of the English Philokalia.
By Revd Professor ANDREW LOUTH.
With the long-awaited publicationof volume five of the Philokalia: the Complete Text, in a translation by G. E. H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware—all now departed this life: May their memory be eternal!—we come to this:
The Completion of a Project
We have launched volume five of The Philokalia: The Complete Text, compiled by St Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and St Makarios of Corinth —to give it its full title — translated from the Greek and edited by G. E. H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware, published by Faber. The first four volumes came out between 1979 and 1995, so the publication of volume five marks the completion of a long project, first conceived as a translation of the original Greek text of the Philokalia in the early 1970s. Several scholars, whose names apprear on the title page of each volume, were employed to create a draft translation of the Greek text; the final translation was produced by the named translators, Gerald Palmer, Philip Sherrard and Kallistos Ware. These three men worked together: Palmer had died while volume three was in the press, while Philip Sherrard had heroically completed a revision of the draft for volume five before he died of cancer in 1995. The publication this year of the fifth and last volume can be seen as the end of a project that has occupied more than a half-century, with a long gap of about half that, between the publication of volumes four and five.
But today’s publication could be regarded as the completion of a still larger project of making available the wisdom of patristic and Byzantine ascetical and mystical theology: a project dating back to 1951 with the publication of Writings from the Philokalia on the Prayer of the Heart, a translation of treatises from St Theophan the Recluse’s Russian translation of the Philokalia—known in Russian, as in Slavonic, as the Dobrotolyubie—by E. Kadloubovsky and G. E. H. Palmer, which was followed by another volume of treatises from the Russian Philokalia, Early Fathers from the Philokalia (1954), with the same translators, as well as a couple of other works of what we have become accustomed to call ‘Philokalic’ spirituality, also translated by Kadloubovsky, the former with Gerald and the latter with his sister, Elizabeth Mary Palmer: Unseen Warfare, from Theophan’s Russian of St Nikodimos’ Greek translation of two Italian works by Lorenzo Scupoli (1952), and an anthology of spiritual texts, The Art of Prayer (1966), compiled by Igumen Chariton of Valamo and drawn mostly from the writings of St Theophan himself, this latter with an introduction by Timothy Ware (as he still was).
These volumes were all part of a project that Gerald Palmer persuaded Faber to take on, despite the initial reluctance of the directors of Faber, who, fortunately, followed the advice of another of their directors, T. S. Eliot, who was convinced by the worth of the project (and who was later to remark that Faber had never lost money on their investment in Orthodox books). There are other volumes that might be regarded as part of this project of making Orthodox Philokalic wisdom accessible in English: The Diary of a Russian Priest, by Alexander Elchaninov, translated by Helen Iswolsky, and prepared for publication by Kallistos Timothy Ware (1967), with an introduction by Fr Alexander’s wife, Tamara, and a foreword by Professor Dimitri Obolensky. Faber also published other books of Orthodox interest: Archimandrite Lazarus Moore’s translation of St John Climacus’ The Ladder of Divine Ascent (part of another series, Classics of the Contemplative Life, edited by J. M. Hussey), a work much cited in the Philokalia itself, as well as Reality and Man, by the Russian philosopher, S. L. Frank (1965). The real culmination of Gerald Palmer’s Faber project, however, was to be the translation of the Greek text of the Philokalia, compiled by Sts Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and Makarios of Corinth (though no mention of their names is to be found in the original edition, published in Venice in 1782). I should mention here, as I shall pick it up again later, that I deliberately did not say the ‘Greek original’, for the Faber Philokalia avails itself of more recent scholarship on the writers and their texts, so that, for instance, in the first volume, 153 Texts on Prayer, ascribed in the Philokalia to Neilos the Ascetic is restored to its real author, Evagrios of Pontos, and for Diadochos of Photiki, uses the critical edition by the French classical scholar, the Jesuit, Édouard des Places. As we shall see, this reflects something of St Nikodimos’ own mentalité, influenced as he was by the scholarly ideals of Renaissance, and its concern to go back to the original sources—ad fontes.
Moreover, we could see Palmer’s project with Faber as going back, not just to the beginnings of his own attempt to make the Philokalia and its spirituality available in the English-speaking world, but back beyond that to the movements in Orthodox monastic spirituality in the eighteenth century that led to the publication of the Greek Philokalia in Venice in 1782. St Nikodimos tells us something about this in his introduction to the Philokalia—which is not included in the Faber Philokalia, along with the rest of the introductions he provided to each of the Philokalic writers. At one point in that introduction, in the course of making clear the purpose of the Philokalia, that is, to help the monk to pursue the prayer of the heart by means of the Jesus Prayer and thus come to deification, he breaks off:
But now I must mourn, and grief cuts short my account! For I speak of all the books which philosophize about such purifying, illuminating, and perfecting activity (to speak like the Areopagite)….All of these alike are the necessary means and tools for attaining the same purpose, having the one goal of achieving divinization in humankind. Because of their great antiquity and their scarcity—not to mention the fact that they have never yet been printed—they have all but vanished. And even if some few have somehow survived, they are moth-eaten and in a state of decay, and called to mind about as much as if they had never existed.
And Nikodimos goes on to speak of:
…writings never ever published in earlier times. Behold, works which lay about in corners and holes and darkness, unknown and moth-eaten, and here and there cast aside and in a state of decay. Behold, texts conducive to purification of the heart, watchfulness of the intellect, and the dwelling in us of grace; and in addition scientifically guiding us to deification.
The impression Nikodimos gives is that it was his efforts and labours that have discovered these gems of spiritual literature gathered together in the Philokalia. The truth is, however, more complicated. Nikodimos was not engaged on a solitary quest; others in the eighteenth century were seeking for reliable texts of monastic literature. And it is with them that we must begin.
And to do that we need to go back to Moldavia, in what is now Romania, to an elder (now glorified), St Vasile, or Basil, of Poiana Mărului. St Basil had from his youth sought to pursue a life of prayer in solitary and deserted places, and about 1713 settled with some other monks in the Skete of Dalhautsi, in a forest on the borders of Wallachia and Moldavia. About twenty years later, he founded a skete in a remote place at Poiana Mărului (the Glade of the Apple Tree) in the Buzau mountains, nowadays in the county of Vrancea. There he followed a monastic life based on Athonite principles. One task he pursued with his monks was translation into Romanian of holy fathers, such as Sts Isaac the Syrian, John Climacus, Gregory of Sinai, Hesychios of Jerusalem, and Philotheos the Sinaite, with the purpose of deepening their understanding of what was involved in the use of the Jesus Prayer. St Basil wrote introductions to these translations. The parallel with what Nikodimos was later to do is obvious.
The importance of St Basil for the Philokalia lies primarily his relationship with St Paisy Velichkovsky. St Paisy, then called Plato, had studied at the Spiritual Academy in Kiev, with little satisfaction, and then left in pursuit of a life of prayer, which led him first of all to the sketes of Moldavia and Wallachia. He remained there for some years, before leaving and making his way to the Holy Mountain, partly to escape from what he regarded as premature ordination and partly in search of authentic texts of the works of the Fathers. The reputation of the Holy Mountain far exceeded reality, and Plato found himself living on his own with little or no guidance. After four years, in 1750, he encountered Basil of Poiana Mărului, on the last of his visits to the Holy Mountain; Basil tonsured him under the name of Paisy, and advised him to find companions and thus avoid the dangers of the strictly eremitical life. Soon he was joined by a Romanian, Bessarion, and later by others, both Slav and Romanian. The community continued to grow, moving first to the Skete of the Prophet Elias; later he attempted to revive the Monastery of Simonos Petra, but constant harassment by the Turkish authorities finally led Paisy and his monks to leave Mount Athos in 1763 and return to Romania. There Paisy and his sixty-four disciples were welcomed by both the Metropolitan and the Voivode of Moldavia, who gave them the little Monastery of the Holy Spirit at Dragomirna.
During his time on the Holy Mountain, Paisy had collected, or copied, texts of the ascetic fathers that had been hitherto available in the Slavic world only in inadequate—often incomprehensible—versions. Back in Romania, at Dragomirna, he and his monks worked hard to establish correct versions of the Greek texts, and provide adequate translations into Slavonic. In 1774, the loss of Northern Moldavia to Austria meant that Paisy had to leave with his community to the Monastery of Secu; by 1779 his community had grown to such an extent that he had to divide his community, himself going with the larger group to the Monastery of Neamţ. There Paisy remained for the rest of his life, dying on 15 November 1794. A year earlier, a collection of the translations from the holy fathers he had made or supervised was published under the title of Dobrotolyubie, a Slav calque of the title of the Greek Philokalia of Sts Nikodimos and Makarios, published eleven years earlier in 1782. Furthermore, there were other monks—Greek this time—who were also seeking out manuscripts and making collections, some of which St Nikodimos incorporated in his own Philokalia, but this is a complicated story, so here I shall pass it over. Let us return to the Romanian/Slav quest for authentic texts of the Byzantine ascetic and mystical tradition.
The way I have told the story, beginning with St Basil of Poiana Mărului and St Paisy Velichkovsky, might seem strange, for it is often asserted that Paisy’s Slavonic Dobrotolyubie is a select translation from the Greek Philokalia. In truth, they were parallel ventures, and the title Dobrotolyubie seems to have been adopted as justification for its being published at all. For it seems clear that Paisy’s labour of collection and translation was not intended for publication in printed form; it was intended for his fellow monks, and other like-minded monks, for publication in print makes a text too generally available, while texts copied by hand can be confined to more restricted circles. This was an issue that St Nikodimos had faced, though his attitude was very different from St Paisy’s, for it was his intention in publishing the Philokalia to make the riches of the Orthodox ascetical and mystical tradition available to all Orthodox Christians, married as well as monastic. St Nikodimos was willing to take the risk of these writings being misinterpreted, for the sake of the benefits they would bring, which he was convinced would outweigh any such danger, though both he and St Paisy emphasized the value of finding a spiritual father, if one intended to embark on use of the Jesus Prayer. St Paisy was more inclined to avoid any such risk by keeping his Dobrotolyubie for monastic eyes alone. It was only at the insistence of Gabriel, Metropolitan of Novgorod and St Petersburg, a friend of the great spiritual master, St Tikhon of Zadonsk, that the Dobrotolyubie was published at all, and the title it was given suggests that the example of the Greeks was a significant factor in persuading St Paisy.
The two works—the Philokalia and the Dobrotolyubie—met with a somewhat diverse reception. Although the Philokalia can be seen as part of a programme on St Nikodimos’ part to prepare the Greeks, and the Greek Church, for the time, rapidly approaching, when, freed from the Turkish Yoke, the Greek nation would be free, and the Greek Church autocephalous, the long struggle against the Ottomans and the building up of a new nation state absorbed most of the Greeks’ energies in the nineteenth century; it looks as if the Philokalia was little read among the Greeks; a second edition did not appear until 1893.
It was very different in Russia and the Slav lands. Paisy’s Dobrotolyubie circulated in a Russia already ripe for spiritual renewal. St Seraphim of Sarov was establishing his monasteries at Sarov and Diveyevo, and acquiring a reputation as a spiritual father, an elder, a starets, throughout Russia. Similar spiritual awakenings were to be found elsewhere in the Slav lands, perhaps the most strikingly at Optina Pustyn′, a monastery to the south-east of Moscow. Everywhere this revival was marked by an emphasis on inward prayer, on the Jesus Prayer itself, and by the renewal of the office of the elder, the starets (echoes of which, both welcoming and disparaging, can be found reflected in the early chapters of Dostoevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov; Dostoevsky himself made visits to Optina Pustyn′): the Dobrotolyubie became a kind of spiritual manifesto for this movement of renewal among the Slavs in the nineteenth century.
However, the practice of the Jesus Prayer was to be most effectively promoted by a piece of Orthodox propaganda amongst the Old Believers that came to be known as The Way of a Pilgrim. The early history of the texts that were eventually incorporated in this attractive work is too complex to enter into here (for a brief account see my introduction to the recent translation of The Way of a Pilgrim by Anna Zaranko in Penguin Classics, 2017). The translation by R. M. French (1930; published with further tales in 1954) is the ‘pea-green book’ that Franny carried around in her handbag in Salinger’s novel, Franny and Zooey (1955). In the fifties and sixties, The Way of a Pilgrim acquired something of a cult status, but the Russian original belongs to an equally disturbed era—and spoke to it. It is a bit dangerous to talk about the ‘Russian original’, but what I mean is the published version, edited by St Theophan the Recluse—the translator of a Russian version of the Dobrotolyubie, building on and extending the work of St Paisy, and a renowned spiritual father and guide in his own right. His edition was entitled ‘Candid Narratives of a Pilgrim to his Spiritual Father’, for Theophan introduced to the earlier versions, which circulated by hand, the figure of the spiritual father, as he was keen to encourage recourse to a spiritual father by those who, following the pilgrim, sought to practise the Jesus Prayer. Theophan’s edition—of the first four tales—was first published in 1884.
In the recent Oxford Handbook of Russian Religious Thought, we read that ‘Fin-de-siècle Russia hosted an effervescent occult culture’ (pp. 556–7), and Theophan’s edition of The Way of a Pilgrim was at least on the fringes of that world. That remark is taken from the chapter on G. I. Gurdjieff and P. D. Ouspensky, who came to settle in England to promote their own version of occult wisdom, the ‘Work’, as they called it. They are important for our story, because both Gerald Palmer and Evgeniya Kadloubovsky had associations with Pëtr Demianovich Ouspensky, Kadloubovsky as his secretary. (Evgeniya Kadloubovsky is an interesting person, who tends to be taken for granted—as is the way with secretaries. Sobornost [45:1] will contain an article on Kadloubovsky by Nicolas Mabin.) Gerald Palmer had been something of a disciple of Ouspensky. Ouspensky died in 1947, and in the following year Gerald Palmer, maybe on the advice of Ouspensky, visited Mount Athos where he soon encountered Fr Nikon (Strandmann), a Russian monk, fluent in several languages, whom Evgeniya had known back in Russia (and who figures in Metropolitan Kallistos’ forthcoming Reminiscences, recorded and transcribed by Dimitri Conomos). Fr Nikon encouraged Palmer to become Orthodox, and also insisted on the importance of translating the Philokalia into English: a task on which he very soon embarked, together with Evgeniya Kadloubovsky, who had become his secretary. Gerald Palmer persuaded Faber to take on this project, with the results that we have seen. Although Palmer knew some Russian, the main work of the translations from the Russian by Kadloubovsky and Palmer must have been Kadloubovsky’s, with Palmer maybe polishing the English. This project, begun in 1951, has now reached its completion with the publication of this volume five of the Philokalia, translated from the Greek.
‘En ma fin est mon commencement’: Mary Queen of Scots’ motto, stolen by a ‘great poet’, T. S. Eliot, for ‘East Coker’, the second of Four Quartets: ‘In my end is my beginning’. I quote this, for the completion of the project of translating the Philokalia is an end that is also a beginning. Now we have in English a complete translation of the Philokalia. As with St Nikodimos’ Philokalia, which is arranged in chronological order (or what Nikodimos thought to be chronological order), this translation is not a matter of archaeological literature, as it were. As we noticed, throughout the English translation, the translators availed themselves of the fruits of modern scholarship, both in the case of attribution to authors and in the case of the texts on which the translation is based. The translation in this way belongs to the later twentieth/early twenty-first centuries. But in another way, this volume five encourages seeing the completion as an end in which is a beginning. For, because St Nikodimos chose to present his text chronologically, the texts in this volume belong to the wake of the hesychast controversy, they belong to those who embraced the doctrine of the distinction between the divine essence (or οὐσία) and activities (or ἐνέργειαι), among which was included the uncreated light. These were no longer matters for controversy; they were part of the treasury of Orthodoxy. They therefore expound with a new confidence the way of the Prayer of the Heart, the practice of the Jesus Prayer. Volume five completes the wisdom of the Philokalia, leaving us to seek to enter into it ourselves—to be purified, illuminated, and deified.
I want to close with a comment from ‘a Monk of the Eastern Church’, the nom-de-plume of Fr Lev Gillet, who could be a quite caustic reviewer—he called Kadloubovsky and Palmer’s translation of Unseen Warfare a work of ‘spiritual piracy’! The first piece in volume five, sometimes called the Exact Method and Rule, by Sts Kallistos and Ignatios Xanthopouloi, he heralded as ‘A work … full of peace, devotion and a rare spiritual beauty’, and went on to say that
Even today, to those called by God to adopt the [Jesus] Prayer as their own particular path and in a position to organize their life around it, one cannot recommend a better guide—with some necessary adaptations—or at least a better imitation.
The Revd Professor ANDREW LOUTH, FBA, FSA, is Professor of Patristic and Byzantine Studies at the University of Durham. He previously taught at Oxford and the University of London. Fr Andrew is an expert in the history and theology of Eastern Christianity, the editor of the journal Sobornost, and editor, with Professor Gillian Clark of Bristol University, of Oxford Early Christian Studies. This essay is a light adaptation of a talk, ‘The Philokalia: its Origins and its Reception’, given at the Met. Kallistos Foundation on 16 March 2023.
Author’s note: We naturally think of such a project in terms of compilers, editors, and translators, but their task would be all but impossible without the help of secretaries, whom we tend to take for granted. The acknowledgments in volume 5 recognize the secretarial work of Sarah Goodall and Hannah Reinhold (who helped out when Sarah was not well). Furthermore, another chore, noted in the acknowledgments, but often not enough appreciated was producing the index to biblical references, made more complex by the fact that the writers of the Philokalia would have used some version of the Septuagint text for the Old Testament, and the most-cited book is the Psalter, where, in addition to the Septuagint text often deviating from the Hebrew text, the numeration of the psalms themselves, as well as the verses within each psalm, are different from what English readers would expect from virtually any English version. We are very grateful, too, to Dr Julia Konstantinovsky—Sister Seraphima—for her diligence in preparing the biblical index. —AL
- See also ‘From the Øιλοκαλíα to Franny’s pea-green book’ by this author in The Fortnightly Review. Additionally: Cosmos, Life, and Liturgy, by Juliet du Boulay, and ‘The mosaic of the Transfiguration at St Catherine’s’ by Prof Cyril Mango, all published here in the New Series. See also Fr. Louth’s The Way of a Pilgrim: Candid Tales of a Wanderer to His Spiritual Father.