The book is…termed “love of the beautiful” (Philokalia) because it is directed to the virtues, which the writers in it view as qualities that render the soul beautiful and thereby God-like. — Constantine Cavarnos
I briefly touched on what the Philokalia was in the last post. It has been called the Bible of Orthodox Spirituality (hence Anthony M. Coniaris’ title for his book).
The book really hits at what is the most important part of Christianity. Pursuing that which is beautiful. And that which is beautiful is Jesus.
The Philokalia again is a collection of writings from church fathers ranging from the 4th to the 15th century. They were compiled together into a five volume set by Saint Macarios and Saint Nicodemos.
Coniaris notes that while the Philokalia is typically read in the monasteries, the book really is for all the laity, not just the monks and priests of Orthodoxy. Why? Because everyone who comes to Christ needs to be transformed by Christ. St. Nicodemos describes the purpose of the Philokalia as deification. To help us become more like Christ.
Coniaris also has a wonderful statement about the importance of beauty, “An Orthodox Church is beautiful. Whether we enter a large, ancient cathedral or a small mission parish, we will “behold the beauty of the Lord.” Why is the Church beautiful? Because it leads us into the presence of God Who is truly Beautiful. Are we not “churches”? Are we not “temples of the Holy Spirit”? Must we not keep ourselves spiritually beautiful? As the church building is beautiful, so must our thoughts and actions. Our inner life must be beautified and we must all work to become saints” (pg 27 of Philokalia: The Bible of Orthodox Spirituality).
For me, this was like throwing back the curtain shades and letting the beauty of Christ shine in. This made sense. Here there was a practical way that I could allow myself to become beautiful for my lord and savior. Not an outer beauty, but an inner. Though I have always tried to be humble, to be loving, forgiving, gracious, etc. I always felt like I was going through the motions without really being transformed inwardly.
St. Nicodemos and St. Macarios recognized this need two hundred years ago. We all need to recognize the need for deification and to have a way to practice it. And it all starts with prayer. Not just any prayer though, the Jesus Prayer.
“Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
This isn’t the end of the deification process, but it is a beginning. Coniaris quotes many church fathers and secular authors as well as he closes out the first chapter of his book, calling us to recognize the need for true beauty.
I will not go through Coniaris’ book chapter by chapter, but I wanted to start where the light first started to come into my soul as I recognized the true need for a book of spiritual living. The Philokalia does not replace the Bible. It is the Bible practiced in practical ways that everyone can mimic.
I want to end today with;
A few of the brief quotations from the Philokalia… to taste the style and beauty of this classic work.
1. On the passions: None but Jesus Christ Himself, unifier of what is disunited can give your heart lasting peace from passions.
2. On achieving union with Christ through love: All men are made in God’s image; but to be in His likeness is granted only do not belong to ourselves do we become like Him who through love has reconciled us to Himself. No one achieves this unless he persuades his soul not to be distracted by the false glitter of this life.
3. On true wisdom: When the heart has acquired stillness it will perceive the heights and depths of knowledge; the ear of the still intellect will be made to hear marvelous things from God.
4. On prayer: While you are praying, the memory brings before you fantasies either of past things, or of recent concerns, or of the face of someone who has irritated you. The demon is very envious of us when we pray, and uses every kind of trick to thwart our purpose. Therefore he is always using our memory to stir up thoughts of various things and our flesh to arouse the passions, in order to obstruct our way of ascent to God (Coniaris pg 23 and 24).
There are seven other quotations from the Anthony Coniaris’ work, but I will leave those out for the sake of brevity.
I truly love this book and highly recommend that anyone who has a true passion to be spiritually transformed read it. And not only Coniaris’ book, but also the volumes that were put together by St Nicodemos and Macarios. It will change your life.