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#248204 08/08/07 06:18 AM
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Would someone knowledgeable please explain the Philiokalia, the very lengthy set of books describing Eastern Christian Spirituality? I have seen quite a few Orthodox books for sale on different websites that explain aspects of it in a condensed version. Can someone suggest some good web links that I can go to in order to learn more? Is there a Catholic perspective on these writings? What is Hesychasm? Who practices this form of spirituality? Is there anything that you can think of that it can be compared to in the West? It appears that there is some type of controversy as far as this is all concerned judging from the little that I have read so far and I want to say that I am not trying to start a war here, I have just read a few things on the topic from the internet and it seems that there is some confusion and I am genuinely trying to understand. With the feast of the Transfiguration occurring yesterday ( I went to the Ukrainian Catholic Church for that ) it has me thinking very deeply about the Eastern Spirituality and growth in holiness and how the Divine Light is important to you all and I am trying to understand. I have a book called �The Glories of Divine Grace� by Fr. Matthias J. Scheeben, TAN Publishers. Very good. Describes the Western thought of Divine Grace in the soul. I greatly respect your traditions and I am very drawn to your spirituality but I would like some information. I would also ask for prayers, thank you. Many blessings. Michelle

Michelle,SFO #248214 08/08/07 09:59 AM
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Originally Posted by Michelle,SFO
Would someone knowledgeable please explain the Philiokalia, the very lengthy set of books describing Eastern Christian Spirituality? I have seen quite a few Orthodox books for sale on different websites that explain aspects of it in a condensed version. Can someone suggest some good web links that I can go to in order to learn more? Is there a Catholic perspective on these writings? What is Hesychasm? Who practices this form of spirituality? Is there anything that you can think of that it can be compared to in the West? It appears that there is some type of controversy as far as this is all concerned judging from the little that I have read so far and I want to say that I am not trying to start a war here, I have just read a few things on the topic from the internet and it seems that there is some confusion and I am genuinely trying to understand. With the feast of the Transfiguration occurring yesterday ( I went to the Ukrainian Catholic Church for that ) it has me thinking very deeply about the Eastern Spirituality and growth in holiness and how the Divine Light is important to you all and I am trying to understand. I have a book called �The Glories of Divine Grace� by Fr. Matthias J. Scheeben, TAN Publishers. Very good. Describes the Western thought of Divine Grace in the soul. I greatly respect your traditions and I am very drawn to your spirituality but I would like some information. I would also ask for prayers, thank you. Many blessings. Michelle



Welcome, Michelle.

Others at this Forum can answer your questions better than I. For now, here is my attempt.

What you are referring to is "hesychia." It is a Greek word that means "stillness" and "silence" of the heart before God. It is response of Man to Christ's injunction: But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees [what is done] in secret will reward you. (The Gospel according to St. Matthew, 6:6) Both the inner room and the secret are the heart.

To do this requires prayer without ceasing. (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

Hence, the prayer of the heart without ceasing is called "hesychasm." It is a duty assigned to all Christians, but it is most scientifically practiced by the monks.

The Philokalia (which means "Love of the Beautiful and the True") is a collection of notes, instructions and advice from the saints of the Eastern Church on how to practice hesychasm. The Philokalia is revered in the Eastern Church as a manual for holiness. However, it is very dense and very difficult for beginners of hesychasm. Hence, for all these reasons, there have been attempts to summarize its contents and thereby share it with non-practitioners of hesychasm. A good, general introduction to the Philokalia can be found in Fr. Anthony Coniaris' A Beginner's Introduction to the Philokalia.

The means for acquiring silence and stillness is by asking Jesus Christ for it, in all situations and at all times. It is, in short, to live what St. Paul wrote: While I live, not I who live, but Christ who lives in me. (St. Paul's Letter to the Galatians, 2:20) That is done by living the life in Christ through the Holy Spirit. And that is done by living the fullness of the Gospel --morally, spiritually, sacramentally, liturgically-- in the fullness of our lives. The Jesus Prayer ("Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior") is an aid to doing so.

Because we are discussing living the Gospel, hesychasm should only be undertaken with a strong spiritual director. Usually, that means a priest, monk or nun in the Eastern Church.

You mentioned controversy. The Western and Eastern halves of Christianity grew apart over a thousand years ago. They differ in their ideas about the Gospel and in their understanding, and each claims to be right. Yet, in my opinion, both are illuminated by the same Uncreated Light of the Holy Spirit when the human heart repents before God. That does not suit the false enthusiasts, who insist that their terminology is the only correct one, like the Pharisees. St. Gregory Palamas had to defend hesychasm against the criticism of a Western Christian (Barlaam) in the 1300s, which is perhaps what you were referring to. However, the separation between Christian East and Christian West is also marked by much bloodshed, especially by the Fourth Crusade (by the West) and by later attempts at proselytizing (by both sides). Much bitterness has resulted.

In conclusion, I wish you well in your exploration of the Eastern Church's spirituality and tradition. I would recommend two books for your attention, The Orthodox Way and The Orthodox Church by Bishiop Kallistos Ware. The former discusses Eastern Christian spirituality, and the latter discusses the basic beliefs and history of the Eastern Church.

Be well.

-- John

harmon3110 #248278 08/08/07 06:25 PM
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I have purchased the four volumes (with money I inherited from my sainted Godmother)from the monastery in Resaca,GA. last night, I saw a one volumn Philokalia at Barnes and Noble.
Much Love,
Jonn

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Thank you for the reply's so far. I would like to discuss this in more depth. A reply from a priest would be appreciated also.

Michelle,SFO #248413 08/09/07 03:53 PM
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My own comment is brief: the Philokalia is definitely not suitable for beginners, and I would not advise using it without the assistance of a good spiritual Father ready to hand. But you might try reading The Way of a Pilgrim.

Fr. Serge

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confused When were these books written and by whom? The help of a priest and spiritual father would be great if I could find one, but right now I am trying to find out some information on the writings themselves and I am wondering why this is so difficult in the fact that alot of people don't know what I am talking about when I mention it to them. So finding someone who would be able to help seems pretty remote. The local Byzantine Catholic parish has a wonderful priest, unfortunately he does not speak English. So for comparison I listed a book I DO have about Divine Grace and I wondered if anyone here even knows what book I am referring to. This also made me wonder about St. Gregory Palamas and his feast day in the liturgy...Do Catholics celebrate this? Why or why not? Is there a Catholic perspective on this or is it the same spiritually as what Orthodox Christians practice? Thanks John and Fr. Serge for your replys and others too and I hope there are more anwsers for me coming soon. God bless all. Michelle

Michelle,SFO #248488 08/10/07 02:29 AM
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Hi Michelle,

These books were written over a very long period of time, mostly by saints of the Church, and the collection was edited by Sts. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain and Makarios of Corinth. As I recall, the first volume is entirely by pre-Schism saints. St. John Cassian has a few chapters in it. St. Maximos the Confessor's writings take up most of volume two. Sts. John of Damascus, Symeon the New Theologian, and Gregory Palamas contributed to it, along with many others. You can read the list of its contents here. [orthodoxwiki.org] The texts are largely about guarding the heart, developing dispassion, and learning to pray.

As Fr. Serge noted, it should be read under the direction of your spiritual father. Bp. KALLISTOS Ware notes these were written by and for monks under discipline and may not be compatible with those with family obligations.

Finally, I'm Orthodox, but I think there was a thread on this board recently about Byzantine Catholics who celebrate St. Gregory Palamas' feast day, even though he was post-Schism. "Western" Roman Catholics would probably not, though; the pejorative term "navel-gazers" actually originated as a slur against his practice of hesychasm.

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Western Orthodoxy Blog
[westernorthodox.blogspot.com]

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Pani Rose #248507 08/10/07 04:40 AM
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Hey! Awesome! Thanks! These other links have some good suggestions grin

Michelle,SFO #248526 08/10/07 11:01 AM
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This post is not directed specifically at Michelle; it's for whoever might come across this.

I thought I would mention about how the Philokalia is not for beginners.

When I was first exploring this, I read such statements often and with little explanation or qualification. Or, there would be vague and somewhat ominous warnings about psychological or spiritual harm for the unprepared. All of that merely made me more eager to learn what the fuss was about. So, I bought all four volumes that were translated into English, and I began reading them . . .

. . . only to discover I didn't understand most of it. So then I turned to the basic books that introduce the material. That was somewhat better. So then, I actually talked to a priest. After following his direction --in prayer, morality, the sacraments-- the theological material began to make sense. (This, by the way, proved to me the value of the Philokalia. It is not the secondary theology of intellection. It is, instead, the primary theology that comes from direct, personal experience with God.) In other words, I did what a person is supposed to do (but in reverse order): I talked with a priest, read the basic books and studied the work itself. That proved the advice for me.

As for the words of warning about psychological or spiritual harm: If you engage in self-analysis without someone to keep you grounded and steady, you can easily "go off the deep end" (crazy or, at least, very confused). If you engage in spiritual growth and development without a guide, chances are you will miss something, or become deluded by something or by the devil, or fall into sin, or get turned off by the whole affair. That's because the blind are leading the blind, when there is no spiritual guide. And, ultimately, Christ is the guide; and He will send the right instrument.

In short, the Philokalia is a collection of notes which were written by saints (usually monks) over centuries of time and which discuss the action of the Holy Spirit in our souls and bodies and minds in order to sanctify us. There are no "secrets" and there is nothing to hide. It is the Gospel. But the Gospel crucifies the old man with Christ and raises the new man with Christ; and that process is both simple and complicated; and it therefore really does require a guide.

Be well.

-- John

harmon3110 #248564 08/10/07 04:40 PM
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Very good advise John. Thanks for your comments, they are well taken. Now, I just have to actually find someone to help me. Any advise on that?

Michelle,SFO #248566 08/10/07 04:46 PM
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...If you can't find someone in your local area who is knowlegable can it be done through correspondence? confused
I am sure others experience this dilemma as well. I have been reading other posts suggested by pani rose (thanks!) and they have been helpful. Blessings, Michelle


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