The lives of the saints are for beginners

1) What St Theophan the Recluse wrote (1)

The most fruit-bearing is the Word of God, then patristic literature and the Lives of saints. Incidentally, it is needful to know that the Lives of saints are better for beginners, patristic literature for the intermediate, and the Word of God for the perfect.

Often one text will warm the spirit for more than a day. There are Lives of which the mere remembrance is enough to inflame zeal. There are also passages in patristic writings that inspire. Therefore we have this good rule: write down such passages and save them, in case you need them later to warm your spirit.

Often neither internal nor external work helps — the spirit remains sleepy. Hasten to read something from somewhere. If this does not help, run to someone to discuss it. The latter performed with faith is rarely fruitless.

The best time for reading the Word of God is in the morning, Lives of saints after the mid-day meal, and  Holy Fathers before going to sleep. Thus you can take up a little bit each day.


2) What Dr. Constantine Cavarnos wrote (2)

“Once I asked a saintly monk, the hermit Gabriel who dwelt at Karoulia—the most secluded and inaccessible region of the Holy Mountain—whether he recommended The Philokalia to persons like me who live in the “world.” He replied: “The Philokalia is an excellent work, but it is for those advanced in the spiritual life. To use an analogy, it is ‘university education.’ First, one has to go to ‘grammar school,’ next to ‘high school,’ and only then is he ready to go to a ‘university.”

“Should one start with The Evergetinos?” I asked.

“No,” he replied. “this, too, is advanced. It is ‘high school.’ One must start with something more elementary. One should read simple lives of saints, in order to learn what kind of persons they were, how they lived, and what they did. Then one can proceed to the higher steps.” (2)


3) About Gleb Podmoshensky, who later become Fr Herman Podmoshensky – the co-ascetic of Fr Seraphim Rose who helped establish St Herman’s monastery in  Platina, California

What Gleb called his conversion, it will be seen, occurred at the very moment when he realized he had found a father-figure in Fr. Vladimir. His conversion marked a dramatic change in the eyes of all who knew him. Before, he had commonly been known as “Gloomy Gleb.” Now he was deeply happy, with a sense of purpose.

Through Fr. Vladimir, Gleb was introduced to the ascetical, mystical dimension of Orthodox Christianity. The first book Fr. Vladimir gave him to read was the Life of the God-illumined visionary, St. Seraphim of Sarov (†1833), one of the most beloved saints of the Russian land. This was followed by a Life of St. Sergius of Radonezh, and then by the classic book on inward prayer, The Way of a Pilgrim.

Gleb’s soul thirstily drank in books by and about the saints of Holy Russia. He discovered that, besides Saints Sergius and Seraphim, there was a whole host of “desert-dwelling”[e] ascetics who lived in communion with God in the vast forests of Russia right up to our own century. He was especially moved by the Lives of the Elders of Optina Monastery, who, having originally come from among the desert-dwelling hermits of the Roslavl forest, comprised one of the most extraordinary spiritual lineages in Church history. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Optina Elders had a tremendous impact on Russian society, eliciting a nationwide blossoming of sanctity.


4) St Kyrillos VI

Whoever reads the books of the saints seeking to know the way of righteousness, the way of righteousness will be opened to them.



  1. ‘The path to salvation” by St Theophan the Recluse pp. 242, 247-261.
  2. “Very valuable readings” – an excerpt from Man’s spiritual evolution by Dr Constantine Cavarnos. Ref:
  3. “Father Seraphim Rose – His life and works” by Hieromonk Damascene, p. 235