September 7, 2022

A Letter of Saint Daniel of Katounakia to a Student of Theology on How to be a True Theologian

To my beloved Mr. George [Papageorgiades, a student of Halki Theological School],

Blessings from my soul.

Having perused with lively interest and abundant spiritual revelry the general contents of your last letter, which is in my hands, and having ascertained your good thoughts and meditations, full of prudence and reverence, I greatly approve your prudence, by thoroughly wetting your letter with paternal tears.

I praise, as it deserves, your Christian and evangelical zeal and the vigilance you have for your future life, for which I hope and will always hope, even if unworthy, that it turns out fruitful and salvific.

You are right, my dear George, to be very sad, seeing the general coldness and indifference that most of the students of the Church have, because they do not understand the height of their mission, the purpose of which has mostly been distorted. And, while by common confession, all the efforts of Christ's Church and our Race agree on this and preach it, namely that the graduates of the Theological School must work for the Church and demonstrate both by words and deeds to be genuine followers following in the footsteps of the famous teachers of the Church, but on the other hand we see with regret that the main purpose of the above-mentioned vocation is overlooked and instead of the gain of the fruits we await, we encounter all the opposites.

If we examine with much attention and penetrating research where the branch of Theology is based and how the one who is going to do theology should deal with it, we will see with awe and, at the same time, with surprise that this branch is not based on some simple natural science or art, but to some other object [of research], which is given only to those who chose the virtuous life and lifted up with maximum self-denial the Cross of our Lord Jesus, becoming a type and model for other Christians and the newly illumined ones. Being such, they must eradicate from themselves all carnality and self-interest and practice every kind of virtue, in order to become truly chosen vessels of the All-Holy Spirit and to appear as evangelical luminaries on the horizon of the Church of Christ.

Without the advantages of this kind, it is impossible for him who theologizes to succeed in his mission and to be introduced to the understanding of what he teaches.

When our Lord Jesus sent His Disciples to the divine preaching and entrusted them with their mission as Theologians, He expressly pointed out the following: "Let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works...". You see, my beloved, He says "your good works." And again at another point He proclaimed: "He who loves me will keep my commandments and to him I will reveal myself." Consequently, without the observance of God's commandments, God does not appear to us, and as He does not appear to us, it is impossible for the one who theologizes to properly theologize, even if he is a thousand times wise.

To put it simply, he who has preferred the study of Theology, is bound by duty to practice the path of virtue, which in the future he will teach, and to practice without deviation his high profession, without aiming either for the attainment of hollow insignificant glory, or some speculative means, nor in the satiety and gratification of the passions; and then he will see the ageless fruits of his preaching abound. This humble opinion of mine is additionally validated, if I am not mistaken, not only by the nature of things, but also by the nature of truth, which is demonstrated by the historical biography of the luminaries and teachers of the Church.

As for some, a small number, who diligently govern themselves, who have the disposition to work for the Church, as you say, but, being aware of the significant reaction of those who think to the contrary, they are afraid and somehow they reject the beginning of the good path, fearing and calculating the possible disagreements, you should not be impatient and lose composure, because the All-Good God through His few servants fulfills His decisions.

If, my beloved, the structure of the Church were, as we have already said, natural and governed by natural contrivances, then you would be very right to be distressed and possessed with perplexity and sorrow. But we see that the Church of Christ the Savior was neither strengthened by the many and powerful means, nor was it intimidated or defeated by the reactions of the opponents.

Who among the faithful and pious servants of Jesus Christ can deny that His Faith was built and strengthened in a paradoxical way by twelve illiterate, unarmed, unprotected, weak and needy Apostles and Disciples? These being so, with what weapons and powerful means and natural forces or financial resources did they defeat powerful kings and unruly satraps and return countless nations to the knowledge of God?

When the Prophet Daniel was studying together with the other students of the king Nebuchadnezzar, why, while he was subject to the same philosophical education as his fellow students, he nevertheless became wiser than them and solved the difficult dreams of the king, which they were ignorant of? Why did so much glory follow him? We all know that it was given to him, as a consequence of his piety and his virtuous state.

Likewise, Basil the Great and divine Chrysostom: did they not also, attending School and studying with ungodly men, hear every day too many ungodly and unlawful things and, what's worse, that their teachers were also idolaters and Epicurean philosophers? However, seeing the usefulness of true Christian philosophy and closely preserving the patristic traditions, they became ecumenical preachers and are even now praised excessively by everyone.

Bearing these in mind, my dear George, and imitating them in everything, run the present race of virtue. Your whole aim should be how to become pleasing to God, and to acquire through conscientiousness the love for God and then the goods that follow will appear, without us knowing how.

And from now on, as much as possible, show firm faith in what the Church of Christ has established, either through the Apostolic Canons and traditions, or through the Ecumenical and Local Synods, not admitting at all the innovative theories of the moderns, who have already bid farewell for the most part to the conscience and the love of God, they teach new doctrines, according to their pleasure, and instead of supporting the believers in piety, they become subverters of the divine preaching and piety.

Eagerly continue your studies, saving in yourself everything that is useful and beneficial, but to avoid ideas imported from the outside as deadly poison.

Of course, be very careful of the disputes and quarrels of those who have opposite opinions, because it is characteristic of them to base their erroneous belief on ridiculous and sophistic arguments. Avoid them, according to the preacher Paul, "after the first and second warning."

In order to show yourself as a genuine descendant and follower of the Great Teachers of the Church, you must daily go through the sacred writings and their ethical teachings, but also their interpretations, which will rekindle your feelings and raise your sphere to the highest intellectual development, which comes and is given to the faithful and God-loving man, inexplicably and in an extraordinary way.

Your spiritual Father,

Monk Daniel of Katounakia

From Katounakia of the Holy Mountain 
on the 23rd of February 1902
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.