Philokalia―The Eastern Christian Spiritual Texts: Selections Annotated & Explained Paperback – Aug 1 2006
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"Filled with centuries of wisdom.... Wonderfully explains and simplifies this difficult [text]."
―Religious Book Club
"An invaluable treasury of wisdom…. Offers a simple guide to the way (through one's heart) and means (through prayer) of arriving from the spiritual starting-point (of repentance in the heart) to the wonderful destination (of stillness and salvation) found in the love of divine beauty."
―John Chryssavgis, author of Light through Darkness: The Orthodox Tradition
“Successfully acquaints the reader with [the Philokalia's] origins, context, import and influence.”
“Fully accessible to professional theologians, lay Christians and spiritualists alike. An invaluable addition to spirituality and Christian literature shelves.”
―Midwest Book Review
“Like water in the desert … invites us not only to go deeper into the life of prayer but takes us off the treadmill of endless self-invention. A clearly and beautifully annotated text that will make the Philokalia accessible to a new generation of readers. A gift for our time.”
―Fr. Alan Jones, dean, Grace Cathedral, San Francisco; author of Soul Making and The Soul’s Journey
“[An] authoritative resource…. Will go far toward making one of the great treasures of Eastern Christian spirituality accessible to followers of Christ in the West.”
―Frederica Mathewes-Green, author of The Illumined Heart and Facing East
“Eastern Orthodox Christian teachings on prayer, watchfulness and stillness have much to say to the Quaker tradition.”
About the Author
Allyne Smith is an Orthodox priest who writes and lectures on Orthodox theology, ethics, liturgy and spirituality, both in the U.S. and abroad. He teaches theology at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.
G. E. H. Palmer also translated Writings from the Philokalia: On Prayer of the Heart.
Philip Sherrard was a poet, translator, literary scholar, theologian and interpreter of the Orthodox tradition.
Bishop Kallistos Ware is a renowned Orthodox theologian, author and translator of the Philokalia.
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So I found this book a wonderful way of approaching the Philokalia. It has brief snippets from the texts -- usually two to four sentences at a time -- that express a single idea of the original author. On the facing page, the editor provides annotations that help you understand the context and intent of the passage. Reading a page or two of the selections can serve as a daily devotional that exposes you to the more mystical Eastern Orthodox flavor of Christianity.
You can't really say that you've read the Philokalia if all you read is this annotated selection, but you may well be able to say that you have been enriched by Eastern Orthodox thought.
When I saw this volume, Philokalia: The Eastern Christian Spiritual Texts - Selections Annotated & Explained, in a bookstore a few years ago, I thought this was what I needed. I figured with the format of short quotes on the right page, and annotated commentaries on the facing page, I could zip through this book in a few days. Wrong. Even in small doses, this is strong medicine. So I ended up reading a page or two a day, every once in a while over the course of several months.
The seven sections in this book cover repentance, the heart, prayer, the Jesus Prayer, the passions, stillness and theosis. Every quote is a gem and worth the price of the book. Anyone who wants to get to the heart of Orthodoxy, theology in the sense of "knowing God," this is an excellent way to go.
I have minor quibbles with the book, one is the language in places is very archaic. One can usually figure out what the translators mean, but they come up with some interesting words. The other is the use of the word "intellect" for "nous." I'd prefer to use the word "nous," which is what most other Orthodox writers do these days.
Other than that, I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to go deeper in their Christian walk. It's for all Christians, not just Orthodox. And by all means, take it slowly.
The most immediate link from the Philokalia to The Way of the Pilgrim is the hesychia, or the stillness, created by perpetual prayer. In this case it is the Jesus Prayer. This prayer's focus is repentance as the way back to communion with God. The Greek infinitive `hesychazo' i.e., to be still (quiet). Noumina does not like jitter and buzz, all a waste of energy. To glow with transcendent light (knowledge), the heart must be open. To be open the heart must be still.
As so often in Greek classical philosophy (look, another philo), the key is intellectual, in this case the key to repentance. For these thinkers, sin and repentance fall largely in the domain of the intellect, of reason. The Greek connection to the spiritual is numinous, not so much the emotional:
There is within us, on the noetic plane, a warfare tougher than that on the plane of the senses. -- Philotheos
Even the mystical is indeed performatively reasonable, even in the repetitious hesychasm. Sin, therefore, is not effectively the emotional and hysterical subject so many seem to enjoy it to be. The Greeks thought the Romans got it all wrong (as usual) with the Seven Deadly Sins, mortal sin, and the whole damned shtick, as it were.
These desert dwellers see sin as something that gets in the way - an obstacle in your path to communion. Hating the sin and not the sinner tosses the whole `vengeful god' routine in the drink. Threatening with damnation is just not the way, nor the point, of you getting in your own way, and thereby losing your way. The intellect is not destroyed by sinning, merely hamstrung. Not repenting is where you get into real trouble. People sin by intellect, not desire, according to Maximos the Confessor (4th century). Repentance is the way back to the path recurrently along life. Those who reject repentance are sinning continually according to Ilias the Presbyter. Being unrepentant seems the only sure path to true evil.
I must say these lines of thought are not what I was expecting to see here. Ignorance is not good (as opposed to the old eating of the tree of knowledge). Anger is not good. Well, that statement may seem obvious, but you would never know it from the behavior of those who assure us, at the top of their lungs and relentlessly, of their Christianity. Sounds like the contrast Jesus was making about between the loud and proud Publican broadcasting his holiness (and the lack of it in others) with His own prayer: "Lord be merciful to me, a sinner". Pick one.
Just as anger blocks the search for truth by disabling the intellect, so does it separate the soul from God. You may as well try to sing while throwing up. Likewise, it is impossible to be angry and proud while repenting. So penance allows quiet; quiet allows the peaceful opening of the heart and mind. Tears are a physical manifestation of this transition and are proper to both joy and sorrow. Too bad for us that humility is taken, is mistaken, for groveling and for inferiority.
Since damnation came up, I had always wondered about Gehenna. This concept does not involve much fire and brimstone. Hell is, as Colbert (of the comedy news show) says to his class, the absence of love. Gregory Palmas tells us that if we will not bridle our temper so, to repent before the persons to whom we were angry against, we will be stuck in time, frozen in hate. But what sort of politics would we have if even some of us did such things?
To brood on evil makes the heart brazen. - Mark the Ascetic
An interesting argument these clever Greeks make concerning receptivity or openness. Ignorance is the powerful enabler of evil in our world. They blamed not the domain of the senses, not the flesh, but the intellect. Are teachers more beneficial than bankers or than political, barking mouths?
These brief passages are many but never more than a page. Work through them at your pace. The sixth chapter brings you back to one of the central themes, stillness. Our world is literally an order of magnitude more noisy than half a century ago. We each of us create more noise for ourselves and for those around us than ever before and before was already unhealthy.
Stillness does not mean either passive or solitary. What good is openness if you are alone? Yeah, we can talk about hermits, but we would not know if there ever were any if they were not loudmouths in their own cute way. What good is being a shut-in, away from those we want to be with and in a loving way? Anger and noise both inhibit those.
Nothing is to be gained by speaking if bitter things are said. - Abba Philimon
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