Author Topic: The Life in Christ, by St Nicholas Cabasilas  (Read 372 times)

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Offline Iconodule

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The Life in Christ, by St Nicholas Cabasilas
« on: March 20, 2018, 12:17:24 PM »
I read this through fairly quickly and am slowly re-reading parts of it now. It's a fairly short book but packed with beautiful insights- I think it will be part of my regular Lenten reading from now on.

The introduction by Boris Bobrinskoy is interesting but not especially helpful in introducing Saint Nicholas Cabasilas. There is some cursory overview of his life and times but it seems primarily concerned with asserting that Saint Nicholas is a Palamite and making tendentious readings of selected quotes to prove this. Not that Saint Nicholas was non Palamite- he of course supported Saint Gregory and agreed with him in the doctrinal controversies. But the introduction seems entirely concerned with making this connection while ignoring the ways in which Saint Nicholas is different (which is not to say opposed).

Onto the work itself: Most works of Orthodox spirituality I've read assume the importance of the holy mysteries in the spiritual life; Saint Nicholas stresses more than any other I know that the holy mysteries are the spiritual life. He contemplates the content and symbolism of baptism, chrismation, and the eucharist, and how they immediately engender Christ's life in us as Christians by applying his various acts and sufferings to us. With regards to baptism and chrismation, he conveys a wonderful sense of their continuing power and presence in our lives. It's always good to be reminded of the continuing relevance and salvific power of our initiation into the Church and this book is a great aid for that (with a nod of course to Saint Cyril of Jerusalem's wonderful catechetical orations as well).

In contrast (though not necessarily opposition) to other writers that speak of the experience of the uncreated light as the mark of union with Christ, Saint Nicholas forcefully locates this union in the Eucharist. He sees this union and this love as something democratic, in that artisans, farmers, soldiers etc can all partake of it without excessive austerities. The paradoxical requirement of effort on our part and simultaneous recognition of the uselessness of our works and the necessity and all-sufficiency of Christ are discussed in detail.

On the question of daily practice Saint Nicholas seems to me to have quite a different focus, one which might surprise those familiar with more widespread presentations of Orthodox spirituality. He does discuss frequent prayer, though he does not advocate any particular formula, such as the Jesus prayer, and seems to allow a fair amount of flexibility. What he advocates most of all though is meditation on Christ. A whole chapter focuses on this subject. To preserve the grace of the mysteries and grow in Christ we should constantly reflect on the saving acts and words of Christ. To give us a framework for this meditation, Saint Nicholas recommends the Beatitudes. We contemplate each beatitude and think of how either Christ exemplifies it or how it otherwise might serve to remind us of him.

I did occasionally have difficulty with some passages where Saint Nicholas' rhetoric gets a bit lofty and I had to reread it several times to figure out what he was saying. I suspect this has much to do with the translator (Carmino de Catanzaro) and that these parts could have been rendered more clearly for English readers.
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