Whew! This was a hard but very profound section but, luckily, Fr. David helped us through it.
In these few pages, St. Maximos takes us through multiple steps and levels of spiritual growth in which our relationship with God entwines in various forms and manifestations until we are on with him—with God dwelling within us and us within him. This is how I order the sections to make sense to me. It is a little long but bear with me as I muddle through and feel free to comment.
So, we live in the temporal world, limited by the natural laws of decay and death. When we or our knowledge of things reach maturity, growth ceases and death or stagnation follow.
However, true knowledge of God does not cease once it reaches ch maturity. Instead,
…it starts to grow anew. For the end of one stage constitutes the starting-point of the next. There is never an end, as there is never a beginning, to the good which God does
Through divine knowledge, then, we get a taste of God’s immortal world.
The journey to perfect knowledge and endless renewal is structured along the three stages of spiritual life in Orthodox Theology: purification, illumination and Theosis or deification
St. Maximos starts with the theme of silence to signify purification from passions:
27 If a man impetuously interrupts a speech at a public meeting, he clearly reveals his lust for self-glory. Overpowered by this passion, he tries to obstruct
- Those who still fear the war against the passions and dread the assaults of invisible enemies must keep silent; in their struggle for virtue they must not enter into disputes with their enemies but through prayer must entrust all anxiety about themselves to God.
First, our desire for God must be supported by the grace of God to lead to illumination.
“A soul,” St. Maximos says, “can never attain the knowledge of God unless God Himself in His condescension takes hold of it and raises it up to Himself. For the human intellect lacks the power to ascend and to participate in divine illumination, unless God Himself draws it up in so far as this is possible for the human intellect – and illumines it with rays of divine light.”
Through purification and illumination, the real meaning of things is revealed and we able to achieve a deeper level of understanding of the scriptures. Maximos selects three biblical concepts as the anchoring steps of spiritual ascent.
- The Sabbath. While the Sabbath is honored as rest from work, its deeper meaning is “the freedom of the deiform soul” from passions so that it can experience the full manifestation of God’s love; “the dispassion of the deiform soul that through practice of the virtues has utterly cast off the marks of sin.”
- Circumcision. 40 . Circumcision signifies the quelling of the soul’s impassioned predilection for things subject to generation.
- The harvest. 42. Harvest signifies the deiform soul’s in gathering and knowledge of the more spiritual principles of created beings in a manner conforming to both virtue and nature.
This is the stage in which the depths of God are revealed to one through the Spirit and he approaches the uncreated Light.
- There is a deeper understanding of the Sabbath—the Sabbaths of Sabbaths—that (3 9 ) …signify the spiritual calm of the deiform soul that has withdrawn the intellect even from contemplation of all the divine principles in created beings, that through an ecstasy of love has clothed it entirely in God alone, and that through mystical theology has brought it altogether to rest in God. And we enter a more profound harvest—the harvest of harvests. It is “another more spiritual harvest, which is said to belong to God.
- Beyond circumcision, there is another more mystical circumcision, the “circumcision of circumcision” that “signifies the complete discarding and stripping away also of even the soul’ s natural feelings for things subject to generation.”
43 . Harvest of harvest signifies the apprehension of God which follows the mystical contemplation of noetic realities and which, inaccessible to all, is consummated in the intellect in a manner beyond understanding. Such apprehension is fittingly reaped by the person who in a worthy manner honours the Creator because of what He has created, whether visible or invisible.
Yet true knowledge of God never has an ending and is constantly renewable and a stepping stone to constantly more knowledge. St. Maximos bring yet another level as an example:
“There is another more spiritual harvest, which is said to belong to God Himself,” he tells us: “there is another more mystical circumcision; and there is another more hidden sabbath, which God celebrates when He rests from His own labours.”
- 46. Circumcision of the heart in the spirit signifies the utter stripping away from the senses and the intellect of their natural activities connected with sensible and intelligible things.
- 47. The sabbath rest of God signifies the complete reversion of created beings to God. It is then that God suspends in created beings the operation of their natural energy by inexpressibly activating in them His divine energy. I It is by virtue of this natural energy that each created being naturally acts ; and God suspends its operation in each created being t o the degree to which that being participates in His divine energy and so establishes its own natural energy within God Himself.
- 45. The harvest of God signifies the total dwelling and stability of the saints in God at the consummation of the ages. This stripping away is accomplished by the Spirit’s immediate presence, which completely transfigures body and soul and makes them more divine.
3 TYPES OF RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
Probably reflecting the constantly evolving levels of knowledge of God, St. Maximos delineates three types of relationships with God.
- THE MAN OF FAITH frees himself from passions through the practice of virtues
- THE DISCIPLE receives and multiples the word of God by spreading it to others and ministering to them.
- THE APOSTLE has the power to go beyond spreading the word to heal “the sick, through hope restoring a state of devotion to those who have lost it” and cure “every disease and infirmity.”
The universe is divided between created and uncreated beings. However, God made uncreated beings such as, goodness, truth, love or charity “participable”—that is, accessible to us, created beings, through participation—participation that can be only enabled through Grace.
Hope for our salvation, then, lies in our God-given potential to participate. So even though we have a temporal origin, we are enabled, through God’s grace, to become participants in the timeless, unoriginate essence of beings that manifest the presence of God. And through this participation, we experience this presence and become one with him.