February 9, 2022

Introduction to the Writings of Saint Peter of Damascus in the 'Philokalia' (St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite)

By St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite

Our Venerable Father Peter, who served as Bishop of Damascus, lived during the reign of Constantine Copronymus in the year 775. Having first lived ascetically as a monk and anchorite, he lived with such non-possessiveness that he did not even have a book of his own, as he testifies of himself. However, taking books from others, I mean the Old and New Testaments, the great teachers of the Church and all the other Neptic and God-bearing Fathers in general, he showed such diligence that, studying day and night the law of the Lord and drinking from their life-giving waters, he showed himself truly to be like a tree that is tall and heavenly, according to the Psalmist (Psalm 1:3), planted by these springs of waters of the Spirit. With one difference: the tree bears its fruit in a single season; the other tree, however, namely the Venerable Peter, does not do the same, but remaining continuously and relentlessly sturdy, in every season it bears spiritual fruit that is beautiful to the sense of sight, sweet to the sense of taste, fragrant to the sense of smell, which satiates every sense of body and soul with the immortal and fragrant sweetness they emit.

The venerable father, as long as he lived, bore many and great fruits with his ascetic efforts. At the time of his death he produced even more and greater, in as much as he received the crown of martyrdom because he rebuked the cacodox heresies of the Arabs and Manicheans, for which he was punished by having his tongue cut out by Al-Walid, son of the Arab ruler Isem; he was exiled to Felix Arabia where his life came to an end while being able to speak clearly and officiate as a priest. After his death, he bore many and very great fruits with this truly most beautiful and most wonderful book, which he left us as a paternal and inalienable heritage.

He artfully and gracefully produced this book with such diligence, that it cannot be described. And it is a common and soul-benefiting encouragement for all virtues, a treasury of theoria, an array of spiritual gifts, a mountain of divine beatitudes, a basis of physical asceticism, a subtle anatomy of individual passions, a cornucopia of asceticism, a reservoir of divine knowledge and wisdom, and, in short, a summary of sacred nepsis.

Seeing, therefore, that this book is related to the Philokalia and that it contributes a lot to the purpose we are pursuing, we considered it necessary to include it within, as a small circle in a large circle, as one would wisely say, and as a coherent Philokalia in an extensive Philokalia. It seemed unacceptable to us to separate this book — which is, as we have said, an accumulation of so many spiritual fruits — from the divine chorus of the sacred Neptics; otherwise, the book itself would blame us for our lack of a sense of beauty. If we were to separate it, we would truncate at this point the whole of the Philokalia, which requires the presence of this book as necessary; also, we would deprive the brethren of so much benefit — for it is always natural to add goodness to the greater good.

If one, therefore, desires to acquire the two wings of the spiritual dove, which David of old sought for but could not find (Psalm 54:7), let them read this book diligently, and they will find in it in a miraculous way, on the one hand the wing of the entirely silver praxis, and on the other the wing of the entirely gold theoria. With these two wings, they will flee all that is earthly, they will fly to the ether and, perched like a good dove in the heavenly nests, they will rest in heavenly bliss.

From The Philokalia of the Sacred Neptics, vol. 3. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.