St. Theophan the Recluse: Progressive Ravings and the Theoretical Mindset

St. Theophan the Recluse

St. Theophan the Recluse

The more I love humanity in general the less I love man in particular…The more I hate men individually the more I love humanity. -Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Source: John Simmons

From “The Spiritual Life” Chapters 16 and 17.

By St. Theophan the Recluse

What has happened to you? What kinds of questions are these? “I do not know what to do with my life. Should I be doing something in particular? Should I define some particular purpose for myself?” I read this and I was dumbfounded; where could such odd thoughts have come from? Indeed, you already settled all of this when you expressed the desire to stand at the level of human dignity.

I would guess that among your friends are progressive thinkers, or that you have joined a society having such people in it, and they have scattered your good sense. Such people usually rave in this manner.

It seems to me that all of this is clear and simple; there is no reason to torture yourself with difficult problems. You need to put out of your mind any plans about “multi-beneficial, all-embracing, common-to-all mankind” activity such as the progressives rant about.

Phrases such as “the good of mankind” and “the good of the people” are always on their tongues…the progressives have in mind all mankind or at least all of its people lumped together. Probably you, after hearing so many profound ideas, were captivated by them, and when you turned your eyes to your real life, you saw with regret that you had vegetated in your family circle without benefit or purpose. Oh! Only now has someone opened your eyes!

The fact is, however, that “mankind” or “the people” does not exist as a person for whom you could do something right now. It consists of individual persons. By doing something for one person, we are doing it within the general mass of humanity.

If each one of us did what was possible to do for whoever was standing right in front of our eyes, instead of goggling at the community of mankind, then all people, in aggregate, would at each moment be doing that which is needed by those in need, and by satisfying their needs, would establish the welfare of all mankind, which is made up of haves and have-nots, the weak and the strong. But those who keep thoughts of the welfare of all mankind inattentively let slip by that which is in front of their eyes. Because they do not have the opportunity to perform a general work, and let slip by the opportunity to perform a particular work, they accomplish nothing towards the main purpose of life.

I was told of such an instance in St. Petersburg. There was some sort of meeting of young people who were advocates of universal welfare – this was at the very height of the progressive raving. One gentleman was making an impassioned speech about love for mankind and the people. Everyone was enraptured.

But when He returned home, his servant did not open the door quickly enough – he had not seen him coming. The servant did not give him a candle quickly enough, somethng had happened to his pipe, and it was a little cold in his room. Our philanthropist could not stand this, and finally he sharply reprimanded his servant. The latter answered something back, and the former struck him in the chest. And so here is our fine fellow who was overflowing with love toward mankind in one place, who could not behave properly toward even one person at home.

Also at the very height of progressive raving, there were some pretty girls who threw themselves into the work of bookbinding establishments, who often left their mothers without a crust of bread. All the same, they imagined that they were in some way moving forward and establishing the happiness of mankind.

All troubles come from a mental outlook that is too broad. It is better to humbly cast your eyes down toward your feet, and to figure out which step to take where. This is the truest path.

St. Theophan the Recluse (January 10, 1815 – January 6, 1894) is a well-known saint in the Russian Orthodox Church. He was born George Vasilievich Govorov, in the village of Chernavsk. His father was a Russian Orthodox priest. He was educated in the seminaries at Livny, Orel and Kiev. In 1841 he was ordained, became a monk, and adopted the name Theophan. He later became the Bishop of Tambov.

He is especially well-known today through the many books he wrote concerning the spiritual life, especially on the subjects of the Christian life and the training of youth in the faith.


  1. These attitudes, I think, can be commonly found among the so-called “progressives.” They pay lip service to mankind 0r as they would express it, “humankind,” and constantly berate conservatives for their inhumanity. Yet in practice, (and I’ve seen it many times) in personal relationships, they are not so charitable. I once had a colleague who championed “world peace,” but mistreated (his/her) cleaning lady and paid the poor woman to the penny, in a miserly way. It’s much easier in the abstract to laud the downtrodden, but in practice, those kinds of folks are miserly in their compassion.

  2. SeraphimJerome says

    What happens when your Orthodox church spouts such opinions as their own? Is there a true orthodox church in America?

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse says

      I am not aware that the Church espouses Progressive ideas. I know there are Orthodox Progressives, although they don’t see themselves as such of course. They usually get challenged up front.

  3. SeraphimJerome says

    “Again we pray for an end to racism and hatred between people, and for an end to the menace of violence plaguing the world and our country; for all who suffer indignity and death; that we will be emboldened to stand for common sense, justice and peace for all: We pray Thee, Almighty Father, harken to our prayer and have mercy.

    Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection, NYC (OCA)

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