How to Read the Philokalia

[November 13, 2015]

The Philokalia is a 5-volume (4 in English, so far) compilation of writings from the 4th to the 14th century on “Prayer of the Heart,” the process of uniting the personality and bringing it into communion with God. It’s a difficult work to approach, and several people have come up with suggestions on how to get started—what works to read in what order. Here’s a list I made, by compiling that advice.

All the readings can be found in

Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart by Kadloubovsky and Palmer,

and the page numbers in red refer to that book (page numbers in purple refer to the full-length Philokalia)…

EXCEPT these: Pre-a, 3a, and 6-a. They are found in the books listed. You can probably skip them without losing too much.

If you want some extra preparation, you could read these before starting on the list:

(Pre) a-  St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, “Guarding the Mind and Heart,” found in Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, translated by Peter Chamberas, Classics of Western Spirituality, Paulist Press, 1989]

St. Nicodemus (1749-1809) is pertinent because he was one of the compilers of the Philokalia.

(Pre) b- p 22-34 St. Nicephoros the Solitary, “Sobriety and the Guarding of the Heart”

(or Philokalia Vol 4, p 194-206 “On Watchfulness and the Guarding of the Heart”)

(1) p 164-270 Kallistos and Ignatios Xanthopoulos, “Directions to Hesychasts in a Hundred Chapters”

(Can’t find it in the Philokalia. Perhaps it will be in Philokalia Vol 5? Translation is under way at present.)

(2)  p 279-321 St Hesychios, “Texts on Sobriety and Prayer”

(or Philokalia Vol 1, p 164-270  “On Watchfulness and Holiness”)

3) Philokalia Vol 1, 55-71, Evagrios, “On Prayer: 153 Texts”

(4) p 402-416  “Narrative of Abba Philemon”

(or Philokalia Vol 2, p 344-357 “Discourse on Abba Philimon”)

(5) p 152-161 St. Simeon the New Theologian, “Three Methods of Attention and Prayer”

(or Philokalia Vol 4, p 67-75  “Three Methods of Prayer”)

(6) a. Philokalia Vol 4, p 257-262  Gregory of Sinai, On the Signs of Grace and Delusion

b. p 84-94  On Silence and Prayer

(or Philokalia Vol 4, 263-274  “On Stillness: 15 Texts,” a slightly different version)

b. p 74-84  Instructions to Hesychasts

(or Philokalia Vol 4, p 275-286  “On Prayer: 7 Texts”)

About Frederica Mathewes-Green

Frederica Mathewes-Green is a wide-ranging author who has published 10 books and 800 essays, in such diverse publications as the Washington Post, Christianity Today, Smithsonian, and the Wall Street Journal. She has been a regular commentator for National Public Radio (NPR), a columnist for the Religion News Service,, and Christianity Today, and a podcaster for Ancient Faith Radio. (She was also a consultant for Veggie Tales.) She has published 10 books, and has appeared as a speaker over 600 times, at places like Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Wellesley, Cornell, Calvin, Baylor, and Westmont, and received a Doctor of Letters (honorary) from King University. She has been interviewed over 700 times, on venues like PrimeTime Live, the 700 Club, NPR, PBS, Time, Newsweek, and the New York Times. She lives with her husband, the Rev. Gregory Mathewes-Green, in Johnson City, TN. Their three children are grown and married, and they have fourteen grandchildren.



  1. Thank you very much for this post. The Philokalia has always felt like a monumental undertaking to read. Your recommendations will make it much easier. May the Lord bless you!

  2. Thank you Frederica, This is wonderful guidance through a monumental task. You always write and speak so simply, compassionately and with great clarity. Your work has been of immense value to me, both before and since my baptism into the Eastern Orthodox Church in 2010. My heart felt thanks. Seraphim

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