Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Books I've Read(or am reading)-Thirteen: Orthodox Spirituality by Father Dimitru Staniloae

I cannot, nor will I, praise this book enough here lest I should not render it the acclaim I feel it ought to get through a thorough exposition of its contents.
I will however briefly make mention of several things of note about the book.
I would urge the reader interested to first of all click on the back cover of the book I have above to prime himself or herself for what they may be in store for with the explanation provided on the back cover.
I would also let the reader know of the immense understanding of the Orthodox Catholic Faith that Father Dimitru has. His insights and explanations can only be brought out of the inner heart by one who is a practitioner of the Life in Christ.
He is a lover of the Saints and Holy Fathers and especially uses the work and experience of Saints Maximus, Gregory Palamas, Isaac the Syrian, Dionysius the Areopagite, Gregory of Nyssa, and many others.
As well, he has a firm understanding of more modern thelogians such as Vladimir Lossky of the Orthodox Church and western theologians including Hans Urs von Balthasar, Paul Tillich, and Maurice Blondel.
Western philosophers also play into his work and included is his absorbing Georg W.H. Hegel and Soren Kierkegaard into his framework for his understanding.
I myself, in a very weak and sinful way am a practitioner of the Life in Christ. I say this in this manner because if anyone was to follow me about to use me as an example of how to live in Christ I would be a poor example indeed. Only "Imitate me as I imitate Christ"(1Cor. 11:1).
I would urge the reader to indulge the possibility that I indeed am a liver of the Life of Christ and in the practices set out for us by our Holy Church, I have to some degree attempted to put on Christ, to be Christ.
I will not attempt a great explanation of the practices given to us by the Church except to mention a few. And these are not mentioned as if by doing such things I become righteous or good of any such thing. No, only by His grace, His reaching out from Himself, from His Person into my person, am I able to attain to any similitude to Him Who dwells in light for He is Light.
I am a practitioner only in the sense that the "tools" of the Church have been set before me and they are, in no particular order of importance, prayer(actually, prayer is first in importance in this list's context of "tools" to be employed in the living of the Life in Christ), fasting, the observing of my thoughts, ambitions,desires, motives, etc. and through this becoming aware of who I really am and this knowledge bringing on a more clear picture of the condition I suffer from and deliverance from the sickened condition into Christ, confession, learning more about our Holy Faith through study and application--not just being a "hearer of the Word but a doer of the Word"(James 1:22), and many other things not mentioned here.
A quick note on the list above is that it is not to be approached "strictly categorically" but the things mentioned should be understood to be organic, flowing one into another so for instance, fasting is not an end in itself but coupled with let's say, prayer(and all the other tools, mentioned and unmentioned above) it achieves its end, which is Christ; but again, not in a quid pro quo manner, that if only I do x,y,z, then the effect will be that God will take notice of me strictly on account of my deeds done that I may force Him to commune with me.
A recent post by our beloved Father Stephen Freeman entitled "The Habit of Prayer", has, in his characteristic way of taking profound subject matter and simplifying it to its essense, good food for thought about prayer; that prayer, he states, is not so much a "matter of doing but a state of being". A practitioner of the Life in Christ can make such a statement.
(This past Lenten Season I learned some hard (and dangerous) lessons about fasting. These may be read here and here.)
The Spiritual Life is not (strictly) a quid pro quo matter and one who is earnest to live the Life in Christ will realize this over time, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. All is by His grace, this energy of His that emanates undivided from His essence.
I wrote the above to point out to the reader that in the reading of this book, how I came to realize that Father Staniloae is master of the things he writes about is my own experience in living the Life in Christ over and over again, gained validity. He put so many innumerable times words to my own random thoughts, observances and experiences.
What I did, and I would highly recommend any reader who undertakes to digest this work, is to first and foremost take my time. I did not read it simply to say I read it. I thought over what I read and when I did not understand a passage, a page, a chapter, I would re-read it until I did.
In tandem with a slow, ponderous approach to reading it I recommend having at hand a dictionary and a notebook to write down definitions.
I, personally, even wrote down definitions of words that I knew the meaning of but still, looking up in syntax meanings and etymological roots is a great aid to the broadening and deepening of the understanding.
I urge the reader, whoever it may be, who wishes to understand our Holy Faith better, to undertake to absorb this work and its hidden treasure, abundant and precious, will make itself known to them.
I have a desire to do an online study of this book and I may actually attempt such a task. It would be very involved and difficult and it would only be accomplished by God's grace and with the time to do it.


Dixie said...

I admire your tenacity. I have Fr. Dimitru's "The Experience of God" and freely admit it is way, way over my head (and heart). It didn't occur to me to approach it in the disciplined manner you describe. Perhaps I should try again. I am certain it would be a beneficial exercise.

Thanks for your explanation in best approaching Fr. Dimitru's work.

Sophocles said...

Yes. I have found with such works that call us above ourselves to apprehend them the end result of plowing the hard soil of their seemingly unpenetrable material is that a rich harvest awaits us as we possess our patience with the work.

For me it meant tenacity and telling myself that that to understand was not impossible but altogether possible by God's grace.

Knowledge I have found has a pathway into it which in the case of the things of God deters the one not determined to learn and experience.

I have given this book out to several people the last of which was a man I sponsored recently in the Church(I'm his Koumabaro) and presented it to him on the day of his Chrismation.

For him, I urged that he not read it for several years at which time I felt for him would be good. This man is very zealous for the Faith and practices the spiritual disciplines of the Church. As well he is possesed of a keen intellect.

But the value of the book became apparent to me only because previously I had been practicing the spirituality of the Church so I made many "discoveries" in the book which I believe are "merely" the treasures awaiting one who with perseverance attains the phronema or "Mind of the Church" entailed with a humble living of the Life in Christ.

So with my friend I urged him to wait several years to read it that he would make the same discoveries after practicing the disciplines for a time.

Fruit takes a long time to grow and be edible.