Audio length: 13:20 minutes
Transcript published: July 13, 2011
St. Symeon teaches that when we pray, the indwelling Light of Christ can lift us up to the very Paradise itself of which St. Paul himself haltingly spoke.
“The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23)
St. Symeon the New Theologian – Beatitudes on the Light
(On the Mystical Life: Ethical Discourses (Vol. 1), pp. 166-169, 11th Century)
St. Symeon’s first four Beatitudes of the Light concern receiving Christ into our lives. He uses four key verbs, one for each Beatitude… “receive, put on, taste, kindle.” Clearly this is no ordinary Light for it can be “tasted” and “put on.” The Light in fact is none other than God Himself, present in his energies, of whom Christ said: “I am the Light of the world.” (John 8:12) This is the teaching of the Holy Fathers from St. Diadochus of Photike and St. Macarios the Great to St. Gregory Palamas. Notice how St. Symeon’s biblical language places Christ our Light so intimately in connection with us, radiant in fact within us ... clothed, in our mouths and in our hearts. We need to open up ourselves to this Light which is Christ, who is God.
Next, St. Symeon’s Beatitudes turn to practicalities. How do we open ourselves up to Christ. He speaks of repentance in the next two verses:
St. Symeon’s shows how once we have been seized by the Light, He, that is Christ enlightens us and this inevitably shows up our dark infirmities and deformities. However, with this self-understanding we do not fall into despair but rather we weep healing tears of repentance, with which, by His forgiveness, we are washed clean and made whole. The next two verses explain how the bitter tears of repentance give way to the sweet tears of those who have become children of God and participants in Christ’s resurrection life.
We might call these tears of which St. Symeon speaks, “tears of joy.” Certainly they come forth from a heart that has been radically changed by the Light into the Light, Christ Himself. Our Lord then ceases to be Someone relatively unknown and separate from us but rather the sweetest Saviour who lives within, transforming us from one degree of glory to the next. Although this process of transformation, theosis or deification takes at least a life time, at the resurrection, the final goal of our striving will be realised; union with God. In order to get to that point we need to keep ourselves open to God. So, the saints goes on:
St. Symeon was a monk and although he speaks in the next section to monks he is quite clear that his teaching applies to all Christians. Let us hear what he has to say about prayer and the indwelling Christ.
St. Symeon teaches that when we pray, the indwelling Light of Christ can lift us up to the very Paradise itself of which St. Paul himself haltingly spoke. In this state, with Christ growing within us like an embryo we can relate to God perfectly, performing his commandments out of a pure heart. It is an achievable goal and we can and must use everything in the Church to attain to it. The lamp of our body must become clear and radiant with his indwelling Light. This is salvation.