Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Theophan the Recluse


During his last years, while living as a hermit, Merton was reading “The Art of Prayer”, a compilation of instructions on the preconditions of “praying with one’s heart” by Eastern Orthodox authorities. He highlighted passages liberally, and made many notes in the margins. Since Merton was no longer a novice master, his intense reading of these instructions was primarily for the enrichment of his own prayer life in solitude.

Jonathan Montaldo collected the notes and passages – the “marginalia” - that Merton made in his 1966 British edition of the book. Montaldo’s research shows that Merton was mainly interested in the sayings of Theophan the Recluse, a 19th century Russian saint who is especially known for his instructive writing on prayer.

I got an email today alerting me to a missive from the Vatican urging tourists to forego energy intensive vacations in the interest of a greener planet.

I immediately thought of the following saying of Theophan the Recluse, as noted in Merton’s marginalia:

“For someone who has not yet found the way to enter within himself, pilgrimages to holy places are a help. But for him who has found it they are a dissipation of energy, for they force him to come out from the innermost part of himself. IT IS TIME FOR YOU NOW TO LEARN MORE PERFECTLY HOW TO REMAIN WITHIN. YOU SHOULD ABANDON YOUR EXTERNAL PLANS.”

[Underline and capitalization are Merton's.]

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