Kyklike kinesis is a Greek term referring to the ‘circular movement’ of the soul on its journey back to God, as described by proto-orthodox theologians in their theory of theosis: deification or unity with God. It is the concept of this journey, interpreted through several different spiritual traditions, that informed so much of Tavener’s work of the last four decades, and he recalled that Kyklike Kinesis, written in the same year as his conversion to Russian Orthodoxy, is the first composition that reflected this new awareness of tradition. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the tradition of prayer in seclusion known as the hesychia (‘stillness, rest’) aims at ekstasis, or the ecstatic union, the whole being a process of kyklike kinesis. The hesychia is derived from Christ’s exhortation in the Gospel of Matthew to ‘go into your closet to pray,’ interpreted as the need to withdraw into isolation in order to experience God, much in the way that Eastern meditative practices are intended to induce a state of detachment from the material world.
Tavener asserted that humanity’s aspiration, however unconscious, to perceive and assimilate with the Infinite — that which is beyond manifested existence — is what motivates all religious belief. Indeed, there are a number of parallels to be found between not only Western and Eastern Christian ideas of theosis, but between all prayer traditions, meditative practices and spiritually motivated lifestyles, such as asceticism, whose practitioners’ aim is to be freed from corporeal constraints and united with the infinite, whether this be called God or Brahman; whether it be identified as a single entity or an ultimate reality. Tavener sought through his own work to explore, realise and in some way distil this process of spiritual elevation, and many works, including Towards Silence, Lament for Jerusalem and Requiem consider the schism between man’s worldly existence and his innate urge to be unified with his spiritual origins. The poetry of St John of the Cross, so beloved of Tavener and set by him in works such as Ultimos Ritos, also speaks of this transcendent union, but as a marriage of the soul with God rather than as deification of the soul itself. Despite Tavener’s dawning sense of tradition as a spiritual truth at this time, he did not regard Kyklike Kinesis as having comprehended the scale of Orthodox teachings and felt that his formative diet of serialism and systems remained prevalent in his writing for some years following his conversion.