Friday, 20 February 2015

Philokalia Abridged

G.E.H. Phillips, Phillip Sherrard and Bishop Kallistos Ware (eds) Philokalia: The Eastern Christian Spiritual Texts; Selections Annotated and Explained, 2012 Skylight Paths Publishing, Woodstock, VT

Yesterday I finished reading this book of selections from the Philokalia, that classic text of Eastern Orthodox spirituality. The Philokalia proper consists of five volumes, an intimidating prospect for any reader. I decided that life is too short for that and settled with this concise version. I will comment on what I have read, but I am conscious that I am dependent on the decisions of the editor who may have had their own biases.

It quickly becomes clear that this is a spirituality intended for monks. The Philokalia texts frequently refer to how one should live in one's cell and doing manual labour. This is understandable given it is written for monks, but it does make this spirituality very difficult to transfer to the live of lay people. Catholic spirituality seems to offer so much more for those living an active.

The Philokalia encourages the reader to rid himself of all passions. I think there is a value in this. I firmly believe that God is impassible; that is without passions or emotions. But I am not sure that we human beings are meant to achieve a state of being without passions. Is there no place for passion for one's wife or husband? What about passion in politics, or the passion brought on by aesthetic pleasure? All these things can potentially be destructive, but I don't think they are inherently bad. To attempt to do away with all passions seems a denial of our creatureliness.

I am even more troubled by the idea of ridding our minds of forms and concepts. Are not the Word of God revealed to us in forms and concepts? Presumably to do away with forms and concepts would exclude meditation on Scripture.

I am totally with the Philokalia writers in seeing the end of the Christian in theosis or deification. However, I am troubled by the route that they offer in getting us there. The continual emphasis is on practices and activities that we need to do to achieve theosis. I'm sure they would deny it, but it does seem an awful lot like theosis is something that we achieve through effort rather than the grace of God. I see little in these writings about the work of the Holy Spirit in helping to get us there or the grace that transforms our character. It is continually do this, do that and you will achieve deification.

What I took away from this book that was positive, was the value and worth of the Jesus Prayer and I am resolved to say it continually as much as I can. I think our Eastern Orthodox brethren have much to offer us, but at least as far as the Philokalia writers go, there is a lack of balance. For all that was good and useful that I found in here, it reassured me that I had made the right decision in opting to convert to Catholicism rather than Eastern Orthodoxy.

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