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Blog Posted in avatar   Jonathan Farrell's Blog

UC Berkeley GTU Professor Publishes new book inspired by poet Robert Lax

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By Jonathan Farrell
Posted Nov 18, 2010 in
Dozens gathered at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church on Brotherhood Way in San Francisco on Nov. 10th to listen to professor Steve Georgiou talk about his new book “The Isle of Monte Christo – Finding the Inner Treasure.”
Georgiou explained to the audience that Wednesday evening in the church banquet hall that this new book completes a trilogy of his writings that all focus on the spiritual life.
Georgiou also mentioned that he gave the book its title because like the famous 19th Century novel, "Count of Monte Cristo" by Alexander Dumas, the theme of a spiritual life has a similarity in that we as individuals are islands seeking to be released and to find a hidden treasure.
Another thread that also ties all three books together is the inspiration behind them.
For almost 15 years Georgiou has been encouraged and lead by the solitary life of American poet and hermit Robert Lax. It was in meeting the minimalist-style of prose poet by chance that put Gorgiou on a spiritual path.
For those parishioners at Holy Trinity who know Georgiou and his mother and sister as well as his aunt and uncle Martha & Christopher Manitsas this is not unusual. Raised in the Orthodox Church Georgiou has always had a firm foundation on which to walk through life.
This is especially so when seen through the eyes of faith. In our everyday world that is becoming increasingly complex with expanding technology and global implications, the subject of a spiritual life is not on the schedules of many.
Yet it is in the unexpected and unplanned that things happen. Georgiou noted that meeting the poet, unexpectedly on a vacation trip to the island of Patmos changed his life.
Certainly many parishioners can point out that even as a youngster Georgiou was always within the embrace of the Christian life as taught by the Orthodox Church and the close-knit family structure within the local Greek community.
But it is also obvious, even to an outside observer that the poet Robert Lax made an impact upon Georgiou.
For even the ancients were well aware that no matter how fine a plan, what is set before us in God’s plan is still a mystery.
“The Way of the Dream-catcher; Spirit Lessons with Robert Lax, Poet-Peacemaker-Sage,” “Mystic Street: Meditations on a Spiritual Path” and now “The Isle of Monte Cristo,”
all three in this trilogy of books have Lax mentioned prominently in them.
Georgiou admitted that before he met Lax his life was disappointing. Career choices that were not going any place, investments of time in various projects all fizzled and left Georgiou puzzled.
It was suggested to Georgiou by friends at church that he make a retreat to Patmos one of Greece’s most sacred spots.
According to Christian tradition it is on Patmos that the Apostle John while having a vision of Jesus wrote the Book of Revelation of the New Testament.
Georgiou anticipated a planned formal monastic retreat. But plans inexplicitly and abruptly changed upon his arrival to the island.
The island has a population of less than four thousand people and Georgiou was a complete stranger with the island. Once landed at port, he was uncertian of what he should do.
Just as Georgiou started to worry an acquaintance urged him to visit with the American hermit.
“I had no idea who this man Lax was and so I walked to his little house and knocked at the door,” said Georgiou.
As soon as Georgiou was welcomed in by Lax, he knew that he had been brought to this place providentially. So for the next seven years Georgiou stayed in contact with Lax.
He visited with Lax, making trips to Patmos frequently, talking to him, taking notes and learning about the hermit-like life Lax had been leading since arriving on Patmos from America over 30 years earlier.
Up until that unexpected meeting with Lax, Georgiou said he knew “absolutely nothing about the man, never even heard of him before.” “I just knew as I met him that Lax for some reason was a holy man,”
Georgiou presented the audience a slide show of photos of Patmos and Lax as they ate a three course buffet meal prepared by his mother, sister and members of the parish.
Lax was a journalist/photographer (among many other jobs in his life) who had converted to Christianity while in college at Columbia University.
Lax was influenced by the best-selling author and Cistercian monk Thomas Merton. The two became good friends.
In 1948 Merton won praise with his autobiography “The Seven-Storey Mountain.” Merton before entering the religious order had lived a worldly life. Merton had a conversion experience and then embraced Catholicism.
Lax’s friendship with Merton would last until Merton’s death in 1968. Yet the impact of that friendship sustained Lax as a formidable poet and writer, especially on the topic Christian spirituality.
Considered to be among the foremost of poets in minimalist poetry, Lax has yet to achieve the fame that Merton did.
But as Georgiou pointed out Lax has dozens of works yet to be published that are just now being discovered. Lax talked to many visitors while living on Patmos. He counseled people on spiritual matters just as he did for Georgiou.
Issues concerning the spiritual life are now the mainstay of Georgiou’s life and work.
Lax encouraged Georgiou to continue his studies and to attend the liberal but prominent Graduate Theological Union at University of California at Berkeley. Ironically, professors from the GTU were visiting Patmos the day Georgiou arrived.
Georgiou now a professor teaches classes at San Francisco State University and City College of San Francisco. He specializes in comparative religions and spirituality.
And, like the poet Lax and even the Cistercian monk Merton, Georgiou reaches out to many people across religious denominational lines.
“Steve’s writing is theological, said Father Aris Metrakos, Pastor of Holy Trinity. “I wish he would get a study guide together, he writes so well,” said Fr. Aris.
Georgiou examines the religious and artistic traditions of the world. In his classes and contacts he dialogs with many people of diverse walks of life. This was evident that Wednesday evening as acquaintances from outside the Holy Trinity parish attended.
Yet, Georgiou’s family is always supportive of his spiritual, scholastic and artistic endeavors, despite differences of opinion. Georgiou talked about the mystery of the inner life in which lives the power of "agape" the love of God or spark of the divine as the ancients referred to.
It is from "agape" that spark that all goodness flows upon wiich all life exists.
And, perhaps it is because of the bonds of family and church that Georgiou is firmly established in the Orthodox faith and community.
And from that bond he can minister and reach out as a light of faith and hope to a complicated high tech society.
For more information about the book “The Isle of Monte Cristo” visit web site at:
http://www.spiritcurrents.com/
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