and our respective relationship with him our mind remains the criterion for all our thoughts, feelings, decisions and actions, what have we done then? We are outside the process of healing and purification. We have remained being a part of the world and the world has remained being a part of us, that is to say, the world reigns within us. This applies particularly to them who reach, with God’s permission, through the monastic or priestly rank, to the highest positions in the Church. God’s will is: purification of the heart—rank of a deacon; illumination of the mind—rank of a presbyter; deification of the soul and body—rank of an Episcope. And, what do we do now, when we all find ourselves in God’s permission rather than in God’s will? I beg you, let us come to our senses at least a bit, humble ourselves at least a bit. Let us become aware of our problematic ‘spiritual state’, a product of our fallen nature. And, let us repent, attain a change of mind… that is, let us be obedient to our spiritual father. Lord have mercy…!
Therefore, we should not wonder then when we feel the primacy by honor as primacy of power; when instead of acting as a mother Church we act as a stepmother Church; when from the position of a coordinative center for unity we produce splits; when we much more prefer meeting with the influential and the rich of this world rather than with our brother in Christ; when we see our brother in Christ as our enemy, and the influential man of this world, even if a heretic, we call beloved brother in Christ; when one is attracted both by Alexander’s glory and the feeling of ethnic affiliation; when one declares himself both a Greek and a Macedonian, at the same time; when one is crunched between the antique gods and the One True God; when one self-justifies himself, falsely blaming others; when one leaves the natural intercourse with the woman and burns in lust for a man, etc. Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth…!So, my children, all this happens when we confuse sentimentality with spirituality and intellectuality with illumination, while the road is narrow… All this happens when we place our sentimentality and intellectuality as the criterion of spiritual life, as an idol… Only obedience is the protection from this evil. Sentimentality and intellectuality make idols, whereas spirituality and illumination tear them down. May the Lord protect us all!