The book is a "principal spiritual text" for all the Eastern Orthodox churches. The publishers of the current English translation state that "the Philokalia has exercised an influence far greater than that of any book other than the Bible in the recent history of the Orthodox Church."
Nikodemos and Makarios were monks at Mt. Athos, a mountainous peninsula in northern Greece, historically considered the geographical center of Orthodox spirituality and home to 20 monasteries. The first edition, in Greek, was published in Venice in 1782, with a second Greek edition published in Athens in 1893. All the original texts were in Greek—two of them were first written in Latin and translated into Greek in the Byzantine era.
Paisius Velichkovsky's translation into Church Slavonic, Dobrotolublye (published in Moscow in 1793), included selected portions of the Philokalia and was the version that the pilgrim in The Way of a Pilgrim carried on his journey. That book about a Russian pilgrim who is seeking advice on interior prayer helped popularize the Philokalia and its teachings in Russia. Velichkovsky's translation was the first to become widely read by the public, away from the monasteries—helped by the popularity of The Way of a Pilgrim, and the public influence of the startsy at Optina Monastery known as the Optina Elders. Two Russian language translations appeared in the 19th century, one by Ignatius Brianchaninov (1857) and another by Theophan the Recluse's Dobrotolubiye (1877). The latter was published in five volumes and included texts that were not in the original Greek edition.
Velichkovsky was initially hesitant to share his translation outside of the Optina Monastery walls. He was concerned that people living in the world would not have the adequate supervision and guidance of the startsy in the monastery, nor would they have the support of the liturgical life of the monks. He was finally persuaded by the Metropolitan of St. Petersburg to publish the book in 1793. Brianchanivov expressed the same concerns in his work, warning his readers that regular practice of the Jesus Prayer, without adequate guidance, could potentially cause spiritual delusion and pride, even among monks. Their concerns were contrary to the original compiler of the Philokalia, Nicodemos, who wrote that the Jesus Prayer could be used to good effect by anyone, whether monastic or layperson. All agreed that the teachings on constant inner prayer should be practiced under the guidance of a spiritual teacher, or starets.
The first partial English and French translations in the 1950s were an indirect result of the Bolshevik revolution, which brought many Russian intellectuals into Western Europe. T. S. Eliot persuaded his fellow directors of the publishing house Faber and Faber to publish a partial translation into English from the Theophan Russian version, which met with surprising success in 1951. A more complete English translation, from the original Greek, began in 1979 with a collaboration between G. E. H. Palmer, Kallistos Ware, and Philip Sherrard. They released four of the five volumes of the Philokalia between 1979 and 1995. In 1946, the first installment of a ten volume Romanian translation by Father Dumitru Stăniloae appeared. In addition to the original Greek text, Stăniloae added "lengthy original footnotes of his own" as well as substantially expanding the coverage of texts by Maximus the Confessor, Symeon the New Theologian, and Gregory Palamas. This work is 4,650 pages in length. Writings by the Trappist monk Thomas Merton on hesychasm also helped spread the popularity of the Philokalia, along with the indirect influence of J. D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey, which featured The Way of a Pilgrim as a main plot element.
The collection's title is The Philokalia of the Niptic Fathers, or more fully The Philokalia of the Neptic Saints gathered from our Holy Theophoric Father, through which, by means of the philosophy of ascetic practice and contemplation, the intellect is purified, illumined, and made perfect.Niptic is an adjective derived from the Greek Nipsis (or Nepsis) referring to contemplative prayer and meaning "watchfulness". Watchfulness in this context includes close attention to one's thoughts, intentions, and emotions, with the aim of resisting temptations and vain and egoistic thoughts, and trying to maintain a constant state of remembrance of God. There are similarities between this ancient practice and the concept of mindfulness as practiced in Buddhism and other spiritual traditions. The Philokalia teachings have also influenced the revival of interior prayer in modern times through the centering prayer practices taught by Thomas Keating and Thomas Merton.
Philokalia is defined as the "love of the beautiful, the exalted, the excellent, understood as the transcendent source of life and the revelation of Truth." In contemplative prayer the mind becomes absorbed in the awareness of God as a living presence as the source of being of all creatures and sensible forms. According to the authors of the English translation, Kallistos Ware, G. E. H. Palmer, and Philip Sherrard, the writings of the Philokalia have been chosen above others because they:
...show the way to awaken and develop attention and consciousness, to attain that state of watchfulness which is the hallmark of sanctity. They describe the conditions most effective for learning what their authors call the art of arts and the science of sciences, a learning which is not a matter of information or agility of mind but of a radical change of will and heart leading man towards the highest possibilities open to him, shaping and nourishing the unseen part of his being, and helping him to spiritual fulfilment and union with God."
The Philokalia is the foundational text on hesychasm ("quietness"), an inner spiritual tradition with a long history dating back to the Desert Fathers. The practices include contemplative prayer, quiet sitting, and recitation of the Jesus Prayer. While traditionally taught and practiced in monasteries, hesychasm teachings have spread over the years to include laymen. Nikodemos, in his introduction, described the collected texts as "a mystical school of inward prayer" which could be used to cultivate the inner life and to "attain the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." While the monastic life makes this easier, Nikodemos himself stressed that "unceasing prayer" should be practiced by all.
The hesychasm teachings in the Philokalia are viewed by Orthodox Christians as inseparable from the sacraments and liturgy of the Orthodox Church, and are given by and for those who are already living within the framework of the Church. A common theme is the need for a spiritual father or guide.
Timeline of editions and translations
4th-15th centuries The original texts are written by various spiritual masters. Most are written in Greek, two are written in Latin and translated into Greek during Byzantine times.
1877 Russian language translation, by Theophan the Recluse, included several texts not in the Greek original, and omitted or paraphrased some passages.
1893 Second Greek edition, published in Athens, included additional texts by Patriarch Kallistos.
1946-1976 In 1946, the first installment of a ten volume Romanian translation by Father Dumitru Stăniloae appeared.
1951, 1954 First partial English translations by E. Kadloubovsky and G. E. H. Palmer in two volumes: Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart and Early Fathers from the Philokalia. These were translated from Theophane's Russian version, and published by Faber and Faber.
1953 "Small Philokalia" is published in French: Petite Philocalie de la prière du coeur (ed. Jean Gouillard, Points / Sagesses)
1957-1963 Third Greek edition, published in Athens by Astir Publishing Company in five volumes. Modern English translation based on this edition.
1963 Parts of the Philokalia is published in Italian for the first time (La filocalia. Testi di ascetica e mistica della Chiesa orientale, Giovanni Vannucci, Libreria Editrice Fiorentina, Firenze)
1965 First translation of selected texts from Philokalia is published in Finnish by name Sisäinen kauneus. Rukousta koskevia poimintoja Filokaliasta. (Inner Beauty. Selected texts from the Philokalia on Prayer.) from German translation of Kleine Philokalie. The translation was made by Irinja Nikkanen and it was published by Pyhäin Sergein ja Hermanin veljeskunta (Brotherhood of sts. Sergius and Herman).
1979-1995 English translation by Kallistos Ware, G. E. H. Palmer, and Philip Sherrard, of the first four of the five Greek volumes, from the Third Greek edition. This was published by Faber and Faber.
1981-1993 A Finnish translation was made from the original Byzantine Greek text by Valamon ystävät ry (Friends of Valamo monastery registered association) in four volumes. Translation was made by nun Kristoduli, Irinja Nikkanen and Matti Jeskanen. An appendix (fifth volume) by nun Kristoduli was published at 1998.
1982-1987 An Italian translation by M. Benedetta Artioli and M. Francesca Lovato of the Community of Monteveglio and P. Gribaudi is published in Turin in four volumes.
1988 Little Philokalia on prayer of heart (Piccola filocalia della preghiera del cuore) in Italian is translated by Jean Gouillard and published in Milan.
1998 A Polish translation of Philokalia by Józef Naumowicz is published in Kraków.
On the Character of Men and on the Virtuous Life: 170 Texts
This piece by Anthony was changed to an appendix in the English translation by Palmer, Sherrard, and Ware (1979, p. 327), because of their view that the language and the general idea is not explicitly Christian and may not have been written by Antony.
St. Theodoros the Great Ascetic (Theodore of Edessa)
On the Words that are Contained in the Sacred Prayer
Interpretation of "Kyrie Eleison" (Lord Have Mercy)
Saint Simeon the New Theologian
Discourse on Faith and teaching for those who say that it is not possible for those who find themselves in the worries of the world to reach the perfection of the virtues, and narration that is beneficial at the beginning.
Cavarnos, Constantine (2007). The Philokalia: Love of the Beautiful. Institute for Byzantine & Modern Greek Studies. ISBN1-884729-79-7.
Cavarnos, Constantine (2009). The Philokalia: A Second Volume of Selected Readings (Selected Readings from the Philokalia, Volume 2). Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies. ISBN1-884729-91-6.
Paschalis M. Kitromilides, "Philokalia's first journey?" in Idem, An Orthodox Commonwealth: Symbolic Legacies and Cultural Encounters in Southeastern Europe (Aldershot, 2007) (Variorum Collected Studies Series: CS891).
Bingaman B & Nassif B (eds) (2012) The Philokalia. A Classic Text of Orthodox Spirituality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.