Thursday, 12 June 2008

Tradition as "sunglasses"

I'm reading a beautiful book at the moment called Aufrichtige Erzählungen eines russischen Pilgers ("Candid Stories of a Russian Pilgrim"). Written in the 19th Century and preserved in a monestary, it is the personal account of a russian pilgrim on a quest to discover how to put St. Paul's command to "pray without ceasing" into practice. At one point he means a Starez, a Russian holy man, who introduces him to the teachings of the holy sages as preserved in a book called the Philokalia (The love of Beauty). The following dialogue shows the high respect for scripture in this tradition as well as its relation to tradition:

[The starez is speaking] "In this book we are going to read how one prays this prayer [The Jesus Prayer]. This book is called the The love of Beauty. It contains the complete and exact science of unceasing inner prayer, presented by 25 holy Fathers. This book is so grand and so useful that it is considered to be the most lofty and primary teacher in the contemplative, spiritual life."
"Is it really grander and holier than even the Bible?" I asked.
"No, it is not grander and holier than the Bible. Rather it contains all the luminous explanations of that which is mysterious in the Bible, but which, due to its sublimity and our limited intellect, is difficult to access. Let me give you an example: the sun is the biggest, most radient and most noble luminary; yet you are not able to look at and contemplate it with normal, unprotected eyes. A certain artificial glass is required, which is probably a million times smaller and darker. Through this glass, however, you would be able to gaze at this glorious prince amongst the stars, to delight in it, and absorb its burning rays. In the same way, the Holy Scripture is also a radient sun, the Love of Beauty, however, is the the requisite glass that gives you access to this most exalted of lights." [*]
[*] Translation my own; p. 30, 31.

Kevin Edgecomb gives a nice summary of the prayer in the comments section here.

Update: Kevin has written his own post in response to this here. He provides more background information, a proper English translation and a warning against the dangers of attmepting to practice the Jesus prayer outside of the context of the liturgical and sacramental tradition of the Orthodox church.

No comments: