2. Brother Rose's Tentative Notes
Now this man was the monastery goat herd. And he lived among his animals a half kilometer up the rutted road from the cenobium at the base of the hermit's escarpment in what the brothers called a kathismata, or seat, encompassing the livestock pens, the cemetery and the monastery burial chapel and bone crypt. He was, as far as any of the brothers knew, a mute and a simpleton, who had no name either secular or monastic, and had as long as anyone could remember simply been called boskoi, or shepherd. The Igumen of the monastery remembered him as a somewhat larger than average sized mute with a humped back and rather obvious mental deficiencies; but certainly nothing like the seven foot demon village superstition fantasized.
For in the many long years since Brother Boskoi had become a browser, he had allowed himself to be seen by no one except at great distances browsing down on all fours among his flock. Even Brother Milker, who walked up the kathismata trail from the refectory twice a day with his donkey to fetch the milk cans had never seen the recluse. For the Igumen respected the old shepherd's wish for seclusion as reverently as Father Szesc, the former Igumen, had before him, and as reverently as he respected Father Szesc's own seclusion in his hermit's cave. And he saw to it that his monks and villagers respected it too. All of which resulted in the fantastic tales that had come to be associated with the old browser, not only among the villagers but among the brothers of the cenobium as well.
For though the shepherd had been an old man when he had first been taken in by the monastery, during the years since he had become a browser he had not only grown in stature but, according to the superstitious villagers who had admittedly seen him only at great distances browsing among his flocks, was as hale and hardy as a young billy goat. He had, village superstition insisted, grown in the past twenty years to giant- like proportions, developed cloven feet, sprouted goat horns under his dung-matted hair, and, like the Wandering Jew of Apocrypha, supposedly fell into a deathlike trance every hundred years, out of which he would be resurrected a young man of thirty.
According to legend, Father Szesc had rescued the old shepherd from
a mob of villagers who were about to burn him at the crossroad shrine one
All Souls Eve during the first decade of the century on the charge of fornicating
with their livestock. The old man had sustained burns over eighty percent
of his body before he was rescued by the brothers of the monastery, but
had managed to survive by way of a miracle attributed to Igumen Szesc who,
completely disregarding the villagers' accusations of the old man's bestiality,
dressed the humpbacked old simpleton in a monk's tunic, handed him a knotted
prayer rope, and somehow got him to understand that so long as he wore
the tunic and knelt and twisted the prayer rope whenever he heard the chanting
drifting down the kathismata trail to his hovel, beating his breast three
times at every knot, and conscientiously tended to the monastery livestock
as well as the cemetery and the bone crypt and burial chapel; he would
be allowed to live at the kathismata under the protection of the brothers,
safe from the rancor, of the superstitious villagers. It was out of gratitude
and devotion to Igumen Szesc the brothers said, that the old shepherd sued
for the honor of feeding his master his weekly ration of consecrated bread
and watered wine when Szesc finally abandoned his Igumen's throne for one
of the hundreds of abandoned hermit's caves cut into solid limestone of
the escarpment during St. Procula's golden age of eremitism back in the
eleventh and twelfth centuries.
Now it came to pass one day, unknown to either the villagers or the brothers of the monastery, that a Jewish maiden, in order to save it from suffering her own fate in a Nazi death camp, abandoned an infant in a grotto up on the escarpment where one of Brother Boskoi's nanny goats was giving birth. And finding the child suckling the teat of the nanny along with her newborn kid, in his simplicity and shame the old shepherd assumed that the human child was the accursed offspring of his own secret cohabitation with his flock. And overcoming his first impulse to smash its head against the grotto wall and bury it under the moss, fearing the wrath of the monks and the torch of the villagers, he buried it alive along with its foster mother and sister in an abandoned burial vault under the stone floor of the burial chapel bone crypt.
And so the nameless child lived the first twelve years of his life in total darkness, suckling on the dugs of his foster mother, bruised by the hard-hoofed competition of his foster sister, the warm sweet liquid squirting out on his tongue and running down his throat warm into his stomach, the soft resilient and swollen teat between his gums, and the warm soft feel of her sac against his cheek, and the fine fur of her stomach against his hairless own, and the joy when she licked him to keep him clean. Until the day she turned cold and hard as stone and then began to smell so bad there amid the years of dried and unburied defecation, that he could no longer bring himself to go near her even though he was so unbearably cold. A loss he would not have been able to sustain had it not been for the milkless but warm and beautiful smelling udders of his foster sister, and the silage and root crops and vegetables and fruit parings he nosed and gummed upon the stone steps beside the invisible water-filled skull.
His sister's shaggy warm fur brought him through almost a decade of cold and naked winters before she too suddenly grew cold and hard as stone. And with the first faint odor of her decay there in the corner beside the bones of his foster mother; he knew he would crawl up those steps when he heard the stone begin to move, even though he knew too from experience that it meant he would be kicked right down again and there would be no silage or water until the next time, and then only if he waited down below the steps until the stone was scraped back over the hole. And that was exactly what he did. Except that this time he grabbed the foot that kicked him in the dark. Which was all he remembered when he woke up with his head aching as it had never ached before. Lying there at the foot of the steps, knowing that no matter how long he waited the stone would never again scrape unless he made it do so himself.
He found, however, that no matter how he tried, no matter how he pushed his feet against it, lying there on the next to top step, he could not budge it, waiting and waiting as the odor of decay grew stronger and stronger and never got a chance to get any less so; knowing, once the meat and blood was all gone and he had sucked the marrow out of the bones, that if he did not get some silage and water somehow, he too would grow cold and hard and motionless as the stone steps under his knees and hands, the stone steps on which he knelt with his back up against the slab and slowly, with all the effort and pain and strength his not-even-twelve-year-old though recently meat-blood-and-bone nourished body could muster, began to stand up right for the first time in his life. And as he did so, the slab began to move.
As hungry and thirsty as he was, he did not go any farther than the rim of the vault. The slab had been buried under a pile of bones, and as they spilled down the steps around him he simply waited there with his hands on the top stair and his feet on the second, his head and shoulders sticking up amid the decimated bone pile, listening and sniffing. And since there was nothing to fear in what he smelled or heard (for it was as dark and silent in the bone crypt as it had been down in the vault), he began to snuffle around in the darkness amid the bone piles, finding the floor area many times greater than the vault, and reaching up the walls, that he could not touch the ceiling even when he pulled himself upright along the rough dry stones. That was how he happened to find the steps leading up to the chapel floor and the stone slab which, pushing up with his shoulders, began to move much more easily than the one covering his vault had. And for the first time in his life he saw not only light, but heaven and hell too, saw the creation and the fall, and the resurrection and the Apocalypse and the Last Judgment. Saw the virgins and the prophets. And the saints and holy hermits. Saw the awesome Almighty Himself surrounded by His armies of winged angels and the frowning four apostles of the Scriptures surmounting the supporting pillars of the main dome of the windowless burial chapel from which hung the huge brass perpetually lit oil lamp corona decorated with its double-headed Byzantine eagle, silver lamps and ostrich eggs, dimly illuminating the statueless and pewless naos, every inch of floor, ceiling, and wall of which was covered with Byzantine iconography.
Actually, he had seen light before. But only the dim glow out of which the silage and water used to appear whenever the stone slab scraped away over his vault. This time, as soft as it was, it ravaged his eyes and was all so overwhelming and awesome and unbelievable, that the struggle he had forcing them to stay open despite themselves was only increased a hundred fold when, after what may very well have been hours during which he leaned and lay and rolled around on the floor and danced and touched and cheeked and kissed the icon-covered walls of the naos, he finally found his way out into the small parnaos and, discovering the gilded door, pushed it open and was immediately and momentarily struck blind. And in the temporary darkness, he once again saw heaven and hell, the creation and the fall, the resurrection and the apocalypse and the Last Judgment. Saw the virgins and the prophets. And the saints and the holy hermits. And the awesome Almighty himself surrounded by His armies of winged angels. And the frowning four apostles of the scriptures surmounting their supporting pillars. Only this time those pillars supported not the main dome of the windowless burial chapel but the wide whirling airy blue dome of a miraculously white and wondrous winter world.
It was from behind these willows that he secretly and wondrously peered at the large, humpbacked, hairy, sandaled, bare-headed old goat herd in his black monk's tunic with the small sack hanging from his belt filled with pebbles, which he tossed in front of straying kids as with his staff he herded his bleating flock back into their pens in the evening, feeding and milking them, squatting behind the complaining nannies, his whiskered chin on their backs. Watched him roll the milk cans down the long slope to the road and, returning from his prayers in the chapel adjourn to his wooden hut among the pens; watching from his secret place amid the trees until after sunset, until he could hear the snoring as darkness began to wash over the dome of sky, before crawling back into the burial chapel where the huge brass corona hanging to within fifteen feet of the stone floor from the high gilded chapel dome perpetually shone on the Almighty and His angels and the four frowning apostles of the scriptures upon which, despite themselves, his insatiable but tired eyes eventually closed, only to open again when the big door of the parnaos scraped open and from his hiding place behind the altar he could see the old goat herd kneeling with his knotted rope before the iconostas, one hand twisting the knots and the other making the sign of the cross over and over and over again, before going back out to feed and milk his flock and drive them up the trail over the escarpment, tossing his pebbles and wielding his crook, up to the distant pastures in the hills beyond the long-abandoned (all save one) hermitages, where, following them on the third day, he watched from behind some maples as they browsed the new spring grass amid the patches of melting snow.
He could not believe the beauty and breathlessness of the natural world. The rolling melting greening hills. The budding trees. The perfumed air. The limitless dome of impossibly blue sky. He could not prevent himself, despite the consuming fear that he might be discovered, from rolling and dancing and touching and cheeking those breathlessly beautiful miracles of the natural world any more than he had been able to restrain himself that first fantastic morning in the burial chapel amid the iconographic miracles of the spiritual.
For almost two weeks he watched the routine. The grazing, the milking, the rolling of the milk cans down the long slope for the monk with his donkey to cart away with him, leaving the empty ones he had carried away full that morning there beside the road along with a covered bowl; which, after the donkey cart was out of sight, the shepherd would fetch up to his hut and empty into his stomach, leaving it along with the refilled milk cans along the road the next morning . There was also the cleaning of the pens, the greasing of the wheels of the dung cart and the hauling of the dung to the fertilizer pile down the road toward the distant vegetable fields, a routine as perpetual and changeless as the light of the corona or the rising and setting of the sun.
Except for the third night and the tenth. For on those nights, the singing he had heard at regular intervals during the day and evening drifting on the wind up the road from the cenobium, whose cupolas he could see over the top of the willows in the hazy distance; on those nights the, singing came u p the road not on the wind but in a candle-lit procession which, as he peered out the little barred window at them as in a dream, he realized was coming right up into the parnaos giving him just enough time barely to get the slab covering the entrance to the bone crypt shoved back into place over his head before the singing filled the chapel above him and reverberated in his head as he touched his forehead and then his ear against the slab, and kneeling there on the stone steps in the darkness made barely bearable by the singing ringing in his head, marveled at the beauty and magnificence of the mysterious, and though he could understand not a single word of it, anything but meaningless chanting of the Mass of the Dead.
But that was not the only break in routine that occurred on the third and tenth day. For the long-handled baker's paddle and the basket with the jar and loaf and huge iron key in it that he found before the iconostas when, unable to bear the darkness without the singing, he lifted the slab and climbed out into the silent empty chapel after the candle-lit procession disappeared down the road, was taken away by the old shepherd. He watched him from behind the altar, and then through the peephole in the parnaos door, seeing him standing there in the moonlight before the livestock pens with the jar tipped over his head, watching him after he had finished drinking, undoing his belt, and taking off his tunic, and there in the moonlight brighter even than the brass corona, saw the old man naked as himself, climb awkwardly over the stiles into the livestock pen.
It was not as though he was ignorant of what the old shepherd was doing. He had done the same himself locked in the vault with his foster sister, having after the death of her mother found not only the stimulating of his own genitals a substitute, though an inadequate one, for the pleasure he experienced during her baths, but eventually his foster sister's too, and had been mounting her regularly for almost a year before her death. And the only reason he had not mounted one of the does in the fields during their daily pasture, or out in the pens after the snoring began behind the thatched wall of the old man's hut, was that he was afraid to take a chance of being discovered by the old shepherd and forced back into the darkness of the vault. For he knew he could never bear that again. Not after having discovered, after twelve long years of veritable silence and darkness, Music arid Light. And he could not understand at all why something so pleasurable, so completely natural as mounting a doe should result in the old shepherd's beating himself with his knotted rope till he bled, the naked old man kneeling there exhausted in the moonlight under the willows, shivering from his splashing plunge into the freezing pond.
It had nothing to do with the mounting, he decided, which he assumed was perfectly natural. But with the drink. It had to be the drink he concluded, sniffing the jar after the old shepherd had gotten back into his tunic again and disappeared into his hovel and began snoring away in his coffin. It did not smell like the pond at all. He would not taste it however, for fear of its making him act as strangely as it had the old shepherd. For it seemed terribly odd, even to a newborn like himself, that anyone or anything should actually deliberately hurt itself, beat itself until it bled.
And next morning after Lauds, he watched the old Shepherd fill the jar at the pond and put it back into the basket beside the delicious smelling loaf, which like the wine, he had dared not taste last night for fear it must certainly be equally if not more dangerous, since even the old Shepherd had resisted it despite its unbelievably pleasurable aroma, an aroma even more pleasurable he decided than the perfume of the does in estrous drifting up from the pens reminding him how much he missed his foster mother and sister, a perfume which if he gave into its call, he was afraid might, should the old Shepherd wake up and catch him in the pens, prove even more dangerous than the bread or wIne.
And he was right. For on the eleventh day, which began just like the fourth, with the old shepherd carrying the baker's paddle and basket with the bread and water-filled wine jar up the escarpment trail in the morning and unlocking the hermitage gate and shoving the basket into the barred window on the baker's paddle before taking his flock to pasture, leaving the paddle and the empty basket and key beside the milk cans along the side of the road; on the eleventh day, after the sun disappeared and the moon rose, he could no longer resist the aroma wafting out of the pens. And hearing the snores behind the thatched walls of the shepherd's hut, he climbed over the stiles and mounted one of the unwilling does, whose reluctance resulted in just enough commotion to wake the snoring old shepherd, who came rushing out of his hut like a crazed man, leaping over the stiles wielding his heavy crook, which after several bruising flails across shoulders and head suddenly ended up in his own only- twelve-year-old but already huge and powerful hands, resulting ultimately in the frightened nannies huddling against the stiles and the old shepherd bleeding through the mouth, nose, and eyes, lying at his feet. For though he had barely reached puberty, he was already tall enough and strong enough not only to have wrestled the murder weapon out of the old man's muscular arms, but to drag his corpse into the chapel and down into the bone crypt and, by the dim light of the corona bending down the steps from the chapel above, bury it in the vault under the bone pile supplemented with femurs and tibias and scapulas, and humeri from other neighboring piles.
That was how he had discovered the bone crypt window hidden behind one of the bone piles, and decided that so long as he could have moonlight to substitute for the perpetual light of the corona and since the window (whose bars were not only no longer set, the mortar holding them having long ago washed completely away, but were rusted so thin he knew that should the need arise he could snap them with one hand) was large enough for him to crawl out through in an emergency, it would be safer to sleep in the bone crypt than in his customary hiding place behind the burial chapel altar .
He was not only strong enough, he was apparently also bright enough to see to it that the old Boskoi's chores were performed without interruption. Milking goats came as naturally to him as browsing beside them at pasture. And rolling the milk cans to the side of the road was tricky only the first time. But even then he spilled only a minimum amount of the warm lovely liquid. And greasing the dung cart axle and learning to wield a dung shovel was simple enough so long as he stood up at it, having learned actually to prefer standing upright to moving about on all fours way back in the vault when he first discovered he could do so while mounting his foster sister. He welcomed the warmth the old Shepherd's tunic and rope-soled shoes provided out in the pastures amid the melting snow, where he found he hardly ever needed to use the pebble pouch or crook since a sound or gesture from him usually sufficed. And after awhile he found that, even on moonless nights, so long as he took a doe down into the crypt with him to substitute for the perpetually burning corona, he could sleep quite comfortably in the coffin he had moved down with him from the dead shepherd's hut, rather than on the cold silt-covered stone floor, and when he outgrew it, on top of it.
The only other change he made in the shepherd's routine besides sleeping in the bone crypt instead of the hut was to continue to eat out of the livestock troughs and browse in the fields with his flock rather than eat out of the covered bowl Brother Milker left with the empty milk cans every evening. For he feared the warm delicious-smelling fish and lentils might be just as dangerous for him as the watered wine or the bread, and heroically resisted temptation long enough for the Monastery to give up feeding him altogether .
And that was how it came to pass that just a few weeks after his birth, this abandoned child became the old Boskoi, the legendary demon saint of the Uniat monastery of St. Procula.
[to be continued]
He had gone directly back to the Katholikon upon his return from the escarpment. And sitting there in the dark in his hanging stall, his hands folded, over the child's chapbook in his lap and his -eyes closed, he did not, as in contemplation, attempt id force out of his mind the personal cares and tribulations of his own individual existence and concentrate upon the universal collective significance of the scriptures. But in the ancient tradition of Hesychastic meditation and mental prayer, allowed whatever would to come into his mind, whatever God would send him. Silently repeating the Jesus prayer until it slowly began to synchronize with his breathing and his heart beat. Praying that the all powerful, and all knowing, and omnipresent God would grant him ihe grace and understanding necessary to correctly interpret the personal significance of the sign up on the escarpment.
It was Nikolai, who had assured him that God would send him a sign.
That was exactly twelve days ago, on the morning of Crystal's birthday
celebration, when he had come begging his Igumen on bended knee to be permitted
to leave Father Physic's skete on the lake shore and retreat back into
the mothering bosom of the cenobium; saying, "It all began with a dream,
"I was sitting at the grand console in the choir loft of the south shore church. My back was to the main altar, but in the tilted mirror the organist follows mass in, I could see the rose window centered in the peaked cathedral ceiling above the main altar. The sun was just beginning to rise. behind it, dimly defining the stain glass symbols of the four evangelists ringed round the rex gloriae. Except that when it was fully risen, the window glowed not with the ox, and eagle, and winged lion, and man-become- angel, but with the Greek letters Alpha and Omega and Chi and Rho in all sorts of strange and meaningless combinations. And in the center of the rosa, instead of the rex gloriae there was nothing but the intersecting vertical and horizontal lines dividing the circle into quadrants. And the wall surrounding it had turned into an equilateral triangle. I suspected I was only dreaming, because when I looked back over my shoulder directly at the window it was the rex gloriae again. But when I looked back into the mirror . . ."
The following day, he had not been able to keep this curious dream out of his meditations, he told Nikolai--this reduction of the rex gloriae, the traditional representation of the Christian cosmos, into his curious circulus quadratus. Despite the abstractness of the figure, the Christian aspects of his cosmos were still apparent. The trinitarian nature of the triangle was obvious. And the Greek letters labeling the four quadrants of the circle were traditionally used in iconography as symbols of Christ. Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, symbolized Christ, the beginning and the end. And Chi and Rho, were the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ. However, the combinations in which they appeared in the quadratus were certainly untraditional, not to say meaningless in any Christian context he, at least, was familiar with.
What did it mean? It was a mystery which only deepened with the following
night's dream in which the rose window was no longer reflected simply as
a quartered circle enclosed in an equilateral triangle, but as a square
standing on one of its angles within the circle within the triangle,
the Greek letters appearing in.the four equilateral triangles forming the
square. A mystery
which no amount of meditation the following day could solve.
"It wasn't until the third night, when the square began to rotate within the circle and its three dimensional aspect became appar- ent, that I finally began to see what the Adversary buried deep down in my unconscious mind was up to. For you were right as always, Excellency. I am apparently not nearly so much in control of my angelic aspirations and animalistic limitations as I have much too sinfully and pridefully assumed. That is why Crystal was sent to me. Why I fished her out of the lake that morning? To show me that regardless of how far I have come, I still have an enormously long way to go before I am ready for a hermitage. Just as your Father had instructed me when I so pridefully and sinfully imagined I was completely immune to all temptations of luxury and worldliness, and stubbornly abandoned the cenobium for Father Physic's skete. And so I beg of you, Father, please allow me back into the bosom of the cenobium before it is too late. For I fear that my sojourn down at the skete and my dealings with the world have already seriously jeopardized my vocation, if not my faith. "
Nikolai was surprised as well as confused.
"But I had thought, my son, that you had completely put her out of your mind. I do not understand. What do these dreams of yours have to do with the child?"
They were sitting across from each other in Nikolai's reading chairs now, under the icons of the saints, his Igumen leaning hard on his words as he tried to explain; saying, "I had put her completely out of my conscious thoughts immediately after I said good bye for the last time down in the south shore choir loft, just as I had confessed to you Father"; having confessed several weeks ago, that he had decided to forgo his organ practice sessions down on the south shore as a kindness to Crystal, since it was becoming disturbingly clear to him that she was allowing her expectations to get the better of her common sense. And as charming as her presence was in the choir loft, and though she presented no sort of temptation for him whatsoever, and certainly no threat to his vocation; nevertheless, he could see that she was actively embarked on a campaign to seduce him away from his calling. And as innocent and inane as that futile seduction would inevitably prove to be, he thought it kinder, for the child's sake, to end their meetings altogether, despite how much he regretted sacrificing his music now that he had gotten back to it again after all these years.
Nikolai had thought it a wise decision at the time. And over the past few weeks Rose neither thought nor dreamed of her. Which had been somewhat surprising since he had had several dreams of her during the course of their meetings. One or two of them even of a mildly carnal nature. But such dreams were merely laughable. Every monk had them occasionally, and knew exactly how to handle them. Such dreams presented no threat to one's sanctity. However, since he had stopped the musical meetings, he had not even dreamed of her, had put her completely out of his mind just as he had confessed to his Igumen.
"Or at least I thought I had. Until that night when the square began to revolve in the sphere within the two dimensional triangle, Father, and I could see that it was not a square at all. But rather an octahedron. A regular octahedron. Or more specifically, an isometric crystal.
He was not at all disturbed at that point, he told Nikolai. He was still confident.
"1 was not fooled by the Adversary's clumsy attempts at subtlety, Excellency. I was confident, at first at least. I was amused. Even intrigued. What was the meaning of these curiosities, I asked myself. I t was perfectly clear to me at that point that the rosa was some sort of personal projection of the cosmos -.the isometric crystal of the universe revolving in the sphere of Time revolving in the eternal Trinity. But what about the Greek letters? Especially the two new combinations that appeared when the square became a hexagon. Not only Alpha-Chi, Omega-Rho, Omega-Chi and Alpha-Rho labeling the four angles around the center of the octahedron. But Alpha-sub-Omega-Chi-Rho, and Omega-sub-Alpha-Chi-Rho labeling the upper and lower angles of the vertical diagonal.
"But no matter how much I thought about it, Excellency. No matter how I pondered over it. I would never even have begun to solve the riddle if not for the next night. For out of the center of my whirling cosmos, as out of the whirlwind, I who have been stone deaf since birth, who have never heard a human voice before in all my life, heard a voice echoing as out of the deepest darkest cavern of a tomb, "Behold, the six ways! And I am the seventh!"
There had been no more dreams after that. At least none that he could remember. It was as though his unconscious had told him all it was capable of telling him for the moment at least, and it was now up to his conscious mind to make sense of it. And so all the rest was intellect.
As he had told Nikolai, it had been clear to him from the beginning that the figure was a personal projection of the cosmos. He knew from his studies in physics and alchemy that the crystal often symbolized not only the maximum of order, but also the resolution of extreme opposites. And especially the opposition of matter and spirit, since there were few things in nature more perfect than the crystal, in which immense numbers of atoms or molecules were stacked in perfect alignment, so that rarely was even one atom in a thousand out of line. He also knew that Chi and Rho, in addition to being the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ, were also the first two letters of Xpovos, Time, and Xpvoos, Gold.
"And so after a great deal of thought and meditation, I came to the conclusion, Father, the perhaps completely arbitrary conclusion, I admit, that Chi-Rho might stand for the dualistic nature of my crystalline cosmos. Chi equaling matter, and Rho, spirit. And that Alpha and Omega, standing as they do for the beginning and the end, could represent contrasting optimistic and pessimistic ways of looking at the opposition of matter and spirit. Alpha representing a view that is all beginnings and life and optimistic. And Omega, all endings and pessimism and death. Which would make the six combinations of letters labeling the six angles of the crystal, the six ways the voice out of the whirlwind postulated, Father. The six all inclusive, mutually exclusive ways of looking at the cosmos."
That was when he showed his Igumen the sketches and notes he had scribbled all over the margins and front and end papers of his personal Typikon. Sketches of his crystalline cosmos, his crystal revolving within a sphere within a two dimensional triangle, which he had lovingly drawn and redrawn over and over again, feeling each time he did so, an extraordinary and inexplicable sense of almost overwhelming calm and peace out of all proportion he knew to the significance of his accomplishment; saying, "It was as though I imagined I had somehow managed some mighty feat of synthesis, Father. Had at last discovered the key, the lexicon to the secret book of the cosmos. I know that's preposterous. But at the time I was suffering the most dangerous kind of inflation. The Adversary . . ."
"Peace, my son," Nikolai interrupted, raising his arthritic old hand before thumbing quietly through the Typikon, his watery old eyes sadly bemused as he humbly reminded Rose that he was after all only a simple eastern monk and not a Latin scholar like himself, and that despite his Meniere's syndrome his hearing was still better than his eyesight.
"At least when it comes to reading, my darling," he said. "Would you?" he nodded handing him the Typikon, cautioning him to proceed slowly, smiling that warm wonderful smile of his to reassure him that this was of course only a humble request and not a command.
Rose read haltingly, feeling as he did so the hopeless inadequacy of his speculations as Nikolai nodded his whiskered old head every once in while to indicate that he was following the train of the argument, slowly raising his gnarled old hand whenever Rose allowed himself to be carried away with his own intellectual gyrations, realizing even as he did so how presumptuous it was to offer his petty ruminations there in the presence of his beloved and all-knowing Igumen, who would, however, he was certain, understand that he was not offering his synthesis with the pretension of teaching his Igumen anything. God Forbid. For God knew, he distrusted his own intellectuality as much as Nikolai distrusted intellectuality in general, at least intellectuality that presumed it could make do without the aid of revelation. And he offered his Tentative Notes Toward a Tetradic Definition of the Cosmos, not as a demonstration of his intellect so much as a demonstration of the insufficiency of his intellect in the face of his saintly Igumen, Wisdom, himself.
TENTATIVE NOTES TOWARD A TETRADIC DEFINITION OF THE COSMOS
All more or less systematic philosophies of existence, including all the Great Religions of the world express either monistic or dualistic conceptions of reality.
For the monist, reality is either solely material in nature ( X ) or solely spiritual ( P), not some improbable combination of both. The spiritualistically or idealistically oriented monist insists that contrary to appearances, only spirit truly exists, and what the materialist calls matter is either a total illusion (Omega P), or, more optimistically, an imperfect form of evolving spirit ( AP). The materialistically oriented monist tends to assume that only matter genuinely exists, and what his idealistically oriented brother monists call spirit is after all merely some sort of effusion or efflorescence of matter ( AX), or more pessimistically, a total illusion (Omega X).
For the materialist ( X ), all phenomena mistakenly attributed to spirit may be like other material phenomenon thoroughly explained quantitatively and mechanistically. There is no essential difference between living and non-living matter. Life is only a particular though complicated mechanism. The so-called human soul is a natural phenomenon, a physical process brought about by chemical changes and subject to the laws of matter. A form merely. For the human soul is not different from the animal soul. And there are no real, substantial differences between the natural and the supernatural, between man and nature, mind and body, appearance and reality. There is no transcendent God. No immortality outside the collective human memory. No separation of soul or spirits. No cosmic purpose or design other than that of unchangeable, infinite matter endowed with infinite power evolving in an infinite and unbounded space time.
For the optimistic materialist ( AX ), man is a rational animal, the highest form of organized matter, and is capable of material perfection through science and culture. His end therefore resides in himself, in the full realization of the possibilities of his human nature, the evolution of his human capacities.
The pessimistic materialist (OmegaX) insists that man is no more rational than any other beast and therefore incapable of any genuine progress. Reason is as much an illusion as spirit is. Man is simply the most cunning of animals. He is at the mercy of forces, both external and internal (his unconscious), over which he has only illusory control. Not only is man not the highest form of matter, he is through his cunning (reason) the most de praved form; witness Dachau and Auschwitz. All materialistically optimistic views of man are as ludicrous as idealistic views are. Man is no more the paragon of animals than he is the godman of the optimists, or the fallen angel of the pessimistic idealists.
Though all pessimists agree more or less that the world is a dung heap at best, the pessimistic idealist (OmegaP) goes on to insist that there is another world than this, and that this one hardly exists, if at all. For all material things are ultimately illusions, shadows of some perfect and absolute spirit world. Man is essentially a pure spirit somehow betrayed into and trapped in illusory matter through birth. The ultimate good, therefore, is for spirit to escape the prison house of matter. The world as such is essentially evil and an illusion. Man should therefore free himself of the world and dissolve back into the divine source. Either through philosophical or ascetic ascent, or at the farthest extreme of pessimism, through suicide.
The optimistic idealist (AP), far from anathematizing matter as an illusory evil, accepts it as substantial good. Matter issues forth from spirit, and is ultimately nothing more than a dimension of spirit. Therefore, man is capable of spiritual perfection here in a substantially spiritual cosmos. Man is a manifestation of Absolute Spirit. Not only in his soul, as the pessimist insists. But in his body too. For like the optimistic materialist, the optimistic idealist allows for no essential distinctions between the natural and the supernatural, between body and soul, man and nature, appearance and reality. Spirit and the body of the world are one and the same thing. Therefore, man can, through his own efforts, form imperfect matter into its ultimate spiritual perfection. The world is capable of becoming a spiritual Paradise in the same sense that it may become a materialist utopia for the optimistic materialist.
The difference between optimistic idealists and materialists is ultimately only nominal, which is why Nietzsche is so often mistaken for a materialist instead of the very optimistic idealist he is. His railings against Christianity, for instance, are not railings against a spiritual as opposed to a material conception of reality. But rather against all other-worldly, pessimistic notions of spirit. He is not at all opposed to this-worldly idealism. This-worldly idealism is what he, himself, advocates. Matter, far from being evil or an illusion (which he mistakenly assumed to be the Christian position), is essentially good. And man is therefore capable of spiritual perfection here on earth. Man, or rather Superman, man freed from the shackles of crass materialism and pessimistic idealism (which he mistakenly equated with Christianity ), would transform imperfect matter into its ultimate spiritual perfection. Right here on earth. There is no transcendent deity. Man and his spiritually evolving cosmos is God.
For the dualist (XP), reality is composed of both material and spiritual elements. For him, materialism and idealism are merely opposite sides of the same monistic coin. And whatever their differences, they are all one in opposition to dualistic conceptions of reality. Dualistic views of reality mediate between the optimistic and pessimistic extremes as well as the materialistic and idealistic simplifications of monism. From the point of view of the dualist, moral evil derives from a failure of man to recognize his dual nature and to maintain a human balance between his spiritualistic aspirations and his materialistic limitations. Both religious and secular dualists are opposed to what they consider monistic simplifications of experience. Unable to hold comfortably in his mind the complexities and apparent incongruities inherent in a dualistic concept of reality, the monist simplifies and reduces his understanding of the nature of reality into mutually exclusive monistic systems, which in eliminating the complexities and incongruities of experience throws out the baby with the bath.
For the religious dualist (A Omega P X), neither matter nor spirit is exclusively reality. Man and his cosmos belong both to the material and spiritual reality. Sharing in materiality through his body and in spirituality through his mind or soul, man is the meeting place of both. The horizon et confinium spiritualis et corporalis naturae, the meeting place of time and eternity. In man, the materiality of the animal kingdom and the spirituality of the angelic kingdom merge. Situated as he is at the intersection of material limitation and determination, and of spiritual limitlessness and transcendental openness, man's will is free of the materialistic determination his body is subject to, and can choose what he reckons to be right and suitable in a way that animals, who are at the mercy of their instincts, cannot.
Man's end is neither the material perfection of this world, nor a dissolving into the pure spirituality of some other more perfect state. Though matter is good, the extreme utopian optimism of certain materialists and idealists must be tempered with the pessimism of idealists and materialists who insist that nothing perfect can exist in Time. However, man by his own spiritual nature, has promise of a super-terrestrial destiny. Not the super-terrestrial destiny of the pessimistic idealist. For the supernatural end of man is not inhuman, not angelic (pure spirit), but rather the highest achievement of his dualistic human nature. The religious dualist is ultimately optimistic as to the eternal destiny of both matter and spirit ( the resurrection of the flesh as well as of the spirit ), though thoroughly pessimistic about achieving any sort of perfection in Time.
The secular dualist (Omega A P X) is basically pessimistic about the eternal value of both spirit and matter. The physical cosmos is often thought to be absurdly meaningless. However, an optimistic note is struck in his insistence that the spiritual aspect of man frees him sufficiently enough from the dictates of his material existence, not to perfect himself in Time perhaps (the secular dualist has no more illusions about the worldly utopias and paradises which optimistic materialists and idealists forsee in the future than the religious dualist has), but at least to improve himself enough so as not to have to succumb to the worldly despair of the extreme forms of pessimistic materialism and idealism.
The good and concerned God of religious dualism is replaced in the secular orientation by some unknown and unknowable force with no reasonable goal, who has thrown man into existence and abandoned him to his own wits. Existence is irrational, blind, fatal, absurd. But man is not. Atheistic existentialism and various other systems of thought purportedly propose integrated ways of living which exclude belief in the existence of a good and reasonable God, and make of man his own deity. This is a kind of optimistic pessimism, which may be set against the pessimistic optimism of the Religious dualist. The world is irrational, blind, absurd. But man, through his intellectual freedom from determination, is a free spirit--a kind of Nietzschean superman in a blind and irrational physical world.
The basic difference between religious and secular views obviously
lies in the fact that the secular dualist's views are exclusively this-worldly
as regards both spirit and matter, in that he is as doubtful of man's perfectibility
in the eternal as well as in Time. Whereas, the religious dualist is more
other- worldly oriented, in the sense that though he is as pessimistic
as his secular opposite number about achieving perfection in Time, he is
certain of that perfection in eternity. Not only with regards to the spiritual
aspects of the cosmos, but to the material aspects as well.
At the conclusion of the reading, Rose told Nikolai why he had left his notes in such a state of incompleteness, why he had never taken his speculations to their logical conclusions.
"Because whatever inordinate feelings of elation and accomplishment I first experienced in achieving my synthesis, Father, soon gave way to feelings of depression and doubt that my intellect had managed to interpret at all correctly the symbols my unconscious had gratuitously offered me. Because the more I contemplated and meditated on my cosmos and reveled in the feeling of wholeness it gave me, the more I could see how it called into question the wholeness or completeness of the Christian vision of the cosmos."
For it was perfectly evident, he pointed out to the old Saint, that the pyramid of which the religious dualistic view of the universe was the apex, was only half of the octahedron. And what was worse, the three dimensional solidity of the octahedron and the sphere in which it revolved actually called into question the reality of the two dimensional Trinity.
"Logically and consistently, the all-encompassing, two-dimensional equilateral triangle, like the three dimensional octahedron and sphere, should be a three dimensional tetrahedron, Father. And a tetrahedron has four vertex angles not three. Which would make the godhead a 'quaternity' instead of a trinity."
Nikolai just furrowed his brow and sat there pulling on his whiskers for a moment, saying, finally, "Well, my boy. Your philo- sophical interpretation of your vision is quite remarkable; there is no doubt of that. And I as a simple eastern monk would not presume to doubt the validity of such a synthesis. But as for your vision's calling into question either your vocation or your faith, it seems to me that your sojourn at the skete and your contact with the world has achieved precisely what you had hoped it would, and what I so strongly doubted it would when I reluctantly indulged you in your 'deprivation of privation' experiment. For these visions of yours are unquestionably a sign that you are advancing toward sanctity at an extraordinarily rapid pace, my darling. I only pray, not too rapidly. "
"But Excellency ," he protested with all due humility, "What about the doubts these visions call up as to the completeness of the Christian vision?"
"Nonsense, my son. Nonsense." Nikolai frowned again. "That is all vanity. You have forgotten one of the very first lectures I gave you on the temptations of vain knowledge, the kind of learning which produces self- inflation and incurs the risk of giving rise to a kind of agitation hardly compatible with contemplative repose, eh? You are simply allowing your intellect to misinterpret your intuitions for you, my darling. No less than Szesc once misinterpreted his. Listen to your voice out of the whirlwind, your voice crying out that there are six ways and you are the seventh. Because it is the voice of your own soul you hear in your deafness, my darling. Your own self, whispering out of the hermitage of your own heart as out of an escarpment tomb. For is not our saint up on his escarpment the living proof that there is a seventh way? The renegade Szesc may very well have been the sixth, as his name indicates--six, just one cardinal number short of seven, the number of perfection. But wherever there is a six there will also be a seven. Because all is one, my darling. And should One be divided into Two, if Father begets son, then there is always a unifying Third. And if there is four, then there is always five. And if six, then seven. And if eight, then surely nine."
"Then why, Father, am I haunted by the suspicion that the Godhead should be represented by a tetrahedron rather than a triangle?"
"That is only your intellect again my boy. It will not let you be. You are both blessed with it, and plagued by it. You said yourself that in your dreams and visionary meditations, the Godhead always appears as a trinity, not a tetrad, eh? You said that, no? Yes. Of course. Only your presumptuous intellect insists differently. But even I, my darling, who am unschooled in these matters can see that we are dealing here with two separate conditions of being--the created and the Creator, eh? Yes, Time is solid. Reality is solid. Yes, of course, your octahedron and your sphere are solid, real, of the world, created matter and spirit. But God, my darling, exists outside this world. Outside Time. Outside the cosmos. He is transcendent as well as immanent. If God were represented as a tetrahedron, you would only be representing his immanence. Surely, you see this, my son. How can we expect to understand God in the same terms and dimensions we understand the cosmos? Four may well be the number of His immanence. But Three is the revealed number of His transcendence.
"Believe an old sinner, my darling. Your circulus quadratus, your rosa is perfectly orthodox. Yes, you are worrying yourself out of all proportion. For though I am not schooled in secular philosophy, I am not totally unfamiliar with visions, my darling. And it is not uncommon, in certain advanced stages of Hesychasm, for such abstract figures to appear during visionary meditation as well as in the dreams of initiates. It simply means, my son, that you are advancing toward perfection at an unusually rapid pace. Such visions usually do not occur until after many many years of mental prayer and meditation. Never before, have I been confronted with any such occurrence in a Hesychast still in the first half of his life.
"All of which makes me feel quite certain that this vision comes from God, and not the Adversary, my boy. No matter what your fears. It is God calling you to the seventh way. Just as he called Szesc. The way of the middle. The center of the crystal. Which is also the center of the sphere and the triangle. The way of all the great saints. Not only in the Christian world. But all men and women who have, whatever their parochial beliefs, somehow managed to find the great and all-encompassing God. God the center as well as the periphery. God within as well as without."
"But that's impossible, Excellency. The middle is a rational impossibility. All six ways are mutually contradictory ."
"Rationally impossible. Yes my son. But is there no other way? Why have you left your studies in Rome and come here to St. Procula? Why do you practice Hesychia and mental prayer? Why do you long to retreat to a hermitage, eh? To break through the barrier of rationality, no? Of course Christianity is not the complete answer. How could any philosophical system, even the greatest religious system in the world, ever encompass the vast, marvelous, incomprehensible complexity of the cosmos? The center is not the church. No, the center is the Christ, the One and Only resolution of the mystifying incongruities and contradictions of existence. And you are being called to this way, my darling, to achieve the miracle of that resolution. Though not perhaps in a hermitage, necessarily. Nor the cenobium either, eh? Or even the Order, or the Church for that matter?
"Who knows? I only know that at the moment my intuitions tell me that it would be untimely to allow you to come back to us at the cenobium. Trust me, my son. Whatever is meant to be will be. God will guide us. Your visions are good, not evil. This dark night of the soul you are experiencing will pass. Trust me. Do nothing. Allow the Lord to work His will in you. Remain alert, but do nothing. Trust your vision. Do not doubt yourself. It is no sin to doubt one's faith. Doubt, weathered, can lead to a strengthening of faith in the end. Only despair is truly evil, my darling. Only despair. For abandonment to despair, giving up the struggle to resolve the dilemma of the dual nature of our humanity, either by succumbing to angelic inflation or animalistic unconsciousness, is the only sin.
"Those are the first and third temptations, my son. But the second is regression to a lower state of sanctity, to the safety and comfort of what we once were, but are no longer, out of fear of confronting the third. For that is what I am afraid a return to the cenobium would be, my darling, a regression. You must not revert to the mothering bosom of the cenobium because you fear the third temptation. And no matter how much I wish to offer you this mothering shelter, my darling, as a father I am obliged to encourage you to face up to your destiny no matter what the dangers, no matter how ferocious the demons of doubt and despair. I am afraid, my darling, that succumbing to the second temptation out of fear of the third may in the end only lead to a succumbing to the first.
"You must not run back to the cenobium simply to avoid your destiny, my son. Perhaps it will not be long before the comfortable image you have of yourself and your faith will be shattered. You may in truth lose your soul, and will have to go out into the world and find it again. For, believe me when I tell you that it is no longer here in the cenobium. Trust your intuitions, my son, as Szesc trusted his. They led him out into a world at war, and the temptations of messianic inflation. But in the end they brought him back to us, and to the miracle of the last thirty years. Be still, my darling. Do nothing. Desire nothing. Be obedient and obedience will set you free. Do as Father Physic says. Go to the birthday celebration tonight. I have suspected ever since your move to the skete, that it was prelude to a momentous decision you would be obliged to make about your true vocation. Whether it is to be here with us at St. Procula, or out in the woeful world. Believe me, my son. Your request to re-enter the cenobium is premature. Regardless of how much I wish to welcome you back into my bosom my darling, I can give you no other counsel, but this. Wait. Watch. Listen to the voice within. His will shall be done in you. For I know, my darling, that you are incapable of willing otherwise."
(to be continued)
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