Ancient Faith Radio

“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)

  1. Blessed are they… who have received Christ coming as light in the darkness for they are become sons of light and of day.
  2. 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 ...
  3. 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” and spend all their time in rejoicing ...
  4. 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.

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:

  1. Blessed are they who ever weep bitterly for their sins, for the light shall seize them and change the bitter into sweet.
  2. 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, but by the channels of their tears, be washed clean.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

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:

  1. 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 honour 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”.

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.

  1. 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”, and shall see “what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived”.
  2. 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”. 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.

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.