Thursday, October 11, 2007

On "Dark Nights"

I found this passage in Vladimir Lossky's Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (Crestwood, New York, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1976), pp. 225-227.

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Just because it is light grace, the source of revelation, cannot remain within us unperceived. We are incapable of not being aware of God, if our nature is in proper spiritual health. Insensibility in the inner life is an abnormal condition…Grace will make itself known as joy, peace, inner warmth and light. States or dryness, of the dark night of the soul, do not have the same meaning in the spirituality of the Eastern Church, as they have in the West. A person who enters into a closer and closer union with God, cannot remain outside the light, If he finds himself plunged in darkness, it is either because his nature is darkened by sin, or else because God is testing him to increase his ardour. We must rise above these states, by our obedience and humility to which God will respond, showing himself anew to the soul, and communicating his light to the person who was for a time forsaken. Dryness is a state of illness which must not last; it is never thought of by the mystical and ascetical writers of the Eastern tradition as a necessary and normal stage in the way of union. It is but an accident on this way, frequent indeed, but always a peril. It has too great a likeness to accidia or tedium, the coldness of heart which leads to insensibility. It is a trial which drives the human being to the verge of spiritual death. For the ascent towards holiness, the struggle for the divine light is not without danger. Those who seek the light, conscious life in God, run a great spiritual risk, but God will not let them wander in darkness…aridity is a transitory condition, which cannot become a constant attitude. In fact, both the heroic attitude of the great saints of Western Christendom, a prey to the sorrow of a tragic separation from God, and the dark night of the soul considered as a way, as a spiritual necessity, are unknown in the spirituality of the Eastern Church. The two traditions have separated on a mysterious doctrinal point [filioque], relating to the Holy Spirit, who is the source of holiness. Two different dogmatic conceptions correspond to two different experiences, to two ways of sanctification which scarcely resemble one another. Since the separation, the ways which lead to sanctity are not the same in the West as in the East. The one proves its fidelity to Christ in the solitude and abandonment of the night of Gethsemane, the other gains certainty of union with God in the light of the Transfiguration.

Footnote: In thus opposing the ways of sanctification proper to East and West, we would not wish to make any absolute distinction. This is much too delicate and subtle a matter to lend itself to any kind of schematization; thus, in the west, the experienced of the dark night is in no way characteristic of St. Bernard, for instance; on the other hand, Eastern spirituality provides us with at elast one clear enough example of the dark night, in St. Tikhon Zadonsky (eighteenth century).

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DebD said...

Insensibility in the inner life is an abnormal condition… I really appreciate this. There are times when I feel "abnormal" because I spent too much time thinking about God.

We must rise above these states, by our obedience and humility to which God will respond, showing himself anew to the soul, I am wondering though, how do we continue with a humble and contrite heart, but "rise above the state of of "the dark night of the soul". IOW - how do we distinguish between the dark night of the soul and always being mindful of our own sins, etc. ?

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

I don't know, Deb!

Of course that hardly ever stops me from hazarding a guess. :-)

I'd GUESS it has to do with whether always being mindful of our sins (a) drives us more and more toward God and the experienc of His sweet mercy, or (b) drives us away from God, because we prefer not even thinking about our sins.

Does that have anything to do with what you are asking?

It's a good question for one's spiritual father. He will know.


Dixie said...

This is an interesting quote...lots of good stuff to think about...but it does seem to conflict a bit with what Fr. Thomas Hopko said in his Lord's Prayer lectures.

I think the sense I am gathering is not so much that this dark night is not a reasonable expectation (regardless of whether the source is our own sins or God's trials to draw us into deeper relationship) but of reasonable duration. Not 50 years as in the case of Mother Theresa. HOWEVER...we can't negate the fact that in Orthodoxy we are given the fullness of the faith. Mother Theresa has some of the tools but not all. This might explain the abnormal duration she experienced.

Then might not. can we know? Something to be said for keeping our eyes on our own plates, I guess.