St. Theophan the Recluse, also known as Theophanes or Feofan Zatvornik (Russian: Феофан Затворник), (January 10, 1815 – January 6, 1894) is a well-known saint in the Russian Orthodox Church. He was born as Giorgiy Vasilievich Govorov in the village of Chernavsk. His father was a Russian Orthodox priest. He was educated in the Orthodox seminaries at Livny, Orel and Kiev. In 1841 he was tonsured as a monk and ordained as a priest, and adopted the name Theophan from the Greek θεοφάνεια, denoting a theophany (an appearance or manifestation of God). Theophan later became the Bishop of Tambov.
The Saint is well-known today in Russia through the many books he wrote concerning the inner spiritual life, especially on the subjects of the Christian life and the training of youth in the faith. He also played a leading role in translating the Philokalia from Church Slavonic into Russian. The Philokalia, a classic of Eastern Orthodox spirituality, is composed of the collected edited works of a number of Church Fathers which were placed in a four volume set beginning in the 17th century. A persistent theme is developing an interior life of continuous prayer, learning to cultivate a profound awareness of God’s presence and to “pray without ceasing” as St. Paul teaches in 1 Thessalonians.
The Orthodox Faith is Nothing Without Transformation of Life
If your spiritual life is concentrated only on external practices and traditions, but does nothing to bring about real change, you have gained nothing. Too many people think as long as they keep the fasting rules, do their prayers, and attend the services, they are good Orthodox Christians. Yet if there is no love, no charity, and forgiveness of others, and your life is filled with gossip and judgement, your Orthodox Christian faith is worth nothing.
Christ condemned the Pharisees not because they kept the law and attended to the traditions of the Jewish faith, but because they did so while filled with pride and arrogance. Without sincere repentance and holiness of life, their encounter with God led to an emptiness of heart.
Because our Orthodox faith is one of tradition and liturgical structure, it is easy to fall into the trap of being nothing more than a Pharisee. Being strict in one’s observance of Orthodox practices can easily lead to pride and arrogance. If you find yourself feeling better than others and proud of your piety, you have gained absolutely nothing. The external practice of the Orthodox Christian faith without heartfelt humility and repentance leads down the road of spiritual ruin.
The Church is the hospital of the soul, but healing can only come if we put effort into it. If your doctor prescribes a medication for your condition but you fail to follow your doctor’s orders, you will not get well. The Church has all that you need for spiritual transformation, but healing only comes if you cooperate with the healing process.
The goal is holiness (wholeness) and is the direct result of our having submitted in all humility to a life of repentance. When you do this Christ changes you. If you simply go through the motions of your Orthodox faith, you are no better off than the Pharisees whom Christ condemned.
Love in Christ,
The Very Reverend Igumen Abbot Tryphon is the spiritual leader at All Merciful Saviour monastery located on Vashon Island in Puget Sound near Seattle, Washington State. The monastery is within the canonical jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. The monastery’s widely acclaimed and popular Facebook page can be found here. Abbot Tryphon’s popular blog can be accessed here.