In our last post, we answered the first of two questions posed by a reader. We continue with the second question, what he should be reading to deepen his knowledge of Orthodoxy and to better understand Orthodox monasticism—clearly because he is considering entering a monastery. Let us treat this matter in four sections: assumptions about who the reader is; what he should be reading to deepen his knowledge of Orthodoxy; what he should be reading to better understand Orthodox monasticism; and general remarks. However, because of technical problems with Blogger, we must break this up into two separate posts, 15A and 15B.
Judging from our reader’s name, he is a Romanian; judging from his diction, he lives in the
We gather that our young reader is in his twenties, that he is intelligent, and that, as he says, he has returned from a wasted ‘adolescence’ to the Church. We imagine that he is attending an Orthodox Church, possibly but not certainly the
B. Deepening Our Knowledge of Orthodoxy
With the above assumptions, we strongly recommend to our reader to read the Fathers of the Church, beginning with the simpler Fathers. We suggest that above all he read the commentaries of St John Chrysostom. Particularly important is the formation that
There is another problem in the ‘Post-Nicene Fathers’ series collection of St John Chrysostom’s works in that the translations and notes were done by Protestants. This is not much of a problem in the commentaries of St John Chrysostom on the Gospels, but it shows through in his commentaries on Romans: the Protestants don’t like what
The next work that our young Romanian-American should be reading is the Catechisms of St Cyril of
The reader should read St Athanasios of
He should read the Apostolic Fathers. This is a collection of writings of St Clement of
He should read St Irenaeus of
He should read St John of Damascus. His most important work is the Fountain of Knowledge. This is a three-part work. The first part is a summary of Aristotelian philosophy. This should not be too difficult for our intelligent young reader. The next part is a summary of heresies, based for the most part on St Epiphanios of
The next writer is very important for those in our day and age who have an intellectual maturity: Clement of Alexandria, the head of the Catechetical School of Alexandria. (By ‘school’ we here mean an actual building and students, not a school of interpretation.) Clement is recognized as a saint in the West, in the Roman Catholic Church, but he is not so honored by the Orthodox (although there is no reason to suppose that there is anything wrong with him). There are three basic works by Clement, some of which are available in English (in general, searching the Net will bring up various works, publishers, booksellers for the books and so on). It seems to us that the most complete editions of his works are to be found in French, but even they are not complete. In one of his works, Clement discusses moral life in
Read St Basil the Great, especially ‘On the Holy Spirit’ and ‘On the Six Days of Creation’ (we will mention his ascetical works below). In general, it will not be useful to the beginner to jump in the deep end of the Arian dogmatic disputes. You need a lot of philosophy to understand them. For the same reason, and because he is at the best of times extremely difficult, we recommend against reading St Gregory of Nyssa, St Basil’s brother, at the beginning.
Some Roman Catholic series have reliable translations of the Fathers, for example the ‘Ancient Christian Writers’ series based at the Catholic University of America in
Some modern Elders have written—or have had their sayings collected—concerning broader social issues for the Orthodox Christian. These are good works to read if you can find them in a language that you know. Among these Elders are Elder Paisios of the
In general, we should avoid modern writers who have theories about the end-times. It is not to the advantage of the Christian to spend his time on the end-times when he should be spending on the poor and homeless.