Does The World Need More Writers?
We live in a time of rapid, even epochal change. There are frightening realities surrounding us all over the world and in our own villages and towns. We have been lied to by everyone, and the myth of expertise has been uncovered as simply that: a myth.
How in heaven's name can we respond to this? Well, you may be surprised to hear that I believe that the best response to this is for all of us to become... better storytellers.
But lest that seem banal or superficial to you, I want to explain my perspective. Who is a storyteller? A storyteller is a prophet, an oracle, someone who pours out truth through the medium of story. And such a person has an enormous responsibility to make sure that what comes out of his mouth corresponds to the truth of his heart. This is what we see so little of in the public square, I think.
So if we are to become the kinds of storytellers who inspire cultural change, which I think we absolutely must, all of us, we must first descend deep within ourselves and begin the work of cleansing and illumining our hearts.
The holy fathers have much to say on this, and I won't quote them. Instead, I include a short essay from Ivan Ilyin, written in the 1940's, in a truly critical, frightening time. But notice to how much his words resonate with today's reality.
On spiritual illumination.
We, the generation of a new age, shouldn't delude ourselves. The crisis that we suffer right now is not only a political or economic one. It is a crisis of spirit. Its reasons go far back , and, yes, we are talking about ultimate things. We shouldn't diminish the tragedy of our time. We have to find within ourselves the necessary courage, and soberly assess everything that is happening around us. We need to gather our will, look truth directly in the eye, and then stand on the path of renewal. We have to shrug off the petty realities of the everyday, and look into the distance, to understand where the world is going , what awaits us, and what we have to do to avoid an even worse fate, but more than that, to begin a new and glorious life.
But you can only look into the distance by first looking within. That means that we have to descend into the living depths of our own essence, into that spiritual potential, the divine source of which Christ himself informed us. In all the corners of the world, people must come back to themselves, whether that is an individual, a small group, a parish, an organization, a cultural movement, and so on. We have to concentrate on the ultimate things of our life. We have to plug into them through the living contemplation of our hearts, so that we may come to know how things must be, how things actually are, and what we still lack.
And the more seriously, the more sincerely, the more thoroughly we will begin this work on ourselves, the better it will be for us. For the difficulties of our time are indescribable, and we can only overcome them when we will reach down to the deepest layers of the human spirit , that is, when people begin their return toward God.
Only then can there be an epochal renewal of history, for as we see today, all the roads of the past have been walked already. The previous structure of our common, creative cultural act has brought us to utter coldness of the heart and to a mechanization of the mind. The hour approaches when we, having come to know the absolute necessity of spiritual renewal, will again begin to seek help from the Savior.
We live in a landmark age. Never before has the dark underbelly of human nature so confidently and proudly shown itself on the outside. Never before have there been so many obvious attempts to wrest power and to submit others to that power. Never before in human history have there been so many technical advances, but also so many weapons of destruction.
We are at the turning point, as you can see. We are in its very center. The previous equilibrium is gone. The worst that is still to come we can only oppose, having begun our renewal from within. We will know its first signs by a kind of illumination that begins to shine forth from renewed people. This illumination is represented by life-giving goodness, be the contemplation of the heart, by conscience, and by courageous and calm faith. And until we have awoken within ourselves this spiritual instinct, until we have forced our heart to speak, until we have brought it into movement, we will not be able to touch the deepest levels of our human-divine depth. Only a living heart will begin to send out its rays into the world, and the light that will come from it will be something more than merely physical light.
More and more often, we hear voices telling us that the nations will only be saved through some kind of new revelation. As though the old revelation had run itself out. As though Christianity had become obsolete. As though the paths of the Savior, the son of God, have been all trodden already. As though today's crisis were a crisis of God, not our own personal crisis, as though the Lord had not revealed enough of Himself or had done so too long ago, and now He is suddenly hurrying to fill in the gaps. But in actual fact, we simply were not able to assimilate the revelation given to us. We were not able to live it as we must.
However, no one has yet taken away from us the light of divine revelation. Its rays still shine for us today, and who if not us can accept it and direct our lives by its light. We have to find within ourselves an active disposition that will allow us not only to become illumined ourselves, but also to illuminate others. Our illumination has to attract others to the same path.
Modern man must come to understand that his fate depends on him becoming a ray of light for the world in all aspects of life. He must understand that we were talking about the purification and the enlivening of his heart, of his creative self-sacrificial act. After all, the extinguished heart is powerless, blind. When it looks at life, it cannot be expected to see anything good in it.
Only the illumined heart is capable of renewing culture. Only in such a heart can new creative ideas arise.
That is the grand project of St Basil. It is to prepare future storytellers by forming their hearts and minds in the art and craft of writing, so that they may then take up the mantle of storytelling for the benefit of the larger culture.
It is a difficult task, no doubt. But it is a necessary one. I invite you to join us.
~ Deacon Nicholas Kotar
St. Basil School of Creative Writing is a subsidiary of St. Athanasius of Academy of Orthodox Theology which was founded in the State of California in 1976 and is a registered non-profit 501(c)(3) organization.
In 2021, the St. Athanasius Board voted to establish St. Basil School of Creative Writing and designate Dn. Nicholas Kotar as the Department Head. St. Basil was established to equip, inspire, and prepare a new generation of writers in the timeless art of storytelling.