We have received the following question as an email.
Dear Orthodox Monk,
I got your email off your blog site and I just had a question. I noticed in one of your entries you mention
It’s been a very long time since we read
As near as we have been able to determine from our reading, as haphazard as it has been, the basic structure of the mystical ascent in St John of the Cross is three stages punctuated by two dark nights—between the first and second, and the second and third stages.
It seems clear to us that the three stages of the mystical ascent that
The breakdown of the mystical journey into these three stages, we understand from our reading, took hold all across Christendom from
There is no record, however, in the Orthodox Hesychast tradition, of formal dark nights between the purgative and illuminative, and illuminative and unitive stages of the mystical ascent. This is not to say that
We understand that Staretz Sophrony (Sakharov) had an interest in
We would raise the following issues from our meager reading.
Putting the dark night of the senses between purgative and illuminative stages actually violates the Evagrian system as interpreted by St Isaac the Syrian. For St Isaac places the transition from the use of the senses to the exclusive contemplation of intelligible (non-sensible) realities in the middle of the illuminative stage, at the point that the mystic passes from contemplating the essences of created objects to the contemplation of angels. Of course, it may be that
There is something in Evagrius that would correspond to the dark night of the soul—the soul puts off the spiritual contemplation so as to approach God without images or concepts of any kind—but to us in our meager reading it did not seem to be so formalized as in St John of the Cross. Moreover, such a dark night does not seem to be present in St Isaac the Syrian.
Part of the problem is that while
In general, we would think that an Orthodox Professor of Spiritual Theology would want to read St John of the Cross and consider how St John’s system is similar to and differs from the Hesychast systems of various Orthodox mystics, for example St Gregory of Sinai, but we would also think that St John’s books might confuse the Orthodox layman who didn’t understand the intricacies of both Orthodox and Roman Catholic spiritual theology.
Hope that helps.