On Experts

During Morning Prayer in Lent, Old St Paul’s has a tradition of an additional reading from the early Mothers and Fathers of the Church. This morning, I used one from an excellent compendium of readings from the patristic period by the late Cardinal Tomas Spidlik, who knew a thing or two about this era and about Eastern Christian spirituality. The book is called ‘Drinking from the Hidden Fountain‘ and today’s reading was from the 6th century monk and teacher, Dorotheos of Gaza.

It comes from his discourse on ‘consultation’ where he meditates on Proverbs 11:14 – ‘Those who have no guidance fall like leaves but there is safety in much counsel.’ He is confident that all who seek God will find guidance and urges that we seek wise counsel in every area of our lives. For Dorotheos, speaking out of the heart of monastic experience, this is above all an exercise of humility:

Learn then, brothers and sisters, to enquire; be convinced that not to set one’s own path is a great thing. This is humility, this is peace of soul, this is joy!

We should not undertake the path towards God alone. There is wisdom to draw on from those who have walked the path before us, or for a longer time, or with such wholehearted intent and luminous insight that we can trust their guidance.

In a different realm, it is interesting that many have highlighted the need to hear trusted voices in the midst of a pandemic when, until very recently, such expert voices have been called into question by some with a political agenda. Perhaps this is also a time to seek out the wise counsel of those who can speak reliably to us about the spiritual life. Words of encouragement, support and insight are always welcome. Right now, they are essential.

I have told you all this so that you may know how much rest and tranquility we may have  – and that will all security – by not settling anything by ourselves, but by casting everything that concerns ourselves upon God and on those who, after God, have the power to guide us.


quotations are taken from Dorotheos of Gaza; Discourses and Sayings Cistercian Publications, Kalamazoo, 1977, translated and introduced by Eric P. Wheeler

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