Essay title: The Path of Prayer: Four Sermons on Prayer
The Path of Prayer: Four Sermons on Prayer by St. Theophan the Recluse Trans. Esther Williams, Ed.
Robin Amis Praxis Institute Press, Seabury, MA, 1992It is often said that there are no more heroes in today's world or even that this is an age of the anti-hero. Yet anyone who is blessed with the opportunity to observe children for any length of time will see that regard for those who exemplify certain ideals (heroes) is a spontaneous element in basic human psychology. The reported lack of heroes and the cult of the anti-hero are the fruit of a disillusioned Aadult@ mentality which has been lied to on this as well as other subjects and hence robbed of the natural inclination of a normal human being (a child) who is as yet untainted by the cynicism and Asophistication@ of a deeply troubled society. The more often the lie is repeated the more firmly it is held to be true. But, heroes do still exist — it is rather that a society which values valuelessness no longer has eyes to see them and has lost the ability to produce them. For those who have eyes to see, one such hero is the author of the book under review here.St. Theophan of Vysha (+1894), better known as Theophan the Recluse, is one of the great 19th century Russian luminaries of the Orthodox Church whose light reaches even unto us in the present, heterodox West.
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Being virtually our contemporary, he was nevertheless steeped in the ancient Tradition of the Fathers. Having faced in his life existential and intellectual conditions very similar to our own, he is a bridge to authentic spiritual life in Christ, making the wisdom of the Christian Tradition easily accessible to us. This should not be particularly surprising, for as Christ himself tells us, a light is kindled not to be hidden under a basket but to be held aloft to shed light for all. One must stubbornly persist in blindness not to behold this Light Who has been providentially kindled in St. Theophan for our sake in these latter days. Like so many of the more recent saints of the Orthodox Church, very few of his writings are available in English.
What is available is quickly gobbled up by seekers thirsting after a word of life from the Living Spring of Christ's Gospel. Unseen Warfare, his reworking of Lawrence Scupoli's Spiritual Combat (from the version already adapted by St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain) has been a perennial best seller in English translation for four decades, first for Faber & Faber and now for SVS Press.
The present volume in hand, The Path of Prayer, now adds to this availability.Knowing our regard for St. Theophan as a spiritual hero, imagine our joy at being offered the chance to review this new translation in galley form (pre-publication)! Imagine the expectancy with which we awaited the arrival of the text — the spiritual excitement with which we opened the simple brown envelope concealing what for us is a spiritual treasure! And we were not disappointed in the having but found expectation fulfilled and surpassed in reality. Hyperbola you say? No, rather this is the stuff of heroes. But, you say, in a more prosaic manner of speaking, just what is it that has caused this flight of hero worship?What we have here are actually four short pieces (sermons) on prayer which the publishers, Praxis Institute Press, have selected from St. Theophan's voluminous works. Brief homilies would perhaps better describe them, and they are as exquisitely simple as they are profound. The publishers have added the Apoetic@ title, The Path of Prayer, to the text originally published in Russian under the simple title, Four Sermons on Prayer (3rd edition, 1891).
First a few words about the context provided for the sermons by the publishers: an introduction, a preface and an appendix containing a collection of prayers from the Fathers and a life of St. Theophan. Frankly, this material is a disappointment; fortunately, it is also brief. Justifiably the material is aimed at introducing St. Theophan and his Orthodox understanding of prayer to a non-Orthodox readership. And we must concede a modicum of success in achieving this intent: St. Theophan=s teaching is made accessible to some who may not otherwise have heard of him. There are however, three major flaws in this regard as well as a few superficial ones.
The introduction is brief, simple and mostly to the point. The slight hint of British eccentricity sounds a quaint note and would seem to indicate a Ahigh Anglican@ audience is in mind here. The preface is likewise to the point but suffers in places from awkward sentence construction. St. Theophan's writing is by.