Philokalia: Abiding in the Eternal Beauty that Saves the World
The Philokalia is much more than an anthology: a collection of spiritual writings. It speaks of and points the way to something far more wonderful. Indeed, we read the Philokalia because of what our hearts already desire: Jesus and the life he has made possible for us. Anthony Coniaris, in his book, Philokalia: the Bible of Orthodox Spirituality offers us the following reflections:
“If Philokalia is ‘the love of the beautiful,’ let us remember that the ‘beautiful’ one is none other than the Lord Jesus. As Dostoyevsky wrote, ‘In the world there has been only one positively beautiful person - Christ. Therefore, the appearance of this wonderful, infinitely beautiful person is in itself an infinite miracle. The entire Gospel of John is devoted to precisely this. In it, St. John declares that the whole miracle is in the Incarnation alone, in the very manifestation or emergence of the beautiful.’ God is the source of all that is truly beautiful, resplendent with God’s glory. ‘Such beauty,’ wrote Dostoyevsky, ‘created by God, will ultimately save the world.’ ‘Blessed is the mind which, passing by all creatures, constantly rejoices in God’s beauty,’ wrote St. Maximus the Confessor. God is love; but He is also the source of all that is truly beautiful. Beauty is the outer expression of God’s resplendent glory. Such beauty will indeed ‘save the world.’ ‘Who can gaze at His face and remain without divine eros for such beauty?’ said St. Gregory of Nyssa. If there is any authentic beauty in the world, it is but a reflection of the beauty of Christ.”
We are to keep our eyes fixed upon this Eternal Beauty who is Christ, knowing that nothing is more splendid. Beyond this, we must understand that God has called us to share in this Beauty and that we are to be the living icons of it within the world. If we read the Philokalia, it is because it is directed to the virtues which are the qualities that make the soul beautiful and God-like.
Gregory of Nyssa tells us, “For this is the safest way to protect the good thing you enjoy: by realizing how much your Creator has honored you above all other creatures. He did not make the heavens in His image, nor the moon, nor the sun, nor the beauty of the stars, nor anything else which surpasses all understanding. You alone are an icon of Eternal Beauty, and if you look at Him, you will become what He is, imitating Him Who shines within you, whose glory is reflected in your purity. Nothing in all creation can equal your grandeur. All the heavens can fit in the palm of God’s hand . . .and though He is so great . . .you can wholly embrace Him. He dwells within you . . .He pervades your entire being . . . .”
Reflecting on Nyssa’s words, Coniaris concludes: “The only positively beautiful Person Who ever lived was the Lord Jesus. To be created in His image is to be created in the image of beauty. To be holy as He is holy is to be beautiful. To live in Christ is to abide in beauty. To know Him we need to love Him as much as Dostoyevsky did when he wrote: ‘Sometimes God sends me moments in which I am utterly at peace. In those moments I have constructed for myself a creed in which everything is clear and holy for me. Here it is: to believe that there is nothing more beautiful, more profound, more sympathetic, more reasonable, more courageous and more perfect than Christ, and not only is there nothing, but I tell myself with jealous love, that there never could be.’
All quotes taken from Philokalia: the Bible of Orthodox Spirituality by Anthony Coniaris, pp. 11-18; Light and Life Publishing Company