Why read the lives of the saints?
I read in a secular article one time that people who are hard-working, beginner-stage entrepreneurs are obsessed with reading the biographies of famous successful people. Why is that? Because they obtain an excessive amount of inspiration and education from these people who have made unbelievable amounts of effort to progress in their careers.
They carefully study their lives to learn from their struggles, failures, perseverance, sources of motivation and bravery. The same concept applies in our spiritual life – in the very regular and diligent study of the lives of the saints. We absolutely need to regularly read the lives of the saints. There is no question about it (unless – read point 8).
Christ says in the sermon of the mount, “You shall be perfect just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt 5:48). Tell me … how will we ever know what perfection looks like without the comprehensive and regular study of those who are perfect? How will we know how to struggle in various virtues? What real prayer looks like? What a holy life means? What purity, sanctity, spiritual enlightenment, theosis and godliness are? How grace can really transform our souls?
Reading the lives of the saints (LOTS) is basically essential for salvation. If someone can and doesn’t, they have no excuse at their death beds. I can reference many sources that say the same thing, but I will write more about this in the future.
Plan to read…
Whenever you desire to begin some sort of good habit in life, the best way to do it is to have a plan to develop a simple routine. If you are going to read the LOTS frequently, some ideal practical tips I would suggest are:
- Length? Try to read for 10 – 15 mins daily. Set a timer for it on your watch so you know how much time is going by.
- When? Read perhaps during lunch (that works for me), during dinner, or after dinner. Also perhaps on one’s daily commute to work if you use a train or a bus. Many zealous spiritual-seekers do that and don’t dare to squander such a valuable opportunity.
Tips on how you should read it
- Quality > quantity: Don’t worry about finishing from one source to another. Rather focus incessantly upon absorbing the spiritual fruits and education hidden away in each life, as well as the joy it contains. Try to deeply digest and meditatively consume each resource, extracting out all the possible benefits of each one. Sometimes it can take me more than a week to finish a particular article, because I just want it’s contents to thoroughly permeate my thoughts and govern my way of living.
- Slowly, carefully, reflectively: whenever I read anything good, at first I read it like that. And then after 2 days I would read the same part again. This applies space-out memorization techniques and helps install what I read into my long-term memory. In essence, I am referring to the deep “studying” of the LOTS and not just “reading” them.
- Use evernote: I use this marvelous program for reading whereupon I can save articles from the internet using evernote web clipper and I then carefully highlight what I read using three highlighting levels. I can say without exaggeration that using evernote to absorb spiritual information has doubled or tripled the rate of my spiritual growth. I will certainly write more about it later.
- Focused reading: Don’t focus on more than 2-3 resources at a time if you begin to get bored from just one source. Doing so causes one to insufficiently digest a source, and to lethargically make progess. Focused reading produces faster and more effective learning.
“Reading the lives of the saints is basically essential for salvation.”
Before you jump into any of the LOTS and resources I have here, I strongly suggest you first carefully read through this article: “The place of Lives of Saints in the Spiritual life“. This is the best article I’ve ever read about the LOTS. Hieromonk Damascene covers the topic very thoroughly and in a very understandable and simple language. It is incredibly useful and safer to read this before you read any lives of the saints.