St. Symeon the New Theologian (949 – 1022)
No man can use his visual sense alone and properly comprehend the greatness of the heavens, or the extent of the earth, or the order of all things. How could bodily eyes ever manage to grasp things that transcend mind and understandings? It is only with difficulty that the mind can gain a true contemplation of existing reality, and only then after it has been purified of its own opinions, freed of its prejudices, and illumined by the grace and mercy of God. Even then, it only perceives insofar as it has been illumined.
~ The Practical and Theological Chapters, 1:34. In Cistercian Studies Series, No. 41: Syemon the New Theologian, Cistercian Publications, 1982, p. 42.
The Nature of “Will” in Creatures
A man who does His will, even unto death, is thereby left completely without his own will. Yet no living and moving creature is without will, but only those that have neither senses nor power to move. Plants possess a certain inner movement and growth; but it cannot be said that this movement and growth are the result of the natural will — for they have no soul. But every creature with a soul by nature also possesses a will. Thus, whoever kills his own will by effort, with attention and zeal especially towards this end, and becomes devoid of will, has obviously transcended his nature and is outside of it. Such a man no longer himself wishes anything since he has no wishes of his own, and does nothing of himself, either good or evil.
Those who with the help of the Holy Spirit have been vouchsafed union with God and have tasted of His ineffable blessings, no longer delight in empty — I would even say dishonorable and worthless — glory from men. Neither do they wish for money, costly garments, or precious stones, as the foolish call them. … Neither do they aspire to be close to any famous or renowned men of the world, since no man cares to exchange riches for poverty….
~ “Practical and Theological Precepts,” Nr. 179-180, in Writings from the p on Prayer of the Heart, Faber and Faber, London, 1951.
Two Suns for Two Bodies
From the first, God created two worlds, the visible and the invisible, and has made a king to reign over the visible who bears within himself the characteristic features of both worlds — one in his visible half and the other in his invisible half — in his soul and his body. Two suns shine in these worlds, one visible and the other intellectual. In the visible world of the senses, there is the sun, and in the invisible world of the intellect, there is God, Who is called the sun of truth [or righteousness]. The physical world is illumined by the physical and visible sun; but the world of the intellect and those in it are illumined by the sun of truth in the intellect. Moreover, physical things are illumined by the physical sun, and things of the intellect by the sun of the intellect separately from one another, for they are not mixed with or merged into one another — neither the physical with the intellectual nor the intellectual with the physical.
Of all the visible and invisible creation man alone is created dual. He has a body composed of the four elements, the senses and breath; and he has a soul, invisible, incorporeal, joined to the body in an ineffable manner; they interpenetrate and yet are not compounded, combine and yet do not coalesce. This is what man is: an animal both mortal and immortal, both visible and invisible, both sensory and intellectual, capable of seeing the visible and knowing the invisible creation. As each of the two suns influences his own world separately, so they affect separately each side of man: one illumines the body and the other the soul, each giving of its own light to its own side, whether richly or sparingly according to what it can receive.
~ “Practical & Theological Precepts,” 151-152, Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart, London, 1951, p. 133-134
Glimpsing the Creator through Creation
We see the Creator by analogy. That is, by the greatness and the beauty of His creation.
~ The Practical and Theological chapters 1:33. In Cistercian Studies Series, No. 41: Syemon the New Theologian, Cistercian Publications, 1982, p. 42.
God and the Laws of Nature
The words and decrees of God become the law of nature. Therefore the decree which God uttered as a result of the disobedience of the first Adam, the decree of death and corruption, became a law of nature eternal and unchanging. For the abolition of this decree, the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, was crucified and died, offering Himself as a sacrifice for the redemption of man from death.
~ The Sin of Adam, translation by Theophan the Recluse, Moscow, 1892, “The Fall of Adam and the Decrees of God,” Homily 38.3-4
The Redemption of Creation
The whole creation is to be renewed and delivered from the bondage of corruption, and these elements together with us will become partakers of the brightness proceeding from the Divine fire. Just as a bronze vessel that has become old and useless, becomes new again when a metal worker melts it in fire and recasts it, in the same way creation, having become old and useless because of our sins, will be, as it were, melted in fire by God the Creator and recast, and will appear new, incomparably brighter than it is now. Do you see how all creatures are to be renewed by fire?
~ The Sin of Adam, trans. by Theophan the Recluse, Moscow 1892, “How is the whole Creation again to be renewed?” Homily 45:4
The Bright Condition of the Future Creation
The whole creation, after it will be renewed and become spiritual, will become a dwelling which is immaterial, incorruptible, unchanging, and eternal. The heaven will become incomparably more brilliant and bright than it appears now; it will become completely new. The earth will receive a new unutterable beauty, being clothed in many-formed, unfading flowers, bright and spiritual. The sun will shine more powerfully than now, and the whole world will become more perfect than any word can describe. Having become spiritual and divine, it will become united with the noetic world; it will be a paradise, a heavenly Jerusalem, the inalienable inheritance of the sons of God…. But when the earthly will be united with the heavenly, then also the righteous will inherit that already-renewed earth whose inheritors are to be those meek ones who are blessed by the Lord.
~ “The Sin of Adam,” translation by Theophan the Recluse, 1892, “How is the whole creation again to be renewed?” Homily 45:5
Paradise is for the Whole Earth
God did not grant man paradise only, but the whole earth. “All things visible, those on the earth and those on the sea, He gave to Adam and to us, his descendants, for our enjoyment.
~ Ethical Discourses 4.1 SC 122, p. 176-188. Quoted in Man and the Environment Anestis G. Keselopoulos, SVS Press, 2001, p. 61.
Sanctifying the Temple of the World
When man finds his destiny, which is to glorify God,
he also leads the whole of creation to its destiny, which is to glorify God.
As he sanctifies the temple of his being,
man also sanctifies the temple of the entire world.
Thus he transforms creation,
making it sing the praises of the divine Majesty.
~ Anestis Kesolopoulos, quoting St. Symeon the New Theologian, Man and the Environment: A Study of St. Symeon the New Theologian, trans. E. Theokritoff, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, 2001, p. 66.
The Sequence of Renewal
At the creation, the pristine earth was formed first and then human beings were created; but in the re-creation and renewal, which follows from the Incarnation and Cross of our Lord Jesus, the human being is first restored and creation follows.
~ Ethical Discourses 2.7, SC 122, pp. 372-74; “On the Mystical Life,” vol. 1, SVS Press, p. 109.
One of the greatest of the Byzantine mystics and theologians, St. Symeon began his career in the Royal Court of the Eastern Roman Empire in Constantinople. He soon became disenchanted with courtly life and left to join the Studit monastery where a gifted “staretz,” or spiritual teacher, dwelled. Symeon eventually became more a spiritual master than a systematic theologian. Among his emphases is the accessibility of spiritual experience, especially connection to the Divine Light, which he describes as the personal, visible experience of the light of Christ within. His biographer Nicetas Stephanos wrote: “Having arrived at a high degree of union with the Holy Spirit, he has become for the people of Israel, the monks, ‘the river of God, filled with the water of the Spirit.’” Again, he writes, “He was entirely possessed by the Holy Spirit. His thought was equal to that of the Apostles for the Divine Spirit inspired his every movement.” A central theme of Symeon’s teaching is that the things of the world belong to everyone and that it is a sin to appropriate them or hoard them for one’s private purposes without sharing and equitable distribution. He taught the need for the freshness of authentic spiritual experience and not merely a dependence upon the outward forms of Church life, which are not soul-saving in themselves. Symeon was instrumental in the revival of early Christian methods of prayer and spiritual practice which cultivate a direct experience of the brilliant light of Christ. He describes creation as a gift from God which is to be spiritualized through the rebirth and growth of Christ within each person. As the individual is renewed in Christ, so the creation which “awaits the manifestation of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19), is transformed with him. “Thus he transforms creation, making it sing the praises of the divine Majesty.”
A Prayer of Thanksgiving
For before the world came into being from thee (John 17:5), Thou didst have me wholly in Thyself and glorified me by giving me reason, and honored me with Thy image. For no other reason but for my sake, who Thou didst create according to Thine image and likeness (Genesis 1:26), has Thou brought forth all things out of nothing, and made me to be king of all earthly things for the glory of Thy mighty work and Thy goodness.
~ Discourses, XXXV, “The Mytical Experience of Grace in the Form of A Thanksgiving,” In Classics of Western Spirituality, Paulist Press, 1980, p. 359.
The Things of the World Belong to All People
The things and possessions that are in the world are common to all, like the light and this air that we breathe, as well as the pasture for the dumb animals on the plains and on the mountains. All these things were made for all in common solely for use and enjoyment; in terms of ownership they belong to no one.
But covetousness, like a tyrant, has intruded into life, so that its slaves and underlings have in various ways divided up that which the Master gave to be common to all. She has enclosed them by fences and made them secure by means of watchtowers, bolts and gates. She h as deprived all other men of the enjoyment of the Master’s good gifts, shamelessly pretending to own them, contending that she has wronged no one. But this tyrant’s underlings and slaves in turn become, each one of them, evil slaves and keepers of the properties and monies entrusted to them. Even if they are moved by the threat of punishments… and take a few or even all of these things to give to those who are in poverty and distress whom they have hitherto ignored, how can they be accounted merciful? Have they fed Christ? Have they done a deed that is worthy of a reward? By no means! I tell you that they owe a debt of penitence to their dying day for all that they so long have kept back and deprived their brothers from using.
~ Discourses, 9.4, “On Works of Mercy.” In Classics of Western Spirituality, Paulist Press, 1980, p. 153-151.
Distributing Possessions is to Set One’s Heart Free
Cheerfulness consists in not regarding these things (such things as we may possess) as our own, but as entrusted to us by God for the benefit of our fellow servants. It consists in scattering them abroad generously with joy and magnanimity, not reluctantly nor under compulsion (cf. II Corinthians 9:7ff).
~ The Discourses, 9.7 “On Works of Mercy.” In Classics of Western Spirituality, Paulist Press, 1980, p. 156.
The New Man Brings the New Creation
When man again (will) be renewed and become spiritual, incorrupt and immortal, then also the whole creation, which has been subjected by God to man to serve him, (will) be delivered from servitude, (will) be renewed together with him, and become incorrupt, and, as it were, spiritual. All this the All-Merciful God foreordained before the creation of the world.
~The Sin of Adam, Homily 45 (2), p. 69. Quoted in Wisdom, Let us Attend: Job, the Fathers, and the Old Testament, Johanna Manley, St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997, p. 736.
The Root Cause of Failure to Share the Goods of the World
Through greed we fall under a double accusation and thus are subject to eternal punishment and condemnation — the one, the accusation of lacking mercy, the other, of putting our hope in stored treasures instead of in God. For the one who has hoarded possessions cannot hope in God, as is clear from what Christ our God told us: “there where your treasure is, there also will be your heart!” He who lets the whole world profit from the wealth he had put aside is not therefore entitled to a reward. On the contrary, he is guilty for unjustly depriving others. And even more than this, he is responsible for all those who perished through hunger and thirst, for all those he could have fed up till then, but did not. He is guilty of burying the share of the poor and letting them cruelly die of hunger and cold. He has murdered as many victims as he could have fed.
~ Catechesis 9.6,196-213, “ On Works of Mercy.” Alternate Translation in Classics of Western Spirituality, Paulist Press, 1980, p. 155-156.
All Creation is Within
I know that the Immovable comes down;
I know that the Invisible appears to me;
I know that He who is far outside the whole creation
takes me within Himself and hides me in His arms,
And then I find myself outside the whole world.
I, a frail, small mortal in the world,
Behold the Creator of the world, all of Him, within myself;
And I know that I shall not die,
for I am within the Life,
I have the whole of life springing up as a fountain within me.
He is in my heart, he is in heaven:
Both there and here He shows Himself to me with equal glory.
~ Hymns of Divine Love. Quoted in The Orthodox Way, Kallistos Ware, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1995, p. 25.
Awakening to God’s Presence
We awaken in Christ’s body as Christ awakens our bodies, and my poor hand is Christ; He enters my foot and is infinitely me. I move my hand, and wonderfuly my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him (for God is indivisibly whole, seamless in His Godhood). I move my foot, and at once He appears like a flash of lightning. Do my words seem blasphemous? Then open your heart to Him, and let yourself receive the one who is opening to you so deeply. For if we genuinely love Him, we wake up inside Christ’s body where all our body, all over, every most hidden part of it, is realized in joy as Him, and He makes us utterly real, and everything that is hurt, everything that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful, maimed, ugly, irreparably damaged, is in Him transformed and recognized as whole, as lovely, and radiant in His light. We awaken as the Beloved in every part of our body.
~ Quoted by Stephen Mitchell, The Enlightened Heart, Harper and Row, Publ., San Francisco, 1989, pg. 38-39.
Searching for God
When men search for God with their bodily eyes, they can find Him nowhere. … But for those who ponder in the Spirit, He is present everywhere.
~ The Practical and Theological, 1:1. In Cistercian Studies Series, No. 41: Syemon the New Theologian, Cistercian Publications, 1982, p. 33.