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A Different Christianity:

- Contents
- Preface
- Introduction
- Chapter One
- Chapter Two
- Chapter Three
- Chapter Four
- Chapter Five
- Chapter Six

St. Seraphim of Sarov

Hierotheos of Nafpaktos

John Romanides

History of the Church

Orthodox Monasticism


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Searching in the ruins

The great monastery of Saint Andrew, beside the road into Karyes, capital town of the monastic republic of Mount Athos, on the fringes of Northern Greece, lay empty of monks. Schoolboys in black monastic robes came and went to one wing. Elsewhere, nobody stirred. Earlier that week, the first liturgy had been held in the enormous Katholikon church since the monastery had closed in 1926. With my friend, the American monk Germanos, I walked up to the marble portico and hammered on the rusted iron framed glass doors. Nobody answered. Eventually, one of the boys came over to see what we were doing there, and explained that in all that enormous complex there were only two caretakers. Often they would not answer the door. Often they were out.

The marble portico was badly cracked. Once it had been magnificent. Now it was heading for ruin. Carved into the stone was the date of its building: 1910. Although I failed to get into the monastery, in the fallen roofs, the neglected, empty buildings I gained a sense of something hidden everywhere else. This was; the visible result of what happened in 1918 , frozen in time. That was when a world came to an end, and here at the monastery of Saint Andrew, nothing has really happened since, except wind and weather; here time has done its work unstayed by the hand of man. Here you can see the end of that world, the tremendous change whose form has been hidden elsewhere by renewed activity.

Here the disaster that everyone ignores, the collapse of an age, is clearly visible to the eye, giving an image that is a surprisingly appropriate introduction to the report that follows, a report on investigations into the esoteric Christian tradition. It will help to set the scene and to give depth of meaning to our theme. For this book summarizes investigations that I have now been working on almost full-time since the beginning of the nineteen-eighties. In that time, my investigations have led me to certain places where ancient truths still dwell, as well as to connections with surviving students of previous seekers of the same knowledge. They have taken me too to certain important sources in which this ancient tradition survives, at least in part, to the present time - particularly around the Eastern end of the Mediterranean; in Greece and Egypt.

In this search, I have uncovered both the successes and the failures of those who have gone before: Previous searches that have pointed us towards genuine sources; individual successors of ancient streams whose knowledge and capabilities still survive; and groups and so called schools - most of them in the 'West' - who have come from such studies but which seem in all and every situation to have reached the same point of obstruction; a point, always the same or very similar in character, where their progress, the progress of all their participants, appears to go no further, a threshold, a point of decision they are not motivated enough, nor well enough equipped, to pass.

There had been P.D.Ouspensky, the Russian philosopher and author who in the 1920's and '30's had taught a simplified form of traditional thought, developed by G.I.Gurdjieff, which both had described as esoteric Christianity without revealing their sources for this information. Between them they began to define in exactly those terms something that proves to be based - at least in large part - on the forgotten psychological method of the early , the method of healing the human being and restoring him to psychic health, which formed and informed the character of early Christianity. But it did not produce the results produced by the early church. Results that - of course - are but rarely produced by the churches of today

Investigation suggests that although their methods came from a valid source, they were unable to convey enough of what had once been possessed by that source to produce results. Because of this, someone who grew up in his household reports, when Ouspensky returned to England in 1946, and when in his honesty he looked at his English students, who during six years or so of war had progressed not at-all, and, after a few meetings at which nobody had any real questions, he said that his teaching had failed, and that it was time to start again from the beginning.

Then there was the enigmatic and highly capable Gurdjieff, the last hero of that earlier world, an eccentric teacher of the disciples of an eccentric age. He died later, but did not leave visible behind him anyone of comparable knowledge or ability. "Je vous laissez dans les beaux draps," he said to his students on his deathbed, "I leave you in a fine old mess." At least one Russian bishop, adapting tradition to modern needs, is reported by reliable sources to have reached the same conclusion toward the end of his life.

The lesson of all these is not that they were in any way inadequate, far from it, they were the best of their times. Those times were themselves shaped by many changes as catastrophic as that described by Allan Bloom in the following paragraph:

“When bishops, a generation after Hobbes’s death, almost naturally spoke the language of the state of nature, contract and rights, it was clear that he had defeated the ecclesiastical authorities, who were no longer able to understand themselves as they once had. It was henceforward inevitable that the modern archbishops of Canterbury would have no more in common with the ancient ones than does the second Elizabeth with the first.”

By now the conceptual and psychological climate of the West has gone so far from that of early Christianity that to restore these ideas to their original meaning is almost impossible. Speaking on Television at the New Year heralding 1994, Archbishop Carey (of Canterbury) clearly interpreted one of the many scriptural passages promising peace of mind to those who turn to God as a promise to be kept after death. In so doing, he denied one of the great promises of the inner church, the promise of ‘present help’, specifically defined throughout the fathers, although admittedly often referred to in the Bible with the kind of ambiguity that allows such mistakes. In this, he clearly demonstrated that today’s externally-oriented teaching has diverged a very great distance from the original inner meaning of the faith.

Denied by the leaders of the faith all over the world, the restoration of this inner meaning, then, has now become almost impossible. Almost, but not quite. The correct conclusion is that to follow such a path, or even to begin to understand it, the student must not only carry out certain practices without which they will misunderstand, but they must also, in gaining new understanding, gain or accept what is to them a new world-view, but which is in fact the classical apostolic world-view as held by the early fathers.

The attempt to lay the foundations of this is one of the threads running throughout this book.

There was a Russian Orthodox church, dispersed from its homelands into the West, custodian not only of the empty monastery of Saint Andrew, on Mount Athos, but of the true keys to the forgotten tradition that was once taught there. Truth it may have, but its resources and its capabilities were and still are generally swamped by lonely exiles, who ask it to speak not primarily of God but of some inexpressible motherland.

There were the German phenomenologists. They asked the right questions, but the breakdown of their world stopped them short of finding a resolution to the desperation inherent in their formulation, and this robbed them of any coherent answer that would have broken them out of their subservience to the subjective images of phenomena, any hint of something out of sight of the mind, of something more than an image, a genuine hint of which might have ended their ridiculous assumption that the ego is no more than an image of an image.

Then there were the physical sciences, dominating the thought of the civilisation that they had so recently transformed, but already by the early 1920's faced by an impasse in which Eddington, for example, could already see the need for a 'new epistemology' that might reconcile human thought with the paradoxical perceptions of quantum physics. By the late 1930's, quantum physics was to have a more sinister role, and it was the late sixties before this arcane knowledge again began to interest the post-war world in other implications than weapons technology. By then, Eddington's question had been forgotten ... and little did Eddington know, anyway, that the key to this enigma - a new epistemology that encompasses our contemporary view without being limited to it - had already been provided more than a thousand years before, in the second century works of Gregory of Nyssa, an ancient Christian author totally ignored by modern philosophy. Even the great physicist and philosopher Erwin Schrodinger, and the Christian Albert Einstein, remained unaware that the questions they debated had been answered by fathers of the church long before the fall of Byzantium. Even now, few can see the direct connection between the paradoxes of particle physics and the ancient Russian philosophical method of 'antinomies', a philosophical tradition preserved intact to the present, but finding its roots in the Gospel itself.

Old ideas like this are increasingly ignored by the parts even of the Orthodox church, especially those of its members that are striving to become modern and enter the scientific world, ironically, at the very moment when the descendants of those who founded that world are beginning to seek more satisfying solutions? In its turn, this scientific viewpoint is itself rooted in a Greek philosophy that is no longer taught to any but a few, and today most of them, if they opt for Greek, have to turn their backs on science?

The first world war ended an age, and cut off our remaining access to the strengths of the past. The time before the second was too brief for new growth to go deep enough to root itself. After the war, the unfinished new growth that had begun in the thirties but never come to term was rooted out and cast aside, to be forgotten by the generation that followed. Only now, more than forty years later, can we begin again to repair the ruins of even the recent past, to pick up the pieces of that era in relation to the deeper questions of life. Only now can we say a prayer for those forgotten pathfinders of the thirties, and only now can we make yet another attempt to cultivate the soil of the human spirit - remembering that we are ourselves children of our century, so that in any such cultivation we must begin with ourselves.

This concept is a threshold. It is the threshold at which so many attempts fail, for it can be crossed only in appropriate ways, and today these ways have been forgotten and must be discovered again. So, as with others before us, it was from an awareness of that threshold that my further researches into the early church and the survival of its ideas began shortly after 1980, and it is a few of the surprisingly large number of discoveries obtained during those researches that I am going to describe in this book - as well as drawing on some of the less well-known discoveries of those who have preceded us in this search - particularly those of Boris Mouravieff, whose three volume work 'Gnosis' - although still difficult to understand - provides the most comprehensive and precise primer on this difficult subject.

Research Report

This book is a report on the researches I have just introduced so dramatically, a study of certain ideas and methods known in the early church but lost, in one way or another, to modern Christianity. At the same time as being a properly documented study of the discovery of certain ideas once claimed to be lost, it is also the summary of a personal search, and links the discovered ideas to personal experience. It does this not so much to provide a final definition, as to suggest to readers how they should develop their own understanding of the same ideas. This is because the esoteric tradition is so easily misunderstood that, to avoid dangerous mistakes, actions should only be taken on the basis of a clear personal understanding of the teachings, verified by direct experience. I should also add that although these researches have been supported to a degree unusual in such a work, sometimes by taking them to a point of academic accuracy, at other times it has been found - not surprisingly - that documentary evidence of an unwritten tradition is not always available.

What kind of search has this involved, then, and what approach to the research have I taken? I will deal with the search first. It was a search for the springs of Christian sanctity; a search for the source that I believe is found in the esoteric or inner teachings of the early church. What do I mean by sanctity? At a workshop in the New York Open Center recently, I asked about this in the form of a question which now provides the basis of this book. My question was this: Which of you has ever met a saint?

One form of this question is how my own investigation began. But the question is not new, (although its phrasing may be). It has of course been answered, and even evoked answers, many times in the past, and before I come back to this question, I must have something to say about how the answers to this question have emerged over the years. Before you buy the animal, you must read the pedigree.

Several centuries ago, (I have not yet got around to researching this in detail,) there was a move in the West, probably not the first, to rediscover in the writings of the fathers of the church - writings that then were inaccessible to most of those who sought - Christian truths that were no longer a part of Western Christian teaching. Again in Europe, in the nineteenth century some of these works were translated and made generally available, and were clearly valued by a few souls who glimpsed the treasures hid in them. But none of these attempts succeeded in restoring this knowledge to the mainstream. The time was not right, and what these texts contain is so different from what is now generally understood as Christianity, that by that time, practically nobody possessed the tools with which to grasp those ancient truths.

In Russia, the story was different because 'the times' were different. In the nineteenth century, Russia was still in the throes of the Westernization forced on her by Peter the Great; Western or at least Westernized philosophical and scientific thought existed alongside surviving streams of thought and spirituality in an Eastern church that later survived the Revolution itself. The interaction between these two powerful rivers gave rise to similar investigations and these, the discovering of these ideas by people in active contact with the spiritual practices of the Eastern church, bore different fruit; a greater valuation of the ideas discovered, and as a result active and sometimes successful attempts to apply this ancient knowledge. In the nineteenth century certain teachers appeared to transmit this knowledge, some of them, such as Saint Theophan the Recluse, were conventional, others, laymen with more Western backgrounds, highly unconventional both by the standards of Eastern Christendom and Western humanism.

Between the two world wars, and after the Revolution in Russia, certain surviving elements of these streams, including the least conventional of them all, still rejected by the churches because they are so different from their 'public face', reached the West. In particular, Georg Ivanovitch Gurdjieff, an Armenian who is known to have taught in Moscow before the revolution, and who finally reached as far West as California, told the students of his strange system that "this is esoteric Christianity." Not surprisingly, this statement had little or no effect: his students continue to seek for the source of his teachings in the Sufi masters of the Middle East. Because of his novel way of explaining things, because of his flamboyant and apparently egotistical style of teaching that made it so easy to judge him a charlatan, and because he either disguised certain Christian dogmas that would have been unacceptable to the students he found himself talking to, or left them entirely out of his teachings, nearly everyone else has ignored him. I myself mention his name in a book such as this only at risk of losing certain readers at this point. But he is historical fact, and his influence is indirect as well as direct. For example, certain students of one of his associates, P.D.Ouspensky, made contact with Ouspensky's friend, the hermit Father Nikon, on Mount Athos, and it was this contact with the mainstream that led directly to the translation into English of parts of the Philokalia, the great compendium of teachings of the early fathers. In the eighteenth century, long before its translation into English, the texts used in the earliest version of this work sparked a major renewal in Eastern monasticism that began on Mount Athos and spread first to Moldavia and then to Russia. The Greek version, formed of those texts by Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, provides the primary technical instruction for the monks of the Eastern Church who carry on the same tradition to this day on Mount Athos (known as the Holy Mountain), a 40 KM peninsula off the mainland of Northern Greece, which is still today an autonomous monastic republic, although under the protection of the Greek government.

Since then, the parallel volume to the Philokalia, the Gerontikon - teaching stories about the same early fathers, in very Middle Eastern style - has been translated several times with varying degrees of success. Thomas Merton too selected from this collection stories that are meaningful to modern man. Another émigré, almost certainly a direct successor to the Russian seekers of the nineteenth century, Boris Mouravieff, wrote in the 1960's, in French, his own attempt to summarize his own discoveries in this field and those unpublished by those who had gone before him, and I have myself had the honour to publish the three volumes of his main work between 1990 and 1993.

Other key texts have been published more recently as a result of Father Nikon's initiative: Unseen Warfare, also by Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, edited again by Theophan, and the Art of Prayer, by Abbot Chariton of the monastery of Valamo, an ancient and at one time enormous monastery which preserved its spirituality in difficult times by moving across the border from Russia to Finland.

Thus many of the ancient texts are now more readily accessible. Their readership is increasing, because many, many readers obtain sudden insights from within their pages. But their message in full nobody in the West can read, for it is a message of repentance, metanoia, and it cannot be read in any depth and then ignored. So the gap in understanding still remains between Christian East and Christian West. All of this great effort has not yet revealed anything clearly, but it has definitely shown that there is something here to discover, although it is very difficult to discover it in full. The idea of metanoia, of the possibility of such a change, was as far as I know first reintroduced to the West in the 1930's by Maurice Nicoll. The meaning, and specific methods, were described in a fragmentary way in the Philokalia translations among other places, but metanoia is the essence. This one word is not understood until we realize that it distills the underlying principle, the practical objective, of a complete discipline, one that reaches its goal through a myriad of variations and alternative methods.

Although today metanoia still forms the basis of the practical work of the monks of the Eastern church, few even of the more important methods of approaching it are understood in the West, and the basic principles, in the form of a complete Christian world view - based on faith, but not on blind belief - seem to have been almost entirely forgotten.

Once read, understood and accepted, these basic principles, and the commandments or rules that accompany them, form the foundation of the whole process. They lead - although normally not without a struggle, not without a strong resistance from past habits - to a true reversal of direction in the reader, bringing the catechumen to the threshold, the point of entry, of the path of transformation, the path of metanoia. But to enter the path of metanoia is to seek to pass through the strait gate of the gospel, and "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle." (REF???) Its import is so difficult, it demands such efforts, such struggles by those who try to apply it, that instead it is often rejected. If this principle were accepted by enough people, so that we could say that it was once again understood by the church, especially at the present time, it could only lead to a true change of direction by that church. If understood at the basic level, it could lead to the creation of methods suited to modern man and to the situation in which he lives. If assimilated by Western civilisation at large, which would only happen if many individuals came to understand it and its importance, it might even change the direction of that civilization. (But what kind of change that might be is the subject of my last chapter, and should rest for the moment.)

The purpose of this book, then, is not simply to introduce valuable texts, but to explore the meanings that occur, often many times, and expressed in many ways, not only in texts now being translated into English, but in early texts that have already been made available. I also hope to show, where possible, how these early meanings link with and very often answer our own questions about ourselves and our world, and how they relate to modern thought on this same subject.

A method of therapy

What we can say, at this point, is that in studying the inner life of man, this material constitutes a true psychological science - and an effective system of therapy - that is older by many centuries than anything that passes today by that name. More to the point, as I hope I shall show in this book, once adapted to the different conditions of modern life, it is also a very precise and workable science, despite certain basic differences from modern psychology.

This early Christian psychology said, for example:

"They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Mark 2:17

This uses a different and essentially Christian definition of sickness - or sin - for Christ was concerned with the spiritually sick: with man in his fallen state. Directly because of this difference, its social aspect aimed not manipulation but liberation, and although both forms of social psychology produced ethical conclusions, they differed in that the early psychology dealt primarily in ethics that emerge naturally from within the individual , whereas the modern equivalent frequently views ethical activity as having to be imposed on individuals from outside.

It was P.D.Ouspensky who pointed out that modern psychology is primarily a tool of a medicine which studies pathologies, so that it sometimes calls itself 'abnormal psychology,' or of the social sciences, which study psychology as a means of controlling individuals or solving purely social problems - which all to often comes to the same thing.

More than this, it is consistent with the texts studied that they were intended to be read by those who would put the inner doctrines into practice. This discipline - although different from modern scientific method - led in fact to a kind of scientific precision. To begin with, in this type of study, it is good method for the investigator to remain aware of the aims, intentions and assumptions of the author: to respect the way in which the text was originally formed and interpret it accordingly. In both the texts and the unwritten teachings on which this book is based ... still without putting certain of them into writing ... persistent practical work has generated a stream of results, sometimes unexpected, which have conditioned and changed the initial conclusions and led to certain specific interpretations. These interpretations have been interesting particularly in that frequently they show a single underlying meaning to many different aspects of doctrine.

These interpretations have been developed at some length, and might be regarded as the primary conclusions of this study - although its more obvious conclusions may seem significant enough. More to the point, it is these interpretive conclusions which support some of the apparently open statements such as the historical conclusions. It is also these statements that will answer certain other questions, such as the question of the lack of saints today. But here, I should warn the reader, only the use of the same method will lead to any real measure of agreement, so that this work is likely to remain controversial in the general arena for some time to come. As Saint Paul said:

"Unless you believe, you will not understand."

This ancient pscyhological method, then, has different rules for verification from those of modern psychological science, but they are genuine working rules. In its time it had its own consensus, and this evolved over time as does any modern scientific consensus, but was very different from that of contemporary psychology because it had very different goals.

This whole concept leads to a practical way of presenting these ideas. This can be put in modern terms by utilizing the word recognition. The goal of texts in this tradition, and the characteristic by which texts which genuinly belong to this tradition can be identified, is that they write for recognition. This meaning of this idea itself must be understood and recognized. We are not using the word recognition here in the sense of public recognition. Usually nothing was further from the minds of practitioners of this ancient science. They taught a traditional knowledge, and in it, their scientific method depended on the student accepting the truth of what they taught, by discovering for himself and then recognizing what it was they were describing. The fact that they had in general a consensus about what was true makes it clear that they all in fact - although step by step, not immediately - came to recognize the same things. Experience will enable the present-day student who strives for such a level of accuracty to recognise that this situation, carried out rigorously, eliminates all possibility of doubt

Saints are always somewhere else

For Western man, the visible sign of the loss of the early kind of Christianity, of the loss of metanoia as a way of spiritual life, is that, for us, Saints always seem to live somewhere else, or to have lived in some other time. Many of us, indeed, see this fact simply as a sign that we have outgrown such ideas as religion and sanctity. But this tells more about the person who believes it than about any wider reality. In this, young children often know better than their elders, for this mystery of the missing sanctity is really a most serious question for us all, and the sophistication that hides the question is no more than a tissue of self-deception. But to go back to that question with which I began, if you answer no, you have never met a saint, my next question for you would be: Why not? If you honestly believe you can answer 'yes' ... not 'almost', or 'there's someone I think is a saint,' but an unequivocal 'yes' to this question, my next is instead to ask you how many saints you have met? The point of all this is to take a serious look at this question. Many of us will already realize that, whatever their own answer, many people now believe that the time of saints is past; that they do not occur any more, and have not occurred for many centuries. This is almost but not entirely true. ...... ..... ..... What did I know when I began my researches? I knew that some genuine saints have been recognized within the last century, more since 1800, particularly in Russia, but also in Greece. But many of the list below were only canonized in 1988, with the Millennium celebrations of the Russian church. In fact, in this world the list of recent saints is actually considerably longer than one might expect ... it is not the reality, but our view of it, that I am questioning. An incomplete list of recent saints includes: Saint Theophan the Recluse, born 1815, d1894, canonized 1988 as part of the Millennium celebrations of the Russian Church. As a young man he became a monk, then hieromonk (priest-monk), bishop, abbot and finally anchorite. He guided thousands by mail, and edited two of the world's greatest books on the life of prayer, as well as writing several other important works. His teachings help to clarify the inner tradition in modern terms, and are referred to frequently in this book. Saint Theresa of Lisieux, who was called to the life of prayer as a child and became Her teachings are referred to in this book. Saint Seraphim of Sarov, whose teachings help to clarify one important factor of the inner tradition, so that they too are referred to in this book. Saint John of Kronstadt, a priest in the Russian naval town of Kronstadt, whose ability to help people reached so many that a series of guest houses had to be built to accommodate those who came to him. Saint Nektarios, whose shrine on the Greek island of Aegina has in the past few years been the scene of many miracles, including miraculous conversions. Saint Arsenios of Cappadocia, a Saint who said very little, but who, over many years, worked a great number of miracles to assist those living around him. Saint Silouan of Athos, a massive Russian peasant who nearly murdered someone in Russia, became desperate about has lack of self-control, and went to see John of Kronstadt. From there he went to Athos on the advice of Saint John, and became a man of impressive abilities and very great spirituality. His teachings are referred to in this book in order to clarify one inner aspect of Christian tradition that is difficult to understand by drawing only on earlier sources. Several Saints have also been canonized by the Romanian church, but as my comment is only to do with the absence of saints in the West, we have listed enough examples of recent Eastern saints. In particular, you will notice that in this list there are no Protestant saints. It would be interesting to ask the Protestant churches whether, indeed, they believe that saints are created today or, more specifically, whether they have under consideration the canonization of any of their recent members? One might even ask what they imagine the significance of saints to be, beyond the obvious; that they are often very good role models, if only they weren't so impossible to follow. Certainly the Protestant churches have some very splendid people, but in the early church, that was not quite what the word 'saint' meant; to the early Christians, a Saint was 'something else?' In fact, all the individuals listed above were in some sense direct followers of the early fathers of the church. Nearly all of them, (as well as certain others who will appear later,) referred at some time to something known as the Royal Road or Royal Way. The significance of both these facts will become increasingly apparent the further we read into this book. Saints are made, not bornSaints are made, not bornSaints are made, not bornSaints are made, not born When I asked my original question, I turned the question towards the audience as individuals, asking them another question which every sincere seeker should ask himself. I asked them then as I ask you now, which of you who think of yourselves as Christians has not asked the catch question: how can I be more Christian than I am now? Or to put it another way: How can I free myself from my own bad habits? How can I learn to live to my own highest principles? How might I feel growing in my own heart the qualities described in the Sermon on the Mount? How can I learn to turn the other cheek? How can I love my enemies? Behind this is a basic answer given by my researches. If people understood what my researches have confirmed - that saints are made holy, not born holy - then it would be possible at least to begin to answer these other questions, and that in such a way that we could understand how we ourselves could change if we want to. Saints are made: with the help of our Lord, certainly, but made, not born holy. Never forget that. Never let your children forget it. A generation forgot it, and where are they now? All the great religions of the world have a tradition that exists just to answer this question, a therapeutic tradition; a means of making saints. Hinduism has its Yoga. Islam has Sufism. Buddhism has a number of meditation traditions including Zen. Only Christianity, at first sight, lacks such an 'organ'. But that is not so, Christianity has its ways, an almost forgotten mystical science, the science of metanoia, sometimes called the Royal Road, akin to psychological means of therapy yet more than merely psychological in character; and this ancient and forgotten science is not only a process parallel to these eastern traditions, but it is entirely Christian in character. As the Abbot of an Athos monastery wrote recently: "When the monk possesses the grace of repentance he knows the true God, not some idea of God." In actual fact, as my researches have confirmed time and again, the Christian esoteric or inner tradition is in every respect a true tradition that is the equal of the great inner traditions of the East but, due to certain accidents of history, to the fact that this idea appears to conflict with humanist and scientific world-views and with the intellectualism of modern man, this tradition has been largely forgotten and partially lost. Finally, having been diluted to the point where it lost is power to produce results, it has proved an embarrassment to churches who wanted to appear 'scientific', wanted to be accepted in circles that also appeared scientific, and so it was 'swept under the carpet when no-one was looking.' However, it was the strength of psyche this part of Christian tradition gave to many individuals that explains the way the early martyrs of the church made such an impression on those who saw them, so that the Christian church in its early centuries - before it became divided - almost entirely supplanted competing faiths. The outer effects of the early church were the direct result of its inner power to transform the individual. From investigation of the past, a new vision From investigation of the past, a new vision From investigation of the past, a new vision From investigation of the past, a new vision In a world that judges most things in an intellectual way, and expects to verify its standards for judging against what can be weighed, measured or in some way perceived by the senses, it would be foolish to expect everyone to see, behind the troubles of our times, the need for a new spiritual vision. But this book is written for the many that have become aware of that need: for them it attempts to explore what was understood in the past and could be understood again to day; not to invent or re-invent a new religion, nor to explore the religions of other civilizations, as so many have already done; to take another look at the Christian religion, but not just at the same old things that everyone has looked at - at least since the time of Wesley and Luther - but at some other aspects of Christianity that are little known today. After ten years of investigation, there is little doubt in my mind that, in its early days, Christianity had answers to questions that today take people to other lands, other times, other faiths for their answers. As this book will show, there is also little doubt that most of those answers still exist - within Christendom, but tucked away in its inaccessible corners - and I have slowly become certain that with sufficient effort these answers can be rediscovered and restored to use for modern man, as part of a spiritual reawakening which has already begun, but has not yet taken definite form. Whether we believe that, as I shall suggest later in the book, a spiritual reawakening is now taking place, or believe only that it should do so, with either of these viewpoints we will see the value of recovering a lost Christian tradition of knowledge about the inner experience that some of the most valued members of the church - among them saints, bishops, abbots, monks, hermits and 'learned doctors' - have accumulated over nearly twenty centuries, but particularly what they learned in the early days of the church, when the initial energy given by gospel and resurrection was still at its most intense.. The background to the loss of this great reservoir of truth, is that, in two thousand years, Christianity has built up an enormous corpus of knowledge and ideas. Nobody can know all of this, and so everybody has had to be selective. More than this, there are both historical and psychological reasons why this selective process has developed a particular bias over the centuries, so that some of the knowledge acquired by the church during its early years has for long been forgotten - either it has been totally forgotten, or in other cases the words are remembered, but part of their meaning, their significance, has been forgotten, so that they are effectively misunderstood. The criteria for interpretation have changed with the times - until what is believed now as a result of reading the Gospel is entirely different from that believed in the early days of Christianity. Now, if the early meanings are made available again, we find them difficult to understand, and if we do get close to them, we discover that it is even more difficult for us to see their value to us, their relevance to our personal questions and to the main questions of the civilization of which we are part. The connections have worn thin with time, although the problem of the misunderstanding of inner knowledge is not a new one. We no longer have the intellectual tools to recover that early knowledge; we have replaced them with a 'newer model'. It is clear that as long ago as the third century, one form of misinterpretation of Biblical texts was rife. It was then that Origen, head of the Alexandrian school previously led by Clement of Alexandria, wrote that the Bible should be interpreted in ways other than historical, because, in the historical interpretation, the inconsistencies of the text make it look foolish. But not only is this kind of historicism still with us today, but at the present time it forms perhaps the dominant view of Biblical exegesis. Vast numbers of scholars now study the Bible simply as a history text and, trying to maintain 'scientific objectivity,' regard it is misleading to study it against any other criteria. But nobody asks the question; 'if this is only history, why is it studied so much more than other historical texts?' A commentator in the most recent issue of Bible Review, (early 1993,) claims that to follow the historical interpretation conscientiously it is necessary to disbelieve in basic tenets of Christianity such as the resurrection. One can only say of such people that they may believe in something, but they have no Christian faith, for Christian faith is not belief in all or everything, but only in the objects of faith, objects outlined if not exhaustively defined in the Creed and, for inner Christianity, particularly in the Nicene Creed. More than this, as long as they maintain such standards, they will never have Christian faith. "If you do not believe," Nor will you understand the writings of men of faith: this kind of modern interpretation ignores the intentions of the authors of works such as the books of the Bible. In fact, whether they are aware of the fact or no, they must assume that you can interpret a passage in the same way whatever were the intentions of those who originally wrote it. Such an approach is only credible to those who are completely ignorant of the process of writing any real text, or who imagine that the authors were such fools that the content even of the great books of the Bible, is accidental, and that no specific purpose existed for them other than the today fashionable objective of 'self-expression'. Those with experience of intentional writing, writing for a specific aim, will realize that in such work the aim determines the method of expression, and that only an awareness of that original aim can accurately reveal the intended meanings of certain words whose interpretation is determined by their context. In particular, very great care is needed when interpreting even the most open text about inner teachings. Worse than this, even Biblical texts which originally appear to have had a purely outer meaning have been used by the early fathers as parables to illustrate inner truths, and we must also realize that when the inner teaching went underground, those texts which use historical analogies, or which illustrate the meaning with examples from the lives of those who had passed through the same process in the past - as in Gregory of Nyssa's Life of Moses, and other works on the same theme - had, since the second century, been actually intended to be misinterpreted by anyone who had insufficient inner experience to understand their deeper meaning. One problem group of Greek words used throughout the history of the early church - in the gospels, (particularly Saint Mark), in the epistles of Paul, and in the early fathers of the church - was that whose common modern form is gnosis. We can find records of the use of this word not remotely linked to what is now popularly called Gnosticism, as Gnosis was originally simply a term for a special kind of knowledge that is not obtained through the senses. This idea, which will be discussed further in Chapter Eleven, was summarized by the translator of Clement's Stromata thus: 'By "gnosis", Clement understood the perfect knowledge of all that relates to God, His nature, and dispensations. He speaks of a twofold knowledge, - one, common to all men, and born of sense; the other, the genuine "gnosis" ... This latter is not born with men, but must be gained and by practice formed into a habit. The initiated find its perfection in a loving mysticism, which this never-failing love makes lasting." And Clement himself wrote: "And the gnosis itself is that which has descended by transmission to a few, having been imparted unwritten by the apostles. Hence, then, knowledge or wisdom ought to be exercised up to the eternal and unchangeable habit of contemplation." (Clement of Alexandria, the Stromata, Book VI, Chap. 7.) But then, this book exists to help us recreate those old interpretive tools and with them again to make connection with that ancient knowledge, through just those channels used by those holy men of old, through three processes: to draw on personal observation and direct experience, related to the comments of others, so as to discover certain current concerns, personal as well as those concerning our whole civilization, to take cognizance of the experiences that give rise to them, to give an idea of why they have been forgotten or ignored for so many centuries, and finally to show how they are at root concerns that have lasted as long as Christendom, and are often rooted in inner and often mystical experiences that have recurred since the earliest days of the Christian era. to illuminate this by study of the esoteric tradition, so as to show how the early Christian tradition of inner knowledge relates to both personal and social concerns and experiences that have become important in our contemporary life. finally, to comment as necessary on the relation of the two, in keeping with the methods of that early tradition, and analyze them with tools of contemporary but not purely intellectual understanding. It should be noted in this latter that this kind of understanding must include a full intellectual content, and it is clear that with this there is always a danger that to the untrained mind such a text will look as if it is pure intellectualism. Like Saint Nilus of Sora,(see Page XREF??), I must ask pardon of my reader if anything appears in this work that is "inconsistent with the sense of truth." If you do not recognize something , do not accept it blindly, but hold it, classify it untested, until experience makes its accuracy - or inaccuracy - clear to you. But this is a good point to introduce an ancient practise sometimes described in odd corners of the tradition, known as pondering. To understand this book, certain parts of it - and there may be many of them - need to be pondered. Today, we are so used to ‘speed-reading’ and other methods of reading superficially, that we need to know a technique that most people perhaps once knew - what it means to ponder a statement. To ponder a passage of a book we should first read it with great care, making sure that we have clearly dealt with each of its statements separately. Then we should ponder each statement on its own, comparing it with our own experience, until we recognize what it describes. When we have recognized what is described in each statement, we may reconsider the passage as a whole. At this point a characteristic sign is that it will seem less interesting. After all, it is not ‘news’, it is telling only things we already know. This sensation is a sign of success in our pondering. Without learning to ponder, one should not read serious esoteric texts. If you do learn to ponder, you will understand for yourself the idea, expressed by P.D.Ouspensky and quoted earlier, that: “You cannot understand and disagree.” This, of course, is an unusual and more forceful rendering of the earlier quotation from Saint Paul (XREF??): "Unless you believe, you will not understand."

A Different Christianity, Early Christian Esotericism and Modern Thought © Robin Amis
is republished on www.greekorthodoxchurch.org with permission. www.greekorthodoxchurch.org is owned and maintained by Photius Coutsoukis, © 1995-2005 All rights reserved.