Thursday, May 17, 2012

Works that might be good to read repeatedly.

Besides, of course, the Gospels, the Psalms, and a synaxarion. Don't choose all of them, of course, choose a few and know them. Reading all of them will make you crazy or something. The point here is to stick to the basics rather than reading 100 different books, so offering 100 different books would be counterproductive.
  • Indication of the Way into the Kingdom of Heaven. Perhaps not this edition, I'm sure there's a nicely typeset one somewhere. Could probably be split over a week or two.
  • St Augustine's Confessions. A bit long for this purpose, sure. But you would greatly profit each time you read it.
  • Orthodox Funeral Service. Nice and short, possible to read over in full every day.
  • The Rule of St Benedict. Not terribly different from Eastern monastic rules in substance, as it borrowed from them. There's a tradition of reading from it every day, so why not? It isn't too advanced.
  • The Rainbow Series Catechism. Everybody could use more readings from the catechism. Very basic stuff. I'm not going to pretend Fr. Tom is on the same level as St Augustine, but going over the basics is very good.
  • The Forgotten Medicine: The Mystery of Repentance by Fr Seraphim Aleksiev is a very good book on preparing for confession. Nice and short. It is perhaps a bit too small to use continuously for this purpose, but it is very good and you could use it every time you prepare for confession (break it up over a couple days). This might end up being the most valuable book in the list, as it will help you make a good confession.
  • The Way of the Ascetics by Tito Colliander. Very good, very practical, might be a bit much for some people. A modern classic. Not sure how much we can trust it, though, given that the Finns are on the New Paschalion.
  • EDITED TO ADD: Beginning to Pray by Metropolitan Anthony. A very good book. I cannot believe I forgot to put this on because it is one of my favorites.
I considered a few other additions, like St John Cassian's Collationes, but that gets rather advanced (or obscure) at points and it is rather long. Reading a little bit every day for several years in a row over dinner, as the name suggests, would certainly be salutary, it's just too much for the purpose of this list.

Anyway, the point of this list is to provide some of the "basics" so you're not trying to make a meal out of popcorn and getting burnt out on web-logs, radio shows, and poorly-written convert books pushed out by Conciliar Press. These should perhaps only be invested in after reading the daily scripture readings and the synaxarion is not enough for you (possible exception: the confession book, as it is quite practical, and reading over the funeral service should be okay since it is an actual service of the church and you should be familiar with it (don't want the first time you hear it to be when you're dead)).

I'm sure people who know better than me and who have decent, valid opinions about your spiritual life might have different, better suggestions for what you should read. There is much more to the spiritual life, of course, than reading a couple prayers in the morning and at night, reading the day's scripture readings (you can have them e-mailed to you - you have no excuse), and reading a bit from a book you've read several times before, but this is a much more sane place to start from. Your real activity is what goes on in between, that is where the hard asceticism, real Orthodoxy (rather, Christianity) begins. Humility, love, all that nonsense. You'd learn more from reading Tozer than you would from the chattering of web-logs, and I don't recommend Tozer because he's a Protestant. I don't recommend chattering, either. HTH. HAND. Let me know of any other very good books that might serve this purpose, because opinions may vary and I'm at the point where I can probably afford to read at least one more good book in my lifetime. Or, heck, good books that don't serve this purpose (if you're doing that, though, make sure it's something I probably haven't read).


Eric said...

If anyone were to ask me what are the most important books to read, I would definitely say the Gospels. One should not just read them, but meditate (or rather contemplate) them. There is a reason they are bound with gold and jewels and elevated in procession. I neglected them for a long time in favor of the epistles (a hangover from my more intellectual Protestant background), but when I began reading the Gospels regularly, I noticed a special grace associated with them.

Personally, I have found the three books by Fr. Zacharias of the Monastery of St. John the Baptist in Essex to be go-to literature on a repetitive basis. Fr. Sophrony's theology can be a bit heavy, but Fr. Zacharias has been able to distil it down to a format consumable by the average layman (even thought the content was delivered at clergy retreats).

Antony said...

I'd add Beginning to Pray by Met. Anthony Bloom. He does for Orthodoxy what C S Lewis does for Christianity, puts everything in very simple easy to understand terms that, at times, shake the foundations of your world-view. His paragraph on humility is, just by itself, one of the best things I have ever read.

Mr. G. Z. T. said...

I've read two of those books, I agree that they are quite good.

Completely agree about the Gospels, perhaps I should have reiterated in the beginning, because there are undoubtedly some more dense folk out there, that these are to come after the Gospels and the Psalms. He delighteth not in the strength of an horse, and reading all this other stuff is horsing around, comparatively.

Mr. G. Z. T. said...

Completely agree about Beginning to Pray, I cannot believe I forgot to put it on the list.

123 said...

Adding to your recommendation of Colliander (which I second):

- Way of a Pilgrim, The by Anonymous (I still like the translation by R.M. French the best)

To complement your suggestion fo the Synaxarion I would add:

- Father Arseny, 1893–1973: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father by Anonymous, tr., Vera Bouteneff

- Saint Silouan the Athonite by Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov) - especially the first part of this book which was originally published as The Monk of Mount Athos: Staretz Silouan, 1866-1938.

- Mary and the Fathers of the Church: The Blessed Virgin Mary in Patristic Thought by Luigi Gambero, tr. Thomas Buffer

- Orthodox Alaska and Alaskan Missionary Spirituality by Fr. Michael Oleska

- Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit: The Lives & Counsels of Contemporary Elders of Greece by H. Middleton

- Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works by Hieromonk Damascene (Christiansen). I know this is controversial, but Fr. Seraphim's journey from nominal Protestantism to atheism and eastern religions to overly zealous Orthodoxy to a more balanced traditional, open and pastoral faith at the end of his life is important for many a convert; what Fr. Herman and others did later and how Fr. Seraphim's legacy was used should be set to the side. If not a 'saint's life', Fr. Seraphim's is at least a life of a faithful struggler.)

To flesh out the basics on Orthodox theology, the liturgical cycles, etc. I'd probably look at:

- Orthodox Church, The by Bishop Kallistos (Ware), a classic.

- Orthodox Way, The by Bishop Kallistos (Ware), another classic.

- Great Lent: Journey to Pascha by Fr. Alexander Schmemann (and perhaps its companion, The Winter Pascha)

- Theology of Icons (in two volumes) by Leonid Ouspensky

- Eastern Orthodox Theology: A Contemporary Reader, ed. Daniel Clendenin (gives a good overview of the kind of things one will likely run across in Orthodoxy at one time or another, might as well have heard of them/it).

- Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, The, vols. 1-5, by Jaroslav Pelikan (this is primarily to remind the avid armchair theologian how little he knows)

123 said...

Those of us who cannot pray and are not good people have to make do with reading about those who can and are. It's better than nothing.

Mr. G. Z. T. said...

Pelikan volumes 1 & 2 are the only ones strictly necessary for Orthodox, but 3 is also very good. 4 clearly shows that much of popular discourse about Protestantism is ignorant rambling - propagandistic just-so stories tell nothing like the whole story of what Protestantism is and what they were rebelling against. 5 is very helpful, but a bit of a slog to get through. These are definitely more library-building books than anything I would expect anybody else to get through, though I think a thorough, thorough grounding in history is a very good way to overcome the romantic idealism and oversimplification of the Convert.

Fr Arseny is very good, it's on my bedside table at the moment, could definitely replace the synaxarion for a few days, the St Silouan books could definitely go on the "short list", those other saints books could replace the synaxarion for a few days, I haven't read the Alaska ones but I should.

The Way of the Pilgrim is a classic, but I'm wary of having it on the list because the Jesus Prayer is allegedly an "advanced" discipline. It also, frankly, didn't seem like the sort of book to read over and over again. But, hey, different strokes, maybe other people feel differently.

I like Great Lent and Winter Pascha as seasonal offerings.

I am ashamed to admit I have not read Ouspensky.

Mr. G. Z. T. said...

To go on a little more about what I mean about Protestantism: book 4 shows that Protestantism, classically conceived, is about a lot more and has a lot more to it than the slogans bandied about by modern apologists. TULIP doesn't do Calvin justice, and repeating the solas without knowing a lot of Aquinas doesn't make any sense. Much of what passes as Protestantism, even if buffered by quotes from JC and ML or whatever, is something from volume 5 that would shock and horrify the magisterial reformers. But this is an aside, an irrelevant aside.

Antony said...

Even if it is published by Conciliar Press, I'd have to add Bread and Water, Wine and Oil. Fr. Mel is a serious person and his book is a good intro to what the spiritual life is phrased in terms easy for the modern mind to understand.

On a related front, I've found that lives of contemporary saints and elders are the most useful works for me. (Like Fr. Arseny or the life of Elder Porphyrios in Wounded by Love.) I think this is because need to see the spiritual life is put in to practice in a more or less contemporary setting instead of just reading abstract theory. I need to see what a saint is and, just as importantly, what a saint is not, and this is the next best thing to having one around.

Erik said...

A book that I am going through very slowly, but which has been all the right kinds of inspiration and kicks in the stomach: Unseen Warfare.
Nice potent bite-sized chunks that do a wonderful job of making you aware of your errors and giving profound and useful advice for fixing them. I think I'll start again when I finish.
(Also well structured for someone as ill-focused as I am)

Anna said...

Hello? What about F M-G?