[1750 - present]

Bishop Kallistos Ware

 Nikodemus of the Holy Mountain

The Study of Spirituality, ed. Cheslyn, Wainwright, Yarnold

§1. Introduction: Under the Turks

§3. Nicodemus and Macarius

§2. The Kollyvades Hesychasts

§4. The Philokalia


§ 1. Introduction: Under the Turks

§ 1. Introduction: Under the Turks


From the fall of Constantinople (1453) until the early nineteenth century, the entire Greek Orthodox world lay under the domination of the Ottoman Turks. In theology and spirituality, as in all aspects of church life, this was for the most part a time of rigid traditionalism. Oppressed beneath a non-Christian regime, the Greeks adopted a defensive stance, holding fast as best they could to their patristic heritage, but making little effort dynamically to develop it. Some of the higher clergy and lay theologians in the Turkish period, especially those who received a Roman Catholic or (less commonly) a Protestant education in the West, introduced Western categories into their thinking. But this had little effect upon the outlook of most monks, of the parish clergy and of the less educated laity. Their spirituality was based, as it always has been in the Christian East, upon the Sunday celebration of the Divine Liturgy or Eucharist. Despite the infrequent reception of Holy Communion -perhaps no more than three times a year, careful preparation being required through fasting and abstinence -- the spiritual life of the laity remained none the less strongly eucharistic. Through the annual cycle of feasts and fasts, closely integrated with the agricultural year, and particularly through special blessings of wheat, wine and oil, of homes and crops, the liturgical life of the Church permeated the daily experience of the people. In Orthodox spirituality of the Turkish era, as in the periods before and since, an important role was played by devotion to the Mother of God and the saints, and by the holy icons.

§ 2. The Kollyvades Hesychasts

§ 2. The Kollyvades Hesychasts


The most significant development in Greek spirituality during the Turcocratia is the ‘Hesychast renaissance’, as it may be termed, during the second half of the eighteenth century. This was set in motion by a group of monks, linked primarily with the Holy Mountain of Athos, known as the ‘Kollyvades’, from the Greek word kollyva, meaning the plate of boiled wheat eaten at memorial services for the dead. They acquired this sobriquet because of their insistence upon the strict observance of the rules governing such services. This reflected their more general attitude, which was one of faithful loyalty to church tradition. Reacting against the ideas of the Western ‘Enlightenment’ that were beginning to spread among educated Greeks, they believed that a regeneration of the Greek nation could come only through a return to the Fathers: it was here alone, they were convinced, that the true roots of

Orthodoxy were to be found. Yet their traditionalism was never blind or inflexible. Thus, for example, at a time when infrequent communion was the all but universal norm, they were fervent supporters of frequent or, as they termed it, ‘continual’ communion.

§ 3. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain and Macarius of Corinth

§ 3. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain and Macarius of Corinth


Chief among the Kollyvades were St Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain (1749-1809) and St Macarius of Corinth (1731-1805). Despite his Orthodox traditionalism, Nicodemus was also willing to make use of Roman Catholic works of spirituality, and he produced adaptations in Greek of Lorenzo Scupoli Spiritual Combat and Ignatius Loyola Spiritual Exercises (as edited by G. P. Pinamonti). What Nicodemus seems to have found valuable in such volumes was their use of discursive meditation, allowing full scope to the imagination; this, he felt, helpfully supplemented the type of image-free, non-discursive prayer commended by Hesychasm.

§ 4. The Philokalia

§ 4. The Philokalia


But the main work edited jointly by Nicodemus and Macarius, the Philokalia (Venice, 1782), draws exclusively upon Eastern sources. Literally the title means ‘love of beauty’ -- love, more particularly, of God as the source of all things beautiful. This vast collection of spiritual texts dating from the fourth to the fifteenth century has proved deeply influential in modern Orthodoxy. A Slavonic edition by Blessed Paissii Velichkovsky appeared at Moscow in 1793; Russian versions by Bishop Ignatii Brianchaninov and Bishop Theophan the Recluse followed in the nineteenth century. Through numerous translations into Western languages during the last thirty years, the work’s influence has extended widely into the non-Orthodox world.The selection of texts in the Philokalia was no doubt made in part for pragmatic reasons. Nevertheless the book as a whole, without being systematic, presents a specific and coherent view of the Christian life. The main features of the ‘Philokalic’ spirituality are these:

1. Although the texts included are almost entirely by monks, writing for a monastic audience, the editors intended the book for all Christians, monks and laity alike.

2. The need for personal direction by an experienced spiritual father is frequently emphasized.

3. There is throughout the work a close link between spirituality and dogma. The life of prayer is set firmly in the context of Trinitarian theology and Christology.

4. The main centre of interest is the inner purpose of the spiritual way, not the outward observance of ascetic rules.

 Key concepts throughout the work are vigilance or sobriety (nēpsis), attentiveness (prosochē), stillness (hēsuchia), and the continual remembrance of God. As a means to the attainment of stillness and unceasing prayer, the invocation of the name of Jesus is especially recommended. The Jesus Prayer helps the aspirant to keep guard over intellect and heart, to unite the two together, and so to achieve a state of communion with God on a level free from concepts and images.

Although containing a paraphrase of certain Macarian writings, the Philokalia draws mainly upon writers in the tradition of Evagrius and Maximus the Confessor. Nothing is included by the Cappadocians or by Dionysius the Areopagite. Among the authors from the later Byzantine period are Symeon the New Theologian, Nicephorus the Hesychast, Gregory of Sinai, Gregory Palamas, and Kallistos and Ignatios Xanthopoulos (but not Nicolas Cabasilas).

Through the persisting influence of the Philokalia and similar books in the Greek and Slav world, the Hesychast renaissance has continued up to the present day. The Philokalic ‘thread’ represents, in the eyes of many, the most creative element in contemporary Orthodox spirituality.


St Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain and St Macarius of Corinth, The Philokalia: Greek text, 3rd edn, 5 vols. (Athens, 1957-63); ET (from the original Greek) G. E. H. Palmer, P. Sherrard and K. Ware, in progress, 3 vols. so far (London and Boston, Faber, 1979-84); partial ET (from Russian) E. Kadloubovsky and G. E. H. Palmer, Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart (London, Faber, 1951); Early Fathers from the Philokalia (London, Faber, 1954).

St Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain and Theophan the Recluse, Unseen Warfare, ET (from Russian) E. Kadloubovsky and G. E. H. Palmer, with introd. by H. A. Hodges (London, Faber, 1952).


K. Ware, ‘Philocalie’, in Dict. Sp. 12.1336-52.



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