A Catholic layman, an Orthodox bishop, and an Evangelical minister walked into a bar…

Early yesterday morning, a LiveJournal friend of mine named Seraphim Sigrist (an Eastern Orthodox bishop, no less) wrote a wonderful entry about an Evangelical mystic, A. W. Tozer (a Christian and Missionary Alliance pastor and the author of such books as The Knowledge of the Holy and The Pursuit of God), whom he had known many years ago. This is Seraphim’s way of pointing out that the anti-contemplative strain within some quarters of the evangelical world (such as Lighthouse Trails Research) is hardly the last word on how Protestants relate to the mystical tradition. Recognizing that I don’t have that many Evangelicals in my rogues’ gallery of mystics, I thought my readers might enjoy this ecumenical moment, in which a Catholic blogger suggests you read an Orthodox bishop’s paean to an Evangelical mystic.

We are one body, after all.

Click here to read Seraphim Sigrist’s Encomium for A. W. Tozer.

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  1. I have read the Seraphim article twice.
    His biography of Tozer is wrong.
    Tozer was in Toronto only 3.5 years. Compared to 30+ in CHicago at Southside Church. Its a rather large point given what occiered with Tozer in Chicago before he moved to Toronto.
    email me at the gnustime@aol.com address and I can give you more about that.

  2. Bishop Seraphim is wonderful. If only there could be other hierarchs in the Orthodox Church in America like him. Or even parish priests. Or anyone with some sort of influence–influence unfortunately seems to require ordination of some sort. It’s sad that the Orthodox church today has become so terrified of the way of prayer that it represents. It’s fine to talk of the hesychasts, the glorious monastic tradition, theosis, all that. You can study it and write your dissertation on it. But don’t try it yourself, kids, you might blow your legs off. Leave that stuff to the (mostly nonexistent) monks, and you just concern yourself with standing at liturgy once a week, more during lent, obeying the rules, coming up with some sins to confess so you can go to communion, and just KNOW that you come from that great tradition of spirituality, even though humility requires that you not practice it.
    Maybe I’m too cynical…but more power to Bishop Seraphim anyway.

  3. Yes, but isn’t this the tension within all religion: pity the poor clergy, who are interested in mystical spirituality but spend their lives tending to the needs of the vast majority of parishioners who want to keep God as far away as possible. When I first became interested in Catholicism I told the priest at the parish I would eventually join that I was interested in mysticism. He smiled and pointed to a rather large portrait of Thomas Merton hanging above his desk. But then the smile vanished. “I would be remiss if I didn’t warn you that if you’re looking for mysticism, you’re not going to find it in your typical Catholic parish,” he said. “We have over 1000 families here, and I can count on one hand the parishioners who are genuinely interested in mysticism.” I don’t think he was at all surprised when I quickly got involved in the lay community at the nearest monastery. As much as I dislike gnosticism, I will grant that the gnostics were right in their assessment that only a small percentage of people want, or are ready for, gnosis (read: mysticism). For the rest, it’s simply not on their radar screen. Your cynicism, Dave, it seems to me arises from the fact that non-mystics often wind up among the ranks of the clergy; making it even more problematic for the rare mystic in the pews. I’m blessed to have both a monastery nearby, and a parish priest with a love for the contemplative life. But the vast majority of Catholics (or Christians of any stripe) are not so lucky. No wonder so many mystically inclined persons leave the church in disgust.

  4. Carl, you are a very charitable man, God love you. You assume that the Roman Catholic clergy are interested in fostering mystical spirituality in laypeople.

    As for the Catholics, this is directly contrary to my experience. (I have been a Roman Catholic since birth, and I am 62.) Like you, I assumed these guys were on my side – supporting direct, personal contact with God. So sad too, bad. They understood the real situation a long time before I did. Too bad for me.

    You see, the Catholic theological position is that you and I can only contact God through the intermediation of a priest. That’s the only way we can access the Body of Christ in the Eucharist, that’s the only way we can obtain forgiveness of major sins. Just as an example. In the history of the RC Church, this alleged power has been much misused, of course.

    But. What lies behind this structure is even more sinister. Because if you go to a priest and tell him that you have had some kind of direct contact with God, this of course is a threat to his whole position. If you can talk to God without him, where is his justification for existence?? There isn’t any. You can rely on him to attack that statement of yours wherever and whenever him can. It threatens him personally.

    Watch out. I wasn’t nearly wary enough dealing with these men.

  5. Even though I’ve only been a Catholic for about 3 years (counting my RCIA experience), I’ve learned enough to understand that what you say, Susan, is only too true. And frankly, it’s just as true of Protestant clergy as well, even though they don’t have the same theology of priesthood. My priest – and some of the monks at the monastery where I work – are the wonderful but all too rare exceptions to this rule. Dealing with clergy who are threatened by mysticism gives a new appreciation of why so many of the great Christian mystics were attacked, in their lifetime and beyond, for heresy.

  6. Not to be too cynical on this point, but just to stick to the Biblical record: sometimes the priesthood is designated to serve the ironic and self-contradictory role of representing the official system and sacrificing the direct-contact-with-God mystical element who are in their midst at the time (John 11:49-53; Matthew 23:37).

    I don’t suppose that role was in the minds of most of the current clergy when they first took on the job…

    I was trained for a few years in the Catholic clergy training system (Jesuit), but I found myself unable to live with that measure of contradiction (in myself at least as much as in anyone else). I now find myself in a more-or-less-Protestant ‘system’ in which the same human tendency is present, but in which we at least acknowledge this and make a serious effort to fight it. I think Carl has probably heard of Frank Viola (through Mike Morrell) and Frank’s teaching (and practice) that flatly denies the validity of the clergy-laity system. It is in this context–decidedly without any positional office or authority in any local church body–that I have been the most free to develop mystical and prophetic gifts, and to assist others in developing theirs too. And the surprising and most enyoyable long-term fruit of this journey for me has been that recently I have begun to be accepted by local “clergy” on a peer basis spiritually, through my involvement with a group who are interceding for them, and through a genuine back-and-forth caring based on mutual respect.
    I find, with Carl, that this is indeed (sadly) all too rare in the church, the mystical Body of Christ on earth, whether Catholic, Protestant, or whatever….Surely Jesus in His Melchizedek priesthood is grieving over this state and groaning for our deliverance (Romans 8:22-23)…

    Peace and love to all,

  7. NOTE: Sorry about that ‘Barb says’ on that last post: I forgot to change her name back to mine after she used my e-mail on a recent post here…

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