A Terrible Knowledge

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Greek Mythology made the curiosity of Pandora the primary cause of suffering in the world. She fails to resist the lure of finding out what is in a box she is told to leave closed. Opening the box, she unleashes sorrow and suffering into the world. We humans are a curious lot. We want to know everything about our business and much about what is not our business. In a world that has deeply internalized the notion that everything is a democracy, we cannot bear hearing that not all knowledge is meant for us.

And I know such a man– whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows–how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. (2Co 12:3-4)

We fail to understand that knowledge is an act of communion. In some measure, everything we “know” becomes a part of us, and in becoming a part of us, we are changed. We are injured not only through the experience in which we gain knowledge but through the continuing burden of the knowledge that now lives in us. Such knowledge often leaves us broken and burdened in need of healing and relief. The change wrought by some knowledge can come close to destroying the one who knows it.

We love knowledge. To be excluded from being “in the know” often leaves us feeling ashamed and angry. We trust ourselves with everything and find out to our dismay that somebody else’s business can be a terrible thing.

This is also true with the things of God:

For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. (Heb 5:13-14)

The Biblical writer suggests that not everyone is ready for “solid food.” I have rarely met anyone who thought that the verse applied to them.

Valeria Alfeyeva, the mother of Met. Hilarion Alfeyev, wrote a very captivating spiritual novel, semi-autobiographical, Pilgrimage to Dhzvari. It relates the story of a woman coming to grips with faith in the waning days of the Soviet Union. She finds herself and her son at a monastery in Georgia that is in the process of being restored and rebuilt. The abbot is deeply insightful. I was struck in reading it when the abbot becomes very upset with her after learning that she has read St. Maximus the Confessor. He wonders if she can possibly be saved. Needless to say, she was completely taken aback. His advice to her was interesting: “You should read no more in a day than you pray.”

I marvel when I think of how many things of great depth I have read with little or no profit. Among my earliest purchases (during college) was all four volumes of the Philokalia. It was probably worse than useless. The same is true, sadly, of many people who quote the Fathers. They know who said what about this or that, but they have no regard for the actual state of their own heart. They easily become children playing with sharp knives, very likely to hurt themselves as well as others. I had a difficult conversation with a young man who was promoting the Rudder, the collection of the canon laws of the Church. I told him that I almost never read the canons, and keep my copy at home, away from prying eyes. When I need an answer about a canonical question, I call my bishop. That’s what bishops are for. But, all too easily, young prying eyes soon learn to judge bishops and priests and lead their hearts down a darkening path.

There are wonderful things that we do not know, that have, at present, been hidden from us. CS Lewis once said that if you met a saint in the fullness of their holiness, your instinct would be to fall down and worship them. That very thing happens on occasion in the Scriptures at the encounter of an angel. Many people long to see an angel, or to speak with a saint, but they fail to ask whether such a thing would be good for them.

Over the years I’ve become convinced that knowing a little is a good thing, if what you know is the right thing and in the right measure. I read less than I once did, and I read with far more selectiveness. I’ve noticed that some few books I read repeatedly with good effect.

Give thought to knowledge as communion. To what do you wish to unite yourself? What do you want to avoid? Alarmingly, you can have communion with television and movies – a very sobering thought. What have you read that has fed your soul more than any other? Why was that so? Are there patterns in your reading?

Knowledge is a terrible thing – in the original sense of the word.

45 comments:

  1. Wonderful. Insightful beyond my ability to fully grasp it. Lord help me become more selective in reading. And in my quest for knowledge — keep it the right kind good for my soul — while keeping me from knowledge harmful to my soul. Amen.

  2. The Philokelia was all the rage when I first became aware of the Orthodox Church. I bought one volume and quickly found it incomprehensible. Knowledge without an experiential foundation is, at best useless. If I do not fast, pray, and participate in the Sacramental Life of the Church, what use have I for the Philokelia?

  3. It’s interesting to me to hear the story of the woman and the Abbott. I often find myself struggling with the desire for more “knowledge”, and on my journey of conversion to Orthodoxy, I was naturally captivated by St. Maximos. In fact it I was strongly considering
    Choosing him as my patron saint but my heart and eventually my head (through prayer) led me to choosing St. Silouan. This isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with St. Maximos and his work if read with proper discernment and guidance. But what I discovered in St. Silouan is a saint who helps me properly Restrain that desire when it’s going out of bounds. After all, him being a most authentic saint who knew God. And yet while his writings were few, and simple, they were deep and daring as Florovsky described. I could spend the rest of my life unpacking and utilizing one or two of his simple dictums.

  4. When I was a new convert to Orthodoxy in the late 1980s, I read volumes of books by the church fathers and mothers, including many monastics. Every Lent for about five years I read The Ladder of Divine Ascent. I was hungry, but I was hungering and thirsting after knowledge or after some spiritual experience that I craved. Having turned 70 last year, I find myself reading more selectively, and reading (spiritual books) that I hope will help me learn to love God and draw closer to Him. And maybe heal some of my brokenness but also learn to be content. I’m thankful for that. But your post also reminded me that I need to be more selective in the secular books I read for entertainment, or even for inspiration or to understand the world better. Thanks always for your insightful posts.

  5. Coming from a Baptist background and having attended Seminary in that background, I found that, when I came to Orthodoxy, I needed to jettison quite a lot of my collected knowledge and not simply fill up my head with more. It’s not easy to be content in not knowing. But I’ve come to think it is essential.

    They know who said what about this or that, but they have no regard for the actual state of their own heart. They easily become children playing with sharp knives, very likely to hurt themselves as well as others.

    Leaning on our own understanding is so often the way that heresy and judgement creep into our hearts….

  6. Father, you have given this advice before, and not only you but many others. I have several friends now, in their 50’s, 60’s, or 70’s, who advise being more selective in one’s reading. They relate stories such as yours. But I’ve never yet met someone who “reads selectively” without the past experience you’ve identified. How do you learn what to “read selectively” without the knowledge that you’ve made some mistakes and learned what not to read?

    Reading the Church Fathers (at a Lutheran seminary) turned me onto Orthodoxy. I had no conception when becoming Orthodox that there were “dangerous books.” I also found that I had a great deal of information in my head, garnered from years of not being Orthodox, that reading Orthodox materials helped to “shift” and adjust. Almost like I needed certain things “overwritten.” Maybe having had a “higher education” in theology, I was burdened with more of this than most, I’m not sure. But I do also have a list of books not to read (compiled from my elders whom I trust, which includes the books you’ve mentioned). That doesn’t mean I’ve always been as selective as I should be – something I feel I’ve become better at identifying over the years. But I’ve become better at it precisely in making the mistake of reading something, and then realizing I probably shouldn’t have.

    Which leads back to the question: how do you engage in pre-emptive selectivity? How do you know what you don’t know? I realize a simple answer might be: listen to your priest. But I’ve also heard very mixed experiences with what a priest might advise in this regard.

    It also seems that there’s a certain reality involved that we cannot avoid. Much like how we came to Orthodoxy, people will probably read what they ought not – and only later will they realize it. I have done this. How do you “recover” from that? How do you make the best of living with the knowledge you’ve acquired? Is it best to try and forget it?

  7. Knowledge was once commonly kept secret until someone was deemed worthy to receive it. Now you can get your hands on whatever you want and that is, I think, generally a good thing, but what is lacking is guidance.

    In my atheist younger years I was particularly enamored by existentialist and nihilist writers, such as Sartre, Camus and Celine, as well as the great 19th century Russian novelists (this curious mix is still illustrative of the poles of my moods). Especially the magnificent yet poisonous novels of Celine have had an detrimental impact on my soul. The problem with this kind of stuff is that the underlying psychological, social and cultural analyses may have (some) validity, the answers and conclusions are way off the mark. I couldn’t see that at the time, as I missed proper spiritual training and guidance. I suppose the abbot’s concerns point to the fact that also good works can be dangerous to the insufficiently prepared.

    I didn’t trust my compass as to where to start with the church fathers, so I asked my priest.

  8. The progressives on the left are Johnny-come-lately neophytes when it comes to virtue-signaling; we Christians perfected this art centuries ago, and I am the chiefest of sinners. Starting with my evangelical conversion almost half a century ago, I used Paul’s admonition in 2 Timothy 2:15 to “study to show thyself approved” as an excuse for a mind-numbing immersion into the most arcane theological abyss imaginable, becoming ever more aware, year-by-year, that it was of little spiritual profit, if any, and that I did it largely “for show.” There was a brief respite from this urge when I moved to Orthodoxy back in the early nineties, but the old habits and the old delusions returned, with a renewed vigor. My new year’s resolution several years ago was to go devotionally through The Philokalia, but I finally gave this up when it dawned on me that I was foolish to expect any solace from The Philokalia when something as relatively simple as Alexander Schmemann’s books remain largely incomprehensible to me. I was able to keep my pride intact by concluding that all of it, including the writings of the Fathers, was just theological sophistry, but I have recognized that this posturing is just a prideful avoidance of a stark deficiency in my own character. The result is that I have a fine, large, carefully-curated Theological library that I almost never use. Aside from my daily devotions in the Bible, I find more spiritual meat in a book on cosmology or biology than from the latest Spiritual book. I am trying to spend what remaining years I have in cultivating an existential (in the good sense of the word) relationship with God and my neighbor. This also is difficult, but it is a much easier difficulty.

  9. William (Bill),
    You’re very on target viz. virtue signalling. Progressive political movements are simply the latest iteration of American religiosity – same sources – little has changed. In a conversation with Fr. Hopko some years ago, I said, “The more I write, the less I know.” He said, “Good! Keep writing! Some day you’ll know nothing, then you’ll be holy!”

  10. Nathan,
    Good question. I think one way to be guided is to pay attention to your questions. I have occasionally read a book that created questions for me that I had not known how to ask. But following questions is a good process. When I finished seminary, I had lots of questions. I started writing as a way of thinking through them. Eight years later I went back to grad school to work on a doctorate – this time – with lots of unanswered questions and a few leads. I had the opportunity to go straight to a grad program after seminary. I think it would have been a waste.

  11. Thank you, Father. That makes a great deal of sense. It also makes me feel better for putting books down when I feel they’re not being very helpful. 🙂 I tend to feel a little guilty when I do that, like I should’ve been able to finish it. But I have a suspicion now that I didn’t find them helpful, because they weren’t answering a question I was asking at the time.

  12. Nathan,
    I’ve been tramping around in the 17th century a lot lately (having spent some months in the 14th century before that…and this is mostly in English-related history. I’m chewing over some thoughts for a blog article when soon with some reflection on the 17th century stuff – particularly the religious landscape in and around the English Civil War. In many ways, it was the forge of modernity (or one of them).

    I jumped into the 14th century as part of a pandemic reading project, looking at centuries that had experienced pandemics (the Black Death, for one). It launched me into the insanity of the 30-Years War and other stuff. I sort of solidified a deep problem with the history of upper class Britain (and everywhere else). My question when I started that project was simply getting a bit of perspective from past experience with living through a plague. It was helpful – particularly reminding me that our little virus has been just a blip in history, hardly worth mentioning. But it really helped quieten all the shrill voices out there.

  13. How do you make the best of living with the knowledge you’ve acquired? Is it best to try and forget it?

    If only one could! However, as Father has pointed out, our lives are impacted and changed by knowledge. And not only by knowledge but by any kind of impression we receive! One of the things I took years to realize–and that has significantly haunted my spirit–is the “rabbit hole” of the internet. I may learn nothing by spending hours in front of a screen but the things I take in will not leave me and often return (in unkind ways).

  14. Dear Father, and Byron, et al.,

    As a voracious and omnivorous reader for decades (odd, the food-consumption metaphors), I feel that my thoughts are all roiled up with all sorts of disparate weirdness. It has not always been helpful, nor is it easy to shake some of it. You know, so open-minded that your brains fall out :-/ I have become much more selective in my reading in the last several years, making a virtue of necessity (my fading eyesight).

    As a slight aside: One extremely positive thing that I did nearly 20 years ago was to get rid of my TV. I was tired of being manipulated – they don’t call them ‘programs’ for nothing. And I simply can not abide advertising. I heartily recommend it to everyone – take back your thoughts! And a lot of your time, too, better spent in other thought-paths.

    But reading can be programming, too, if not as insidious as TV, and we (I) must be very careful. I know this all too well. This essay has actually been rather encouraging and comforting to me. And the admonition to spend no more time reading than you do praying is convicting, and points a way…

    As far as tackling serious Orthodox/theological writings, I have only dabbled, and that’s no good. It’s only good in the sense that I’ve only dabbled, and not fooled myself that I was in any way equipped to approach and understand these things.

    Now, if I can only get a grip on my internet habit…

  15. I look forward to your thoughts on the English Civil War. One of the churches in my former parish stabled Cromwell’s troops one night before a largely forgotten battle in the Ribble Valley

  16. Father,

    Your article has provoked a sincere question in me: should I be reading the books of conservative philosophers like Roger Scruton, or better to steer clear of the political Pandora box? My hands will already be more than full with Orthodox spiritual literature as well as apologetic books.

  17. Andrew,
    It’s pretty impossible to make a blanket rule for such things. Does reading such books nurture your soul – or do they just make you angry? (for example) That’s a good way to judge – what does this activity do to my soul?

  18. This is very relatable. I also read far fewer books than I used to and am more selective. I don’t entirely understand the reasons why but I think intuitively I arrived at a similar conclusion as you: knowledge is communion and at some point it becomes important to be selective.

    I am grateful for my early years of reading almost anything as it probably introduced me to ideas and people I would not have encountered. My childhood home was full of books and the concept of “age appropriate” did not exist in our house (my parents had pretty serious and intellectual tastes though, so the main risk was me trying to read something I could not relate to or comprehend, which happened occasionally but which I never *assumed* would happen.) I suppose the other risk was just spending too much time reading, or using it for avoidance, which I certainly did.

    I remember being in my twenties and wanting nothing more than to be have unlimited money to spend at my university bookstore (which of course I didn’t.) At some point though my feelings changed: was the change in me or the stores or both? Bookstores no longer looked like interesting places full of real knowledge that could change your life, but something more like gift stores based on sentimentality and self indulgence. The thought of All Those Words is exhausting rather than inspiring. I know people who read dozens or hundreds of books a year I can’t imagine how they do it.

    I still enjoy reading and I have been trying to read more books instead of stuff in the internet. I have to have a reason for reading now and I think about those reasons. The past year I have also been paying more attention to what I read online.

  19. Síochána,

    With respect to today’s bookstores…
    When my children were small (20ish years ago), we used to spend hours at a the bookstores and at the libraries. These were such a wonderful places for all of us. But in recent years the books being read to the children are not the books I would want my children to be exposed to (I am thankful my children are now grown up and are not going through the school system in its current state. I pray for young parents!).

    But I wanted to share something (this is meant as a light joke Father, nothing political :-)) that we would not hear on the news here:

    In the recent unrests in Kazakhstan (consisting principally of looting and vandalism), the only stores that were not looted were… bookstores.
    Nothing of interests to those ‘young revolutionaries’ in the bookstores. 🙂

  20. Agata, I do have young children and it’s true: I go into libraries with a wariness I didn’t previously have (we almost never go to bookstores). I am not the sort to forbid and censor overmuch, so I still let my kids read what they want for the most part. Anything overtly propagandistic I steer them away from. To be honest though I don’t find most children’s books dangerous as just numbingly inane. So my focus is not so much about not allowing the kids to read certain books as providing them with books I want them to read. To me the best defense against “bad” things is knowing “good” things because then you develop and use your own sense of judgement. Also I am not above bluntly telling my daughters mommy won’t read that because I can’t stand it. The oldest is reading more on her own now though, so has earned a degree of freedom.

    I am more wary of visual media because it is so commercialized and addictive. Very smart adults create this stuff to manipulate children and my kids and even us parents are no match for them. So that I actively limit. We watch movies but not TV shows except occasionally some documentaries. One of the grandmas gave my eldest a Kindle Fire for Christmas. She imagined her reading books on it and doing research. She is a very intelligent kid. But she doesn’t want to do that: she gravitates to what is most addictive. Of course. 🤦‍♀️

  21. Father Stephen,

    I have always had an addiction to television, movies, internet. I never really thought of it as communion until now. My soul seems so empty at times.

    It has been too long since I visited here. Thank you once again for a fresh perspective.

  22. Wonderful as always Father.
    And the passage “Over the years I’ve become convinced that knowing a little is a good thing, if what you know is the right thing and in the right measure…” reminded me of a St. Paisios (of Mount Athos) story:
    A woman sought Fr. Paisios’s advice on the books she needed to read to grow spiritually. Said she had finished reading the Bible and the Philokalia. The future saint was agast, and told her that she was being spiritually deluded. He then asked her to read just the Gospels for a while, adding that he would advise her when to read the rest of the New Testament. Also asked her to keep aside the Old Testament for a longer while.

  23. “ Does reading such books nurture your soul – or do they just make you angry? (for example)” I loved that, Excellent advice for all of our activities, I think.

    Personally, I decided to go back to the fundamentals, but not on my own! There are many wonderful online courses to guide us. So far, I have studied Homer, Virgil, Dante, Plato, the Pre-Socratics, and Milton. I am now concentrating on the Bible with excellent courses at the Orthodox School of Theology at the University of Toronto. One of the things I have discovered is that having some background in ancient literature and philosophy is helpful to understanding the Bible, especially the New Testament. I have also learned that non-Orthodox scholars, such as NT Wright, can provide a lot of useful guidance. In the end, however, the ultimate authorities are my wonderful priests. All new ideas and insights are run by one or both of them before I allow them to become part of my weltanschauung.

  24. Reading something that makes me angry, could have more to do with the me, I think I am than with what I am reading; in some but not all instances???

  25. Such a great blog post, in that it speaks so much to one of my biggest temptations and struggles. I fancy myself “well-read,” when it is just scanning and skimming at best. I can’t even read Scripture in a meaningful way, if I am honest. I placed great importance on being able to “retain” what I read, and quote it back later. My “knowledge” of Scripture (being able to cite chapter and verse) was more important to me than actually applying what I read. That included quotes from the Saints and my “Prayer Rule.” What is the use of being able to quote from St. Paisios or St. John Chrysostom if I don’t pray? Who and What is this “knowledge” (or action) really for?

    For my Scripture Reading, I have a “Verse of the Day” app. That verse becomes my spiritual food for the day, and I think about how it can apply to my own life and what the Spirit is telling me. I find I remember some of these bits of Scripture, but often forget the verse and chapter numbers (sometimes I forget the passage altogether). Why does “knowing” that matter so much to me? Perhaps this sounds silly, but I have come to see this forgetfulness as a blessing from the Lord, because of my arrogance. It reminds me of that story from the Desert Fathers, with the monk who kept forgetting what his Spiritual Father told him, and he kept going back to him to ask again. That “going back” is turning to God. Why can’t I be grateful to be the “forgetful monk?” Lord, have mercy.

    Thank you for your writing, Father.

  26. The post and many of the excellent comments finds authoritative support from Elder Aimilianos here:

    “When one undertakes to examine Scripture in an idle, intellectual way, he creates hatred and quarrelling. Why? Because the intellectual approach to Scripture does not help us to turn and reflect on our sins, but instead makes us focus on problems and concepts related to the study of Scripture, with the result that our logical and intellectual faculties are aroused to no real purpose. “Knowledge” by itself does not add anything. On the contrary, it encourages the cultivation of the individual and his private sense of things; it fosters the self-sufficiency of his personal opinions, which he then seeks to justify and impose on others. This kind of approach to Scripture immediately places you in conflict with others; it opposes your will and opinion to theirs, prompting you to disagree and argue with them, and to make enemies of your brothers. Filled as I am with my own opinions about things, I am not able to receive anything from God.
    The correct way is to read Scripture with simplicity and to allow God to tell us what He wants to tell us. It’s one thing to read Scripture because you want to collect information, and another thing to read it because you want to acquire its true content, that is, the Holy Spirit. This kind of knowledge is the life of God (cf. Jn 17:3), the entry and extension of God into our life; it is God’s descent and dwelling among us. We can judge whether or not our study of Scripture is authentic based on the number of tears we shed when we study. To be sure, I can also read Scripture without shedding tears, and without a strong sense of my sins, but with the hope that God’s grace, through my reading of Scripture, will break open my hardened heart. Read Scripture then, but don’t forget about your sins and reduce Scripture to an object of intellectual inquiry, for at that point it ceases being the word of God and you start seeing it as something human. The criterion for your study should be this: the way you read the Bible should bring peace to your heart, communion with God, love of neighbours, and the consciousness of your own sinfulness: the recognition of how unworthy and ill-prepared you are to stand before God.

    Elder Aimilianos, “On Abba Isaiah”

  27. Dino,
    The (our beloved) Elder’s words remind me of how Fr. Zacharias says that by reading Scripture we learn the Language of God, in order to speak to God “in His language”.

    And the the best commentary on “cultivation of the individual and his private sense of things” I found in this autobiographical article by Dr. Clark Carlton “From First Baptist to the First Century”:

    http://orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/tca_carltonfirstbaptist.aspx

    It’s a long and wonderful read, but somewhere in the middle, Clark shares his realization:
    “Irony of ironies: that which I had been touting all of these years as the basis of true religion-the absolute autonomy of the individual-turned out to be the Original Sin!”

  28. Agata,
    Wow! that is a profound statement indeed! We could posit further (perhaps Clark does this but I haven’t read it) that “the basis of Hell itself, is absolute autonomy of the individual”.
    And of course, the reverse, “Communion is the ontology upon which Heaven is founded.”

  29. Ioana,
    I was a young man with very little experience – it was far to “rich” for me. Of course, I think that at the time I would have said I thought it was wonderful. It was, if you will, answering questions that I did not know to ask.

  30. Reading this lead me to reflect on a passage I read recently from the book, “The Life of the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos”:

    St. Gregory Palamas (+1359) comments that “for her sake, the God-possessed prophets pronounced prophecies, and miracles are wrought to foretell that future great miracle of the world, the Ever-Virgin Mother of God. Generation after generation of vicissitudes and historical events, make a path to their ultimate destination, to the new mystery that will be wrought in her. The rites and laws had provided beforehand a type of the future truth of the Spirit. The end, or rather the beginning and root of those earlier events and wonders of God is the annunciation to Joachim and Anna, who were accomplished in the virtues, of what was to be accomplished (in their daughter). In another homily, he comments, “all divinely-inspired Scripture was written for the sake of the Virgin who begat God.”

  31. Agata,
    Thank you for the link to the article. This article provides for me some helpful insight into the Protestant mindset. I admire his courage. Our beliefs are difficult to change without help from God.

    May God grant us His help and the help of the saints, and the courage to begin our walk with Christ and our life in the Body of Christ.

  32. Father,
    Your article brings to mind how much I have relied on internet “data”. This is something already sifted and presented, usually for a biased purpose. I was attempting to watch a documentary, only to discover how slanted it was. I tried to persevere for my purpose to learn what some people think. But I couldn’t take more than 10 minutes of it. And as you indicate, there was a lasting ill-ease afterward, and I found myself judging those who would gladly ‘digest’ such material.

    On the side, I did read one of the volumes of the Philokalia when I first explored Orthodoxy (but passages here and there–not in entirety). My motivation to attempt to read it stemmed from reading the Way of the Pilgrim– the version that had a forward by Huston Smith. The downside of that version was the way that the Jesus Prayer was cast in the foreword by Huston Smith who apparently didn’t seem (by making an equivalency between eastern meditation practices and the Jesus prayer) not really familiar with what the Hesychastic tradition was.

    I would recommend the version with the intro by Fr Thomas Hopko.

    So much of our life in Christ in the Orthodox tradition is informed by direct experience. Just coming to Liturgy is salvific. Since I have been ill, I’ve been watching streamed video of St Tikhon’s (Pennsylvania) Monastery’s Liturgy. Even just watching it from afar brought such joy.

    I’ll admit however I sincerely miss being present in the Liturgy my Greek Orthodox parish. God willing I’ll be returning soon.

  33. Dee,
    A standard answer when I get inquiries about the faith – is – if possible – start attending services. That’s “where the grace is” – to a certain degree. It’s also the context for so much else. For myself, I “studied” Orthodox writings, theology, the fathers, for about 20 years before actually attending an Orthodox Church, other than a single casual visit. A primary reason, of course, was that I was an active, serving, Anglican priest and did not have that leisure. For about 4 years before my family was received into the Church, we became “vacation Orthodox” (attending services each year for the 4 weeks of vacation that I received). We made contacts, and friends, learned lots of things, etc.

    But, still, with all the study and reading I had done, it wasn’t until we were actually in the services, week in and week out, that so many of the pieces began to fall into place. Some things that I thought were important were revealed as being not so important, and some things that I took as casual turned out to be essential. And, I don’t think that such realizations could ever be distilled in a book-form.

    May God speed your return to your parish.

  34. Dee,
    (yes, God grant you speedy return to health!)

    I agree that it takes great courage to examine our assumptions and ‘convenient’ beliefs. I learnt about various protestant beliefs for the first time from this article, and (as I said recently in another conversation) was a bit surprised that people would accept them, and base their eternal destiny on such presumptions. As Clark did, it takes a lot of integrity, humility and authenticity to examine them.

    So I am that much more grateful to God that He allowed me to be born Orthodox, I don’t know if I have that kind of integrity for the necessary self-examination. And I have great admiration for those who come to Orthodoxy – this is one thing I noticed here in America (in my Polish Orthodox Church there were no converts): people who truly love God find Orthodoxy as their home. Glory and Thanks to God!

    Forgive me, it’s hard for me to put this in proper words. I hope I am not offending someone again… 🙂

  35. OK, father. I just want everybody to love them. The saints who wrote the writings included in the Philokalia, that is. A bit like I want everybody to love you. Our Romanian version was translated by a (soon to be) saint of the 20th century. His footnotes are beautiful. Maybe that helped…

  36. In fact, a Saint completed the translation (a priest and a brilliant scholar) and another Saint (a monk) helped with the editing process. Both of them are going to be canonised soon, God willing, for many other deeds, not necessary this one.

  37. This also brought my thoughts to this article:
    “If you wish, the Lives of the Saints are a sort of Orthodox Encyclopedia. In them can be found everything which is necessary for the soul which hungers and thirsts for eternal righteousness and eternal truth in this life, and which hungers and thirsts for Divine immortality and eternal life. If faith is what you need, there you will find it in abundance: and you will feed your soul with food which will never make it hungry. If you need love, truth, righteousness, hope, meekness, humility, repentance, prayer, or whatever virtue or podvig, in them, the Lives of the Saints, you will find a countless number of holy teachers for every podvig and will obtain grace-filled help for every virtue.” ~St. Justin Popovich

  38. Father,
    I have a room full of Orthodox books, mostly written by Saints or about them. A few I’ve read, a couple several times, most I’ve simply perused. I feel guilty at not having read them. I hope to read more of them upon retirement in a couple of years. Oh Lord Jesus Christ guide me, help me to trust you in all things. Help me to live Your will in my life each moment of each day.

  39. George,
    People who love books tend to acquire them with the best of intentions. I would encourage you not to waste time feeling guilty about not having read them all.

    When I retired I gave about half my library (I like books, too) to the parish library (it had served unofficially in that capacity for years). I culled my books at home with a very sobering standard: will I read/use this before I die? That exercise was simply to make more space. Also, my daughter-in-law (who does great wood-working) built me some more shelves. And then, there’s my ebook reader that hides a lot of titles…

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