A Practical Guide
for the Faithful
and a Definitive Manual
for the Scholar
Author: Dumitru Staniloae
Archimandrite Jerome (Newville)
and Otilia Kloos
(from the Romanian)
Publisher: St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press
US Release date: 2003
also available as ebook
theology, spirituality, Orthodoxy
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MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK
By now, you probably know I am an Orthodox Christian, and even though I read and present a lot of fiction here, everyday, I try to read pages from an Orthodox book. Spiritual books are not meant to be devoured, to be read for the mere sake of being read and enjoyed for fun, but to be absorbed as a means of inner nourishment. So it takes me longer to read these books.
Orthodox Spirituality is the latest I read, but the very famous Romanian theologian I had yet to discover.
And with this book, I will start a series of posts entitled “Orthodox quotations”, in the hope it may nurture you as well.
I have to admit, I was a bit unsettled by the beginning of the book. It was definitely not what I was expecting.
The introduction (the first seventy pages) present a rather strange (to me) mix of abstract passages and of down to earth spiritual passages, very rooted in the Incarnation.
These abstract lines are heavily based on the French philosopher Maurice Blondel, whom I haven’t read extensively. To make it short, let’s just say (with wikipedia), that his work “aimed at establishing the correct relationship between autonomous philosophical reasoning and Christianity.”
After that, the ideas presented in the three parts are not unlike the way Larchet presents his. But Staniloae manages to look at passions and gifts of the Holy Spirit while following the traditional stages of Purification, Illumination, and Perfection (theosis), the title of the three parts.
There are amazing passages as the book develops, especially near the end on light (the whole chapter 36), on love, and on theosis.
Chapter 28 also offers a great explanation of what apophatic theology really is, based on Gregory Palamas’ writings.
Incidentally, I found an enlightening explanation in a note on page 350: the author makes the parallel on how the West lost the mystical dimension of its religion, the importance of mystery, and the fact that they got rid of the iconostasis. It makes actually great sense: if you want nothing to separate you from the numen, if you intend to see and grab everything (as if you could actually grab it!), then you leave no room for any mystical depth.
The book is not an easy read, and maybe not as practical as the subtitle claims (though the passages on love are very much so), but if you persevere through the introduction and take time to digest what you read and pray over it, you will be rewarded with very nourishing and inspiring pages.
I will not include quotations here, but instead, start a series on Orthodox quotations posts, as mentioned above. I will post them every Saturday (unless I have something else scheduled for that day – in that case they will be published on Sunday).
So come back tomorrow fr the first one!
VERDICT: Very deep and nurturing presentation of Orthodox Spirituality, to be slowly tasted and prayed over.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT
Presentation by the author himself:
Orthodox spirituality has as its goal the deification of man and his union with God, without being merged with Him. It has as a basic conviction the existence of a personal God, who is the supreme source of radiating love. He prizes man and doesn’t want to confuse him with Himself, but maintains and raises him to an eternal dialogue of love. Such a spirituality has no place where an evolutionary progress of man, connected to a divinity conceived as an impersonal essence, is affirmed. This progress can have no result other than man’s disappearance in the impersonal divinity. But the personal God, and thus the supreme source of love, can’t be conceived of as a single person, but as a community of persons in a perfect unity. You see then why the Christian teaching of a Trinity of Persons in a unity of essence is the only one which can constitute the basis of a perfect spirituality for man, understood as a full communion with God in love, without his being lost in it.
Presentation by Saint George Greek Orthodox Cathedral, which presents a fantastic analysis of the book:
While initially this book was intended for use in Romanian theological schools it provides an excellent overview of the path to theosis according to Orthodox Tradition. It gives you deep insights into the lived Eastern Spirituality of the Orthodox Tradition. It is most useful also in understanding your personal Spiritual path.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
You can watch this short video with English subtitles
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Very helpful presentation of what this book contains. I might take friendly issue with the idea that Western tradition has lost the mystical dimension, or perhaps it has been gradually rediscovering the mystical understanding and experience of the liturgy, especially considering the increasing emphasis on the value of praying before the blessed sacrament. And I am just blown away by the wealth of mystical counsel on prayer in the Carmelite tradition and of course the Cistercian, and beyond. That said, I know what you are driving at, and I am quite interested to read this book. Looking forward to your selections of quotations! Kind of you to share them.
I agree that the Carmelite (in general, and more so in Europe than i the US, I think) and of course the Cistercian tradition have kept the mystical dimension of Christianity, but this is not the general trend, especially in parishes. There are very very few parishes out there with emphasis on deep nourishment. Which may explain why they say former Catholics are the 2nd largest denomination in the US. If you are not nourished, you go else where. But mysticism is so intrinsically part of Orthodoxy, in its celebration and discourse, that it is basically lived as mystically in a regular parish as in a monastery.
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thanks for the reference
I’ve visited many Christian churches that try to present the Gospel as if it is rational, logical, scientific. Something is lost for me without mystery.
amen to that. That’s why I decided to join the Christian Church in the closest form to its origins, that is, the Orthodox Church
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