The Bible: Father Symeon’s Kragiopoulos Centre of Theology
His discourse was also theological. He never ignored dogma, never indulged in moralizing, empty verbiage or flights of fancy. He spoke well, was comprehensible, and used theology, not as a system of knowledge, but as the essence of life, which imbues the whole of human existence. The centre of his theology was the Bible, which he knew in depth. His sermons were, at bottom, Biblical and he recommended that his ‘children’ read the Scriptures, and, indeed, he set a chapter of the New Testament to be read every day, by all of them. He immersed himself in the Scriptures, engaging with the text and enjoying the interpretational footnotes, both Patristic and modern.
We would often speak at length on the telephone about one passage or a single word.
His theological discourse wasn’t superficial. He knew theology in depth, he was up-to-date with theological bibliography and followed developments in academic theology. He was usually present at conferences of the Greek Society for Biblical Studies and took part in the discussions, reminding people, through what he said, that theology isn’t merely knowledge, but also an experience, without which knowledge ‘is puffed up’. And all the days of the conferences, when Fr. Symeon circulated as an ordinary member, he emanated the fragrance of Christ with his words, his smile and his presence. At one such conference in Cyprus, during a break, a professor from Thessaloniki approached a group of a few young people who were talking to Fr. Symeon and said: ‘Do you know what a blessing this moment is for you. In Thessaloniki we get to enjoy Fr. Symeon’s presence in drips and drabs. You’ve got him here when and for as long as you want’.
‘If you’re a theologian, you’ll pray properly; and,
if you pray properly, you’re a theologian’ (On Prayer 61)
His theological discourse was also niptic. He enjoyed the niptic fathers and imitated them in word and deed. The saying attributed to Saint Neilos: ‘If you’re a theologian, you’ll pray properly; and if you pray properly, you’re a theologian’ (On Prayer 61) was a rule of life. The silent assemblies, of which we spoke above, are a small example of his desire to teach the method of the prayer of the heart. And even if these silent assemblies have not been generally adopted as his vigils have, they were of great benefit, because the idea spread of using a prayer-rope and saying the Jesus prayer. Until then, it had been unknown to the wider public, neglected or held to be something that was appropriate only for monastics.
I realized just how much Fr. Symeon was imbued with the spirit of the prayer of the heart, how much he was himself niptic, from a long discussion we had as we were returning from a conference of the Greek Society for Biblical Studies on Patmos, the first of a series, at the end of September, 1975.
As we were sitting in the stern of the ship, in the moonlight, returning from the island of the Revelation, he showed himself to be a great niptic father, a holy teacher of the prayer of the heart. He was taken up, speaking from another world, and I tried to follow him, drinking in his words. We parted past midnight, with the feeling that we weren’t done with the subject. How could we be when ‘perfection is never-ending’?
Fr. Symeon never advertised his work. He never challenged anyone in his homilies. You learned about him from other people. I recommended his talks to someone and he said to me afterwards: ‘You mean there’s somebody like him in Thessaloniki and you didn’t tell me earlier?’
“I thank you, my Lord, that you allowed me to see what I am”
The event of salvation is conscious. We should know this and not fear it at all. Further, we should beg God to reveal our true selves to us. Then God will see that we accept this not with words, but in practice. Therefore, when at some point, either we make a mistake or something else happens, and God allows all of our wickedness, and our whole diseased and bleak inner state to be revealed, we need to accept it. We need even to be thankful, saying: “My God, such a thing I had awithin me and I didn’t recognize it! I thank you, my Lord, that you allowed me to see what I am”.
You must see this and embrace it. Not in the sense that you will hang onto it, but in the sense that you will acknowledge that you are the one that has this within you. You ought to acknowledge it without wanting to blame and pass the responsibility to someone else and without averting your eyes as though not wanting to see it. Some men and women who work at lowly jobs, whatever happens, they stoop and patiently do the work completely. On the contrary, a person may be fragile or delicate, and supposedly ashamed, supposedly disgusted and supposedly isn’t able to do such work. If he does this work though, it will be incomplete. Here, though, in our own case, it’s necessary that we see our sin. We must see this thing that we hold onto as if we want it, and within which our soul has been sunk for an entire life. We must see it, must feel it. We must see how difficult it is, nearly impossible, to escape from this state. Therefore, someone is completely convinced, and thinks: “It’s over. I’m going to perish”. This is Hades. Namely, someone sees that he is in Hades.
However, we know that we have a Saviour, we know that Christ came to earth. Then we start to understand what it means that he came to save us, and we run to the Saviour. We run to the Lord with pain, with prayer, with a cry, with faith, with hope and a firm conviction that the Lord will accept us and will save us. The Lord wants us to approach things exactly like this. This is not our own daring or our own boldness. He wants us act just like that, to entrust ourselves in this way, and for this reason he gave us promises. So someone does this work, and little by little the decay of his soul, that lies in the subconscious and the unconscious, emerges.
How long will this last for? A lifetime. Until the end of our life, this is the work we have to do. But grace is involved. It also happens every so often that when you enter within yourself or when you give yourself to God, the decay you have within emerges on its own, and you see it whether you want to or not.
It is a bleak state, a filthy state, but grace is involved since in exactly this way you are redeemed, once and for all, and are saved. And it is through this that you are delivered from this state.
Is our disposition such that the Lord is able to be moved to compassion for us?
“And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick.”
Then – as the Gospel passage tells us – since the multitude had followed him into the desert for many hours and were hungry, the Lord with five loaves and two fish, having blessed and multiplied them, fed five thousand men with twelve additional baskets taken up.
The compassion of Christ is not simply some sentimentality, but is a manifestation of His love toward His creation. God always loves the world, He loves every individual person, but for Him to be moved to compassion and to show it, it is also necessary for a person to be appropriately receptive to it.
It’s not enough to simply do some good works (to pray, to go to church, to study). Whatever we do we are sinners and unworthy of God. Consequently, we are unacceptable. All the same, we need to do these things precisely to show our good disposition, to show that we want to be saved, that we choose God, we seek Him, we love Him. But is not enough for these things to be done only because of habit.
That’s why it is good, wherever we find ourselves, to ask ourselves night and day whether our disposition is such that the Lord is able to be moved to compassion for us. It is not necessary for you to journey along many and distant roads, climbing and descending, in order to achieve this. God is the one who covers the distance that exists between us and Him.
All a person needs to do is one little thing, but a little thing which is great and which is everything: to humble himself, to repent, to have the fear of God within him, to not be puffed up, self-inflated, and conceited.
And then – O, the wonder! – God will be found wherever we are. Then irrespectively of how things arise in our lives, we will feel the compassion of God and see how God will provide all that our souls and bodies need. It is not difficult for God – not difficult even for God to heal you from sickness or to put in order other problems and situations in your life. He can take care of everything. But we need to adopt that disposition that will elicit His compassion toward us. (August 3rd, 2014)
Transcribed talks by Archimandrite Symeon Kragiopoulos
From: Holy Hesychasterion “The Nativity of Theotokos” Publications.
Translated by fr. Matthew Penney
(To be continued …)
For Fr. Symeon Kragiopoulos: The Portrait of a Spiritual Father – I, The Theologian and the ‘Liturgical’ Being (his famous church services and vigils), go here
For Fr. Symeon Kragiopoulos: The Portrait of a Spiritual Father – II, The ‘Silent’ Assemblies of Father Symeon Kragiopoulos, (his famous silent sessions of the Jesus prayer), go here
For Fr Symeon Krayiopoulos: The Portrait of a Spiritual Father – III, A Servant of the Holy Mystery of Confession, go here …