Excerpt from Aimilianos of Simonpetra, The Way of the Spirit (Athens: Indiktos, 2009), 32-39
Knowledge of God is something I acquire through possession, through ownership: it is something that belongs to me. It is a knowledge based on communion of the heart and intellect (nous). At such moments, the intellect is submerged within God and contemplates God from within. That is the heart’s communion with God.
This knowledge is more than theology, because together my heart and intellect think about God from within. This is, as a result, a kind of perichoresis. My intellect and my heart begin to delve into what is, in a manner of speaking, the inaccessible sanctuary of God, to enter deeply into His darkness, because for us God is darkness, something unknown (cf. Exod. 20:21).
There is, then, this perichoresis, and my knowledge now becomes a quest. I begin to search, to hunt. An amorous pursuit now unfolds between me and God, in the gardens, at night, during the day (cf. Song 3:12-15, 1:7, 3:1). And why do I pursue God? Because God pursues me. …
“The pain of the heart” is a melting, a thirst. When you’re really thirsty, you’re crushed, ruined. You become a mere nothing. You fell exhausted. If someone doesn’t bring you some water, you’re going to collapse. That’s what happens to the soul. Without God, the soul is not able to live – which does not mean that it no longer has a reason to live, but that it is dead. And that is why, from the moment when the soul comes to know God through its own experience, through what we call perichoresis, it will either live in Christ or die. There is no alternative.
This thirst, then, this wasting away, leads the soul to experience a desire for death. Why? Because in this deceitful existence, the soul can only see God as a dim reflection in a mirror (1 Cor. 13:12). Where’s my God? Though we desire it greatly, we cannot see God with our whole being, we cannot grasp Him, or join ourselves to Him in body and soul, and thus the soul concludes that it must break, not only the casing of the heart, but the whole out sheath of the body, and emerge from it, so that it may be liberated and be alone with God alone.
The soul experiences this desire for death like a fully-formed embryo experiences the desire for birth: it wants to come forth, it must be born, because the nine months have been completed. It cannot remain inside any longer; it must come out, no matter what. This is the experience that the soul wants to live: a new birth.
The desire for death, which is a desire for spiritual birth, is an experience of liberation from corruption, time, and from space; it is a release from a life of spiritual poverty, misfortune, slavery, and beggary. In this life we are beggars, and we must beg for all that we have. However we are summoned to break down the barriers that keep us confined in our poverty; we are called to defeat death and attain the limits of incorruptibility, in order to be alone with God, to plunge into the boundless ocean of the love, happiness, and pleasure of God – to ravish God and be ravished by Him.
What are the signs that mark this point of our progression? How is it known, and how is it experienced? It is a rising above and beyond the limits of the soul, and thus the soul undergoes a movement beyond its proper boundaries, beyond its very life, into a realm of transcendence, to God Himself. It is a projection, no longer of the subconscious toward the conscious, but rather of the whole person toward the whole Divinity. It is a projection of human nature toward the divine hypostasis.
And just as the soul goes beyond its limits in order to encounter God, so too does God bend down toward the soul, abandoning His proper limits in order to give Himself to me, to surrender Himself to me.
Whatever has taken place in the history of salvation – whatever was done by Christ, the Father, and the Holy Spirit – must also take place within me. That’s what it means for me to participate in the life of God. For example, to the extent that I have emptied myself (cf. Phil. 2:7), I experience what the Mother of God felt when she said to the angel, Let it be done unto me according to your word. I experience, in other words, her total self-surrender to that which was beyond her capacity to understand. How shall this be? she asked; How can I give birth, since I am a virgin and have known not a man? Was there anything she could understand? The angel replied: The Spirit will overshadow you and you will give birth (cf. Lk 1:34-38). Did she understand anything? Nothing at all. That is what is meant by Let it be done to me according to your word, which means, “whatever you say, just as you said it. Even though I cannot understand it, let it happen just as you say.”
Do you have a sense of this self-emptying, the self-surrender that occurs? In response, God says: “Be filled with My grace, My energy; be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit.” And not this happens to me. The Divinity bends down over me. I now have a personal experience of the self-emptying of the Divinity, of the divine energy. As a result, the whole of my being receives the radiance, the effulgence of the divine energy. This is my divinization, my union with God, in consequence of God’s bending down to me. … This is a living experience of the knowledge of God.
 Variously translated as reciprocity, co-inherence or interpenetration, perichoresis denotes either the interchange of human and divine attributes in the person of Jesus Christ, or the relationship of mutual love among the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity, in both cases comprising a union without confusion or division, on which see St. John of Damascus, On the Orthodox Faith 1.4: “The abiding and resting of the Persons in one another is not in such a manner that they coalesce or become confused, but, rather, so that they adhere to one another, for they are without interval between them and inseparable and their mutual indwelling is without confusion,” and ibd., 51 (2.7): “The two natures of the Lord are mutually immanent.” See also St. Maximos the Confessor: “The revelation is the inexpressible interpenetration of the believer with the object of belief, and entails … participation in supranatural divine realities, and, as far as possible, identity with respect to energy between the participant and that in which he participates” (Philokalia 2:239-240).
 On the experience of union with God as entry into a state of “darkness,” compater St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Life of Moses 162-167; St. Dionysios the Areopagite, On Mystical Theology (Luibheid, 135-141); id., Letter 1 (ibid., 263); St. Maximos the Confessor (Philokalia 2:133); St. Niketas Stepthatos, On the Inner Nature of Things 51 (Philokalia 4:171); St. Gregory of Sinai, On Commandments and Doctrines 43 (Philokalia 4:220); and St. Gregory Palamas, Triads 1.3.18. In general, the Church Fathers delineate three stages or degrees of the souls ascent to God, symbolized by Moses’ experience of the light, the cloud, and the darkness: (1) illumination, which is the time of purification; (2) entry into the “cloud,” which signifies contemplation of spiritual realities; and (3) entry into the “darkness” which represents the mysterious union of created man with the uncreated God.
 In a moment of ecstasy, the cause of all (i.e., God) comes to be outside itself by its providences for all beings; and being, as it were, seduced by goodness and affection and love, is led down from being above all, and transcending all is brought down to being in all. (St. Dionysios the Areopagite, On the Divine Names 4.13)
 “What took place bodily in the case of the Virgin Mary occurs in every soul spiritually giving birth to Christ.” (St. Gregory of Nyssa, On Virginity 2.2); “The divine Logos, who once for all was born in the flesh, always in His compassion desires to be born in spirit in those who desire Him.” (St Maximos the Confessor, Philokalia 2:165); “Just as God, the Word of the Father, entered into the Virgin’s womb, even so do we receive the Word in us, as a kind of seed. … We do not of course conceive Him bodily, as did the Theotokos, but in a way which is at once spiritual and substantial, and thus the One Whom the pure Virgin conceived we possess in our hearts … when, that is, our souls are virginal and pure.” (St. Symenon the New Theologian, First Ethical Discourse 10).