On 'Studying' Orthodoxy
- Given our recent discussion regarding the best way to 'learn about' and
'study' Orthodoxy, I thought this selection from Fr. Stephen apropos:
Somewhere in the mid-80's, I met a woman who had been an Anglican nun, but
had converted to Orthodoxy. Where I met her is a long story and not of real
concern. But I was very interested to hear her story and find out about
someone who had actually done what, at the time, was little more than a
fantasy for me.
She told me her story - which itself was quite a spiritual journey. Then she
asked me about myself and my interest in Orthodoxy. I have no remembrance of
what I said to her. Doubtless I rambled on a bit about this and that.
When I finished she said to me, "Stephen, you *think* a lot. Someday, you'll
think with your heart and when you do, you'll be Orthodox."
I was struck dumb at the statement, but it stayed with me - for years.
Indeed, I pondered it even after I became Orthodox.
In a book by the mother of Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev (*Pilgrimage to
*), the abbot of a monastery says to the main character (a woman who has
largely found her way into Orthodoxy by an intellectual path): "You should
read no more hours in a day than you pray." I was struck by the statement
when I first read it and thought that there was more than a little truth in
If, before becoming Orthodox, I had spent 100 hours in reading about the
Orthodox faith (I have no way of guessing what the real amount of time was),
it is certainly true that it had far less impact on my life than the first
100 hours of worship as an Orthodox Christian.
Books should never be disparaged (least of all by someone who tends to write
as much as I do). However, by their very nature, books will not bring us
into the Kingdom of God. Indeed, the intellectual life can often be a poor
substitute, even a delusion, when it comes to the truth of our life in
One hour of prayer, or one hour of Church, is worth far more than one hour
of reading in the same way that one hour of walking is of more value than
one hour of reading about the benefits of walking. But this very fact is
frequently stated in one form or another in the books one reads on
Orthodoxy. Thus we have the strange phenomenon of reading books telling us
to do something other than reading books. We agree intellectually and then
keep on reading.
In truth, I probably read less now than at any time in my life and how I
read has changed greatly. I pick books very carefully now, and often take a
long time to read them (a few pages a day). Of course, I've read a lot over
the years that remains somewhere in my brain, undigested. It is useful,
certainly, to have a certain amount of information at hand. But information
is useless until you know what it means and how to use it.
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