Among my continual reading (I read some books occsionally, and some I read continuously, a little a day), is Dimitru Staniloae’s Orthodox Spirituality. It is one of the finest and most comprehensive books on the inner life of a human being that I know. Generally, such a book could be read like a medical textbook, studying until you had mastered all of the terminology and could lecture intelligently on the various aspects of the soul or the animal passions, etc. I have never been able to read this book in such a manner.
My deepest impression as I read, is simply that I am a mess. I realize that the passions invade my reasoning, my prayers, pretty much everything. If I were speaking classically I would say that I have barely begun the discipline of purification.
On the other hand, most people that I meet are about as messed up as I am. I have had occasion to meet a few people whom I realize are much further along when it comes to purification. When I speak to them I feel like a child.
It is in this context that I write relatively disparagingly about amost anything other than prayer, forgiveness, confession, almsgiving, penance, and struggling to keep the commandments of Christ. I will boldly bear witness to Orthodoxy, though I don’t like to argue about it. If you want to submit to its life, it is the life of Christianity, unbroken through its centuries and you can do a lot worse. I believe it is the true life.
But, though I submit my intellect (such as it is) to that fact – I am far more concerned to submit the parts of me that are constantly rearing their ugly heads as the passions. Thus the battle becomes very non-philosophical for me – but constantly existential.
I probably forget that for others, philosophical issues may still be quite important and may indeed have been a path that brought them to the Orthodox faith. If so, it is a path I do not know. As a priest, I am less concerned to listen to someone’s philosophical thoughts and far more concerned to find out what kind of mess they are in. If they’re not in a mess, then they need a better confessor than me.
My experience is not the definition of the faith. But my reading is mostly to be found in Staniloae, Sophrony, Zacharias, St. Silouan and the like. They stood (stand) on or in the abyss which daily threatens to devour me, body and soul. And from that abyss they writing knowingly of the love and power of God’s mercy. If I know someone who can tell me the way out of the abyss, that’s what I want to hear and what I want to share.
If you have no idea of what I am talking about, bookmark this. You may need it.
In the meantime, I will pray and fast (though I don’t want to fast again like I did earlier this week), and listen to the wisdom of those who know the pathway through the dark places. It is the most glorious news that there even is such a path. Glory to God!