Eastern Orthodox Mysticism (Part II)

Martyr Priscilla of Rome

Martyr Priscilla of Rome

My beloved spiritual children in Our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

by His Eminence Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana, Albania

The Most Typical Elements of Byzantine Mysticism are:

a)     Peaceful ecstasy, to which unceasing prayer and the nous contribute, with the participation of the virtues. Byzantine mysticism does not recognize those types of ecstasy we encounter in other religions (Shamanism, Dionysic, ecstasy, dervishes and so on), which are identified with artificial psychosomatic stimulation, dancing, drugs etc. Nor is it to be identified with the ecstasy of the mystery religions or the so-called philosophical ecstasy of the Platonists and Neo-Platonists, that is, the exodus of the nous from the body, from time, in order to function, supposedly, purely.

b)     Knowledge-ignorance. The better that people come to know God, the more they realize that His essence is inconceivable. Most common are the apophatic formulations, such as "supra-essential indistinctness" (Dionysios the Areiopagite), "beyond ineffable" and "beyond unknown" (St. Maximos).

c)     Illumination and warmth. The multi-dimensional experience of Light has direct Christological, Pneumatological and eschatological functions. Mystical contemplation extends to an eschatological vision, an exodus from history towards the eternal Light of the Second Coming. Despite the frequency and importance of the Light, however, weight was never given to external phenomena. These were held to be merely one side of the vision of God. The essential aim remained an encounter with the person of Christ.

d)     Divine eros. Although the word "eros" recurs in the texts of Byzantine mystics, the erotic descriptions are spare and clearly different from corresponding pages in Muslim or Hindu mysticism. Even in relation to Western mystics, who often use romantic and realistic descriptions, the Byzantines differ when they talk about the love of God--much as the de-spiritualized Byzantine icons differ from the statues of Western Christianity (Roman Catholicism). "Divine erose", or "blessed eros", is not to be understood as an emotional stimulation. It is directly linked to love in its universal form, to which precedence is always given.

e)     Byzantine mysticism is dominated by a dialectical tendency between "to have" and "not to have", between immobility and continuous movement, continuous fresh experiences, "from glory to glory." This advancement is combined with profound humility, grateful dependence on divine grace and an open awareness to the historical and eschatological perspective

f)      "Deification" (Theosis). Byzantine theologians, grounded experientially in the theology of the Incarnation, were brought steadily towards a theology of deification (theosis). Saint Maximos the Confessor, who particularly insists on this teaching, stresses that the vision of God in the darkness is already participation in God. Participation and mingling in the energies of God ultimately lead to deification (theosis). We become "gods by grace"; gods, but "without identity in essence". This is a bold vision, full of confidence in the power of divine grace, faithful to the ontological alteration which was achieved in the world by the Incarnation of Christ and the continuous action of the Holy Spirit, imbue with inexpressible optimism concerning the final goal of mankind.


In general Orthodox Christian mysticism presents a calm sobriety and elevation, in stark contrast to mysticising theosophical or apocryphal theories and psychosomatic techniques. Everything is a gift of the grace of God. People contribute by being disposed, which is essentially all they can do. Special external signs, such as the stigmata which are so common among mystics in the West (Roman Catholicism), are not mentioned among those of the East (Orthodoxy). Many of the latter warn against the dangers of bodily visions and imaginings, because both destroy the unity of the person, which Christ came to rebuild.

The mystical experience in the Eastern Orthodox Church shapes its ethos, its spirituality in general and its liturgical life. The influence of the mystical experience is so widespread that one might justly talk about the mystical theology and spirituality of the Orthodox Church more generally.

In closing we must underline that each type of mysticism is an organic relationship with the broader context, the beliefs and fundamental principles of the religion in which it has evolved. It is influenced by its initial theology religious concepts and general orientation, and redefines and shapes them correspondingly.

(Source: Archbishop Anastasios (Yannopoulos) of Albania, 'Ιχνη από την αναζήτηση του υπερβατικού, Akritas publications, pp. 319-355).



With sincere agape in Our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George