General biography and bibliography
Philip Sherrard—poet, translator, literary scholar, theologian, and interpreter of the Orthodox tradition—died in London on 30 May 1995, aged 72. A pioneer of Modern Greek studies in England, Sherrard was highly influential in making major Greek poets of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries known in the English-speaking world. A profound thinker and prolific writer, Sherrard was captivated by a lifelong mission to reinstate a sense of poetry in the aridity of life, and to restore a sense of sacred cosmology to the world. His own selected poems recently appeared in a volume entitled In the Sign of the Rainbow (1994). Shortly before Easter 1995, he had completed a new book that he entitled Christianity: Lineaments of a Sacred Tradition and that contained an intuitive, almost predictive chapter on “Death and Dying.” This book is currently under consideration for publication by Holy Cross Press, Brookline.
Born in Oxford and educated there as well as in Cambridge, Sherrard served as Assistant Director of the British School at Athens and lectured on the history of the Orthodox Church at the University of London. He spent most of his life as a writer and translator, bringing to both pursuits a breadth of literary and theological knowledge. Inspired by the values of modern Greece, Sherrard wrote on and translated (with Edmund Keeley) Cavafy, Sikelianos, Seferis, and Elytis, among others. See, for example, Six Poets of Modern Greece (1960). Yet he was also profoundly imbued with the prayer and silence of Orthodox Christianity, interpreting the cultural background of Greek poetry and life through the spiritual wealth of the Orthodox tradition, as in his early book The Marble Threshing Floor (1956). His love for Greece is well attested in his brief yet masterly introduction to the anthology The Pursuit of Greece (1964). In 1977 Greece became his adopted permanent place of residence, but Orthodoxy had been his “home” since the early [End Page 345] 1950s, when he became acquainted with the Orthodox Church, into which he was formally received in 1956.
I met him only once, on the Holy Mountain, but understood through our correspondence what Greece meant for him, why the Holy Mountain was revered by him, and how the entire world was seen by him as a burning bush of divine energy. “Every Thing that Lives Is Holy” was the title of the last lecture he delivered in London (1994); he spoke then of the beauty “in every natural form of life and being,” the beauty that “is itself the overture to paradise.” This lecture was given at the Temenos Academy, in the very room in which Darwin first expounded his theory of evolution. This must have amused Sherrard.
Everything that Sherrard did was undertaken with passion. He wrote fervently about the sacred power of sexual love in Christianity and Eros (1976); he endeavored fearlessly to discern the philosophical, political, and social reasons for the division between Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy in The Greek East and the Latin West (1959), and also in Church, Papacy, and Schism (1978); in an effort to address the ecological crisis, he forcefully castigated our exploitation of natural resources in The Rape of Man and Nature (1987), The Sacred in Life and Art (1990), and Human Image, World Image (1992). He condemned any attitude that detracts from or blurs the sacramental dimension of the world.
The conviction displayed in his writings and even their occasionally categorical tone were supported by the consistency of his own committed life. His compassion, gentleness, generosity, humor, and humility were firmly rooted in the spiritual tradition of silence and prayer that he so loved and to which he devoted the greater part of his life. He wrote about Athos: The Mountain of Silence (1960), and from the mid-1970s until the very end of his life was the translator (in collaboration with, among others, Bishop Kallistos Ware) of the four volumes of the Philokalia, the anthology of Greek Patristic writings between the fourth and fifteenth centuries on prayer and the spiritual life.
While Sherrard has been criticized—misunderstood for his seemingly negative attitude toward the West, for his sharp comments against the introduction of...