October 12, 2015

Two Introductory Books on Modern Orthodox Spirituality Recommended by Fr. John Romanides

By Fr. John Romanides

(From a classroom lecture to his students in Thessaloniki)

Someone who does not understand about illumination and glorification, even if he is a theologian or a university professor and reads, will say "Forget it! Don't waste your time on those superstitions and myths..." If this were so, then that's the end of Holy Scripture as well, and Moses is completely worthless.

But we have living people who are like this. There are such people alive, who have noetic prayer and attain to divine vision, and these experiences are realities. But in order to know that they are realities one has to go and search out these people. If such people do not exist and this tradition has disappeared, a science has disappeared.

If today doctors disappeared and only their books remained, and we read them without having the living tradition of medicine, it would not be possible to revive medical science as it is now. The same would apply to all the sciences, if the living tradition were lost. So in the case of Orthodoxy too, if the living tradition were to disappear, Orthodoxy would be forgotten. As in the West the tradition vanished and it was forgotten.

If you want to have a concise and very brief idea of this, I implore you to read - I could even make it compulsory as part of the class, if I wanted, and threaten to set a question on the book - it is a very small book called The Way of a Pilgrim. Please read this book, The Way of a Pilgrim, at least the first book, as I am not sure if both books exist in Greek.* Two books have been translated and it is not certain whether they are both by the same author. There was a Russian pilgrim, what we might call now an illiterate peasant - nowadays we would say he was illiterate, although the illiterate are often more learned than the literate. He found a spiritual father, learnt noetic prayer and describes how he acquired it.**

Then there is another book which has been published in Greek, about Father Silouan. This is very important as well, because it is full of patristic theology; it is completely patristic. It contains the most profound epistemological problems, without him realizing it. Because he did not know philosophy, the history of philosophy, psychology, psychiatry and so on, he was not in a position to evaluate the things he said. But the things he said and wrote have amazing significance for the history of philosophy and epistemology. Amazing significance.

I fear that here in Greece those who read The Way of a Pilgrim and Elder Silouan*** read them in a pietistic and sentimental way. To read these books sentimentally and pietistically is a very serious mistake, because these books are neither about emotions nor about pietism. They are extremely serious books from the psychiatric, psychological and philosophical point of view, and they ought to be read seriously, not to stimulate the imagination of the pious.

This is what happens here in Greece. Pious people may read a book by Kierkegaard or a French writer, then something by an English writer and something on prayer by a German writer. They may read the life of Christ by an Italian author, and also read The Way of a Pilgrim and Elder Silouan, without understanding that there is a difference and regard them all as the same. They mix up everything together.

They may pick up a book on piety written by the devil himself without realizing it. So a great deal of caution is needed, caution and a lot of prayer. Precision in prayer is extremely important.


* The second book referred to here is called The Pilgrim Continues His Way.

** This simple man applied the tradition he read about in the Philokalia, under the guidance of a spiritual father.

*** The book today is called Saint Silouan the Athonite by Archimandrite Sophrony Sakharov. Before Saint Silouan's official canonization, the book was called Elder Silouan.

From Empirical Dogmatics of the Orthodox Catholic Church According to the Spoken Teaching of Father John Romanides, vol. 2, by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, pp. 307-309. Notes by John Sanidopoulos.