Feast of the Holy Seven Youths of Ephesus
WHEN EZEKIEL the prophet beheld the divinely, glorious vision, he described it in human terms but in a way full of mysteries that completely surpass the powers of the human mind. He saw in a plain a chariot of Cherubim, four spiritual animals. Each one had four faces. On one side each had the face of a lion, on another side that of an eagle, while on the third side each had the face of a bull. On the fourth side each had the face of a human being. To each of the faces were attached wings so that one could not discern any front or posterior parts. Their backs were full of eyes and likewise their breasts were covered with eyes so that there was no place that was not completely covered with eyes.
And there were three wheels for each face, a wheel within a wheel. And in the wheels there was inserted a spirit. And Ezekiel saw what appeared to be the likeness of a man and under his feet there was an artistic setting in sapphire. And the Cherubim and the animals pulled the chariot on which sat the Lord. In whichever direction he wished to go, he merely pointed his face in that direction. He was under the cherubim as it were the hand of a man carrying and balancing it.
2. And all of this which the prophet saw in ecstasy or in a trance was indeed true and certain, but it was only signifying and foreshadowing something no less hidden, something divine and mysterious, ‘a mystery hidden for generations’ (Col. 1.26) but that ‘has been revealed only in our time, the end of the ages’ (1 Pt. 1.20), when Christ appeared. For the prophet was viewing the mystery of the human soul that would receive its Lord and would become his throne of glory. For the soul that is deemed to be judged worthy to participate in the light of the Holy Spirit by becoming his throne and habitation, and is covered with the beauty of ineffable glory of the Spirit, becomes all light, all face, all eye. There is no part of the soul that is not full of the spiritual eyes of light. That is to say, there is no part of the soul that is covered with darkness but is totally covered with spiritual eyes of light. For the soul has no imperfect part but is in every part on all sides facing forward and covered with the beauty of the ineffable glory of the light of Christ, who mounts and rides upon the soul. It is similar to the sun that is the same all over, without any imperfect part, but is completely all light, brilliantly shining. It is totally light in all of its parts. Or it is similar to fire, which like light is the same all over, having in itself no part that is before or behind, either greater or less.
Thus the soul is completely illumined with the unspeakable beauty of the glory of the light of the face of Christ and is perfectly made a participator of the Holy Spirit. It is privileged to be the dwelling-place and the throne of God, all eye, all light, all face, all glory, and all spirit, made so by Christ who drives, guides, carries, and supports the soul about and adorns and decorates the soul with his spiritual beauty. For Scripture says, “There was the hand of a man under the Cherubim” and this is why Christ is the one who is carried by the soul and still directs it in the way.
3. The four animals that bore the chariot were a type of the leading characteristics of the soul. For as the eagle rules over all the other birds and the lion is king of the wild beasts and the bull over the tamed animals and man rules over all creatures, so the soul has certain dominant powers that are superior to others. I am speaking of the faculties of the will: conscience, the mind and the power of loving. For it is through such that the chariot of the soul is directed and it is in these that God resides. In some other fashion also such a symbolism can be applied to the Heavenly Church of the saints.
In this text of Ezekiel’s vision it is said that the animals were exceedingly tall, full of eyes (Ez. 10.4). It was impossible for anyone to comprehend the number of eyes or grasp their height since the knowledge of such was not given. And in a like manner the stars in the sky are given for man to gaze upon and be filled with awe, but to know their number is given to no man. So in regard to the saints in the Heavenly Church it is permitted to all who only enter into it and enjoy it as they strive to live in it. But to know and comprehend the number of the saints is given only to God.
The Rider, then, is carried by the chariot and the animals with all eyes, or, in a way, he is carried by every soul that has become his throne and exists now as eye and light. He is mounted on the soul and guides it with the reins of the Spirit, directing it according to his knowledge of the way.
Just as the spiritual animals went, not wherever they themselves wished, but only in the direction that he knew and wished to direct them, so also he holds the reins and guides the human souls by his Spirit and they follow, not by their own habit as they wish, but as he leads them to Heaven. At times he leaves the body and leads and directs the soul toward Heaven by wisdom. And again when he wishes, he comes in the body and through thoughts directs the soul. At other times, he is so minded that he leads the soul to the ends of the earth and shows it the revelation of hidden mysteries.
Oh, what a good and useful and only authentic Charioteer! In a similar way our bodies will be judged worthy of this honor in the resurrection which even now the human soul is given an anticipated grasp of such a glory by being mingled with the Spirit.
4. That the souls of the just become heavenly light, the Lord himself has told his Apostles: ‘You are the light of the world’ (Mt. 5.14). For he himself, who first transformed them into light, has ordered and commanded them to be the light of the world. He said: ‘No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the lampstand where it shines for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine in the sight of men’ (Mt. 5.15-16). That is to say, do not hide the gift that you have received from me, but give it to all who desire it. And again he said: ‘The lamp of the body is the eye. It follows that if your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light. But if your eye is diseased, your whole body wil be all darkness. If then, the light inside you is darkness, what darkness that will be!’ (Mt. 6.22-23).
Just as the eyes are the light of the body and when the eyes are healthy and sound, then the whole body is enlightened, so also on the contrary, if anything should happen to render the eyes darkened, then the whole body is in darkness. Thus the Apostles were called and ordained to be the eyes and the light of the whole world. For this reason the Lord told them: ‘If you, who are the light of the world, will persevere and not turn away, behold, then the whole body of the world will be enlightened. But if you, who are light, should be led into darkness, how great is that darkness, which is nothing less than the world.’ Thus the Apostles, who were made light, brought light to those who believed and enlightened their hearts by the heavenly light of the Spirit by whom they themselves had been enlightened.
5. And since they themselves were salt, they seasoned and salted every believing soul by the salt of the Holy Spirit. For the Lord told them: ‘You are the salt of the earth’ (Mt. 5.13). He meant by earth the souls of upright men. For they ministered to the souls of men the heavenly salt of the Spirit, seasoning them and keeping them free from decay and from anything harmful, away from the fetid condition they were in. Indeed, it is just as flesh – if it is not salted, it will decay and give off a stench so that all bypassers will turn aside from the fetid odor. Worms crawl all over the putrid meat; there they feed, eat, and burrow. But when salt is poured over it, the worms feeding on that meat perish and the fetid odor ceases. It is indeed the nature of salt to kill worms and dispel fetid odors.
In like manner every soul not seasoned with the Holy Spirit and made a participator of the heavenly salt which is the power of God grows corrupt and is filled with the stench and fetidness of bad thoughts so that the countenance of God turns away from the awful stench of vain and dark thoughts and from the disorderly affections that dwell in such a soul. The harmful and wicked worms which are the spirits of wickedness and powers of darkness crawl up and down in such a soul. There they feed, burrowing deeply inside. They crawl all over and devour it and thoroughly corrupt it. ‘My wounds stink and are festering’ (Ps. 38.5).
If indeed the soul takes refuge in God, believes and seeks the salt of life, which is the good and human-loving Spirit, then the heavenly salt comes and kills those ugly worms. The Spirit takes away the awful stench and cleanses the soul by the strength of his salt. Thus the soul is brought back to health and freed from its wounds by the true salt in order again to be useful and ordered to serve the Heavenly Lord. That is why even in the Law, God uses this example when he ordered that all sacrifices be salted with salt (Lv. 2.2, 13).
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6. It was, therefore, necessary that the sacrifice first be killed by a priest. After it died, it was cut in pieces and seasoned with salt, then placed on the fire. Unless the priest first kills the lamb, it is not salted nor is it brought to the Lord as a burnt offering. Similarly also our soul must approach the High Priest Christ to be slain by him and die to its own thoughts and the wicked life which it was living, that is, to die to sin. Thus the life of wicked passions must go out of if.
Just as the body, after the soul has left it, is dead and has no longer life in it as it had before (neither does it hear nor walk), so after Christ, the Heavenly High Priest, by the grace of his power, puts to death our life to the world, it dies to the life of corruption that it formerly lived. It no longer hears nor speaks nor moves about in the darkness of sin because the evil passions which possessed the soul have by grace left it. Thus the Apostle exclaims, saying: ‘The world is crucified to me and I to the world’ (Gal. 6.14). For the soul, which still lives in the world and in the darkness of sin, has not yet been put to death by him, but still has the soul of wickedness in it, that is, it still harbors the power of the dark passions of sin. It is nurtured by such a sinful soul and is not of the Body of Christ nor is it of the body of light, but it is a body of darkness and is still a part of that darkness. But those, on the contrary, who possess a soul of light, that is, they possess the power of the Holy Spirit, they are a part of the light.
7. But someone may say: How is it that you say the soul is a body of darkness since it is born of darkness? Listen well to this example. Just as the coat or garment that you wear was made by someone else, still you wear it. Likewise, another builds a house and nevertheless you live in it. In the same way Adam violated the command of God and obeyed the deceitful serpent. He sold himself to the devil and that evil one put on Adam’s soul as his garment – that most beautiful creature that God had fashioned according to his own image, as also the Apostle says: ‘He has done away with it by nailing it to the cross; and so he got rid of the Sovereignties and the Powers’ (Col. 2.15).
This was the very reason why the Lord cam in order to cast them out and reclaim man as his very own house and temple. For this reason the soul is said to be the body of the darkness of wickedness as long as the darkness of sin lives in it because there it lives in the perverse world of darkness and there it is held captive. Thus Paul calls it the body of sin, the body of death, saying ‘…with him to destroy this sinful body’ (Rom. 6.6). And again he says: ‘Who will deliver me from the body of this death?’ (Rom. 7.24).
Contrariwise the soul that believes in God has been freed of the sordidness of sin is lifted through death out of the life of darkness once the soul has accepted the light of the Holy Spirit as its life. By that means it has come to life and spends its life in the Spirit forever after, because it is now held captive by the divine light. The soul is neither by nature divine nor by nature part of the darkness of wickedness, but is a creature, intellectual, beautiful, unique, and admirable. It is a beautiful likeness and image of God. Into that likeness the wickedness of the passions of the dark world entered through the fall.
8. A conclusion, therefore, is that the soul is united in will with whatever it is joined and bound to as its master. Either it has, therefore, the light of God in it and lives in that light with all of his powers, abounding with a restful light, or it is permeated by the darkness of sin, becoming a sharer in condemnation.
The soul, therefore, that wishes to live with God in rest and eternal light must approach to the true High Priest, Christ, and be slain and die to the world and to its former life of darkness and wickedness and be transported into another life to enter into a divine communication. When someone dies in a city, he is unable to hear the voices of others around him. He does not hear their conversation nor the sounds they make, but he is completely dead and is transported to another place where there are no voices, none of the noise of the city. In a like manner the soul, after it has been slain and dead to that city of evil passions where it once earlier lived, hears no longer in itself the voice of the darkened thoughts. It no longer hears the conversation and the noise of frivolous arguments or of the noisy crowd of the spirits of darkness. For it is transported to the city full of goodness and peace, to the city of divine light. there it lives and listens, there it converses, speaks, and reasons. There it performs spiritual works very worthy of God.
9. Let us, therefore, pray that we may be put to death by his power and die to the world of the wickedness of darkness and that the spirit of sin may be extinguished in us. Let us put on and receive the soul of the heavenly Spirit and be transported from the wickedness of darkness into the light of Christ. Let us rest in life forever. For just as on the racetrack the chariot that takes the lead becomes an obstacle, pressing and checking and preventing the others from stretching out and reaching the goal first, so do the thoughts of the soul and of sin run the race in man. If the thought of sin gets the upper hand from the start, it becomes an obstacle, checking and hindering the soul from approaching God to carry off the victory against sin.
But where God himself truly mounts and guides the soul, he always obtains the victory, skillfully directing and leading with expertise the chariot of the soul to a heavenly mind forever. God does not wage war against wickedness, but since he possesses all power and authority of himself, he brings about the victory by himself. Therefore the Cherubim go, not where they wish, but where the Rider in control directs them. Wherever he inclines them, there they go and he supports them. For Scripture says, ‘The hand of a man was under them’ (Ez. 10.21).
Holy souls are led and guided by the Spirit of Christ, who directs them wherever he wishes them to go. Sometimes he leads them by his will through heavenly thoughts, sometimes through the body. Wherever he wishes, there they minister to him. Just as the feet of the birds are the wings, so the heavenly light of the Spirit takes up the wings of thoughts worthy of the soul and leads and directs the soul as he knows best.
10. Therefore, when you hear such things, look to yourself and see whether you really possess these things in your own soul. These are not mere and empty words, but we are dealing with a work that truly goes on in the soul. And if you do not possess these very important spiritual goods but you are lacking in them, be moved to sorrow, grieve and be continually in mourning as one who is still dead in regard to the Kingdom. And as one lies wounded, continually cry out to the Lord and ask with confidence that he may deign to give you this true life.
And so God, who made your body, did not give it life from its very own nature nor from the body itself, nor from the food, drink, clothing, and footwear that he gave the body, but he arranged it that you body, created naked, should be able to live by means of such extrinsic things as food, drink, and clothing. (If the body were to attempt to exist only by its own constituted nature without accepting these exterior helps, it would deteriorate and perish.) In a similar way, it is so with the human soul. It does not have by nature the divine light, even though it has been created according to the image of God. For, indeed, God ordered the soul in his economy of salvation according to his good pleasure that it would enjoy eternal life. It would not be because of the soul’s very own nature but because of his Divinity, of his very Spirit, of his light, that the soul would receive its spiritual meat and drink and heavenly clothing which are truly the life of the soul.
11. As, therefore, the body, as was said above, does not have life in itself, but receives it from outside, that is, from the earth, and without such material things of the earth it cannot life, so also the soul, unless it be regenerated into that ‘land of the living’ (Ps. 27.13) and there be fed spiritually and progress by growing spiritually unto the Lord and be adorned by the ineffable garments of heavenly beauty flowing out of the Godhead, without that food in joy and tranquility, the soul cannot clearly live.
For the divine nature has the bread of life who said: ‘I am the bread of life’ (Jn. 6.35), and ‘the living water’ (Jn. 4.10), and the ‘wine that gladdens the heart of man’ (Ps. 104.15), and ‘the oil of gladness’ (Ps. 45.8), and the whole array of food of the heavenly Spirit and the heavenly raiment of light coming from God. In these does the eternal life of the soul consist. Woe to the body if it were to rely solely on its own nature, because it would by nature disintegrate and die. Woe also to the soul if it finds its whole being in its own nature and trusts solely in its own operations, refusing the participation of the Divine Spirit because it does not have the eternal and divine life as a vital part of itself.
For just as it happens to sick men that, when the body can no longer take food, all the genuine friends, relatives, and loved ones lose all their hope for life and grieve, so God and all the holy angels are saddened by those who do not eat the heavenly food of the Spirit and do not live in a state of incorruption. These things, I repeat, are not simply words spoken, but are the work of the spiritual life, the work of truth, which is brought forth in the worthy and faithful soul.
12. If, therefore, you have become a throne of God and the Heavenly Charioteer has mounted you and your whole soul is a spiritual eye and has become totally light, and if you have been nourished with that heavenly food of the Spirit and you have drunk from the water of life and you have put on the raiment of ineffable light, if finally your interior man has experienced all these and has been rooted in abundance of faith, then, behold, you already live the eternal life, indeed, with your soul resting with the Lord.
Look, you have received these things truly from the Lord so that you may live the true life. If, however, you are not conscious of having experienced any of these things, weep, mourn and groan because you have not yet been made a participator of the eternal and spiritual riches and you have not yet received true life. Therefore, be worried at your poverty, beseeching the Lord night and day because you have settled for the serious poverty of sin.
Would that one be anxious about his penury! And would that we not live as though we are complacent in our smugness, because whoever is so burdened in this way should seek and cry out incessantly to the Lord and he will soon obtain redemption and heavenly riches, just as the Lord said in his story of the unjust judge and the widow. ‘How much more shall God avenge them who cry out to him night and day? Yes, I say unto you, he shall quickly vindicate them’ (Lk. 23.7). To whom be glory and power for ever. Amen.
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