Tuesday, October 24, 2006

St Silouan the Athonite

When the soul prays for the world, she knows better without newspapers how the whole earth is afflicted. She knows what people's needs are and feels pity for them... Newspapers don't write about people but about events, and then not the truth. They confuse the mind and, whatever you do, you won't get the truth by reading them; whereas prayer cleanses the mind and gives it a better vision of all things.
St Silouan the Athonite

...the growing popularity of St. Silouan is due directly to the relevance of his spiritual teaching for today. It is important to keep in mind the historical setting in which he lived and wrote. The first few decades of the twentieth century were a time of unparalleled change. Having died in 1938 at the age of 72, St. Silouan lived through the tumult and upheaval that were to forever alter the course of history. This was the era encompassing not only the First World War and the Russian Revolution, but also the events leading up to World War Two. Such large-scale destruction and horrific atrocities taking place on european soil were never before seen by human eyes.

This radical change was not limited to the political and social spheres, but also in a philosophic sense, it was indeed the dawn of a new age. From a strictly historical perspective, St. Silouan was a contemporary of Freud (1856-1939), Lenin (1870-1924) and Nietzsche (1844-1900), to name but a few. The blatantly anti-Christian principles that these men stood for, and the 'intellectual revolution' they inaugurated, were to contribute directly to the reversal in the spiritual and moral values of modem man. Philosophically speaking, it could be said that man was 'finally freeing' himself from the God of the Christians and striving, precariously, toward his self-deification.

Ironic as it seems, while the 'new humanism' (i.e., the pseudo-religion of man attempting to forge his own destiny apart from God) was gaining considerable ground at the dawn of the twentieth century, the unique value and inherent dignity of the human person seemed to recede simultaneously into oblivion. The 'triumph of nihilism' was looming on the horizon, and together with it the onslaught of its offspring—utter hopelessness and despair.

This was the modem mentality that St. Silouan undoubtedly took into account as he wrote down those God-inspired thoughts that came to him after much prayer. He was addressing a world at war, a war raging not only in the trenches of modem Europe, but also on the battlefield of the human soul.

The message that he attempted to convey during those early decades of the twentieth century is somehow even more relevant now as man 'progresses' on through the dawn of the new millennium. Although St. Silouan addresses the particular needs of the turmoil of his time, the fundamental themes he touches upon, such as the infinite love of God toward man, the inner workings of the human soul and the nature of the spiritual struggle, remain relevant for all believers everywhere. In this lies the significance of St. Silouan's teaching for today.

from: Harry Boosalis: Orthodox Spiritual Life According to Saint Silouan the Athonite.
South Canaan: St. Tikhon's Seminary Press,
1999. P. 15-26

St Silouan is one of my favourite people. He was the teacher of Fr Sophrony, whose writings I've often quoted here, and he was apparently a man of such gentleness and prayerfulness that he literally changed the lives of those who met him. Yet his life, like that of St Francis, had an inauspicious beginning. He was a peasant of great good looks and immense physical strength, hard-drinking and loose-living. It was only after he had nearly killed a man in a tavern brawl that in his own words he "...began to beseech God for forgiveness, and He granted me not only forgiveness but also the Holy Spirit, and in the Holy Spirit I knew God... the Lord remembered not my sins, and gave me to love people, and my soul longs for the whole world to be saved and dwell in the Kingdom of Heaven, and see the glory of the Lord, and delight in the love of God."

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