The Desert Tradition had something that the later, established monasticism lost.
The Desert plunged a person into the black abyss, and used asceticism to keep them grounded in that suffering of God’s absence, until they broke through to the red of burning fire– but subsequent monasticism evaded that ‘desertedness’ of the Desert by subtly using asceticism in a different way, as a yoga to help the ‘ascent’ to the Eros of God.
We are alone in the black, unrelievably, but together in the red, unbreakably.
Only if we can say at the end of our season in hell, ‘my life is my brother’, have we come through.
Because only the Fire of Spirit can take us down into, and bring us through hell, the false emphasis on the ladder of ascent – the Way Upward [Greek Hellenic] – blots out the whole purpose of descent, which is to make possible a fundamental change in the Way Forward [Jewish Messianic].
When the Greek Hellenic Way Upward is preferred over the Jewish Messianic Way Forward, then Light is preferred to Fire.
Even if Fire, not just Light, is recognised as God’s Love, as in Greek Orthodox Christianity, the inevitable result is that the Fire of Spirit is restricted to one limited function in its burning= purifying the fallen passions that ‘drag us down’, so we can be ‘raised up’ to the Light of heaven.
Thus St Symeon the New Theologian [seventh century AD] extols the Fire of Love, initially echoing St Dionysus centuries earlier, but he cannot allow it to do anything more than help human beings switch on to the Light=
“God is fire and when he became man, he sent fire on the earth; this fire turns about searching to find material.. to fall into and kindle; and for those in whom this fire will ignite, it becomes a great flame, which reaches heaven.. This flame at first purifies us from the pollution of passions and then it becomes in us food and drink and light and joy, and renders us light ourselves because we participate in his Light” [p 319, quoted in ‘Surprised By Christ’, James Bernstein, 2008].
In preparation for Communion, the Greek Orthodox Christian prayer to God=
“Thou who art a fire consuming the unworthy, consume me not O my Creator, but rather pass through all my body parts, into all my joints, my reins, my heart. Burn Thou the thorns of all my transgressions. Cleanse my soul and hallow.. my thoughts.. that from me.. every evil deed and every passion may flee as from fire.”
Bernstein [p 328] quotes from Sahdona=
“Let us embrace the burning fire of God’s love within our hearts; for heaven’s purity is born from our closeness to him. It is only by unfailing and focused gazing that the spirit gravitates to God, but when the luminous ray of the simple eye of the soul is flooded with these intense rays of light that flash down from on high, then it is that the fire of God flares up in a great blaze within our hearts.’’
Bernstein [p 330] quotes from the monk Sophrony=
“Unless we go through this fire that consumes the decaying passions of our nature, we shall not see the fire transformed into light.. ..in our fallen state burning precedes enlightenment. Let us, therefore, bless God for this consuming fire.”
These various Eastern Orthodox Christian statements, even the prayer in the Liturgy, are typically Greek, and not sufficiently Jewish, in failing to understand why our human fire is ‘seized’ by the Fire of God. It is not to ‘drive away every passion.’ It is not to ‘flood us with Light.’
The Fire comes not to purify the heart, but to purge the heart, so the heart can be ignited for its true calling, its real mission..
The human passion is cast into all manner of tests and trials, tumults and troubles, in its arduous calling to go ‘out’ into the world, not straight ‘up’ to heaven, and to ‘press ahead’ in time, not remaining ‘statically fixed’ to the memory of the paradisiacal point of origin. It is checked out in the existential arena, sifted by the Evil Spirit, searched out in depth by the Spirit of Fire. Yahweh will not spare us going through the waters, Yahweh will not spare us going through the fires. We go through, not around, not above; we ride the Waves of Water and Fire.
The burning of the Fire of Spirit uncovers our untruth and confirms our truth of heart, but it does more than this= we are brought down into the abysses where the Fire of God will do something radically new. The human passion goes through the burning of purgation in this life, not to ready it for heaven after we die [or to grant a foretaste of the brightness and glory of heaven before we die], but to ready it for the new and more radical burning of the Fire of Spirit which will ignite its depths.
This means purgation by the Fire of Truth is only preparation for joining the Suffering and Reversal of the Truth in the Cross of Christ.
Christ= “I came into the world to kindle Fire, and how I wish it were blazing already” [Luke, 12, 49-50].
The Fire that Christ knows is not yet kindled, and wants to be kindled, is a burning not purgational in any sense. It is much bigger than that, it is much profounder than that.
The new action of the Fire of Spirit is in the Cross, Descent into Hell, and Resurrection, of Christ.
The Fire is not to lift us up to heaven.
The Fire is to take us down into, and through, hell.
The Fire is not helping us get to the Light; on the contrary, the Light is only really radiating when it accompanies the Fire on its perilous journey and savage fight for the world.
Isaiah, 58, 6-12=
“Is this not the fast I have chosen? To loose the chains of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free.. Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the poor who are cast out into your house? When you see the naked to cover him? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing will spring up speedily.. Then you will call, and Yahweh will answer; you will cry, and he will say, ‘here I am.’ ..And if, from your soul, you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul: then will your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And Yahweh will then guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and make fat your bones; and you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters cannot fail. And you will rebuild the old waste places.. and you will be called the restorer of paths to dwell in.”
Yeshua the Mashiach insists on a Light of saving that works side by side with the Fire of redeeming in, and for, the world.
Mathew, 5, 13-16=
“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltness be recaptured? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in a house. Let your light so shine before humanity that they can see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
There is no plan, no theology, no model, to depict the ‘basic’ change of heart brought by the depth. In the depth, truth and suffering become linked. No truth without suffering; and no suffering that does not, after wrestlings and strange endeavour, reveal a hidden truth.
God checks us out in our depths, to prove our love can go as deep as God.
Last summer in Crete, I had visionary dreams. In one there was a series of peculiar challenges that block passion to be overcome. In another, a voice said, “passion propels you into the service of something you would otherwise ignore.”
On the night of 11—12 August 2010, I heard something= “The voice of God is like a storm in heaven” – or= “is the storm of heaven.”
We spend our time as a tale that is told. This story is voiced by the Daemonic already in heaven, and its drama is shouldered by the Messiah on earth, while its propulsion in deeps of God and humanity is supplied by the Spirit.
The suffering that is Messianic generates the Fire of Love which is the Fire of Spirit.
As followers of Christ, we are not saved by mystical heights, moral statutes, ascetical disciplines; neither the Bible nor the Liturgy are sufficient to us.
We are yoked to the Suffering Royal Heart whose Deed gives us the Fire.
We seek Fire, we await Fire. The aim of our life is Fire.
We are not Scholars, Moralists, Ecstatics, or anything else of such nature.
We are the material which the Holy Fire will seize and on it will burn.
Most religious people have not signed up for this!
The passionate know, already, it is this– or nothing.
The question to us is simple. Do you want to become all flame?
Do not mistake this as the sunshine of Eros, as the monastics do. It is the Fire of the dragon, whose breath and heart-beat we heard from far off; now it can breathe through us and make our heart as terrible and tender as its own.
The Fire is born of depth, and in its suffering, forges the truth of a love without bounds.