“So long as we only see the Logos of God as embodied multiriously in symbols in the letter of Holy Scripture, we have not yet achieved spiritual insight into the incorporeal, simple, single and unique Father as he exists in the incorporeal, simple, single and unique Son, according to the saying, ‘He who has seen me has seen the Father …’. We need much knowledge so that, having first penetrated the veils of the sayings which cover the Logos, we may with a naked intellect see—in so far as men can—the pure Logos, as He exists in Himself, clearly showing us the Father in Himself. Hence a person who seeks God with true devotion should not be dominated by the literal text, lest he unwillingly receives not God but things appertaining to God, that is, lest he feel a dangerous affection for the words of scripture instead of for the Logos. …
“It is by means of the more lofty conceptual images that the inner principle of Holy Scripture can be stripped gradually of the complex garment of words with which it is physically draped. Then to the visionary intellect … it reveals itself as through the sound of a delicate breeze.” ~St. Nikodimos
St. Nikodomos, writing in the Philokalia, is telling us that trying to truly understand scripture by a literal interpretation of the words and symbols found there is not going to awaken our spiritual self. And it doesn’t matter what scripture you are looking at. The Bible, the Upanishads, the Koran, etc. all have hidden meanings, all are full of allegory. To try to understand them with literal interpretations produces an understanding that is not only false and incomplete but is often nearly the opposite of the true meaning.
What is really sad is that so many young people today, particularly the “Spiritual but not religious (SBNR)” crowd, reject all scripture outright because they recognize that a literal interpretation produces nonsense. It seems beyond their abilities to understand that these holy books were never intended to be literal. Of course, it is also true that many of these people have never actually read scripture, or have read only the scripture of one religion. They simply take the word of someone else that they are meaningless and irrelevant to those seeking spiritual enlightenment. In actual fact, there is much useful information in all of the world’s holy books, if you can understand the allegory used.
He Who Sees Me
There is a general misunderstanding of what Jesus meant when he said that if you see Him, you see the Father. Most interpret this as Jesus saying that He is God, therefore seeing Him, in the physical sense, is the same as looking at the Father. That is not what was meant. For one thing, God doesn’t even have a physical body.
What is meant is that those who have had a spiritual awakening and can “see” Jesus (and others) through the spiritual eyes of the soul are also seeing the Father. That is because when you see a person as a spirit—truly see it, not just believe it—you see that all spirits are the same and all spirits come from God. So if you know spirits, you know God. Individual souls are like bricks in the universal wall that is God. Or perhaps it might be better to say that individual spirits and souls are the flowers in the universal garden that is God.
Inner Principle of Holy Scripture
St. Nikodimos says that the “inner principle,” the true meaning of scripture is found by stripping off the complex garment of words. That may be part of it, but it isn’t enough. We not only need to look beyond the literal meaning of the words, but we also need to understand the spiritual meanings and symbols represented by the words.
Here is just one example. In the original Aramaic, Hebrew or Greek of the Bible, there are statements that seem to be constructed oddly or seem to have little meaning. But some of these were meant to be said out loud, perhaps repeatedly, much like a mantra in meditation. It was the combination of sounds produced that helped to awaken something in the listener, not the literal meaning of the words. Then when academics translate the words into other languages such as English and do it based on a literal meaning of the words, the sounds that were the true meaning, the inner principle, is lost.
Then there is the symbolic meaning. Symbols are often used in scripture. This is partly done to hide the true meaning from the unworthy, and partly to make it easier for people to remember the lesson being taught. Talking about evil forces opposing the good ones is vague, it doesn’t produce a mental image easily. But change it to a dragon fighting with a saint and you have produced a mental image that is easy to remember. References to things like flying carpets, pillars of fire, burning bushes, and water turned to wine sound like fantasy tales, but they are not. Others interpret such things as evidence of alien visitors. That is not true either. What those things are is symbols. Symbols of something spiritual. You can start to understand many of these symbols by getting a good dream dictionary. The meaning of dream symbols often coincides with the meaning of the allegorical symbols found in scripture. Learning to understand the inner principle of scripture is an important step in spiritual growth. Learning to understand the inner principle of ourselves is even more so.