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Nicholas Arseniev

Transfiguration of the World and of Life in Mysticism

From "Mysticism and the Eastern Church". Translated from the German by Arthur Chambers. St, Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, New York, 1979.

Chapter 2: Examples of the Transfiguration of the World as experienced by Mystics

WHEN the soul is lifted by this joy, in the consciousness that the infinite is present in closest proximity ; nay, more, that it has grasped the infinite, it sees everything with new eyes, it feels within itself and all around a new standard of life: "Old things are passed away ; behold all things are become new ! "(τά αρχαία 'παρήλθεν, ιδού γεγονε καινά)[124].

"... cuando salia,
Per toda aquesta vega
Yam cosa non sabia
Υ el ganado perdì que antes seguia."

“When I came out, I knew nothing any more in the whole extent of this meadow, and I had lost the flocks which I used to tend,” says the soul in the mystical poem of the Spaniard, John of the Cross (125).

This state of mind produces not merely an estrangement from the world, but also a glorification of the world and of life (126). A new world appeared after the spiritual awakening to the eyes of the great Puritan mystic, George Fox. Passing through the sword of flame, he came "in spirit" into the "Paradise of God. ... All things were new and all the creation gave another smell unto me than before, beyond what words can utter... “(127). And the experience of Jacob Boehme was similar; after much wrestling and "severe storms," his spirit forced a way, "not without God's help," through the gates of hell into the very heart of the Deity." But the triumph that was in my spirit I cannot write or speak, nor can it be compared with anything save with the birth of life in the midst of death, with the resurrection of the dead. In this light my spirit straightway looked through all things and saw God in all created things, even in the herbs and the grass" (128).

Symeon, the New Theologian, also tells of new eyes, of a new power, of perception in the glorified man. ... "He is made worthy to look upon the revelation of great mysteries. ...; I speak of mysteries because, whereas all can see them clearly, they cannot understand. He who is glorified by the newly-creating spirit receives new eyes and new hearing ... "(129). Sister Adelheid of the Unter-linden Convent in Alsace (thirteenth century), leaving the choir after an ecstasy of prayer, believes that she has entered into a new world; the grass, the trees, and even the structure of the convent appear new to her, as though they had just come into existence (130). The Italian mystic, Angela of Foligno, in the thirteenth century passed through an experience as soul-shaking as those of George Fox and Jacob Boehme. She felt herself immersed in inward communion with the Holy Spirit, "and wherever I turned my eyes He said to me, 'Behold, that have I created,' and I felt an inexpressible sweetness "(131). Another time, " The eyes of my soul were opened for a moment and I saw the fullness of God, in which I saw the whole world ... the sea also and the abyss and all things, but in all this I could see nothing save the divine power in a manner completely beyond expression. And in measureless astonishment my soul cried out and said: 'Truly this world is full of God!' And I felt the whole world as something small. And I saw that the power of God surpasseth all things and filleth all things "(132).

We find corresponding experiences in the non-Christian mystics also. For example, Kabir cries: "Open the eyes of love and behold Him that pervadeth the whole world! Consider it well, and know that this is your own country! ... I see with eyes open and smile, and behold His beauty everywhere. I utter His name, and whatever I see, it reminds me of Him; whatever I do, it becomes His worship. ..." Kabir says: "Ο Sadhu! God is the breath of all breath "(133).
Ο Father! «sings Mânikka Vâšâgar, "Worlds upon worlds are filled with Thy presence "(134). And Tukaram (seventeenth century A.D.) turns to God with the ecstatic words: "The whole world proclaimeth to me that in it is no place, small even as a grain of mustard seed, which is not full of Thee"(135)! Sο also for the Persian mystic, the Sufi and Dervish, Baba Kuchi, the whole world is transfigured by his overpowering experience of God! "I opened my eyes and through the radiance of His countenance around me, in everything that my eye perceived -I saw only God"(136)! Ibna'l Farid (an Arabian Sufi of the thirteenth century) also beholds in all things the radiance of the divine beloved and feels himself " drunk, but not with wine "; he is "penetrated by joy to the depths of his being." "My heart," he says, "danceth, and the twitching of my limbs is like the hand-clapping of a singer, and my spirit is the musician"(137). Another Sufi, Jelal eddin Rumi, feels how the whole world is flooded with waves of love: "Every moment," he says, "from the right hand and from the left soundeth the voice of love"(138).


124. Cor. v, 17.

125. Juan de la Cruz, Cantico espiritual.

126. Cf., e.g.. Underhill, "Mysticism," 1911, pp. 304-313.

127. George Fox, "Journal," p. 17, London, J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd.

128. Jacob Boehme, " Aurora," xix, 11-13.

129. Or. 26 quoted in Holl, Enthusiasmus u. Bussgewalt beim griech Mönchtum, 1898, p. 81 (cf. Migne, Patr. Gr., t. 120, col. 449CD). The nature of things changes according to the inward state of " the soul " (first hundred chapters on the "Active Life," " Philokalia," Russian edition, second ed., Moscow, 1900, vol. v, p. 95).

130. Ven. Catharinae de Geweswiler, " De vitis primarum sororum monasterii (in J. Pez, Bibliotheca ascetia, viii, Ratisbona, 1725, p. 124).

131. Beatae Angelae de Fulginio, Visionum et instructionum liber, Colonia, 1851 (Bibliotheca mystica et ascetica), c. xx, p. 66.

132. Ibid., c. xxii: "et statim fuerunt aperti oculi animae meae et videbam unam plenitudinem Dei, in qua comprehendebam totum mundum et mare et abyssum et omnia, in quibus non videbam nisi tantum potentiam divinam, modo omnino inenarrabili. Et anima admirando exclamavit dicens: Est iste mundus plenus de Deo! Et comprehendebam totum mundum quasi quid parum. Et videbam potentiam Dei excedere omnia et implere omnia." Cf. also c. xxix -God speaks to the soul: "... Scias, quod totus mundus est plenus de me. Et tunc videbam, quod omnis creatura erat plena ipso."

133. One hundred poems of Kabir ..., Ixxvi. xli, i; cf. vii, xvi, xiv, xviii, xcvii.

134. G. M. Pope, The Tiruvéçagam, hymn xxxvii, 8 ; cf. v, 48, 70; cf., e.g., also "Psalms of Maratha Saints," translated by Nicol Macnicol, 1919, No. xii (a hymn of Tukaram).

135. Quoted in Sir R. J. Bhandarkar, Vaisnavism, Saivism ... , 1913, p. 95. Cf. also the following words in Saint Theresa: "I understood how God is present in all things and the image of a sponge filled with water appeared to my soul" (Relacion, ix, 10, quoted in Underhill, I.c.). I should like to quote here just one more example from Persian mysticism, the passage from Farid-eddin-Attar's "Talk of the Birds," in which the glorification of the world is described with all the glow of Oriental colouring. For whosoever has reached the stage of knowledge, "the glowing oven of the world is transformed into a garden of delight. He then beholds the almond in its shell " (i.e., God in all things), "or rather sees nothing except the object of his love. In everything on which his eye falls, he sees His face. ... Through this veil, shining like the sun, countless mysteries are revealed to his sight " (Third Valley, translated in Silvestre de Sacy's Pend-Nameh ou le livre des conseils de Ferideddin-Attar, 1819, p. 177).

136. Quoted in Reynolds A. Nicholson's "The Mystics of Islam," 1914, p. 59. Cf. the mystic experience of Sister Anna von Selen of the Convent of Adelhausen (in Southern Baden) at the end of the thirteenth century: "Zu einemmale da kam si in söliche einberunge mit Gotte an irme gebette, das ir Gotte als luterlich erschien, da si darnach wz fünff wochen, was si sach das wand si, es were Gott "... (Die Chronik der Anna von Munzingen, herausg. von Prof. J. König, Freiburg Diöcesan-Archiv, Bd. xiii, 1880, p. 154).

137. in Reynolds A. Nicholson's " Studies in Islamic Mysticism," 1921, p. 235".

138. Selected poems from the Divini Shamsi Tabriz, edited and translated by Reynolds A. Nicholson, 1898, No. ix (p. 33). A similar feeling of the overwhelming power of the love which inundates the whole world, embracing us from every side and penetrating the soul through the medium of all our senses, nay, "besieging" it and driving it into a corner, appears also in the Renaissance philosopher, Giordano Bruno ("Degli eroici furori," Son., No. 51), and in the work of Francis's ardent disciple, the poet and mystic, Jacopone da Todi (Lauda, Ixxxii).

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