Saturday, March 5, 2011

Constantine Cavarnos, Schemamonk and Professor, Has Reposed (1918-2011)


The following encomium was written by Archpriest Joseph Frawley in honor of the late professor and schemamonk Constantine Cavarnos.

The noted author and lecturer Schemamonk Constantine (Cavarnos) fell asleep in the Lord on the morning of March 3, 2011 at St Anthony's Monastery in Arizona, and was buried there the same day.

Dr Cavarnos was born in Boston in 1918, and graduated from Harvard University, where he also received a Doctorate in Philosophy. He taught at several colleges in America, and contributed articles and reviews to various publications through the years. In 1956, he founded the Institute of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies in order to promote interest in Orthodox spirituality, philosophy, and modern Greek culture.

He lectured in schools, seminaries, and parishes in this country and abroad, where his clear, lucid presentations were always well received.

Dr Cavarnos wrote nearly one hundred books including volumes on philosophy, theology, and the very popular series of Modern Orthodox Saints. His first book A DIALOGUE BETWEEN BERGSON, ARISTOTLE, AND PHILOLOGOS was published in 1949. His latest, THE PHILOKALIA, VOL. 2, was released just this year.

Although he began his career with philosophical studies, he progressed to the true philosophy, which is how the Church Fathers describe monasticism. Dr Cavarnos admired the monastic life, and wrote several books on the subject. Even while living and working as a layman, he seemed to be detached from the world. The late Greek Orthodox Archbishop Michael used to call him "a monk living in the world." Meeting him, one sensed that here was a man of true piety and prayer.

In the course of his career, Dr Cavarnos knew many prominent people. He has written of his long friendship with the Greek iconographer and writer, Photios Kontoglou, who brought about a revival of Byzantine iconography. He also knew some of the Orthodox Church's great Spiritual Fathers, such as Archimandrite Philotheos Zervakos.

When Dr Cavarnos lost his sight, he embraced the monastic life and was tonsured at St Anthony's Monastery in Florence, AZ. I believe he always intended to end his life in a monastery, and that this was the fulfillment of his fondest wish.

It was my privilege to know Dr Cavarnos for almost forty years. Whenever my wife and I would travel to the Boston area to visit family, we always tried to make time to visit him at his home in Belmont, MA. He was a major influence in my life through his books, lectures, and paternal counsel. Our conversations at his home were just like his books: uplifting, edifying, and soul-profiting. His books remain as his legacy, and will continue to inspire and instruct future generations of those who seek the heavenly Kingdom.

There was an understandable sadness when I heard that he had completed the course of his earthly life. However, there is also a sense of joy because he is, I believe, with God and with all the saints who ever lived.

May the Lord be merciful to the ever-memorable servant of God, Schemamonk Constantine, and give him rest in Abraham's bosom, and number him among the just.

Dr. Constantine Cavarnos lecturing at Holy Cross School of Theology in 1996.

My Memories of Dr. Constantine Cavarnos

By John Sanidopoulos

Dr. Constantine Cavarnos was a major Orthodox influence in my life. I first came to know of him working in my parents restaurant while in High School where they would receive the weekly Greek newspaper The Hellenic Chronicle. During down time I would read through this paper and took particular interest in the contributions of Dr. Cavarnos. When his travelogue book Anchored In God was released, there was a review in this paper that inspired me to read it. At the first opportunity I acquired this book and was so fascinated by his pilgrimage to Mount Athos that I stayed up all night reading it cover to cover with great attention. This was the first Orthodox book I ever read. Soon after a weekly series began in The Hellenic Chronicle on the topic of the immortality of the soul written by Dr. Cavarnos. When I read an announcement that he was to give a lecture on this topic at Sts. Constantine and Helen Church in Cambridge, MA I made sure to make plans to attend the lecture which was my first meeting with an Orthodox personality whom I admired.

While I was in Seminary Dr. Cavarnos was invited to give a lecture on the topic of Christian love (see photo above) in 1996. Soon after I visited his home with a friend named Peter and the then Fr. Savas Zembillas (now bishop), though only entered the first floor which had no furniture but a table with all his books. The only thing I remember in our conversation was his lamentation on the current translation of The Philokalia, which probably inspired him to begin his new translation, the second volume of which was his last published book.

I began a short correspondence with Dr. Cavarnos soon after on various topics of Holy Tradition and Iconography as I was studying at Seminary. By this time I had read many of his books. He eventually gave me his phone number and invited me to his home, which was actually in the town I grew up in nearby in Belmont, MA. Th first time I went alone and we had an interesting and pleasant conversation in his simple home, which looked like it had not changed in decoration since the 1950's, along with his sister whom he lived with. I was amazed that he was asking for my advice on who to include in his next volume on Modern Orthodox Saints, as he felt that he had run out of topics since he believed he had written on everyone he met. I encouraged him to explore new territory with either the people he had met or even who he had not met as in many of the previous volumes.

After this meeting I visited him a few other times by myself. The last time I visited his home was with my girlfriend at the time, since I wanted her to meet him as she was a relatively new convert from Catholicism. It was during this visit that I asked him what was the one thing lacking most among Orthodox in America who study Orthodoxy. He responded that it was the first principles of human thought - basic human logic. As a professor of philosophy he always tried to implement the study of logic in his students, since it is the foundation upon which human thought properly builds itself. As he spoke about it he offered my girlfirend and I to come weekly to his home and be taught logic from his old notes while he was a professor. We were excited for the opportunity, but unfortunately summer vacation was coming and it was to be put on hold since my girlfriend lived in Ohio. When she came back to Boston in the Fall we both became so busy with school and work and plans for our marriage, since we had become engaged, that we put off the class. Within a year we were married and had moved to North Carolina for three years, so the opportunity was regrettably missed.

In North Carolina we maintained an infrequent correspondence and he would send me his books signed by him, such as his book on Elder Gabriel Dionysiatis. Taking his advice however I did take a semester in North Carolina in Logic while studying for a Philosophy degree and saw how right he was in the need to understand the first principles of human thought in order to be a true thinker of deeper topics.

The last time I saw Dr. Cavarnos was when I returned to Boston to complete my Seminary studies around the year 2003. I was in the library when I began to hear someone in the next aisle praying the Jesus Prayer continuously with deep sighs here and there. I suppose he thought he was alone. I was in awe at his dedication to noetic prayer, a topic he often wrote about and even taught me much about. In all the years of studying theology, this was probably the most influential on me, as such a thing was rare to hear in a theological school. I didn't want to disturb him, but did talk to him later as he was leaving. Unfortunately life got in the way of my seeing him again.

Just a few days ago I was discussing something about Dr. Cavarnos in an email correspondence, of whom I had not discussed in a long time, and I first heard to my great joy that he was a monk at St. Anthony's Monastery in Arizona, no doubt for his admiration of Elder Ephraim. He was a great admirer of Elder Ephraim's spiritual father Elder Joseph the Hesychast, whom he met. I was also told he was frail and in a wheelchair now. A few days later I received the news that the previous day Dr. Cavarnos had reposed and was buried. His love for the ascetic tradition of the Church was fulfilled by being not only a monastic in the world, but as a tonsured monastic in a monastery in America. Though saddened by the news, I also felt a great joy that he ended his days in a monastery.

May his memory be eternal.


In the center is Greek literary figure Stratis Myrivilis. Next to him, on the right, is Dr. Constantine Cavarnos. Athens, 1958 (from the book "Meetings With Kontoglou").

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