24 March 2013
About Nicholas Deputatov
Awareness of God, by Fr. Nicholas Deputatov
Our Living Links with the Holy Fathers
Archpriest Nicholas Deputatov
by Fr. Seraphim Rose, 1976 issue #69
Christ Our Saviour has told us that in the last times, because lawlessness shall be multiplied, the love of many shall grow cold; but, He added, he that endureth to the end shall be saved (Matt. 24:12-13). In our time we see with all clarity that mankind, having lost love, has lost also the awareness of the Source of love, which is God. There is indeed almost no awareness of the Source of love, which is God. There is indeed almost no awareness today that God exists and that He manifests himself in all things; and mankind runs to and fro, as if in actual fact there is no God Who has created man and the whole universe. The whole of today's "modern" life, possessed by corrupt vanity, has as its aim to suck even the elect into the whirlpool of passions, trivialities, and "events" which eclipse the consciousness of God's Providence acting in all things. Therefore, the most important thing in our time, in order to be one who endures to the end and is saved, is to work out within oneself an authentic and creative awareness of God which can serve as one's spiritual anchor in the stormy sea of contemporary life.
The vast majority of today's "Orthodox theologians" – let us frankly acknowledge – neither has nor communicates this awareness of God. Today's Orthodox "academies," under the strong influence of the Western academic environment, teach at best only the outward, formal side of Orthodox doctrine, which, even when it is technically correct, is spiritually powerless and not only does it not lead to a greater awareness of God (which is surely what theology should do), but even gives rise, by way of reaction against its deadness, to the opposite extreme of "charismatic" movements whose feverish "life" is still more remote from true Orthodoxy.
The true Orthodox theologians of our day are not, as a rule, to be found in Orthodox academies, nor in pompous "theological conferences." They are to be sought in humbler places, and usually they will not bear the name "theologian." They themselves would not presume to call their handing down the Orthodox theological tradition anything more than "faithfulness to the Holy Fathers" – but it is just this faithfulness and this humility that mark them out as bearers of the authentic tradition of Orthodoxy – qualities which are lacking in the most renowned "Orthodox theologians" today.
The Russian Church has known many such authentic theologians in the past century, even if in our time of spiritual barrenness it would seem that they are dying out. One such bearer of the Church's traditional wisdom is a priest who would be astonished to hear himself called a "theologian": Father Nicholas Deputatov of the St. Nicholas Cathedral in Brisbane Australia.
Now just 80 years old [in 1976], Father Nicholas, after serving in the Russian Imperial Army, emigrated after the Revolution to the Far East and received his theological education in the 1930's in Harbin, Manchuria – an Orthodox "backwater" far removed from the centers of theological modernism in Europe and America. His chief preceptor in his theological studies was Archbishop Dimitry, father of Metropolitan Philaret, present Chief Hierarch of the Russian Church Outside of Russia. But his love for spiritual wisdom dates from his childhood, when he was already an avid reader of Orthodox books and periodicals; and his love for true philosophy, which is to be found in the Church of Christ, was first awakened even earlier when, at the age of four, he first encountered the sorrows of life in bitter tears over the bewildering fact of the death of a young woman – an experience which has stayed with him all his life.
The Holy Fathers whose teaching is to be found most frequently in Fr. Nicholas' writings are, in general, those who are most loved by readers of spiritual writings in Russian: the Fathers of the Philokalia, St. Isaac the Syrian, St. Symeon the New Theologian, the Elders of Optina, St. John of Kronstadt, Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov, and – his favorite of all – Bishop Theophan the Recluse, whom he found to be a recent Father in the ancient tradition and one who has been a help and support to him throughout his own life. The life and writings of Bishop Theophan formed the subject of Fr. Nicholas' Candidate's Thesis for his theological degree in 1938 (published in 1971 by Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, N.Y.).
Over the years, under the influence of his reflective reading of such spiritual sources, and with his experience as an Orthodox pastor since 1941, Fr. Nicholas' thoughts have deepened and become clarified, and his heart has found deep peace; and so when, in his mature years, he was called upon to write articles for Russian religious periodicals in the Diaspora, the result has been a series of spiritual "pearls": articles which breathe the fresh air of true Orthodox wisdom, spoken from the heart and from a deep, unpretentious rootedness in age-old Orthodoxy.
There is not a single "theological problem" (as this is understood by today's theological sophisticates) in Fr. Nicholas' writings; everything he writes about comes from life and is intended to help Orthodox believers lead humble and fruitful Christian lives and attain salvation in the eternal Kingdom of Heaven. He sums up his own Orthodox philosophy of life in a very few words: "We live more an inward life. And it is given to each from Above to shed around oneself the fragrance of Christ, which comes from the thought of God and from prayer In this is joy, happiness, blessedness. The soul that thinks on Divine things lives as in paradise, surrounded by Divine light, and burns with the fire of love. The remembrance of the Saviour cleanses the mind, and sanctifies the inward mind by Divine grace, by the power of the Holy Spirit."
In accordance with the mature Christian philosophy, Fr. Nicholas' writings deal chiefly with the inward spiritual life and the means to it: humility, self-reproach, repentance, purification, endurance of sickness and trials, the necessity of spiritual reading, the Prayer of Jesus, living by the heart and not the head. One central thread runs through all his writings and has given its name to the collection of them just published by the Saint Herman of Alaska Brotherhood: AWARENESS OF GOD (Богосознанie). This theme, like all he writes about, has nothing abstract about it; it is precisely and simply the living awareness and knowledge of God, virtually unknown to present-day "theologians," which characterize the true Orthodox believer. And despite Fr. Nicholas' own simplicity and utter unconcern for theological "problems," what he has to say about this living knowledge of God is in a way an answer to those who have become confused by a theological "knowledge" which is abstract filled with self-esteem, and does not at all bring the deliverance and freedom which our Saviour has promised to true knowledge (John 8:32). For Fr. Nicholas only transmits, as a living disciple of living Fathers, and Patristic teaching which is directed to all men in all times. Thus, his contrast between rationalism and mystical knowledge is a Patristic distinction so necessary to our own time, whose rationalism is different not in kind but only in degree from the rationalism of the ancients which the Fathers combatted. One must be careful, however, to read Fr. Nicholas' words in a Patristic rather than a modern context; he, like the Fathers, writes from the heart and not from a narrowly logical mind, and where he may seem to be superficially "inconsistent" it is because the truth which the heart sees does not quibble over words. Thus, when he writes, in one of the articles translated below [Fr. Seraphim included his translation of the first 4 chapters of the book after this introduction.] of the necessity to "renounce thinking" in order to know God, one must of course understand this not in a modern "anti-intellectual" way but rather in the context of the traditional Orthodox non-rational means of knowing God through the Church's Mysteries, disciplines, hymns, etc. – which are not at all opposed to thinking as such, but only to the false thinking of rationalism, which tries to capture God in its logical nets.
Most of Fr Nicholas' articles in the past 25 years have been published in Orthodox Russia, the foremost Russian Church periodical of the Diaspora. These articles established for Fr. Nicholas a reputation as one of the leading ecclesiastical writers of the Russian Church Outside of Russia, so much so that Archimandrite Constantine (see his biography in The Orthodox Word, Jan-Feb 1976) looked upon him as a worthy successor to himself as editor of Orthodox Russia and leading spokesman of the pure Orthodox tradition. This is all the more remarkable in that Fr. Nicholas is a married priest, with children and grandchildren – a convincing proof that the sources of true Orthodoxy, although they are primarily monastic in origin and inspiration, are the common treasure of the entire Church and not merely some part of it.
But Fr. Nicholas' writings are not only for the Russians of the Diaspora. As the reader of the articles presented below [Again, Fr. Seraphim refers to his translation of the first 4 chapters of the book which he published with this introduction.] (all translated from the new book pages 140-143, 110-112, 269-271) will readily see, they are meant for all conscious Orthodox Christians, and especially those of the latter times in which we live, when those who cease to be conscious Christians will also cease to be Orthodox. And in a special sense they are meant for the Orthodox Christians of contemporary Russia, newly awakening now after the long sleep of the Communist Yoke. The following excerpts from the editors' introduction to Fr. Nicholas' new book will give the English-speaking reader a general idea of how he is being presented to the Orthodox Christians of Russia, who hopefully will soon begin to receive copies of the book. [By "editors" plural, we know that Fr. Herman contributed to the Introduction to Awareness of God.]
• "The book is written in a superb, exalted Russian language, in an elevated tone which is sober, vigilant, with Patristic depth, preciseness, and power. The topics here are down to earth, suffered through, wept through. There is a flaming love for Russia, but the hierarchy of values is not destroyed: Orthodoxy stand in the first place, and it is authentic Orthodoxy. And truly, here there is the fragrance of Holy Russia... In our time which has become dirtied and confused theologically, when in truth the salt of the earth has lost its savor, this work of a humble shepherd of Christ is the true spiritual creativity and is a clear proof that the Russian Diaspora has preserved this salt – which one can by no means say concerning the heretical Parisian "theologians." [By Parisian "theologians" Fr. Seraphim is referring to Schmemann/Meyendorff/et.al.]
• "Yes, it has preserved it. It precisely our Russian Church Outside of Russia which has preserved in its purity the great Russian spiritual culture by means of a difficult struggle, as yet unappreciated. It has not bartered Orthodoxy in order to become fashionable among men, to be recognized by the powerful of this world. No; in poverty and in the humility of its earthly banishment it has gone out over the whole face of the earth, singing of the heavenly calling of all peoples to the Kingdom of Christ not of this world. And now, being filled up with new tribes and generations, it bears the triumphant banner of the greatest value given to man on earth: True, undistorted Orthodoxy.
• "Like the armor of a victor, this book is an offering to contemporary Russia from a Diaspora which has fulfilled its holy duty. May the sons of the fields and groves of Holy Russia, now awakening, be inspired by true AWARENESS OF GOD. Amen.