Sunday, 26 April 2009

Commentary on Diadochos 76 - 78

  Update March 1, 2012: Please see this post.

Certain men[1] have supposed that among the baptized Grace and sin, that is, the Spirit of Truth and the spirit of deception, are hidden in the mind at one and the same time. Whence, they say, the one person[2] calls the mind to the good things whereas the other directly calls the mind to the opposite things. From the Holy Scriptures and from the actual [spiritual] sense[3] of the mind, however, I have comprehended that before Holy Baptism, Grace urges the soul towards the good things from the outside, whereas Satan lurks in the depths of the soul attempting to block all the exits of the mind that tend to the right[4]. But from the very hour that we are reborn[5] the demon comes to be outside and Grace inside. Whence we find that as deception reigned over the soul before [Baptism], so Truth reigns over it after Baptism. Nevertheless, after this, Satan is also active in the soul just as before (and worse, most often) yet not as present together with Grace—may it not be so!—but as it were rather fumigating the mind with the sweetness of the irrational pleasures by means of the moisture of the body.[6] God allows this to occur so that through the storm and fire of trial the soul come to be, if it wishes, in the enjoyment of the Good. For he says: ‘For we have passed through fire and water and you have led us out into refreshment.’
This chapter begins a very important discussion of both the nature of Orthodox Baptism and the relation between that Baptism and the practice of the Jesus Prayer. The author commences by stating that some people—we are not aware of the source of this teaching that the author is at great pains to combat; perhaps it was the Messalians—believe that after Orthodox Baptism, the Holy Spirit and the spirit(s) of deception co-exist in the nous—the mind, the created spirit of man—of the person baptized. No, the author says, what happens is that before Orthodox Baptism, the Holy Spirit urges the person from outside of him or her to orient his or her actions towards the Good, ultimately towards the Gospel. However, when the person is still unbaptized, then the unclean spirit(s) lurk in the depth of the person’s soul trying to block all such movements of the person’s created spirit or mind towards the Good. Implicit in what the author is saying is that these unclean spirit(s) are unable to block the person’s free will completely. Moreover, although the author does not say so, it is a teaching of the Gospel, that the Grace of God assists the person to come to the Good not only from the outside but from the inside too.
However, the author states, once we come to be baptized, the positions of the Holy Spirit and the spirit(s) of deception with regard to their presence in us are reversed: the Holy Spirit comes to be inside us and the spirit(s) of deception come to be outside.
The author continues that the spirit(s) of deception continue to influence the person ‘fumigating the mind with the sweetness of the irrational pleasures by means of the moisture of the body’. What he means is that the spirit(s) of deception ‘colour’ the consciousness of the person by the anticipation of the pleasure to come from the satisfaction of the bodily desires, which have their origin in the physiology of the man or woman. The reason God allows this to be so, the author says, is that God wants to test our free will, so that after Baptism we might earn, through our conscious choice of Good over Evil, the ‘enjoyment of the Good’—the states of Grace that he has already referred to and will continue to discuss further on in his treatise.
There is now the question of the status of non-Christians such as Buddhists or Hindus or Muslims in regard to the practice of the Jesus Prayer. It should be obvious to our readers that members of these three religions have practices which morphologically correspond to the Jesus Prayer. Buddhists have various mantra meditations; Hindus have their mantra meditations; and Sufis have their dhikr, their repetition of the Shahada (the Muslim confession of faith). Implicit in what the author is saying is that while these members of non-Christian religions have practices which resemble the Jesus Prayer, they do not have the Holy Spirit, which comes to them only through Orthodox Baptism. So while these persons might practise the Jesus Prayer as an interesting mantra, or recommend the practice of the Jesus Prayer to Westerners as a more culturally accessible mantra meditation, the issue arises of what spirit they and their Western adherents have in their nous or mind or created spirit when they are practising the Jesus Prayer. For if they had the Holy Spirit, then they would be Christians, for the Holy Spirit bears witness to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. What these persons might have is a spirit that is willing to accept Jesus Christ as a bodhisattva, as one avatar among many, or as a prophet—or even as an ‘ascended master’ or member of the ‘Great White Brotherhood’. In other words, in the absence of Orthodox Baptism (and, it must be said, correct faith), something else is going on with the practice of the Jesus Prayer than is going on with the Orthodox Christian’s practice of the Jesus Prayer. Recall that the Jesus Prayer is an appeal to Jesus Christ, not just the repetition of an interesting formula.
Another way to look at the issue is this. Let us suppose that the Buddhist has a spirit—for it is evident that the Buddhist texts refer to the grace of the Guru as assisting the person in his spiritual journey to the proper levels of Samadhi, or Buddhist contemplation and altered states of consciousness. Since this spirit is not the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ, it is going to lead the person in other directions from the directions that the Holy Spirit would lead the person, even if the person is reciting an invocation to Jesus Christ.
That this is so can be seen from the fact that Orthodox Christians with the Holy Spirit have Orthodox Christian spiritual experiences while Buddhists tend to have Buddhist spiritual experiences: this is not merely culturally determined, but also due to the activity of the particular spirit that the person has. And similarly for practitioners of other religions. So it is not just a matter of reciting a Christian formula, but of being assisted by the Holy Spirit or by another spirit.
Moreover, this is why the particular formula is not of the essence in the Orthodox practice of the Jesus Prayer: The formula should be tailored spiritually to the particular person; this is something that ideally an Elder with the charism of clairvoyance passes judgement on in each individual case. It is ultimately the assistance of the Holy Spirit that causes the person to make progress, as the author himself will develop later on in his treatise. Hence, what is important is to have the Holy Spirit, not to spend too much time on the exact wording of the formula which one should use.
What the author is saying is that we receive the Holy Spirit in Orthodox Baptism and that the act of Baptism not only brings the Holy Spirit into our nous or mind or created spirit but also removes all other spirits. So if a Buddhist, say, who was practising the Jesus Prayer with a Buddhist spirit were to come to Orthodox Baptism, then the Buddhist spirit would leave that person’s nous to be replaced by the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ (assuming that the Buddhist came to Orthodox Baptism in good faith and properly catechized). Thenceforward, the former Buddhist would be ‘on a different wavelength’ when he practised the Jesus Prayer. However, the old spirit, the Buddhist spirit, would be outside that person and still able to suggest to the person Buddhist ideas and ideals and aspirations, and so on and so forth. It is because of this fact that as a pastoral matter, when a person practising the Jesus Prayer as an element of a non-Orthodox-Christian religious commitment comes to be baptized, then some care has to be taken if the person continues to practise the Jesus Prayer, since he will have the previous religion’s spirit making suggestions to him, in addition to his memories of his old practice of the Jesus Prayer, as influenced by the old spirit. In such cases there is a need for purification that may require the temporary discontinuance of the practice of the Jesus Prayer until the person becomes properly equilibrated through attendance at the Orthodox Mysteries (Holy Communion, Confession, Euchelaio and so on) and so that when he practises the Jesus Prayer he no longer is in serious danger of being tempted by the old spirit.
There are some related issues here. When a baptized member of the Orthodox Church joins another religion then he loses the Holy Spirit: he has denied Christ. That is why the practice of the Orthodox Church has always been to receive such persons back into the Orthodox Church, if they desire to return to the Church, by means of Chrismation: this Mystery is ordinarily given once only, immediately after Baptism, for the reception of the Holy Spirit. Although this mystery is given for the reception of the Holy Spirit as on the Day of Pentecost, that does not negate what the author and the Church teaches about the reception of the Holy Spirit in Baptism.
It should also be noted that members of the Orthodox Church who convert to another religion and then return to Orthodoxy are normally forbidden from the priesthood and indeed normally denied communion in the Mysteries of Christ until they are on their deathbed. That is why it is usually recorded in the life of the New Martyrs—those who converted to Islam and then returned to Orthodoxy, subsequently being martyred for their confession of Christ—that someone assured their communion just prior to their martyrdom.
Now, let us consider the matter of the effects of non-Orthodox religious experience. These experiences have an effect on the nous of the person. The nous is the centre and source of consciousness of the person, so that if he has a religious experience, then his nous is affected. If the experience is demonic, such as with black magic, then the nous can be seriously damaged. Although the author teaches that the image of God is restored to the nous in Orthodox Baptism that does not necessarily mean that all the damage that the person has caused to his own nous through his non-Orthodox religious practices has immediately been healed.
It is similar to having broken your leg through your own negligence prior to Orthodox Baptism. It does not follow immediately that your leg will be completely and immediately healed just because you have been baptized. So it is with the nous: if you have damaged your nous, it is not automatic that Orthodox Baptism will heal it completely the moment you are baptized.
So there are two issues: the first is the condition of the person who has passed through a number of non-Orthodox religions and come to Orthodoxy. In these cases, there may well be a problem after Baptism not only with temptations from the spirits associated with the previous religious commitments, but also with damage to the nous. It may take decades for this damage to the nous to be completely healed: since this damage is to the spiritual centre of the person, it will take considerable spiritual progress for the person’s spiritual identity to be completely equilibrated, until all the ‘pleats’ have been removed from the fabric of the person’s consciousness.
Secondly, if the person is Orthodox and enters another religion, there may well be damage, even after the person has returned to Orthodoxy and made a complete confession and been received by Chrismation. In the lives of many of the New Martyrs there is evident mental instability after their return to Orthodoxy. It appears to us that this is an example not of an underlying condition that pre-existed before the person converted to Islam, but of the effect of the spirit of Islam on the Orthodox person’s nous. In simple language, the conversion of a baptized Orthodox to Islam and then the return to Orthodoxy is too much for the nous.
It is because of the above considerations that some Orthodox consider that Christians who have previously received a non-Orthodox Baptism should be received into the Orthodox Church by means of a full Orthodox Baptism, and not by other means such as chrismation. They consider that because it is a dogma of the Orthodox Church that the Orthodox Church is the one true Church and the Ark of Salvation, and because the canons of the Church (considered inspired by the Holy Spirit) state that with certain few exceptions, non-Orthodox Christians are to be received by Baptism, then this is the proper way to receive non-Orthodox Christians. Some Orthodox further believe that it is in only this way that the person entering the Orthodox Church can ensure that he receives the full transformation that the author of this treatise has begun to discuss, and will continue to discuss in subsequent chapters.
Grace, as I said, is hidden in the depth of the mind from the very instant in which we are baptized, hiding, however, the actual [spiritual] perception of its presence. However, whenever one should begin ardently to desire God from his whole intention, then by means of the sense of the mind, Grace, using a certain unspeakable word, begins to speak to the soul a certain part of its goods.[7] Whence, thenceforward he who wholly wishes to hold on to this discovery securely comes to a desire of divesting himself with great joy of all present goods, so that, really, he acquire the field in which he has found the hidden treasure of life. For when one divests himself of all the wealth of this worldly life then he finds the place[8] where the Grace of God is hidden. For the Divine Gift[9] also shows its own goodness to the mind in accordance with the progress of the soul. Nonetheless, the Lord then allows the soul to be afflicted thereafter by the demons, so that he teach it the discernment of good from evil and make it more humble on account of the great shame that occurs to it, when it is being purified, from the filthiness of the demonic thoughts.[10]
The author now begins to speak about the felt presence or absence of Grace. It should be understood here that he is not committing some theological sleight-of-hand to explain away why some people have no felt experience of Grace. He is someone that has had personal experience of the Holy Spirit. He sees what happens with others by means of the charisms he has. What he is saying is that, yes, the Holy Spirit is in the depths of the person’s nous or mind or created spirit from the instant of Orthodox Baptism but however it hides from the person the felt experience of its presence. St John Chrysostom remarks somewhere that we feel the presence of the Holy Spirit for three days after Baptism and then we lose that feeling because of our sins. Here, St Diadochos is being less rhetorical and more precise: the Holy Spirit hides its presence, because it wants to see what we will do with our free will.
When the person—whether baptized three days or three decades ago—begins to show zeal for God from his whole being, then the Holy Spirit begins to speak to his or her soul not in words but in a certain ineffable manner that conveys to the person a conscious experience of the presence of Grace. The result is that the person becomes ever more zealous to divest himself of all his possessions to follow Christ—because he has found the Pearl of Great Price of the Gospel, here understood to be the conscious experience of the Holy Spirit. In this one might consider the teaching of St Seraphim of Sarov on the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. However, from what the author has already said it is clear that this is a beginner’s Grace, that the beginner needs this Grace in order to commence the road, but that the road is very long.
We are in the image of God in the mental[11] movement of the soul; the body as it were is the house of the soul. Therefore, since not only were the lines of the portrait[12] soiled through the transgression of Adam but also our body fell under corruption, for this reason the Holy Word of God was incarnated, as God granting to us by means of his own Baptism the water of salvation for the sake of our rebirth. For we are reborn by means of the water[13] in the activity of the Holy and Vivifying Spirit, whence we are purified directly both in soul and in body (if someone should come forth to God out of his whole disposition), the Holy Spirit sojourning in us and sin being driven away by it.[14] For it is not possible, the nature[15] of the soul being one and simple, for two persons[16] to be present in it as some have thought. For when in a certain limitless affection the Holy Spirit attaches itself closely to the lines of the ‘according to the image’,[17] in a pledge[18] of the likeness,[19] where is it possible that the person of the Evil One might find place, there certainly being no communion at all between light and darkness? We believe, therefore, we the runners in the sacred games,[20] that the multiform serpent is expelled from the treasure-rooms of the mind by means of the bath of incorruption. And let us not wonder for what reason after Baptism we again think bad things with the good. For on the one hand the bath of holiness completely removes the stain of sin from us but on the other hand it does not now change the duality of our will,[21] nor certainly does it impede the demons from warring against us or speaking to us words of deceit. This is so that those very things that we did not observe when we were ‘psychic’[22], we [henceforth] guard taking up the weapons of righteousness in the power of God.
The author now turns to an explanation of the necessity of Baptism. First of all, he indicates that the image of God in Man is the nous, the mind or created spirit. Here it should be understood that this nous is not merely our ability to reason, but, fundamentally, our ability to know God. The author asserts that the body is merely the house of the soul. However, he continues, the nous was disturbed by the sin of Adam. He is using a visual metaphor of the portrait of God that the nous was in Adam and Eve before the Fall. This ultimately depends on the Scriptural notion that Man is created in the image of God.
The author uses a much extended metaphor throughout his treatise as to the relation between image and likeness, and as to how we restore the image in Baptism and then commence to attain to the likeness to God. Here, however, he is saying that the image of God was disturbed by the transgression of Adam. Note that he has no notion that Man’s nous was completely corrupted by the transgression of Adam. That is a Western notion, particularly Calvinist. The Orthodox have a more moderate view of what happened in the Fall.
The author goes on, following St Paul, that our body also fell under corruption because of the transgression of Adam.
Because of these things, the author says, the Word of God was incarnated. He now proceeds to an Orthodox statement that doesn’t fit into Western arguments about the nature of justification: the water for our Baptism was provided by Jesus in his own baptism by John in the Jordan. That act of Jesus sanctified the water of our own baptism. Moreover, it should be understood that the prayers for the Great Blessing of the Waters on the Theophany (the commemoration of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan by John) are virtually identical to the prayers for the sanctification of the water for a person’s actual baptism.
The author continues to explain what happens in Baptism. By means of the water that Jesus ultimately sanctified with his baptism by John in the Jordan, we are reborn in the activity of the Holy Spirit so that we are purified in both soul and body (if we come to our baptism with the proper disposition), the Holy Spirit taking up its abode in us and sin being driven away from us, as the author has already discussed.
The author now begins to introduce his terminology of the image and likeness. What he is saying is that the image of God is restored in Baptism, the Holy Spirit granting us at the same time the pledge—the surety, the down payment—of the likeness. He will explain the difference between image and likeness as he goes, again using his extended metaphor from portraiture.
The rest of the chapter should now be quite clear.

[1] I.e. the Messalians.
[2] Greek: prosopon. This would be the Spirit of Truth and the spirit of deception.
[3] Greek: aistheseos. This would be the spiritual sense that the author has discussed.
[4] Greek: dexias. I.e. to the good.
[5] I.e. in Baptism.
[6] The author seems to have in mind the image of the vapour bath.
[7] It is important to understand that this is not a matter of hearing words spoken either out loud or silently in the mind. Rather it is a matter of a non-verbal illumination by the Holy Spirit of the mind (the created spirit of man). It should also be apparent that this word spoken to the soul by the Holy Spirit has nothing to do with emotional states, especially states of enthusiasm or elation. What the author is describing is ordinarily called a plerophoria—an inner spiritual assurance conveyed non-verbally to the mind by the Holy Spirit. It is a matter of the charism of discernment for an Elder to discern whether an experience of this type is indeed from the Holy Spirit or not.
[8] As should be evident this is the place in the mind where Grace has hidden since Baptism.
[9] I.e. the Holy Spirit received in Baptism but hidden since then.
[10] ‘Demonic thoughts’: daimonikon logismon.
[11] Greek: noero. This could well be translated ‘spiritual’.
[12] Greek: charakter.
[13] I.e. of Baptism.
[14] It should be evident that for St Diadochos this ‘sin’ is the spirit of sin, not just a juridical notion of original sin and personal sins committed.
[15] Greek: charakter.
[16] I.e. the Holy Spirit and the spirit of sin.
[17] I.e. to the soul or, more precisely in this school of mysticism, to the mind, the created spirit of man.
[18] Greek: arraboni. This is the engagement pledge of two who are betrothed to be married.
[19] As the author will discuss, by this act of the Holy Spirit Baptism restores the ‘according to the image’ but the baptized person then has to work, with the assistance of the now-indwelling Grace, on restoring the ‘according to the likeness’. However, the author is saying that this ‘according to the likeness’ is already present in potential (‘pledge’) through the act of the Holy Spirit in Baptism.
[20] The author and his kind are being compared to runners competing in the sacred games.
[21] I.e. we still have free will. The ‘now’ indicates that after the General Resurrection we will not be able to sin any more, this duality having been abolished.
[22] Greek: psychikoi. The author provides an interpretation of this mysterious usage of St Paul: he treats the ‘psychic’ person that Paul refers to as the person before Baptism, and the spiritual person that Paul refers to as the person after Baptism. An interesting interpretation.

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