June 24, 2024

True Orthodox Diocese of Western Europe

Russian True Orthodox Church (RTOC)

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. -Henry David Thoreau

St. Symeon the New Theologian says, “If you want to see God, take pains to purify your heart, through the practice of the commandments and through prayer. Thus will you behold Him.”

Seeing God Through a Pure Heart: Insights from St. Symeon the New Theologian

In the rich tapestry of Orthodox Christian spirituality, the teachings of St. Symeon the New Theologian hold a special place. His profound insight, “If you want to see God, take pains to purify your heart, through the practice of the commandments and through prayer. Thus will you behold Him,” offers a pathway to experiencing the divine that is both practical and deeply mystical.

The Pursuit of Purity

St. Symeon emphasizes that the vision of God is contingent upon the purity of one’s heart. This purity is not a superficial cleanliness but a profound transformation of the inner being. According to Orthodox teaching, the heart is the center of spiritual life, encompassing the mind, soul, and will. It is in the heart that the struggle against sin and the cultivation of virtue takes place.

To purify the heart, one must engage in the ascetic practices prescribed by the Church. These practices are not ends in themselves but means to an end: the establishment of a living relationship with God. St. Symeon calls this process “taking pains,” acknowledging the effort and dedication required. The purification of the heart involves a continuous struggle against passions—those desires and inclinations that lead us away from God.

The Role of the Commandments

The commandments given by God are not merely rules to be followed but are the framework within which one can cultivate a godly life. St. Symeon teaches that through the practice of the commandments, we align our lives with God’s will. This alignment is crucial for the purification of the heart.

The commandments direct us towards love, humility, and self-control. By living in accordance with them, we begin to strip away the layers of self-centeredness and sin that obscure our spiritual vision. This process is akin to polishing a mirror so that it can reflect the light more clearly. When our hearts are purified through obedience to God’s commandments, we become capable of perceiving His presence more vividly in our lives.

The Power of Prayer

Prayer is the lifeblood of the Orthodox Christian spiritual journey. St. Symeon places great emphasis on prayer as a means of heart purification. Prayer, in the Orthodox tradition, is much more than petitioning God for our needs. It is a profound communion with the Divine, an encounter that transforms and illuminates the soul.

Through regular, heartfelt prayer, the believer enters into a deeper relationship with God. This relationship fosters an inner stillness and clarity, making the heart a suitable dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. St. Symeon encourages us to engage in both personal and communal prayer, as each form nurtures different aspects of our spiritual life.

Beholding God

The culmination of these efforts—purifying the heart, practicing the commandments, and engaging in prayer—is the vision of God. This vision is not necessarily a literal sight but an experiential knowledge of God’s presence and love. St. Symeon and other Orthodox mystics speak of this experience as the encounter with the “uncreated light,” a direct encounter with the divine energies that transform and deify the human soul.

To “behold God” is to live in a state of continual awareness of His presence. It is to see His hand in all aspects of life, to feel His love, and to be guided by His wisdom. This state of being is the fulfillment of the human purpose, the ultimate union with God for which we were created.

Conclusion

St. Symeon the New Theologian’s teaching on the vision of God offers a roadmap for the spiritual journey. By taking pains to purify our hearts through obedience to the commandments and a life of prayer, we open ourselves to the transformative presence of God. This path is not easy, but it leads to the ultimate fulfillment of our deepest longings—the direct experience of God’s love and glory.

In our contemporary world, where distractions and temptations abound, St. Symeon’s words call us back to the heart of the Christian life. They remind us that seeing God is not about extraordinary visions or mystical experiences for a select few but about the everyday faithfulness and striving towards purity that every believer is called to. Thus, through our efforts and God’s grace, we may come to behold Him and be transformed by His radiant presence.

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