Literature Outside the Church: Is it trustworthy foood for the soul?

Literature outside the Church: Is it trustworthy food for the soul?
(a continuation)

In this continuation on the subject of reading literature outside the Church I will offer an excerpt of a letter of St. Paisius Velichkovsky to a monk named Theophylact. A question was posed about reading questionable books that are printed and distributed by schismatics. He is approaching this issue from another aspect which supplements those discriminating words of St. Ignatius Brianchaninov. So, in his reply, St. Paisius points out:

“In a book on the profession if the Orthodox faith, there is a question asking what is the fifth commandment of the Church. The answer is that those who are unlearned in the Holy Scriptures and other necessary fields should not read heretical books or listen to the harmful teachings of heretics, or even speak or have dealings with them, as the psalm-singer prophet says: ‘Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners’ (Ps. 1:1). Elsewhere the Holy Scripture says: ‘As for a man who is factious, after admonishing him once or twice, have nothing more to do with him’ (Titus 3:10). Watch carefully and note that the Divine Church does not command everyone not to hold discussions with heretics, but only those who are unlearned in the Holy Scriptures and the various fields of learning. It is very easy for the latter, as they read heretical books and get acquainted with their teachings, or carelessly enter into conversations with heretics, to succumb to their ungodly and perverse sophistry. In the eyes of ignorant people, heretical teaching often appears to be truthful, while actually being unquestionably false. Just as Satan, being darkness, becomes transformed into a radiant angel, so do heretical teachings, being darkness and totally alienated from the light of God’s Truth, often appear to people who are unlearned in the Holy Scriptures and various fields to be somewhat similar to the truth. This is why the Church forbids those who are unlearned in the Holy Scriptures and the other fields to read heretical books and to have discussions with heretics, so that they will not, do to their unsophistication, be harmed by their teachings. Those who have studied the Holy Scriptures and the other fields are exempt from this commandment. Such are the Holy Fathers, the pastors, and the teachers of the Church. Not only were they instructed to perfection in the Holy Scriptures by the grace of God, but they also mastered the other fields of knowledge, surpassing in worldly wisdom not only their instructors, but also all the ancient philosophers. These God-bearing Fathers of our’s saw how various heretics, proud of their worldly wisdom, would turn the Divine Scriptures into a weapon of their philosophy, interpreting them in an erroneous and perverted sense through philosophical proofs and bringing constant strife into the Church of Christ through their teachings. Thus the Fathers would read their false heretical teachings, and subordinating their philosophies to the Divine Scriptures in every respect, would perceive the heretic’s errors clearer than the sun, and through the invincible double weapon, i.e., theology and philosophical proof, would rend asunder all their heretical stratagems as a spider web and would defend God’s Church by the word of truth from all heretical attacks. For philosophy, too, if used correctly, as the Holy and Apostolic Church teaches us, corresponds to God’s truth to such an extent that it cannot be surpassed by any heretical verbal stratagems. If used contrary to the true sense of the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Church, as is done by the heretics, it becomes opposed to God’s truth, and since it upholds lies, it gets vanquished by truthful evidence. Thus, one who starts reading schismatic books must lack neither theological knowledge nor worldly learning. For one who does not have the appropriate knowledge, it is better to obey God and the Church commandment which says: ’Do not read heretical books and do not take part in discussions with heretics.’” (Starets Paisii Velichkovskii by Sergii Chetverikov, Norland Publishing Company, Belmont, Mass. 1980, pp. 253-5)

Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, may our Lord Jesus Christ keep us on a level path, turning neither to the right, nor to the left. Amen!

Literature Outside the Church: Is it trustworthy food for the soul?

Literature outside the Church: Is it trustworthy food for the soul?

As I still have a little wait for the translation of the life of Heiromonk Ioan, the founder of Sarov Hermitage Monastery, I have decided to again take a tangent to the above mentioned subject regarding literature outside of the Orthodox Church. So then, what should we, as Orthodox Christians do about literature outside the Church? Is it advisable to read literature outside the Church? There is certainly much properly moral and ethical literature both by secular and religious writers outside the Church. In the Church we also find clergy, professors, and well educated laity who want to express themselves in writing. So who can we trust? Without making a direct answer myself, I will point my readers to some comments from St. Ignatius Brianchannov.

In mid-nineteenth century Russia, there were a number of pious Orthodox writers among the educated. One of them, Nikolai Gogol, wrote a book entitled, Selected Excerpts from Correspondence with Friends, which engendered heated debate. Here St. Ignatius Branchaninov1 offers a review of this book. This review was handwritten by the Elder, St. Macarius of Optina, and found in a copy of Gogol’s book in the Optina Monastery library. The Elder St. Joseph of Optina noted that St. Macarius shared St. Ignatius’ view. St. Ignatius writes:

“It is evident that this man has turned to God with a fervent heart. For religion, however. This is not enough. If it is to become a true light for the individual per se and if it is to issue genuine light from him to his neighbor, it requires definitiveness [or preciseness, or to be kept within certain boundaries]. This definitiveness consists in precise cognition of truth, in separation of it from all that is false, from all that only seems true. The Saviour Himself said this: ‘The truth shall set you free’ (Jn. 8: 32). Elsewhere in the Holy Scripture it is written: ‘Thy word is truth’ (Jn. 17: 17). For this reason anyone who wishes to acquire definitiveness studies the Gospel thoroughly and directs his thoughts and emotions in keeping with the Lord’s teaching. Then he can define in himself correct and beneficial thoughts and emotions. Then a person enters into purity, as the Lord after the Last Supper told His disciples, who had already become educated with the teaching of truth: ‘Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you’ (Jn. 15:3). However, purity alone is insufficient for a person: he needs revitalization, inspiration. Thus, for a lamp to give light it is not enough to wash the glass; the candle inside it has to be lit as well. The Lord did likewise with His disciples. Having cleansed them with truth, He brought them to life with His Spirit, and they became light for men. Before they received the Holy Spirit they were incapable of teaching humanity, even though they were pure. This course must be effected with the Christian in actuality, and not nominally: first enlightenment with truth, then enlightenment with the Spirit. Admittedly, a person has in-born inspiration which is more or less developed and proceeds from the actions of the emotions of the heart. Truth negates this inspiration as confused and destroys it so that when the Spirit comes He may resurrect it in a renewed state. If, however, he is guided by his inspiration before he is cleansed with the truth, he will radiate from himself to others a confused and deceptive light instead of a pure one because there lies in his heart not simple good but good mixed more or less with evil. Let everyone look at himself and check my words with the experience of his heart: they are very precise and just, based as they are on nature itself. If these principles are applied to Golgol’s book, it can be said that he irradiated from himself both light and darkness. His religious notions have not been defined; they move in the direction of the heartfelt, the unclear, the instinctive, the emotional, but not the spiritual. Since Golgol is a writer, and in a writer ‘out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh’ (Mt. 12:34), or the composition is a definite confession of the composer, but one which is not understood by him and understood only by a Christian who has been elevated by the Gospel so that in an abstract land of thoughts and emotions he distinguishes between light and darkness in it, Golgol’s book cannot be accepted as pure words of truth either. There is a mixture here. It is preferable that this person in whom self-sacrifice is evident moor in the harbour of truth, where the beginning of all blessings is. For this reason I advise all my friends regarding religion to engage exclusively in reading the Holy Fathers, who acquired cleansing and enlightenment, as well as the apostles, and only then wrote their books from which shines pure truth and which convey to the reader the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Outside of this path, which initially is narrow and sorrowful for the heart and mind, there is everywhere darkness, there is everywhere rapids and abyss. Amen.”

1. St.Ignatius was from the nobility who became a monk, later abbot and then bishop. He was a prolific writer.
2. This excerpt and information in this article is taken from The Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, Volume 6, 1988 with very minor editing.