TABOR - Tradition and Contemporaneity in the Romanian Orthodox Church
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The uncreated light in the life and teaching of Elder Sophrony
It is proper and right to hail Archimandrite Sophrony as a veritable theologian of the Uncreated Light even as he has been hailed as the theologian of the Hypostatic principie. His writings yield an abundance of chapters and passages on the subject of the Uncreated Light; on its properties, on the conditions which precede such a Vision and on the spiritual fruits of this experience. The Elder con- firms that man’s raison d’etre is essentially to become for all eternity the habitation of this Light. The Elder had experienced the Uncreated Light even during the tender years of infancy. But it was later, upon his return to the Living God of the Bible, Whom he had spurned in his late adolescence, that the Light returned to him in greater abundance. Two instances are noteworthy: While he was still an artist in Paris, at Easter in 1924, on receiving Holy Communion, the Light visited him and remained with him for three days. He lived this event as his own resurrection and as the resurrec- tion of the whole universe in resonance with him. Eight years later, on the Holy Mountain, where he had since become a monk, the Light visited him again shortly after his ordination to the diaconate. For three weeks It enfolded him tenderly, remaining around him and within him.Father Sophrony describes the Uncreated Light as gentle, full of otherworldly joy and peaceful. It fills the soul with Iove and compassion for all creation and for all mankind, including even one’s enemies. In its less intense manifestation this Light is often perceived as fire – a fire which burns away anything alien to the Spirit of God that may lie hidden in the soul. Divine Light is eternal life, the Kingdom of God, the uncreated Divine energy of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It is the Light of the Father’s Iove. It is the Light of the Countenance of Christ. It is the pre-eternal glory of the Only- Begotten Son, which belongs to Him by nature. This Glory, this Light, bears witness to the Divinity of Christ. It is the Light which Adam and Eve beheld in Paradise, which was lost to us through the Fall, and which the Son came into the world to reveal. The Incarnation of the Word of the Father is there- fore the unshakeable foundation underlying the revelation of the Light of Life.Although the Light comes exclusively as a gift of God’s mercy, a few basic conditions must first be met by the beholder, the most essential being faith in the Divinity of Jesus Christ. The belief that Christ is the Truth, that He is Absolute Being, opens the spirit of man to the domain of the Uncreated Light. The Elder writes: „However much of a non-entity I really was, the Light appeared to me precisely because of my faith in Christ”.Profound repentance constitutes the second essential prelude to the Vision of the Light of God. The Elder describes his awareness of his own vileness and infernal darkness as having reached such intensity that in total despair over himself, a despair which would turn into self-hatred, he would pray to God in utter forgetfulness of seif. Hatred of seif, as an expression of man’s perfect Iove for God, paves the way for Divine Illumination. In this condition, in which the repentant person is so humble, so contrite, that he dares not deem himself worthy of any kind of Visitation from on High, the mercy of God bows down to his lowliness and bears him in spirit into the world of Divine Light. In the spiritual realm of the Uncre- ated Light, man stands naked and alone before God. There is nothing and no one save the God of love and the vision of His boundlessness. Both mind and heart fall silent, there is no questioning; the soul is filled with blessed wonder. The fruits of such experience are Christ-like humility, prayer for the whole world, love for one’s enemies and the gift of theology, a theology derived from direct experience of God.