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The Temptation from the Left

Their Writings Do Not Feed the Orthodox Soul; They Feed Only the Heterodox Intellect.

(A Reply to a Question)

In general I do not recommend the writings of the Paris School. They do not feed the Orthodox soul; they feed only the heterodox intellect. Such writings are all too often deluded because they do not express the sober, ascetic spirit of Orthodoxy. Their authors do not ‘keep their minds in hell’. At best such writings are useful ‘starters’, ‘hors d’oeuvre’, for those on the margins of the Church or outside it, such as catechumens, curious Catholics, Anglicans, Hindus, Buddhists, agnostics or atheists.

Sometimes such writings show naivety and inexperience, like the writings of Fr Alexander Elchaninov. Sometimes such writings are academic, speculative and philosophical and more than tinged with the philosophies of Origenism, Gnosticism and Protestantism. This is true of most of the writings of Fr Paul Florensky, Fr Sergei Bulgakov, Fr Nicholas Afanasiev, Fr Alexander Schmemann, Fr John Meyendorff, Metr Antony Bloom, Elisabeth Behr-Sigel, Olivier Clement and many others, some of whom are still living and are not named here. Such individuals often grew up with or later came to accept the Paris School and its colonies in New York and Oxford. Providentially, and so fortunately, the philosophical spirit of their writings sometimes makes them esoteric, incomprehensible, inaccessible to those who do not hold obscure doctorates.

Their writings are not Orthodox in spirit. They prefer to quote Catholic saints or other Non-Orthodox, secular writers. Some of them are plainly heretical, like those of Fr Sergei Bulgakov. Those who were monks among them either viewed monasticism as mere celibacy, that is, they viewed it from the outside, not from the inside, because they lived it only in their heads. Many, like Fr Alexander Schmemann or Metr Antony Bloom, openly condemned traditional Orthodox monasticism. Sadly, something of their spirit is reflected in some of the writings of a few contemporary post-Soviet figures like the Oxford-trained Metr Hilarion Alfeyev or Deacon Andrei Kuraev. Their spirit can be recognised immediately, because such contemporary writers often naively quote their idolised heroes - the ‘Parisian’ authors.

From inside the Church, the writings of such authors ring hollow, they are superficial. They are of limited spiritual benefit, because the authors lack spiritual experience, as they are themselves only on the margins of the Church. That is precisely why they understand people outside the Church so well and are idolised, even canonised by them. (Thus, I was recently asked by one Anglican vicar if we had an icon of ‘St Antony Bloom’). Their writings often criticise traditional Orthodox practices and the Orthodox episcopate. They are often also critical of the full cycle of liturgical services, which they know only poorly, the use of the iconostasis and fasting and confession, whose spiritual value they usually minimise, again through spiritual inexperience.

Most who read their writings are either heterodox or else naïve and ill-instructed converts to the Church, not grounded Orthodox. Indeed, their writings often scandalise Orthodox souls. What such authors do not understand is precisely people inside the Church. Typically, some of them, to the scandal of Orthodox, for example the late Archbishop George Wagner of the Paris Archdiocese, even dismissed the existence of saints like St Catherine, St George, St Dionysius the Areopagite and Sts Barlaam and Josaphat. And you cannot be more inside the Church than the saints. On the other hand, these authors often greatly praise St Isaac the Syrian and St Symeon the New Theologian, whose holy writings are only for those far advanced in spiritual life. It is precisely the reading of such writings by the inexperienced that can cause falls into spiritual delusion (prelest/plani).

Their books are those of the librarians of Orthodoxy, books of pseudo-mysticism, ‘mysticosity’, speculative, imaginative and philosophical views of the world, books of those who love talking and speculating about the Church, not living inside it. These writings attract intellectuals and converts who live up in the clouds of imagination and exaltation: ‘I have said the Jesus Prayer ten thousand times; therefore I am a saint’. Like the whole Paris School, such writers are disincarnate.

Unfortunately, some of those who read such writings have either never read real Orthodox literature, for example lives of the saints, or else are ‘bored’ by them, like Fedotov. They imagine that Paris School writings express real Orthodoxy and are not just introductions for those on the outside. They highlight excitement, self-exaltation, imagination and the marginal Orthodoxy of pseudo-intellectuals who live mainly in the Western world. In the real Orthodox world of hard physical work in monasteries or of parish and family life and paying the bills, there are too many practical examples of lived Orthodoxy to be distracted by such self-delusion and disincarnate fantasies.

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