Saint Silouan the Athonite and His Relevance Today: Part 3

Saint Silouan the Athonite and His Relevance Today: Part 3

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The broad appeal of the writings of Saint Silouan is based on a combination of other factors as well. The fact that he was uneducated and ‘almost illiterate,’ having attended the village school for ‘just two winters,’ attracts many readers because it reinforces the idea that the heights of Orthodox spiritual life are open and accessible to all.

It illustrates the truth that one does not need a degree in theology to attain to knowledge of God, and to come into communion with Him. His writings reveal that spiritual progress is not a matter of academic endeavors. Rather, it is a matter of the heart, a heart directed toward God. This too appeals to many people.

Even though the writings of St. Silouan touch upon the deepest theological truths, they do not intimidate the average layman. His language of love, which flows so freely from his pen, is a potent means of communication that the reader finds easy to comprehend and embrace. He shares his profound insight into the spiritual life while using the simplest words.

When reading them, even at first glance, one is immediately impressed with his gentle disposition and humble approach to such lofty themes. This certainly contributes to the popularity of his writings.

However, the growing popularity of St. Silouan is due directly to the relevance of his spiritual teaching for today. It’s important to keep in mind the historical setting in which he lived and wrote. The first few decades of the twentieth century were a time of unparalleled change.

Having died in 1938 at the age of 72, St. Silouan lived through the tumult and upheaval that were to forever alter the course of history. This was the era encompassing not only the First World War and the Russian Revolution, but also the events leading up to World War Two. Such large-scale destruction and horrific atrocities taking place on European soil were never before seen by human eyes.

This radical change was not limited to the political and social spheres, but also in a philosophic sense, it was indeed the dawn of a new age. From a strictly historical perspective, St. Silouan was a contemporary of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924), and Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), to name but a few.

The blatantly anti-Christian principles that these men stood for, and the ‘intellectual revolution’ they inaugurated, were to contribute directly to the reversal in the spiritual and moral values of modern man. Philosophically speaking, it could be said that western man was ‘finally freeing’ himself from the God of the Christians and striving toward his own self-deification.

Ironic as it seems, while the ‘new humanism’, that is, the pseudo-religion of man attempting to forge his own destiny apart from God, was gaining considerable ground at the dawn of the twentieth century, the unique value and inherent dignity of the human person seemed to recede into the background. Together with this ‘de-personalization’ of man came its offspring — utter hopelessness and despair.

This was the modern mentality that St. Silouan took into account as he wrote down those God-inspired thoughts that came to him after much prayer. He was addressing a world at war, a war raging not only in the trenches of modern Europe, but also on the battlefield of the human soul.

The message that he attempted to convey during those early decades of the twentieth century is somehow even more relevant now, as man ‘progresses’ through the dawn of the twenty-first century. Although St. Silouan addresses the particular needs of the turmoil of his time, the fundamental themes he touches upon, such as the infinite love of God toward humanity, the inner workings of the human soul, and the nature of the spiritual struggle, remain relevant for all believers everywhere.

–TO BE CONTINUED–

Read the entire St. Silouan series by Dr. Harry Boosalis:

Part 1,  Part 2,  Part 3,  Part 4,  Part 5,  Part 6,  Part 7,  Part 8,  Part 9,  Part 10

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Dr. Harry Boosalis

Born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota of Greek-American parents, Dr. Boosalis grew up at St. Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church. Upon graduation from Seminary, he served his home parish as a lay assistant and youth director under the tutelage of his life-long parish priest, Fr. Anthony M. Coniaris. He earned his doctoral degree in Greece under the direction of Prof. Georgios Mantzaridis. His dissertation provides a systematic presentation of the teaching of St. Silouan of Mount Athos on Orthodox spiritual life, highlighting its relevance for today. Dr. Boosalis has been teaching dogmatic theology as a full time faculty member at St. Tikhon’s since the Fall of 1992, when he organized, developed and implemented a new curriculum for the entire sequence of dogmatic courses in the Master of Divinity degree program. He serves the Seminary as the Chairman of the Department of Theology and Spirituality and is a member of the Academic Affairs Committee, Strategic Planning Committee, the Curriculum Committee and the Faculty Development Committee. He is the author of four books, editor of three more, and is currently working on a textbook. Since the Summer of 2002, Dr. Boosalis has been leading a group of St. Tikhon’s seminarians on an annual pilgrimage to Iviron Monastery on Mount Athos, Greece. In the summer of 2009, Dr. Boosalis participated in a teaching mission to Tanzania in East Africa, conducted under the auspices of the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC). In the summer of 2011, Dr. Boosalis participated in a teaching mission to Turkana, Kenya also conducted under the auspices of the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC).