Harper House School of Divinity

At the conclusion of the Bachelor of Arts in 1983 a number of opportunities opened up for me. One was return to the Police Force, another to try my hand at journalism or even consider the diplomatic service. Teaching was another appealing option. By this time as I have elsewhere mentioned I had become deeply interested in theology. Not only in the Church Fathers for I had also been reading Christian writers from the low Church Anglican and Reformed traditions. And though to my surprise I was offered the honours stream of my philosophy major it was this I decided to do, follow in the footsteps of my forefathers, great grandfathers and grandfathers, and study theology. After considering various options I was interviewed by Barbara Thiering for a place in Sydney University’s School of Divinity program at Harper House[1] (now long consumed by the Department of Studies in Religion).[2] With the formidable Doctor Thiering at the helm, who would later court considerable controversy with her reinterpretation of the New Testament,[3] this was a liberal school but one which was comprised of a strong cross denominational faculty. Theologians of the calibre of David Coffey, John Chryssavgis, Gordon Dicker, Graham A. Cole, and others, would regularly cross our paths and give classes. It was also one of the few university degrees which though a Bachelor was only open to postgraduates. A fellow student, the bespectacled and grey-peppered Patrick G., was one of the most well-read individuals I had ever met. Hullo dear Patrick. Yes, it is good to remember: what good is a prophet without knowledge (Aesop).

I enjoyed an initial semester at the school and was introduced to subjects and approaches to biblical studies not only new to me, particularly in the areas of exegesis and hermeneutics, but also confronting to my ‘literalist’ interpretation. Also in those early weeks, when studying the reception of the Pentateuch, we were enlightened to the critical distinction between orality and literacy.[4] A few weeks into the second session after having bumped into one of the guest lecturers, Archbishop Stylianos Harkianakis, I left however uncertain to accept an invitation from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia and the Greek Ministry of the Exterior, to study theology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in northern Greece.[5]

One of the great legacies of my first contact with Harper House (for I would later return to complete a postgraduate degree), was that I witnessed first-hand how fruitful the interdisciplinary and ‘inter-confessional’ model could be for teacher and student alike. That is, if there existed the genuine intention to listen and to learn one from the other. Ideally, the teachers would be charismatic and the students mature in their faith. Which in this place, I am happy to remember, it was often the case.

As an aside, but something which would afterwards relentlessly test my reserves (given the ‘terrors’ that had yet to unfold), I would set out to complete the Bachelor of Theology on three separate occasions and at three different academic institutions. At the minimum it should have taken me three years to complete this degree. In the end and despite the promisingly good results, it would take through some admittedly hasty decision making on my own part, at least seven years. And so time does pass.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Harper

[2] http://sydney.edu.au/arts/religion/

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbara_Thiering

[4] http://www.biblicalperformancecriticism.org/index.php/2011-08-26-20-28-44/articles-mainmenu-37/articles/64-kelber-review-of-botha-orality-and-literacy-in-early-christianity/file

[5] https://www.auth.gr/e

On the First Years at Sydney University

Kingsgrove, NSW

In 1981 with an amount of street-wise after resigning from the Police Force, I commenced on the first of my degrees, a Bachelor of Arts at Sydney University.[1] Without too much thought for future employment, not uncommon for those of us enrolled in the much deprecated Arts, I selected my four core units of study after the requisite hand-to-hand combat with the Faculty’s hefty handbook: General Philosophy, Modern Greek, Linguistics and Government. I relished the three years it took to complete this degree, above all the pleasure of discovering a great read and as C.S. Lewis might add, ‘never again to be completely alone’. This passionate love for books surprised me for though I was an inquisitive child and liked to read, I was no more than average at school with some occasional results in English and History. Another critical thing I came to quickly appreciate was the importance of a good teacher. Often I would select a subject if it was taught by someone with a reputation as a charismatic instructor.

During these first impressionable years of my introduction to tertiary studies I was enormously fortunate to study under some inspirational teachers, including the internationally renowned linguist Michael Halliday[2] the originator of systemic functional grammar (SFG) and the legendary political analyst and founding editor of Media International Australia (MIA) Henry Mayer.[3] It was a tremendous thrill too, to finally sit in the lecture room of the famous duo of Modern Greek scholars Michael Jeffreys and Alfred Vincent to hear these neohellinist Englishmen analyse and read the major Greek poets in their original tongue![4] The philosophers John Burnheim, Lloyd Reinhartd, and W.A. Suchting each a reference point in their own right, instilled in us the drive and motivation towards higher learning.[5] J.B. [Pragmatism] tall and dignified a former Catholic priest he was the very definition of a philosopher both in speech and demeanour; L.R. [the Ancient Greeks] was at the same time hugely erudite and unapologetically bawdy; W.A.S. [Marxism] urbane and outwardly relaxed but totally tenacious on the inside. There were other splendid scholars as well and to have walked in the shadow of these learned and enthusiastic academic personalities was one of life’s milestones.[6] And in an era, too, without the disruption of the iPad or mobile when we really had to listen and to fervently take down notes (there is still a deep indentation on the tip of my middle finger in that place where my pen was hard pressed).

The lecturer who would have the strongest influence and inspire my life-long interest in philosophy, and more specifically in existentialism, was Paul Crittenden (formerly a Catholic priest and still in holy orders when I sat in his classes).[7] This compassionate and genuinely discerning philosopher’s lectures on Friedrich Nietzsche and Søren Kierkegaard in particular, were responsible for opening up new modes of thinking in me. I would not view the world or understand myself in quite the same away again. Things were not as simple or as ‘linear’ as I once might have imagined or wanted them to be. My early brand of Christian fundamentalism, thankfully, would not stand a chance. Then there were those ‘grey areas’ particularly to do with the fundamental nature of being and knowledge, where no amount of scaffolding would rise high enough for the definitive answer once the taste for “doubting” had been ignited (as the disciple Thomas himself would discover wanting to plunge his fingers into the wounds of his teacher).

From these significant years I would also delight in the discovery of such literary genii as Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Kafka, Kazantzakis, Sartre, Beckett, Camus, and Hemingway. But of course not in equal measure. Sartre I would abandon, Beckett I would still occasionally visit (and remain grateful for his ‘introduction’ to Joyce but from whom I would also later depart company). To the others I would remain a dedicated reader from that time onwards. Clearly these are not all “existentialists”.[8] It remains disappointing that the general perception continues to be that ‘existentialist literature’ only deals with despair and alienation (or the absurd i.e. Beckett). And Camus, himself, would distance himself from any such direct affiliation. I became fascinated in the collective contribution of the pre-Socratics to our philosophical and scientific traditions and awe-struck like most neophytes with Plato’s gigantic contribution to western thought. There was also Aristotle, Descartes, Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, Pascal, Locke, Hume, Marx, and the Pragmatists. The Department of General Philosophy with promises of boozy parties and merriment (the infamous ‘philosophy wars’ were still ongoing)[9] threw everything and anyone at us, including the now very highly regarded but then much younger Stephen Gaukroger lecturing on Karl Popper and the philosophy of science.[10]

On the whole this was a wonderful time with the making of new friendships [Kay, Georgina, Judy, Paul, John, Rodney, Thomas … where are you] confidence very high, and the OCD under some tolerable control. Except for those days when a trigger would set if off, more often than not when I would be in the library (either at Fisher or up the road at Moore College) having to “solve” the discrepancies of the Bible. It was also during the last year of this degree when I was offered philosophy honours but declined to start on my theological studies, that I would begin my first meaningful reading of the Church Fathers.[11]

I loved Fisher Library, that overwhelming colossal hive of books, but it often proved difficult to go there. The books are out of place… put them right, Michael… put them right… by year; by colour; by height… symmetry… there must be symmetry. “Oh, I am so sorry. Are you closing?” So I started to buy the books on our reading lists. At home, on my shelves, they would sit just right. No gaps… unless absolutely necessary. I would keep awake to read, not that I could ever understand it all. Not much of this bottomless sea of oscillating words would stay in my head or make good sense to me; it would take many years for some sort of practical comprehension of the fundamentals to start filtering in. I like very much what Ezra Pound has said, “[m]en do not understand books until they have a certain amount of life, or at any rate no man understands a deep book, until he has seen and lived at least part of its contents.” This process of discovery will not end and is what makes learning exhilarating, having to know. I would dip into as many of the other greats as I could, Homer, and Dante, and the plays of Shakespeare. These demon story-tellers would manage to stock more revelation into one or two heart-stopping paragraphs than others might manage in a hundred pages.

This was a vibrant universe of exotic names and magical writing. I desired to touch and to taste as much of this world as I could. Tolle et lege [take up and read] as Saint Augustine continues to prompt. Later on when I was better equipped there would be time enough for the concentrated reading of these writers and the others that I would uncover. For now the emphasis was more in the doing than in the being: an accumulation without the necessary sorting. A dumping ground, hopefully a fertile one, for beautiful words and noble ideas. I had decided that my education would not stop here. But this would lead to another question, and this had to do with “canon” which would many years later become the central focus of my doctorate. How much of an author’s canon must we read before we can genuinely pass any reasonable judgement or criticism on their work? Is it enough to have read four or five of Shakespeare’s plays to join in the conversation? How much of Karl Marx or John Maynard Keynes, for example, must we have read before we can damn one and praise the other? What if we have only managed Wittgenstein’s Blue Book notes but not yet made it to the Brown Book? Can we still make some reasonable observations on Plato or Aristotle if we have not spent decades reading them as Heidegger might want? There are Christians who still do not agree on the final composition of the Old Testament canon and yet they consider it inspired by God.

I have found that one of the ways around this problem is to acknowledge our limits and be clear as to where we set our margins: and what other ancillary readings we are introducing into the discussion to inform our argument. For ultimately we are all, whether professor reading the latest journal or store keeper reading the local newspaper, reading out of context.[12] No one can claim to see the entire Picture or to comprehend the profundity of the 'knowledge canon'. I remember reading in some place, the last person on earth whom we could reasonably assume to have possessed all of the knowledge available to him during the course of his life was the Greek philosopher, Aristotle (384-322 BCE). We cannot solve the ‘problem’ of knowledge, “[t]here are only different ways of understanding our world, some of which work better for some kinds of questions, and some of which work better for others.” This might not be ideal or acceptable to some, but as the philosopher and linguist Ray Jackendoff writes in his stimulating A User’s Guide to Thought and Meaning where he also distinguishes between rational and intuitive thinking, “…it’s the best we can do, so we’d better learn to live with it.”[13] In the fifth century BCE we were bequeathed one of the famous dictums and doubtless the single most important lesson of relativism from the Greek philosopher Protagoras, “[m]an is the measure of all things.” Or alternatively, that knowledge itself is perspectival. [14]  Regrettably, for most of us, we arrive at this truth when we are way too deep into our lives for it to make any real difference.

Like when this generation will grow up to find that “browser knowledge” has robbed them of the deep reservoirs of wisdom and “surfing the net” of the best years of their lives.


[1] http://sydney.edu.au/about-us.html

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Halliday

[3] http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mayer-henry-17251

[4] http://www.ocla.ox.ac.uk/biog_jeffreys_michael.shtml

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Burnheim

[6] A poignant moment a few years ago when I was by now a lecturer myself at UOW to find that another of my favourite lecturers was at this time a Fellow at the same institution, an eminent Australian philosopher in her own right, Denise Russell (Rationality and Irrationality). Karen Neander who was with John Hopkins at this time one of my best tutors (Sanity and Madness).

[7] http://www.amazon.com/Changing-Orders-Scenes-Clerical-Academic/dp/1876040866

[8] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-a-8xBbr05Y

[9] Or alternatively “The Sydney Philosophy Disturbances” http://web.maths.unsw.edu.au/~jim/sydq.html

[10] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Gaukroger

[11] My ‘discovery’ of the Church Fathers during this period was seminal in my future understanding of Church History and the development of Christian doctrine. The first patristic literature I made efforts to read at that time were compilations from Augustine, Gregory Nazianzen, and ‘copper guts’ himself Origen.

[12] I have only recently come across this informative paper from Jack A. Meacham where he dissects the intriguing question of the connection between wisdom, the context of knowledge, and our traditional models of intelligence: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/240419729_Wisdom_and_the_context_of_knowledge_Knowing_that_one_doesn%27t_know

[13] http://www.amazon.com/A-Users-Guide-Thought-Meaning/dp/019969320

[14] Though I have personally qualified that statement in my own life with another equally famous motto, that of the eleventh century philosopher and theologian Saint Anselm, fides quaerens intellectum [faith seeking understanding].

Farewell to Brian Johns (1936-2016)

A beautiful thing to have done a good deed and never to have known.

For a number of years it has been my habit late in the evening to visit the Wikipedia “Recent Deaths” webpage.[1] This not on account of any morbid curiosity on my part, but to discover who of those that have passed on will reveal new things to me. Necropolises are our greatest universities. The dead are our truest teachers. And I have left the richer not only to be reminded that I have been given another day of grace, but also with an addition of valuable knowledge from visiting these lives which have come full circle. People from all walks and schools of life. Lessons are everywhere to be found. Sometimes, too, these visits have been touched with an additional and deeper gratitude. I come face-to-face with men and women I have met at some time during my own life either incidentally or in a more personal space.

On the evening of the 1st of January 2016 I read of the passing of one of these people that I had encountered in those more personal spaces. A man who was a paper boy and a factory hand when growing up to afterwards wear a number of different hats with great distinction in the corporate, business, and academic worlds.[2] I met Brian Johns for a brief but decisive moment in my life in one of his many personifications as managing director of the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) 1987-1992.[3] It was during this evening when I visited the “Recent Deaths” webpage that one of the clues for his compassion and affection towards me would reveal itself. But first something of the context behind our correspondence and the two meetings at SBS.

At the time I was living through one of the two life experiences which would in their own season and for their own reason, take apart and change me forever. I had made the heartrending decision to ask to be relieved of my priesthood and was seeing out the last months of my diaconate.[4] I was increasingly becoming estranged from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in Sydney and had fallen into a deep melancholia (a more correct word for depression).[5] In short, outside my immediate family I was almost completely alone and on the edge of letting go of everything which I had up to that time lived and worked towards. Support from those places where I would have normally expected was not forthcoming and this was made known to me in some heartless ways. In reality, there is no one to blame, more often than not we move and respond from within a space we alone create and inhabit. I was a greatly idealistic twenty-nine year old who could now envision no future for himself. In a moment of desperation I thought my one way out (excepting for my ongoing battles with suicidal ideation) was broadcast journalism. I loved to write and to communicate with people and to listen to their stories. I felt I could do well in the media. It would have been utterly marvellous I thought, to do the research and then to sit down in a chair in front of an audience and do the interview.

This is when Brian Johns enters into my story, around late August or early September of 1990.

Somehow during those weeks of numbness and inertia I managed to put together a few words outlining as best I could my current situation and what I was hoping for in terms of the future. I addressed and posted this letter not to one of the department secretaries or programme directors, but directly to the SBS Managing Director Mr Brian Johns! And that’s where I thought it would end. Immediately afterwards I was embarrassed thinking that even if that rambling letter would reach this man what on earth would he make of me? A week or two had passed when a phone call came through to our home in Kingsgrove from the Managing Director’s private secretary asking to speak with “Father Jeremiah Michael”. Brian had actually received my letter, had read it, and asked to meet with me. It is not possible to spend our entire lives living in a world of pure perception. At last some little light at the end of the tunnel. 

I was not the young man of even a few years earlier. My once unshakeable and booming confidence was very close to being completely shattered. I was frightened of exploring new territories and had decided to never again open up my heart. To make matters worse, I had started to binge drink in a futile effort to shut away the pain. But somehow, by the grace of God, I had always been able to find that extra bit of reserve I have needed to keep moving forward. And so I nervously made an appointment with Brian’s secretary to meet with him on an afternoon of the following week. I prepared the best I could, put the alcohol and those awful anti-depressants away, and read up on the basics of news media.

It will not be possible to forget the days leading up to my meeting with Brian. I was very much anxious during the cab ride and was fearful of becoming physically ill. I needed a drink or to be sick. It had become difficult to tell the difference. A few years earlier in 1987 in my mid-twenties during the Roman Catholic-Eastern Orthodox Joint Declaration at the Vatican where I had been present to witness this historic moment, I was together with a group of young inter-denominational clerics introduced to Pope John Paul II.[6] Certainly, I was nervous and anxious then, but not as apprehensive or hesitant as I was during the hours heading into this present moment. I had an entirely different perception of myself back then in Rome and now in lots of ways I was another man. Except for the fact that hope and my belief in the Creator, would refuse to wholly go away.

As soon as I walked into the foyer of the SBS building at Milsons Point (unless I am mistaken the move to Artarmon had yet to take place)[7] I became positive and I allowed for an excitement to rush through my body which I had not felt for a long time. I was still a cleric and was dressed in my black and freshly pressed cassock. My shoes were spit-polished from the night before. More than a few quizzical stares came my way. I explained to the reception the reason behind my visit and was soon sitting in the waiting room leading into the executive offices of the Managing Director. There was a deep sense of relief as if I had succeeded in escaping from a dangerous place. Though I knew my present situation was complicated and there was more waiting for me, here at least were some lovely shards of light.

It was Brian himself who stepped out and invited me into his modestly furnished office. It was a room stacked with books. I remember from the start being impressed with his old world elegance and demeanour. Well dressed and softly spoken with a striking mane of thick greying hair, he cut an impressive figure. You knew immediately with Brian Johns, that you would have to bat straight to get his attention. On his desk, I was taken aback to find, that he had open and was in fact reading a typed MS of my poetry which I had included in my initial correspondence. It was I must confess what writers term juvenilia. Yet here was a man who had previously been a publishing director with Penguin Books taking interest in my earliest literary efforts. Even now as I write these lines, I smile at one of our first exchanges. Brian quickly asked me what it was “exactly that I wanted”. I was overwhelmed by this incredible opportunity and trust which was directly cast my way. I fumbled for a response and came out with a less then convincing “I would like to read the news.”

He smiled warmly and encouragingly, he asked a few more questions, and then said, “Okay, Jeremiah, we will speak again.” What happened afterwards and my reasons for not carrying through with Brian’s amazingly generous response is for another day. I wrote a letter telling him “I was not in the right frame of mind and that I was extremely sorry for robbing him of his valuable time”. But a few weeks later I back-tracked and Brian once more, unbelievably for someone in his position, reached out to me again. However, for a second time I told him I was in no condition to go ahead with such a “visible career move" when I was so close to “abandoning my priestly vocation” and that I was heading for England to enter a retreat.

I flew out to London soon afterwards as the First Gulf War (1990-1) was getting underway and the world was entering into yet another of its post WWII apocalyptic moods. I asked and was given permission to spend time with the monastic community of Saint John the Baptist in Essex, Tolleshunt Knights.[8] The abbot at the time was the recently sainted Father Sophrony.[9]  At Heathrow Airport everywhere there were signs of the war, the surrounds replete with heavy armaments and soldiery. I, too, on a much smaller scale was to enter into my own private war. It was to last for many years with as many twists and turns as Tiamat’s tail.

The heart of these paragraphs has to do with the generosity and kindness that a man in a high professional post would express to another man whose life was at a crossroads. I started these paragraphs with the promise of revealing a clue which communicated to me in a profoundly moving way a hidden connection between myself and Brian, and why he seemed to understand where even some of my oldest and dearest friends could not. Here was a stranger, who discovered more in me in only a few hours of conversation, what others could not over the duration of many years. I learnt much about friendship during those agonizing months and it would become a subject of lasting fascination for me.

I did not know until a few days ago that Brian himself had been a seminarian at Saint Columba’s Seminary and was preparing for the priesthood.[10] Incredibly and in another lovely twist, our vocations would again career into each other when much later we would both be awarded professorships.

My final correspondence with Brian was a quarter of a century ago. A letter sent from London a day or two after my arrival, and a postcard from Madrid a month after my request to be relieved of my priesthood had been granted by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Our lives are to be measured by good deeds and little else. It is where it all begins and where it will all end.

Thank you dear Brian, requiescat in pace.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deaths_in_2016

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Johns_(businessman)

[3] http://www.sbs.com.au/

[4] http://orthodoxwiki.org/Presbyter [I was ordained into the diaconate as a celibate with the view towards a bishopric].

[5] William Styron rightly made this distinction between depression and melancholia in his own memoir of his struggle with mental illness in the memorable Darkness Visible. http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/12/the-hope-that-william-styrons-darkness-visible-offers-25-years-later/383406/

[6] https://www.ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/JP2DIM1.HTM

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_Broadcasting_Service

[8] http://www.thyateira.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=373&Itemid=163

[9] http://orthodoxwiki.org/Sophrony_(Sakharov)

[10] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Johns_(businessman)

Realizing the divine within

Gerringong, NSW

One of the great deceptions of our automated world, where people as well as perishable goods are earmarked with an expiry date, is the dreadful lie of the easy path to peace and enlightenment. These two ways are invariably sold and packaged together. The reality is more sobering and gut-wrenching. Most of us know, as if by an inborn instinct, there are no short-cuts to realizing the divine within. For some of us this struggle to realize our potential and come to terms with our “faith seeking understanding” will take many years, if not decades. Anselm knew well what he was talking about with his famous motto fides quaerens intellectum.[1] In other words, “an active love of God seeking a deeper knowledge of God.” And even after having arrived at this “good place”, where we have touched upon some little understanding, the struggle does not end. No one can fight this most important of battles for us; we are alone to work our way through the darkness until we come across one or two shards of blazing light. That is, until we go to sleep one fateful night knowing and believing we would suffer it all again...  All of it… to be at the place where we are at that very moment, when it seemed the heavens opened up for us alone that we might catch a glimpse of our true name: “…and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it” (Rev. 2:17).  

There is no hidden secret to peace and enlightenment. If there are any secrets, they are evident ones we all discern and attempt to put into practice knowing in our hearts the truth is stumbling upon us rather than the other way round. Gratia urget nos, “grace presses on us”. There is a mystic in each one of us: we have all prayed, or have been dazzled by the stars, or have wept to music. The search for peace itself is mystical at its core. The problem is though these ‘secrets’ are plain enough to see, it is very difficult to consistently put them into practice. These universal truths, sagacious and sensible lessons, have been freely given to us and put down in writing by the wisdom teachers of our collective spiritual tradition. I lived by these few simple but life-altering lessons for many years until without realizing, I gradually abandoned them as I became immersed in the games and intrigues of the world. When I did begin to understand once more, it was almost too late. I thought that “I” knew better and tried to resolve the suffering in my life on my own terms. This is one of the fundamental mistakes which normally goes by the name of pride and is particularly dangerous for a religious who believes they are practising humility. Of course, there is and will be, that right moment when it seems the great resolution has come, but pride would make us blind to the fact that there are strong forces, even on the outside of ourselves, which influence our decision making and can often determine the journey ahead. These ‘strong forces’, opportunity or chance for instance, cannot be ignored nor can they be underestimated for they are always there. This interplay between the self and the outside is like the flesh and sinews which wrap around the bones of the living.

Everything which was good and peaceful in my life revolved around detachment, for example, making an effort to remain unaffected by either praise or criticism. Detachment is not indifference. [2] It is neither apathy nor absence; it is a dignified and quiet presence. It is from this place of stillness and self-control that most favourable things will flow. I will talk again about these lessons later, but they do revolve around three things: love, humility, and self-knowledge. Above all else self-sacrificing love. “Love, and do what you will” are the famous if not scandalous words of Saint Augustine.[3] But what he really is saying, that everything we do, should find its first cause in love: our silence, our tears, and even all that from which we refrain. Those who genuinely experience and participate in this communion of Love are incapable of causing intentional hurt to others. Admittedly, these are idealistic words and few of us will know what it is like to live wholeheartedly by their creed. Yet whatever our weakness or frailty, it should not exclude or discourage us from sharing in the ancient wisdom of such timeless revelations which have from the beginning been disclosed to the heart.[4] In the Gospels the “heart” is where both “good” and “evil” can be stored up (Lk 6:45) and it is the organ of our spiritual and moral cognisance (Mk 2:6-8). This is typical of spiritual literature and emblematic of the universal comprehension of the heart as the place of the subconscious, and seat of the emotions, passions, and appetites.

One of the enduringly hard questions for those interested in the religious experience of humankind[5] has been: why does it seem that the great religious traditions lead us on different, if not often times diametrically opposing paths. Is not all of this hopelessly misleading for our spirit, and can it not ‘twist’ us out of shape? I will not pretend to know the answer. All I can do is to share something of my own response as I have grappled with the question over many years and after having sat at the feet of some wonderful teachers. In my personal encounters with these wise men and women from both the desert and the city, I could not help but observe a discernible parallel in the philosophy of how “good religion” is both understood and practised. I was profoundly excited by this “discovery” for though it was certainly no hidden secret and it is there in plain print in our wisdom literature, it is a lesson that will not come easy. It is for the individual soul to wrestle with the revelation. None of this belongs entirely to the imaginary realm, but it is real like a deep cut to the flesh or the sharp sting of a red pepper on the tongue.     

[1] Saint Anselm’s Proslogion, Preface.

[2] If you wish to explore “detachment” at the profoundly deeper level and its connection to apatheia [‘passionlessness’ or ‘dispassion’] then please see: Anthony M. Coniaris, A Beginner’s Introduction to the Philokalia, (Light & Life, USA, 2004).

[3] In Epist. Joann. Tractatus, vii, 8.

[4] John Climacus: From the Egyptian Desert to the Sinaite Mountain, John Chryssavgis, [Chapter 3 Kardia: The Heart], (Ashgate, England, 2004).

[5] Ninian Smart, The Religious Experience of Mankind, (Scribner, New York, 1984).