The Knowledge We Should Seek


Just another few paragraphs from Father Sophrony’s St. Silouan the Athonite. He is here even more explicit on the difference between the knowledge acquired by experience and that acquired in a more abstract manner:

God is neither envious, selfish nor ambitious. Humbly and patiently He pursues all men on all life’s paths, and each of us can therefore come to know God to some degree, not only in but outside the Church, though perfect knowledge of God is impossible apart from Christ or outside Christ. Apart from Christ no spiritual (mystic) experience will lead to knowledge of the Divine Being as One Objectivity, absolute and inconceivable, in Three Persons, absolute and inconceivable – to knowledge of the Trinity, consubstantial and indivisible. This revelation is given in Christ alone. In Him it becomes light eternal pouring itself out on all the manifestations of human existence…..

The Staretz [St. Silouan] testified categorically that the Divinity of Jesus Christ is made known in the Holy Spirit. The knowledge of Christ’s Divinity thus acquired through spiritual experience enables man to comprehend in Christ the unfused union of two natures and two wills. The uncreated nature of Divine Light and the other dogmas of our faith are likewise made known through inner experience in the Holy Spirit. But here it must be noted that the dogmatic consciousness that comes from experience of grace differs essentially from a dogmatic knowledge which outwardly resembles it but is the product of ‘faith in things heard’, of academic study or a philosophical conviction in the form of a series of ideal abstract conceptions.

It is one thing to believe in God, and another to know God, as the Staretz said.

Ideal – abstract – conceptions may correspond to the facts of existence but, separated from positive experience of grace, they are not that knowledge of God which is actual life eternal. Yet they, too, are precious for at any moment they may afford help to a man in his spiritual life.

I find this last paragraph strangely comforting. I know that most of what I know I do not know by experience but from books. I think that it is precisely book knowledge that fuels so many arguments on very high subject (theological) on the internet. It is also why I tend to avoid argumentation like the plague (discussion is fine) because it produces anger and other passions rather than any advance in grace. But having said that, here is that strange comfort that says, “Don’t despise knowledge that comes from books, ‘for at any moment [it] may afford help to a man in his spiritual life.”

Having said all that, it is certainly true that I probably read less now than at any point in my life.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.





8 responses to “The Knowledge We Should Seek”

  1. fatherstephen Avatar

    The photo is at the entrance to the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Unfortunately, when I visited this summer, students were sitting exams and touring was extremely limited. What a wonderful place to study it must be. Having spent time as a graduate student at Duke University, which in fine American style, was built to “look old” immediately, I can say that walking around Oxford for even a very few minutes easily reveals the difference between the real thing (a medieval university) and its ersatz American cousin. I don’t wonder if we attempt to do the same thing with our spiritual lives. “The prayer life of Mother Teresa and all of the shoes of Imelda Marcos,” has been my way of describing our hurry for what can only come with time (and ascesis).

  2. handmaidleah Avatar

    I am reading Wounded by Love by Elder Porphyrios and I am at the part where he is explaining how much zeal he had at first, so much that his elders wouldn’t let him read certain books, like the Ladder of Divine Ascent. He would go crazy with it, so he says it was very good that he was obedient, because “Obedience shows love for Christ. And Christ especially loves the obedient. That’s why He says, ‘I love those who love me, and those who seek me will find grace.’” (Prov.8:17)
    So books are great when we are ready for the knowledge that they contain, if not then at best they just don’t make sense and at worst, they can drive a wedge between us and God.
    Christ is in our midst!
    the handmaid,

  3. tony c Avatar
    tony c


    I was reading something recently, C.S. Lewis?, where the author says that he found reading theology more “devotional” than reading devotional things. I can relate to that.

    Anyway…I have the “other” St. Silouan book: Wisdom from the Holy Mountain, I think it’s called. The intro is by Archimandrite Sophrony, but the book is the actual writings of St. Silouan. (published by St. Vlad’s)

    It’s funny. I’m a Catholic who returned to the Catholic Church via discovering Orthodoxy. In my early re-conversion ravenous-reading days, one of the books I found (at a Catholic bookstore, in the “Other Religion” section, oddly enough) was this St. Silouan book. I thought, “I know this. This is the wisdom of the Saints.” Those who Know God, ya know? And it gave me something new, but helped bring me back to something old.

    The whole experience, of finding the book, discovering St. Silouan, where I found it, when I found it, forever colors my perception of our relationship to God (especially the theme of knowing Christ via the Holy Spirit), and the relationship that exists (for I’m certain that it does) between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches on earth, and the saints in heaven.

    Five years into the journey, I think I know less now than what I thought I knew. And I sin and feel like I’m right back at the beginning. But through the witness of the saints, like Silouan (and Mother Theresa, whom you mentioned) I understand this living witness and it consoles me with a certainty that they know Christ via the Holy Spirit, and we can too, and that this Faith of ours is True.

    I suspect this post is off to a foggy start, but I’ll leave it be. Let me just say that I think that God gives us these saints to confirm us in our steps, and point us on the road to Him. And Blessed be God, in his angels and his saints, in particular St. Silouan, and may we grow, beyond mere words, through humility and hearts open to God’s gift of grace. Amen, amen, amen.

    (Originally, I wanted to make some erudite point, but it just didn’t turn out that way. I get all exited and my brain turns to jelly when I hear someone talking about St. Silouan. As it should be, I suppose. Perhaps I’ve made some sort of point after all?)

  4. tony c Avatar
    tony c

    I can’t believe Elder Porphyrios was mentioned in this thread!

    I found a book about him at the same store around the same time.

    (If you both only knew…I’m beginning to suspect a heavenly conspiracy.)

  5. Fatherstephen Avatar


    Thank God there is a heavenly conspiracy! and it is described (you heard it here first) in Ephesians 1:10 “…that in the dispensation of the fulness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth;
    even in Him:”

    The coincidences of Heaven are no coincidences at all.

  6. Matt Avatar

    Tony C,

    LOL! A calling to investigate Orthodoxy, perhaps?

    I am an Anglican, currently receiving instruction in Orthodoxy. I have been incredibly blessed by Fr. Stephen’s writings here. It’s essential reading for me everyday.


  7. dreams.corner Avatar

    Today, 27.01. we in Serbia celebrate St. Sava, Slava of all schools and universities.

    I wrote a post about him, I know that there are many biographies on internet, but I wanted to portray him from personal angle of view – of my hero who is always uncompromising when it comes to sleepless devotion to his heart ideals.

    He renounced future position of ruler of (then prosperous) Serbia, in order to become monk.



    P.S. Tony C, have you read The Interior Castle by Catholic saint St. Teresa of Avila? It is something most inspiring to me, I recommend it from the depths of my heart. And I believe her every word she wrote there about her personal spiritual experiences – it is not philosophical book, but book that describes experiences from beginner ones to the highest ones.

  8. tony c Avatar
    tony c

    Never read the Interior Castle in total. But I will say that I find the Carmelite saints to have a sort of Orthodox feel to them, at least from my point of view. The Carthusians too.

    I’m still trying to track down a paper someone wrote comparing St. Silouan and St. Terese (little Theresa, not Big Theresa). It was written in French, but I’m waiting for a translation. I bring that up because I had a similar impression about them. Simple hearts. They lived around the same time. I had a similar sense about Elder Porphyrios and Padre Pio: they shared some of the same dramtic charisms that the Holy Spirit sometimes parcels out. They too lived around the same time. Interesting.

    For Matt:
    Don’t know if it’s a calling to convert. But I do sense something happening in the world today, with regard to Catholics and Orthodox (and the Anglicans that haven’t flipped out). There seems to be a growing awareness and understanding that’s unprecedented in history.

    There’s something about the saints in both the Orthodox and Catholic churches…there’s something there that we’re supposed to notice today. Something that can perhaps bring us closer in some way.

    I find it fascinating that both Catholic and Orthodox saints often say the same things, things not found in other Christian traditions. Is it because of a common heritage, or is it the Holy Spirit trying to tell us something?

    I’ve often wondered why only Cath and Orth saints sometimes are found to be bodily incorrupt after death. Or why there are miraculous phenomena associated w/ their relics? It must have something to do w/ the sacraments we receive: they are real and have a real effect.

    And I’m also fascinated by the move of many Protestant clergy into either the Cath or Orth Churches. Somethin’s goin’ on, for sure.

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