"In Bishop Theophon’s cell everything was extremely simple, even meager. The walls were bare, the furniture old; a cupboard worth a ruble, a two-ruble chest, an old table, an old reading stand, an iron folding bed, sofas of birch wood with hard seats. There was a trunk with instruments for lathe-work, carpentry, book-binding; photographic equipment, a bench for sawing, a joiner’s bench. There was a gray cotton undercassock, a wooden panagia, a wooden pectoral cross, a telescope, a microscope, an anatomical and a geographical atlas.
And then the books- books without number, without end, in Russian, Slavonic, Greek, French, German, and English. Among them were: a complete collection of the Holy Fathers; a theological encyclopedia in French in 150 volumes; Solovier’s History of Russia; Schlosser’s Universal History; the works of the philosophers Hegel, Fichte, Jacobi, and others. One calls to mind his words: ‘It is good to understand the structure of plants, of animals, especially of man, and the laws of life; in them is revealed the wisdom of God, which is great in everything.’
In addition, there were an immense number of icons, a picture of St. Seraphim of Sarov, and many icons painted by the Bishop himself.”
As we can see, even the devout Bishop Theophon, in his isolation, read and meditated on edifying works. In Great Lent: Journey to Pascha, Alexander Schmemann explains why the Church blesses this activity:
“The silence created by the absence of the world’s noises made available by the media of mass communication is to be filled with positive content. If prayer feeds the soul, our intellect also needs its food for it is precisely the intellect of man which is being destroyed today by the ceaseless hammering of TV, radio, newspapers, pictorial magazines, etc. What we suggest then, in addition to the purely spiritual effort, is an intellectual effort. How many masterpieces, how many wonderful fruits of human thought, imagination, and creativity we neglect in our life simply because it is so much easier returning home from work in a state of physical and mental fatigue to push the TV button or to plunge into the perfect vacuum of an illustrated magazine? But suppose we plan our Lent? Suppose we make in advance a reasonable list of books to be read during Lent? Not all of them must necessarily be religious books; not all people are called to be theologians. Yet there is so much implicit ‘theology’ in certain literary masterpieces, and everything which enriches our intellect, every fruit of true human creativity, is blessed by the Church and, properly used, acquires a spiritual value ... I have mentioned that the fourth and fifth Sundays of Lent are dedicated to the commemoration of two great teachers of Christian spirituality: St. John of the Ladder and St. Mary of Egypt. Let us understand this as a broad indication that what the Church wants us to do during Lent is to seek the enrichment of our spiritual and intellectual inner world, to read and to meditate upon those things which are most likely to help us recover that inner world and its joy. Of that joy, of the true vocation of man, the one that is fulfilled inside and not outside, the ‘modern world’ gives us no taste today; yet without it, without the understanding of Lent as a journey into the depth of our humanity, Lent loses its meaning.”
The heart of the matter lies in this: "Everything which enriches our intellect, every fruit of true human creativity, is blessed by the Church and, properly used, acquires a spiritual value." Thus, "It is good to understand the structure of plants, of animals, especially of man, and the laws of life; in them is revealed the wisdom of God, which is great in everything." Of course, there is much more that can be said on the subject, but let this suffice.
Please feel free to ask for book recommendations, and feel free to join the St. George Book Club for edifying reading and fellowship!
E. Sumarokov. Bishop Theophon the Recluse of Vysha: A Short Biography. Appendix I to “Kindling the Divine Spark: Lessons on How to Preserve Spiritual Zeal.” p. 140-1.
Alexander Schmemann. Great Lent: Journey to Pascha. p. 102-3.