Recommended reading Summer 2001

The Illumined Heart: The Ancient Christian Path of Transformation

by Frederica Mathewes-Green

“My goal,” writes the author, “is to introduce readers to the basic spirituality of the early church — how they prayed, fasted, gave alms, how they determined which interpretation of scripture was true, how they attempted to pray constantly, and so forth. It’s a practical book, an introduction for those who would like to take a look at, and maybe begin to practice, the spiritual disciplines of the early church.” The narrative centers on a fifth century middle-eastern couple, Theodore (a deacon) and Anna. They have three children and make their living from an olive grove. The author presented a chapter from the book at the OPF conference in Canton, Ohio, in June. Paraclete Press, 112 pp. $13.95.

In the World, Of the Church: A Paul Evdokimov Reader

edited and translated by Frs. Michael Plekon and Alexis Vinogradov

Paul Evdokimov lived a remarkable life. As a young man, he washed railway cars and worked at an auto factory. During the German occupation, he and his family hid people who were targeted for arrest and later directed a hostel for displaced persons and political refugees. By the end of his life, he was a distinguished member of the faculty of St. Sergius Institute in Paris. Increasingly his books have become available in English translation, the most recent being Ages of the Spiritual Life.

Now, thanks to Frs. Michael Plekon and Alexis Vinogradov, we also have a collection of essays on such themes as Church and society, holiness, the Holy Spirit and the Mother of God, the divine silence, culture and faith, freedom and authority, the Eucharist, and the charisms of women. St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 273 pp.

Among the Copts

by John H. Watson

The author presents a thorough, unromanticized and yet appreciative portrait of the Coptic Church, ranging from Pope Shenuda, a former prisoner, to Copts who make their living sorting garbage while giving an example of deeply integrated Christian life. “The intensity of their devotion is a rebuke to comfortable Western agnosticism.” One of the strengths of the book is its vivid description of monastic life in Egypt. The Copts, Watson tells us, have a favorite story about St. Basil the Great. On raising the chalice, when he came to the words, “Our Lord lifted up his sacred eyes,” he remained looking upwards for an inordinately long time. He later explained that he had focused on a bright, shining ladder reaching from the altar into the distant stars of the sky above. Sussex Academic Press, €30.

The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture

At last we have a Christian Talmud — a verse-by-verse biblical commentary by the Church Fathers of the early centuries. A single verse may easily have five or six patristic responses.

There are six volumes in the series so far: the Gospel of Mark; Romans; 1-2 Corinthians; James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude; Colossians, 1-2 Thessalonians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon; and a volume devoted to the first eleven chapters of Genesis edited by the Orthodox scholar, Andrew Louth — also an OPF member. Many more volumes are in preparation. These books are gold mines that merit a place in the library of anyone who loves the Bible. The publisher, InterVarsity Press, deserves applause. (Good discounts are available from Christian Book Distributors: www. christianbook.com.)

Discerning the Signs of the Times: The Vision of Elisabeth Behr-Sigel

edited by Fr. Michael Plekon and Sarah Hinlicky

In her nearly century-long life, the French theologian Elisabeth Behr-Sigel has been closely associated with some of the principal Orthodox theologians and writers of the 20th century: Vladimir Lossky, Paul Evdokimov, Frs. Sergei Bulgakov and Lev Gillet, Mother Maria Skobtsova, and Nikolai Berdyaev. She alone among them continues writing and speaking in the new millennium.

The editors have gathered together a selection of her essays on such topics as ecumenism, the self-emptying path of Christ, peace (an essay first published in this journal), Mother Maria Skobtsova, the monk in the city, sources of authority in the Church, the role of women in the Church, and the author’s own journey to Orthodox Christianity. There is also a biographical essay by Lyn Breck and an epilogue by Sarah Hinlicky. St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 148 pp.

Beyond the Shattered Image

by John Chryssavgis

This book, comments Vincent Rossi, “aims to present the full ecological significance of the Orthodox Christian worldview in its deepest, widest and highest sense. It is a tribute to the maturity and clarity of the author’s thought that he is able to accomplish this task in a slim volume of less than two hundred pages, and to present an essentially Eastern Orthodox perspective in such an attractive, irenic and winsome way that it should appeal across the denominational board …. The linchpin of Orthodox cosmology, according to Chryssavgis, is unquestionably the sacramental principle. The sacramental principle is the means by which ‘we understand the world around us as being sacred’.” Light and Life Publishing Co.