Regarding my previous post, I wanted to add a few quotes from Elder Sophrony of Essex and Hieromonk Damascene of Platina from Hieromonk Damascene’s book “Christ the Eternal Tao”:
Fr. Damascene says concerning the experience of inner light:
“Here we are treading on dangerous ground, so it is necessary to step lightly. This is where many who have practiced watchfulness have fallen into delusion over the centuries. Everything depends on the purity of one's intention in going within. If one's intention (conscious or unconscious) is not to face one's sin-condition, repent and thus be reconciled to God, but instead to "be spiritual" while continuing to worship oneself, then one can - upon becoming aware of the light of one's spirit - begin to worship it as God. This is the ultimate delusion.”
Archimandrite Sophrony is then quoted as saying:
"Attaining the bounds where 'day and night come to an end,' man contemplates the beauty of his own spirit which many identify with Divine Being. They do see a light but it is not the True Light in which there 'is no darkness at all.' It is the natural light peculiar to the mind of man created in God's image.
"The mental light, which excels every other light of empirical knowledge, might still just as well be called darkness, since it is the darkness of divestiture and God is not in it. And perhaps in this instance more than any other we should listen to the Lord's warning, 'Take heed therefore that the light which is in you be not darkness.' The first prehistoric, cosmic catastrophe - the fall of Lucifer, son of the morning, who became the prince of darkness - was due to his enamored contemplation of his own beauty, which ended up in his self-deification."
Fr. Damascene then comments on this passage:
“The darkness of divestiture of which Fr. Sophrony speaks is the state of having risen above all thought processes, which we have described earlier. If a person's motive is prideful, he will stop at this point, admiring his own brilliance; but that brilliance will still be darkness. He will think he has found God, but God will not be there. He will find a kind of peace, but it will be a peace apart from God.
“To go beyond thought is not yet to attain true knowledge. Such knowledge comes from the Word speaking wordlessly in the spirit that is yearning for Him; it does not come from the spirit itself. The Word will come and make His abode with the spirit only if the person approaches Him in absolute humility, for He Himself is humility, and like attracts like.”
Fr. Sophrony writes further on those who go within themselves without humility:
"since those who enter for the first time into the sphere of the 'silence of the mind' experience a certain mystic awe, they mistake their contemplation for mystical communion with the Divine, whereas in reality they are still within the confines of created human nature. The mind, it is true, here passes beyond the frontiers of time and space, and it is this that gives it a sense of grasping eternal wisdom. This is as far as human intelligence can go along the path of natural development and self-contemplation...
"Dwelling in the darkness of divestiture, the mind knows a peculiar delight and sense of peace... Clearing the frontiers of time, such contemplation approaches the mind to knowledge of the intransitory, thereby possessing man of new but still abstract cognition. Woe to him who mistakes this wisdom for knowledge of the true God, and this contemplation for a communion in Divine Being. Woe to him because the darkness of divestiture on the borders of true vision becomes an impenetrable pass and a stronger barrier between himself and God than the darkness due to the uprising of gross passion, or the darkness of obviously demonic instigations, or the darkness which results from loss of Grace and abandonment by God. Woe to him, for he will have gone astray and fallen into delusion, since God is not in the darkness of divestiture."
To experience the darkness of divestiture and the light of the mind, says Fr. Sophrony, "is naturally accessible to man," but to experience the Uncreated Light of the Divinity is given to man by a special action of God. These two experiences differ qualitatively from each other. Fr. Sophrony writes:
"It has been granted to me to contemplate different kinds of light and lights - the light the artist knows when elated by the beauty of the visible world; the light of philosophical contemplation that develops into a mystical experience. Let us even include the 'light' of scientific knowledge which is always and inevitably of very relative value. I have been tempted by manifestations of light from hostile spirits. But in my adult years, when I returned to Christ as perfect God, the unoriginate Light shone on me. This wondrous Light, even in the measure vouchsafed to me from on High, eclipsed all else, just as the rising sun eclipses the brightest star."
Fr Damascene then comments on this passage:
“We do not practice watchfulness so that we can become silent and peaceful. Rather, we become silent so that we can know the unpleasant truth about ourselves, and so that we "hear" the Tao/Logos speaking directly to our inward being. He does not speak in an audible voice; His voice makes no noise even in the mind... Scripture calls His voice still and small. We cannot hear it unless we tune in to it by separating from all the static noise in our heads.”
After these words, Fr. Damascene then goes on to describe the Orthodox teaching regarding the Jesus Prayer.
In the Orthodox tradition of the Jesus Prayer, the practice of the Prayer cannot be separated from the Orthodox sacramental and ascetical life. Since the non-Christian meditation practices, such as are followed by Buddhists, Hindus, and many non-Orthodox Christians (in the tradition of Thomas Keating, Thomas Merton, John Main, etc.) are primarily psycho-somatic techniques that lead to the experience of one’s created nature, these techniques can easily be practiced by different people regardless of their religion, and all who practice these techniques come to a similar experience. In the Orthodox Church, however, man’s salvation, theosis, and his entire spiritual development begins with the reception of the Holy Spirit through baptism and chrismation in the Orthodox Church. By entering and remaining in the Orthodox Church, man begins to receive and be deified by the Uncreated Energies of God as he grows in humility, virtue, and repentance while regularly receiving deifying grace through the sacraments of the Orthodox Church.
Confession, repentance, humility, and self-control provide the fertile ground for the seeds of the Jesus Prayer to grow and bear fruit; while providing also the protective leaves that shield and preserve the fruit from the disease and scorching heat of pride and delusion. For a tree to bear fruit, however, it is not enough to have good soil and leaves for protection, but sunlight is needed also for growth and vitality. In the same way, along with confession, repentance, humility, and self-control, man needs the divine rays of uncreated grace from the sacraments of the Orthodox Church.