Philip Sherrard

Philip Sherrard was born in Oxford, grew up in what has come to be called the Bloomsbury world, a world whose outlook could be best described as that of liberal scientific humanism, and studied history at the University of Cambridge. He first came to Greece as a soldier after the liberation of Athens in 1946, an encounter that changed the orientation of his life. After the war he chose to study modern Greek poetry for his doctorate at London University at a time when it was largely unknown in England, and established friendships with such people as George Seferis and Zissimos Lorenzatos. He returned to live in Greece as assistant director of the British Archaeological School in Athens, and it was then that he first visited Mount Athos and began to read the Church Fathers. He was baptized into the Orthodox Church in 1956.

In between two periods at the British School he held research posts at the Royal Institute of International Affairs and at St Antony's College, Oxford; later, from 1970–77, he was lecturer in the history of the Orthodox Church at King's College, London; and he was co-founder and editor, with Keith Critchlow, Brian Keeble and Kathleen Raine, of the journal Temenos (1981–92), a publication dedicated to the arts of the imagination. From 1977 he lived in a cottage on a hillside, without electricity or telephone, in the north of the Greek island of Evia (Euboea).

Philip Sherrard believed post-Byzantine life and culture in Greece to be essentially and organically related to the spiritual tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and he dedicated his life to conveying something of both the culture and this spiritual tradition to the English-speaking world. His work was pioneering, and to many people he will have been the first to have introduced them to Orthodoxy as well as to modern Greek poetry. His work on Athos, Constantinople and the breach in Christendom have opened up new perspectives as much as his work on poetry, myth and the imagination. It was within this same framework of understanding that he also spent many years translating into English, together with Metropolitan Kallistos Ware and Gerald Palmer, The Philokalia, a collection of texts on prayer and the spiritual life, written between the fourth and fifteen centuries by masters of the Orthodox Christian tradition, the last volume of which he finished shortly before he died. But beyond that he felt increasingly keenly the need for a genuinely Christian response to contemporary problems, grounded in the sources of the Christian Tradition, and most of his later work was concerned with the devastating consequences of modern exploitative technologies and ways of redefining a cosmology that could point the way out of the impasse that this exploitation has created. He argued that theological issues had immediate relevance to history, and held that the way people thought preceded the way they acted and applied this principle to the premises that underlie the present ecological crisis. If man can regain the sense of sacred in himself and in creation, he argued, he can, if he so wills, recover his ability to live in harmony with himself and others and with the world about him.

In addition to the works listed in Texts and References below, which are available through this site, his publications include:

  • George Seferis: Collected Poems (with Edmund Keeley)
  • C. P. Cavafy: Collected Poems (with Edmund Keeley)
  • Odysseus Elytis: Selected Poems (with Edmund Keeley)
  • Athos: The Mountain of Silence
  • Constantinople: The Iconography of a Sacred City
  • Modern Greece (with John Campbell)
  • In the Sign of the Rainbow (poems)
  • Christianity: Lineaments of a Sacred Tradition
Texts & References on this site

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