Spiritual reading and Elder Anthony of Optina

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Back in 2006, my atheist friend Mitch challenged my understanding of active spiritual life in a very simple way- he was appalled to hear that I’d never read the entire Bible. Fine. I claim to be a Christian, I probably should have some knowledge of our most important text. I read through the New Testament and found to my delight that I’d heard most of it aloud in church. Going back to the Old Testament, I found to my dismay that I was completely lost. So I continued reading the Bible sporadically in large chunks.

Fast-forward to sometime in 2009 or ’10, I realize that hey, I should probably be reading the Bible daily. Fine. I start reading a chapter of the New and Old Testaments daily. I up that to a chapter from an epistle, a chapter from the Gospel, an Old Testament chapter, and a couple of psalms each day. Obviously, this is completely unsustainable. It’s also tough to read all these chapters when they’re completely unrelated to each other. So you know what’s a lot easier than that? Doing the spiritual readings the church actually gives you for each day of the year. *Facepalm*

Well, she may be slow, but she learns eventually. I’ve tried doing my spiritual readings in the morning, at night, twice daily, with a journal, just NT, just OT, with commentary, without commentary etc. etc. etc. It was also important to me that I read works that would contribute to my understanding and leading a Christian life on a daily basis (Holy Fathers, contemporary Elders, lives of saints, etc.).

I think I’ve finally settled on something that works for me. I read the daily readings from my church calendar after morning prayers, so I can (hopefully) reflect on them during the day. After evening prayers I read one page (and ONLY one page) from whatever spiritual book I’m currently working on. Yes, this is slow going, but you have a much harder time blowing off your spiritual reading if it’s only one page. There’s also the tremendous benefit of being able to actually process what you’ve read, since Orthodox spiritual reading can be pretty hefty. If I feel like the thought’s not complete and I’m not too tired, then I’ll complete the chapter/letter/set of sayings I’m reading. For the most part though, I feel like my page-a-day method has been beneficial. This worked particularly well for St. Theophan’s The Spiritual Life and How to Be Attuned to It. It is also working pretty decently for the two books I’m currently working on, Courage to Pray and Elder Anthony of Optina.
Since this is already kind of a long post, I’m going to create a separate one for my quote from Elder Anthony of Optina.

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