Philokalia

Philokalia

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Great Legacy to be Received from the Fathers of the Church

As was mentioned in earlier posts, the Philokalia must be read and taught about with great care (docility, humility) and not separated from the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church.  There is always a a great danger when one tries to popularize theology or the writings of the Fathers for example.  The coming into fashion of the profoundest spiritual or theological writings is not necessarily a good thing.  It doesn't mean that we stop reading these things, but all of us must approach these Fathers with fear of God, humility and with a great distrust of our own wisdom and judgment - things sadly lacking in our day. Even the most beautiful of works (like the Philokalia) can be studied in a self willed way and presented in vain minded and banal fashion which leads to subtle deception.  Indeed, it is even a struggle, to be sure, for the orthodox Catholic Christian living in our day of puffed up knowledge to escape some of the pitfalls lying in wait for those who wish to read such works in their full meaning and content. Yet, having said this, the writings are concerned with themes of universal importance for all of those who are seeking to live holy lives in accord with the teachings of the Gospel - - watchfulness of heart, stillness, unceasing prayer and the struggle with the passions.  These writings are not only for monks but for all those who are striving for union with God.  St. Tikhon, it has been said, called on all Christians to become “untonsured monks.”  Such a return to the sources of our spiritual tradition is meant to accomplish just that - to bring the spirituality of the Philokalia into our everyday living.  The desired result of such an endeavor is to live holy lives that will bring glory to God.    One of the most beautiful invitations to read the Philokalia comes from St. Nicodemus who complied these great writings. I can't think of a more wonderful invitation to read the Philokalia than these words of St. Nicodemus:

"Come, therefore, come and eat the bread of knowledge and wisdom, and drink the wine which spiritually delights the heart and dispels all the material and immaterial things because of deification - which is caused by the liberation of ourselves - and become inebriated with the truly alert inebriation. Come all you who seek to find the kingdom of God which is hidden in the field of your heart. And this is the sweet Christ. Thus being freed from the imprisonment of this world and the wandering of the mind, with our heart purified from the passions, with the awesome unceasing invocation of our Lord Jesus Christ together with the collaborating virtues, which this book teaches, you will be united among yourselves, and united this way, you will be united with God, according to the prayer of our Lord to his Father, who said, "So they may be one, as we are one."

4 comments:

  1. One of the problems in our day is the struggle to make the message of the Philokalia accessible to the common man. I know when I first picked up all the English copies of it in my youth I quickly discounted them as mere repetitive books of wisdom sayings. It would not be until later when was properly grafted into my Byzantine Christian heritage that the teachings would become alive to me. Understanding the Philokalia from the perspective of the spirituality of Hesychasm made a complete difference. It's sad that among many eastern Christians the essence of the Byzantine tradition "Hesychasm" has been lost. However, slowly we are seeing a rival in understanding our traditions and the teachings of the Philokalia are finding a place again in the homes of Byzantine Christians. Glad I got all 4 copies when I did back then. Being out of print some are going for $200 at Amazon. The known 5th copy which is a compilation seems to be all that remains.

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  2. I agree there is a scarcity of material available the makes the Philokalia accessible or forums to discuss the writings of the hesychasts. Part of the reason I started the blog was to think through what I have read over the years in a deeper fashion but also to receive the input of those who are perhaps more familiar with the writings and for whom they are an integral part of their spiritual life and tradition. Both Climacus and Cassian have been and integral part of my spiritual formation and to them I am deeply indebted. I hope you and others will feel free to comment often and address aspects that I fail to give due attention. I've waited for years likewise for the 5th volume but it doesn't seem as though their are plans of translating it any time soon. Blessings.

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  3. The Russian Fathers all recognized the difficulty in understanding the Philokalia due to its distance from us in times and circumstances. They have a general consensus that one ought to read the writings of the great Russian Fathers, such as Paisius Velichkovsky, Nil Sorsky, and Dimitri Rostov before attempting to read the Philokalia. My own personal spin on that would be to read through "The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology" slowly and several times before attempting to tackle the Philokalia. You'll find that the essential teachings are all the same, but the excerpts from the later Russian Fathers contained in "The Art of Prayer" - particularly the writings of St. Theopan the Recluse - are much more accessible to our own time and situation and will really make the writings of the Philokalia come to life.

    As far as the famous fifth volume of the Philokalia is concerned, I've heard that Metropolitan Kallistos Ware is still working on the translation. But he is now the sole surviving member of the team that initially set to the task of translating the entire corpus. As such, the work has become very slow since he is working alone and maintains a rather intense lecture-tour schedule.

    ICXC + NIKA,
    Phillip (The Master Beadsman)

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  4. Philip,

    Thanks for your thoughts and indeed the Art of Prayer and St. Theophan are much more accessible. These were recommended by relatives who are Russian Orthodox and I have found them to be very helpful. I also found reading Climacus and Cassian to be immensely helpful, as well as the Way of the Pilgrim. Kallistos Ware recommends beginning with the list of writers the Pilgrim's staretz suggested and all of these can be found in the Philokalia volume entitled "Writings on the Prayer of the Heart." After 25 years of reading the Philoklia I recently set myself to this task to see what it opened up for me. Also Anthony Coniaris has written a few wonderful books on the major themes of the Philokalia that a great guides for the contemporary reader. As always, its best to have direction with such things or as you said starting with other works before attempting to approach the Philokalia.

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