Invitation to Join the Discussion of The Arena by Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov
From the moderator, Fr. Steven Allen
I think it would be perfectly splendid if a group of us from around the Church in North America (or the world, for that matter) spent Great Lent reading The Arena together and having some good talks about it.
One of the great sorrows of contemporary life is that our like-minded fellow Orthodox - the people who really want to do Orthodoxy and not just wear it like a name tag at a company picnic – are so few and far between - really far between, often a thousand miles’ worth. We know what a joyful relief it is to meet someone facing the same problems we are and trying to solve them as the Church (not Dr. Phil or Oprah) teaches, or someone who has read a book on spiritual life that really struck us too, and he wants to talk about it. Providentially, the marvel of talking on the Internet can bring these few and far between together to enjoy spiritual conversations. It is not the ideal way to do it, I admit, but I must say that, after finally overcoming my fears and teaching two classes via the Internet, I am now convinced that it is a lot better than not doing it at all!
The book I am proposing to talk about is marvelous for digesting the practical teachings of the Fathers on spiritual life and making them completely understandable (well, alright, mostly understandable). We hear a lot today about theosis and so forth, but let’s be honest – none of us is attaining the higher reaches of spiritual life (if you think you are, then for sure you’re not). What we need is someone to slap us around and motivate us to do the basics. This is what Bishop Ignatius excels at. If you have been nodding off in your spiritual life, he’s just the man to make you straighten up and fly right. The book is written for novices in monasteries, but it’s 90% applicable to our lives as spiritual beginners, which is where most of us are for most of our lives.
I love many things about Bishop Ignatius’s writings in general and The Arena in particular, but here are some of them:
He does not just theorize, he tells you what to do – prayer, reading Scripture, bows, remembering death, forgiveness, dealing with temptations and sorrows, you name it.
His language is forceful, even violent. He never beats around the bush, and he tells you things your fallen nature does not want to hear, with no apologies. You will never forget his amazing turns of phrase that suddenly point a beam of light at some aspect of theology or spiritual life which before you did not understand.
The book has short chapters and is therefore digestible in small chunks. I really don’t think we will get through the whole book (whew!) in two months, but we don’t need to. We will get plenty of solid food from the samplings we are going to enjoy. So, unlike a lot of academic courses, this discussion group will not involve enormous amounts of reading every week. It is quality here that counts, not quantity.
So here is how the thing works: You sign up for the “book club,” making payment arrangements with the seminary as indicated below. The seminary will send you a user name and password to enable you to get into the site for the club on Populi, the online program we use to conduct these discussions. From there, Andrew Curtis at the seminary or even I can tell you what to do in order to get the “assignments,” read the notes, listen to audio files, and join in on discussions. Believe me, if I can do it, anyone can. I hate computers, and I hate the Internet, but even I can (and have!) done this. You can too.
I’ll post a reading once a week, on Sunday night, and we’ll talk about it every day, Monday through Friday. That is, I’ll be on there just about every day, provoking discussion, answering questions, arguing with you if you like. If you are not a good writer, don’t worry about it – this is a discussion, not a term paper. If anyone tries to correct your spelling or grammar, I’ll give him prostrations for the sin of pedantry. If you can’t think of what to say, just say what’s on your mind. (There usually is something on your mind, by the way.) Don't wait until you can say something brilliant, which is just the sin of vanity anyway.
To help your reading and discussion, I’ll also post notes on every chapter, in the form of little outlines to help you organize in your mind what the author is talking about. I shall also post audio recordings of past discussions I’ve had with others on this book. I’ve gone through this whole book three or four times with discussion groups in the past, and, though I don’t do what the holy author says, at least I know what he says pretty thoroughly by now. Maybe this time I’ll actually start doing it too! I hope you can help me.
Let’s use this Great Lent to escape the spiritual concentration camp of this world which is perishing and let our souls take wing to the haven of salvation. Think of it as a noetic jailbreak. I can’t think of a better team leader for this Special Op than Bishop Ignatius. Please join us.
PS Here’s a brief description of the book from (you guessed it) Amazon:
This is a classic text that offers many treasures for seekers of the spiritual life today. Subjects covered include unceasing prayer, the need for spiritual direction and the importance of Divine meditation. Translated into English by Father Lazarus Moore from the original Russian edition published in 1867. It encapsulates the legacy of St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov) as it was published in the year of his death, after some forty years of monastic life. Whilst directed specifically to monks it contains much that will be of benefit to any one concerned with discovering the Christian mystical life.Go to Orthodoxyinfo.org for a wide variety of articles on the Faith