Sunday, October 24, 2010

Ecstatic visions

It becomes clear, therefore, why the Eastern Tradition warns so sternly against accepting any images whatsoever, even those seemingly coming from God. Instead, an emphasis is placed on humility and repentance, which are seen as the foundation and the goal of prayer. Ignatii Bryanchaninov, summarizing this emphasis for novices, wrote…

Concerning voices and apparitions, one must have an even greater caution: here, the demons’ deceit is closer and more dangerous… This is why the holy fathers taught those beginning prayer not to trust voices and apparitions—but to reject them and not accept them, leaving this to the judgment and the will of God, but for themselves considering humility more useful than any voice or apparition.

Mental prayer, according to Orthodox authors, is achieved “when the nous, pure from any thoughts and ideas, prays to God without distraction” (Hierotheos). This type of prayer is achieved by stilling the mind, rather than rousing it with ecstasy, by ignoring apparitions, rather than accepting them as a sign of personal perfection, and by deliberately keeping the mind from creating thoughts and images, rather than using it to exercise imagination.

Thus, ecstatic visions, which were the core of private devotion of some Roman Catholic saints, are considered by the Eastern Tradition to be a temptation to either avoid or fight off, rather than “favors” from God, as Teresa and Mechtilde call them. Similarly, desiring the images and visions or creating them with the use of imagination is seen as a dangerous practice, leading to neuro-psychological trauma, rather than as an acceptable form of spiritual exercise.

[The painting (right) is called The Miraculous Lactation of Saint Bernard. There are two existing legends concerning lactation of Saint Bernard. The first version describes how Mary appeared to Saint Bernard in a prayer and sprinkled milk from her breast on Bernard's lips. With this gesture she showed him that she is the 'mother of humanity' and that she is prepared to mediate for him with her son. The second version describes how Bernard fell asleep between a prayer. Mary appeared and put her breast into his mouth in order to receive the wisdom of God.]

Editor's Note: Neither the image nor the explanation are part of Fr Sveshnikov's paper.

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