THE ABODE OF THE BLESSED, Ilias the Presbyter, A Gnomic Anthology Part lll

Philokalia, vol. 3

Ilias starts this section with a reassurance. Dispassion, we are told, is not a state that can only be achieved by monks and saints. It is not beyond ordinary human capacity. It is, in fact, a fundamental aspect of our humanity and a gift from God, which we overlook.

19. The paradise of dispassion hidden within us is an image of that in which the righteous will dwell.

In the preceding section, Ilias establishes 3 clear modes of the intellect –intellection, thought and sense-perception. He asks us to be able to recognize the category our own intellect falls in, at any given time.

In the remaining section, however, Ilias takes us beyond these categories, employing a dramatic interplay between stability and fluidity, recognizing and crossing classifications. 

This is because, for those on the highest level of spiritual contemplation, these categories of mind are no longer impermeable or separate. Because they are in a state of self-unity, they perceive God’s unity in all things beneath their surface. They see all things, no matter how disparate, as compatible pieces of a larger whole and perceive their unity with God.

This means that the persons who have achieved intellection—nous—do not inhabit only aethereal heights, disconnected from the land below. They can, in fact, descend to the material universe without being trapped in it because they still maintain the level of intellection that they achieved. They can sustain their “sublime” level of intellect even in the material world. Instead of being sullied by the world, they sanctify it.

21. The man of spiritual knowledge is one who descends from the realm of intellection to that of sense-perception in a sublime manner and who raises his soul heavenwards with humility.

It is, in fact, the ability to move among the categories “in a sublime matter” that makes us whole.

Being products of the reason, they use the imagination as a ladder, and so ascend from the world of the senses to the intellect, conveying to the latter the observations which they have derived from sense-perception; then they redescend from the intellect down to the world of the senses, communicating to it the intellect’s principles.

Imagine the freedom of participating in all dimensions of God’s universe while maintaining the peace of dispassion and union with God.

Ilias shows us the possibility of journeying beyond reason and virtue. Sense-perception and reason cannot reveal to us the inner essence of things beyond their appearance. Because we perceive the world through what is visible and what can be rationally categorized, we continue to experience divisions, preferences, conflicts and, thus, self-division.

We cannot fully give ourselves to love for people and God, for example, because our minds are divided between this love and judgment. Disappointment in our children’s life choices, remembrance of past insults, contempt for other’s opinions or preoccupation with our careers prevent us from fully experiencing the fullness and joy of complete love for them.

On the contrary when living in a state of self-unity, we are able to look beyond form (including gender), social status, our own thoughts and preferences to grasp the inner essence of things and perceive the unity with God.

25. One living in a state of self-division cannot avoid the distinction between male and female; but this may be done by one living in a state of self-unity, when the distinction between male and female is suppressed through attaining the divine likeness in Christ Jesus (cf. Gal. 5:28).

Yet, even if our foot slips and we experience the turmoil of self-division, there is hope in Lord’s salvation.

Ilias utilizes imagery of water as the antidote to sinfulness. Tears of repentance drown out sinfulness:

27. When the ship of sinfulness is overwhelmed by the flood of tears, evil thoughts will react like people drowning in the waves and trying to grasp hold of something so as to keep afloat.

A deer that has eaten a snake can still expel the poison by drinking water.

23. A deer that has eaten a snake, rushes to water in order to neutralize the poison.

What snake have we, ourselves, unwittingly eaten and allowed its poison to seep through our veins and limbs?  This is the implicit question that Ilias wants us to ask ourselves. What is it that divides us internally preventing us from unity with God and others? And where is the redeeming water of salvation we can drink?

Ilias shows us the possibility of going beyond virtue and reason, beyond the torture of self-division, to achieve unity with ourselves and God.

32. Through the practice of the virtues the outward aspects of the soul become like the silver-coated wings of a dove. Through contemplation its inward and intelligible aspects become golden. But the soul that has not in this way regained its beauty cannot soar aloft and come to rest in the abode of the blessed.

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