Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The True Riches of the West

The after-Schism West has produced some nice things:  music, literature, and so on.  But these are of secondary importance.  What is of foremost importance is salvation.  Without this, all the symphonies, poems, paintings, etc. are ultimately meaningless.  This is the condition Western Europe and her children around the world find themselves in today:  having many pretty things but lacking what is essential - salvation in God through the Holy Orthodox Church. 

Before the Great Schism, things were very different in the West.  There was the Grace of God in the Orthodox Church, and therefore holiness.  And because of this, there were saints.  The Saints:  They are the precious treasure of the West, far more valuable than anything else that Western man has contrived since his fall away from the Orthodox Church.  But they are buried now under the trash heaps of constitutions, scientific progress, Reformation and Counter-Reformation, professional sports, video screens, etc.

If they remain forgotten, what is left of Christianity in the Western countries will die at the hand of Islam or some other vigorous religion.  If they begin to be venerated again, there is hope for a renewal of Christianity in the West.

Blessed Fr Seraphim Rose has more to say about the importance of the saints to the West (thanks to Mr C for giving us the links used below):

A Prologue of the Orthodox Saints of the West

A touchstone of true Orthodoxy is the love for Christ's saints.  From the earliest Christian centuries the Church has celebrated her saints – first the Apostles and martyrs who died for Christ, then the desert-dwellers who crucified themselves for the love of Christ, and the hierarchs and shepherds who gave their lives for the salvation of their flocks.

From the beginning the Church has treasured the written Lives of these her saints and has celebrated their memory in her Divine services.  These two sources – the Lives and services – are extremely important to us today for the preservation of the authentic Orthodox tradition of faith and piety.  . . .

The earliest Lives of saints were the Acts of the Martyrs, followed in the 4th century, when the Egyptian desert began to blossom with monks, by the Lives of ascetics, the first of this form being the Life of St. Anthony the Great by St. Athanasius of Alexandria.  Later, collections of such Lives were made, and they have been handed down to the present day in such works as the Lives of St. Demetrius of Rostov (†1709) in Slavonic and Russian, and the Synaxaria of St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain (†1809) in Greek.  A person with a modern education must be taught how to approach these works, just as a person who has been trained in classical Western painting must be re-educated in order to understand the quite different art of the icon.  Hagiography, like iconography, is a sacred art and has its own laws which are quite different from those of secular art.  The Life of a saint is not mere history of him, but rather a selection of events in his life which reveal how God has been glorified in him; and its style is devout, and often exalted and reverential, in order to give a proper spiritual tone and feeling to the narration and arouse in the reader both faith and piety.  This is why a mere retelling of a saint's life can never take place in the original hagiographical account.  A "Life" thus differs from a "biography" much as an icon differs from a naturalistic portrait.

Apart from actual Lives of saints, there is a second kind of hagiographical literature in the Orthodox Church.  This is the material which has come down to us in the Orthodox Prologues, which include both brief Lives and edifying incidents from lives of holy men as well as ordinary sinners.  The name "Prologue" was given to collections of hagiographical literature as early as the 11th century in Byzantium; soon they appeared in Slavonic also and became greatly loved by the Orthodox people.

The Prologue is actually one of the liturgical books of the Orthodox Church.  It is appointed to be read (not chanted, like the Psalms) after the Sixth Canticle of the Canon at Matins (in the Russian Church; in the Greek Church the Synaxaria are read here).  The solemn and didactic prose of this book, giving first of all brief Lives of the saints of the day, does indeed serve as a "prologue" to the liturgical celebration of these saints in the Church's exalted poetry, much as the Acts of the Martyrs preceded the liturgical celebration of the martyrs in ancient times; this seems to account for the origin of its name.  Yet it is quite secondary importance whether the Prologue be read strictly "according to the Typicon" at its appointed place in the Divine services.  The spirit of the Church is freedom, and various adaptations of ancient practice are possible, if only these serve for the edification and piety of the faithful.  The Prologue (just like the Lives of saints) could be read at family morning or evening prayers, at mealtimes, on long winter evenings – a time now lamentably usurped even in most Orthodox homes by television, which inculcates its own crude, worldly tone and feeling.  The book read need not be the Prologue (which does not exist in English, in any case (this may have been written in 1975, see page 665-667 Not of This World)), but another book of similar inspiration may be used.  Let us here only look briefly at the Prologue itself in order to discover something of its spirit – so important for us who live in the soul-less, spirit-less 20th century – before passing on to a discussion of books of similar inspiration in the West.

In the Slavonic Prologue printed at the St. Petersburg Synodal Press in 1896 (two large folio volumes of some 800 pages each – enough in itself to give us a glimpse of what our poor American Orthodoxy lacks!), under the date June 27 (chosen at random) we find the following:

First, "the commemoration of out holy Father Sampson the Hospitable," which gives a brief outline of the good deeds of this Saint (less than half a page).  On most days there are several other similar brief Lives, but on this day there is only one Life, followed by a number of different edifying incidents.  The first incident is a "Homily on Martin the Monk who was in Turov at the church of the holy Martyrs Boris and Gleb, living alone in God."  This is an account of how Sts. Boris and Gleb appeared to one holy Russian monk in his illness and gave him to drink and healed him (half a page).  This is followed by a little longer incident from the Dialogues of St. Gregory the Great, Pope of Rome, concerning the Presbyter Severus, who delayed in visiting a dying man and found him dead on his arrival, but by his prayers brought him back toolife for seven days in order that he might repent of his sins.  Similar incidents are taken in other parts of the Prologue from such books as the Lausiac History of Palladius (5th century), the Spiritual Meadow of John Moschus (6th century), and the Sayings of the Desert Fathers.  The final entry for June 27 is a brief Homily "That it is good to visit the sick," concluding with the Scriptural words of Christ: "For I was sick, and ye visited Me," and the standard conclusion of every day's readings: "To Him may there be glory, now and ever and unto the ages of ages."

It may readily be seen how foreign such readings are to the spirit and taste of our times.  These are what might be called by some modern scholar "pious tales" or "miracle stories"; he would disdain them not only for their miracles, but for their "moralizing."  But it is just here that the searcher for the true spirit of Orthodoxy must question the "objective" scholar.  Why is it that Orthodox Christians for nearly two millenia have found spiritual instruction and nourishment in such stories, and only quite recently, under the strong influence of modern Western "enlightenment," have our sophisticated Orthodox seminary graduates begun to disdain them?  Is it because they are not true? – We shall see below that this is not the case at all.  Is it because our Orthodox ancestors were really naive children who needed such tales, but we ourselves, being more sophisticated and mature, can do without them? – But then where do we derive our Orthodox nourishment outside of the few hours a week spent in church and church schools – from television?!  Or could it be that our Orthodox ancestors had something which we lack, and which we desperately need in order to remain truly Orthodox and hand down the unchanging Orthodox faith and piety to our offspring?  Could it be that our ancestors understood something that many of us have lost through acquiring the habit of false worldly knowledge?  Perhaps, indeed, we may find in these miracles and morals that so insult the "modern mind" a missing dimension of the contemporary outlook, which in its elusive search for a two-dimensional "objectivity" has lost the key to much more of true wisdom than it thinks to have gained.  "Scientific objectivity" has come today virtually to a dead-end, and every kind of truth has come into question.  But this dead-end for worldly knowledge is perhaps the opening of a way to a higher knowledge, wherein truth and life are no longer divorced, where advance in true knowledge is impossible without a corresponding advance in moral and spiritual life.  Involuntarily, the converts of Orthodoxy from Western lands – and Westernized "native Orthodox" as well – have been transported back to that earlier time when the proud rationalism of pagan Rome was conquered by the true wisdom of Christianity.  Let us therefore turn back to that earlier time in order to find something of the freshness and power of Orthodoxy as it conquered the Western mind.  There we shall find also, to our great fortune, materials for a Western "Prologue" (many of them already in English) not at all inferior to that of the East, as well as keys for understanding it and entering into its spirit.

The lands of the West, from Italy to Britain, knew both the preaching of the Apostles and the deeds of martyrs; here the Christian seed was planted so firmly that the West responded immediately and enthusiastically when it first heard of the great ascetics of Egypt and the East.  St. Athanasius' Life of St. Anthony the Great was quickly translated into Latin, and the best sons and daughters of the West went to the East to learn from the great Fathers there.  Many, including Blessed Jerome and the noble Roman ladies Paula and Melania, ended their days in the Holy Land; others, such as the Presbyter Rufinus, went on pilgrimage and brought back such valuable texts as the History of the Monks of Egypt; one – St. John Cassian the Roman – learned so thoroughly the spiritual doctrine of the Egyptian Fathers that his books (the Institutes and Conferences) became the chief foundation of the authentic monastic tradition of the West.  The great seedbed of Orthodox monasticism in 5th century Gaul – Lerins – grew up entirely under the influence of the Eastern monastic tradition.

And then, even as the news of the phenomenon of Egyptian monasticism was still spreading through the West, the West produced its own ascetic miracle: St. Martin of Tours.  Even before his death in 397, his manuscript Life was being circulated in Gaul, Spain, Italy, and elsewhere in the West, revealing him as a monastic Father and wonderworker in no way inferior to the desert Fathers in the East.  From that time on the West had ascetic examples of its own to inspire its offspring, as well as able writers of their Lives, which to this day remain a chief primary source of the genuine Orthodoxy of the West.  Among many others from the 5th to the 8th centuries, one may mention: in Gual, the Eulogy of St. Honoratus, founder of Lerins, by St. Hilary, his successor as Bishop of Arles, and the Life of St. Germanus of Auxerre by Constantius of Lyons; in Italy, the Life of St. Benedict by St. Gregory the Great (Book II of the Dialogues), and the shorter Lives and incidents from the Lives of the Italian Fathers in the same work; in England, the Life of St. Cuthbert by Venerable Bede, and the Life of the great anchorite of the moors, St. Guthlac, by the Monk Felix; in Ireland the Life of St. Columba by the Monk Adamnan.*

* Easily accessible collections of such original Lives in English include: The Western Fathers (chiefly of Gaul), ed. by F.R. Hoare, Harper Torchbooks, 1965; Lives of the Saints (of England), tr. by J.F. Webb Penguin Books, 1970; Anglo-Saxon Saints and Heros, tr. by Clinton Albertson, Fordham University Press, 1967; The Ango-Saxon Missionaries in Germany, tr. by C.H. Talbot, Sheed & Ward, N.Y., 1954.

Here let us look more closely at three Western hagiographers of the 5th and 6th centuries.  Their spirit is unquestionably and powerfully Orthodox.


Sulpicius Severus (363–420) is an excellent example of the proud Roman mind conquered by Christianity.  Well educated, a successful lawyer, happily married, a writer of Latin prose (as even the critical historian Gibbon notes) in "a style not unworthy of the Augustan age" – he possessed all the characteristics needful for prosperity and success in the decadent Roman world at the turn of the 5th century.  And yet, not only was he converted to the still-new religion of Christianity, he even abandoned the world and became the disciple of a wonderworking bishop and the writer of a Life of him that astonished the West by its miracles.  Modern scholars, whether agnostic or "Christian," find him to be "one of the puzzles of history," because no biographer of his period was better qualified to write a truthful Life of a contemporary saint and no biographer of his period – we may almost say, of any period – has written a life more full of astounding prodigies." (F.R. Hoare, The Western Fathers, p. 4.)

This "puzzle" remains unsolved for modern scholars; but how simple the answer to it is for someone unprejudiced by modern opinions of what is "possible" or "impossible."  Sulpicius, both by his own experience and by the words of eyewitnesses he knew and trusted – discovered that the miracles of St. Martin were true, and he wrote of these "astounding prodigies" only because they were true.  Sulpicius himself writes in the conclusion to his Life: "I am clear in my own conscience that my motives for writing were the certainty of the facts and the love of Christ, and that I have only related what is well known, only said what is true."

We who, even in these decadent latter times, have known Archbishop John Maximovitch (†1966), a wonderworker very similar in many respects to St. Martin, have no difficulty in believing the words of Sulpicius; they ring true to our own Orthodox Christian experience.  It is only those who do not know the power of Orthodoxy in practice who find the Life of St. Martin a "puzzle."  It is quite natural, in the Christian understanding, for the virtue of a man entirely dedicated to God and living already on earth an Angelic life, to result in manifestations which astound mere earthly logic, whether these be revelations of other-worloly humility and meekness, or outright miracles.  The very word virtus in Latin signifies both "virtue" and "power," which in the Lives of saints is often "miraculous power," often translated simply "miracles."

The Orthodox tradition is by no means credulous in its acceptance of the miracles of saints.  Great care is always taken to assure that the Lives of saints contain true accounts and not fables; for it is indeed true that, in the age of "romance" that began in the Western Middle Ages just after Rome's final separation from the Church of Christ (1054), such fables were introduced into many Lives of saints, rendering all olater Latin sources especially suspect.  Orthodox hagiographers, on the other hand, have always taken as their principle the maxim that St. Demetrius of Rostov placed on the first page of his Lives: MAY I TELL NO LIE ABOUT A SAINT.  This is also why, in the Orthodox Church, great care is taken to transmit the original sources that tell of the saints: those Lives which are based on the author's immediate experience and the testimony of witnesses known to him personally.  Thus the freshness and marvel of one who personally knew the saint is preserved, and there is transmitted to us directly, "between the lines" as it were, the authentic "tone" of a holy life.

Several years after the death of St. Martin, Sulpicius Severus composed two (sometimes divided into three) "Dialogues" on St. Martin.*

* English translation, together with the Life of St. Martin and Sulpicius' Letters about the Saint, in Hoare, The Western Fathers.

This work, again, is greatly criticized by rational scholars, not merely for its miracles, but even more for its "anecdotal" character.  One critic writes of it that by it "Sulpicius fixed for centuries a hagiographical tradition that rates the anecdotes of wonderworking above spiritual portraiture" (Hoare, The Western Fathers, p. 7).  For Orthodox Christians precisely this "anecdotal" character is a source of immediate delight and makes the Dialogues of Sulpicius very close in spirit to the Prologue.  Rationalist scholars are offended by these "anecdotes" because they have lost the whole picture into which these fragments fit.  Orthodox Christians by no means see in such "anecdotes" the essence of a saint's life and character; but of course we take delight in the miracles of our saints and do not weary of them, knowing that in these true stories we can already see the breaking into this world of the entirely different laws of the spiritual, heavenly world, which at the end of time will entirely triumph over the laws of this fallen world.  For us every "anecdote" that breathes the spirit of true Christianity in practice is a part of that one Christian life, the model for our own feeble struggle for salvation.

The Dialogues of Sulpicius are still somewhat "sophisticated" and therefore not as offensive to rationalist critics as later Orthodox works in the West.  Sulpicius was trying to communicate to the educated Romans of his day the wonders of the new Christian life and frequently has in mind the weakness of his readers – whether their difficulty in believing some of his accounts, or their incapacity to fast like the ascetics of the East.  Later, the materials for the Orthodox "Prologue" in the West become more "childlike" – not, primarily, because the level of education has decreased, but because Christianity has entered more deeply into the heart of the men of the West.  Let us follow this development to see if we ourselves can learn from this childlikeness.


The Dialogues of Sulpicius (400 A.D.) are an apologetic and missionary work, intended to convince men of the truth and power of Christianity, its saints, its miracles, its monastic life.  The Dialogues of St. Gregory the Great, Pope or Rome, two centuries later (593) are a recalling to spiritual life in a West already Christianized.  St. Gregory's situation, then, is also that of us today; for all but the freshest convert have experienced the waning of Christian zeal and the awareness of the need to renourish one's spiritual faculties.

The holy hierarch begins his Dialogues in a melancholy frame of mind: "My unhappy soul, weighed down by worldly affairs, calls now to mind in what state it was when I lived in my monastery, and how then it was superior to all earthly matters, far above everything transitory and corruptible, how it did usually think upon nothing but heavenly things."  He is further saddened – but also inspired and roused to zeal – "by remembering the lives of certain notable men, who with their whole soul did utterly forsake and abandon this evil world... very many of whom, in a contemplative and retired kind of life, greatly pleased God."  He proceeds to "report only those things which I myself have understood by the relation of virtuous and credible persons, or else learned by myself, concerning the life and miracles of perfect and holy men."  Thus, the Dialogues too are one of those original sources so important for Orthodox Christians.  There follow the four books of the Dialogues, which are so much in the genuine Orthodox spirit that it is no wonder that they later became one of the chief sources for the incidents of the Prologue in the East, being very early translated into Greek, and earned for St. Gregory the name by which he is known to this day in the Orthodox Church: THE DIALOGIST.

Two of the books are devoted to the saints of Italy who lived before St. Gregory – sometimes their Lives, but more often just incidents from their lives which are capable of arousing piety and zeal.  The Second Book, however, is devoted entirely to one saint who inspired St. Gregory in Italy much as St. Martin inspired Sulpicius in Gaul: St. Benedict (†543), a great Holy Father of Western monasticism.  This Book constitutes the earliest Life of this great Orthodox saint, who has long had his place – just like St. Gregory himself (March 12) – in the Orthodox Calendars of the East (March 14).

The first three books of the Dialogues of St. Gregory are, quite frankly, "miracle stories," and the great hierarch makes no apology for handing them down: these are the material of Christian hope and inspiration, and so deeply had the West become Orthodox at this time that it received them eagerly.  But the Fourth Book of the Dialogues is the crowning insult to the modern rationalist: these he would surely dismiss as "ghost stories."  The Fourth Book contains accounts – just as true and trustworthy as the "miracle stories" – which demonstrate the truth of life after death.  There are profitable tales of the departure of men's souls, the state of souls in heaven and hell, the return of souls to their bodies after death, various apparitions of souls after death, and the like.  Very similar tales may be found in a superb Orthodox book in England over a century later: the Ecclesiastical History of the English People, by Venerable Bede (Book V, chapters 12-14).

It must be said that the graduates of the modernist Orthodox seminaries, and "sophisticated" Orthodox today in general, find this part of ancient Christian literature the most difficult to accept.  A few years ago a book of similar inspiration appeared in English: Eternal Mysteries Beyond the Grave, subtitled "Orthodox Teachings on the Existence of God, the Immortality of the Soul and Life Beyond the Grave" (Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, N.Y., 1968).  This work, the fruit of the missionary fervor of Archimandrite Panteleimon of Jordanville, consists of excerpts from the Dialogues of St. Gregory, and Lives of Saints, and similar standard Orthodox works, as well as Russian religious books and periodicals of the 19th century which give more recent incidents in the same spirit, together with excellent introductions to these excerpts, simple and straightforward and with just the right moral and pious tone so lacking in most Orthodox writings today.  The book, while not an original source like St. Gregory's Dialogues, is of great value for Orthodox Christians.  Anyone who has tried to interest children in Orthodox reading is well aware that this book, as perhaps no other book that now exists in English, is absolutely fascinating to children; a child of ten of twelve, if he first hears some of the profitable tales in it being read aloud at a family gathering, will later quite likely take the book himself and literally devour it, so interesting is it – not merely because the tales are "exciting" and quite capable of competing with the banal ghost stories of our day, but even more because he knows that these stories are true and teach the truths of our Orthodox Faith.  How much energy "Orthodox educators" waste trying to arouse the interest of children in such inappropriate and soul-corrupting materials as cartoons and coloring books – while such a genuinely fascinating and authentic Orthodox book they overlook or disdain.  Why is this?  The answer to this question may clear away some of the difficulties that stand in the way of making maximum use of genuine Orthodox literature today.

In the 19th century Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov, a great Orthodox Father of recent times, faced a similar problem when he tried to teach the Orthodox doctrine of heaven and hell, good and evil spirits, and life after death, to the Orthodox people of his time.  Many "sophisticated" Christians objected, precisely because their own ideas of these realities were based on Roman Catholic and Protestant, not Orthodox ideas; and so Bishop Ignatius devoted one entire volume of his collected works (v. 3) to this question, giving both the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic teaching.  He found that the Orthodox doctrine on all these questions – even though it does not, of course, tell us everything about them – is quite precise in what it teaches, based on Patristic writings such as the Dialogues of St. Gregory; while Roman Catholicism, under the influence especially of modern philosophy from Descartes onwards, has come to teach a doctrine in which spiritual realities become increasingly vague, corresponding to the ever greater preoccupation of modern men with material things.  Most Orthodox Christians today have picked up this modernist-Papist teaching "in the air" of the contemporary world, and therefore if we do not consciously strive to discover the truth, we will be embarrasses when presented with the Orthodox teaching which is so definite, especially about the experiences of the soul after death.  If we believe this teaching, after all, we shall certainly be considered "naive" and "simple" even by other believers, let alone by unbelievers.  Some in their embarrassment may come to think that these Orthodox teachings, which are so foreign to what "everybody thinks" nowadays, are themselves somehow suspect, and they can point to Roman Catholics who claim that the Fourth Book of St. Gregory's Dialogues teaches the Latin doctrine of Purgatory.  Fortunately, however, this accusation has already been raised and answered for us.  Roman Catholic scholars proclaimed this very thing at the false council of Florence in 1439, and St. Mark of Ephesus, the champion of Orthodoxy, gave the authoritative Orthodox answer: the teaching of St. Gregory in his Dialogues is Orthodox, and in fact he clearly teaches against Purgatory.*

* St. Mark of Ephesus, "First Homily on Purgatorial Fire (Refutation of the Latin Chapters)," ch. 9; "Second Homily on Purgatorial Fire," ch. 23:9.

The Dialogues of St. Gregory the Great, as well as Eternal Mysteries Beyond the Grave, is excellent medicine for today's over-sophisticated Orthodox Christians.  They can be a touchstone for us: if, reading them, we find them "naive," "too realistic," or otherwise distasteful, we can know that we are still too "sophisticated," not childlike and simple enough in our Orthodoxy.  If we are converts, we can know that we have not yet entered enough into the genuine spirit of Orthodoxy; if we are "native Orthodox," we can know that our Orthodoxy has been corrupted by false modern Roman Catholic ideas.  We will have to struggle harder to approach such basic Orthodox literature like children, without all our supposed "wisdom."  Those who are accustomed to reading the Orthodox literature of Christian antiquity have no difficulty with such books.


No writer in Latin in the Orthodox West was more devoted to the saints of Christ's Church nor more prolific in his praises of them than St. Gregory, Bishop of Tours (539-594).  Although he is chiefly known today for his History of the Franks, he is more important to Orthodox Christians for his  eight Books of Miracles, which are usually called his "minor works."  In this 6th-century writer of Gaul there breathes the very spirit of the Orthodox East and the Prologue.  Being especially under the influence of St. Martin, his own predecessor in the See of Tours, from whom he received miraculous healings, he devoted four of the eight books of this work to The Miracles (or rather, Virtues) of Blessed Martin the Bishop.  But he also took all the saints as his concern, writing one book on The Glory of the Blessed Martyrs, another on The Passion and Miracles of St. Julian the Martyr, another on The Life of the Fathers, and a final one on The Glory of the Confessors.  Taken together, these books – which deal mostly with the saints of Gaul – constitute the largest hagiographical material on the Orthodox saints of any land in antiquity.  His aim in writing is moral and didactic, and he consciously turns his back on pagan learning.  He himself writes: "We ought to pursue, to write, to speak that which edifies the Church of God, and by sacred teaching enriches needy minds by the knowledge of perfect faith.  For we ought not to recall the lying stories or to follow the wisdom of the philosophers which is hostile to God, lest we fall under the judgment of eternal death by the decision of the Lord... I do not recall in my work the flight of Saturn, the wrath of juno, the adulteries of Jupiter... Having glanced at all these events built on sand and soon to perish, we return rather to divine and evangelical miracles" (The Glory of the Blessed Martyrs, Preface).

"Miracles," indeed, are the subject matter as well as the title of these books.  If rationalistic scholars are offended at the many miracles in the History of the Franks, they are absolutely scandalized by the Books of Miracles, which abound in them.  But the reason why he writes of them, again, is because they are true, and he is careful to point out that he writes only what he knows from personal experience (having known many of the saints himself, and witnessed many miracles) or from the testimony of reliable people.  Thus, these books also are invaluable original sources of Christianity in practice.

Although St. Gregory is known in the East and mentioned in Orthodox Patrologies,* his writings were not translated into Greek or Slavonic.  

* For example, in the Patrology of Archbishop Philaret of Chernigov, St. Petersburg, 1882, vol. 3, section 191.

His concern was too much with the West, and the East already had numerous collections on Eastern saints in exactly the same spirit.*

* One of them, The History of the Lovers of God by Blessed Theodoret (5th century) – a collection of Lives of the Syrian Fathers – is an exact parallel to St. Gregory's Life of the Fathers.

More surprising, however, is it that the Books of Miracles (save for a few excerpts) has never been translated into English.  This can only be a testimony to the rationalist superstition that has prevailed in the West in modern times, and also to the dying out of interest in the Orthodox saints of the West which has been continuing for many centuries now.  Another reason why he has been disdained in the West is that his language falls short of the standards of classical Latin.  He himself recognizes this and states that he undertook his Books of Miracles only at the command of the Lord in visions.  In one dream, when protesting to his mother his lack of skill in writing, he received from her this answer: "Do you not know that on account of the ignorance of our people the way you can speak is considered more intelligible?  So do not hesitate or delay doing this, because it will be a charge against you if you pass over these deeds in silence" (The Miracles of Blessed Martin the Bishop, Preface to the First Book).  Even Blessed Augustine, as is well known, was reproached for his shortcomings in classical Latin, and he gave sufficient reply, which will do for an answer to the detractors of St. Gregory's Latin also: "It is better that the grammarians reproach us than that the people not understand us."

Archbishop John Maximovitch of blessed memory (St. John S&SF) gave as his testament to the Orthodox Christians of the West his love for the saints of Western lands.  In fulfillment of this testament we now offer, as a separate book, the first English translation of the whole of the seventh of St. Gregory's Book of Miracles – THE LIFE OF THE FATHERS.  No apology is necessary for presenting these twenty chapters on the monastic saints of Gaul in the 5th and 6th centuries.  For the Orthodox Christian they are fascinating reading; the edifying homily that precedes each Life is most instructive for our spiritual struggle today; the spirit of the book is entirely Orthodox, and the Orthodox practices described in it have remained the inheritance of Orthodox Christians (but not of Roman Catholics) today, including the veneration of the "icons of saints" (the Latin text has iconicas instead of the more to be expected imagines) in chapter 12; and some of the incidents, just like the stories of the desert Fathers, have precise relevance for our problems today – for example, the story of the "charismatic" deacon who "healed in the name of Jesus" until St. Friardus exposed him as being in satanic deception (ch. 10).

It is our heartfelt wish that this book will take its place, together with the Dialogues of St. Gregory the Great, the Lausiac History of Palladius, and other BASIC ORTHODOX SOURCE-BOOKS, as part of the daily reading of those who are struggling for their salvation on the narrow Orthodox path. May it be read silently; may it be read aloud; may it become, like the other great books of Christian antiquity, a source of piety and the true spirit of Orthodoxy which is everywhere being overpowered today by the spirit of the world. May it help us in the all-important struggle to become and remain conscious Orthodox Christians, knowing what is the path of salvation, what is the savor of true Christianity, and how far we fall short of these. May it be for us a beginning, a prologue, of true Christianity in practice!

The 20th century Orthodox Christian will find little that is strange in the Christianity of 6th century Gaul; in fact, if he himself has entered deeply into the piety and spirit of Orthodoxy as it has come down even to our days, he will find himself very much at home in the Christian world of St. Gregory of Tours. The externals of Christian worship – church structures and decoration, iconography, vestments, services – after centuries of development, had attained essentially the form they retain today in the Orthodox Church. In the West, especially after the final Schism of the Church of Rome in 1054, all these things changed. The more tradition-minded East, by the very fact that it has changed so little over the centuries even in outward forms, is naturally much closer to the early Christian West than is Catholic-Protestant West of recent centuries, which had departed far from its Orthodox roots even before the present-day “post-Christian” era arrived.

Some historians of this period, such as O.M. Dalton in the Introduction to his translation of St. Gregory's History of the Franks (Oxford, 1927, two volumes), find much in Christian Gaul that is “Eastern” in form. This observation is true as far as it goes, but it is made from a modern western perspective that is not quite precise. A more precise formulation of this observation would be the following:

In the 6th century there was one common Christianity, identical in dogma and spirit in East and West, with some differences in form which, at this early period, were no more than minor and incidental. The whole Church met together in councils, both before and after this century, to decide disputed dogmatic questions and confess the one true Faith. There were numerous pilgrims and travelers, especially “Westerners” going to the east, but also “easterners” going to the West, and they did not find each other strangers, or the Christian faith or piety or customs of the distant land alien to what they knew at home. The local differences amount to no more than exist today between the Orthodox Christians of Russia and Greece. 

The estrangement between East and West belongs to future centuries. It becomes painfully manifest (although there were signs of it before this) only with the age of the Crusades (1096 and later), and the reason for it is to be found in a striking spiritual, psychological and cultural change which occurred in the West precisely at the time of the Schism. Concerning this a noted Roman scholar, Yves Congar, has perceptively remarked: “A Christian of the fourth or fifth century would have felt less bewildered by the forms of piety current in the 11th century than would his counterpart of the 11th century in the forms of the 12th. The great break occurred in the transition period from the one to the other century. This change took place only in the West where, sometime between the end of the 11th and the end of the 12th century, everything somehow was transformed. This profound alteration of view did not take place in the East, where, in some respects, Christian matters are still today what they were then – and what they were in the West before the end of the 11th century.” (Yves Congar, O.P., After Nine Hundred Years, Fordham University Press, 1959, p. 39, where he is actually paraphrasing Dom A. Wilmart.)

One might cite numerous manifestations of this remarkable change in the West: the beginnings of Scholasticism or the academic-analytical approach to knowledge as opposed to the traditional-synthetic approach of Orthodoxy; the beginning of the “age of romance,” when fables and legends were introduced into Christian texts; the new naturalism in art (Giotto) which destroyed iconography; the new “personal: concept of sanctity (Francis of Assisi), unacceptable to Orthodoxy, which gave rise to later Western “mysticism” and eventually to the innumerable sects and pseudo-religious movements of modern times; and so forth. The cause of this change is something that cannot be evident to a Roman Catholic scholar: it is the loss of grace which follows on the separation from the Church of Christ. And which puts one at the mercy of the “spirit of the times” and of purely logical and human ways of life and thought. When the Crusaders sacked and desecrated Constantinople in 1204 (an act unthinkable in earlier centuries for the Christian West), they only revealed that they had become total strangers to Orthodoxy, and therefore to the Eastern Christians, and that they had irretrievably lost what their own ancestors in 6th century Gaul had preserved as the apple of their eye: the unbroken tradition of true Christianity.  


Holy Ælfred the Great, King of England, South Patron, pray for us sinners at the Souð!

Anathema to the Union!

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