Nicolae Steinhardt – the Orthodox Christian that means the most to me

Find out in this blog post why the Orthodox writer Nicolae STEINHARDT means so much to me.

Contents of this blog post:
1. History of events
2. Implications into my life
3. What to do next?

Who was Nicolae STEINHARDT? See a page on Wikipedia for him, read some texts and see some photos on, if you speak Romanian there is also a blog on his texts.

1. History of events
The spring of 1999: I am in the yard of a high-school in Constanta, waiting for a regional contest for a subject in the curricula (if you were good at a specific subject, you could compete with fellow pupils from the County – “Olympiad” it was called). This was a few years I discovered Gala GALACTION, an Orthodox Christian writer I mostly admired for what it seemed to me was the closest resemblance to the Christian values. This implied a lot of fanatical/bigot values. I won’t get into too much details, but to me, at that time, Orthodoxy was merely a set of rules – living by those rules would make things right for me. If those rules meant breaking conventional wisdom – well, this is fine also. Gala GALACTION was the ultimate model in Orthodox life for me, nothing else ever existed.

So, I’m that yard, in a morning. I was talking with a girl I barely new, also from Navodari. She recommends me a Jew writer converted to Orthodoxy in the prison. He went through a lot of pain in the prison, the girl said, while he kept a lot of memories within himself. Later he wrote a journal, based on those memories. The person was Nicolae STEINHARDT, while his book was “Happiness Diary”. From this description I left with a poor impression. (Pain and torture in prison? Me to read a book on that?) But I had a very profound respect for her, so I decided to read the book.

It took me a while (more than a month, I think) to finish the projects I was involved (that meant mostly finishing to read some books), going to the high-school’s library, not finding the book, going again, nothing yet, going again. Finally the book was there, it was a bit old, pages were falling.

And I began reading. To my surprise, I really liked the writer’s style. Easy enough to understand most words, hard enough for me not to get any references (he often has mentions to I’ve-never-ever-heard-of-this-book-or-writer; and he has a lot of mentions like this), but most of all very intelligent book. Soon I was not reading the book, I was devouring it.

The concept of paradox, the new ideas, were all great. I would then understand the world through these variables. But what really struck me at that time was:
A. The brand new emphasis put on emotions; A true Orthodox should always be smiling; (tell that to Galaction, who’s love for a military-style life was obvious, and who on most pictures I saw back then seemed so frowned) And while politeness rules should be a minimum in life (my life wasn’t ruled by those at the beginning), the Christian life is much more than that – you should be much better than polite: love, care, help etc.; (this was also new to my style) The Pharisees were all about dogma and rules, but Christ, according to Nicolae STEINHARDT, was more than that – he dared to change conventional wisdom; All-in-all, it was very likely that I should put things in order a lot on the emotional part and leave some rules apart;
B. There is a only a small reference in the “Happiness Diary” regarding Gala GALACTION:
English: “Also be blessed father Gala Galaction for finding – even as a balance pan with two or three faces, as it was – for some of his books, titles with an wonderful echo: Bells of the Neamt Monastery, Near the Water of Vodislava, The Chief Cornerstone, The Small Church in Razoare” (titles translated with the help of Wikipedia) – translated by me from:
Romanian: “Blagoslovit fie si parintele Gala Galaction ca a gasit – asa taler cu doua sau trei fete cum a fost – pentru unele din cartile sale titluri cu minunat ecou: Clopotele manastirii Neamtu, Langa apa Vodislavei, Piatra din capul unghiului, Bisericuta din razoare.”;
Now this can be understood easy or hard; (to me it’s so hard that even today I can’t really tell what it means) But due to the logical construction of the phrase one can easy see that it has negative implications; (“Although Gala GALACTION is …, God should still bless him”) This got me into an all-or-nothing thinking: either Nicolae STEINHARDT is right on this point, and life is really nothing on dogma, and is mostly on love, or Nicolae STEINHARDT is all wrong and Gala GALACTION is the right model for me; I worked on solving this very troubling mystery for me and within a few weeks Nicolae STEINHARDT was the new person leading my life, while Gala GALACTION would get very far from me; So far that even today one of the basic criteria on which I analyze a Christian is on this level – “Are you putting religion so high that you get to be dogmatic?”; I’m sorry to say this, but besides Nicolae STEINHARDT (who I only knew in writing) and, in some part, Horia-Roman PATAPIEVICI, no other person in this life is a relevant criteria in Orthodoxy; Putting the dogmatic filter upfront helps me clear things quite fast.

I reread The “Happiness Diary” in the summer of 2003. I reread it about two years after, in 2005. I was happy to see that I understand, as time went by, more and more of the references in the book. I was sad (for my part) to see that the percentage of what I knew compared to his knowledge is ridiculously small.

I also read two times (last time in the spring of 2007) “Through Giving You Shall Receive”, and that’s a very good book also.

I read once “Monologul polifonic” and “In the Manner of… Youths”, but they impressed me little.

2. Implications into my life
A. If you would have asked me in that spring of 1999, prior to the discovery of Nicolae STEINHARDT, when did my real Christian life begun, I would probably answer: in 1997; If you’d ask me now, I’d say that 1997-1999 were discovery years (the concept does not really apply to Orthodoxy; you can’t really discover God in two years; but this is how I see those years), while the period from that spring of 1999 and until today (11 years after) was mostly a time of what I perceive as Orthodoxy in my life;
B. How did things go after 1999 until today? I started loosening, more or less, most of the rules I made for myself; Right now I am tightening them a little (after more than 10 years!), but it’s still nowhere near what typical wisdom says on being a Christian; (things I do as a Christian are really atypical, from my perspective) See an analysis of the movie I love best – Le Notti di Cabiria – The best movie I’ve seen. The one movie I recommend seeing to anyone I know over 15 years of age. Go see it now! – and see for yourself if that’s an Orthodox perspective or not;
C. There are things that are easy to understand in Orthodoxy (“You shall not steal”), and there are things which are not simple; (ecumenical approach on religions) Whenever in doubt, my first thoughts go to Nicolae STEINHARDT;
D. I can say that I own only a few books: Nicolae STEINHARDT’s “Happiness Diary”, “Through Giving You Shall Receive”, “Nobleman articles” (I haven’t yet read this one), a few books by Horia-Roman PATAPIEVICI (to be completed with the whole collection, or at least the books I can understand), and a book on Psychology – “Essentials of Understanding Psychology” (by Robert S. Feldman); I have a few books more, but my plan is not to keep them after I finish reading them; So, I really own quite a few books, and three of them are by Nicolae STEINHARDT; (I plan for a few more with or on him)
E. I once saw a show on Realitatea TV with Stelian TANASE and Mircea DINESCU; Mircea DINESCU suggested that Nicolae STEINHARDT should be sanctified; Stelian TANASE (who knew Nicolae STEINHARDT in person) replied “I agree”; A lot of thinking from my part on that small dialogue.

3. What to do next?
The “Happiness Diary” by Nicolae STEINHARDT is more than a book on religion. It’s a book on the condition of the human spirit. You may find it useful even if you understand it via a non-orthodox perspective. Thus, I recommend you to read two books by Nicolae STEINHARDT: the“Happiness Diary” and “Through Giving You Shall Receive”.

You can support Polirom‘s Publishing house initiative for publishing the entire series of works by Nicolae STEINHARDT by buying right from them.

Note: source for photos – photo 1 and photo 2.

Also see:

An article in Romanian:

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