Missionary and Mystic

Two kinds of passion

Two forces rule the universe
Light and Gravity…
If we know in what way society is unbalanced
We must do what we can to add weight to the lighter scale
Simone Weil

The island of Cyprus is associated with the stories of two holy men who might be regarded as having embodied the contrast between the missionary and the mystic. One is Saul of Tarsus – better known as Paul, writer of many letters in the Bible. The other is Neophytus, a 12th century hermit from the Troodos Mountains.

Paul was a Jew who lived just after the time of Jesus of Nazareth. His name is associated with powerful letters and prayers to communities beyond the confines of the small world of Jesus. Paul was a learned man, who was influenced by Hellenistic philosophy. He felt compelled to transform the simple narratives of Jesus into a more philosophical framework.

The legacy of Paul’s words about love, loyalty and faith now inform many of the key rituals in the lives of Christians, used at times of birth, marriage, death and dying. What is often forgotten is that, in his youth, Paul committed acts of terrorism against the followers of Jesus. That is, until he experienced a conversion.

We know that the psychology of conversion is complex, but what is commonly accepted is that, when a person’s world-view is radically overturned, they often describe the experience as a revelation and, in some cases, the converted believe that they are called to influence the religion and life-patterns of others. This is the zeal that can accompany conversion, and it applies equally to political converts as we know. In Paul’s case, his zeal to convert others was enacted in a spirit of activism and passion.

Neophytus, on the other hand, represents a different way of living out a life of conviction. Born in Cyprus in the 12th century, Neophytus was drawn to the hermetic life from the time of his youth. The story goes that his parents, unaware of their son’s calling to be a hermit, arranged a marriage for him, and that he fled from home to escape this fate. Neophytus’ desire to uncover the fount of holiness took him to Jerusalem and back again to Cyprus – still searching for a location that would allow him to retreat as fully as possible into the depths of his own understanding of what it means to commune with God.

Paul was driven to go out into the world, and to shout from the rooftops that that he had found the meaning of life and the truth of human destiny. Neophytus was driven to make his home in a cave of his own digging, far from the company of others where silence and isolation might reign.

The irony is that both men attracted followers, because each man exhibited the charisms of faith that inspire others to seek out the wisdom they are believed to embody. Over time, Neophytus was overwhelmed by the growing band of his followers, so he retreated further into the mountainside. It is written that he eventually carved out his own burial chamber where, it is assumed, he at last found the silence of an eternal communion.

Two men, whose histories are overlaid by myth and legend. The point, I think, is not the degree of historical truth in either case. The lesson to be learned is that these tales convey archetypes which can reveal much about our own spiritual identity and faith journey. You might be tempted to conclude that those of us who pursue a life of meditation and contemplation stand in closer relationship to Neophytus than we do to Paul. That is not how I see it. Nor is there a necessity to follow the Christian faith to learn from the Hellenistic theologian or the Cypriot mystic. Practitioners of meditation are drawn from all faiths and none. Zeal to recalibrate the world according to loving kindness will come from the creative energy that reverberates in the depths of our person. It will come from the peace of our inner cave.


Take a moment to come fully into your peaceful space
be aware of your body
feel that the top of your head is suspended by a connecting thread
relax your neck
stretch each limb and then let it rest
palms on your knees with thumbs gently touching
note the curve of your spine
and plant your feet so that you are aware of being grounded
breathing in
breathing out

Now, find the cave within you
And imagine that two companions are there with you

Neophytus is your still point
Gently and wordlessly grounding you

Paul is an electrical impulse that awakens your mind
And fires you with a zeal for justice

Accept the stillness of Neophytus
And be grateful for Paul’s energy and his passion
Accept them both and find a place for them in your cave
May you flourish with each if them
Breathing in
breathing out

Listen for the wisdom of the missionary and the mystic
before you let them go
Then remain with your own breath
Your own life force

breathing in
breathing out
and when you are ready


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