More from Fr. Irenei Steenberg. His topic is “Orthodoxy and Mysticism.” First, he reminds his listeners that in contemporary usage, “mysticism” is so broad a term that it can mean anything, and therefore it means nothing. He also reminds his listeners that “mysticism” (the noun) is never officially used within Orthodoxy. Rather the adjective is used: The Mystical Supper, for instance, which is the most common name given to the Eucharist in the East.
The sacraments are also properly called “mysteries” and not “sacramaents” within Orthodoxy. “Sacrament” implies a sort of mechanical operation which is foreign to Orthodoxy. As Kallistos Ware says in his writings on the Mysteries (ie, sacraments), and specifically on the question of the number of sacraments (the Roman seven vs. the Protestant two), that in a proper sense there is only one mystery in the Church, and that is the real, living presence of Jesus Christ himself. To the extent that the Mystical Supper, Baptism, and the sacramentals embody the reality of Jesus Christ, they are properly called Mysteries (ie, sacraments).
With this background, Steenberg defines Christian mysticism as the experience of Jesus Christ himself. He then goes on to say:
Life, if it’s lived to its fullness, is intrinsically mystical, because life in its fullness is a life which joins itself to God. … All you have to do to live a mystical life is to live a human life, or more properly to stop living a sub-human existence, which is the way most of us pass our days: Living out a life that is more defined by our sin and our limitation than it is defined by the fact that we are creatures fashioned into God’s glory, in his image capable of living in communion with himself. That is true human nature.
When we see great saints who were visually transfigured (Athanasius, Gregory Palamas, Symeon the New Theologian, etc.) the important thing to remember is that what one beholds in those moments is not some supernatural phenomenon, but is actually a normal human person. What makes the person look different and miraculous and wonderful is that we behold the human person in the full glory of God rather than in the debased limitation of sin, which is how we normally see one another.