Ionita Apostolache, The Luminous Darkens

Publishing House.Mitropolia Olteniei, Craiova, 2019, ISBN 978-606-731-055-9

The Luminous Darkens”

  • Confluences and mystical ideas at the Oriental Fathers
  • The Letters of John Sabba, the Syrian mystic from the Mount Dalyatha

The book “The Luminous Darknes” was published in 2019 at the Metropolia Olteniei Publishing House, by fr. Phd Ionita Apostolache. In his 320 pages, the author succeeded to realise a profound apologetic analyses of the oriental monastic areal, focusing especially on the “mystical confluences and ideas at the Oriental Fathers”. Therefore, in the first part of his work, fr. Ionita Apostolache speaks about: “The mystical confession of the ascetical life. An apologetic perspective about the oriental monastic ethos”; “Confessors of the monastic philosophy. Specificity and connections in the Oriental Mystic”; “Confluences and mystical ideas in the Syrian Tradition”; “Mystagogical elements in an Syriac anonymous hymn about The Church / Bride of Christ”. The second part of the book contain an inedited Romanian translation of the Letters of John Sabba of Dalyatha. The value of this work is confirmed by the two texts from the beginning and from the of it: “The Forward”, signed by Metropolitan Irineu Popa, the Archbishop of Craiova and “Afterword”, signed by Dr. Sebastian Brock, from Oxford UK.

Even though Christianity is often thought of as being especially associated with Europe, it is always important to remember that its birth was in Western Asia, and that there have always, from the very beginnings, been specifically Asian traditions of Christianity. One of the most important of these is that of the Syriac Churches, whose home is in the Middle East and in the south Indian state of Kerala, where Christianity was first preached, according to a strong early tradition, by St Thomas himself. In the early centuries of the history of the Church, Greek and Latin were by no means the only written languages used by Christians: in the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire, and in the Persian Empire further to the east (that is, the countries of the modern Middle East), those Christians who spoke Aramaic – the language of Christ himself – soon adopted the Aramaic dialect, known today as Syriac, as their literary language. As a result, there came into existence a large body of literature, both poetry and prose, much of which is specifically concerned with prayer and the spiritual life. Among the Syriac Fathers, two writers in particular have proved influential: the poet-theologian St Ephrem, who died in 373, and the hermit St Isaac of Nineveh (also known as St Isaac the Syrian), who lived around the end of the 7th century. The former was proclaimed a Doctor of the universal Church by Pope Benedict XV in 1920, while the latter is the only oriental Christian writer to be cited by name in the new Catholic Catechism. These, and other Syriac Fathers, have much of enduring value to say, and here a brief glimpse is offered of their teaching on interior prayer, “the prayer of the heart”.

The term `prayer of the heart’ will for many people be identified as the `Jesus prayer’of Greek and Russian Orthodox tradition, made familiar to many outside the monastic world by the anonymous work entitled The Way of a Pilgrim, first published in Russia in 1884 and subsequently translated into many different languages. The origins of the Jesus prayer are in fact to be found in Africa, among the Coptic monks of early Christian Egypt. Although the practice of using short repeated prayers is known to several of the Syriac Fathers, they mean something rather different when they speak of `prayer of the heart’.

Long before modern medical science had discovered the importance of the function of our physical heart, the writers of the Bible had already identified the heart as the centre of being. For them the heart is not just the seat of the emotions, as it tends to be in modern usage, for it was also seen as the seat of understanding, and of the intellect. This idea of the heart as the spiritual focal point, or centre, of the `inner person’ was explored in a number of different ways by the Syriac Fathers. Thus the spiritual heart of the inner person can be described as having `eyes’, `ears’, `hands’, and even `knees’; but we also encounter such things as the `gate’, the `house’, and the `soil’, or `land’, of the heart, based on the Parable of the Sower (a recent book on the Macarian Homilies by Columba Stewart is entitled “Working the Land of the Heart”)Dr. Sebastian Brock, Afterword – Prayer of the Heart in the Syriac Tradition, p. 300.