|Bishop Auxentios of Photiki. The Paschal Fire in Jerusalem: A Study of the Rite of the Holy Fire in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre|
Part of book, pp. 125-139.
n = 45
Table B. Effects Associated with the Holy Fire
n = 19
In both of these tables, aside from specific supernaturalmanifestations and effects also contained in the corpus of Christian Scripture and the Patristic witness, as we will subsequently see, there is in general a remarkable frequency of reports of lightimagery, which holds such a pivotal place in the Orthodox theological scheme. In Table A, the Holy Fire appears as a manifestation of light (including lightning and fire) thirtythree times, or, where n is the total number of reports entered, 73% of the time. In Table B, where n=19, 84% of the effects associated witht he Holy Fire are also associated with the production of light or a flame. In the first instance, accounting for the uneven and low frequency of nonlightrelated manifestations of the Holy Fire, a statistic of 73% actually deflates the power of our observation,since a lightrelated manifestation occurs more than eight timesmore frequently than the largest number of other reports taken separately and eleven times more frequently than the meanfrequency of these reports together.With regard to the Eastern Church's understanding of the  vision of God and light imagery, Jostein Bortnes provides a summary of what he calls the "light metaphysics of Christian NeoPlatonism... developed in the early Fathers of the Eastern Church, "a metaphysics which he approaches from the astheticof the Icon: The origins of Orthodox light metaphysics are to be found in Dionysius the Areopagite's synthesis of NeoPlatonist philosophy and the light theology of the Fourth Gospel [of Saint John]. The metaphysics of light... is grounded on the idea that material light is an image of the pure, unintelligible Light, which is God in His transcendent glory. The light we perceive through our senses is theselfrevelation of the transcendent godhead. Therefore, according to [the] NeoPlatonist aesthetics [of the Areopagite], light is the highest and most perfect manifestation of beauty, the reflection of divine beauty, truth, and goodness, which never reveals it self directly to man, but which 'sends forth a ray, incessantly and continuously produced in itself301, and transforms this ray through its goodness into natural radiance, which corresponds to individual finite beings. It raises those who are hit by the Holy Spirit up to itself according to their possibilities, lets them behold its reflection and partake of it, and teaches them to resemble itself as much aspossible.'
The experience of God underlying this aesthetics of light is difficult to apprehend from a modern angle. It presupposes the medieval concept of analogy302, implying that all things have been  created in the image and likeness of the Creator, being in various degrees 'manifestations of God, images, vestiges, or shadows of the Creator....'
...Whereas in the Areopagite the opposition between the no-etic reality of the divine and the world perceived by our senses is absolute, this is no longer so in posticonoclastic aesthetics. Here, Christ through His Incarnation has become mediator between thetwo spheres. This Christocentric reinterpretation of Dionysian light mysticism was carried through by Saint Maximus the Confessor, the seventhcentury theologian, according to which Christis the prototype transforming each individual believer into his image and filling him with his energy, thus assimilating him to Himself. This process of assimilation, the return of the image to its prototype, of the thing to its logos, is what is meant by the term theosis, or deification [:] determined by the conception that light is the highest perceptible expression of the transcendent God in whom everything has its origin, a visible symbol of Christ. ...By becoming light, all men, indeed all things are transformed into images, or icons, of the Uncreated light which is God himself.303
There are some serious theological problems in Bortnes' statements, and, though they are not our specific concern in this chapter, we are obliged to comment briefly on them before drawing on his correct understanding of the role of light in Orthodox theology. In the first place, while he is correct in associating the Areopagite's theological understanding of light with ageneral Orthodox metaphysics of light, he is led into error by his assumption that Dionysian theology, if not the corpusof Orthodox thought, is neoPlatonic in origin. A number of scholars have challenged this assumption and argue that neoPlatonic concepts of God and the cosmos are at odds with Dionysian theology and the consensus of the Eastern Fathers, to which he belongs. For example, Andrew Louth has pointed out, with regard to Saint Dionysios and other Fathers, that ...though we can see Patristic mysticism taking its cue from Platonist mysticism when it tries to achieve intellectual expression - and such is hardly surprising, it seems to me that at several points this intellectual background is modified.304
Louth goes on to consider three very important issues, namely, the concept of God, the soul's relationship to God, and the moral virtues, in which the Greek Fathers and the neoPlatonists are quite distant from one another in their thinking. In effect, he says, "...the Fathers... readily use Platonist language but it is transfigured by the context in which they use it.305 "Similarly, in very strong language, Louis Bouyer dismisses unqualified accusations of neoPlatonism against the Fathers, tracing these accusations to an "unjustifiable prejudice," wherein "...it...[has]...to be shown at any cost that any thinking in Christianity and also in Judaism, must necessarily be a foreign importation.306
"Bortnes, basing his understanding of Orthodox anthropology and soteriology on the aethetics of the Icon, also overstates the idea of human salvation as an appropriation of the image of Christ, the return of the image to its prototype, of the "thing to its logos." The anthropology and soteriology of the Eastern Fathers are far more complex than this. The Logos, or Christ, as a  manifestation of the transcendent God, of the Hypostasis of the Father, is not in Orthodox theology a mere "prototype." Bortnes uses this word in too imprecise a way. The restoration of the image of God in man is not one of identity - a union of image andprototype-, but of imitation and participation. Thus, !!!inGreek, or deification, is not a "return" of the human person to the Logos (or simply to some "prototype" of Christ, for that matter), but an appropriation of God's Energies in man-Grace-, which is contained in, but does not encompass or fully define, the Divine Person and Logos of Christ. Deification is a participation in the Grace, but not the Essence, of God, as Father Georges Florovsky observes:
The source and power of human theosis is not the Divine essence [which the Logos is], but the 'Grace of God.' ...!!!inGreek not identical with the !!!inGreek. It is !!!inGreek [Divineand Uncreated Grace and Energy].307
In describing the process of deification, Bortnes also makes a directional error. He speaks of man returning to his image. This is true only figuratively, for in actuality, as Florovsky avers, "...inhis 'energies' the Unapproachable God mysteriously approaches man. And this Divine move effects encounter: !!!inGreek , in the phrase of St. Maximus308. "Divinization, again, is not simply a return to some lost image; nor is it an "assimilation" by God: "...the soul is not absorbed into...[God]...," as Professor Cavarnos observes309. Rather, divinization entails the restoration of human nature in its encounter with God, by which the preLapsarian image of God is restored and renewed310 in the human  person, whose "...individuality is not only retained but enhanced.311
"With specific regard to iconographic æsthetics, Bortnes' observations are in want of further critical treatment. He is wrongin his idea that in becoming light, the image being assimilated by its prototype, images are transformed into the Uncreated Light which is God Himself. This is a completely muddled statement of the basic theology of Icons. First, the relationship between an image and its prototype is hypostatic in nature, not one of mutual "absorption," as it were. That is, the Icon does not become a holy object by virtue of being literally "drawn into" the holiness of what it represents; rather, as Saint Theodore the Studite (+826) argues, every object having an hypostasis or an objective identity which is defined by its purpose, the objective hypostasis of a material Icon allows it to participate hypostatically in the holiness of what it represents, its prototype, simply because this participation is the natural intention of an Icon.312 Commenting on the iconographic theology of Saint Theodore, Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna, Father James Thornton, and I have explained this principle as follows:
...An icon, while material and while a mere image in some limited sense, nonetheless also exists in objective hypostasis, the image becoming  joined to its prototype, participating in the holiness of that which it depicts. One must not be presumptuous here and find neoPlatonic parallels in this iconic theory, as Western observers are wont to do. The theory stems from pure Christological theology. St. Theodore clearly argues that an icon cannot participate in the very essence of its prototype. There is thus no emanationism to be found in his argument. He simply points out that the hypostatic nature of an object allows for the material icon to participate in the holiness of its prototype, since this is the natural intention of an icon (intentionality, we should emphasize, being foreign to symbols, but natural to perceived images), part of its very identity. The veneration offered up to an icon reaches up to its prototype because it is implicit in the intrinsic character, in the hypostatic identity of an icon, that the veneration of the image should reach up to its prototype.313
Second, Uncreated Light is not "God Himself" essentially, but is a manifestation of God's Energies. Thus, an Icon does not become light, anymore than a person who experiences theosis lit - erally becomes light; rather such a person is transformed by Grace and perceives even in a sensible way, as we shall see, the Divine or Uncreated Light attendant to and inseparable from Divine Grace. And finally, the objective hypostasis of an Icon can not be equated with the hypostatic reality of the human person, who is not only transformed by Grace, but participates in It in a way that an in animate object does not.314
Because of his failure to understand the Orthodox notion ofthe nature of God and because of his misunderstanding of the  hypostatic uniqueness of the human person, Bortnes wrongly summarizes the hesychastic doctrine of Saint Gregory Palamas. He does rightly portray Palamite theology as an exemplary expression of the unifying principle of a metaphysics of light in the Eastern Fathers. And he correctly observes that Saint Gregory Palamas' ascetic and spiritual tradition is a synthesis of ancient traditions, and that the teaching of Palamas' mentor, Saint Gregory of Sinai (+1346), "...in essence goes back to the traditional mysticism of the fifthcentury Orthodox ascetics."315 But in his faulty grasp of the EssenceEnergy distinction which underlies Saint Gregory's ascetic theology (a distinction with equally ancient precedents316), Bortnes' limited understanding of Orthodox theology and anthropology comes to light. He thus fails to understand that the EssenceEnergy distinction serves not only to explain how the simplicity of God is maintained in an apparent separation of His Energies (which can be perceived) from His Essence (which is transcendent and unknowable), but defines the limits and scope of the ascetic efforts by which the hesychasts achieved a vision of God.
Bortnes, following, among other scholars, the work of Father John Meyendorff317, suggests that there must have been "...several points of contact between Hesychasm and the [Bogomil] heretics318,"and thus attributes much of the ascetic theology of  the hesychasts to a disdain for the body. There is, however, no historical evidence whatsoever to support Meyendorff's claim that the hesychasts and Bogomils may have had "...traits of spirituality common to both of them.319 "If anything, contacts between the two groups resulted in the condemnation of the spiritual precepts and practices of the Bogomil heretics and their negative attitudes toward the body by the hesychasts.320 Meyen-dorff's view of hesychastic spirituality is also compromised by a general philosophical misunderstanding of Palamite thought321 and by certain misapprehensions and misstatements of Saint Gregory Palamas' theological positions. Thus, Børtnes, presumably influenced by Meyendorff, sees the ascetic tradition of thehesychasts in the light of a kind of neoPlatonic mysticism andfails to understand this tradition as an expression of the Greek Patristic consensus. Speaking of Palamas, Bortnes says that: Many of the ideas he took up and developed can be traced to the Areopagite, especially the latter's teaching about the Divine Light that illuminates the universe; further to Symeon the New Theologian and his light mysticism, to the apophatic theology which was developed by the NeoPlatonists in fifthcentury Athens-the transcendent essence of the phenomena defined as silence and absence  - and finally to the Patristic doctrine of theosis, man's deification and union with God through imitation of Christ and participation in His body in the mystery of the Eucharist and in the contemplation of His passion.322
We have already commented on the issue of neoPlatonism in the Greek Fathers. The idea that hesychasm entails a primarily sacramental and contemplative attempt to participate in Christ let alone in "His passion" - simply further obscures Palamas' ascetic theology.
It is through a series of mistranslations and critical misinterpretations323 that Meyendorff comes to the conclusion that Palamite mysticism rests in contemplation and sacramentalism, a conclusion which apparently led Bortnes to his faulty assumptions about the hesychastic vision of God. What Father John Romanides says of Meyendorff's error also applies to Bortnes:
Whereas in the West a distinction is made between the contemplative and the active states of the Christian life, in the East there isno such distinction. The quest for and the gift of uninterruptedprayer is not a life of contemplation and is not a seeking after ecstatic experiences....324
The hesychastic vision of God, the product of uninterrupted prayer, involves not in essence an attempt at literal union with Christ - whether sacramentally or through the contemplation of and participation in His Passion -, but an ontological purification  of the senses (if not the whole person) by active spiritual pursuits, through which one comes into communion with God's Grace.325 The subtle conceptual contrast of the EssenceEnergies distinction finds its counterpart in ascetic theology in the efforts of the human being to attain, through purification, invulnerability to the consequences of sin, while still acknowledging the potential dominance of sin over the flesh and the fallenworld and his or her own essential imperfection.326 With asceticlabor and the acquisition of human virtue,327 one comes, by Grace, to union with God, theosis, and the vision of God as Uncreated or Divine Light through the purified or spiritually transformed senses.328 It is this ontological purification in the active  acquisition of virtues that the Greek Fathers consider asceticism, not a withdrawal to the life of contemplation and what Romanides calls "sacramentalism" (by which he apparently means a kindof "sacramental ritualism").329 And it is the vision of God's  Glory in the Uncreated Light of His Energies (or theosis), not (atleast as an end in itself) beatific ecstasy or a sharing in Christ's Passion, which is the aim and goal of the ascetic life. When the Eastern Fathers speak of participation in the Passion of the Cross of Christ, they mean by this not the vision of God, but the therapeutic, purifying path of ascesis, a way of access to the vision of God.330
With regard to theosis and the vision of Uncreated Light specifically, Bortnes makes an informative observation:
To the light mystics the highest form of enjoyment is the contemplation of things in order to discover their 'light' and thus behold the divine Logos, the Uncreated Light of Orthodox mystics, as it is reflected in matter. This contemplation was an act of salvation, a restitution of wholeness in 'disintegrated nature.'331
While it is true that the highest state in Orthodox spiritual life is the vision of God as Uncreated Light, this state should not, again, be carelessly equated with the beatific contemplation to which Bortnes here refers.332
Bortnes is quite correct, however,  in placing theosis and the vision of Uncreated Light, the vision of God, in the context of human salvation. Thus, according to Saint Nicodemos the Hagiorite (+1809): "Know that if your mind is not deified by the Holy Spirit, it is impossible for you to be saved.333 "This is an important point, since the vision of God must not be understood as some strange and exotic experience appropriate to an elite class of "mystics," but as an element of a universal metaphysics of light that impinges on the life of every Christian striving for salvation.
Finally, it behooves us to say something about Uncreated Light Itself, which Bortnes does not adequately describe or define. According to Cavarnos,
...through the opening of the heart (kardiakon anoigma) [or hesychastic practices] the Divine light enters us. ...Illumination is 'an ineffable energy, which is seen invisibly and known unknowably,' according to Callistos and Ignatios.334 Palamas, who deals most extensively with illumination, says: 'The Divine and deifying effulgence and grace is not the essence of God, but His uncreated energy.' ...Illumination, as a vision of, and union with, the Divine Light, is a union with God, Who is light.335  In essence, when we behold God as Light, we do not see Him in His Essence or as He is reflected in created things; we see Him as "Uncreated" Light. Nor do we see God as simple light and come to know Him in precisely the same way that we see and comprehend material things. Rather, through theosis and the purification of the person and the senses, "the mind enters into the heart"336 and we come to see and know God no etically, through a spiritual faculty (the !!!inGreek) and our restored senses, in a vision that is not vision and in a knowing that is not knowing (apophatic expressions of spiritual sight and knowledge). Referring to Saint Gregory Palamas, Romanides notes that he did not believe that...
uncreated light should be seen by the senses alone, and argues that this vision is proper neither to the senses nor to the intellect, but rather transcends both, being at the same time a knowing and an unknowing in which the whole man participates, having thus been divinized in body and soul by this same light of grace. ...Palamas climaxes his arguments by pointing out that it is not by any created means that the apostles saw the glory of Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration, but by the power of the omnipotent spirit. Thus the elect apostles saw the light on Mt. Thabor, 'not only flashing from the flesh bearing within itself the Son, but also from the Cloud bearing within itself the Father of Christ.' This is in keeping with the basic epistemological principle of the Greek Patristic tradition that only when within the uncreated light (in this case called cloud) can one see the uncreated light. ...The body of Christ illumined the apostles from without only because the same illuminating light of the body was already illuminating them from within.
Since God is invisible to the senses and the intellect, only a person whose intellect and senses are transformed by the working of Grace can attain to a vision of God, seeing God within God by means of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The foregoing critique of Jostein Børtnes' comments on the
|Bishop Auxentios of Photiki. The Paschal Fire in Jerusalem: A Study of the Rite of the Holy Fire in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre|