The Philokalia: A Guide to Spiritual Purification & Inspiration

an old compilation of excerpts from the ascetic writings of the Holy Fathers, under the general title of “Love of the Good” – Philokalia in Greek, Dobrotliubie in Slavonic and Russian.

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From ancient times, ever since the Mother of God took it under Her protection, the Holy Mountain of Athos has been a citadel and abundant source of Orthodox spirituality. One of the forms by which this “Living Water” has been transmitted into many lands and hearts thirst for God’s Truth is an old compilation of excerpts from the ascetic writings of the Holy Fathers, under the general title of “Love of the Good” – Philokalia in Greek, Dobrotliubie in Slavonic and Russian.

The first printed edition of the Philokalia appeared at a crucial time. With the French Revolution the flood of atheism set out on its course throughout the world, and subsequently every nation was found to be more or less receptive to it. As against this the works of St. Nicodemos set forth the true Christian spiritual life for those who, in the new age of universal apostasy, wished to be conscious, mindful Christians. At the same time another Athonite, Starets Paissy Velichkovsky, then in Moldavia, was living this same spiritual life in the tradition of the Holy Fathers, and translating the Philokalia into Slavonic; his followers were responsible for the 19th-century spiritual revival in Russia. It is the complementary labors of St. Nicodemos and Starets Paissy that have made the riches of Orthodox spirituality available to the God-seekers of modern times.

The Philokalia is both a guide to spiritual purification and a source of spiritual inspiration, for its authors are the God-bearing Fathers. The righteous who live forever. The effect of these God-inspired writings on a receptive heart may be seen in the confession of the monk John of Moldavia, one of the students of Starets Paissy, given in reply to the earnest entreaty of a monk-pilgrim. [1]

“ . . . And I fell to his feet and with tears began to say: ‘Oh, holy Father, forgive me a sinner, tell me and hide nothing from me about the mysteries of your silence; what kind of fruits has it brought you with what gifts has our Lord rewarded you?’ Hearing this, he was filled with tears and said: ‘What are you asking me, my child, is it not beyond me? Ask me no more about it now, but go, God with you, to the Holy Mountain of Athos and strive to cleanse your inward man by prayer; and when your heart will be wounded with love of Christ, then you will understand yourself what grace it is to be with God.’ But I implored him to tell me at least some small thing.

“In tears he told me: ‘Well, then, listen to me a sinner; I’ll reveal a secret to you, but keep it such as long as I am alive. I’ll open a part of my riches to you; and do not conceal it, but, when the time comes, share it with others. Listen: When I arrived at Nyamets Monastery, I heard from Starets Paissy about mental prayer and I questioned him how to begin using it. And I began experiencing it in practice. And it seemed so sweet to me that I came to love it more than anything in the world! And because of it I fled from the brothers, loved silence, often went off by myself to deserted places, fled from all temptations, especially from idle talk. For its sake I twice travelled to the Holy Mountain exhausted myself with obedience, toil, fasting, prostrations, and all-night vigils – all in order to acquire unceasing mental prayer. For its sake I would often shut myself up in my cell and use up all my strength on it, even to the point of absolute exhaustion. And when I had spent many ears in this way, the prayer little by little began to take root in me. Later, when we were living in the skete of the Protection, the Lord visited me because of the prayers of Fr. Platon. [2] My heart was touched by indescribable joy, and the prayer began to act; and so much sweetness it gave me that it would not allow me even to sleep. I would sleep for an hour a day – and that sitting – and then get up again as if I had never slept; and even when I slept, my heart kept vigil. And then the prayer started to produce fruits. In truth, my son, the Kingdom of Heaven is within us! There are no words to describe the love for all that was born within me, and the tears – if I wished, I could weep without ceasing. And so sweet did the Holy Scriptures become for me, especially the Gospels and the Psalter, that there was no end to my enjoyment, and every word threw me into astonishment and made me weep much. O Lord! Thou has manifested to me the secret and hidden things of Thy wisdom (Ps. 50:6). Often I get up in the evening and read the Psalter or the Jesus Prayer, and I am in rapture, beside myself, not knowing where I am – whether in the body or outside the body, I do not know, God knows; only when I come to myself, it is already dawn.’ “

 [1] Travels in Russia, Moldovia, Turkey, and the Holy Land by Monk Partheny the Athonite, in 4 parts, Moscow, 1855.  

 [2] A close disciple of the first biographer of Starets Paissy.

The Philokalia. The Orthodox Word, 
Volume 1, Issue 5, September-October 1965, pp. 169-170
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