"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Sunday 3 March 2013

THE VISION by Archimandrite Lev Gillet

In this excellent article, Father Lev Gillet, an Orthodox monk, discusses what it means to have a "heavenly vision", and the importance of pursuing that vision in today's age. Father Gillet is also widely known throughout his writings as "A Monk of the Eastern Church."

“Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.” -Acts 26:19

Let us place these words of the Apostle Paul within their historical context.  Paul is a prisoner at Caesarea, in the hands of the Roman procurator Festus. Accused by the Jews, but privileged as a Roman citizen, he is to be transferred to Caesar's tribunal in Rome. The coming to Caesarea of the Jewish King Agrippa and the princess Bernice provides Festus with the opportunity of elucidating a difficult case. Paul is therefore summoned before the procurator and his distinguished guests. He recalls to them the history of his life, putting both as a starting point and a center the vision that he had on the road to Damascus and that decided the further orientation of his existence. And he does not hesitate to sum up this last in a short, but extraordinarily loaded with meaning, sentence: “King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.” (Acts 26:19)

It is on this theme - the vision - that I should like to say here a few words. What is this Vision we shall be referring to?  I shall answer: any true, any genuine vision coming from God. By “Vision”, I do not mean a physical sensation, fit to be compared with those that may be expressed in words such as: I see this tree, I see that table. Nor do I mean a mere product of the imagination, a fiction of our mind.  I am speaking of an inner impression, of an immaterial, incorporeal perception, more or less clear, more or less confused, brought to us from further on than ourselves, from higher than ourselves. The Vision I speak of is "supernatural.” It is something sent by God.

One may say that each philosophy, each global conception of the world, each work of art, starts with a certain image that a man carries with him, in him, and that he will but repeat with multiple variations and names.  Even the "pure” line drawn by an “abstract painter” may become a durable and overruling inspiration. But the Vision I now refer to has a divine origin. It takes many forms, always slightly vague, always mixing light and shade in some indefiniteness. It may assume human features. It may raise before us a certain image of Christ. It may evoke other personages, or certain scenes always endowed with an ideal vague, a stimulus, a challenge, a violent rupture from the limited and narrow realities hardened by our selfishness.

The Vision introduces what is new.  St. Paul's vision on the road to Damascus was a vision almost complete and perfect (I say “almost” because visions granted to men can never be perfect and complete). The Damascus vision united features or components that appear essential to a divine, authentic and far reaching vision. Paul is suddenly surrounded with light, but he at the same time becomes blind for a while.  He falls down as thunderstruck, unconditionally self-surrendering to the unknown Power.  He interrogates that Power: who are You? And, when the Lord answers: “I am Jesus”, Paul, trembling and astonished, says: “Lord, what do You want me to do?” (Acts 9:3-6)

Here we find all the elements present to the Vision (for visions are but modalities of the Vision): the light that makes everything new, the God-sent blindness which temporarily shuts us from what is alien to the Vision, the prostration or more exactly the lying flat on the ground that makes it impossible for humility to throw itself further down, the divine word which is heard and finally the decision, the act of radical and sacrificial obedience that confess to the Vision its practical value: What do you want me to do? This is the Vision almost perfect, almost complete, the highest Vision that can be given to a man. We are not Paul. But, in each God-given vision, whatever its form may be (and the Vision may take the most various aspects and even express itself through non-Christian symbols), we find the most fundamental elements of the Vision of Paul.

Let us for instance take the representation or inspiration (so mixed!) that the image of Jesus not seldom evokes in the minds of our hippies, of our drugged boys and girls, of our "sex perverts”, of the mass of men and women who refuse the definitions and structures of the Churches, but regard with some respect the Person of Jesus and even love Him in a confused way.  Let us think of the “Jesus movement” or, better said, Jesus movements and "Jesus kids”.  What do these youth think, whom do they see when they pronounce the name of Jesus? 

As far as my impression has been, they see in some indistinct appearance a kind of whiteness, a Purity, a welcoming Love, two arms, two hands extended towards men.  And there is the ocean of human suffering, the multitude of the heavy-laden whose troubled eyes look towards the Compassionate, the Merciful. Here is the Vision in the incipient state, a vision very imperfect, very incomplete, very intermittent.  It may come and disappear, but the Vision has been there, is there. Let us remember the words of the Gospel, "They shall look on Him whom they pierced.” (John 19:37)

Is the Vision before us? I believe that the Vision is offered to every one of us.  I am persuaded that in the life of each one, there has been a minute when he had a glimpse of a reality that was both far above us and acting within us, even if we did not know how to name it.  And he who experiences this vision cannot entirely forget it.  In the midst of many tumults, the inner voice continues to call: "The Master has come and is calling for you.” (John 11:28)

You are young.  Thinking of you whom I don’t know, and who perhaps read these lines, I think of the words of Joel quoted by St. Peter on the day of Pentecost: "I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophecy; your young men shall see visions, and your old men sha1l dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17)

And the old man, in his “dream”, prays that the powerful blessed Vision should launch on the roads of the Ancient World and New World small groups of young people having had a personal experience of this unique Vision - not necessarily priests or theologians or preachers, but simple young laymen who, without discussing, would say: This is what I saw, will you too see it? They would not claim to be the Church, but only to actualize, according to their measure, in the power of Pentecost and with the blessing of the Church, the essence (not parasitic accretions) of what the Church proclaims. Of course, they would emphasize peace and justice and the liberation of man from all oppressions, but they would find again accents (now rare) to announce the Saviour, the Redeemer, the Master of the Vision.  Is this impossible?

Only the Vision can give unity to our life - the Vision seen in our immediate circumstances and yet infinite. Shall we, when the end will come, be able to repeat the words of Paul: “I was not unfaithful to the Vision”?

Beirut, Theophany, 1973.

Credit and Attribution

Originally published in "Syndesmos News", an Orthodox youth publication, in 1973.

I think this Catholic contribution complements the article by the Orthodox Father Lev Gillet
St Francis of Assisi and St Bonaventure

my source: Idle Speculations - a very good blog.
The chapel of St Bonaventure in La Verna

Two men climbed Mount La Verna in Italy: St Francis of Assisi in 1224 and about thirty years later St Bonaventure.

Seraphim appeared to St Francis bearing a vision of the crucified Christ and he received the wounds produced by the nails and lance, the stigmata.

What the Seraphic Francis lived, the mind of the Seraphic Doctor Bonaventure sought to understand so "as much as possible (to) be restored, naked of knowledge, to union with the very One who is above all created essence and knowledge."

Both men had the same ideal: to rise from the contemplation of God`s symbols in creatures to the vision of uncreated goodness itself.

In 1259 St Bonaventure had a cell made at the sanctuary near the spot where St Francis experienced the stigmata. It is now the Chapel of St Bonaventure seen above.

In 1260 a church was consecrated at La Verna in presence of St. Bonaventure and several bishops. A few years later the Chapel of the Stigmata was erected, paid for by Count Simone of Battifole, near the spot where the miracle took place. The Chiesa Maggiore was begun in 1348, although not finished until 1459

The Holy Father in his talk about St Bonaventure on 10th March 2010 made the following comments about the stigmata of St Francis and St Bonaventure:

"Of these his writings, which are the soul of his government and show the way to follow either as an individual or a community, I would like to mention only one, his masterwork, the "Itinerarium mentis in Deum," which is a "manual" of mystical contemplation.
This book was conceived in a place of profound spirituality: the hill of La Verna, where St. Francis had received the stigmata. In the introduction, the author illustrates the circumstances that gave origin to his writing:
"While I meditated on the possibility of the soul ascending to God, presented to me, among others, was that wondrous event that occurred in that place to Blessed Francis, namely, the vision of the winged seraphim in the form of a crucifix. And meditating on this, immediately I realized that such a vision offered me the contemplative ecstasy of Father Francis himself and at the same time the way that leads to it" (Journey of the Mind in God, Prologue, 2, in Opere di San Bonaventura. Opuscoli Teologici / 1, Rome, 1993, p. 499).
The six wings of the seraphim thus became the symbol of six stages that lead man progressively to the knowledge of God through observation of the world and of creatures and through the exploration of the soul itself with its faculties, up to the satisfying union with the Trinity through Christ, in imitation of St. Francis of Assisi.
The last words of St. Bonaventure's "Itinerarium," which respond to the question of how one can reach this mystical communion with God, would make one descend to the depth of the heart:
"If you now yearn to know how that happens (mystical communion with God), ask grace, not doctrine; desire, not the intellect; the groaning of prayer, not the study of the letter; the spouse, not the teacher; God, not man; darkness not clarity; not light but the fire that inflames everything and transport to God with strong unctions and ardent affections. ... We enter therefore into darkness, we silence worries, the passions and illusions; we pass with Christ Crucified from this world to the Father, so that, after having seen him, we say with Philip: that is enough for me" (Ibid., VII, 6).
Dear friends, let us take up the invitation addressed to us by St. Bonaventure, the Seraphic Doctor, and let us enter the school of the divine Teacher: We listen to his Word of life and truth, which resounds in the depth of our soul. Let us purify our thoughts and actions, so that he can dwell in us, and we can hear his divine voice, which draws us toward true happiness"

Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem "The Wreck of the Deutschland" (1875) dwelt upon the fate of five German Franciscan nuns fleeing anti-Catholic laws in Germany and who drowned together as their ship sank in a storm off Harwich, the sisters holding hands as their leader called out, "O Christ, come quickly!"

In his poem, Hopkins elided the nuns' fate with their founder's, "With the gnarls of the nails in thee, niche of the lance/his/ Lovescape crucified." In Hopkins' words, St Francis' stigmatic body became a landscape of Christ's love:

Five! the finding & sake
And cipher of suffering Christ.
Mark, the mark is of man's make
And the word of it Sacrificed.
But he scores it in scarlet himself on his own bespoken,
Before-time-taken, dearest prizèd & priced --
Stigma, signal, cinquefoil token
For lettering of the lamb's fleece, ruddying of the rose-flake.

Joy fall to thee, father Francis,
Drawn to the life that died;
With the gnarls of the nails in thee, niche of the lance, his
Lovescape crucified
And seal of his seraph-arrival! & these thy daughters
And five-livèd  leavèd favour pride,
Are sisterly sealed in wild waters,
To bathe in his fall-gold mercies, to breathe in his all-fire 

note:   It is often said that the stigmata is typical of western, Catholic mysticism.  This is totally untrue.   For St Bonaventure and his friends, this was a unique gift of God to St Francis.   More familiar to our Orthodox brothers is the story that, one day, St Francis and some brothers met up with St Clare with some sisters.   The Holy Spirit came upon them, and they engendered so much light that neighbours thought the house was on fire, and rushed their with buckets of water.  The first priest in history known to have the stigmata was Padre Pio in the twentieth century: hardly typical!! - Fr David.


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