Cover of Mountain of Silence

Every Thursday morning at 6:30, my priest hosts a study group. For the longest time, the study was attended solely by Mennonites. Then a friend started going and, later, I went. When I started, they were half way done with Mountain of Silence.

At first, I wasn’t sure I was going to read the book, but this weekend, at our church’s bazaar, I found a copy of the book.

“Shutting down the monasteries,” he explained in regard to developments in the West after the Reformation, “was like snatching the heart out of Christianity.” He meant that it was in the monasteries that the religious experience was systematically cultivated, providing a living witness to the reality of God. By closing down monasteries, the West came to rely exclusively on the intellect in its quest for God. But the way to God, Father Maximos would say repeatedly, is neither through philosophy nor through experimental science, but through systematic methods of spiritual practice that could open us up to the Grace of the Holy Spirit. (pp 11-12)

... And what was Christ’s reply? “Let the dead bury their own dead.” In other words, what is of supreme importance, over and above all relationships, is our relationship to God. Isn’t this an invitation to Monastic life? Isn’t that the beginning of monasticism? (pp 31-32)

Parents urge their children to excel so that they may be useful to society. Based on our spiritual tradition, I prefer to see human beings first and foremost in terms of who they are and only after that in terms of their contributions to society. Otherwise, we run the risk of turning people into machines that produce useful things. So what if you do not produce useful things? Does that mean you should be discarded as a useless object? I’m afraid that with this orientation contemporary humanity has undermined the inherent value of the human person. (p 36)

... we must not evaluate human beings on the basis of their contributions and utility to society, but on the basis of who they are individually. This is the essence of Christian spirituality. (p 37)

Monasticism keeps alive in an unadultered way the experience of the Christ. It is the space within which a human being is liberated from all biological and worldly concerns to redirect their focus and energy toward an exclusive preoccupation with the reality of God. (pp 37-38)

“Logic and reason cannot investigate that which is beyond logic and reason. You understand that don’t you?”

“Yes. That’s what the mystics have been saying time and again. That God cannot be talked about, but must be experienced. But what does that mean? Does that mean God cannot be studied?”

“No. We can and must study God. And we can reach God and get to know Him.“

“But how?” I persisted.

Father Maximos paused for a few seconds. “Christ Himself revealed to us the method. He told us that not only are we capable of exploring God but we can also live with Him, become one with Him. And the organ by which we can achieve that is neither our senses nor our logic but our hearts.” (p 43)

“Are we to assume that the philosophical quest for God, one of the central passions of the Western mind from Plato to Immanual Kant and the great philosophers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, has in reality been off its mark?”

“Yes. Completely.” (p 44)

“This is the kind of faith that the saints posses as direct experience. Consequently they are unafraid of death, of war, of illness, or anything else of this world. They are beyond all worldly ambition. of money, fame, power, safety, and the like. Such persons transcend the idea of God and enter into the experience of God.”

“But how many people can really know God that way?” I complained.

“Well, as long as we do not know God experientially then we should at least realize that we are simply ideological believers,” Father Maximos replied dryly. “The ideal and the ultimate form of true faith means having direct experience of God as a living reality.” (p 45)

The Bible, Father Maximos claimed, would be inadequate by itself to lead us toward God. Without the experience and testimony of the saints about the reality of God, the Bible would be an “empty letter.”

“There is only one form of Education: to know and love God.”