On the Orthodox Holy Fathers

St. Ignaty Brianchininov 1807-1867

But where are you hidden, O true and holy Faith? I could not recognize you in fanaticism which was not sealed with the Gospel meekness; it breathed passion and high-mindedness! I could not recognize you in the arbitrary teaching which separated from the Church, making up its own new system, vainly and pridefully proclaiming the discovery of a new, true Christian faith, after a lapse of eighteen centuries from the Incarnation of God the Word!

Oh! In what a heavy perplexity my soul was! How frightfully it was weighed down! What waves of doubt rose up against it, arising from distrust of myself, from distrust of everything that was clamoring, crying out around me because of my lack of knowledge, my ignorance of the truth.

And I began often, with tears, to implore God that He might not give me over as a sacrifice to error, but that He might show me the right path on which I should direct towards Him my invisible journey of mind and heart. And, O wonder! Suddenly a thought stood before me… My heart went out to it as to the embrace of a friend. This thought inspired me to study faith in the sources — in the writings of the Holy Fathers! “Their holiness,” the thought said to me, “vouches for their trustworthiness: choose them for your guides.”

I obeyed. I found the means of obtaining the works of the holy pleasers of God, and with eagerness I began to read them, investigate them deeply. Having read some, I would take up others, read them, re-read them, study them. What was it that above all struck me in the works of the Fathers of the Orthodox Church? It was their harmony, their wondrous, magnificent harmony. Eighteen centuries, through their lips, testified to a single unanimous teaching, a Divine teaching!

When on a clear autumn night I gaze at the clear sky, sown with numberless stars, so diverse in size yet shedding a single light, then I say to myself: such are the writings of the Holy Fathers! When on a summer day I gaze at the vast sea, covered with a multitude of diverse vessels with their unfurled sails like white swans’ wings, vessels racing under a single wind to a single goal, to a single harbor, I say to myself: such are the wrtings of the Fathers! When I hear a harmonious, many-voiced choir, in which diverse voices in elegant harmony sing a single Divine song, then I say to myself: such are the writings of the Holy Fathers!

And what teaching do I find in them? I find a teaching repeated by all the Fathers, namely, that the only path to salvation is the unwavering following of the instructions of the Holy Fathers. “Have you seen,” they say, “anyone deceived by false teaching, perishing from an incorrect choice of ascetic labors? — then know that he followed hmself, his own understanding, his own opinions, and not the teaching of the Holy Fathers,” (Abba Drortheos of Gaza, 5th Instruction) out of which is composed the dogmatic and moral teaching of the Church. With this tradition as a priceless possession, the Church nourishes Her children. This thought [of taking the Holy Fathers as my guide] was sent by God, from Whom every good gift, from Whom every good thought is the beginning of every good thing. (cf. St. John Chrysostom, 7th Prayer Before Sleep, 2nd half, 4th petition) Thus do the Fathers maintain, thus it is made clear from the very essence of the matter.  (My Lamentation, The Orthodox Word Vol. 38, No. 1 [222]2002)