Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | April 18, 2009

A Shared Reflection from Archimandrite Vaseleios on Abba Isaac the Syrian

At this Pascha Feast, I though I’d share that this Lent I was blessed to be referred to the writings of Archimandrite Vasileios, Abbot of Iveron Monastery, Mount Athos: Abba Isaac the Syrian: An Approach to his World. This short volume is an excellent translation from the Greek by Dr. Elizabeth Theokritoff. I’ve read a lot of translation in my time, and few and far between are those that can manage the translation of prose with as much poetry. Seems there is much here that commends it both as a reminder of our faith, the sweep to conversion, the renewal of baptism in chrismation, and our life and illumination as Orthodox Christians. I’ll make no claim to matching the sweep described here other than that the discovery of True Faith seems to share much of the motion that obviously for Abba Isaac continued much further. And as well, it seems to this poor Thickheaded reader that Fr. Vasileios recounts in this short passage much of what describes the distinctive vision of the Christian life experienced or as we would aspire to experience in the Orthodox Church. For through grace, we may have but found the door, yet if we are futher blessed, we will eventually manage to struggle far beyond merely standing in the Narthex to a deeper fullness, and higher vision… beyond the mere visible presence of Church itself and into nothing less than the glories of the Holy Triinity resurrected within. I find much of this echoed in the writings of Archimandrite Zacharias (of Essex), in the teachings of my Bishop Thomas (Charleston, WV) and eslewhere. See what you think. A Blessed Pascha to one and all!

A monk has written: “I read Abba Isaac. I remained motionless. I breathed in. I took in paradise. I was experiencing a marriage between my being and the beyond, what is over there and what is in us. In the whole of my body I was delighting in my baptism into the uncreated and unapproachable.

A gate opened. I went into a different space. Another spirit came and found me. It was very light, enduring, a spirit of resurrection. This was what counted in my life, and nothing else.

I was enriched with other senses. It was different ground that I trod. I stood on different feet. I saw all that was previously well-known and familiar to me with different eyes, and heard it with new ears. And everything took on meaning.

Suddenly all the same things exist in a different way. A different light comes from within them and makes life shine.

Then the value of each person and his beauty is revealed as something different. There is a different relationship between things and between people.

You move about freely where previously you were stumbling. You speak quite clearly where at first you could not say a word.

You love everyone. And you remain free, leaving them pure and whole.

A sense of forgiveness and forbearance spreads everywhere. You are grateful to God. You forgive everyone. You do not bother anyone. No one touches you. You do not look for human justification.

Gladness comes from all sides. From darkness, light. From poverty, wealth. From jostling, stillness. From despair, calm and renewed hope.

Going further into Abba Isaac, in my mortal body I was wedded to incorruption, making it my spouse (cf Proverbs 8:2, Septuagint version).

I vanished from the earth.

The increase does not end. Life is ours. And death is ours. We live in order to die: we live with the aim of being extended, of becoming capable of entering into a marriage with death, with dying, with loss of everything. And so we gain everything. We find it. We enjoy it. We exist with and for these things, being absent, removed and nonexistent.

Our struggle is to attain to the maturity of ‘non-existence’ – to be found worthy of this crowning honor – to the freedom of traveling and being present everywhere through complete immobility and absence.

We are confined within the prison of the present age, within the walls of appearances – ‘no visible thing is good’ (St. Ignatius of Antioch) – in the sterility of what is relative. In the dumbness of mechanical motion and life.

The music that is truly such swells up as we journey. Movement is prayer. The journey is vision. The extension is gladness. When we have gone beyond everything, this expression, Word (Logos), Passover, Christ.”

+++++

It is a ceaseless journey, an ascent, an ascension.

All things reach the point of transcendence. They are surpassed. They are done away with. They cease.

We enter into absolute silence and repose.

A person is freed from passions, from ignorance, from vice. He is not bound by ‘the other means which dishonor a man.’ The present life is not big enough for him. He does not bind himself to the present life.

He is not confined to worldly ethics and hope. ‘For the hope of this present life enfeebles the thinking.’ Despair shatters the hard, confining shell of worldly hope, the prison of sterility – ‘no weapon is stronger than despair’ – pouring forth torrents of light in darkness.

He does not make good works, virtue, his aim in life. He attains these, and by the grace of God moves on beyond them: ‘Faith’s way of life is more exalted than virtue, and its labor is not works, but perfect rest and consolation.’

Calmly he moves on beyond the bounds of motion, speech, sensation, knowledge, activity of any kind. ‘He becomes a free man and a ruler of himself, and as a son of God with authority he freely wields all things.’

In the end he casts off even his own freedom. ‘Then a man’s nature is deprived of its free will… it is led whither it knows not by some other power… at that moment it is held fast in captivity.’ He finds himself then in the ‘ignorance’ which is above all knowledge and the ‘captivity’ which is the above all freedom.

He has broken every barrier. He has attained the Unattainable. ‘His intellect is confounded and swallowed up in awestruck wonder, and forgets the very desire of its own entreaty.’

From now on ‘the mind no longer possesses prayer, or movement, or weeping, or dominion, or free will, or supplication, or desire, or fervent longing for things hoped for in this life or in the age to come.’

But getting there takes a real struggle.”


Responses

  1. […] Veni Vidi Credidi placed an observative post today on A Shared Reflection from Archimandrite Vaseleios on Abba Isaac the SyrianHere’s a quick excerptApril 18, 2009 in Reading Matter I was blessed to be referred to the writings of Archimandrite Vasileios, Abbot of Iveron Monastery, Mount Athos: Abba Isaac the Syrian: An Approach to his World. This short volume is an excellent translation from the Greek by Dr. Elizabeth Theokritoff. I’ve read a lot of translation in my time, and few and far between are those that can manage the translation of prose with as much poetry. Seems there is much here that commends it both as a reminder of our faith, […]


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