“Persist in and honour reading, if possible more than prayer. Reading is the spring of intelligent prayer For, as I had previously told you, reading for a good purpose will show you how to walk on the virtuous path. Whoever reads the books to understand the path of virtue, this path will be opened before him. (St Kyrillos VI)
1) Online articles
These are articles that I’ve personally read and much benefited from. They don’t include lives of the saints as they are far too important and are in my lives of the saints collection instead. Read these spiritual literature, begin deep spiritual growth, Enjoy!
- The Rule for Attending to Oneself: Written for a Certain Layman As a Result of His Desire To Live A Vigilant Life In The World
Learning how to pray
Because prayer needs much much more education that what we think: Your guest was wrong in her reasoning. He who does not have prayer of the heart has no prayer, for only prayer of the heart is true prayer, acceptable and pleasing to God. It should form the soul both of private prayer and of church prayer; as soon as this is lost, one has only the semblance of prayer but not the essence.” (St Theophan)
If one wants to learn how to TRULY pray for 95% of Orthodox Christians do not truly pray even if they pray, they need not go further than two authors whose names you mustn’t forget:
St Theophan the recluse
St Ignatius Brianchanninov
These two are of some of the most profound Orthodox spiritual writers of modern times not only for prayer, but for general Orthodox spirituality and whose works (books and online articles) I recommend with unfailing enthusiasm. I’ll also add Fr Seraphim Rose to that list.
However some of their works might not be that interesting for e.g. dogmatic things. so I personally stick very closely to practical spirituality above all.
Here are some good articles to start you off…
- The letters of St Theophan the recluse on prayer
- Saint Theophan the Recluse – Homily 1 Beginning to Pray: find the other 3 on the page.
- St Theophan the Recluse on prayer
- Memorising the psalms (St Theophan the Recluse)
- On prayer (Metropolitan Hilarion): quite long, but looks extremely detailed and spiritually nourishing.
- Marriage: The Great Sacrament: by Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra of Mount Athos. I’ve read some of this, the writing and content is amazing! The webmaster left a note and said, “Many Orthodox Christians with whom I have spoken, including several clergy and nuns, consider this to be the best statement on marriage they’ve ever read.”
- The Orthodox Christian marriage: by Fr Alexey young. I’ve read part of this before and found it be quite useful.
- What about television?; by Fr Alexey young.
“It may be an exaggeration to say that a television set is the doorway to hell (as it is portrayed in the movie), but not much; it is certainly a medium which is presently filling the minds of children and adults with all sorts of vile, immoral, banal, and otherwise corrupt and corrupting ideas and attitudes which do the work of the devil as surely as if it were the Evil One himself” (Fr Alexey Young).
“If the sounds of music evoke in you calm, pure, holy sentiments-I is t e n to them and nourish your soul; if, on the other hand, they awake passions in you, stop listening and turn away from both the sound and spirit of this music” (St John of Kronstadt).
- Ch. 92: Forming young souls: taken from “The life and teachings of Fr Seraphim Rose” by Hieromonk Damascene.
“In general, the person who is well acquainted with the best products of secular culture-which in the West almost always have definite religious and Christian overtones-has a much better chance of leading a normal, fruitful Orthodox life than someone who knows only the popular culture of today. One who is converted to Orthodoxy straight from ‘rock’ culture, and in general anyone who thinks he can combine Orthodoxy with that kind of culture-has much suffering to go through and a difficult road in life before he can become a truly serious Orthodox Christian who is capable of handing on his faith to others. Without this suffering, without this awareness, Orthodox parents will raise their children to be devoured by the contemporary world. The world’s best culture, properly received, refines and develops the soul; today’s popular culture cripples and deforms the soul and hinders it from having a full and normal response to the message of Orthodoxy.
“Before coming to the 1981 Pilgrimage, I had listened almost exclusively to pop and rock music. My first real exposure to classical music came at the monastery. The fathers explained how rock music is (generally speaking) music of the body; the best classical music is music of the soul; and the music of the Church is the music of the spirit (or higher part of the soul). In order to lead ourselves to the realm of the spirit, we have to rise above the fleshly and prepare the ground of our souls. Presented in this context, it made sense to me why one would listen to classical rather than rock music. I remember that when Fr. Herman played Mozart’s 24th Piano Concerto for us, it really moved me in my soul. Something deep inside me responded to it a part of me I had hardly known existed.
- Various extracts from “The life and teachings of Fr Seraphim Rose” by Hieromonk Damascene.
AFTER his conversion, Eugene continued to listen to classical music, using it as a means of refining and elevating the soul. “From music,” he said, paraphrasing Confucius, “you can tell what the people are thinking. Listen to their music and you can tell whether they are corrupt people or virtuous people.”
The music of the Church services was an integral part of Fr. Seraphim’s spiritual life. According to the Holy Fathers, music is the form of communication closest to the soul, and thus the first thing that the soul perceives upon entering Paradise. The most spiritual music, of course, is that of the Church. As Fr. Herman told the brothers, “The most refined classical music leads the soul to prayer, but the music of the Church is the music of prayer itself.” It was for this reason that Fr. Seraphim did not seek to listen to classical music during his years as a monk, even though this music had once had such a profound formative influence in leading him to God. In his first years at the skete he listened to classical music not at all. It was only later, when the children and young monastic aspirants came, that classical music tapes were played in order to refine the souls of the younger generation, many of whom had been corrupted by the carnal rhythms of contemporary cacophony.
The importance of spiritual reading
- The place of lives of Saints in the spiritual life: this is exceedingly well written.
- The importance of spiritual reading (St Kyrillos VI)
- The importance of spiritual reading: different to the above.
- Pornography: The iconograpy of the devil
- Position on pornography
- Understanding the Effects of Pornography on Children | Prevent Child Abuse America
The Spiritual Father
SOURCES of quality articles
2) Recommended books
To be honest, I actually haven’t read much spiritual books except for lives of the saints. So I don’t feel like I am in a position to recommend books to others. I thrive and live off online resources as I have an excellent computer program to help me deeply digest them. There are probably 1000s of great books out there, but they are not included here because I probably haven’t read them.
I honestly believe that without reading spiritual books in 99% of cases that means that person has absolutely 0 idea about Orthodox spirituality, about struggle, about the importance of the lives of the saints, the role of suffering in the Christian life, etc. Because of this I will never cease to encourage others to read the holy books.
Given this, I will be very saddened to hear that people are turned off from spiritual reading. So here are a few tips:
- Don’t think you need to read every section of a book or even finish it. Some books have really good parts and are others are just really boring, explains about unnecessary detail or are repetitive. For example the miracles of the saints such as Pope Kyrillos miracle books are very repetitive.And as someone once indicated to me, she did not enjoy reading about miracles because they are not that edifying and don’t provide detailed relevant instructions for your spiritual growth. So if you read a life of a saint, feel free to pass over the repetitive miracles. I found the miracles section in the book of St John Maximovitch also not that edifying.
This is why I like reading online articles instead of books. They get more quickly to the point without giving tonnes of detail or repeating things.
- If you’re Coptic, please forgive the church for its publications of books with horrible translations or just really vague details. Don’t read those. Spiritual material isn’t so insignificant that someone should carelessly translate, not thinking that the reader might get turned off from spiritual reading altogether and dislike it rather than being greatly edified.Trust me, there are really GOOD books out there. Just find the proper ones and ask friends who are deep spiritual readers. This is why Coptic people must absolutely turn to eastern orthodox sources for they have the most profound translations as if you are buying a popular school textbook.
- When someone tells you to read the lives of the saints, do NOT think this means the synaxarium. Oh no the synaxarium is horrible. A coptic monk even said that it was inaccurate and had insufficient details. And not to mention that it has mainly only about saints that lived > 1000 years ago. As if Christianity is dead in the 21st century, as if we don’t have saints or people today who struggled successfully over many years and reaped the rewards of it. No this is a wrong way of thinking. There are probably over 1000s of modern-day saints and if you can read arabic and find the right books or even the right facebook pages, you’ll see this as true.
- Other tips are here
- The Arena (St Ignatius Brianchanninov): The Arena is a particularly notable one. I know someone whose spiritual life took off from this book. I’ve read parts of it, it is extremely good. Do not be deceived into thinking this book is only for monastic novices as some people say even though it was written for them. No. This book contains sound foundations for a true and deep Orthodox spiritual life necessary for all Orthodox Christians.
- Thoughts for each day of the Year (St Theophan the Recluse): I’ve read parts of these on the internet. They look superb. Although other parts looked not that useful.
Lives of the saints
- All the books of Tamav Erini: there are currently 6 translated in english and 12 in arabic. To be honest, these books are a must read for all Coptic Christians! Really no excuses. You will read these books and be wowed at every page at the level of spiritual struggle and miraculous events that occurs at St Abu-Seifein convent in old Cairo. I am pretty certain these things happen even today!One lukewarm youth from abroad read her books and was transformed by them (read about this here). Thus she began praying and fasting, stopped listening to foul music and reconciled with people she was on ill terms with. Additionally, Tamav Erini’s books are probably the best english books ever translated about a coptic saint, even more than Pope Kyrillos’ books.
How to find them?
- You can probably find at least 2 of them in your local Coptic church.
- If you live in Sydney, shopping at St Abu-Seifein church, the monastery and St Mary and St Mina’s church can help you probably acquire most of them
- Also check this online store (pricey though)
Here are pictures of 4 books below…
- Faithful unto death: produced by St Mark’s church in Sydney, I think I’ve bought out all the copies in St Mark’s church as well as my own church in order to gift them to people. This book is excellent. It is literally like a very short modern-day synaxarium, containing touching and detailed accounts of modern-day martyrs in Egypt and how God comforted them and their families such as saints’ apparitions and foreknowledge of their death. It’s $5 and can be finished in 1.5 hrs, but needs to be contemplated and chewed on for a longer time. Try to find it at your local Coptic bookshop or find some of the stories here.
- Father Seraphim Rose: His life and works: this book is extremely long. It also probably contains all of the teachings of Orthodox Christianity in one book. I haven’t manage to finish it. Fr Seraphim Rose is an American born convert to Russian Orthodox. Born a protestant, became an atheist, but even then his friend nevertheless described him as exceedingly spiritual as he had a unsatiable longing to know the Truth.Thus after years of furious research and experimentation of different lifestyles and beliefs, he discovered Orthodox Christianity and became an ascetical monk at Platina.
So much did Fr Seraphim Rose do for the glory of God through the regular publication of the Orthodox Word and the great deal of books he has written, it is said that no other man in America has done more for the spread of Orthodox Christianity as did he. He awaits potential canonization by the Russian Orthodox Church. Check amazon here.