October 11, 2023

A Few Words on the Question of Stigmata (Archbishop Basil Krivoshein)

A Few Words on the Question of Stigmata

By Archbishop Basil (Krivoshein)

In the report on stigmata published in this issue of our “Vestnik”,1 Bishop Anthony2 deliberately limited himself to presenting the psychophysical side of the phenomenon of stigmatization against the background of an emotional-spiritual type of spirituality, focused on the suffering of Christ. One could develop these thoughts by saying that stigmatization is understandable and, consciously or unconsciously, is possible only in a specific theological and spiritual environment, characteristic of well-known and very strong theological and spiritual movements in the Catholic Church, but alien in its entirety to the Orthodox Church. Another thing is that one of the Orthodox or even Monophysites could one way or another join such movements and, therefore, gain the opportunity to become a “stigmatist.” Vladyka Anthony emphasizes precisely this.

The spiritual and theological background of stigmatization from an Orthodox perspective could be summarized as follows.

I. “Imaginative” prayer, evoking ideas, or, as the ancient ascetic fathers called them, “imaginations,” when the person praying imagines the suffering of Christ and focuses all his attention on these images evoked by him. Such a prayer technique can greatly influence the mental and even physical state of the person praying, and this justifies the phenomenon of stigmatization. The Orthodox Fathers reject this path of prayer, based on the work of the imagination, as dangerous and leading to error, and contrast it with pure and formless prayer, in which our mind is freed from every image and even from every thought and, uniting with the heart, as if “naked” stands before Jesus Christ the Son of God, begging Him for mercy.

II. The division of the one Christ into two persons, a division, strictly speaking, that is “Nestorian” (Divine and Human), and an exclusive focus on the human nature of Christ with an almost complete eradication of His Divinity. Before such a “vision,” the Orthodox do not cease to repeat the “war cry” of St. Cyril of Alexandria: “One Christ,” the Incarnate Word, one Person in two natures, Divine and human, without confusion or division, as defined by the great Synod of Chalcedon. His humanity cannot be separated from His Godhead, not only theologically, but also spiritually. And in His suffering on the Cross, Christ is always God, the Eternal Word, although suffering according to His human nature. The cult of Christ the Man, eclipsing Christ the God, with pious concentration on His humanity alone for an Orthodox believer is spiritual Nestorianism. It is this exclusive focus on the human nature of Christ alone that is very characteristic of the spiritual disposition of stigmatics.

III. The dominant place in the theology, spiritual life and piety of the stigmatists is occupied by the suffering of Christ, so “exclusively” that it actually removes and obscures His Resurrection. The glorified Christ of the Resurrection and Transfiguration, Christ, who sits at the right hand of the Father and sends us from Him on the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit, Christ of the parousia does not exist for stigmatics, or rather, He does not interest them. Their vision of Christ is not “in completeness,” and not “according to Scripture.” And it would be in vain to justify this vision with the words of the Apostle Paul: “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him Crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2), because the Apostle Paul was an apostle not only of the Cross, but also of the Resurrection, and with what power he proclaims: “If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is in vain, and our faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14).

This seems to us to be a specific theological and spiritual “climate” in which the psychophysical phenomenon of stigmatization could arise and develop. Throughout the entire ancient Church, both in the East and in the West, it was unknown, but after schism found favorable soil for its development in the Roman Catholic Church. However, we do not at all identify this phenomenon with the general spiritual aspect and theology of this Church. For the Orthodox, stigmatization is an incomplete, one-sided and diminished, however sincere and ardent, vision of the Christian faith, as well as the spiritual life and experience flowing from it, using prayer techniques rejected by the great teachers of patristic spiritual work.

However, we do not want to make too categorical judgments. “The wind blows where it pleases” (John 3:8). The defective and unbalanced “spirituality” of stigmatics should not be completely rejected. It would be foolhardy to deny a priori the possibility of the action of Divine grace among stigmatics in response to their sincerity and passion, even if these manifestations seem strange and too “human” to us, despite all their theological deviations.
1. Bulletin of the Russian Western European Patriarchal Exarchate. 1963. No. 44.

2. Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh (Bloom).
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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