Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022 AD) was a Byzantine Christian monk and poet, and was canonized as a saint by the Eastern Orthodox church. He wrote much about Christian mysticism, including his own experiences. The following comes from his Hymns of Divine Love:
And I lamented and sorrowed and burned in my core and lived like one removed in spirit. But he came at his own will and, descending like a bright cloud of mist, seemed to surround my head entirely, so that I cried out in consternation. But he, flying off again, left me alone. And when I laboriously sought him I suddenly came to know that he was in myself, and in the center of my heart he appeared like the light of a sun, round as a circle. When he had revealed himself thus, and I had recognized and received him, he put the whirlwind of demons to flight, repulsed my cowardly dread, put strength into me, stripped my soul of earthly thoughts and reclothed me with the thoughts of the spirit. From the things that are seen he severed me, and with those that are not seen he connected me. He permitted me to see the uncreated and to rejoice that I have been sundered from the created, from the visible, from that which swiftly passes away, and am united with the uncreated, the immortal, which has no beginning and cannot be seen by anyone. Such is mercy.
Source: Martin Buber, Ecstatic Confessions, San Francisco: Harper & Row (1985), p. 39-40.
A different translation of the same passage reads:
Love then came, as it desired,
And as under the appearance of a cloud
Luminously it swooped down on me;
Completely on my head
I saw it settle;
And it made me cry out,
For I was in terror.
Nevertheless, after having then flown away,
Love left me alone,
And while I arduously searched for it
Then suddenly, completely
It was in me in a conscious manner,
In the center of my heart;
Like a truly heavenly body,
I saw it like a solar disc.
When it was thus revealed,
When it had shown itself in a conscious manner,
Love put the battalion of demons to flight,
It expelled cowardice,
It aroused bravery.
From the perception of the world
It stripped my mind
And it put on me again the robe
Of intellectual perception,
It separated me from the visible
And attached me to the invisible
And granted me the grace to see
The uncreated, and to rejoice
To have been separated from all
The created and the visible
And what soon perishes
And to have been united to the Uncreated,
To the incorruptible, to the eternal,
To what is invisible to all;
For that’s what love is.
Source: George A. Maloney, trans., The Hymns of Divine Love, New Jersey: Dimension Press (1975 & 1999), Hymn 17, p. 68.
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Yet another translation renders it differently, in part:
Love came down, as is its way,
In the appearance of a luminous cloud.
I saw it fasten on me and settle on my head.
And it made me cry out, for I was so afraid;
Thus it flew away, and left me alone.
Then how ardently I searched after it;
And suddenly, completely,
I was conscious of it present in my heart,
Like a heavenly body.
I saw it like the disc of the sun . . .
It closed me off from the visible,
And joined me to invisible things.
It gave me the grace to see the Uncreated . . .
Source: John McGuckin, “Symeon the New Theologian’s Hymns of Divine Eros: A Neglected Masterpiece of the Christian Mystical Tradition,” Spiritus 5 (2005), The Johns Hopkins University Press, p. 195-196.
In other places Symeon says the light is like a fire or flame.
Some similarities to Joseph Smith’s First Vision seem to include:
- Praying to God, seeking
- In a sorrowful state of mind, in a cloud, terror, afraid
- God descended in a “bright” or “luminous” way on his head
- It appeared like the light of the sun, or like fire
- All the dread and demons were dispelled from him
- Filled him with strength and the spirit
- Mind was taken away from natural “earthly” “visible” things and into heavenly visionary things
- Perceived heavenly thoughts, intellectual spiritual perception
- Saw the Immortal, the Uncreated, Love, Mercy
- Rejoiced, filled/united with love/mercy