25 March 2010

'Thou Wast a True Theologian of the Holy Trinity'—St Symeon the New Theologian


Today, 12 March on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the memory of our Holy Father Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022).* Along with St John (the Evangelist) and St Gregory, inaccurately called ‘Nazianzen’, St Symeon is one of only three Fathers that the Church has ever named ‘Theologian’. In his case, Archbishop Basil (Krivocheine) observes:

The term ‘theologian’ is to be understood here, as with most of the Greek Fathers, not in the sense of a theologian working out new dogmas, but as one who has reached the heights of contemplation. The adjective ‘New’ would mean a renewer of the apostolic life which had been in large part forgotten, as Symeon himself states. [1]

St Gregory Palamas writes concerning him, ‘You know the life of Symeon the New Theologian, and how it was all virtually a miracle, glorified by God through supranatural miracles. You know also his writings, which without exaggeration one can call writings of life.’ [2] Archbishop Basil calls him ‘the greatest of the Byzantine mystical writers’, [3] and Archimandrite Placide (Deseille) says that he ‘became the greatest mystic of the Byzantine Church’. [4] In the opinion of Fr Seraphim (Rose), St Symeon is one of ‘the most beloved Holy Fathers today among Orthodox Christians’. [5] Here is the account of his life in the Prologue:

This great and godly Father of the Church was born in Galatai in Paphlagonia and educated in Constantinople, where he entered the imperial service. He left all for Christ and took himself off to a monastery, living in asceticism under the guidance of an elder, Simeon, then becoming abbot of the monastery of St Mamas and finally a hermit. He was the greatest theologian since St Gregory the Theologian. His writings, illumined with the grace he carried in his heart, are a true theological revelation. He entered into rest in 1022, leaving wonder-working relics. [6]

In the interests of supplementing the Prologue a bit on the details of St Symeon’s politeia, or way of life, here is an account of his early struggles by his great disciple, St Nicetas Stethatos, from the condensed Life by St Theophan the Recluse:

He gave himself entirely over to solitude, to reading, to prayer and thoughts of God. The whole week he would eat only vegetables and grains, and only on Sundays would he go to the table of the brethren. He slept little, and that on the floor, only laying a sheepskin over the rug. On Sundays and feast days he performed all-night vigils, standing at prayer from evening until morning, and for the whole day thereafter he would give himself no rest. Never did he utter an idle word, but he preserved always an extreme heedfulness and a sober self-concentration. He sat all close up in his cell, and if he would got out to sit on a bench, it seemed as if he were drenched with tears and bore on his face the reflection of the flame of prayer. He read most of all the lives of saints, and after reading would sit down at his handicraft, which was calligraphy; he would copy something for the monastery and the elders or for himself. From the first sound of the semantron (announcing the morning service), he would stand up and hasten to church, where, with all prayerful heedfulness, he would listen to the order of Divine services. Whenever there was Liturgy, he would each time receive communion of the Holy Mysteries of Christ, and all that day he would remain in prayer and thoughts of God. He would usually keep vigil until midnight, and then, after sleeping a little, would go to church to pray together with the brethren. During Great Lent he spent the five week days without food; on Saturday and Sunday he would go to the table of the brethren and eat whatever was given to everyone. He did not lie down to sleep, but merely leaned with his head on his arms and thus dozed off for an hour or so. [7]

St Symeon’s authority as a ‘theologian’, of course, derives from his own direct experience of God. As Fr Seraphim writes: ‘St Symeon speaks from divine revelation. First, his basis is always scriptural—but we are astonished to see a depth of meaning in his use of scriptural quotations which we would never have seen by ourselves. And this is because, second, he speaks from personal experience.’ The Holy Fathers ‘can speak at first hand of the mysteries of our Faith which they have beheld in divine vision’. [8] Fr Alexander (Golitzin) notes the same thing but puts it another way:

Symeon, in short, is laying claim to nothing less than the authority of a biblical prophet. . . . Such a claim is not new in the history of Eastern monastic literature, but Symeon . . . emphasizes it, [he] is . . . stark in his insistence on the necessity of first experiencing God in order to talk about Him—‘Why do I trouble to explain and interpret?’ he cries at one point, ‘when you will not be able to understand these things unless you have comprehended them by experience’ . . . .’ [9]

Unfortunately, many modern readers have misunderstood St Symeon’s writings, reading into them their own idiosyncratic ideas and preoccupations. Thus, Fr John Meyendorff claims that it is ‘easy to find him at variance with any established tradition’, and that St Symeon is ‘an important witness of the inevitable tension in Christianity between all forms of “establishment” and the freedom of the Spirit.’ [10] One unfortunate priest of the Greek Archdiocese in America even went so far as to use St Symeon as justification for his enthusiasm for the ‘charismatic movement’. But as Archbishop Basil has observed, ‘Symeon does not easily fit into this or that category: he was not a religious extremist, nor some type of proto-Reformer rebelling against the Church hierarchy, nor a forerunner of the Pentecostal movement. He was certainly not an “unconscious Messalian”.’ [11] Fr Alexander wryly observes, even throwing the accusation some have made of ‘Donatism’ into the mix, ‘He may appear occasionally to be “almost” anyone of these . . . , but, to recall Mark Twain’s distinction between the lightning and the lightning bug, there is a very great difference between “almost” and “actual”.’ [12] St Symeon ‘never doubts that the hierarchical and sacramental structures of the Church are true and established by God.’ [13]

In fact, St Symeon is fully in line with the stream of Holy Tradition before him, and has been recognised to have been so in line by the entire stream after him—in the words of my own dear professor, Anestis Keselopoulos, ‘[I]n St Symeon the Orthodox Tradition has always seen a great teacher and theologian of Christian faith and life.’ [14] As Fr Alexander notes, ‘The main themes of Symeon’s thought may be summed up under two headings: deification (theosis) as “tears and light”, and the spiritual father. In neither case is he anything other than a uniquely personal witness to long-established elements in the Greek patristic tradition.’ [15] Concerning St Symeon’s writings, Fr Alexander writes:

His writing is powerful, the prose of a man fully at home in written speech, indeed, of a master writer. He is thoroughly capable of expressing himself clearly and convincingly, and often with great beauty and originality. If he was not well read in the philosophers, nor interested in doing so, he was on the other hand steeped in the culture of the Church: the scriptures, the liturgy, the lives of the saints, and the works of the Church fathers. . . . Moreover, the tradition of the Greek Church is so much St Symeon’s bone and fiber, so at home is he within it, that in him it takes on a very special freshness and immediacy. . . . He speaks to us directly, confidently, and unspoiled by any of the longing to reproduce ancient literary models which so afflicted the prose of his learned contemporaries. [16]

While Archbishop Basil laments that St Theophan the Recluse, when he translated St Symeon into Russian, omitted the Hymns, ‘finding them too daring for the simple reader, and therefore dangerous’, [17] Fr Seraphim for one has respected this decision, noting that the Hymns, ‘as recent Fathers have warned us, are better left untouched by us Christians of the latter times who are too immersed in our own passions and filth of this most debased and evil of epochs.’ [18] Furthermore, Archbishop Philaret of Chernigov reminds us that ‘the states of which St Symeon speaks are ones for which great preparatory struggles are required.’ [19] But fortunately, St Symeon himself is not silent about such struggles. As Prof. Keselopoulos notes, although St Symeon ‘is often presented as a mystic who spoke exclusively about exalted spiritual states’, the ‘ascetic struggle [too] holds a significant and fundamental place in his works . . . . The particular hallmark of his teaching is his insistent effort not to separate the ascetic struggle from the mystical life.’ [20]

I shall present a few passages from St Symeon’s writings, letting the Holy Father speak for himself. But first, I would like to quote a confession from Prof. Keselopoulos’s introduction to his book on St Symeon, a confession that I second: ‘Having read the works of St Symeon, one feels embarrassed and inadequate trying to speak or write about matters which require a knowledge and perception of the divine, when one has not experienced divine illumination. . . .’ [21] If I have finally overcome my own hesitation, it is merely out of a desire to honour the Saint on his Feast. Nevertheless, I begin with a passage from St Symeon’s ‘One Hundred & Fifty-Three Practical & Theological Texts’ which condemns me first of all:

104. Anyone who thinks himself intelligent because of his scholarly or scientific learning will never be granted insight into divine mysteries unless he first humbles himself and becomes a fool (cf. I Cor. 3:18), discarding both his presumption and the knowledge that he has acquired. But if he does this and with unhesitating faith allows himself to be led by those wise in divine matters, he will enter with them into the city of the living God. Guided and illumined by the divine Spirit, he will see and learn what others cannot ever see or learn. He will then be taught by God (cf. John 6:45). [22]

. . .

106. Even now, living in our midst, there are people who are dispassionate and saintly, filled with divine light, who have so mortified whatever in them pertains to the earth (cf. Col. 3:5), freeing it from all impurity and impassioned desire, that not only do they themselves not think or act maliciously, but even when drawn in this direction by another they are unwavering in their dispassion. Those who accuse these saints of folly, and who do not believe them when in the wisdom of the Spirit they teach about divine matters, would have recognized them had they understood the sacred writings of that are read and sung daily. For if they possessed a mature knowledge of the Holy Scriptures they would have believed in the blessings spoken of and bestowed on us by God. But because out of self-conceit and negligence they do not share in these blessings, in their unbelief they slander those who do share in them and who teach others about them. [23]

Here is St Symeon’s (and Orthodoxy’s) answer to a problem which has long vexed the Christians of the West, taken from his ‘Second Ethical Discourse’:

I have heard many people people say: ‘Because the Apostle says; “Those whom God foreknew, the same He also predestined; and those whom He predestined, He also called; and those whom He called, the same also glorified” [Rom 8:29-30] what good is it to me if I throw myself into many labors, if I give proof of repentance and conversion, when I am neither foreknown nor predestined by God to be saved and conformed to the glory of God His Son?’ We are naturally obliged to state our opinion clearly to such people, and to reply: O, you! Why do you reason to your own perdition rather than your salvation? And why do you pick out for yourselves the obscure passages of inspired Scripture and then tear them out of context and twist them in order to accomplish your own destruction? Do you not hear the Savior crying out every day: ‘As I live . . . I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live’ [Ezek 33:11]? Do you not hear Him Who says: ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand’ [Mt 3:2]; and again: ‘Just so, I tell you, there is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents’ [Lk 15:7, adapted]? Did He ever say to some: ‘Do not repent for I will not accept you,’ while to others who were predestined: ‘But you, repent! because I knew you beforehand’? Of course not! Instead, throughout the world and in every church He shouts: ‘Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ [Mt 11:28]. Come, He says, all you who are burdened with many sins, to the One Who takes away the sin of the world; come, all who thirst, to the fountain which flows forever and never dies.

. . .

For God knows all things beforehand, both past and present at once, and everything which is going to happen in the future up to the end of the world. He sees them as already present, because in and through Him all things hold together. . . . When He endowed us with free will, giving commandments to teach us instead how we must oppose our adversaries, He left it to the free choice of each either to oppose and vanquish the enemy, or to relax and be miserably defeated by Him. Nor does He leave us entirely to ourselves—for He knows the weakness of human nature—but rather is present Himself with us and, indeed, allies Himself with those who choose to struggle, and mysteriously imbues us with strength, and Himself, not we accomplishes the victory over the adversary. . . .

God, . . . Who is mighty and invincible, becomes, as we just said, an ally of those who willingly choose to do battle with the enemy, and He establishes them as victors over the cunning of the devil. He does not, however, compel any who do not so choose to this war, in order that He not destroy the power of choice which is proper to our reasoning nature, made according to His own image, and bring us down to the level of unreasoning brutes. . . . [He] knows from before the ages exactly who the victors and vanquished are going to be. . . .

This is therefore what Paul himself also knew [in Rom 8:29-30] . . . . It is not God’s foreknowledge of those who, by their free choice and zeal, will prevail which is the cause of their victory, just as, again, it is not His knowing beforehand who will fall and be vanquished which is responsible for their defeat. Instead, it is the zeal, deliberate choice, and courage of each of us which effects the victory. Our faithlessness and sloth, our irresolution and indolence, on the other hand, comprise our defeat and perdition. So, while reclining on our bed of worldly affection and love of pleasure, let us not say: ‘Those whom God fore-knew, them also He predestined’, without perceiving just what it is we are saying. Yes, indeed, He truly knew you beforehand as inattentive and disobedient and lazy, but this is certainly not because He ordered or foreordained it that you should have no power to repent yourself nor, if you will it, to get up and obey. [24]

Finally, here is an illuminating passage from St Symeon’s ‘Fourth Ethical Discourse’, which Fr Alexander has used to illustrate the theme of macrocosm and microcosm that St Symeon has in common with St Dionysius the Areopagite, and which his disciple St Nicetas received from both of them: [25]

Come, though, all of you who want to be instructed about the glory of those men who are truly holy and dispassionate. Come, that is, you who desire it, who ardently long to possess it, and I will draw you a picture which shows the extent of their weaponry, and you will know their brilliance. Each of you, comparing himself with these saints, will know where he stands, and how far away all of us are from their courage, their worthiness and their power.

So then, picture with me the sky as it is on a clear and cloudless night. See, there is the moon’s disk, full of limpid and purest light, and around it the halo which often appears. Now, with this in mind, turn your thought to what I am about to say. Each one of the saints, while yet in the body, is like that evening sky, and the heart of each like the moon’s disk. Holy love is the all-efficacious and all-powerful light, far and incomparably greater than the light of our sun, which touches their hearts and, waxing in accordance with the capacity of each, fills them perfectly. Neither does it ever wane, like the light of the moon, but is always kept all light through the zeal and good works of the saints. And holy dispassion, like an aureole and a tabernacle, surrounds and cares for them, covers them wholly, and preserves them unwounded by any evil thought, let alone by sins, and sets them up as unhurt and free from all their foes. And, not only this, but it even renders them unapproachable for their enemies.

Do you see the glory which you truly desire? Do you understand the grandeur of this image and how much each of us lacks the glory and brilliance of the saints? For this image is a type of what is actually being perfected in us—let it not be thought by our own efforts, God forbid!—but God established it beforehand and now brings it into being. In creating, the divine artisan and Word of God drew beforehand as on a tablet what would happen in the future for our salvation in order that, on seeing the type appear in perceptible things, we should not doubt that the real truth would be completed and perfected spiritually in our own inward being. Rather, knowing that each one of us is created by God as a second world, a great world in this small and visible one—as one of the theologians bears me witness—we ought to want to appear in no wise worse than the unreasoning or soulless animals which the God Who loves mankind has created for our instruction, but instead be zealous for everything which is good in them while fleeing as much as we can the imitation of their defects. [26]

Today is the nameday of my koumbaros, and I wish him many years. I hope he is persevering manfully, though I know how powerful the city is, and I pray it does not get the better of both of us. In conclusion, here are the troparion and kontakion of the Saint, taken from the Great Horologion:

Dismissal Hymn of St Symeon the New Theologian
Third Tone. Thy confession

Since thou hadst received within thy pure soul * God’s enlightenment, O righteous Father, * thou wast shown to the world as a blazing light * which drave away its thick darkness and moved all men * to seek the grace of the Spirit which they had lost. * O all-holy Father Symeon, intercede with Him * to grant great mercy unto us who honour thee.

Kontakion of St Symeon the New Theologian
Third Tone. On this day the Virgin

Shining with the Three-Sun Light, * thou wast a true theologian * of the Holy Trinity, * the Lord divinely-transcendent; * from on high, thou wast made rich with * wisdom of discourse * and didst pour forth the divine streams of godly wisdom; * whereof having drunk, we cry out: * Rejoice, thrice-blessed * Symeon, taught from above. [27]


[1] Archbishop Basil (Krivocheine), In the Light of Christ: St Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022)—Life, Spirituality, Doctrine, tr. Anthony P. Gythiel (Crestwood, NY: SVS, 1986), pp. 62-3. I noted with interest that the translator of this book is the same man who more recently translated Fr Placide’s Orthodox Spirituality & the Philokalia.

I was pleased to see as well that while Archbishop Basil refers to our Saint merely as ‘Symeon’ throughout his study, His Eminence at least notes that he is doing it only ‘For the sake of brevity, . . . without in any way questioning either his theology or his saintliness’ (p. 9, n. 1). Of course, I think that in our day and age maintaining the custom of using such titles is worth the extra ink or memory it requires.

[2] St Gregory Palamas, ‘In Defence of Those who Devoutly Practise a Life of Stillness’, The Philokalia, Vol. 4, tr. G.E.H. Palmer, et al. (London: Faber, 1998), p. 341.

[3] Archbishop Basil, p. 9.

[4] Archimandrite Placide (Deseille), Orthodox Spirituality & the Philokalia, tr. Anthony P. Gythiel (Wichita, KS: Eighth Day, 2008), p. 29. Having quoted these comments, however, I should point out that I am aware of the problems with and history of the term ‘mysticism’ and its derivatives, and I share Fr Andrew Louth’s concerns about them as expressed in the Afterward to the 2007 edition of Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition (Oxford: Oxford U, 2007), pp. 200-14. But I think the views of Archbishop Basil and Fr Placide on St Symeon’s unique quality and importance are still worthwhile. That said, it will be noticed that I myself entirely avoid the use of such terminology throughout this post.

[5] Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose), ‘Introduction: The Teaching of St Symeon the New Theologian’, The First-Created Man, rev. ed., by St Symeon the New Theologian, tr. Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose) (Platina, CA: St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1994), p. 11.

[6] St Nicholas (Velimirović), The Prologue from Ochrid, Vol. 1, trans. Mother Maria (Birmingham: Lazarica, 1986), pp. 276-7.

[7] St Nicetas Stethatos, ‘The Life of St Symeon the New Theologian’, First-Created Man, pp. 27-8.

[8] Fr Seraphim, p. 13.

[9] Hieromonk Alexander (Golitzin), ‘Introduction’, On the Mystical Life—The Ethical Discourses, Vol. 3: Life, Times, & Theology, by St Symeon the New Theologian, tr. & ed. Hieromonk Alexander (Golitzin) (Crestwood, NY: SVS, 1997), p. 9.

[10] Fr John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology: Historical Trends & Doctrinal Themes, 2nd ed. (NY: Fordham U, 1979), p. 74.

[11] Archbishop Basil, p. 10.

[12] Fr Alexander, p. 49.

[13] Ibid., p. 40.

[14] Anestis G. Keselopoulos, Man & the Environment: A Study of St Symeon the New Theologian, tr. Elizabeth Theokritoff (Crestwood, NY: SVS, 2001), p. 6.

[15] Fr Alexander, p. 11.

[16] Fr Alexander, ‘The Ethical Discourses: Date, Type, & Content’, On the Mystical Life—The Ethical Discourses, Vol. 1: The Church & the Last Things, by St Symeon the New Theologian, tr. Fr Alexander (Crestwood, NY: SVS, 1995), pp. 10-1.

[17] Archbishop Basil, p. 9.

[18] Fr Seraphim, p. 12.

[19] St Nicetas, p. 40.

[20] Keselopoulos, pp. 7-8.

[21] Ibid., p. 11. Prof. Keselopoulos goes on to say:

This was the greatest impediment for the author before writing this study, since he and his generation live in the consumerist, affluent society brought to us by the kingdom of money, which brings with it an immense social ferment and has many negative ramifications. For when we speak of a kingdom of money, we mean first and foremost the lack of purpose in money, the wealth which is made into an absolute, a god which incites unbridled production. This applies to the production even of religious articles, which end up becoming consumer goods, products manufactured for a certain kind of beauty. ‘The kingdom of money’ also refers to the attitude which stems from human voracity and greed, and to the tragic way in which man is trapped by his limitless material ‘needs’. (p. 11)

[22] St Symeon, ‘One Hundred & Fifty-Three Practical & Theological Texts’, Philokalia, Vol. 4, pp. 46-7.

[23] Ibid., p. 47.

[24] St Symeon, On the Mystical Life, Vol. 1, pp. 83-4, 86-8.

[25] See the brilliant article, Fr Alexander (Golitzin), ‘Hierarchy vs. Anarchy? Dionysius Areopagita, Symeon the New Theologian, Nicetas Stethatos, & Their Common Roots in Ascetical Tradition’, St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 38,2 (1994), pp. 143, 146. Available here at the Marquette University site.

[26] St Symeon, On the Mystical Life—The Ethical Discourses, Vol. 2: On Virtue & Christian Life, tr. Fr Alexander (Crestwood, NY: SVS, 1996), pp. 36-7.

[27] The Great Horologion, tr. HTM (Boston: HTM, 1997), pp. 276-7.

* As always, there is more than one Saint celebrated today, and on this day last year I chose one of the others—St Gregory the Dialogist (or ‘the Great’). On some calendars, one can also find the Prophet Aaron the High Priest listed for today. But as I celebrate my nameday on the same day as the Feast of the Prophet Moses, I will plan to post on St Aaron in September (for some reason I was hindered in this last year). I have, however, posted a bit about St Aaron previously here, here, and here.

9 comments:

orrologion said...

George A. Maloney's translation of St. Symeon's Hymns of Divine Love (Denville, New Jersey: Dimension Books) were published (funded) by the Romanian hieromonk who chrismated me (following my baptism by another priest). He now serves in Iasi at the tomb of St. Paraskevi.

Interestingly, Maloney converted to Orthodoxy from Eastern Rite Catholicism very late in his life and died in the Church.

aaronandbrighid said...

I heard that about Fr Maloney. Actually, it was Herman that told me--he saw him serving somewhere.

I told an old professor of mine who was an ex-Jesuit, and he said, 'Oh, did he finally?' Apparently, the other Jesuits had all seen it coming. Frankly, I'm never sure how one tells when it comes to Catholics that study or have a high appreciation for Orthodoxy. I tend to assume they think they're 'Orthodox' already and have their ecclesiastical views all sorted out.

elizabeth said...

Happy Saint Symeon's day! (Old calendar I notice; I go to an Old Calendar church... more by happenstance than conviction but I really like it...).

The book _Christ is in our Midst_ of the letters of Fr. John, a monk at Valaam (new and old) has a reference (if my memory still serves me) of the hymns of St. Symeon as very high theology indeed and not for the spiritually young... Do you know the book? It is a really good introduction to the spiritual life and can serve people well for years...

Nice to learn more about St. Symeon! Thank you!

aaronandbrighid said...

Elizabeth> Happy St Symeon's day to you! I have heard of that book, but have never read it. I'll have to keep it in mind!

orrologion said...

I tend to assume they think they're 'Orthodox' already...

This seems to have been Fr. Placide's view for a good number of years. Such things take time, which is why it's good not to rush people into conversion and ordination. My advice to Lutheran ministers has been to take a leave of absence and start attending Orthodox services; it's no good playacting or skulking around to Orthodox services when you aren't busy at your own parish.

I was attending an Orthodox parish regularly for about 9 or 10 months, attending all the services, doing all the stuff, including getting blessings from the priests. I went to get a blessing from our 'second priest' - a long-time visiting Romanian hieromonk who lived in the basement - but he pulled his hand back at the last minute before I could kiss it. "When will you become Orthodox?", he asked. I was stunned and stammered out, "Whenever Fr. C says". It was an example - whether meant or not - of not allowing someone to playact at being Orthodox. If I was taking blessings, I should take baptism and make it official - if not, "no blessings for you! (a la the Soup Nazi).

David.R said...

Aaron:
I love this post. Would you comment on the Hymns, for us? By the way. Fr Maloney's book on the Hymns is not available anywhere! But the monastery of the Archangels
(One of Elder Ephraim's) in Texas has some copies available for sale.

David

aaronandbrighid said...

David> Glad you liked it! Unfortunately, I can't comment on the Hymns because I haven't read them. I am also not particularly anxious to do so because of St Theophan's and Fr Seraphim's warnings (as well as, it seems, those of Fr John of Valaam)!

I am a frequent visitor to Holy Archangels, and I either buy or am given a book every time I go. We are very close to the Fathers there, one of whom is my son's godfather, while another gave us his car when he became a novice! They have helped us a great deal in many ways over the years, including, I am convinced, by supernatural means.

elizabeth said...

Thanks! yes, Christ is in our Midst is worth reading! It's accessability I believe is misleading - esp. when I read the intro by Met. K. Ware (he sure does a lot of book intros over the years!) that alluded to some people thinking it too simple or how could they learn from a very simple peasant monk! (! It seems that some still do not understand that a person from a rural area in an Orthodox country with a pious upbringing, not to mention further spiritual formation, could have an education far beyond most of ours)... Even 8th day books, when they first mentioned this book, apologized for not doing so earlier! They said that it is like a primer for further reading, such as the philokalia. I personally know that I am not ready for such reading (i.e. the philokalia) but I can see why 8th day books says this, as his letters are full of wisdom for the desert fathers and saints... my memory of the letter that mentions St. Symeon's hymns was a reply from one of his children how suggested he read them ... the reply was quite sharp compared to his usualy gentleness - a warning to his spiritual child to not read what he cannot understand; I got the impression however that Fr. John had the blessing to read such material.

A really wonderful book! My spiritual father recommended it to me years ago... it is the book that introduced me to the Orthodox teaching on humility. I admit I really did not know much about what the church teaches on it, other than that the Bible says it is important!

It is wonderful that your family visits Holy Archangels; I visit Holy Dormition in MI when I can (about once a year at this point) and have been once to the Greek monastery in Brownsberg Quebec which is one of Elder Ephraim's which is also very lovely.

Blessed evening to you and your family!

Steve said...

Thanks for another, and very Orthodox take on the reformers' predestination silliness. St Symeon goes quickly and clearly to the heart of the matter.