The heart is deep beyond all things; and it is the man.
Even so, who can know him?
I, the Lord, examine hearts and test minds,
to give each man according to his ways
and the fruits of his practices.
~ Jeremiah 17:5-6
Regarded as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, standing 450 feet over North African coastline and burning day and night, the Lighthouse of Alexandria brightened at the foot of Arius’ birthplace.
A prototype for all lighthouses in the world, the Greek region’s source of nautical illumination embodied pagan philosophical dominance. However, “a basic assumption of [Greek] philosophy,” notes Fr John Romanides, “is that only the unbegotten and unchangable is immortal and real. Everything which has a beginning in time also has an end.”1 Indeed, Helios, the Titan god of light, perched atop this Greek furnace until 1480 when earthquake and ransacking lay waste to the world’s dark Hellenistic inheritance.2
Alexandrian priest Arius stood in this shadow, maintaining the true God of Light, Christ, is merely the “privileged creature” originated by God the Father’s will, “liable to change and sin.”3 Emphasizing “there was a time when He was not,” he held the Son as unlike the Father in essence thereby reducing our salvation to moralistic pantomiming and philosophy.4
While acknowledging one God Who is “alone eternal, alone without beginning, alone truth, alone possessing immortality, alone wise, alone good,” Arius contends the essence or substance of God the Father is uncommunicable.5 Although Life and Truth Himself, the Godhead remains impersonal and completely inaccessible.
Florovsky, dissecting Arius’ poor logic, explains:
God for him was primarily the Creator; apart from that, little, if anything, could be said…[but] God is much more than just “Creator.” When we call God “a Father,” we mean something higher than His relation to creatures (Contra Arianos I 33). “Before” God creates at all, He is Father, and He creates through His Son. For the Arians, actually, God was no more than a Creator and Shaper of creatures, argued St. Athanasius.6
God is described in the Scripture as the Fountain of Wisdom and Life. The Son is His Wisdom, Now, if one admits with the Arians that “there was when He was not,” this would imply that once the Fountain was dry, or, rather, that it was not a fountain at all.
The spring from which nothing flows is not a spring at all.-The simile is characteristic of St. Athanasius.7
Psalm 36:9 triumphantly declares, as we sing on Pascha, For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light. Christ Himself tells us, the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.8
Separated from God by sin, the heart of man is in need of Christ who is both God and man uniting both in Himself. True union doesn’t happen by merely thinking or talking about union, by dredging seas with linguistic netting as Eunomians will later. Rather, this union between God and man, through Christ Who is God and man, “the Physician of our souls and bodies,” honors the whole man.9 Salvation is personal and ontological, not academic.10
Man is made whole by Divine revelation, when the heart joins with the head. Fallen and created mind cannot touch He Who is unlimited and uncreated, but the heart may be touched.11 This secret place where your Father Who sees in secret will reward you openly is the center of man, where the Kingdom of God awaits us buried in field.12 When our heart is touched by the finger of God, she shines like the Burning Bush receiving ineffable Mysteries with inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.13
Seeking to extinguish fire burning over Alexandria spreading throughout the Empire, St. Constantine summoned the First Ecumenical Council in summer of 325, on the fertile shores of Lake Askania in Nicea.14 Bound by the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, the Aegean Sea and a number of folded mountain ranges, Nicea in Asia Minor became a lighthouse for all subsequent Church councils.15
A number of future saints attend the Nicean Council: St. Athanasius the Great, St. Nicholas of Myra, St. Spyridon of Cyprus, St. Alexander of Alexandria, St. Paphnutius of Egypt, as well as St. Hosius.
Upholding the Logos as “homoousios” (of the same essence) with the Father, the Council affirms that only if Christ is truly God can He unite us to God. It is in the Incarnation “God has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ in a revelation that is total, establishing between God and man an intimacy and a unity that is complete, so that men can become, in Peter’s words, ‘partakers of the Divine nature.’”16
Formulating the Symbol of Faith confirmed and completed at the Second Ecumenical Council, the Church Fathers express “Jesus Christ, Who was with the Father from all eternity and in these last days has been made manifest” as “one Essence with the Father.”17
The bridge between created and uncreated was, for Arius, slowly burning away by the magnifying glass of rationalism. He had already exiled himself in heresy from the Way, and the Truth, and the Life so it may be no surprise when St. Constantine burns Arius’ work in pits of mud and fire banishing him to the birthplace of Diocletian.18
By 336, weakened by decades of displacement, the corrupt body Arius had worked hard to maintain implodes. Historian Socrates of Constantinople, writing some generations later, notes “divine retribution overtook his daring criminalities…a terror arising from the remorse of conscience” seized Arius as what might well be described as hellish heat rumbling among his organs.19 Everything within the heretic seemed want of escape: poisoned ideas, small intestines, liver, even the elixir of his blood. This “extraordinary kind of death” was now the battlefield on which his heresies had wreaked destruction.20
Although Arius’ death and that of St. Constantine a year later may have cooled atmospheres of heresy, embers smoke all through the Empire. Eunomius and his teacher Aetius, who argued “a Neo-Platonic metaphysic,” soon stoked a furnace in Cappadocia with tinder that might best be described in terms of linguistics.21
Eunomius and Aetius tought when one knows the name of a particular one knows the essence of this particular. By this we we may conclude every name has a particular and different essence. So, if the name “unbegotten” is applied only to God the Father, it goes to say His essence is unique to Himself, and the Son does not share His essence. Hence, the Son is not God and cannot unite man to God. The Arian tendency to subordinate the Son remains strong here, but leaps ever further declaring the essence of God simple, intelligible and known to Christ and other creatures.22
Perhaps it is the mind itching to make communicable the god who, according to Arius, remains impersonal and completely inaccessible that gives way to so many heresies. For Aetius, Arius is “too far to the right and certainly a long way from the truth when he spoke of the Father as unknowable and the Son as not simple in being.”23
Together with the three Cappadocian Fathers, St. Gregory of Nyssa – brother of St. Basil the Great – contends knowledge of God’s essence is impossible:
Intellectual curiosity has no clear limit and there is always some truth left to dawn on us. The marvel of it all – I share [St. Paul’s] feelings as he closes his argument with impassioned wonder at the sort of things he calls “the wealth and depth of God” in acknowledgement of the incomprehensibility of God’s judgements.24
Indeed, whereas Eunomius confidently seeks God through intellect, Holy Scripture affirms we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.25
St. Gregory agrees, affirming God’s infinity, affirming “the impossibility of exhausting Him or comprehending Him, as the human mind comprehends a concept. Communion with God is a constant ascent from glory to glory,”26 “a mountain steep indeed and difficult to climb”:
The contemplation of God is not effected by sight and hearing, nor is it comprehended by any of the customary perceptions of the mind. For no eye has seen, and no ear has heard….He who would approach the knowledge of things sublime must first purify his manner of life…27
Purification enables our heart, “the focal point of the body and the seat of the intelligence and of the soul,” to perceive clearly the grace of God.28 When we calm waves of thought, calling upon the Name of Christ, He so to speak wakens and rebukes the storm. Now our spirit will actually ‘hear’ the wordless voice of the Word speaking in us.
St. Gregory makes use of the expression “luminous darkness,” illustrating how the Unknowable can make Himself known while remaining unknowable:
When he who has been purified and is sharp of hearing in his heart hears this sound (I am speaking of the knowledge of the divine power which comes from the contemplation of reality), he is led by it to the place where his intelligence lets him slip in where God is. This is called darkness by the Scripture, which signifies, as I said, the unknown and unseen. When he arrives there, he sees that tabernacle not made with hands, which he shows to those below by means of a material likeness.29
While cataphatic, or, positive theology proceeds by affirmations, apophatic theology proceeds by negations. A primary source of apophatic teaching is found in fifth century works of St. Dionysius the Areopagite. Rooted in these works, Vladimir Lossky explains:
All knowledge has as its object that which is. Now God is beyond all that exists. In order to approach Him it is necessary to deny all that is inferior to Him, that is to say, all that which is. If in seeing God one can know what one sees, then one has not seen God in Himself but something intelligible, something which is inferior to Him. It is by unknowing (agnosia) that one may know Him Who is above every possible object of knowledge.30
Beholding God in darkness at first may seem contradictory, especially in light of the Light over Sinai and Tabor. But St. Gregory of Nyssa teaches:
true knowledge of what is sought is the seeing that consists in not seeing, because that which is sought transcends all knowledge, being separated on all sides by incomprehensibility as by a kind of knowledge.31
St. Gregory makes use of alternate words “energies” and “powers” to describe manifestations which make God accessible without destroying His inaccessibility.32
“It is by His energies,” writes St. Basil, “that we can say that we know God. We cannot claim that we come near to the essence itself. His energies descend to us, but His essence remains unapproachable.”33
Born in Constantinople near the foot of a darkened volcano,34 Basil knows well the limitations of academia, especially in light of the dark pagan philosophy erected over Alexandria and indeed outside Eastern Christendom. A brilliant aristocrat, theologian, polemist, preacher, bishop, ascetic, Basil writes:
Yet it seems to me that to Eunomius God has manifested not only His name, but also His very substance! This great secret, which was not manifested to any of the saints, he makes public by writing it in his books, and blurts out to all people recklessly. While the promised blessings stored up for us are beyond all human knowledge, and the peace of God surpasses all intelligence [Phil 4:7], he does not admit that the very substance of God is beyond all intelligence and beyond all human knowledge.35
Warning against getting wrapped up in thoughts and compulsive thinking, whereby habitual thought-patterns attach themselves to feelings, and finding – or losing – our identity in these patterns, we forget who we really are and lose sight of Truth.36 “Making the heart ready for it [Truth] means the unlearning of the teachings which already possess it, derived from evil habits.”37
St. Basil continues:
We must try to keep the mind in tranquility. For just as the eye which constantly shifts its gaze, not turning to the right or to the left, now incessantly peering up and down, cannot see distinctly what lies before it, but the sight must be fixed firmly on the object in view if one would make his vision of it clear, so too man’s mind when distracted by his countless worldly cares cannot focus itself distinctly on the truth.38
St. Gregory Nazianzus, ‘The Theologian,’ addresses “the incomprehensibility of deity to the human mind and its totally unimaginable grandeur”39:
Mentally to grasp so great a matter is utterly beyond real possibility even so far as the very elevated and devout are concerned, never mind slack and sinking souls. This truth applies to every creature born, to all beings whose view of reality is blocked by this gloom…whatever we imagined or figured to ourselves or reason delineated is not the reality of God.40
Now, “when St. Paul says that Knowledge passes away (1 Cor. 13:8), He does not say this about complete and perfect knowledge, but about partial knowledge.” writes St. John Chrysostom, “the golden-mouthed. “He speaks of passing as an advance to something better, whereby the partial knowledge is now made perfect and complete.”41
St. John, born in Antioch – one of the three greatest cities of the eastern Mediterranean, along with Constantinople and Alexandria – “Churchman par excellence” – articulated the Divine Liturgy as celebrated all over the world, forming the mystical narrative in which we partake of the Mysteries – the Energies – of God. The Liturgy is, notes Elder Zacharias, “a recapitulation of the entire history of God’s dealings with men.”42
The incarnation of Christ, the Savior of the World, the Elder continues, His life and saving sacrifice are at the centre of the Liturgy, which is also the re-enactment of Christ’s two-fold manifestation – before God and before man, by which He simultaneously justified God the Father before man and fallen man before God.43
So, we may perceive even the distinction between essence and energy, knowability and unknowability, at the heart of Orthodox liturgical worship. St. John writes:
I, too, know many things but I do not know how to explain them. I know that God is everywhere and I know that He is everywhere in His whole being. But I do not know how He is everywhere. I know that He is eternal and has no beginning. But I do not know how. My reason fails to grasp how an essence can exist when that essence has received its existence neither from itself nor from another. I know that He begot a Son. But I do not know how. I know that the Spirit is from Him. But I do not know how the Spirit is from Him.44
The Fathers stress God is unknown to man in His Essence, but is in fact known through in His energies, and only then by His invitation through the Holy Spirit.45 God is wholly present in His grace and whether we perceive this grace as ‘small’ or ‘large’ is dependent upon man’s receptivity. Christ always encourages us to Come, follow Me.46 This invitation is to both body and soul, as we anticipate a resurrection that will be ontological on the Last Day.
Here, participate in the same life St. John Chrysostom and the Cappadocians articulate by deed and by word, singing “let us now lay aside all earthly cares that we may receive the King of all.”47
St Basil articulates:
Putting aside this idle curiosity about the substance since it is unattainable, we ought to obey the simple advice of the Apostle, who said: One must first believe that God exists and that He rewards those who seek Him [Heb 11:6]. For it is not the investigation of what He is, but rather the confession that He is, which prepares salvation for us.48
So we do not live outside experience of God, rather, “when we offer our psychology to God in the Liturgy, He sanctifies it and overshadows it with His eternity and we become spiritual.”49 Whenever we bring the best we can offer before God in the Liturgy, the Elder continues, “including our faithfulness throughout the absence of His grace, we receive life – His life.”50
Divine worship through Liturgy is the authentic, mystical lighthouse burning with Paschal Fire, at the same time “unique and performed by Christ Himself. It is an act of revelation surpassing description, embracing the whole creation: heaven and earth, Angels and men, the living and the departed.”51
The prodigal son remembers the warmth of his Father’s Bread, and returns from the far country where the eye is not dimmed nor does the person age. For how can an eye which is always in the light be dimmed by the darkness from which it is always separated? And the person who by every means achieves incorruption in his whole life admits no corruption in himself. For he who has truly come to be in the image of God and who has in no way turned aside from the divine character bears in himself its distinguishing marks and shows in all things his conformity to the archetype; he beautifies his own soul with that which is incorruptible, unchangable, and shares in no evil at all.52
Climb arthritic joints of rickshaws among India’s serpentine avenues, peer through jangling bells and discover ashrams populated with men claiming to know the essence of God. Or, walk air-conditioned between convention centers flat and gray to a preacher citing Holy Scriptures divorced from Holy Tradition. He may share verse after verse experiences of prophets, eunuchs, kings, and apostles but words cannot be experience of God, as Eunomius claimed. Pride is a weed sometimes watered by reading Scripture without knowledge of Patristic Tradition.
In March 1959, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, fled to India where I meet him exiled in the Himalayan mountains over buttery, yak tea served with rice. Folds of red and orange robe peer through doorways.
At Tsuglagkahng temple, I break from the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives where I work most afternoons, and meditate before lifeless, bronzed statues. The goal of meditation can be a bird chasing her shadow. It is never ending and constantly self-reverential. What we perceive in mind alone is fantastically misleading.
Following Eunomian heresy we remain among created things, even language. As noted earlier, Light is beheld in darkness. St. Symeon the New Theologian writes,
I know that the One Who remains unmoved descends. I know that the One Who remains invisible appears to me. I know that the One Who is separated from all creatures takes me inside Himself and hides me in His arms, and then I find myself outside the whole world…Here and there, equally dazzling, He reveals Himself to me. How can all of this come about? How can I accurately understand it? How would I be able to express all that I understand and see? In truth, these are indescribable things, utterly ineffable.53
Truth is a Person.
“For the Christian,” writes Elder Sophrony,
as we see Him, the only way to the Father is through the Son….In the eternal birth of the Son the Father poured into Him the plenitude of His Being. Accordingly, the Son is in all things equal to the Father. He is the consummate fulness of the revelation of the Father. He is the life of the Father, His strength, power, might, kingdom, wisdom, omniscience, creative, love…He that hath seen the Son hath seen the Father [John 14:9].54
For Eunomius – or anyone – pronouncing Christ a creature, a philosopher, or a mere prophet, salvation is a summation of pagan ideas, a false light perceived dimly only in the mind. Here then he remains, unable to ascend in Light, a chimney extinguishing like all the rest, folding in on itself by shadow.
Damascene, Hieromonk. Christ the Eternal Tao. Platina, California: St. Herman of Alaska Press, 2004.
Florovsky, G. ‘The Concept of Creation in Saint Athanasius.’ In Studia Patristica, vol. vi, ed. F. L.
Cross (Berlin, 1962), 36-57, reproduced in Aspects of Church History. Vol. IV in the Collected
Kelly, J.N.D. Early Christian Doctrines. New York, New York: HarperCollins, 1978.
Miller, Timothy. The Birth of the Hospital in the Byzantine Empire. Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns
Hopkins University Press, 1997.
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Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, 2002.
Pomazansky, Fr. Michael. Orthodox Dogmatic Theology. Platina, California: St. Herman of Alaska Press, 2005.
Romandies, Fr. John. Patristic Theology. Thessaloniki, Greece: Uncut Mountain Press, 2008.
Runciman, Steven. The Great Church in Captivity. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University
Sophrony, Archimandrite. We Shall See Him As He Is. Platina, California: St. Herman of Alaska
St. Basil of Caesarea. Against Eunomius. The Fathers of the Church. Translated by Mark
DelCogliano and Andrew Radde-Gallwitz. Washington, D. C.: The Catholic University of
America Press, 2011.
St. John Chrysostom. On the Incomprehensible Nature of God. Tr. Paul Harkins. CUA Press:
Washington, D. C., 1984.
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Translated by Lionel Wickham and Frederick Williams. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J.
St. Gregory of Nyssa. The Life of Moses. Translated by Abraham J. Malherbe and Everett
Ferguson. New York, New York: Paulist Press, 1978.
St. John Chrysostom. On the Incomprehensible Nature of God. Translated by Paul W. Harkins.
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Veniamin, Christopher. ‘Saint John Chrysostom and the Light of Tabor,’ in The Orthodox
Understanding of Salvation: “Theosis” in Scripture and Tradition. Dalton, Penn: Mount Thabor
Ware, Timothy. The Orthodox Church. London, England: Penguin Books, 1997.
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Making of Orthodoxy: Essays in Honour of Henry Chadwick. Ed. R. Williams. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
Zacharias, Archimandrite. Remember Thy First Love. Dalton, Pennsylvania: Mount Thabor Publishing, 2010.
1 Fr. John Romanides, Ancestral Sin, p 30 quoted by Metropolitan Hierotheos in The Person in the Orthodox Tradition, 29
2 Providentially, the year 1480 also marks the protection of Moscow by the Vladimir icon of the Theotokos against Tartar hordes commemorated June 23. See Prologue from Ohrid.
3 J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 229
4 Fr. Georges Florovsky, Aspects of Church History: St. Athanasius’ Concept of Creation, 47
5 J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 227
6 Fr. Georges Florovsky, Aspects of Church History: St. Athanasius’ Concept of Creation, 47, 52
7 Ibid. 54
8 See John 4 and John 7:37-39: “Jesus stood and cried out, saying, If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
9 A prayer by St. John Chrysostom, included in The Book of Needs, beseeches Jesus Christ “in Your great love grant him relief from his pain…that restored to the vigor of health, he may serve You faithfully and gratefully all his life, and become heir of Your kingdom, for You are the Physician of our souls and bodies, O Christ.”
10 See Exodus 33:18-23: “Please, show me Your Glory.” See also 2 Cor 4:6: For it is the God Who commanded light to shine out of darkness, Who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
11 “Our way to knowledge of God lies not through books but through faith in Christ’s word. This faith brings our mind down into the heart, consumed by the flame of love for Christ. We descend into the bottomless ocean which is the heart of man. We know the arduousness of this immersion, the weight of suffering that it entails. There in the depths the Divine arms embrace us tenderly and lift us to heaven.” Elder Sophrony, We Shall See Him as He Is, 88
12 Matt 6:5-6
13 2 Cor 12:4. See Ecc 5:2: “Do not be rash with your mouth, and let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven, and you on earth; therefore let your words be few.” An ancient proverb also reminds us, ‘God’s first language is silence. All else is poor translation.’
14 The remains of a nearly 1,600-year-old church discovered under the Lake may have collapsed in 740 during the Great Earthquake at Constantinople commemorated October 26 in our Church. See any number of archeological journals regarding this discovery and, The Prologue of Ohrid for more information.
15 The importance of Nicaea cannot be overstressed. It is here Christ God, our Savior, fully God and fully man, is affirmed as the center and unending furnace for the human heart, “Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made.”
16 Steven Runciman, The Great Church in Captivity, 129
17 St. Ignatius of Antioch, ‘Letter to the Magnesians,’ quoted in Early Christian Writings, 72. Drafted by the Council and required for all the bishops to sign, the creed closes with this anathema: “But as for those who say, There was when He was not, and, Before being born He was not, and that He came into existence out of nothing, or who assert that the Son of God is from a different hypostasis or substance, or is created, or is subject to alteration or change – these the Catholic Church anathematizes.” See J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 232 for full text.
18 John 14:6. Arius was exiled to Illyricum, the Western Balkans, where St. Paul spread the Gospel of Christ as recorded in his Epistle to the Romans 15:19
19 Ecclesiastical Histories, Chapter 38 – ‘The Death of Arius.’
21 J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 249
22 Historian and essayist M.F. Wiles claims it is unlikely Eunomius claimed to know all there is to be known about God, but rather he was claiming to know enough about the Divine essence and what it is to be God to ensure the reality of Christian language and exclude “Cappadocian mystification.” See his essay ‘Eunomius: Hair-Splitting Dialectician or Defender of the Accessibility of Salvation?’ anthologized in The Making of Orthodoxy: Essays in Honour of Henry Chadwick, 157-172.
23 St. Gregory of Nazianzus, On God and Christ, from translator Lionel Wickham’s introduction, 15
24 St. Gregory Nazianzus, On God and Christ, Oration 28: 21
25 2 Cor 3:18
26 Fr John Meyendorff, Preface, XIII, in St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses.
27 St. Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses, Book II, 158
28 Steve Runciman, The Great Church in Captivity, 132
29 St. Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses, Book II, 169
30 Vladimir Lossky, Mystical Theology, 25, quoted in Christ the Eternal Tao, by Fr. Damascene, 452-453
31 St. Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses, Book II, 95
32 Ibid. 44, 45
33 St. Basil the Great, Epistolae, M.P.G., XXXII, col. 869, quoted by Steven Runciman, The Great Church in Captivity, 134
34 Mount Erciyes
35 St. Basil the Great, Against Eunomius 1.13
36 Fr Damascene, Christ the Eternal Tao, 223
37 St. Basil the Great, Letter to Gregory, quoted by Metropolitan Hierotheos in The Person in the Orthodox Tradition, 43
38 Basil’s Letter 2
39 St. Gregory Nazianzus, On God and Christ, Oration 28:11
40 St. Gregory Nazianzus, On God and Christ, Oration 28:5-6
41 St. John Chrysostom, On the Incomprehensible Nature of God, Homily 1.10
42 Elder Zacharias, Remember Thy First Love, 219
44 St. John Chrysostom, On the Incomprehensible Nature of God, Homily 1.19
45 Fr John Romanides, Patristic Theology, 223
46 Matt 4:19
47 Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom
48 St. Basil the Great, Against Eunomius, 1.14
49 Elder Zacharias, Remember Thy First Love, 226
50 Ibid. 211
51 Ibid. 213
52 Ibid. 318
53 Quoted by Fr Damascene in Christ the Eternal Tao, 402
54 Elder Sophrony, We Shall See Him as He Is, 86