“Ye are of God, little children” (I John 4:4).
In the Divine Liturgy of the Byzantine Orthodox Church, the Deacon or Priest says toward the end: “Having received the divine, holy, pure, immortal, heavenly, life-giving and awesome Mysteries of Christ, O believers, let us worthily give thanks unto the Lord.” Although this is a reference to Holy Communion, these words apply to all of the Sacraments. They are truly divine, holy, pure, immortal, heavenly, life-giving and awesome. Yet for all that, they are external rites, and if the participant is not prepared inwardly they remain mere externals without any effect in his spiritual life or progress.
Keenly aware of this, in his valuable book The Sacraments, Signs of Life (American edition: Christ Acts Through the Sacraments), the Dominican priest Father A. M. Roguet writes in the fourteenth chapter, “The Sacraments and Spiritual Life”: “…there are many who rely on the certainty of salvation which the sacraments guarantee for them, and on holiness imparted to them from without at small cost, while forgetting all about the giving of themselves to God, the deliberate love without which the sacraments themselves are worthless.
“We must be honest and answer that this difficulty is not an imaginary one. People are always inclined to prefer something ready-made to something that costs a live effort. Many are in danger of believing that the sacraments indeed contain a prefabricated holiness that dispenses us from all interior activity. These are Catholics who content themselves with being ‘practicing Catholics’. They obediently fulfill the necessary ceremonies and this no doubt sincerely…; they never miss Sunday Mass (which is obligatory), they go frequently to confession and Holy Communion and they seem to dispense themselves from making any effort at internal purification, recollection, personal prayer, progress in charity, unselfishness, willing service. For them sacraments are no longer signs and means; they constitute the thing itself, the thing to be aimed at. For them sacraments are no longer signs and means; they constitute the thing itself, the thing to be aimed at. For them, there is no spiritual life but solely a ritual life. Such practicing Catholics, taking an excessively rigorous view of the saying, ‘Out of the Church there is no salvation’, are led to despise all who do not share in these practices and to measure the quality of the Christian life by its external manifestations. They mistake the bark of the tree for the sap; they think that living is no more than practicing, that love is no more than obedience.”
The Sacraments are divine, holy, pure, immortal, heavenly, life-giving and awesome Seeds of Life, but as Jesus indicates in the parable of the sower and the seed (Matthew 13:3-23), if the ground is not prepared in which they are sown, nothing comes of them. That is why Saint Paul wrote to some lax disciples: “Christ is become of no effect unto you” (Galatians 5:4). The word he used is katargeo, which means to be inactive or inoperative, even powerless. This is the condition of those who have not engaged in the cultivation of interior consciousness, the consciousness of spirit, even though they have externally received the Sacraments. For in the final word: “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). Since in our total being we are both external and internal, these two aspects must be cultivated to the maximum degree and manner. There must be continuous inner and outer development for our evolution beyond humanity to divinity. Otherwise Christ is of no effect for us.
The ultimate Sacrament is the Inner Sacrament of Meditation, without which we do not live and grow in the spirit. In the first chapter I cited scriptures which speak of God and Christ living in us. In Revelation Jesus says: “Behold, I have set before thee an open door” (Revelation 3:8). The Sacraments open the door to that spiritual state, but meditation is the entering of the door. The Sacraments only give us potential; it is up to us to actualize that potential through our own efforts in spiritual development.
It seems that from the beginning and through the history of Christianity there have been two kinds of Christians: the Externals (exoterics) and the Internals (esoterics). Jesus spoke of them in this way:
“Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not” (Matthew 25:1-12).
The foolish are those that have no internal reserve of spiritual consciousness derived from meditation and remaining focused on interior life. For a meditator does not get up from meditation and immediately plunge his awareness into his material surroundings like milk poured into water and diluted, but holds on to the effects of meditation and remains objective among the external surroundings. He always maintains an interior, spiritual perspective, for his life is fully inward, never outward. This takes a great deal of practice, but he gladly works toward that goal.
In time those whose religious life is only external begin to fade away, become feeble and even burnt out like a spent wick. Being foolish they still do not understand the root of their problem, so they seek out the wise and ask them to share their “oil” with them; but that is impossible–they must fill up their interior reservoir through personal inner cultivation: meditation. Those who dawdle until the end of a cycle of spiritual opportunity or are overtaken in their emptiness by death will find the door to liberation closed against them by their own neglect and lack, and so shall return again to this earthly life as they have so many times before. The wise, on the other hand, enter into to the spiritual marriage of union with God, for they are “brides” the heavenly Groom has come to receive.
“And so shall we ever be with the Lord” (I Thessalonians 4:17).
“Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out” (Revelation 3:12).
“To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne” (Revelation 3:21).
Download the a PDF of this book here:
More Articles on Esoteric Christianity: