St Symeon and seeing the Light

The heavenly light form of Jesus Christ as imagined by a Japanese artist. (From the animated movie “The Laws of Eternity”.)

I just recently became aware that St Symeon the New Theologian (949–1022 AD) claimed to be able to literally “see the Light” – the heavenly form of Jesus Christ. This is actually not something most Christians claim to be able to do in any literal or near-literal sense. I shall assume that he was seeing this with spiritual sight, not actual photons striking the retina, although what do I know about Jesus and photons.

I haven’t studied the details of this yet. As I said, I only became aware of it a day or two ago, and only today did I realize the scope of this. It was not just some single event, although it evidently started out this way. But after years of asceticism he seems to have seen the Light on a regular basis, and even claimed that this was the purpose of human life. Or so I have read others say about him. I have yet to read any amount of his own writings.

I think regular readers can see why this would interest me. It would probably also interest our visiting Llama. But I doubt any of us would spend the rest of our days in extreme monastic life to find out. Probably not.

Further brief reading reveals that St Symeon had a very informal approach to religion, and while he would celebrate a yearly feast day for his spiritual teacher, he was not generally big on rules and ritual, and reproached those who thought Christianity was about such formal things. He held up personal experience as the original Christianity, and denounced as heresy the teaching that contemporary Christians (as of the year 1000) could not expect to have these same direct experiences as the first Christians.

Needless to say, Symeon was not entirely popular with the church authorities of the area, although the people seems to have loved him. It is a bit hard to find objective facts about this, since his biographer was also his disciple. But for that same reason we can be quite sure about his views on ritual and rules, because this was about a millennium before it became trendy to denounce these kind of things.

Extremely regular readers may believe that I knew all about St Symeon beforehand, or even that I shared his experiences to some degree. Certainly the description of The Light in my “Servants of the Light” fiction is disturbingly Symeonitic. But such things don’t really surprise me anymore. The undeserved Presence in my heart is pretty clear on this topic, although it rarely ever reaches the level of actual vision, like a hallucination.

I guess technically it would qualify as a hallucination as long as other people don’t see it too. It is my belief that voluntary hallucination is not necessarily a sign of mental illness. Indeed, Symeon and several others who had really strange visions (or heard voices, or felt intense heat etc) were capable of more coherent thought than their contemporaries, elaborating on their teachings in a systematic way, as well as writing poetry, organizing large numbers of people, and predicting future events with some degree of accuracy. So while these people certainly had a different function of the mind, it can hardly be called dysfunctional. Rather, one could argue that they were MORE sane than the common person.

In fact, if we accept the childish definition that a hallucination is seeing something that isn’t there, then it could be argued that Symeon was the one who had it right, and we who see a world without the Light are hallucinating. The Light is certainly present in the world, of this I have no doubt, nor do any of the great world religions.

Whether this higher level of sanity also applies to me is more doubtful. But if I live long enough, it would seem that my life is stumbling in this direction. And I suppose I may still literally see the Light, although that is not guaranteed unless I become pure of heart. That is still a bit off, to say it delicately.

and the one who died upon the cross, well he is the One for me.
And he says: Come with me and you will see
the Light that shines for eternity...