a memorial to a christian mystic
the mystic, the man, the message
by paul skorpen
If you keep watch over your hearts, and listen for the Voice of God and learn of Him, in one short hour you can learn more from Him than you could learn from Man in a thousand years.
Johannes Tauler (ca. 1300-1361)
Everything loses some luster with the passing of time, and the people we have known that have left this world should slip slowly from the consciousness of our daily lives. Daskalos, born Stylianos Atteshlis, stays with me larger today than in his passing over five years ago. It is as if, in my association with him, I was standing too close to a mountain to behold its breadth, or a sea so great I couldn't see its distant shores. There are, I have now come to realize, people whom we cannot 'see', people who fall well outside the categories of what we are taught to be possible, at least until we grow able to expand our vision to behold them.
Upon first hearing of this teacher, said to be full of wonder and wisdom, ten years would pass before I finally landed on the Island of Cyprus (by way of a two year stay in Nepal). I was fortunate he was still alive and teaching at the age of 75 in his well weathered body. It was late in May and the Mediterranean heat by midmorning had already stilled the day. The backyard schoolhouse, the Stoa, held sixty chairs placed before a small platform.
That day, not long before the throngs of arrivals, we numbered no more than twenty. Daskalos entered; a huge man with dark, bushy, unkempt hair. His shirt was untucked and his pants covered in splashes of oil paint. He took a seat beneath the platform, removed his sunglasses, asked us to draw around him, and recited the Lord's Prayer. He then taught. He taught as I would see him teach for the next six years each morning for an hour and half, without pause or note. In those days he held public lessons Monday through Friday (and privately in the afternoons and evenings). His teachings would span creation; in a single breath he would marry the highest heavens with our struggles in day to day life. He craftfully wove rich personal anecdote with the perennial teachings. He taught with his whole being: his hands, his heart, and his expressions. It was as if he sculpted every lesson. Remarkably, after each lesson everyone (from spiritual journeymen to neophytes) felt as if the lesson was delivered directly to his needs.
Despite my recent training in Himalayan Buddhism and Shamanism (and their rich cosmologies) I struggled to comprehend the system he put forth, couched in arcane language, and delivered with a thick Greek accent. 'The New Testament,' he stated clearly at the conclusion of many lessons, 'should be your best friend and companion.' We sat there in collective puzzlement; how could the dusty and dog-eared Bible, that lay on our Grandmother's bedside table, be a powerful spiritual, much less mystical, guide?
At the age of thirty Daskalos lost interest in the Theosophical movement (disappointed in their inability to see Christ), which sought to include Daskalos in its camp. Charles Leadbeater had foreseen Daskalos' birth when he wrote in 1912 that several adepts were incarnating, one 'born on the island of Cyprus.'
Daskalos was born a teacher of Christian mysticism. He was also a remarkable healer. Until late in his life he lived a deliberately quiet life, working as a printer for the Colonial Government, teaching and healing in the evenings and on weekends, never accepting more than a cup of coffee for his time and effort. Then he permitted a book to be written about, as Daskalos put it, 'the teachings'. The book, The Magus of Strovolos, fast became a classic among accounts of spiritual teachers. But Markides overstepped the clear parameters by describing many of Daskalos' deeds and wonders - much to Daskalos' lament and to our fascination. Daskalos sensed that attention was shifting away from the spiritual teachings to a fascination with psychic powers and his personality.
Daskalos sought to engender in us a deeper, more focused commitment to the truth. And not necessarily the Christian truth; 'If you come here as a Buddhist,' he would say, 'or a Hindu, a Jew, a Muslim or whatever, please leave here as one; but a real one, who knows and practices his faith. For the truth is like a many sided diamond, and each of the great religions reflect another face of the Truth of the Absolute Beingness.' Although he encouraged his students to study the other faiths 'to draw nectar from the other Gardens, you'll find all the same flowers in the Garden of Christianity, perhaps even finer ones.' For his advice, to young and old seekers alike was to stick to a faith so as not to become 'like a person digging little holes in many places; [that] you will never go deep enough to find water.'
Daskalos kept a constant vigil against laxity. He feared for himself, and for others, that they would grow spiritually lazy and seek comfort in form. Form (as expressed as ritual, dogma, and organization) steals the fires of inspiration.
MYSTICAL CHRISTIANITY: THE PATH OF LOVE, WISDOM, AND POWER
Spiritual teachers, all of us for that matter, express power (being able to 'do or to act'), knowledge (understanding leading to wisdom), and love (moral, compassionate and merciful intent). Many masters and religions describe God as Absolute Power, Absolute Wisdom, and Absolute Love. As souls we are endowed with these qualities, and as personalities we inspire to expressed them. Great cultures, like India, have created schools, yogas, to approach these three great faces of the Divine. But it is rare to find incarnated souls that have brought these three great paths into unity and fullness. Daskalos was a unique teacher in that not only did he express a full measure of each attribute, but did so in balance and proportion. Daskalos healed and taught with this threefold force which is why many found his mere presence so comforting, reassuring and uplifting. And the message he offered was that mystical Christianity leads of to full and balanced development.
A FULL ANATOMY OF HUMANITY
Perhaps Daskalos' greatest gift to seekers seeking orientation (especially those who had not forsaken, or been forsaken by, the Christian faith) was his full anatomical survey of humanity. Daskalos' teachings on the three bodies (noetical/mental body, the psychic/emotional body, and the material/physical body) and his work on delineating the life of elementals (thought-forms and emotional-forms) gave us the power to probe ourselves, and reshape our understanding and modes of experiencing the worlds. His teachings on etheric vitality and the etheric doubles empowered us to observe and control our health and well-being. Daskalos advised us to take one sure step at a time, and in that way the next step would reveal itself. He stressed that any true and lasting spiritual gain must begin with, and be maintained by, self-orientation.
SEE, HEAR, AND SPEAK NO EVIL
In Daskalos home, over the fireplace, was placed a carving of the three monkeys: one with his eyes covered, another with his ear covered, and a third with his mouth covered. Kitsch? For Daskalos this was symbolic of the self-reliant man, whose integrity and spirituality come directly from an inner alignment with the divine. There is no need for such a man to gain self-worth through criticizing the outside world, and people in the near. A measure of a man spiritual stature is the degree to which he quarrels with the world. Daskalos' integrity, morality and spirituality were no longer dependent on social circumstances, but were fully God-orientated. Even when the Church would slander Daskalos' name, he would smile and say, 'They are good people, and do not mean harm.'
DASKALOS + THE CHURCH OF ST. JOHN
Another Church — the silent church — was established at the time of Jesus. When the apostle John (the one whom Jesus most loved) laid his head on the breast of the God-man at the last supper, and listen to the beating heart of Love expressed (cf. John 13:23). This Church of John - which is also called mystical Christianity, or esoteric Christianity, or Inner Christianity - owns no physical presence in the world, other than in the hearts of human beings. St. John is recognized as the first apostle who followed the path of Christ (of love, wisdom and power) to reach theosis (union with the Godhead). One of the first great Christian mystics Origen (185-232) recognized John's great ascent;
No one can apprehend the meaning of it [John's Gospel] except he have lain on Jesus' breast and received from Jesus Mary to be his mother also. Such an one must he become who is to be another John, and to have shown to him, like John, by Jesus Himself Jesus as He is. For if Mary, as those declare who with sound mind extol her, had no other son but Jesus, and yet Jesus says to His mother, 'Woman, behold thy son,' and not 'Behold you have this son also,' then He virtually said to her, 'Lo, this is Jesus, whom thou dids't bear.' Is it not the case that every one who is perfect lives himself no longer, but Christ lives in him; and if Christ lives in him, then it is said of him to Mary, 'Behold thy son Christ.'
Albrecht Dürer, the great German Painter of the 16th century, beautifully captures the ascent of St. John in his 'Lamentation over the Dead Christ', as depicted below (which hangs here in Munich at the Alte Pinakothek). We see St. John rising above the fallen body of Christ to assume his role as the new archetype, as a bridge to the Christ consciousness, in the Church of Inner Christianity. Dürer places the Heavenly Jerusalem above John, and it is John that will lead us there.
As many readers know, Daskalos' 'guide' is St. John, as they have shared a deep companionship spanning the centuries. Indeed, Daskalos shared memories of times when he would lay his head on the breast of St. John!
* This is the great ladder: Daskalos seeks to bring us to John, John to Christ, and Christ to the Father: The Godhead: And a voice from heaven said, 'This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased' (Matt 3:17)
*Christ: 'You know me, and you know where I am from. I have not come on my own' (John 7:28).
* St. John: 'This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.' (John 21:24-25).
* Daskalos: 'Our teachings are not mine, but are the teachings of St. John the Evangelist.'
Daskalos: A Man in the Soul?
The measure of a mystic, which separates mystics from theologians and spiritualists, is their ability to enter primal states that are behind every thing that exists in time and place. From the limits of our perspective we can only imagine such states, but others who have reached states of rarefied consciousness have provided us with luminous accounts. Meister Eckhart, the great Dominican Rhineland mystic of the 13th century wrote;
'The man in the soul, transcending angelic being and guided by intellect, pierces to the source whence the soul flowed. There, intellect must remain outside, with all named things. There the soul is merged in pure unity. This we call the man in the soul, and you should understand it thus: the man in the soul is he who has accomplished all this, so that he needs no further help. What he did hitherto, God now works in him. God knows him as he knew Him, God loves him as he loved Him. Thus God performs all work, and the man in the soul is bare and empty of all things. You should know what a man is like who has come to this: we can well say he is God and man. Observe, he has gained by grace all that Christ had by nature, and that his body is so fully suffused with the noble essence of the soul, which she has received from God and the divine light, that we may well declare: That is a man divine! Alas, my children, you should pity these people, for they are strangers, unknown to anybody. All who ever hope to come to God may well be mistaken in these folk, for they are hard for strangers to perceive: none can truly recognize them but those in whom the same light shines. This is the light of truth.'
The earliest followers of the teachings of the Christ identified much less with a new religion, as they did with a new way of life. Indeed, they were even called 'People of the Way' (Acts 9:2), as they embraced Christ's calling that 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life' (John 14:6). Daskalos embraced the way to such a degree that he entered the nature of his soul.
DISCERNING THE WILL OF GOD: DASKALOS IN ILLNESS
You should ask for your 'daily bread', you should ask that God take of you and your family. You can ask for your 'daily bread' with some butter if you wish! He will hear. For myself; I ask for nothing. I believe He knows better what I need. Daskalos
In June of 1994, at the age of 82, Daskalos suffered a major stroke. After weeks in a coma he returned only to find that he had lost the ability to speak, and movement in his right side. He remained bed-ridden for 14 months before leaving this incarnation. It was a trial for Daskalos: the excruciating pain, dependence, and limitations were severe. Before the stroke Daskalos (a man of integrity) would often remark that he never wanted to ever find himself in a wheelchair, nor did he want to be in condition that required care. A couple months after the stroke letters began arriving from overseas. Some wished Daskalos well, other were yearning to know why Daskalos was ill, and furthermore, why couldn't the healer heal himself? In response we decided to write a general letter. It read in part;
We appreciate your concern, but we ask you to keep your questions to yourselves. It is Daskalos' will as to whether he stays here or leaves us.
With letter in hand I approach Daskalos and asked him if I could read it to him. He consented. He nodded in agreement as I read the first part of the letter, but when I reach the above passage he grabbed my hand with his left hand, and shook his head in strong protest. I asked him what was wrong, and he indicated that I reread the passage, 'keep your questions to yourselves,' 'I read, 'It is Daskalos' will as to whether he stays here or leaves us.' And again Daskalos erupted. I realized the problem rested in the question of 'will'. 'Daskales,' I said silently, 'whose will is it that you are in this situation?' With force he raised my hand skyward and pointed towards God. I understood.
Daskalos had not selected the condition for himself, and yet despite all the agony, he knew that it was the Will of God at work. And Daskalos would comply. It was a couple months after the stroke (when it was growing increasingly clear that no recovery was on the near horizon) that Daskalos could again laugh. Daskalos not only accepted the circumstance that he least wanted, but he even saw the hand of God at work. The Will of God is difficult to discern, and often more difficult to accept, especially in hardship. Through Daskalos' illness we were able to witness the grace of a rare man.
At the end of one talk Daskalos mysteriously stated that his students had two elementals within them that represented Daskalos: one was the one that we each create (perhaps with the help of Markides' accounts) as we try to understand the teacher, and the other an elemental that Daskalos himself imparts which more fully reflects Daskalos' essence. Daskalos hope for us that those two would reconcile, and become one. Let us hope the same.