Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Books and Russians and Greeks! Oh My!

I seem to have a lot to say about books lately, so I figured I'd continue the trend. Books are a HUGE weakness for me. My wife will tell you all about it if you ask her. I have a boat load of theology books that have actually been extensively thinned as time passes and we move from one place to another. Apart from my theology books I also love reading/collecting books on psychology, history, tea, coffee, music (Irish and Chinese mostly, with a little theory thrown in for good measure), and other similar topics. I've even been known to trade my prayer ropes for books when circumstances (and the balance in my bank account) allow. So it always brings a smile to my face and warms my heart to read the fathers and what they have to say about books.

There are some interesting similarities in the recommended "reading lists" of St. Ignatius Brianchaninov and St. Theophan the Recluse. Neither of them really go into great detail as to who ought to be read in what order. But they both seem to agree that the writings of the great staretz, St. Basil of Poiana Marului, ought to be read and fully digested before turning to the magnus opus of Eastern spirituality, the Philokalia. Until recently the writings of St. Basil could only be found contained within a biography of the saint's great spiritual son, St. Paisy Velichkovsky. Now there is a handy little volume available from St. John of Kronstadt Press that is dedicated completely to St. Basil and his writings. This volume is important because St. Basil wrote introductions to a number of the Fathers in the Philokalia in order that their writings might be properly understood. The volume also contains a few other short writings by St. Basil that I, for one, cannot wait to read.

Apart from the writings of St. Basil, Sts. Ignatius and Theophan don't really go into too much detail as to who ought to be read next. But they do mention that the Russian Fathers ought to be read before we attempt to tackle the writings of the Greek Fathers in the Philokalia. This is in part, they say, because the Russian Fathers are so clear and concise in their presentation. It's also because they are closer to our times and culture, and were able to present the essential teachings of the Philokalia in a way that is easily graspable by we who live in times and places so different from the early Fathers.

With this in mind I wanted to offer, for your consideration, my own recommended reading list. I'll do my best to resist the temptation to make this an exhaustive list, and will therefore only post books that I think are essential.

1) Elder Basil of Poiana Marului: Spiritual Father of St. Paisy Velichkovsky
2) On the Prayer of Jesus - St. Ignatius Brianchaninov
3) The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology - compiled by Igumen Chariton of Valamo
4) The Path of Salvation: A Manual of Spiritual Transformation - St. Theophan the Recluse
5) The Spiritual Life and How to be Attuned to It - St. Theophan the Recluse
6) The Little Russian Philokalia - whichever volumes you can get your hands on. I recommend the volume containing the sayings and conversations of St. Seraphim of Sarov.
7) Writings from the Philokalia: On the Prayer of the Heart
8) The Philokalia - all four volumes.

I think as far as the writings of the Greek and Russian Fathers are concerned, these are the best places to start. I would also recommend some books by a few modern spiritual fathers. Particularly:

1) The Orthodox Way - Metropolitan Kallistos Ware
2) The Inner Kingdom - Metropolitan Kallistos Ware
3) The Prayer of the Heart - Fr. George Maloney
4) The Jesus Prayer - A Monk of the Eastern Church (aka Fr. Lev Gillet)
5) On the Invocation of the Holy Name - A Monk of the Eastern Church (aka Fr. Lev Gillet)

So these are just a few books that I strongly recommend. Obviously you don't have to read all of them. Just pick one that really speaks to you. My personal favorite that I believe everyone interested in Eastern spirituality in general, and the Jesus Prayer in particular, should own is The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology. It is primarily made up of selections from the writings of St. Theophan the Recluse (which is why I quote him so much), but it also has selections from other Greek and Russian Fathers as well. Check it out! Buy a copy! You won't be sorry. :)


  1. Might I suggest you add "on the Priesthood" by St. John Chrysostom. Every lay person should read this! It will give them insights to the responsibilities of the pries. I know it gave me pause to think how my actions might affect him.

  2. Thank your for your lists. They are very helpful.
    I like that you see reading as something instrumental. I've done some (nothing exhaustive) researching and reading on the personality and character of Slavic people, particularly in Russia, and one of the things I ran across was that they (at least in the 60s and 70s) read A LOT, much more than we do, and so are probably more familiar with the secular classics and such. I know too that the priest who wrote a book about his imprisonment in Siberia, "With God in Russia" by Walter J. Ciszek, S.J., would read a book a day when he was still in the prison in Moscow, where he was for five years I think. He read every book in the prison library. I think reading is one of the ways that God guides us, in terms of fashioning (or informing) what we think about.