Nov 05 2010

ORTHODOX SPIRITUALITY: An Outline of the Orthodox Ascetical and Mystical Tradition, By Father Lev Gillet (Part 1)

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– Part 1 of 3-

(For part 2 click here)

(For part 3 click here)


by Father Lev Gillet

The author, Fr. Lev Gillet, is well known to SMOF members since his book “On the Invocation of the Name of Jesus” has been previously introduced by SMOF in September 2000.  He wrote many other books and articles, among them “Serve the Lord with Gladness (Be My Priest)”, “In Thy Presence”, “Communion in the Messiah”, “Burning Bush”, “Year of Grace”, “A Day with Our Lord”, “Dialogue With The Savior”, and “Le Visage De Lumiere”.  Some of these books have been translated to many other languages including the Arabic.  The Arabic translations were made by H.G. Bishop Moussa, the late Fr. Bishoy Kamel, and the late Dr. Ramsis Ishak.  The present book, Orthodox Spirituality, occupies a unique position among his books, as it appears to summarize his views and his experience in the Orthodox Church after his long services among the different Christian denominations and his service as a Catholic Monk.

Fr. Lev Gillet departed from this present world in March 1980.  His life has been summarized as “The Monk in the City, a Pilgrim in many worlds”1.  Fr. Lev Gillet lived as a kind of pilgrim between the churches, truly the citizen and inhabitant of various worlds.  Living in both Western and Eastern monasteries, then among the Russian émigrés and the homeless of Paris and later in London, Beirut and Geneva, the little monk had a large soul, an amazingly expansive and diversified life.  He most certainly was truly a monk, both of the Western Church’s Benedictine order and of the Eastern Church, but for relatively a brief time of his long life actually resident in a monastic community.  He had the soul of a pilgrim.  In his long life he was never tied down to one occupation, position or place.  For many years he was the chaplain of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, which published some of his books.  This Fellowship is an organization dedicated to furthering mutual understanding and co-operation between the divided Christians of East and West.  This vast experience is reflected in many parts of the present book, Orthodox Spirituality, especially in its first two chapters.

As the name of the book emphasizes, Orthodoxy is not just a certain set of dogmas and teachings, but it is a spiritual life.  This life can be seen in persons belonging to different Churches, Orthodox, Catholic or Evangelical.  This is clearly stated in the Introduction: “She (the Eastern Church) can acknowledge and honor all that is deeply Christian – and therefore “Orthodox” – in such men … (of the Western Churches)”.  The book itself consists of five chapters: 1) The Historical Development of Orthodox Spirituality, 2) The Essentials of Orthodox Spirituality, 3) The Baptizing Christ, 4) Christ the Sender of the Spirit, 5) Christ our Passover, and is followed by an Appendix relating to more recent experiences of the author, including experience in the Middle East.  The first chapter is an excellent and brief historical introduction to the second, and the last three chapters are spiritually delightful expansions of the last item in the second chapter, the stages of spiritual life.  Therefore, we picked the second chapter to present its detailed summary, as representative of the core of the book.

“Orthodox Spirituality: An outline of the Orthodox ascetical and mystical tradition” is published by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 575 Scarsdale Rd., Crestwood, NY 10707, and may be purchased from the publisher or from Light and Life Publishing, 4808 Park Glen Rd., Minneapolis, MN 55416, as well as from other Orthodox Churches’ bookstores.

Summary of Chapter 2

Essentials of Orthodox Spirituality

(1) Aim and means of Christian life

v      The aim of man’s life is union (henosis) with God and deification (theosis).

v     What is meant is not, of course, a pantheistic identity, but a sharing through grace, in the divine life “… that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet.1:4).

v     Union with God is the perfect fulfillment of the “kingdom” announced by the Gospel.

v     Only in union with the life of the Three Persons is man enabled to love God with his whole heart, soul, and mind and his neighbor as himself.

v     Union between God and Man cannot be achieved without a Mediator, who is the Word made Flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ “I am the Way…no man cometh unto the Father but by Me” (John 14:6).

v     Incorporation into Christ is the only means to reach our supernatural end.

v     St. Irenaeus writes “Through the Spirit one ascends to the Son, and through the Son to the Father”.

v     The redeeming action of our Lord constitutes the alpha and omega as well as the center of Christian spirituality.

(2) Divine Grace and Human Will

v     The incorporation of man into Christ and his union with God require the co-operation of two unequal, but equally necessary forces: divine grace and human will.

v     There can be no intimate union with God if our own will is not surrendered and conformed to the divine will “… Lo, I come to do Thy Will, O God” (Heb 10:9).

v     Our weak human will remains powerless if it is not anticipated and upheld by the grace of God.

v   It is grace that achieves in us both the willing and the doing.

v      St. John Chrysostom writes “ We must first select good, and then God adds what appertains to His office; He does not act antecedently to our will, so as not to destroy our liberty”.

v     Origen has already taught that grace reinforces voluntary energy without destroying freedom.

v     St. Ephraim wrote on the necessity of the divine help.

v     St. Clement of Alexandria coined the word “synergy” (co-operation) in order to express the action of these two con-joined energies: grace and human will.

v     The term and idea of synergy has remained and represent, until today, the doctrine of the Orthodox Church on these matters.

(continue to part 2)


  1. For a review of his life, see an article by Fr. Michael Plekon, entitled “Father Lev Gillet: The Monk in the City, a Pilgrim in many worlds”, and the references therein.  This article is available on the Internet at:

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