In the writings of St. Symeon the New Theologian (949–1022 AD) we encounter something much closer to a confession in a similar style to St. Augustine than a work of instruction or theology as we typically envision it. Characteristic of phenomenology is that it endeavors to remain experience-near in its descriptions as opposed to experience-far. St. Symeon writes from genuine experience of hesychia. To some extent, in reading his account, we may see the perfect storm in its later stages of development between what were to become known as the Barlaamists and the hesychasts. Is he claiming to see God with is own eyes? Is this Divine Radiance experienced with our physical senses? How then is God transcendent? eternal? How can we know what is beyond knowledge? Could this not be a form of hysteria brought about by bizarre ascetical practices? These were some of the questions the Barlaamists would later lodge against the hesychasts, and it would then require the humble brilliance of St. Gregory Palamas to do what had not yet been done: articulate a full fledged theology of hesychasm.

“You drew me out of a fetid swamp; when I reached firm ground, You entrusted me to Your servant and Your disciple (Symeon the Pious, spiritual father of Symeon the ‘New’), bidding him to cleanse me from all stain. He led me by the hand as one leads a blind man to the fountain head, i.e. to the holy Scriptures and to Your divine commandments . . . One day when I was hurrying to plunge myself in my daily bath, You met me on the road, You who had already drawn me out of the mire. Then for the first time the pure light of Your divine Face shone before my weak eyes . . . From that day on, You returned often at the fountain source, You would plunge my head into the water, letting me see the splendor of Your light; then suddenly You would disappear, You would become invisible, and I still did not understand who You were . . .

 

“Finally You deigned to reveal the dread mystery: one day when it seemed as though You were plunging me over and over again in the lustral waters, lightning flashes surrounded me. I saw the rays from Your face merge with the waters; washed by these radiant waters, I was carried out of myself and ravished in ecstasy.
“For some time I lived in this state. Then by Your grace, I was granted to contemplate a still more awesome mystery. I saw You take me with Yourself, and rise to heaven; I knew not whether I was still in my body of not- You alone know, You who alone created me.
“On coming back to myself, I wept in sorrowful surprise at my abandoned state. But soon You deigned to reveal Your face to me, like the sun shining in the open heavens, without form, without appearance, still not revealing who You were. How could I have known, unless You told me, for You vanished at once from my weak sight? . . .
“Still weeping I went in search of You, the Unknown One. Crushed by sorrow and affliction, I completely forgot the world and all that is in the world, nothing of the senses remained in my mind. Then You appeared, You, the Invisible one, the Unattainable, the Intangible. I felt that You were purifying my intelligence, opening the eyes of my soul, allowing me to contemplate Your glory more fully, that You Yourself were growing in light . . . It seemed to me, O Lord, that You, the Immovable One, were moving, You, the unchanging One, were changing. You, the Faceless one, were taking features . . . You shone beyond all measure, You appeared to me wholly in all things, and I saw You clearly. Then I dared to ask You, saying: ‘Who are You, O Lord?’
“For the first time You allowed me, a vile sinner, to hear the sweetness of Your voice. You spoke so tenderly that I trembled and was amazed, wondering how and why I had been granted Your gifts. You said to me: ‘I am the God who became man for love of you. You have desired me and sought me with your whole soul, therefore henceforth you shall be my brother, my friend, the co-heir of my glory . . .’
“You said this and then were silent. Slowly You departed from me, O lovable and gentle Master, O my Lord Jesus Christ!”

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