John Anthony McGuckin is Professor of Church History at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, a priest of the Orthodox Church, and the author of nine books. This radiant and Spirit-filled collection of 300 short meditations by Christian contemplatives from the fourth to the eleventh centuries will stir your soul and provide substantive nourishment for your devotional life and spiritual practice.
The quotations are arranged in three sections: practice "basic matters of technique and preparation in the life of prayer and mystical searching"; theory offering counsel on how to handle various universal obstacles in the spiritual life; gnosis reflections on the complex mysteries of the Christian adventure. Many of the quotations included here are still used in the monasteries of the Eastern Christian world. These mystical teachings shed light on the inner life and the marvels that arise out of prayer, adoration of God, and service of others.
A major theme in the esoteric mystical Christian tradition is the importance of the heart as the center of human transformation. Sahdona the Syrian wrote: "Blessed are you, O heart that is lucid, the dwelling place of the deity. Blessed are you, O heart that is pure, which beholds the hidden essence." For many of these monks, the heart is the divine milieu where prayer has its origin. It enables us to forgive others and to not hate other human beings. In the Sayings of the Egyptian Fathers we read: "Never look down on anyone. You do not know whether the Spirit of God prefers to dwell in you or in them."
Another major theme in The Book of Mystical Chapters is mystery. As Evagrios of Pontus puts it: "A tree will never blossom without water. Without mystical knowledge, the heart will never rise on high." We grow in faith through encounters with the ineffable. According to Narsai of Edessa, "God hides the mysteries he offers us so that he might teach us to search for them in love."
The following quote from Hesychios is poetic and vivid in its imagery: "Once the heart has been perfectly emptied of mental images, it gives birth to divine and mystical concepts that play within it just as fish and dolphins play in a calm sea. As the sea is rippled when a soft breeze moves over it, so is the heart's abyss moved by the Holy Spirit." What a wonderful gift for all believers that is seeing the mysteries of God frolicking like dolphins in the calm sea of our hearts. Many of these quotations from early Christian contemplatives are deep enough to visit repeatedly in order to draw out their multiple meanings.