Metr. Hilarion (Alfeyev), “The Spiritual World of St. Isaac of Syria” (2002)

stisaacofsyria

In 1987, a young man, fresh from military service, entered a small monastery, located in the center of a city on the Baltic Sea… In this monastery, long services were held every day and the Lives of Saints were read aloud at mealtime — in other words, there was every attribute of monastic life except one: there was no spiritual mentor to attend to the education of the monks and novices. It was therefore necessary to look for guidance in the books of the Holy Fathers and the ascetics of the ancient Church.
The young man read the works of St. Isaac of Syria every day and took notes. He decided to write several quotes that had particularly impressed him on the wall of his cell, so that he might always have them before his eyes. Gradually he added other quotes. Within one year, every wall of the cell was completely covered in fragments from St. Isaac. His words were the daily bread without which the novice could not get through a single day.

Metr. Hilarion, indirectly describing himself (273)

Today, February 10th (January 28th according to the Julian calendar), the Orthodox Church celebrates the memory of St. Isaac of Syria, a revered ascetic writer and philosopher from the 7th century. In all of this time, his writings have only grown in stature, serving as a spiritual manual for generations of priests, monks and laymen — an unlikely journey for the legendary Middle Eastern recluse, who valued his solitude so much that he fled to the desert after being offered a bishopric, and who certainly never imagined that world in distant 2020 where, improbably, there is still a grateful audience for him. Continue reading

Plato, part 3

plato2This time, Plato’s gaze is directed outwardly,
expressing the firm resolve to refashion the world.

(Continued from part 2.)

Plato is a spiritual writer. Perhaps that, more than his philosophy, explains his lasting role in history. He had a profound influence on world religion, and in a certain sense could be called the father of religious thought. At the very least, one could call him the first religious thinker — the priests of Leviticus don’t quite fit that description. Continue reading

Plato, part 2

SONY DSCMosaic believed to depict Plato’s Academy.
Found in the ruins of Pompeii.

(Continued from part 1.)

Plato never wrote out a full statement of his philosophy in any one place, and the literary aspect of his work makes it difficult to identify what that philosophy even was. In that respect, Losev did a great service just by concisely explaining it. I will therefore turn the floor over to him: Continue reading

Alexei Losev, “Plato” (1977)

platoBelieved to have been sculpted during Plato’s lifetime.
A portrait of cold, distant superiority.

It is easy to form a misleading impression of Plato. An American’s first encounter with Plato usually occurs in a freshman philosophy class; the assigned reading is almost invariably “The Republic,” which is presented as primarily a study of politics, a utopian tract describing the “perfect society” by direct analogy with works by social and ideological thinkers of the 18th and 19th centuries. Plato’s take on it is supposed to be more radical and shocking, since he dares to criticize democracy, but then, clearly the most compelling way to prove the superiority of contemporary 21st-century society is by comparing it to Athens in 400 BC. Continue reading

Sergei Rachmaninov, part 2

rachmaninovconcertAt a concert during the late 1930s.

(Conclusion. Continued from part 1.)

St. Petersburg was decimated almost immediately after the Revolution, even before any organized revolutionary terror had time to start. The complex social roles that comprise any modern civilization become death sentences for their holders in the instant when the infrastructure sustaining them disappears. Lenin himself wrote to other revolutionary leaders, in May 1918, “Petrograd is in an unprecedentedly catastrophic situation. There is no bread. The last remaining potato flour and rusks are being distributed to the populace. The Red capital is on the brink of death by starvation.” The city was ravaged by epidemics of diseases like typhus, which by the early 20th century were becoming a thing of the past in major urban areas. Continue reading

Lyudmila Kovaleva-Ogorodnova, “Sergei Rachmaninov” (2015)

rachmaninovFor more photographs, see also http://www.senar.ru,
the best Rachmaninov resource on the Internet.

We lead ourselves to believe that our time is somehow unique in how fast it moves — that the current pace of technological and societal “progress” has no precedent in any previous time period. This view artificially separates us from the past history of culture, by default implying that the latter has nothing relevant to say to us, and consequently should be forgotten. Continue reading