Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Mystically Deficient

     For many, we of the Byzantine tradition are often referred to as the Mystical Church. Even though this title is sometimes proper there is also a contradiction since every church is in some way mystical being that Christ is the source of all true mysticism. In its normal context the term mystical when distinguishing the Byzantine tradition refers often to our heavy emphasis on personal spirituality in knowing God as opposed to seeking an intellectual doctrinal certitude. From this there is often the saying, “in the east we pray first then learn but in the west they learn first then pray”. However, even in this understanding there is to some degree an artificial depiction of Byzantine theology since the tradition does not make distinctions between theology and spirituality or theology and mysticism. As a result, for the Byzantine tradition mysticism is never separated from theology for it’s (faith) in the theology or dogmatic truth that enables the mystical experience of God.
     There is a popular tendency in our day to accept the mystical experience of others even though they might teach things that contradict the Church.This is done first by trying to separate a persons spirituality from what has been given through Divine Revelation.The starting point for this acceptance are the great mystics that belong to many of the world religions and cultures, which have in some way experienced something profound. The assumption is that since their experience demonstrated to some degree great spiritual results it must always be God. Consequently, in accepting all experiences as God a new kind of dogma is created and one in which relies upon the experience of these mystics to qualify as Divine Revelation. When this happens it makes any religion that makes claims to be the only true way to God false. In essence, the new dogma holds that the only true teachings found in religions are the ones that can duplicate the experience of these mystics, which makes everything else of a religion relative.
     In this kind of dogma that I shared above there really is not much hope for many of us. I know in my own life I feel that I am at a disadvantage as compared to the lives of some of these mystical people that have great followings. To some degree I look at myself as intellectually and socially deficient and not really capable of generating a way of life that would allow me to be a mystic like those people. Some of these people put in great effort to become what they are and others were considered touched by their gods, but me I am hopeless. Many of those mystics speak about a universal silence that transcends all our religions, which they seem to have been given the unique privilege of experiencing. The way my life is I could only dream about being in the right place and time to experience such things. Yes, even though I want God what these mystics offer to me in the end is only the shame that I can’t have what they have.
     When it comes to mysticism in the Byzantine tradition an experience of someone, as in the case of those mystics above, is not the criteria to determine what is of God. Along these lines, I believe as compared to what those mystics offer the Byzantine tradition offers something more radical. To paraphrase Dei Verbium 6 what God offers to those that accept Christian dogma in faith is something that transcends human experience. This is to say that for us there are no special privileged experiences that we should achieve because everyone that receives the teaching by faith receives fully everything that God is or to use the phrase from St.Diadochos of Photiki God “gives us all of grace”. This is good news for someone like me because I know that even with my many disadvantages I can be just as mystical and just as special to God as some of our greatest saints.
     It is a great mystery or even "mystical" to understand that because I accepted a dogma by faith, the truth of Christ, I have been given the gift of God Himself. How can everything of God be in me or as St. Symeon the New Theologian once said, "How is it I embrace You within myself, yet see you spread across the heavens?”. This one of the greatest mysteries of our faith and it is also the reason for our traditions and our teachings. God became everything that we are in Christ and in turn welcomes us to become what He is through life in the Church. It is through our spiritual traditions and teachings {dogma} that we seek to become what He is. Also, it is through these same traditions and teachings that children, the weak, the old, and people who struggle like myself find themselves becoming true mystics by learning to freely experience the Grace of God.


  1. Well,

    I have always viewed the mystical experiences of most other religions as being demonic if they did not lead to Christ.

    For example the Flathead Indians had a chief who had a mystical vision informing him about their need to find black robes and learn the big prayer. I take that as true Mysticism, though they are not yet Christian.

    But the other stuff, especially if they are looking for it I would not give the benefit of the doubt to.

    1. That’s an interesting story. There are a lot of positive stories about religious leaders that have prepared their people to receive the gospel. It is unfortunate that many lack the discernment to see what might be bad. I heard a catholic teacher tell her students once that all religions are the same but we are special because we have the Eucharist.

    2. It's not too far fetched to say most spiritual/religious have commonalities, among them. But, to say they're the same, I won't make that statement.

      I could a long-winded response, pointing out similarities, with grave differences among the few religions, I've traversed, throughout my life.

  2. Ric,
    Thanks for the article. As a Sicilian by heritage and a Latin Rite Catholic by birth I have always sensed that there is a vestigial Byzantine strand in my own DNA. I have seen this world becoming increasingly divided over innumerable fault lines and I respect the Eastern Church's profound mystical gifts and the breath of her lung as a way to achieve future unity. I have a blog that sometimes features this and a poem that speaks to the dilemma of living in an either/or world that refuses to seek and accept the Mystery of Truth.

    Drawn and Quartered is the poem, on the sidebar at

    See ya on the high ground!