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212. March 17/30, 1976B St. Patrick of Ireland

Dear Brother in Christ, Nicholas [Eastman?],

Greetings in our Lord Jesus Christ. I pray you are faring well in the Fast and will be prepared to meet the Holy Passion and Resurrection of our Saviour. This is spiritually a very rich part of the year for us, with the long services, the special Lenten tone of life, the readings from the Holy Fathers. I imagine all the readings there are in Russian, but I hope that somehow you are able to get benefit from this practice of readings during the services. Here we have been reading the Ladder, the Lausiac History, Abba Dorotheus, and the Life of the Fathers of St. Gregory of Tours. Reading some of these books over again every year only puts them deeper into one’s Orthodox consciousness, and there are always “new” things there no matter how often one has read them—which, of course, only shows how dense we are and how much we need such things.

I hope that in the midst of your learning (which we pray may be very fruitful!) you are also getting the feel for that which can’t be directly taught—the tone of Orthodox life and thought which comes “between the lines” as it were, the respect for the older generation which is handing down the sacred treasure of Orthodoxy, the approach to the teaching of the Holy Fathers which should be not academic but practical, and should see beyond superficial “disputes” to the deeper meaning of the Patristic teaching. The Patristic “experts” of the newer school miss this, and this is a great temptation in our Church now also, since everyone is now affected to some degree or other by the soul-less academic air around us. Of late we have noticed how shallow has been the discussion of Blessed Augustine—a cold, calculating approach to him which would either condescendingly “accept” him or else “throw him out of the calendar” based solely on an abstract analysis of his teaching. But the true Orthodox perspective is, first of all, to distrust ones abstract “theological” outlook and ask: what do our elders think; what did recent Fathers think? And taking these opinions respectfully, one then begins to put together the picture for oneself. But the “new theologians,” when they hear that our recent fathers such as St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain or our own Archbishop John had great respect for Blessed Augustine, can only say with disdain— “they were under Western influence”—and throw out their weighty opinions with a quite “Western” lack of feeling and understanding. Anyone who has read Bl. Augustine’s Confessions with Sympathy will not readily want to “throw him out of the calendar”—for he will see in this book precisely that fiery zeal and love which is precisely what is so lacking in our Orthodox life today! Have you read this book, by the way?—you should. Archbishop Philaret of Chernigov, in his 19th century Patrology, while setting forth clearly Bl. Augustine’s mistakes—or rather, overemphases—still highly praises this book for its warmth and piety. And perhaps Bl. Augustine’s very “Westernness” makes him more relevant for us today who are submerged in the West and its way of thought; it is surely pride for us to think that we will read only the great “Eastern” and “mystical” books.

Well, I didn’t really mean to digress so much on this subject. But at least you know that we are thinking of you and are very anxious for you to get the maximum from your seminary and monastery experience. Above all, keep your heart open to learn to be a little detached from the many intellectual arguments and currents that buzz about our Church. Let us know how you are doing. Pray for us— we have started to print the book on the Life of Blessed Paisius, which is an immense project for us. (Tell that to Br. Macarius—he asked us about it and I don’t think I’ve answered him yet.)

With love in Christ,
S. M.

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