31 January 2010

'The World's Best Culture Refines the Soul'

I have recently found it necessary to make explicit something I wished to be assumed about this blog. I have all along taken for granted the teaching of St Basil the Great in his Address to Young Men on the Right Use of Greek Literature, which I first encountered back in college through Constantine Cavarnos’s superb study, The Hellenic-Christian Philosophical Tradition. St Basil writes:

Into the life eternal the Holy Scriptures lead us, which teach us through divine words. But so long as our immaturity forbids our understanding their deep thought, we exercise our spiritual perceptions upon profane writings, which are not altogether different, and in which we perceive the truth as it were in shadows and in mirrors. . . . Consequently we must be conversant with poets, with historians, with orators, indeed with all men who may further our soul’s salvation. . . . Now, then, altogether after the manner of bees must we use these writings, for the bees do not visit all the flowers without discrimination, nor indeed do they seek to carry away entire those upon which they light, but rather, having taken so much as is adapted to their needs, they let the rest go. So we, if wise, shall take from heathen books whatever befits us and is allied to the truth, and shall pass over the rest. . . . Since we must needs attain to the life to come through virtue, our attention is to be chiefly fastened upon those many passages from the poets, from the historians, and especially from the philosophers, in which virtue itself is praised. [1]

This text is crucial in my mind to all that I have to say about literature and philosophy. All the great classics of world literature and philosophy have something useful to our soul’s salvation and to the acquisition of virtue. But, naturally, if they are not inspired by God there is always the admixture of man’s fallen nature. We must be cautious in reading them, practicing critical thinking shaped by a Christian worldview. That this reading is good and necessary, however, must not be in doubt. As St Gregory the Theologian says in his Funeral Oration on the Great St Basil:

11. I take it as admitted by men of sense, that the first of our advantages is education [paideusis]; and not only this our more noble form of it, which disregards rhetorical ornaments and glory, and holds to salvation, and beauty in the objects of our contemplation: but even that external culture which many Christians ill-judgingly abhor, as treacherous and dangerous, and keeping us afar from God. For as we ought not to neglect the heavens, and earth, and air, and all such things, because some have wrongly seized upon them, and honour God’s works instead of God: but to reap what advantage we can from them for our life and enjoyment, while we avoid their dangers; not raising creation, as foolish men do, in revolt against the Creator, but from the works of nature apprehending the Worker (Rom. i. 20, 25), and, as the divine apostle says, bringing into captivity every thought to Christ: (2 Cor. x. 5) and again, as we know that neither fire, nor food, nor iron, nor any other of the elements, is of itself most useful, or most harmful, except according to the will of those who use it; and as we have compounded healthful drugs from certain of the reptiles; so from secular literature we have received principles of enquiry and speculation, while we have rejected their idolatry, terror, and pit of destruction. Nay, even these have aided us in our religion, by our perception of the contrast between what is worse and what is better, and by gaining strength for our doctrine from the weakness of theirs. We must not then dishonour education, because some men are pleased to do so, but rather suppose such men to be boorish and uneducated, desiring all men to be as they themselves are, in order to hide themselves in the general, and escape the detection of their want of culture. [2]

I cannot help but think that many Orthodox Christians of a traditional bent, overreacting to the evils of the modern world and the pitfalls of heresy and worldliness, have in our day become the very boors that St Gregory mentions here. Many seem not to realise the extent to which the Holy Fathers of the Church were conversant in the learning of their day, and not just conversant, but even enthusiastic for it. Concerning St Gregory himself, for example, Werner Jaeger has observed, ‘His homilies are full of classical allusions; he has a full command of Homer, Hesiod, the tragic poets, Pindar, Aristophanes, the Attic orators, the Alexandrian modernists, but also of Plutarch and Lucian and the writers of the Second Sophistic movement, who are the direct models of his style.’ [3]

The irony of course is that many of these Orthodox boors, while they are ignorant of or care little for the great classical poets and writers, have not remained unaffected by the worthless ‘culture’ of the modern West. In other words, they have been spiritually stunted simply by virtue of having been brought up in an era strikingly empty of truth, goodness, and beauty. Yet they intend to proceed straight to the depths of Orthodoxy without the kind of paideia of which the Cappadocian Fathers speak. In our own day, such a stalwart traditionalist as Fr Seraphim (Rose), who can hardly be accused of being too fond of secular culture, has for this reason observed:

In general, the person who is well acquainted with the best products of secular culture—which in the West almost always have definite religious and Christian overtones—has a much better chance of leading a normal, fruitful Orthodox life than someone who knows only the popular culture of today. . . . The world’s best culture, properly received, refines and develops the soul; today’s popular culture cripples and deforms the soul and hinders it from having a full and normal response to the message of Orthodoxy.

Therefore, in our battle against the spirit of this world, we can use the best things the world has to offer in order to go beyond them; everything good in the world, if we are only wise enough to see it, points to God, and to Orthodoxy, and we have to make use
of it. [4]

Thus, Fr Damascene talks about how Archbishop Andrei of Novo-Diveevo would turn ‘the topic of conversation to some character or idea in the works of Dostoevsky, Goncharev, etc.’ when the young Gleb Podmoshensky would prematurely try to discuss ‘spirituality’ with him. [5]

This is how I view much of the talk about literature, philosophy, and books generally here on Logismoi. Of course I also offer stories about and teachings of the Saints and Fathers, who are the embodiment of the Orthodox Tradition, but apart from this I don’t devote all of my attention to strictly ‘spiritual’ or ‘theological’ matters. I try to talk about what interests me in and what I find good about ‘the best products of secular culture’—keeping in mind that this good is not undiluted—in a way that may often subtly point toward Orthodoxy, but may simply be a reasonable way to pass my time. If secular culture is, as St Basil explicitly says, a preparation for the Gospel, then the study of it, even at a basic level, must at the very least be a respectable hobby. I have quoted before—but the time has surely come to do so again—the thirteenth saying of St Anthony in the Gerontikon:

13. A hunter in the desert saw Abba Anthony enjoying himself with the brethren and he was shocked. Wanting to show him that it was necessary sometimes to meet the needs of the brethren, the old man said to him, ‘Put an arrow in your bow and shoot it.’ So he did. The old man then said, ‘Shoot another,’ and he did so. Then the old man said, ‘Shoot yet again,’ and the hunter replied ‘If I bend my bow so much I will break it.’ Then the old man said to him, ‘It is the same with the work of God. If we stretch the brethren beyond measure they will soon break. Sometimes it is necessary to come down to meet their needs.’ When he heard these words the hunter was pierced by compunction and, greatly edified by the old man, he went away. As for the brethren, they went home strengthened. [6]

I take this to mean those of us who have not attained to St Anthony’s height are not able to maintain his level of focus on spiritual endeavour. As C.S. Lewis says in his apology for culture, ‘we must rest and play’, and ‘where can we do so better than here—in the suburbs of Jerusalem?’ [7]

In conclusion, my adherence to this approach is non-negotiable. Unless I am ordered by my spiritual father or my bishop to cease and desist, I will continue on this blog to seek out, discuss, and recommend ‘the best products of secular culture’, and I see no need constantly to go out of my way to qualify myself with pronouncements about how un-Orthodox these things are. Those who share my views or are at least sympathetic to them, are welcome to comment on specific issues in my posts on ‘the best products of secular culture’, but I do not wish this to be a forum for debating this approach itself. Logismoi is, as a quick glance at the top of the page reveals, a ‘refuge’ for those tired of the worst of secular culture and a ‘treasury’ of the best of secular and Christian culture, not a modern college classroom where everything is up for grabs. Those who insist on wasting my time by trying to provoke such debates will find their comments summarily deleted, and will make things less enjoyable for everyone by causing comments on specific posts to be closed.

[1] St Basil the Great, Address to Young Men on the Right Use of Greek Literature 2, 4, & 5; from the translation by Frederick Morgan Padelford (here).

[2] St Gregory the Theologian, Funeral Oration for the Great S. Basil (here).

[3] Werner Jaeger, Early Christianity and Greek Paideia (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1961), p. 78.

[4] Qtd. in Hieromonk Damascene (Christensen), Father Seraphim (Rose): His Life & Works (Platina, CA: St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2003), pp. 964-5.

[5] Fr Damascene, p. 960.

[6] Benedicta Ward, trans., The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, rev. ed. (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1984), pp. 3-4.

[7] C.S. Lewis, ‘Christianity & Culture’, The Collected Works of C.S. Lewis (NY: Inspirational, 1996), p. 189.

30 January 2010

'Most Accurate Rule of Virtue'—St Anthony the Great

Today, 17 January on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the memory of the Holy Anthony the Great (c. 251-356). To St Pachomius the Great he was ‘the perfect model of the anchoritic life’. [1] St Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain calls him ‘the chief of the choir of ascetics’, who ‘attained to extreme virtue and freedom from passions’. [2] While Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette, OSB, refers to St Anthony typically as ‘the Father of Monks’ and ‘a lover of the solitary life in the desert’, [3] through his Life he ‘appears not as a remote hermit, but a servant to all—to victims of injustice, to the sick and the grieving, to burdened soldiers and discouraged monks’, in the words of Williams Harmless. [4] Harmless then quotes a famous statement of St Athanasius the Great in his Life of the Venerable One: ‘It was as if he were a physician given to Egypt by God.’ [5] Here is the account of St Anthony’s life in the Prologue:

He was an Egyptian, born about 250 in a village called Quemen-el Arons near Heracleopolis. After the death of his rich and noble parents, he shared his inherited possessions with his sister, who was still in her minority, made sure that she was cared for, gave away his half of the inheritance to the poor and, at the age of twenty, consecrated himself to the life of asceticism that he had desired from childhood. At first he lived near his own village but then, in order to escape the disturbance of men, went off into the desert, on the shores of the Red Sea, where he spent twenty years as a hermit in company with no-one but God, in unceasing prayer, pondering and contemplation, patiently undergoing inexpressible demonic temptations. His fame spread through the whole world and around him gathered many disciples whom he, by word and example, placed on the path of salvation. In eighty-five years of ascetic life, he went only twice to Alexandria: the first time to seek martyrdom during a time of persecution of the Church, and the second at the invitation of St Athanasius, to refute the Arians’ slanderous allegations that he too was a follower of the Arian heresy. He departed this life at the age of 105, leaving behind a whole army of disciples and followers. And, although Antony was unlettered he was, as a counsellor and teacher, one of the most learned men of his age, as also was St Athanasius the Great. When some Hellenic philosophers tried to test him with literary learning, Antony shamed them with the question: ‘Which is older, the understanding or the book? And which of these is the source of the other?’ The shamed philosophers dispersed, for they saw that they had only book-learning without understanding, while Antony had understanding. Here was a man who had attained perfection insofar as man is able on earth. Here was an educator of educators and teacher of teachers, who for a whole eighty-five years perfected himself, and only thus was able to perfect many others. Full of years and great works, Antony entered into rest in the Lord in the year 356. [6]

In last year’s post on St Anthony (here), I discussed several typical Logismoic points. This time, I would like to add one new one, and then expand on a point that I merely touched on in that post—the connection between St Anthony and St Augustine of Hippo.

First, as I often turn to the famous Inkling, Charles Williams, for his invariably unique perspective on Christian history, so today I looked to see what he might have to say about St Anthony the Great and was not disappointed:

Felicitas had asserted the divine order—‘Another for me and I for him.’ Clement had defined it among the faithful: ‘He demands of us our lives for the sake of each other.’ What the martyr and doctor declared another voice also proclaimed out of the desert. During the reign of Diocletian St Antony, the first of the Christian hermits, whose life was to be written by Athanasius, took up his dwelling between the Nile and the Red Sea. Alone, ascetic, emaciated, he gave to the Church the same formula: ‘Your life and your death are with your neighbour.’ [7]

The point is certainly a good one. Ever since the Reformation (to which my friend Kevin Edgecomb delights in referring as the ‘Deformation’), and even more since the Enlightenment, there has been a tendency even among Christians to regard St Anthony’s ascetic struggles as at best unnecessary and at worst as downright contrary to the Gospel. The notion that the monastic life, particularly in its anchoritic form, is somehow a denial or avoidance of the law of love is part of this, and Williams fortunately comes to his defense in that regard. Indeed, next to the importance of this point, my own comment is rather a quibbling one—Williams calls St Anthony ‘emaciated’. But this is in direct contradiction of St Athanasius’s description of him immediately after the most intense period of the great Abba’s ascesis: ‘And when they beheld him, they were amazed to see that his body had maintained its former condition, neither fat from lack of exercise, nor emaciated from fasting and combat with demons, but was just as they had known him prior to his withdrawal.’ [8] Harmless notes that it is a famous description, [9] and it is odd that Williams seems to have missed it.

As for the connection between Ss Anthony and Augustine, this was first brought to my attention by Helen Waddell’s remarkable introduction to her translation of Desert Fathers material in Latin. I have referred to this introduction, and specifically to her beautiful retelling of Confessions 8:6.14-7.16, not only in my post on St Anthony, but also in this one on an unattributed verse quotation she uses in that passage. There is much that could be said about this connection, for both Saints underwent a ‘conversion’, but, as William Clebsch observes, ‘not to Christianity—rather to the convertibility of one en route to Christian salvation’. [10] But while Clebsch notes that St Anthony’s ‘convertibility’ is what St Augustine ‘found so arresting in the story’ of his life, the similarity between them masks a difference. In Helen Waddell’s words, as he listened to St Anthony’s story—

Augustine sat, knowing that the thing to which he listened was that which he had sought and fled from for twelve years, ‘that whereof not the finding but the sole seeking is beyond the treasuries of kings and all this ambient bodily delight.’ [11] He sat in silence, and his soul quailed away from it as from death. [12]

Waddell goes on to remark that it was not St Anthony’s withdrawal or asceticism per se that moved St Augustine, ‘it was the secret renunciation, the doctrine of the power of the will’. [13] St Anthony responded immediately to his calling, and did not look back. St Augustine had ‘sought and fled from [it] for twelve years’. Waddell cites St Anthony’s own words concerning the power of the human will:

20. ‘Having therefore made a beginning, and set out already on the way of virtue, let us press forward to what lies ahead. And let none turn back as Lot’s wife did, especially since the Lord said, No one puts his hand to the plow and turns back is fit for the Kingdom of heaven (Lk 9:62). Now ‘turning back’ is nothing except feeling regret and once more thinking about things of the world. But do not be afraid to hear about virtue, and do not be a stranger to the term. For it is not distant from us, nor does it stand external to us, but its realization lies in us, and the task is easy if only we shall will it. Now the Greeks leave home and traverse the sea in order to gain an education, but there is no need for us to go abroad on account of the Kingdom of heaven, nor to cross the sea for virtue. For the Lord has told us before, the Kingdom of heaven is within you (Lk 17:21). All virtue needs, then, is our willing, since it is in us, and arises from us. [14]

This was precisely the trick for St Augustine, and I don’t believe it was solely because he was too attached to the physical pleasures. Surely his real problem was what Ramfos calls ‘the tortuous psychology and constant spiritual trials of the cultivated (i.e. the more or less individualized) intelligentsia’, which he contrasts with the ‘intellectually uncomplicated and uncultivated people of the city or the countryside’. [15] St Augustine’s will is almost completely paralysed. He knows what he ought to do, what he must do, and yet he cannot do it. When he finally receives his own ‘saving word’—the words of St Paul, ‘Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying: but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof’ (Rom 13:13-4)— the change that Grace works in him is so complete, so strengthening, that he finds himself unable to attribute any value to the human effort to keep these words, and his immoderate yet influential writings on the subject finally require correction by St John Cassian and the other Fathers of Gaul. [16]

The contrast between these two Lives is remarkable. There is an openness, an ease of action in the simple man, a paralysis in the intellectual that are not often observed in conjunction. When we do first see it, there is perhaps a temptation to mistake the difference between the two for something that, upon closer examination, we find it is not. It is not, as might be thought, the difference between one who behaves irrationally in the first instance and one who is rational in the second. Quite the contrary, it is St Anthony who was exhibiting reason in the truest sense of that word, and not St Augustine. In words attributed to St Anthony himself:

1. Men are improperly called rational [logikoi]; it is not those who have learned thoroughly the discourses [tous logous] [17] and books of the wise men of old that are rational, but those who have a rational soul [logike psyche] and can discern what is good and what is evil, and avoid what is evil and harmful to the soul, but zealously keep with the aid of practice, what is good and beneficial to the soul, and do this with many thanks to God. These alone should be called truly rational men [logikoi anthropoi].

2. The truly rational man is zealous about one thing: to obey and please the God of all creatures, and to discipline his soul with regard to this: how to do what is acceptable to God, thanking Him for His so benevolent and great providence and government of all things, whatever it may happen to be in the case of his own life. [18]

St Anthony is once again describing himself, as I noted concerning his letters in last year’s post.

Many years to my spiritual father on his nameday (though he will probably not read this)! In conclusion, here is the doxasticon from ‘Lord, I have cried’ at Vespers for the Saint:

Having preserved unblemished that which is according to God’s image, by ascetic endeavour determining the mind as leader against destructive passions, you ascended as far as possible to that which is according to God’s likeness. For bravely overmastering nature, you hastened to submit the worse to the better, and to make the flesh the slave of the spirit. Therefore you were named ‘summit of monastics’, ‘founder of the desert’, ‘trainer of those who run well’, ‘most accurate rule of virtue’, and now in heaven, Antony, where mirrors are abolished, you look directly at the holy Trinity, appealing with no intermediary on behalf of those who honour you with faith and love. [19]

[1] From the 1st Greek Life 136, in Armand Veilleux, tr., Pachomian Koinonia, Vol. 1: The Life of St Pachomius & His Disciples (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1980), p. 395

[2] The Philokalia, tr. Constantine Cavarnos (Belmont, MA: Institute for Byzantine & Modern Greek Studies, 2008), p. 41.

[3] Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette, OSB, A Monastic Year: Reflections from a Monastery (Dallas: Taylor, 1996), p. 37.

[4] William Harmless, SJ, Desert Christians: An Introduction to the Literature of Early Monasticism (Oxford: Oxford U, 2004), p. 68.

[5] St Athanasius the Great, The Life of Antony & the Letter to Marcellinus, tr. Robert C. Gregg (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 1980), p. 94.

[6] St Nicholas (Velimirović), The Prologue from Ochrid, Vol. 1, tr. Mother Maria (Birmingham: Lazarica, 1986), p. 69.

[7] Charles Williams, The Descent of the Dove: A Short History of the Holy Spirit in the Church (Vancouver: Regent College, 2002), pp. 45-6.

[8] St Athanasius, p. 42.

[9] Harmless, p. 64.

[10] William A. Clebsch, ‘Preface’, St Athanasius, p. xv.

[11] Conf. 8:7.17; Henry Chadwick notes that St Augustine is quoting or at least paraphrasing Cicero’s Hortensius, fragment 106 (Henry Chadwick, tr., Confessions, by St Augustine [Oxford: Oxford U, 1992], p. 145, n. 14).

[12] Helen Waddell, ‘Introduction’, The Desert Fathers, tr. Helen Waddell (NY: Vintage, 1998), pp. 5-6.

[13] Ibid., p. 6.

[14] St Athanasius, p. 46. Lest this last statement be misunderstood, however, it is important to recall that elsewhere St Anthony notes that we receive all of the virtues from God in the first place (Philokalia, p. 45).

[15] Stelios Ramfos, Like a Pelican in the Wilderness: Reflections on the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, tr. & abgd. Norman Russell (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross, 2000), p. 213.

[16] On this subject, see Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose), The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church, rev. ed. (Platina, CA: St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1996).

[17] St Anthony is using a play on words here—living in accordance with the Logos does not consist in mastering logoi, in the sense of discourses or writings.

[18] Philokalia, pp. 43, 45; see also in G.E.H. Palmer, et al., tr., The Philokalia, Vol. 1 (London: Faber, 1979), p. 329.

[19] From the translation by Archimandrite Ephrem (Lash), here.

29 January 2010

'Observer of the Divine & Author of Wonders'—St Romylos of Ravanitsa

Today, 16 January on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the memory of the Holy Romylos (‘Romulus’ or ‘Romilo’) of Ravanitsa (1300-1376), disciple of St Gregory of Sinai. Anthony-Emil N. Tachiaos credits him with the introduction of the 14th-c. hesychast movement into Serbia. [1] St Romylos’s own disciple and biographer, Gregory of Constantinople, addresses him as ‘O father of fathers, adornment of ascetics, trainer of solitaries and fairest nursling of the desert, summit of quietude and ardent worker of contrition, observer of the divine and author of wonders’. [2] The account of St Romylos’s life in the Prologue is exceedingly short: ‘Born in Vidin, he was a disciple of St Gregory the Sinaite, and lived the ascetic life in several monasteries. St Romil entered into rest at Ravanica in Serbia in about 1375.’ [3] Thus, I decided to translate the Life in the Synaxaristes of Fr Makarios of Simonopetra from the Greek text online here:

St Romylos was born in 1300 in the Danubian town of Vidin to pious parents—a Greek father [‘a Roman’] and a Bulgarian mother. In holy Baptism he was named ‘Rajko’ [‘Man of Paradise’]. From his early years he displayed a lust for learning and his teachers, amazed at his wisdom and prudence, called him ‘childlike elder’. When he became a man, in order to avoid the marriage his parents had planned for him, he departed in secret to a monastery in the region of Trnovo. There, after the canonical testing, he was clothed in the small schema with the name Romanos, and served with great reverence in the church as ecclesiarch.

At the same time St Gregory of Sinai (6 Apr.) withdrew with his disciples from the Holy Mountain and came to reside at Paroria (Strandzha), [note on location] at the Byzantine-Bulgarian border. When Romanos heard about this teacher of noetic prayer and the hesychastic life, he asked for a blessing from his abbot to place himself under his guidance. He took with him another brother, Hilarion.

St Gregory received them with great joy and, since Romanos was powerful, with a strong constitution, he assigned to him the hardest and most burdensome duties, which he fulfilled with absolute obedience. He hauled wood and rocks from the mountain, water from the river which flowed in the foothills, and prepared clay for the dwellings. At the same time he served in the kitchen and the cellar of the monastery and had the care of the infirm brothers. The nursing of one aged monk was entrusted to him, sick and cranky, who because of his illnesses had to eat only fresh fish. Romanos served that difficult elder with wondrous meekness and long-suffering, and fished in the river for him. In wintertime, when the water was frozen, he would brake the ice and with bare feet in the frigid water he would fish with a net. In this way Romanos became a martyr in will, since he sacrificed his life at each moment for the love of neighbour.

With the death of the sick elder and of St Gregory, Romanos, whom everyone called ‘Kaloromanos’ [‘Good Romanos’], submitted together with Hilarion to another elder. Bandits, however, who pillaged in those parts and tyrannised the monks, obliged them to withdraw to Stara Zagora in Bulgaria, where their elder soon reposed.

From that time Romanos submitted to Hilarion, because he was greater in years. When the Bulgarian Tsar John Alexander (1331-1371) prosecuted the bandits, they returned to the desert hesychia of Paroria, in order to converse with God through noetic prayer. By the virtues, which had become to them second nature, and unceasing prayer Romanos was vouchsafed by God to receive many gifts, particularly the gift of ever-flowing tears.

Later with the blessing of Hilarion he withdrew into perfect solitude, in order to indulge without distraction in divine contemplations. Since he lived for many years in this way, he was clothed in the great schema with the name Romylos. The Turks however in their raids destroyed the monastery, and Saint Romylos with his disciple Gregory fled to the Holy Mountain, where they settled at Melana, near the Great Lavra. The Athonite monks soon recognised his virtues and visited him for the profit of their souls. They cut off however his beloved hesychia, and he was obliged to withdraw to a more secluded cell, in the foothills of Athos.

At that time, after the defeat of the Serbo-Bulgarian general John Uglesha by the Ottomans and his death at the Battle of the Hebrus ([also know as the Battle of] ‘Maritsa’ [or Chernomen], 1371), there followed the invasion of irregular Ottoman troops into Thrace and Macedonia. Then many monks, fearful of the general insecurity of the times, left the Holy Mountain. Thus spurred on, St Romylos too departed to Avlona [Valona or Vlorë], Alabania. During the time that he lived there he reformed the perverted morals of the inhabitants and taught them the true Faith, because they had departed far from Christianity. Longing however for hesychia, he departed for the Monastery of the Theotokos, at Ravanitsa in Serbia. This place was his final earthly residence, because after a little time he went to the Lord. His tomb, in which his disciples placed his much-exercised body, gives off an unspeakable fragrance, for it continually produces many miracles and healings for those who approach in faith. [4]

Of course, all of the wonderful detail of this summary of St Romylos’s Life is based on the eyewitness testimony of his disciple, Gregory of Constantinople (also known as ‘Gregory the Younger’ and ‘Gregory the Calligrapher’). The latter’s Life and Partial Story of the Miracles of Our Holy Father Romylos, the Modern is well worth reading, and is available online (here) in an English translation by Mark Bartusis, Khalifa Ben Nasser, and Angeliki E. Laiou. [5] There are a couple of passages from this Prima Vita that are worth posting. First, Gregory provides some interesting comments concerning St Romylos’s spiritual struggles in solitude after his return to Paroria from Zagora:

He spent the next five years there, separated from all association with men except when through some need he approached the monastery of the Holy Sinaite. But who is able to describe the weeping and wailing of this long period, and the struggles with demons and those terrors which he suffered from the demons, as he himself described to us? For the blessed man said that without God’s help no one, while still in the body, is able to wrestle with demons. ‘From my arrival in the interior of the mountain,’ he said, ‘the demons, suffering out of jealousy, created many visions and terrors to entice me to depart from there; sometimes displaying lights, sometimes lightning and thunder, sometimes great noises, and sometimes shouting all together. The ravines of the mountains echoed the roars so that I thought that the trees themselves were shouting. But I, he said, fought them off with the name of the Lord and regarded those terrors as if they were childish playthings.’ [6]

One cannot but be reminded here of the example of St Anthony the Great’s famous struggle with the demons in Vita Antonii 8-9, as well as of his homily in §§16-43. [7] In §28, he emphasizes that if the demons had any real power they would have ‘no need of hordes, nor of visible apparitions, nor of crashing sounds and rattling noises’, [8] and in §40, St Anthony tells us that ‘speaking the name of Christ I made an attempt to strike’ one of the demons. ‘I seemed to have hit home, and at once, with the mention of the name of Christ, this giant figure vanished, along with all his demons.’[9]

St Romylos does not seem to have been the man of letters that many of the other important 14th-c. hesychasts were. The one work that is attributed to him has not to my knowledge been translated, [10] and I know of him being directly connected with the copying of only one manuscript, which he commissioned while living on the Holy Mountain. [11] But fortunately Gregory does offer ‘a portion of his counseling . . . for the benefit of those who read’ the Life [12]:

16. ‘My brothers and fathers,’ he said, ‘let us keep a pure conscience toward our neighbor, and let us preserve a heart pure from evil thoughts which tend to corrupt the miserable soul. But we cannot obtain this unless we have the soul’s three parts according to nature. I speak of these three parts: Reason, Spirit and Appetite. For the all¬-good God has put these things into the soul of man, just as if they were a fortress or citadel, so that man, using them according to nature and as it pleases God, may live his life peacefully and without passion, as our holy fathers instructed us through their wise and holy teaching and even more so through their deeds. The Theologian said to set your spirit only against the Serpent through which you fell. Direct all your desires toward God, not toward anything treacherous or perilous. Let reason preside over all, and do not let the better be drawn down by the worse. Rather, whenever we arm the Spirit against its perceptible enemies, that is, against demons or passions, as the holy man said, but also against all those things which go contrary to the salvation of the soul, then we act according to nature. In this way we are able to love God and our neighbor with our entire soul as the Holy Gospel teaches (Mk 12:30-31). When Reason moves contrary to nature, we grow angry with our brothers, giving precedence to an earthly desire within us, hedonism perhaps, or glory or greed. Hence, there arises anger, vindictiveness, envy of one's neighbor and, in the end the product of envy, murder. And when we preserve the Appetite according to nature and as it was given to us by God, we eagerly desire the eternally good things which no eye has ever seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of impassioned and bodily man conceived, and which God has prepared for those who love Him (I Cor 2:9). And for these things we endure all bodily and spiritual suffering, undertaking with delight such virtuous acts as fasting, vigilance, poverty, purity of the body, and incessant prayer. To put it simply, day and night we practice everything which contributes to the salvation of the soul. When the Appetite moves contrary to nature and in a beastly fashion, we behave most irrationally, as the Scriptures say: “But man abideth not in honor: He is like the beasts that perish” (Ps 48:12). And from this we desire earthly and ephemeral things, luxury and glory, gold and silver, and the impurity which comes from them, and because of these we grow angry with men, as it has been said, and going astray we are always vindictive. Since Reason, which is the rational part of the soul, was set over everything to preside over them as if it was the ruler, when it guards the gift: given to it by God according to His image and likeness, man lives his life always thinking good things. He chants and prays, he studies and reads, and his delight lies in the law of the Lord (Ps 1:2), day and night, thinking good things about every pious man. But if Reason should turn aside from the better things, need one speak of what irrationality fills man? Talkativeness, slander, abuse and all kinds of sinful acts will dominate man the insensibility of his reason, even if one, in his insensibility, believes that he is living sinlessly. He who has the said three parts of the soul according to nature possesses a safe and sound conscience which indicates good and evil to him, like a natural law given to man from the beginning. And it advises man to preserve good and to throw off evil. Because of this we will be (rewarded for our good deeds and) justly punished for the evil ones as rational and free men. Therefore, every demonic assault customarily attacks these three things. We are not blamed because of the attack; rather, we receive a reward from God for being virtuous if we, from the beginning, cast away the seeds sown by the devil. But if we, from the first assault, accept these hostile seeds, we will come to an alliance with the devil, and from there to a pact. From this we are led to evil acts, and therefore we shall be justly condemned, as has been foretold.’ [13]

Fr Daniel Rogich points out that St Romylos ‘spent over twenty years as the disciple of Gregory of Sinai’, [14] and it is through him that St Gregory’s teachings spread to Serbia. Pavlikianov writes, ‘Being a follower of Gregory of Sinai and one of the founders of the well-known monastic centre at Paroria, in eastern Thrace, he was one of the most eminent and fervent supporters of the hesychast theological doctrine, as it was developed in the middle of the 14th century.’ [15] Subsequently, according to Tachiaos, St Romylos’s disciple, Gregory of Constantinople, ‘settled in Gornjak Monastery’ in Serbia, which the Tsar-Martyr Lazar had given him. ‘There Gregory built up a monastic centre of upholders of Gregory of Sinai’s Hesychast tradition, and these monks became known in Serbian history as “Sinaites”.’ [16]

In conclusion, here are the Troparion and Kontakion of the Saint:

Troparion, Tone 8

The streams of thy tears made fertile the barren wilderness, and thy deep sighing from thy struggles produced fruit a hundred-fold, as thou becamest a Star of the universe sparkling with miracles, O our Father Romilos; therefore, pray to Christ God to save our souls.

Kontakion, Tone 1

O Holy Father Romilos, Jewel of the Holy Mountain, Pillar of true Orthodoxy, divine follower of Righteous Gregory, and glory of Ravanitsa, come and heal us who in faith run to thee, for we celebrate thy memory in love. [17]

[1] Anthony-Emil N. Tachiaos, ‘Gregory Sinaites’ Legacy to the Slavs: Preliminary Remarks’, Cyrillomethodianum 7, 1983, pp. 121-2. See Tachiaos’s full remarks about St Romylos in this post on his Serbian disciples.

[2] Gregory of Constantinople, Life and Partial Story of the Miracles of Our Holy Father Romylos, the Modern, tr. Mark Bartusis, Khalifa Ben Nasser, Angeliki E. Laiou, ‘Days & Deeds of a Hesychast Saint: A Translation of the Greek Life of St Romylos’, Byzantine Studies/Etudes Byzantines, 9:1 (1982), pp. 24-47. The quote is from §25.

[3] St Nicholas (Velimirović), The Prologue from Ochrid, Vol. 1, trans. Mother Maria (Birmingham: Lazarica, 1986), p. 66.

[4] My translation from Νέος Συναξαριστής της Ορθοδόξου Εκκλησίας, Vol. 1, by Hieromonk Makarios of Simonopetra, (Ίνδικτος), pp. 198-200. (here)

[5] As grateful as I am to them for this translation, I would quibble with one of their notes. To Gregory’s statement in §14, ‘For the holy man had great faith in God and opened his compassionate heart equally to all, not only to men, but to the birds, snakes and wild beasts’, they have appended the footnote, ‘Compassion toward birds, reptiles and wild beasts is a characteristic which brings to mind St Francis of Assisi, and is not common in Byzantine hagiography’ (n. 45).

While it is true that Byzantine hagiography does not seem often to dwell on such things, I see no warrant for invoking Francis of Assisi, and much for recalling St Isaac the Syrian’s famous definition of the ‘merciful heart’: ‘It is the heart’s burning for the sake of the entire creation, for men, for birds, for animals, for demons, and for every created thing; and by the recollection and sight of them the eyes of a merciful man pour forth abundant tears’ (St Isaac the Syrian, The Ascetical Homilies of St Isaac the Syrian, trans. Dana Miller [Boston, MA: HTM, 1984], p. 344-5).

[6] From Gregory, §12.

[7] St Athanasius the Great, The Life of Antony & the Letter to Marcellinus, tr. Robert C. Gregg (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 1980), pp. 43-64.

[8] Ibid., p. 53.

[9] Ibid., p. 61.

[10] That is, the Rules Recommendable for Proper Monastic Behaviour, discovered in a Hilandar manuscript by K. Ivanova and P. Matejic in 1993 (Kl. Ivanova-P. Matejic, ‘An Unknown Work of St Romil of Vidin (Ravanica)’, Palaeobulgarica 17/4, 1993, pp. 3-15.). It is interesting, however, to note Cyril Pavlikianov’s observation, in a very interesting article on ‘The Athonite Period in the Life of St Romylos of Vidin’, Byzantina Symmeikta 15, pp. 247-55 (here), that in his Life of St Romylos, Gregory includes in a narrative form the main points of the Rules:

Analysing St. Romylos’ Rules and the passages of his Life referring to his Athonite period [§§12-21 in the English tr. of the Greek Life], one can easily figure out that their content is extremely similar; the two texts, despite the fact that they belong to two different literary genres, deal with the virtues required by the monastic life and how they must be cultivated. In the Rules, of course, the instruction is direct, while in the Life it is concealed behind a series of everyday events in which the saint is the moral protagonist. Being a commonplace in all the Byzantine hagiographical literature, in the case of St Romylos’ Life this type of narration does not extol his own monastic feats or miracles, but underlines his care about the proper instruction of the younger monks. In other words, what St. Romylos’ biographer, the Athonite monk Gregory the Calligraphier, emphasizes, while describing his personal experience as a disciple of the saint on Mount Athos, is in fact a modified reproduction of the basic points of the only literary work ascribed to his spiritual father. (p. 254)

[11] According to Pavlikianov, it was discovered by the Serbian scholar Lj. Stojanovic at the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris (Pavlikianov, p. 249), and was copied at St Romylos’s commission by a group of Bulgarian monks living near the Great Lavra in the foothills on the north side of the Athonite peak (ibid., p. 250). The tell-tale Slavonic inscription reads (in my poor translation), ‘Dionysius the sinner wrote [this] at Kakiplatsa on Athos. There I lived (?) with my Father, Kyr Theoctistus and with my brothers Simon and Thomas in obedience to our Father and Lord, Kyr Romylos, the Starets’ (ibid., p. 250).

[12] Gregory, §15.

[13] Gregory, §16. Fr Daniel Rogich includes part of this homily in Serbian Patericon: Saints of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Vol. 1 (January-April) (Platina, CA: St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1994), pp. 126-7, as well as St Romylos’s words to the disciples of other elders from §19 of Gregory’s Life (Fr Rogich, pp. 127-8).

[14] Ibid., p. 124.

[15] Pavlikianov, p. 248.

[16] Tachiaos, p. 122.

[17] Fr Rogich, pp. 118, 131.

28 January 2010

Obolensky, Michael Ward, & 2 Elders of the Holy Land

Although there are two Saints commemorated today in whom I am very interested, St Paul of Thebes and St Maurus the disciple of St Benedict, I posted on both of them last year and I don’t currently have much to add to those posts. Instead, I would like to point out four books that just arrived this week, the first two of which represent the last of my Christmas gift-money, the second two being a direct gift.

1) Sir Dimitri Obolensky, Six Byzantine Portraits (Oxford: Oxford U, 1999). A few attentive readers may have noticed my use of this one in yesterday’s post on St Sava. This book first came to my attention last year, when I posted on St Maximus the Greek. At that time, as is my practice, I merely made use of the resources I had at hand in my library, plus anything I could find online. But despite some nice passages of decent length about St Maximus in Fr Georges Florovsky’s Ways of Russian Theology and James Billington’s The Icon & the Axe, I still managed to miss to an astonishing degree the fascinating story of St Maximus’s early career in the West. Fortunately, a compassionate reader left the following comment:

You may also be interested in the chapter on the life and works of St. Maximos contained in Sir Dmitri Obolensky’s ‘Six Byzantine Portraits’ (see link: http://www.amazon.com/Byzantine-Portraits-University-Academic-monograph/dp/0198219512) which also contains scholarly accounts of Sts. Sava of Serbia, Theophylact and Clement of Bulgaria, Vladimir Monomach, and Constantine/Cyril the Philosopher. Coming from a Greek Church background- where he is perhaps lesser known- this is where I first encountered information about St. Maximos, and what a fabulous life! . . . It seems Obolensky’s principal source is Jack V. Haney’s ‘From Italy to Muscovy: The Life and Works of Maxim the Greek’, itself unfortunately very scarce. Anyway, Obolensky’s work is well worth the effort to track down as it presents a pretty thorough biography of the Saint, probably the most concentrated of all accounts generally accessible at present. Happy reading!- In
XC, Symeon

I immediately filed this away in my mind, and although it took me nearly a year to order it, I vowed I would not again let St Maximus’s feastday pass without a copy in my hand.

Some of the fascination of the book can perhaps be seen in the following passage from the ‘Introduction’, in which Obolensky discusses some of the glue that bound Byzantium and the Slavs, and specifically in the lives of these six figures:

To be really fruitful, the Byzantine-Slav encounter required more than imperial diplomacy and missionary zeal, or merely an East European quest for culture. It had to take place within an ambience somehow common to both worlds and capable of acting as an intermediary and a catalyst. This ambience needed a creative energy strong enough to leave its mark on religious beliefs, literature, and social and political ideas. It also needed a cosmopolitan character, capable of crossing state boundaries and linguistic frontiers and of being seen as a common East European tradition; and it would have to attract and command the loyalties of men of different nations, and link them to each other by common discipleship and the ties of friendship. [1]

From this, one might conclude that he is speaking of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, but Obolensky is far more specific than that: ‘In the period covered by this book, two such ambiences fostered the encounter between Byzantium and the Slavs: the Cyrillo-Methodian tradition, and the religious and cultural movement which originated in the monasteries of Mount Athos.’ [2] If the St Sava post wasn’t enough for you, stay tuned next week for a new St Maximus the Greek post making full use of this book!

2) Michael Ward, Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis (Oxford: Oxford U, 2008). I first mentioned this book back in December in a post called ‘Jove’s Children—Lewisiana News’—where I gave a full description of it and linked to a little sample of Ward’s wares in Touchstone Magazine—and then referred to Ward again in a post on Saturn in Virgil and Lewis. I finally ordered a used copy from B Street Books in San Mateo, CA, without realizing that it was inscribed from the author! I hope I’m not getting anyone in trouble by pointing this out, but on the flyleaf it reads:

To Autumn

with Jovial regards

from Michael Ward

(Tuesday 20th May 2008)

There was also something stuck inside which looks to be a handout from a lecture or conference at which Ward perhaps spoke. At the top it reads, ‘Imagining God: C.S. Lewis & the Seven Heavens, Dr Michael Ward’, and then there are a number of excerpts from Lewis’s works—The Discarded Image, That Hideous Strength, Selected Literary Essays, Collected Poems, & Arthurian Torso—that illustrate Ward’s thesis.

Looking through the book, in the words of one of my professors, Chrysostomos Stamoulis, ‘I see good things.’ Ward begins with two lengthy epigraphs, and then begins each chapter with a short one (a practice that I wish every author followed). There are healthy endnotes, an extensive general index of names and topics, and even a Biblical index. Near the centre of the book there are some great illustrations, juxtaposing traditional depictions of the planetary gods with Pauline Baynes’s classic illustrations of the Narnia books.

Here are the general epigraphs, followed by the first paragraph of Ward’s ‘Preface’:

The spacious firmament on high,
with all the blue ethereal sky,
and spangled heavens, a shining frame,
their great Original proclaim.
The unwearied sun from day to day
does his Creator’s power display;
and publishes to every land
the work of an almighty hand.

Soon as the evening shades prevail,
the moon takes up the wondrous tale,
and nightly to the listening earth
repeats the story of her birth;
whilst all the stars that round her burn,
and all the planets in their turn,
confirm the tidings, as they roll
and spread the truth from pole to pole.

What though in solemn silence all
move round the dark terrestrial ball?
What though no real voice nor sound
amid their radiant orbs be found?
In reason’s ear they all rejoice,
and utter forth a glorious voice;
for ever singing as they shine,
‘The hand that made us is divine.’

—Joseph Addison, 1712 (after Psalm 19) [3]

There then comes to you a person, saying, ‘Here is a new bit of manuscript that I found; it is the central passage of that symphony, or the central chapter of that novel. The text is incomplete without it. I have got the missing passage which is really the centre of the whole work.’ The only thing you could do would be to put this new piece of the manuscript in that central position, and then see how it reacted on the whole of the rest of the work. If it constantly brought out new meanings for the whole of the rest of the work, if it made you notice things in the rest of the work which you had not noticed before, then I think you would decide that it was authentic.

—C.S. Lewis, ‘The Grand Miracle’ [4]

It is to be hoped that this book reaffirms the worth of implicit communication; not everything that needs to be said needs to be said outright. Some things, indeed, cannot be directly told: like happiness which ‘writes white’ they vanish when put into words.

—Michael Ward, ‘Preface’, Planet Narnia [5]

3) Ss Barsanuphius & John, Letters, 2 vols., tr. Fr John Chryssavgis, Vols. 113-4 in The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: Catholic U of A, 2006). Sometime after I wrote a post on St Dorotheus of Gaza last June, Bishop Savas of Troas—who is proving to be a tremendous benefactor—promised to send me these volumes as a reward upon completion of the first draft of my thesis. This duly accomplished thanks to such a powerful motivation (see this post), I waited a bit, too sheepish to complain about not receiving my reward. Well, I eventually overcame this reticence, and so the kind gift is now here. All 848 letters, the great bulk in English for the first time. I notice in the acknowledgements that Fr Chryssavgis expresses his gratitude ‘to the Rt. Rev. Bishop Sava of Troas for entrusting me with his draft translation of the [first 190] Letters, the treasured fruit of his doctoral studies at the University of Oxford’. The name of another friend I have never met in person appears immediately below this: ‘Ms Melissa Lynch generously offered her time and assistance in the careful compilation of the scriptural index.’ [6] The introduction promises good things. Fr Chryssavgis observes, ‘Whereas the study, and indeed the literature, of spiritual direction has traditionally focused on monastic development, the correspondence of Barsanuphius and John redresses a balance in this regard, concentrating much of its attention on the concerns of lay persons.’ [7] Concerning the Elders themselves, he writes:

In the correspondence Barsanuphius appears as kind, understanding, and warm; his language is clear, prayerful, and even prophetic on occasion. He reveals a strong and supportive personality, undeterred by issues and sure about his convictions. John is less ardent, less direct, and more guarded; his language is concise, precise, and even conventional at times. He reveals a thoughtful and careful personality, often deferring to his master, Barsanuphius. [8]

In conclusion, I shall offer the text of Letter 109, St Barsanuphius’s response to a letter of gratitude from someone who had been helped by him, in which Fr Chryssavgis’s characterisation is demonstrated:

Let us render all glory to the God of glory; and let us sing to him unto the ages. Amen. For glory does not belong to us, but is only proper to his Son and his Holy Spirit. God has led your love toward our frailty in order that we may be of assistance to one another, in his desire also to fulfill the Scripture that says: ‘A brother assisted by a brother is like a city fortified with ramparts’ (Prv 18:19). May all of us be assisted by our elder brother, and I mean Jesus; for he was well-pleased to make us his brothers (cf. Heb 2:11). And so we are his brothers and are praised by the angels for the kind of brother that we have, who is able to strengthen us, capable of dividing the spoils with us; a chief captain who can crush our enemies in war; a physician who can heal our passions; a general during time of peace in order to set our inner nature at peace with the outer nature when it has been submitted to him; a nurse who can nurture us with spiritual food, able to grant us life with his life, mercy through his mercy, and compassion through his compassion; a king endowing us with royalty; and a God who deifies us. Knowing, therefore, that everything lies in him, pray to him. ‘For he knows what you need even before you ask him’ (Mt 6:8), and he will grant every request of your soul, if you do not stand as a hindrance. Always offer glory to him; for to him is due glory to the ages. Amen. Pray for me, brother, that I may know my weakness and be humbled. [9]

[1] Obolensky, pp. 3-4.

[2] Ibid., p. 4.

[3] Ward, p. vii.

[4] Ibid., p. ix.

[5] Ibid., p. xi. The sentiment reminds one of Fr Andrew Louth’s Discerning the Mystery!

[6] Vol. 1, p. vii.

[7] Ibid., p. 8.

[8] Ibid., p. 10.

[9] Ibid., pp. 130-1.

27 January 2010

'The Earth Cannot Imprison Him'—St Sava of Serbia

Today, 14 January on the Church’s calendar, the Serbian Church [1] celebrates the memory of the Holy Hierarch Sava (1176-1235), ‘Venerable Holy Father and First Archbishop and Eternal Enlightener of the Serbs’ [2] and ‘the greatest of Serbian national saints’. [3] Fr Daniel Rogich calls him ‘the most beloved of all Serbian Orthodox saints, considered by all Serbs everywhere and at all times as the ultimate expression and example of what it means to be fully human, that is, what it means to be a devout and committed follower of Jesus Christ.’ [4] Sir Dimitri Obolensky has said of St Sava:

The historian who attempts to write the life of this central figure in Serbia’s medieval history may well feel apprehensive at the sheer range of Sava’s activities. He will be discouraged by his many guises: successively a provincial governor, an Athonite monk, and an archbishop; a diplomat entrusted with delicate missions by his brother the king; a founder of several monasteries and the organizer of their liturgical life and discipline; a legislator in the field of canon law; the first primate of Serbia’s autonomous Church; a voyager on the pilgrim-routes of the eastern Mediterranean; his country’s earliest articulate writer; the focus of a posthumous cult that spread throughout the Balkan peninsula and even captured some of its Muslim population later on; Serbia’s unrivalled patron saint; a semi-legendary figure right down to the present day, celebrated in folklore, poetry, and song; his mythopoeic sway must be unique in eastern Europe; and all this, and a wider compass still, are there to daunt his biographer. [5]

Here is the account of St Sava’s life in the Prologue:

The son of Stefan Nemanja, the great Serbian national leader, he was born in 1169. As a young man he yearned for the spiritual life, which led him to flee to the Holy Mountain, where he became a monk and with rare zeal followed all the ascetic practices. Nemanja followed his son’s example and himself went to the Holy Mountain, where he lived and ended his days as the monk Simeon. Sava obtained the independence of the Serbian Church from the Emperor and the Patriarch, and became its first archbishop. He, together with his father, built the monastery of Hilandar and after that many other monasteries, churches and schools throughout the land of Serbia. He travelled to the Holy Land on two occasions, on pilgrimage to the holy places there. He made peace among his brothers, who were in conflict over their rights, and also between the Serbs and their neighbours. In creating the Serbian Church, he created the Serbian state and Serbian culture along with it. He brought peace to all the Balkan peoples, working for the good of all, for which he was venerated and loved by all on the Balkan peninsular. He gave a Christian soul to the people of Serbia, which survived the fall of the Serbian state. He died in Trnovo in the reign of King Asen, being taken ill after the Divine Liturgy on the Feast of the Theophany in 1236. King Vladislav took his body to Mileševa, whence Sinan Pasha removed it, burning it at Vračar in Belgrade on April 27th, 1595. [6]

On the burning of St Sava’s relics, Bishop Athanasius (Jevtić) comments, ‘As a folk poem says, Sinan Pasha thought that in this way he would destroy the saint’s memory among the people, but St Sava’s dust was scattered throughout Serbia and thus the saint is celebrated as a martyr after his death.’ [7] On this note, at the end of his superb brief biography of St Sava, Obolensky makes some interesting comments about what he earlier calls the Saint’s ‘mythopoeic sway’ [8] :

It is perhaps not wholly fanciful to suppose that the physical destruction of Sava’s body was in part responsible for the volatile and timeless character of his posthumous image. In the Serbian countryside his footprints are still shown to the visitor, and many a freshwater spring, endowed with healing properties, is named after him. Not surprisingly, signs of his supernatural presence are especially frequent in the neighbourhood of Studenica. In Serbian epic poems, folktales, legends, and songs, Sava appears in many guises: as monk, beggar, sower, boatman, traveler—especially by sea—hunter, shepherd, physician, invincible fighter against the invading Turks, and—in a truly timeless incarnation—as lord of the wolves. [9]

To this last, provocative statement is added the following footnote:

. . . In pre-Christian times the Serbs venerated the wolf as their totem. Vasko Popa, the modern Yugoslav poet, has written a cycle of poems entitled ‘St Sava’s Spring’, in which the patron saint of Serbia is portrayed as a wolf-shepherd, the healer and protector of the wolves, which represent the Serbian people: Earth Erect, trans. Anne Pennington (London, 1973), 21-30, 61; Collected Poems, tr. A. Pennington (Manchester, 1978), 104-8. . . . [10]

The Saint’s own disciple and biographer, the Hilandrian monk Domentijan, has aptly explained St Sava’s significance in his Life of his Elder:

Because of his sincere faith in Christ, the Lover of Love Himself lived in his heart, in accordance with the word of the divine apostle who had said ‘in Whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom’, this treasure was hidden at the bottom of [his] heart, because God Himself said: ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God’, for He Himself is hidden in the heart of the one who loves Him and believes in Him. For this reason he gave up the earthly kingdom to acquire that precious treasure on earth, by which he enriched himself, his parents, and, also, his native land, burning with the Holy Spirit and continuously praying to the Lord to show him the road to salvation. [11]

Thus, as Fr Justin (Popović) observes, ‘Saint Sava’s ideal and plan for the whole nation was: “Give up everything for Christ, but Christ for nothing.”’ [12]

In my post on St Sava of last year, I offered the brief 14th-c. hymn ascribed to ‘Siluan’. This year I have another. Domentijan tells us that a disciple of St Sava named Atanasije delivered a eulogic hymn to the Saint (obviously based in the opening lines on the second Eirmos from the 9th Ode of the Paschal canon) on the occasion of the return of his relics from Trnovo to the Monastery Mileševa in Raška. In conclusion I offer Fr Mateja Matejić’s translation of this eulogy:

O divine, O beloved,
O sweet and most holy voice,
O God-glorifying Sava,
you have firmly promised
to be with us until the end of this world,
O divinely-adorned Sava,
and we, your beloved children,
who have you as our strength
and our divinely inspired hope,
are rejoicing now.
O what a wonder, brethren,
more splendid than any other wonder,
awesome and filled with ineffable amazement.
O, great is the power of God
and ineffable are His wonders,
so that one who loves God
and abides by His will
cannot be destroyed even by the grave
and the earth cannot imprison him.
Moreover, even during his lifetime
the sea itself
was obedient to him,
and after his death,
death did not affect
his God-bearing body.
But, moreover, like an aromatic lily
it grew on the fragrances of his virtues
which blossomed from his youth,
and, as the prophet said:
‘his body did not undergo decomposition’ (Acts 2:31). [13]

[1] The 14th is the day St Sava is commemorated by the Serbs. In the Russian Church, we commemorate him on the 12th. I offer this post on the 14th in honour of St Sava’s greatest venerators. Here is an interesting post by my friend Fr Gregory Edwards on the Serbs' celebration of his feastday in Thessaloniki last year.

[2] Fr Daniel Rogich, Serbian Patericon: Saints of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Vol. 1 (January-April) (Platina, CA: St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1994), p. 102.

[3] Timothy Ware [now Met. Kallistos of Diokleia], The Orthodox Church, rev. ed. (London: Penguin, 1997), p. 76.

[4] Fr Rogich, p. 66.

[5] Sir Dimitri Obolensky, Six Byzantine Portraits (Oxford: Oxford U, 1999), pp. 120-1.

[6] St Nicholas (Velimirović), The Prologue from Ochrid, Vol. 1, tr. Mother Maria (Birmingham: Lazarica, 1986), p. 58.

[7] Bishop Athanasius (Jevtić), ‘The Mystery of Touch: Holy Relics in Serbia—A True Physical Love (An Interview)’, tr. Elizabeth Theokritoff, Christ: The Alpha & Omega, ed. St Herman of Alaska Monastery (Alhambra, CA: Western American Diocese, 2007), p. 246.

[8] Obolensky, p. 121.

[9] Ibid., p. 171.

[10] Ibid., p. 171, n. 230.

[11] Domentijan, ‘The Life of St Sava’, tr. Fr Mateja Matejić, An Anthology of Medieval Serbian Literature in English, ed. Fr Mateja Matejić & Dragan Milivojević (Columbus, OH: Slavica, 1978), pp. 57-8.

[12] Fr Justin (Popović), ‘The Life of the Holy & Great Martyr Tsar Lazar of Serbia’, tr. Rt. Rev. Todor Mika & Rev. Stevan Scott, The Mystery & Meaning of the Battle of Kosovo: Selected Writings of Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich & Archimandrite Justin Popovich, Vol. 3 of A Treasury of Serbian Orthodox Spirituality (Grayslake, IL: Free Serbian Orthodox Diocese of the USA & Canada, 1989), p. 2.

[13] Atanasije, ‘Eulogy to St Sava’, tr. Fr Mateja Matejić, Anthology, pp. 68-9.

26 January 2010

The Climacus Conference of Thoughtful Ascent

I don’t normally post on this kind of thing, but there’s an interesting conference coming up in Louisville, KY, the first weekend in February (starts at 6:30 pm Friday, 5 Feb., ends at 5 pm Saturday, 6 Feb.). I myself am hoping to go, and I’d like to prevail upon as many other Orthodox denizens of blogdom as I can to go as well. It’s called ‘The Climacus Conference of Thoughtful Ascent: A Contemplation of Noble Ideas’. A few of the speakers are:

Vigen Guroian—Professor of Religious Studies in Orthodox Christianity at the University of Virginia. Eastern Orthodox Theologian and Ethicist.

George Bebawi—Former Director of Studies at the Institute for Christian Orthodox Studies, Cambridge.

John Granger—Classical homeschooler, Orthodox traditionalist, writer & speaker on the intersection of literature, philosophy, faith, and culture. Author of Looking for God in Harry Potter and others.

David Wright—Fellow in Classical Education, the Great Books, and Classical Rhetoric at the CiRCE Institute.

and others.

As a sample of topics (and picking those which most interest me), Guroian will be speaking on ‘Pinocchio and the Moral Imagination’, Bebawi on ‘The Fasting of the Mind’, Granger on ‘Why Reading Matters: Great Books & the Life in Christ’, and David Wright on ‘St John Climacus, Poetry, and the Rhetoric of Life’.

Eighth Day Books will be setting up a display of ‘of the greatest books on the planet’. Old Louisville Coffeehouse will be providing coffee. There will be bagels and doughnuts in the morning, and lunch provided in the afternoon. The event will take place at St Michael Antiochian Orthodox Church. (For full details, see the conference webpage here.)

As I have said, I am hoping to go, and I think it would be great to meet fellow bloggers as well as readers of my blog. I shall post an update as soon as I know whether I will be able to make it or not.

HT Scholium.

Lewis on Boethius & Old Books

I have recently posted on Boethius’s De Consolatione Philosophiæ, and in a post on the ‘new barbarism’ [1] last month, I quoted a wonderful passage from C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters which, though I cropped it a bit, begins in context with a reference to Boethius. When my dear father pointed out in the combox that it reminded him of Fr Andrew Louth’s brilliant, Discerning the Mystery, I promised to relate an ironic anecdote concerning this passage. I shall now deliver.

In the long Screwtape passage I quoted, Lewis has just been talking about the traditional Christian reconciliation of God’s omniscience with human free will. On this subject, Screwtape comments, ‘It may be replied that some meddlesome human writers, notably Boethius, have let this secret out. But in the intellectual climate which we have at last succeeded in producing throughout Western Europe, you needn’t bother about that.’ And it is here that he embarks upon the explanation, ‘Only the learned read old books and . . . they are of all men the least likely to acquire wisdom by doing so.’ [2]

Well, I chanced to remark, apropos of nothing, I believe, that this reference to Boethius was one of my favourite parts of the book. A friendly fellow, having I think momentarily forgotten the thrust of the passage, responded by telling me I would need to explain to him, and probably many others as well, who exactly Boethius was. I ventured a short biographical summary—6th-c. Roman senator and Christian philosopher , thrown in prison and executed by Theodoric, wrote Consolation of Philosophy—and then attempted tactfully to remind him of just what Lewis was trying to say about him in the book. This was the tricky part. Obviously, Lewis is suggesting that the demons are either responsible for or at least pleased with a situation in which no one except intellectually ‘immunised’ scholars have heard of or ventured to read Boethius. I wanted to make this clear to the fellow, and gently suggest that he go about rectifying the situation in his own case, when it dawned on him. He said something to the effect of, ‘Oh, so basically I’ve just proved his point, eh?’ I felt a little bad, but what can one do?

As is well known, Lewis is a very popular writer among all sorts of people, but many of them have somehow managed either not to notice, or simply not to follow, his opinions about the reading of old books. Just so we are clear, let us recall that he wrote in his preface to an English translation of a truly ‘old book’—St Athanasius’s 4th-c. treatise ‘On the Incarnation’:

Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader [i.e., the non-scholar] to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. . . . It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones. [3]

So, keeping this in mind, and recalling that Boethius is one old writer that he has singled out as meriting attention from the ‘ordinary reader’, let’s see what he has to say at greater length elsewhere about the Roman philosopher:

Boethius (480-524) is, after Plotinus, the greatest author of the seminal period, and his De Consolatione Philosophiæ was for centuries one of the most influential books ever written in Latin. It was translated into Old High German, Italian, Spanish, and Greek; into French by Jean de Meung; into English by Alfred [the Great], Chaucer, [Queen] Elizabeth I, and others. Until about two hundred years ago it would, I think, have been hard to find an educated man in any European country who did not love it. To acquire a taste for it is almost to become naturalised to the Middle Ages.

Boethius, scholar and aristocrat, was a minister to Theodoric the Ostrogoth, the first barbarian king in Italy and an Arian by religion, though no persecutor. As always, the word ‘barbarian’ might mislead. Though Theodoric was illiterate, he had passed his youth in high Byzantine society. He was in some ways a better ruler than many Roman emperors had been. His reign in Italy was not a sheer monstrosity as, say, the rule of Chaka or Dingaan in 19th-c. England would have been. It was more as if a (popish) highland chieftain (who had acquired a little polish and a taste for claret in the French service) had reigned over the partly Protestant and partly sceptical England of Johnson and Lord Chesterfield. It is not, however, surprising that the Roman aristocracy were soon caught intriguing with the Eastern Emperor [4] in the hope of delivering themselves from this alien. Boethius, whether justly or not, fell under suspicion. He was imprisoned at Pavia. Presently they twisted ropes round his head till his eyes dropped out and finished him off with a bludgeon. [5]

Later on, having summarised the Consolation, Lewis concludes:

I have so ruthlessly condensed an argument of such importance, both historical and intrinsic, that the wise reader will go for it to the original. I cannot help thinking that Boethius has here expounded a Platonic conception more luminously than Plato ever did himself.

. . .

Gibbon has expressed in cadences of habitual beauty his contempt for the impotence of such ‘philosophy’ to subdue the feelings of the human heart. [6] But no one ever said it would have subdued Gibbon’s. It sounds as if it had done something for Boethius. It is historically certain that for more than a thousand years many minds, not contemptible, found it nourishing. [7]

So I end with a plea, to all those who respect the most deeply held opinions of C.S. Lewis [8]—and how can one not when one enjoys his work?—follow his example and exhortation. Read old books. You could do worse than to begin with St Athanasius’s On the Incarnation or Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy. It is a fitting reflection today, when we have just celebrated the feastday of St Benedict Biscop, England’s ‘first book collector’ (here and here).

[1] This ‘new barbarism’, a rereading of Abolition of Man has just reminded me, is also what Lewis is referring to when he speaks of having to awaken his pupils ‘from the slumber of cold vulgarity’ (C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man [NY: Touchstone, 1996], p. 27).

[2] C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, with Screwtape Proposes a Toast (NY: HarperCollins, 2001), p. 150.

[3] C.S. Lewis, ‘Introduction’, On the Incarnation, by St Athanasius, trand. & ed. A Religious of CSMV (Crestwood, NY: SVS, 1996), p. 4.

[4] To whom even Theodoric wrote, ‘Our royalty is an imitation of yours, a copy of the only Empire on earth’ (qtd. in Victor Watts, ‘Introduction’, The Consolation of Philosophy, by Boethius, trans. Victor Watts [London: Penguin, 1999], p. xix).

[5] C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval & Renaissance Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge U, 2002), pp. 75-6.

[6] Keep in mind, however, that even Gibbon referred to the book as ‘a golden volume not unworthy of the leisure of Plato or Tully’ (qtd. in Watts, p. xi).

[7] Lewis, Discarded Image, pp. 89-90.

[8] Lewis himself has already made the appeal to the desire for truth and wisdom, Chesterton to the desire to preserve the best of human culture. I shall simply appeal, here, to Lewis.

25 January 2010

'The Namesake of Blessedness'—St Benedict Biscop

Today, 12 January on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the memory of the Holy Benedict Bischop (628-690), Abbot of Wearmouth and Jarrow, Northumbria, England. The great historian, Christopher Dawson, observes that St Benedict, ‘above all, devoted himself to the development of religious art and learning’, [1] and The Oxford Dictionary of Saints describes him as ‘founder and first abbot of Wearmouth, scholar, and patron of the arts’. [2] Here is the account of his life in the 2010 St Herman Calendar:

St Benedict Biscop was born in Northumbria of a Christian family. He made numerous pilgrimages to Rome, later spending two years taking monastic instruction at Lerins, from 665 to 667, where he was tonsured with the name ‘Benedict’ (blessed). He accompanied St Theodore of Tarsus, the Greek archbishop, back to Canterbury, where Benedict was appointed abbot of the community of Sts Peter and Paul. He was invited by King Egfrith to build a monastery at Wearmouth in 674, and later erected a sister monastery at Jarrow. St Benedict made his final trip to Rome in 679 to bring back holy books and relics, as well as masons and craftsmen for the completion of the monasteries, creating a dual community which was to serve as a model for monastic life in England. He died in 690, surrounded by his monastic brethren, and was succeeded as abbot by St Ceolfrith (Geoffrey), who continued his spiritual work. [3]

Of St Benedict’s blessed repose, his most renowned disciple, the Venerable Bede, writes, ‘Benedict, who so nobly vanquished sin and wrought the deeds of virtue, yielded to the weakness of the flesh, and came to his end. Night came on chilled by the winter’s blasts, but a day of eternal felicity succeeded, of serenity and of splendour.’ [4]

Aside from the full account of his life I have just quoted, The Lives of the Abbots of Wearmouth & Jarrow, St Bede also speaks movingly of his spiritual father in his homily for today. It is good and just that St Benedict is so often praised for his liturgical and aesthetic enrichment of the English Church, and even for the enormous library he bequeathed to English monasticism (see for instance, my post last year). But in this passage, commenting on the verse ‘And everyone who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands for my name’s sake will receive a hundredfold, and will come into possession of eternal life’ (Mt 19:29), St Bede reminds us that St Benedict left an even more important legacy in the people that he brought together and guided to Christ:

And it should not seem tedious to any of you, brothers, if we speak of things which are well-known, but instead you should judge it delightful that we speak the truth when we tell of the spiritual deeds of our father, to whom the Lord by a manifest miracle fulfilled what he promised to his faithful ones, that ‘everyone who has left home or brothers etc. . . .’ He left his relatives when he departed from his fatherland; he received a hundredfold, for not only was he held in deserved veneration by everyone in this land, on account of the diligence of his virtues, but even in Gaul, and in Italy, in Rome too, and in the islands of the sea, he was loved by everyone who was able to know him . . . The homes and lands which [Benedict] had possessed he left for the sake of Christ, from whom he hoped to receive the land of an ever-verdant paradise, and a home not made by hands but eternal in heaven. He left wife and children—not, to be sure, that he had taken a wife, and had children born of her, but out of love of chastity he scorned taking a wife from whom he could have children, preferring to belong to that hundred and forty-four thousand of the elect who sing before the throne of the Lamb a new song which no one except they can sing. . . . He received home and lands a hundredfold when he secured these places where he would build his monasteries. He gave up having a wife for Christ’s sake, and in this he received a hundredfold, because undoubtedly then the value of charity between the chaste would be a hundredfold greater on account of the fruit of the Spirit, than that between the lascivious, on account of the desire of the flesh, had once been. The children which he had disdained to have in a fleshly way he deserved to receive a hundredfold as spiritual children. The number one hundred, indeed, as has often been said, figuratively speaking, denotes perfection. Now we are his children, since as a pious provider he brought us into this monastic house. We are his children since he has made us to be gathered spiritually into one family of holy profession, though in terms of the flesh we were brought forth of different parents. We are his children if by imitating [him] we hold to the path of his virtues, if we are not turned aside by sluggishness from the narrow path of the rule which he taught. [5]

In conclusion, here is the doxasticon at the end of Matins from Reader Isaac Lambersen’s Akolouthia for St Benedict Biscop (here):

Come, ye Christians of these latter times, and though lacking in all zeal and every virtue, let us praise the venerable Benedict, the namesake of blessedness, who, having toiled unceasingly for his Master, hath received from Him the promised reward for his faithful service, and dwelleth now in the habitations of the just, from whence he sendeth aid upon the wretched and afflicted, and by his mediation obtaineth for us the remission of sins and great mercy.

[1] Christopher Dawson, Religion & the Rise of Western Culture (Garden City, NY: Image, 1958), p. 60.

[2] David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, 5th ed. (Oxford: Oxford U, 2004), p. 50.

[3] St Herman Calendar 2010: Orthodox Saints of Anglo-Saxon England (Platina, CA: St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2010), p. 5.

[4] From The Lives of the Abbots of Wearmouth & Jarrow, trans. J.A. Giles (here).

[5] St Bede the Venerable, Homilies on the Gospels, Book I: Advent to Lent, trans. Lawrence T. Martin & David Hurst, OSB (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1991), pp. 129-31.

The contemporary icon immediately above is by Peter Murphy, whose work can be seen here.

24 January 2010

'The Same in a Crowd as in Solitude'—St Theodosius the Cœnobiarch

Today, 11 January on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the memory of the Holy Theodosius the Cœnobiarch (423-529). St Theodosius is one of the pillars of Orthodox monasticism, and as such is traditionally depicted on the walls of monastery refectories. Derwas Chitty calls him an ‘initiate into the ways of the desert’, [1] and notes that at one point, ‘the spiritual life of the wilderness seemed to be focused around the two great abbots, Savas and Theodosius’. [2] St Nicholas (Velimirović) dubs him a ‘wondrous organizer of the monastic life’. [3] In the words of Cyril of Scythopolis, he is ‘worthily called blessed and citizen of heaven, the great glory of Palestine and boast of the desert, the stay of the monastic order, the general and champion of the correct doctrines, the leader and patron of the cenobitic rule’. [4] Here is the account of St Theodosius’s life from the Prologue:

The first founder and organiser of cenobitic monasticism, he was born of devout parents in Cappadocia, in the village of Mogarisses. As a young man, he visited Simeon Stylites, who blessed him and predicted for him great spiritual glory. Theodosius set out in search of a place in which to found a monastery. He took with him a censer containing cold charcoal and incense. At the place where the charcoal suddenly ignited of itself, he stopped, settled down and began to lead a life of asceticism. There very quickly gathered round him many monks of different nationalities and with different languages. He therefore built a church for each language-group, so that services were conducted and God praised at the same moment in Greek, Armenian, Georgian and so forth. But on a day when they were to receive Communion, all the brethren gathered in the great church, where the service was conducted in Greek. The refectory was common to all; they held all possessions in common, laboured in common, endured in common and often hungered in common. Theodosius was a sublime example to all the monks; an example in work, in prayer, in fasting, in vigils and in all the Christian virtues. And God endowed him with the gifts of wonder-working, to heal the sick, to be present and help from a distance, to tame wild beasts, to predict the future and to increase bread and wheat. Prayer was on his lips day and night. He entered peacefully into rest in the Lord in the year 529, at the age of 105. [5]

Although the more detailed Life by Theodore of Petra has not to my knowledge been translated, apart from Cyril (on whom I drew heavily last year), we can also supplement our portrait with the Life published by the Holy Apostles Convent. [6] This account makes the interesting remark that St Theodosius ‘exhorted’ his monks ‘with beneficial words and examples to live in a God-pleasing way, that is, having the remembrance of death as the true philosophy, for it can induce one to live in virtue’. [7] Later on, it adds:

Among his other attributes, the saint loved to read, and a book never left his hands, neither when he was ill nor in his old age, but he read day and night in order to receive benefit from the sacred words. In truth, he was worthy of admiration for, even though he never studied rhetoric, he was endowed to speak well by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and not by human wisdom, so that he surpassed even trained orators. He possessed an excellent memory and recited excerpts from Saint Basil, whom he emulated closely, and strove to adorn his soul with his ways, and his tongue with his words. [8]

Here is a passage from St Theodosius’s Life chosen by the 14th-c. Athonite, Nicephorus the Solitary, as an illustration of sobriety and guarding of the heart. As yesterday was the feast of St Theophan the Recluse, it seems fitting to be quoting Kadloubovsky’s and Palmer’s translation of St Theophan’s Russian translation of this text: [9]

St Theodosius was so deeply wounded by the sweet arrow of love and held so fast in love’s fetters that he practiced in actual deed the highest of God’s commandments: ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind’ (Luke x. 27). And this can be achieved by no other means than concentrating all the natural powers of the soul in single desire for the Creator alone. Such also was the work of his mind, that when offering consolation he inspired awe, and when reprimanding someone, he was always kind and sweet. Who else, like him, could converse with many and appear quite at their service, yet at the same time could collect his senses and marshal them back within him? Who, like him, could enjoy, in the midst of tumult, the same inner peace as others who live in the desert? And who else has remained the same in a crowd as in solitude? Thus the great Theodosius, through collecting the senses and turning them within, became pierced by love for the Creator. [10]

Many years to Fr Theodosius of Xeropotamou on his nameday. For more on St Theodosius, including a (somewhat dubious) vampire connection, see my post of last year. In conclusion, here is the third Sticheron at ‘Lord, I have cried’ from Vespers for the Saint:

Venerable Father, God-bearer Theodosios, rightly you were counted worthy of the blessed life, having found it by purity and ascetic practice; for while living you passed over to the life on high, bidding all things farewell, and with the Bodiless Powers ceaselessly glorifying Christ, who took flesh ineffably from a Virgin and sunk our sins by Baptism in Jordan’s streams. Entreat him, implore him, Venerable Father, that the inhabited world may be given harmony, peace and great mercy. [11]

[1] Derwas Chitty, The Desert a City (Crestwood, NY: SVS, 1995), pp. 108-9.

[2] Ibid., p. 126.

[3] ‘Hymn of Praise’ from the Prologue (here).

[4] Cyril of Scythopolis, The Lives of the Monks of Palestine, trans. R.M. Price (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1991), p. 262.

[5] St Nicholas (Velimirović), The Prologue from Ochrid, Vol. 1, trans. Mother Maria (Birmingham: Lazarica, 1986), p. 47.

[6] Although the HAC Life contains material that is not in Cyril but is in Theodore, it makes no mention of either of these in a note on various versions of St Theodosius’s Life, mentioning only St Symeon Metaphrastes, the New Paradise, the Synaxaristes, and Constantine Koukey’s St Theodosius the Coenobiarch (The Lives of the Saints of the Holy Land & the Sinai Desert, trans. Holy Apostles Convent [Buena Vista, CO: HAC, 1997], p. 36, n. 1).

[7] Ibid., p. 14. Constantine Cavarnos eruditely traces this idea of the ‘remembrance of death’ as ‘the true philosophy’ from Plato’s Phaedo through St John Climacus and various Fathers and Greek theologians (Constantine Cavarnos, The Hellenic-Christian Philosophical Tradition [Belmont, MA: Institute for Byzantine & Modern Greek Studies, 1989], pp. 95-8.

[8] Ibid., p. 23.

[9] In the HAC version, this story is found on p. 22. The wording there is nearly exactly that of Kadloubovsky’s and Palmer’s translation. In The Philokalia, Vol. 4, trans. G.E.H. Palmer, et al. (London: Faber, 1998), the story is on pp. 196-7.

[10] E. Kadloubovsky & G.E.H. Palmer, trans., Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart (London: Faber, 1992), p. 25.

[11] From the translation of Archimandrite Ephrem (Lash), here.

23 January 2010

More on St Theophan & Tradition

In the very first paragraph of my post on St Theophan the Recluse, I mentioned the view of Fr Seraphim (Rose) that St Theophan and St Ignatius (Brianchaninov) were important figures for modern Orthodox. In making that observation, I cited a passage from Fr Seraphim’s biography that I believe is worth citing at greater length. Here at Logismoi, I have chosen deliberately to focus much of my attention on the past, but in this passage Fr Damascene, citing Fr Seraphim, reminds us that there must be a bridge from the past to the present:

Fr Seraphim emphasized that ‘the genuine, unchanging teaching of Christianity is handed down in unbroken succession both orally and by the written word, from spiritual father to spiritual son, from teacher to disciple.’ There was never a time, he said, when the Church was without Holy Fathers, or when it was necessary to discover a ‘lost’ Patristic teaching: ‘Even when many Orthodox Christians may have neglected this teaching (as is the case, for example, in our own day), its true representatives were still handing it down to those who hungered to receive it.’ He spoke of how important it is for us, the last Christians, ‘to take guidance and inspiration from the Holy Fathers of our own and recent times, those who lived in conditions similar to our own and yet kept unchanged the same ever-fresh teaching.’ There were two key figures whom he especially stressed in this regard: the Russian spiritual writers Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov (1867) and Bishop Theophan the Recluse (1894). . . .

‘We have to look to ourselves: if we see that we have zeal for Orthodoxy and yet are not “linked” with the line that goes back to Ignatius Brianchaninov and Theophan the Recluse, [1] there is a danger that we might not be linked up to all the Fathers. There should be a continuous line.’

It was by being a devoted son of the Fathers of his own time (beginning with Archbishop John) and of recent centuries (Ignatius, Theophan, Paisius, etc.) that Fr Seraphim became a true son of the ancients. Linked to the transmission, he became a transmitter of ancient Patristic wisdom in our days. [2]

St Theophan is a particularly apt example in this regard, because of the clear example of the great figures of the Russian Church Abroad in passing on his legacy. Although one must always be wary of his personal testimony, it seems to me there is little reason to mistrust the former ‘Fr Herman’ (Gleb Podmoshensky)—I’m not sure what to call him now—when he illustrates this observation in his Preface to The Path to Salvation:

My spiritual fathers and instructors, Archbishop Averky [of Jordanville], Bishop Nektary [of Seattle] and Fr Adrian [later Archbishop Andrei of Novo-Diveevo], were deeply indebted in their spiritual formation to the holy Recluse Theophan. They read and re-read his voluminous teachings, not only studying his words but engrossing themselves in his advice on prayer and involuntarily likening themselves to him to some extent. These men had actual mystical ties to St Theophan and possessed insights into the spiritual life that would otherwise have remained highly concealed from modern man. Their love for him made him alive and vibrant in their lives and teachings: they truly became his disciples, and clung to him as a lifeline. St Theophan governed the tenor of their archpastoral defense of their flock. They constantly referred to him, and treasured the patristic fragrance of his writings, which stemmed from ancient times. St Theophan turned them away from the Renovationist hierarchs of today who, disregarding that ancient model, follow a spirit alien to Orthodoxy and install foreign elements into their governance of the flock, cutting them off from the influence of Fathers such as St Theophan.

I remember how my Fr Adrian [Archbishop Andrei] would often quote from St Theophan’s Commentary on the 118th Psalm, and how once he told me that the mere remembrance of St Theophan’s Love for the Law of God had at one time miraculously resurrected hope and faith in his soul, whereas before that he had been literally robbed of faith and in deep despair because of the horrible reality of life under the communist yoke. I also recall how Archbishop Averky, a former cell-attendant of Theophan of Poltava, gave a sermon with tears streaming down his face, as he revealed the divine method—transmitted to him through the ‘Theophanic’ line—of softening one’s being with contrition of heart (umilenie), which draws God’s attention and eventually transfigures man’s whole being so that his naked eyes can behold divine light. Again I recall the many times in which Bishop Nektary, as well as his brother Ivan Kontzevitch and his wife Helen (also a disciple of Archbishop Theophan of Poltava), would draw unexpected answers from St Theophan the Recluse’s writings, which came like flashed of illumination. Sometimes, as in the case of Fr Adrian, only the remembrance of the power of St Theophan’s wisdom was enough to dissolve whole dramas of seemingly insoluble problems. Behold St Theophan’s power to ignite a mystic tie with the other world. [3]

It is precisely for this reason that I try to adhere to the spirit and guidance of the great figures of our Church Abroad, of whom Fr Seraphim is surely one, even as I blog about the Saints and writings of ages long since past.

Addendum: It is interesting to note that St Ignatius (Brianchaninov) himself has said something rather similar to Fr Seraphim. As Timothy Ware (now Met. Kallistos of Diokleia) points out, ‘(of course he is not in fact speaking of himself, but what he says applies also to him and Theophan): “The writings of the Russian Fathers are more accessible tous than those of the Greek authorities, owing to their particular clarity and simplicity of exposition, and also because they are closer to us in time.”’ [4]

[1] Obviously, for those outside the Russian tradition, one need not take these two Saints as the sole litmus test. The Greeks have their own such figures, starting with the Kollyvades and even including such lay figures as Papadiamandis and Kontoglou. Constantine Cavarnos’s books have much to say about the transmission of the Patristic legacy in modern Greece. I’m sure other Orthodox, like the Romanians, have their own figures to point to.

[2] Hieromonk Damascene (Christensen), Father Seraphim (Rose): His Life & Works (Platina, CA: St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2003), pp. 467-8.

[3] Herman Podmoshensky, Preface, The Path to Salvation: A Manual of Spiritual Transformation, trans. Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose) & the St Herman Brotherhood (Platina, CA: St Herman of Alaska Monastery, 1998), pp. 17-8.

[4] Timothy Ware [Met. Kallistos], Introduction, The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology, comp. Igumen Chariton of Valamo, trans. E. Kadloubovsky & G.E.H. Palmer, ed. Timothy Ware (London: Faber, 1997], p. 16.