St. Theophan the Recluse (1815 – 1894)
Educating the Child Requires a Cultivation of a Sense of the Holy
The most effective means of cultivating true discernment in the soul of a child is to rear him carefully in the life of the Church so that he will respect its teachings. This is a most essential element in educating a child. This sense of being surrounded by this spiritualized life gives to a child a deep understanding of the holy and the sacred in all things.
~ The Heart of Salvation, Praxis Press, Newbury, MA, 1991, pg. 8
The True Aim of Man on Earth
As a Christian you must reinterpret in a spiritual way all that you see about you. Then fight with all of your forces to imprint that new interpretation on your mind. Then, when you look at something, while your eyes see a tangible object, your mind will be contemplating a spiritual one. This is a tedious and complicated discipline. It aims eventually at a complete re-education of oneself, at a regeneration and radical transformation of one’s materiality.
~ Letter, quoted in The Heart of Salvation, Praxis Press, 1991, pg. 16.
Contemplation of Creation Sobers the Mind
The world, with its concepts, principles and rules, in general its entire system made into immutable law, lays a heavy, authoritarian hand on each of its offspring. As a result, no one dares even to think of rebelling against it or renouncing its power. Everyone… adheres to its rules with such timidity. A violation of these rules is considered as a criminal act. The world is not a person, but its spirit in some way stands firm on the earth, influences us, and holds us as if with bonds. …
~ The Path to Salvation, St. Herman of Alaska Press, Forestville, CA, 1996, pg. 114-115.
The son of a Ukrainian Orthodox priest, Georgi Govorov was steeped in Eastern Orthodox Christianity from his youth. After graduating from the Kiev Theological Academy as a priest-monk where he was given the name Theophan, he undertook a lengthy tour of the great monastic libraries of the Holy Land. For seven years he immersed himself in obscure religious texts from previous centuries. In the process, he became convinced of the importance of monastic prayer for the health of the Church and increasingly devoted himself to solitude and prayer. Theophan eventually retired to a life of continual prayer. In his diary, he notes, “People write and ask me, ‘Don’t you get bored?’ But in fact I have so much to do that from the moment I open my eyes, it is impossible to finish before I close my eyes at night.” About solitude, he writes, “Those who love blessed solitude lead a life of activity that reflects their spiritual powers. They never weary of praising their Maker to all eternity — so that he who ascends to the heaven of solitude never ceases to praise his Creator.” Theophan is ecologically significant because he is the first nineteenth century cleric to show how an exclusive concern for empirical science degenerates into blindness toward the spiritual world and spiritual life. His importance lies in his writings and his close connection to the vigor and spiritual flavor of the early Church.
All Things in Creation Witness to the Father
Everything, with no exception, is a source from which you can distill a higher and more celestial knowledge that is both valid and useful. Yet this understanding will vary from one person to another, depending upon their power of penetration, their degree of attention, and their faith and devotion. Those who relentlessly and enthusiastically pursue these exercises will in time feel enriched by the wealth of knowledge that is yielded. Then they will start to reinterpret everything around them and all that they meet with.
We can start with the house in which we live, and reinterpret all that it contains: the house itself, its walls, its roof and ceilings, its foundations, its windows, stoves and chimneys, the furniture that fills it: tables, chairs, beds and mirrors and all the rest…. Then we can pass on to the inhabitants of the house…. We can also reinterpret the ordinary activities of daily life…. In the Old and New Testaments we will find many keys to show us how to do this in a wise way….
When we can do so successfully, the world will be like a holy book filled with uncountable and wonderfully different paragraphs; then any fixed object, any changing event, will refer us to God, so that our thoughts will be directed toward Him. Every activity and every movement will be made in His presence. We will walk and act inside the field of the senses and materiality, yet in reality we move in the realm of the Spirit. Everything will unveil its divine dimension for us, and this will reinforce the power with which our attention turns towards Him.
This text is fertile beyond anything we can conceive. If everything in daily life can be spiritually reinterpreted, it is because everything is a symbol of the invisible realm, but reflected within time and space. This is why it has been said that whatever exists on earth is modeled on an archetypal essence that is actually present on another plane of God’s creation. Do we not say in the Creed, “Creator of all that is, visible and invisible.”
~ The Heart of Salvation, Praxis Press, 1991, pg. 16-17.
A Test for Spiritual and Secular Literature
To a student who asked him about which books to read, Theophan gave this enduring counsel:
Some books of human wisdom nourish the spirit; for instance, those that point out to us through nature and history the proofs of God’s wisdom, His truth, and His great care for us. Read this kind of book, because God reveals Himself in nature and history, as well as in His Word. Nature and history are God’s books for those who know how to read them.
But test them when you are in a good mood. Start reading a book of human wisdom, but if the good mood begins to go away, discard the book. Apply this as a general rule….
It is easier to say read such books than to tell you where to get them. Nowadays, many books on science attempt to explain the origin of the world without God, and explain moral, religious and other manifestations in our lives without the soul of spirit. Do not touch them…. It is good to understand the structure of plants and animals and especially man, as well as the natural laws which are manifested in them. The wisdom of God is in all these things.
~ The Heart of Salvation, Praxis Press, 1991, pg. 67.
Contemplation of Creation Can Return Perspective to the Mind
Experience shows how frequently the mind, obscured by worldly ways, becomes sober through contemplation of divine creation…. For example, a man standing at a window and looking at a tree in the winter came to his senses. …
Visible nature and the temple of God have not only often brought sense and sobriety to indifferent and sinful Christians, but have converted even pagans to true worship of God and devotion to Him. … The contemplation of the beauties of the visible creation of God converted the Martyr Barbara…. Their power and influence come from the fact that they vividly and perceptibly offer the best, most blissful way of life for a spirit that is wearied, exhausted, fatigued and tortured by the vanity of the world.
~ The Path to Salvation, trans. by Seraphim Rose, 1996, pg. 114-115.
The Meaning of ‘Leaving the World’
Whoever seeks the Lord must remove himself from the world. By “world” is meant everything passionate, vain or sinful that enters into personal, family and social life, and which becomes there the custom and rule. Therefore leaving the world does not mean running away from family or society, but abandoning the morals, customs, rules, habits and demands that are entirely antithetical to the Spirit of Christ which has entered and ripens within us….
From this it follows that “leaving the world” is nothing other than cleaning up your entire external life, removing from it everything passionate, and replacing it with something pure, which will not disrupt the spiritual life, but rather aid it….
The thought that you could live like a Christian while holding onto the world and worldliness is an empty, deluded thought. Whoever lives by this concept will never learn anything more than pharisaism and imaginary life, that is, he will be a Christian only in his own opinion, and not in fact.
~ The Path to Salvation, trans. by Seraphim Rose, St. Herman Press, 1996, pg. 265-266
Discerning Symbols in Creation
The Holy Fathers have invented a salvific method whereby we can be subject to the impressions of external things, yet not be distracted by them, at the same time building spirit. It consists in providing a spiritual substitute for everything seen and heard, and to become so strong in the remembrance of this spiritual substitute, that every time the thing is seen, its spiritual substitute impresses the senses rather than it itself. Whoever does this with everything he meets will always be as if in school. Light and dark, man and beast, rock and plant, house and field — everything to the smallest iota will be a lesson to him.
~ The Path to Salvation, trans. by Seraphim Rose, 1996, pg. 269