Philip Sherrard was a poet, translator, theologian, and interpreter of the Orthodox tradition. He was a prolific writer on theological and philosophical themes, addressing the origins of the social and spiritual crisis he believed was occurring in the developed world, and specifically exploring modern attitudes towards the environment from an Orthodox perspective. Together with Timothy Ware (Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia) and G. E. Palmer, he produced a complete translation of the Philokalia (to date four of the five volumes have been published). He was also a notable translator of Modern Greek poetry, and produced several books on Modern Greek literature and culture. A pioneer of Modern Greek studies in England, he was influential in making major Greek poets of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries known in the English-speaking world.
Philip Owen Arnould Sherrard was born on September 23, 1922 in Oxford. His family had many connections with the literary world of the period: his mother, Brynhild Olivier, had been a member of Rupert Brooke's circle before the First World War, and his half-sister was married to Quentin Bell, the nephew of Virginia Woolf. He was educated at Dauntsey's School and at Peterhouse, Cambridge, where he obtained a degree in History.
Sherrard first came to Greece as a soldier after the liberation of Athens in 1946 , and soon afterwards he met and married his first wife, Anna Mirodia. The culture and traditional way of life that still pertained in the country made a profound impression on him. In 1951-52, and again in 1957-62, he served as Assistant Director of the British School of Archaeology at Athens. In 1956 his doctoral thesis on the Greek poets Solomos, Palamas, Cavafy, Angelos Sikelianos, and Seferis (King's College, London) was published as The Marble Threshing Floor. In the same year in Athens he was baptized into the Orthodox Church.. He made frequent piligimages to the Holy Mountain, Mount Athos, and became profoundly imbued with the prayer and silence of Orthodox Christianity. His book on Athos was first published in 1960, with the title Athos: The Mountain of Silence. His writings often interpret the cultural background of Greek poetry and life through the spiritual wealth of the Orthodox tradition.
In 1959 Sherrard bought part of disused magnesite mine near the small shipping town of Limni in the island of Evia. He planted trees and plants where the former mine installations had been, and helped to restore the homes of the former directors who had lived there before the mine was abandoned at the outbreak of the Second World War. In 1970 he accepted a lectureship in the History of the Orthodox Church, a post attached jointly to King's College, London and the School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES). After his resignation in 1977, he moved back to Greece, where Limni now became his permanent home. In 1979 he married his second wife, the publisher Denise Harvey. They endeavoured as far as possible to live a simple life according to the principles of the Orthodox Church, without many of the conveniences of modern living, such as electricity and the telephone.
In 1980, together with Keith Critchlow, Brian Keeble, and the poet Kathleen Raine, he was one of the founding members of the journal Temenos, a review devoted to the 'arts of the imagination'. This eventually led to the foundation of the teaching organization, the Temenos Academy, based in London. He died in London on May 30, 1995, at the age of 72, and was buried near the Orthodox chapel he had had built on his property..
Sherrard's first book was The Marble Threshing Floor (1956), an “introduction to modern Greek poetry for English-speaking readers, which, together with his translations, brought the poetry of Cavafy and Seferis, together with its cultural background, to the attention of the literary world.”. This was followed in 1959 by The Greek East and the Latin West, a study of the Christian tradition, examining the 'formation' and de-formation' of a single unified Greco-Roman Christian world. As Sherrard wrote in his introduction to the second edition in 1992, it was his 'first attempt to confront and to find some explanation for the spiritual dereliction...of the modern Western World'. The book is a study of the differences, in world-view and hence in theology, that emerged over time between the Greek East and the Latin West, and the consequences of these developments in a 'crisis of whose symptoms, social and environmental, we become daily more aware'.
Sherrard developed these themes in a number of later works, in which he explored the profound relationship between our way of thinking or theologising and our attitude to the world around us. He was convinced that the way we behold our God in heaven is reflected in what we believe about our environment. Thus he anticipated our present concern with the world’s ecological crisis, which he saw as evidence of a larger spiritual crisis. The Rape of Man and Nature (1987) is an inquiry into the origins of modern science, as well as an impassioned attempt to warn against the oncoming environmental catastrophe which he believed it has resulted in. In The Sacred in Life and Art he explores the beauty and sacredness of the world in Orthodox cosmology, and in Human Image: World Image: The Death and Resurrection of Sacred Cosmology he analyses contemporary cosmological assumptions critically, and sets out to reconstruct a traditional Christian cosmology. Despite the anguish with which he considers the predicament in which we find ourslves, in these works he seeks always to “emphasize the living relevance of the Orthodox spiritual tradition in a fragmented secular world.”.
As a translator of Modern Greek poetry, Sherrard had a long and productive collaboration with Edmund Keeley, together publishing many books, among them Four Greek Poets (1966), the Collected Poems of George Seferis (1967) and of C.P. Cavafy (1975) and Selected Poems by Angelos Sikelianos (1979) and Odysseus Elytis (1981). The importance of these translations is indicated by the fact that both Seferis and Elytis went on to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, after their work had become known in the non-Greek-speaking world.
Among the works for which he is best known (together with his collaborators Kallistos Ware and Gerald Palmer) is the complete translation of the ‘’Philokalia’’, the compendium of mystical writings by the spiritual fathers of the Orthodox church. 1998 saw the posthumous publication of Christianity: Lineaments of a Sacred Tradition, a collection of articles dealing with subjects such as Tradition, death and dying, the problem of evil, and the revival of contemplative hesychast spirituality.
- Orientation and Descent (Poems)" (Eton: Alden and Blackwell, 1953)
- The Marble Threshing Floor: Studies in Modern Greek Poetry (London: Valentine, Mitchell, 1956; reprinted Limni (Greece): Denise Harvey, 1981, 1992) ISBN 960-7120-02-7
- The Greek East and the Latin West: A Study in the Christian Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959; reprinted Limni (Greece): Denise Harvey, 1992, 1995, 2002) ISBN 960-7120-04-3
- Athos: The Holy Mountain (Overlook Hardcover, 1985) ISBN 978-0879519889
- Six Poets of Modern Greece (with Edmund Keeley) (London: Thames and Hudson, 1960)
- The Pursuit of Greece (editor) (London: John Murray, 1964; reprinted Athens: Denise Harvey, 1987) ISBN 0 907978-24-X
- Constantinople: The Iconography of a Sacred City (London: Oxford University Press, 1965)
- Great Ages of Man: Byzantium: A History of the World's Cultures (Time Life Books, 1966) ISBN 978-0662833406
- Modern Greece (with John Campbell) (London: Ernest Benn, 1968) 510-37951-6
- George Seferis: Collected Poems (1924–1955) (with Edmund Keeley) (London: Jonathan Cape, 1969)
- Δοκίμια γιά τόν Νέο Ἑλληνισμό (Athens: Athina Publications, 1972)
- C. P. Cavafy: Collected Poems (with Edmund Keeley) (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975, 1992) ISBN 0-691-06984-0
- Christianity and Eros: Essays on the Theme of Sexual Love (London: SPCK, 1976; reprinted Limni (Greece): Denise Harvey, 1995, 2002) ISBN 960-7120-10-8
- Church, Papacy, and Schism: A Theological Enquiry (London: SPCK, 1978; reprinted Limni (Greece): Denise Harvey, 1996) ISBN 960-7120-11-6
- The Wound of Greece: Studies in Neo-Hellenism (London: Rex Collings, 1978) ISBN 086-036-0709
- The Philokalia (with G. E. H. Palmer and Kallistos Ware), 4 vols, vol. 5 forthcoming (London: Faber, 1979–)
- Motets for a Sunflower (poems) (Ipswich: Golgonooza Press, 1979)
- Angelos Sikelianos: Selected Poems (with Edmund Keeley) (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979; reprinted Limni (Greece): Denise Harvey, 1996) ISBN 960-7120-12-4
- Odysseus Elytis: Selected Poems (with Edmund Keeley) (London: Anvil Press Poetry, 1981, 2007) ISBN 978-85646-355-6
- The Rape of Man and Nature: An Enquiry into the Origins and Consequences of Modern Science (Ipswich: Golgonooza Press, 1987) ISBN 0-903880-34-2
- Edward Lear: The Corfu Years: A Chronicle presented through his Letters and Journals (editor) (Athens and Dedham: Denise Harvey, 1988) ISBN 0-907978-25-8
- The Sacred in Life and Art (Ipswich: Golgonooza Press, 1990; reprinted Limni (Greece): Denise Harvey, 2004) ISBN 960-7120-18-3
- Human Image: World Image: The Death and Resurrection of Sacred Cosmology (Ipswich: Golgonooza Press, 1992; reprinted Limni (Greece): Denise Harvey, 2004) ISBN 960-7120-17-5
- A Greek Quintet: Poems by Cavafy, Sikelianos, Seferis, Elytis, Gatsos (Limni (Greece): Denise Harvey, 1992, 2000) ISBN 960-7120-01-9
- In the Sign of the Rainbow: Selected Poems 1940–1989 (London: Anvil Press Poetry, 1994) ISBN 0-85646-221-7
- George Seferis: Complete Poems (with Edmund Keeley) (London: Anvil Press Poetry, 1995, 2006) ISBN 0-85646-213-6
- Not of This World: A Treasury of Christian Mysticism [contributed article] (World Wisdom, 2003) ISBN 978-0941532419
- Science and the Myth of Progress [contributed article] (World Wisdom, 2004) ISBN 978-0941532471
- The Betrayal of Tradition: Essays on the Spiritual Crisis of Modernity [contributed article] (World Wisdom, 2005) ISBN 978-0941532556