Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Orthodoxy of St. Augustine and Dickens

Christopher Orr has an inspiring quotation about two of the three authors whose works he is reading this Lent: Charles Dickens and St. Augustine of Hippo. He writes:
Kyriacos Markides, in his book The Mountain of Silence, includes the following quote taken from the biography of Fr. Seraphim Rose (+1982), Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works:

"The experience you just described [one of initial spiritual work being floor-scrubbing] is similar to that of another novice who went to Mount Athos to become a master of spiritual secrets," I interrupted while taking out of my handbag a book I was reading. I began flipping through the pages. I then translated a relevant passage into Greek, sentence by sentence.

"Not many years ago," I read, "a young monastic aspirant went to Mount Athos. In talking with the venerable abbot of the monastery where he wished to stay, he told him, `Holy Father! My heart burns for the spiritual life, for asceticism, for unceasing communion with God, for obedience to an elder. Instruct me, please, Holy Father, that I may attain spiritual advancement.' Going to a bookshelf, the abbot pulled down a copy of David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. `Read this, son,' he said. `But, Father!' objected the disturbed aspirant. `This is heterodox Victorian sentimentality, a product of the Western captiviity! This isn't spiritual, it's not even Orthodox! I need writings which will teach me spirituality!' The abbot smiled, saying, `Unless you first develop normal, human, Christian feelings and learn to view life as little Davey did--with simplicity, kindness, warmth, and forgiveness--then all the Orthodox spirituality and Patristic writings will not only be of no help to you--tthey will turn you into a spiritual monster and destroy your soul.'"

Thus, per Fr. Seraphim's advice to my 'complex, cruel, cold and unforgiving' heart, David Copperfield is my Lenten reading this year.

Fr. Seraphim also made it a habit to read Blessed Augustine's spiritual classic, The Confessions, during Great Lent. So, this is my 'spiritual' or 'patristic' reading for Great Lent this year.

If only we all had this spirit of charity! Happy reading, and may Christopher experience all the joys of Lent.

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