Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | September 28, 2009

M.C.Steenberg, St.G. and the Life of Moses

I’m a fan of Deacon Matthew Steenberg’s “A Word from the Holy Fathers” podcast on Ancient Faith Radio. He offers lectures that humble our more simple minds – or at least mine! into realizing… well… we may actually have missed a few things in our reading. Clearly. On my own, reading of St. Gregory of Nyssa’s Life of Moses saw simply a text of allegorical augmentation, that while amazing in its own right, seemed increasingly difficult to more than wonder at. Given my own limitations, I doubt I would ever have seen the text as did St. Gregory… which of course underscores his gifts. And yes, while it feeds an appreciation for the Antioch School’s more literal emphasis and drive towards spiritual  reading in general, St. Gregory’s example seems to give a particularly good example of its own.

But what is of interest to me here in this excerpt from the broadcast is more than St. Gregory’s insight. For wonderful as it is, inevitably admission of our own more limited responses can lead unconstructively towards that small voice of logismoi that says, “What about me? What sort of dust does this leave me in?” So I am thankful that Deacon Matthew’s focus pulls from this text gifts of many measure – including an answer to this voice, and I recommend listening to the whole of it (as well as all his other podcasts!)… but for those more strapped for time, here’s my transcription of a key section:

“…So in the spiritual life, St. Gregory is explicit: If we wish to ascend, if we wish to grow, if we wish to associate intimately with God, as he says, then we must in our spiritual life in due course and when God calls us, move beyond things visible into that realm where the understanding does not reach.” That is the phrase that echoes out of this passage in St. Gregory’s text. One must ascend there into the darkness and believe that God is there… where the understanding does not reach.” This is the height of true intimate communion, when we are no longer gazing out to see God from afar, when we are no longer using the physical senses, the rational mind, our intellectual faculties to think about God however accurately, or to look towards God however clearly. But in a darkness that goes beyond our senses we can be called simply to be with him, to have an intimate converse, an intimate connection, a true communion with the Living Lord.

Let us be very clear: This is the height of spiritual life. Moses was called by God. He is known to us as the God seer, the one who gives the Divine Law to the people. In a true way, he is one of the great forefathers of our Christian life and calling. And this is the height of his spiritual ascent.

We must be very careful that we do not look to this passage and think that by some great virtue of our own ascesis, of our own will, we will ascend in this same simple manner up the mountain into darkness, into divine revelation. Most of us are far more burdened by our sin, (and) far less willing than was the Great Moses to shed all the things in our life which hinder us. For most of us, we will spend the entirety of our lives to the very moments of our death struggling up the first few steps of the mountain. And this is not a thing to be lamented. The fact that we may, through our sinfulness, never attain the height of the greatest of saints does not mean that each step we are, by God’s grace, gifted to take is not something miraculous, wonderful and holy.

Let us remember that Moses ascends the mountain – not the people of Israel; and yet through his ascent, through his mystical converse, through his truly intimate communion with the Lord, the whole people receives the divine law. Through his solitary ascent and real communion, all of the earth – even us today- receives the divine voice which he heard on that mountain top. We are sanctified by one another. And while we through our weakness, while I through my sin, may never reach that point of mystical communion, there are others alive in our day, and God always provides those who truly and obediently follow him, who do reach this state, and by their communion with the Lord, we too, are fed, we too receive divine instruction. This is itself revealed in the story of Moses.


  1. “Let us remember that Moses ascends the mountain – not the people of Israel;”

    Heh…I never thought of that. Thanks for sharing this. It has been helpful in my own struggle today.

    • Athanasia: Thanks for visiting. Yeah… these guys got a one-two punch for me today, too.

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