Monastic Authority of the Alexandrian Mystics 08-11-2017

Jesus may be elusive and mystifying. Jesus may be obscured by centuries of calcified interpretations. Yet he remains Christianity’s fulcrum. And at one point or another, if we take our faith seriously, we have to submit to one authority or another on the person of Jesus. Here I resonate with the words of the desert mystic Evagrius: “He who prays is a theologian; and he who is a true theologian truly prays.”[1]

What convinces me of the Monastic Authority of the Alexandrian Mystics (Alexandrian Fathers) is that they truly prayed and experienced God firsthand. They did not experience God secondhand through books, classes, and workshops. Mystics like Athanasius of Alexandria swam in the ocean of God. They didn’t read about God perched in their living room. They ardently watched over their souls in desert solitude. Athanasius wasn’t only an archbishop, he was also a monk. And his identity as a monk came first! This is evident from early images of Athanasius with a monk’s hood. In the third century only monks wore hoods. The unique genius of the Alexandrian archbishops from Athanasius on is they were monks and theologians first. The clerical titles and positions were secondary.

The Alexandrian Mystics not only plumbed the depths of theology. They also plumbed the depths of self knowledge through training the mind in silent prayer. Athanasius and the Alexandrian archbishops who followed him (referred to in Appendix B of Healing The Divide) were scientists of the Spirit. They conducted original firsthand experiments. They came away from these experiments radiating the power of the Spirit. This gave them the authority to lead the churches and monastic communities of their time.

 

[1] Ponticus, The Praktikos.

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