It seems most appropriate that I write of this particular chapter on the day the Eastern Church celebrates Pascha. We are, all of us, always, a people of the Resurrection. It is a special blessing, however, that the Eastern and Western traditions’ calendars are now both in Paschal celebration.
This chapter includes a general discussion of Vision of God which we undertake now. It is followed by a more extensive discussion of what some of the Church Fathers have said on the topic, in addition to the usual Sayings of the Fathers, which I will address in a separate post.
Fr. Matta provides us with some well thought-out discussion on what vision of God is and is not. First, he makes it clear that it does not involve the bodily eye perceiving a visible object – which is what we most often think of when we consider vision. Rather, it is knowledge, acquaintance with the person of God. We are invited to see Him and all of our potentials are available to us that we might do so. Fr. Matta tells us, however, that our perception is weak because of sin. Yet “inasmuch as man is chaste, loving, obedient and humble, God is unveiled to him and he becomes acquainted with God…inasmuch as man grows in these virtues, the scope of his vision of God widens and God reveals himself to man more perfectly.”
- Does this understanding of vision resonate with you or does it feel foreign?
- In our ordinary uses of the word, we typically use vision for physical seeing (e.g. I saw you in the room), for mystical appearance (e.g. She saw a vision of the Virgin) or even for imagination (e.g. He had a vision of what he wanted to do with his future). How is the vision of which Fr. Matta writes here similar or different from these?
Our holiness enables us to see God more clearly, writes Fr. Matta, quoting Scripture. Despite the corruption of our nature, we retain some incorruption – and we have a partial potential for overcoming our corruption in faith. “By faith man can transcend his lack of knowledge…Faith actually prepares for vision. By faith we receive here and now the power of the resurrection in which we will see God face to face.” In our faith in Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit, we are sanctified and “qualified” for seeing God. Fr. Matta concludes that this is not only possible but “an obligation”, yet acknowledges that we will never see God clearly in this earthly existence because our senses and reason will always get in the way to some extent.
- I found fascinating how Fr. Matta described our mixed perceptions of God (cruel sometimes, merciful others, etc. p. 83) when we are not at the point of holiness where we can see God in His perfect simplicity. We tend to associate more advanced beings with greater complexity (man vs. amoeba) yet with God who is Being, perhaps there is no need for complexity. Consider…
- How can it be “an obligation” for us to reach a state of perfect holiness to see God clearly if it is also not practically possible for us to do so? (p. 85)
- How do you think faith prepares us for vision?
Fr. Matta proceeds to make a simple but very useful distinction between seeing the Lord and having the Lord appear to us. The former vision, as discussed above, is a knowing of God that occurs as we become holy, but is still inevitably a blurred vision. The latter, however, is “clear vision” – but it does not come through our faith but through God’s design. God, of course, may choose to manifest Himself to any given person at any given time. In so doing, God clears away the obstacles that prevent a person from seeing Him clearly on his/her own. Thus, with this type of vision, the Lord is not seen because of the person’s holiness – but the seeing makes the person holy, i.e. it sanctifies. Also beneficial in his discussion of the two types of vision is Fr. Matta’s explanations of seeming contradictions in Scripture about whether man can see God.
- As a young child, I recall learning of the saints and how some of them saw visions. I remember praying to God that I never have any of these! I was, of course, thinking of the second type, where the Lord appears to a person. I thought of it as frightening and something I wouldn’t be able to handle. (I now understand that one neither prays to have or not have such experiences but simply trusts in God’s wisdom regarding such matters.)
- Whether you have experienced this type of vision or only read of others’ experiences, what do you think might be the spiritual blessings vs. the challenges in having such visions in today’s world?
Let us gaze upon the risen Lord with our hearts and contemplate His beauty, the perfect beauty of His perfect love, victorious for us and in us. May He bless us all, now and forever. Amen.
(I will try to post later this week on the next part of this section. Comments and questions are always welcome.)